Rating: R/NC-17

Pairings: Aragorn/Legolas, Boromir/Legolas
Category: AU, First-Time, Romance, Angst, Drama
Warnings: mild BDSM

Summary: The elf learns about his place in this strange city of Men; and we meet Aragorn, the steward of the house.

Story Notes: Please refer to the headings in Chapter One, or read the notes at http://rhysenn.morethanart.org/lotr/tbc-notes.htm for more detailed exposition of the situation and characters in this AU.

Additionally, the premise in this story that Aragorn lives in Minas Tirith serving as steward of the house is based on the canon fact in "Lord of the Rings", Appendix A: 'The Stewards', that Aragorn did indeed return to Gondor; his true identity remained concealed, and he went under the name of Thorongil, and served as a great captain of Ecthelion II.

Through Bitter Chains

Chapter Two

By Rhysenn


"An Elf?" Aragorn repeated in amazement, after he heard the brief tale his old friend had to tell. "The king gave those barbarians leave to dwell in Ithilien, in exchange for an *Elf*?"

Gandalf tilted his head, looking thoughtfully at Aragorn from under his bushy eyebrows. "You seem astounded that an Elf would warrant an exchange such as the lease of Ithilien."

"No," Aragorn replied. "Rather, I am astounded that the king would trade with those travelling marauders; especially when the possession in question is an Elf, and the price is permission of foreign claim over land that is rightfully ours." In his voice flashed a deep hatred for the ‘hunters’, as they called themselves -- for Aragorn himself was one of the true Dúnedain of the North, and he loathed any association with such cruel, ruthless pillagers. He frowned, and then asked, "But how came they to overpower an elf? For although it has been long since I walked among those fair folk, I know that they are deft and nimble, skilled in self-defence at the least."

"That I know not, either," Gandalf admitted. "I too was surprised, for as far as I have knowledge, Elves rarely move about alone, as among their kindred they find solidarity and strength. Perhaps this one was caught unawares; they bore him a great distance, for in the forests of Mirkwood they waylaid him."

Aragorn’s brow furrowed. "Do you approve, Gandalf?" he asked simply.

Gandalf sighed. "An Elf, above all kindred, should not be reckoned so lightly; and his freedom is naught for anyone else to barter for personal gain."

"I think likewise," Aragorn agreed. "It is one thing to command a slave of one’s own race; but it is altogether different to strive to control another kind that has preceded us in the grand scheme of life."

"I fear it is more complicated than that." Gandalf’s eyes clouded with storm. "My heart misgives that King Boromir’s interest in the elf goes beyond what meets the eye."

Before Aragorn could ask Gandalf to elaborate, the side doors to the palace opened, and in marched the guards; between them was a slender figure, upright and proud despite the slight slump of the shoulders, weighed with fatigue. The chains bound about his ankles clinked on the marble floor as the elf moved, graceful even while restrained, although he walked with a perceptible limp; he did not resist the guidance of the guards, yet he would not endure being physically led.

Aragorn’s eyes settled on the elf as the guards drew to a halt; the elf looked straight back at him, prevailing dignity evident in his unflinching gaze. He stood silently before Aragorn with the chains pooled around his feet, and his arms still bound behind his back.

"King Boromir bade us tell you to ready this slave ere the dinner feast this evening," one of the guards formally told Aragorn. "He is an Elf, and the king only just purchased him from the hunters; they warn you to be careful, for they say this slave is not obedient or willing to be commanded."

"As few free people ever are," Aragorn commented succinctly; Gandalf shot him a quelling look. Aragorn nodded towards the guard. "Very well. I will take him from here; you are dismissed."

The guard bowed. "We commit him to your care, my lord." They left the elf’s side, and exited the hall.

Aragorn barely noticed the guards’ departure; he was too absorbed in studying the elf. He had always been fond of elves, as one would love a strain of tender childhood memory. It had been a long time since he dwelt with the elves, or had any dealings with them; seeing this elf rekindled his affection for the fair kindred, and Aragorn had to consciously remind himself that this elf was not a guest of the house, but rather a slave.

Aragorn was accustomed to overseeing slaves that worked in the palace; ever since slavery had been legalised in Minas Tirith, the taking of slaves by the wealthy was common, and had become a sign of affluence. But this elf was different from any other slave he had dealt with. There was something special about him -- perhaps it was his unwavering dignity in the face of subjugation, or the way he still wore his freedom like a protective cloak around himself, even when he had been cruelly sold for a tenure of soil. Or maybe it was something else, altogether.

Finally, Aragorn spoke.

"What is your name?" he asked. "The name you formerly went by."

"My name is Legolas Greenleaf," the elf answered; his voice was strong and mellifluous. "And it still remains my name, as will always be."

"That may not be so," Aragorn told him, frankly. "For in time the king may change your name to one that pleases him, and that shall be your new name."

"I will answer to none other name than my own," the elf promptly replied in a tone of implicit defiance.

"It is not your choice." Aragorn said firmly; he masked his own misgivings about the situation, and wore a stern face that demanded respect and obedience. "The king owns you now, and you have no say in matters even pertaining to yourself. That you would do well to understand, and get accustomed to." Through it all Aragorn never spoke the word ‘slave’.

"Legolas is the name my father bestowed upon me, ere I was born." The elf raised his eyes to level Aragorn’s, and in them there was no fear or hesitance. "I may have been taken far away from my homeland and brought here against my will, but I will never cast aside my heritage -- most precious of which is my own name."

The elf’s words struck a deep chord within Aragorn; he was without a reply for a long moment, lost in his own poignant memories of the meaning of lineage and patrimony. When he looked once again upon the elf standing before him, there was a different light in Aragorn’s eyes: softer, as if born of a new understanding.

"Very well," he said. "Legolas shall be your name, unless the king says otherwise."

Aragorn expected Legolas to thank him, for this was an uncommon show of consideration towards a slave; but the elf made no answer except for his even gaze. Aragorn waited a moment, and then resumed speaking; there were matters at hand that needed tending, and he pushed the unbidden memories of the past to the fringes of his mind. Briskly he laid down the standard rules of the household, which Legolas had to abide by; the elf listened, and then bowed his head in silent acknowledgement.

"The afternoon swiftly wears away," Aragorn concluded, "and the king desires to see you at the grand dinner feast this evening. You look tired; you must have travelled many leagues with little rest. When did you depart from Mirkwood?"

A look of supreme astonishment crossed Legolas’s face.

"How knew you that I am from Mirkwood?" he asked, an innocent eagerness in his voice like one who in a foreign country hears the song of his own land; for Legolas knew the guards had not mentioned his origin to Aragorn, and he had not perceived that Gandalf, who was standing by unobtrusively, had been among the crowd earlier.

Aragorn gave Legolas an appraising look; it became clear to him now that he could recognise the elf’s origin, even had Gandalf not told him before.

"Your raiment," he answered. "It is of the Wood-elves, who dwell far north beneath the trees of Mirkwood; and your accent and manner of speech are distinctly Sindarin."

"You are acquainted with our folk?" Legolas asked boldly, once more breaking the rule that slaves never ask questions, and only speak when they are first spoken to. Had there been guards in the hall with them, Aragorn would have had to rebuke the elf; but something moved him now to let it pass, since they were alone save for Gandalf. Instead, he even gave answer to Legolas’s question.

"I have been in your land, many years ago," Aragorn told him. "And I have heard tales of the gladness that lived beneath the oak and beech of Greenwood the Great, ere the darkness fell upon that forest -- a time when the shade under the branches gave only relief and no fear to those who passed through..." he broke off, extricating himself from memories once again; he found Legolas gazing at him with rapt attention, and there was a shimmer of forgotten joy in the elf’s bright eyes as he heard the fair recollections of his homeland.

"But that is no more." Aragorn forced himself to regain his distant composure; he realised that he had already said too much of what he felt. "The darkness has settled upon the land; days of light and beauty have long passed."

The tentative spark in Legolas’s eyes wavered at Aragorn’s cold withdrawal; the elf dropped his gaze to the floor, and said no more.

Aragorn made a concerted effort to return to his task. "You have not yet answered my question, Legolas: when were you brought hence from your dwelling?"

"I do not know." Legolas’s voice was soft, almost painfully so. "I cannot remember, for they often emptied vials of foul concoctions down my throat to subdue me. I drifted in and out of consciousness, and I am not certain how many days or nights have since passed. I have eaten little, and my head aches."

"You will be fed, and clothed with fresh garments." Aragorn felt a twinge of sympathy for Legolas; not pity, for the elf was too proud for that. "Then you may rest to regain your strength before the feast."

"Perhaps it would also be well to remove his bonds, if he gives his word not to struggle with you or attempt flight." Gandalf’s calm voice now spoke, and both Aragorn and Legolas turned towards him. There was a brief flicker of gratitude in Legolas’s eyes as he looked at Gandalf.

Aragorn turned his attention to Legolas’s chains. True enough, they were cruel and too tight for comfort, and bit into the soft flesh encircling the elf’s ankles. He resolved to free Legolas from them; but first, he needed assurance that it would not be folly to do so.

"If I rid you of your bonds," he addressed Legolas, who listened attentively, "do you promise not to tussle with me, or hazard escape the moment you are liberated?"

"I give my word," Legolas answered decisively, as if the word of a slave still held worth, other than in his own eyes.

Aragorn approached him, drawing out his sword as he went; Legolas watched the blade with keen eyes, but did not recoil. Going around him, Aragorn laid a palm on Legolas’s hands to steady them, and deftly sliced the leather bands with an upward flick of the sword. The bands fell in shreds to the floor, and Legolas rubbed his wrists ruefully. Then Aragorn knelt to inspect the chains -- they were thick and sturdy, but the locks that secured them were not. With a sharp strike of his sword he broke each lock to pieces, yet did not cause excessive pain to Legolas on impact. Carefully he removed the chains, and saw that the flesh beneath was reddened and sore.

Aragorn straightened; as he stepped back, he caught the elf’s soft voice, on the wings of a barely audible whisper: "Thank you."

He nodded, and signalled for Legolas to follow him; and Legolas did, without having to be told again. Aragorn bade farewell to Gandalf, and his old friend went forth from the hall. Aragorn would probably not see him for the rest of the day, since Gandalf never attended feasts with the officials of Minas Tirith. But Gandalf always had a knack of appearing just when he was needed, at precisely the right time.

Presently Aragorn brought Legolas into the bath house -- as with the rest of the palace it was a grand chamber, lit with candles white as ivory, which never seemed to burn down. Inside, it was separated into two areas: on the right were the cubicles for the officials, and each held a bath tub carved out of a block of solid black marble veined with pearl, ornately decorated with designs etched in gold. A curtain that looked delicate and translucent as thin silk, yet was made of waterproof material, could be drawn around the tub.

On the left were the smaller cubicles meant for servants: the tubs were small and plain, with no surrounding curtain, and the baths did not have the luxury of hot water. Aragorn turned to Legolas, and beckoned him towards one of those cubicles. Legolas hesitated briefly, and then in a respectful manner requested that he be allowed to bathe alone.

This was not the traditional way with new slaves: they were not permitted to bathe unassisted, perhaps in fear that they might, in their wild desperation, attempt to drown themselves in the tub. Aragorn vacillated within himself for a few moments, but finally he gave in to Legolas’s request.

Aragorn was surprised to find himself slightly disappointed as he withdrew to give Legolas some privacy, although he lingered just without, waiting. Against the flickering candlelight that played across the smooth wet walls of the bath house, he could see the silhouette of Legolas’s naked form. The elf was tall and slender, his arms and legs defined and lean; Aragorn saw that he was very beautiful.

Servants were called to bring new garments for Legolas; since King Boromir wanted the elf to attend the feast, Aragorn judged that he should be arrayed in a proper manner befitting a public appearance. Shortly later Legolas emerged, and Aragorn had to fight to contain his amazement -- for although Legolas had been attractive clad in his stained, dark green raiment of Mirkwood, now dressed in finer robes he looked stunning.

Legolas wore a simple tunic of pale-white -- it would have been modest, except that it was too short on him; and because he was too slim, it was suggestively loose, sliding about his lean shoulders. The collar stood apart, revealing his graceful neck. Legolas wore tight-fitting black leggings that reached down to his ankles, hiding his injuries; and the way these enhanced his legs pushed the boundaries of decency. Aragorn wondered if he had chosen robes too splendid for the elf to wear -- but he soon realised that it was Legolas who added beauty to the fabrics that arrayed him, and not vice versa.

Moreover, slaves were never called to be in attendance at feasts; this was the first time he had been given such instructions, and Aragorn wanted to make sure Legolas was aptly attired for the occasion. He cast a brief thought as to why the king had issued this order; but then, cutting a sidelong glance at Legolas, he understood perfectly well why Boromir had decided to claim him to dwell in Minas Tirith. And Legolas was an Elf -- they were a rare sight those days in the South.

Even now it had almost slipped Aragorn’s mind that Legolas was actually a slave, for the elf’s manner and gait were cultured and dignified. Aragorn set him in no bonds, although he did not give Legolas a belt to gird around his waist, as was the custom to array guests of the king’s feast with.

Afterwards Aragorn had some food brought before Legolas, who seemed weak from hunger. It was quail’s meat -- more special than the usual fare, since it was part of leftover samples from the spread for the feast. However, when the elf saw the dish set before him, he looked dismayed and shook his head.

"I cannot eat this," he told Aragorn earnestly. "In the forests of Mirkwood birds are our friends, especially those who roost in the branches of the trees and do us no harm. The flesh of friendly birds we do not eat; and the meat of evil birds we do not touch. That is our way of life."

Aragorn now realised the folly of his kindness towards Legolas -- for it now seemed that Legolas had become comfortable in his presence, and treated him more as an equal than a superior. In Minas Tirith slaves were not accorded such luxury of choice; and as far as Aragorn could see Legolas was clearly a ‘slave’, though he was loath to use that term. Such behaviour could not be tolerated -- it would be interpreted as impudence, and an insolent slave would be punished until he learnt his lesson.

"And this is *our* way of life," Aragorn said firmly, pushing the plate of quail’s meat in front of Legolas, who regarded it with revulsion. "You would do well to forget your old way of life, Legolas, because that is past. It does not matter if you accept it, or not -- you will have to live with it."

"No," Legolas said in a whisper; his eyes hazed over with pain and sadness. "I do not wish to live like this."

"You cannot speak in such a manner!" Aragorn hissed fiercely, standing up with an abruptness that startled even Legolas, who looked up at him with eyes that shone liquid silver. "Do you not understand? You will suffer greatly if you do not relinquish this stubborn attitude of yours! Do not speak that way in front of me again!"

Legolas looked thoroughly stunned, and subsided; he said nothing for a long while. Aragorn gazed at him, and wondered how he had allowed himself to develop a certain kind of affection for this elf-slave -- he finally admitted to himself that was what Legolas truly was -- in such a short span of time.

Finally, Legolas spoke; his voice was quiet, subdued. "I never saw you before, when you walked the paths of Mirkwood."

Aragorn gave him a slanted look. "Perhaps you did, but could not recognise that it was me."

"Nay," Legolas said with a small shrug. "We would have noticed you without delay; for Men move recklessly when sometimes there is need for stealth. The rustle of the grasses as they pass through often gives them away." He paused. "Perhaps you will allow me to speak some advice: if you run with a purpose ahead of you, the surer it will be that you will reach your destination. Warriors are sometimes aimless, and lack purpose; that is their undoing."

"I gave you no permission to speak your advice, yet you proceeded without my leave." Aragorn said severely. "Pay close attention, Legolas: for I will give you some counsel, too."

"What will your counsel be?" Legolas asked.

"This," Aragorn said, as he rose to his feet; the time for the dinner feast was drawing near. Following his lead, Legolas stood up as well. Aragorn turned to face him, and continued, "Do not ask any questions -- some things are better left unanswered. For your pride will be your undoing."

"You do not understand," Legolas said, and there was a desperate intensity in his eyes as he looked at Aragorn. "I have lost everything that has meaning in my life -- my home, my happiness, my freedom. My pride is all I have."

"And you possess it to your own ruin," Aragorn said; with a sweeping turn he strode towards the feasting hall. Legolas paused a moment, and then followed him. The plate of quail’s meat remained on the table, untouched.



[[ In the next chapter: The grand dinner feast takes place, and Legolas is brought before King Boromir -- will pride beget a fall? ]]

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