Remember How to Smile

Chapter 11: Mending Bridges

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Next

Urgently, the prince scanned the other elf’s body for signs of a bite wound, trying to figure out what manner of injury or possible venom it was with which they dealt.  He didn’t see anything, and Elladan’s symptoms did not make sense.  Quickly turning his attention back to the younger elf’s lack of breathing, the prince tipped the dark-haired elf’s head back, trying to open his airway.  What was wrong?  The water was shallow and Elladan had not been submerged, he couldn’t be drowning!  Was something swelling his throat shut?  Legolas’ mind raced frantically.  There were just too many possibilities and he’d never seen anything like this before.

Suddenly Elladan choked... no, he wasn’t choking, he was... laughing?  Legolas pulled back, slightly stunned for a moment as the formerly comatose elf sat up, laughing merrily at the shock on the prince’s face.

Elrohir, now standing on the bank nearby, was also laughing while Raniean and Trelan goggled at them as if they had lost their minds or grown a second head.

Suddenly, the truth dawned upon the Mirkwood elves and Legolas scowled, giving Elladan a shove as he rose to his feet.  “There wasn’t anything wrong with you at all!” he accused.  “You nearly scared me to death!”

Elladan struggled to his feet, his efforts impaired by the laughter he did not seem to be able to control.

“No, and there’s no such thing as three-ringed water snakes, is there?” he tossed back with a large, wicked grin.  He thoroughly enjoyed the fact that his retort left the three older elves speechless and looking slightly embarrassed.

“You should have SEEN the look on your face, Legolas!” Elrohir added helpfully. “Valar, your eyes were this big!” he demonstrated the size with his hands.

The laughter was infectious, and Legolas and his friends were soon joining in, even if it was at their expense.

“Well that’s not as big as yours were when you were busily slapping the water and trilling like a crazy loon,” Trelan retorted with a chuckle.  “When did you figure it out?”

Elladan and Elrohir laughed along at themselves as well as the other elves.  “Well, Father is always after us to be prepared for emergencies.  So before we left today we asked Elrynd if there were any herbs or medicines we ought to be taking along in case of snake bites since we were going swimming...”

Raniean nodded his head as he splashed back into the water.  “And of course he told you there was no such thing.”

Elladan and Elrohir concurred.  “Sorry for worrying you, but we just couldn’t pass it up...” their grins said they were not the least bit sorry.

Legolas smiled wickedly.  “Oh, I forgive you... or I will... after you’ve swallowed half the lake!” he threatened, chasing after the two younger elves who shouted in merry alarm as they dove back into the water to escape the playful onslaught of their Silvan companions.


Two horses picked their way swiftly along the twisting forest path.  One a deep charcoal black, the other a glossy, dappled grey that was light enough to border upon white.

Their riders were as different as the horses themselves.  Both were elves and both bore an air of nobility.  One was crowned with a mane of dark sepia tresses, intricately braided where they fell around his face.  The other was crowned with golden tresses that at the moment were not braided at all, but allowed to fall freely about his face and shoulders.

They were making good time, but it was obvious that the slow caution needed to navigate the often uneven path was grating on the nerves of the dark-haired elf.

“They are safe, my Lord.  Worrying will not get us to Lasgalen a moment faster,” the golden-haired one remarked after several long hours of watching his companion glare at his mount’s neck as if he could probably dismount and walk faster than they were currently traveling.  “And no, I do not think it would help if you got down to show the horses the way.”

Elrond pressed his eyes closed and sighed.  He gave Glorfindel a sideways glance.  “Am I that obvious?”

A small smile tugged at the corner of the golden-haired elf’s mouth.  “Yes, my Lord.”

Elrond turned his attention back to the path they were traversing.  He had set out from Rivendell the instant he returned and Celboril had given him the message.  He had been alarmed and unable to fathom how his sons had gotten from Lórien all the way to Mirkwood, apparently alone.  They had no warriors to spare, so Elrond and Glorfindel came alone.  Near the Anduin, they had met up with the party of Galadhrim that Celeborn had sent to collect the twins after Celebrían arrived and they had discovered that there would have been no one in Rivendell to receive the message sent thither.  The Galadhrim were not mounted, so Elrond and Glorfindel rode on ahead, bidding them to follow and meet them at their destination.  Elrond’s conscious mind knew his sons were safe, but he still wished to see such for himself before his heart could be at ease.

Then he was going to kill them.

What in ARDA had they been thinking?  Ah well, time enough for that later, he supposed.

When at last their destination came in sight, it felt like not a moment too soon.  They rode swiftly and unchallenged to the sealed gates of the palace.  Both elves knew that their presence had been known and tracked for a long time now, no doubt ever since they had entered the invisible borders of the wood-elf’s realm.  However, Elrond had been here before no great matter of years before, so he was recognized as a friend and their journey had not been impeded in anyway.

Elrond and Glorfindel swung swiftly and gracefully off their horses.  Elrond bowed his head in gracious greeting to the gate guards, but the strain of haste was visible upon his smooth features.

He began to explain his presence, but the gates were already being opened.  Everyone knew why the Lord of Imladris had come, although it surprised them that he had arrived virtually alone.

“Come,” the guard bowed respectfully.  “King Thranduil has long been awaiting your arrival.”

Elrond flinched inwardly at the unintended implication of the words.  With Glorfindel following, he walked quickly into the courtyard.


Dripping and exhausted, Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir walked back through the palace gates.  They had parted with Raniean and Trelan where the path split between the village and the palace, each going their own way towards home.

The three young elves were in good spirits after their day of leisure and smiled despite being tired.  Legolas had taken the time to dry and redress himself, so that only his damp, tousled hair gave away his recent preoccupation.  The twins, however, had only bothered with their leggings and boots, carrying, rather than wearing the majority of their now damp clothes. 

The instant they entered the courtyard, they knew something was different.  Two figures were hastily making their way up the stairs towards the main doors of the palace.  Figures Elladan and Elrohir knew well.

Ada?” the almost whispered word from behind him made Elrond freeze on the top step.  Turning swiftly, he saw his sons standing in the gateway, looking like wet street urchins, but obviously very much alive and well.

Retracing his steps, he hurried back down the path and gathered his missing children into a welcoming, relieved embrace.  He didn’t care that they were wet, or that he was now wet.  He was just so relieved to see them.

Elladan and Elrohir were stunned for a moment.  They had not expected to see their father here and they were torn between joy and terror.  Joy won out and they dropped their damp belongings, returning their father’s embrace.

“You did come for us!” Elrohir whispered happily as they pulled apart once more.

“We were afraid you didn’t want us back,” Elladan admitted.  “You do... don’t you?”

Legolas was surprised they were so easily forthcoming, but Elrond did not seem shocked by their candor, only squeezed their arms tighter.

“Of course we want you back!” Elrond actually chuckled at such a ridiculous notion.  His eyes turned sober for a moment.  “Do not mistake me, we will talk about your behavior later.  But for right now...” His eyes gentled again.  “I’m just glad to see you are all right.”

“We’re glad to see you too, Ada,” Elrohir said softly.  “And we’re sorry, really we are.  We were wrong and foolish, but... you still love us?” the question desperately begged an answer.

Elrond ran a gentle hand through his son’s wet, tangled hair.  “Of course I do, ion-nín.  More than life.  Come now, we will talk later.  You need to change.”  Elrond glanced down at his own now damp and water-stained clothing.  “And now so do I before I meet with King Thranduil,” he remarked ruefully, glad for the change of clothing in his pack.

“You can come change in our room, Ada,” the twins agreed, beginning to lead him away towards the palace.

Elrond paused as he felt eyes watching him.  He turned to find Legolas still standing quietly to the side, watching the elf lord interact with his sons.  Elrond paused for a moment.  There were many emotions swirling behind the young elf’s eyes, but Elrond could barely catch a glimpse of them before they receded back into the depths of the prince’s soul.

Legolas smiled quietly, pleased to see Elrond again, even if he suspected the elf lord would not be staying long.

“Greetings, Lord Elrond,” he bowed respectfully.  “You are welcome in our realm.”  He was momentarily a little unsure of himself.  He knew the last time they had parted Elrond had still been worried for him.  It was a little awkward to run into him again like this, without a chance to mentally prepare himself, but perhaps it was the best way really.

Elrond smiled and returned the prince’s bow.  “Thank you, Legolas.  You look well.”

Legolas hesitated a moment, then inclined his head slightly in ascent.  “I am well.”

Elrond nodded, his smile kind.  “So I can see.”  He knew that some scars could take a lifetime to heal.  He suspected this would be the case with Legolas, but from what he could see, the prince was learning how to live again, and for now, that was enough.


Aragorn shook his head, trying hard to contain his laughter.  “I had no idea you two had made such hellions of yourself in Thranduil’s court. No wonder some people were not anxious to host another member of this family!” he teased his brothers.

Elrohir rolled his eyes.  “That was a long, long time ago, Brother.  Many things change with time.”

Legolas chuckled.  These memories held no sting for him anymore and he could laugh now at the convoluted beginnings of his acquaintance with these people whom he now counted dear, dear friends.  “Yes, as well they should, else Estel might not have lived long enough to become my friend.”

“You have no idea how frightened El and I were for you when we heard you might have ended up in Thranduil’s realm alone on your first time out on your own, Estel,” Elladan admitted with a grin.  “You don’t think we rode all the way out there to find you just to pass the time of day, did you?  When you told me you had used that knock-out trick on Legolas I almost skipped a heart-beat for a moment, except that Legolas seemed to be taking it with good humor.”

“Several thousand years can temper one’s reactions,” Legolas said with a smile.  “Besides, I daresay your brother has a much more winning way about him than you two do.”  The prince’s grin was devilish.

Elladan and Elrohir protested loudly, which only made everyone laugh.

“I’m hungry,” Dari’s proclamation reminded everyone that the evening was growing late.

“That sounds like your cue, El,” Elladan said with a smug grin, nudging his twin as he lounged back in his chair.

Elrohir grumbled as he rose to his feet, muttering something the others could not understand.

“Elrohir is going to cook dinner for us tonight, all by himself, aren’t you El?” Elladan said with a self-satisfied gleam in his eyes that made his twin want to throttle him.  “He lost our wager,” Elladan explained for the benefit of everyone else in the room.

“If Elrohir is cooking, I fear we are all lost!” Trelan teased.  They knew it was a joke; the twins were fine cooks when the situation required.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows.  “Dare I ask what kind of wager that was?”

“No!” Elrohir said quickly, shooting his twin a glare.  “I promised to make dinner, but only if you keep your mouth shut.”

Elladan gestured magnanimously as he settled further back into his comfy seat.  “My lips are sealed.”

Of course this exchange only piqued everyone’s interest and Elladan was bombarded with questions as Elrohir stalked out of the room.  The elder twin wisely kept whatever he knew to himself however, giving only vague hints and clues to keep the others going.

Aragorn for once did not pursue the questioning with the others.  Pulling back from the center of attention slightly, he seated himself next to Legolas who was watching the clamor with a soft, amused smile.

Aragorn quietly called Draecyn to him and asked him to go help Elrohir.  The main contingent of Gondorian soldiers were housed in the outer buildings of Rivendell and had their meals taken care of apart from the rest, but even so, just the main group that stayed here in the house itself was a sizable lot and Aragorn wanted to see dinner sometime in the next century.  Draecyn complied very willingly, being of much the same mind.

After a time, Aragorn turned to his friend.

“You know, hearing that story made me wonder... what did I ever do to earn your trust?” the human asked, honestly puzzled.  “In the beginning I mean.  Nothing remarkable happened to us in Mirkwood in those first tenuous weeks.  There was no drastic chance for me to prove that I meant you no harm... yet by the time Sarcaulien was killed you were ready to face banishment to save my life.  Why?”

Aragorn realized there was so much he had taken for granted back then, so much he, like his brothers before him, had not known about Legolas and the depth of the pain he had had to overcome.  Looking back now, with all he knew and had learned since then, he truly was shocked that Legolas hadn’t simply left him to die when the ranger found himself wounded and helpless on the borders of the woods.  Even more shocking was that the prince had ever been able to consider him a friend, much less defend him from his other friends whom the elf had known centuries longer.

Legolas watched the man with a fond smile.  Aragorn really didn’t know, did he?

“Do?  You didn’t have to do anything, Estel.  You were yourself.  You were kind, loyal, trustworthy, intelligent, understanding and had a good sense of humor - everything I thought humans could not posses.  You didn’t strike back; you didn’t hate me when I hated you.  You didn’t retaliate when I ridiculed you or treated you like an inferior child.  You didn’t get angry when my friends tormented you.  All you did was try harder to be understanding and to reach out to me no matter how many times I pushed you away and returned kindness with coldness.  You didn’t have to do something drastic to show me... it was all the little things that opened my eyes and drew me to you.  And actually, you did risk your life to help me that day when I was poisoned by the trap in the woods.  Understand, Estel, that if I had died under your care that day, even if it was not in any way your fault, it still would have been perceived as your doing and your end would have been very slow and horrible.  My friends and my father would have seen to that.”

Aragorn shuddered slightly, but smiled.  “Then I am very glad you lived!” he teased.  “But I never thought of that at the time, Legolas.  I just wanted to help you.”

“I know.” The elf smiled softly.  “And that is how you won me over.  There was no duplicity in you, no hidden motive for me to doubt and fear.  You didn’t respect me for my royalty or fear me for my skills.  You wanted to be with me because for some unfathomable reason, you liked me.  And that was ultimately precious to me.”

Aragorn laughed.  “Unfathomable?  Nay, what was unfathomable was that someone as well respected as you, with a kingdom of friends to choose from, allowed a stray human pup to follow him around and were actually kind enough to call him friend.”

Legolas embraced his friend, giving him a warm hug.  “You undervalue yourself as usual.  But Estel, sometimes when a heart has been hurt, it needs the innocence of a puppy to teach it to trust again.”

Aragorn laughed.  “So that’s why you liked me?  Was I something akin to bringing home another ketral?”  He found the idea hilarious.

Legolas laughed and cuffed him lightly.  “That wasn’t what I meant!  But now that you mention it, you do remind me of them in many ways...”


Draecyn followed Elrohir to the kitchens, offering his assistance.  The elf quickly accepted the help and tossed the guard a patterned apron.

Quirking an eyebrow in the twin’s direction, Draecyn silently questioned the elf’s sanity.

“It’s that one, or one of Arwen’s, leftover from when she was a child - and they are pink.  Take your pick,” the elf offered with a wicked grin.  “We haven’t had time to clean the others.”

Quickly, the soldier tied the flowered apron around his waist and walked to the wash basin, inquiring what they were cooking.

“I think there is more roast in the cellars but not enough.  So I thought to make a stew with some of the smaller left over pieces of meat that we have.  Venison, boar, quail they will do nicely together I believe.  There are still fresh greens that will make for a decent enough salad but we are out of bread.  The dough has been rising throughout the day so we will need to cook that as well.  And of course sweet nuts, and the best I have been saving!” Elrohir’s voice turned conspiratorial as he walked to the far wall of the kitchen.

Shouldering the tall cabinet that held most of the baking supplies he pushed the wooden structure a few feet to the right, exposing a tiny hole in the wall.  Using the opening he popped the wooden slat out of the stone wall revealing a cache of food hidden in the house structure.  The elf pulled out a bundle of cloth and unwrapped it, laying the contents on the table.

There, hidden away from everyone else was a stash of sweet honey cakes.

“There was a delivery from Beorning two days ago and my dear brother was out with some of your men.  He doesn’t we know we have them,” Elrohir whispered.  He set the cakes down on the long work table that stood like an island in the middle of the kitchen.

“After his little bet and his conniving ways I ought to eat them all myself,” Elrohir muttered.  He turned back to the cabinet and pushed it back over his hidey-hole.  “But I just can’t.  He loves them too much.”

The elf’s smile as he thought about his brother caused the human to stop his work.  He had been meaning to talk to the elves about some of the old myths he had heard as a child.  Leaning across the table, he questioned the twin.

“What is it like to have someone who looks the same as you?  I have only heard tales of twins and the ones surrounding elves are...” Draecyn fumbled for the correct words, “...well the things I have heard are mostly fables and, well, myths really.  Mystical stuff I find hard to believe.  Until Elessar became King, not much was spoken about the elven races.  We’ve been so busy with the orcs for so many years that the formal teachings were given up in lieu of the art of war.  Only the aristocracy was taught the finer languages and cultures.”

Elrohir set down the vegetable he was peeling and laid the knife aside.  It struck him as odd that the men of Gondor were not more familiar with the elves.  They had always been friends of the Noldor race.  He hadn’t given it much thought what the constant state of war had done to the people in the region.  He considered Draecyn for a moment.  He placed the young man at somewhere around eighteen, although he could have been mistaken.  Draecyn had already fought in wars, but had never heard true tales of elves or Gondor’s own history.  It was a pity when times created such a disparity.

“Well, if you are asking me if there is anything mystical or magical about being an elven twin, the answer is no,” Elrohir replied kindly.  His smile put the young human instantly at ease.  “I would imagine that it would be quite like being a human twin.  We are two different people who look the same.  Yet, I suppose we do share a deeper connection to one another than we do with most others.  I don’t know if that’s because we are twins, or because we have basically been around one another all our lives since the moment we were born.”  The elf shrugged.  “I... I can’t really say much of the differences between elves and humans in this regard as I have only my own experiences to draw upon.  I know when Elladan is troubled or hurting.  I share his joys and happiness probably more deeply than another family member would.  We often take very different viewpoints, but do like a lot of the same things and make many decisions the same.  For instance, staying here in Middle-earth instead of following our father to the Undying Lands,” Elrohir explained.  He picked up his utensils and began peeling the vegetable again motioning for Draecyn to do likewise.  “It was hard to let Father go alone.  But either El or I leaving without the other was unthinkable, and neither of us is ready to abandon Estel.  Oh, El and I squabble often enough, but really he is probably my best friend and I could not imagine life without him.  I would not want to.  Is that what you are asking?”

“I think so,” Draecyn answered slowly.  “You seem to be able to speak each others' minds though, as if you were of one thought.”

Elrohir laughed, much to the guard’s amusement.

“That we can,” he verified.  “It annoys some people to death, but most get used to it after they’ve known us a while.”

“And you like humans?”

The question took the elf by surprise and he glanced up questioningly.

“Of course.  Half our line of ancestors is human.  We rode with the Dúnadan so long they almost considered us one of them.  Our brother is human.  We have never had a problem with Men,” Elrohir clarified.  “Why do you ask?”

“I overheard...” Draecyn stopped speaking as Raniean and Trelan entered the kitchen arguing loudly with one another.

They were silenced by Elrohir.

“If you are going to be in here you will help prepare food or get out!” the twin laughed.  He held up the only two clean aprons left – both were pink.

Trelan burst out laughing but was restrained from leaving by Raniean who pulled the smaller elf along with him.

“We would love to help because we want to eat sometime in the near future,” Raniean quipped teasingly.  He snatched the aprons from Elrohir and tossed one to Trelan.  “Put that on.  These two need to be taught the correct way to prepare wild boar.”

Laughing so hard he was nearly crying, Trelan put the pink apron on and approached Draecyn.  He jokingly shoved the human as he picked up a ball of dough and began kneading it.

“I think Noldor elves should be taught basically everything by Silvan elves, don’t you?” he taunted, throwing Elrohir a wicked grin.  “It was a good thing Legolas found Estel young and was able to correct the poor child’s training in hunting or who knows what would have happened to the race of Men!”

The guard did not laugh at the jest but moved slightly away from the shorter Silvan elf.  The change in his mood was instantly noticed by the more observant elves that surrounded him.

Trelan, to his credit, easily shrugged off the slight, but Elrohir was bothered by the man’s sudden reticence.

“Draecyn, what troubles you?” he asked as the human discreetly sidled around the island to the twin’s side.

Startled to find himself the center of attention the guard stammered for an answer.  He had not meant to be obvious or cause any trouble.

“’s just that.  Nothing.”

“Are you bothered by our presence?” Raniean asked softly, suddenly sober.

“No!  No... I just... well, maybe,” the soldier admitted reluctantly.  His face was starting to flame.  If Jonath, or worse still, the King, found out about this he was in so much trouble.

“Why?” Elrohir asked in shock.  Draecyn had not been like this with him a few minutes ago.  His brother’s soldiers had never acted oddly around the twins nor had they ever been mistreated by any elves as far as Elrohir knew.  He certainly hadn’t been avoiding Raniean and Trelan like this previously.

With a sigh, the young guard glanced down at his hands as he scrubbed the potato he held.  His movements slowed as he thought through his answer.

“Well, I suppose the question more is if you’re bothered by my presence?” he asked quietly.  “I heard the story earlier.  Do you still feel that way about humans?”  He kept his eyes glued to his work.  He felt he should have kept his big mouth shut.

Trelan regarded the soldier carefully.  The young man was probably no older than Strider had been when Legolas had dragged him back to the palace beat up and in need of help.  His eyes held an honesty in them that begged to be proven wrong.  It was painfully obvious that the human had grown up in Gondor and never known a moment of peace or a helpful ally from the surrounding peoples.  From what Trelan had heard it had taken Strider’s intervention to unite the humans that survived at the time of the War of the Ring.  The kingdom was stable but the scars of life before this era of peace marked the people and this child was living proof.

“That story we told happened a millennia ago.  Have you never heard the tales of your liege and Legolas’ life before the War?”  Trelan asked softly.  “Has no one ever told you how Mirkwood was reconciled to Imladris and the elven kinds reunited?  Or for that matter why it is a dwarf would meddle in the affairs of Men and Elves and even care about them?”

Draecyn simply shook his head no.  Under the scrutiny of the Mirkwood elves he found himself subconsciously edging closer to the Noldo twin.  Elrohir smiled gently and place his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Peel the potatoes while they talk or we shall never have dinner and it will all be their fault,” he instructed gently.

Draecyn was grateful for the distraction and quickly accepted the knife that Elrohir proffered.

“Your liege is the reason we can all stand in this house as friends,” Raniean picked up the story.  “I remember the day that Legolas brought Strider to the palace.  The young fool had traveled the wastelands alone and been caught in a skirmish after dark.  He was wounded and ill from morgul poisoning.”

Picking up a heavy-handled blade, the tall blond warrior began dicing the meat that Elrohir brought up from the cellar.

“We all thought he was insane and some of the warriors were for taking him to the edge of the forest and leaving him for the men of Esgaroth to find.  But Legolas would have none of it,” Raniean continued.

“But why?” Draecyn interrupted. “I had always heard that elves were fair and wise beings.  Why did you hate men so much?  Why was there division amongst the elves?”

“That is a very long tale and one I would not fully retell without permission.  Much of it came to be after the Last Alliance.  As for why the elven kind were separated for many years... well, that is an even longer and incredibly boring story that we only tell now when we’ve had too much wine,” Raniean tried to explain with a laugh.  He did not want to go into much detail.

“But, Draecyn, we did not all hate Men.  I, personally, never have.  I did not always trust them, but I do not trust all Elves either.  It is true there are some who did hate, but there are also some Men who hate the Elves.  It’s a sad, but true fact that some people will always hate or fear that which is different from themselves.  Sometimes, however, there is a reason for it, however faulty.  For Legolas... there was a reason.  The fact that it was our prince who eventually brought home a human was no small matter.  The king wanted nothing to do with the ranger and we all wondered if Legolas had lost his mind,” Trelan picked up the story and continued softly.  “I remember taking Legolas out one night while Strider was still in the healer’s hall and arguing with him about the dangers of keeping a human in the palace.  I thought that the prince saw this man as another lost stray he had brought home to try to save and that worried me.  I didn’t know Strider then, and I was mortally afraid that he was going to hurt Legolas.  Our conversation was heated.  I even offered to take the ranger off his hands and dispose of him if he wished it.  I promised to be swift and merciful.  At the time I thought I was being helpful.  Legolas was adamant though that he not be harmed.  It sounds harsh and strange to speak of such things now, but if you had known how things stood at that time, you would understand why we could not believe that our liege was protecting a human.”

Trelan laughed lightly at himself as he remembered back on that time.  “It's funny now, but we never let Legolas out of our sight the whole time Strider was there until they were exiled.  Even then we tracked them south into the darker regions.  We were so afraid of what might happen to the prince.”

“Exile!?” Draecyn interrupted the elves.

“Oh yes! Another long story that one.  But the thing was, was that Strider was like no Man we had ever met,” Raniean butted in. “He never complained when he was treated poorly.  Even our healers were not kind with him when he was recovering.  At the time we did not realize that he came from the Last Homely House and knew more about the arts than all our healers combined.  But he never said a word.  He simply thanked us no matter how we treated him.  And although I am ashamed to admit it, he was not treated kindly by most in our realm, I’ll have you know.  It took a lot of convincing for our contingent to accept it when Trelan and I wanted to help Strider after he was accused of murder.  It was still years later that the rest were won over.  We were not an open people at the time that Strider came to us.  Trust takes a long time to rebuild when it has been stifled.”

Draecyn listened intently to the stories the elves told.  A frown marred his features as he heard them talk about his king in such a familiar and easy manner.  It soon became apparent however that the Silvan elves trusted Aragorn greatly and counted him as a friend.

The Gondorian guard slowly forgot his misgivings and became entranced by the tales.

“He even saved the prince from death once when he was poisoned by a dwarvish trap.  I think that helped a lot.” Trelan chimed in, interrupting the soldier’s thoughts.

“Now that was amazing,” Raniean agreed.  “I stayed up all that night making sure he wasn’t harming Legolas.  I feared both for the prince and Strider.  He was treading thinly that night but he had no clue.  He only ever wanted to help.  That was his biggest downfall and his most endearing quality.”

“No, no that wasn’t his most endearing quality,” Trelan argued.  “His most endearing quality was the fact that he was almost too eager to please and fit in.  My goodness he would have followed us anywhere in the beginning if he thought it would help us see humans in a better light.”

Raniean laughed softly under his breath.  He knew where this was going. Trelan loved telling that old story to whomever he could and Draecyn was far too willing a recipient.

“Trelan...” Raniean warned with a laugh, “Spare us.”

“Draecyn has never heard and it’s a good story! How many more times do you think I’ll be able to find a willing listener who isn’t intoxicated?” The smaller elf begged off of being restricted.

With a shake of his head, the elven warrior gave up.  He glanced at Elrohir and rolled his eyes by way of apology.

Kneading the dough into long ovals Trelan kept at his task while he launched into his tale.

“It happened when Prince Legolas and Strider were exiled by King Thranduil.  We had followed them deep into the southern woods where they had fled.  It was our intention to help them prove that Strider was innocent of the murder charge that he was convicted of, but our pursuit frightened them and they ran.  The prince was bitten by a spider when they were boxed in by the nasty creatures.  When we found them, he was unconscious and so we were forced to bed down and camp for the night.”

The short elf glanced up swiftly for confirmation from his friend. When Raniean nodded, Trelan continued.

“It was Strider’s first time at an elven fire ring and it was our first time to have a human in our camp with us in such a manner.  He wasn’t really sure of us at first; it took Raniean a bit to convince him we meant him no harm.”

“Yes it did!” the tall elven warrior agreed heartily.  “And then you had to go and nearly spoil it.”

“I’m telling the story!” Trelan retorted, talking over the top of his friend.  He continued when the room had quieted sufficiently.


At first Aragorn had been reluctant to join the Mirkwood elves round the bright fire where they sat.  Their mirthful laughter echoed through the woods like music and he couldn’t help smiling.  The ranger stayed a bit away from the others, near Legolas where he lay on a bed built of pines and his friends’ cloaks.  The prince had yet to awaken.  Raniean and Trelan had assured him it was normal, but still...  He himself had no experience with the large predatory spiders and it made him uneasy.

Absently, the ranger shifted, his hand drifting to rest gently on Legolas’ chest, checking the rise and fall.  The man smiled in spite of himself as one of the elves teased Raniean about something that had happened earlier in the day.

“You think that’s funny?”  Raniean turned towards the human when he heard the soft chuckle.  “You should have seen your face when Trelan told you what the spider venom does to a person.”

Immediately Aragorn sobered, unsure if the elf had taken offense or was teasing him.

Noting the ranger’s discomfort, the warrior softened, realizing he had set the human on edge.

“Strider, come, sit by the fire.  Its warmer here and there is plenty of mead and meat to go round.”  The tall elf scooted over slightly, making space by himself for the man to join them.

In seconds the elves had all shifted, parting enough to give the human room at their fire.  Trelan poured heated mead into an earthen mug and held the cup up over his head.

“Yes, come, Strider.  I'll bet you could tell us some great stories about the elves in Rivendell.  Come on,” the smaller elf invited warmly.

Aragorn glanced hesitantly at Legolas; he knew these were the prince’s kin and they should be safe, but his heart balked.

“Strider,” Raniean’s soft voice redirected the ranger’s gaze. “He’ll be all right.  He would want you to eat and keep your strength up.  I promise you, it will be fine.”  The elf touched the ground next to him, indicating the place they had made for the human.

The elf sounded so very much like his brothers at that moment that Aragorn could not refuse.  Slowly he rose to his feet and rounded the fire, accepting the proffered mug from Trelan and a skewer of meat from another elf.

“So?” Trelan asked as the ranger seated himself between the smaller elf and his companion. “What of Rivendell? Surely there are things there that we have not here?  How do you deal with the great spiders?”

“We have none,” Aragorn answered between bites.  “Rivendell is a haven.  There are no enemies near.  Except every once in a while there may be an orc raid on one of the towns nearby and then we go and lend aid if we can.”

“You have contact with the humans that live around you?” an elf across the fire questioned.  It seemed for the moment they had forgotten that the ranger was not one of their own kind.

“Well, yes.”  Aragorn frowned as he answered.  “But so do you, with the men of Lake Town that is.”  He pointed out what he thought was the obvious.

“We don’t associate with them,” another remarked.  “Well, not most of us anyway.  Some do.  We trade with them a great deal, but I have never been to their city.  Never wanted to either.”  The elf hadn’t meant to be rude or caustic; he was simply telling the truth.

Strider had stopped eating and glanced around the group, quietly watching the dozen sets of eyes that were fixed on him.  His gaze flicked quickly to Legolas.  His friend would want him to get along with these elves.  It was easy for him to see how the Mirkwood elves had cut themselves off and become nearly isolated with the goings on in Middle-earth.  The woods were a natural barrier and it seemed they were rarely visited but by other elves and then infrequently.  He wondered how long their isolation had been and ventured a question.

“How long have you been here with such limited communication with those outside your woods?”

The elves bristled slightly at the unintended implication that there was something wrong with the way they did things and Aragorn wanted to kick himself.

“It has always been thus,” Raniean said quietly, silencing the others with a gesture and trying to take the question matter-of-factly.  He suddenly realized how out of place the man in their midst truly was.  “Or nearly always.  Understand, Strider, that I was not alive in the long days before the Last Alliance, so I cannot speak to how things stood at that time.  But it is true that in my youth we retained a greater amount of contact with the folk of Esgaroth and the other human realms of the time.  Unfortunately our trust was too often met with betrayal and things began to change,” he hedged around the subject of Dorolyn skillfully.  Glancing at Trelan he shook his head slightly asking the smaller elf to validate his answer. “I suppose in human years then that would make it something like two or three thousand years?”

“Give or take,” Trelan affirmed with a slight shrug.  Human time was a difficult concept to match.

“Thousand?”  Aragorn choked on the mouthful of mead he had just swallowed.  “Two or three thousand.” He repeated as the elves around him laughed.  “Well that is a few years.”

His mind quickly raced through what little knowledge he had of Legolas, figuring the prince’s age and subtracting it from roughly the time that the elf was captured in Dorolyn – the numbers added up and he glanced at his friend once more a deep look of sorrow etching his face.

“Yes.”  Raniean followed his gaze.  “It was about that time.”

Startled, Aragorn looked back up at the warrior, surprised that the elf had figured out what he was thinking.

“Actually, I don’t think I have ever eaten at a fire ring with a human,” Trelan noted aloud. The smile he was barely holding back lit up his blue eyes as he glanced at Raniean.  “You, Ran?”  The small elf tried to lighten the mood and deftly change the subject.

“No, Trey, I do believe you are right.”  A brilliant smiled crossed Raniean’s face as he answered his friend, “This is a first!”

“To firsts!”  Trelan raised his mug in a toast, his mirth contagious.  In minutes they were toasting everyone and everything like a bunch of drunken hobbits.

“So what do you hunt in Rivendell?” an elf across the fire asked curiously.

“Yes,” another chimed in forgetting the awkwardness of the previous conversation. “Do you hunt the deer and the wild boar?”

Aragorn nodded swallowing the gulp of mead he had taken for the last toast to some elf he had never heard of.  “We hunt both.  The white deer run freely in the vale near my home.”

“The white deer?!”  Trelan became suddenly interested.  “Have you ever brought one down? ”

“Well, yes,” Aragorn answered simply finishing off the bit of meat he had been given.  He and both his brothers had had the opportunity to take down a white deer.  They only killed what they needed to survive, never more and never less.  It wasn’t something they boasted of it, it had just happened on various hunts.

“Trelan asks because he has never been able to himself,” Raniean taunted his smaller companion.

“Very funny.” Trelan frowned at the warrior.  “But I’ll bet Strider has never caught a Trellep before.”  The small elf turned a raised eyebrow on the human, his mock frown suddenly brightening. “Have you?”

“Trelan...” Raniean warned quietly, he knew where this was going.  A few quiet snickers across the fire echoed his thoughts.

“Trelleps?”  Aragorn thought for a moment.  “No, we don’t have those near Imladris.  What are they?”

“You have to see them for yourself,” Trelan cautioned.  “They only come out at night but they make for good eating.”  The elf pretended to pause for a moment as though thinking.  “You wouldn’t want to go hunting tonight would you?  We could use more meat for the return trip home.”

“Trelan.” Raniean’s voice took on a slightly harder edge.  He was almost certain that the prince would not mind his friend being teased, but what Trelan was suggesting was not wise this far south.

“Well, if you need the help, I’d be more than glad to go hunting with you,” Aragorn answered rising slowly to his feet as Trelan rounded the fire and collected his pack.

He was more than eager to join the elves and truly wanted them to like him.  He felt if he just had the opportunity, they would see that not all humans lived up to their preconceived notions.  If it took going hunting in the dark with one of them, then so be it; he had done more foolish things with his brothers and lived to tell about it.

Trelan had retrieved a length of rope and was walking back around the fire, coiling the cord on his belt.

“Trelan!” Raniean was exasperated now.  He could not let his friend take the human out knowing what he knew.  When the ranger started to walk away from the fire, Raniean grabbed the man’s ankle and held him firmly in place.

Surprised, Aragorn stood perfectly still, watching the silent exchange of wills between the two elves.  Raniean glared at the smaller elf, trying to contain his mirth and be firm in his response.  Personally, under different circumstances, and were Legolas awake to approve, he would have allowed the excursion.  But as leader of the group he felt responsible for everyone beneath him, including the man.  Besides he really did like Strider and was not at all sure how the human would respond to the prank.

“Oh, come on, Ran.” Trelan finally relented.

Tugging firmly on Aragorn’s overcoat, Raniean pulled the man back down next to him at the fire ring and stared into the large questioning gaze that the ranger laid on him.  Tinges of fear edged the open stare and Raniean had to look away for a minute.  The human was too willing to do whatever it took to earn their respect; he would have to be more careful with him until this was all over.

“Trey, sit,” he ordered, glancing up at his friend, his smile taking the sting out of the command.

“What’s wrong, Raniean?” Aragorn asked softly.  He had a sinking suspicion deep in the pit of his stomach that something was not right and it frightened him a little bit.

Raniean turned his full attention on the ranger and blocked out the quiet ghosts of laughter that skittered around the fire ring.

“Strider, if I let Trelan take you out Trellep hunting tonight, I think the Prince would demote me.” He leaned closer to the man and laid his hand on Strider’s back.  “You have brothers, do you not?”

Aragorn nodded quietly, intently watching the elf.

“Have they never dragged you out somewhere and left you alone in the forest as a joke?”  When awareness finally crossed the ranger’s face Raniean smiled softly. “They have.”

Strider turned a puzzled gaze on Trelan as he realized what the smaller elf had intended.  He was not sure if he should be offended or feel like he had finally been accepted.

The ranger’s attention was drawn away from Trelan as Raniean spoke his name.

“Strider, there is no such thing as a Trellep,” he answered the human’s confused look, speaking slowly and quietly, letting the ranger in on the joke.

The elves around the campfire erupted in laughter.

For the fraction of a second Aragorn was upset.  The wood elves mirth was too infectious and in moments he began to laugh at himself and his over-eagerness.

“You see fathers or older brothers...” Raniean started to explain.

“...Or your best friend,” Trelan interjected.  The smaller elf leaned around the ranger and fixed his commander with a knowing glare.  Raniean pressed his companion back with a good-natured shove and continued.

“Or your best friend takes you out one night promising to teach you how to hunt Trellep.  They tie you up to a tree and leave you there until morning or until your father or brothers or friends come looking for you.”  Raniean’s smile banished the last vestiges of Aragorn’s fears.  “Its something they do as a joke.  It’s supposed to be funny.”

Ran watched as Strider glanced down, his face reddening slightly.

The noise around the campfire had died as the elves intently watched the human’s response.  Aragorn’s hunched shoulders began to shake and he covered his mouth with his hand.  Raniean turned a hard glare on Trelan who immediately became worried.

“Strider?”  He knelt next to the man, his hand hesitantly resting on Aragorn’s back. “I...I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything...”

Unable to hold back his mirth any longer the ranger burst out laughing.  He pounded the small elf on the back, congratulating him on being able to fool him better than his brothers ever had.  Those around the campfire erupted in laughter once more and began talking all at once, trading stories about the time each of them had been taken Trellep hunting.

“The best story though belongs to Legolas,” Raniean interrupted much to his companion’s glee.  They loved this particular tale and it seemed everyone in Mirkwood told it repeatedly, much to the prince’s eternal chagrin.

“When he was younger Trelan and I took him out Trellep hunting,” Raniean explained through fits of laughter.

“We tied him up good too!” Trelan interjected.  “He couldn’t get away.”

“And then they left him all night out there in the woods!” Another elf added.

“Anyway, anyway,” Raniean tried unsuccessfully to calm them all down as he shouted over the top of the giggling elves.  “Thranduil heard about it and went out to find him.  By this time Legolas was so frightened that when his father approached him he fired off a shot at him, thinking he was a Trellep and hit the king right in the foot!”

By the time he was done telling the story Aragorn could barely breathe, he was laughing so hard.

“Really though, you shouldn’t have told him that there is no such thing as Trellep hunting, Raniean,” Trelan laughed glaring at the warrior.  “I almost had him there.”

“I couldn’t let you take him out there and tie him up.” Raniean glanced around into the darkness feigning fear. “We are in southern forest you nift! The spiders would have gotten him!”

“That is not funny!” Aragorn’s eyes widen much to the amusement of his companions.

“Ah,” Trelan waved the danger off.  “I wouldn’t have left him out there that long.  I think I’d be more afraid of what Legolas would do to me after he found out.”

Aragorn gaped at the elf, finally having caught his breath, “Oh thank you so much. Your thoughtfulness is overwhelming.”

This only sent the elves into another fit of laughter.


“That was so funny,” Raniean laughed as Trelan wrapped up his story.  “You really did almost get away with that!  But Legolas would have had our heads for it!!  The look on Strider’s face was priceless - almost nearly as panicked as when you explained just what the spiders do to their victims!”

Draecyn was still a bit surprised to her the two elves joke so easily about his king, but he couldn’t help laughing along with them at the story. He was finally beginning to relax more in their company and realize that for them these stories were ancient history.

“Oh, Legolas, probably wouldn’t mind so much now.  In fact I bet he’d take Strider out Trellep hunting himself if he could,” Trelan snickered lightly. “Still even after all that, it took him rescuing half the population of Mirkwood from the she-spider before we truly trusted him,” Trelan continued.  He transferred the dough to a stoneware tray as he spoke.  “Even then King Thranduil was hard to win over. I think the fact that Strider saved his son and returned him to us helped turn the king’s heart.  But he was a stubborn one.  Not sure he really decided Strider was trustworthy until after the whole Doriflen incident.  But Strider was like that, he just grew on you.  He even granted his enemies grace when he could have called for their deaths.  I think that was the moment when he won me over.”

“For me it was when he forgave Morifwen and actually wanted to be friends again with him that turned my heart,” Raniean added quietly.  He pushed the cubes of meat off the cutting board and into a large pot of broth.  “That was more than I felt ready to do at the time.”

“For me,” a soft voice spoke from the doorway drawing their attention, “I think it started when he apologized for what had been done to me in Dorolyn when he hadn’t a clue of my history there.  He simply apologized for all humankind, including himself fully in that lot.  I think he said it was to the shame of all Men that I hated Mankind.  And I could tell that he meant what he said.  My lack of friendship hurt him deeply and he wanted it restored even though we had only just met.  I still didn’t trust him, but that was the beginning.  Until that moment I hadn’t me a human who wasn’t arrogant and full of himself.”  Legolas stepped into the kitchen.  He had been simply passing by hoping to not get caught and dragged in to help when he overheard the conversation.

Elrohir had been quietly listening to the whole conversation from the back of the room.  Most of this he had never heard. He had Estel’s version but had never quite realized the opposition his younger brother had faced.

“And I owe it to your father, Ran that I didn’t simply leave Strider out there to die.  His words have stuck in my mind ever since that day he lectured me.  ‘A day may come when the Man you are facing is your ally, not your enemy, and you need to know the difference.  The distinction between friend and foe is not always a clear line, and should never be divided upon race alone.’” Legolas quoted the older elf perfectly.  “I didn’t want to hear them and didn’t believe them at the time, but I have never been able to forget those words.  He was right – that day did come.  And when Aragorn put his trust in me so fully, so easily, I could not suffer him to harm, not even by your hands my friends.”  Legolas smiled at the two Silvan elves.

“It sounds like it would take a hundred minstrels to record your lives and tales,” Draecyn responded quietly.  He quickly rounded the kitchen island and helped Trelan as the elf fumbled with the tray of dough he was transferring to the open oven.  “I didn’t mean to say anything... I didn’t know,” he offered by way of awkward apology for his behavior earlier.

“It’s alright,” Trelan answered, “sometimes it takes a long time to heal – even nations.”

Legolas smiled softly, listening to his friends.  Things were so different now.  His people had been down this road of reconciliation and reunion.  It was now the time of the Adain and with Aragorn leading them he had no doubts they would indeed survive and be better for all that they had suffered.

“We aren’t so bad,” the short elf continued, “once you get to know us.”

“I just never heard the tales. I mean I know what little Jonath has told me, but I don’t believe even he knows,” Draecyn admitted.

“Then do we ever have stories to tell you!” Raniean laughed.  He was stirring a large kettle that sat on the stovetop.  “Where to start?”

“Start with finishing dinner!” Legolas instructed. “You have a houseful of hungry people!”

“Then help us or get out of our way!” Elrohir called out, repeating his admonition.  He smiled genuinely at the prince when Legolas glanced in his direction.

“Leaving now!” Legolas answered glibly as stepped back out the door.

“There you are! I wondered where you had gotten off to,” Aragorn’s voice could be heard in the hallway.

In a moment the man peeked in through the doorway and glanced about the kitchen, curious to see how things were going.

All work had stopped and every eye was focused on the human.

Glancing back over his shoulder at Legolas, the king quirked an eyebrow in question.

“What?” he asked oddly, shifting his gaze to those in the kitchen.  “I was just looking for Legolas,” he offered by way of explanation.  Slowly he backed up and grabbed the elf intending to sneak away before he could be conscripted.

“My Liege,” Draecyn’s voice stopped his escape.

Hesitantly Aragorn stepped back into sight.

“Thank you,” the guard said cryptically.  He smiled warmly at the confused man.  Knowing better than to ask any questions, Aragorn simply nodded.

“Now leave or help us.  You two are interrupting far too much! Go on!” Elrohir shooed the two friends away.

Before he left, Aragorn pointed at the soldier and raised his eyebrows in warning, “We will speak later.” And with that the man departed accompanying Legolas to Elrond’s pantry.

“What was that all about?  Do I even want to know?” he could be heard asking the prince as they walked away.

In the kitchen, the bustle to prepare dinner resumed as the three elves competed with each other to tell their human companion stories about the man he called king.


“Elladan, stop chewing on the furniture!”  Arwen swatted her older brother on the head with a cushion from the chair she was sitting upon.  “Somewhere in Valinor, Celboril is tossing and turning this very moment.”

Elladan, reclining on the floor by his sister’s feet, feigned losing interest in the chair leg he had been pretending to gnaw upon.  “Ah, but he’s not here and I’m hungry!”

Arwen rolled her eyes.  Her brothers enjoyed being big children.  “Honestly, you’re worse than Dari.  I often wonder which of you is the child.”

Dari was playing quietly on a rug next to Aragorn.  He looked up questioningly upon hearing his name.

“Hear that Dari?  Your Nana thinks I might be the little boy,” Elladan said as he crawled over to his nephew.  “Maybe she’s right,” he whispered in a conspiratorial tone before pouncing on the child.

Dari squealed in delight and struggled as Elladan tickled his stomach.  Rolling onto his back with the child atop him, Elladan tossed Dari up into the air and caught him, making the boy laugh hysterically.

Aragorn chuckled as he watched Elladan with Dari.  He could clearly remember being on the little boy side of that equation.  His brothers hadn’t changed.

Legolas smiled.  He loved hearing Dari laugh.  It helped ease away all the bitter memories of their time together in Rahzon.  The elf’s gaze traveled over the other smiling and laughing occupants of the room.  He loved watching all his friends so happy.  At moments like this he found he could forget everything and be happy with them.

Elladan held Dari up in the air on his knees, holding the boy’s hands in his and bouncing him lightly.  “We should never have let El handle the food tonight, should we Dari?”

“Let him?” Arwen protested.  “I believe it was your idea, wasn’t it?  So don’t complain.”

“Ah, but he lost the wager to me fair and square, so he had to do it.”  Elladan seemed to consider that quite enough reason.  He rolled onto his stomach, letting Dari pin him and bounce gleefully on his back.  “Besides, Estel was a spoil-sport and sent Draecyn to help him, so it really shouldn’t be taking this long.”

Legolas massaged his right hand absently as he watched his friends bicker.  The tingling numbness of his fingers that had been his constant companion lately had grown worse.  At first it had affected only his pinky, second finger and part of his palm.  Now it was beginning to affect his middle finger as well.  The fingers felt as if he had lain upon them and caused them to go to sleep.  But feeling did not return no matter how he moved them.

The elf caught Aragorn looking at him and dropped his hand back into his lap as if nothing were wrong.  He knew his friend was already sick with worry over him; he didn’t want to give him one more reason to fret.  Unfortunately Aragorn knew Legolas too well and the elf felt a pang of guilt as he saw the carefree expression slip from his friend’s face to be replaced with concern.

Legolas rose to his feet.  It hurt him that since they came here he always seemed an interruption to his friend’s happiness, rather than a contributor to it.  He was tired of being the object of everyone’s concern.  Sick of this nameless depression that stole his nights and his days from him.  He wanted only for it all to go away.  He wasn’t troubled about Rahzon anymore; those wounds had healed.  So why wouldn’t the rest of him heal?  Why did the sea still fill his waking and sleeping dreams?  It was his body, why didn’t he seem to have any control?  He had never had trouble before when he ignored his pain or emotions.  Why wasn’t it working now?

“I think I will see if the food is ready yet,” Legolas excused himself.  He smiled for Aragorn’s sake and was relieved when the ranger smiled back.

“Tell Elrohir and Draecyn if they take any longer we’re going to replace them!” Aragorn called after him.

“Isn’t that more of a reward than a threat?” Legolas called back over his shoulder with a laugh.

The wood-elf found his way to the kitchen and stuck his head in the door.

Elrohir was bending over something on the stove, a long wooden spoon in one hand.  Draecyn was nowhere to be seen.  Neither were Raniean and Trelan.

Legolas wrinkled his nose.  “Is that something burning?” he inquired innocently.

Elrohir straightened up and wiped his free hand on the towel he had tied around his waist.  “That is something cooking.  And if you want to give this a try I don’t see anyone stopping you...” the younger twin remarked, blowing a wayward strand of hair out of his face.  He seemed a bit peeved that all his help had momentarily deserted him.

Legolas held his hands up for peace.  “How can I help?”

“Stir that one,” Elrohir pointed the spoon in his hand towards one of the large kettles that was beginning to bubble merrily on the heated surface of the stove.

Legolas did as he was bid, taking the spoon from Elrohir and stirring what looked like some kind of thick soup.

“Smells good. What is it?” he inquired as Elrohir crossed the kitchen and quickly began pulling the warm rolls out of the hot stones and smoldering coals that had been toasting their crusts.  

“Some kind of stew with tomatoes.  Apparently a Gondorian favorite.  Draecyn was working on it before he abandoned me,” Elrohir said with a laugh.  The bread was a little more toasted than he had intended, but not by too much. 

“Abandoned?” Legolas raised an eyebrow as he sampled some of the broth on the spoon.  “A Gondorian soldier abandoning his post?  You should talk to your brother about his men.  Not a bad cook, however; this is good.”

“Actually, for more wood for the stove,” Elrohir admitted.  “I don’t think we have it stoked quite enough.  Raniean and Trelan said they were going to go help him, but I think they just wanted an excuse to disappear.”  He scowled.

“Is that why it’s taking forever for dinner?” Legolas inquired, putting the lid back on the simmering stew.  “Aragorn and Elladan are almost ready to eat the furniture!”  

“Well they are more than welcome to do so!” Elrohir shook his head.  He wrapped the hot rolls in a clean cloth. “I’m sure Elladan needs to sharpen his teeth again.  Oh, Legolas, can you stir that other pan too, the small one?”

Legolas obliged.  This pan was full of nuts and a thick syrup that was just starting to steam.  The prince almost laughed.  Sweet-nuts were one of the few things that Elladan and Elrohir knew how to cook exquisitely.  As a result they had been served almost every day since he got here.

“Watch the pans, will you, Legolas?  Everything’s almost done.  I’m going to find Draecyn and those Silvan elves of yours.  They must have gotten lost, it shouldn’t be taking them this long!  I’ll be right back,” Elrohir excused himself quickly.

“But...” Legolas was left alone in the kitchen with his unfinished objection.  He shrugged to himself with a wry smile and turned back to the stove.  Everything seemed to be doing fine on its own, so he laid down the stirring spoon.  He clenched and unclenched his hands a few times, trying unsuccessfully to drive feeling back into his fingers.  He rolled up his sleeves.

Several pitchers of cool water sat on the table waiting to be served.  Borrowing one, Legolas filled an empty basin and carefully rolled a few of the hot stones Elrohir had used on the bread into the water.  The liquid hissed slightly at the contact and the water heated immediately.

Slowly immersing his arms almost to the elbows, Legolas held his hands in the basin of warm water, letting them linger there for several moments.  Both his hands were slowly losing feeling, but the warm water eased the uncomfortable tingling that accompanied the numbness.  He sighed softly, flexing his fingers in the water.

The elf heard a gurgling sizzle behind him.  Turning around quickly he saw that the pan of sweet nuts was hissing and bubbling over.  The sweet, sticky sauce was dripping down the sides of the pan into the open flames below and causing them to spark and flare.

Legolas swore quietly at himself for ignoring it so long.  Without thinking, he grabbed the metal handle of the pan, pulling it quickly away from the heat and looking for some place to set it down where it would not burn whatever it touched.

“Legolas!” Aragorn’s alarmed voice made the elf look up in confusion.  The human had come to see what was keeping dinner and his friend, but now stood in the doorway with an alarmed expression on his face.

The elf did not understand why Aragorn was hurrying towards him or looking at him like that... until his body slowly registered a strange, dull, throbbing pain radiating through his numb right hand where it clutched the pan handle.  The metal tong had been sitting over the fire and was searing hot to the touch.

Legolas quickly set the pan down on the work table, jerking his hand away from the scorching metal.  To his dismay, the prince found that the inside of his palm, thumb and all four fingers were red and already blistering angrily from the contact.

The elf winced in pain as the agony of the burn finally pierced his dulled senses.  It still didn’t hurt nearly as badly as it should have, but the dull, aching heat piled atop his tingling numbness was very painful.

“Legolas, what were you thinking?” Aragorn remonstrated with consternated concern as he grabbed hold of the elf’s wrist.  Pulling Legolas quickly across the kitchen with him he plunged the wounded hand into a pitcher of cold water to stop the burn from becoming worse.

Legolas flinched as his aching hand was submerged in the chilly water.  He should not have picked up that pan without padding.  He should have been able to tell at the briefest contact that it was too hot to be handled without protection.  But he had not.

“Obviously, I wasn’t,” Legolas replied dryly as Aragorn added more cold water to the pitcher, trying to keep the burn chilled.

“Obviously you weren’t feeling either,” Aragorn said, eyeing the elf.  “Couldn’t you tell how hot that was?”

Legolas sighed.  What was the point of concealing it?  “No, Aragorn, I couldn’t.  My hands have been a little numb lately.  It’s nothing to worry about.”

Aragorn pulled the elf’s blistered hand out of the pitcher, his gaze leveled upon his friend.  “This is not nothing, Legolas, and you know it.”  He gently but firmly plunged the prince’s hand back into the water again.

Legolas shrugged and accepted defeat too easily for Aragorn’s liking.  “Alright then, it isn’t.  It’s irritating, painful and disturbing.  What do you want me to do about it?” the elf’s voice was slightly strained.  He did not like what he was becoming.  Was this a sign?  Were the Valar punishing him for resisting the call of sea?

“Everything all right?  What’s burning?!” Elrohir’s voice interrupted them.  The dark-haired elf hurried back into the kitchen with Draecyn in tow.  They deposited their armloads of wood in the corner before rushing back to the stovetop.

Trelan and Raniean had gone to the outer houses to check on the other soldiers that had accompanied the guests and be sure all was well with them.

“Everything’s fine,” Aragorn assured, for which Legolas was grateful.  “Just a little mishap with a hot pan.  I believe the food is done.”

Elrohir and Draecyn concurred.  They quickly began removing the pots from the flames and filling the serving dishes.

At Legolas’ insistence, Aragorn let go of his injured arm and let the elf remove it from the water.  The prince held it somewhat gingerly.

“I’ll go get something to bind it with, just give me a moment,” Aragorn bid his friend.

Legolas nodded.  He was feeling a little dizzy and was glad to see his friend go so he could lean against the table without anyone taking note of the action.  His vision blurred slightly and he had to resist the strong urge to sit down or fall down.  These faint spells weren’t frequent, but Legolas hated them when they came.  They were, however, another thing about which the elf did not feel his friend needed to know.

“What?  Can’t you even go near a kitchen without getting hurt Legolas?” Elrohir teased lightly after scooping the un-burnt portions of the sweet-nuts into a dish.  He poked his head over Legolas’ shoulder to see his burn and winced, his face turning slightly more serious.  “That looks painful.  Estel burned his hands once when he was young, only he cold burned them and that was entirely his own fault.”

“It was not,” the human in question countered as he returned with clean wrappings and some aloe shoots he had just culled.  “Aren’t you supposed to be getting dinner out?”

Elrohir unwrapped the towel from around his waist and tossed it lightly onto the table.  “My wager with Elladan said I would cook dinner.  I never said anything about serving it.  That lazy bones can come back and get it himself,” the younger twin huffed good-naturedly.

“I’ll put it out, my Lord,” Draecyn quickly offered.

Elrohir watched the Gondorian start putting the steaming dishes onto several huge serving trays and sighed.  “Oh all right, I’ll help too.  I suppose ‘twould be rude to make guests do all the work in my own house,” he conceded with a dramatic sigh.

Aragorn chuckled as his brother and guardsman made their way out with a few of the serving trays.  It was going to take several trips.  He split the succulent green stem of the plant he had brought and spread the cool gel over Legolas’ burn.

Legolas didn’t flinch although it hurt.  “What was this about you burning your hands?  What is a cold burn?” he inquired as Aragorn carefully wound some protective bandages around the palm and fingers of the elf’s injured hand.

“Oh, that.”  The human shook his head with a small smile.  “It was nothing really.  One winter when I was twelve or thirteen, my brothers and I were out hunting.  During the night there was a hard, snap-freeze.  The next morning I made the mistake of washing my face and then trying to pull up the metal tent-spikes.  My wet fingers froze instantly to the icy metal and when we finally got them off they were blistered from the cold.  So my brothers told me I was the only person they knew who could burn themselves on ice.”  Aragorn chuckled at the memory.

“How does that feel, better?” Aragorn asked, holding Legolas’ bandaged hand gently.  He was still concerned about what Legolas had said about his loss of feeling, but unfortunately he had begun to realize that whatever ailed the elf was not physical.  It was not something he could cure with herbs and teas.

Legolas nodded, pulling his hand away and holding it cupped lightly in his other hand.  “Yes, thank you.  We had better help them carry some of this out.”  He nodded towards the food.  “Before Elladan eats everything in front of him and leaves nothing for us!”