Rating: NC-17Category: AU, First-Time, Romance, Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort
Summary: Aragorn confides in Gandalf; and Boromir has something else to bestow upon his elf-slave.
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.
Through Bitter Chains
The next morning, Gandalf sat in the steward’s quarters, listening attentively to Aragorn’s account of the eventful Spring Feast the night before. More than all else, Aragorn spoke of Legolas, and the humiliation and cruelty that the elf had endured at the hands of King Boromir.
"It is wrong that King Boromir should take an Elf, one of the First Kindred, to be a personal slave to his own lust," Aragorn said hotly, as he paced back and forth. "I do not rebel against the king’s judgement; but in this case, I refuse to favour it."
"It would be best if you kept your opinions to yourself," Gandalf advised. "For you can do nothing; lest your words against the king reach his ears, and portend more trouble both for you and Legolas." He paused, and shook his head ruefully. "Spring Feast was yesterday, you say? April the sixth?"
"Yes," Aragorn replied. "Is that of any significance?"
"Indeed it is," Gandalf answered gravely. "It made the festivities doubly cruel for the elf — for the sixth day of April marks the Elves’ New Year, a tradition that has long faded in the memory of Men in Gondor, but which the elves always hold dear in their hearts."
Aragorn looked shocked, then dismayed; several layers of emotion filtered through his expression.
"Of course," he said in a low voice, almost to himself. "The Elves’ New Year falls on the sixth of April. How could I forget? In Rivendell it was always celebrated grandly. The fountains were lit with the sparkling lights of stars, and petals adorned the pathways; the waterfalls gave forth mists of silver, which wafted like curtains of silk around the pavilion..." Aragorn broke off, as if the tide of awakening memories was too much to take; he bowed his head slightly, and looked worn and sad.
"Many years have passed since you shared in the celebrations of the elves," Gandalf said gently. "You have wandered far and wide in the years between then and now — you must not feel guilty for letting a tradition that is not your own slip from your mind. As long as you do not forget it altogether."
"It has been a long time," Aragorn said, his voice almost a whisper. "Yet Rivendell is still a place crystallised in my mind, its beauty written in my heart. There lies the only place I have ever called my home, and it holds every beautiful memory of my days of youth." He paused. "Tell me, Gandalf — when did you last ride through Imladris, and how fares Master Elrond and his household?"
"Elrond and his people still live in peace; fragile, yet enduring." Gandalf appeared thoughtful, and there was a kindly light in his eyes as he looked directly at Aragorn. "He asks often of you, as a father would want to hear news of his son — but he knows the burden you have to carry alone, and has faith that you will walk the right path. I last spoke with him about six months ago, when I made a detour to Rivendell to help an old friend make some travel arrangements."
Something else occurred to Aragorn.
"Have you passed through Mirkwood in recent years?" he asked. "You did not seem to recognise Legolas when you first saw him; and neither did he appear to know you."
Gandalf shook his head. "I have often passed by Mirkwood, but I have not entered it in many years. King Thranduil holds the fort against stirring evil in his woodland country, and the Wood-elves prefer to remain on their own, welcoming few visitors. Only rarely do I encounter one of Thranduil’s messengers to Rivendell, or Lórien — but I have never seen Legolas before."
There was a brief silence; then Aragorn spoke pensively. "What think you of Legolas, Gandalf?"
"Ah," Gandalf said, with a knowing look in his eye. "But it matters not — for I do not always dwell in this city, although I often reside here to share your company. It only matters what you think."
"I think he is beautiful," Aragorn admitted to his old friend. "A beauty that goes beyond physical attractiveness, of which he has no lack — but he also has a light within him that shines forth and enchants everything he does: the way he speaks, the look in his eyes, the movement of his hands."
"You seem smitten with the elf," Gandalf observed.
Aragorn opened his mouth to protest, but words failed him. He halted, and forced himself to confront the true reason why he had been feeling miserable ever since Legolas had been taken away from the feast the night before, and why the gnawing sensation that seemed to penetrate his bones was suddenly made sharper at the mere mention of the elf.
"Smitten is the wrong word," he finally said. "But there is certainly something about Legolas that I feel... drawn towards. Perhaps it is the calling of my upbringing, even though I have carelessly allowed memory to lapse — Legolas reminds me of how fair and graceful his kindred are, and how they love nature and see so much beauty in life."
"Watch yourself, Aragorn," Gandalf warned. "It is one thing to appreciate beauty, especially of spirit; but entirely another to let your gaze linger upon one who belongs to someone else, and can never be yours to have."
"It is an irony," Aragorn said wryly. "Every life needs one."
"And from such ironies spring bitterness and pain that will never cease to follow you," Gandalf said solemnly; he regarded Aragorn with keen concern. "Be strong, Aragorn — do not let it break you down."
Boromir gave Legolas leave to wander within the boundaries of the palace during daylight hours. Legolas was eager to leave the bedchamber; he wanted to get away from the sleepless agony that room brought, and sought a quiet place to find solace and much needed rest on his own.
But Legolas soon found this was as impossible as finding tenderness at Boromir’s hands.
As he walked through the courtyards, he was well aware of the officials watching him pass by; and the way some of them looked at him made Legolas’s skin crawl. Having witnessed the way Boromir had treated him during the Spring Feast, the officials of the palace knew all too well the services that Legolas was expected to provide — and although they did not dare to lay a hand on him, leering and mocking words were free for all.
"Lost your way, elf?" A man in uniform suddenly stepped into his path, blocking his way. He gave Legolas a sneering smile. "I could show you to the bedchambers."
Legolas backed away from him, alarmed; but another two officials appeared, and he was cornered.
"Yes, Bregor," laughed one of them, letting his eyes run lasciviously over Legolas’s body. "You are in line for a promotion soon, are you not? Perhaps you could ask the king for a night with this lovely elf instead." He reached out, as if to stroke the elf’s face.
Legolas flinched away. "Do not touch me!"
"Oh?" Bregor arched an eyebrow; he stepped closer to Legolas, hemming him in. "Do you speak to him with such insolence? You have a great deal of foolish courage, slave."
Legolas looked around wildly, but the three men had surrounded him. He could not slither away; and although he could probably fight them off, as a slave he could not strike back. He flattened himself against the wall that he was backed up against, and bit his lip in helpless despair.
"Look at him," Bregor mocked. "He stands so willingly — were he not the king’s bed-slave, I reckon that he would allow all three of us to take our turn with him right here, up against the wall. Such a pretty whore."
"I wonder if King Boromir will tire of him soon," the third official mused, casting the others a knowing look. "When he does, we could ask the king to lend him to us. I’m sure that we could teach this elf a thing or two."
"Yes, I have heard that it can be even more enjoyable to lie with a male elf than a woman of our own kind," Bregor added, relishing the look of caged fear in Legolas’s eyes. "For their skin is smooth like silk, and their flesh soft and tender, as well as deliciously tight." They all roared with laughter.
"Leave him alone, Bregor."
Bregor turned, startled, to find Aragorn standing behind him.
"Ah, Aragorn." He gave the steward a superficial smile. "Good day to you."
"The king will not be pleased if he sees you treat Legolas in such a manner." Aragorn fixed Bregor with a hard glare; from the corner of his eye, he saw the immense relief on Legolas’s face.
"We were just giving him a personal welcome to our city," Bregor replied breezily. "And as steward of the household, you should be informed that this elf-slave spoke to us with blatant disrespect. He must be punished."
"I will deal with him from here," Aragorn replied steadily. "I am sure that other more important duties must now demand your attention."
Bregor’s eyes flashed, but he had nothing to retort. "Verily so," he said shortly, as he and his companions turned and strode off.
Aragorn watched the departure of the three officials with narrowed eyes. Then he turned back to Legolas, who looked very shaken.
"You have to be careful," Aragorn told him. "Do not wander to quiet corners of the palace on your own. It is not safe."
"But I do not want to remain in the king’s chambers during the day," Legolas answered; there was a pained sadness in his clear eyes. "Where then shall I go?"
Aragorn considered for a moment. "There is a couch in my quarters where you can rest without being disturbed by anyone else in the palace. Do you want to go there?"
Legolas hesitated briefly, then said, "Yes. Please."
Aragorn nodded, and led Legolas to his quarters. The room was spacious, although more modest than the king’s lavish chambers. The main door opened into a broad study, with a waxed oak table and matching armchair. A couch cushioned in dark blue velvet sat across from the table; away to the left an open archway led into the inner bedchamber, where the steward slept.
Legolas sat down on the edge of the couch. He felt a fleeting fear shiver through him as Aragorn shut the doors behind them — he had developed a dread of enclosed rooms, and being alone with a Man in his chambers naturally sent a chill through him. His mind was still reeling from the mocking words that the three palace officials had hurled at him: Lovely elf. Pretty whore. We could teach him a thing or two...
"Ignore them, Legolas." Aragorn’s voice was even.
Legolas looked at him. "How did things come to be this way?" he asked softly. "Where power is derived only through another’s humiliation, where one has no qualms about taking what belongs to another? Is this the race that you pledge your allegiance to?"
"It is not a choice." A tremor quivered through Aragorn’s voice. "I owe loyalty to my own kind — and even though they have fallen to decadence, I will not cease to hope."
Legolas tilted his head thoughtfully. "I have heard an old saying: To hope for what you can never have is a wound that will be healed only in death."
Aragorn levelled Legolas’s gaze. "Then I will die trying."
In the days that followed, Legolas frequently sought out Aragorn’s company, and it was the only time that brought him comfort and some measure of happiness. But they never once spoke of what went on in the king’s bedchamber at night. Since Aragorn had been entrusted with the duty of seeing to the elf’s well-being, the king saw nothing more to Legolas’s time spent with the steward of his house.
Boromir did, however, notice the lingering glances and suggestive remarks that Legolas received from the other men in the palace each time he passed by. The king was proud of his beautiful possession, but he was not pleased at the unwanted attention Legolas attracted. No one actually dared lay a hand on his slave; but to dissuade his courtiers from ideas above their station, Boromir resolved to mark the elf as his in an unequivocal way.
And so Boromir called for a brief assembly in the royal courtyard. When all the palace officials were gathered, he called Legolas to his side.
"I have a gift for my slave," Boromir announced; Legolas showed no expression, and kept his eyes to the floor. Boromir drew out a box, and opened it; he carefully removed what lay inside, and held it up for the assembly to see.
It was a collar. About an inch wide, it was wrought of fine gold, which shone brilliantly in the sunlight. Words were engraved along the outer rim: Legolas’s name, identifying him as property of Boromir son of Denethor, King of Anorién. Jewels were set along the outer band in the spaces between the words; they glinted like star-eyes. There was a lock on the back of the collar, where the two halves snapped together.
Boromir signalled for Legolas to come near to him, and he slipped the collar around the elf’s neck. The lock clicked shut, and the collar was a good fit — it was not loose, and held firmly around Legolas’s neck, but yet not so tight that it marked his flesh.
Aragorn could not believe his eyes. A slave collar? This was rare even in Minas Tirith; and the fine quality of the collar only made the mockery of it all the more stark.
"It is a perfect fit." Boromir stepped back and surveyed Legolas with approval. "A fine adornment for one so fair — and a fair warning to all to keep their hands off my property." There was a titter of apprehensive laughter in response; the audience perceived that Boromir was serious about his threat.
"And as for you," Boromir turned to Legolas, and a flicker of intense emotion crossed the king’s face. "Know the worth of your beauty and the pleasure you bring me — for no slave in this land has ever received such an expensive gift. But let this also be a reminder of whom you belong to."
Legolas remained silent, and kept his eyes downcast.
"Do you hear my words?" Boromir repeated meaningfully, an ominous tone creeping into his voice.
"Yes... master." Legolas’s voice was strained.
"Very well." Boromir was satisfied. The king reached for Legolas once more — fingering the silky locks of his hair, he drew the elf closer, and kissed him hard on the mouth.
Aragorn found himself unable to look away. There was a sharp ache twisting inside him, piercing deep as he watched Legolas allow the king to ravish him. Aragorn reminded himself that it was for the best that Legolas yielded; but the thought did not ease him.
After the officials left the court and Legolas had been dismissed, Faramir remained. He had a slight frown on his face, and he leaned in to speak to his older brother; Aragorn, who was standing just next to them, could hear the conversation.
"A collar, Boromir?" Faramir asked. "Is it necessary to label him in such a manner, even if he is yours?"
"It is a warning to anyone who might be bold enough to lay his hand on my elf," Boromir replied. "And Legolas should by now realise that it is fruitless to resist any further. I have broken his stubbornness."
"That you certainly have," Faramir answered in a reproving tone. "And you have also broken his spirit."
Broken, yes — but not ruined, Aragorn thought to himself grimly. Not yet.
Legolas wore a deep grey tunic when he came into Aragorn’s quarters the next day. Aragorn glanced up, and noticed how the dark fabric brought out the fair colour of Legolas’s hair; but his skin seemed pale compared to the over-rich gold of the collar around his neck.
The elf settled down on the couch, sitting perfectly still, with a unique posture that made him look both poised and relaxed at the same time. There was a hollow bleakness in his eyes, which bore the mark of the night even during the merciful day. His gaze presently fell on Aragorn’s bow, which was standing propped against the far wall; and a light returned to his eyes.
"May I inspect your bow?" Legolas asked, a rare eagerness in his voice.
Aragorn hesitated for a moment. A bow was a weapon, and no steward would, in his right mind, allow a slave to lay hold of it. But there was no quiver of arrows lying nearby, and Aragorn reasoned that there was little danger in letting the elf touch the bow.
Legolas noticed Aragorn’s hesitancy.
"Do not worry," he said swiftly. "I do not wish to cause you any harm — and there are no arrows around. But I have great love for archery, and the wood-turning of your bow is of high quality. Only the bowstring is too loose: for a taut string gives the arrow a steadier path."
"Ah, yes," Aragorn said with a small smile; he relented, and gestured that Legolas could pick up the bow. "You are from Mirkwood, and the most skilled of elven archers hail from that region."
"I had a reputation among my kinsfolk for arrows that always met their target," Legolas answered, with a note of pride in his voice; he carefully lifted the bow, relishing the feel of it in his hands.
"That is fine praise," Aragorn said. "Given your talent, you must have been one of the best archers in King Thranduil’s service."
"Yes." Legolas hesitated, and his voice faltered before he added softly, "I am also his son."
Aragorn’s jaw dropped. "What did you say?"
"Thranduil is my father," Legolas said quietly. "I am his youngest son."
There was a heartbeat of silence.
"You are a prince of Mirkwood?" Aragorn stared at Legolas incredulously. "Why did you never speak of this before?"
"What use would that have served?" Legolas raised his eyes to Aragorn’s, and they were filled with pain and frustration. "If I had told my captors that I was of royal blood, they would only have demanded a higher price for me. I will not cheapen the worth of my lineage by using it to negotiate with those cruel folk — at any rate, my freedom was already beyond my control."
Aragorn’s brow furrowed, and he was profoundly puzzled — for, unknown to Legolas, there had already been concern over the possibility of Elves coming down south to Minas Tirith, to war with them and reclaim their captive kin. Boromir had shrewdly forseen this, and had posted hidden guards and sent out scouts to gather news of any such attack drawing near to their city. But no alarm had been raised in the past two weeks.
"But if you are Thranduil’s son," Aragorn said, with a small frown, "then why has he not sent forth the hosts of Mirkwood to find you, even searching to the corners of Middle-earth and leaving no stone unturned, if that was what it took to get you back?"
"You speak truly," Legolas said; the shadow of anguish in his eyes darkened. "My father will stop at nothing to rescue me — if only he knows that I have been captured."
"He does not know you are missing?" Aragorn asked, astounded.
"No, he does not." Legolas’s voice wavered, but he forced himself to keep speaking in an even tone, although it still trembled slightly. "For my father had given me leave to travel to Fangorn to explore the truth in the songs that are sung of that ancient woodland. Although he was reluctant to let me go by myself, I went forth alone; I had intended to take the pass through the Mountains of Mirkwood, and strike the Old Forest Road — but I was waylaid in the valley, and outnumbered." He halted, and there was great sadness in his eyes. "Even now I think my father still assumes that I am on the journey — and since Fangorn is a great distance away, he will not expect me back home for several months."
"So this is the truth of the matter." Aragorn’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. "I often wondered how your disappearance evaded your kinsfolk’s notice for so long."
"I rue the day I set out on my own, against my father’s better judgement," Legolas said sorrowfully. "I enjoy solitude, and when I journey through uncharted lands alone, my senses are heightened in the peaceful quiet all around." He paused, and lowered his eyes. "I sought adventure — but now I only wish for deliverance."
"Deliverance?" Aragorn shook his head regretfully. "The king has gone to great lengths to ensure that you shall remain here — guards constantly watch the route along the Anduin, and sentinels are stationed at the Great Gate. All other ways that you might fare to escape through the City Wall are bolted, and only a few high officials of the court hold a set of keys to them. Minas Tirith is not called ‘The Tower of Guard’ for no reason."
"You need not warn me," Legolas said bitterly. "Your king frequently reminds me of the dire consequences of escape."
Aragorn noticed that Legolas always spoke of Boromir as ‘your king’ — as if in his eyes, Boromir was too despicable even to be conferred a general title of ‘the king,’ with the oblique respect inherent in that. But there was little to wonder at this subtle insult, a slave’s last defiance — for Aragorn was often shocked to see the red marks of cruel handprints on Legolas’s wrists and arms, and he did not even want to think of the bruises the elf’s clothes concealed. Boromir was a man of war — he was not known for his gentleness, or restraint.
The elf said no more. Holding the bow in his hands, he seemed as if he were caught in a beautiful and sad memory of his homeland, of the life he once had; and Aragorn did not disturb him. As if walking in a dream, Legolas went over to the couch and sat down, letting his fingers run lovingly over the carved wood contours of the bow on his lap. The colourful jewels on the collar around his neck glinted like a harsh rainbow in the morning sun.
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