Eloissa came and sat beside him in one of the empty chairs amongst the growing number of empty tables. Legolas smiled at her and she smiled back. With complete ease and comfort she forcibly moved his arms so that she could lean into his side, warped both her arms around his chest and laid her head upon his shoulder. Gently, he laid his head on top of hers.
"I know I've said this around nine times already, but I really am glad that you came home."
He smiled even though he knew she couldn't see it, "And for the tenth time I'll tell you I'm certain it's not comparable to me coming home and seeing so many of you here waiting for me."
They sat in mutual and comfortable silence. The kind that only hangs in the depths of old forests where no human, elf, or dwarf have visited in long years. The kind that settles over you when you swim to the depths of the water and lookup so that you can just barely make out the surface. The kind that lives in the hearts and souls of those who have known each other closely since they care to remember.
"Wheres Ava?" Eloissa asked, and Legolas had to laugh a little bit because if she wasn't within the immediate eye line of him that seemed to be the first question anybody seemed to ask.
"With Farlen by the stage, under our oak."
Her head only moved long enough to turn and check, she didn't dispute his claim and so Legolas assumed Avaleina hadn't moved, "Ah, good. She's finally asleep and truly resting."
Legolas tried to keep his voice from being obviously curious at her relieved tone, "Oh, and why is that so good?"
Eloissa hesitated for a second before answering, Ava had probably made Eloissa promise to not tell him so many things about what she had done and survived since he left for Rivendell. Promise not to tell him right now, anyway.
Probably to keep him from feeling even more guilty for leaving his people to begin with. It seemed to be the most 'Avaleina' thing that she could have done in this situation.
It was part of her nature, to want so badly to protect and help everything in sight but especially those that she loved. It was one of the many reasons he loved her so dearly. It also continued to prove to be one of her more infuriating qualities, depending on how she executed it and how stubborn she was about that execution.
In the end, Eloissa answered his question without further prodding. Even if it was with near palpable hesitation, "Because she and Farlen ran the Dark Border, pretty much just the two of them almost the entire time you were gone."
His eyes closed themselves at the news, in a mix of pity and regret, they had been on the border when he had left, too. "Just the two of them? That's a five to six command border usually."
"Just the two of them," She echoed hollowly, "With how injuries, deaths, and shifts in command evened out among the command the two of them just never really got the chance to leave it. And none of us really believed that any other combination of two people would have been able to hold the border other than them."
Legolas knew the Dark Border, the one they shared directly with Dol Guldur. In fact he knew it extremely intimately, much more than he ever even dreamt of in his nightmares. He had spent months of his life on that border.
Eloissa said in a manner that it was hard for Legolas to hear her, "They were still there when we started the siege."
But misfortune great enough to force him to spend those months had never happened all at once.
"Shouldn't you be worried that Farlen isn't asleep, then?" Legolas asked, lifting his head from hers only long enough to make sure that Avaleina was still asleep in Farlen crossed legs across the clearing.
Legolas sensed Eloissa's developing rejection even before her brain fully developed them, "You know that I'm going to find out anyway, might as well just tell me."
"She'll kill me."
"I won't tell her it was you."
Eloissa sighed, and he wasn't entirely sure if it was in defeat or to prepare a fruther and more elaborate argument. It was always hard to tell with her, everything was hard to tell with her, but especially guessing her words or upcoming reactions.
She sighed again, more long drawn out and this time he knew it was a defeat, "Because at least Farlen took time to rest. A very good long while, like nearly every single one of us that served in the battle of the Fortress. Like almost every single one of us who had seen battle before that. It was mostly the guards that had remained here at home during our active service that was sent out to find those evils left in the forest."
"Except for Ava," Legolas stated more than guessed.
"Except for Ava."
"That one, you'll have to ask her." With a yawn and a stretch, Eloissa sat upright and Legolas did likewise. "I have a feeling that the answer you get and the answer I got will be very different."
Legolas asked, "Which answer do you think the honest one would be?"
"Right now? You" Eloissa answered her question with a back and forth motion with her hands, "Later from now? You. Before I even asked? You. It'll always be you."
The sentence nearly set a fire alight in his soul with pride and gratitude.
With another leisurely stretch, Eloissa turned to grin at Farlen as he approached from across the field. Sensing Farlens intentions to move and go to bed had been the reason Legolas and Eolissa had roused themselves, otherwise they likey could have stayed as they had been for hours.
Farlen came to a stop in front of Legolas, in his arms was a nearly but not quite yet still sleeping Avaleina. "I believe this belongs to you?"
Legolas held his arms out for her and Farlen easily passed Ava into them. Automatically Legolas cradled her against his chest, warming a few degree further when he felt her snuggle in as if he were the world's most comfortable bed, "I suppose so."
"I'm going to bed, Issa?" Farlen asked. Legolas assumed that the two of them were still living together since neither had been in a rush for Eloissa to leave after the death of her wife. And it was not as if Farlen would be meeting any long-term mate within the next few decades.
Eloissa dragged herself to her feet, "Since it's nearing the same time for the sun to be high in the sky, I should go be deep underneath my covers."
The two of them departed, Eloissa easily jumping onto Farlen's back so that she could ride in style to their room. Farlen accepted it with only minor grumbling.
Avaleina curled her arms inwards towards her chest, snuggled more securely against him and hummed contentedly. He kept his arms wrapped around her like she was some sort of life preserver that might float away, and hunched slightly to rest his chin on top of her head.
Many, many other elves appeared to be in the same state of sleepiness, all others that hadn't yet succumbed to drowsiness were still probably deep in the forest. Legolas didn't see Thranduil, Ferdan, or Galion but that meant nothing.
The three of them could be anywhere by now, least likely their beds.
Legolas was contented for a while to just hold Avaleina in his arms letting her drift in and out of sleep before he asked, "Well, ready for bed beautiful?"
She did something that was more accurately described as a suggestion of a nod from somebody who had never actually once seen anything even remotely nod. It was more of a half-hearted twitch.
Legolas breathed a laugh through his nose and stood up with complete ease, Ava still tucked easily in his arms. He kissed her on the forehead and said, "Bed it is, then."
Thranduil, Ferdan, and Galion stood looking at the space that was obviously new growth compared to the rest of the great forest. The tree's might have been grown, but they did not hold the same types of memory as the rest of the growing things around them.
They were too innocent to have faced the day of the 'Great Burning' as the forest had come to call it. This had come after. After the small village that had been here was utterly destroyed on that same fateful day.
Knowing that it was unlikely either of the other two would be the first to break this tranquil spell, Ferdan stepped forward and began to walk among the new tree's.
Thranduil and Galion followed right after.
"You're sure this is the right place?" Galion asked nobody in particular, peering up towards the tops of the tree's like he might be able to see the ghost's of the old tallen houses that must have supported the bulk of the population.
As expected, there were no such things.
But that did not mean the three of them could not feel the lingering echoes of the various extreme emotions that had been imprinted upon the earth at their feet.
Surprise, desperation, fear, pain.
Thranduil gently ran his hands along the bark of a tree that had long since thought itself forgotten, lost amongst the pain of the memories here, "I'm sure, this is exactly where Avaleina said she would leave them."
The footprint of the hateful day their kingdom nearly fell forever imprinted upon the soil here, growing towards the sky right along with all of the tree's. A feeling that only grew with intensity with each step you took closer to the memory of the village.
Ferdan supposed that must have been why none of their people ever ventured to this part of the forest specifically. The wood elves avoided places like this nearly as though they expected the events to still be occurring, stuck in a loop that they themselves might get pulled into.
Thankfully, that was one of their peoples myths that Ferdan nor Thranduil subscribed to.
Galion on the other hand, asked nervously, "Are you sure it's okay that we're here?"
"Who, exactly, do you expect has the power or the will to turn me away?" Thrandui asked.
"I don't know," Galion mumbled in response, "But it's feeling like the mud might be willing to give it a good shot right away."
Ferdan frowned to himself at the words, he had to agree with Galion. The ground beneath their feet did really feel like it might rise up against them at any moment. Like no other part of the forest every had when Thranduil was with them, except for the parts of the forest that had dark spells leaking into them.
But this wasn't a dark magic, there was no dark magic left in their forest. It would not have been able to sustain itself in the forest any longer without the source from which it had leaked from.
"It's a spell," Ferdan said without thinking, the sudden realization making its way out before he fully comprehended that he had made it.
Thranduil released the branch he had been gently inspecting and turned to frown at his frown, "It's what?"
Thranduil's frown deepened, "Thank you, repeating the exact same thing was very enlightening. All of my questions have been answered."
"You know," Ferdan shot back, "If you weren't a king, I would have stabbed you in the mouth by now."
"Lucky for me, I am." Thranduil replied
At the same time, Galion said, "Wouldn't work. His mouth moves too quickly."
"The eye then," Ferdan amended.
"Care to share your revelation?" Thranduil half shouted to Ferdan over the start of Galion's next words, "Who's magic would stay in the presence of mine?"
Since magic was a product of those that created it, there was no elf in Greenwood who's magic would stay to try and succeed with their task in the presence of Thranduil. Most magic was neutralized in the presence of the King.
"Somebody who isn't intimidated by your magic. Somebody who's willing to defy your orders and wishes in person, too."
Both Thranduil and Galion looked at him. The former with a curious dawning expression, and Galion with continued confusion.
"You think Avaleina cast this?" Thranduil asked.
Ferdan shrugged in a somewhat dismissive manner, "Who else do you think has ever come here? Who else would have the fortitude to look your will in the eye and refuse to move, other than those of us here or Legolas."
"Why would she send us here to retrieve them, knowing she set up a spell to keep people from ever wandering here?"
Ferdan felt farther towards the spell that was cast around, focusing beyond all of the interference from the forest and all of its whispers. Closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths he rooted out the main undercurrent of power that trickled through the surrounding area.
He could feel Thranduil and Galion doing the same within their own minds.
Ferdan let his own Fae reach out towards the current, swirling around the outsides of it and then tentatively reaching out towards it.
The current recognized his soul and reached out towards him. Undeniably Avaleina.
But it was different, younger, wild. There was none of her cool, calm, and exact demeanor. There was no unshakeable control and clear goal that she had now.
"I don't think she meant to cast the spell," Ferdan said with his eyes still closed and soul entangled with the stream of energy that pulsed beneath their feet.
Thranduil's voice sounded about as intrigued as Ferdan felt, "I don't think she did either."
"Do you think she knows she did it?" Galion asked.
"I don't think so," Thranduil answered, "If she had, she would have warned us."
Ferdan let the magic recede back into the earth and opened his eyes, "Odd."
"Very," Thranduil agreed.
Ferdan continued on his way deeper into where the village used to stand, walking past Thranduil who still stood still with his eyes closed, and began to look for the crack in the rock that led to the underwater spring that Ava had described to them.
"I don't think…" Thranduil began, trailing off for a few moments while he consecrated and Ferdan continued his search while he waited for his friend to finish whatever investigation he was conducting, "I don't think she was the only one that cast it…"
"Oh?" Ferdan asked, crouching low in the vegetation in search of the subtle sounds of trickling water running beneath them.
A faint voice was pushed into his head by Thranduil, frantically whispering words that he just couldn't quite figure out, he frowned with concentration but kept searching for the small opening. The only thing that he could easily tell was that it was a male voice.
"Thran, can you understand what the voice is saying?" Ferdan asked, briefly glancing over to his longtime friend.
Thranduil shook his head silently, while his lips appeared to be trying to mutter the same words that the long forgotten voice was.
"Its over here," Galion gently called, pointing down to a crack in the earth by his feet nearly overgrown with moss and weeds. He peered down into it, "That's an awfully small hole."
Ferdan made his way over and looked down at the crack, "Just small enough to hide a tiny, frightened elfing into."
He knelt on the ground and searched the ledge for which vine had something with weight tied to the bottom of it. On the fourth vine he guessed correctly, and began to gently pull it up.
The whispers grew stronger as the basket was drawn closer and closer to the surface and Ferdan could feel part of his consciousness being pulled away into another part in time. A perfectly preserved bubble held within this little sea of magic.
The whispering grew louder until it was clearly a chant in a language that Ferdan did not know, but could tell were words asking for protection and to be shielded. To hide this little patch of the world from prying eyes, to keep all things away from it.
Away from what it hid.
Ferdan could feel the fires that had burned that night, the distant echoes of the screams of the slain and burning dusted the surfaces of his skin. His eyes could just barely make out a sea of swirling figures.
Elves fleeing for their lives, and Orcs refusing to let them have them.
A figure carrying something in his arms crept through the undergrowth towards the hole, just barely managing to scurry across the forest floor without attracting unwanted and hostile attention.
He watched as the figure knelt next to the crack and placed the bundle that was in his arms onto the ground. Revealing a tiny, terrified, and silently sobbing Avaleina.
Frantically the grown elf tied a vine securely around her and then kissed her on the forehead, and said something to her that Ferdan couldn't hear. But he knew that expression well for he had made it himself countless times; whoever was trying valiantly to save Avaleina was telling her one last time how much he loved her. How special she was.
Then he began to lower her in the hole while the fire continued to spread, as soon as she was safe the elf made to flee the scene but didn't get farther than a few steps before he was slain.
His blood joined the near river that had come from the others that wound its way downhill, dripping down into the same hole that Ava had just been hidden away into.
As the forest continued to crackle as it burned, Ferdan could just make out the frantic whispering of Avaleina as she mimicked the words whoever had stashes her here had been chanting. Her small voice choking on the smoke and her tears.
Then, as soon as the phenomena had begun it stopped and Ferdan held several very solid objects in his hands.
Spell Books long forgotten and long since considered burned, here in his hand.