What Grace Has Given Me

MaraudingManaged

Chapter 032

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Hi guys,

The first of a two-parter, which if you're VERY lucky I might even post tomorrow.

Fair warning. I don't think it is much worse than anything else I've written so far but... just a gentle reminder that whilst I don't think we justify an M rating in any way, we're not all innocent here ;)

Seriously, enjoy. This is a serious contender for one of my favourite chapters. Also, I love Gondor.

MM -x


We were almost in Gondor now – tonight would be the last stop. After a few subtle hints from Arwen and I, both Lord Elrond and Glorfindel acquiesced and permitted us to build somewhat of a bonfire and enjoy some of the few bottles of good wine that had been brought with us.

Arwen twiddled aimlessly on the flute that tended to live somewhere on my person, and then an idea seemed to grab her as she began to play some sort of reel I didn't recognise. J dragged me up and began to dance with me sillily much to the pleasure of our company. I'd worn one of the few riding dresses I owned at Haldir's insistence – he wanted me arriving in Gondor looking as much of a lady as I could manage and I'd relented with only a little fight. Whilst the dress was elegant and light, the swathes of material in the skirt quickly got under my feet and I spun clumsily under her arm with a laugh, picking up the material with one of my hands as I twirled.

The warmth of the fire set our party in a glow, and as I span J under my own arm in a playful mimic I felt another hand grab my free one which had splayed outward. J let me go with a grin of her own as I whirled in to my new partner. The solid chest of Haldir met my own with a thud as he took me into a more sedate hold. In the firelight he looked angelic but also strong, the shadows flickering across his face and making him look as intimidating as the the first time I'd met him. Only this time, that strength was doing interesting things to my insides making me squirm internally under such a direct gaze.

"You look beautiful." His words were quiet in my ear as he drew me close, lips catching against the skin which sent a shiver straight down my back despite the heat.

"I'm not the beautiful one." I repeated the words I had months and months ago, reaching up and touching the planes of his face. Haldir leaned in to the touch, eyelids fluttering shut and I took the chance to kiss him whilst everyone was distracted by J who was dancing her heart out. Gently swaying to the music still, his hand that held the bottom of my back roamed more freely whilst he lost himself in a moment that left us both flushed and breathless.

"Have I spoken today of how much I love you?" He spoke against my lips before claiming them again, leading us in a circle. "For I do – with all that I am."

I opened my eyes and saw him gazing down at me, eyes looking something like molten silver or mercury and lips quirked in a lazy half-smile. "I love you too. Always." I promised sincerely, and his head dipped low again so that our foreheads touched as we continued to dance to a music all out own. I moved a little closer so that our bodies touched and I raised up on my bare feet to kiss him again, completely lost in the moment as I rested my head against his shoulder.

"Shall we retire?" He asked me quietly, and I looked up with a flush of heat across my cheeks nothing to do with the fire touching my skin. I glanced around and saw J was now dancing with Glorfindel – laughing and light on her feet as he taught her a dance he knew, directing her steps as her bare soles whispered against the grass. Arwen was looking remarkably pleased with herself, and I went to open my mouth to agree when I felt an arm either side of me lift me off.

"We will not have you disappearing on us now, dear Bernadette!" Orophin said from one side, and Rumil made a noise of agreement from the other as he dragged me away from his incredulous brother.

"Haldir has monopolised your time so thoroughly and we have all missed the pleasure of your company. Both of Elrond's sons have been quite put out that you have barely spoken to them, though Glorfindel seems... occupied." Rumil glanced over at the dancing pair again with humour. Even Lord Elrond, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel seemed highly amused by the whole situation, despite Elrond's usual blackness of mood lately.

"So, therefore, we have decided to keep you up and ensure all sorts of debauchery ensues." Orophin declared and I looked on helplessly at Haldir who was in absolute stitches as I was drawn in to some mangled dance with the two of them, shortly followed by an expectant Elrohir. Haldir dropped to sit on the floor by Elladan who was watching us with equal humour, his knees drawn up as he rested his head in one hand. He was watching on with a completely besotted expression which, Elrohir informed me quite plainly, was mirrored on my own face.

We danced and sang until we all but collapsed, still in our clothes, and the next morning everyone was eying me blearily whilst breakfast was made. It was slow going – it wasn't as if I was particularly hungover, I'd not even managed to get anywhere near, but I did feel sleep deprived as I dished out the last of the porrige and helped Haldir to tack up Morandír.

"We are being watched, my love." Haldir spoke suddenly and I looked up at him, his eyes trained on me as I heaved Morandír's saddle to him. "I see your Father has arrived with your Mother." I gave an excited whoop and kissed him openly before spinning around.

"Mum!" I heard J cry, but I was closer and all but threw myself in her the moment Haldir let me go.

"Ben, J!" She flung herself at me, blonde waves cascading around her until we met in a violent embrace that sent us stumbling for our footing as we clung to each-other. She grasped me tightly and I let myself sink into the comforting feel and smell of Mum, slightly like musk and roses. I heard Dad's easy laughter as J barrelled headlong into the side of us, wedging herself in whatever gap she could until we were crushed together as closely as we could get.

"You know, I didn't believe for a second your Dad was telling me the truth." She hissed in my ear.

"Your gossip is so behind." I replied, but she was clearly too besotted with me and J to care.

"Oh, my beautiful girls."

"Aurae, let them breath for pity's sake." Dad's voice interrupted us and I felt his arms pull me away from the desperate grasp. "You can catch up in Gondor. Come, meet out companions."

Haldir's face when my Mother marched up to him was an absolute picture. "So, you're them elf who thinks he's good enough for my daughter?" To his credit, he remained steadfast and perfectly charming throughout, but the moment her back was turned I swear I saw his hands shake and what little blood remained in his cheeks drained completely.

xxxXxxx

I cheered along with the crowd as Aragorn was finally crowned King, Arwen standing next to him holding his banner high. Now he was finally King it would only be a matter of weeks, a few months at the most before they were married. With a bow, he gestured for the Fellowship to follow him in to the palace to be later joined by any of the invited guests.

Jade and I had spotted Tori stood with the Fellowship and before I could stop her, the moment Aragorn had stopped speaking J had flown at her twin at lightning speed, knocking Pippin over in the process. To her credit, Tori barely winced as she hugged J back equally as fiercely until she literally had to take a step back, hand against her abdomen. I went to go to them but the gentle arm of Elladan tugged me back, and the imperceptible shake of his head told me it would be best to let them have at it.

Across the courtyard, I spotted Haldir leading Galadriel and Celeborn through the crowd with his brothers, so I took the time to hunt down Mum and Dad. I stopped dead when I spotted they were speaking to the King with warm smiles and made to escape as quickly as I could.

"Bernadette, is that you?" I froze mid-step and swore violently in my mind before straightening up and putting on my best smile. I could do this. He was no more important than Galadriel, I told myself, no more important than Lord Elrond.

"Hi!" Dad hugged me warmly and in my ear whispered for me to stop panicking and curtsey politely.

"Ah, is this the eldest of your daughters now full grown? She does you both a great service. How are you finding our Lothlorien kin?" King Thranduil asked politely but indifferently. I answered quickly that it was very pleasant and I expected to stay for the foreseeable future, without otherwise giving anything away. He had an overbearing and stifling presence about him which left me a little in awe but mostly, and unusually for me, quite scared.

Making a rapid escape with the excuse of needing to speak to Haldir, I quickly found a quiet corner and proceeded to have a small heart attack.

"Bernadette, are you well?" I looked up and saw Legolas strolling along the corridor I'd found myself in.

"Fine, I'm fine." I shook off my moment of panic. "Honestly, I'm absolutely fine." I assured him when he looked slightly incredulous. "I just met your Father. Unfortunately, it was rather unexpectedly, and I had absolutely no time to prepare."

"Ah yes, he does tend to have that affect if you are unused to him." Legolas grinned. "He is perfectly civil most of the time, and in your younger days he was rather tolerant of your antics." He offered me his arm and I took it thankfully. "You only got away so unscathed because he took it out on your Father, I hear. He was most displeased my second had been removed from me in such an uncouth manner."

"I wish I could remember. I feel so out of place sometimes when someone knows something about me I don't."

"I am certain you will, in time. The feast will begin soon, you should take some time to change and prepare. Riding garb, as lovely as Lothlorien's may be, is unsuitable for this sort of event." He indicated to his circlet and embroidered tunic.

"I've not been shown to a room yet, we were kind of bringing up the rear." I explained, politely ignoring the fact that Haldir and I had got ourselves a little distracted and had only just had time to quickly greet everyone we needed to before assuming our positions in the crowd.

"I am certain Aragorn will not mind if I select one for you – I seem to have become his steward for all the elves in attendance." The prince frowned for a moment, then shook his head with a fond smile. "Ah, it is no bother in the end. Would you prefer to be with the elves from Lothlorien, or those of us from Mirkwood?"

"Where are my sisters?" I asked curiously, and he looked thoughtful for a moment.

"With those from Lothlorien; they are sharing a room but I highly recommend giving them some space. Jade looked most... displeased." He grimaced slightly.

"Yes, I saw. Lothlorien it is then!" I said brightly and he led me through the maze that was the palace of Minas Tirith. "I'm never going to be able to remember my way around, you know."

"You are to stay here until the wedding, are you not?" He asked me and I nodded. "Then you shall have at least six weeks to find your way. In the meanwhile, you may find getting a little lost most fortuitous, as most elves do not know their way around the palace either."

"You are an incredibly smart elf, have I ever told you?" I smirked, twigging on to what he was referring to. Getting lost with Haldir? I could cope with that.

"Sadly not, but I shall certainly accept the compliment. Only if you promise to return the favour, however." I held my hand out to him and he shook it firmly.

"Deal. How's all that going, anyway?" I asked.

"That is not any of your business." He rolled his eyes, and then stopped at a door. "Here is your room. Dinner will begin for the guests in around two hours, so make use of the time as you will. There should be a bath already drawn, but it may need a little heating. There will be a copper kettle and a fire going if you need to do so." He passed me a key and I fit it in the lock, giving it a turn until it clicked.

"Ah well, I need to talk to Tori anyway, and decide how thoroughly I need to maim you. Don't think I don't know about what happened, Elladan told me in explicit detail." I threatened.

"I had nothing to do with it, it happened at the Pelennor." He held up his hands as if to deflect an attack. "Please know that it devastated me to know of her injury." His blue eyes were sincere and I could see the oceans of hurt within them, but it didn't prevent my anger from bubbling over a little.

"And you were not covering her arse, why?" I looked a him long and hard, and he had the good grace to blush a little before he muttered under his breath about the competition with Gimli. "Ah yes, he won didn't he?"

"I took down an Oliphaunt!" He cried indignantly.

"It still only counts as one. My Mother may be here now, and my Dad too, but it was with me you made that deal and me you answer to." I continued to stare him down, remarkably unimpressed.

"I know not what to say, Bernadette. Your sister's safety was paramount to me but in the battle we lost her – she had a strange fire about her that I have not seen since..." He stopped abruptly. "It matters not. I can only ask for your forgiveness, and have you know that it is from the bottom of my heart. You are first and foremost my friend, and I trust you know that I break no promise unless the choice is taken from me – even if you do not quite recall it yet." He grasped my hands then, dark hair falling around him as his head dipped.

I took pity on the poor elf then, and in a fit of sympathy I wrapped my arms around him in a quick hug before stepping back, unsure if I'd overstepped my bounds. "Er, yes. Anyway, bath, that's right." I said awkwardly, but found myself pulled back in to the embrace.

"Many an afternoon we spent simply reading together in the sunlight, many a night we would sit together in close company and share a bottle of wine. Do not shy from me, I could not bear it."

"I'm sorry I'm not the person I was before." I spoke into his chest, a swell of tears capturing me as a swathe of guilt came from nowhere. Legolas pushed me back, grasping my shoulders and looking at me searchingly.

"Ah, my dearest friend – you are not so very different." He was amused then as he tweaked the stud I wore at my lip. "Aside from this strange adornment of course, and this..." Legolas tugged my hair for effect. "It simply startles me from time to time that you do not remember our acquaintance more thoroughly but I am certain that in time you shall."

I smiled and then took a step back into the room, leaning on the handle. "Thank you. Oh, if you see Haldir will you tell him where I am? He's my escort for tonight's party." Legolas nodded in understanding.

"How is that going?" He mimicked my earlier words, and I winked at him as I walked into the room. "Ah, I shall just ask him, then."

"Only the good things are true."

xxxXxxx

About an hour and a half later, I'd had a bath and let my hair dry in rag rolls, finally feeling clean again. The dress I'd brought was a favourite one in shades of green, with draping gossamer sleeves, a wide jewelled neckline. I smiled as I found a small silver circlet folded in with it, turning it in my hands to see that took the appearance of vines with emerald Mallorn leaves. There was a small note with it, and I broke the seal on the back to open it. To my surprise, it was written in English and not the sweeping elvish script I was becoming accustomed to reading.

"Wherever you may go, I will always be with you. –H" The writing was spiky but equally elegant, and instead of braiding my hair as I'd initially thought I let the waves and curls run loose and free down my back. Sitting at the vanity unit, I arranged my hair so it looked soft and inviting, then settled the slim silver band to show it off.

I inspected myself in the mirror, and for the first time I felt almost elven in appearance. It was only hindered by the small studs I still wore without thinking, and I frowned as I toyed with it. I looked myself in the eye for a few long minutes, and then with slow movements I took the glittering silver ball and twisted it until it came free. I wiggled the bar out with my teeth and took it from my mouth, inspecting my reflection once more.

The tiny hole looked almost invisible, and with a tug and a wince I popped the even smaller stud from my nose free. I placed the pieces carefully on the unit and looked again, slightly surprised to see the holes were already becoming smaller. I was startled to see just how much my face seemed to change without the little silver pieces catching the light. No longer so distracted by the stud my lips looked a little fuller, and instead of the line of sight being drawn to my nose my eyes were the first thing that I focussed on.

Startled by a knock on the door, I quickly stood and answered it to my sisters, both looking elegantly dressed in almost identical dresses of green and gold. The only change seemed to be the way in which their hair was styled, and I was taken aback by how grown up and beautiful they looked. "Come in, quick!" I smiled, opening the door wider to let them in. Tori gave me a slightly more gentle hug than the one J had inflicted on her, and I could feel the relief radiating from her as she entered.

"You look gorgeous Ben! That band is stunning." They shared a secretive smile and I realised at once that at least one of them had been in on the gift. Then J frowned, looking at me closer. "Oh hey, you took the studs out!"

"Holy shit, I never thought I'd see the day." Tori sauntered to the double bed and sat on the edge. "I'm not sure which look I prefer."

"Me neither, but seeing as the holes are already healing I don't have much choice." I looked at myself again with a frown. "You two look lovely too." Tori grinned.

"Mmhhm. I've forgotten what it feels like to look and behave like a girl." She said with a flick of her hair.

"Speaking of behaving like a girl, you know that Legolas is a dead Prince walking, don't you?" I looked her up and down slowly and she eyed me distastefully.

"Not tonight, Ben, please. Save your mothering for later – I've already had it in the neck from her, and from Dad, and from Mum." I opened my mouth to argue, but a knock on the door saved her from my tirade in the nick of time.

"We're not finished." I warned her lowly. "Come in!" I called, and one of the twins stuck his head around the door. "Hi!" I stood, opening the door fully to let both Elladan and Elrohir into the room.

"We are here to escort your lovely sisters to dinner. I do believe Captain Haldir will be with you shortly if you wish for us to wait?"

I opened my mouth to say they didn't need to, when Haldir walked in and bowed, first to the twins and then to me. "There is no need to wait, I do apologise for keeping you. Victoria, it is wonderful to see you again, and see you so well." Haldir grasped her arm in the greeting of a Warden, and to my surprise she mimicked it as she stood quickly, brushing her dress off.

I watched Elladan's eyebrows rise at the greeting as Tori rearranged herself, scratching absently at her arm. He bowed to her then, eyes of a healer already examining her for any illness. "Stop it, I'm fine." She snatched her hand away from the arm I knew was bandaged underneath the dress.

"You were not so fine last I saw you." He commented drily. "I was the one who healed you, but you were unconscious for two days after the ordeal and I had to depart for Rivendell as soon as I could be spared."

"Oh. Well. Thank you for making sure I didn't die." Tori said brightly, earning a snort from both myself and Elrohir. "I'm going to be all kinds of rude here, but what's your name?

"Elladan." The twin nearest Tori introduced himself, and I quickly memorised that he was the one with the green sash at his waist.

"Elrohir." He wore a gold sash, and I realised they'd made an effort to match the twins. "My Lady?" He held his arm out to J who took it, grinning. I narrowed my eyes at him, realising this was a little one-upmanship in the unspoken battle between Elrohir and Glorfindel. I liked Elrohir quite a lot and I didn't want to see anyone get hurt, but so far J had shown no preference towards him and all her blushes so far seemed to be for Glorfindel.

"Well, this will be fun. How many people can we confuse in one evening?" J asked, completely oblivious as she seemed intent on remaining.

Elrohir began to walk out, making some wager or another with J before Elladan followed him with Tori who wanted to be in on the plots. Haldir offered his arm with a small smile and I took it, kissing his cheek.

"Thank you for this, it's beautiful." I touched the circlet at my brow.

"I thought you would like it. It becomes you, and you look enchanting this evening." He kissed me quickly, but then pulled back with a puzzled frown. He looked at me for a few moments before smiling widely, kissing the corner of my mouth and then my nose. "Ah, it is about time too!"

"That didn't take you long to notice, I'm impressed." I rubbed where my nose stud once was and he pulled my hand away. "What?"

"Leave it be." He scolded. "We should make our way to dinner, my dear, for if we do not go now I will become so thoroughly distracted I will completely forget that we do have somewhere we should be. "

"Flirting will get you everywhere." I winked at him over-dramatically, and he laughed. "Come on then, let's go. You can hide me from King Thranduil, and potentially my Mother."

"Why, what is wrong with your mother? She seemed pleasant enough when we greeted her this morning." He asked as I locked the door behind us and gave the key to Haldir for safekeeping. I noted he didn't mention my requirement to hide from the Mirkwood King, so it reassured me that my strange reaction to him wasn't completely unusual.

"She'll cross-examine you, aggravate you and potentially threaten you?" I offered, and he paled. "Yeah, my Dad isn't the one you need to worry about, my Mum is the one who wears the trousers in that particular relationship. Then again, she might not. It depends on if she's satisfied with what she sees."

"In that case, I shall ensure I am immaculately presented throughout the evening." He chuckled and I was pleased he was taking it so well. "I would love for you to take the first dance with me, if you will agree?"

"Of course. I have no idea how to dance mind you, but I'll give it a good go!"

"It will usually be a waltz of some form, like this." Without warning, I was swept into his arms and he spun me around in the deserted corridor. I spun under his arm and tried, with a degree of success, to follow his steps. "As I thought, you will be a dream."

"Ahem." We both stopped and looked guiltily at Legolas, who was watching us with raised eyebrows.

"Er..." I said awkwardly, rearranging my hair.

"Yes, rather. Shall we?" Haldir took my arm again and we walked right past the highly amused Prince, who just shook his head before following us to the feast.

xxxXxxx

Laughing, I dropped into a chair next to my Mum who was watching me dance with an amused smile.

"What a fantastic evening!" I took the glass of wine she offered and drank it quickly. "Thank you, I needed that."

"I could see. How are you, darling? I feel like we've hardly had a second to talk since we arrived." Her hair was tucked back in intricate braids and she flicked a few back that had fallen out of place as she'd danced herself.

"I'm really well - better than I've been in years. How are you? " I asked, watching with a small smile as Haldir danced with J who was even managing to put him to shame. God, he looked ridiculously good tonight, and my eyes were drawn to his form whenever he passed by us.

"Very much the same. Oh, do take your eyes of the poor sod for a second." She prodded me in the arm and dragged me up to take a walk with her out in the courtyard where the coronation had been held only a little earlier before. As I nearly tripped over a rather drunk Hobbit, I completely missed my Mum winking across the room to the very elf we'd been speaking about.

Reaching the courtyard, we crossed to the far wall past the White Tree, and looked out across the slowly healing plains surrounding the city. It was hard to imagine the place swarming with Orcs and Uruk-hai where green grass now grew.

"How things change." She mused, looking up at the stars. "Sometimes I feel like the life I used to have here was a dream, the memories come and go. Others, I feel like this lifetime is the dream. Do you remember much of anything?" I shook my head. "I'm not too surprised, the enchantment was strong and you had not lived so many years in Middle Earth as we. Your Father did hope some might come back when the casting was passed on to you but it was only faint hope."

"How old was I?" I asked curiously, and she looked startled.

"Oh, two hundred and seventy... two?" Mum narrowed her eyes. "Yes, because your sisters were a hundred and ninety." I whistled, and looked out to the fields again. "So, tell me about your chap."

"You know all about him already." She didn't even bother to try and look slightly abashed and I pointed this out to her.

"You're right, what's the point in pretending otherwise? I quite like him, he seems good for you and from what he's said I can tell he genuinely loves you." I was about to interrupt her asking when she'd spoken to him, but she cut me off. "This is why..." From the small bag she held, she gave me a miniature white rose, and then pinned it into my circlet. "... I'm giving you this." She also handed me a small note, which had a green wax seal.

I broke it open curiously, and read the text. "Look at the foot of Gondor's white tree, a second rose I have for thee." I read out loud, and then with a strange look I walked over and skimmed my fingers across the dirt until I found another rose with a note attached.

"No rose fairer than thee I have ever seen, but you will find another like this in the hands of a Queen." I scanned it and turned back to my mum who looked slightly wistful as she approached me. "What's going on?"

"I suppose it's a little like a treasure hunt." She said. "I expect that this one is referring to your sister? Should she continue with Prince Legolas, I suppose she would become a Queen when Thranduil sails." She took the next miniature rose and threaded it into another gap in my circlet, stroking my hair fondly.

"Hmm, or Lady Arwen." I looked at mum suspiciously. "Seriously, what's going on?"

"Secrets." She tapped her nose and then winked. "Come, I'll lead you back inside." As we walked, she spotted another of the roses and placed it with the other two. Back in the feasting hall, Tori was dancing with Legolas and I used the opportunity of a break in the music to approach them.

"I don't suppose you've got anything like this for me?" She looked as I indicated to the flowers and paper, but frowned and shook her head.

"Sorry Ben, not me. What's going on?" I shrugged and eyed Legolas who looked equally puzzled.

"I don't know, there seems to be a little bit of a treasure trail for me to follow. Have either of you seen Arwen?"

"Yes, I believe she was speaking to the Lady Galadriel only a few moments ago, sat at the head table. Ah – there she is." He pointed across the room and I picked her out from the people milling around, a crystal goblet in her hand. I briefly bid them goodbye and wove through the crowd that was becoming more and more tipsy, including some of the elves.

She spotted me coming and waved me over, a bright smile gracing her features as she sat with the Lady. "Good evening, Bernadette!" She gestured for me to sit down opposite them and passed me a drink which I took a grateful sip of.

"Good evening Arwen, Lady Galadriel." I greeted both of them. "I haven't disturbed you, have I?"

"Not at all, I just desired a rest from the festivities. If I did not stop for a moment, my poor feet would not last the night!" She laughed, her dark hair spilling around her.

"I just had a question for you both, if you don't mind. Do you know anything about these?" I placed the small slips of paper on the table and gestured to the flowers Mum had placed in my hair. Arwen picked them up and read them, her lips turning as she muttered the words.

"I do not know of these, but they are very sweet. Oh, how I dream of the day Estel finds the romantic I know is hidden within him somewhere!" She made to pass them to the Lady, but she raised a hand and then drew two more roses as well as another slip from a hidden fold in her dress.

"Lean forward, dear child. I believe you may have a crown of roses by the time the evening is through." She threaded the two flowers into the silver vines, her cool fingers resting on my brow before looking at me with an appraising eye.

"How lovely you look. I seem to recognise these roses from my garden; I wonder how they have managed to make their way to this city of Man?" She pressed the note into my hand, and stood. "I do believe I will retire for the evening." Galadriel's eyes twinkled as she passed me, glancing at the note before leaving the hall through a side door.

"Well, open it! I confess I do enjoy a little mystery." Arwen urged and I pulled the seal apart.

"Only one more note do you seek this night. Look for it where the stars give way to the light." I frowned. "I don't know what this means, do you?"

Arwen looked thoughtfully, but was at a loss. "Where the stars give way to the light..." We were interrupted by Aragorn, who sat beside Arwen with a small smile.

"Good evening, my love." He greeted her with a kiss to her palm. "Now, tell me, why do you both look so serious on such a day?" She looked at me sharply, and gestured for me to pass her the note.

"Do you know what this may be referring to? Bernadette has a mystery to solve." Aragorn read it with a raised brow.

"How unusual – I confess I do not know the palace well enough yet to decipher this, but I do know someone who may. Would you mind if I let Faramir see this?" He asked me, turning the paper over in his hands thoughtfully.

"Go ahead; I'm completely at a loss."

"Thank you; I shall be just a moment." He rose and quickly navigated the crowd to where Faramir stood, watching the room carefully as he was prone to do. I watched as he took the paper from Aragorn with a smile, handing back instead a different piece of paper and another couple of roses.

"Well, it seems whoever has done this has taken quite some time to plan thoroughly." Arwen commented as Aragorn returned, sitting down with a bemused expression. "Come around here; let me see what has been said this time."

"In that instance I will leave you to your task. I do believe Gimli wished to attempt a drinking competition with Merry that I dearly wish to see, as he was already well on his way to falling under the table an hour ago. If I do not see you before, Bernadette, enjoy the rest of your evening." He kissed Arwen's hand again, and with a lingering look he departed.

I nipped around the end of the table and sat next to her, turning the paper over. "Well, it is certainly a Lothlorien crest at any rate." She observed as I opened the seal, and I looked at her.

"I think I'm fairly certain just who has sent them. I just don't know why he'd do it." I remarked as I unfolded the paper. "Perhaps my last was a little unfair! You will find me hanging by a winding stair."

Arwen looked up as if she had just had a light-bulb moment. "It is a painting of a sunrise, not far from the gardens! Come." She stood and gestured for me to follow her out and I stood, picking up the roses and placing them in my hair with the others before we slipped through the door Lady Galadriel had left through not long before.

The painting wasn't too far away, in an open hall with arches that let people gaze out when the shutters were open. I looked upon it and reached to touch the canvas gently – the image showed a sunrise over Gondor, and at the very top of the painting there was the blackness of the night, dotted with stars, being chased away by the morning.

"What a beautiful painting." I breathed, and Arwen nodded, her fingers grazing the surface.

"Sometimes I fear being so encased in stone and mortar, but then I am reminded that beauty can be found if only you choose to look." She stepped back. I had spotted the paper and flowers on a pedestal, but I wisely decided that this wasn't the time and went to perch on one of the stone walls that formed the bottom of an arch.

"You can, you know. Where I was, in the time before I came back here, you wouldn't believe the changes this world has gone through. It's a concrete jungle, and so much that is natural has been lost. Even the buildings are made from metal and glass, not stone from the earth like this." I ran my hand up the stone wall. "But there was still beauty in it."

She looked back at me, and then rested against the wall next to me. "How did you bear such a change? It must have been difficult, and I fear I will be unable to settle here."

"It still is. But I did it because I didn't really have a choice." I shrugged, looking at the finer details of the painting as I spoke. "It isn't really the change of place that worries you, is it?"

She shook her head. "I worry that it will never become a home. That the people will never truly accept me as their Queen, even though the grace of my people leaves a little more, day by day." She reached out her hand and looked at it. "I feel the cold and I feel the heat in ways that I never did before. It is strange."

"Home is where the heart is." I said. "Cheesy as it is, it's true. I really discovered that this last year – home isn't a place, it's a feeling." She looked at me with her head tilted.

"I have never thought of it quite that way. As long as I have Estel, I shall be home." She looked at the painting again, with a new light in her eyes. "I fear I should never be left on my own for too long, I seem to develop a certain melancholy when left to my own thoughts. Come; let us solve your mystery." She picked the small bunch of flowers and began threading them through the silver band whilst I opened the final note.

This one was longer than the others, and I couldn't help but smile as I saw the spiky hand of Haldir writing in English.

"'Hear my soul speak;

The very instant that I saw you, did

My heart fly to your service.'

My heart awaits yours, in the garden beyond these doors."

"He quoted Shakespeare. How did he quote Shakespeare?" I questioned out loud, and Arwen looked a little confused. "He's a playwright, a very famous one, but he's not from this time." I explained.

"It seems like he may have found an accomplice. There, you now almost have a full crown of roses! There is just the one missing, but I have hid it as best I can." She tapped the small space just by my ear. "Is this written in the language you first knew?" I nodded, brushing away a stray tear.

"Yes, let me translate it." I read the lines as best I could in Sindarin, and she pressed a hand over her heart a little over-dramatically. "Where are the gardens?"

"Just outside this wall, Estel showed me them earlier in case I needed a little respite." She showed me to the door and I pulled it open. "I think here is where I leave you."

"Thank you, I'm sorry for interrupting your evening." She waved a hand dismissively.

"I am glad to have assisted you. Go and find your own love, I shall find mine somewhere under a table I expect." She sighed but blushed prettily and I grinned, nodding.

"From the tales I've heard, I wouldn't be too surprised. Have a good evening." I waved then stepped out into the garden, which took my breath away.

A small path had been lined with lanterns, flickering in the darkness and highlighting the plants around them. Haldir had clearly gone to some effort and I felt my heart race again as I followed the path around. I rounded a corner and walked under an arch which was surrounded by ivy, and saw a line of candles illuminating the elf I had been searching for. He held out his hand and I walked up to him, placing my hand in his. He bowed and kissed it, lingering across my knuckles as he met my eye.

"I hope you enjoyed my little quest." He moved to the side, and a little table stood with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He poured the wine out and passed one glass to me, taking a sip from his own.

"There are no words. I particularly liked the last one, but how did you..." He smiled, a little embarrassed.

"I must confess a little deception – I have been conspiring with your Mother for most of this afternoon whilst you were preparing. I also learned a little of your language from your sister whenever I could steal away at home to do so." I took a sip of wine, and marvelled at the tiny fizz it seemed to have.

"It was beautiful, although the painting was a little tricky. The Lady made a quick escape once she handed that one across to me." I commented, absentmindedly picking at the flowers that surrounded me.

"I imagine she did. You truly are a vision tonight." He reached up to caress my face, and I leaned in to the touch automatically. "But what is this? It looks like I may have missed a rose in your collection. Here, I think I have one or two spare..." He placed his glass down and picked up a box from the table that was long and slim. He passed me the box and I looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Why the box?" I asked, curious.

"I had to carry them gently from the woods, they are quite delicate." He explained.

"I see, I see." I turned the box in my hands, looking at the engravings. "This is so beautiful," I traced the leaves of the Mallorn tree that decorated the front. Haldir had moved behind me, covering my hands with his. I opened the top at the hinge and almost dropped the box, my free hand flying to my mouth. I moved it away quickly and, trembling, traced the contents with a single finger.

Inside, nestled in a pool of deep green velvet was a single white rose like those I wore. Threaded over its stem, glistening in the candlelight, were two shining silver rings. The first was a delicate band made of thin strands that wound together like vines, with tiny white and green gems spotted throughout. The second was a matte, larger ring engraved with the same vines and leaves.

They were truly beautiful pieces of art, and I was staggered as I realised that the whole day had been leading up to this moment in carefully placed and subtle ways. He had taken so much time to make this moment so personal, so perfect, and so very us. Every single fear I had held melted away as I realised there was nothing more right than what I felt at that second.

"You know what these are?" Haldir's voice was low in my ear, and I nodded as I couldn't trust myself to speak. He moved around to face me and with the hand that wasn't covering my own to hold the box, he tilted my chin upwards to look at him. "My heart knows what it desires, and that is to walk with you side by side until the end of days. I am not perfect, nor do I ever pretend otherwise, but I love you with all that I am. Will you have me?"

I nodded again, this time because I was crying so much that I couldn't actually speak. Placing the box down I threw my arms around him and kissed him square on the mouth, and I felt him begin to smile wider and wider until he was barely able to kiss me.

"I love you, I love you. Yes, if you'll have me too." I finally found my voice, still wobbly with tears as our foreheads rested together.

"I would love nothing more. Here..." He picked up the box and took my ring, placing it to my surprise on my ring finger. "It was explained to me that you would be accustomed to wearing a betrothal ring here, so I perhaps thought we could wear these in the manner you know, and then eventually our wedding rings as in elven culture."

I pressed a kiss to his lips before picking up his ring, and slid it onto the ring finger on his left hand. Haldir's arms went around my waist, but I kept catching him peering over his shoulder at the ring on his finger.

"As a part of our customs, it is a year before we may wed. However, with so much you may wish to do and people you may wish to meet, I expect that the time will fly." I nodded, and then picked up my glass, raising it to him.

"To us." He picked up his own and touched it to mine, the gentle ring of crystal interrupting the peace.

"To us." He drained his glass and I did the same, placing it back on the table next to us. He pulled me closer once more and I wrapped my arms around his neck. "I confess, I have never felt so nervous. Your mother expressed a certain concern that you might not agree."

"A year a go, I probably wouldn't have. I was scared of any sort of commitment; I never wanted to go through what my mother did. Not now, Haldir. Not now." I felt Haldir's hands caress my waist which was becoming awfully distracting.

"I thought that might have been the case." He brought his lips to mine again in a languid kiss as his hands travelled lower, grasping at my hips and pulling me closer. I felt his thumbs rub slow circles just below my hip bone, and the sensation was causing quite a serious stir for me. I felt his lips travel along my jaw and down my neck and I sighed, tipping my head back for him to continue. Absentmindedly I ran my fingers through his hair, the palms of my hands brushing across his ears accidentally.

Haldir gasped against my skin and I felt his fingertips dig in a little more firmly at my hip. His lips returned to mine with a new urgency and I felt him move back a little to lean on the wall, just down from where he had placed his candles. We were pressed so closely that not even a sheet of paper could have passed between us, and I repeated the earlier accidental action, stroking his ears again with a little more pressure.

He cried out against my lips, eyes closed and breathing heavily, and with our bodies so flush together I began to feel quite quickly that I wasn't the only ones getting those particular stirrings. "We must stop, we must stop..." Haldir repeated, hands moving away from my hips and further up, one at the nape of my neck and the other loosely at my waist.

"Probably, yes." I agreed breathlessly and we simply stood together, illuminated by the light of the candles around us.

"Gods, but I love you." He said with a chuckle as the tension finally began to ease. "A year suddenly seems much longer, for I cannot hide my desire for you."

"Mmm." I hummed against his chest, slightly muffled by the material of his tunic. "It will certainly make for an interesting wedding night." I was glad that my hair and his tunic hid the blush from my boldness.

"Oh, I rather hope so." Haldir's voice was rough, and we remained quiet a little longer as we listened to the sounds of the celebration within the citadel. "Oh, I never added your final rose." He pushed me gently away and I let out a small sigh of protest at the loss of his warmth.

"I was comfortable." I complained, but turned to watch him examine the stem of the rose and then slice it with the small knife that was sheathed at his side. He tilted my head to locate the space in the band that had become a garland over the course of the evening, and with a gentle touch he slipped the stem in place.

"There, now you are complete." He kissed me again, a sweet touching of lips that contained none of the fire our deeper and more thorough ones had just ten minutes before. "We should return, if only to announce our news." He placed his knife away, offering me his arm. I took it, watching my ring sparkle in the dim light as my hand rested on his tunic.

"I can't stop looking at it, it's so sparkly." I tilted my hand this way and that as the different stones twinkled as we walked through the garden. "It is so beautiful."

"I am rather glad you like it." for the first time ever he looked bashful, and it struck me that under all his bravado and strutting around he was quite the awkward romantic. I paused just to press a kiss to his cheek and slipped my hand down to hold his, giving it a squeeze, and then tugged him with me back through the doors to the hall.


YES! :) Reviews always appreciated :)

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