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Renascence by Kenaz

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Written for Ignoblebard, 2007 Jinglebells in June.
The night air was mild, and what breeze there was-- clean, and with the barest trace of salt--carried hints of cedar and cypress up the Anduin from the South. Although the sun had sunk below the horizon, the sounds of laughter and singing rose pleasantly from the gardens where the Elves of Ithilien, though fewer now than in the first years of the new age, continued their work. The moon waxed, shedding more than enough light for them to labor on well into the night, not out of necessity, but out of love for their task. It gave them joy to ply their talents here, to return the land to the splendor of old, and to craft the legacy of their presence in this, their final home in Middle-earth: the instinct toward stewardship had not left the Elves, even as they left the lands they once stewarded.

Legolas turned aside from the merry voices and wandered listlessly around the outskirts of the settlement, the hood of his cloak pulled up against recognition; he would be poor company this evening, and he fought his increasing restlessness to little avail. Of late, he had kept to himself, seeking solitude often, for he found he did not have the energy to feign joy, and did not wish to concern his compatriots with this... this thing... that had beset him, that had all but owned him for these last years. Strange, he thought, not even to have the words to describe it.

Standing in the starlit dark, looking first to Emyn Arnen and then to the renewed city of Osgiliath, he hearkened back to another night. In his mind, he was standing alone on the ramparts of Meduseld, looking out over the Folde, feeling the dread of the shadow growing in the East. Aragorn had joined him then, moving with skillful ranger's tread, so silently that only an Elf could hear him, and they stood side-by-side keeping watch, each serving the other as a small beacon of hope in the darkness. But tonight no brother-in-arms joined him.

Only Aragorn and Gimli would have fathomed his need to stand in silence and would have kept his vigil with him through all hours, knowing enough to keep their own counsel and not ask after the longing he could not articulate. But Gimli dwelt now with his own people, slowly hewing his ties to this land that he might someday depart over the sea where none of his kind had ever yet gone. And Aragorn was in his castle with Arwen and his children, and his children's children, reaping at last the rewards of his fate and his faith, basking in the peace wrought by the deeds of the House of Telcontar. When last Legolas saw him, the Elessar's hair had turned steely grey, stark white dawning at his temples and at the edges of his beard. Eldarion now looked more like Aragorn in the days of their quest. How many years were left to the king? A decade? Two? Legolas had sworn to remain on these shores until Aragorn had passed, and that promise had been freely offered, and had seemed no hardship to make, and yet now... now...

Though Ithilien was far from the sea, gulls came inland sometimes, reeling overhead in great, swooping circles, and their cries pierced something deep within him, each mournful call drawing a tidal surge of longing, an oppressive itch beneath his skin just beyond reach, beyond capture. And for all of Ithilien's revivified beauty and all the fair Elven work wrought in the gardens and on the land, he could no longer feel contentment here. Or rather, sorrow tinged his contentment now, and circumscribed it with yearning.

That he had little to occupy his time only compounded the problem. His presence here no longer served a pressing need. Elboron, as learned as his sire and as stalwart as his dame, governed Ithilien wisely; Baragund, son of Bergil, was as valiant a captain as his father had been, and his men were well-ordered; the Elves who yet remained had their own tasks and required nothing of him. He thought again of Gimli‹Lord of the Glittering Caves now, he considered with a smile‹and of their journeys together, and he realized it had been some time since he had been farther afield than the gardens of Emyn Arnen. Perhaps it was time to depart for a while. Perhaps in travel his burden would be lightened, or at least a change of purview might distract him from it.

He turned on his heel and walked briskly back to his quarters. He packed a light bag, and at the first rays of morning, he rode for Minas Tirith.

~ * ~ *~ *~

The spires of the White City stretched up like thankful hands clasped in prayer to the sky. Legolas looked across the vast stone slabs of the courtyard and sighed. His stay in Minas Tirith had done nothing to dispel his listlessness or untangle the knot which daily grew in his stomach. Aragorn and Arwen, both so greatly beloved to him, were walking with ever quickening steps toward the twilight of their age, though by mortal reckoning they seemed preserved in their hale beauty. But he was no mortal, and he could feel the life leaching from them. It had only been a cruel reminder that their time together was but an eyeblink in the greater scheme, and no matter the infinite capacity of their love, they were cast in finite form.

The unexpected presence of Elrohir, the younger son of Elrond, had been a great comfort to him. He said much without speaking, his quiet presence as reassuring and unobtrusive as his foster brother's had ever been.

"We have much in common, you and I. Princes at liberty and roving souls alike," Elrohir had remarked in that inimitable way he had, with the inflections and intonations which made profound revelations sound incidental. "We would travel well together, I wager. If Minas Tirith has not curbed your desire for wandering, wither will you go next?"

He considered Elrohir's question, delivered, as it had been, in a manner suggesting he knew its answer, and another pang assailed him: for if half his heart now was held in thrall by the mighty tide, the other half still clung valiantly to the memory of the forest that birthed him, and he knew then not only where he would go, but where he must: Home.

And so it was that he began a journey north not alone, but with a companion unlooked for yet welcome. They ventured alongside the Anduin, through Anorien, across the Mering Stream and over the Onodló into Rohan. A swifter and more direct path they might have found East of the Anduin, but neither he nor Elrohir wished to set foot on the Dagorlad, where the blood of the fallen still sang.

"I recall our first meeting," Elrohir said with a grin on their second day. "It was after Elladan and I had returned to our father's house from the wilds. You were walking in the gardens, and it seemed that you stopped to acknowledge each plant you passed. You had a look of such reverence on your face that I did not dare interrupt to introduce myself. After our somber and secretive business, it renewed me some to return home and find such innocent delight."

Legolas was abashed both at the compliment, and at the revelation that he had been watched unseen. He remembered the day well, for in spite of all his father's lessons, all of the tutors who had been employed over the years in the instruction of Elven lore and statecraft, he had felt like little more than a rustic swain in the splendid grandeur of Imladris. When he said as much, Elrohir laughed. It was a sound filled with joy, and Legolas' heart was lightened to hear it.

"I had hoped to know you better then," Elrohir intimated, "but our tasks would not allow for it. We had little time to become acquainted, but even speaking as little as we had occasion to I knew my father had chosen wisely when he summoned you to his council. I knew you even then to be valiant, Legolas."

The unexpected encomium flustered him. He was not one to listen overmuch to praise, which was so often conditional or given in expectation of reciprocity. Elrohir's expression had been genuine, a gift of words given without thought to recompense, and in spite of his mild embarrassment, he was flattered to be the recipient of the Peredhel's regard.

"I am glad you have come with me, Elrohir," was all he could think to say in return.

Elrohir simply smiled.

Days passed easily, idle conversation mixed with companionable silence, and Legolas found he was sore glad for the company, perhaps most of all during the long hours when they did not speak. With each step that pressed them further toward the woodland realm, he felt excitement and trepidation grow in tandem: this place was more beloved to him than any other on Arda, and yet it was a land he had willingly left, understanding even as he did so that he might never return. Even once the Ring War ended and all his questing was done, even when he and Gimli sojourned together, he had not paid a visit to the place of his birth. How could he, when he feared to be dunned for a fickle son, an inconstant prince who had abandoned the realm of his birthright in her darkest hour to fight far away at the side of Mortals, Halflings and a Dwarf?

If Legolas thought he had hidden his ambivalence from his fellow traveler, he was gravely mistaken, for Elrohir had noted it from the first.

"You both long for and dread this return," he carefully acknowledged as they drew near to the shadowy eaves of Fangorn. "The longing I understand; but whence this reticence that comes with it?"

Legolas sighed and gave a desultory shrug. "I cannot rightly explain it, I fear."

Elrohir looked at him compassionately. "Try," he said.

And so Legolas tried. "When I was very young, my father plucked me up and set me astride his horse, a great chestnut charger with a mane the color of fire. The ground had seemed so very far below me, but I had not been frightened; not when father climbed up behind and held me steady with his great, strong hand.

"We had ridden far down the Old Forrest Road, amid the trees and the streams and the sedge, and he whispered to me that I was a part of this land. 'The grass and the leaves that fall and drift on the wind are as much a part of you as your flesh or your blood or your golden hair,' he said. I had not understood then; I thought perhaps he meant that my skin was made of leaves or that my hair was like grass. 'Silly father,' I thought. 'Flesh and hair are flesh and hair, not leaves and grass, and an Elf is not a tree!' But I did not dare laugh, though his words struck me as strange and fanciful things, because father had used his special tone, the one reserved for speaking not as my sire, but as my king."

His horse had fallen in stride with the cadence of his speech. He wondered, casting a glance at his companion, if perhaps he should apply a greater economy of words. But Elrohir was regarding him raptly, and nodded his encouragement for the tale to continue.

"After a while we stopped. He told me we would rest for a time and then return home. But the road continued on. It passed through the woods until the trees became sparse and gave way to open land, and then I could see no more, yet I knew it wended its way further, and further still. Toward the Great River. Toward the mountains. Perhaps even toward the sea. 'Why do we stop here?' I asked. 'Why do we not follow the road to its end?'

"He looked at me strangely, as if my question were absurd. 'Why, because this is where the forest ends, my son. There is no reason to go farther.'

"'And what lies beyond the forest?' I asked, but already he had packed up the scraps of our luncheon and summoned the horse back from his grazing. He had smiled kindly, but it was a kingly smile, and not the indulgent smile of a father, and I had not liked it.

"'Fret not, little one,' he said, and his voice was full of command despite the softness of his words. 'You will never have a need to know what lies beyond. It is here, in the forest, that our souls will find contentment.'"

And having quit the forest, contentment evades me still, he ruminated.

"I knew I should say nothing more, and so I nodded and turned my back to the road, looked away from its beckoning curves and back into the wood. But I knew then, with as much certainty as I had ever known anything at that tender age, that I did need to know what lay beyond, that I would leave the forest; my desire to know where that road led would someday be too keen to ignore. I believe my father knew that, too, else why would he wish so strongly to keep the distant path hidden from me?"

"As I grew older, I would often ride out to that spot, to the place where the forest ended, and consider what lay beyond. As Dol Guldur cast its taint further into the wood and we withdrew deeper into the stone halls, I begged my father to seek aid beyond his realm, from your father, perhaps, or from Lady Galadriel or Lord Celeborn, but he refused. ŒThe sons of the Greenwood stand alone,' he said."

Elrohir sighed aloud, but made no comment, for which Legolas was grateful. His father's insularity and disdain of their kindred to the East and South had often troubled him, but he would not stand to hear him maligned by one who did not know him. Even speaking so freely of him in his absence felt treacherous.

"Once, when he refused, I pressed harder. I decried his overzealous pride. He grasped me by the chin and looked hard into my eyes for a long time. 'You will serve another king,' he said gravely. I had thought it was meant as an indictment, and I did not know how to answer him. I did not know what he wished for me to say. I was furious at what I perceived as an accusation of disloyalty. Only later did I understand that he had, in a moment of prescience, glimpsed my future. There was another king, and it was to him, rather than my father, that I hitched my fate."

"You have done what you must," Elrohir told him simply. "You have accomplished the task to which you were assigned, and much more beside. No doubt your father is proud. Is that what you fear? Some disappointment on his part? I find it hard to fathom that he would greet you with anything short of thundering praise. Though, true, he might chide you for not making a more timely appearance."

They had ceased their roving for the night, and set up camp under the southern eaves of the Ent's realm, where the trees would stand watch for them. They lay their bedrolls close together and Elrohir's grey eyes shone bright in the dark, appraising him with a look of such perspicuity that it set the fine hairs on the back of his neck to rise. Were he a maid, he would have blushed.

"And as for your king, you have served him well," Elrohir said quietly, their faces mere inches apart. "But what now? He worries over you, you know. He fears that you feel beholden to stay for him when you might take ship and find some ease for your soul. He knows that you ache, though you will not speak of it to him." Nor to me, was the unspoken implication, louder, perhaps, for remaining unspoken. Elrohir reached up then, and pushed an errant lock of hair behind Legolas' ear. The brief touch of his fingers was hot as a brand on Legolas' skin.

"I...I vowed to see his reign through," he stuttered, taken aback by the gesture and its aftermath within him. "I do not regret the promise made. I have established my kin in Ithilien and have seen the gardens begin to return to their former glory. I have ventured abroad with Gimli and seen many things I never thought to see."

"Yet the sea calls you, and the lure of it becomes difficult to resist. Aye, I know the look well enough. I have seen it often enough on the faces of many whom I care for."

"Do you not hear it?" Legolas asked him, adrift now in his desperation to speak of it, to give a name to or craft some explanation for this aching emptiness that threatened to swallow him whole.

"To a large degree, Elladan and I have been spared. What little mortal blood that remains in us keeps the longing at bay. It is a subtle and persistent undercurrent for us, but not a thundering tide." Elrohir's countenance was mild, untroubled by Legolas' agitation. "Arwen hears it not at all, though the sight of gulls winging over Minas Tirith pains her. It is a reminder of what she has forsaken. But there is no question that my brother and I shall sail, after..."

At this, he stopped speaking and Legolas saw a shadow pass across his face. His bright eyes dimmed, though his expression was static, and Legolas impulsively reached out to him, clasping his shoulder in an offer of solidarity. They said no more, but slept little, each passing the night deep in his own thoughts. When sky began to lighten, Legolas' found that his hand was still securely anchored to Elrohir's shoulder, but of this, Elrohir made no remark.

~ * ~ *~ *~

They reached Lorien in the golden light of late afternoon, and as they passed the outermost copses a sentinel stepped out to greet them and bid them wait a while until his captain gave them leave to enter the wood. They were glad to stretch their legs and turn their mounts out to graze, and it was not long before the captain arrived. Both Legolas and Elrohir greeted him with broad smiles.

"Well met, Haldir. We have come to trample on your elanor and lay waste to your food stores," Elrohir japed. The once-staid Galadhel met the teasing with a wry grin.

"Ah, excellent. I have been told more than once that I would benefit from a good pillaging."

Elrohir howled at that. Haldir had been flinty and forbidding in the Fellowship's presence and Legolas was satisfied now to see such easy humor in the Elf who had been his guide through Lorien.

Haldir lead them further into the woods where a small colony had blossomed under his supervision along the eastern borders. Warriors, in the main, resided here, and there were few women. It came as little surprise to Legolas that one such as Haldir, long hardened by battle and the discipline of the patrol, would choose to abide here with likeminded fellows rather than to remove to the softer, idler climes of Caras Galadhon. Leadership sat well on his broad shoulders, but when Legolas said as much, the erstwhile Marchwarden demurred.

"My lord Celeborn is still the master of this place; I am merely a steward in his absence, and when he departs, I shall follow. This is but a biding-place for us to play out our last days on these shores." Legolas heard a note of wistfulness in his voice, and when their gazes briefly met, he could see a struggle between leaf and tide in Haldir's eyes that mirrored his own. He smiled at Legolas sadly and then turned away, keeping the secrets of his sorrows his own.

Haldir saw to it that their horses were tended and their packs unloaded, and invited them to share a meal with him, his brothers, and a few of the others who dwelt in the hithermost part of the wood. Legolas found the palette of the wood muted, its colors having ceded with Galadriel's leave-taking; the trees were almost memories of themselves now. Yet still Haldir and his folk dined with relish, and afterward they gathered around a stone fire-pit for more leisurely conversation and to pass a wineskin. One of Haldir's brothers brought forth a harp and sang for them, a light yet plaintive song of summer's end.

Legolas sat back, content to merely observe the goings on around him. He looked up after a while, realizing that Orophin's singing, the warmth of the fire and the wine had begun to lure him into reverie. Elrohir was nowhere to be found, and some of the other Elves that had been sitting with them had drifted away into small clusters of quiet conversation. He shook off the muzzy blanket of sleep, and as his eyes refocused he saw that Haldir had been watching him. The Galadhel's expression was amused, though his eyes were mild and kind.

"Even the doughtiest among us are easily fatigued these days," he told Legolas, and in the flicker of the firelight, Legolas could see the shadows that had crept in around his eyes, confirming what he had already inferred: that the call of the sea reached even into the heart of the forest.

Legolas smiled rather sheepishly, knowing he had waited too long to answer. "Forgive me, I am a poor guest."

"Nay, you are a weary traveler. You will sleep in my talan tonight." He offered his hand to Legolas and pulled him to standing. "I have prepared the bed for you and Elrohir. He will follow after when he is ready, but I wager it will be some time; he and Rúmil have joined some others in dicing."

"I hope Rúmil is prepared to lose," Legolas quipped, stifling a yawn. "And where will you sleep? It does not seem right that we should repay your hospitality by casting you out of your own bed. Both Elrohir and I are accustomed to sleeping rough. We will be content with bedrolls on the ground. Indeed, it is an indulgence not to have to keep a watch for a night."

Haldir snorted. "I have spent a night or two under the stars in my time, and it is no hardship for me. But there is a long road in your wake, and many miles yet before you." He began to walk toward a narrow path, and then spoke over his shoulder. "Take comfort when and where it is offered, Legolas."

Legolas thought he might have been smirking, but Haldir turned his head too quickly for him to be certain.

Haldir showed him to his talan, and by the time he had begun to climb the ladder, Legolas realized that he was well and truly exhausted.

"Sleep now, friend," Haldir admonished him. "Though the Lady has passed from here and our splendor fades, this land still has great powers of restoration. No doubt you will be in fine fettle come the morrow."

Legolas took a moment as he undressed to survey Haldir's sanctuary. It was rather spacious, considering he did not share it with any other, and it was simply furnished. The singular concession to extravagance was his bed, which was large, and arrayed with thick bolsters and sumptuous pillows. The thought of the formidable warrior indulging himself with silk and eiderdown made him smile, but his fondness was tinged with pity: A bed like this was made for sharing. Surely Haldir did not let it grow too cold, especially in these days of peace...but was there no one who had claimed his heart? Was he indeed so set in his solitary ways?

The same, it only now occurred to him, might be asked of him, or of Elrohir, or of countless other worthy souls: so many years had been given over to the destruction of Evil that there had been little time for more gentle pursuits. Hearts and hands and eyes set for battle and steeled for destruction could not concomitantly be poised for love and softened for courting. The darkness had been cast down and they had survived, yet few had repurposed their hearts for loving, it seemed. Of a sudden, setting his head to Haldir's pillow, beholding the mallorn branches dancing above him and the bed sprawling emptily around him, Legolas knew a profound loneliness.

Though he had not slept the night before, the rest he had taken on Fangorn's floor with Elrohir beside him, both near to him and far away, had been restorative in its own way. He recalled the sear of Elrohir's fingers on his flesh, and remembered how it felt to be spelled by a companion's touch. Such was the cold rush and incessant pull of the waves in his mind that his desire had been dulled nearly to the point of disappearing entirely. It had been far too long since he had known another's heat, far too long since he had shared his body, let alone his heart. Of a sudden, he wished for Elrohir's peerless presence, imagined stripping him roughly and requiting demands grounded in fire and earth rather than in water and wind.

Though in the end, his body's need for sleep was stronger than its memory of desire, and he succumbed, curled tightly against himself at the edge of Haldir's wide bed. He dreamed feverishly, obscenely. He woke once with a start, bolting upright, only to find Elrohir naked beside him, his tangled hair falling in dark vines over his shoulder as he pressed Legolas into the pillows. His body cast a shadow over the bed as he leaned in and drew his lips across Legolas' jaw, down his throat. Legolas heard himself whimper.

"Sleep," Elrohir insisted, gentling him... but that, too, might have been a dream. All he knew as his head returned to the pillow and darkness swirled up around him was that his senses were filled with the rhythmic throb of Elrohir's heart and the susurrus of his utterances, and he could no longer hear the sea.

~ * ~ *~ *~

He woke to the sound of birds and to the spry dance of the sun's ambassadors across his face. Elrohir's head pressed up between his shoulder blades, while his hand rested absently on his hip. That the Peredhel felt so at ease that he could sleep with such tranquil abandon both pleased and amused him. The occasional twitch of Elrohir's fingers on his hipbone and the insistent, if accidental, prod of his morning-hard shaft against Legolas' thigh was stirring, but he took no action, content for the moment to simply lie in close quarters. A muffled groan from Elrohir as he burrowed his face into Legolas' back to escape the impinging sun made him want to blush, laugh, and pounce. Yet before Legolas had decided which, Elrohir's sleepy groan became a waking bleat, and the clutching hand withdrew as he yawned and stretched.

"I have not slept so soundly in ages. Did you fare well in your dreams? Did I do anything untoward in my sleep?"

"Very," Legolas offered, terrifically amused by Elrohir's complete lack of shame, which in turn allowed him to feel emboldened by the memory of his scarlet dreams rather than discomfited by them, "and no."

By mid-morning, they had made ready their departure. Haldir walked with them to the river where the Galadhrim had boats waiting to ferry them and their horses across.

"Beware," he warned, his expression fierce as he ran a soothing hand down the neck of Elrohir's unhappy mount. "The Shadow may have lifted from Eryn Lasgalen, but there are still dark things about. We see Yrch, though they are not as numerous as they once were, and your father's captains have reported that a few of Shelob's brood lurk there yet. Once you have passed the settlements in East Lorien and the dwellings of the Woodmen, stay ready and alert."

The horses were little pleased to make the crossing. Legolas thought their wide, wild eyes and flaring nostrils an ill omen, but there was nothing to be done for it. He saluted to Haldir from the stern. "We will heed your warnings. I hope our paths cross again."

"Travel safely and take care," he bid them as the oarsmen pushed off from the hythe. Without another word he turned and vanished back into the woods.

~ * ~ *~ *~

Bracken and moss had reclaimed the ruins of Dol Guldur just as Elves and Woodmen had reclaimed the land around it, though a wide and desolate swath surrounded Amon Lanc, and neither Man nor Elf nor any other creature made its home on the tainted soil. They spent the day in East Lorien, eager to discover what their kin had jointly built, and found a thriving community of Sindar, Silvan and Noldor in the southernmost reaches of the wood. Both Legolas and Elrohir rekindled acquaintances with old comrades, and with every moment they passed there, Legolas' anticipation gave way to eagerness to reach the forest in the north.

The denizens of East Lorien fed them well and made a comfortable bower for them amid the elms and the poplars, and they could still hear voices raised in song when at last they retired. Legolas doffed his tunic and his linen shirt and sat to pull off his boots. The moss of the forest floor was cool and spongy beneath his feet, and he curled his toes into the green. When he looked up, he found Elrohir's eyes on him, brilliant as stars.

"I've a confession, if you've ears for it," he began, and Legolas' brow furrowed in concern.

Elrohir sank to the ground beside him wearing an expression that seemed to ride an improbable line between sincerity and mischief. "Last night, you woke from raucous dreams. Or rather, your body woke, but I think your mind was still in slumber. Even disoriented as you were, your face looked so fair in the moonlight that I could not help but to steal a kiss."

Narrowing his eyes, Legolas tried to withhold a grin and failed. "A kiss? I would deem many kisses closer to the truth of it."

"Then you were awake!" He tossed back his head and laughed. "Had I been more certain, I might have pressed for more than kisses."

Take comfort when and where it is offered, Legolas. Haldir's words echoed back to him. He took a breath, and met Elrohir's glinting stare head-on, extending a hand to beckon him nearer.

"What would you have pressed for, then?"

As he had the night before, Elrohir leaned over him, and his lips moved across his jaw and down his throat. But there came no quiet injunction for him to sleep. This night, skillful and knowing hands urged Legolas to wake, to rise, to resurrect his body's forgotten wisdom. Soon, they were grappling together on the forest floor, straining toward each other with touches both tender and hungry. Elrohir's weight pressed him down into his mossy bed. Fallen leaves tangled in his hair; the grass danced in the night breeze to stroke his skin. The tang of desire was sharp in his nostrils mingling with the fecund scent of the earth, and when they spilled their seed together, their sighs and moans were but one more voice in the infinite chorus of the wood. Legolas remembered once more what it was to be a part of the forest, inextricable and mighty.

"Stay near to me tonight," he whispered, long after, but there was little need to ask, for Elrohir was asleep with his head pillowed on Legolas' shoulder, and he showed no sign of waking.

~ * ~ *~ *~

In the morning, they bid farewell to their fellows and resumed their journey. The settlers suggested they ride west and skirt the edge of the wood until they reached the Old Forest Road, for there were no clear paths beyond East Lorien, but neither Legolas nor Elrohir wished to retrace their steps, and being well versed in woodcraft and tracking they had no fear of becoming lost or waylaid. The Elves did not much persist in their warnings, for Legolas was a prince of Eryn Lasgalen and had lived millennia in the shadow of Sauron's fastness, and Elrohir was himself a warrior of great repute.

They rode slowly, allowing their horses to pick their own passage through the trees. Though the shadow had been lifted nigh a century ago, one hundred years was not nearly time enough for the land and the trees to forget all the blight that had laid upon it for millennia. While parts of the forest thrived, there were still pockets of darkness and decay. When they slept, they slept warily, each taking a turn at the watch, and with the horses always in their sight.

They trekked on, at last reaching the road that bisected the forest. Emyn-nu-Fuin loomed darkly ahead.

"Here is your road," Elrohir said, riding up beside him, their legs brushing together as their horses stood shoulder to shoulder. Together, they looked to the west and watched as the path opened out into Wilderland, the Great River an unseen presence further than what even their keen eyes could see.

Legolas hesitated, but Elrohir's hand on the small of his back offered a heartening reassurance.

"You know now what lies beyond; it is time you were reacquainted with what lies within. Come."

He clucked to his horse and moved ahead, back into the woods. Legolas followed.

They had not gone far when they heard the padding of feet on the earth. Elves did not make such a ruckus, and from the slow cadence, they agreed that the walkers were attempting stealth. They dismounted, and Legolas made ready his bow but did not draw it; he would not fire until he saw his enemy, lest it be one of their allies‹a wandering Beorning, perhaps, or a Woodman.

After a time of silent watching, he caught sight of swarty hide skulking off to the East.

"Yrch!" he hissed between bared teeth. "Take the horses. I will go and assess their number. I would know if they are few or many before we choose our action."

Elrohir nodded his agreement and Legolas slipped away, unseen and unheard.

He stalked on the ground and from the trees, following as closely as he dared, until he came in sight of the foothills of the mountains. There, the Yrch had made their den, and Legolas counted nearly a score: too many for him to take on alone, but if they lacked ranged weapons, he could kill a goodly number at a distance and Elrohir was more than capable of handling the rest. He backed away slowly, intending to fetch Elrohir that they could begin their campaign. He had made it only a few steps when he heard a horrific shriek, the squealing of a wounded horse, followed by a sound which nearly tore his heart in twain: another scream... Elrohir's.

Like the wind he flew, not caring if the Yrch were in pursuit. He cursed himself for his stupidity for suggesting they separate. Had decades of dwelling in idle peace in the gardens of Ithilien stripped him bare of all instinct? When he reached the spot where they had parted, his stomach was filled with cold, sour dread. Elrohir's horse lay dead on its side, its neck twisted horrifically beneath it. Worse, a giant spider was feasting at its belly, bright red blood slicking over the creature's black maw. Of Elrohir and of his own mount there was no sign.

The spider's eyes glowed malevolently in the dark. She hissed, angry at being disturbed from her meal. Legolas nocked an arrow on his bowstring. With only a high-pitched whine for warning, she lunged for him over the horse's remains. He loosed his bolt and the arrow pierced her faceted eye. She made a dreadful screech of rage and pain, limping forward toward him. He sent off another shot and the spider slumped forward, made a low rattling sound, and died. When he approached the carcass, he noticed a trail of jaundiced slime oozing out behind it, and he realized the spider had already been wounded by a sword-thrust to its belly, and that one of its legs had been hewed off at the joint, leaving black blood pooling on the ground; no doubt the work of the Elf-knight. Elrohir, though not yet found, was nearby.

He stepped cautiously around the wreckage of the horse and spider, and it took but a moment to find what he dreaded: the Ungol's foul nest, and within the web, a limp form the size of an Elf cocooned in oily strands.

"Elrohir, no!" he cried out, no longer mindful of who or what might hear him. He leapt forward, unsheathing his knife and dragging it through the filaments. Beneath the spider's vile shroud, Elrohir lie pale and still, angry red blisters across his eyes and cheeks the only color in his face.

"Nay, beauty! Not now! Not when we are so close to home, and you and I have just begun to learn our hearts!"

He pulled the web away from Elrohir's mouth and nose, and at last, with a long, low, wheeze, Elrohir drew a breath. Legolas sank to his knees in relief. Slowly, with each labored inhalation, color returned to his face, but the welts only grew more livid and his eyes had swollen shut. Soon, Elrohir was groaning weakly, and Legolas thought he had never heard a more beautiful sound.

But while his lungs resumed their work and forced noises of complaint out from between his bowed lips, his features were still slack, his limbs leaden and motionless.

"You have taken the Ungol's venom," Legolas told him, uncertain of how conscious he was or of how much he could hear. He strove to keep his voice low and calm. "She uses it to immobilize her victims. It will be some time before you can move again. But I dare not tarry here, lest the smell of death pique the interest of the Yrch."

"This will be neither pleasant for you, nor comfortable," he warned, heaving Elrohir over his shoulder like a flour-sack, "but it is currently our only option." In tracking the Yrch, he had seen a great sycamore with wide limbs good for climbing and perching; they would be safest off the ground. When, with great difficulty, he had hoisted Elrohir into the tree and secured him to the branches with his own coil of hithlain rope, his companion's silently rueful countenance spoke volumes.

It was not until the next day that Elrohir began to stir, at last asking Legolas to untie him. He moved stiffly at first, and with a deplorable lack of coordination, but eventide found him much improved.

"Breath of Manwë, my eyes are afire!" he grunted roughly, coming back to himself far more quickly than Legolas dared hope. He reached up to rub his face but Legolas held back his hands.

"Do not break the blisters else the poison will spread!"

Elrohir growled and clambered awkwardly to his feet, reaching for the branch above him to keep his balance.

"Tell me what happened. What do you remember?"

Elrohir stretched his arms above him and arched his back, making little noises of discomfort as he did so. "The spider dropped from the tree and savaged the horse, and I had only time for one stroke as it attacked. I took out one of her legs, but with seven to spare, loss of one did little to slow her. All I could do was attempt to run her through. When she reared, I went for the belly, but I must have missed the vital parts." He winced, rolling his head in slow circles and reaching back with one hand to rub his neck. "She spat her venom at me, for I was out of the reach of her stinger. It felt like fire on my skin, like molten metal sprayed across my face. I could not bear the pain of it. In my weakness and confusion, I did not run‹could not run‹and she wrapped me in her foul silk. I thought she would squeeze all the air from my lungs! I grew colder and colder, and I could no longer feel my limbs... I thought she had killed me for certes."

Legolas' face rankled with disgust. "If only her kind granted such grace. She would have kept you in her web and drawn the life from you bit by bit. And when she had drained you down to the last of your blood, only then she would have eaten you. Slowly. The broodlings of Shelob take their meat fresh."

Elrohir shuddered, looking for a moment as if he might purge. When he had regained his equilibrium, he turned his head slowly and Legolas beheld his expression of fear and dismay.

"What of my eyes, Legolas... the venom..."

Legolas felt a lump of ice form in the pit of his stomach. If the venom could paralyze an Elf and raise such gruesome chancres on the skin, he could only imagine what they might do to the tender tissue of the eyes.

"Do not abandon hope, Elf-knight. My father's healers know well the spiders' poison, and you will soon be in their care." He prayed that he spoke true.

"Soon? But how am I to go if I cannot see? Shall you lead me on a string like a blind beggar with a dog?"

Legolas might have grinned at Elrohir's vexation had their circumstance not been so dire; Gimli had groused in nearly identical terms when Haldir had insisted on binding the eyes of the Fellowship when they crossed the Naith of Lorien.

"Nay," he assured. "You will follow my voice, and I shall direct you."

Elrohir scoffed irritably. "And thereby announce our every move to our foe!"

It was a valid point. But he could not leave Elrohir behind, sightless as he was. Though he would not insult the Peredhel by deeming him helpless, he was most certainly at a deadly disadvantage. And the more time that passed with the Ungol's poison working its way through his skin, the greater risk that Elrohir's eyes would be irreparably harmed.

Legolas blew out a frustrated breath and let his head drop back against a tree limb. Through what few breaks opened in the canopy, he espied the glimmer of faraway stars.

"Elbereth!" he cried, an idea striking him at last. "They might know what is Œleft' and Œright,' but they have cowered so long beneath the roof of our trees that they have forgotten the legend of the sky! Tell me, friend, are the tales of your Grandsire truth, or merely story? Does he indeed captain a ship across the heavens?"

"Aye," Elrohir affirmed. "He rises even as we speak. My siblings and I have always perceived his presence." His expression brightened as he seemed to glean an inkling of Legolas' plan. "I do not need my eyes to find him above me."

"And I wager you do not need your eyes to find Soronúmë or Luinil, either."

When Elrohir's smile further opened across his face, Legolas knew he understood. "Yet as the night wears on, the stars will shift in their orbits. I do not know how easily I shall be able to reorient myself to their movement without sight."

"Might your Mariner-kin be bidden to delay his crossing for a while? Might he hold his ship steady in the sky to be your beacon? And might he have some clout in asking his companions to likewise stay their journeys so that you may more easily recall their stations?"

Elrohir appeared stunned by the very thought of such a thing. "I do not know if he can delay, but if he can, he will. As for the stars, they are Varda's creations, and beholden to no-one's whims but hers. Will you watch over me for a time, that I might beg this favor?"

He turned his face to the heavens, and despite the ravages of the Ungol's poison, his face glowed with such a fierce beauty that Legolas was near breathless to behold it. He was luminous in the moonlight, his arms outstretched in supplication, his lips moving in silent entreaty. Yet it seemed to Legolas that some essential part of him had vanished, was sailing high on the tides of the night sky, and that what he beheld, enrapturing though it might have been, was but an animate shell; Elrohir's body, but not his essence.

After a time, Elrohir shivered and shook his head as if to release himself from trance or slumber. Simultaneously, Legolas felt his presence again beside him on the branch of the sycamore, the soul in flight returned. His smile maintained a dreamy quality, as though something of his spectral travels lingered still within him.

"He says he will remain at the apex of his flight until sunrise, and he will ask the larger stars to keep their vigils fixed as well. He will watch over us, Legolas. He will see us home."

Home. To hear the word from Elrohir's lips filled him with hope.

"Let us away. I would not have him fight the pull of the sky while we sit idle. And in any case, it is all I can do to keep from scratching myself raw, and I will suffer all the more without something to occupy me."

It was only then that Legolas realized that Elrohir must have been in agony. So stalwart and stoic was he that he had barely uttered a word of complaint since he had roused from his stupor. Yet when Legolas looked closely at him, he could see the tense set of his jaw, the thin press of his lips and the occasional flare of his nostrils that suggested he was straining against his pain. There was no time to waste.

"Then we are off. Stay as close to me as you can."

Elrohir clamped a strong hand on Legolas' shoulder. "Close enough?" His hopeful smile split the darkness, and Legolas resolve was galvanized.

As they moved slowly east they heard the ravening cries of Yrch, and the grim song of their laughter. They had found the carrion and were devouring it.

A shout arose from their foul feast. "I smell Elf-meat!"

Elrohir's hand tightened on his shoulder. They moved ahead as stealthily as they could, for there was no going back.

"Alcarinquë," Legolas whispered. Elrohir nodded and continued in the direction they had started, toward a star obscured this night by leaf and bough. His steps were tentative, and he swayed as he moved, instinctively wary of obstacles before him. Legolas took the rearguard, walking backward and keeping watch on their foe. He saw them now, hunched over their bloody feast. Most of their backs were to him, but he counted only five. That left many more still lurking in the dark.

They were nearly clear of the area when one looked up from the gore and spotted them. "Elves!" it roared, and the others swung around to see, taking only a moment to choose between the bodies they had already consumed and a fresh meal before them.

Legolas craned his neck and saw a clearing north and to the west. "Luinil!" he barked. "Run!"

Elrohir bounded away, tracing a swerving trail in the direction of the blue star. As the Yrch neared, Legolas sent off one shot, and then another, and another. Within moments, all but two had fallen. But the pair who yet lived let out terrible howls, and an answering roar resounded beyond the clearing.

"Curse me!" Legolas hissed under his breath. He had sent Elrohir right to them, and right to his death.

He rounded one of the hills just in time to see Elrohir stumble. The Yrch were waiting for him. Their leader, a large, misshapen thing, leered openly and licked his lips in a grotesque parody of desire.

"Elrohir! Soronúmë!"

Elrohir did not even turn his head, but dove to his right. Had he not been blind, he would have seen the eagle star at his shoulder guiding his flight. The Yrch looked up and around, momentarily distracted, and Legolas sent down another volley of arrows in succession, each hitting its mark. The remainder of the Yrch scattered.

Legolas' arrows had enraged the survivors, whose raging summoned their full number forth. Another dozen or more emerged from the shadowy caves that pierced the bedrock of Emyn-nu-Fuin. Legolas leapt high as he could and his hands found purchase on the lowest limb of an oak. He swung up into its branches, and thence he dashed from tree to tree in the opposite direction he had sent Elrohir. The furious horde did not know which way to move.

Elrohir reeled. He had drawn his sword and dagger both, as if to compensate for loss of one sense by wielding two weapons, but Legolas could see that he was greatly unnerved even as his face betrayed little distress. He turned his attention to the growling below. Yrch had swarmed the tree in which he stood, and if a single one of them had carried a bow or a sling, he would already have been dead. He jumped just as one clambered up beside him, but realized too late that the next tree was too distant to reach. He had no choice but to return to the ground. Drawing his white-handled knives, he crouched and leapt down.

No sooner had he landed than one of the creatures grabbed him around the neck and jerked him off his feet. They stumbled backward together. Legolas managed to turn in the creature's grip to face him. The Orc's breath smelled of rotting flesh and dung, his dark eyes burned greedy and soulless. The creature appeared intent on wresting one of Legolas' knives free, and Legolas knew it would happily crush every bone in his hand to do it.

"To Borgil, Elrohir!" His voice carried over the land. "Your knife!"

He could not look to see if Elrohir had heard him, nor to see if he was pursued; his eyes were set on his own struggle, which required all of his strength. He glimpsed over the Orc's shoulder a sudden flash in the moonlight; above him, the ever-star of Menelvagor flared red in the sky. An instant later, the beast bellowed and fell forward, Elrohir's dagger to the hilt buried in his back. He wrenched himself free of the creature's clutches and pushed its body aside.

Elrohir lurched toward him, his head moving wildly from side to side in a futile effort to seek out his foes. "Where, Legolas?"

Legolas could not immediately answer as two more of the glamhoth set upon him. He took them out with the fleet work of his knives. Looking up, he found the rest of the pack gaining on Elrohir. They would soon surround him.

"Toward Helluin, Elrohir! Quickly!"

Elrohir stopped and pivoted to face southwest.

"At your left!" Legolas cried, running forward in a vain attempt to reach his friend. Fortunately Elrohir's reflexes were swift and true. He hefted his sword aloft and brought it down in a slashing arc to the left, cleanly cleaving the Orc who assailed him. Even sightless he was deadly. If he got but a little closer, he would be near enough to an ancient elm to climb into its branches and buy a moment's reprieve with a stalwart stem to guard his back.

When one of their foes fell, another sprang up instantly in its place. Before Elrohir could reach the tree, an Orc caught up to him, drew its ugly scimitar back across its shoulder, and prepared to make a lethal, slicing blow.

"To the ground!" Legolas shouted in desperation, swinging around with his knives gleaming. The Orc-blade whistled over Elrohir's head, sank into the trunk of the elm, and stuck there.

As his own opponent advanced with savage laughter, others closed in around Elrohir, who lay flat on the ground awaiting Legolas' direction.

"Aware at your feet!" he called, the stars no longer serving to guide them as the foe hemmed them in on an earthly plane.

Elrohir was up in an instant, his sword primed for the enemy he could not see. And even as Legolas dispatched the marauder before him, he saw fear and rage and utter determination cycling in succession across Elrohir's face.

The sudden twang of bowstrings was a most glorious sound, even more so when followed by a rain of arrows, their fletching green and gold and nearly as familiar to him as his own. The remaining Yrch were stopped in their tracks, crumpling dead to the forest floor without a sound.

There was nary a crackling of a leaf underfoot when Legolas' horse stepped out of the shadows bearing a majestic Elf upon his back, flanked by four archers on either side. The regal figure unstrung his bow in one smooth gesture, looking to Elrohir as he did so.

"Welcome to Eryn Lasgalen, son of Elrond."

He turned then to Legolas.

"Welcome home, my son."

~ * ~ *~ *~

Legolas opened the door with caution, but there was no need for it; Elrohir did not sleep, and was anticipating his arrival. Five days in the healers' care and he was hale and whole again, save for his bandaged eyes. A few more days of various unguents and herbs and those, too, would be recovered, though he had begun to chafe at the restrictions placed upon him, restless with too much resting.

Legolas sat beside him on what had in another time been his own bed and looked around his old room once more, thinking how strange it was to see Elrohir there. A lamp on a low table illuminated the chamber even though Elrohir could not discern between light and darkness beneath his swaddling. He reached up to rub his eyes but Legolas' quick hands intervened.

Elrohir glowered. "I shall go mad from the itching."

"It is a good sign. They are healing; leave them be."

"Easier said than done," Elrohir scowled, one hand again moving upward in a reflexive attempt to relieve his discomfort.

"I will bind them to the headboard if need be." The threat was delivered with a grin, but he did not quite expect Elrohir's responding smile, a slow, lascivious leer that moved predatorily across his handsome face.

The smile became a wince and Elrohir brought his hands to his face a third time. Legolas grabbed them and held his wrists together, bending down to kiss the tips of his fingers. Elrohir made a hum of satisfaction and his lips curled up in a smirk, leaving Legolas to briefly wonder if he had just succumbed to some Peredhel ruse. He pressed Elrohir's hands to his chest. It looked as if he were praying. Legolas recalled the ethereal beauty his companion had evinced when communing with his grandsire, and the feral prowess of his body in motion as they had worshipped together in a wholly different fashion. After a moment's consideration, he drew a single finger down Elrohir's chest, past the piously postured arms and over the taut planes of his belly, and Elrohir made a low rumble in his throat.

Legolas explored with only the tips of his fingers: the tapering curve of Elrohir's waist, the pulse at his throat, the hollows of his collarbones. He watched the slow rise of Elrohir's erection beneath the blankets and listened to the acceleration of his breathing, the changing cadence of his heart. His own body's response was so closely allied that he imagined he could thumb a lazy circle over Elrohir's nipple and feel his own contract in delight.

When Legolas stood and moved away from the bed, Elrohir's face fell.

"What is the matter?"

"Nothing," Legolas assured, sliding the bolt on the door home with a decisive and satisfying clack. "But it would not do to have your tender care interrupted."

A feral noise arose from the bed then, and Elrohir whipped back the blankets. The loose linen pants he wore were now vigorously tented. He tugged at the drawstrings and shoved the restrictive article down, freeing a spectacular shaft that stood willfully out of a thatch of dark curls, straining to be venerated with hands and lips and secret flesh.

"I will have your care, but I beg you, let it not be overly tender." His voice turned pleading. "Succor me with an ardent touch, Legolas."

The sound of his own name in such a fervid appeal incited him to action. He rushed to rid himself of his own clothing, which predictably seemed to fight him at every turn.

"You are undressing," Elrohir observed, his approval plain. "Alas, that I should miss seeing you fully bared for me this first time!"

"Shall I describe it for you?"

A sinister smile blossomed. "Please."

Legolas bit his lip against the surge of lust that wracked him and dropped his shirt and jerkin carelessly to the floor. "I am bare to the waist." He tugged the leather thong from the end of his braid and shook out his pale locks. "I have unbound my hair for you."

"For me," Elrohir reiterated in a whisper.

"I am unlacing my breeches." It became more difficult to speak; his voice had gone husky and deep.

Elrohir cupped himself, his fingers lightly trailing over his length, his legs quietly swimming on the sheets. The sight of it was as exquisite as it was arousing. Elrohir's skin glowed with the flush of blood; even with his glinting silver eyes veiled, he was radiant.

"And you... your body... tell me."

Legolas groaned, his own hand reaching impulsively to the apex of his thighs to mirror Elrohir's motions. His shaft twitched against his palm, his bollocks taut as plums beneath. "I am hard, Elrohir. I ache for want of you."

"Ai!" Elrohir growled, reaching out to him, "do not keep me waiting!"

Legolas stepped near and wove their fingers together as Elrohir drew him down. He lay between Elrohir's legs and the sweat-sticky drag of their shafts together sent a shudder straight through him. Elrohir's hands and mouth pushed and pulled him like a tide, drawing him to the edge of release and then thrusting him back. Once more hurtling toward the precipice, he tugged away and traced the swollen outline of Elrohir's lips with a forefinger.

"I have never felt so alive... I am renewed by your loving."

Elrohir's hands shot up and dragged him roughly back into a devouring kiss. When his mouth suckled a hot path up his neck, Legolas nearly howled.

A loamy growl promised the earthiest of delights. "You have not yet known my loving, Greenleaf."

Legolas could not find words, so he drew one of Elrohir's hands down over his flank, across his hind. Elrohir had no need of his eyes to find his path. His fingers moved as if they had known this terrain a thousand years. They delved him, plumbed his depths, found the place within that threatened to send Legolas spiraling. Healing salves were pressed into a kinder duty. At last, Legolas drew himself up, steadied by Elrohir's hands, and sank slowly down. He felt himself pierced to the core.

Elrohir groaned beneath him, his head jerking up from the pillow. "Sweet beauty! Would that I could see your rapture!"

"Feel it!" Legolas choked out his charge, his entire body tensing. He moved slowly, feeling himself sundered from within and remade in ecstasy. Elrohir stroked him, each touch sending his blood through his veins at dizzying speeds. His lungs felt near to bursting, each breath filled them so fully. Legolas, too, was blind now, for sight was merely a distraction from other senses: from feeling the heat rising from Elrohir's skin, from learning the musk of his scent, from hearing the rapid thunder of his heart and the blending of their voices harmonized in a song of renewal. No sea could sink him, no wave could break him, no gull could rend his spirit with a cry: not when Elrohir's song was building beneath him, filling his ears with a symphony of sweetness, of love, of desire. Pleasure overwhelmed him. He threw back his head, keening, and spent: a fierce white swell casting its foam across the shore. Elrohir bucked hard from below, cried out once, and then held him tight, filling him with wet heat.

For a protracted moment they stayed frozen in their attitudes of delirium, and then slowly Legolas sank forward, Elrohir guiding him down until Legolas' body covered him. They embraced, tenderly now, and shared kisses more gentle than fierce. Legolas' tongue drew lazy culls from Elrohir's neck. There was a taste of brine that sent him reeling with contentment rather than grief. He grazed Elrohir's throat that the salt of him might settle forever in his lips.

"I should very much like to see the rest of Eryn Lasgalen when my eyes have healed," Elrohir whispered idly.

"Of course," Legolas replied, his fingers following the shadows the little lamp had cast over Elrohir's torso. "And then where will you go?"

"My duties were long ago discharged; I suppose it matters very little where I go." He tangled his fingers in Legolas' hair. "I am told Ithilien is lovely at summer's end."

Legolas laughed. "Aye, it is. Quite temperate in winter, as well."

"Then I should stay at least until the spring." He bent his neck to kiss the crown of Legolas' head. "And what of you, Greenleaf? Will you stay in the forest now that you have at last come home?"

Legolas smiled wistfully. "I may linger here for a while, now I know that I am welcome, but in truth, there is another territory I would fain explore."

His fingers moved silently across Elrohir's bed-warm breast, and traced a map of his desires over the welcoming landscape of Elrohir's heart.

~ * ~ *~ *~

His father's halls had changed little in the time he had been away, and yet they seemed more beautiful to him now than it ever had in his youth, more vibrant. Graceful corridors led to opulent chambers, and fires brightened the gloom of the stone, refracting off the mica and quartz and making the walls almost appear to shimmer. There was a light and liveliness within that he had not seen since long ago, before the advent of Dol Guldur.

Leaving Elrohir to his sated, healing sleep, he had crept forth from the cozy shelter of their bed to wander his childhood home, steeping himself in memory with each echoing step. Moon and starlight trickled through the leaves to limn the vaulting spans of the arcade and a few lanterns still cast silver-blue light across his father's courtyard. He gazed upon it for a long while, remembering how he had run along the spiraling paths as a child. He looked up only when he felt eyes upon him and knew he was no longer alone. There, across the courtyard, framed by leaf-scrolled columns, stood his father. He beckoned Legolas silently, with a simple gesture that drew son to father like a flower to Anor's golden rays.

In his own lavish chamber, Thranduil set two goblets on a table and reached for the wine Galion had brought up from the cellars. It had been decanting in a carafe of cut crystal, the ruddy liquid glinting against the facets. Legolas let undertones of blackcurrant and violet waft toward him. The hint of cedar that lingered behind the other notes reminded him of the summer breezes in Ithilien. Thoughts of Ithilien turned to thoughts of the sea, and he realized that his longing had not plagued him since Lorien, since the cry of the gulls had been supplanted by sweeter sounds of pulse and breath.

Legolas raised his glass to his father. "I will say again, as I have said every day, that your arrival was most auspicious."

Thranduil grinned. His mouth was a vainglorious arc beneath audacious blue eyes, and Legolas himself smiled spontaneously upon seeing it. His sire was proud and kingly and still full, despite their long and discordant parting, of ferocious love for him.

"I remain your father, Legolas. I carry you in my soul no matter how far from me you wander, and no matter how long you roam. I felt your presence here once you crossed the Anduin." He snorted out a laugh. "Though I should add that Haldir keeps me well informed of those who pass his way, and he knew I would have a particular interest in his most recent visitors. One of his winged messengers arrived a mere day after you left Lorien." His gaiety faded then, and he ensnared Legolas in an unrelenting paternal gaze. "What neither he nor I could ascertain was which path you would take. Had one of my sentinels not spotted an unfamiliar horse fleeing riderless alongside the Enchanted River, you might have been lost ere we reached you."

"And yet we were not lost." Legolas gently reminded him. "We had both sires and grandsires to find us, and to lead us home."

Thranduil set his goblet down, sighing, and reached across the table to cover Legolas' hand with his own, the intensity of his emotion radiating through that simple touch.

"My most beloved one... Always you sought what lay outside our home. While my eyes were fixed to the trees, yours looked beyond. I always believed that you were looking away from me, yet you would have said you were merely looking toward the unknown."

Legolas gripped his father's hand tightly, felt its calluses and strength.

"You have traveled to the ends of Arda and back. You have walked through fire, and through shadow, and over the mountains and beneath the earth. And now you are returned to the forest... have you found at last what it was that you sought? Have you found the thing that called to your roving soul?"

Legolas' mind flashed to the memory of Elrohir standing beside him in the courtyard in Minas Tirith at the onset of their journey, a winsome smile lighting up his face.

"We have much in common, you and I...princes at liberty and roving souls alike."

Legolas' heart lurched in his chest with sudden exultation. He squeezed his father's hand and smiled in wonder.

"Yes, Father. I have found it."
Chapter end notes:
The title and portions of the story were inspired by the Edna St. Vincent Millay poem of the same name.

Regarding stars: Tolkien named a number of stars and constellations in his works which correspond with our own solar system. Alcarinquë is our Jupiter; Luinil is variously attributed as being Rigel, Regulus or Spica; Helluin is most likely Sirius; and Soronúmë may or may not be Aquila. Borgil is Betelgeuse, which appears in the constellation of Orion, the warrior; in Tolkien’s world, Orion becomes Menelvagor (“Swordsman of the Sky”), an eternal guardian of the world and a heavenly rendering of Túrin Turamabar.

My star-spotting skills are dubious at best, and I ask for my readers’ kind indulgence as I have likely ascribed astronomically impossible locations for these celestial bodies! Let us consider it poetic license of the highest (!) order.