Rating: R

Pairings: Aragorn/Legolas, Boromir/Legolas
Category: AU, First-Time, Romance, Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort

Summary: Legolas and Aragorn steal a few moments, which seem to make all the difference.

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

Chapter Five

By Rhysenn

       
A pair of messengers from Rohan had arrived in Minas Tirith at dawn, heralding the arrival of King Éomer later that same day. The newly crowned King of the Mark was on his royal progress through Gondor, having already visited Dol Amroth, Osgiliath and Lossarnach. The delegation from Rohan would stay a night in Minas Tirith, before returning to Edoras.

If the journey proceeded without delay, Aragorn estimated that King Éomer would arrive at the city by late afternoon. There was much preparation to be done ó adequate lodging in the palace for the royal host had been arranged, and a special feast planned for that evening. However, Aragorn was looking forward to Éomerís visit, for they were dear friends; they had known each other since the time Aragorn rode with the Rohirrim many years ago, and they shared a deep mutual respect.

Aragorn went to the kingís private study to speak with him about the arrangements. Boromir was there, his brow furrowed as he reviewed a scroll in his hands; what appeared to be the monthly harvest report, judging from the displeasure on his face. A frost unlooked-for had cut through the pale warmth of Spring, blighting flowers on branches and sprouting grains. Harvest would be thin this summer.

Boromir looked up, and saw Aragorn waiting. With a brisk smile, he waved his steward in as he put the scroll away and signalled for the doors to be closed behind them. Royal matters were always discussed in private.

"My lord," Aragorn greeted; he spoke so out of habit, of late, rather than out of respect. "I have spoken with the court officials who will be present at the palace to welcome King Éomer and his company when they arrive. The best stables have been cleared for the horses of Rohan, and the stalls decorated with banners."

"Very good." Boromir was pleased. "Spare no expense for the Rohirrim. It has been two winters since I rode to Edoras, and their hospitality was impressive indeed. Now that we are the hosts, I want their stay in Minas Tirith to be no less than exquisite."

"The dishes for the feast you have already approved," Aragorn continued. "Preparations are underway as we speak, and ó"

"The elf," Boromir interrupted curtly; he missed the tension that tightened the expression on Aragornís face. "He must be magnificently arrayed for the feast ó I would not conceal the living treasure of Minas Tirith from our honoured guests."

Aragorn steeled himself before he gave a reply.

"That might not be the best course of action, my lord," he said quietly, his voice hard with an inscrutable emotion. "Perhaps it would be more prudent to excuse Legolas from the dinner feast."

"Why should I?" Arrogance sparked in Boromirís voice, and he regarded Aragorn incredulously. "Legolas is a prize of our land, and I dare wager that no one in Gondor owns a possession as fair and beautiful as he is. And surely Éomer would have heard that we leased Ithilien in exchange for something of great value ó greater than land itself, which men have been known to fight and even die for."

Boromir halted for a moment; he looked almost pensive. "And I have no doubt that men would die to have Legolas. Even just once."

"Rohan has enacted no law legalising slavery in their lands," Aragorn said, in earnest endeavour. "They will not understand."

"The men of Rohan are warriors, Aragorn," Boromir said, a smile curling his proud mouth. "They are familiar with bloodlust, the use of force to gain what they desire ó and most of all, they will understand the seductive power of dominion over living flesh."

From the impassioned tone of Boromirís words, Aragorn could see the king felt every heated pulse of that twisted pleasure, which he spoke of with such praise; it made Aragornís skin crawl.

Boromirís dark eyes were lit with excited fire as he continued, "They will admire my slave. They will want him, they will feel themselves clench ó" Boromir gripped his fist into a tight ball for emphasis, "with burning need, as their eyes run over my elfís perfect body, the same way their hands also yearn to."

Boromir paused, and smiled grimly. "And they will know that he is mine."

The silence was strung with an unbearable tension; fired by the intoxication of taking without asking, the filthy heat of lust.

Finally Aragorn spoke. "How will inciting your guests to such jealousy contribute to their comfort?" He swallowed without meaning to. "There is much bitterness in yearning for what belongs to another. Surely that should not be our gift of hospitality to them."

"There are many palace slaves, male and female, with which they can take their ease," Boromir answered dismissively. "No doubt the foremost intention of this dinner feast is to celebrate King Éomerís ascension to the throne ó but of equal concern should be the enhancement of the status of Minas Tirith in the eyes of our royal visitors."

The wild glint was still apparent in Boromirís eye. "Edoras still has not passed legislation on slavery in the lands of Rohan. Their royals have not experienced the pleasure of holding complete control over another being, the bending a slave to their will in any way they please. But tonight, they shall see how wondrous it can be to own a beautiful creature like my elf, and this will awaken a desire in them to have slaves of their own ó but of course, never as exquisite as Legolas."

"Not all men are ruled by their physical instincts," Aragorn answered; his voice faltered almost imperceptibly. "However natural these may be in the presence of such beauty."

Boromir gave a short laugh. "Ah, noble Aragorn. I am aware of your choice to take no personal slave of your own..." he trailed off suggestively, "but I have always wondered if this was because you preferred variety without liability." He grinned broadly. "Come now, we talk honestly as between two friends. Do I speak truly?"

Aragorn stared at Boromir with barely concealed disbelief. How the king construed his refusal to own a slave as a sign of his desiring wanton indulgence without restraint was beyond Aragornís reckoning.

"No, lord," Aragorn replied, his tone carefully wiped clean of emotion to reveal nothing. "I choose not to hold a servant to my bidding because I see no requirement for such." Not entirely true, of course, but Aragorn had more shrewdness than to voice his loathing about a practice that the king so clearly relished. "The palace is abundantly served by capable workers, and on every occasion my needs are promptly fulfilled."

"So do you mean to say," Boromir quirked an eyebrow, amusement twitching on the sides of his mouth, "that your... every need is well met?"

Aragorn immediately understood what the king really meant; he cleared his throat, and felt heat burn on his cheeks.

"My opinion is that such... intimate bonds," he reproached himself for hesitating on the words, "should be shared under the premise of a more enduring relationship than merely the taking of a nightís ease."

"Well!" Boromir clapped Aragorn genially on the shoulder with a rumble of deep laughter. "How very noble, and the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. Let us hope that the Rohirrim do not share your opinions!" As if on an afterthought, he added, "But then, men of war think differently."

Aragorn bristled inwardly at the insinuation; his fists were clenched tightly by his sides, and his knuckles felt as if they would split from being stretched white-thin. He forced himself not to respond, as Boromir resumed pacing in front of him.

"King Éomer would likely want to consolidate support from his people, and what better way than to grant them indulgence as a way of life?" He paused. "And just imagine the immense potential for additional trade between Minas Tirith and the kingdom of Rohan! They will have a great demand for thralls; upon which I am sure we can negotiate lucrative deals beneficial for all parties involved."

"Legolas is one of the Elves ó they are ill at ease in a hall of stone, enclosed and cavernous, filled with people," Aragorn tried once again, although his powers of dissuasion seemed to have no effect on the king. "And the presence of strangers may unsettle him. There is far too much at stake to take unnecessary chances."

Boromirís lips twisted in wry deprecation; and for a moment, his hard expression softened slightly. Aragorn felt a rise of hope that Legolas might be spared another humiliating experience of being paraded in front of a hall full of Men, who saw him as little more than a pretty possession to be used for pleasure.

Boromirís pleasure.

A lump forced itself into Aragornís throat, and he closed his eyes briefly. It hurt, somewhere deep within him, and he wanted it to stop, to stop tormenting him with the yearning for what could never be his.

"Prepare the elf for the feast tonight." Boromirís resolute command shattered the tentative hope, and Aragornís spirits plummeted; he had to control himself from reacting out of his frustration and helpless anger.

"I fear this may be folly," Aragorn pressed on, unable to relinquish this last chance to save Legolas some suffering. He dropped his voice slightly. "You know how Legolas resisted you during Spring Feast, even in front of all the grandees. This may be a celebratory visit for Éomer and his host, but should anything go poorly, the political repercussions could be serious indeed." Aragorn fixed Boromir with a steady look. "It is not worth the risk."

"There is no cause for worry," Boromir answered confidently. "Yes, the elf made an embarrassment of himself on his first night in Minas Tirith; but since then I have taught him obedience ó the meaning of complete submission, as well as the pleasure that can be found in being mine."

Pleasure? Aragorn only just choked back the enraged splutter that rose in his throat, bitter as bile. In his mind flashed the fresh memories of Legolasís wounds, from the red streaks on the insides of his thighs that first night, to the dark crease of rope burn on Legolasís wrists only this morning.

"It is not as it seems, of course," Boromir continued; and Aragorn was startled. Had he been that transparent, or did Boromir feel the need to justify what he knew Aragorn would have seen in the cold light of each morning? "Legolas has more than his share of pleasure every night. And he never fails to communicate his enjoyment." Boromir laughed. "I should consider sound proofing the chamber doors; the guards on night duty must surely be embarrassed."

Aragorn felt distinctly sick. He wanted to say something, to tell the king that hurting Legolas the way he did was not pleasure, it could not be; but then a voice at the back of his mind reminded him that he might be wrong. Aragorn knew of how some people relished the kiss of whips and the embrace of chains; who was he to say that Legolas did not find secret, sinful pleasure in the taste of pain? After all, the elf never spoke of his experiences in the kingís bed; except for the evidence of dark bruises or teeth marks, Aragorn had no way to know for certain.

Except when he looked into Legolasís eyes. Then he knew without a doubt that a broken spirit could not possibly have enjoyed the breaking.

"The elfís behaviour at the feast will not be a cause for concern," Boromir stated affirmatively. "He will perform exactly as I demand of him. After all," a thin smile turned his mouth upwards, "Legolas has had plenty of practice."

Aragornís blunt fingernails cut into the flesh of his palm. The sting felt delicious. With a jolt, Aragorn realised the powerfully numbing intoxication of pain. Perhaps Legolas had discovered this as well.

"Ready my slave for the feast," Boromir commanded. "Dress him in the finest; that is what he deserves."

"I will see to that at once," Aragorn managed stiffly. As he departed from the kingís study, Aragorn glanced back over his shoulder ó Boromir had picked up the scroll and was once more absorbed in it.

At that precise moment, Aragorn felt the heated stirrings of some great, terrible emotion, black as if charred by a flame of pain, too long closed within the palm of oneís hand. And he knew exactly what it was.

Hate was a dangerous thing.

       

"Please do not make me do this!" Legolasís voice was filled with pleading. "I beg of you. Please!"

"The host from Rohan will only be here for the dinner feast." Aragorn tried to calm the distraught elf. "And I promise you that I will not let them lay a hand on you."

"It is not them I fear!" Legolasís eyes sparked with twin fires of frustration and anguish. "And you cannot protect me from everything."

"Do not make this harder than it already is, Legolas," Aragorn said despairingly. "It is not my choice ó the king has commanded it."

"Then your king deserves no such title!" Legolas exploded, unable to contain his emotion any longer.

"Be quiet!" Aragorn hissed; the two-leaved doors to his quarters were open, and he spun around in fear that someone had overheard the elfís words. The doorway was empty; Aragorn strode over to check the corridors as well. No one was there. Relieved, he closed the doors behind him, and turned back to Legolas.

"Do not openly speak that way of the king," Aragorn cautioned firmly. "You will be punished if you are heard."

There was a moment of silence, like a heartbeat of eternity.

"Such a man is one you call your king." Legolasís expression hardened. "Why do you still serve him?"

"I serve Gondor," Aragorn replied staunchly.

"Among my kindred, a king will go to war and ride at the helm of his host; he is willing to die if it means that even the smallest one of his people will be saved." Legolas paused significantly, then added, "But I suppose that such is not your way of life."

Aragorn advanced towards him so abruptly that even Legolas was startled; and there was a sudden fire kindled in the stewardís grey eyes.

"A true king of Men will ride into battle, and fight for those he loves until his dying breath," Aragorn said intensely. "Do not mock the culture of a kindred different from yours, Legolas ó there is much that you do not know about our race."

"Perhaps I do not. So tell me," Legolas said softly, "is the loss of beauty also part of your way of life?"

Aragorn was thrown by Legolasís question. "What do you mean?"

"You live in a fortress of stone ó a prison hewn from a cliff of solid rock. Gates rear up wherever you look, and there are seven levels of metal teeth dividing your city. There are no wooded forest lands, and even the small palace gardens are constantly clipped and prevented from thriving. The only tree in sight is a grotesque, withered mockery of all things living, as it stands dead in the middle of your courtyard." Legolas paused, and drew a deep breath. "The only use left for it is to serve as a reminder of the decay of this city, that once must have been great ó but yet, no one pays it any heed."

Legolas broke off; Aragorn said nothing in reply for a long while. However, when he raised his eyes to meet the elfís, in them was a new spirit forged of old pain and new hope.

"Do you think I do not see the ugliness masked behind the White Tower, and everything it now stands for?" Aragornís voice was low and fervent. "I am not blind, Legolas, nor ignorant ó Minas Tirith has fallen into its own trap of decadence and selfishness. But I have travelled far and witnessed many things, and have come to know the bitter histories of Men and Elves alike. Through it all, I have learned that there can be no perfect world to live in."

"Men are cynical," Legolas replied. "That is their folly."

"Elves are stubborn," Aragorn said. "And that is theirs. They refuse to let go of the golden days of their ancestors, which has long since been lost ó they spend their time on Middle-earth in sorrow and regret, yearning for the Sea."

"If that is so," Legolas countered, "then the doom of Men is that they forget too easily. But maybe we are not that different after all. For we share the same fate ó to watch things around us fall apart, and yet have no power to halt it."

"But I believe that there will come a time when Middle-earth will change for the better," Aragorn said fervently. "If those to whom this fairer fate is entrusted have the strength to carry out the task appointed to them." He paused, and sighed heavily. "But who can speak for the future? Right now, we are left to live for the day, to fight for ourselves and those we hold dear."

Aragorn stopped speaking; and only then did he realise that as he spoke, he had drawn closer and closer to the elf ó now they stood merely inches apart. Aragorn found himself looking deeply into Legolasís eyes ó it was like gazing into the vast night, seeing the stars shining from a remote distance, unwavering lights in the darkness.

"Why do you think I took it upon myself to heal you personally when you were in pain that night of Spring Feast?" Aragornís voice was quiet, but in the stillness of the enclosed chamber it was clear as a bell. "Did you not realise that you were the exception, rather than the norm?"

A new light of understanding dawned in Legolasís eyes, and his expression softened, like the edge of a starlit sky giving way to gentle rain; a single word fell from his lips. "Why?"

"Because I wanted to," Aragorn answered simply; the tenderness in his gaze spoke more eloquently than he could ever have voiced.

"You are not like your people," Legolas said in a soft whisper, not breaking their intense contact. "You are far more noble ó and there is a passion in you, which is akin to the spirit that we sing of in our elven-lore."

"I have dwelt with your kindred before." Aragornís voice wavered slightly. "But it was a long time ago."

"Then do you still think of the beauty you once knew?" Legolas asked; there was tone of desperate, heart-rending hopefulness in his voice. "Can you still remember what it means to love?"

And at that moment, it seemed to Aragorn that the shadow that hung like a pall over his mind was lifted; everything suddenly became clear, and gazing at Legolas he remembered the innocence and joy he once knew... and so much more.

Fully aware of what he was doing, he stepped forward and kissed Legolas.

He felt Legolas stiffen, but the elf did not pull away. Aragorn placed his hands on Legolasís shoulders, and gently pulled him closer, until he felt the warmth of the elfís body against his own; he was also sure that Legolas could feel the rapid beating of his heart.

Then gradually, Legolas began to respond; his lips parted to receive Aragornís tongue as it flickered out against his. Aragorn kissed him slowly, taking his time to savour the exquisite taste of the elfís mouth, not forcing him to deepen the kiss any more than he was willing to.

Holding Legolas and kissing him was more than just an exhilarating sensation; it brought a liberation like Aragorn had never known before. The hollow ache that had been gnawing deep inside him dissipated, replaced by a wonderful heat that burned like liquid fire in his veins. Aragorn wished the moment would last forever; but as all beautiful things, it passed too soon, and left a vivid memory that would stay in his mind for as long as he lived.

Aragorn drew back almost reluctantly, the taste of Legolasís lips still lingering on his own.

Legolasís eyes were still closed, his mouth parted as if in a silent whisper of things too beautiful and fragile to be articulated. Then dark silver lashes fluttered open, revealing eyes that shone like stars at midnight, which were filled with disbelief and wonder and hope.

"Aragorn." Hearing his own name from Legolasís lips for the first time sent a warm tingle through Aragorn, awakening something within him so intense that it burned, burned terribly. He never imagined something that felt so perfect could hurt so badly.

Suddenly there were muffled voices from just outside the hallway. Aragorn cursed himself for a fool; the door was not locked. They wheeled apart, and Legolas swiftly moved a respectable distance away from Aragorn just as the doorknob turned, and in walked Boromir; no one else would have entered the stewardís quarters without first knocking.

Aragorn quickly stepped forward, forcing a cordial smile onto his face. He tensed as he saw Boromirís gaze flicker over to Legolas; from the corner of Aragornís eye he saw the elf standing aside, his posture graceful and unaffected. That was more than Aragorn could say for himself.

"I have given Legolas instructions regarding the visitors from Rohan," Aragorn spoke up. "He will be ready for the feast tonight."

Boromirís dark eyes remained on Legolas for a beat longer than necessary. Aragornís heart lurched. Could he have guessed? The fear of Legolasís punishment was his only surpassing fear. He stole a glance in the elfís direction ó Legolas was holding his masterís look evenly, his expression wiped clean of emotion.

Boromir finally broke his close scrutiny of the elf and looked back at his steward again.

"There is one more thing I would have him wear," Boromir said; he extended his hand, and in his palm something glinted, catching Aragornís eye.

It was a silver headband. He took it from Boromirís outstretched hand. The edge was handcrafted with great skill, embellished with the carvings of leaves and flowers entwined in an unbroken vine all along the arc of the rim. Jewels, white and gold, were studded along the curlicues of the engraved vines, and the entire headband was like a circle of starlight, captured with mysterious craft.

"A silver headband upon the crown of the head has long been held as a symbol of pledged love," Boromir tilted the headband, and admired as it caught the golden light of day. "This one bears the craftsmanship of the Elves." He glanced up at Legolas, his mouth curling. "How very appropriate."

Legolas kept his silence, although Aragorn could see that the elfís body was drawn tense, his shoulders held straight, his head tilted at an angle that spoke of implicit defiance. There was a new fire in his eyes, reminiscent of the unbridled spirit that had blazed in them the first day he arrived in Minas Tirith; before darkness fell in many ways.

Boromir, either challenged by Legolasís silence or drawn by his effortless attraction, strode towards the elf. Dark eyes surveyed his property from head to foot; Legolas held his ground, a barely perceptible flinch shuddering through him as Boromir suddenly snatched his wrists, holding them up for scrutiny. The rope burns, only from the night before, stood out starkly against pale skin like scorched bracelets.

"Cover these up." Boromirís tone was filled with disgust; he dropped Legolasís wrists and turned to Aragorn. "I want him completely unmarked when he appears at the feast."

"Please." Legolasís soft voice from behind him made Boromir look back at the elf once again, surprised. Legolasís face was etched with a shadow of deep pain, and he kept his eyes downcast. "Please, let me be excused from the hall this evening."

Boromir looked startled by Legolasís imploration; then he moved so fast that, when Aragorn blinked, the next thing he saw was Legolas pushed up against the wall, his head jerked back from the pull of Boromirís right hand tangled in his hair. Instinctively Aragorn rushed forward, but forced himself not to drag Boromir off Legolas; that would reveal far too much.

"What did you say, slave?" he heard Boromir hiss, the cruel words punctuated by a vicious shake.

Legolas, for his part, wisely remained silent; but his lack of reply seemed to anger Boromir even more. The fist in Legolasís hair tightened, and the elf winced; but he became still, because struggling only added to the painful pressure on his scalp. Aragorn drew a sharp intake of breath.

"You will do everything I want." Boromirís voice was now deadly soft. "Exactly the way I want you to." Legolas closed his eyes, and Boromir shoved him roughly against the wall one more time before releasing him. He turned on his heel, and cast Aragorn a dark look.

"Do not waste too much valuable time on the elf." Boromir strode toward the door, and tossed over his shoulder, "I want all the guards marshalled at the Gates for the welcome salute. Make sure you see to that promptly."

Legolas remained leaning against the wall, looking shaken; then his eyes fluttered open, and he watched the king depart from Aragornís quarters. Gradually the colour flowed back into his face, together with an overwhelming sadness. Hope dimmed, and faded to darkness.

Aragorn met Legolasís gaze, before his eyes looked down at the jewelled headband he held in his hands. He felt sickened at the thought of his task ahead. He had to make Legolas wear this band upon his head as a symbol of free choice, when in truth the elf had none. Legolas had to behave as Boromirís lover despite the invisible chains he suffered, with nothing except the dire threat of punishment at Boromirís hands to impel him to do so.

Aragorn slowly walked towards Legolas, and only halted when they were standing very close. Legolas did not move away, only gazed at him, his eyes glistening.

"Believe me, Legolas," Aragorn said in a low voice, frayed with suppressed emotion. "More than anything else, I wish I did not have to make you do this."

Wordlessly Legolas bowed his head in acquiescence; with a heavy heart, Aragorn raised the headband, and slid it upon Legolasís crown. The silver band complemented the elfís fair blond hair beautifully, but Aragorn could not bear to look on it.

He stepped back, and the words left his mouth with an aching sadness: "I am sorry."

"Do not be." Legolas spoke quietly; he looked up, and his eyes shimmered with a rare light. "I would wear this for you, Aragorn."

Before Aragorn could respond to the elfís words or the deeper meanings they held, Legolas stepped forward and kissed him.

Legolasís mouth tasted of perfection. Aragorn closed his eyes and let himself go, falling into the simple, sweet pleasure of this moment that should never have to end. Aragorn ran his fingers through Legolasís silky hair, tilting his head slightly to deepen the kiss; he felt Legolasís hands tighten on his shoulders. They kissed more urgently, as if they were desperately clinging to something they both knew would be taken from them.

When they finally melted apart, Aragornís mouth was tingling with sweet fire, still too pure to be quenched by the bitterness and longing that was sure to follow. Legolas was gazing at him, his lips flushed from feverish kissing, his cheeks coloured with warmth.

"You have to go," Legolas said softly, although looking into his eyes Aragorn could see that the elf wanted him to do anything but that. He knew his own eyes reflected the same wistfulness, the same sense of... loss, even though nothing had been gained except the fleeting taste of what might have been.

Aragornís voice was a whisper. "I know."


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