Author’s Note: This chapter dedicated to Khylaren, who let us know about some faboo fanart of Haldir, mmm mmm good.
Without, Part 17
Legolas stood in the garden, right in the middle of the mosaic of the trees, eyes closed as he extended his senses. The sounds of his home—wind murmuring through branches, animals scurrying along, and the trees themselves whispering faintly, so faintly—threatened to overwhelm him. He felt guilt, for being away so long; delight, at having returned; familiarity, so comforting, like a warm embrace.
Mostly, though, he wanted to leave again. To ride out on a fast horse, eyes resolutely ahead, and return to Sérevinya where he had made a new home with his beloved Dagnir. In his mind’s eye Legolas could easily picture the large chair in which she would insist on curling up beside him, though they barely fit in it together.
He saw the firelight crackling on the hearth, and the faded rug where Mercas would play when Dawn and Boromir brought him for a visit. Of an evening, Legolas would often bring out a whittling knife and carve a toy for the child, and delight in the gummy smile he would receive as pudgy fingers explored the bear, or Oliphant, or horse his uncle had just gifted him with.
Comfortable days he had spent there, where he lived freely, and not under the capricious rule and greedy whim of Thranduil. He loved his sire; he had been a stern but caring father, but as often happens when the child becomes an adult and sees a parent with eyes unclouded by adoration and awe, Legolas did not like Thranduil very much.
For Mirkwood’s king was devious; he was sly and complicated and never would one know where truly he stood on any issue. Legolas found it frustrating, and as the years passed, he was unable to long endure his father’s machinations. Thranduil seemed to delight in keeping others off-balance, even his own offspring, and his youngest son was no longer willing to play such games.
When the need to admit their loss of Gollum from Mirkwood’s dungeons had presented itself, Legolas had leapt at the chance to serve as messenger, knowing it would afford him at least a month’s respite from Thranduil’s court. Little had he known that it would be not a month, but years before he would again clap eyes on his father, and as his sensitive ears picked up on the sounds of feet—one pair human, the other elven and almost as familiar as his own—he sighed, knowing his solitude at an end.
His wife slipped her arms around his waist and he gratefully gathered her into his embrace; she was his fortitude, more than she knew. “I’ll be nice if it kills me,” she promised him, and he smiled almost against his will.
“It might,” he replied, gazing down into her face. “We are fortunate you can choose whether you remain dead.”
“If he’s too irritating, I might not decide to come back,” Buffy said ominously. “Did you see the way he was scoping out Arwen? I mean, yeah, she’s the most beautiful creature on the planet but still, lecherous much?”
Legolas sighed. “It had nothing to do with lechery, herves-nîn,” he told her, “and everything to do with challenging the authority of another king, another male. Can you think of a better way to rile a newly-crowned monarch, and newly-wed Man, than by seducing his wife?”
“Indeed,” commented a silk-velvet voice, and Thranduil himself stepped onto the mosaic floor. “Ever have you had a talent for analyzing my conduct, ionath-nîn. And ever has it pained me that you take no joy in it, for it is a pleasure that few may experience.” He smirked, and Legolas could feel the tiny tremor that shook Buffy at the sight. “It is reserved for those few of us with royal blood.”
Legolas gave a snort that, if it had been words, would have said “royal blood, my elven fanny”. “What do you wish to say to us, Father?” he asked, forcing a note of politeness that he certainly did not feel into his tone. “For I cannot imagine you are well pleased with my choice of mate.”
Thranduil’s gaze, as green as the leaves he’d named his son for, flicked over Buffy. “On the contrary,” he said, surprising them both, “if you had to marry a daughter of Man, Dagnir seems to be a fine choice.” He smiled at her, a real smile, and this time her breath caught hard in her chest. “I have heard much of you, of your exploits in Lindon as well as your role during the war.”
Buffy smiled. So trusting, she was… Legolas knew his wife was being lulled by his father’s similarity to himself, knew she was thinking something like, “he wasn’t so bad, after all… just a little daunting, because of the gorgeousness and being king and all”...
“I have also,” Thranduil continued, “heard you sacrificed your boon to return life to him. For that, you have my gratitude and devotion, eternally.”
Legolas frowned; he knew perfectly well it was one of Elrond’s sons who had told his father of that, and vowed to beat them severely when next he saw them—even the other one, for he knew that when one twin was guilty, the other usually was, as well. Accursed peredhil.
Buffy, however, was amazed at the depth of emotion evident in Thranduil’s words; this was an elf who truly, genuinely loved his son, no matter how the son seemed firm about distancing himself. As she loved his son too, she couldn’t really blame him, and her determination to get her father-in-law to like her was redoubled.
“My pleasure,” she replied, staring shyly down at her feet before daring to peep up at him through her lashes. “Are you really angry about Legolas not marrying an elleth?”
“Yes,” he replied calmly. “I’m quite furious, and took an axe to every stick of furniture in my bedroom when I was informed he had wed you. But my fury changes nothing, so best not to dwell upon it, would you not agree?”
“Um, yeah,” Buffy said, trying to get a grip on how to deal with him. One minute he was sweet, the next a total creep. “Can you please pick a personality and stick with it? Because I’m getting really confused.”
“Then my work here is finished,” Thranduil purred, and turned to go back to the cottage. At the edge of the clearing, however, he stopped and glanced over his shoulder. “Greenleaf, if you decide you will speak to me again today, please come find me in my chambers. I will await you there.” There was the merest whisper of tree branches shifting as he slipped between them, immediately disappearing into their midst.
“No wonder you didn’t want to come back,” Buffy said with some awe, turning to face her husband. “I don’t care how pretty he is. Will we have to spend much time with him? Because if so, I'm gonna go insane! A danger to myself and others within three days, I swear.”
Legolas only curled his arm around his wife and pressed her face to his chest, sighing against her hair. “I hope not, Dagnir. I hope not.” More footsteps sounded in the distance: one elven, one human, and not the familiar tread of Boromir, Dawn, or Elessar. “Corinne and Haldir come.”
Haldir preceded Corinne into the clearing, his face grim as he tugged her after him and tried to keep her from bumping into things as she wasn’t looking at all where she was walking, but had craned her head around on her neck to scrutinize the path whence they’d come.
“Your father,” she told Legolas once she was facing forward again, “is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. But he’s a cold bastard, isn’t he?” At his surprised nod, she continued. “Ruins it for me.” And she tucked her arm through Haldir’s and grinned up at him. “I like my men pissy, but not cold.”
Relaxing a fraction, Haldir smirked down at her. “And how do you prefer your elves?”
She didn’t give a sarcastic answer, as the others expected, but began to cry. “I prefer my elves to be you,” Corinne sobbed. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” she whispered over and over against his shoulder.
Buffy frowned. “What did Radagast say?”
Haldir explained; they were just as horrified as he’d expected them to be. “We must discuss this with the others at once,” Legolas exclaimed, and they trooped inside to fetch everyone. They gathered once more in the dining room—even Thranduil, who insisted in his lazy way that he be included in the briefing— and since the group did not include Haldir’s archers or Elessar’s soldiers, the room didn’t have to expand too much to hold everyone. With cups of fragrant tea steaming on the table before them, the questions began.
“How is it you know all this stuff?” Dawn blurted first.
“How is it you’ve been here over a year and still do not fathom how matters are different here from your home?” Radagast countered. Boromir bristled at his hostile tone toward his wife. “Istari are not common; we do not roam over hill and dale just waiting for Iluvatar’s children to get themselves into scrapes so we can save them.” He frowned. “This is what comes of Olórin’s conduct... always too familiar with the children, always intervening… accursed wizard!”
“What in the hell is he ranting about?” Corinne asked Haldir out of the corner of her mouth, eyes never leaving Radagast’s face even as she groped blindly for her notebook and pen to record his words.
“Olórin is the name of Gandalf in Quenya,” the elf explained to her in thought. Aloud, he said, “Radagast, be you calm, and do not start once more to rail against Gandalf; he is not our concern at the moment. I ask you, as does Dawn: how do you come to know the answers to our questions?”
The wizard’s eyes travelled from the march-warden’s face above, and beyond, to the various baskets and bowls covering the shelf running the perimeter of the room. A faint mew told Corinne he was watching the progress of one of the kittens. “Olórin’s presence in the world of Man and Elf has allowed those people to think we Istari are naught more than your nursemaids.”
“We are not here to serve you; we are gods in our own right, and serve only those whose might is greater than our own. I follow Yavanna Kementári, Queen of the Earth. What little I do not ken of my own, she tells me.” He raked his gaze over each person at the table in turn. “Is that a sufficient reply?”
Dawn gulped and nodded. Buffy piped up with a question of her own. “You seem to be pretty cranky; why should we believe what you say?”
Radagast startled them by grinning suddenly. “Come now, children. I have been given Olórin’s approval. Surely you would trust that?” He gazed around the table; not one of the group looked remotely trusting of him. He grinned wider. “Excellent. It would seem you have finally learned… and it only took an age…” He glanced at Haldir and Thranduil, the two eldest elves in the party. “Or two.”
A dozen glowers were directed at him. He merely quirked a bushy brow. “Do you have a choice, but to trust me?” They did not, and they knew it. “Now, then. The matter of the cartouche.” All eyes dropped to survey it as it lay on the table. “It was created in another world, meant to drain the energy of those with greed in their hearts. No, I pray you,” he said tiredly, turning to Corinne, who’d begun to tear up once more, “do not cry again, for I did not mean you.”
She sniffled, but maintained her composure, and he continued. “It would seem that the forces of evil from this other world wish to close off the Straight Path, by which the Eldar make their way to Valinor. In this way, they seek to weaken their adversaries, the Valar, by preventing the Eldar from sailing West and coming to the aid of their gods, families, friends.” He surveyed the faces around him. “We cannot allow this to happen.”
“What must we do?” Elessar inquired. “For while there is still breath in this mortal body, I shall not allow it to pass.” Boromir frowned at this, but said nothing. Legolas knew the Man thought of the implications for his beloved Gondor should the king, so newly crowned, fail to return from this mission.
“We must destroy the cartouche,” Haldir said, his voice quiet but firm even as a mental wail of anguish coursed from Corinne. “No more will I allow this foul being to use me against the Valar.”
Radagast nodded in recognition of the elf’s words. “But destroying the cartouche is only the first of our tasks, I fear.”
“We have to lay the smackdown on Aker himself, don’t we?” Dawn ventured. “Even if we get rid of the cartouche, he might still have enough power to carry out his plan.”
“Dearly I love this idea,” stated Gimli. “And dearly do I wish to begin. But how do you propose, O Wise Istari,” he added, a touch of sarcasm in his gravelly voice, “that we engage a god from another world in battle? Will he fall to my axe-blow? For somehow I doubt this.”
“Ooh, good point, Gimli!” Buffy said, beaming at him and patting his arm fondly. “Gimli has a very good, excellent point, Radagast,” she informed the wizard. “I don’t have a troll hammer this time. And how are we going to get our grubby little hands on Aker in the first place?” An idea seemed to come to her then, one she didn’t like. At all. “You’re not thinking to bleed Dawn to make a portal, are you?”
“Well, actually, yes,” Radagast answered, to his credit only flinching a little when the small woman began shouting. He flicked a glance at her husband, who tugged on her arm until she was seated in his lap, red-faced, as he stroked her hair and spoke soothingly into her ear.
“Buffy, it’s ok,” Dawn tried to assure her sister. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot… I’m ok with being the Key, with opening portals. It’s what I am, after all… it’s like those shutters, you know?”
Buffy ceased her disgruntled mumbling to join the others in staring at Dawn. "I think I speak for everyone here when I say, ‘huh?’ "
“You know, the shutters. Houses with fake shutters… they’re there to decorate, but they don’t actually close and protect the windows. They’re like… a mockery of genuine shutters. I’ve always disliked them.” The Arda people had no idea whatsoever of what she spoke; only Buffy and Corinne were watching her with anything remotely resembling comprehension. “If I didn’t use my Key-ness, if I just led a normal life and did nothing with my abilities, I’d be just as bad as those stupid shutters.”
Buffy shook her head. “It’s not the same thing, Dawnie…”
“What’s not the same thing,” Corinne interrupted, her gaze never wavering from Dawn, “is that you’re having a reaction about being used that comes from your own experiences and emotions. And you’re projecting them onto your sister, and not listening to what she’s saying.”
The Slayer gasped in fury, opening her mouth to retaliate, when Dawn spoke. “She’s right, Buffy.” She took a deep breath. “I was created from you, but I’m not you. I know how you hated being treated like property by the Watchers Council, and then the Valar playing games with your life, but… I was made to be used.” She fell silent, obviously choosing her next words with care. “I feel empty unless I’m being used. It’s my purpose, my fate. No matter how I love Boromir and Mercas—“ she reached for her husband’s hand, clasping it tightly— “refusing my powers instead of employing them leaves me feeling hollow.”
“You’re going to do this whether I want you to or not, aren’t you?” Buffy asked flatly. Dawn nodded. “Even if I ask you to consider how dangerous it will be? How it could leave Boromir without a wife, and Mercas without a mother?” Another nod, though given slower this time. At her response, Buffy just turned her face into Legolas’ neck and sighed as Elessar’s hand came to rest on her shoulder in silent support.
“When, then?” came her garbled question.
“In a sen’night,” Radagast announced, but Corinne surprised them all by shaking her head.
“No,” she said clearly. “I can’t take this for so long. The dread of ending it has been like a knife in my stomach this entire trip; I can’t take any more. I need it to be sooner. Like tomorrow.”
“We will need time to prepare and pack our supplies,” Elessar reminded her, frowning even as he continued his idle stroking of Buffy’s arm, obviously concerned for his friend. Corinne slumped in her seat, feeling defeated.
“Enough of that,” Haldir snapped. “Your ability to pity yourself is truly astounding, doll-nîn. I know you to be stronger than this; do not disappoint me.” Corinne stared at him in shock, unable to decide whether to be angry or hurt, and Radagast sighed in disgust as her eyes filled with tears yet again.
Thranduil had been silent during the proceedings up; now, he spoke. “You tried to force Dagnir to face the truth,” he said in his cool silken tones on the far side of the table. “A clumsy attempt, to be sure, but effective. Haldir now attempts the same with you. Will you reject his lesson, or accept it as Dagnir has accepted hers?” He paused a moment to let his words sink in, emerald gaze glittering as it flicked negligently over her. “Dawn’s fate is as a Key. Shall yours be that of hypocrite?”
Corinne’s pout, which had just started to form, fell abruptly off her face. “Well, damn,” she muttered, reluctantly admiring his artful and effortless manipulation of her. “Wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite, would I?”
“Indeed not,” he returned, a smile teasing the corners of his sensuous mouth. “There is naught worse.”
And Legolas snorted in disbelief, rolling his eyes in a manner much closer to that of his wife than of the high and haughty elf-kind of Mirkwood.
peredhil = half-elves
herves-nîn = my wife
ionath-nîn = my son
doll-nîn = my dusky one