Between Darkness and Dawn
Chapter 1: Bitter Parting
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“Sleep, you'll need the rest,” the elf prince insisted.
“Who knew one old man and his apprentice would have so much energy in
them,” Aragorn growled grumpily. It had been two days since they
parted from the main company of wood-elves. The pace they had
kept since was even brisker than usual.
Beoma and the young man he had taken as his apprentice were both as spry as any elf Aragorn had ever known.
The baker was pushing the upper borders of middle age. His dark
black hair and beard were almost completely frosted with grey, but the
vitality in his large, powerful limbs had not waned. His
apprentice, Pejor, was still a youth. He was not yet old enough
to grow a proper beard, and only the scraggly beginnings of one clung
to the side of his face. The boy was slender and wiry, but very
energetic. Until recently, he had talked to the ranger almost
The plan was for the elf and ranger to escort the two Beornings back to
their homes. Under normal circumstances this would have caused
the ranger no fatigue. Unfortunately, Aragorn had not counted on
losing so much sleep between the elder baker’s snoring and Legolas’...
family trouble. Aragorn glanced sidelong at his friend, but the
elf was smiling now and teasing him, no hint of shadow in his playful
gaze. Aragorn was glad.
“Master, master you’re snoring again,” Pejor’s soft voice drifted to
them from across the darkened camp. Beoma grunted softly and a
rustling sound suggested that he had rolled over. A few moments
later the sonorous drone began again.
Aragorn had to chuckle and Legolas returned his grin. Those
two... they were quite a handful in their own, unique way.
“Master Beoma...” Pejor’s voice almost bordered on whining.
Legolas started to rise, but Aragorn caught his friend’s wrist, bidding
him stay. “No, let them be. For once, the kid has a
Legolas shook his head and raised his eyebrow but settled down beside the ranger again.
Sometimes eager to the point of aggravation, Pejor was Beoma’s ‘latest
project’ as the elder master baker had affectionately introduced him
when he brought him to Rivendell several months ago. He said he
needed someone to keep him young since Elladan and Elrohir weren’t able
to visit as much as they used to anymore. Aragorn wasn’t sure if
Pejor kept the older Beorning young or just kept him laughing, although
perhaps they were one and the same.
Beoma and Pejor had been away from home some time now as they watched
over their healing friends in Rivendell and they seemed anxious to get
home. Only after some persuasion from Legolas had the two
finally agreed to halt for the night. The elf's argument - that
dealing with Aragorn after a lack of sleep would drive any being to
insanity - had won them over.
Rolling over, the ranger smacked the elf lightly as he remembered what
Legolas had said. “And thanks for the vote of confidence back there,
using me as your excuse to set up camp for the evening.”
“What excuse?” Legolas laughed, pushing the human back.
“It’s true, you are insufferable. Now don’t make me say it again,
go_to_sleep.” He over-enunciated the words as though dealing with
a stubborn child.
With a snort of derision, Aragorn grabbed the edges of his
blanket. He wrapped it more firmly around his frame as he rolled
over, demonstratively putting his back to his friend.
“Fussy elf,” he muttered darkly, the easy taunt earning a light laugh from his companion.
Legolas smiled. Pulling his cloak around himself, he lay down
near his friend, gazing up at the stars. Legolas had a blanket
and bedroll with their supplies but he obviously did not care to use it
tonight. The last time he had neglected his bedding, no less than
five of his father’s servants had hurried to bring him more blankets
than any being could possibly use. Despite Legolas’ protests,
they had not gone away until Thranduil was satisfied that his son was
Aragorn rolled onto his back again, casting a sidelong look at his
friend. “If you think I’m going to pop up and get you your
blanket...” he murmured in a somewhat sleepy, but wry tone.
“You do and I will probably kill you,” Legolas cut him off quickly.
Aragorn’s grin widened in the dark. It was as he suspected.
“Enjoying your freedom?” he taunted lightly, closing his eyes as the
soft night sounds enveloped them.
Legolas had loved being with his father in Rivendell, but the more
Aragorn watched them together, the more he understood why Legolas liked
to spend so much time by himself. The Creator seemed to have
placed two very strong-willed spirits together in Legolas and
Thranduil. They had the unique problem of being different enough
to have their own conflicting points of view, and yet alike enough to
lock horns over them. In Rivendell, all had been well, but once
they were on their way home again...
“Yes. There is something very pleasant about being able to govern
one’s own actions. Strange how that is, is it not?” the elf’s
reply was obviously meant in jest, keeping in the light spirit of their
conversation, but there was a slight tension under the words that the
ranger did not miss.
Aragorn sighed. He hadn’t wanted to have this conversation now,
when he felt ready to nod off at any moment, but he had to say
“He cares for you very much, you know, no matter how he acts sometimes,”
the human said quietly. There was no need to specify whom he was
talking about. Aragorn knew how he would feel if his father had
refused to say goodbye to him after everything they had just been
through in the past few months. He was a bit surprised how easily
Legolas seemed to be dealing with the entire situation. It seemed
to be something to which the prince was unfortunately accustomed.
Legolas was still for a moment. “I know. He would trade his
life for mine, but he doesn’t trust me to figure out how many pillows I
can actually use.” He rolled onto his side so he could watch his
friend. He could see the concern in the ranger’s tired eyes and
smiled gently. “Don’t, mellon-nín, don’t try to figure us out. You will only give yourself a headache.”
“Which I already have, thank you very much,” Aragorn rubbed his
temples. “Just because I can go night and day without rest
doesn’t mean I enjoy it...”
Legolas exhaled with a half-chuckle. “I’m sorry about that. Beoma
and Pejor are surprising for mortals, but then again, so are you.
You should have said something earlier and I would have stopped
Aragorn shrugged. “You had things on your mind.”
Legolas was silent for a long moment, remembering how he and Thranduil
had parted two days ago. It was not the kind of thing he would
have wanted or expected after how peaceful their relationship had been
in Rivendell. Legolas was actually a little surprised it had all
turned out so badly.
Aragorn was not. He had seen the clouds gathering from the moment
the Mirkwood contingent left Imladris. Thranduil was ready to go
home; Legolas was not. The prince could not explain it
rationally, because he did want to go home... but he did not want to
leave Rivendell, not yet. Thranduil made the decisions, however,
and when he said they were leaving, they were leaving. Legolas
understood and accepted the decree.
Aragorn had softened the departure by accompanying Legolas on the
journey for at least part of the way. The ranger was escorting
Beoma and Pejor home now that Celboril was sufficiently recovered to
resume the duties that he loved so well. Since the two Beornings’
village near the Carrock was roughly along the same path that would
take the wood-elves home, they agreed to journey together, until such
time as they would have to part ways after crossing the Anduin.
The trip over the Misty Mountains had been smooth enough, but
traversing the paths that had led them all into so much trouble and
pain months before had not seemed to have a good effect on Thranduil
and Legolas. Thranduil became increasingly protective of his son,
undoubtedly still remembering how close he had come to losing
him. Legolas appreciated the concern, but was now fully
recovered. He found the pampering both smothering and
occasionally humiliating. The prince said nothing and let his
father have his way, but Aragorn could tell what Legolas thought
whether he voiced it or not.
Thranduil was not an idiot: he could sense that his son was pulling
away from him, but he did not understand why. The harder
Thranduil tried to hold on and fix the perceived distance between them
in his own way, the more Legolas tried to pull back from the constant
pressure to get a little space of his own. Raniean and Trelan
spent many evenings silently slapping their foreheads as they saw the
pattern they both recognized far too well settling back into place
between their king and prince. Legolas and Thranduil had both
grown much and their relationship benefited from that growth, but some
things, it seemed, would never change.
When Legolas quietly announced his intention to accompany Strider to
the Beorning village rather than returning home immediately with the
rest of the company, it sparked an unexpected firestorm.
Thranduil forbid the parting, barely even letting Legolas finish.
//”But father...” Legolas was surprised at the abrupt command.
“*No*, Legolas. It’s not safe
and you’re not well yet. Besides, haven’t you been away
enough? It’s time to go home. Strider is more than capable
of seeing Beoma and Pejor back by himself.” Thranduil’s tone was
final. He did not intend to discuss this situation further.
Legolas took several deep breaths and
folded his arms as Thranduil turned away decisively. He had let
Thranduil have his way on every single issue that came up thus
far. Besides, he had already told Aragorn yes, so it was not his
father’s decision to make. “I’m going,” he said quietly.
Thranduil turned back quickly. “What?”
“I’m going,” Legolas repeated
quietly, almost respectfully. “I am not ill anymore, Father, and I
can take care of myself. I promise I will not be long.”
“Legolas...” Aragorn was shaking his
head, for he didn’t want Legolas to clash with his father over
this. He had invited the elf to come with him, but he hadn’t
meant to cause an argument.
“No, Estel. I said I was going with you and I am. Nothing will happen, Father, you have my word.”
“Nothing?” Thranduil’s voice turned
incredulous. “The same nothing that always happens to you when
you leave me? Legolas be reasonable. The last time you went
off on your own you ended up in – in Mordor! Have you no notion
of how many times you’ve almost died since then? How many,
The younger elf flinched
slightly. How many? More than his father knew. “The
Carrock is barely four day's journey from here and Beoma’s village only
a little farther. In all likelihood I will catch up with you
before you even make it back to Lasgalen.” Legolas tried to keep
a reasonable, persuasive tone and not give voice to his rankled temper.
Thranduil was not impressed.
The Elvenking did not like being crossed and his quick-burn temper was
winding along with his concern. “Not this time, Legolas. I
have heard that before. And now you want me to trust you to...”
“To what? Make my own
decisions?” Legolas shook his head. Pain flashed behind his eyes
and a hard determination came over his features. This was exactly
why he did not usually tell his father more than the king needed to
know about where he had been and what had happened while he was there.
“Do you think I rush into danger
because it excites me, or because I don’t know any better? Do you
honestly think...” the prince’s voice dropped. “...That I have
chosen anything that has happened to me these past few seasons?”
“I just want you safe. You used to be more careful than this, Legolas. Don’t be a fool.”
Aragorn shifted uncomfortably.
He wanted to speak up, but didn’t know what he could say that would
help. It wasn’t his place to interfere between Legolas and his
father, but his heart ached for his friend. Thranduil may have
meant well, but he was stabbing at wounds he knew nothing about.
The Elvenking was placing blame upon horrific situations that he had
not witnessed and hence could not understand. Aragorn had
witnessed them and he did understand. He could see Legolas
stinging from the verbal blows and coiling into a position to
retaliate. This was not going to go well.
“I cannot live my life in a self-made
cage, either to keep the world out or to keep myself in... that’s not
safety, it’s cowardice.” Legolas’ voice was barely above a
whisper. “I did that once, Father, you know I did, and it almost
turned my heart as cold as the stone walls I was hiding behind.
Do you want me to go back to that?”
“At least then I knew where you were
half the time. I could do something when there was a problem,
not just sit there for years having nightmares about you and being
absolutely helpless. All you have gained over the years is
recklessness. How often have I almost lost you? Too
often. And now you want to go running off again, without even
coming home first? What have I done, Legolas? Why are you
punishing me? Is my company that repugnant to you?” Behind the accusing and angry tones, hurt was creeping into Thranduil’s
“Of course not, Father!” Legolas protested quickly, deeply hurt by that accusation. “That isn’t true...”
“Then you will come home,” Thranduil’s voice was quiet now.
Valar, Legolas could never fight his
father’s logic. “Because you want me to?” Legolas’ question was
guarded, but earnest. If it was really that important to his
father that he came home now, he knew Aragorn would understand...
Thranduil perceived the question as a challenge to his authority and his tone frosted over. “Because I tell you to.”
It was the wrong thing to say. The worst thing he could have said.
Raniean, standing nearby but keeping
respectfully out of the quarrel, resisted the urge to groan. He
knew exactly how his friend would react, and he was right.
Legolas’ lips tightened. The prince turned away and started separating his gear from the royal pack horses.
Thranduil stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Legolas, what are you doing?”
“Preparing to leave with Strider,” Legolas answered evenly.
Thranduil’s hand tightened on
Legolas’ arm, forcefully spinning the younger elf back around to face
the older elf. “Legolas, have you heard nothing of what I am
saying to you?”
Legolas faced his father
calmly. “Yes, my lord, I’m listening. I have done nothing but listen since we left Rivendell. I mean you no disrespect,
but I wish you would honor my decisions as I honor yours.”
“I do when your decisions are not foolhardy or ill-advised.”
Legolas tried and failed to keep the
small flash of anger from his eyes. “And who decides they are
foolhardy and ill-advised, Father? Are you truly the final judge
on such matters?”
Thranduil’s jaw tightened. “Legolas...”
Legolas grabbed his pack and turned
away, tugging his arm out of his father’s hands. “I promise I
will return home to you by the time the new moon is full.”//
Aragorn shifted on his blanket and sighed at the memory as he tried to
tune out Beoma’s disturbing snoring. In the end Thranduil
accepted Legolas’ course of action only because he would have had to
put him under arrest to make him stay. He had insisted that
Legolas at least take Raniean, Trelan and some of the other guards with
him, but Legolas refused. If the suggestion had been made before
the issue became a battle of wills, Legolas would have gladly taken his
friends along, but not now, not because his father ordered him to do
//”Legolas if they want to come, they
are welcome,” Aragorn had tried to bring any measure of peace possible
to the situation. “I always enjoy their company...”
“No.” Legolas was riled and
hurt. He had too much of his father in him to give in an inch
now. “You and I are perfectly capable on our own. I do not
need nor desire an escort of wet nurses.” His tone was more
biting than he intended.
Aragorn flinched slightly and glanced
over Legolas’ shoulder. Legolas turned, following his friend’s
gaze to find that Raniean was standing right behind him. It
showed how upset Legolas was that he had not even noticed his friend’s
Legolas froze slightly. He really hadn’t wanted Raniean to hear that last statement.
“Legolas,” Raniean shook his head,
speaking quietly, just for his friend’s ears. “Trelan and I want
to go with you. You’re our friend. Don’t reject us just
because the king would have us act like nursemaids.”
Trelan stood behind Raniean quietly. He had obviously also heard Legolas’ outburst.
Legolas sighed and took Raniean by
the shoulders, wishing to take back his hard words and remove the hurt
behind his old friend’s eyes. He was upset and lashed out at the
first person handy. It was a trait he knew he possessed, but
hated. It was too similar to what he did not like about his
“Ran, Trey, I’m sorry, I did not
intend that the way it sounded. You know I value your
company. But... I need to do this on my own.” Legolas’ eyes
pleaded for understanding.
“Because, if we go with you and you
come back all right, it proves nothing to your father,” Trelan said
quietly. He smiled dryly.
Raniean saw in Legolas’ eyes that Trelan had accurately assessed the situation and his consternation flared.
“Legolas, don’t be as pig-headed as
he is. I don’t need two of him!” The taller elf tried to
make a joke out of his frustration, although nothing about it was very
“Please, Ran, I need you at least to
trust me. I will be all right, I promise. Look after
Father. I will be home soon; perhaps I will even bring Strider
with me if he is able.” Legolas smiled for them, trying to lift
the dark cloud that had settled over the camp.
“You know I trust you, Legolas,” Raniean said quietly.
“You’re a stubborn elf, Legolas,”
Trelan shook his head. “But you better be back in time to start
practicing for the spring games. Raniean and I don’t have a trio
for the competitions when you’re gone.”
The three childhood friends tried to smile.
“All right, I promise,” Legolas squeezed his friends’ arms.
Aragorn eased away while the three
elves were talking. He felt bad about the way this situation had
degenerated. He felt responsible for this latest rift between
Thranduil and Legolas. Certainly there had been some tension on
the journey, but he hadn’t expected to see it blow up quite this
badly. He couldn’t understand. So much had seemed to have
healed between Legolas and his father these past months, and now...
Thranduil was stalking about,
overseeing the preparations to break camp. Harried servants
hurried about trying to please their currently ill-tempered Lord.
“Your Highness?” Aragorn tried to get the king’s attention.
The Elvenking had his back to the
human and did not turn for a moment. When he did his face was
cool and diplomatically set. “Yes?”
“Your Highness...” There was so much
Aragorn wanted to say, but so much he knew Thranduil wouldn’t
hear. “I won’t let anything happen to Legolas. I would die
to protect him, you know that.”
Thranduil nodded once, but did not
speak. The king did know. Aragorn had proved his loyalty on
more than one occasion. He did not blame the human for his son’s
recklessness anymore, but he did not wish to discuss it with him either.
The ranger hesitated, not sure where to go from their quiet impasse. When I was young, I broke my
brothers’ favorite hunting bows. I was upset because I could not
go out with them. I meant to hide the bow, but ended up ruining
it instead. It was an accident, but they were quite angry.
They left on their trip. While they were in the mountains there
was an accident. Elrohir broke his leg and they were trapped in a
snare-pit they could not escape. Father sensed something was
wrong and Moranuen found them, but it was almost too late. Until
he brought them back I thought I had lost them, like I lost my parents,
and there was no way I could take back what had happened between us.”
Thranduil looked away. “I’m sorry to hear it, but I assume there is a larger point you are trying to achieve here?”
Aragorn nodded. “We cannot
always control what happens to our loved ones. Sometimes they are
hurt. Sometimes they die. But if we part angry, and
something does happen... it hurts that much more.”
Thranduil met Aragorn’s gaze
firmly. “I held my son in my arms and believed he was
dying. I sat there and heard the best healers in Arda say there
was nothing they could do to save him. All I could do was hold
his bleeding body. That is all I have EVER been able to do for
him. I thought he was dead, Estel. I poured my heart out to
him. Now he will not even return home with me. Nothing can
hurt more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe we have our
separate ways to go.”
Thranduil left Aragorn standing there, looking at the king’s retreat and wishing there was something else he could say.
“It’s not your fault, you know,”
Trelan’s hand on Aragorn’s back almost made the ranger jump.
“Take it from someone who has known them longer than you. They’ll
get over this eventually. It’s... it’s a kind of pattern with
them. Believe me, things have improved. There was a time
when Legolas would be on his way back to Mirkwood in irons right
now.” The smaller elf was trying to be light, but Aragorn could
tell he was only partly joking.
Aragorn shook his head and let his breath out slowly. He realized that Legolas was at his elbow.
“Come, Estel. I have spoken to Beoma,
he and Pejor are ready. Let us go.” Legolas gave no
indication of whether or not he had heard what his father said about
“Legolas,” Aragorn hesitated.
“Maybe you should stay. It’s not worth all this... I don’t even
know what’s being fought about anymore.”
Legolas hesitated briefly, but then
resolutely shook his head. “Nothing we have not disagreed on my
whole life. I am not a child anymore. Someday Father will
have to understand that. If he could only trust a little less in
the infallibility of his own wisdom...” the prince’s words trailed
off. He hadn’t meant to go that far. “Forgive me. Únauth, mellon-nín. Forget it. Come.”
Thranduil ignored them when they left. He did not acknowledge
Legolas’ farewell, although the younger elf tried twice.
Legolas did not seem to expect him to respond, and did not react to the
rejection. But Aragorn knew his friend well enough to see that
Thranduil’s actions hurt Legolas whether the prince cared to show it or
The morning sky spread out bright overhead as Beoma and Pejor quietly
followed their escorts away from the main elf host. They could
tell there had been trouble and kept to themselves for the moment,
giving the two friends space.
“I’m sorry, Legolas,” Aragorn said quietly when they crested a ridge and
looked back to see the party of elves winding their way away towards
the dark, distant shadow of the forest on the far horizon.
“I had hoped...” the ranger trailed off. What was he going to
say? ‘I had hoped you both were past this?’ That did not
sound at all like what he meant.
Legolas sighed. “Strider, Father and I did a lot of talking in
Rivendell. Real talking, not just him talking and me
listening. I feel I understand him now as well as I ever will...
not that this knowledge always helps.” He chuckled
ruefully. “But nothing changes overnight. Trees that have
grown for centuries take time to bend a new direction, even if the sun
and winds that shape them shift. If I had a horse for every time
my father and I have parted badly, Mirkwood’s stables would rival those
of the Rohirrim. I have finally learned that it will pass, we
will come to peace again and Father will eventually forget he was ever
angry. That is more than I could say ever before. And right
now, I intend to enjoy my freedom while it lasts.”
Aragorn shook his head, unable to repress a small snort. “I may
never understand your family, mellon-nín, but so long as we are
not being exiled or chased by insane relatives, I suppose I can live
with a few quirks.”
“Good, especially since you have no right to talk. I do not have
two brothers who put water pitchers above other people’s doors...”
Aragorn groaned. “Legolas, for the hundredth time, they intended it for me...”
“Mmm,” Legolas nodded. “All very well, except that they got my father and me.”
“I would have liked to see that,” Pejor commented, now that the
conversation seemed to be taking a lighter and less private turn.
“No, you wouldn’t,” Aragorn and Legolas said at the same time.
Beoma laughed. It was a distinctive, full-bellied whuffling sound that made you want to join him.//
Now, looking up at the night sky littered with stars, Aragorn
chuckled again. He was glad Legolas was here with him, even if
that was a selfish thought. They had been together daily for over
three years now, it would be an adjustment when they finally had to say
goodbye. Aragorn knew he had things he had to do, as did
Legolas. Even so, any small amount of extra time they could delay
the inevitable parting was welcome... even if Legolas, Beoma and Pejor
had seemed content to walk almost all night last night and half of this
“What?” Legolas asked, having heard his friend laugh.
“Beoma and Pejor, I swear they like walking in starlight almost as much as you do.”
Legolas smiled in the dark and shook his head. He had to
agree. The Beornings were unusual people, but then, he already
knew that. “I thought you were going to sleep.”
“I am, I am,” Aragorn rolled his eyes. “Gladly.”