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Immortal Grace

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He leapt from his seat, the great patience of his people stretched too thin to bear the weight of his contempt any longer. He glared at Boromir son of Denethor. ‘Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said? The Ring must be destroyed. It cannot be tamed!’

The Captain of Gondor returned Legolas’s scowl with one of his own, loathing carved deeply into his features, before finally breaking his gaze; as if he had better things to do than trade words with a pugnacious Elf.

Legolas opened his mouth and would have stirred a battle that could only be ended in violence if Gimli son of Glóin had not cried, ‘And I suppose you think you’re the one to do it!’

Boromir joined in: ‘And if we fail in its destruction, what then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?’

Legolas stared at the Man and the Dwarf, trapped between two opponents and unable to address either one for fear of leaving himself vulnerable to the other.

Gimli took advantage of the hesitation by springing from his seat and announcing his thoughts on the Ring passing into an Elf’s hands, which brought the remaining Mirkwood contingent to their feet and aroused a great storm of argument between Wizards, Elves, Men and Dwarves. Over the quarreling heads Boromir caught the gleam of Legolas’s fierce eyes, which seemed to say that the matter between them had yet to be settled.

Gandalf entered into the fray, booming of reason and restraint, though it was the small words of one hobbit that at last quieted the row. The hearts of the Council were won by Frodo Baggins, and Legolas forgot his anger for a moment, offering his bow as Gimli offered his axe, and Boromir offered the protection of Gondor. Soon five others had pledged their aid to Frodo.

‘Nine companions,’ Lord Elrond said with a sage smile. ‘So be it.’

But as the newly formed Fellowship adjourned, Legolas spied the man from Gondor gazing at him coldly, and the heart softened by a courageous little halfling was reminded of its promise.

I would see you try to take it,’ he muttered under his breath in his own tongue. ‘And I would see your ruin.

The remaining month spent in Rivendell passed uneventfully. While the men busied themselves with preparations and the hobbits busied themselves with rest and recovery, Legolas kept close to his Silvan associates and studied the Fellowship from afar. He did not doubt Aragorn’s skill, nor Gandalf’s wisdom, nor Frodo’s bravery, nor Gimli’s determination, as exasperating as it was. The other three hobbits he felt were adequate companions.

It was only Boromir who concerned him, though the man’s size and strength would be very precious to them all if they had to battle their way into Mordor. Legolas beheld him wandering the paths of Rivendell by himself, his actions at the Council earning him few friends. It was vaguely sad to behold, this proud, lonesome warrior in a strange land, and there were moments when Legolas had to resist approaching Boromir with sympathy; the wisdom in his head warned him from seeking companionship with one so wanting of trust. What good purpose Lord Elrond had seen in the man was unseen by Legolas.

With winter at their heels the Fellowship set out from the Last Homely House, nine strong and able-bodied, and made their way from the pleasant vale and onto the moors. Aragorn and Gandalf led, followed by the others in single file. Legolas guarded the rear, which happened to put him close to Boromir. The Elf often had to remind himself to keep his keen eyes on the surrounding land rather than on the man, whose mood had lightened since leaving Rivendell. Perhaps he was uncomfortable amongst Elves, thought Legolas. Their people had many differences; still, his manner seemed boorish and rough by even dwarven standards.

They made their way across the heath while cold winds buffeted them night and day, then into the still grasslands of Hollin, framed by the distant mountains. It was during one of these night marches that the young hobbit Pippin, exhausted from over a fortnight’s travel, staggered, stumbled, and fell. Boromir darted swiftly forward and saved the halfling from the cruel ground.

‘The road is long for one so young,’ he said as he effortlessly lifted Pippin. ‘Do not drive yourself, little one; soon you will grow hardy enough for many roads.’

As Bill the pony bore the burden of Boromir’s shield, so the man bore the burden of the tired Pippin upon his back. He wrapped the hobbit’s arms about his neck and locked his hands beneath Pippin’s bottom, holding him fast. The little Took immediately fell asleep with his cheek resting against the thick fur of Boromir’s cloak.

Legolas watched this with his heart in a state of confusion. Such selflessness and compassion shown alongside arrogance and pride baffled him. He had wanted so badly to find no good in Boromir of Gondor, yet it was not wholly possible. Unlike Orcs and goblins, Men were not naturally evil, being children of Illuvatar like the Elves, yet none was truly free from the influence of this fallen world. Some were crueler than others while some held great kindness in their hearts. Legolas spent the night wondering which Boromir was.

The Fellowship marched across the scrubby plains of Hollin and made a valiant attempt to pass Caradhras with no success. It would be many days’ travel before they came to the gates of Moria, and in that time Legolas observed Boromir’s bonding with the hobbits, in whose presence he seemed more relaxed than the rest of the Company. Most of them trusted him no better than a common stranger. Boromir seemed quite aware of this—of course he was aware, Legolas reasoned, he wasn’t stupid—but he chose to ignore it, and spent his time looking after the halflings. But whenever his gaze settled upon Frodo, especially after the incident on Caradhras, Legolas felt his skin prickle warningly.

‘There is weakness in him, Gandalf,’ he said. ‘I see it.’

The wizard nodded, puffing on his pipe and staring at Boromir’s sleeping form across the campfire. ‘Yes, I see it too. But Boromir needs our strength, not our spite.’

‘That is difficult to do when he will have nothing to do with his fellows.’

‘Indeed?’ Gandalf smiled to himself. ‘Perhaps then we should use warmer methods to approach him. No doubt he harbors fears of further rejection from his peers.’

‘What do you mean?’

Gandalf turned a narrow eye to the Elf. ‘He may not have a head for patience, nor a heart without shadows, but the same could be said for many of us. Boromir is a good and noble man, Legolas. Do not let his actions in Rivendell cause you to pass hasty judgment.’

Legolas crouched down beside the seated wizard. ‘I will not deny your wisdom, Gandalf, but you must feel it as keenly as I: he will come to an evil end.’

‘Then it is our duty as companions to prevent this end.’

‘But how? I feel it is already inevitable.’

‘Hearts change, my good Elf, and none so quickly as the hearts of Men. Can you claim that you yourself did not hear the Ring beckoning to you at the Council? That you were not swept into temptation and dark thoughts with the rest of us?’

Legolas looked shamed but said nothing.

‘The Ring has called to us all, Legolas. Some of us hearkened more readily than others, and it is they who most need reminders of our love.’

The Elf’s brow creased at the last word.

Gandalf grinned and clasped Legolas’s shoulder. ‘Do not begrudge him over so powerful a force, one that has held us all. Find mercy in your heart, Legolas. Contempt is unbecoming of your people.’

Legolas sighed. ‘I shall do my best, Mithrandir. But a doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and then I shall know how to meet him.’

These were the last private words between Gandalf and Legolas before the wizard fell to shadow and flame at the bridge of Khazad-dûm. It was in the tomb of Balin that Boromir fought alongside Legolas, and spared him once from the jagged scimitar of an Orc. It was as the Fellowship fled through the dark that Legolas rescued Boromir from falling to his death in the endless deep of the mountain’s belly. And it was with wounded, heavy hearts that they ran from the foothills into the borders of Lothlórien, leaving behind a victorious enemy and a fallen friend.

Legolas was so beleaguered with grief that he unwittingly allowed the tattered remains of the Fellowship to be greeted by the Marchwarden’s archers. In the end it was no matter, for they were presently taken before Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, who eased the aching of their sore hearts with kind words and bade them rest in Caras Galadhon.

Only Boromir seemed untouched by the tranquil beauty of the Golden Wood and found no rest there. He slept alone if at all, and spent his days wandering through the mallorn trees with his face distressed by care, or sitting moodily beside brooks as if awaiting further bad news. One had only to look at him to see that his mind was troubled. Though Merry and Pippin sought him out and brought temporary relief from his heart’s burdens, the man avoided Frodo almost entirely. Legolas knew Boromir was aware of his own weakness and confided in Aragorn, who told the Elf of his somber conversation with the Captain-General.

‘There is still hope,’ said Aragorn, ‘but he spares none for himself. Gondor is weakening, the lines of stewards failing, and his people lose faith. That is why he mourns so, Legolas. He is desperate. He believes this quest is misguided and that the fate of Gondor rests solely upon his shoulders.’

‘Typical Man,’ snorted Legolas, ‘imagining he plays such a role in the course of all things.’

Aragorn turned to him, brow furrowed. ‘It is unlike you to be so bitter. Why? What is it in Boromir that you hate so much?’

‘I have no patience for melancholy, self-absorbed fools. If Boromir believes this quest so inconvenient, he should leave the Fellowship and return to Gondor.’

‘How cold your words are! You are not the cheerful Elf I once knew.’

‘These are dark times, Aragorn,’ he replied. ‘I have trouble finding cheer when friends fall needlessly into darkness.’

The Ranger placed his hand upon Legolas’s shoulder. ‘Then we must look to the friends that remain with us,’ he said gently in the elven tongue, ‘and help them find freedom from the grief that binds us all.’

Legolas laid his hand upon Aragorn’s. ‘I cannot promise my heart will change,’ he said honestly, ‘but I shall try to thaw its frost.’

He came upon Boromir that evening, during the man’s brief period of forgetfulness when the hobbits kept him company. Legolas approached quietly but did not yet show himself, for he wished to hear what Boromir was saying.

‘—but Faramir has a much more ingenious mind than I, and he said to me, “Why don’t we pour paint upon all the statues so they match?” And we did exactly that, little ones. O woe! when our father discovered what we had done!’

Merry and Pippin laughed brightly, a pleasant sound in the somber dusk of Lórien. The Captain of Gondor rested comfortably on a seat of mallorn roots while the hobbits sat before him on the grassy ground, listening with amusement. Boromir was smiling, the cares lifted from his face, which Legolas suddenly found much easier to look upon.

‘But,’ he continued with a grin, ‘little did Father know that the paint offered protection from the droppings of roosting birds’—Merry and Pippin collapsed on each other with laughter—‘and commissioned all the statues in the city to be painted!’

Legolas smiled and chuckled to himself, unable to look upon such a scene of merriment without it affecting him. His heart grew lighter in his chest, and he was suddenly glad he had come. Too long had he been burdened by dark thoughts and distrust; a brief moment of happiness in these dire times was more welcome than any forest breeze or ray of sunlight.

‘I fear I’ve missed a great story,’ he said as he stepped into view.

The two hobbits composed themselves as best as they could while the smile faded from Boromir’s face. ‘Boromir was just telling us about his youth in Gondor,’ Merry said, his cheeks still bright with color. ‘And how he and his little brother would stir up trouble.’

‘Like we used to do,’ Pippin chimed in, nudging his cousin with his elbow.

‘And still do!’ Merry added proudly.

Legolas clasped his wrists over his waist. ‘Will there be any more story-telling tonight? I would like to share in the laughter, if that is agreeable to you all.’

‘I’m afraid we were just finishing,’ Boromir said as he stood to his feet. The hobbits groaned and whined in dismay. ‘Come now, I’ve told you six already! If I agree to another I fear you two will keep me up all night. Run along now. I’m sure Sam and Frodo are in need of your good company.’

Merry and Pippin groused but heeded Boromir’s words, chorusing their good-nights and wandering off to find the others. Legolas came forward once the halflings had disappeared.

‘They seem to enjoy your company,’ he said.

‘I suppose they find comfort in my simplicity. I am not as cold and aloof as some.’ The resentment in Boromir’s voice was slight, but Legolas detected it well.

‘Simplicity has its virtues,’ he admitted, ‘but one should be careful not to mistake composure for coldness.’

Boromir grinned unpleasantly and turned to face the Elf. ‘Indeed. Perhaps we might avoid those mistakes if we spoke directly to one another instead of allowing politeness to conceal our feelings.’

Legolas drew to his side, untroubled by his confrontation. ‘What then should we speak of, Boromir? The growing shadow? The loss of Gandalf? The Ring?’

The man made as if to step away, then thought better of it. He stared at Legolas with stormy grey-blue eyes. ‘You are not as clever as you imagine, Master Elf. I know why you seek me now, as I know why I’ve felt your gaze upon me since the first step of this journey. No doubt Aragorn has advised you to come to me as a friend and offer your companionship to see me through my stormy hour.’ His voice was bitter and angry, though the look in his eyes told Legolas that he was also wounded at heart.

‘There is no shame in asking for help,’ said Legolas softly, ‘especially if it is needed.’ He placed a gentle hand on Boromir’s arm. ‘I would give what I can.’

Boromir snorted and stepped away from the touch. ‘You would offer me consolation, but at the heed of others. I despise insincerity even more than this wretched forest filled with your lordly, cold-hearted people.’ He turned his back to the Elf. ‘I would not want your mercies, even if bestowed by your own will.’

Legolas clenched his fists. The man’s ignorance never ceased to astound him, but he had neither desire nor time to explain that the Lórien elves were not truly his kin; that his Mirkwood home was a humbler realm of tangled trees and deepening shadows; that the Elves only seemed distant because of the strange manner of the Fellowship’s arrival in their land. But this information would be lost on obstinance such as Boromir’s. The man wished to argue, for it gave him an excuse to continue being withdrawn and filled with self-pity, the things which would lead to his downfall. Well, thought Legolas, I will not grant him that satisfaction.

‘It is true that I am not here of my own will,’ he called, catching Boromir’s attention as he was preparing to leave, ‘and there is no mercy in me for men who speak so cruelly of my race. But understand this, Captain Boromir: I know the lure which draws you ever closer to your doom, for I too have felt it. In this we are alike.’

Boromir shook his head. ‘Then you’ve suffered its lure far less than I, Legolas.’

‘Only because I chose not to. You have that choice as well, Boromir. Rid it from your mind, and your heart will be freed.’

He had hoped that his words would cool the man’s temper, but the Captain turned his head and disappeared between the trees. Any camaraderie Legolas had hoped to gain from their brief encounter had failed, at least for this night.

His hands unfolded themselves and hung at his sides. ‘Foolish man,’ he murmured, then lowered his head. ‘Foolish Elf.’

After what felt like a very long time but was in truth very little, the remains of the Fellowship departed from the Golden Wood by way of the Anduin and paddled southward in three grey boats. Carrying gifts bestowed by the Lady and wearing the grey-green cloaks of Lothlórien, their mood was one of lingering sorrow mixed with the determination to see this journey through to its end.

For ten days they followed the river’s broad course, first through bare woods, then the Brown Lands, an empty and depressing waste which even animals declined to inhabit; then farther downstream through reed forests, stony banks and grey hills. Roving bands of Orcs at Sarn Gebir gave them a volley one night, and an arrow would have surely killed Frodo had it not been for his mithril shirt. It was also this night that Legolas, bearing his long Lórien bow, shot down the terrible shadow that flew above them. Though none dared to say it, they knew it to be one of the fell beasts of Mordor, a steed of the Nazgûl.

After that terrible night the scenery began to change for the better, and they neared the Falls of Rauros and left the Wilderland behind. Here the heavy air of grimness lifted from the Company a little, Aragorn being especially gladdened by the sight of the Argonath and Tol Brandir.

On the evening of their tenth day they encamped at Parth Galen, where the constant, dull roar of the falls filled their ears. ‘We will rest here,’ said Aragorn and then looked to Frodo. ‘Then we shall decide which course the Ring will take.’

The Company were exhausted and had little difficulty finding sleep that night. Only Aragorn seemed uneasy and took first watch. No enemies disturbed their rest.

The next morning Frodo said he would like an hour alone to make his decision. ‘I need a quiet place to think,’ he insisted gently.

‘So be it,’ said Aragorn. ‘Take as long as you need. But do not stray far.’

The Fellowship watched as the hobbit disappeared into the trees, but none so earnestly as Boromir. Only Legolas was aware of the man’s hungry gaze, and it sent coldness down his spine.

Gimli stretched loudly. ‘Ach, dwarves are no boatmen!’ he complained. ‘My legs are stiff as wood and my arms as limp as a wet rope! What I need now is a warm fire and a good breakfast.’

Merry and Pippin, likewise sore from many days on the river, agreed with no less volume.

‘I believe we could all do with food and fire,’ Aragorn said, ‘even Legolas.’

The Elf smiled obligingly.

Boromir stood to his feet. ‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘I will go and collect more fuel. There is naught but soggy kindling to be found on this shore.’

Another sensation of warning flooded through Legolas, and for a brief moment he managed to meet the shaded, cunning eyes of the man of Gondor before he turned away toward the wood.

An hour had passed and there was no sign of Frodo or Boromir. Talk was scarce and seemed always to come back to the same subject: the course of the Ring. The morning was growing late and the remaining companions were beginning to worry—Sam especially, with his master gone so long—but Legolas was far more anxious than the others. He paced the shore, watching the east bank or staring into the trees of Parth Galen. He appeared distracted, almost frightened. Aragorn had never seen his friend so agitated.

What worries you, Legolas?’ he asked in Elvish so as not to alarm the others.

We should not have let him go alone, Aragorn. I fear that Frodo is in great danger.

At that moment Boromir appeared from the trees. All conversation ceased as the Company stared at the man whose fair, proud face was now crumpled with grief and shame. Aragorn sprang to his feet. ‘Boromir! Where have you been? What has happened?’

‘I have failed you all,’ said the Captain of Gondor, raising his head. ‘I tried to take the Ring and he disappeared.’

Sam leapt up with a cry. ‘No! He must’ve put the Ring on!’

‘What are we going to do?’ cried Merry. ‘He’s out there all alone!’

Legolas drew his bow and without another word dashed into the wood.

Boromir’s eyes were gleaming with tears as he bowed his head. ‘Forgive my weakness.’

Aragorn grabbed Boromir’s shoulder and pulled him away. ‘Come, we’ve no time to lose. We must find Frodo. Stay with the hobbits and do not let them leave your sight!’

Merry and Pippin lit into the trees, calling Frodo’s name in their clear little hobbit voices, while Boromir composed himself once more and followed them. Aragorn and Sam took another direction while Gimli, axe drawn, pursued the trail of the Elf.

None of them was aware that within another hour their Fellowship would once more be torn apart by tragedy.

Legolas raced through the forest, leaping over fallen trees and rotted stumps, fearlessly jumping streams and gullies like a deer, his heart beating more loudly than his footfalls. The Horn of Gondor sounded again, a deep trumpet that seemed to shake the very air. He ran all the faster, legs stretching and arms pumping, fair hair and grey cloak flapping behind him, his world a blur of brown and green. He ran among Orcs who were also drawn to the call for help; the creatures took no notice to the slender shadow that traveled in their midst. The Elf left them far behind as he flew through the forest, though he was still not fast enough to outrun the enemies ahead of him.

Legolas burst into the clearing in time to see Boromir stumble backward, the first thick arrow embedded deeply into his chest. He could not restrain his horror. ‘No! Boromir—no!

The man turned at the sound of his cry, and Legolas’s heart recoiled at the sight of those shadowless eyes, no longer proud and arrogant but grief-stricken and remorseful. An instant later Boromir swung his sword, killing an Uruk that dared to draw closer to the two hobbits he was protecting. Defending the weak with his very life.

Every ounce of love that Legolas had hoarded in his heart exploded with violent, fiery passion. He raised his bow and notched an arrow. The monstrous Uruk who had delivered Boromir’s wound drew back his bow for a second shot, but Legolas was faster: an elven arrow struck the Uruk’s side just as he let fly. The black arrow shot into Boromir’s sword arm, embedding in his bicep. The man dropped his blade and tumbled to his knees, giving no cry of pain. Legolas shouted in dismay and launched himself into the scene.

Orcs and Uruk-hai continued to pour through the trees, ignoring the battle in the clearing in order to pursue the rest of the Fellowship. Merry stuck his sword through an Orc just as another scooped him up. Pippin charged at the Orc and was seized by another. Boromir struggled to his feet and reached for his sword. Behind him the Uruk archer snarled and prepared to loose another arrow.

With a ferocious scream Legolas threw himself at the fiend, sending the arrow whistling past Boromir’s head and thumping into a tree. The Elf held on to the reeking creature as it snarled and roared and tried to shake him off. Boromir stared in astonishment as Legolas battled the massive Uruk.

‘The hobbits!’ Legolas cried. ‘Boromir, save the hobbits!’

But it was too late for Merry and Pippin. They were already being borne away, though Boromir cut down every foul servant of Mordor in his path to get to them. In the end his wounds caused him to fall back, gasping for breath and bleeding profusely.

The big Uruk at last succeeded in throwing Legolas down. He planted his foot upon the Elf’s chest and crushed him into the ground. Legolas drew one of his knives and thrust it into the beast’s leg, then grabbed the ankle as it left him, wrenching it hard. The Uruk landed on his back, screaming with rage and clawing to get up. Legolas sprang to his feet and drew his second knife, spinning both menacingly in his hands.

Elf and Uruk circled each other, then the creature sprang forward. Legolas dodged the attack, but the Uruk caught his cloak and hauled him backward, dropping a solid strike to his fair face with the hand that would be detached from his arm a second later.

Blood spangled the air. The Uruk’s severed hand dropped to the ground. Legolas struck again, shallowly cutting his foe’s throat. It put him too close to danger, however; the Uruk’s good arm shot out and grabbed the Elf by the neck, drew him close, and butted his head.

It was like being struck by a rock. Legolas staggered back, senses reeling, and the Uruk gave him a mighty kick to the stomach. Legolas went sprawling, knives flying from his hands. He came to a rest on his side, pale hair spread out over a carpet of damp brown leaves. He lifted himself up—bleeding from his brow and nose, the pain sharp enough for him to fully perceive—and beheld the feet of his enemy approaching him. The clearing had emptied and grown quiet, and Legolas knew this creature meant to kill him.

He lifted his bow and used it to block the vicious scimitar that fell toward his neck. He pushed forth with all his might, deflecting the blade as he rose from a crouch. He punched the Uruk’s grimy face and kicked him with all the strength in his leg. But such tactics mattered little against this brute; he came back with full might, swiping his sword at the nimble Elf, forcing him back. Blood spurted from the Uruk’s neck. Soon he would run dry, Legolas thought. He had only to stay alive until then.

At the end of this thought Legolas felt something grab his ankle—a half-dead Uruk lying on the ground. He kicked himself free, lost his balance, and tried to right himself, but the sword of his enemy was flying toward him. He leaned back, narrowly missing the blade, and fell across the body beneath him. ‘O Elbereth,’ he prayed, ‘I am dead.’

The shining steel of a Gondorian sword whooped as it spun through the air and planted into the Uruk’s middle. The creature’s blade dropped from his hand and he fell backward, gurgling blood.

Legolas sat up and turned to see Boromir lower his arm, panting heavily. Then he slowly sank to his knees again, sighed once, and lay down to die.

Legolas scrambled up. ‘Law! Boromir!’ He stumbled and left his bow lying where he dropped it. At Boromir’s side he knelt, holding his hands uselessly above the man’s wounded body—blood and dirt and leather, pain and suffering, urgent desperation. What can be done? This cannot be undone. Looking at the two arrows protruding grotesquely from his companion, Legolas was frightened and helpless. His first instinct was to wrench the cursed things from Boromir’s body, but he knew the man would surely bleed to death if the arrows were dislodged. What then, what then? The silence that had fallen in the twilight forest had brought death as its company, and Legolas felt it circling them both like a hungry wolf.

Boromir’s grey-blue eyes fluttered open and his sleepy gaze rested upon the Elf’s face. He smiled sadly, showing blood in his mouth. ‘Legolas,’ he whispered, ‘forgive me. You were right not to trust me.’

‘Do not speak,’ said Legolas. ‘Come, I will help you to stand.’

With much effort the Elf managed to draw the heavy man to his feet. ‘Do not bother,’ Boromir rasped as Legolas forced his arm about his shoulders. ‘I have betrayed you all.’

‘Can you walk? Walk with me, Boromir. Come—’

‘They took the little ones—’

‘We will get them back.’

‘I have failed you.’ Boromir swooned and toppled, dragging Legolas down with him.

‘Get up, Boromir! Come, you must try! Listen to me—you must get on your feet again. Do not fall asleep, Boromir! It is not too late for you—’

A wet gurgle nearby drew Legolas’s attention. The Uruk whose body he had tripped over lay a few feet away. Black blood ran between sharp yellow teeth as he smiled grotesquely.

‘Too late… for man,’ he growled in the Common Tongue. ‘In three days… the poison…’ He died without finishing, yet Legolas knew what he had meant. It was not uncommon for Orcs to dip their arrowheads in poisons; it seemed an appropriate practice in this murderous band of fiends. And if he had not been lying…

Legolas stared down at Boromir’s face. The man had only three days to live. Three days. And they were stranded in this awful place, a week from any allies or medicine.

Suddenly Legolas heard voices calling out from the depths of the trees. He opened his mouth to answer but could draw forth no breath to shout. No matter—Aragorn followed the tracks of battle to the clearing where the Elf and man sat folded around one another. When he saw the scene before him he cried out and ran to Legolas. ‘By the Valar,’ he murmured, staring at Boromir’s wounds. ‘That he still lives in this condition is a miracle.’

‘It will not be for long. These arrows are poisoned. He has but three days.’

‘Three days! What became of Merry and Pippin?’

‘They were taken. Boromir tried to stop them but…’

Gimli arrived, panting slightly, his axe stained black from cleaving foes. ‘What is this?’ he cried. ‘Boromir has fallen! And Legolas, I cannot see your face for the blood! What happened here?’

Legolas, still numb from the shock, stood and gathered his bow and knives from the ground. Aragorn and Gimli spoke in hurried, clipped voices of what could be done to save Boromir’s life, if it was not already beyond their efforts. The Elf looked down at the Uruk who carried Boromir’s sword in his chest. I would have been dead, he thought, were it not for this. He grasped the hilt of the Gondorian sword and drew it out of the beast’s foul flesh, and wiped the blood on the leaves.

Guilt weighed heavily on Legolas’s conscience as he held the heavy blade in his hand. Had I been less cold, he thought, perhaps I could have saved him. Had I listened to Gandalf’s counsel from the beginning, he might not have fallen under the Ring’s curse. Had I not shunned him, he would not by lying at Death’s feet.

Legolas stared at the reflection of his bleeding face in the sword’s steel.

Had I but loved him only a little…

‘I have killed him,’ he murmured, and Aragorn and Gimli looked up. ‘I have killed the Captain of Gondor.’ He drew a deep breath and lifted his face to the thin light filtering through the tops of the trees. ‘And since I helped delivered him to his doom, I will deliver him from it.’

Legolas strode to Boromir’s side and carefully re-sheathed the man’s sword. ‘Help me carry him to the boats, Aragorn.’

‘We cannot abandon Merry and Pippin,’ he insisted, but helped the Elf nonetheless.

‘No,’ said Legolas. ‘We cannot.’

‘Nor can we leave Boromir to die!’ said Gimli.

The Elf’s eyes flashed boldly. ‘He will not die, friend Gimli. Not if I can help it.’

With some difficulty they bore the unconscious Boromir to the shore. One of the boats was missing; Frodo and Sam had already reached the eastern bank and were on their way to Mordor alone.

‘This is madness,’ Aragorn said. ‘You cannot take him to Lothlórien.’

‘It is the only place where there is remedy for the poison,’ Legolas answered, easing Boromir into one of the grey elven boats.

‘It took us ten days to come this far!’ Aragorn cried. ‘And you mean to paddle the whole way upstream in three?’

‘Yes,’ the Elf said, staring at his friend, ‘I do.’

‘Insanity!’ declared Gimli, though a note of mirth was in his voice. ‘Never again shall I speak of the stubbornness of dwarves—not when an Elf is in my presence!’

Legolas smiled thinly. ‘Boromir is my burden now. It is up to you to find Merry and Pippin.’

‘You are wounded,’ said Aragorn. ‘Let me take him.’

‘I cannot let you do that. None can track as well as you, Ranger—those two hobbits need your skill to find them.’

Aragorn sighed, relenting. He knew that the Elf spoke the truth; no one save Legolas was capable of making the journey back to Lórien. ‘What can I do to help you?’

Legolas shoved the boat into the water and took up a paddle. ‘Pray for us,’ he said quietly, ‘and hope.’

Chapter Text

He fought the current as he paddled away from the Falls, glancing back only once to see his two companions vanish into the wood of the western shore. ‘May both our journeys go swiftly towards a happy end,’ Legolas whispered. ‘Farewell, Aragorn, Gimli. May this not be the last we see each other.’

He turned around and shoved his paddle into the water, moving steadily forward. At the bow lay Boromir, covered in a blanket, the arrows trimmed to prevent further pain and injury. His face was wan but not deathly—still there was hope for him. Even after all these misfortunes, Legolas thought. Stay with me, Boromir. Let us see the Golden Wood together once more.

The Elf paddled as hard as he could and did not stop to rest until the sun began to sink over the steep rocky hills of the western bank. Up ahead the sound of rushing water told him that they had come to Sarn Gebir. Luck had favored them; they had covered much distance since departing Amon Hen. But Legolas held no hope of making his way up the rapids—not by boat. There was no other way to pass than the way they had come: on foot. He would carry the boat first, he decided, and then carry Boromir.

Legolas eased the boat to the shore and, using much of his strength, hauled Boromir from the bow. The man awoke from the pain of being moved, though he stifled his groans of agony. ‘Aragorn…’

‘Legolas,’ said the Elf. ‘Do not move.’

‘The hobbits! They took the hobbits…’

‘Aragorn and Gimli will get them back. Be still now.’ Legolas cradled the man in his lap. ‘Open your eyes, Boromir. Look at me.’

Granite-blue eyes opened slowly and lifted to the Elf’s fair face, still stained with blood and dirt. A faint smile curved Boromir’s lips. ‘Legolas,’ he sighed, then an expression of pain stole all warmth from his face. ‘You are injured.’

‘I fought the Orc that shot you. I would have fallen if you had not thrown your sword. Do you not remember?’

The man closed his eyes and said nothing; he had fallen once more into a senseless state. Legolas gently laid him upon the grass and hauled the boat ashore. It would not be easy to carry it by himself through the darkening forest, but he had no other choice.

Making certain that Boromir’s body was hidden from sight, the Elf lifted the boat upon his shoulders—it was light, though cumbersome—and made his way past Sarn Gebir. Behind him, Boromir held the Lórien brooch of Legolas’s cloak as a token that he would return, should he wake to find himself alone in the dark.

By the time Legolas returned for Boromir the moon was already at its zenith, the night passing swiftly. It was a far greater burden to bear the man upon his back than it had been the elven boat, though Legolas did not complain. Boromir was tall and thick—nearly twice the Elf’s weight when dressed as he was, in chain mail and heavy tunic—and Legolas dragged him more than carried him. Halfway through their journey the pressure on the arrows roused Boromir from unconsciousness into a world of excruciating misery.

‘S-stop,’ he gasped. ‘I cannot—!’

Legolas halted and helped the man to kneel. The wood was silent and black around them. ‘Here,’ he bade, producing his water-skin, ‘drink.’

The water seemed to revive Boromir’s senses, though it only made the pain that much sharper. ‘I can go no further,’ he said. ‘I must stay here.’

‘There is no time. Come, Boromir, stand.’

‘Leave me, Legolas. I am doomed.’

‘Never!’ He gritted his teeth. ‘On your feet, Captain!’ He hauled Boromir to his feet and held him steady. With one hand Legolas untied the leather brace on his right wrist and held it to the man’s mouth. ‘Bite hard when you feel the pain taking you,’ he said, ‘and walk with me.’

Boromir’s eyes did not see in the dark as well as Legolas’s, and much time was spent stumbling over rock and root and pulling the man to his feet once more. The moon had nearly set by the time they made it to the shore upstream from the rapids. Legolas lowered Boromir into the boat and shoved off, paddling strenuously against the current.

‘Where are you taking me?’ asked Boromir faintly.

‘To Lothlórien. There your wounds will be healed.’

The man slumped down in the bow, half delirious with pain. ‘I shall die before then, Legolas. Give in. Leave me.’

‘I already did that once before. Do not ask me to do it again.’

Silence fell between them for a time. Then Boromir asked softly, ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘Because,’ said Legolas, ‘had I loved you better this would never have happened.’

Dawn broke over a hazy sky of red. The sun glowed shallowly from behind the wooded hills, muted by the mist. Already Legolas felt his arms beginning to fatigue, but each time his pace slowed, his eyes fell upon Boromir, lying at the bow and growing paler with each passing hour, and he summoned his strength anew. He would not fail him, not at this late hour, not while there was still life in the both of them.

The day wore on. Time and shore passed slowly, becoming grey and stony. Legolas ignored the growing burn in his arms and back, though by midday it had become unbearable. He would be no use to Boromir if he collapsed from exhaustion. He had to rest.

He found a small shaded cove on the western shore and moored the boat on its bleak bank. The water came to his thighs as he disembarked and waded ashore to pull Boromir from the bow. Moving the heavy man quickly siphoned Legolas’s remaining strength, and he tumbled into a sitting position, breathing heavily as Boromir lay against him. Every muscle in the Elf’s body ached and stung, and all he wanted to do was lie down in a dark quiet place for a few hours.

But Boromir did not have the luxury of time.

Legolas drank from his water-skin and ate a bit of lembas, then realized that Boromir had had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. He gazed down at the man, now drifting in the merciful realm of unconsciousness. Lifting Boromir’s head carefully, Legolas poured a little bit of water down his throat, and some on his face to wash the dirt away. He chewed a small mouthful of lembas and leaned down, placed his lips to Boromir’s, and pushed the food into his mouth with his tongue. He drew away and gently massaged the man’s throat until eventually the lembas was swallowed. Legolas did this a few more times, and gave Boromir some more water. Already he seemed to look better, Legolas thought, brushing a few strands of auburn-gold hair from the man’s face.

‘I wish I had been the one to receive these,’ he said, gazing down at the arrow tips festering in Boromir’s chest and arm. ‘Had our places been switched your energy would not be failing you. But for all my skills and knowledge I have not your strength, Boromir. The thing which I need most I have not.’

Legolas bowed down and placed his crown to Boromir’s, weeping softly, shoulders shaking. ‘Please, do not leave me here alone.’

Evening of the second day was upon them as they at last came to Emyn Muil, the grey hill country. Legolas scarcely reckoned it, exhausted as he was. The pain in his body he felt growing steadily, sharper and clearer than anything he had felt before in his long years of life. The elven grace he had inherited at his birth—resistance to pain and cold and natural death—was offering him neither aid nor comfort in this grim hour. His head began to reel as the night drew on and they traveled through darkness, his limbs weary and mind taxed by guilt and grief. But I must press forth, he thought to himself. I cannot fail. There are many miles yet to go ere I can rest. I must press forth. I must, I must.

Soon these thoughts began to mingle with prayers that aligned to the rhythm of his paddle’s stroke: Elbereth Gilthoniel, I must press forth, I cannot fail…

Throughout the night, tears regularly found their way down the Elf’s dirt-smudged face, creating fresh trails of white. Legolas’ heart was strong but his body was failing him. Nevertheless he was determined to continue his journey until its end, or until both heart and body quit him. He wept for his pain, for his helplessness, his weakness, but most of all for Boromir. The man had come full circle, had realized his err and tried to amend it at the expense of his own life. He did not deserve to die like this. Not now. There had been good in him, Legolas saw it clearly now. But I had not seen it when it truly mattered, he thought miserably. I was blinded by my own distrust, by my resentment for his kind, and thought myself greater than he. What cruelness Fate has delivered me I surely deserve for my pride. O Boromir, Gondor’s Captain! Lend me your strength! I would give anything you desired in turn.

The carved leaf paddle thrust into the water. One stroke closer to Lothlórien.

Morning came gently, timidly, perhaps aware that at the close of this final day the fate of two souls would be decided. The Elf paddled weakly but steadily, his eyes set upon the wide path of water that lay before him. His mind was wandering elsewhere, anywhere that was far from the immediate torture of his flesh.

Each hour was an agonizing eternity for the both of them. Pain woke Boromir intermittently, and what little time he spent conscious was marked by soft apologies to his father, conversations with his mother, and pleas for death.

A brief moment of clarity came to him before midday, during which Boromir pulled himself up and looked across the narrow boat at Legolas, driving himself ever forward against the strong current of the Anduin. ‘Give up,’ he begged, ‘go on without me. Give me peace. I would rather die than live in this world of pain.’

‘And I would rather die than to see you leave it,’ the Elf answered.

Boromir sank limply against the gunwale, feverish and disoriented. ‘You are killing yourself. Do not… die for my sake, Legolas.’ And then he closed his eyes and said nothing further.

The Brown Lands had given way to a thin, bare forest as the sun was beginning to sink low in the western sky. Still Legolas paddled on, though his strokes were weak and shallow. His head nodded and his breath came in ragged gasps; his clothes were stained with sweat, and dried blood was smeared across his face. His wounds stung and his arms shook from strain, and he felt as if a dozen knives had embedded themselves in his spine. He had begun to fall into half-faints, each time the interval between one and the next growing shorter. Perhaps the only thing that prevented Legolas from dropping his paddle into the river and following it over the side was the image of a happy ending to all of this misery.

In his mind’s eye he saw their boat pulling to the shore of the Golden Wood, the Lórien Elves greeting them warmly. They would take Boromir away and tend to his wounds, and Legolas would be bathed and dressed in clean clothes, and he would at last be able to rest, safe and secure in Lóthlorien. And then he would wake, and Boromir would be well again. They would reconcile their differences, admit each their wrongs, and turn over a new leaf. Boromir would smile again and laugh, they would be friends thenceforth, and Legolas’s heart would be healed. Never again would he be quick to judge Men, and the coldness that Boromir once felt for the Elves will have disappeared. They would be allies as they should have been in the beginning, comrades and brothers in arms; they would journey from Lóthlorien and be reunited with Aragorn and Gimli, Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam. Together they would raze the fortress of Barad-dûr, destroy the Ring, and defeat Sauron once and for all. And peace would be upon Middle Earth, the dawn of a new age. Legolas would return to his home—to beautiful Greenwood, the vast forest of the North—and his father King Thranduil would shed tears of joy to see his only son returned from war. And finally Legolas would be able to travel as he had always dreamed of doing, to see the wonders of Middle Earth ere they disappeared forever and were forgotten. His people would leave and so Legolas would follow them, but not before he saw what he was leaving behind, in the fullest, brightest memory that he would carry until the very end of—

An arrow flew into the side of the boat with a mighty thock, and Legolas snapped to attention. Night was beginning to fall. A burst of heinous laughter echoed across the water from the eastern shore, and in the dim light the Elf perceived a troop of Orcs clambering from the trees. He paddled swiftly and ran the boat ashore on the opposite bank, and dropped his paddle to take up his bow.

The Orcs howled and cackled evilly. ‘What ails ye, O fair lord?’ they called. ‘Yer pretty face bleeds like a cunt!’ A burst of raucous laughter followed but was cut short when an elven arrow struck the Orc leader in the throat. He fell backward with a hiss. The rest began to screech in anger.

Legolas slowly notched another arrow. His arms trembled, too weakened by his three-day struggle to save Boromir. An ambush was the last thing he needed—it was still a few more miles to Lóthlorien and he had no time to waste. He drew back his hand and hoped that this time he wouldn’t miss his mark, like he had the first time.

‘It’s him! It’s the cursed Elf!’ the Orcs screamed. ‘He shot the Nazgûl’s mount! Kill him!’

With a chorus of snarls and roars the Orcs forded the river, swords raised and arrows flying. Legolas ducked as an arrow flew over his head and loosed one of his own, hitting one of the wading Orcs in the shoulder. His eyes were beginning to blur, his head to swim. Why, O why were his senses failing him now! He drew another arrow and stumbled, but let fly—it took out the Orc nearest him. Arrows landed in the side of the boat, and for one horrible moment Legolas feared Boromir to be struck again by the poisoned projectiles. He leapt into the water, blocking Boromir from harm.

He drew arrows as fast as his unsteady hands would allow, but still the Orcs poured forth from the black woods. There were far too many of them for him to slay with arrows alone, and if it came to hand-to-hand combat Legolas knew that his abilities would be severely impaired by his weakness. It seemed suddenly hopeless, useless, to fight against these odds. He was but one weary Elf, set against dozens of foes. It was not supposed to end this way. Not like this.

As if proof of the inevitable, a black arrow thudded deep into Legolas’s right shoulder, sending him crashing down into the boat. He felt his pierced muscles clench tightly around the arrow, swelling around the shaft. It burned like fire—all fires, every flame on earth. Never had he felt pain to this extent, not in all his centuries. He clenched his teeth until they ached but in the end it could not stifle his scream of pain. Breathing heavily he stood to his feet, and pulled an arrow from his quiver. Just as he was aiming at the archer who shot him, another black arrow embedded into his thigh.

He cried out and fell backward into the shallow water. Grunts and growls reached his ears, and when he opened his eyes five hideous Orcs were standing before him, grinning wickedly and drooling through their sharp teeth. ‘Poor lit’le Elf,’ one mocked, ‘think that hurts, do yer? Well, let’s see what real pain does to—’

A long Lórien arrow slammed into the Orc’s chest, causing him to sail backward into the water with a splash. Another arrow and another found their marks in the fiends standing over Legolas, and soon volleys of arrows were dropping the Orcs in the river one by one. The creatures began to shriek and call for retreat, clawing their way back to the eastern shore. From the shadows of the western bank leapt a host of Elves, and their leader Haldir called, ‘Leave none alive! Gurth ‘ni yrch!

Legolas closed his eyes and let his head fall back onto the pebbles. The Marchwarden was here. Boromir was saved. Everything was all right…

Darkness took Legolas for a few moments. He awoke as his body was lifted from the muddy water and laid onto a woven litter. He felt warm fingers upon his face and he opened his eyes to see Haldir gazing down at him worriedly. ‘You have suffered,’ he said. ‘Be strong, Legolas. We will bear you to Lóthlorien.’

Legolas very nearly allowed himself to sink back into darkness, but with a sudden rush he rose up and grasped Haldir by his sleeve. ‘Boromir,’ he begged, ‘save Boromir. The arrows have been poisoning him. Do not let him die!’

‘We have collected him,’ said Haldir calmly, placing his hands over Legolas’s, ‘though he may be beyond our aid. We will do for him what we can. Rest now, Legolas. You have come too close to death.’

The weary Elf closed his eyes, and silver tears rolled down his bloodstained cheeks. ‘Please… do not let him die.’ He returned to darkness once more, and the Lórien Elves gently bore him to Caras Galadhon.

Chapter Text

The Marchwarden of Lothlórien stood high in a talan, his watch-post, and stared keenly through the darkness, daring any other creatures of Mordor to show their foul faces in his wood. After what they had done to Thranduil’s son, they deserved nothing but slaughter.

He frowned at the thought. Legolas’s cries of agony still rang in his ears. Even Celeborn’s most potent poultices had failed to bring relief when the healers had commenced cutting the arrows from his body. The barbed arrowheads of the Orcs were unforgiving, and it was horrible to witness the prince thrashing and moaning in a bloody welter. Haldir could only imagine the pain he endured. Mercifully he had swooned and the healers were able to work more quickly, staunching the blood flow from his leg and treating the punctures. He was then bathed and wrapped tightly in blankets.

‘He is cold,’ one of the healers had told Haldir. ‘His warmth has left him. It is as if he is fading.’ But Haldir knew better. Legolas was too strong to die. Boromir, on the other hand…

The man was so far gone that the healers had little trouble tending to him. The festering bores in his chest and arm were thrice cleansed and bound with medicine and gauze, though he remained trapped in the realm of sleeping death. Galadriel had been to visit him once and had lain her long white hand upon his forehead, calling to him gently in his mind, reassuring him that safety and companions awaited him on this side of the waking world. Still he slept, and the Elves began to feel their help had arrived too late.

Faint footfalls reached Haldir’s ears and he turned to see his brother Rumil appear through the floor of the flet. ‘The second watch had ended,’ he said. ‘I will take your place here, brother.’

Haldir nodded. ‘Very well. Have you heard any news of Legolas?’

‘He has woken at last. He remains weak and drowsy, and his wounds pain him. He asks after the Man.’

‘And what is his condition?’

‘He remains in a senseless sleep.’ Rumil stood beside his brother and gazed through the mallorns. ‘I haven’t the heart to admit that Legolas’s efforts have been for naught, yet I fear it so. And I fear still greater the outcome if Boromir passes.’

‘Do you suspect Legolas will succumb to grief?’

‘I do not know. It would be remarkable if an Elf died grieving over a mortal.’

‘But not impossible.’

‘No,’ admitted Rumil. ‘But I hope it will not be so.’

Legolas slept with his eyes closed, his eyelids a bruised lavender hue and his hair draping in fine tendrils across his pillow. He bore a deep scratch across his right cheekbone and a large cut on his left brow, the latter covered by a bloodstained strip of cloth that went round his crown. He breathed slowly and evenly, in deep slumber. His shoulder was bound and wrapped, as was his thigh, and blankets covered most of his body. The healers were concerned by his coldness and had given him extra bedding. He lay now on a cot in a large flet, a quiet place for healing, and slept without dreaming.

Lord Celeborn sat nearby, a starry glow illuminating his fair skin, his silver robes pooled at his bare feet. A vague expression of unease darkened his otherwise handsome face. He gazed at Legolas and yet seemed to gaze through him, at something beyond the reach of all eyes. The Lord of Lórien was serenely troubled, though peaceful in spite of what did not agree in his mind. This was how he appeared to Haldir as the Marchwarden appeared from the stairwell and stepped onto the flet.

‘Pardon, my lord,’ he apologized, bowing slightly. ‘I had not expected to find you here.’ His eyes fell to the wounded Elf. ‘Is he faring much better?’

‘He will live,’ Celeborn murmured, rising slowly from his seat. ‘But the life which awaits him…’ He trailed off—a sign of foreboding that caused Haldir’s heart to stutter—and turned to leave. As he passed, Celeborn paused to say, ‘He will wake soon. It would be best if someone were here to answer his questions.’

Haldir nodded. ‘Yes, my lord.’ Celeborn disappeared down the stairs and Haldir sat in the chair beside Legolas’s cot. He stared at the young Elf—young only by comparison—and tried to find meaning in his lord’s words. The life which awaits him…

Legolas stirred and slowly opened his eyes. His gaze fell upon Haldir and he made an effort to sit up, grimacing at the pain he had woken to. ‘Haldir,’ he said drowsily, bowing his head in respect. ‘It seems I have found myself again indebted to you.’

‘Consider that debt repaid,’ said the Marchwarden with a thin smile. ‘You have survived, so nothing was in vain.’ Sympathy shone in his eyes as he asked, ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Terrible,’ Legolas admitted, drawing back the covers and gingerly sliding his legs over the edge of the cot. He wore only a long plain tunic of grey. ‘Though I was far worse before the rescue. I can scarcely remember the events of the past three days.’

‘That is not surprising—you nearly killed yourself with exhaustion. I did not think it possible for a laden boat to journey ten days upriver in three days’ time. Some force must have lent you great swiftness.’

Legolas turned his eyes to the floor. ‘I could not fail him a second time.’

Haldir sighed. ‘What happened to Boromir is no fault of your own. You must understand that.’

‘I do understand. I am just not certain I believe it.’

‘Your guilt over the Man was almost your undoing.’

‘Is it so wrong to feel remorse?’

‘Only if brought unnecessarily upon oneself.’ Haldir paused, staring sharply at the Mirkwood prince. ‘Legolas. Grief and regret will not undo what has been done, and it will not heal Boromir’s wounds. Despairing only deepens the darkness in your heart.’ He reached out and placed a comforting hand on Legolas’s knee. ‘Now is the time to hope and have faith. Surely Boromir would appreciate those virtues more than your pardons.’

Legolas nodded slowly, eyes still wandering the floor. ‘He has not yet woken, has he?’

It saddened Haldir to reply that the man had not. Legolas lifted his head, and his eyes shone bright with determination.

‘I would like to see him.’

With a robe draped over his shoulders and holding steadily onto Haldir’s arm, Legolas limped noiselessly down from the flet to the soft grassy ground. ‘He is being tended to in one of the lower infirmaries,’ said Haldir, then his attention was drawn to Legolas’s tight expression. ‘Does your leg pain you much?’

Legolas had to cease gritting his teeth to reply. ‘Yes, but I can bear it.’

Haldir looked at him for a moment in wonder. ‘You must care deeply for Boromir to endure so much misery on his behalf.’

Though Legolas was irritated by the warden’s insinuation, he did not show his anger. ‘He would have done the same for me, as a true soldier of Gondor. I would gladly lay my life on his loyalty.’

They came to a giant mallorn, hollowed out at its base to form a sheltered bower, and illuminated by the soft blue glow of moss and crystals. On a narrow bed inside lay Boromir, bare from the waist up, his left arm and shoulder bound tightly with gauze. He seemed only to be sleeping, and upon seeing him Legolas released Haldir’s arm and walked unassisted to the man’s bedside. With some discomfort he knelt down and gazed at Boromir wordlessly.

Haldir remained where he was, feeling that perhaps he would be intruding on an intimate moment about which he knew nothing. For he had not been in that boat those three long days. He had not been forced to witness his comrade’s life slowly seeping out of him, hour by hour. He had not endured the physical duress of attempting to accomplish the impossible. Yet Legolas had done all of that. He and the Man had shed tears and blood and borne pain in each other’s company. Duty, love or sharing a common hatred may bring people together, but suffering alongside one another forms a far more unbreakable bond. Haldir knew now, whether Boromir lived beyond this day or not, that Legolas would carry him in his heart until it ceased to beat. It alarmed the Marchwarden to find such rare virtue existing between two beings of unlike mortality. Their ending, when it came, would be heart-wrenching.

‘Legolas,’ said Haldir gently, and the Elf turned his head to regard him, a mournful expression on his face. ‘Forgive me if I have said anything to offend you. I had not realized the depth of your commitment.’

Legolas nodded his forgiveness, then his eyes drifted over Haldir’s shoulder and widened. ‘My Lady,’ he said, bowing his head.

Haldir turned to behold Lady Galadriel approaching them silently, her long white robes trailing on the grass. Like Celeborn, her body shone with an immortal glow, soft and purer than starlight. The warden bowed low and stepped aside so that she might enter the bower.

She smiled kindly at her servant and Legolas, but sadness was apparent in her clear eyes, and a note of mourn played itself in her rich, melodious voice: ‘Boromir has passed into the realm of twilight,’ she said, stepping close to gaze down at the son of Gondor. ‘No magic or medicine can pass through the darkness where he now sleeps.’

Haldir took a step forward, his heart crying for Legolas’s loss. He opened his mouth to speak but could find no words to offer solace. He turned away, unable to bear the sight of the woodland prince’s shocked, dismayed expression.

‘Is there nothing I can do?’ Legolas rose to his feet. ‘Am I to sit idly by and watch a second comrade of our Fellowship perish?’

‘Dear Prince,’ said Galadriel, ‘I said nothing of Boromir perishing. He is waiting to be woken by the one to whom he is bound.’

Legolas took a step back, his heart pounding and eyes wide with alarm.

‘Our people are blessed with the gift of longevity,’ said the Lady, ‘and some of them were even blessed with the power to relinquish that gift to another, in order to save his life.’

‘No,’ Legolas whispered, his face drained of color. Haldir stood by in astonishment, unable to believe this most terrible occurrence had possessed itself of one of his own kind.

Galadriel continued, ‘When you arrived in Lothlórien I knew what had passed, though I knew not the reason or how it had come to be. But the grace with which you were born has left you, Legolas, and it is the only thing that kept Boromir son of Denethor from succumbing to death.’

Legolas blinked and tears spilled down his cheeks, running into the red cut still marring his skin.

‘Take up his hand, Legolas,’ said Lady Galadriel, ‘and call him back to this world. Only you have the power to wake him now.’

Chapter Text

He drifted peacefully in the dark, removed from pain and sorrow, senseless in this merciful void of nothingness. No sound or sight or smell or thought came to him; all was quiet and tranquil. Then the darkness began to lift, the world grew cold and mean around him, and he heard the echoes of a voice calling him back. The light became harsh and pain seized him, attempting to pull him back into the place where lack of feeling righted all wrongs. The temptation to give in to the powerful emptiness was strong, yet the voice that beckoned him was warm and familiar, full of color, and he felt that he must follow it. He went forward and pain cut into his body, yet his desire to obey the voice overwhelmed all physical discomfort. Flashes of fragmented memories began to piece themselves together in his mind: a glimpse of grotesque faces, blood on leather, water and wood, a shadow in the grey sky that commanded him to die. It was ultimately this horror and shock, and the need to escape it, that brought Boromir back to his senses.

Grey eyes fluttered open and then widened as they focused upon the glowing shape before him. The image sharpened slowly, and Boromir beheld a fair elven face close his own, its brown eyes dark with emotion and shining wetly. Glistening trails on the smooth white cheeks spoke of tears that had fallen. For a moment the man could not recall a name or association, yet he knew that this was the owner of the voice that had awoken him, and despite the terrible ache in every fiber of his mortal frame, a fierce love swelled in his heart for this poor beautiful weeping creature.

‘What are these tears?’ he said in a hoarse whisper, reaching out with his uninjured arm. Rough fingers brushed against the Elf’s face, hesitating when they came to a long red cut. ‘Was this my doing?’

With grief crumpling his expression, Legolas shied away from Boromir’s hand and rose unsteadily to his feet. Haldir stepped forward to assist him but Legolas evaded the warden’s reach.

With a wincing face the man sat upright, surprised to see his Elf limp from the bower and into the dark trees beyond. Boromir turned to behold Haldir, and said with childlike sadness, ‘Why has he gone?’

At first Haldir, thinking only of Legolas’s loss and the shortcomings of Men, wished to tell Boromir all that had transpired. He wished to word the events so harshly that it would cause the man to recoil. He wished to tell this short-lived, insignificant mortal the gift that had unwittingly been bestowed upon him, the gift that was responsible for saving his already half-spent life. For an Elf—a woodland prince—to surrender his immortal grace to one so unworthy, one to whom he owed nothing so precious, caused Haldir’s blood to boil with animosity. Yet the wisdom that lent him anger over this injustice also soothed his temper. It was not his right to tell Boromir what had taken place; that duty did not belong to him. But the man nonetheless deserved an explanation.

‘He is troubled by his wounds,’ said Haldir in the Common Speech, looking in the direction of the departed Elf. ‘Three days ago you were felled by Orc arrows, poisoned and brought upon the brink of death. It was Legolas alone who volunteered to save you. He claimed responsibility for your injuries—for his coldness and distrust of your race—and he paddled the many leagues back to Lothlórien so that you might receive healing.

‘Your boat was attacked by Orcs on the borders of our wood, though our forces were able to drive them back and bear you hence. Legolas was twice shot during the skirmish, but the journey itself was nearly his ruin.’ The Marchwarden gave Boromir a hard look. ‘You are heavily in his debt, Son of Gondor.’

Boromir was stunned for several long moments, his eyes darting back and forth as his mind slowly caught up with the present. He remembered Amon Hen, indeed he could never forget it, and he remembered the vision of Legolas, battered and bleeding, upon the back of that terrible Orc. He remembered the sound of water, the feeling of its blessed coolness pouring down his parched throat. He remembered a steady, constant face above his own, pleading for him to stay. He remembered the warmth of elven tears falling upon his brow…

Boromir drew back his blankets and made as if to stand. ‘I must see him at once.’

Haldir had to dart forward and grasp the man by the shoulders to prevent him from rising. ‘He is not well, Boromir, and neither are you. Rest is what you both require, not each other’s company.’

‘Then I refuse to rest until I have spoken with Legolas.’

‘Obstinate Man!’ Haldir snapped. ‘If you resist our efforts to aid you then you will grow weak and perish, and the Prince’s sacrifice will have been for naught!’

Boromir immediately went slack. ‘Prince? Surely you do not mean Legolas.’

‘Of whom else could I be speaking?’ said Haldir sharply. ‘I should have guessed you would be ignorant of this fact. Legolas feared he would be treated specially were his lineage brought to attention within the Fellowship. He planned to conceal it for as long as possible.’

Boromir remained shocked. ‘Then his father…’

‘Is Thranduil son of Oropher, King of Mirkwood—our northern brethren.’ Haldir drew away from the man and stood straight. ‘I must now leave you to the care of our healers. For your sake, and the sake of Legolas, rest and recover your strength. The Lady informed me that you will be attended to, and should our foreign tongue baffle you, I offer my assistance when convenience permits.’ Haldir bowed slightly before turning and striding from the bower, his grey cloak drifting behind him.

Boromir sank back into his bed, his mind far from his own pain. Legolas—Prince Legolas, he reminded himself—had nearly perished while attempting to rescue a man whose acts of betrayal should have justified leaving him for dead. Fool! What madness had possessed the Elf to undertake such a task? Why deny a warrior a warrior’s death? Rather would Boromir have fallen at the feet of his foes than waste away in the care of his allies; yet he knew that the latter was folly. He would live now, thanks to his fair friend.

But was Legolas truly his friend? Had they no more than tolerated each other’s presence, united only by their common goal? Were they not simply acquaintances?

Boromir closed his eyes and heaved a sigh, which brought pain to his chest. You should have left me for dead, Legolas, he thought morosely. It is better than I deserve. What voice in your heart commanded you to save me? Did you do it out of guilt, out of pity? Or if you did it for love, what reason then provoked the tears of regret I saw in your eyes?

With questions gently lulling his mind into torpor, Boromir fell into a light slumber.

One day and two nights passed ere the man was deemed well enough to leave the place of healing; he received a temporary flet for the remainder of his stay in Lothlórien. His first act upon being dismissed from elven care, however, was to find Legolas. Little did he know that the Elf was never far from his bower, visiting in times when Boromir’s sleep made observation an easy feat. Irresistibly was Legolas drawn to the man, this unwitting recipient of his most precious gift. Like the wretched mother who leaves her newborn upon the king’s doorstep, Legolas wished to see what became of his grace—to see if it was cast into the gutter or welcomed into the king’s heart. Such thoughts turned his mind to Aragorn, and the other members of the Fellowship. Legolas decided that if they ever again met, he would speak nothing of his mortality.


Legolas was frightened—terrified—at the mere thought of the rest of his days, though his spirit remained curiously unaffected. The familiar itch of adventure crawled beneath his skin and tickled him the same as in his younger years. He soon grew restless, eager to set out again and rejoin his separated comrades. That was why he let himself be found so easily the day that Boromir was released from the infirmary. But the moment he saw the man walking toward him, all excitement of continuing the quest abruptly dissipated. For perhaps the first time in his life, Legolas began to quiver—not with fear, but with something he could not yet describe.

The Elf rose to his feet, and they both stopped short a few paces from one another. Neither said a word, amazed by the other’s presence, such a reunion unexpected in the frail hope of the past few days. Boromir hesitated awkwardly, though a handsome smile was growing on his face, which was now softer and kinder than Legolas ever remembered seeing it. He had changed since Amon Hen, apparently for the better.

‘I have missed you,’ he said gently. ‘Why did you not come to me before?’

‘I did,’ said Legolas. ‘But I did not wish to disturb your rest.’ He paused and blinked, surprised by a detail he had not before noticed. ‘You are dressed as one of our own.’ He gestured to the tunic, mantle and boots of Lórien grey in which Boromir was clad.

‘The Galadhrim are kind enough to wash and mend my own clothes,’ he said with a touch of amusement in his voice. ‘Until we set out again, I shall dress as one of them.’

Legolas nearly grinned. ‘Never would I have imagined a soldier to so readily abandon his flag to the wash-tub.’

‘Easily done if your flag is as filthy as mine. In any case, I find these Lothlórien garments comfortable and light. It is little wonder you Elves are so swift on your feet.’

Legolas inclined his head at the compliment.

Boromir stepped forward, the smile fading from his face. A nervous mood took hold of him. ‘Legolas. I fear I owe you a debt I shall never be able to repay.’

Legolas’s heart froze with fear—did he know?

‘On one hand I should scold you for so foolishly risking your life on my behalf, and yet…’ Grey-blue eyes filled with deep and humble gratitude. ‘Yet I thank you for giving me the opportunity to see my brother and father once again, for giving me a second chance—a chance to redeem myself—and to continue my part in this fight.’ He took Legolas’s hand in his own and, raising it, pressed a kiss to the pale skin. His beard tickled, but when he lifted his eyes, Legolas felt no desire to laugh. ‘I shall never forget your sacrifice, my friend. If I must forsake all memories save one when I pass into the halls of my fathers, it shall be of you.’

It was almost too much for Legolas to bear. A fresh spring of tears welled in his eyes and his expression twisted in his effort to withhold them. So his grace had been well-received, perhaps even deserving of this man. He did not know if Boromir was speaking words to be forgotten after this day—only time would tell—but hope fluttered in his heart. Hope that his immortality had been spent, however accidentally, on a worthy cause. ‘I thank you for your gratitude, mellon.’

Boromir’s comprehension of the elven tongue was terribly limited, but a few words were familiar to him. He recognized Legolas’s with a grateful smile. The Elf returned it. Neither seemed to realize that they had yet to release their hands from each other’s grasp, thus they were startled when one of the Lórien elves approached them from across the green lawn.

Pardon my interruption,’ he said, ‘but Lord Celeborn requests your presence.’

Then he shall have itThank you for the message,’ said Legolas politely, and turned to Boromir. ‘Lord Celeborn wishes to see us.’

Boromir nodded curtly, a hint of his former roughness shining through. ‘Very good. I hope he is planning to release us. I grow restless lingering in this place, however beautiful it is.’

Legolas smiled to himself, silently agreeing.

‘You both appear to be healing well,’ the graceful Elf-Lord noted with approval. ‘That is good to see.’

Before him stood Boromir and Legolas in the high flet of his dwelling. Boromir fidgeted nervously, but his companion had not lost any of his peaceful composure.

‘Our bodies are wont to heal in this fair wood,’ Legolas said, stepping forward respectfully. ‘The generosity of our Lord and Lady are very much appreciated, for without them our paths would have ended in darkness.’

Celeborn smiled. ‘Your gratitude is welcome, Legolas, yet the greatest sacrifice of all was not made by the Lady Galadriel or I.’ His voice fell to a whisper unheard by all others save Legolas. ‘You have traded one grace for another, young prince. For that, your courage is commended.

Legolas swallowed a lump in his throat and bowed his head. If only Lord Celeborn were aware of how unintentional that courage was—would he still speak so highly of him? Legolas felt himself nothing more than a victim of coincidence, a reluctant savior. One should not praise a fool, nor should he praise a hero who saves another only to ease his own guilt. Legolas was so ashamed of himself that he could not bear to raise his eyes from the floor.

Boromir, troubled by this last exchange, summoned his voice and asked, ‘Why have you called us here, Lord Celeborn?’

Legolas winced at the awkward force of the man’s question, but Celeborn at least pretended not to notice. ‘Lately our attention has been focused towards the shadow in the east,’ he said, ‘but Mordor’s forces extend far beyond its borders. Isengard’s army continues to grow, and the land of Rohan will soon feel its sting. Still worse, Orc troops mass at Dol Guldur, and our woodland brethren are falling under threat.’

Boromir heard Legolas breathe in sharply, and when he beheld the Elf his face was unnaturally pale. ‘Legolas?’

‘Dol Guldur,’ said Legolas, ‘sits in the great northern forest. Mirkwood is its name.’

Boromir’s eyes widened. ‘That is your home.’

‘I fear for its safety,’ Lord Celeborn continued, staring hard at the two survivors. ‘Too long have the forces of darkness terrorized Mirkwood and its inhabitants. The reign of evil must be ended soon ere all chance of regaining the forest stronghold is lost. Should darkness conquer Mirkwood, its trees shall burn and the luckiest of its people shall be left destitute. Then that wickedness and all its festering rancor shall spread to Lothlórien.’

Legolas’s eyes shined brightly. ‘What could I do, my lord?’

Celeborn shook his head. ‘Nay, I would not have you risk yourself so readily, Legolas. Any task you undertake is by your own free will.’

It was to the surprise of both elves when Boromir stepped forth and said, ‘Then let us hear your proposal, Lord Celeborn. The strength of Gondor shall accompany this Elf wherever his path may lead him.’

The Elf-Lord’s eyebrows lifted with pleasant surprise while Legolas turned to regard Boromir with awe. ‘I see,’ said Celeborn. ‘Then my proposal is this: bring word to King Thranduil that the Lórien forces are preparing to lay siege upon Dol Guldur. Tell him to gather the Woodland army and ready them at Rhûn Coll—you know it as the East Bight. The kingdoms of Elves shall unite one last time to vanquish the forces of darkness that have threatened us for so long.

Neither Boromir nor Legolas could conceal their shock. ‘A siege!’ Legolas cried. ‘But such an action could incite the Dark Lord’s forces to all-out war!’

‘And the soldiers of Gondor are too few to withstand a direct assault,’ Boromir added, equally concerned.

Celeborn nodded. ‘Yes, that is true. But you fail to realize how little time remains before Mordor’s fury is unleashed upon Middle-Earth. Now we must act without hesitation—it is too late to delay any further.

‘Boromir, do not fear for your people. Upon reaching the Bight, you and Legolas shall bring half of the Woodland forces to Minas Tirith and leave the rest to await word from the Lórien army.’

Boromir wanted to protest, but he restrained himself at the risk of insulting the Lord of the Golden Wood and the Prince of Mirkwood. Though he did not doubt the skill of Legolas’s people, even half of their army would be of no great help to Gondor. They were simply outnumbered. Legolas seemed to be sharing Boromir’s thoughts; the two exchanged worried glances.

‘Take heart,’ said Celeborn, ‘and have hope. It has saved both your lives before—let it now carry you safely through danger.’

Night fell in Lothlórien, though it brought a gravity with it that could not be felt by its people. Only two were aware of this heavy atmosphere, and rest had difficulty finding them.

Boromir, following his strong soldiering instincts, had gathered his things and packed them well. He cleaned his sword and polished the golden belt that had been given to him by Lady Galadriel. His Gondorian clothes had been returned, cleaned and repaired, yet now they seemed to bear the faint glow of all things that existed within the Golden Wood. It was no bother to Boromir. He was rather beginning to appreciate this ethereal quality, though it paled in comparison to Legolas’s. In a distant part of his mind the man could recall his initial dislike of the Elf, of that smug, impudent nature which infuriated him. Still greater could Boromir recall his own self-segregation within the Fellowship, and his true reasons for joining the quest: to obtain the Ring of Power and bear it to Gondor.

Boromir shook his head. It was so far away now, the One Ring, and he grimaced to remember the way he had treated Frodo at Amon Hen. He hoped they would one day meet again and Frodo would accept his apology. It was all so long ago, he thought. He no longer feel the desire to claim it. That madness had left him… and so had the Fellowship, save one.

Boromir’s heart warmed. Save Legolas. Mellon.

He sat in his flet, gazing out into the dark blue mallorn trunks and thinking about tomorrow, his legs hanging over the edge. It was a short while later that his eyes were drawn to a white figure passing on the ground below him: it was the Lady Galadriel. Boromir watched her without breath, wondering if the beautiful Elf-Witch could hear his thoughts from this distance, wondering if she was aware of his eyes. He had scarcely finished this thought when the Lady paused and turned her eyes up to gaze at Boromir. The breadth between them could do nothing to dilute the power of her sight.

Come with me.

Boromir rose slowly to his feet as Galadriel resumed her slow promenade, yet dreamily he felt as if he were still sitting where he had been; as if his body and his spirit had separated from each other, and what moved now was only a transparent form of himself. Entranced, the man was only vaguely aware that he was descending from his flet and following Galadriel across the grass, into the deep blue shadows of the Lothlórien night.

He could have walked for hours or minutes, pulled blindly by the power of her wake, before his head seemed to clear from the enchantment. Lady Galadriel stood by an old mallorn, gazing across the gentle waters of the Silverlode. Boromir approached her hesitantly, and soon stood beside her. He tried to see where she was gazing and could not find the object of her focus. He wished to ask her what her reasons were for leading him here, yet he could not bring himself to break the peace of the moment.

‘Tomorrow you shall depart from the Golden Wood,’ she said after a while. ‘A perilous journey awaits you, Boromir of Gondor.’

‘I am aware of that, my lady,’ he answered uneasily.

‘And you would follow Legolas into danger? Even at the risk of death?’

‘I would,’ said Boromir without hesitation. ‘He did not abandon me in my hour of need, and I shall not abandon him. I find that we are not so dissimilar, for he wishes to save his home and people as I do.’

Galadriel smiled, her eyes never straying from the river. ‘Then you are seeing now what you failed to see before: you are beginning to hope.’

Boromir searched his heart for words but found none, thinking of his father’s failing rule and his brother’s unsteady grip on Gondor’s borders, and wondered how such a tender and delicate thing as hope could grow in the dark frigid wasteland of his spirit. His gloomy reverie was interrupted when Galadriel raised her white hand toward him and opened her fingers. On her palm lay a shining ring of simple make, and she spoke in a slow songlike murmur:

Wrought in silver mithril, the ring of two and one
Whose immortal glow cannot repair the damage done.
However fair and strong, the leaf shall one day fall,
Lost before its time—farewell, the greenest leaf of all.

She placed the ring into Boromir’s hand, closing his fingers over it.

Bought with tears and blood, this ring to represent
The hope which took it further than its power ever meant.
To keep, protect and trust: an everlasting token
Of loyalty and friendship, and a love that can’t be broken.

Boromir had neither great appreciation nor understanding of verse and riddle, and the Lady’s words puzzled him, as did her reasons for bestowing such a gift. Nevertheless he bowed his head in thanks and turned the ring over in his hand to admire it. It was a plain thing, sturdily wrought while still fine and elegant, with threads of twining mithril forming a woven bridge over its face. It seemed too small for Boromir to wear, yet when he raised his head to ask what he was to do with it, Galadriel was already walking away from him.

Not wishing to bother the Lady with petty inquiries, Boromir sighed, looked once more upon the ring, and slipped it onto his smallest finger. A great weariness overtook him then and he left the river bank, walking into the trees with the echoes of Galadriel’s words sinking deep into his memory.

How he managed to find his way back to his flet would puzzle Boromir upon waking the next morn, but he lay down on his cot and slept peacefully, his hand resting upon his breast and the silver ring glimmering in the pale moonlight.

Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel bid farewell to the two warriors on the banks of the Anduin, and once again Boromir and Legolas thanked their hosts for their care and hospitality. They were given food and light supplies, for the greater part of their journey would be made by foot, and being burdened by quantities of provisions would not make for swift travel. Haldir also appeared to give them his farewell and blessings of good fortune on their journey, and assured them that his archers would be watching out for their safety as far as the eastern shore. From thence they would be on their own.

Boromir, dressed as a soldier of Gondor in his mail and leather, sword and horn at his side, and Lórien cloak draping off his shoulders, looked hale and in good spirits despite the bandages he wore beneath his clothes. Legolas too, clad in his raiment of green and brown and armed with knives on his belt and quiver on his back, looked well and full of energy. They were a fine pair as they shoved off in their boat and made for the opposite bank. Once landed, they waved their goodbyes to the Golden Wood and disappeared into the trees, their course north north-east and bound for the southern border of Mirkwood.

‘We have sent them into great danger,’ said Celeborn to Galadriel as he watched the two mortals disappear.

‘They both have gone willingly,’ she replied. ‘And if they can survive the passage of Dol Guldur, so shall they survive the truth behind the mithril ring.’

Chapter Text

They traveled briskly the first day, jogging steadily through the grassy flood-plains of the Anduin with the Elf leading the way. Boromir found that time passed quickly when he kept his eyes upon Legolas, who ran before him so lightly that he seemed almost weightless. He still carried a slight limp in his left leg, though if Boromir had not known it was injured he would never have noticed a difference in Legolas’s stride. His leaps were hypnotic to watch, like a leaf dancing on the breeze, or a graceful deer bounding silently on a blanket of snow. Boromir found he traveled almost effortlessly when his gaze was fixed upon Legolas, though in reality his body was working far harder than he imagined.

At dusk the plains gave way to a broad land of gentle hills and brown grass, and they made camp among the stony outcrops and scrubby tangles of dead hedge. For caution’s sake they built no fire but sat close against each other to keep warm against the chill night wind.

For a time Legolas regarded the deep velvet sky, his fair face inclined toward the heavens. ‘Did you know, Boromir, ’ he said, ‘that the stars were the first things seen by the Elves when they awoke? There was no sun or moon then; only starlight during the Sleep of Yavanna, when all the world was dim and quiet. It was Oromë who first found the Elves, and he called them Eldar, the People of the Stars.’

Boromir gazed fondly at Legolas through the dark, watching the starlight twinkle in his wide, wondering eyes, and slowly he became aware of the ages which separated them, though they sat so close to one another now. Like the ancient tree that in its long years of life may for a season hold a bird nest in its branches, so felt Boromir with the elven prince. ‘Were you one of these Elves, Legolas?’ he asked.

Legolas laughed. ‘Nay, I am not so old as that! Neither my father nor my father’s father saw the stars of the Awakening. I myself was not born until the year 1046 of this age.’

Numbers ratcheted through Boromir‘s mind in vague estimates, and though he was aware of the longevity of the Firstborn, he was nevertheless unprepared for the realization of Legolas’s vast age. ‘You are nearly two thousand years old,’ he whispered.

Legolas nodded, his smile fading. ‘One-thousand nine-hundred and seventy-three this year.’

‘And yet you have not reached the noontide of your life,’ Boromir continued, marveling. ‘The years before you are still greater than the years behind you.’ He fell into melancholy silence, considering his own years. He was forty-one, still in his prime as far as he was concerned; certainly he had more wisdom now to complement his strength than in his hotblooded youth, but he knew it wouldn’t be much longer before his energy and stamina began to decline. Such was the way with men, particularly soldiers. The path down the mountainside always took less time to travel than the one leading up, and already he was becoming aware of the ache of old wounds, the stiffness of middle-age settling into his bones.

‘I envy you, Legolas,’ he murmured into the night, ‘for you will never be humbled or hobbled by the chains of old age. I wonder if you can even imagine what it’s like to be an old man.’

Beside him, Legolas turned his eyes away from the immortal sky and quietly tucked his cold hands into the folds of his jerkin.

They set out before first light the next day and hiked briskly across the rugged terrain. Shortly after midday Legolas sprang upon the crest of a jutting rock and narrowed his eyes against the east wind. ‘I see the edge of Mirkwood,’ he told Boromir, who was taking a draught from his water-skin. ‘If we hasten we shall reach its borders by dusk.’

‘That would put us close to Dol Guldur in the dark, when Orcs are likely to be out and about,’ said Boromir, fastening the pouch and adjusting the small rucksack that had replaced his shield. ‘Should we not wait for the sun to favor us before making the pass?’

‘We cannot delay,’ said the Elf, springing down from the rock to stand beside Boromir. ‘If what Lord Celeborn said is true, our people have very little time before Sauron makes his move.’

Something stirred in Boromir’s heart when he heard Legolas say ‘our people’, though he knew Legolas spoke of Elves and Men as separate races. As brief as that stirring was, it renewed the man’s energy and filled his spirit with strength and daring. ‘Very well. Are we to enter the forest tonight then?’

‘Yes; Orcs and other foul creatures patrol the borders near Dol Guldur, but they seldom venture alone into the forest. They fear the wood which they themselves have corrupted, and none knows the way back through the dark trees.’

Boromir raised his eyebrows in wonder. ‘How then are we to manage?’

Legolas turned his head and gave the man a playful smile, warm and mischievous and completely elven. ‘You have a guide in me, Captain. I shall lead if you shall follow.’

Boromir laughed, and deep in his heart he knew that he cherished the Elf more than any comrade he had had before, more than any ring of power. ‘Then I am in good hands. Lead on, my Prince!’

The smile faded from Legolas’s face when he heard his noble title. ‘Who told you?’ he demanded, a tone of fear apparent in his voice.

‘Haldir,’ said Boromir, ‘but please do not resent him, Legolas, nor me. I would have discovered you were Thranduil’s son before long.’

‘I see.’ The Elf turned away, looking toward his far-off home. ‘And I suppose my heritage has nothing to do with the eloquent words of gratitude you spoke in Lothlórien?

Boromir was taken aback. ‘I am insulted you would think so poorly of my character. Do you still distrust me? What more must I do to convince you of my sincerity? It was no lie when I said that I owe my life to your heroic deeds, however foolish and reckless they were. I stand here now because of you, and I care not if you are peasant or prince!’ His voice softened and he drew close to Legolas, laying a hand upon his shoulder. ‘But it would have broken my heart to tell King Thranduil that his son died to save a mortal man’s life. Had I known sooner, I would have told you to leave me behind.’

‘You did,’ Legolas murmured, meeting Boromir’s eyes. ‘You begged for death, and I denied it you. I risked my life, being that I was responsible for your fall.’

‘You were responsible for nothing.’

‘Then why does my heart ache for you!’

Legolas’s words caught them both by surprise. The Elf turned his eyes askance, his face coloring. ‘Forgive me,’ he said gently. ‘I have difficulty accepting that a Man could possess more nobility than even an elven prince.’

Boromir’s eyes softened as he gazed at the fair Elf, who was somehow wounded more deeply than he had imagined. What had transpired to make him so melancholy? What could Boromir do to repair the unknown thing which had broken inside his friend, his mellon?

‘Legolas,’ he said, taking up the Prince’s slender hand, ‘there will come a time when we understand each other’s hearts, but it is not yet. However, if you can bear to stand by me through this war, to see it to its end with me, then I swear to you upon the souls of my fathers I shall stand by you until I die. You are my friend, Legolas, and I love you.’

Something hot and sharp went into Legolas’s heart, and it took his breath away—it was a realization. And it frightened him more than a hundred Balrogs, a thousand deaths, or a life without one.

‘Come,’ he said unsteadily, stepping away. ‘We must hurry if we are to reach Mirkwood by nightfall.’

The sky was darkening to deep lavender and the stars were beginning to smile by the time they came to the edge of Mirkwood. Even on the forest’s skirt the ancient trees were large and gnarled, their roots twisting into knots and tangles as they delved into the mossy, leaf-covered ground. Their heavy limbs were draped in ivy, their leaves as withered by winter as those of the trees. It looked as black as midnight within that ominous wood, and Boromir was loathe to enter it.

The chill of night was beginning to creep across the land, and Legolas attempted to hide his shivering. He lacked the layers which kept Boromir warm, for his clothes had been fashioned with the assumption that its elven wearer would not forsake his immortality and become a victim of the cold. So Legolas drew his Lórien cloak about himself and hoped that the man would not notice his pallor in the dim light of dusk. He recalled that fair autumn day when he had left Mirkwood with a few of his companions, laughing and singing despite the grim news they bore, traveling west to Rivendell and the Council of Elrond. He had been immortal then, his grace untarnished and his conscience light as a cloud. Now, in this dark hour, he was returning to his home as a shadow of his former self, weak and frail and ridden with guilt, ashamed and remorseful.

But he had Boromir to think about now. Boromir, who seemed content with his mortality.

It was different for one who had never possessed the gift of the undying, Legolas knew, but that only made him admire the Man’s bravery the more, for he was mortal. And the Elf suddenly found himself drawing hope and courage from those he once judged so pitiably unfortunate.

He pulled his thoughts from his own misery and gave them a more useful purpose, for now he was faced with the task of leading Boromir safely through the treacherous forest. ‘Dol Guldur is a mile or two within, high upon the hill we once called Amon Lanc,’ he said, turning to Boromir with a serious expression. ‘Do not stray from my sight, and keep me always in yours. Should we become separated, do not call for me. Stay where you are and I shall come for you. Light no torch, and make as little noise as possible. We do not wish to draw attention to ourselves.’

Boromir nodded, though every bone in his body urged him to stay out of that terrible wood. ‘How far will we go?’

‘As far as we can,’ Legolas answered, and turned his back to the Man. ‘I would advise you to take hold of my cloak. Even my eyes see little in this place at night.’

Boromir grasped the fringe of Legolas’ cloak. ‘I fear no darkness. Lead on, Legolas.’ And together they took their first steps into Mirkwood, disappearing entirely into its shadows.

They walked for a long time, as slowly and quietly as they could. The wood was as still as a tomb, and just as silent. All around them pressed the heavy blackness, threatening in the way a predator stalks its blind quarry. Every now and again the gleam of yellow or green or red eyes peered out at them, then vanished. Boromir thought he would surely be lost without his friend’s guidance, though after some time his eyes began to adjust to the unnatural dark. He began to see shapes, outlines of trees and branches, and the vague form of Legolas walking before him. He seemed less radiant now, Boromir thought, as if his elven glow had become tired and faded from their journey. The only object which caught any light at all was the mithril ring upon Boromir’s finger, though its sparkle was dampened by the shadows all around them.

After a while Boromir was unable to bear the silence, and asked, ‘Has this forest always been so dreadful?

‘Nay,’ said the Elf softly. ‘Once it was green and full of light, a place where birds sang and butterflies danced by day, and where the night-owl laughed and the fireflies played. The moon would shine down through the branches and cast her radiance upon the flowers that grow beneath the trees, and the river would murmur as it rushed over rock and root, clear and green before it went foul. My people used to sing to the night, and find joy in the rising of the silver moon and her host of stars.’ His voice grew sorrowful. ‘But I never got to see the Greenwood in its days of fairness; I was not yet born. There is no joy in this place now. Its beauty has been stained and its peace stolen, its form perverted and poisoned into the abomination that is now Mirkwood.’

Boromir waited briefly before gently asking, ‘Why then do your people not abandon this cursed place?’

‘Because,’ said the Elf, ‘it is our home, and we have no other place to go.’

The Man remained silent for a time, knowing for himself how difficult it was to see one’s home slowly taken over and destroyed before one’s own eyes. How much more difficult it is when you are the prince of your realm, or the son of its steward. If Legolas was anything like Boromir, they would both die before they saw their realms fall to Sauron’s evil. The thought was at the same time comforting and terrible.

The night drew on, growing deep. Boromir felt his exertions from that day catching up to him, and his pace slowed. ‘How much further until we can rest?’ 

‘Until it is safe,’ Legolas answered.

Boromir winced as dull pain throbbed through his wounds. Though he was loathe to stop in this place, it was far worse to press onward and risk undoing all of the healing the Elves has so generously administered to him. ‘I do not know how much longer I can continue. An hour more at the greatest, but I shall have to rest a short time at least.’

Legolas paused and stood still a moment, then he turned to Boromir. ‘I am driving you too hard; forgive me. We shall rest here.’

Camp with no fire is a miserable thing, especially on a cold night as this. They found shelter beneath the low branches of a beech and ate a little lembas before wordlessly retiring. Legolas agreed to first watch, though it was not long before fatigue was causing his eyes to glaze while he shuddered in the cold.

From his position sitting against the tree, Boromir watched with concern as the Elf’s shadowy outline trembled. He recalled the unaffected caprice he had witnessed upon Caradhras, the playful dismissal of the snow while the rest of the Fellowship cursed it, and wondered why Legolas was now so afflicted. Perhaps it was not cold but terror which was causing him to shiver. Yet when Boromir reached out and grasped Legolas’s hand, he was startled by its lack of warmth. ‘You are like ice!’ he whispered, and the Elf shot him a worried glance that Boromir could not see. ‘Why are you so cold, Legolas?’

He did not answer, but looked the other way, his heart sick with sorrow. He heard Boromir shuffling beside him, then felt something soft placed into his hand.

‘Take my gloves,’ Boromir admonished. ‘They are likely too large, but your hands will be warmer than without them.’

Legolas closed his hand around the offering. ‘Thank you,’ he said, and put them on. Boromir was right—they were too large for him, but the worn leather felt pleasant against his chilled skin. ‘You are very kind, Boromir.’

The Man mumbled his self-conscious welcomes and tucked his bare hands beneath his arms. ‘You look after me; I shall look after you. We shall look after each other and be better because of it. My father once told me: the whole of an army is greater than its parts; that together more can be accomplished than anything an individual by himself is capable of achieving…’ He trailed off, his words suddenly becoming more intimate than he had intended, and he wondered—very briefly, a fleeting thought—if Legolas were wed, what kind of an Elf she was, if she was a good match for him, if she loved him. If she would give her life for him as readily as he would.

Thinking had suddenly become dangerous, and the Captain of Gondor banished the images from his mind. He was tired and wished to sleep, and sleep soon found him. 

The night passed slowly. Legolas sat with his bow at his side and his hands clasped in his lap. They had become warm again. He thought often of Boromir and his words: a whole which is greater than its parts. Capable of more together than alone. Perhaps this was they, a Man and an Elf, who could unite their strengths and diminish their weaknesses, as one. Now, at this point in time, Legolas desired strength more than ever. He was ashamed to admit that he yearned for protection, for power, for comfort, for reassurance that mortality meant more than simply weakness and inevitable death. He came very close to rousing Boromir and telling him of his loss, though his elven sensibility stayed his voice. He swallowed his words and let them ferment in his mind. Sooner or later, he knew, they would be purged, that whether by his will or not, the truth would eventually come out.

Legolas was almost nodding when a new sound slowly faded into existence, not of the wind in the trees or the rustling of leaves, but voices, many fair voices, singing. They were elven, very faint, but still audible to elven ears. Legolas crawled to his feet and cocked his head, listening. The voices were distant, sad, the song’s words unintelligible. They seemed to be coming from the west, and Legolas pointed himself in that direction, wandering slowly. He knew he should not leave Boromir alone, but the Man was sleeping so soundly that Legolas was certain he would have time to investigate and return before he woke.

He walked noiselessly through the leaves, ears straining to discern words. Slowly they became clear as he drew nearer:

Long it has been
Since we have seen
The light of sun and moon

Long we have cried
As our kin died—
Our death is coming soon

Legolas did not know this song, and its macabre lyrics chilled him to his core. Elves singing of death and despair—it was not right. There were no Elf-homes this far south in Mirkwood. What could Elves be doing in this dangerous part of the forest?

We sing our grief
Yet no relief
Comes to set us free

We shall not stir
In Dol Guldur
When Death answers our plea.

Legolas stopped in his tracks. The trees had thinned, turning into hacked stumps and dead ivy, and above him loomed a black silhouette with flickering yellow eyes standing upon a stony hill bereft of vegetation. This was the source of the singing—this was the fortress of Dol Guldur. There were Elves, Legolas realized, his kin, his people, in that wicked place, singing of death and suffering.

O Elbereth!’ Legolas cried. ‘It cannot be!’ A fiery rage coursed through his blood, igniting his heart with righteous indignation. He listened to those fair voices continue their dirge, and knew that there was no way he would be able to leave this place without attempting to free them. He cursed himself for leaving his bow behind, yet his common sense told him that he had not enough arrows to storm that dark fortress by himself. Perhaps if Boromir helped him, it could be done. It was madness, he knew, but he must do something!

Legolas was in the act of turning around to fetch his companion when his world went black. A rough bag was shoved over his head and its cinch tightened round his neck. His arms shot out and struck metal armor, and then something heavy felled him from behind. The last thing he was aware of was the laughter of Orcs as they began to bind his hands.

Boromir opened his eyes. It was dark and silent, and he knew before he saw anything that he was alone. Some part of him was aware of Legolas’s absence. He felt it deep in his chest, a cold, worrisome hollowness. He sat up and stared blindly into the darkness, and though he knew he would not receive an answer, he called his name softly. His ears strained to hear the Elf’s approach, an apologetic voice for his temporary leave, but Boromir knew better. Something was terribly wrong. How he knew this he could not explain, but his heart was pounding with fear.

Where had he gone? What could have pulled him from his watch with such haste that he would forget his Lórien bow? Boromir picked it up, running his hands along the intricately carved wood. Legolas treasured this bow. He would part with it as reluctantly as Boromir would part with his sword. No, something had taken Legolas. The Prince was in danger. And then, in that moment, Boromir saw in his mind the fortress of Dol Guldur, and knew in every fiber of his body that he would find Legolas in that awful place.

He stood and slipped the pack of supplies onto his back, along with Legolas’s bow, but hesitated when it came time to take his first step. He knew not his bearings, nor which direction to take to reach Dol Guldur. He was utterly lost without Legolas, doomed and alone in the depths of Mirkwood.

He drew a slow breath and opened his heart and intuition, for his mind was no longer capable of leading him to his vanished friend. He began to make his way forward, eyes wide and blind, arms stretched out before him to prevent his collision with trees. He was frightened, though it came without shame; any other man in his position would have been screaming with terror, fleeing into trees and running circles, howling and weeping so loudly that all of the evil lurking in the shadows would have fallen upon him like predators upon their prey. Boromir controlled his fear and used it to keep him alert. He regularly bumped into trees and got tangled in dead ivy, but still he pressed on.

‘Legolas,’ he whispered, hoping that his fears were in vain, that the Elf would suddenly appear and laugh at his worry. ‘Legolas, are you near? I cannot see you. Legolas…?’

He wandered blindly for what seemed to be hours, and no sign of light or Legolas appeared. However, a growing feeling of apprehension had begun to settle in his belly, and Boromir became aware that he was being watched by something. Or some things. He could hear them in the branches above his head—a sudden faint scuttling, the sound of falling pieces of bark, dead leaves rustling. And before long he thought he heard them speaking to one another in quiet, rasping hisses.

Boromir calmly lowered himself into a crouch and began to run his hands over the ground, searching. Finding what he needed, he lifted the dead branch and drew a match from his pocket, lighting it with a scratch of his thumbnail. A small flame flared, intensely bright, and Boromir set it to the branch. The dry wood caught fire and light bloomed across his surroundings. The scrabbling and scratching heightened, and unearthly hisses rose with the noise of many irritated insects.

Boromir held the burning brand aloft and dozens of multi-faceted eyes recoiled, climbing higher into the trees around him. As his eyes adjusted to the light he could see the shapes which belonged to the eyes: eight-legged, large-bodied, fang-bearing.

‘So I have met the spiders of Mirkwood,’ he said. At his voice the huge arachnids began to clamor excitedly, saliva dripping from their mandibles. ‘I wonder,’ he continued, ‘if you are not the cowardly, stupid beasts who hide their repulsiveness from the world?’

A chorus of angry hisses and seething followed his words. Boromir began to get an idea of what he was dealing with, and his soldier’s mind started to formulate a plan. ‘So you are then sensible creatures? That is good. I have much to discuss with you.’

From high in the trees one of the larger spiders drifted slowly down on a thick string of silk, pausing as it was just out of reach of the burning branch. ‘No talk,’ it rasped in a thin, wicked voice. ‘You… die.’

Boromir concealed his shock, for he had not expected these vile monsters to possess the ability to speak. Now he knew their intentions, and his plan could be better implemented. ‘Die?’ he asked, feigning astonishment. ‘What have I done to deserve death?’

‘All trespassers… die,’ said the hanging spider, glaring at Boromir with its many beady eyes. ‘Man-blood… rare.’ This brought another round of excited noise from the hungry arachnids.

Boromir’s skin crawled. ‘I suppose man-blood is rare,’ he agreed, ‘yet I am a soldier, tough and old. My blood is bitter from war and my skin thick as leather. I would be no fine meal.’

The spider above him hissed lowly, considering his words. For a moment Boromir removed himself from the situation and tried to imagine what he looked like: a man trapped in the dark with a burning stick, trying to negotiate with a lot of ravenous arachnids. The thought stuck him as tremendously amusing, even in such a precarious position, and he had to suppress his urge to laugh. ‘My fine spiders,’ he said, ‘you deserve a better feast than that! What if I could promise you richer blood? Perhaps Elf-blood?’

This seemed to excite the spiders into near-frenzy, though the hanging leader remained unaffected. ‘What deal… have you?’

‘Lead me to Dol Guldur. I shall fetch your feast for you.’

‘You free… sirens?’

Boromir frowned. ‘Sirens?’

‘Elf-slaves’ The spider waved its legs. ‘Sing… lure prisoners.’

Boromir’s heart sank. Legolas. It could not be, yet there could be no other explanation: Legolas had heard the singing of Elves and followed them to his capture. Only the gods knew what became of him, or if he were still alive. And if he was alive, was he being tortured? Boromir swallowed his fear and anguish. ‘It was not my intention to free any slaves,’ he said, ‘but if I were to be led to Dol Guldur as swiftly as possible, I would return this favor.’

The spiders talked among themselves in their own insidious tongue while Boromir stood below, awaiting their verdict. If they disagreed he would be forced to draw his sword and challenge them all—and he was no match against these numbers—yet if they agreed…

‘We… have decided,’ said the chief spider, returning to dangle above Boromir. ‘Your word.’

‘You have it,’ Boromir said hastily, though a stab of betrayal went through his heart. He had never gone back on his word, not even a word given to his enemies. But he knew that he could not give Legolas to these beasts, nor any Elf-slaves that they spoke of. This was a matter of life and death, and Boromir realized that he would bear no guilt for breaking his word if it meant saving Legolas’s life. I shall at last repay my debt to him, he thought as he followed the spiders in the trees above. Take heart, Legolas! I will find you!

Chapter Text

Legolas awoke suddenly, as if from a terrible nightmare, but found that the nightmare had followed him into reality. He lay on his side with his wrists bound before him by thick ropes. They bit into his skin and had chafed it bloody. His wounded shoulder ached from his rough treatment, as did nearly his every limb. Worst of all, his captors had not removed the burlap sack from his head, and it was suffocating him. He sat up and began to pull at the cinch, though the knot was tied fast. His clever fingers made quick work of the cord, and he ripped the sack from his head, breathing in the hot, damp air gratefully. His hair was disheveled and the back of his head was sore from the blow that had stolen his senses earlier. He observed his surroundings.

He appeared to have been tossed—as if he were of no more value than a sack of dirt—upon the stone floor of some sort of larder, the only entrance or exit being the heavy wooden door to his left. There were no windows. Large kegs of grog and ale lined the walls. Empty barrels sat upright and were filled with putrid water, rusted tools and blades; others were not empty, and had blood oozing from between their rotted planks. The rank scent they gave off could only mean that they were filled with dead things, half-decaying in lumps of salt. Fear rose in Legolas’s chest when he noticed that the center of the room bore far less clutter than its corners, for a huge and battered wooden table was the only item there. Its surface was rubbed smooth from years of use, and stained black-brown from spilt blood. The Elf gazed at it warily, at the cuffed chains and leather straps dangling from its sides, at the crisscrossing blade-marks on its surface, at the harnesses hanging from the rafters overhead, and knew that he had been brought before a butcher’s table, a place where living creatures suffered long before they were finally slaughtered. He looked away, swallowing his sickness.

Hot fires burned in the three hearths opposite the door, but Legolas found no comfort in their warmth. Sweat ran from his brow and his clothes were damp with it. His captors had taken his belt, his cloak and his quiver, and the green outer layer of his jerkin, leaving him thinly dressed in his pale tunic. His bandaged shoulder showed through the open collar.

He drew himself into a kneeling position before slowly rising to his feet. His head swam but he remained standing, though he felt sick to his soul in this repugnant place, a sensation that only grew worse when he realized the gravity of his situation: he was trapped in the fortress of Dol Guldur, lured into capture by the voices of elven prisoners, and Boromir was abandoned, lost and blind, in the darkness of Mirkwood. The Elf cursed himself for his foolishness, though his heart was given over to sorrow instead of anger. Boromir would never find his way though the dangerous wood without an elven guide, and if Legolas were to perish in this awful place, then Boromir would perish as well.

I must free myself, Legolas thought, eyes searching the room for something he could use to cut his bonds. A dull scimitar hung on the opposite wall alongside hooks and iron rods—dull or not, it was better than nothing. Legolas limped slowly over, the healing wound on his thigh sending vague waves of pain through his leg. He had just reached the wall when there came the sound of approaching footsteps and harsh voices from outside, and the Elf drew a breath of surprise. He had no time to think of a course of action before the door was unlocked and thrown open wide.

Four massive Orcs strode into the room, snarling when they saw that their prisoner had awoken. ‘Very good,’ growled the one draped in a bloodstained leather apron. He drew a long, evil-looking knife from his belt. ‘They’s more fun to play wif when they’s awake.’

Terror, icy and savage as lightning, ripped through Legolas’s heart when two of the big Orcs began to approach him menacingly. But the Elf’s fighting instincts took over when fear threatened to take him entirely.

A slender leg shot out and, though it seemed hardly capable of harming such a beast, laid one of the Orcs out on the floor with a startled grunt. He landed face first; blood coursed from his mouth and rotten teeth scattered across the stones. Legolas grinned, pleased, before turning his attention to the upright Orc and kicking him squarely in the gut. When the big brute failed to go down, Legolas lurched forward, grabbed the Orc’s filthy, reaching hand with his own bound ones, and gave a quick, effectual twist. The sickening crack of bone sounded and the Orc released him, then sank to his knees screeching.

The two remaining Orcs bellowed in fury and commenced chasing the Elf about the room. Legolas deftly evaded his bumbling captors—jumping up on the table and delivering swift kicks to ugly faces, alighting upon barrels and sending them crashing down, spilling tools and scattering firewood, all the while trying to get between his enemies and the door. But that chance never came.

The toothless Orc had pulled himself upright during the chase and grabbed the obnoxious little pest by the ankles when he next landed on the table. ‘Gotcher!’ he snarled, and before Legolas could kick himself free, his feet were wrenched out from under him and he crashed onto the table. The four Orcs fell upon him with cruel delight, undaunted by the Elf’s violent struggles; he was outnumbered, injured, and soon overpowered.

Legolas lay on the table, bruised and bleeding, wounds singing with pain, with his bound hands pinned painfully above his head, and his ankles secured in the merciless hold of two Orcs. The head of the group leaned over him with a smile that did nothing to alleviate his hideousness. ‘Ye shouldn’t av done that, Elf. We was gonna make this quick an’ easy, but since ye decided to be sassy, we’s gonna do it the hard way now.’

Legolas leaned upward and spat onto his attacker’s face. Silence fell for a moment. The Orc did not bother to wipe the spittle away, but snatched up the Elf’s long golden hair in one claw and jerked it hard. A few seconds later the locks came away from their owner, sawed free by the blade of a wicked knife. Legolas’s head fell back against the table, and for the first time since he had been a very young child, he felt the ends of his hair brush against his cheeks.

The Orcs roared with laughter at the look of dismay and fury on Legolas’s face. ‘Watch out, Gorlok!’ they jeered. ‘I think he likes ye!’

Gorlok tossed the shorn locks to the floor. ‘We’ll cure ‘im of that. Nuzgut! Make ready the Iron Flame.’

The Orc called Nuzgut growled obediently and went to the wall decorated with implements of torture. Legolas watched with dawning horror as the brute took down a sharpened iron rod and thrust it into the fire. Soon the metal began to grow red-hot.

Gorlok leaned closed to Legolas’s face. ‘A word of advice, dove,’ he said, his sour breath causing the Elf to recoil, ‘strugglin’ only makes it hurt more.’ Yellow eyes searched Legolas’s body, coming to rest at his shoulder. ‘Well, now. Looks like this’d be a nice place ter start.’

Grasping the collar of Legolas’s tunic, Gorlok wrenched it open with a tearing sound, baring the Elf’s chest and bandaged arrow-wound. Legolas shouted in his native tongue and lurched up, fighting against the Orcs who held him down. They laughed at his futile efforts and tightened their hold. Gorlok grasped a clawful of gauze and ripped it away, exposing the scabbed red puncture on the Elf’s shoulder. He grinned as he called Nuzgut from the fire.

Legolas’s eyes widened with horror as the glowing metal rod was held above his vulnerable flesh. Gorlok cackled. ‘Let’s see how loud this dove can sing, lads!’ Laughter echoed all around.

Legolas shut his eyes tightly and braced himself. The flaming sharp iron pierced his wound slowly. He could hear his flesh hissing and smell the burning odor, but the pain was soon all he could think about. In all his centuries of life, never had he encountered pain as consuming as this. Tears, clear and pure, squeezed out from his shut eyes. He sucked in a sob, and that was the only sound to escape him. Fire and wrath seared his body, agony of all agonies, torture so acute it was blinding, a brand of suffering so merciless and cruelty so uncalled for that its thought alone was too terrible to bear. His whole body felt as if it lay within a bonfire, his heated blood coursing through his veins like magma and setting him ablaze from the inside out.

In a shadowy part of his mind Legolas knew that he was capable of escaping from this hell, but an image stood between him and his release: it was Boromir, smiling at Legolas the way he had in Lothlórien, laughing, embracing him, calling him mellon. For when Boromir had been in his boat, dying with agonizing slowness, the Elf had kept paddling. And when Legolas was twice shot by Orcs on the bank of the Anduin, was weak and outnumbered, still he had stood his ground. And as Boromir had lain upon the cot, having just awoken from his death-slumber while Legolas sat, bereft of his immortality, the Elf had kept hoping.

And now Boromir was alone in the dark of Mirkwood, with nothing but evil and death to keep him company. Legolas knew that he could not give in now, however terrible his pain. He cared for Boromir too greatly to come this far only to surrender. Now, as he lay upon a table, being violently tortured by Orcs, he realized what his heart had known all along. He knew how he had come to relinquish his grace, and knew that it was no accident. Because sacrifice made for love, Legolas thought, never happens by accident.

In the midst of all the blood and pain, a smile came to the Elf’s lips, and tears ran from his eyes. ‘How I love you,’ he gasped. ‘O how I love you!

The Orcs paused in their torture, bewildered by the apparent joy on their prisoner’s face. Gorlok grunted, ‘Wot’s the meanin’ of—’ when he was suddenly cut off by the deep bellow of a horn. It was faint, coming from somewhere outside, but its timber could not be mistaken.

Legolas choked out a laugh. It was the horn of Gondor.

Boromir drew another breath and sounded the call once more. From within the shadows of the forest’s eaves he watched the sentries scatter excitedly, screaming for archers to combat this unseen menace. Torches were lit and guards ran to the battlements while a troop of foot soldiers began to assemble at the fortress gate. He lowered his horn. ‘Well, that certainly lit a fire under their tails,’ he muttered. He raised the hood of his Lórien cloak over his head. He could hear the spiders clamoring behind him in their agitation. Though a terrible force themselves, they did not enjoy dealing with a small army of blood-hungry Orcs.

Hoping beyond hope that what was spoken of the elven cloaks was true, Boromir turned and ran as fast as he could manage, staying within the edge of the forest and keeping the ominous spectacle of Dol Guldur to his left. He went for some time until the moon shone left of the main tower instead of its right, and he was now facing the rear of the fortress. As he had expected, any additional guards at the gate were summoned away to meet the threat that had made itself known at their front door. Boromir trembled with anticipation before he bolted into the clear, keeping his head low and his body hunched, expecting at any time to hear the whistle of arrows or the shout of sentries. Miraculously, he heard nothing.

The empty ground betwixt forest and fortress rose steadily as Boromir jogged forward. A deep, empty moat awaited him as he came closer, and with desperate haste he crawled into it, taking care to avoid freeing loose rocks. He was halfway down when he lost his footing and tumbled the rest of the way, grunting in pain as he landed at the bottom. Two Orcs at the fortress gate turned at the sudden noise, yet they saw nothing but shadow and rock wherever they gazed. Boromir held his breath until the guards returned to their posts, then quietly exhaled. He was shaken from his fall but amazingly uninjured; the Lórien bow he carried over his back was also intact. He pressed on and soon pulled himself from the moat.

He came to the base of the fortress and paused to catch his breath, orienting himself as he did. The foot of Dol Guldur was surrounded by a hill of loose boulders, piled high up the wall to prevent against easy seizure. A stone bridge went from the gate over the moat and ended in a broad staircase leading to the wood; certainly the direct way in. Yet Boromir would have to climb this rocky bank in order to come over the side of the bridge and reach the gate. From thence, he thought grimly, stealth will not matter.

Making certain that he was shielded by his cloak, the Captain of Gondor began to ascend the stony hill.

The door burst open and a small company of Orcs stood in the threshold. ‘Leave the prisoner!’ the lieutenant snarled. ‘Get yer mangy hides up to yer stations!’

‘Why?’ Gorlok snapped. ‘We under attack?’

‘We will be, unless that ain’t a whole bleedin’ army right outside our gate!’ the soldier roared. ‘Now get movin’!’

Legolas gasped for breath as his immediate suffering was suspended, beads of sweat standing out on his brow. Nuzgut and the two other Orcs began to run about frantically, gathering arms, while Gorlok secured their prisoner; he grasped a dangling hook and chain from the rafters and brought it down to the table, then slid the hook tightly between the ropes securing Legolas’s wrists. He then moved to a crank on the opposite wall. Turning the handle, the Elf was hoisted up by his arms like a flag until his feet dangled several inches from the table’s surface. ‘Stay right there,’ Gorlok growled to him as he locked down the crank. ‘We’ll finish playin’ when I get back.’

A few moments later the Orcs trooped out and the door slammed shut. Legolas heard the sound of it being bolted, and then a calm silence fell about the room, an unsettling contrast to the violence that had just taken place within its walls. He released a long sigh and groaned involuntarily in pain. Blood was oozing from his shoulder and staining his tunic dark red. He prayed he was not too badly injured. The pain was still excruciating, especially now as he hung from the rafters like a carcass, but at least he was no longer being perforated by a hot iron rod. But perhaps best of all, Boromir was still alive and he had managed to find his way to Dol Guldur.

He has come to save me, Legolas thought. For how could he have known, unless our hearts are so united that we share one another’s thoughts?

He tried desperately to withhold his tears, for they were not borne of happiness. Boromir was one man, one sword, set against all of the Orcs in Dol Guldur and all of their evil weapons. He was certain to perish against such odds. It was as unfair a match as Gandalf and the Balrog, the beast that had stolen one of their most beloved friends from their Fellowship. How could Boromir ever hope to evade the heinous Orcs or match them in combat? It was impossible—it was madness!

And then Legolas became still, for the words of Haldir, Marchwarden of Lothlórien, came to his mind: ‘You must care deeply for Boromir to endure so much misery on his behalf.’

He would have done the same for me,’ Legolas whispered now, recalling his own reply, ‘as a true soldier of Gondor. I would gladly lay my life on his loyalty.’ He raised his head, staring at an unseen point high above the misery and suffering of Dol Guldur. ‘Find me, Boromir,’ he prayed. ‘Hope has saved our lives once before, in dark hours where it seemed the light of dawn would never find us. If we are lost, then we are lost together, and whether it is madness that drives us onward, or perhaps a love so great that we cannot yet see it for its power, may it bring you now to me.’

Legolas closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and regretted nothing.

Boromir pressed his back to the fortress wall. His ascent had gone undetected, and now he was but a short distance from the gate. Yet there was no way he could launch an attack from this position; the two armed guards would not patiently wait for him to mount the bridge so he can fight them. They would cut him down before he ever reached the bridge. And then there were the archers on the turrets above. It was a bad position, Boromir knew. But he was not yet out of ideas.

The Captain peered from the shadows and studied his opponents. He was very close now, and the slightest movement or sound could be detected. Very slowly Boromir lowered himself to his haunches and gathered a few fist-sized cobbles. If there was one thing he had learned from hobbits, it was that rocks were as suitable a weapon as any sword, provided one knew how to use them. Merry and Pippin, Boromir thought reverently, this is for you.

He drew back his arm and let fly a rock. It sailed unseen over the bridge and clattered onto the stones on the other side, creating a small slide. The two sentries immediately turned their backs to investigate the disturbance, and Boromir launched into attack. The second rock savagely struck one Orc directly on his helm, sending him reeling over the side of the bridge. The other guard spun about and a stone flew past his head.

‘Who’s the maggot tossin’ those—’ He was abruptly cut off when a dagger bearing the emblem of Gondor embedded into his throat. He collapsed with a bloody gurgle.

Boromir stumbled over the rocks until he was able to leap onto the bridge. He hastily wrenched his weapon from the dead Orc and shook the blood from its blade. He sheathed his dagger and drew his sword, and turned to the gate. The heavy doors were closed and impassable, but every fortress had a side-door for the guards to come and go at every shift. Boromir’s old combat instructor had told him that early on in Boromir’s life, very basic knowledge to him by now. He found the door not far from the gate, tucked away in a dark niche. Two mighty kicks at the lock splintered the wood enough that Boromir was able to shoulder his way through.

A narrow corridor awaited him. What lay at its end he knew not, and once he passed through there would be no turning back—Orcs would surely follow him from behind. It was a trap, and no seasoned soldier in his right mind would dare enter such a place. Yet Boromir was not entirely in his right mind at the moment. He plunged forth with reckless abandon, allowing the unbridled vehemence of battle to take his blood. He imagined Legolas a prisoner in this wicked place, a fair and ancient tree trapped in a garden of fire and smoke and twisted metal, subjected to the tortures of his grotesque captors, and a rage unlike that he had ever felt filled Boromir’s heart and turned his vision to red.

He came to a winding staircase at the end of the corridor and took it two steps at a time. Scarcely did he reckon cutting down the first Orc he came across, or the second, or the fifth and sixth. A trail of dying bodies followed in his wake, the fury of the Captain of Gondor unleashed upon Dol Guldur. He knew not where he was going or where the next passage would lead him—it did not matter. He would raze this fortress himself if he must, and leave none alive.

He became aware of shouts and roars from adjoining halls, and knew that his presence had been discovered. Though his fury lent him the energy to tear down the walls of Dol Guldur, his wisdom told him that skulking about in the shadows, while an embarrassment, would help him more easily find Legolas. Boromir’s warrior-pride was difficult to subdue, but in the end he ducked into a darkened corridor and shut the door behind him as a crowd of Orcs surged past.

Boromir sank against the wall and tried to still his pounding heart. It was quiet in this corridor, cold and damp. It smelled of mold and decay. Holding his sword poised, Boromir strode quietly down the way, passing by heavily barred doors. The prisons, he realized. A bright glimmer of hope fluttered in his chest. Here would he surely find Legolas! Perhaps his heart knew the way to the Elf better than his own head.

‘Legolas!’ he called softly. ‘Legolas, I am here! Do not fear. I have come to free you!’

He heard a shuffling behind the doors, and then came the words, spoken by a soft and unfamiliar voice, that stopped him in his tracks: ‘Ma le? Amman sí le?

Boromir turned. ‘Is someone there?’ he whispered.

Heniach nin? Iston le?’ the voice answered.

‘I do not understand you. Are you Elvish?’ He fumbled for words. ‘Edhel… edhellen?

Quiet voices seemed to come from all around him. Faint footfalls could be heard at the doors, behind whose barred windows appeared pale but beautiful faces. Boromir lowered his sword in awe. ‘You are the sirens,’ he murmured, gazing about the many doors.

‘We are Elves,’ said a fair voice, and Boromir moved to the door behind which it had come. Through the bars he saw a gaunt face staring back at him, large green eyes filled with torment and suffering. The once beautiful locks of auburn hair had been raggedly shorn by Orc knives, and an old scar ran from chin to crown, over cheek and brow. He looked young, yet Boromir knew that the Elf was of great age. ‘You are a Man,’ said the Elf with astonishment, eyes falling to the Lórien brooch of Boromir’s cloak. ‘Yet you wear the raiment of the Golden Wood!’

‘Have no fear; I am an Elf-friend,’ said Boromir.

‘How did you ever come to this place?’

‘My companion has been captured. I have come here to retrieve him.’

Nae, may the Valar forgive us!’ cried a voice from behind. ‘We do not want to sing! The yrch force us!’

Said another voice, ‘It is they who lay traps to capture brethren who come to free us.’

‘I may not be your brethren,’ vowed Boromir, ‘but I shall try to free you all the same. Quickly, where might I find new prisoners?’

‘All those captured are sent to the Table of Blood,’ said the Elf with the scar. ‘There they are broken or tortured to death.’

Boromir felt suddenly faint, and grasped the bars on the door to steady himself. ‘Where is this Table?’

‘I know not, but it is somewhere on the floor above our cells.’ The Elf gazed upward, a hollow expression of loss exaggerating his already depressed features. ‘So that the prisoners may hear the screams.’

The Captain of Gondor clenched his jaw in subdued rage and took a deep breath, gathering his senses for a moment. What beast could torture these fair folk so horribly and find pleasure in it? What devil could murder the innocent, mutilating and bleeding a race so gentle as the First Born? There was no conscience in these monsters, no regret or shame for their wicked deeds. They simply did it because they could, because it was what they were bred to do: destroy the beautiful, poison the pure, lay ruin to whatever goodness could be found. The reason was simple—the servants of Sauron, and every thing connected to him, was irrevocably and undeniably evil. The Ring, the Riders, the Orcs, this tower of iniquity in which he now stood, all created by evil to serve the purpose of evil.

Outrage, hatred, and a molten fire of righteousness flared within the forges of Boromir’s heart as he raised his head. ‘What is your name, friend?’ he asked of the scarred Elf.

‘Gelrin Gelínden,’ the Elf replied. ‘And how are you called?’

‘I am Boromir son of Denethor, Captain-General of Gondor.’

‘Gondor! You are far from home, Captain Boromir. Why have you journeyed to such dark lands as these?’

‘I have a duty to fulfill,’ Boromir muttered, turning away. ‘But first I must find my friend.’

‘Wait!’ Gelrin cried, thrusting his hands through the bars. ‘Please do not leave us, I beg you!’

Boromir turned and grasped the Elf’s hands. They were dirty and covered with dried blood, yet warm with immortal life. He gazed into green eyes and swore fervently, ‘On my honor, I shall not abandon you and your folk, Gelrin Gelínden, even if I must crawl here to die before your door. I will return.’

Tears of joy flooded the Elf’s eyes and he nodded resolutely. Boromir gave his hand a squeeze and then released him, and slipped out of the corridor as silently as he had come.

Chapter Text

Legolas could feel his body dying. The pain in his shoulder had consumed him, and now a rain of disconnected thoughts poured into his mind. He teetered on the verge of unconsciousness. Voices came to him, cross-sections of memories that seemed to have happened long ago to a wholly different person. Faces flashed before his mind’s eye, and the events of a time long passed entered his drowsy head:

I do not want to go to Imladris, Father.

For what reason? Does Lord Elrond fill you with fear?

Nay; but it is not my wish to bear ill news to his house.

How cowardly your words are! Show some honor and sense of responsibility, Legolas. It is our people’s fault that Gollum has escaped—

Then let those who failed their watch make the journey! Why should I be forced to pay for their negligence? Why must I be the one to receive the brunt of Lord Elrond’s ire, when I had no—

Enough! I shall hear no more of your complaints. Go to Imladris, Legolas, and may you return a wiser, more patient Elf than the disagreeable son that has left!

‘O adar,’ said Legolas softly, ‘rejoice if I should return to you at all.’ Clenching his teeth, he tried once again to extend himself as far as he could, toes dangling vainly in the empty air above the table. He hissed when his efforts caused his wrists to slide deeper into the ropes, cutting his flesh. He felt small threads of warmth unravel down the length of his arms, into his sleeves, and knew that it was blood.

So much blood, he thought. Soon it will all drain from me, and then…

Legolas craned his neck back and flexed his numb hands. He could not tolerate another useless attempt to swing himself free. The chain from which he hung was too short, and the pendulous motion had already rubbed his wrists to the point of agony.

I am going to die here. It has been too long. Boromir has surely been overtaken by now. The man to whom I sacrificed my grace…

He shut his eyes tightly, willing away the tears. He would not weep now. There was no more time for such things.

Legolas. Grief and regret will not undo what has been done, and it will not heal Boromir’s wounds. Despairing only deepens the darkness in your heart. Now is the time to hope and have faith. Surely Boromir would appreciate those virtues more than your pardons.

‘What hope do I have now, Haldir?’ he whispered.

I shall never forget your sacrifice, my friend. If I must forsake all memories save one when I pass into the halls of my fathers, it shall be of you.

Legolas shook his head, trying to rid himself of the dream-voices, for their presence meant that he was drawing ever closer to the end of his life.

You are my friend, Legolas, and I love you.

‘Why did I not reply? Why did I not tell him then?’

You are my friend, Legolas, and I love you.

‘Why must I die a fool when I have already lived my life as one?’ Legolas suddenly kicked his legs into the air, raging against his bonds, ignoring the pain that threatened to swallow him. ‘Why must I die with these unspoken words in my heart!

At that moment the heavy wooden door rattled on its hinges with a violent splintering sound. Legolas snapped to attention, dread seizing his heart. Only when the door gave way after the fourth blow, and a tall figure emerged from the shadows, did Legolas feel what had almost become unknown to him: joy.

Boromir rested his eyes upon the elven prince, and no amount of shadows or the lingering fury in his veins was capable of concealing his horror. ‘Legolas!’ he cried, sprinting to the table and sheathing his sword. The Elf was gasping for breath in an attempt to stifle his sobs of relief when Boromir mounted the table and drew his dagger. He wrapped his shield arm tight about Legolas’s waist, and held him so as to take the weight off of his arms while he cut through the thick ropes. He swore under his breath, cursing Orcs, cursing Dol Guldur, cursing every fell and evil thing that crawled upon Middle Earth.

Legolas leaned into the man, pressing his face against his shoulder. Comfort the likes of which he had never expected to feel again washed over him, and in that moment he came free from the hook, dropping into Boromir’s arms.

For several moments they stood in silence upon the table, embracing one another tightly, both aware of the impossibility of this reunion, unable to believe that—despite all odds, through forests of darkness and prisons of iron—they had survived and found one another again.

‘Never again will I leave you,’ Legolas said, clenching his bloody hands in Boromir’s cloak. ‘Forgive me.’

The Man held him very tightly for a few seconds, then he slowly pulled back and, taking Legolas’s dirt-smudged face into his rough hands, held him gently, stroking his thumb across the soft cheek. Boromir’s eyes seemed to take on a depth that fell far into the core of his soul. ‘Do not ask my forgiveness,’ he said, ‘for there is nothing—nothing—you could do that would ever cause me to cast you from my heart. Mellon.’ He pulled Legolas into another embrace, stroking his shorn, sooty golden hair. ‘My mellon.’

And for the first time in his long life, Legolas felt himself unworthy of something so precious. Never again, he imagined, would he find another living being so understanding, so forgiving, so tender in his love and fearsome in his passion, as the mortal Man who held him now, nor did he wish to believe that any other could compare to him. Such was the ignorance of true and real love, a trait that blinds one from the flaws of their beloved. The Elf could traverse the face of Middle Earth for thousands of years and find none who possessed even half of the honor of Boromir of Gondor. My heart had been right, Legolas thought, before I was even aware of its mortal beat.

Boromir’s voice brought the Elf from his hazy reverie: ‘They have harmed you badly. Let me see your wounds.’

Legolas allowed himself to be lowered into a seated position on the table while Boromir stood before him, studying his torn tunic, cropped hair, weeping shoulder, and raw wrists with darkened eyes and a grim face. ‘Did they’ He blinked long and swallowed the bitter words, then said haltingly, ‘Did they use you?’

‘No,’ Legolas answered quickly and averted his eyes, unwilling to entertain such horrific thoughts. ‘No, they only mutilated me.’

Boromir strained to suppress his anger, and leaned down to grasp the hem of the crimson tunic he wore beneath his leather jerkin. With his dagger he began to cut a wide ribbon about the circumference. He halved the torn strip and used each piece to bind Legolas’s chaffed wrists, and then set about tearing a larger strip to mend the Elf’s shoulder. He worked quickly, with the efficiency of a soldier long accustomed to dressing field wounds during battle. Legolas felt a deep appreciation for such overlooked skills.

‘That shall have to do,’ said Boromir, casting an urgent glance toward the door. ‘Come, we must hurry. Can your legs bear you?’

Legolas nodded.

‘Good. Follow me.’ With quiet haste they slipped from the room though the shattered door, but Legolas paused just outside the threshold. Boromir turned to give him a curious glance.

‘I must first do something,’ he said, and disappeared inside the room. A few moments later there came several loud crashes, and when Boromir sprang to the door he saw Legolas approaching with a torch in hand. Behind him lay the shattered remains of three barrels once filled with grog. ‘No Elf shall want for death upon that table,’ he said, staring at the icon of torture. ‘I was its last victim.’ And he tossed the burning brand into the room. The grog caught fire with a great flapping sound, like that of a sail filling with wind. Boromir stared at him with both fear and admiration, for he had never witnessed such vengeance from so fair a heart. Legolas possessed a noble disposition and elven temperance, this Boromir knew, but he also held a terrible fierceness that belied his fair face, making him both beautiful and deadly, a wild creature roaming in places where all others feared to tread. And the Man felt no shame in admitting that he wished he possessed such traits with the same fervor as the Prince of Mirkwood.

Boromir took up Legolas’s hand, leading him along a broad corridor and to a dilapidated staircase that fell into blackness. ‘Mind the bodies,’ he cautioned, kicking aside a dead Orc he had hewn in two from head to chest. ‘And excuse the entrails.’

Legolas grinned. ‘Do you always leave such a gruesome mess behind you, Captain?’

He could hear the smile in Boromir’s voice as he replied, ‘Only when something of great value is at stake.’

The stairs ended, and from above they could hear the sounds of chaos and disorder. No doubt the Orcs had discovered the blaze and were beginning to battle it; that would buy precious time for Boromir to fulfill his oath. ‘This way,’ he hissed, pulling Legolas past several halls. Orcs were shouting and running down many of these, though they took no notice of two fair enemies traveling safely within the shadows. ‘In here,’ said Boromir as they came to a broad doorway. It closed behind them and an atmosphere of eerie stillness settled in the darkness where they stood.

‘What is this place?’ asked Legolas softly, looking at the barred doors that lined the corridor.

‘The prison cells,’ answered Boromir. ‘And what lured you to Dol Guldur.’

The sound of movement behind the doors reached Legolas’s keen ears, and he uttered a wordless oath when he saw the faces that lay beyond the iron bars. ‘No!’ he cried to himself in his own tongue, stricken. ‘Why could it not have been an illusion? Such a nightmare cannot be true!

Boromir immediately went to Gelrin’s door and found the Elf waiting for him. ‘Did you find your friend?’ he asked hopefully, and expressed his relief at Boromir’s confirmation. ‘I hope he did not suffer long at their hands.’

‘He suffered,’ Boromir murmured, ‘but the reign of blood was ended by his hand. No Elf shall again be tortured in Dol Guldur.’

Legolas appeared behind him, looking anxious and desperate. ‘We must free them, Boromir. We must get them out of here!’

‘I plan to,’ he muttered, studying the reinforced door. ‘I could try breaking the lock.’ He drew his sword. ‘Stand back, Gelrin!’ The Elf obediently moved to the other side of his cell.

Boromir’s heavy blade fell uselessly on the door’s lock, sending sparks flying. Gelrin winced at the tremendous noise, covering his ears as the strikes continued. After a few moments Legolas laid a hand on his arm and said, ‘Lend me your knife, Boromir.’ The Man slipped the blade from his belt and passed it to the Elf, then turned back to try another plan. Swords were obviously worthless here—perhaps brute strength would be more useful. He took an iron bar in each hand and pulled as hard as he could, groaning under the strain. The little window did not give, no matter how hard he tugged and wrenched. The sudden sound of scraping metal caused Boromir to turn to Legolas, who was effectively chipping away at a rusty hinge with the edge of his dagger. With some difficulty he wiggled the bolt loose and plucked it from its hinge. He then set to work on the next.

Boromir stood dumbfounded and imagined himself quite silly for not having thought of such a clever trick. ‘I am glad you are with me, Legolas,’ he said as he busied himself with the hinges of another door, ‘to act wisely when I act foolishly.’

Legolas remained focused on his work and replied, ‘And I am glad you are with me, Boromir, to act bravely when wisdom counts for nothing.’

At last the final bolt fell free and the impenetrable door was heaved open from the opposite fulcrum. Gelrin stepped from his cell, gazed upon the face of Legolas with surprise, and bowed low in the elven custom. The prince felt his heart crumple with grief at the pathetic-looking Elf before him. ‘Please, do not bow to me,’ he begged. ‘I am not the being I once was.

Nor am I, your highness,’ replied Gelrin, the pain in his eyes unmistakable. Legolas placed a hand upon his shoulder and said nothing more. Together they turned to the remaining cells.

One by one the doors fell loose, and the freed Elves eagerly set to work on the doors still holding their captive kin using whatever tools or strength they had. It pained Boromir to see these poor creatures in full: their shorn hair, their thin, scarred bodies, their ragged clothes. Some he noticed were missing fingers or an eye, and cruel notches had been carved into their pointed ears. Such images filled him with the desire to see Dol Guldur burn to ashes, yet even that would not be enough to rectify the terrible crimes that had transpired within these walls. If the earth opened up and swallowed this fortress into a pit of darkness and fire, ruled by beasts more terrible than Balrogs or trolls, still it would seem too merciful for these wicked fiends.

At last the final door fell open, and the remaining prisoners took their first steps into freedom. Boromir made a quick count: sixteen in all, eighteen counting Legolas and himself. It would take a miracle for them to flee the fortress without notice; however, it was through miracles that they had come this far. Perhaps their fortune would last a little while longer.

‘This way,’ Boromir said, ushering the Elves from the corridor and into the open. ‘Stay together. Legolas, bring up the rear while I clear the way for them.’

‘I cannot fend off Orcs with your dagger alone,’ said Legolas. ‘I have been stripped of my weapons.’

‘Not all of them!’ Boromir took the Lórien bow from his back and tossed it to Legolas, and he caught it with a startled smile. ‘You will have to find arrows, I’m afraid. But I trust a bow that sturdy could cause quite a bit of pain when taken to one’s head, aye?’

‘Just lead us out of here, Captain,’ said Legolas cheerfully. ‘Let me worry about my weapon.’

Boromir nodded and held his sword before him, peering around the corner ere signaling the Elves to follow. Last came Legolas, sharp eyes watching for enemies that might appear. Through narrow passages and dank halls they went, moving as quietly as they could while the noise from the floors above grew in intensity. It was clear by now that the Orcs had discovered no army lay for them behind the trees, and the fire in the torture-room must have alerted them that the enemy could already be inside the fortress. Time was short and they needed to make haste, yet they could not move fast with such a large caravan. Boromir’s heart thudded in his chest, never knowing if the next turn would bring them to a mob of angry Orcs, armed and ready to cut them down. With one sword, a single dagger, and a bow with no arrows, they stood little chance against such a crowd. Boromir prayed that he was leading his charges to safety. He felt responsible for these Elves now, and should anything happen to one of them he would never be able to forgive himself. Failure was not an option at this point—he must succeed or die trying.

Two Orcs blocked the next corridor, and Boromir made swift work of them both, then led the Elves past the dying bodies. Gelrin paused to spit on them before following. Just when Boromir was certain he had taken a wrong turn in this labyrinth of passages, a breath of cool fresh air caused him to run ahead and find the splintered door through which he had entered. Sentries were nowhere to be seen, save for the one dead Orc still lying upon the bridge. Boromir returned to his company and motioned for them to hurry through. One by one they stepped into the night air, and Legolas emerged last. He appeared troubled. ‘I hear many footsteps in our wake,’ he said to Boromir in a quiet voice. ‘I fear we have been discovered.’

‘Then we must move quickly,’ he said, and turned to the Elves that stood awkwardly in small groups. ‘There are archers on the turrets,’ he told them. ‘On my signal, split up and run as fast as your legs can carry you. Keep your heads down, and arms tucked close to your bodies. Do not run a line, but dodge to and fro, like a stag fleeing wolves. When you reach the trees, wait for the others. From there we shall reassemble and make our way through.’

The Elves stood quietly for a few moments, and then one, a young Elf with only one eye, said very softly, ‘Thank you, Captain Boromir.’

The severity of the moment seemed to lessen at the sound of those gentle words, and Boromir gave a nod of acceptance. Legolas stepped forward. ‘We cannot all pass at once,’ he whispered.

‘That is our only chance,’ Boromir replied, turning away from the others so that their conversation was more private. ‘If your ears were correct—and I am inclined to believe that they were—then any moment now there is going to be a small army of Orcs at our heels, and if we are not all off this bridge by then’ He reached up and began to unclasp his Lórien cloak.

‘What are you doing?’ Legolas demanded as Boromir proceeded to fasten the brooch about his throat. ‘Boromir!’

‘Your leg is injured and you are slow,’ he said plainly. ‘May my cloak own to its purpose and shield you from unfriendly eyes.’


‘You must. If any arrows are shot, they will be aimed towards me.’

‘I refuse,’ Legolas uttered, his face dark with anger.

‘That choice is not yours,’ said Boromir.

Legolas grasped his bow with livid hands. ‘Foolish Man!’ he cried. ‘Stubborn, stupid Man!’ 

Boromir gracefully accepted the insults and the embrace that immediately followed.

‘I will not live to mourn you,’ Legolas warned.

Boromir tightened his arms around the Elf. ‘Then live to honor me.’

Legolas murmured, ‘I already do.’

Slowly they parted, and Boromir gazed for a few moments upon the face of his own heart, his mellon. ‘Run,’ he bade. ‘Now.’

And then Legolas was gone, flying silently across the bridge with the rest of the elven prisoners. They reached the ground safely and their formation scattered. Then a cry sounded from the turrets above and the arrows began to streak down, barely missing their marks. Boromir sheathed his sword, took a deep breath, and plunged out into the open.

‘Get him!’ a voice screamed. ‘Get the Man! Shoot him down!’

Boromir threw himself to the left and heard the arrow smash into the stone bridge. Another arrow whistled over his shoulder, and he changed direction.

‘Don’t let ‘im get away, you fools! Shoot him!

An arrow struck the bridge before him and he tripped, rolling haphazardly across the stones. Arrows rained all around Boromir, clattering and ricocheting, whizzing through his hair, tearing through the skirt of his jerkin. Within seconds he was on his feet again and running as fast as he could go, fighting to control his panic, embarrassed by his fear, ashamed of his retreat. This was not how a soldier upheld his honor. Perhaps, he thought fleetingly, I have replaced my warrior’s heart with that of a lover’s.

Up ahead the first of the Elves had reached the forest and disappeared into its darkness. A hundred more paces and Boromir would be with them. Yet where was Legolas? He was nowhere to be seen. If he had fallen, his cloak would make it impossible for human eyes to see him in the shadows—what if he had been struck by an arrow?

Boromir shook his head, banishing all doubts from his mind. Legolas had not fallen. He was running, perhaps already within the trees. There could be no other way. There was no other way.

A great row sounded from the fortress; they had escaped just in time, for the angry crowd Boromir had dreaded came pouring forth from the gate. Arrows thudded into the ground at his heels, along with spears and spikes flung from the foot soldiers. Boromir stumbled over one and then another. But as the distance between him and his enemies grew wider, the accuracy of their arrows became less and less, until finally the awful sound of flying projectiles was left behind. He heard the call to cease volley, and the Captain burst into the welcome cover of the trees. He paused to catch his breath a moment, leaning his hands upon his knees. ‘Legolas! Gelrin!’ he called, looking about for any signs of the Elves. ‘Anyone! Are you there?’

‘We are here,’ came a small voice, and a cluster of Elves emerged from between the trees. They appeared uneasy. Boromir stepped forward and took a quick count.

‘Many are still missing. Did you see any of your people fall?’

‘Nay,’ said one Elf. ‘I was one of the last to reach the wood. I saw none fall.’

‘Some good news at last,’ Boromir sighed. ‘Wait here. I shall go to find the others.’

No sooner had he spoken those words than a scream rent the air, causing all of them to start and take hold of one another. Boromir’s blood went cold when he realized the safe haven into which he thought he had led the Elves was in truth a trap; that the spiders, he had forgotten, would be waiting to receive their promised prizes. Another scream rang out, ending much too abruptly.

Boromir drew his sword and began to run in the direction of the cries. ‘Stay close to me!’ he shouted to the Elves behind him. ‘Do not let me leave your sight!’ He tore through branches and ivy, stumbled over roots as the forest around him grew thicker and blacker. The edge of the wood slowly began to fade from view, and Boromir feared to lose himself in the dark until he came upon a clearing, where the faintest of starlight illuminated his surroundings.

It was turmoil, a horrific scene set before him: Elves fighting spiders with rocks and sticks, some struggling to free themselves from tangled strings of web. In the midst of all this Boromir caught sight of Legolas, valiantly matched against two large spiders who had already wrapped one Elf from head to foot, and were attempting to drag him away. The beasts hissed and champed at the Lórien bow that struck them mercilessly, but were unprepared for Gondorian steel to relieve them of their front legs. The spiders screeched and recoiled, leaving their victim as they retreated into the trees. Legolas knelt before the Elf and set to work freeing his brethren with Boromir’s dagger.

‘Wicked man!’ the wounded spiders screamed in their thin voices, their abbreviated limbs oozing viscous black blood. ‘Your word! Your word!’

Legolas raised his head toward Boromir. ‘What do they mean, your word?’

The Man’s face was creased with remorse. ‘I convinced them to lead me to Dol Guldur,’ he answered haltingly, ‘on the condition that I bring them a fairer feast than what they found wandering blind in the forest. I gave them my word I would deliver Elves to them.’

Legolas was astonished, and his face mirrored his feelings. ‘You bargained with the spiders of Mirkwood?’

Boromir nodded like a scolded child. To his surprise, the elven prince smiled. ‘Then they shall have us—if they can catch us!’ And Legolas leapt to his feet and began to harass any spider within his reach. Any Elf on his feet was engaged in vicious combat with these most-abhorred beasts, using whatever means available to him. For beings so fair and frail-looking, they wrought havoc upon the spiders without mercy or reservation. The spiders squealed as legs were broken, eyes put out, bodies pierced with sticks and battered by rocks. Boromir felt a spring of new energy pour into his spirit and he lit into his enemies, who climbed high in the trees for safety and hissed their dismay at being fooled. ‘Miserable man!’ their chief snarled, nursing several gouged eyes. ‘Betrayer! Gave us—your word!’

From down in the clearing the Captain of Gondor shouted, ‘Then take my word and leave my friends be, or I shall hunt you and finish what was started!’ From behind him came a group of Elves, throwing stones and pebbles with superior accuracy at the chief spider and his followers, until at last the foul beasts screamed for retreat and disappeared into the trees. 

Silence descended upon the clearing, and Boromir shook the blood from his sword and sheathed it. He turned, regarding the pale but proud faces all around him. ‘Thank you, one and all. Hanna… hannon le,’ he said gently, and several of the Elves smiled at his use of their language. ‘Is everyone accounted for?’

‘Aye,’ said Legolas, appearing from the trees with a shaken-looking young Elf. ‘They tried to make off with Fëaldas here but encountered an unpleasant surprise.’

‘I can scarcely imagine what that might have been.’

Legolas smiled, and in the faint light Boromir saw that his face was covered in thin red scratches, undoubtedly from a tussle within the branches. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked, stepping close to examine the shallow injuries.

‘Of course,’ Legolas answered and met Boromir’s eyes for a moment. ‘You have freed the innocent from Dol Guldur, and saved me from a fate worse than death.’ His grin widened. ‘And you negotiated with the spiders of Mirkwood!’ He laughed. ‘Never has such a reckless and insane thing been conceived, let alone committed! I think you are truly mad, Captain, maddest in the most courageous sense.’

‘I did what I could in order to find you again,’ said Boromir modestly. ‘And sanity is a small price to pay for a friend.’

The warmth and sincerity in Legolas’s eyes caused the man’s heart to swell with adoration.

‘My lords,’ said Gelrin, glancing worriedly in the direction of Dol Guldur, ‘what shall be done now?’

Boromir regarded Legolas, bowing his head slightly to indicate that the prince now held the authority to command and console his people, as a leader rightfully should. 

‘We shall move to a safe distance from the fortress,’ Legolas announced, ‘and tend to any injuries. At dawn we shall find our bearings and thence head north, towards home.’

‘Home,’ Gelrin repeated, and tears of joy filled his eyes. ‘Never did I imagine this day of freedom would come, and by the hands of our own Prince Legolas and his brave Captain of Gondor!’

The Prince and his Captain smiled, and together they led the free Elves from the shadow of Dol Guldur.

Chapter Text

The pale light of dawn was creeping into the grey sky as the company of Elves and one Man deemed their distance from Dol Guldur great enough to rest and tend to wounds. Boromir regarded the weak and tired Elves with sympathy, and consulted with Legolas upon the matter of sharing their personal rations. Both agreed, and with great care divided their supply of lembas and other perishables among the former prisoners, all of whom expressed their deepest gratitude. A few of them even wept to taste their sorely-missed fare once more, having been forced for too long to eat the gruel of Orcs.

Legolas took Boromir aside afterward and said, ‘There is not much left now. We must be careful if we expect to last the journey across Mirkwood.’

Boromir gazed long at the elven prince, paying little mind to his words; his face was too wan, his chopped hair streaked with dirt and dried blood, his eyes dark and restless, and the state of his torn and bloodied garments made him appear in worse condition than he was. ‘Do not worry, Legolas,’ said Boromir comfortingly. ‘I shall look after us all. It is my job—I am a captain, and my first concern is always the survival of my men.’ He smiled gently. ‘Do not burden yourself with these matters. You must rest. Come, let me prepare a place for you.’

He led Legolas to a quiet spot beneath a pair of ancient lindens and built a fire to ward off the morning chill. Other Elves had done the same in small groups, and now sat clustered about their fires, treating each other’s wounds or resting easy in the comfort of their newfound freedom. Their number was enough that they feared no fell creatures drawn to their presence. It was a merciful luxury, and none was more grateful for the fire’s heat than Legolas. He had been miserably cold since setting foot into the night, and now he watched guiltily as Boromir removed his leather jerkin and offered it to him. ‘Nay, Boromir,’ he said, ‘you have done enough. I already have your cloak—’

‘And still you shiver,’ said Boromir, frowning. Legolas fell silent and could not meet the man’s gaze. Boromir softened his voice. ‘Please accept it. I have many layers beneath this, and you have only your undergarments, and a cloak whose purpose is to conceal and not to warm.’

Legolas did not answer, but received the jerkin with a weary expression and put the garment on. It was much too large for him, but it was indeed warm. Boromir fed the fire with sticks and sat with his companion in silence. He was not aware that anything was amiss until Legolas spoke to him. It was then that he saw how deep the shadows were in the prince’s eyes, and he became alarmed.

‘I must tell you something, Boromir,’ said Legolas softly. ‘I have lost something very precious. Something which cannot be replaced.’

Boromir, already distressed by the Elf’s demeanor, tried to guess the reason. ‘Your knives? They can be replaced, I am certain—or found, if perhaps they—’

‘Nay, mellon nín, is not my knives, though I wish it was something so trivial.’ Legolas closed his eyes and spoke as if he were far away: ‘Boromir, I am mortal.’

The Captain of Gondor felt his heart go suddenly cold, as if he had forgotten something critically important only to remember it all too late. For a moment he could neither speak nor breathe, only stare with a veil of despair and disbelief on his ashen face. Before he could utter a word to express his puzzlement, Legolas began to speak: ‘The Firstborn of Ilúvatar are blessed with immortality, and are also given the power to relinquish this gift… or pass its power to one on the brink of death, in order to save his life.’

‘I do not understand,’ said Boromir, his throat growing thick. ‘Please tell me you did not…’

‘At some point between Amon Hen and Lothlórien, as you lay dying in my boat, my heart decided that I loved you, Boromir, and it gave my grace to you.’ A glimmer of happiness shone on Legolas’s face, and his mouth would have smiled had he not been so pained by his confession. ‘Understand, Boromir, that I do not regret the choice that was made.’

‘What choice?’ Boromir spat, his shock burning fiercely in his eyes. ‘You had no choice at all!’

‘It does not matter. It was a worthy sacrifice, I see that now.’

‘But you are a prince, for pity’s sake! Whereas I—’

‘You said yourself you did not care about my station.’

‘Confound station! I have taken your life!’

Legolas reached forth and grasped Boromir’s shoulder, his slender hand strong and reassuring. ‘But you have given me a new one. You have saved me from death at the hands of our enemies. You have shown me kindness and compassion. You have saved six and ten of my people—my own people, to whom you owe nothing—from countless years of suffering.’

Boromir was quiet for a while, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. ‘So that is why you love me? Because of my good deeds?’

Legolas’s face creased with hurt. ‘Nay. I love you because your deeds define who you are: a righteous man; a strong, courageous man who will throw himself at the mercy of Sauron’s evil to save those he cares about; because I admire you, because I respect you; because my heart is for ever bound to your fate. I love you, Boromir, as I will love nothing else henceforth in this world. What about that is so difficult for you to comprehend?’

Boromir slowly raised his head. ‘The idea that a creature so fair and wise’—he reached up to touch Legolas’s cheek—‘could return an old soldier’s love.’

Legolas grasped the hand that brushed his face and brought it to his lips. Never had Boromir felt such softness against his flesh as this, the kiss of a Firstborn, nor had so simple a gesture ever stirred the coals of his heart to blaze as they did in this moment.

When Legolas lifted his head, he passed a reassuring smile to Boromir and cradled the Captain’s large, weathered hand in his own pale, smooth ones. Boromir, unable to speak and unwilling to break the intimate aura of this glorious moment, brought his other hand up to meet Legolas’s, and they twined their fingers together into a knot of flesh and bone—leather on silk, steel on silver, a tangle of common parts made beautiful by virtue of their contrast.

Boromir released a tremulous sigh and bowed his head, and two tears skidded down his rough cheeks. Legolas leaned forward and rested his crown on Boromir’s, and for a long while they remained thus, head and hands and hearts touching, communicating to each other a wordless language clearer than any tongue spoken in Middle-Earth. They dreamt though they slept not, sharing visions and memories and cares until, unbeknown to them, they drew breath at the same time, and their blood beat through their bodies in unison.

The fire had burned low by the time they finally parted, drowsy and slightly disoriented. Legolas brushed away the shortened strands of golden hair that were tickling his cheeks. ‘I don’t understand,’ he murmured. ‘I feel as if I’ve been away for days. I am so weary…’

Though he too ached with fatigue and dull pain from his healing wounds, Boromir drew upon the reserves of his strength as he had long been trained to do. ‘Rest then, Legolas. You need it most of all.’

‘Perhaps. But I fear nightmares of Dol Guldur will make my rest fitful.’

‘They shan’t,’ said Boromir. ‘Lie here by the fire, and I will watch over you.’

There was no pallet or bedroll to lie upon, but the ground was soft enough at the fire’s edge. Legolas lay on his side and drew Boromir’s jerkin around him like a blanket. He rested his head upon his bended arm and gazed listlessly into the orange flames until his eyes became vacant and he was asleep.

Boromir tended the flames as he fell into deep thought. More than once his eyes caught the faint glimmer of silver upon his left hand: the mithril ring, given to him by Lady Galadriel. He had nearly forgotten—so long ago it seemed, yet it had scarcely been two days. Though his hand was stained with dirt and blood the ring remained untarnished, untouched by grime and wear. Boromir recalled Galadriel’s cryptic words, mulling them over as he raked the embers and became lost in his own thoughts.

Wrought in silver mithril, the ring of two and one
Whose immortal glow cannot repair the damage done.
However fair and strong, the leaf shall one day fall,
Lost before its time—farewell, the greenest leaf of all. 

‘Lost before its time,’ he said to himself, glancing at the sleeping prince. ‘However fair and…’ Boromir’s words trailed into silence, and a strange sense of understanding sent a shaft of light slicing through the darkness of his troubled mind. He turned his gaze to the ring upon his finger. ‘Whose immortal glow cannot repair the damage done.’ He immediately began to work at removing the ring, though it seemed stuck fast to his finger. He drew his lips taut and ignored the discomfort, twisting as gently as he could.

Bought with tears and blood, this ring to represent
The hope which took it further than its power ever meant.

‘She knew,’ Boromir murmured. ‘She knew he was mortal. She foresaw Dol Guldur. She knew for what this ring was meant. An everlasting token, of loyalty and friendship—’

There was a metallic snap, and Boromir’s hand came suddenly free.

And a love that can’t be broken.

He looked down to discover he still wore a ring upon his left hand, yet in his right he held another, which he raised for a better look. It did not appear broken or maimed, and it was fashioned as the other, though it appeared slightly larger. No doubt it was this ring which had hidden the smaller within its circumference.

‘The ring of two and one,’ said Boromir reverently. For a few moments he delighted at his deciphering of Galadriel’s message, having never been a man with a head for codes or riddles; he had always left that to his brother Faramir, who was very clever in the ways of words and lore. Yet still Boromir wondered: a ring made of two, for what? Was not this ring for him alone? Why hide another within it, unless it was meant for someone other than—

A shadow passed suddenly over Boromir’s face, for now he fully understood. Lady Galadriel had known of Legolas’s mortality, of the hardship his sacrifice would bring to both himself and Boromir; yet she must also have known of the love and friendship that would arise out of this otherwise unfortunate event, of the myriad blessings that would come to both Man and Elf. She had known that this experience would leave their hearts bound to one another, and she had given them symbols of her approval.

‘To keep, protect and trust,’ Boromir murmured, staring at the ring. Such trinkets were meant to bind, to tether. The last ring Boromir had desired nearly cost him his life, as well as the life of one now dear to him. Boromir closed his fist over the ring and attempted to gather his senses. I could not, he thought. We are of two different peoples, two different stations, two different worlds.

He opened his eyes and regarded the sleeping Elf.

Yet he is now mortal, no different than I. He bleeds as I, he weeps as I, feels pain and hunger and cold as any Man.

…No. No, I could not condone this. And even if I did, what have I to offer an elven prince? None of the things his people treasure. We are yet strangers to one another, for Legolas knows little of me and I even less of him. What would his father say? What would both our fathers say?

Boromir kept vigil over Legolas as the fire crackled and the morning dawned grey and dreary all around them. Still his thoughts blustered in his mind.

He could not deny that he cherished Legolas, that he loved and admired and desired him. But would Legolas willingly wear this ring for the rest of his life? Would he bind himself to Boromir, a mortal Man? Lasting love was never a dream of Boromir’s; he was a soldier of Gondor, and he had forever been wed to his sword, never seeking a commitment beyond a single night’s passions. And Legolas: he was an Elf, a free spirit, loyal to his kin and his homeland, and the countless years of life that separated them had only just brought him to his prime. Who was Boromir to lay the coat of Gondor upon a being so fair, to burden him with a life of duty and obligation to his lord? How could he even presume to possess such a lovely creature as a man possessed his wife? He could not!

Legolas stirred quietly and then lay still again. Boromir worked his ring off of his finger and held it in his hand with the smaller one.

Wrought in silver mithril, the ring of two and one
Whose immortal glow cannot repair the damage done.
However fair and strong, the leaf shall one day fall,
Lost before its time—farewell, the greenest leaf of all.

Bought with tears and blood, this ring to represent
The hope which took it further than its power ever meant.
To keep, protect and trust: an everlasting token
Of loyalty and friendship, and a love that can’t be broken.

With these echoes churning through his thoughts, Boromir closed his eyes and wondered if his heart was not already spoken for; for if it was, attempting to reason with it was an utter waste of time.

Midday approached; Boromir roused himself and woke Legolas, who seemed much improved from his rest. They spoke nothing of their earlier conversation or personal matters, but with a mutual sense of duty went about the task of ensuring the wellness of the group and finding their bearings. They distributed rations of water and prayed that they would find a stream ere the close of day, lest they suffer thirst. Together the company of Elves gathered and set out, Legolas leading the way and Boromir bringing up the rear.

They walked single file or in pairs through the brush until they came upon a narrow trail, little more than a beaten path. Legolas was gladdened by this discovery and urged the company to march with haste. In the dim light of day that filtered down though the brown leaves, Boromir was able to more clearly see the forest of the Woodland Realm and marvel at its mystery and beauty. The trees were steadily becoming larger the deeper they wound into the forest’s core, and gradually things began to look greener, more healthy and less menacing. The ivy that grew in all places lay dormant instead of dead, waiting for the first warm breath of spring to stir it from its winter slumber. The carpet of dead leaves gave way to green things, moss and grass and thriving shrubs. The unseen clouds above broke and shed golden sunbeams through the branches, lighting up the surroundings with a soft yellow glow. Boromir saw woodland creatures, deer and black squirrels and birds, watching the party’s trek through the forest. Somehow his heart was made lighter by the presence of these animals, whose company he had never before so fully appreciated. After witnessing such suffering and encountering so many wicked foes, he could begin to understand why his heart welcomed the peaceable fauna; for the things of the natural world feared evil and fled before the shadow of darkness, therefore their presence meant that they were entering a realm of safety and refuge.

The company marched all day, pausing briefly only a few times during the course of their journey to eat, drink or tend to wounds irritated by travel. Just before dusk they came across a shallow brook, its water clean and cold. Legolas and Boromir filled their water-skins for the rest of the journey and decided it would be best to camp here for the night.

‘We have come far,’ Legolas said to Boromir as they sat together by the brook, watching the wood grow dark around them. ‘If the weather remains fair we should reach the forest road in two days, and another day’s journey will take us to my father’s halls.’

Boromir looked distinctly worried. ‘I hope your father will approve of me.’

‘When he hears of your heroics he shall have no other choice,’ said Leoglas, smiling.

Boromir shook his head. ‘I am no hero—only a soldier returning a father his son. He will be glad to see you once more.’

The prince’s grin faded. ‘Perhaps.’

Boromir waited before asking gently, ‘Will you tell him of your sacrifice?’

‘I have no choice. He will discover the truth before long; better that he should hear it from my own mouth. I have much to explain.’

‘I shall accompany you if you wish. Facing one’s father can be a daunting task, I speak from experience.’

Legolas accepted the offer with a smile and a nod.

Boromir feigned interest in a cluster of nearby flowers and said as casually as he could, ‘Your father must not be the only Elf awaiting your return. I am certain your wife will be relieved to have you home.’

At this Legolas laughed aloud, eyes twinkling. ‘I? Married? Ai elo! A foolish elfling such as myself! Ah, but do forgive me, Boromir. It has been long since I last had reason to be merry. No, I am not wed, nor do I have a lover awaiting my return.’

‘Why not?’ Boromir asked, though he was in truth relieved beyond expression. ‘Has your father not yet promised your hand to another? The kings of men often do so, sometimes while their sons are still boys. Heirs can never arrive too soon, it seems.’

Legolas wiped his wet eyes upon his sleeve. ‘My father is peculiar,’ he said. ‘He is in no hurry to see me wed. He is only the second king of the Woodland Realm since the beginning, when the Grey Elves first came to the north wood at the end of the First Age. He has enjoyed a lengthy rule and shows no sign of abdicating.’

‘Then you shall never become king?’

‘I could not truly say. My father is very proud and jealous of his kingdom, though I know he grows worried for the deepening shadow in his realm.’

Boromir nodded. ‘My own father worries as much.’

Legolas looked solemnly down at the grass between his feet. ‘Do you ever feel that he resents you?’

Boromir hesitated a moment, surprised. ‘Are you certain of this resentment, Legolas?’

‘No. But I am my mother’s son.’

‘You never told me of your mother. Is she then queen of this realm?’

Legolas shook his head. ‘She is gone.’

‘My condolences. I did not know.’

‘Nay, she is not perished. She departed this realm long ago.’ The Elf’s voice fell to a whisper, and a somber mood took him. ‘I was still a babe when she left us, my father and I.’ He glanced at Boromir, who was listening raptly. ‘I suppose it is no use being secretive now; my mother was a descendant of the Avari, those Elves who refused to make the Great Journey to Valinor with Oromë, and who were responsible for the first Sundering. Some of their number joined with the Nandor in the Vales of Anduin east of the Misty Mountains, and lived there for many ages beneath sun and star.

‘My father told me my mother was beautiful, but willful and restless, and her people held no love for the West-Elves. Her skills with a bow and her singing voice apparently compensated for whatever she lacked in wisdom and grace. Their betrothal was arranged without her consent and she resisted, but her father, who feared retaliation from the Sindar, threatened her with exile if she refused. Thus she left behind her home—and her lover—to journey to the Woodland Realm with her new husband, who was not yet king.

‘She hated my father almost as much as she hated his realm, and she grew ill pining for her love and the open sky. My father adored her. He knew she was miserable and full of grief, yet he refused to give her back to her family. I think he hoped that in time she might learn to love him. She never did, if the whispers I heard in my father’s court were true. Imagine her agony when she discovered she was with child, the seed of the Elvenking whom she loathed. She did not love me when I was born, and when I had drunk my last from her uncaring breast, she disappeared. My father did not bother searching for her, for he knew where she had gone: back to her home, and the arms of her lover. Perhaps her clan has journeyed to the Grey Havens, for the Vales where the Avari once dwelled now stand empty. Of my mother’s whereabouts I know nothing. I never even knew her name.

‘My father has since raised me. Sometimes he remarks how alike I am to her, and I cannot tell if he means to insult or to praise, for though she despised him, he yet loved her. Perhaps he still does. I know he sees in me much of himself, for he warns me against hasty affairs and commitments I am unready to bear, especially those concerning love. I imagine he must sometimes curse himself for my upbringing, for perhaps I am still too irresponsible and foolish for his liking.’

‘I have not seen this irresponsible, foolish side,’ said Boromir.

Legolas grimaced. ‘You have not seen me in my father’s presence. I know he means well, but his criticism always succeeds in bringing out my most unbecoming traits. I fear I will never be able to achieve his expectations for me… especially now, when so little time remains to me.’

Boromir reached out to stroke Legolas’s cheek with the back of his fingers. ‘It is a pity then,’ he said, ‘that your father does not see the virtues in you that I so adore.’

Legolas grasped the hand that touched his face and held it fast. ‘I am not perfect, Boromir.’

‘I do not expect you to be. Nor do I expect you to believe that I am without fault. I pity those who think themselves flawless, for they have nothing for which to strive; no room to grow. And I have found through my own experience that life without the opportunity to grow is no life at all. Had I been unable to change, had my course been laid unwavering before me, I would have perished at Amon Hen, never to know redemption.’ Boromir stared deeply into the prince’s eyes. ‘Never to know love. And what good would have been my life then?’

Something stirred in Legolas’s heart as he listened to Boromir’s words, a strange warmth he had never before felt but which he knew was slowly beginning to awaken. It worried and excited him, and he knew not which emotion to express. So he remained quiet and thoughtful, and drew himself to Boromir’s side, and allowed the man to wrap his arm around him. It felt even better than when he had been cut from the chain at Dol Guldur and fallen half-senseless into Boromir’s embrace. Protection, camaraderie, strength, trust; this is what the feeling meant to Legolas. He wondered how it would be to have Boromir’s arms always waiting to receive him, any time he desired warmth and companionship.

‘My father will try to discourage me from leaving home,’ said Legolas after a long silence. ‘He will seek to protect me for the rest of my life, in an attempt to save me from death.’

‘I thought that was my job,’ Boromir jested.

‘But you will not always be with me. We must surely part some day.’

Boromir’s heart began to pound. He reached into his pocket and wrapped his hand around the rings, which remained cool in spite of the warmth of his flesh. He leaned his cheek against Legolas’s golden head. ‘What if,’ he began, ‘what if that day never dawned? What if there was a way we could part, yet remain inseparable?’

Legolas pulled away, puzzled. ‘What do you mean?’

Boromir’ head felt suddenly light, his heart pounding the blood through his veins. He was nervous and bashful, emotions which clashed against the image he had forged of a brave captain, fearsome and relentless in the eyes of his foes. Yet here he sat before an Elf—the fair creature who had seen hope in his darkness and paid the ultimate price to save him—and he imagined he must look like the most timid, boorish, graceless fool to ever walk Middle-Earth. He was startled when Legolas reached forth to lay a hand upon his shoulder. ‘Boromir,’ he said again, ‘what do you mean?’

Boromir gazed, transfixed, into Legolas’s brown eyes, and told himself that if he dared to do what he intended, he might never see those eyes again; and just as he was about to mutter his shy words of retreat, his heart surged with a last desperate hope—for there was nothing else he had left—and realized that his mortal love could fall tomorrow, never to know the true depth of this Captain’s heart. And still he would never see those eyes again. Rather would Boromir face a hundred rejections than regret not having taken one chance.

He pulled his hand from his pocket and opened it. Legolas looked down at the mithril rings with surprise, and Boromir could see the Elf’s breath quicken. ‘What are these?’ he asked. ‘Where did you get them?’

‘Galadriel gave them to me. Her knowledge of us extends further than we ourselves can see.’

Legolas raised his eyes to give the man a frightened look. ‘I—I do not understand.’

‘She knew of your mortality long before I, and she knew the trials we would face in Dol Guldur… as well as this strange, beautiful thing that is growing between us now.’

‘Does she decide our fates for us as well?’ exclaimed Legolas. ‘Can we no longer choose our own paths?’

‘I do not think the Lady had any part in deciding our fates or our paths,’ said Boromir gently, ‘but perhaps she saw a glimpse of what could be and gave us these gifts as reminders of how much we would need each other, now and in the future.’

Legolas was quiet, though his anxiety was apparent. His hands had begun to tremble and he tucked them tightly under his arms in an attempt to conceal his discomfort.

Boromir shifted his weight and drew a breath. ‘Legolas, I am a man of small and insufficient words, but please hear me; I do not know what fate awaits me in this war, nor do I pretend to understand the purpose of the powers which have brought us together, but this I do know: I love you more dearly than any thing I have yet loved in my life, more deeply than can be described. Never did I dream that I should one day bear a love such as this, soldier that I am. But I offer you now my heart, Legolas, my flesh and my soul, for without you I would have none of them. You are the bravest, cleverest, fairest creature I shall ever set eyes upon, and I would bind myself to you today if it meant death tomorrow—for I would rather be yours for one day than live the rest of my life without you.’

Legolas stared in mute wonder as Boromir took up the larger mithril ring and slipped it onto his left index finger. He then held out the smaller ring to Legolas. The Elf stared at it, eyes wide and bewildered.

‘You will for ever possess my heart, Prince Legolas of the Woodland Realm, whether or not you accept this ring. I will not force it onto your finger, for I would have you wear it of your own will, as a token of your true feelings and intentions.’

Legolas gazed intently at the ring, and never had Boromir seen him so unhinged. ‘I’m frightened,’ he confessed in a broken voice. ‘I am frightened for our fate if I accept this ring.’

‘As am I,’ said Boromir. ‘The brave Captain of Gondor now has a reason to fear death, for he has something precious to lose. Courage, Legolas. We both have faced death and survived; why should we fear life?’

Legolas swallowed the knot in his throat and reached out, gently plucking the mithril ring from Boromir’s grasp and sliding it onto his left index finger. ‘I bind myself to you, Boromir of Gondor,’ he said as tears slid quietly down his cheeks, ‘in the name of Eru Illúvatar, to honor and love you as my heart so fiercely craves. I beg his blessing upon our union, that he would find it pleasing in his eyes, and allow our spirits to be united for ever in eternity, separated only briefly by the mortal death that awaits us both.’ He raised his eyes to Boromir’s and smiled. ‘I love you. My Captain.’

Boromir leaned forward and pulled Legolas close. ‘My Prince,’ he whispered into the golden hair.

And night fell upon the two shadows held tightly in embrace, the fading light catching a final sparkle of silver mithril.

Chapter Text

It was still dark when Legolas woke. The embers of the fire glowed faintly, giving little heat, yet he was warm. He stirred and felt weight lying against him. He rose and Boromir’s arm, which had been draped over his waist, slid free. Boromir muttered in his sleep before his eyes opened. ‘Is it morning?’

‘Nay,’ said Legolas, ‘but the sun will be here soon.’

The man heaved a reluctant sigh before he too sat up, brushing the stringy auburn hair from his eyes. Legolas watched him intently, seeing the strength given by rest return to Boromir’s sturdy body, and admired the handsome features of his face that were made no less fair by fatigue and grime. This was the keeper of his soul, the hero of his heart. The one to whom he was for ever bound. Legolas rubbed his thumb against the mithril ring he now wore, and knew that he had made the right decision. My heart is far wiser than me, he thought with a smile. I would do well to listen to it more often.

Boromir caught sight of the Elf’s smile and smiled himself. ‘Sleep well?’ he asked.

‘With thanks to you,’ Legolas answered, and he meant it. He had no reason to fear nightmares anymore as long as Boromir was present. He reached out and grasped the man’s left hand with his own, and they wove their fingers together until mithril gleamed beside mithril.

‘How do you feel?’ asked Boromir softly, gazing down at their hands.

Legolas took a deep breath of cool morning air and lifted his head to behold the first rays of sunlight glowing warmly through the leaves. Birds began to twitter, and he smiled. ‘Ready.’

There was a region of Mirkwood still untouched by the hand of darkness, a part that remained enchanted and beautiful, and it was through this that the company followed their narrow path. Legolas once again led his people among the beeches and oaks, and Boromir followed at the end of the line. Quickly would he have grown restless and lonely were it not for Gelrin, who intentionally fell back to keep the man company. Boromir was grateful for the gesture of kindness; he had not expected an imprisoned Elf to so quickly regain his merriness or concern for others. Any man in Gelrin’s position would be scarred for life, ever gloomy and haunted by memories of the dungeon where he had been tortured. But Gelrin’s eyes twinkled without shadow, his cropped locks still shone golden in the sunlight, and the scar across his cheek did not diminish the beauty of his smile. Already was the memory of Dol Guldur behind him. Boromir found himself admiring such resilience and wondered if it was an attribute of their entire race.

He spoke with Gelrin for the greater part of the day’s march, and the Elf did not refuse any question asked of him, not that Boromir was insensitive when it came to the topic of his imprisonment. ‘I was one of the first,’ Gelrin admitted. ‘Three of our guards had vanished along with a trading party bound for the south lands. Our search brought us too near Dol Guldur, and by the time we realized our mistake it was too late; the yrch surrounded us and we were taken. We fought hard, but there were far too many of them.’

Boromir listened as Gelrin spoke of his first encounter upon the Table of Blood, the toil and labor forced upon the prisoners, the extermination of the weak, and the cruelty of being used as the key implement to gather more elven slaves. ‘Many of us did not survive,’ he said softly, ‘especially the Elf-women. Not one of them lasted a fortnight. For every five Elves brought to Dol Guldur, three perished or released themselves.’

‘Released?’ Boromir repeated.

‘The shedding of one’s earthly form,’ said Gelrin. ‘Escape from the flesh, where an Elf’s fëa or soul gives up his body.’

‘You can do that?’

‘Indeed. Sometimes it is a terrible temptation knowing that peace is near when one suffers so. It takes much to keep one’s fëa grounded to this world.’

Boromir puzzled. ‘What then kept you from releasing yourself?’

The Elf smiled. ‘The same thing that brought you to Dol Guldur.’


Gelrin laughed. ‘Hope, Captain. The same virtue which has reunited you with your beloved.’

Boromir’s cheeks warmed. ‘I did not think it was that obvious.’

Gelrin continued to grin. ‘It would be apparent to even a fool that the both of you are bound by love, Captain Boromir. In all honesty your pairing is an unconventional one—and I am sure the king will have a few choice words about it—but to my knowledge you are a fine fellow and worthy of our prince’s affection.’

Boromir smiled politely at Gelrin’s compliment and was grateful that his men were not here to see him blushing like a lovesick girl.

Seeing that the man had fallen into a shy stupor, Gelrin said to him, ‘How well is your Elvish, Captain?’

‘Terrible at best,’ said Boromir quite seriously. ‘I hope your people speak Westron with as much ease as you, my friend.’

‘Most do,’ said Gelrin, ‘but there is no harm in learning a few phrases, especially if you hope to make a good impression upon King Thranduil.’

‘That I would, even if I was not involved with his son.’

Gelrin nodded. ‘Well, then, if you would accept my tutelage, I will be more than happy to teach you some basic Sindarin. Let us begin with salutations. When you greet the king, address him thus: Aiya! Thranduil Aran! Le suilon.

Boromir appeared momentarily horrified. ‘Merciful heavens, I could never manage that.’

‘Of course you could. Try the first part: Aiya! Thranduil Aran!

Up ahead on the trail, Legolas smiled as his keen elven ears picked up the awkward Sindarin vowels. Too much time spent in the company of Elves, he thought merrily. Boromir should take care lest he become one himself!

Much ground was covered through the forest that day. The Elves, despite their poor condition and the exhaustion of the lembas, retained their happiness. It was a difficult thing to be dismal when one’s surroundings were so beautiful: the trees had grown tall and thick, draped with flowering ivy. Some of the great beeches still held their leaves, though they were faded and lacking the verdant colors of the long-passed autumn. Signs of spring could be seen in the budding of flowers on the forest floor, and new sprouts of ferns sprung forth from the dirt. The forest had become open and inviting, soaring and sunlight-streaked, where the brooks rushing through gullies were almost musical, and birdsong filled the lull of quiet conversations. It seemed peaceful and serene here, and Boromir had trouble believing that the ominous shadows he had seen the first night were indeed part of this same wood. Soon the flat terrain gave way to slopes and hills, and Gelrin said with great enthusiasm that they were come to the foothills of the forest mountains, nearly a day’s march from home. Navigating the steadily rising ground was weary work, and Boromir felt the aches of travel in his limbs at the end of the day.

Nightfall came without gloom and fear, and the stars shone through the gaps of the branches. The Elves formed groups and built fires, falling asleep effortlessly in the sanctum of their home. It seemed less cold here, and Legolas shivered not; still Boromir built a fire, knowing that its warmth would be welcomed in the coldest hour before daylight. As he was gathering grass and sticks for kindling, he took notice of the awkward way Legolas was holding his right arm. ‘Your shoulder is crippling you,’ he said softly. ‘You should let me examine it.’

The Elf nodded silently, feigning no false strength; the sobering pains of mortality had all but stolen his pride. He sat on his legs beside Boromir and undressed his upper half while the man struck flint and kindled a fire. ‘What a luxury, matches,’ Boromir said almost to himself, stowing the flint rock in his satchel. ‘If it were not for military sojourns across country I would have forgotten how to use…’

He lifted his head and trailed off, his eyes captured by the sight of Legolas peeling back the blood-soaked bandage over his wounded shoulder. The prince’s chest was bare from the waist up, his skin faintly mottled with bruises, dirt, and dried blood. Boromir had never seen Leoglas this unclothed before and was surprised by how strong he appeared: his chest was well-developed, his abdomen lean and firm, his slim arms taut with muscle. Now Boromir understood from whence came this hidden strength. Never would he have guessed such a fair, seemingly-delicate creature to possess a warrior’s physique.

‘By the gods, you are beautiful,’ he murmured, unable to contain his thoughts.

Legolas raised his head, surprised and somewhat self-conscious.

Boromir immediately reprimanded himself and moved forward to assist. ‘Forgive me. I did not mean to be so base. Please, allow me.’

Legolas smiled to show he was not offended, then grimaced as the sticky bandage was pulled from his bloody wound. Boromir’s eyes darted from the Elf’s shoulder to his face. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered.

‘No need,’ said Legolas, wincing. ‘It was no fault of yours.’

Boromir gazed at the scabbed laceration with a grim countenance. ‘It does not appear infected—which I cannot imagine from the conditions of that abominable place—but it needs to be cleaned and re-bandaged. Is there any herb that grows here which could help?’

Legolas shook his head. ‘Nay; and I am not so wise in the ways of healing.’

‘Nor I, save for crude mending. Here—lie on the ground and I will do what I can.’

Legolas did as he was bidden and gingerly let himself down upon the ground. Boromir leaned over him and poured water from his pouch upon the Elf’s wound, and cleaned it with a strip of cloth from his own tunic. Legolas held his lip between his teeth and concentrated on Boromir’s face in an attempt to draw his attention from the pain. It did not, however, go unnoticed.

‘I know this hurts terribly,’ said Boromir. ‘I can see it in your eyes, and I feel your pain in my heart. I hope we will soon be found. I cannot bear to see you so injured with remedy still far off.’

Legolas smiled slightly and reached up to grasp the man’s hand. ‘Now you know how I felt,’ he said, ‘when I carried you in my boat.’

‘It is a wretched feeling.’

‘It is love.’

Boromir gazed down at Legolas, skin and hair glowing gold in the orange light of the fire, and felt the sudden desire to hold him, to feel his bare body beside his own, to kiss him, to caress him, to free his heart of the heavy burden he had been carrying in Legolas’s name. One part of Boromir was baffled by this ready attraction to one of his own sex, but the greater part of him felt that this corporeal dilemma was only a trifle; for it was what lay beyond Legolas’s flesh—that eternal light which still burned within him—that Boromir wished to touch.

The longing that swept through him in that moment was greater than any calling the One Ring had ever made to him—more powerful than his love for his City, more fearful than any foe he had challenged, stronger than the sum of every army he had ever led. Everything he cherished paled in comparison to what he now felt, and it frightened Boromir when he realized that he would do anything—throw down his sword, abandon his duties, leave Gondor forever—to be with Legolas, this Elf, his one love.

Legolas’s expression slowly shifted to one of awe; whether he perceived Boromir’s thoughts with his heart or some other sense forged by their bond, he knew what the man felt, for he felt the desire as it were his own. And, grasping Boromir’s collar with both hands, Legolas brought him downward to meet his mouth. He felt Boromir tense up for several moments, then gradually relax as they began to move against one another. The beard was a strange new sensation, prickly but not painful. Legolas parted his lips and drew Boromir’s tongue into his mouth. They drank each other’s affections in slow, sweet draughts, breathing through their noses, sighing into each other’s mouths. When they finally parted, Legolas whispered, ‘How my heart pounds! My flesh is so weary, yet my spirit feels as if it could burst into the sky and soar among the stars. Is this how mortals feel love?’

‘I believe it is,’ Boromir smiled.

Legolas cast his good arm about Boromir’s shoulders, pressing close. ‘Then I pity my own. Rather would I be mad with emotion than dispassionate and wise.’

‘You are not turning from your people, are you?’

‘Nay,’ said Legolas, ‘but like you, I would abandon the things dearest to me and forsake all reason to be… to remain yours.’

Boromir sought words to answer but found none that could accurately describe the depth of his feelings, so he said nothing. He finished cleaning and binding Legolas’s shoulder, and together they shared their last piece of lembas. It was a meager portion by even elven standards, but neither of them complained. Afterward Boromir spread his jerkin on the ground in a crude pallet and lay down with Legolas, gathering him into his arms and holding him protectively. He pressed a light kiss to the pointy tip of Legolas’s ear and smiled at the pleased murmur it drew.

Beneath the black dome of the star-studded night, he fell asleep with his face nestled in Legolas’s short hair and his warm, mortal body against his own.

It was dark when Boromir suddenly opened his eyes. He had been woken by something—what, he knew not—yet the clearing where the company slept was still and quiet. Typically his own eyes and ears would have satisfied him, but a heavy wariness had settled upon him, and he knew that they were being watched. He leaned down and whispered, barely a breath and motion of his lips, ‘Legolas. We are not alone.’

The Elf’s brown eyes, open and fixed inward with a hazy dreaminess, suddenly sharpened and grew bright with clarity; he had awoken. Instantly he became aware of the same alarm which Boromir felt, and he pressed himself close against the man. ‘Where is your sword?’ he asked.

‘On my belt. You do not think we have been followed, do you?’

‘No. Orcs are noisy and bumbling, and their odor is too foul to hide. Something else is out there.’

‘Friend or foe?’

‘I cannot tell.’

Boromir gripped Legolas’s shoulder. ‘On my signal we rise. Are you prepared to fight?’

‘No, but I cannot bear to lie here another moment. We must confront whatever is here with us.’

‘Very well. On the count of three we spring. One…’

Legolas could hear the pounding of his heart in his ears, and feel the thud of Boromir’s against his back.


He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists.


Everything happened at once. The pair flew to their feet with fierce cries, the hiss of steel sounding as Boromir drew his sword, and the low whoop of air singing from Legolas’s spinning bow. The rest of the Elves were roused from their sleep and sat up in alarm as Boromir thundered, ‘Who goes there? Show yourself at once!’

A slim arrow whistled past Boromir’s head and thudded into the tree behind him—a warning shot.

From the shadows of the trees came the order: ‘Lower your weapon, Man!’ The voice, though fair, was stern and commanding. ‘It is you who trespasses in the Woodland Realm! Put down your arms or you will be shot!’ Boromir lowered his sword reluctantly, though Legolas was already leaping to his defense.

‘How dare you speak so unkindly to my companion!’ he cried, striding forth indignantly.

‘Legolas, please calm yourself!’ said Boromir.

‘I will not! What fools own such rudeness? Who claims to speak on behalf of the Woodland Realm? I order you to show yourselves!’

Into the faint moonlight stepped four cloaked and shadowed figures, who drew back their hoods to reveal handsome elven faces. They were dressed in uniforms of brown and green, and bore the symbol of a leaf upon their breasts. They carried bow and quiver, and each had a long knife on his belt. Legolas’s mouth fell open at the sight and he lowered his bow.

The Mirkwood Mountain Patrol bowed respectfully to their prince. ‘Forgive us, your highness,’ they said. ‘We did not recognize you.’

‘Could you not recognize a man of Gondor either?’ Legolas exclaimed, though his expression was one of relief. ‘I would report you to your captain were I not so glad to see you!’

‘Our most profound apologies, my prince! But what brings you back to Mirkwood among such a company? Who are these poor creatures that travel with you?’

Legolas turned to cast a weary gaze at Boromir, who smiled and shook his head. ‘It is a long story,’ Legolas said at last. ‘I will tell you on the way.’

Dawn broke over the forest, but already the company of Elves, led now by the Mountain Patrol, were mobilized beneath the trees. One of the guards sent forth a hawk to the nearest watch post, bearing a message on its leg: the Prince of the Woodland Realm was returned, along with a host of freed Elves from Dol Guldur, and accompanied by the heroic Captain Boromir of Gondor. In this way word traveled far and fast from post to post, and by the time the sun was setting a great reception had gathered upon the bridge before the royal caves to meet the party as they returned. Tears of joy were shed as loved ones ran to greet kin they had feared long dead. The former prisoners wept and embraced their families. Rowdy cheers and hails rose for the Prince of Mirkwood, and Boromir was welcomed heartily once word of his heroics in Dol Guldur began to circulate.

Legolas reached over to grasp Boromir’s hand, and their eyes met for a moment. Happiness and fear seemed to cast a shadow into the Elf’s dark eyes, and Boromir gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. ‘I will stand by you,’ he vowed through the noise of song and cheer. ‘I love you.’

Legolas smiled. ‘And I you.’

The crowd suddenly stilled and a reverent silence fell. A tall Elf strode forth through the parting throng, his emerald green robes trailing on the ground. His platinum hair was long and smooth, falling to his waist like a bolt of shining silk. He wore a magnificent crown of ivy, and in him Boromir saw Legolas’s handsome features, his brow, his cheekbones, his chin; this was Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm, the father of the one whom he loved.

The regal Elf paused a few paces from the pair, regarding his son’s appearance with concern in his green eyes, and gazing long at the Man who had entered his realm uninvited. In this brief silence Boromir’s gallantry sprang to life, and he bowed low to the Mirkwood king. ‘Aiya! Thranduil Aran! Le suilon.’ He raised his eyes. ‘I am Boromir son of Denethor, Captain-General of Gondor. Sire, your son and I bring urgent word from Loth—’

Thranduil raised his hand to halt Boromir’s words, and spoke in a grave tone: ‘Before you speak another word I must confirm the rumors: was it you who freed my son from the fortress of Dol Guldur?’

Boromir swallowed dryly. ‘We escaped it together, sire.’

The king turned to his only child. ‘Is this true, Legolas?

Yes, Father.’

Thranduil continued to frown, gazing toward Boromir. ‘And is it also true that this Captain of Gondor freed my imprisoned people, and it was my own Legolas who led them thence?’

‘It is, sire,’ said Boromir.

Thranduil nodded slowly, and the dark expression on his face was softened by a faint smile. Eyes glistening, the King of Mirkwood strode forth and laid his hand upon Boromir’s shoulder. ‘Then there is no amount of gold or jewels or land I could bestow that would match the depths of my gratitude, Boromir son of Denethor.’

Boromir remained where he stood, stunned.

The king stepped back and turned to face his people. ‘We shall celebrate,’ he declared. ‘A feast for the heroes!’

A robust cheer rose into the air. Legolas hastened to Thranduil’s side. ‘Father, there is no time for revelry,’ he said urgently. ‘We have journeyed far to bring a message from Lothlórien. We must—’

Peace, Legolas. There will be time enough to attend to these matters.’ Thranduil grasped his son by the shoulders and looked him over, his brows knitting with concern. ‘Never have I seen you so disheveled! Your hair! And where are your knives? Is that blood I see? Have you been injured?’

Legolas was frustrated to the point of tearshed. ‘Father, please!’ he begged. ‘There are more important things to be dealt with now!’

‘Indeed,’ said Thranduil. ‘You are half dead with weariness, and your wounds need dressing. I shall have my healer tend to you both. Tonight there shall be a feast in your honor, and afterwards you may give me whatever message you bring. Tulmo! Emmethiel! Show the Man to the baths, and bring him garments fit for a lord. Let no request of his be denied.’

As the Elves led Boromir away, he cast a glance over his shoulder to see Legolas struggling against his father’s attempts to pacify him. They met each other’s gaze for only a moment before the crowds swallowed them, their calls to one another drowning in the din of song and celebration.

Chapter Text

Boromir followed the two Elves across the bridge and toward a great forested hill, though when the path turned he saw it was no hill at all, but a tree-covered canyon that opened up to the sky. This was the entrance to the king’s domain.

They passed through a pair of heavy, reinforced gates and descended a broad stairway into the hollow, and Boromir marveled at the sight before him: a wide lawn of grass, moss, and multicolored wildflowers formed the floor of this earthly vestibule, and on the farthest side, from between a copse of thick trees above on the forest floor, a waterfall rushed down a steep, rocky grade and wound through the center of the yard. Elegant bridges and flagstone footpaths stretched over the river, which disappeared into the mouth of a stone gully. 

Near to the waterfall was a set of huge doors carven with vines and leaves and trees, and through these they entered into a great cave. The pillars of the hall were hewn of tree trunks only a little smaller than the mallorns of Lórien, and the roof stretching high above their heads offered glimpses of the sky through carefully-crafted windows that resembled roots and branches. This was no cave, Boromir realized, but an underground forest complete with living trees and running water. He lost his breath at the beauty and ingenuity of its design.

The caves—for there were many, he now saw—were a busy place this time of day; Elves of various rank went hither and thither on their business, vanishing down corridors that formed a network of tunnels or hurrying along the high wooden walkway that encircled the open hall. This balcony framed the cave’s second level of warrens and passageways. Glowing fungi, mosses and nocturnal flowers grew in the dark places, filling it with a soft light that illuminated as well as any torch. It was more beautiful than anything Boromir had ever imagined, and while its opulence was not in dazzling towers like Minas Tirith or the magnificent flets of Lothlórien, its rustic grace and natural simplicity made it one of the most serene and welcoming homes of any elven kingdom he had yet seen.

‘This way, my lord,’ said Emmethiel, and Boromir followed his escorts over a bridge that straddled a fragrant lilypond, and into one of the lower passages. It was neither dank nor cold in the caves but dry and pleasant, and it smelled of fir, pine and spruce. Fresh air circulated through the corridors, and the walls sparkled with mica and quartz. Presently the air became warm and humid, and they arrived at a large room filled with large wooden tubs and the scent of herbs and oils: a public bath. Boromir was left here while the Elves went to fetch clean garments and poultices. 

The Elf-women who tended the baths were at first surprised to see that a Man had been brought to them, but they quickly set to work removing Boromir’s horn and sword and whisked the items away for safekeeping. Boromir was reluctant to part with his possessions and tried to protest, but when the women began to undress him, he forgot about everything else save the preservation of his dignity. It was with much cajoling and unmanly wheedling that Boromir finally managed to shoo the ladies away—a few of them casting admiring glances over their shoulders and smiling behind their pretty hands—and sink into a tub of hot soapy water, now blessedly alone. 

It was satisfying beyond words to bathe after such a terrible ordeal. Boromir could still imagine the filth of Dol Guldur coating his skin like a sticky poison. He dipped his head under the water and resurfaced with an appreciative sigh, then closed his eyes and leaned his head against the edge of the tub. He could feel his limbs trembling slightly from weariness and exertion, and there was suddenly nothing he wanted more than to eat a hearty meal and go to sleep. But there was to be a celebration tonight, and he was expected to be in attendance. Perhaps King Thranduil was hasty in his zeal, he thought. Anyone could have seen that Gelrin and the others were in no condition to carouse and cajole this night, Legolas least of all. 

He picked up a cloth and soap and began to wash, his thoughts straying to the uncertain future and his heart gathering worries along the way. He wondered what had become of Frodo, how he was holding out against the temptation of the Ring, if Sam was with him; how Aragorn and Gimli fared, if they had managed to find Merry and Pippin again; how Faramir and Father were doing; if Gondor still held Osgiliath; how many assaults Mordor had lain upon their thinning defences since he had left for Rivendell; what Father would think when he returned without the mighty gift he had been sent to retrieve and instead with an Elven prince he had espoused.

The mere thought of his father’s reaction made Boromir’s stomach twist. His years of military training quickly interceded, reminding him that he was getting too far ahead of himself. His arrival home was still many days before him; tonight was the matter he should be most concerned with, for its outcome would determine the manner in which they journeyed to Minas Tirith: either with allies and a message of hope, or alone and bearing ill news.

The words of Celeborn echoed grimly in the back of Boromir’s mind:

Too long have the forces of darkness terrorized Mirkwood and its inhabitants. The reign of evil must be ended soon ere all chance of regaining the forest stronghold is lost. Should darkness conquer Mirkwood, its trees shall burn and the luckiest of its people shall be left destitute. Then that wickedness and all its festering rancor shall spread to Lothlórien.

Bring word to King Thranduil that the Lórien forces are preparing to lay siege upon Dol Guldur. Tell him to gather the Woodland army and ready them at Rhûn Coll—you know it as the East Bight. The kingdoms of Elves shall unite one last time to vanquish the forces of darkness that have threatened us for so long.

Boromir, do not fear for your people. Upon reaching the Bight, you and Legolas shall bring half of the Woodland forces to Minas Tirith and leave the rest to await word from the Lórien army. 

He sighed and rinsed his sudsy head beneath a stream of warm water and let his worries wash away. There was a time to be troubled, but it was not this evening. He must rest for a short while, recover his strength and his heart. He would need both before the end, he knew, and perhaps the latter would determine how long the former would last.

Night fell. A great throng of merry Elves crowded the main hall, some filling long tables with cups and plates, others arranging chairs and setting places for the guests of honor. Small tidbits of food were laid out as appetizers: honeyed apples and pears, berries and cheeses, cured meats, pickled vegetables, flatbreads with jam, and nuts from every species of tree that grew in the forest. The early arrivals milled about with excitement and anticipation, partaking of the smallfoods and visiting with friends and family. Long it had been since King Thranduil hosted such an event. Joyfulness was becoming a rare thing, even in a place so lovely as the heart of Mirkwood, where the name Greenwood still lived on.

Lamps and torches were lit, and music and the smell of roasting meat filled the air. Boromir wound his way through the Elves, feeling out of place yet strangely kin with these fair, merry folk. Perhaps it was the garments he wore that were responsible for this familial feeling: a silken shirt worn beneath a long vest of crimson velvet, gold embroidery dappling the collar and hem, a row of shining clasps running down the breast. His heavy boots had been replaced with ones of thin, comfortable leather, and his roomy trousers allowed for freer movements. He felt as light an ethereal as an Elf.

Though he tried his best to hide among the other guests, his tall, sturdy build and rugged handsomeness attracted much attention, and every elven face that looked upon him did so with a smile. Boromir always tried to smile back out of respect, but he was apprehensive; he wanted to find Legolas. He felt strangely tense and vulnerable, though he knew he was in no danger. Always had he been a man who walked by himself, who was able to keep his own company well enough, but the anxiety that had been building in him since he and Legolas had parted that afternoon was almost too much to bear. He needed him. He wanted to know that he was all right.

He was just rounding the corner of a table when his eyes caught the emerald robes of King Thranduil, who had appeared from one of the broader corridors and was engaged in conversation with one of his attendants. Boromir turned his head, searching. The king was here—where was his son?

And then, like the sun rising on the first day over Middle Earth, the bustling Elves faded into dark blurs as Legolas stepped into view, his movements slow compared to the haste of his kin. His shorn hair had been trimmed and made even and now fell about his face and collar in soft golden feathers. He wore a silver circlet and was clad in a knee-length tunic of a shade of green so pale that only in shadow was its color distinguishable. He wore no girdle but moved freely in his flowing shirt, his grey leggings and soft leather slippers making him appear as liquid, smooth as cream. But even more breathtaking than the sight of Legolas’s beauty was the light that came into his eyes when he saw Boromir. He instantly quickened his stride as the man did the same.

By the time they reached each other, their hearts were beating wildly. They stopped short a breath’s distance from each other, knowing that their affections could not be expressed so openly here, not yet. 

Legolas smiled and tossed his head. His flaxen hair caught the light, like a fish’s tail, before falling back into place. ‘I had difficulty finding you,’ he said. ‘You look like every other Elf here.’

Boromir rubbed his beard thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps,’ he mused, and the prince laughed, his eyes twinkling joyfully. Boromir’s heart swelled with love. Ignoring the risks, he reached forward and pulled Legolas into a tight embrace. The Elf wrapped his arms around him and nestled his cheek against his shoulder. They fit together so perfectly and so comfortably that it was difficult to believe they had not been molded as a pair at the beginning of the world.

‘Ah, here he is,’ came the voice of King Thranduil, and they parted quickly as he approached them, followed by a small entourage of nobles. He clapped a hand on Boromir’s shoulder in an amicable, familiar fashion. ‘The Man who has given back to me so much. Come, Captain Boromir, and sit with me. I would like very much to hear your own account of this adventure.’ 

Thus Boromir was forced to part from Legolas once more, and even though they sat opposite one another at the table all evening, it felt as distant as if they were stranded on either shore of a wide river. The food and wine was excellent, and soon Boromir’s restlessness began to fade, though he found no opportunity to speak of the message he and Legolas had been tasked to deliver. Many times his eyes strayed and settled longingly on the elven prince, who was a vision that would have captivated the heart of any creature on Middle Earth. How he wished he could speak with him alone, stroke his hair, clasp his hand, and kiss his downturned mouth until it smiled again. But Thranduil seemed determined to keep Boromir preoccupied with conversation of other matters, and Legolas spent the duration of the feast in silence, ignored by his brethren save for stolen glances and occasional whispers of how the headstrong, playful young prince now seemed so mature and subdued.

The hour grew late and the Elves became over-happy with strong drink, a mead known as eldaglîn, or elven honey wine. It was so powerful that Boromir was forced to water his down to the accompaniment of great laughter and many conciliatory pats on his shoulder. He told and retold his side of the story with frequent interjections from Gelrin and the others who had survived the dungeons of Dol Guldur, and the Silvan Elves and their Sindarin lords listened raptly.

It all seemed a great adventure and a sporting tale now, but Legolas brooded, recalling the suffering and strife and terror he and Boromir had endured. Alas, the truth was far too sobering to recount at a time like this; to speak of it would spoil the mood of the entire feast. Now was the time for mirth and celebration, a time to forget. But to forget his agony was to forget the man who had stood beside him when darkness cast its veil upon him, to ignore his sacrifice and toil, the pain he had carried for him. No; no matter the awful memories of Dol Guldur, Legolas would cherish them always, for it was in those bleak hours of little hope that his love for Boromir had saved his life.

And now that same love sat warm and restless in his belly, eager, curious; a hungry little spark fast growing into a flame he would soon be unable to conceal. That deep, mortal yearning he had felt the night before crept back to him as he watched Boromir all evening long, smiling broadly and full of cheer, so fetching and fair in his elven clothes. Legolas forewent the wine—he could not drink it as carelessly as he once did, he quickly learned—and instead drank water, not only to slake his thirst but to cool the fiery, carnal images hammering in the forges of his mind. He was roused rudely from his dreaming by a hard nudge from the Elf beside him. He snapped to attention and discovered his father staring at him with concern. ‘Are you all right, Legolas? ’ he repeated. ‘You have spoken little this evening.

I am weary, Father.

So I can see; you look positively sick to your heart.’ Thranduil set his goblet aside and leaned over the table, lowering his voice. ‘Legolas. I know this celebration must seem like folly to you, but there is good reason behind it. While you and Captain Boromir have claimed a small victory over Dol Guldur, it has not halted the spread of the shadow, nor the evil that loiters upon the doorstep of our kingdom. You must understand, my son: our people need a reason to hope.’ He raised his voice and began to speak in the Common Tongue:

‘My loyal subjects: tonight is more than a feast of victory. It is also a feast of thanksgiving to celebrate the return of that which was taken from us. Sixteen lives once believed to be for ever lost now sit with us again, freed from the pits of Dol Guldur. Let us welcome their return, and honor those responsible for bringing them back: Boromir son of Denethor, Captain of Gondor; and Legolas my son, Prince of our fair Greenwood. I bid you all raise your cups to them, and let your hearts rejoice this night! Gell a gellam!

He thrust his goblet into the air and cheers erupted up and down the table. A few Elves sprang from their seats and pulled others from theirs for a dance. Legolas hunched down, feeling even more miserable for being so gloomy. His father was right, but Legolas could simply not feign cheerfulness for a moment longer. He wanted to get away from the noise and boisterous atmosphere and retreat to a quiet place where he could release his frustrations. Perhaps his troubled spirit would find peace before the night’s end. He stood from his chair and told his father that he was retiring for the evening, and left the table before a reply could be given. His excuse was not entirely false, for he was indeed weary, though more in heart than the body.

Boromir turned to see Legolas disappearing into the crowd and immediately put down his cup and rose with the intention of following. Thranduil placed a hand on his arm. ‘Are you leaving so soon, Captain? It is not yet midnight.’

‘I must, sire,’ he answered. ‘It has been a long journey and I am afraid your excellent wine has taken the last of my energy.’

Thranduil smiled obligingly. ‘Very well. Do as you wish—you are our guest, after all.’

Boromir bowed curtly before hastening after Legolas. Thranduil watched the man weave his way through dancers and musicians and appear at his son’s side. They exchanged a few words, then Legolas took up Boromir’s hand and led him into the nearest corridor. 

The king took a long draught from his cup, his face suddenly tight and cheerless. He had not been blind to the evening-long gazes that had passed between his son and the man from Gondor, nor had he failed to notice the ring of mithril Legolas now wore. His radiance seemed to have diminished, too, almost as if Legolas were grieving or languishing. Perhaps it was the wine causing him to overreact—random circumstance and nothing more—for it could not be the thing that he feared; no, it was too mad to hold a grain of truth. 

Deciding to give the subject no further thought this night, Thranduil turned away, put on a smile, and called for another song.

It was dark and cool in the corridor, and the farther they went the quieter it became, until at last the hall opened into a huge sprawling cavern with a high ceiling of natural rock. Intricate latticework windows in the form of vines and leaves had been carved through the stone to allow air and moonlight into the room, which Boromir discovered was no room at all, but a garden of glowing blue moss and nocturnal flowers. Moths with iridescent white wings and fireflies of every color danced among the bushes. One of the river’s channels had been diverted to wind a serpentine course through the garden and out through a narrow tunnel, and the water trickled melodiously as it bubbled over rocks and under footpaths. Silver mushrooms of every shape and size sprung up from the brook’s moist edges, shimmering with the same luminescence of the rest of the Greenwood flora. 

The man and the Elf walked hand in hand together, allowing the tension of the party to be cast from their spirits like heavy cloaks on a warm summer day.

‘This is beautiful,’ Boromir whispered, not wishing to disturb the peaceful sounds of flowing water and cricket-song. 

‘I would often come here when I was a child,’ said Legolas. ‘I plucked the mushrooms for my own amusement until I was caught one day. My father had the cooks serve them to me until I had eaten every last one.’

Boromir laughed. ‘And how did they taste?’

‘Terrible. I never raided another mushroom patch again.’

Boromir smiled fondly and gave his hand a squeeze.

Legolas stopped walking and turned to him, his eyes stormy with frustration. ‘My father must seem like such a fool to you.’

‘Nay, I think he is wise,’ said Boromir, ‘or strategic at least. Morale is precious in these dark times; I understand his reasons for the feast. As they say in my country, celebrate while you can, and do not trouble yourself about tomorrow, for tomorrow already has its own troubles.’

Legolas’s expression grew soft, but his eyes remained turbulent. Boromir drew him into his arms and embraced him tenderly. ‘You fret needlessly, meleth. We have toiled days to deliver our message; another will not matter. We will wait until your father will hear us, and everything will be set right. You will see.’ He drew back and brushed aside the golden hair that was now too short to tuck behind its owner’s pointed ears. 

The Elf grinned and captured Boromir’s hand in his own, weaving their fingers together. ‘You called me “love”. Is that something you learned from Gelrin?’

Boromir coughed out a bashful laugh. ‘Aye, he might have taught me a few words.’

‘I see.’ Legolas tilted his head to one side, his eyes warm with affection. ‘I may be your love, but we have not yet consummated our vows.’

The smile dropped from Boromir’s lips. Legolas found this highly amusing. He laid his hand upon the man’s collar and pressed close. ‘Are you not my husband, Boromir? Shall we not enjoy this night together? After all, one must celebrate while one can.’ 

Something stirred deep inside Boromir at the title. Never had he imagined such a word might one day apply to him or that it would be spoken by a Woodland Prince so fair and noble. ‘Yes. Yes, I am your glad husband, Legolas. I am yours.’

The Elf stepped back and clasped Boromir’s hand tightly in his own. ‘Come,’ he bade, pulling him away.

Boromir followed.

They passed through winding corridors and soaring halls, under rushing waterfalls and over bridges, casting secretive smiles at one another, their footsteps light and quick as dancers’ feet. Music from above echoed throughout the caves, flutes and lyres and harps as sweet as birdsong, the drums and tambourines merrily keeping time. Boromir felt as if he had slipped into a dream, for nothing in life could ever compare to the surreal beauty of this moment.

Presently they arrived at a tall set of oaken doors. Leaves were carved onto their exteriors and painted in various tints of green, trimmed with gold and silver. This was the entrance to Legolas’s bedchamber. The Elf opened one of the doors, pulled Boromir inside, and quietly shut it behind them.

It was a simple but elegant room, rather like the rest of the palace, illuminated by glass globes of glowing moss. The walls were stone, draped with soft tapestries depicting forests and lakes and mountains. The furniture was rustic but artfully crafted: wooden chairs and armoires, a soft-looking bed with sheets of pale green, emerald pillows embroidered with leaves and vines, and windows that faced east and caught the light of the rising moon. 

He turned to Legolas and saw he was removing the silver circlet on his head; he laid it carefully on a nearby chest of drawers and smoothed a few errant strands of hair. Then he smiled mysteriously at Boromir and began to unfasten the clasps of his collar, continuing downward until his tunic hung open. Boromir stood and stared dumbly at the loveliness being revealed to him, his lips parted and his breath coming shallow and fast. 

Legolas shrugged the cloth from his shoulders. The silk rustled gently as it slid down his arms and landed in a crumpled heap around his feet. His wounded shoulder had been thoroughly sewn and mended, though the bruises on his flesh would not fade for many days. 

Boromir stepped close and traced a dark blotch at the Elf’s collarbone, his tan, calloused hand a stark contrast against the smooth white skin. He became aware of the loudness of his breathing and his quickened heartbeat, the trembling note within its steady rhythm. 

‘Are you… do you feel well enough for this?’ he asked.

Legolas’s eyes shined in warm, rich shades of brown. ‘I am not so delicate as to let a few battle wounds keep me from enjoying my wedding night.’ He reached up and brushed a tendril of hair from Boromir’s crown. ‘And you, Captain? How do you feel?’

After a fleeting pause, Boromir unbuckled his belt and let it fall, and clumsily pulled both vest and shirt over his head. He tossed them aside and stood before Legolas, who gazed upon his bared chest with a face that reflected both his desire and his concern. He touched Boromir’s right bicep, which had been bound with fresh gauze, and trailed his fingers over the bandages covering the healing wound in his chest. Boromir’s heart skipped at his touch.

‘Are you certain?’ asked Legolas. There was a playful lilt in his voice as he raised his eyes to the man’s. ‘Your wounds were more severe than mine.’

Boromir grasped the hand on his chest and brought it to his lips, and pressed a tender kiss to Legolas’s palm. Their mithril rings sparkled beside one another. ‘If I die tonight, it won’t be because of my wounds.’

They smiled at each other in the dim light, then Boromir slipped his arm around Legolas’s waist and pulled him close. They both leaned in at the same time, their lips meeting in the first shy, shallow beginnings of a kiss that grew steadily bolder and deeper with each passing second. Legolas slid his hands over Boromir’s shoulders and hugged him needfully, pushing against him until Boromir yielded his ground. Together they backed toward the bed. Boromir toppled onto it, his weight causing it to creak sharply, and Legolas crawled astride him and leaned down for another kiss.

They explored each other with their hands and their lips, tugging off any remaining garments that obstructed their quest to uncover every inch of skin. Careful caresses gave way to bolder touches; they murmured soft words of encouragement to one another, frequently interspersed with smiles and feathery laughs whenever they found themselves tangled in the clothes they were trying to shed. They rolled, limbs entwined, and forgot their awkwardness as their need burned hotter and fiercer with every moment. Soon trousers and leggings and smallclothes joined the discarded boots at the side of the bed, and they lay together wearing nothing except for the dressings that bound their still-healing wounds. 

Legolas made a strange sound when Boromir began to kiss his neck. ‘Your beard!’ he gasped, squirming. ‘Forgive me. I’ve never been loved by a man before. It feels so strange and new.’ He bit his grinning lips. A lovely rosy color had sprung to his cheeks, making him look more warm and alive than Boromir had ever seen him before.

‘Then I shall try to be gentle with you, melleth nín,’ he said tenderly.

Legolas hummed and reached out to trace the neat edges of his auburn beard. ‘Elvish suits your tongue, Captain.’

‘I am finding that many elven things suit my tongue,’ quipped Boromir. ‘Such as yours.’ Legolas purred with amusement. He locked his hands behind Boromir’s neck and pulled him down for another kiss.

They resumed their intimate explorations with renewed vigor, seeking out each other’s most sensitive places, lingering and learning, lavishing their affection on one another with wet kisses and skillful hands. 

Distantly Boromir wondered if the rumors he had heard about elven anatomy were true. Some claimed that Elves were like half-formed men, their members small and hidden. Others claimed that Elves had no sex but conceived children in acts of magic unseen by mortal eyes. Still others maintained that Elves possessed exquisite organs that were nothing like those of men at all, and their lovemaking was an act of pleasure beyond the expression of words. So far he had found no differences in the architecture of Legolas’s body: only smooth skin and a form that was as alike and functional as his own. He was fully prepared to put his limited experience of male-only intercourse to the test when his searching fingers found something that was both familiar and fantastically out of place among such hard, masculine features. He lifted his head with a startled expression and stared down at Legolas’s face, which suddenly grew pale; he knew what had been discovered.

‘You are… both,’ said Boromir, his voice soft and full of reverence. But this did not prevent a shadow of fear from creeping into the Elf’s eyes.

‘It is believed to be a trait of the Avari, my mother’s people,’ he said quietly. ‘Ellonneth [1] we are called, male Elves who can both beget and bear children. We are the third sex of our race, though why we exist at all, only Eru knows.’ He pulled his lips into a tight line.

A great swell of compassion surged through Boromir; he placed a protective hand on Legolas’s chest, as if he could somehow soothe the nervous heart that fluttered beneath his palm like a wounded bird. ‘You are beautifully made, Legolas,’ he murmured. ‘I am sure there is a wonderful purpose to your uniqueness, and if you do not find it in this life, you will surely learn it in the next. I am only sorry that I am not better prepared to meet this obstacle.’

A look of profound hurt marred Legolas’s fair face then, and Boromir cursed himself for his poor vocabulary. ‘I did not mean—what I meant to say is that I am not prepared to make love to you because I have no cowl to wear.’

Legolas cocked an eyebrow. ‘Are men so frail that they cannot make love if their heads are cold?’

A grin tugged at one corner of Boromir’s mouth. ‘Not that sort of cowl. What I speak of is a tight skin worn on one’s manhood; it catches spilled seed and prevents a child from being made in error.’

Legolas’s eyes widened with interest. 

‘I don’t know how it is with Elves,’ continued Boromir, ‘but sometimes a seed may be planted even though the man withdraws and spends himself elsewhere. You are unprotected and I hesitate to… I do not wish to burden you.’ He paused thoughtfully. ‘Is such a thing even possible for a man and an ellan—ellonneth?’

Legolas smiled serenely. ‘I would expect so. But have no fear, Boromir; I am in firith now, near to the end of my cycle. It will be many months before I am in season again.’

Boromir relaxed a little.

‘However’—Legolas’s voice fell to a low murmur—‘perhaps someday, if we both find it agreeable, we could try for a child. I am not averse to the idea.’

The realization that he might one day become a father—that he would plant a seed in love and many months later hold the product of that love in his arms, a little child who was half him and half Legolas—was at once frightening and fantastic to Boromir, something he had never expected would happen in his life. He let out a stunned, breathy laugh and leaned down to kiss Legolas’s soft lips. ‘Perhaps,’ he said. ‘But first I must learn how to please an Elf.’

‘It is not that difficult,’ said Legolas airily. He brushed his fingers along Boromir’s belly, following the sparse trail of hair downward. A low whine rose from Boromir’s throat as a strong, cool hand wrapped around him. Legolas gazed at him with heavy-lidded eyes. ‘Come to me, melleth,’ he breathed, ‘and I will show you how.’

Boromir dizzily allowed himself to be drawn down to Legolas’s kiss once more, his body settling between a pair of shapely, well-muscled thighs. For a while they played with each other, warm sighs escaping between the embrace of lips, fluttering eyes gazing upon one another with heat and hunger, until their bodies wept and they had learned the taste of each other.

And when at last Boromir pressed into him and made them one flesh, Legolas shut his eyes and praised the stars in a string of cursive Sindarin. They moved against one another like the waves of the sea, sinking and rolling and heaving as they sought a rhythm—sometimes slow and deep, sometimes fast and shallow—shifting from one position to another until the storm they were building together came to a mighty swell. They crested at the same moment, Legolas gasping and shuddering, Boromir groaning like a wounded beast. They clung to one another until the last drops of their passion had been spent, and sank down in a hot, breathless tangle of limbs, naked in both body and soul.

They were still awake when the last notes of the last song echoed through the Elvenking’s hall, and silence finally descended. It was, after all, a night to celebrate.