It had been years since Thranduil had spent time with the peredhel. The last time had been when Elladan had been no more than an elfling and the houses of Elrond and Thranduil were in the Golden Wood. The king remembered how surprised he was by the child’s beauty. Of course Celebrían possessed the ethereal beauty of Galadriel, but Elrond (to his eyes at least) looked far too human. Thankfully, their offspring were blessed with the beauty of their elven blood, which Thranduil had always thought clearly superior to that of mortals.
Thranduil had also watched Elladan as a young adult from the edge of his dark forest, as the twins often rode through the Anduin vale with the Northern Dúnedain while hunting orcs. The warrior king had seen the peredhel fight. The twins had earned their reputation as fierce warriors with blood and pain. While many had difficulty telling the twin brothers apart, Thranduil never had such trouble. He had seen a type of wisdom in Elladan’s eyes even when he was young that differentiated him from his younger, fierier sibling. Where Elrohir had a reputation for being impetuous and quick to anger, Elladan was known as composed, calculating, and more diplomatic. Thranduil remembered that even as a child Elladan was tantalizingly taciturn. Even then, he could see the wheels of thought turning behind the elfling’s steely grey eyes while his lips rarely revealed what he was thinking.
Now, the sons of Elrond, clad in blue and silver, were being escorted through the doors of his throne room by his guards, their battle-worn armor still glinting in the warm glow of the torchlight despite being soiled. Whatever it was that drove them to seek refuge in his dark forest had been more than they were equipped to deal with, by the looks of them, and that did not bode well.
Their clothing was fouled with blood and muck. Elrohir’s arm was bandaged and he moved with a marked limp. Elladan had no visible wounds beyond bruises and cuts, but he bore the unmistakable pallor of fever. The pair retained their noble bearing despite the ragged state their bodies were in. Thranduil watched as Elladan put a supportive hand on his brother’s back, but did not actually bear Elrohir’s weight. Elrohir was struggling to appear strong, as was Elladan. Thranduil calculated that there wasn’t much time left before Elladan collapsed right in front of him.
“All but Legolas, out,” the king commanded. He rose and descended the dais.
“But, my lordw22;” one of his advisors began.
Thranduil turned and stared down the inquisitive advisor. “I said: out,” he replied in a measured but nonetheless menacing tone. He looked at his son, who could read his intent in his eyes.
“You heard his majesty. Everyone leave. Now,” Legolas said with impatience.
The council and few bystanders murmured as they left. Clearly the twins had been in a fierce battle, and therefore must have some information of import that they could share. But the king was resolute and his counsel learned long ago arguing was fruitless and disobedience would not be tolerated.
Legolas caught the arm of his young squire before the lad departed. “Bring the healer,” he said softly. The youth nodded and ran off to fulfill his lord’s request.
Elladan’s jaw was clenched and he blinked as sweat trickled from his brow into his eyes. “My lord,” he began in a raspy voice. “We are in your debt.”
“Yes, yes. We can talk about that later,” Thranduil said as he came eye-to-eye with the peredhel, who struggled not to waiver on his feet.
Elrohir flinched slightly as Legolas silently slid up behind him and placed his arm around the warrior’s waist. “Lean on me, friend,” the prince said quietly.
“I am fine…” Elrohir began, pain clearly tightening his voice.
“You have never looked better,” Legolas replied. “Now be silent and lean on me before you fall over.”
Elrohir sighed and rested his weight back against his friend.
“I dare say I’ve seen you look better, master Elladan,” Thranduil said quietly, looking the peredhel up and down.
Elladan opened his mouth to reply when Thranduil saw his eyes start to roll back and his head tip forward.
The king caught the peredhel just as his knees buckled.
The last thing Elladan remembered was Elrohir calling his name, and the smell of cedar and lavender before he lost consciousness.
“He is too far gone; too far to the other side,” Thranduil’s healer said as he looked over Elladan.
“No!” Elrohir shouted, struggling to get to his fading twin from the chair he rested in, nearly knocking everything in his path to the floor.
“There must be something,” Legolas implored. “You have to try, Daeron.”
“I . . . am not equipped. I do not have the skill. He is at Mandos’s door, my liege.”
Thranduil sat on the narrow bed beside Elladan and placed his hands on the half-elf’s head. He looked up at his son’s glistening and tearful blue eyes as Elrohir fell against Legolas.
“Please, you cannot just let him die!” Elrohir cried.
Thranduil nodded gently to his son. “You must anchor me, Greenleaf.”
Legolas knew what his father was about to attempt, and how dangerous it was. “Yes, Adar,” he said firmly and helped Elrohir rest his weight on the bed. He placed his hands on Thranduil’s shoulders. “Come back,” he whispered to his father, “with or without him.”
Thranduil closed his eyes and entered a trance.
“He follows him,” Elrohir said as tears traced down his cheeks.
Legolas swallowed. “Aye.”
“Then I shall help make sure he comes back, with my brother,” Elrohir said, and he gathered his thoughts and began to utter a quiet chant.
Thranduil began to tip forward and Legolas squeezed his father’s shoulders. “Do not leave me, Ada,” he whispered. “Do not forget where home is.”
“Elladan!” Thranduil called.
Elladan paused, hearing a voice call his name from far away. He did not turn but looked up at the massive doors in front of him. Behind those doors were friends, ancestors, peace.
He took a step forward.
“Will you leave your twin to mourn you? To seek a violent and early death?”
Elladan turned and was met by the deep blue gaze of Thranduil.
“How are you here? Have you fallen in some battle?” Elladan asked.
“He will. As sure as you hear me, see me…” he reached out and clasped Elladan’s wrist, “feel me. Elrohir will go to his death in the worst possible way.”
Elladan swallowed. “How do you know this?”
“It is what I would do if I were him.” Thranduil answered. “Your bond is strong. Even now it calls to him to follow you.”
“He will not,” Elladan whispered, the first feelings of doubt creeping into his subconscious.
“Will you leave your father to mourn his eldest son? Your sister to mourn her brother? To leave them both to suffer what surely waits them if you cross that threshold?”
“Elrohir will die and they will spend a lifetime grieving. Your father has already lost his mate. He will lose his daughter. Will you have him lose his only sons as well?”
“I am tired.”
“I know.” Thranduil touched Elladan’s face. “I know, but you will not always be. The day will come when you breathe free, clean air. When you feel salt sea spray on your face. When you see Valinor for the first time.”
“It is too late for me,” Elladan said. “My body is ruined. Elrohir will grieve, but he will go on. He is strong.”
Thranduil could see he couldn’t talk Elladan out of the draw of the eternal peace that Mandos offered him. He was left with one choice.
He quickly gathered an unsuspecting Elladan in his arms. “I claim you for my own,” he said loudly. “I promise my fëa, my heart, and my loyalty to you and only you. I give myself to you, Elladan, Son of Elrond.” He looked up into the steely grey sky, toward ramparts he could not see. “Do you hear me, Lord of the Dead? I claim this elf to be mine.”
“You do not love him,” the deep, quiet voice answered.
“I have not had the chance.”
“You do this to keep him from me.”
“And you will live with the consequences of your decision?”
“I am no liar,” he said resolutely.
“Very well. He is yours. If you are strong enough to keep him.”
Elladan drew a deep rasping breath as Thranduil collapsed backward into Legolas’s arms.
Elrohir immediately leaned in toward Elladan. “Thank the Valar, you have returned, brother.”
“Adar!” Legolas shouted. “He burns with fever.”
“He must have somehow drawn the poison from Elladan,” Elrohir said. “Bring—”
“Ginger, and pepper,” Daeron said. “I will make a compress. I have Athelas.”
“Yes, that too,” Elrohir said quietly. He turned to Legolas. “We have not much time. It took Elladan quickly.”
“I will draw a cool bath,” Daeron said, handing the compress to Elrohir.
Elrohir placed his hand on Legolas’s arm. “We will not lose him. I swear it. I cannot let the elf who brought my twin back from the dead go himself to Mandos’s Halls.”
Legolas nodded and laid his head against his father’s brow.
* * * *
Elladan awoke in a soft, warm bed. He drew a deep breath and then coughed to clear his lungs. He found a shallow metal bowl beside his bed and he spit black bile into it. The unmistakable bitter taste that the orcs’ black poison left behind caused his stomach to do a slow roll. Somewhere in his foggy memory, he recalled how quickly and how severely he fell ill despite his and Elrohir’s potions, and he knew this was no typical orcish poison.
He struggled to prop himself up on his elbows as he looked around the room, partially weighed down by the heavy pelts and satin-covered quilts. He had been bathed and dressed in a soft linen sleeping gown, his armor had been cleaned and polished, and his robes laundered. His garments and armor rested on a frame in the corner.
The room was bathed in the warm orange glow of oil lamps placed in various locations throughout, and firelight, which came from the hearth where a fire crackled and popped. The room smelled of eucalyptus, which helped clear his lungs and head, and mint tea that slowly steamed in a pot next to his bed, which would rejuvenate his spirit and settle his stomach.
He was woozy and weak, and he slowly gave into his body’s plea to sink back into the warm bed and close his eyes. He heard the door open and he cast a heavy-lidded glance toward the door. Elrohir hobbled in, leaning on crutches, dressed in a sleeping gown.
“You look terrible,” Elladan rasped, his throat still raw from the brackish mucus that he had coughed up. What he could see of his sibling’s leg beneath his sleeping gown was an angry black, purple, and blue.
Elrohir grinned and plopped down on the side of Elladan’s bed. “At least I am upright,” he answered.
“How are your wounds?” Elladan inquired, his voice still a hoarse whisper.
“My arm is nearly healed; my leg is mending. It was broken.” His lip curled into a snarl. “I hate trolls.”
“I would say they hate you more, but your particular nemesis is dead. How long have we been here?”
Elladan frowned. “So long?”
“You only just regained consciousness this morning.” Elrohir reached out and placed his hand on Elladan’s leg. “You frightened me, brother.”
“I’ll be alright,” Elladan murmured, his eyes sliding closed again.
“You did not respond to the healing herbs.”
“Perhaps we brought the wrong ones. I’m feeling better now.”
“It appears Thranduil has some healing wisdom that we do not. I know not how he brought you back. I did not think it possible.”
“Thranduil and his folk deal with types of darkness we do not,” Elladan answered softly.
“You were close to death,” Elrohir said quietly, “and it was my fault.”
“Now you are being foolish.”
“Had we been delayed even less than a day, you would have passed onto Mandos’s Halls and then I would have been forced to follow you, and I am not quite finished here yet.”
Something in what Elrohir said sparked a brief, incomplete memory. Elladan grasped for it in his mind, but it was gone. “But we were not delayed, and I will be fine.”
Elrohir shook his head.
Elladan reached out from beneath the covers and put his hand on Elrohir’s arm. “You will not lose me, Elrohir. Nor shall you be forced to depart Middle Earth before you are ready. Now, I need sleep. Go.”
Elrohir smiled a little and nodded. “I will bring you some soup from the kitchen, later.”
“That sounds lovely,” Elladan said softly, then sighed and slid back into reverie.
Elladan practically vibrated. Pulses of energy washed through him, raising the soft hair on his arms and legs, and causing tingling warmth deep in his core. It was just short of erotic, energizing and satiating at the same time. Were he to put it to words, the closest names he could come up with for the feelings he experienced were safe and cherished.
Thranduil’s eyes were closed as he moved his hands over Elladan’s body, seeking for any last remnants of the dark magic that caused the peredhel to fall ill. He had already taken almost more than he could himself bear over the last two weeks, but he would not stop until he was sure every last bit of it was gone. There was indeed none left behind and he felt Elladan grow stronger each time he attended to him. The king smiled slightly as he connected with a particular memory from deep in Elladan’s past.
Apparently, as a young elf, Elladan had followed him whilst he had been in Lórien, hiding behind trees, watching his every move. It was the first time Thranduil had seen Elrond’s sons, and Elladan did leave a lasting impression. Thranduil had always been fascinated by the half elf, but he had not known that Elladan found him equally interesting.
These connections between them became stronger and more frequent each time he attended to Elladan. It was an unavoidable part of the process – not that he wanted to avoid knowing Elladan better.
The sessions, for lack of a better term, had been occurring several times a day since Elladan and Elrohir had sought refuge in his underground fortress. Thranduil sensed his patient’s growing awareness; this particular session was the most aware Elladan had been during any of his visits. He had never attended the peredhel when he was conscious, waiting for deep reverie to take Elladan before he began. He slowly drew his hands away, though there was a part of him that wanted to remain connected.
As the energy flow stopped, Elladan began to feel grounded again, and whole in a way he could not name. He opened his eyes and found himself looking at the king.
“My lord,” he said, noting that it was the first time since before he was wounded that he sounded like himself.
“Good to see you awake, master Elladan,” Thranduil replied. He rested his hands on his thighs, palms down. The heat from their joining flowed from his palms into his legs.
“It is you who have been attending me?” Elladan asked in surprise.
“Is it uncommon for nobles to possess healing powers? Are you, your brother and father the only ones with such power in all of Middle Earth?”
“I… I suppose not.”
“I have lived in this forest most of my life. I have been attacked by all of its dark creatures. No one knows better than I how to combat their poison and weaponry. This particular and most lethal variety came from a snake, but you must know that.”
“I did not feel it bite, as I was engaged in battle. But I saw it slither away and found the marks.”
“The orcs are learning from their dark masters how to taint the beasts of all forests, not just my own.”
“Thank you for your attention and skill, my lord. Iw22;”
“You would not be here without it,” Thranduil said evenly, focusing all of his remaining energy on sounding and acting detached. It was difficult, given the level of intimacy he had just experienced with Elladan only moments earlier. “You have grown strong and fairly wise since we last spoke, for one of both your blood and youth.” A little deflection was definitely in order.
“My blood, my lord?” Elladan asked, one dark eyebrow arched.
“You are less than pure, given your parentage. That said, I am impressed with both your skill and your diplomatic abilities.”
“I do believe you just insulted me, my lord.”
Thranduil waived his hand, “No, no. I complimented you. Surely you can see the difference.”
Elladan frowned and settled back into the soft bed. “Perhaps it is the fever that has confused me.”
“Indeed. You have been at the door to Mandos’ Halls. I am glad I was able to summon you home. Eru knows I’d have war on my hands if I had not.”
“I am sure that my father would have recognized your efforts, even if you failed,” Elladan answered.
“It is not your father to whom I was referring,” Thranduil said with a little smile.
Elladan found himself smiling despite the strange nature of the conversation. “Elrohir.”
“Yes. Your brother is quite the handful. I am not entirely sure I could have managed without Legolas’s help. He kept your brother calm throughout.”
“They are good friends.”
Thranduil smiled knowingly. “Yes. They are.” He rose from his seated position on the bed. “‘Tis time for you to regain your feet, Peredhel.”
Elladan nodded and moved to a sitting position as Thranduil folded back the heavy blankets. “I find that I am most hungry.”
Thranduil nodded. “This is good. The return of your appetite is a sign of healing. I will have a proper supper brought to your chambers tonight.”
“I am sure I could join the others.”
“Let us not push too far too fast, young master.”
“Please. Call me by my given name, my lord.”
Thranduil regarded the peredhel carefully. “I shall if you will do the same.”
“Very well, Elladan.”
“Though I must insist on only doing so in private.”
“Reasonable insistence.” Thranduil held out his hands. “Come. Remind your legs of their purpose.”
Elladan took the king’s ringed hands and allowed Thranduil to help him to his feet. His legs trembled slightly and his head swam a little. He gripped the king’s hands a little tighter, and Thranduil moved in a little closer for support. The king’s proximity did strange things to Elladan’s head and heart.
“There, there. Give it a moment,” Thranduil said softly.
“Tell me, if you would, what happens when you heal me,” Elladan said, focusing on his muscles and willing them to cooperate. “It feels… both strange and wonderful.”
“I am imparting some of my strength to you and drawing the weakness from the poison out.”
“You do not fall ill in taking it?”
“No more than I can bear.”
Elladan looked up into the king’s eyes. “Are we now connected, then?”
“Does it feel such?” Thranduil asked, watching Elladan’s face as he waited for the answer.
Elladan showed no sign of concern. “Then, it would appear so, Elladan,” the king answered softly.
“Why you and not your healer?”
“As good as my healer is, I did not trust him with a gift so precious as your life.”
Elladan felt his cheeks grow warm.
Thranduil smiled. “Another way in which your mixed blood makes itself known.” He noted the change in Elladan’s expression. “You do not like it when I speak of it.”
“I do not see it as a detriment.”
“Fair enough. In my experience, humans are not to be trusted. Perhaps it is that experience that leads me to be wary of your heritage.”
“After all you have done for me, my . . . Thranduil, I would never betray you.”
Thranduil did not answer directly but paused for a few moments as he looked into Elladan’s steely grey eyes. After consideration he responded, “I believe you.”
Elladan’s full lips curved into a smile and Thranduil felt it warm his spirit. He had never seen the peredhel smile, not like that. “You are happier now, I trust?”
“Good. Now…” he took a step backward. “Follow me.”
Elladan took his first shaky step in three weeks. “Valar, I feel pathetic,” he grumbled.
“So there is some of your brother’s impatience in you,” Thranduil said with a smile. “I knew you were not perfect.”
“You thought me perfect?” Elladan asked playfully.
“Are you flirting with me, Elladan?”
“Are you evading my question, Thranduil?”
“Sweet Eru, you should be a councilor.”
Elladan laughed and Thranduil felt it reverberate through him.
“One more step,” he said, trying to hide his feelings.
Elladan took another shaky step forward and pitched slightly into Thranduil, who caught him up in his arms.
“Well, I’d say we’ve done enough for one day. Yes?”
“Yes,” Elladan answered, his voice muffled in the king’s broad shoulder.
Thranduil scooped Elladan up into his arms, and then laid him in the bed. “We shall try again later.”
“I hate being weak,” Elladan murmured.
“We all do,” Thranduil answered softly as he gently laid the blankets back over Elladan. He smoothed the hair back from the peredhel’s face as he murmured distractedly, “‘Tis the color of redwood tree bark.”
“Hmm?” Elladan mumbled, his eyes already closed.
“Nothing. Rest, my friend. I shall return later.”
Elladan sighed and smiled as he drifted into reverie. He dreamt of Thranduil.
Elladan sat on the edge of his bed eating a steaming hot bowl of porridge. The sweet smells of cinnamon and butter wafted up toward his nose as he took a bite of a fresh, ripe strawberry drizzled with cream that he had plucked from another bowl. “So good,” he murmured. “Everything tastes and smells so good.”
“That is because you have been to the other side,” Elrohir said as he took a sip of tea.
“And you, brother?” Elladan asked.
“What of me?” Elrohir responded.
“What have you been doing to keep yourself out of trouble? You must be feeling better as you only have a cane now.”
“Legolas makes me spar with him while sitting. Frankly, I don’t see the purpose, but it humors him.”
Elladan smiled. “He’s keeping you sharp, brother. He is a good friend.”
“Among other things.”
Elladan narrowed his eyes. “What exactly is transpiring between you two? The king intimated thatw22;”
“Are you telling me that the king knows that I am bedding his only son?”
“Well. Now I know.”
“Seriously! Does he know!?!”
“Of course he knows, Elrohir. Do you think him dull?”
“Sweet Eru. How am I still breathing?”
“You do not give him enough credit.”
“He is one of only two elves in Middle Earth that frighten me, Elladan. He and Erestor.”
“That is odd. I always thought you were afraid of Glorfindel.”
Elladan smiled. “He is not so bad. He has a kind side.”
“Does he now?” Elrohir asked with a smile. “You and he have spent quite a lot of time together this last month.”
“Have you seen him with me? Before I was conscious, I mean.”
“What does he do?”
“He lays his hands over you.”
“He begins on your head, but moves them over your body. He doesn’t actually touch you. Why?”
“You never ask a question without a reason.”
“I feel it elsewhere.”
Elrohir arched an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“Seriously. Where do you feel it?”
Elladan placed one hand on his stomach and one on his chest. “Here, and here.”
Elrohir cocked his head and frowned. “Well, the poison permeated your entire body, so perhaps those are the places where it was most entrenched. It was a difficult healing.”
“The first one nearly killed him. It took both his healer and me to stabilize him. He would leave the others exhausted and weak, then take to his bed until he came back for another visit. Frankly, I attended to him myself throughout, he looked so ill. Legolas managed the realm in his stead the entire time.”
Elladan frowned. “He told me it was no more than he could bear.”
“Well, the first one was clearly more than he could bear. He bore the others, though not easily based on what I saw. Not only did the healing sap his strength, he seemed to draw the poison into himself. He suffered fever and…” Elrohir frowned as his voice trailed off. “Tell me, do you remember what it felt like?”
“I cannot really describe it. It was as if tremors raced through my body, but not in an ill way. It felt…”
“Yes…” Elladan frowned as he began to piece the puzzle together. “You said that I was at Mandos’s door.”
“The healer said he couldn’t help you, that you were too far gone. Daeron is quite skilled. I was sure you were going to die.” Elrohir’s eyes widened suddenly.
“Is it possible that …” The truth began to dawn on Elladan as well.
“I would say that it is more than possible; I would say that it is certain.”
“What else could he have done to…?”
“Nothing that I know of.”
“Sweet, Elbereth…” Elladan breathed.
“He did not consult me,” Elrohir said softly.
“Nor me, though I suppose that was impossible,” Elladan said, his voice lowering as shock and anger set in.
“What would you have said?” Elrohir asked.
“I would have refused. I would have said that it was my time.”
“I would have told him to do anything he had to do to save you, including that.”
“I…” the color drained from Elladan’s face. “Oh, gods. We are bonded,” Elladan said quietly. The gravity of the situation hit him.
“You are, but look what he gave up to save you,” Elrohir said quietly. “He will never mate with another.”
“Nor will I.” Elladan shook his head as he wadded the quilts in his fists. “But then, I was not seeking to mate.”
“Nor were you seeking to die.”
“It was a risk I was prepared to take. A fate I accepted when I took up the sword,” Elladan said, starting to feel panicked. “I barely know him!”
“Well, that is obviously going to change,” Elrohir said quietly.
“How could he do this?!?”
Elrohir stood and limped over to Elladan, leaving his cane behind.
“‘Tis better than letting you die, you fool!”
“Is it? What am I to do now? Leave him here? Leave him to yearn for me?”
“How do you know that will be the result?”
“It is always the result when a bonded pair are parted!” Elladan shouted.
“What of me?”
“You will not yearn for him as well?”
“I… I… I do not know,” Elladan said, shaking his head. “Gods, Father will be furious.”
Elrohir barked out a laugh.
“What is so funny?”
“You have just realized that your fëa is mated to Thranduil’s and all you can think about is how furious Father will be. You are grown, Elladan.” He thumped his brother on the ear and Elladan winced. “Get to know him. Being bonded might be better than you think. He does have a reputation for being a most skilled lover, after all.”
Elladan propped his elbows on the small table in front of him and placed his face in his hands, slowly shaking his head. “I am practically married.”
“Not practically. You are.”
“I imagine you will get a beautiful ring out of this.”
Elrohir smiled and placed his arm around Elladan. “It will be fine, Elladan. He will not seek to make a she elf of you.”
“Really. Go away.”
Elrohir laughed and limped back to the chair to retrieve his cane. “I will check on you later.”
Elladan waved him off.
Thranduil found Elladan dressed and sitting on a bench outside, near the stables. As he approached he could feel his mate’s anger and he braced himself for the consequences of his decision.
“You look better. Did you walk all this way alone, or did you have help?” he said casually, hoping that Elladan had not yet put two-and-two together. Very quickly he realized that was futile.
“How could you?” Elladan asked quietly, his eyes cast toward the soft grass beneath his booted feet.
“Heal you? Well, it was a simple decision, really. I could intervene or you could die.”
“We are mated, for life.”
“That is one part of it, yes.” Thranduil answered quietly.
“And the other?”
“How can you be so calm about this? Oh, wait. That is right. YOU had time to think about it!”
“Actually, I had no time at all. By the time I got you to the healing chambers, you were halfway to Mandos’ Halls. It was no easy feat, I tell you.”
“That is the other thing. You lied to me about it not being difficult for you!”
Thranduil could feel his patience growing short, and his mate was beginning to attract attention.
“If you will stop with the histrionics, I will explain all to you.”
“Histrionics? Histrionics!?! Are you accusing me of—”
“Alright, that is enough,” Thranduil growled, then leaned over and picked Elladan up, throwing him over his shoulder. “Clearly your human blood has made you irrational.”
“Put me down!”
“I will, just as soon as we are somewhere private,” Thranduil answered, carrying Elladan toward his bedchamber.
Elladan struggled but he grew weaker by the moment. On his best day, Thranduil would pose a challenge, but in this condition, there was nothing he could do.
“I am of noble birth,” Elladan growled. “Son of one of the most powerful elves in all of Middle Earth. I demand that you put me down.”
“And I am a King and you are a guest in my kingdom. You will obey me.” He shoved the door to the caves open with his foot. His guards scrambled to get in front of him to open the other doors.
“You are humiliating me in front of your subjects. This breaks every code of hospitality of our kind,” Elladan murmured in a low tone.
“You are humiliating yourself,” Thranduil answered in a strained whisper. “I tried to have a civil conversation with you, yet you persisted in shouting at the top of your lungs like a hysterical elf-maid. I will not discuss the most intimate and private aspects of our relationship in front of my subjects. You will respect my authority, my home, and what I have done for you!”
The door to Thranduil’s bedchamber slammed shut as he kicked it, then he dropped Elladan on his bed.
“Never in all of my life has anyone spoken to me in the tone you just exhibited, let alone done it in front of my subjects. I will not tolerate it! I have imprisoned others for less.”
Elladan gained his feet and pointed at the king. “You have bound our fëa for life without my consent!”
“You are free to leave, just as soon as you are capable,” Thranduil answered calmly. “I do not seek to keep you against your will, nor will I force you to do anything you do not wish.”
“You already have by binding us without my consent!”
“I had NO TIME!” Thranduil thundered.
Elladan’s eyes grew wide and he took a small step back, grasping the bedpost to steady himself.
“You were barely breathing, your heart barely beat, you were already cold! Your brother was beside himself pleading with me, Legolas was pleading with me, and you . . . I could not …” Thranduil turned away. He could not bear the look in Elladan’s eyes.
“I could not let you pass. I could not bear to watch... It was too much,” he said softly. “By the time I reached you, you were reaching for the door. He had you. You were so close to being beyond my reach. It was the only thing I could do to wrest his hold on you.”
Elladan dropped his gaze to the floor. “Already it takes me, Thranduil. Already I feel the pull of your spirit on my own. I don’t even know you, and I need you. Can’t you understand—”
“I do understand. You just now begin to feel it. I have been feeling it since the first night, since I first gave you part of myself. I think of you always, when you are with me, when you are not. I want you so badly that I can barely stand the ache. Each word you speak to me in anger is like a dagger. I gave you the best part of me so that you could live. I did not do so for you to hate me.” He sighed. “I cannot undo what I have done. I did it to save your life. I would never…”
The exertion and altercation took its toll on Elladan. He slumped to the bed, grasping the bedpost. “I . . . I feel…”
Thranduil turned quickly to see Elladan starting to slip off the bed. He rushed to his mate’s side and picked him up, gently laying him in the middle of the wide mattress. “This has been too much. The exertion, the discontent; you are not strong enough for this.”
“I am cold,” Elladan whispered.
Thranduil pulled back the covers. He removed Elladan’s boots then maneuvered him beneath the blankets.
What Elladan wanted more than anything was for Thranduil to hold him, but he couldn’t be sure if that was what he really wanted or if it was what his fëa needed.
He looked at the Sindar King who was now his mate. It occurred to him that he lay in the bed of one of the most beautiful elves he had ever seen. He knew Thranduil’s reputation of being able to seduce nearly anyone. It was said that he had a seductive kind of magic that he worked on his lovers. If that were true, where was it now? The king avoided his touch, avoided touching him more than necessary despite the fact that he already admitted that he felt the draw.
He is not cruel, nor is he selfish. He suffers this as much as I, Elladan thought. He really did do it just for me with no thought of what it would do to him.
“You should be recovered and able to take to horse very soon,” Thranduil said, turning his back to his mate. “I will send Legolas and a small number of my best warriors to escort you and your brother back to Imladris, where you can continue to regain your strength. In the meantime, I will do what I can to block what you are feeling, to seal myself off from you. Your father should be able to help shelter you as well. We have not consummated our bond; perhaps it will fade in time.”
“And what of you? What will that do to you?”
“Young master Elladan. My people dwindle; the evil is at my very doorstep. How long do you think we will last here? I have known for quite sometime that it was not for me to journey West. I will die a warrior’s death here, in Mirkwood, defending what untainted ground we have left.”
“Stop,” Elladan said, covering his face with his hands. “I cannot bear to hear you speak of that.”
“Why?” Thranduil asked, casting a quick glance over his shoulder. “After what I have done, why should you be concerned with my fate?”
“I am not cruel,” Elladan said quietly. “It is just that . . . I never thought I would . . . I at least thought to choose of my own accord.”
“And for that I will always be sorry,” Thranduil said. “You have every right to be angry.”
“Come to me.”
“We cannot, Elladan. If I lie with you, even if just to comfort you, I will no longer be able to resist – nor will you. Once we join physically, the bond will never be broken, even by death.”
“But I need you.”
“That is the draw of the bond. You must resist it to be free of me.”
“What if I do not wish to be free of you?”
A loud knock upon the door interrupted them.
“Elladan? Are you in there?”
It was Elrohir. Word of the king’s dispute with Elladan had already reached him.
“Are you all right, brother?”
Thranduil quickly crossed the room and opened the door, letting Elrohir in. “Take care of your brother, Elrohir. He needs you,” he said, and then quickly left his chambers hearing Elladan call his name.
“What is happening here?” Elrohir asked. “Are you harmed? Ill?”
“We had a horrible argument,” Elladan said quietly.
“You confronted him.”
“I did. I am so confused, Elrohir. I thought he was being selfish, but in truth it is the most selfless thing anyone has ever done for me. But still… what he has done, what it has done to both of us—”
“I begged him to help you. I did not know what it would cost at the time,” Elrohir said. He put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “But honestly, even if I had known, I would have asked him just the same.”
“It is not your fault.”
“Nor is it his.”
“I know that, now. I just . . . I need time.”
In the days that followed, as Elladan grew stronger, he haunted the king’s steps. He followed Thranduil at a distance, watching him with his councilors, his stewards, his warriors, his subjects, and most of all, his son. He tried to get a sense of who Thranduil was through observation – though he felt that in some ways he knew him already. Each moment of yearning he felt he questioned: was it the bond? Or was some of it the recognition that the king was both noble and beautiful.
True, Thranduil had a temper. Yes, he was as stubborn as an ox. And on the subject of humans, he was downright bigoted – though Elladan felt there was room for improvement there, at least. The Sinda was opinionated, often too bold, and frequently too impressed with himself. But he was also brave, strong, loved his people, was unselfish when it really mattered, and was as good a father as his own.
He knew that Thranduil was aware of his presence. How could he not be with the bond? Thranduil would always feel his presence no matter how near or how far. Each breath Elladan took would be felt, each smile, each pang of hunger or thirst, each wound, each laugh, each weary sigh . . . Thranduil would feel it all, always. And he would feel the same from the king. From his mate.
It is not so bad, never being alone, Elladan thought. The presence of the king was comforting in ways that only Elrohir’s presence had been throughout his life. The question remained: was their love real, or was it a mere byproduct of a selfless act? But then again, did it really matter how it began if it was real? This was no spell, no magic trick. Regardless of its origins, the love they felt for one another was indeed genuine.
The door to Thranduil’s study closed behind him and Elladan leaned back against the wall in the shadowed hallway and began to stop fighting what he now knew was true.
“You want me to take him from you?” Legolas asked. “I do not understand.”
“This was not his choice, Greenleaf. He needs to be free.”
“But you initiated the bond. You will never be free of it.”
“It was not his choice.”
“Father. Please, there must be another way. Come with us to Imladris. Perhaps Lord Elrond can help free you as well.”
“You do not understand. I did this knowing what it would cost. I gave myself to him of my own free will. For my part, it cannot be undone any more than you can give back a breath.”
“You do not want to be free of it,” Legolas said in a quiet voice. “You want to remain bonded, even if you never see him again; even if he hates you every day for the rest of his life.”
“I gave my word to the Lord of the Dead. You do not break your word to one of the Valar.” He shook his head and waved the subject off. “I cannot be near him one minute longer. I cannot feel him so close when I cannot be with him; I will never know if he would have come to these feelings on his own.”
“I cannot do this to you. I cannot—”
“You can, and you will, Legolas. I command you to do this.”
“I command it. Do your duty to me. Do not dishonor me.”
Legolas bowed his head and fought back tears. “Yes, Father. I will do as you bid.”
“Now leave me.”
Legolas turned on his heel and left his father alone in his study.
“I won’t go.” Elladan said, looking up at Legolas. “He cannot force me.”
“Actually, he can. And he will. He’ll have you leave in chains if you resist. You are to be banished, never to return to this place,” Legolas answered.
Elladan drew his sword. “Let us see how many of his warriors fall trying to force me to leave.”
Elrohir put his hand on his twin’s shoulder. “Brother. Stop. This is what you wanted. You said that you never wanted to be bound to another.”
“I have changed my mind.”
Legolas looked at Elladan carefully. “Have you really? Are you sure this is not the bond making you say these things?”
Elladan tossed his sword on the bed. “I was angry, and understandably so, I might add. But I have had time to think. Yes. The bond is strong and I feel its pull every day. But I also know this to be true: your father is an honorable elf; he is a strong warrior; a brilliant tactician; a good father; a good king; and he is . . . most beautiful. These are things I would admire in any elf. They are attributes I would choose of my own free will. It just so happens that he bound our fëa before I had a chance to seek the bond of my own accord. I think in one way or another I have known we belonged together since the first time I saw him, back when I was no more than an elfling.”
Elladan looked at Elrohir. “You know me like you know yourself, Elrohir. Look into my eyes and tell me you do not see the truth in what I say.”
Elrohir frowned then turned to Legolas. “He speaks true.”
Legolas smiled. “Then how do we go about getting them together? Because I cannot stress how set he is on having Elladan gone. My father is nothing if not—”
“Stubborn.” Elladan finished Legolas’ sentence. “Aye. He is that. But, he is also in love and no amount of stubbornness can overcome love.”
Elrohir smiled. “I have found that the most effective solution is often the most direct.”
Legolas also smiled. “I know your mind, Elf-knight, and I like how you think.”
“I dare say you like more than that,” Elrohr answered with a smirk.
Thranduil entered his bedchamber and set his crown on the dressing table. As if spending the better part of the day negotiating with the Lake Men weren’t exhausting enough, he also felt the weight of the bond everyday and wondered how long he could stand it before it drove him mad. All day he had felt Elladan trying to distract himself, going so far as to cut his hand on purpose in the hopes that the pain would distract him. For Thranduil’s part, it only made him wince and jump in the middle of a long justification as to why the Lake Men needed to fell more trees on the border of his Wood. Perhaps he’d be fortunate and find a warrior’s death before he completely lost his mind.
He heard rustling in his bathing chambers and he called out to his chambermaid, “Ariel, I will not be needing your services this evening. You may go.”
As he removed his robe he looked up to see Elladan standing in the doorway. The peredhel was nearly undressed, wearing nothing but a thin sleeping gown that was open at the neck. Elladan’s dark, mahogany hair was unbound and fell in a thick curtain around his shoulders, his full lips were wet with wine and his eyes were a dark, stormy grey.
“What are you doing here?” Thranduil asked. “You should be preparing to leave for the Anduin Vale.”
“I decided that I was being a fool, and my father did not raise me as such. So, you bound us prematurely. It is really irrelevant now, seeing as I know that I would have chosen you anyway.”
“This is not you speaking,” Thranduil said.
“Really? Who might it be? Elrohir? I know we look alike, but—”
“Do not play with me, Elladan,” Thranduil warned.
“I assure you, I am not playing,” Elladan said as he slowly approached Thranduil. “I know you are older and perhaps wiser than I…” Elladan set his goblet down and continued toward the king, “but, you are not infallible. You are, however, stubborn as a mountain goat.”
Thranduil began backing toward the door. “Elladan—”
“You love me. True, the bond has brought us to this place sooner than nature would have, but nonetheless, you love me. I think that perhaps, you have always hoped to have the chance, frankly. I cannot blame you, of course. I am a most supreme catch, as you can see,” he said with a playful smile.
The king turned and reached for the latch, only to hear a bolt slide home and lock from the other side. “What is this mischief?”
“I am seducing you. True. It is a bold move to try to outmaneuver the master seducer, particularly when I have no experience with seduction, but I have never been accused of being faint of heart.”
Thranduil yanked at the door but it would not open. “How has this come to pass?”
“Luckily, your son and my brother are both wiser than we are, and equally crafty,” Elladan murmured over the king’s shoulder. “They’ve barricaded the door and cleared the private residence. We are alone.” He reached out and gently lifted a lock of the king’s golden hair. “Turn Thranduil, and look at me.”
“We cannot come back from this, Elladan,” he said softly. The peredhel’s scent was absolutely intoxicating. His limbs were trembling from the exertion it took to resist as his fingernails dug into the wood of the door.
“I don’t wish to, nor will I ever. I love you. I love you now and will love you for all time. I willingly give myself to you, Thranduil.”
He could take it no longer. Elladan’s scent filled his nostrils; his voice reverberated in his mind; his body called out to him so strongly that he felt he would lose control any moment. In one swift motion, Thranduil turned and grasped the back of Elladan’s neck, drawing the peredhel into a heated kiss.
The small moan that came from Elladan only served to deepen his desire. His lover’s arms were wrapped around him, his soft, soft mouth opened readily to reveal a warm, wet tongue. Nothing had ever tasted better, smelled better, felt better than Elladan did in that moment. He scooped the peredhel up in his arms and carried him to his bed.
There was no turning back, no reasoning, no sacrificial honor left in him. All he could do was plunge forward and give Elladan all he had left. In return, he got more than he could have ever wished for.
His mate’s naked body was glorious and so different from anything he had ever touched. Elladan’s skin was pale to human’s eyes but exotically dark to Thranduil’s own. The half elf’s hair had a glorious weight and texture, and grew wilder the more he touched it. His lips were sinfully plump and soft and luscious. And the sounds Elladan made were almost feral in nature. All these things combined to make Thranduil love him more. He had already fallen for the best parts of Elladan – his stoic nature, his kind heart, his pride, his sense of humor, his strength, his wisdom. Now, he would fall in love with the rest of him.
Elladan laughed softly as he rolled over Thranduil, sitting atop his mate’s muscular thighs as he unlaced the king’s doublet. Each lace pulled revealed a bit more of the king’s alabaster skin. It was as if Thranduil glowed from within – his hair was the color of the grasslands of Rohan, his eyes were the color of the deep blue sea, each part of his lover seemed to embody all of the wide world he had traveled and loved so much. Now he would see it all in Thranduil’s visage and nothing else would ever compare to his mate’s beauty.
Gods what a body the king had, broad and strong, yet still elegant. He had never dreamed anyone could touch him and make him feel the way Thranduil did. He was glad now that he had never taken a lover. It was as though somewhere in his subconscious he knew all along that this was where he belonged.
Thranduil treated Elladan as a precious gift, but he did not take him to be fragile. Warriors will often play rough in and out of bed, and Elladan was no exception. Except in the breaching – there Thranduil took utmost care, as he could tell he was the first.
After their desire was spent, they lay in one another’s arms. Thranduil’s touch raised gooseflesh everywhere he touched Elladan, and Elladan buried his face in his lover’s smooth, muscular chest.
“Are you well, my love?” Thranduil asked.
“Will I need to sit a horse tomorrow?” Elladan asked in reply.
Thranduil chuckled. “No. I shall not require that of you.”
Elladan smiled. “Then I am well indeed.”
Thranduil kissed the crown of his lover’s head.
Elladan raised himself to his elbows. “For saving my life. For teaching me what it means to be truly selfless. For loving me.”
Thranduil took Elladan’s face in his hands. “I am yours, Elladan. Everyday from now to death and beyond. I will always be yours. Saving you was a gift to me. The world is a better place with you in it.”
Elladan smiled and kissed his beloved.
“Stop fidgeting,” Elrohir grumbled.
“I cannot help it,” Elladan said, sighing and looking toward the gate for the umpteenth time.
“He is coming. Our scouts saw him with grandfather not six leagues from here.”
“I know he is coming. I feel him. But, it has been a long time since I have seen him. Too long.”
“It has been a long war,” Elrohir remarked. “You are not the only one who misses their lover.”
“I know. I am sorry. It must have been hard having Legolas sail before you.”
Elrohir smiled. “I will see him soon enough. I even miss the dwarf – a little.” Elrohir heard the slight gasp come from his twin as Thranduil appeared over the crest of a hill. “But now is your time. Go.”
Elladan saw a slip of flaxen hair from beneath the dark green hood of his mate’s cape. The wind blew the hood back and revealed Thranduil’s face.
As the king dismounted his horse, he caught his mate up in his arms and held him tight. “Are we ready to go home?” he asked.
“I am already there,” Elladan answered.
Thranduil smiled as he took Elladan’s hand and walked with him to the last ship to sail to the Undying Lands.