Lessons of Life

The Best Medicine

by Elwing-(V)
January 28, 2006 

Stories > Lessons of Life Series > Previous story "Midnight Musings" > "The Best Medicine" > Next story "How to Dim a Too-Bright Elf"

Legolas decided his friend had been lazy long enough and went to roust him. Entering the guest room designated just for Strider, the prince could tell at a glance that the Ranger pretended to sleep. Moving silently to the bedside, the elf stared intently at his friend for some moments; the man’s latest skirmish had earned him a few reasonably severe injuries, though none life-threatening. Strider’s fellow Rangers could have completely treated him themselves, but had instead done only basic ‘patching up’, then hustled him to Mirkwood for detailed attentions.

Their excuse being Elven healers leave less scarring to stitched human skin, and, Valar knows, Strider can use all the help granted in that aim - the man is a mobile magnet to danger and hurt! Legolas had learned the group ran into their trouble while already enroute to the elf’s home territory; the other Rangers had felt the visit necessary, as Strider was becoming morose over a long absence from his elven best friend.

The prince smiled down at the swaddled form currently making soft (fake) snoring sounds. He carefully slid onto his knees atop the covers beside the man, then bounced up and down while commanding loudly, “Rise - and - shine - you - great - lump - of - ooof!” Legolas was shoved mid-bounce off onto the floor. A most disgruntled face peered over the mattress at him.

“I’m rising, already, but I refuse to shine. Dratted easy thing for an Elf to say, glowing all over the place when a normal body just wants some peace and quiet.” Strider continued to grumble as he untangled himself from his bedcovers, stretching and popping somewhat stiff and sore joints and muscles.

Legolas rose, shaking his head. “Never in my immortal life shall I understand the peculiarities of Humans. You have done naught but moan and groan about having been ‘imprisoned’ in the healing ward - now you may enjoy your first official day out and you waste it languishing abed like some fungus. Besides, we have plenty of peace and quiet - only distributed more evenly here, as we enjoy the stars and moon as much as the sun. Humans miss out on half of Arda’s beauties by deep-sleeping through the night as you do.”

The man appeared to ignore the elf, though Legolas’ keen ears picked up muttering about ‘wretched healer’s nasty sleeping draught’ as an excuse for not being active at the crack of dawn. The prince winced at the various noises Strider’s body made as the Ranger retrieved scattered articles of clothing and began dressing. “I wonder if the healer erred in allowing your leave yesterday - your insides sound as if breaking apart!”

“No, I’m fine!” the man hastily assured to prevent summoning of said healer. “I know it sounds terrible, but it doesn’t hurt at all. Observe this.” Strider proceeded to crack all of his knuckles while the elf watched wide-eyed. When done, the Ranger wiggled his fingers to show they still worked as they should. “See? Perfectly fine!”

“That is both fascinating…and disturbing.” Legolas murmured, giving an exaggerated shudder. After a few silent moments, the elf could not resist teasing again, “So if causing your bones to crack is only some form of exercise, I suppose those colorful greenish-purple splotches over large areas of your skin are merely exhibits of orc artistry?”

“Oh, indeed, my greatest aspiration is to be the advertisement for their ‘creative’ endeavors.” Strider grimaced at the amount of tenderness yet lingering in the bruised areas. Seeing genuine concern in his friend’s face, the man tried to hide his discomfort. “Truly, I am greatly improved; these look much worse than they feel now.”

The Ranger gave a soft gasp as the elf’s fingers ghosted over a rib. Improved, mayhap, but not so greatly, I deem. Preparing to argue, Legolas changed his mind at seeing the determined set of Strider’s jaw as the man finished dressing to go out. “I shall have to take your word on that; even so, we will not be doing anything terribly strenuous today.” The elf’s tone was just as determined, and the Ranger nodded agreement yet was reluctant to let his friend have the last word.

“Going by your analogy, if I am but an orc canvas, you must be to them but a walking container of pigment.” Gratified by the startled look on the elf’s face, the man continued, “Whenever they have any contact with you, they exhibit a single-minded desire to decorate every rock, twig, and so forth, with as great a quantity of your lovely red ‘paint’ as they can wring out.” His humor delighted in Legolas’ open-jawed gape.

“That is definitely disturbing. Ick! Do you realize you have just caused me mayhap never to view another painting in a judgmentally detached method?”

“Quite.” The smug response provoked a brief rude expression on the other’s fair face; before words to match could be spoken, Strider hurriedly attempted a distraction. “I am ready to face my adoring fans now. You were saying we should not be wasting the day?” He sighed inwardly in relief as his friend seemed willing to forgo further argument.

A strange noise caught man’s and elf’s attention as they exited the room. Legolas stared at Strider’s midsection when the noise repeated. “Great heaven - you carry a live warg in your gut!”

“It’s not that loud,” the Ranger protested, face reddening as another growl emerged from his stomach. “Or mayhap it is. I do believe the ‘beast’ may be placated by a quick visit to the kitchens.” Though his recent trauma had not caused Strider any nauseous episodes, the Master Healer had automatically dictated the human fed what was known as a ‘medical diet’ - mostly bland foods and no large portions - as a precaution; after several days on it, the Ranger was now starving for a real meal and his stomach was announcing its hunger vehemently.

“Do you desire to be returned to the healing ward so soon? Do you not recall Master Chef threatened to take the meat mallet to you if he again caught you filching goodies before they had been set out for general consumption?”

“Nay, and aye.” Strider pouted as he rubbed his complaining stomach. “You told me you have done your own fair share of filching…yet you failed to mention receiving any ‘tenderizing’ treatment as a result.”

The Prince laughed. “First, I was too cunning to get caught. Second, if I were to get caught, I should not be reprimanded - unless I filched too many sweets - because it is Master Chef’s and apprentices’ duty and honor to serve Mirkwood…” Legolas haughtily posed as stiff-backed straight as he could, “and I AM Mirkwood.”

Strider made an elaborate bow. “Verily the embodiment of the mighty forest.” Straightening, he gently rapped his knuckles against the elf’s forehead, “Hmmm. Hard wood, indeed; I am appropriately impressed,” and blithely ignored the piercing glare the elf fired at him. Despite his jest, the Ranger was truly awed at how exactly the prince sometimes mimicked his Elf King father. Deep in thought, the man cocked a brow in unconscious imitation of his own fostering-father Elrond. “I had mistaken you as only one little green leaf among all of the great trees;  a bright one, to be sure, if rather flighty in the breeze.”

“Flighty, you say? Rather term it agile, I advise to he who avoids treetops, and cliff edges, and…”

“Silence, leaflet. I don’t actually fall off…well, not most times. I prefer to never do that, and the best prevention is to avoid places where I might, wouldn’t you agree?”

The elf’s eyes rolled in response. “Have you never heard that one should face one’s fear to conquer it?”
“That platitude does sound familiar; and how do you suppose I might follow such sage advise concerning my particular phobia? Mayhap I should force myself to the top of the nearest highest structure and heave myself forth from it. Following such an act, truly I should no longer suffer from fear of heights, nor any other fears, for I shall be DEAD.” When the expected retort did not materialize, the Ranger glanced at his friend and was surprised to see the elf looking genuinely distraught.

“That is not what I meant. I would you not say such a thing.” The soft chastisement pained the man.

Ai, forgive me. The two often made jokes about dire things that befell them, to mitigate the gloom of such straits; yet always were the calamities bespoke brought about from outside means - never would either being believe he could lose hope in himself or the other enough to willfully cause his own demise. “Pay no attention to my ramblings; my brain is unable to think properly, and my tongue unable to utter sensible sentences due to my stomach attempting to leave my body to fend for itself.” To emphasize the statement, the man’s stomach chose that moment to make yet another loud protest at not getting fed.

Legolas had quickly regained his usual lighthearted bearing; at hearing the rumbling growl emitting from his friend, the elf took pity on the Ranger. “Let us take care of that before you have the entire household fretting we are under attack.” He led the hungry man to a wide hallway near the kitchens where they found a long table laden with enticing edibles.

“I thought we missed the morning feast.” Strider was nearly salivating at the delicious smells and sights, yet refrained from snatching any, nervously expecting the Chef to suddenly appear wielding the aforementioned mallet.

“You did. I made a token appearance.” The prince handed a tray to Strider before taking his own and gathering his favorite items. “Morning Feast is at dawn, when we thank the stars and moon for having graced the night, and welcome the blessings of the rising sun. Evening Feast, at dusk, is to farewell the sun and greet the returning lights that guide us through darkness. Both those events are most elaborate, with more items presented; this, rather, is a lesser mainstay throughout day and night. In their stand against the ever encroaching evil that assails us, our warriors have not the luxury of a strict duty schedule, and must take their breaks whenever they can, often with little prior notice - providing ample nourishment that they stay hale to their task is but small reward for their dedication.”

Strider nodded, temporarily sobered from joking at the reminder of the reasons Greenwood was presently referred to as Mirkwood. Tis most fortunate and pleasant a coincidence that, timed to my arrival, Mirkwood had begun to enjoy mild respite from its onslaught by Dark forces; exactly the opposite of what I or Legolas would have expected, considering our usual penchant for attracting troubles. The man hid a wry grin at the last thought.

Taking a last critical look at their trays, the two decided they had enough and made their way to a dining table. A comfortable silence followed, interrupted only by an occasional ‘mmmm’ or ‘ahhh’. Strider would have made a second trip to the serving table but for Legolas’ admonishment not to overextend his belly too quickly. The man patted that comfortably full area and sighed, “I believe the monster within is happily sated, at least until the next feast.”

“Aye, and mayhap for a change, we shall both manage to be in attendance on time, moving under our own power, and decent rather than a mess of bandages and reeking of salves.” Legolas nimbly avoided a strawberry jam-coated finger aimed for his nose. Trays and utensils were taken to a washing area, where man and elf also removed any lingering stickiness from their hands and faces. 

“Where to now, my Prince?” Strider felt remarkably refreshed, and eager to be doing something physically active again.

“The stables. I believe your horse may be as enthusiastic about an outing as you are.” Snagging a couple of apples as they passed the food table a last time, the two went to visit their steeds. Strider’s horse, Morril, though naturally well cared for, was still delighted to see his master, especially upon scenting the apple treat. While watching the great brown horse nuzzle and nibble at the man, Legolas was abruptly made aware of his own steed’s bid for attention as Glosmir’s long, pristine white head suddenly blocked the elf’s vision before lowering to shove against the elf’s chest.

The prince chuckled as he offered his own apple treat to the begging horse. For a while, elf and man were content to murmur nonsensical endearments to their respective steeds, both animals responding with more nudges and soft whickers or snorts. Once all traces of the apples were gone, both horses indicated a desire to take their masters for a long overdue ride.

Strider looked hopefully at his friend. “I feel able. I will even allow you to choose our route.” His grand offer got a snort from both elf and Morril. “Shh,” he whispered in the horse’s twitching ear, “I should let him think he will be in command; putting up with an insufferably haughty elf is yet better than putting up with an intolerably whiny one.” The Ranger knew Legolas could hear every word, and was surprised at not receiving an immediate swat for the utterance.

Instead, the prince vaulted onto Glosmir, and was at the stable door in an instant. “I am keeping tally of your insults, human, and you will assuredly get what is due you in the near future.” He smirked at the flicker of dread that passed over his friend’s face. “Come now, though, it is too pleasant a day to concern oneself with revenge.” As Strider mounted Morril to join him, Legolas continued, “We shall ride to the west quarter; that terrain is more open, fairly smooth and less apt to invasion by foul creatures.”

They carried their weapons - better to have and not need them than to need and not have them - though traveling in a relatively safe area, and also ever mindful of being tracked by the prince’s faithful bodyguard. Those two to three specially appointed and particularly discrete warriors gave Legolas as much privacy as possible while keeping their royal charge within either sight of their exceptional elven eyes or in shouting distance of their keen elven ears.

On reaching more open range, Strider and Legolas galloped their steeds steadily to and fro to the horses’ delight. With occasional rests between, several races were run with various goals set as they sped along. Morril’s smooth gait was an extra blessing to Strider as the day progressed. Even so, I will likely sit rather stiffly at the dinner table tonight.

After only a couple of hours, the man was irked to begin feeling the effects of his exertion. Any hope he had of hiding his tiredness was dashed by the elf’s voice. “I think we have given our fine mounts enough heavy exercise for one day. They have performed well and deserve a rest now.” The horses, though not dispensed of all their energy, were content to be rubbed down and left to graze quietly awhile.

Strider hid his amusement at how Legolas had disguised the real reason for the decision to stop. “Our grand steeds have indeed performed well, and have done all the real work so far. We should at least prove our constitutions to be as strong as theirs, else they will be ashamed to carry us. So, what shall we do next?”

Legolas turned an exasperated look on him. “Mayhap you acquired some strange addiction to the medicines you protest to abhor, to have become such a glutton for abuse, and its aftermath. What we shall do next is relax a bit, as your much more sensible steed is doing.”

Agreeing with Legolas, the animal mentioned nodded its head, then shook it with a snort at Strider’s disagreeable expression.

“Fine. Let us at least gather some fruit to snack on so my internal warg does not frighten the feasters tonight.”   

“Fine. If it chooses to announce itself, I will probably get first blame, as they will think I have smuggled in yet another wild creature as I used to when I was but an elfling.” He easily recalled that happy memory; as he had always the best of intent, the prince had never been punished for hiding his ‘pets’, though the beasts often did cause considerable discord and destruction when invariably getting loose in the palace.
The two found several berry bushes and scavenged them, then spied a tree containing several ripe fruits in its upper branches. Strider eyed the scene warily. Even were I in the best of condition, I would be hesitant to clamber up there to fetch them. Deferring to Legolas’ greater agility in tree climbing, the Ranger was surprised when the elf instead backed away from the trunk. In the space of a moment, several of the largest fruits dropped directly into Legolas’ outstretched hands. He tossed one to the wide-eyed Ranger, who accepted with a wry grin. “Show-off wood-elf.”

He yelped as another fruit, less ripe and harder, bounced off his head. He jogged out from under the branches, casting black glares back at the tree, certain he could hear faint laughter in the rustling leaves. Legolas followed at a more leisurely pace, smiling smugly.

Their repast was just the right amount to ease their hunger without making them lazy for the remainder of the afternoon. Gathering their weapons, and summoning the horses, Strider and Legolas began the return to the Mirkwood palace. Giving the Ranger a thorough look-over and satisfied with his diagnosis, Legolas took a detour towards the archery range. “I deem this effort should not put undue stress on your healing injuries.” The elf could not resist adding, “And while you are middling handy with the sword, everyone knows you need much more practice with the bow.”  

Strider scowled. “You will be my first to challenge when I may again ‘middling’ wield my sword.” The elf busied himself setting up targets, unperturbed by the man’s threat. “I never have quite comprehended why you so value bow above sword,” the Ranger remarked conversationally. “Of course it is practical for picking off a few opponents from afar, thereby bringing little danger to the shooter; or until the enemy realizes from whence his threat comes and closes the gap.”

As expected, Legolas bristled at the slighting of his weapon of choice. To foil the Ranger’s baiting, the elf silently counted to ten and was then able to reply calmly. “If one excels, as certain ones do, in the attributes regarded archers, one may have no enemy left alive to close a gap. In the case of overwhelming odds, a volley of arrows at least lessens the attack numbers, and gives the archer time to retreat once the foe does begin serious advance. To do any damage with a sword, the swordsman must wait till his enemies are upon him.” Despite the lightness to their discourse, Legolas knew how dangerous such an actual event could be. When such is our lot, I  vow I shall use my full quiver to assist your odds be not great, if exist at all they yet would.

The man was annoyed at the elf's controlled reaction to the tease, and decided to try a different angle. “Mayhap you have a point or two.” Both beings snickered at the unintentional pun. “Yet all too often ones enemies are soon set upon one, even after an archer’s culling; in close quarter, a bow then need be set aside, though arrows may still be used like spears. Not as versatile as a blade, for an arrow must be hefted just so to do its damage; a sword makes a killing strike from sides as well as point. Of course you are aware of that, for you generally carry your own long-knives just for such a happenstance.”

Legolas patted the Ranger’s head and spoke as if to a child, “I am, and I do. Furthermore, I never said I did not like using blades, only that I prefer my bow if its use is possible. Actually, in close quarter, the bowstring may be used as a garrot; and the bow itself could give a hefty blow… though I hope never would I need subject mine to such horrid treatment.”

Strider was staring at the elf’s graceful longbow, seeing it in a new light. I had not known he had given strict thought to such things; I vow I shall assist he never have need of putting his beloved bow to such a test. Breaking his glance away, the Ranger gave a swat in his friend’s direction. “I  accept your ‘point’ for now, but when next we have blade practice, I will decidedly have you acknowledge mine.” 

“I am sure you will give your best shot at it,” the prince chuckled as he set up the last target. Both man and elf returned to the shooting line and took up their respective spots to shoot. As they took turns, Legolas’ demeanor became all seriousness. The elf offered pointers from time to time; the man accepted gratefully and gracefully, his aim becoming truer as he implemented the advice. After a while, they began to make challenge matches, of which Legolas was nearly always the winner. Finally, after a particularly embarrassing loss, Strider willingly conceded archery mastery to the prince. Even among other Elves and archers, he is a prodigy with the bow.

Legolas, humming happily as he cleaned arrows, failed to notice the calculating look Strider gave him; however, his attention was quickly caught by the Ranger’s boast, “Although I have already admitted you can best me, or probably anyone, in archery…and I would have to say that we would likely end in a tie match in a sparring between my sword and your knives…there is one area of combat that I would win over you with no question. I suppose one might call it personal combat.”

Legolas’ eyes glinted as he gave the Ranger a distinctly sinister smirk. “Alas, mellon nin, due to your…sensitive condition at the moment, I must decline in proving you a liar.” A second later, a puzzled look crossed his face. “I consider our sparring one on one as ‘personal combat’. To what then do you refer - hand to hand?” His puzzlement changed to incredulousness. “You would challenge me to…wrestle you?”

Strider almost laughed aloud. “Nay, that’s not quite what I had in mind.” Now his own smile became wicked. “Your choice of words earlier came close, but were not quite accurate to my meaning; say rather I would take you in combat that is…hand to rib.” At that, the Ranger began to creep closer to the still unsuspecting elf.

Legolas resisted an inclination to run for dear life. What is he doing? Why am I just standing here? What does he mean...’hand to rib’? Like lightning, the answer struck him. “Oh, no, no, no; don’t you dare…!” Legolas backed away from the advancing Ranger. Turning to flee, the elf was instantly pounced upon and his torture began. When Legolas had been tickled to breathlessness, Strider took pity and released him.

Legolas remained puddled on the ground while the man stood and strutted, gloating. “So falls the mighty Elf Prince before the lowly Human. Admit it…I have thoroughly bested you in this method of combat.”

Feeling able to finally speak coherently, Legolas rolled over and stretched out on his back. Pointing an accusing finger, he intoned, “You have assaulted the Royal Person of the Prince of Mirkwood.” He glared as the Ranger snickered. “I have but to give one order to bring a retinue of guards who would with no little glee drag your worthless hide down to our dungeon to rot for your transgression.”

Strider snickered harder. “Mirkwood has no dungeon.”

“I amend my statement…they would gleefully and none too gently haul you to our cellar to ferment.”

The man considered a moment. “That would be not such a harsh punishment, for several draughts of your excellent wine would greatly dull my distress.”

Legolas sat up and cocked his head to stare at his friend. “Your brain is already fermented. We would of course remove all the wine first. And your torture would be to watch us all drink it without offering you a single drop.” He took great pleasure in the mock horror of Strider’s expression.

“You are vile.” The man sat beside the elf and thought a moment more. “That would initiate war between our realms, as naturally my elvin ‘kin’ would not let such an action go unchallenged. I imagine Elladan and Elrohir would arrive here in great haste to rescue me.”

Now it was Legolas’ turn to snicker. “Don’t count on those ‘brothers’ of yours to be of any help - several times over the years, my father has threatened to personally fling both of them in our cellar, in irons, and then ‘lose’ the keys!”

“Ahh, right…I should be surprised he has managed to restrain from having done so thus far. As for my Ranger kin, I suppose they would just vote which among them would replace me and carry on. So, I guess I have no other recourse than to throw myself on your generous mercy.” In his most wheedling voice, the Ranger began to beg, “Pleeeease, don’t imprison me in your dank, dark, wineless dungeon…sorry, cellar…most gracious, forgiving, lovely, perfect, ow!” He rubbed the side of his head where the elf had smacked him.

“I shall grant you complete pardon if you swear to never refer to me thus again.”

“You have a deal.” As the elf returned to a reclined position, Strider likewise flopped down to rest beside him, their heads nearly touching as they gazed into the sky. Each began searching objects in shapes of the clouds passing overhead; some sightings claimed bore remarkable resemblance to their genuine counterparts, others required a wild stretch of human or elf imagination.

Eventually, Legolas took note of the setting sun and rose with a deep sigh. “We must be getting back, or we really will miss Feast.” He reached and assisted the Ranger to his feet, frowning as the man groaned. “Are you well?”

“I am fine.” His automatic answer was followed by a more truthful one. “Mayhap I have overdone a bit, but it is inconsequential and will pass.” He grasped the elf’s arm for attention, and steel-gray eyes looked directly into sky-blue ones. “I have immensely enjoyed the whole of this day and would not change any of it even if I could.”

The sparkle in the blue eyes echoed the sentiment. A whistle brought the horses into range, and the companions soon set off again. “We will have time for a nice hot soak before Feast,” Legolas assured. “That will have you pliable again; not to mention clean.”

The elf urged Glosmir ahead, but Morril caught up quickly and the Ranger retorted, “Prissy elf! It is not at all fair that grime adheres to me and not to you. I do make an effort at cleanliness, so don’t start preaching about my hygiene!”

“I only preach of things I know about, filthy human, so your hygiene would not be one of them. Now…the lack of it, mayhap…”

Their argument continued all the way back to the stables, dissipating as they settled the horses for the night. Entering the palace, elf and man separated each to his own room to select personal toiletries and clothing changes. Strider, having fewer items to choose from, finished first and went to help Legolas make his choices.

The bath area they chose was large enough to accommodate several guests, though Strider and Legolas were the only ones in attendance. A misty steam rose from the pool of gently swirling water, to which was added a fragrance of lavender and other soothing herbs. The elf slid entirely into the welcoming bath, easily adjusting to the temperature; the man had to ease himself in little by little, needing several seconds to get each body portion comfortable before continuing. While Legolas washed, the Ranger enjoyed simply soaking while noting with amusement that his fair companion hardly needed a cleaning.

Sensing the watching eyes, Legolas turned and tossed the soap to his friend. “You did say you actually know how to use this,” he teased, referring to their earlier discussion.

Strider made a very rude face as reply, then began scrubbing in earnest. Though I jest of it, I do appreciate the feeling of being clean. He was still cautious in tending to the bruised rib area, and could not quite stretch safely enough to reach all of his back. The soap slithered from his hand, but before he could retrieve it, the slick soap was grabbed by another hand.

The soap-snatcher moved behind Strider and began washing the previously unreachable back area. “How are you feeling now?” Legolas ‘humph’ed at the typical answer of ‘fine’ and briefly considered dunking the Ranger repeatedly. Better judgment ruled, however, so the prince settled for massaging his friend’s knotted shoulder and back muscles.

Heavenly. Strider had not realized how tensed he’d been. Relaxing under Legolas’ ministrations, the Ranger found the situation faintly ironic. I am supposed to be a healer of men…among other titles, yet I am the one more often than not who needs a healing touch.  He decided reluctantly to dismiss the elf of his self-appointed, and much appreciated, masseur service. “All right…NOW I’m fine, and I mean it this time.”

Legolas sensed the unspoken ‘thanks’, and was glad to have been able to render such small aid as he could to his heart-brother. As the elf moved away, a hand on his shoulder halted him. “I believe it is your turn now.”

“This is unnecessary, Strider, I’m…not…oh.” Legolas’ protest faded as kneading of his shoulders proceeded; he was surprised to realize he also had been more stressed than he’d thought. From worry over this silly human, no doubt. Ah, he does have healing hands, in truth…Elrond should be proud of his protégé. After a few more minutes, the prince determinedly moved away again. “If we do not get out now, we will either miss Feast or make an appearance half naked and dripping. Besides,” Legolas raised one of Strider’s hands, indicating one of the man’s fingertips. “You are starting to exhibit that oddity Humans have after an extended exposure to water.”

All the Ranger’s fingers showed the same wrinkled ends, as if the skin had suddenly stretched and gathered. Strider grimaced at the offending digits. “It’s a mystery. They are always normal after an hour or so.” He attempted to see past the swirling water to his feet. “My toes do the same thing.”

Legolas was examining his own fingers, as smooth as always. “Really?” He also peered downward, but even his eyes could not penetrate the layers of bubbly swirls well enough to satisfy his curiosity. “If you stay in long enough, would all of you react the same?” His eyes widened as a sudden idea shocked him. “Is that why really aged Humans are so wrinkled… because they have spent too much time in the water? Ai! I have been sorely misguided in my reasoning for your aversion! We must get you out of here at once!”
Strider scuttled back from the deranged creature. “Calm yourself! That’s not what happens…not why we…idiot elf.”

Legolas’ retreat was hastened by threats of having his throat ‘massaged’. “I sincerely try to broaden my intellect and you insult me for it. I am deeply wounded by your uncouthness.” He exited the bath as easily and smoothly as he had entered. He toweled dry while the man was still making his way to the steps of the pool.

The Ranger’s flush as he clambered out was not entirely from the warmth of the bath; a hasty perusal had assured (relieved) him that only his fingertips and toes had gotten ‘wrinkled’. A fresh towel was thrown at him, and he hurried to catch up with his friend. After the two had gotten partially dressed, Legolas began the intricate braiding of his golden hair. Meanwhile, Strider readied shaving tools, preparing to tackle the beard on his own face; after several days, the man’s hairy growth had passed the scruffy stage, and he thought it now gave him a rather distinguished appearance. And who shall take notice? Mostly only other scruffy Rangers. Whether I trim it, or take it off altogether, it will require maintenance, therefore… He sighed, and took up his razor.

Looking into the mirror, the Ranger gave a small start, for Legolas had silently approached and was staring over the man’s shoulder. The elf reached slim fingers to stroke the beard, surprised at its softness. “Here is another strange Human ritual.” Strider patiently waited to be enlightened. “You have almost fur-like hair, yet you often cut it back or off entirely, when it would protect you from excess of sun or cold…either of which you do not tolerate well, and that is still another oddity about Humans…”
“I don’t think there is enough time in existence for your undoubtedly long listing of Human oddities. Aren’t we supposed to be in a rush to go somewhere else? Leave me be then!” He gave a shove to the snickering elf, who wisely decided not to further distract his friend while the man had a sharp razor in his grasp.

Finally prepared, Legolas and Strider schooled themselves to more serious countenance as they approached the gathering room. Although Evening Feast was an event of celebration, and all attending could shed their cares and be merry, there was still protocol to be followed and genteel manners were expected. Strider, being a guest of honor, sat at the high table with Prince Legolas and King Thranduil. Seeing the two royals together, the man was again struck at how closely father and son resembled each other.

Divining both the surreptitious glances and Strider’s thoughts, the Elf King felt a tingle of exquisite humor start up within him. Knowing well his mere presence was somewhat daunting to the human, Thranduil turned his full attention to the soon-fidgeting Ranger. “Something in my immediate vicinity seems to engage your observation, though you make appreciable effort not to stare. Have I mayhap a stain on my robe, or mayhap my hair is come loose of its braiding? I would know what causes you such consternation; please, speak freely, Strider.”

The man gulped nervously. “Nay, my lord…or aye, I mean…your appearance is impeccable.” He took a hasty swallow of water to ease his suddenly dry mouth and tight throat. “I was only remarking to myself how alike you and L…Prince Legolas are.”

“Mmmhmm.” Thranduil switched his piercing gaze to his son, who sat stiffly at attention under the scrutiny. “I must agree that we do share a great many similar physical characteristics; but surely one would never have as difficult a time telling us apart as one would those twin demons you call brothers.”

Elladan and Elrohir, identical twins, sometimes deliberately furthered the usual confusion by dressing alike and mimicking each other’s tiniest mannerisms. Legolas and Strider shared a brief amused glance - rare now were the times the twins could fool them, in that manner at least.

So their reputation has expanded beyond the circle of poor Imladris inhabitants who have had the misfortune of being pranked…repeatedly. I must be certain to tell my brothers; they will be thrilled…or highly embarrassed. The Ranger shelved that idea in his head as Thranduil’s gaze once more rested on the man’s features. Hoping to minimize his awkwardness, Strider rushed on, “Quite correct, my lord, yet of your comparison I was considering not so much outward appearance, though that is of course notable; rather I meant you two are much alike in stance, manner, and even…in spirit.” His voice trailed off as he became aware of all others going silent to better attend this particular conversation.

The King found himself increasingly well impressed by the human. He shows a decent amount of diplomatic flair; I shall reward him by allowing him his peace and bedeviling my son instead. Thranduil flashed a quick wink at the astonished man, then for a second time commanded the prince’s full attention with but a single utterance. “Greenleaf.”  Impossibly large crystal blue eyes focused deeply onto glittering green ones. “I am curious if you are in agreement with your friend’s assessment; think you we are so very alike?”

The younger elf took a few seconds to consider. Here is one any and I should praise as a fine Elf, a good being, an excellent King, and a wonderful father… “I sincerely hope it,” he breathed fervently.

Thranduil blinked, his amusement overwhelmed by a surging tide of love. “As do I,” he murmured, fingers caressing his son’s face. The King then took his goblet and inclined it in a toast to the Ranger, who was experiencing a great deal of pleasure for his friend, and a minuscule bit for himself at having initiated the touching scene just witnessed. “You possess an extraordinary gift of insight, Strider; may it always serve you so well.” 

With that, everyone picked up where their previous conversation had left off, and the rest of the feast was a glorious muddle of chatting, eating, drinking, then singing and eventually dancing, as well as other intermittent entertainment.

Legolas finally noticed Strider unsuccessfully hiding a yawn. Saying a few farewells, he gathered up the tired man and ushered him away from the remaining revelers. Once in the quiet hallway, the Ranger admitted his weariness. “But it is a good tired,” he protested to the elf’s fussing. As soon as they entered the sleep room, Strider began removing his most restraining clothing - belt first, then boots. He collapsed on his bed as if unable to exert any further. “I fear I have quite overextended my belly this night; while it may take me to task later for the abuse, at present it is quite happy, even if stretched to its full limit.”

Legolas shook his head as the man contentedly lay with eyes shut, letting drowsiness creep upon him. “Tsk! You cannot sleep in those clothes. They are probably the only truly decent ones in your possession, and you should take greater pains to keep them thus. Get up.” The elf poked Strider into sitting, and assisted the man in undressing. As Legolas smoothed and straightened the items before placing them in the wardrobe, the Ranger retreated into his bed, clutching his covers tightly.

“You’re not making me take another bath this soon,” he groused.

The Prince gave him a surprised look, then smiled indulgently. “No, I will not put you through such punishment.” He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed, giving a delicate sniff at the now relaxed man. “Your clumsy exertions were not enough to cause the usual odorous results.”

He was nearly shoved off the bed again. “Those ‘exertions’ were dances, and if I was clumsy, it was partly your fault.”

“My fault? Only so far as I was not your dance teacher, and therefore you have not the benefit of my expertise in finesse…”

A loud snort interrupted the elf’s elaboration. “Aye, your fault, for you held me back to only the slower dances, which meant I had closer contact with whichever lovely elf maiden I partnered, and…well…” The man’s hot blush made the rest of the explanation unneeded.

Legolas had a moment of complete sympathy for his companion. Aye, there is only one specific lovely elf-maid he wishes to be so close to. Patience, my heart-brother…someday you may fulfill your desire. The moment dissipated, and the prince continued his taunt, though moving away from the real reason for the Ranger’s discomfiture. “I had not worry for any dancer’s toes, as Mirkwood ladies are nimble enough to escape your heavy tread. Rather my concern, after you had indulged in wining and excessive - you admitted! - dining, was that a fast pace of twirling and leaping about would…er, bring up some problems.”

At the elf’s delicate wording, the Ranger tried and failed to muffle his laughter with his pillow. Legolas folded his arms and scowled at the twitching form beside him. “You laugh now, but if it had happened, not only would it have been disgusting, it would have frightened some who are naïve to that variety of Human ailment.” The Prince swatted the back of Strider’s head. “You would be shaking in fear rather than merriment had you been remanded to the Master Healer’s care once more.”

Strider’s laughter abated. “You are correct, mellon nin; he bespoke some quite torturous sounding treatments to prescribe for me upon my next appointment…not very appropriate from one dedicated to alleviating pain and suffering, if you ask me.”

“I did not ask, and I must commiserate with him that healers do make the worst of patients.” He gave the Ranger a thoughtful look; the man glared back in outrage at the insult even though he secretly agreed with the remark. “At least,” Legolas continued cheerily, “none of our esteemed healers have ‘The Look of Doom’ with which Lord Elrond would grace (or curse) you if under his tender ministrations. I myself quail at the very remembrance of the times he has favored me thus.”

Strider shuddered dramatically. “I should give thanks for small mercies indeed.” He rolled onto his back and stretched, limbs again making faint popping noises here and there. “I feel confident to say that, even formidable as is your father…” He noted the elf’s hasty raising of a hand to hide a grin. Thranduil IS so; even given our recent camaraderie, if the King were to suddenly appear in the room, my name from his lips in the tone he commands his guards, I would likely crash through the ceiling in shock. “…that Elrond would be victorious against him in the War of the Dread Visage.”
 Legolas chortled aloud. “Mayhap you have it aright. There have been times when I could not look my father eye to eye; yet never have I simply felt the impending whip lash of his brow, risen haughtily to strike out ere resuming its normal place.”

Elf and man both made poor attempts at imitating the ‘eyebrow of doom’, though Strider came very close, and were soon nearly aching with laughter. Legolas recovered first. “I am compelled to defend my King,” he announced, the seriousness of his tone marred by an occasional escaping snicker. “Lord Elrond, whilst wielding a most deadly weapon, must yet be in the same room as his victim for effectiveness. My father, however, can bring beings in separate rooms to their knees; they need not look upon him at all…his commanding bellow strikes their hearts as sharp as any steel.”

Legolas assumed a Princely stance, and took a deep breath, his elven glow brightening. The elf’s next words did nearly send a shocked Strider through the roof. “GREENLEAF! WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT BRINGING FILTHY PETS AND HUMANS INTO THIS PALACE AND LETTING THEM RUN RAMPANT? I SHALL HAVE THEM CAUGHT AND SERVED AT NEXT FEAST, AND YOU HUNG FROM A TREE BY YOUR EARS!” At the Ranger’s expression, Legolas began to laugh, then suddenly clamped a hand over his mouth, sprinted to the door and peered out nervously up and down the hall. Seeing no bodies either cringing in fright or running wildly for help, he retreated into the room, leaned against the wall and sighed in great relief.

Strider was staring in awe at his friend. “That was amazing. And scary. And you accuse me of begging for trouble.” He settled himself prone again while the elf found a convenient chair to collapse in. As the elf regained normal composure, Strider commented, “If your father catches you impersonating him thusly, I wager your backside may be next up for a visit to the healing wing.”

Legolas grimaced indignantly. “He would never...surely he wouldn’t…mayhap he would.” The Prince squirmed uncomfortably at the idea. “Well, I suppose I should deserve it if I let myself be caught. At least that result would only land me abed awhile; I should not have to partake of any of the usual nasty concoctions the healers would force on me when else within their clutches.”

“AHA!” Strider’s cry caused the elf’s heart to skip a beat. “I have had a revelation concerning the ultimate threat of doom, and my own Lord Elrond beats your King for ownership of it.”

“Pray share this revelation with me, for I am unable to fathom how that could be.” Legolas scooted to the bedside and leaned close, as if spies might be lurking close by to steal the valuable information.

“Elrond's ultimate weapon not only can affect a body in another room, but reaches even so far as other realms, for the Lord may send this dread thing apart from himself and it stay true to his will. The incredible power of the hideous thing not only turns men and elves into mewling infants, but also sucks the vitality entirely out of them - they become like the dead. Each of us at some time has had to fight succumbing to its potent effect.”  Strider carefully watched Legolas’ reactions as the elf considered the possibilities, rejecting one after another in rapid succession until, at last, a look of amazement came over him.

“Lord Elrond’s ‘Special Tea’!” Elf and Human voices spoke at the same time. Another bout of laughing prevented any more words for a goodly time. When all was again silent, Strider gave another prodigious yawn.
Legolas’ eyes had teared from his laughing. He wiped the moisture away as he rose, fully intending to finally let the man get some sleep. “I concede that Lord Elrond is the victor in this strange battle of power. I would warn that you not let him know of this dubious honor lest you find yourself ‘volunteered’ to test new and ‘improved’ medicines he no doubt is constantly creating. With that, I shall leave you to your dreams. Rest well, mellon nin.”

“Legolas?” The prince’s last words had a touch of sadness that worried the Ranger. Legolas turned back, embarrassed that he had not controlled his emotions better. “Is aught wrong?”

“Nay…aye…you will be leaving tomorrow.”

Strider nodded, also saddened at the fact. “I must be getting back and doing my part with the other Rangers; though trouble has also been less for us recently, I fear it only the calm before a storm. I wish most of my time here hadn’t been in the Healing Ward so it might have been more pleasant for you.”

“Strider!” the elf admonished, “the whole of your visit was, shall we say, more restful than usual, but certainly no less pleasant for me than any other.” His eyes suddenly widened. “Not that I found it pleasant for you to be in the healing ward…!”

“I understand what you mean; don’t fret,” he calmed his chagrined friend. An idea came to the man, and his gray eyes gleamed as he revealed it to the elf.

Legolas' blue eyes soon matched that gleam in satisfaction and more than a little mischief. "Tis well enough with Mirkwood now that she could manage without her prince in constant attendance for a week, or two, or even a month. I will tonight track down two of the more adventurous of my guard to accompany us to your camp and mayhap consent to stay for the duration of my visit. The other Rangers will not mind this elf 'invasion' and disruption of their duty?"

"They, as I, will be most appreciative of your presence. I am more concerned at how your father will feel about your, um, vacation plans."

The prince stared at the ceiling, or perhaps the heavens, for some moments. "I shall take a messenger bird and sent it back with information of my whereabouts when we are well away." Ada will rant a bit, then accept it and be glad I am enjoying myself.

The Ranger could almost envision the thoughts in the elf's head. "Let us make quite certain we are very well away. No wonder your father has enmity toward me - with this event, at worst he will suppose I abducted you, at best he will vow I am a 'bad influence' on his innocent son."

Legolas brushed off the man's concerns. "You are a bad influence, but I will explain tis not your fault, for you have been badly influenced by your brothers."

"Oh. Very well; since they are already under doom of entombment here anyway…" Strider grinned at a sudden thought. "You realize we might be enduring their antics at least part of the time you are visiting?"

Elladan and Elrohir had gone orc hunting with the Rangers since before Strider's time. The brothers had largely given up the pursuit during the man’s youngling days to be with him in Imladris; however, once an adult Strider had learned of and joined his Human kin, the elf twins had continued the previous tradition, though with some less frequency and duration.

Legolas groaned, for though he was usually thrilled at the twins' company, the two often acted of a manner to earn their label ‘the Terrors’. “Fear not,” Strider chuckled at his friend’s worry. “If they make an appearance, I will keep them in line. And if they do not behave for me or you, there is always the King to take them to task.”

Legolas was puzzled. “He will not be so incensed over my departure as to make a personal appearance for my retrieval. With all respect to the Rangers, my King will not be attending their camp.”

“He would not have to be seen to make an impression, only heard.”

“You must be quite tired, Ranger - if he is not there, how could his voice…oh.” The Prince became gleeful in his anticipation. “That is one trick I have not yet played on those two. Mind you, it will only likely work the once…but it should be a glorious prank.”

“We will discuss the details for it on the way to camp. I am going to sleep now. You should do… whatever it is you do now too. Rest well.”

Legolas doused the lights before leaving, hearing the Ranger’s breathing slow and deepen even as the elf slipped out the door. It was good to hear Strider laugh today…one of the best medicines for what ailed him. Returning to his own room, Legolas began packing for his venture. When done, he sought out and conspired with the chosen guards to be ready for departure at first light.

Back in his room for the remaining night, the Prince sat in his wide windowsill, gazing at the glittering stars in the clear sky. It has been a fine day, and the future holds promise as well. We will have a grand time, I know it. Eventually he eased into a relaxed reverie, his dreams following those of the sleeping human in the next room; both beings eager even in their rest to participate in the unfolding of the new and bright day ahead. 

The End

Author's Notes on Sindarin Elvish:
    Ada: daddy. Adar would be more formal, as for father.
    Mellon nin: my friend
    Horses: Morril (mor: dark, ril: brilliance) and Glosmir (glos: white, mir: jewel)

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