Disclaimer: Not one Elf.

Author's Note: So… I've been crazy busy, but I have a bit of time now. I intended that this should be a one-shot, but it ran away from me a little. Updates will be slower than usual, but since each part of this fic is standalone, it shouldn't leave anyone in too much suspense.

This is a direct sequel to Betrayal and will make no sense unless you've read that first.

Summary: In the aftermath of the events of Betrayal, the Elves of the Woodland Realm must come to terms with everything that has happened.


Afterwards

One Day Later: Melda

Melda stands in her bedroom alone. She has not seen Feredir and Calathiel since Thranduil confronted her with the poisoned honey pot.

She has barely even seen her father.

She wonders if he is angrier because she induced him to suspect Calathiel, or because she nearly succeeded in killing his beloved young archer. For all his panicked scrambling to keep Legolas' injury hidden from Thranduil, Melda knows, knows with the certainty of one who lives with that knowledge every day of her life, that Thorontur loves Legolas as fiercely as he loves any of his own children.

She does not begrudge Legolas her father's affection. How could she? He is the motherless youth who grew into the prince the Woodland Realm desperately needed. He is the archer who stepped effortlessly into her father's shoes, letting him give up active battle when the centuries of bloodshed began to weigh on his soul.

He is the warrior Feredir always wanted to be but never could.

Melda does not begrudge Legolas her father's affection, but she cannot forgive him for claiming it.

Her eyes are unseeing as she folds gowns and wraps books in oilskin to preserve them from the elements. Middle-earth is the only home she has ever known. She has not yet felt the call of Eldamar across the Sea. She should feel all the grief of her departure, but the truth is that she feels nothing.

Legolas is weak.

She said that in court.

Legolas is weak. She knows that is true. A strong Elf – a strong leader – would have had the courage to see Melda's trial through to its logical conclusion. A strong Elf would have had the stomach for justice. He would not have begged the King for clemency that Melda neither wanted nor needed.

Legolas is weak.

Melda glances out the window. The afternoon sun hangs low in the sky. She has a few more hours.

At the foot of the talan are two of the Royal Guard. As much as she would like to think they are there to ensure she does not attempt Legolas' life again, she knows they are there to protect her. The King may have spared her, but Legolas' archers are fiercely loyal to him. He would not yet have been strong enough to extol to them the virtues of mercy.

There is a sharp knock at the door.

Melda thinks ruefully that a warrior would have known someone was in the talan.

When she opens it, her father is standing there. She knows he would have tried his utmost to persuade Thranduil to spare her life, if Legolas had not already done it, and even if the Elven-prince had died. But it would have been purely out of sense of duty. There is no spark of warmth in his grey eyes.

"I spoke to the King of your request," he says. "Legolas is willing to see you before you leave."

"Alone?"

"Yes, alone, although that is against the King's counsel – and, I must add, my own."

"What can I do to harm the finest archer the Woodland Realm has ever seen?" Melda is unsuccessful at keeping the bitterness from her tone. "He will not drink anything I give him, and I am certain he has recovered enough strength that I could never overpower him."

Her father stares at her as though he does not know her. She does not know him, either. The last few weeks have changed him. He risked Legolas' life to protect his children. Whether or not he forgives Melda for her role in it, he will never forgive himself. He has shamed himself in his own eyes, and forfeited the trust of one of his closest friends.

Melda still cannot bring herself to regret her actions.

"Why?" her father says at last. "Why would you do this thing?"

"Legolas is weak –"

"I am not asking for the answer you gave the court."

"If you are wilfully blind…" Melda shrugs. "Legolas is not what you believe he is."

"Nor, it would appear, are you."

"Why try to protect me, then?" There is a challenge in her voice. "You were willing to beg my life of Thranduil. You would have done it –"

"I would never have succeeded," he snaps. "You owe your continued existence to Legolas. No other Elf in all Middle-earth could have persuaded Thranduil to spare the life of one who tried to kill his son. A little gratitude would not be amiss."

Melda does not miss the fact that he avoided her question. She decides to ignore the evasion. "When can I see him?"

"Go at once… And, Melda, do nothing foolish. Not even Nienna will summon any pity for your fate if you try to harm him now."

Melda does not wait to respond.

She avoids the archery ranges and the sparring fields. Even so, every Elf she passes looks at her as though she is a viper. There are hisses and mutters of Traitor and Murderer in her wake. She forces herself to keep walking as though she has not heard.

Arahael meets her as she is crossing the courtyard.

She warns him with a glance to say nothing incriminating. There is nothing to connect him to any of this. The King might suspect, but nobody has any proof that Arahael was involved.

"Melda."

She knows that tone. It is the tone of one who has faced grief and found it too difficult to bear and is now frightened of his own thoughts. It is the tone of one who will not let himself feel for fear that his feelings will overwhelm him.

"I am sorry for your loss," Melda says quietly.

Arahael nods. "I am sorry you must go."

He takes her hands for a moment. He does not say a word, but she sees in his face that, however great his sorrow and despair, he has not given up.

Legolas is in his study, alone, as promised, although Eredhion and Voronwë are waiting outside the door. She does not know where the others are, but she suspects Legolas ordered them away to prevent any complications.

Her experienced healer's eye notes that he is still a little pale, his cheeks a little hollow, but other than that he appears much as usual. He is dressed in the greens and browns of the archers. Even with no weapons in sight, he looks every inch the warrior he is.

Legolas might understand why she had to do what she did.

She waits for his invitation before he sits. If Legolas is angry, he does not show it. His blue eyes are calm and questioning – and, devoid of their normal merry glint, almost frightening.

"I have come to explain," Melda says. "I did not tell the King everything in court. You deserve to know the truth."

Legolas inclines his head in acknowledgement, but says nothing.

"I did it myself. It was my decision. I want that understood. Nobody else is to blame."

Legolas raises an eyebrow. "I thought you were going to give me the truth."

"That is the truth. Why should I blame the dead for my own crimes? It is enough that they must answer to Lord Námo for theirs. Míron could never have persuaded me into high treason if it had not already been in my mind."

"Why was it in your mind?"

"Look at you." Melda suits the action to the word. "I knew your father before you were born, Legolas. We were just beginning to realize that the Enemy had not been utterly defeated and would soon come upon us again. We were frightened. It was a dark time. It was easy to see that the King was not entirely certain he wanted a child. But… well, Queen Lindariel could be very persuasive. And then you came."

"I trust you have a point."

"My point is that you came. You brought joy to your parents, as all children do, and you also brought hope to the realm. But children grow up, Legolas. When Feredir grew up, it was quite clear that he would never be the warrior my father was. You cannot imagine how much he wanted it."

"I understand."

"Of course you do not understand. How could you understand? When you were born, you were a symbol of hope. When you grew up, you were the perfect son to the Elven-king – a fine warrior, unmatched in bowmanship, reckless in your worst moments but indescribably brave in your best. You have more loyalty from your archers than even your father. Everyone saw it. My father saw it. He loved you even more for it. And Feredir, no matter how he tried, was never going to be a match for the warrior-prince of Eryn Galen."

"You never believed anything Míron said about the realm being better off without me, did you?"

"Oh, I did, but not as you think. As you know, I was in Imladris some time ago to learn from Lord Elrond and the healers of the Noldor. I happened to overhear Lord Elrond speaking to Lady Celebrían." Melda can feel her cheeks heating. Absurdly, she is guiltier about eavesdropping than about anything else she has done. "You know Lord Elrond has the gift of foresight. He said exactly what I said in court, which, no doubt, has been repeated to you. You must not be here when the final battle comes. And it will fall to you, to Mithrandir, and to others not yet born, to make decisions that might save Middle-earth, or give it into the Enemy's hands."

Melda glances at Legolas' face. There is no surprise in it.

"Mithrandir has already given you an indication of this," she surmises. "Or perhaps Lord Elrond has. I believed what I heard, of course, but I am no fool. I know that is not reason enough for murder. We cannot always understand what the Wise mean, particularly when they speak of things that are yet to come."

"And you chose to disclose what you heard to Míron."

"Feredir is my brother." Melda clasps her hands on her knee. "Your existence has made every day of his life difficult. I know that was not your intention. It is not your fault. It never has been. You have done your duty. Do not misunderstand me; Feredir is your friend. He would not for a moment dream of betraying you. But I have seen how it has grieved him that you have been everything that he could never be to our father… Calathiel sees it as well. That was why she was so desperate to be allowed to accompany the archers into battle. She thought, I believe, that she could make up for the fact that none of us risks as much in the defence of the realm as the warriors do."

There is no anger in Legolas' face now. He looks almost compassionate. Melda tells herself that is a sign of weakness.

"Melda, you know that the work you do is as important as anything –"

"As anything the warriors do. I know. I know, but that does not make it any easier when I hear whispers that my brother is a coward and my father a hypocrite. But the very fact that you say that means that you do not understand how it feels, and you never can."

Legolas studies her. "Do you truly imagine taking my life would have given you peace?"

"Of course not. I am no fool. I know the burden killing an Elf would have placed on my soul. For sparing me that, at least, I suppose I owe thanks to Saeldur. Do not try to understand, Legolas, because you will fail. You should be grateful that you cannot understand. For all the griefs you have endured, you have been spared this."

"If you think I cannot understand," says Legolas, "why did you want to come and explain yourself? Surely you can put your last few hours in Eryn Galen to better use."

"I do not want you to blame my father."

There is a flash of something in Legolas' eyes. For a fleeting moment, Melda is frightened, as she realizes that it is not the merry prince sitting opposite her, but a very skilled and very dangerous Elven warrior. As quickly as it comes, it is gone, and Legolas' face is expressionless.

"You have enough to answer for, Lady Melda," he says. "There is no need for you to take on the burden of Lord Thorontur's decisions."

"It is not that simple. I have caused him grief I did not intend. If I am sorry for anything…"

Legolas leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. "It should please you that your father was willing to protect his children at any cost. Surely that answers many of your objections to my existence."

"It was my mother's assurances and my persuasion that swayed him. Left to himself, he would have spoken openly to you. You were far too unwell to know how frightened he was, and he hid it from everyone else, but I saw it. He was desperately terrified that he would lose either you or his youngest daughter. He was terrified to ask himself which loss would be heavier. When we offered him a glimmer of hope, he snatched at it." Melda draws in a deep breath. "I promised you the truth, and I will give it to you. The knowledge that my father would risk your life should give me solace. But I have seen what it has done to him. He hates himself."

"I do not know what you expect me to do."

"That is why I am here. I would not have asked for mercy for myself. I knew what I was doing, and I was willing to pay the price. You gave me mercy unasked." Melda has to steel herself for her next words. "Legolas, please. I know you owe me nothing. I am here to ask for mercy for my father."

"Your father will not be standing trial. I imagine you know that."

"But he has forfeited your trust, and that is a far worse punishment than anything the Council might do to him. I… I know I cannot ask you to trust him, but… but can you not give him a chance to earn your faith again? Your father might never forgive him, Lord Arbellason might not… And he will never forgive himself, or me. But if you… if you will… If you can find it in your heart to show him mercy, he might at least forgive my mother."

Melda finally meets Legolas' eyes. She can read nothing in them.

"Legolas," she begins, but he shakes his head to cut her off.

"I think we have said everything there is to say on the subject of your actions, Lady Melda."

"Will you think on my request?"

"I understand you have decided to take ship to the Blessed Realm. I hope you will have good sailing."

It is not a promise to grant her request. But it is not a refusal, either. Perhaps it is all she can hope for at this time.

"Thank you," she says quietly, getting to her feet. "And I hope…" She hesitates. "The greatest war of our Age is coming. I hope your courage will not fail you. Goodbye, Legolas."

Without waiting for his response, Melda goes to prepare for her last journey in Middle-earth.


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