Secret Garden by Zhie

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"I am so happy you decided to visit." Elrond smiled warmly at the elleth as he offered her the plate of sandwiches and pastries the maid had delivered from the kitchen. Celebrian smiled back and shook her head to decline, sipping her tea as Elrond placed the plate back on the tray, which was settled on the small end table.

"It took some time, but I finally convinced my parents that all of their training for me to be a proper delegate of the realm would do no good if I did nothing but stay in the realm. It was fascinating to travel!" she said excitedly. "You should have seen the escort, the way they all swarmed around me at any sight or sound of danger – and the captain! He must have shouted at least a dozen times 'Protect the Ambassador at all costs'!" The young elleth giggled at her own retelling.

Elrond turned his teacup in his hands nervously. "I suppose your reason for being here is, ah, strictly business, then?"

"No, not strictly business," she answered. "I did promise my brother I would see him if I could."

"Ah, yes, your brother," repeated Elrond hurriedly. He nodded, and turned to see what had been prepared for them so that she would not see his look of disappointment.

"Of course, I also expected you would be happy to see me."

The lord of Imladris had picked up one of the snacks from the tray, but tossed it back and wiped his fingers on a cloth napkin. "It was a pleasant surprise to see you arrive with the delegation instead of your father. Not that your father in unpleasant, but you are more so. More pleasant, not more unpleasant."

Celebrian giggled again. “Thank you. You happen to be very pleasant company as well.”

“Thank you. So are you. I mean, you... you already know that, since I already told you...” The normally word savvy lord was flustered and fumbling, while the young lady beside him was strangely attracted to his stops and stutters. “Maybe we... maybe we could go somewhere else,” he suddenly said. They were currently in the gardens, and each time someone passed by, Elrond became a little more uncomfortable.

Nodding her head in agreement, Celebrian stood and picked up the tray with their lunch on it while Elrond took hold of the wine. He led her back into the house, and through dimly lit corridors and secret halls until at last they came to a small door with a little window in it. “If you hate it, we can go back outside,” he prefaced.

Celebrian smiled politely, wondering just where they were, as Elrond unlocked the door and held it open for her. As she stepped through, Celebrian believed that they were outside again. There were trees and birds, a few small benches, and a walkway that led from the door to a small, run-down cottage. The entire garden was enclosed all around by high walls, reaching many stories. Celebrian soon realized that they were within the house somewhere, in a little place hidden from everyone else. “Your secret garden?” she asked, setting the tray down upon one of the benches.

Elrond nodded. “Very few know about this place. My brother and I built that little shack over there a long time ago.”

“For a shack, it looks very nice.” Celebrian peered inside one of the windows, noting that it did not look so bad. “Do you come here often?”

“Sometimes.” Elrond set the wine down next to their lunch and wandered to one of the raspberry bushes that lined the garden. “When I built Imladris, I did not want this place destroyed, nor did I want to share it with everyone. Selfish, I know,” he admitted.

“Not really. My parents have a garden, beneath the mallorn we live in. You know of it. They are selective of who is allowed there.”

“I know, but this is a little more special than that.” Elrond joined Celebrian next to the cottage, his large hands cupped together and holding a mound of plump, ripe raspberries. “This is going to sound terribly morbid, but I keep this place secret, because my brother is here.”

Celebrian took some of the berries offered to her. “Your brother Elros.” Elrond nodded, and turned his head to look off to one corner of the garden. Beneath a large peach tree was a simple, tall headstone, without any writing upon it. Celebrian drifted toward it, Elrond following after her. “His name is not on it.”

“I promised him that no one would find him here. I did not want to take the chance... I suppose it dishonors him,” he said quietly.

Celebrian placed her hand on Elrond’s arm and leaned her head upon his shoulder. “No, you did the right thing. Do not second guess yourself.”

For a while they stood there, and Elrond said, “You would have liked him. He was... more fun than I am.”

“Oh, stop.” Celebrian pulled Elrond back to where their food was waiting for them. “You always put yourself down. Why do you do that?”

“Because it is true. There are so many things I am not. I have this realm,” he said, raising up a hand toward one of the walls, “but it is only one house, and I am no king.”

“So? Why does that matter? Kings usually turn into tyrants, and what good is a kingdom so large you cannot take care of the people in it? I have seen kingdoms; I have seen slums and poverty. I have seen oppression and totalitarian rule. Why would you want that?”

Elrond shrugged and sat down beside Celebrian on the bench. “I just...”

“What?” Celebrian took hold of Elrond’s hands. “Tell me?”

“I...” Elrond looked away. “I just want to make sure that you are happy. I feel inadequate sometimes. You come from such an influential, royal family, and here I am, struggling to get by in a valley full of refugees.”

“But I bet you know the names of every single one of those refugees, and I bet you know what they do, and who their children are, and I bet you make sure all of them are always well, and fed, and happy. My parents forget the names of some of the royal guards at times. It is a very good thing they all wear something denoting rank so that they can just call out ‘sergeant’ or ‘lieutenant’ and have someone answer,” she laughed.

“I just want to make sure you would be happy here.”

“Even if it was just you and I, and no one else, living in that little house,” she said, looking over at the dilapidated cottage, “I would be happy.”

Elrond finally smiled then, and without warning, leaned forward to kiss his future bride. “Are you certain?”

Celebrian laughed again. “I hope you are not like this in council meetings.”

“Oh, no, I am much more forward and demanding in council,” he promised. “I do a bit of this,” he said, narrowing his eyes, “and an occasional one of these.” One brow went up a little higher and had Celebrian giggling. “Sometimes I even scowl, like this.”

His antics brought them both to laughter. “So, what if we were in council, and you tried to kiss me as you just did, but I refused?”

Elrond figured the little game she was playing with him. “Well, I would have to present my case as to why it is in your best interest to let me kiss you.”

“And if I still refused?”

“Then... I would have to show you why it is in your best interest to let me kiss you,” he said, a slight growl to his voice. He brushed his fingertips over her cheek, and did indeed kiss her again, and very soon, their lunch was entirely forgotten (as was the council meeting that afternoon).

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