Cell Number Eight
Chapter 4: Many Explanations
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The footsteps stopped as the person entering the cell finally got close
enough to see the shadow-shrouded form in the corner. The sword
in the human’s hand lowered suddenly and he pushed the torch he was
carrying further forward so that its light illuminated the form of the
elf, whose natural radiance had all but faded away.
The elf’s head jerked up at the familiar and totally unexpected voice.
The King of Gondor had already dropped down on one knee next to his
long-time friend, horror and sorrow fleeting across his face as he took
in the elf’s state. He had never expected to find this. Not
in a dozen lifetimes! The horrible surprise left him breathless
“Legolas, what are you doing here?” Aragorn breathed in shock.
Dropping his sword, he gently brushed the elf’s tangled hair back from
his face, seeking the prince’s pain-glazed eyes. Legolas was
hurt, very badly hurt, and fear knifed through the King’s heart like the
sharpest of blades. “I thought you were still in Ithilien. I
didn’t even know you were missing! How...?”
Legolas was trying to speak, trying to interrupt his friend. “Aragorn... Aragorn, you’ve got to...”
But at that moment another soldier appeared in the doorway of the cell,
dressed in the black and silver of the Gondorian palace guard.
“Your highness?” The man seemed to be struggling with
something. It was Dari.
The boy was trying his best to wiggle out of the soldier’s grasp, still clamoring to be put down.
“Yes, Jonath?” Aragorn turned just in time to see the captain of his
guard lose hold of the bundle in his arms. Dari hit the floor
running and fairly flung himself into the King’s arms. “Ada!”
“Dari!” Aragorn hugged the boy fiercely, lifting him off his feet and
into the king’s strong arms. “Oh, Eldarion, I thought I lost you,
my son. I thought I lost you...” he whispered, tears of joy
streaking silently down his face. “Are you all right?”
“I’m ‘kay,” Eldarion nodded. “But Leg’las is hurt! I tried
to fix him, but I can’t. Don’t let him die, Ada, please!
He’s my friend. He keeps me safe from the bad men and doesn’ let
them hurt me.”
“He has a habit of doing that.” Aragorn cupped the side of
Legolas’ face gently in his hand. Reluctantly setting Eldarion
down, the King was already moving to check the elf’s wounds.
“Don’t worry, Dari, we won’t let him die, will we?” The human’s eyes
locked with Legolas’.
Legolas smiled weakly. “Not if we can help it. It is good
to see you, mellon-nín,” he added quietly as Aragorn assessed his
injuries with efficient expertise.
Eldarion stayed close to his father, clinging non-obtrusively to
Aragorn’s tunic as he stood beside the older man, watching the King try
to help the injured elf prince.
“You’ll be okay, Leg’las, my Ada can fix anything,” Dari assured,
glancing up at his father with complete trust and love in his young
“I believe that,” Legolas rasped quietly, eliciting a wry glare from
his old friend. A faint grin played across the elf’s lips.
“I know, I’m late.” Aragorn smiled softly back. “But this time you look terrible, my friend.” The elf’s wounds were serious,
but if Legolas had the spirit to fight, then Aragorn thought that with
some immediate care the elf had a good chance of pulling through.
Dari continued to cling contentedly to his father’s arm, handing him
things when he asked for them as the king did some emergency medical
Legolas chuckled at the old joke between them. “Not as terrible
as I might... Your son is already following in your footsteps,
Estel. He has a healer’s heart. However, I would like to
know how you let him get here!”
Aragorn smiled warmly at his small son and then back at Legolas.
“Now you sound like Elladan! Believe me I never, never
intended...” the King stopped, rubbing the side of his head gently
against the top of his little boy’s to assure himself that Dari really
was there and safe. “Well, I think we both have some tales to
tell one another, my friend.”
I’ll spill my soul to you
Hold it open, let you swim inside
Whatever you do
I trust somehow you’ll make it right.
I always tell you everything.
I feel like you should know...
But what I can’t say is deafening
the ache inside, it won’t let go
Won’t free my tongue to say
What’s really hurting me...
So listen without words
Hear my heart plea
Don’t give me answers
Just listen to me.
Legolas rested easily beside the fire, staring up at the stars.
He was still very weak but, if he did not try to sit up or breathe too
deeply, he could cope with the pain. It was good to be outside in
the open again, with friends. It seemed a life age since he had
been anywhere other than cell number eight and the killing fields of
He imagined he could smell the tang of salt water on the breeze, but he
knew it was only the soldiers cooking, because they were too far away
from the ocean for it to be anything but his imagination. Part of
him wished that were not true. A small but vocal corner of his
heart harbored the strong desire to ask Aragorn to take him to the
coast, just to see the sea, to watch the billowing waves as they
crested under the siren call of the gulls... just to be there in
reality as he had been almost every night in his dreams since being
committed to the blood pits.
Legolas drew his breath in slowly, pushing the longing back down into
the aching pit of his stomach. He could not go there, not now, no
matter how strong the wish. He knew Aragorn would do anything he
asked him, but... he dare not make such a request. Legolas knew
he was too weak, his heart too weary. If he gave in to his desire
to see the ocean now, he would never be able to tear himself away
again, no matter how desperately the other half of his heart desired to
remain on Middle-earth.
The prince pulled his mind back to the moment and to Aragorn, who sat
across the fire from him. Or at least he had been sitting
across the fire from him. Now, Legolas suddenly found that his
friend was actually kneeling beside him, watching the elf with worried
The King of Gondor wore his tunic only partially fastened, dividing the
White tree on the front neatly in half where his under-tunic showed
through from underneath. The Gondorian jerkin seemed to be the
extent of his concession to military dress at the moment, as the rest
of his attire was distinctly more reminiscent of his ranger days than
“Legolas, do you feel all right? Did you even hear me?” Aragorn’s
voice was soft and not upset at having been ignored. He was
Legolas realized with a start that he had not and gave his head a small
shake. “Forgive me. I-I did not. What did you say?”
The King of Gondor smiled. “Never mind. You’re tired, I
should let you rest. Forgive me for keeping you up so long, my
friend. I have missed you and it was selfish of me.”
“No,” Legolas suddenly reached out and gripped Aragorn’s arm, not
letting him leave. He was weary, but he did not want to
sleep. He would only be tormented by visions of the sea again,
for in this matter he no longer had control of his dreams.
Aragorn saw the conflict in his friend’s face, although he did not
understand its source. His dark eyes searched the pale, blue ones
before him. “Legolas, what is it? What’s haunting
you? Is it because it was men...?”
Legolas shook his head quickly. “Aragorn, I do not fear men, and
their cruelty darkens my heart no longer. Those are things that have
Aragorn could see his friend spoke the truth, but that didn’t explain what he still saw. “All right, then what?”
Legolas did not answer. He rolled onto his side with some effort. “I would not see you go yet, if you’re willing.”
Aragorn nodded slowly and settled down across from his friend once
more. He knew enough to know when Legolas didn’t want to talk
about something. “All right but, if I weary you, you must promise
to tell me. You have me worried for you, my friend.”
Legolas smiled. “Then I’m sorry, for such was not my
desire. But I have so many questions... things that do not make
sense. Why did the people of Rahzon think you were the
Khelekir? And what brought you to Rahzon? Were you looking
That had been puzzling Legolas since he had been conscious enough to consider the question.
“Yes, and no,” Aragorn shook his head. “I have been searching for
Eldarion, but it was not that that drew me to Rahzon actually. As
for the Khelekir, that is what those people call us in their
tongue. We have been trying to eliminate the illegal slave trade
here and the games that fuel it. Don’t worry,” Aragorn saw the
look of confusion pass over his friend’s face and quickly set him at
ease. “If you heard those wild stories they tell about us
supposedly killing everyone in our path and being bloody murderers,
it’s not true. Although those poor terrified slaves in the cages
certainly seemed to be whipped up into quite a terror about it until
they finally understood we were giving them their freedom. It’s
just something that the warlords made up to frighten the people into
hating us more, so they would fight us to the death without even
thinking of surrender.” The King’s eyes were sad, thinking of how
many might have been saved instead of lost because of lies.
Legolas smiled faintly and nodded. “Like the poor hill men after
the battle of Helm’s Deep, convinced we were going to burn them alive
or eat them or something similarly horrible...” He shook his head.
“Yes.” Aragorn returned the smile. “Like that.”
“Ada...” a small voice took Aragorn’s attention as Dari pulled lightly at his sleeve.
Aragorn smiled gently at his child as he lifted the boy into his
lap. “Here’s someone else who should be in bed, yes?” he asked
gently, smiling down into the large, sleepy eyes.
“Nooo,” Dari shook his head in protest, wiggling deeper into his father’s embrace. “Not sleepy.”
Aragorn sincerely doubted that, but let it pass. Arwen was the
bed-time enforcer at home, not he. The King was of the mind that
when Dari was tired, he would sleep.
From across the fire, Legolas watched the father and son with a small
smile. It did his heart so good to see Dari back with the father
he had never thought he could return him to, and he got more than a
small share of enjoyment from watching his old friend with the child,
who undoubtedly was very like Aragorn himself when the ranger was
young. Having been like a parent to Dari, even for just a while,
made Legolas envy Elladan and Elrohir having been able to watch Estel
grow from childhood into the man he was now... although it also gave
him a little understanding of why sometimes they still seemed to be so
protective of him. In their hearts, Aragorn would always be their
“Sing to me, Ada,” Dari pleaded with a sleepy voice. “Sing the hope song...”
Aragorn blinked. He didn’t understand what the child meant. “The hope song, Dari?” he queried.
“He means he wants you to hum him the Haradrim slave’s lullaby,”
Legolas supplied the explanation quietly. “I used to sing that to him
to help him sleep; I told him it was a song about hope living in the
darkest of places... like in slavery.”
Aragorn smiled softly at the old memories. Harad... it was
appropriate in an ironic way, considering how and why the child had
almost been lost.
“Please, Ada?” Dari entreated in a small voice.
Aragorn nodded. “Of course ion-nín. Let’s see if I can remember it...”
Quietly, Aragorn began the old, familiar melody.
Legolas closed his eyes. So many memories, so much life, laughter
and yes, even pain... such a rich history he and Aragorn had formed
together over the years. The memories seemed at the moment sweet,
but also sad as they receded into the past. He found himself
suddenly considering what life would be like without his dear friend
and the ache of the thought was almost too much as it added to the
swelling pain that throbbed in his heart.
For the first time in his life Legolas truly felt old, and it wasn’t a
feeling he particularly relished. Yet it wasn’t one he could
ignore either - the world-weariness of a soul who had heard the summons
to leave, but was not ready, or willing to heed it yet. Valinor
was calling him to the sea, to the promise of peace and the end of all
earthly sorrows... and yet in leaving Legolas knew he would find his
greatest sorrow because he would have to leave Aragorn behind if he
went now. No. He wasn’t ready for that. Yet... the
unfulfilled longing hurt so much.
By the time Aragorn fell silent, Dari was fast asleep. For a
moment the King thought that Legolas was too, until he saw the lone
tear slide from under his friend’s dark lashes. The human’s brows
creased. Something was wrong. Something inside Legolas was
torn, anguished... and Aragorn could not seem to understand the cause,
or how to help. This hurt and frustrated the ranger, but he did
not speak, unsure if it would help or harm Legolas to know that his
inner pain was so outwardly apparent.
Presently Legolas realized that Aragorn had fallen silent and felt the
former ranger’s eyes on him even before he opened his eyes. A
weak, but genuine smile met the ranger’s concerned, inquiring gaze.
“Is Dari asleep?” the elf asked quietly, trying to banish the thickness of emotion from his voice.
Aragorn nodded, stroking his child’s soft, dark curls with the
reverence of one who realizes they might have been denied that pleasure
forever had things come out differently.
“Thank you, Legolas,” Aragorn said quietly, looking back up to meet his
friend’s gaze. There were tears in the human’s eyes and that
nearly undid the elf, causing Legolas to have to blink rapidly to
The joy and pain that mingled in Aragorn’s eyes ran deep. “People
call me Hope, but I had almost lost hope that I would ever see my son
again. I thought...” one of the tears glittering in his eyes slid
down the man’s weathered cheek, but he didn’t bother wiping it
away. He was not ashamed of his feelings for his family and
friends. “I thought he was gone. Legolas, he would not have
survived in that place alone. Many times you have saved my life,
but what you did for Eldarion I consider a debt beyond hope of
repayment. I don’t think Arwen and I could have... we couldn’t
have lost him...” the human swallowed hard, cradling the small body in
his arms even closer.
Legolas shook his head. “If I saved him, then we are even.
It is I who owe him, Estel. Truly, he carries a part of you
inside, for he was my hope, my light in the dark that kept me
struggling on when giving up would have been much easier...” Legolas
touched Dari’s pendant, still around his neck, “My star, in the
starless night. Without him there, Estel, I would not be here now.”
Aragorn saw the truth of that statement in his friend’s eyes.
“Then we should thank Ilúvatar, for knowing better than we do,”
the human’s voice was soft. “Only he could have used two such
horrible events as yours and Eldarion’s capture to bring about a happy
ending for both of you.”
Legolas nodded slowly. That was very true. Either event
happening by itself, would likely have ended only in tragedy. The
elf smiled faintly, attempting to pull himself back from the edge of
the depression eating at his heart as he dwelt on happier things.
“Very true. You know, if Dari was not your son, and had he been
orphaned as I thought, I would have adopted him if we could have ever
escaped together,” the elf admitted. “I expected,” the prince’s
grin widened, “That you would help me. Little did I know the
Aragorn smiled back. “He could not have asked for a better foster-father at need.”
Legolas rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, he could have. You fill
the parent role much better than I, mellon-nín. I am very
relieved. Although still confused on many things... I cannot
believe I never once suspected he was yours. He never mentioned
you until the end, and his name...”
Aragorn laughed quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping child.
“Eldarion cannot pronounce his real name yet. He’s been Dari
since he was old enough to talk... but then you haven’t seen him since
then, have you?”
Legolas shook his head. “What happened, Aragorn? Is Arwen
all right? Dari seemed truly convinced that his parents were gone
Aragorn sighed deeply. “In a strange way this all happened
because of a treaty with Harad. Peace with our southern neighbors
is something I’ve wanted ever since I took the throne and we finally
had a breakthrough not very long ago. There have been centuries
of enmity between our two peoples; it was time for it to end.”
Legolas nodded in understanding. It was no surprise to him that
Aragorn felt that way. He had been cared for and adopted by a
Haradrim family during a very stressful and frightening time of his
life, many years ago. That memory and that tie with those people,
even sworn enemies of Gondor though many of them were, had never faded.
“Did you know that Sircyn’s youngest son is now one of the leading
Warlords? Well he is, although that was a surprise for me to
learn as well. He convinced most of the other major tribes that
at least talking about peace was a good idea, and they finally agreed
to meet with me.”
Aragorn smiled. He distinctly remembered the hostility with which
he had been greeted by most of the tribal leaders at first. He
also remembered their shock when the King of Gondor addressed them
fluently in their own tongue and observed all the proper customs of
their people during the meetings. Slowly, the opinion that this
foreign King could not understand or respect them and their ways had
softened in the minds of many of the delegates. Even so, a number
had remained unmoved, but the majority was eventually won over and a
peace agreement was declared.
It was a time of great celebration. The Warlords brought in their
families to prepare the feasts and out of respect for their customs,
and the importance that this held for the future of Gondor, Aragorn
sent for Arwen and Eldarion to join them as well.
The celebration ceremonies had gone smoothly, and Dari was endlessly
fascinated by the new people and creatures, especially the Oliphaunts.
When it was over, Aragorn remained to finish up business with the
chieftains afterward, sending Arwen and Eldarion home under the
watchful protection of the Gondorian army.
On the way back, disaster struck. The party was attacked by a
ruthless band of the Haradrim who did not approve of their leaders’
decision to ally themselves with their former Gondorian enemy.
Vastly outnumbered, the Queen and the little Prince were intentionally
separated from their protectors.
What the attackers had not counted on was finding a vicious elf
warrior hidden beneath the queen’s dainty robes. Spurred by the
maternal instinct to protect her child and aided by her elven heritage,
Arwen killed many of the enemy, but eventually took grievous hurt
trying to protect Dari. When it became clear she could not defeat
them all, the Queen hid Eldarion in the deep hollow of an ancient tree,
desperately bidding the old oak to watch over her baby.
//“Shh, quiet little one, we’re going to play a game. You’re
going to hide here and not let anyone find you until I come back.
Just be brave, Dari. Be brave, my little star,” Arwen whispered, soothing
her child’s fears. “And if I do not come, wait for Ada, he will
find you, ion-nín. But you must be silent.”
“Nana, you’re hurt...” Dari was worried over the large crimson stain
drenching the sleeve of Arwen’s pale grey dress and spreading down her
Arwen pressed a kiss tearfully against her child’s forehead. She
did not expect to live to see him again, but she hoped beyond hope that
Aragorn would somehow find him and forgive her the sacrifice she had
ion-nín, my love will always be with you, for
the rest of your life,” she promised. Tears stained her face as
she tore herself away, hearing the approaching enemy closing fast upon
them. “Remember that, and wait for Ada to come!”//
In a last, desperate attempt to keep at least Eldarion safe from harm,
Arwen led the attackers away on a wild chase deep into the
forest. Dari waited and waited for her to return... but she did
not come. Neither did Aragorn.
When one of the injured soldiers came limping into Aragorn’s camp the
next day, the King of Gondor thought his heart had turned to ice.
He left so fast his guards could barely keep up with him, but there was
no way by then he could have arrived in time.
//The horse’s dark body was flecked with foam and lathered with sweat
as he gave his all for his master. When Aragorn reined him in,
the creature pulled to an obedient halt. It didn’t matter how
fast the horse stopped, Aragorn was swinging out of the saddle before
he stopped moving. All around the King’s feet lay a gruesome maze
of bodies, the bright helms and white trees of Gondor on their uniforms
stained and tarnished with the blood of death.
There were only Gondorian dead here, as the Haradrim had removed their own before they left.
Aragorn’s heart, which had been pounding up in his throat since he
first received word, sank to his stomach and froze into a solid lump of
ice as he surveyed the carnage.
Ai, Elbereth... he knew these
men, all of them, they were good people, they did not deserve to fall
this way with their bodies left for carrion... yet that was not the
most terrible thought in his mind.
“Arwen! Eldarion! ARWEN!” he walked around the glade,
scanning the gory and trampled ground desperately for any clear tracks
that would help him, any indication at all of what fate had befallen
his wife and child. He could find nothing. Then, his roving
eyes landed upon something that made his frozen heart shatter.
Trampled into the mud and only faintly flickering in the fading light
of evening, the Evenstar pendant lay forlorn and alone on the forest
floor. Its chain had been snapped and an ominous red stain
darkened the silver petals along one side.
Aragorn had slipped the precious necklace, that he almost always wore,
around Eldarion’s neck when they said goodbye. The child had not
wanted to leave his father, so Aragorn gave him a piece of his heart to
carry with him until they met again.
Tears filled the King of Gondor’s eyes as he fell to his knees, crushing the broken necklace to his breast.
“No! Dari! Arwen!” his anguished cry echoed mournfully
through the trees. Jonath and the other soldiers finally arrived
only just in time to hear the sad sound.
It was with breaking heart that Jonath walked quietly to his liege’s
side. He softly bid his soldiers to begin caring for the dead and
scouting the area, and then just laid his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder,
wishing with all his heart that he could take away the horrible toll of
Aragorn remained on his knees in a heart-sick daze for several minutes
until Jonath’s gentle urgings brought him back to reality and he
struggled to his feet again. Arwen and Eldarion’s bodies were not
among the dead numbered here. If he did not have proof of their
death, there was still a chance they were alive. The small,
stubborn flame of hope that was Estel refused to give into complete
despair without a fight. He would get them back, he had to... if
he did not it would destroy him.
“Estel...” the voice was faint, he almost thought he had imagined it
from the deep desire of his heart except that Jonath’s head perked up
at exactly the same instant.
Spinning quickly, Aragorn saw a sight he would never forget as long as he lived.
Arwen stumbled out of the trees towards him, her face marred with blood
and soot. Her dress was torn and crusted with blood, he could not
tell how much of it hers, and how much of it not. A stained sword
dangled limply from her fingers and she wavered unsteadily.
Aragorn was at her side in a instant, gathering her slim frame into his
arms, cradling her head against him like one might a child as he
embraced her in love, joy, relief... and surpassing fear.
The slender elf woman, looking now less like a warrior and more like a
wounded doe, collapsed, sobbing into her husband’s strong
embrace. Aragorn could tell at once that she was badly wounded,
but that did not seem to be the source of her distress.
“Eldarion is gone! He’s not where I left him... I lost him, I
lost Dari...” the distraught mother cried in heartbroken sorrow as
Aragorn held her tight
They combed every inch of the woods, they searched for days, weeks,
months, even as hope dwindled and the reality of despair set in, but
Eldarion was not to be found.
Long nights found Aragorn alone in his study, chafing away and dying
inside because his duties had finally recalled him from the search and
he could hardly bear leaving it in the hands of others, no matter how
capable. Arwen’s body healed, but Eldarion’s loss ripped a large
whole through both their hearts. One little boy, alone... there
was no hope he could still be alive, was there?
//“Stop it, meleth-nín!” Arwen grabbed Aragorn’s arm, her voice
half plea, half demand, halting his incessant pacing. Outside the
city, bells rang early morning. Aragorn had not slept. In
“Stop it, you’re killing yourself. It... It won’t bring him
back.” Her voice quavered and broke. Aragorn held her close
and buried his face in her soft, dark hair. To him, being a
father was even more important than being a King... with Elrond as his
only reference, he set very high expectations of himself and his
self-perceived utter failure was crushing.
Arwen softly caressed the Evenstar, which hung once more around the
King’s neck on a new chain. “You know,” she said softly.
“Father had this made for me when I was a little girl. He said it
reminded him of the necklace his mother wore for a time, with the
Silmaril. He told me how her little brothers had been lost...
abandoned to die in the woods and never seen again...” her shoulders
shook with silent sobs. “I always thought it was sad, but I never
knew... Estel, I should never have left him!” sobs choked her and she
could not go on.
Aragorn laid a finger against her lips, kissing away her tears.
Melethril, my love, it was not your fault... please, darling, please
don’t. We’ll find him, Arwen, we have to.” He willed his
voice to be strong for her, to convey more surety than he possessed.
“Estel,” she murmured through exhausted tears. “Always hope.”
For many excruciating months, hope was all they had to go on, very thin
hope at that. When a vague report of a child matching Dari’s
description having been spotted somewhere to the far east came bundled
with other tidings of slaver raiding on Gondor’s borders, it offered
precious little optimism, but a little was better than none, and when
more and more reports came, telling of the rampant raiding and upsurge
of forced slavery from many outlying Gondorian provinces, any action
had seemed better than idle torment.
It was only after talking with Dari that Aragorn was able to begin
piecing together an idea of what had happened to the child after the
fateful attack. Apparently Dari had waited until dark, but his
mother did not come back. Hungry, thirsty, frightened and fearing
for his Nana, the boy had wandered away from the safety of his hiding
place. Nighttime alone in the woods scared him and he ran blindly
through the darkened forest for a time, until the lights of a campfire
drew him in like a moth to a flame. Unfortunately, the fire
belonged to a roving band of Rahzon slavers on their way home from a
raid; perhaps even the same group who had taken Legolas weeks
earlier. Dari had been taught to trust adults and went with them
without a fuss when they said they would get him home. It was not
until days later that the child began to realize these men were not
taking him back to Gondor, or his parents. He tried to run away
but was easy to catch and, after that, Dari would not speak of anything
that happened until he met Legolas. It was as if it were too
traumatic for his little mind to remember or dwell upon. The
slavers had no idea who the child was, thinking him merely some boy who
had the misfortune to be lost in the woods. His addition to their
lot of slaves for the arena had been an after-thought because they knew
that cage brats were in demand... they never knew that they had
kidnapped the Crown Prince of Gondor.
By the time Arwen had lost her pursuers and been able to make the long
trek back through the forest to find him, Eldarion had already been
The little prince in question gave a soft, gurgling snore and shifted
slightly in his father’s arms, drawing the eyes of both the elf Prince
and the Gondorian King to rest upon him once more as they considered
the horrible what-if’s that had fortunately not come to pass.
Despite his own inner battles, seeing Dari happy again mended a small
part of Legolas’ heart. So long he had yearned to give Dari back
the parents he seemed to miss so much... realizing now who those
parents were made the prince all the more glad things had turned out as
they had. He shivered involuntarily as his thoughts drifted back
to the night he was freed. He had not wanted to die there, locked
away in a cage; the thought had been more horrific than he realized at
the time. It could have all ended so differently.
It very nearly had.
Seeing his friend shudder, Aragorn immediately called Jonath over and
passed the sleeping child to his second-in-command as he swiftly moved
back to Legolas’ side once more. So lost in dark memories was the
elf, that he did not notice when Aragorn stopped speaking. The
frightening reverie of the past months was broken as a heavy blanket
was draped around his shoulders and a gentle hand cupped his now
Legolas realized two things with a start: first, and much to his
mortification, that he had been crying and not realized it; and second,
that Aragorn was next to him once more, speaking softly as he dried his
friend’s tears. As Legolas looked up at Aragorn, an agonizing
bolt of longing shot suddenly through his heart, nearly taking his
breath away. That surprised the elf even more. By the
stars, what was wrong with him? Here he was with his best friend
in the whole world, and he felt so wretchedly lonely. It wasn’t
right... he was free now, everything should be fine, what was wrong
with his heart? Why did he have no control anymore? The elf
tried to pull back as the gentle touch startled him, an automatic
response he had learned eons ago when touched by other men. The
fear was gone, but the reactions remained when hurting and confused as
he was now. He was so wretchedly confused, he wished the earth or
the sea would swallow him up... the sea... curse its beautiful expanse,
he wished he had never seen it, never fallen under this terrible spell.
“Saes...” The prince whispered shakily, some part of him pleading for
Aragorn to make these feelings go away, as illogical as he knew such a
request might be.
“Legolas, it’s all right now.” His friend’s voice echoed like
gentle ripples across the face of the turmoil of the prince’s thoughts
Aragorn pressed his forehead against the elf’s left temple as he knelt
by the prince, trying to calm the tremors that chased through Legolas’
soul. The elf he held breathed in deeply, closing his eyes
against the pictures that flashed through his waking memories.
Blood, death... all those helpless, hopeless people he had had to
kill... even the memory threatened to make him ill. With a sigh,
Legolas leaned against the King and worked to calm his breathing.
He swiped at the tears that still rolled down his face in embarrassing
trails. His time in the pits had marked him more than he had
realized... and more than he wanted to admit.
“I’m sorry. Dari recovers so quickly and I feel as if I were the
babe and not he,” Legolas whispered softly. “I just...” His voice
trailed off and he stopped speaking. How could he explain?
How could he ever paint a picture dark enough to describe what life in
the blood pits had been like? How could a mortal ever understand
what the call of the sea was doing to him... and how could he ever
think to tell Aragorn, when he knew the pain that the very idea of his
leaving would cause?
“You protected Dari so he could keep his innocent resilience.
There was no one to protect you. Give yourself time.”
Aragorn’s words were barely a whisper but he held the elf’s head
against his chest now, letting the prince hear his voice. “No one
should have been subjected to what you have been through. No one.”
The moments stretched out long and silent. Neither man nor elf
moved. Jonath had taken Eldarion and bedded him down for the
night in Aragorn’s tent. He and his men kept a quiet watch from
the edges of their own fire ring, giving the King and the elf the space
they needed. The night patrol checked in and the next party was
sent out. Only the sounds of the fire and the woods about them
broke the peaceful stillness.
“Wait until Arwen finds out where Dari was,” Legolas finally whispered, trying to turn the subject away from himself.
Aragorn felt the elf smile against him and he shook his head, a soft
laugh accompanying his answer. “She will have someone’s head, probably
mine because I’m handy. But beware, my friend. When she learns who
it was that protected our little one all these long months, she will
pamper you and mother you until you are sick to death of it. I
have learned that Elladan has nothing on Arwen when it comes to being
The quiet chuckle that answered his jest brought a smile to the human’s
face. He sat back. Releasing the elf, he seated himself on
the ground by his friend.
“Oh, joy.” Legolas answered sarcastically; “Can we tell her it
was all Jonath’s doing? Or, better yet, just stay here until I am
well enough to travel? I can return to Ithilien and she will
never know.” It was only a joke as they both knew well.
“Jonath won’t keep any more secrets for me. He’ll tell her.
Then we’ll both be in trouble.” Aragorn glanced secretively at
his second-in-command who was glowering openly at his king now.
Changing the subject, Aragorn quietly asked the question he had been
harboring the past few days, “Legolas, tell me how did those men
capture you? Eldarion I had dared hope that we might find out
there somewhere... but we had not heard that there was trouble near
The elf swallowed hard, averting his eyes from the gaze of his friend.
“I...” He stopped speaking and sighed deeply, remembering back to the
day so many months ago.
“I was checking the progress on the south-eastern border lands of
Ithilien and only had two others with me. Raniean and Trelan
stayed behind to oversee the work we have started. It must have
been before Dari was lost, for I remember hearing that there was some
kind of peace negotiations underway with Harad. I knew it had to
be all your doing. We encountered a rather large group of
men. Strange men they were to us, more like the Easterlings than
anything else. They said they were merchants, and they had many
pack animals and goods with them. In my heart I did not trust
their large smiles and fair words, but my companions saw less amiss
than I and I second-guessed myself, thinking that old prejudices still
wanted to have their way with me. So we welcomed them and gave
them kind greetings. We remained wary... but not wary enough...”
//Legolas shook his head, rubbing his temples. His body screamed
that something was wrong, but his mind responded sluggishly. This
was not right, he should have noticed something wrong earlier... but it
was fast becoming too late.
In alarm, Legolas looked around, only to see his two companions also
rubbing their heads, eyes leaden and glassy. The smiling faces of
the men around the fire had hardened into something alarming.
Fear surged through Legolas’ body and he shot to his feet, trying not
to stumble. The elves had consumed only their own food and wine
and nothing that belonged to the strangers, so the prince did not know
how it had happened, but they had been drugged, that much was clear.
The slavers did not expect resistance from their prey after having been
so heavily sedated, but they had not counted on the resilience of
Legolas bid the memories away even as he retold them, wishing to not
see his two friends fall yet again. He had been there, and yet
been unable to stop what had happened. He had not been able to
save them. That still burned and would take time to heal.
“They attempted to drug us with only partial success. I still do
not know how they got their foul potion into our food, but somehow they
must have. When this was realized, a fight broke out. I
killed nine of their men that day, but my companions were also
slain. I don't really know what happened after they fell. I
do not remember being hit by poisoned darts, but I was told when I
awoke in my cell that that was how they had secured me. And
apparently how they kept me unconscious for most of our journey, of
which I remember nothing.
“I was supposed to be gone for several months at least... in all
probability neither Ran nor Trey would have thought anything of my
prolonged absence until recently, perhaps. They have become used
to me disappearing at will for longer than expected.” Legolas
stopped telling the tale. He closed his eyes shaking his head,
collecting his thoughts and dreading his next words. They had lain
heavily on his heart and he had not wanted to give into them, but they
needed to be spoken aloud and, here with Aragorn, he was safe to speak
“I should never have trusted them, Estel. My time with you and
other men took away the edge, dulled that warning in me that might have
saved us. I heard it but ignored it; I thought the fault was in
me, in my old misgivings. I thought that was in the past... it
was truly foolish of me, but I suppose I may even have thought that
ignorance, intolerance, and cruelty were gone, or at least
fading. But I suppose those things will always exist in an
imperfect world and am ashamed to admit that for once I was not
prepared for such.” His voice was soft, the conversation kept
between the two of them only.
Aragorn’s heart ached. He had finally come to understand why
Legolas had kept his heart closed for so long when he first met
him. Legolas was by nature either closed or open. If he
gave himself over to trusting, he did so with his whole heart, and that
left him vulnerable to worlds of hurt. “Legolas...” Aragorn’s
apology was cut short as the elf finally met his gaze.
“No. Do not apologize. I did not say that to mean it was
your fault... the fault was mine, I just...” The elf sighed.
Aragorn worried his lower lip with his teeth. There seemed to be
so much going on inside Legolas that it was like a balled up knot that
confused him, and he wasn’t sure where to start untangling in order to
reach the heart of what was really troubling his friend. “We all
make mistakes. The cruelty and greed of men are not your
fault. I’m just sorry I did not come sooner... or that I did not
even think to send word to Faramir asking if all was well in Ithilien
as I usually would have. There were a lot of duties I fear I
failed after Eldarion’s disappearance,” the King admitted
softly. He had his own guilt to carry over everything that had
happened, and it went deeper than the elf realized at the moment.
“Aragorn, you couldn’t have known...” Legolas started to say, but
Aragorn shook his head insistently, his eyes etched with a deep,
“No, Legolas, listen to me, because I need your forgiveness...” He
dropped his gaze. “There’s more. I... I sent word to you
after Eldarion was lost. I wanted your help, I needed your
support. I didn’t ask you to come, but I thought you would.
Raniean sent word that you were away, and he was forwarding the letter
on immediately, but I never received an answer from you. I should
have known something was wrong... instead, I just felt hurt,” Aragorn
whispered hoarsely, unable to meet his friend’s eyes. He hadn’t
wanted to tell him this, but he felt he must. He had to trust and
hope that Legolas could forgive him, even if it would take him longer
to forgive himself.
Legolas was surprised, and saddened that his friend thought he might
have acted so cold at a time when Aragorn was obviously hurting and in
need of him. He was also a little shaken that Aragorn could have
found out earlier that something was wrong, and hadn’t. “How long
ago?” he whispered quietly.
“Two months at least.” Aragorn pried his gaze from the ground and
lifted it to his friend’s face, knowing that Legolas deserved that
much, no matter how it hurt to see the ripples of pain and surprise
chasing across the fair features.
“Two months...” Legolas echoed softly, trying not to imagine how
different things might have been had anyone realized he was missing
that long ago.
“I’m sorry,” Aragorn breathed quietly around the painful lump in his
throat. “I assumed you were just too far away to be reached, or
too busy... I didn’t pursue the matter. I didn’t imagine in my
wildest dreams that you were... I’m sorry.” He turned his face
away, sickened by the knowledge that Legolas had spent those long
months wondering why no one had come for him. Crushed by the idea
the he could have done something and did not. Silent tears he did
not wish the elf to see escaped his eyes.
Legolas took a deep breath. He could have felt hurt, if he
allowed it, he could have wasted his time imagining what-if... but he
did not. Aragorn meant more to him than engaging in imagined
possibilities. Their friendship was more important.
“Estel, your son was missing, your wife injured. No one thinks
clearly at times like that. Raniean must have forwarded your
letter on to my last known location to wait for me, and if he was not
concerned, why should you have been? They would have had no cause
for alarm and neither did you. You didn’t know there had been
slavers as far into Gondor as Ithilien, did you?” The elf was
ready to forgive without question, but a small corner of his heart
needed to know that his own defense of his friend was true and that the
human had truly not been given a cause to worry.
“No.” Aragorn whispered. “We thought all was well, else I would
have been more concerned at your silence. Raniean warned me in
his response that it might take some time for the message to reach you
as you were off on one of ‘those’ trips again. If I had heard
there were raids there, if I had known the smallest thing seemed
amiss...” He shook his head, his gaze open, allowing the elf to search
his soul for any shade of deception. “Legolas, I swear I would
not have stopped looking until I found you. You know that.”
Legolas nodded almost imperceptibly. Yes, he did know it; he had
just needed to hear it spoken. “How did you find out?”
“That you were taken? I found out when I stepped into your cell
and found what I thought was my worst nightmare come true,” the King
shook his head in regretful horror. “Word reached me as we were
traveling to Rahzon that an elvish envoy had come to Minas
Tirith. I thought it was you, and that you had finally received
my message. I sent word back to have you stay there and wait my
return. Since then we have heard nothing from the White City,
there hasn’t been enough time. I assumed all was
well. Now I am sure that the envoy must have been Raniean and
Trelan, no doubt beginning to worry about you and perhaps hoping that
you had detoured straight to Gondor without checking in with them
first. Had I known...” Aragorn was not quite ready to let go of
the guilt for having suspected nothing while Legolas was being held
captive in such hellish circumstances.
The statement fell quietly between them before the human picked up the
tale once more, “The slavers were easy to find but they kept us at bay
for a while. It was a difficult battle. They had clans of
orcs and wargs that worked with them and it took us a week to break
through their defenses. The night I found you was the first time
we had breached Rahzon itself. My forces have been divided since
Eldarion’s kidnapping. Half my men are leagues from here scouring
the cities and outer ports near the place where Eldarion was
lost. Part of Jonath’s contingent has stayed at Arwen’s disposal,
protecting her in my absence.”
“There was so much chaos the night you came... it felt like the world
coming to an end...” Legolas admitted. Haunted eyes turned back
to gaze upon the man who was now a king.
“I know. We had hoped for a peaceful ending once the city was
breached and it was obvious they could not withstand us, but their
leaders had the people so whipped up that they would fight to the last man
before surrendering.” Aragorn broke off the contact and stared
into the fire, letting its hypnotic weave and dance settle his
heart. The images from that night were burned into his
memory. “Even the slaves in the cages fought us at first. I
regret all those who would not understand or believe that we came only
to free them. The power of lies can be so destructive! Many
of them were already wounded so severely that some of them died before
we could get them help. I feared when I entered your cell that
you would have been one of those. When I saw it was you...”
Silver eyes locked onto the blue ones, “Legolas, I swear my heart
stopped beating. I am so sor-”
Legolas raised his hands to his friend’s lips, cutting off yet another
unnecessary apology. “No, Estel, let it go. There is
nothing to forgive. I am simply glad you came.” The smile that
graced the prince’s fair features was erased a moment later as an
aching wave of pain rolled through him and he caught his breath,
waiting for the tightness in his chest to lessen. His wounds
would not be forgotten easily.
Aragorn was in motion before his mind registered what he was
doing. His old worn pack was beside him and he dug through it,
quickly seizing the small jar of ointment he constantly carried.
Placing his left palm against Legolas’ forehead, he quietly bid the elf
to relax and gently unbuttoned the prince’s shirt, lathing the cuts and
wounds with the thick lotion and numbing the pain. In moments
Legolas was breathing easily again.
“I need you to relax, your body has not yet caught up with your
spirit,” Aragorn instructed softly as he placed new bandages
against some of the deeper cuts.
“My spirit is hardly better,” Legolas murmured quietly, garnering him a
hard look from his friend. “I wish your father was here.”
Legolas said louder, “Although you learned well from him.”
“I know. I do too, but... he is here.” Aragorn smiled
softly. Long had he harbored the same desire, ever since his
father had left for the undying lands. “A part of him is in you,
and in me.” The king gently laid his hand on the elf’s chest
above his heart, careful not to apply too much pressure for fear of
hurting his friend.
Legolas nodded. Aragorn’s eyes were searching him again, still
trying to see what it was the elf was hiding, what it was, despite all
their words, that he wasn’t saying. It felt as if they had talked
themselves in complete circles and covered many issues... but not
whatever elusive one it was that the elf was refusing to go
near. It was frustratingly like a journey on an unknown path that
had no apparent direction.
The dull ache in Legolas’ heart deepened, increasing his feelings of
loneliness. He was with his best friend, but the pain he could
not share for fear of hurting one he held so dear left him feeling
isolated and alone. Could Aragorn even understand what he was
going through? As much as the prince loved him, the King was
still a man, and would perhaps never feel the call of the sea or know
the way it was now making him suffer. Yet if he couldn’t tell
Aragorn what he was feeling, who could he tell?
“Estel...” Legolas ducked his head under the human’s intense, searching
gaze. His brows furrowed, not sure what to say, how to start...
A tiny voice interrupted their quiet conversation. “Ada, I want
Nana.” Eldarion called out from the door of the tent.