Aragorn was losing and losing badly.
Legolas spun around the young ranger and landed a light blow to the man’s head. The impact was enough to split Aragorn’s lip and knock him backwards for a fraction of second. The elf danced around the human and sliced the air with the knife he held lightly in his hand; his wrist twisting at the last possible second as he turned the blade towards himself and raked the spine of the knife up the side of Aragorn’s cheek. Had it been a real fight and not just sparring, the blade would have cut deeply into the ranger, perhaps even to the point of mortally wounding him.
Aragorn had had enough of being beaten yet again. He was tiring and his leg was beginning to ache as well. The endurance of elves far outlasted that of men and the human was very aware that he had reached his limitations. He remembered sparring with his two twin brothers, the sons of Elrond.
The eldest of the twins, eldest by moments only, had taken him aside one day and secretly taught him how to fight elves. It was an ancient form of warring that had been banned from being taught. Only elves possessed the knowledge and the use of it only worked against elves. Several pressure points could be taken advantage of and used in combat to incapacitate or kill an elven opponent. The implications of such knowledge falling into enemy hands had made it a deeply guarded secret. Hence the art of such war tactics had been restricted to the royal family only, and only for use in self-defense. The usage of such knowledge had long ago passed from being necessary. Elladan however, knew the lineage of his mortal brother and had a faint idea of the challenges that the human would face. So he had taught the young man how to fell an elf without killing it.
Aragorn had tried many times to perfect the technique on Elladan and Elrohir, much to their amusement. As things would have it, he had never been able to fell either one of them and had only come partly close to attempting it on Moranuen, his closest friend in Rivendell.
Parrying another blow from the elf and nearly losing his balance again, Aragorn figured he had nothing to loose. His dignity had already been stripped and his energy was gone. He thrust his blade at the prince’s head, ducked the arcing return of the elf’s blow and spun quickly to Legolas’ right side, coming up parallel with his sparring companion. The elf made to turn towards the man as Aragorn feinted a low sweep with his broadsword. As Legolas shifted his stance to catch the blow, Aragorn stepped towards him and smashed his forearm into the side of the elf’s head, catching the prince with the ball of his fist just below the elf’s ear, pressing against the soft, unprotected area behind his jaw.
The elf’s eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed soundlessly to the forest floor, unconscious.
Aragorn paused in utter surprise before letting out a wild whoop and shouting, "It worked!! I did it! It really worked!"
Legolas began to stir and the ranger’s battle instincts kicked back in. Aragorn quickly moved to stand over the fallen elf, his chest heaving from the exertion of simply bringing the nimble being down. With the tip of his sword he just barely touched the soft underside of the elf’s chin, dangerously brushing against Legolas’ throat with each exhale of the elf’s breath.
A cocky smile touched the human’s eyes and slowly spread across his face. He licked the blood from the corner of his lips where he had taken the well-placed blow from the elf only a few minutes earlier. He couldn’t believe the move had actually worked on the graceful elf prince. This daily sparring with his friend had been the highlight of his stay with the Mirkwood elves and his victory in the mock battle had just topped it all off. Wait until he told Elladan what he had done!
Slowly he stood from his defensive position and stepped away from his companion as Legolas regained consciousness and tried to sit up. Lowering his sword, Aragorn reached his hand down towards Legolas to help the elf stand. His hand was quickly swatted away by the prince who carefully stood from his prone position. His grey-blue eyes were dark and deadly, irritation at being bested by a human clouding them momentarily as realization of what the ranger had done to him sunk in.
Aragorn realized a minute later that he might have just made a mistake. Warily he took a step backwards as Legolas gained his feet.
"Legolas?" Aragorn retreated another step, suddenly unsure as the woods around them erupted in elven laughter. ‘Just perfect’, thought Aragorn darkly as he realized that some of Legolas’ friends had been secretly watching them. He was in trouble.
"Very good move, human." Legolas dusted off his tunic, trying to block out the taunts from the other elves. "Who taught you that?" His voice was low and cool. He resisted the urge to rub the throbbing knot behind his jaw. What Aragorn had just done he should not have known how to do.
Aragorn swallowed hard. Legolas hadn’t called him "human" in that tone since their first meeting. Of course he remembered now, when it was too late, the warnings that Elladan had given him about just how kindly elves looked upon having those tactics used against them. With his brothers and Moranuen it was all right because they were prepared, they knew that he knew those moves; besides, it had never actually worked before on any of them...
The man’s eyes were locked on the elf’s and, to the prince’s delight, he saw touches of fear glint in their depths. He raised a fair eyebrow in question and stepped towards the young man. Aragorn back-pedaled again, ignoring the snickers around him.
"Where?" The question was repeated firmly. Legolas had just been humiliated in front of his friends and his peers and he wanted an answer.
"My brother," the words squeaked out and Aragorn’s eyes shifted quickly about them looking for a way of escape, "He said it was an area of weakness, for an elf. I guess he was right, only it never worked before now."
"Bested by a child, Legolas? You’ll never live this down." A tall elf stepped from the shadows looking between Aragorn and Legolas.
"Quiet, Raniean." Legolas glared at the warrior.
Aragorn chuckled in spite of himself and immediately realized his mistake. Legolas feinted at the ranger in mock threat but the man turned, and, with speed spurred on by fear, tore off through the woods. He had to get away until his friend calmed down a bit or at least away from all the other elves so he could formulate a sincere and humble apology without laughing mid-sentence.
Legolas glared at the elf warrior nearest him. "Well done", he growled as he watched the ranger’s retreating form. His retort only served to amuse his fellow elves and he ignored them as he nimbly leapt into the lower branches of the nearest tree in an attempt to chase down his friend.
In minutes he had overtaken the fleeing man. Leaping from tree branch to tree branch and running swiftly along their slender lengths, he passed up the human below him and dropped lightly down in front of Aragorn, blocking his escape path.
The ranger skidded to a halt, his boots sliding on the pine needles and forest debris that littered the floor of the woods. His eyes were wide as he watched the elven prince rise from the crouched position he had assumed as he jumped to the ground.
"I didn’t mean to." Aragorn froze, there was nowhere left to turn, "I really didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. I really didn’t think it would work." He had begun to fear that it had been a dirty fighting trick he had used on his new friend. He hadn’t thought of it that way before, and now he was afraid that he had either hurt the prince or marked himself as an underhanded fighter, neither of which had he wanted to do.
Legolas reached over his shoulder and pulled one of the elven blades from his quiver. Aragorn dropped his sword to his side and stood perfectly still. There was no way he was fighting anymore and he’d never outrun his friend. The elf continued his advance until he stood mere inches from the man. The silver blade came up and touched Aragorn’s neck, biting softly into the flesh. The man closed his eyes and flinched. Long strands of blond hair brushed the ranger’s face and he felt the warm exhale of Legolas' breath as the elf leaned forward and whispered in his ear, so only Aragorn could hear him.
"That was a very nice move. I’m proud of you." A smile split the serious, fair face as Aragorn squinted at him out of one eye, cautiously venturing a glance at the prince. "Your brother was an excellent teacher…human." Legolas emphasized the taunt with a small laugh and lowered his blade. He stepped to the side of the young ranger and clapped him on the back. "I have never been bested so quickly or so efficiently and never by a man!" Aragorn watched with wide-eyed confusion as the elf began to laugh. "They are right. I will never live this down."
"I will never understand elf humor, never," Aragorn muttered as he sighed in relief, bending over and resting his hands on his knees as he tried to get his breath back. His leg ached deeply and he massaged it lightly with his fingers.
The muttered retort only caused the elf to laugh harder and soon the young ranger found himself joining in. Legolas pressed his hand to the youth's back and turned him towards the palace. "Let's get back before they fear I really did do you some harm and come looking for us." He hooked his arm around the man’s waist and allowed Aragorn to lean on him for support.
"How is your leg?" Legolas asked, as he helped the man limp down the path.
"Good!" Replied the elf as he massaged the side of his head. The laughter of the two friends floated through the hollows on the afternoon breeze as they slowly headed home.
Aragorn and Legolas entered Lord Thranduil’s
dining hall. The room
was large and comfortable and a fire leapt in the corner. The two had
made it back in time for the evening meal, with just minutes to spare
for freshening up before joining the small party of elves that ate with
the royals nightly.
As the kitchen help began bringing out the food, a messenger entered the hall and approached the king.
"My lord, there is an envoy from Rivendell. They wish to speak with you before you take your meal. They said they were in a hurry and could not wait. They apologized for the inconvenience. Would my lord like them escorted in?"
"Did he say 'Rivendell'?" Aragorn leaned towards Legolas and whispered as the king responded.
"Yes. Would you know them?"
"Oh, I am sure I do." The ranger answered drolly, "In all likelihood they are …"
His answer was interrupted as two tall, princely elves walked into the room and turned towards the King at the head of the table. They hadn’t even glanced about the dining area, so intent were they on their errand.
"...my brothers." Aragorn finished speaking.
The elves were twins, completely identical. Few could tell them apart, but Aragorn knew them well enough to know the subtle differences. He watched as Elladan and Elrohir entered and bowed low to King Thranduil. They had not seen Aragorn yet and he smiled at their single-mindedness. He knew why they had come.
"We beg your pardon, Lord Thranduil. We are sent from Lord Elrond; he bids you well. We are looking for one of our brothers and wondered if you might have word of anyone passing through your realm in the last fortnight."
Lord Thranduil frowned in thought, "Welcome and good will to your father. But, as far as I know, we have had no elven visitors from your lands in quite awhile. Do you have a name I might inquire around about?"
Aragorn cleared his throat and stood slowly from his seat. All eyes in the room turned towards the human.
"Estel!!" The delight on the elves faces was obvious and they both began talking at once.
"It’s been a fortnight!"
"Where have you been?"
"We were worried sick."
"Father sent us out to find you."
He smiled a lopsided grin at the battery of questions, his eyes twinkling with merriment. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed the two of them. It was good to see friendly faces amongst the elves he was visiting.
"Well, it’s a long story." He tried to settle their questions easily but they would have nothing of it.
"Knowing you, we can only imagine." Elladan rolled his eyes.
"So?" Elrohir prompted, but was cut off by his twin brother.
"We tracked you to the wasteland." Elladan’s voice held an edge of accusation in it.
Aragorn groaned at the mention of his latest mishap as he moved to welcome the two elves.
"Just tell us you didn’t cross it." Elrohir eyed him carefully, wary of his answer.
"Okay, I didn’t cross it," the ranger lied, smiling innocently. Next to him, Legolas barely covered his surprise with a cough that garnered him a glare from the human.
As he approached the twins, the brothers’ alarm grew.
"You’re hurt!" Elladan observed as Aragorn limped around the table to greet them.
"Yes, well, that’s a long story too." He laughed, trying to swiftly change the subject.
"What happened?" they practically shouted at the human as he embraced them both, "and don’t tell us it’s a long story!" Elrohir finished the sentence.
The ranger laughed nervously and made his way slowly back to his seat.
Thranduil took the advantage of the lull in conversation and requested that the brothers join them for dinner. The twins were quickly seated across from Aragorn and Legolas and place settings and food were brought out to them.
Aragorn had hoped the distractions would have been enough to cause the elves to forget their former line of questioning, but his hopes were in vain.
As the food was brought in and the room settled down to friendly conversation, Elladan once again pressed his human brother for information, "So tell us, really, what happened to you?"
Aragorn looked guiltily at Legolas.
The elf prince thinking that the ranger needed help with his overly protective brothers answered simply for him, "We were caught by a band of orcs."
"Orcs?" Elladan whispered the word in horror as the twins turned to stare at one another, sharing an unspoken thought.
Aragorn dropped his gaze to his hands resting in his lap. He absently moved the palm of his right hand over his thigh where the arrow wound was still healing.
Thranduil had stopped eating and was watching the interchange. Having full knowledge of Elrond’s past dealing with orcs, he understood the brother’s response. Legolas realized he had said something wrong as he glanced between the elven and human brothers. Looking to his father, he raised one eyebrow, silently asking for explanation. Thranduil raised his hand palm up cautioning his son to silence; he would tell the prince later what had transpired if it were not brought up in the conversation.
"Aragorn." Elrohir was the first to speak. He leaned across the table in concern. His eyes were hard and tense with worry.
The ranger still had not met the elves' eyes. He swallowed hard, knowing what their next question would be.
Elladan’s lips were drawn tightly together as he gazed hard at the young man. "Estel?" He softly called the boy’s elven name.
The human looked at him, the sorrow evident in his eyes for the painful memories he was causing his brothers to live through. He knew that their mother had been caught by orcs and tortured. The twins had saved her but not before she had been poisoned. Nothing in all of Elrond’s expertise could heal her and she had left them ages ago for the Undying Lands. Her loss was still an open wound in the heart of the elven lord and that of his sons.
"Was there morgul poison?" he continued, asking the question Aragorn had dreaded.
"Yes," he whispered, dropping his gaze back to the hand that was gently rubbing the wound. "An arrow tip."
"You did cross the wastelands then, did you not?"
"Who removed the arrow?" Elrohir overrode his brother's question. He looked to the king accusingly.
"I did," Legolas spoke up. "I did not find it in time though. It became infected and I removed it that night. The poison has been purged from his system. Your brother is in no danger now."
"You?!" Aragorn’s self-appointed older brother accused.
"Leave him alone." Aragorn caught Elladan’s challenging gaze and held it. Chastising him for his stupidity was one thing, attacking Legolas who had saved his life was another. "Legolas brought me here to his father’s home and the physicians here did the rest."
He looked from one twin to the other, holding their gaze long and hard. "I am fine." He spoke the words softly in elvish. "The wound is nearly healed. I am well."
Elladan shook his head in exasperation and looked to the far wall of the hall, trying to get his emotions under control. Elrohir spoke for them both, "Do you know what it would do to Father to lose you early?"
"Yes." The whisper held all the penitence and regret that filled the young man’s heart.
"You are not immortal, Estel," Elladan snapped at him, fear for his human brother causing his words to have more of a bite than he intended.
"I know that," Aragorn answered. They had to be made to understand. "I have been painfully aware of that since the moment I was brought into Elrond’s home. I have grown up with that knowledge. But by human standards I am an adult." He paused, letting them think about what he had said. "And I cannot guarantee it won’t happen again. You can’t protect me forever."
"An adult." Elrohir snorted, "A twenty-year old tells a thousand-year old he is an adult. To an immortal, that is a mere child."
"Yes." Aragorn leaned across the table and touched his brothers arm. "And when a thousand year old tells an elderly immortal that he is an adult, to the three thousand year old that one too is but a child."
Thranduil chuckled at the gentle barb, "Well-spoken, young human. Well spoken." He glanced at Legolas, who only rolled his eyes and shook his head, "We have had this very discussion many times beneath this roof." He smiled at his son’s reaction. "I can assure you both," the King turned serious eyes on the twins, "your brother suffers no ill effect from the poison that his body was subjected to. And, while it is true that your father’s healing skills are far better than our own, being so close to orc territory, we are not unfamiliar with healing morgul wounds and his was not of the most serious kind. The best of my physicians cared for your brother and he is healing well." Thranduil smiled at Aragorn and nodded.
The man released his breath in a sigh of relief and looked back towards the twins. They seemed satisfied with the answer if still a bit worried. But Elrohir smiled at the young human. "Next time, be more careful!" He laughed and the tension in the room fell.
Legolas ventured speaking again. "Why don’t you tell them what you did this morning?" He looked at Aragorn out of the corner of his eye.
Aragorn frowned at the prince, remembering suddenly becoming a difficult thing as he switched from one subject to another.
Elladan watched the human openly, his eyebrow raised in question, "What did you do?"
"Good question," Aragorn racked his brain for where Legolas was trying lead this conversation.
The elf prince tapped the side of his head just below his ear, behind his jaw and smiled wickedly at the man.
"You didn’t!" Elrohir caught on before Aragorn could speak.
"I did!" the human stifled a giggle as he glanced at the eldest twin.
"You used the warring techniques I taught you?!" Elladan stared in surprise at the young ranger.
Aragorn laughed slightly and admitted his actions, "Yes!" He ate a bite of food while he let them hang on his words, eyes twinkling with merriment, "And it worked!"
Elrohir laughed out loud. "You didn’t?! What poor unwitting soul did you do that too?"
"Me," Legolas answered, embarrassment tingeing his fair cheeks a light crimson. "I was unaware that he had been thus taught." He looked accusingly at Elladan.
Elladan’s eyes darkened. "You tried it on a royal?"
Elrohir hadn’t stopped laughing and the new information caused him to laugh even harder as he choked on the food he had been eating.
"What am I going to do with you!?" Elladan stared at the young man in utter surprise.
Aragorn stifled a laugh and shrugged, the totally innocent look on the man’s face started Legolas laughing as well. "I didn’t think it’d really work," he tried to defend himself.
At the lame excuse, Elladan dropped his head in his hands. "I give up!" Shaking his head in utter amazement, he muttered, "Oh just wait till Father hears about this."
"You can’t tell him!" Aragorn leaned across the dining table whispering the words frantically.
"We are so sorry," Elrohir apologized to the elf prince, trying to contain his laughter.
"It is truly all right." Legolas had finally restrained himself and gotten his breathing under control. The whole situation between the brothers had been enormously entertaining.
"HEY!" Aragorn gave Elrohir a shove at the apology.
All eyes turned towards the human.
"It worked." He emphasized each word as though his statement had not sunk in yet. The excitement on his face sent Elrohir back into a fit of laughter. Helplessly Aragorn glanced at Legolas for support.
"Oh, it did." The elf rubbed his jaw for emphasis.
Elladan threw his hands in the air. "What I have told you? Do you never listen to me?"
This time Aragorn couldn’t suppress his own laughter as Legolas gently cuffed him upside the head eliciting a ‘thank you’ from the eldest twin.
Thranduil had been watching the conversation with growing interest and spoke up, addressing his son, "Is this something I should know of?"
The Rivendell twins glanced at Legolas, startled. Aragorn’s possession of secret elven knowledge was not something that was commonly known; it might not be well understood by elves outside of Rivendell. "No, Father, it's nothing, I assure you." Legolas glanced at the ranger out of the corner of his eye.
Elladan leaned across the table and growled at the human in a low whisper, "Do not do that again!"
"Unless it's absolutely necessary," Elrohir chimed in his muttered warning.
"Not to worry," Aragorn replied with disappointment. "They won't let me!"
At this, both Elrohir and Legolas erupted into laughter.
"Elrohir, you are not helping things," Elladan chastised his sibling.
Having enough of the younger ones' antics, Thranduil spoke up. "Eat. The food is getting cold." His deep, booming voice silenced the youthful giggles and the room returned to a peaceful silence once more.
Aragorn glanced quickly at Legolas. The elf smiled back and nodded his head; things were all right; it was good to have them all there for the evening.