Heart of the Storm – Chapter Seven

Legolas thought that he would have a restless night, however, his healing body quickly demanded the sleep it craved.  He awoke to early light and the sound of several of the scouts he had briefly met the previous night.  One of the scouts, Haldir, gave Legolas a smile and offered him a hand up.  Legolas stretched fully, with only a twinge in the side that yesterday had almost been his undoing.

“We were just about to break our fast,” Haldir said cheerfully.  “You are welcome to join us,”  he gestured to two other elves, “or you can wait for Storm to return.”

Legolas frowned slightly.  “Lady Nevlotwen was quite angry when we parted ways last night.  I do not believe she will be seeking my company for breakfast.”

Haldir surprised Legolas with a hearty laugh.  “Angry she was.  We could not help but overhear.  I haven’t heard her that mad since she saw a visiting Rivendell lass steal a kiss from Ainaloss.  Don’t fret, she recovers her temper as quickly as she loses it.  Although Orophin here,” Haldir pointed to another scout, “does not think she will quickly forgive  being mistaken for a lad!”

This time all three of the scouts laughed loudly.  Legolas felt blood rushing to his cheeks.

Haldir led Legolas over to the others and a share of breakfast was handed his way.  “Don’t mind us Legolas of Mirkwood.  Your fight with Storm is your business and we are not gossips.  However, we would not be Storm’s friends if we let you believe that she would play a cruel game with you.  There is no love lost between Storm and the other maids of the House of Lorien, and we can assure you that there is no collusion between them to humiliate you.  It is Storm’s nature to be frank and open, at times to her detriment.  She is not one for deceit.”

Legolas looked around at the scouts open faces and read their sincerity.  He continued to eat quietly.  Finally he could not contain his curiosity.  “And who is Ainaloss?  This other man who so moves Storm to anger?”   The silence was heavy for a moment.  Finally Haldir spoke.

“Ainaloss was one of our finest scouts.  He and Storm were children together.  She was always full of laughter and light when they were together.  He was her biggest admirer and closest friend.  We always assumed they would one day wed.”

“And . . .?” Legolas asked, fearing he already knew the answer.

“He was killed by a band of Orcs while on an extended patrol.  He was already dead when we found his body.  There was nothing any of the healers could do.  Nothing Storm could do.  It was long ago but it still pains Storm gravely.  She has changed much since his death.”  Haldir lapsed into silence.  The four of them finished their breakfasts in silence.

Suddenly there were a series of whistles from below the tree.  “That would be Storm,” announced Haldir as he went to drop the rope ladder.  Her head quickly emerged from the branches.  Storm warmly exchanged greetings with the three scouts, who set off at once to resume their duties.  There was a long awkward silence when Storm and Legolas found themselves alone.

“Let me check your wounds and change your bandages before we set off.”  Storm had already taken off her backpack and began to gather her supplies.  “Please take off your shirt.”

Legolas found himself hesitating.  He had felt no discomfort being shirtless in front of Storm yesterday, but now that he knew she was a woman and the niece of Galadriel it felt somehow. . . immodest.  He finally compromised by lifting his shirt high to give her access to his wounds.  She worked silently and efficiently, first removing the old bandages, and then carefully examining each wound.  It was not until she began to apply fresh salve to the wounds that they both felt the discomfort.  She could not help but touch his bare skin and now it felt different than yesterday, more. . .  intimate.  Legolas wondered which one of them blushed more deeply.  Storm regained her composure first and quickly applied fresh dressings.

“You are healing well.  In a few days you will have only the scars as a reminder.  They should be small, don’t fret.”

Legolas was not nearly as concerned about the scars on his skin as he was with the damage between them.  “Storm, I believe I owe you an apology for last night.  I was surprised and angry. . .”

Storm held up a hand to stop him.  “Please Prince Legolas.  You are a guest of my land and it is I who owe the apology.  I was discourteous.  Please forgive me.”  Storm had lowered her head and would not meet his eye.  “If you are ready, let us go.  I will try to have you in Lothlorien in time for dinner this evening.”

Storm was quiet but very polite as they traveled closer to the heart of Lothlorien.  So polite, in fact, that it set Legolas’ teeth on edge.  It did not take many miles for Legolas to realize that he preferred Storm furious at him, calling him a “conceited, spoiled brat with a title” to her current detached courtesy.  She rarely made eye contact and had such guard on her feelings that he could not read her at all.  Anytime he would try to apologize for his own harsh words the night before, she would cut him off and not allow him to finish.

After several hours of this, Legolas started to find it unbearable.  He missed the easy camaraderie of yesterday.  He missed Storm’s ready smile and thoughtful answers to his questions.  He missed the sense that they were kindred spirits who were destined to be great friends.  He decided again to try to engage her, to try in some way to get through her cool reserve.  “The scouts of Lothlorien are worthy of praise.  I found them to be knowledgeable, hospitable and vigilant in their duties.  They speak highly of you and your place among them.”

For the first time all day a real smile lit Scout’s face.  “And I would speak highly of them.  We spend weeks out on patrol together at times.  It would be unbearable if we did not get along and work well together.”

Legolas tried to choose his next words carefully and kept his tone gentle “They spoke very highly of the scout named Ainaloss.  I understand why you grieve so.  I am sorry for your loss.”  It took only seconds for Legolas to realize his blunder.  The smile on Storm’s face faded into a look of vulnerability and confusion then quickly replaced by a tense, closed-off look.  Her back was suddenly straight and stiff and her hands had unconsciously curled up into fists.

“Ainaloss was an excellent scout, Prince Legolas.  We all were very fond of him.  Why Haldir and the others would talk of him now, I do not know.  He has been gone a long time.  Please do not trouble yourself any further on my account.”

Storm’s pace became so rapid Legolas almost had to jog to keep up with her.  When her pace had become almost a sprint, Legolas could no longer hold his tongue stoically.   “Storm, for pity’s sake, please slow down!  I am better than yesterday but cannot keep up this pace.  I am sorry that I have upset you again but can we not stop for awhile?!”  Legolas was panting hard, clutching a stitch in his injured side.

Storm stopped abruptly and swung around to face him.  Tears were unmistakably glittering in her eyes.  One slid slowly down her flushed cheek.  Something stirred deep in Legolas’ at the sight of her proud but vulnerable face.  He understood in an instant that Storm hated her tears, and wished them to not have been witnessed.  Abruptly, Storm roughly wiped her face with her sleeve and dropped her backpack on the ground.  She knelt down and rummaged through it.  She silently dropped the water bag and a piece of lembas onto Legolas’ lap where he was now sitting in a bed of Mellryn blooms.

“I am very sorry,” she said hoarsely.  “I did not mean to overtax you.”  She quickly strode out of Legolas’ view.

Legolas quickly recovered but Storm did not return.  He felt compelled to find her and ease this growing rift between them.  He discovered she had not wandered far.  He found her sitting with her back to the trunk of another Melloran tree, yellow blossoms spread across her lap.  She was no longer weeping but her gaze was very distant.  Legolas knelt by her side and tentatively picked up one of her small calloused hands in his own.  “I am truly sorry.  For everything that has gone wrong between us since last night.”

Storm met his eyes and looked at him long and hard.  He again felt as if she were examining his soul.  Suddenly her gaze softened.  “As am I.”  To Legolas’ surprise she did not pull her hand away.  Instead, she examined the way their hands looked together.  Her voice was very, very soft.  “Ainaloss and I would sit for hours under these same trees, holding hands and talking about anything and everything.  I never thought we would be parted and that I would have to go on without him. . .  My aunt worries that I dwell too much in the past, that I remain frozen in time.”

Legolas sat himself down next to Storm, careful not to let go of her hand.  “It is very hard to lose someone we love so deeply, particularly when it is the fate of our people to have the ages to mourn,” Legolas said gently.

“And have you experienced such loss, Legolas of Mirkwood?”  Storm asked, searching his face.

“I have felt loss, have lost family, lost friends.  But never a lover,” Legolas said truthfully.  “I cannot say that I have lived through the same pain you feel over losing Ainaloss but I look into your eyes and see its depth.  You have not allowed others to help you heal.  I can understand your aunt’s concern.”  He too found himself examining the way her small hand fit into his larger one, as though it was always meant to be there. “What would Ainaloss say to you, if he were here now?”  Legolas asked her, his eyes probing her face.

Storm did not look away.  She seemed to mull his question over.  “He would tell me that to close myself off from the world and others is no tribute to him or our love.  He loved life.  He loved this world.  He would want me to embrace the future with my heart open.  He always felt that I kept myself too hidden.  That I pushed away the very people who wanted to be close to me.”

Legolas found himself tenderly pushing a stray curl off of Storm’s grave face.  “Ainaloss must have been very special, for you to let him become so close to you.”  Legolas realized for the first time how lovely Storm was when a tender smile of memory lit up her face.

“He had just always been there.  We were children together and every time I turned around he was at my side.  I believe I just got used to him.  Sometimes I believe he was the only one in Lothlorien who truly knew my heart.  Who cared nothing about who my father was— only who I am inside my heart and soul.  I miss that more than anything else about him.”

Suddenly, Legolas was extremely conscious of the feel of Storm’s warm hand in his own, of the feel of her breath against his cheek— he had only to move a few inches to bring his mouth to hers.  As though she could sense the turn of his thoughts, Storm suddenly let go of his hand, looking very self-conscious.

“We have tarried overlong, Legolas.  We need to move on if we are to reach the heart Lothlorien by nightfall.”  She looked at him shyly through her eyelashes, “I do thank you for your kindness and empathy—you have brought ease to my heart.”  A slight blush touched her cheeks.  Suddenly Legolas was again in no hurry to reach the city of Galadrium, but now the reasons for this felt very different.

Read Chapter Eight

© Christine Elizabeth Ray – All Rights Reserved

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