<>Remember How to Smile

Chapter 2: Consequences of a Drinking Game

by Cassia and Siobhan

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The dinner dishes had been cleaned and the dining room emptied for hours now.  The guests that were still awake had retired to the Hall of Fire and were lounging in a semi-circle near the great fireplace.
Leaning back against a stack of pillows, Aragorn was lazily blowing smoke rings towards the ceiling, his head tipped at an awkward angle against the cushions.  Legolas rested to his left, sprawled on the floor, his shirt unbuttoned to ease the discomfort caused by the stitches in his side constantly rubbing against the silk.  One of the large throw blankets was partly wrapped around him upon Aragorn’s insistence.  

The Prince gazed into the fire, watching the flames play along the ridges of wood that Elladan had just stacked on the nearly dying embers. He absently fingered the small, milky stone that hung against his chest, remembering how many nights he had lain on a very different floor, watching stars flicker between bars and thinking he would never see this place and these people again.  He smiled softly and his fingers drifted down to brush the soft, downy head that lay against his chest.  Dari had fallen asleep a long time ago.  

Arwen stooped in front of Legolas, gently scooping the little sleeping prince up into her arms.  She looked greatly improved now that she had bathed and changed out of her road-worn clothing, but she still appeared a bit tired from her long journey.  The only thing visible on her face when she gazed at her son, however, was pure contentment and joy.  

Dari stirred sleepily and refused to let go the small hand that was tangled in the open edge of Legolas’ tunic for a moment until he realized it was his mother picking him up. 

“We’re here, Leg’las,” Dari murmured in a sleepy, contented voice as he finally allowed his mother to lift him out of the blond elf’s arms.  “Just like you said.  My new favorite place,” he murmured contentedly before drifting back to sleep as Arwen carried him out, her handmaids in tow.  

Legolas smiled after their retreating backs.  

It was getting late.  Jonath, Draecyn and the other soldiers excused themselves as well, leaving the elves, who needed little sleep, and the Numenorean who had grown up among them, alone as night crept more deeply across the valley. 

Peaceful silence hung over them for some time as the stars winked in through the windows.  The fire popped and shifted, the logs settling more firmly on themselves as they burned down.  Aragorn blew one of his smoke rings so that it fell down to crown Legolas’ head before it dissipated.  

Legolas wrinkled his nose and batted his hand in front of his face, his glare telling his human friend to keep his smelly habits to himself.  

Aragorn smiled. 

“We need some music,” Mora lamented quietly after a time. 

“No one here is a bard and I would not have Raniean try again, thank you,” Trelan muttered darkly.  His comments earned him a playful smack from the insulted elf. 

“Well, how about a story?” Elrohir encouraged glancing around the group.  He was seated near Elladan, propped up on a stack of cushions.  His twin lay on his side, playing with the last bit of wine that swirled in the bottom of his cup.  A full flagon rested within reach, ready to refill at a moment's notice. 

“Surely, amongst us all there should be a few tales left untold?” Elladan finished his brothers’ thought. 

“And not the one about how I shot my father in the foot trellep hunting when I was THREE!” Legolas glared at Trelan, cutting off the Silvan elf before he could speak.  He knew exactly what the look on his friend’s face had meant.  

The smaller elf began to laugh helplessly.  “But it’s a good one...” 

“...that we’ve all heard, Trelan,” Aragorn replied listlessly, watching the two Silvan elves laugh amongst themselves. 

“Yes, we have,” Raniean agreed trying to get his breathing under control.  “But, my prince, I do believe you were more around the age of seventy-five at the time.” 

“Seventy-five?!?!” Aragorn choked on the lungful of smoke he had just inhaled. 

“It’s not that old for an elf, Strider,” Legolas defended himself.  He glared at his friend in mock indignation. Leaning over, Legolas pounded the man a little harder than necessary on the back.  Aragorn had curled into himself trying to catch his breath as he alternated between coughing and laughing. 

“Yes, but it’s certainly not that young either.  Oh very well,” Trelan relented. “No trellep stories, even if they are hilarious.” 

“What about the two of you?” Elladan questioned, rolling over and glancing at Aragorn and Legolas, “We know you’ve got stories you’ve never told.  Come on, part with some of them.” 

“I remember eons ago, when you returned from Harad, Legolas said something about mûmakil.  Seeing Dari play with that toy all evening has reminded me.  We never could get that story out of you...”  Elrohir encouraged. 

“Or the blackmail you have on Legolas from the celebration at Edoras!” Elladan continued. “His face turns ten shades of red whenever you mention it.” 

“Or no!  Better yet, whatever secret you have between the two of you that you did at Council the first year of your reign that neither of you will admit to.  You never would tell us what fully happened!” Elrohir and Elladan kept up the banter, recalling snatches of stories that they could never pry out of the two friends. 

“How about whatever it was that they did to Glorfindel so that he would never turn his back on them again or leave them alone in his room?” At this point the two twins were giggling helplessly. “I don’t think Ada ever did find that one out.  And I know there are more!!  Like why Thranduil wouldn’t allow you into the throne room in Mirkwood unattended even at your ages?” 

“What?!” Aragorn glanced at Legolas, his gaze questioning the prince who turned an innocent, surprised look on the man. “I can’t believe you told them that!” 

“Me?!” the prince pointed at himself. “Why, in heaven’s name, would I tell them about that?” 

Both friends turned towards the twins who were now guiltily glancing back and forth at each other. 

“Who told you?” Aragorn demanded, leaning forward. 

“Well actually, it was Gimli.  But he wouldn’t tell us anything save that you were banned from the throne room and that only after we got him drunk.”  Elladan admitted sheepishly. “Although I would love to know more!” 

“That dwarf.” Legolas cursed softly. “I knew telling him too much would come back to haunt me.” 

“You told him?!” Aragorn stared incredulously at the elf.  That he really couldn’t believe.  

Legolas shrugged innocently. “It seemed a good idea at the time.  I didn’t think he would repeat it to anyone I actually knew.” 

“Well obviously he did!” 

“Oh come on, part with them, you have a lifetime of tales.  Entertain us in our old age,” Elladan teased gently. 

“Well...” Aragorn stalled, glancing at Legolas to make sure the elf approved.  “I suppose I could tell you what happened at Edoras, if Legolas doesn’t mind.” 

“Oh, go ahead,” the prince relented.  “Tell them.  It’s not as if everyone else there didn’t know what happened.”  He shook his head, but his reticence was sabotaged by the smile he could not quite repress. 

Aragorn pressed himself back against the cushions once more, setting his pipe aside and watching his friend as he began to remember a night very long ago when he was still a ranger and had not quite taken up his heritage yet. 

“I remember that day, that night.”  He smiled softly at the elf. “We had finally reached Edoras after the battle at Helm’s Deep.  Everyone was weary but the excitement from having won that single conflict was contagious and the women had prepared this victory feast.” Aragorn’s voice drew in his listeners and as he recounted the story it was as if they were there in the very room he described, seeing what he saw and hearing what he heard... 


The air in the crowded room was filled with loud sounds of laughter and song.  Everyone was celebrating and they had good reason to do so.  Rohan had only barely escaped complete obliteration at the hands of Saruman’s Uruk-hai armies.  Their victory against all odds at Helm's Deep was one to be cherished, especially since even darker days were still ahead.  

Merry and Pippin were completely at home.  Up on a table they danced and sang their favorite drinking songs.  The Rohirrim warriors urged them on, accepting the hobbits much more easily than many big people did. 

Legolas was another matter.  He simply did not fit in with the humans around him.  Even so, he was surprisingly not particularly ill at ease.  He had been in the middle of such goings on before and at least this party felt a whole lot safer than some of the nasty little backwater pubs that Aragorn had dragged him into in their younger days together.  However, that was not to say that some of the customs being practiced by these people were not a little strange and unfamiliar to him.  

“So, it’s called a drinking game,” he looked to the dwarf at his side for clarification.  Gimli seemed to be right at home here and had been involved in some kind of sport with one of the Rohirrim, and was now trying to get the elf to join him.  Legolas had begun to like the irritating little dwarf more than he wanted to admit.  But he rarely passed up the opportunity of a challenge in the face of their never-ending elves versus dwarves debate.  He would later wish this were one contest he had skipped. 

“And what, exactly, is the point?” the elf looked skeptical.  

Gimli grinned widely.  “Last one standing wins!” he said cheerfully. 

Legolas accepted this information, looking down at the mug Éomer placed before him.  Well that didn’t sound too hard.  His father was a connoisseur of fine wines and the young prince had been raised on vintages far stronger than most humans could handle... Legolas had found that out when he was still getting to know Strider.  The young human had erroneously thought that the wine at Thranduil’s table would be no different than what he was accustomed to drinking with his family in Rivendell.  Two large goblets put the twenty-year-old mortal under the table with amazing speed, much to the amusement of all the elves present.  

Raising the mug to his lips, Legolas wondered for a moment what he was getting himself into as he accepted the challenge, taking a cautious swig of the heavy, amber liquid.  The Rohirrim’s grog was heady and unfamiliar, different from the ales and meads he had come across in Bree or other human cities.  It was even more vastly different from what his people called mead.  The elven prince was not sure he really liked the deep, woody flavor and almost made a face.  But he dare not show any hint of squeamishness with Gimli looking on, so he took another deep swallow before lowering the cup again.  The smiling gaze he fixed on his dwarven companion said that the challenge had been accepted.  

Gimli laughed at the dainty way Legolas sampled his drink.  The dwarf threw his mug back and emptied it in several swallows.  He wiped his mouth on his sleeve as he slammed his mug back on the table and demanded another. 

Gimli grinned at the elf.  “Better hurry up, laddie. I’m two ahead of you already.” 

With a resolute expression, Legolas drained his mug and set it down, accepting the next one the Rohirrim handed him.  The prince’s competitive spirit was up and rankled after having somehow managed to lose their impromptu numbers game on the walls of Helm's Deep.  If the dwarf wanted a contest, he would get one.  

In another corner of the room, Aragorn stood by Gandalf.  They were only half-watching Merry and Pippin dance and sing.  Most of their attention had turned inward to their own conversation which had wandered down darker and more uncertain paths than was entirely fit for the festive air of the party.  

Gandalf was worried... no, maybe not worried, perhaps just hurting.  Hurting for what he knew he had sent Frodo into.  Hurting because it was the only way and yet he feared that it would claim not only his dear, little friend’s life but also his soul. 

Aragorn didn’t know how to try to offer comfort or hope in the face of something like that. He believed Frodo was stronger than they gave him credit for sometimes and he knew that Gandalf would be the first to tell that to anyone who might doubt.  

“What does your heart tell you?” the ranger asked quietly.  

“That he is alive...” Gandalf’s eyes were strangely hopeful and yet filled with rending sorrow at the same time.  He turned away from Aragorn, looking out at nothing with that heartbreakingly fond and mournful look on his face. 

Gandalf turned back with a still sad, yet hopeful smile.  “Yes, Frodo is alive.”  //but under what circumstances... who can tell?// 

Aragorn ached for the weight of the world that seemed to be hanging on the wizard’s shoulders, but he sensed that Gandalf had said all he was going to say.  The wizard gave the ranger’s shoulder a squeeze and moved away, heading away from the festivities.  Aragorn let him go.  He could see the signs of someone who wanted to be alone. 

The human’s roving gaze flitted across the room, taking stock of where his other friends were.  When he found Legolas and Gimli his eyebrows quirked up.  

The tall elf and short dwarf were standing near a row of kegs and had apparently just refilled their mugs.  At more or less the same time, they both tipped their heads back, draining the tumblers completely in one long draught before being handed fresh mugs.  A few of the Rohirrim gathered round, cheering the contestants on jovially.  

Aragorn would have more than expected a scene like this involving Gimli from what he had come to know of the stout-hearted dwarf over the months since they started out as a fellowship.  What surprised him about the current situation was Legolas.  The man knew the elf could very probably drink him under the table, but he also knew that Legolas strongly favored wine and was not much enamored by the liquors and ales of the human world.  

All the explanation Aragorn needed, however, was that the elf and dwarf were involved in the activity together.  The ranger smiled and shook his head.  He had had to put up with the constant bickering between those two since they left Rivendell.  Although to be fair, it had changed from true mistrust to a friendlier sort of rivalry after their time in Lothlórien.  Still, those two could be almost as bad as Elladan and Elrohir when they got into it, and that was saying a lot. 

Aragorn watched with unbridled amusement as Legolas tossed back another glass, the dancing look in his eyes daring Gimli to keep up with him.  The dwarf was slowing, but would not be outdone.  The ranger chuckled.  Their pride was going to be the death of them both.  

The Rohirrim gathered around the contest were all several glasses over their limits themselves and having a grand time.  They cheered and chanted and kept the grog flowing freely for the two friends as the elf and the dwarf stubbornly kept head-to-head in the game.  

“Hey, bring another barrel, this one’s almost empty!” came the call and one of the humans hurried over with another large tankard.  

The men could not believe either contestant was still on their feet.  No human could have hoped to imbibe a quarter as much as the elf and dwarf had already downed and remain awake.  

Legolas’ body had warned him some time ago that now would be a good time to stop, but he was not about to concede another contest to the dwarf.  His pride kept him going, and presently the warm, buzzing haze that enveloped his senses helped drown out any rational objections.  The thick drink did not even taste bad anymore... in fact he really wasn’t tasting it at all.  He felt more than a little giddy and everything became extremely amusing, including the way part of Gimli’s drink would inevitably roll down his facial hair.  

“It’s not fair you know,” he remarked when he and Gimli took a mutual momentary break to breathe.  “You lose half of everything down your beard, you should be drinking double.” 

“Oh?  Well in that case you’re so big you’ve got more place to put it so you should be taking double,” Gimli shot right back, although his brogue was slurring a bit more than usual.  

They both laughed and refilled their mugs.  It wasn’t actually very funny, but at the moment it seemed hilariously so to them. 

“I feel something in my fingers,” Legolas commented distractedly.  He rubbed the fingers of his left hand together wondering at the odd sensation.  He looked at them with a slightly puzzled expression.  “I think it’s affecting me.”  The statement was part observation, part taunt because Gimli was obviously wavering on his feet.  

Éomer glanced up at the elf, amazed.  The amount of alcohol the elf had consumed would have put any of his men under the table.  But it had just barely begun to affect the prince.  He questioned the stories he had heard about the fair race as he handed both the dwarf and Legolas new mugs.  Perhaps the tales of old were true! 

Gimli was deteriorating quickly now, but he was no more ready to concede the contest than the elf.  He kept up a steady stream of conversation, most of which was incoherent.  And what Eomer could make out he wished he hadn’t.  This was the strangest drinking game he had ever officiated. 

He shuddered involuntarily as the dwarf, merrily intoxicated, bounced in his seat, muttering something about hairy little females.  Dwarves were odd.  

With a laugh at his own musings, Gimli drained his mug.  He remarked that elves obviously couldn’t hold their liquor... and then fell backward to the floor.  

Legolas glanced at his friend and set his mug back down with an air of finality. 

“I think the game is finished,” he informed Éomer, before stooping to check on the dwarf.  The Rohirrim captain stared dumbfounded at the elf for a few seconds.  He shook his head in disbelief and filled a mug that was shoved his way by another soldier.  Life never ceased to amaze him. 

“Gimli?  Gimli?”  Legolas was concerned at first, and knelt quickly by his short friend’s side, checking the dwarf’s vitals.  The elf’s fingers fumbled over the task with far less grace than usual and Legolas couldn’t figure out why his hands weren’t working right.  

Gimli was perfectly fine.  Merely sleeping deep and soundly, and not likely to wake for some time.  Once Legolas assured himself of this fact, he straightened up.  Giving a laughing, mock-bow to the Rohirrim who were cheering for him, the elf made his way out of the hall and away from the celebrating. 

The Rohirrim were shocked that someone could walk away from a competition like that so steady and collected, but Aragorn, having caught this final scene from across the room, knew the truth.  Legolas seemed to be steady, but anyone who really knew the elf could see that he was off-balance.  The elf was weaving slightly and had to stop for a moment, holding onto the doorpost before he launched himself on into the dark embrace of night beyond.  

With a small, sympathetic smile, Aragorn graciously excused himself from the conversation he had been engaged in with Gamling.  He first checked Gimli, and then made his way towards the exit where Legolas had disappeared.  

“You are worried about the elf?” Éomer inquired with a wry grin, guessing Aragorn’s true intentions when he saw the other man’s actions.  He was still at his post filling mugs full of the heady mead.  It was his place of preference.  Drinking did not mix well with the duties of a captain.  He knew the painful after-effects of having spent a night with his men celebrating.  Once had been enough.  So he remained at the tap watching over his soldiers. 

“Not worried,” the ranger answered, shaking his head.  Legolas was certainly capable of taking care of himself.  “But... he is my friend.” 

The Third Marshal of the Riddemark nodded in understanding.  “Aye, and he’s had a drop more than is good for anyone I think, even folk as curious as you three.”  

Aragorn smiled and shrugged slightly at Éomer’s somewhat backward compliment.  

The horse lord turned and gave some orders to the men standing near.  “Do not worry about Gimli, we will see he is taken back to his lodgings,” he assured Aragorn. 

Aragorn gave a thankful nod to Éomer before taking his leave.  He did not search Legolas out at once, but stopped first by his own sleeping quarters to gather up a few things.  Passing through what he thought was an empty hall, he halted upon seeing a lone figure lying on a low couch, attempting to get some sleep.  It was the Lady Éowyn who must have taken her leave from the festivities earlier.  Aragorn hadn’t noticed when she left, but she looked chilled and a little drawn.  His caretaker nature drew him forward to adjust her slipping blanket for her.   

When Legolas left the celebration it took him a few moments to realize he didn’t really know where he was going.  He supposed he should go to his quarters and rest until he felt more like himself, but that was across the compound through a throng of milling people and he didn’t want to have to talk to anyone at the moment.  He felt oddly and did not want to shame himself.  Besides, his sleeping pallet was right next to Gimli’s and he didn’t want to run into the dwarf again until he had better control of himself.  

Wandering away from the main lodges a bit, the wood-elf was drawn with uncanny direction to one of the few knots of trees in the grassy, windswept landscape of the Mark.  He felt better here, under the low branches of the elms than he did in the crowded city or even in the open, rolling plains.  

Legolas unbuttoned the first few catches on his silver tunic, leaning against the tree.  He was hot and dizzy.  The pleasant buzz he had had earlier was wearing away and being replaced by a building nausea as his body began to rebel at what he had done to it tonight.  His temples throbbed.  His hands were slow to respond to his commands and starting to tremble.  

With his back against the tree, he slid slowly down to the ground until he was sitting, holding his head in his hands and wondering what in Arda was wrong with him. 

The elf moaned inwardly when he felt his stomach start heaving and he had to scramble quickly to his hands and knees to oblige his body’s need to purge some of the copious amounts of alcohol he had so rashly forced it to consume.  

Legolas’ insides were churning and he knew it wasn’t over yet, so he stayed on his hands and knees, retching miserably.  He had been sick like this before once or twice when he was poisoned.  The feeling was not foreign, but definitely unwelcome.  

The prince’s golden hair hung down around his face, clinging to the perspiration on his cheeks.  His arms trembled slightly under him as he panted for air around his heaving stomach and diaphragm.  The elf was dimly aware of what a disgraceful sight he must be and felt his cheeks flush even more hotly.  

When his keen hearing picked up someone approaching, his first reaction was to flee rather than be seen like this, even though every inch of his woozy body protested against taking any sudden actions.  A moment later, however, Legolas’ somewhat sluggish mind registered that he recognized the tread of the human drawing near and he gave up thoughts of flight.  He felt his whole body burn with shame, but he did not run.  Aragorn was probably the only being he would grudgingly suffer to see him at a moment like this.  In fact, as odd as it seemed, he was a little glad he had come.  

Legolas felt Aragorn’s cool, gentle hands on his heaving shoulders, soothing him as they always did when the prince was injured or ill.  The human gently brushed the elf’s limp, golden hair away from Legolas’ face, pulling it back over the prince’s shoulders.  

Legolas felt another convulsion seize him and heaved painfully.  His stomach was already empty however and nothing came up.  Aragorn’s hands tightened reassuringly on his shoulders, massaging his back in small, soothing circles.  Rubbing gently on either side of the elf’s spine right where Legolas’ shoulder blades ended, Aragorn loosened the knotted muscles that had been tensed up by Legolas’ spasms and were now contributing to making them worse.  

Legolas relaxed slightly into his friend’s healing hands.  He still felt worse than miserable, but somehow Estel’s touch always helped.  

The elf started retching again, and he nearly cried at his own weakness and helplessness to control his body.  His arms were shaking so badly that he couldn’t hold himself up anymore and he crumpled to his elbows.  Aragorn caught him in one fluid motion.  Sliding around behind the prince and wrapping one arm around his friend’s chest, Aragorn hugged Legolas’ back to his own chest; supporting the very ill elf prince as he suffered through the after-effects of his little competition. 

“Aragorn...” Legolas murmured around convulsions.  “S-something is wrong.  I-I think I’ve been poisoned.” 

Aragorn smiled with sympathetic amusement.  “No, mellon-nín, you’re not poisoned.  Trust me.  This will pass and leave no lasting harm.  You, my dear friend, are merely facing the consequences of having had too much to drink too quickly.”  

“I am not drunk,” Legolas’ voice was indignant.  But the very way his usually precise speech slurred slightly when he said it belied his own argument.  The elf moaned in despair as he felt another spasm seize him, leaving him breathless again with a churning stomach.  “Oh Valar, I am, aren’t I?” 

Aragorn patiently smoothed Legolas’ hair back again and settled the miserable elf more comfortably in his arms.  

“Yes, Legolas, I’m afraid you are.  That’s what you get for drinking like a dwarf.”  He couldn’t help chuckling.  He was sorry that his friend was in pain and would do anything to help, but really, it was just a little amusing.  Legolas had certainly brought this one upon himself.  

“Wood-elves do not get drunk,” Legolas lamented in self recrimination, glad no one from his home could see him right now. 

Aragorn chuckled again, wiping his friend’s face gently with a damp cloth.  “Legolas, please, spare me the invulnerable elf line.  Wood-elves can get drunk just like anyone else given the right circumstances.  That was not your father’s Dorwinion you were drinking in there.  I daresay that your body does not particularly care for the Rohirrim’s favored brew.” 

Legolas had to agree as his empty stomach continued to heave at random intervals although, under Aragorn’s calming ministrations, it was starting to slow a little. 

“Here.” Aragorn placed a water skin to Legolas’ lips.  “Drink this, it will help.” 

Legolas accepted without question and drank some of the herbal water that Aragorn had mixed up before coming to find him.  At first the elf’s stomach could not hold even that down and it came right back up again much to Legolas’ chagrin.  But Aragorn was a patient physician and coaxed Legolas to try again.  The elf did and managed to keep it down a little longer this time, before his stomach revolted again and he was quickly doubled over his knees once more, violently ill. 

Aragorn’s heart ached for his friend.  Even if this were hardly a life-threatening situation, Legolas was still in pain and Aragorn knew all too well exactly how the prince was feeling.  

“Sorry,” Legolas murmured, ashamed of himself.  

“Shh, it’s all right, it’s not your fault,” Aragorn shook his head, his short beard brushing Legolas’ tangled, gold hair where it lay rumpled against him.  “Just keep trying, eventually you will have gotten enough down to help.  It just takes time, trust me.” 

“H-happened to you before?” Legolas asked softly and Aragorn knew the elf wanted to know he wasn’t alone.  The ranger smiled with painful fondness.  Legolas always supposed any normal, fallible weakness in himself to be some horrendous flaw borne by him alone.  He was far too exacting with himself, he always had been.  

“Yes, mellon-nín, oh yes.  It has happened to me, more than once,” Aragorn chuckled.  “My brothers also... or Elrohir anyway.  Do not think you are the first person to have suffered through the effects of a drinking game.  The twins were... very creative and not very considerate of the different tolerances held by humans and elves.  I of course found a way to turn the tables the next time, but...” Aragorn shook his head with a wry grin. “That is enough about that.  Suffice it to say that you are definitely not alone, Legolas, and there is nothing wrong with you.”  

A memory from long ago came back to Aragorn and he chuckled yet again.  “I seem to remember being dog sick after a certain new moon festival in Mirkwood during which NO ONE thought to warn me that your father did not serve normal wine.” 

Legolas smiled at the memory, but then his face clouded.  “You were sick?  I know you passed out, but I did not know you were ill afterwards, Aragorn.” 

The human laughed.  “Legolas, you don’t think I stayed in my room the whole next day just because I was bored of your company do you?” 

Legolas turned in Aragorn’s arms so he could see his friend’s face.  “I’m sorry,” the elf said quietly.  “I did not know.  There was so much about humans... about life even, that I did not understand then.” 
The elf’s eyes reflected remorse as he remembered how mercilessly he and his friends had tormented the human about that incident.  Aragorn had borne their friendly ridicule with patience and good humor, but Legolas realized now how it must have made the ranger feel.  Especially when Sarcaulien and Sarcayul’s taunts had not been delivered with friendly intent. 

“I teased you about it because I did not understand our differences, but even then I would not have if I had known it hurt you like this.  I’m sorry, mellon-nín.  I should have been there for you,” Legolas whispered quietly.  

Aragorn smiled gently.  Legolas’ honestly caring and remorseful heart touched him, even though it surprised him that he prince should be so worried about something that happened so very many years ago.  Then he remembered that for Legolas those years were not so long and it was not such ancient history as it was for the human.  

“Legolas, I never held you any ill will over that.  ‘twas my own fault for not being more careful in the first place.  You did not know because I did not want you to know.  Legolas... we were almost different people then, not close then as we are now.  I was unsure of my place in your regard and would not risk showing any kind of weakness that might make you think me unworthy.” 

Aragorn gently slipped the neck of the water skin to Legolas’ lips and the elf reluctantly, but obediently, tried again to drink. 

Legolas pondered what Aragorn had said for a moment while he struggled to keep his stomach calm.  In some ways that did seem a very long time ago to him, even though by elven standards it was but a small season of his life.  Yet he could not now really remember the time before Aragorn had been as close to him as a brother.  It was so hard to imagine how they had ever not felt that way or how they had gotten through that rough, uncertain time at the beginning of their relationship.  

The elf prince’s stomach was calming down and to his relief he was able to keep the medicine down.  He relaxed a little against Aragorn’s grasp.  “I’m glad we are where we are now, mellon-nín,” he murmured quietly, wrapping his hand over Aragorn’s where the human was holding his shoulder.  

Aragorn nodded in the dark.  “So am I, Legolas.  So am I.” 

Legolas’ breathing slowly returned to normal and his body stopped trembling so much.  He let out a small, relieved sigh as the nausea finally retreated to tolerable levels.  

Helping the elf lean back up into an almost sitting position, Aragorn passed him the water skin and Legolas rinsed his mouth out wearily.  The prince’s eyes locked with those of the ranger.  

“Don’t tell the dwarf.” Legolas’ plea was both commanding and imploring.  

Aragorn tried very hard not to smile, but failed.  “Not a word,” he shook his head solemnly.  He reflected with no small amusement that he seemed to be accumulating enough blackmail on both the elf and the dwarf to keep them in his debt for quite a long time.  

Both of them heard the approaching footsteps at the same time.  With speed that showed his reflexes weren’t suffering too badly, Legolas was up the nearest tree in a flash, disappearing into the darkened branches.  

Several very drunk Rohirrim staggered past, nodding good night to Aragorn, who returned the courtesy.  The ranger waited until they were gone, then stood and walked to the base of the tree Legolas had disappeared into.  

“They’re gone.  Legolas, you can come down.” 

A soft, muffled moan from overhead was his only answer. 

Aragorn waited a few more moments before grabbing a low-hanging branch and following his friend up the tree with a sigh.  “Legolas, you and your pride, I swear it will be the death of us both...” he muttered as he picked his way up the tree with less ease than the elf had exhibited even dead drunk.  

Aragorn found the prince high up, sitting in the V between two intersecting branches.  Legolas’ arms were wrapped tightly around the branch near his chest as if seeking strength from the tree.  

Slightly irritated with his friend a moment before, Aragorn’s heart melted again when he saw the lost, bewildered look on his Legolas’ fair face.  The human settled down carefully near his friend.  “Is everything all right?” 

Legolas shook his head, still holding the branch tightly.  “No,” he murmured, looking almost frightened.  “The tree... it’s moving, but I know it’s not.  It’s trying to comfort me, but I-I don’t feel safe... I always feel safe in the trees, Estel...”  

Aragorn pried the elf’s arms free carefully and pulled him back against him once more.  “Your balance is off, my friend, your equilibrium disturbed.  Give it a little time, it will come back.  I know it must feel like it, but Legolas, trust me, this truly is not the end of the world.”  His smiling voice was gentle. 

“I know,” Legolas sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing his temples.  “I’m sorry.  I do not mean to act like such a child.  You must be sick of me.  Go, enjoy the rest of your evening Aragorn.  I will be fine, honestly.” 

Aragorn could tell that the elf truly did wish to be alone now.  “All right, but let’s get you back to your quarters first...” 

“No!” Legolas protested quickly, resisting Aragorn’s attempts to move him. “I... I would rather stay here.  I will be all right.” 

Aragorn guessed immediately why Legolas did not want to go back into the city.  

“Legolas, no one is going to notice anything. Half the men are already much too far gone themselves to be paying attention to anyone else and Gimli is not going to wake up for a very long time, not ‘til morning probably.  See if you can’t bend that elvish pride a little so you can get some good rest, hm?”  There was a dancing, mirthful light in the ranger’s eyes that the elf did not appreciate just at the moment.  

Legolas gave Aragorn a disgruntled, yet slightly playful shove away from him.  “I can get good rest right here, human.  This land is so flat and open; it is good to be in the trees again.” 

Aragorn shook his head, but held up his hands in defeat.  He was not going to argue the point.  “As long as you don’t fall out of it.  That I think would be something you would not live down, mellon-nín.”
Legolas snorted in derision at the very idea, casting a wry glare in the human’s direction.  “Not this day, my friend.  Now go away and let me rest. I’m certain you can find someone else to pester.  Like that pretty maiden who follows you around with hero worship in her every glance... Éowyn isn’t it?”  

It was Aragorn’s turn to glare.  Éowyn’s feelings for him were becoming increasingly apparent and he didn’t know what to do about the situation.  He liked her; she was noble, she was brave and of the highest quality.  The kind of person he would treasure as a friend... but he did not love her.  His heart had been given away long ago and he knew that although it meant he would probably be alone for the rest of his life, he could give it to no other no matter how worthy. 

“It’s not me you know,” he shook his head, trying to explain it away and chagrined that the elf had already seen so clearly what it had taken him this long to begin figuring out.  “She’s young, and in love with an idea, a legend of great deeds and the promise of an exciting future.” 

“Mmm,” Legolas nodded, leaning his aching head sideways against the tree, feeling the cool bark suck some of the annoying heat out of his body as he began slipping towards a healing trance.  “I know that, mellon-nín, but I think she may have a harder time separating the idea from the dashing and charismatic package it comes bound up with.”  His tired grin was wicked.  Aragorn was having fun at his expense, turnabout was fair play. 

Aragorn would have whacked the elf if he was not afraid that in Legolas’ current state he might actually fall out of the tree if suddenly unbalanced.  It wasn’t a far distance, but Aragorn knew if he caused a wood elf to fall out of a tree, he had better be sure that he was nowhere near that said wood elf for the next few days... or possibly months... 

Instead, the human settled for an irritated growl.  “Legolas, you hallucinate when you’re drunk.” 

Legolas closed his eyes with a placid smile.  “I’m not drunk.” 

Aragorn rolled his eyes.  “Nooo, of course you’re not.  Perish the thought.  Well then I will just leave you to sleep off the affliction you don’t have.  But I will not be held responsible if you wake up at the bottom of this tree instead of the top.” 

Legolas just smiled, his consciousness already fading.  

Aragorn hesitated before climbing down, gently touching his friend’s temple.  “Legolas... you really will be all right up here?” 

The elf nodded slightly and murmured yes.  Aragorn could tell that Legolas was letting himself be pulled into a sort of healing trance.  Given elves’ accelerated rates of regeneration and recovery the prince would likely be completely back to normal in a few hours.  

Satisfied, Aragorn climbed down the tree as carefully as he could, trying not to shake it too much for his friend’s sake.  When he had almost reached the ground he heard Legolas’ soft voice float down to him on the cool night air.  “Thank you... for coming after me.” 

Aragorn grinned in the darkness.  “Always, mellon-nín.” 


Everyone was at rest now as the hours marched on from the late watches of the night to the early watches of the morning.  Festivities had long ago died down and now it seemed that only the sentries were awake.  

This was proved not entirely true when a lone, dark figure stepped out onto the roof of the long hall that was currently acting as resting place of many of the soldiers and guests. 

Most were sleeping quietly below; even Gandalf had finally retired for the night.  But Aragorn was still wakeful.  He wasn’t sure why, but a vague unease was gnawing at him so he had come up here for a view of the stars.  The ranger smiled slightly as he lit his pipe.  He supposed that was the elvish touch that had been reared into him, his fondness for starlit nights.  

Speaking of elves... Aragorn quickly realized he was not alone on the roof.  A hooded figure stood on the very edge of the roof, staring off into the east.  Although the figure had his back to the ranger, Aragorn knew at once who it was.  He knew Legolas well enough to recognize his stance anywhere.  

The human made his way to the elf’s side, not really surprised that Legolas was already up and about again.  Elrohir had recovered nearly as fast, although he had made a much larger fuss about it.  

Legolas’ gaze was intent and his attention seemingly far away so Aragorn was silent for a few moments until the elf turned and acknowledged his presence.  

“The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the east. A sleepless malice,” Legolas warned quietly.  It was obvious to the human that the elf was sensing something that he could not. 

Aragorn could see Legolas’ eyes now, shaded by the hood he wore.  The elf was worried.  Something was happening; forces were at work of which the man was unaware. 

“The Eye of the Enemy is moving,” Legolas continued.  The evil in the air around him was palatable to his every sense.  The light of the stars dimmed.  The winds held the touches of evil voices on their way up the hill.  Even the night air seemed fouled about them as the Dark Lord’s attention stirred their way. 

The words that the prince spoke chilled Aragorn to the bone.  What did it mean?  Did Sauron know that he was here?  Had he given himself away at Helm’s Deep, or was there a spy among them now?  Had Frodo been captured and the Ring of Power retaken?  Were their plans foiled already? 

Aragorn didn’t interrupt or question the elf.  He knew better by now.  When Legolas was reading the very earth around them as he was tonight, it was in their best interest to let him concentrate. 

A sudden blank look of horror crossed Legolas’ fair features, before solidifying into terrible recognition.  

“He is here!” the elf gasped in alarm.  He turned sharply as though he thought to find the enemy standing right behind them. 

Only the dark of night and the shadows from the building met their gaze. 

But it seemed even to Aragorn’s untrained eyes as though the shadows deepened and drew all light out of the sky.  A dark fist enclosed them.  

A panicked shouting from below grabbed their attention.  Coming at the moment it did, neither of them thought to put it down to mere chance.  The two friends sprinted for the rooftop hatch.  Pelting down the stairway Aragorn wondered what could have happened.  There was no reason to believe anything had happened, save Legolas’ premonition, but he had come to trust in the elf too much to shrug it off. 

Bursting through the doorway, Aragorn quickly looked around the sleeping chambers.  His heart was pounding, but he didn’t know what he expected.  Orcs, Nazgûl, something worse?  Legolas had been so sure that Sauron was aware of their location.  The elf was rarely wrong. 

The room was in a state of chaos, but no enemies seemed to be in evidence.  Gandalf, sleeping in the corner, had just woken and was throwing off his blankets. 

In the middle of the room Pippin was writhing on the floor, his mouth frozen open in a silent scream of agony.  He was obviously in pain and locked in an internal struggle with the flaming palantir in his grasp.  

And the palantir was winning.  Or rather the force behind it was. 

How Pippin had gotten his hands on the palantir barely brushed through Aragorn’s mind as he took in the situation.  How didn’t matter.  The important thing here was that Pippin’s mind was being savaged and that had to be stopped before it killed him.  Without a second thought for what might happen to him, Strider grabbed the stone from Pippin’s hands, ripping away the connection that Sauron had on the hobbit’s mind. 

Pippin slumped to the floor as though dead, frightening his kinsman.  His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling while Merry desperately called his name. 

Sauron was incensed.  He was not finished with the hobbit.  He was sure this was the one he was looking for.  It had to be, why else would he be looking into Saruman’s seeing-stone if the wizard had not forced him to do so for his torment and Sauron’s pleasure?  If he only had a few seconds longer he could have pried the young being’s mind open and secured all the information he wanted.  Saruman should know better than to trifle with the Dark Lord’s fancies like this.  If he had made the hobbit look into the stone, then he should have waited until his Lord gave permission for him to be released.  Of course, if Saruman had the Halfling, and the Ring, in his possession now, it could be that the wizard was getting unhealthy ideas in his head.  That would have to be stopped. 

Angrily, he lashed out, sweeping the mind of the one who now held the palantir with a storm fire of electricity.  His intent was to harm or even destroy this one that interrupted him.  Saruman wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it himself, but a dead servant could be a very valuable object lesson on the Dark Lord’s displeasure.  What Sauron didn’t expect was the severe rebound of his mental energies when his attack was rebuffed by the well-shielded mind he had seized upon. 

Unprepared for the onslaught, all conscious thought was stolen from Aragorn the moment his hands clasped the coldly flaming stone ball.  He sucked in his breath in a sharp gasp as Sauron struck at him.  It felt like every thought in his mind had misfired and he was no longer capable of controlling his body.  His vision wavered and hazed out of focus until only the great eye ringed by fire consumed his sight. 

With sheer will alone, Aragorn closed off every part of his mind, blanking out all thought and simply focused on breathing as the force of Sauron tried to tear his mind apart.  It was not a new sensation.  This was something he recognized, albeit it in a fairly diminished capacity. 

It was the same thing the Nazgûl had tried on him many years ago when he and Legolas were prisoners in Angmar.  That memory alone ripped a black thread of fear through his thoughts. 

He felt Legolas’ hands grabbing his shoulders and trying to hold him up.  He couldn’t help as all the strength in his body fled and his knees buckled limply.  All his strength turned inward, concentrating on shielding his mind from the fierce onslaught. 

It felt like fingers of fire wrapped around his brain, searching for that weak spot - prying to find any way in. 

This new mind intrigued the Dark Lord.  There was a feel to it, a touch in it that he knew he should remember.  A sense of something long ago forgotten, or someone from the far distant past that had ‘felt’ the same way.  


But who?  Before he could get inside the well-constructed shields of the new mind the connection was cut once more.   The Dark Lord growled in frustration.  His voiceless anger was easily heard by all in the room as Aragorn dropped the palantir from his unresponsive fingers and crashed to the floor of the room.  It rolled with mock innocence across the floorboards.  

It seemed to the ranger that he had held the stone for ages, fighting back that disembodied voice for days as it demanded entrance to his thoughts.  Time had ceased when his mind had been grasped by the Dark Lord.  The entire world had faded down to mere seconds and the simple act of breathing – survival. 

Legolas felt the immense struggle, the evil, as soon as he had touched his friend’s body.  He drew his breath in sharply and gripped the man’s shoulders tighter, trying to support his friend in more ways than just physically.  It took mere seconds for Aragorn to slump limply to the floor in his arms, but those moments seemed to pass very slowly.  When the Palantir rolled out of reach, it was like an electric connection being severed.  Aragorn’s limp body jerked and shuddered once in his grasp and the elf realized his heart was pounding hard in his throat.  Fear for his friend made the area between the elf’s temples throb in a way that told him he hadn’t quite left all reminders of his earlier misadventure completely behind him yet. 

A blackness descended over the palantir and Sauron withdrew.  Gandalf’s blanket fell on top of the rolling orb stopping its movement and preventing anyone else from touching the device. 

Ignoring the human after briefly noting that Legolas was seeing to him, the Istar raced to the hobbit’s side.  Aragorn was resilient and he could see at a glance that the man would be all right.  He had no such assurances about Pippin, however.  The hobbit was shrouded in shadow and completely catatonic.  

Behind the wizard, Legolas was holding Aragorn’s limp body.  It took the man a few seconds before anything but the burning aftereffects of the rampage registered on his senses. 

The elf knelt behind him and slowly eased Aragorn up into a sitting position.  Legolas’ soft voice in the ranger’s ear could be heard by no one else save the man. 

Nausea roiled through Aragorn’s senses, threatening to overthrow him.  He was dizzy and finding it difficult to stay upright.  The man leaned heavily against the elf for support.  He glanced over the Istar’s shoulder to make sure Pippin was coherent. 

“I need to...”  Aragorn tried to form words as he regained control of his senses. 

“What is it?” Legolas bent nearer trying to hear what his friend was saying. 

“Outside,” Aragorn ground out between ragged breaths. 

Quickly, Legolas pulled the human to his feet and led him outside.  Aragorn was slowly regaining his ability to walk but leaned heavily against the elf.  It was all he could do to concentrate on keeping the contents of his dinner. 

Once outside, Legolas walked them both to the back of the building and lowered the man to the ground.  Aragorn knelt in the dirt and rested his hands on the grass, collecting himself.  The nausea passed slowly and he was able to fight it back.  Taking deep breaths, he calmed the roiling inside his body and sat up slowly.  Legolas was kneeling next to him worriedly, watching the man. 

“Are you all right?” Legolas queried. 

Aragorn didn’t answer for a moment.  The truth was he wasn’t all right, and it wasn’t just because he was still hovering on the brink of wanting to throw up.  

“It was the same,” the man whispered.  “It felt like when the Nazgûl tried to pry into my mind, only worse.  Legolas, it was as if a firestorm had set off inside my head.  It... it was the same.” 

The elf said nothing, simply seating himself in the long grasses next to his friend.  There was nothing he could say.  Gently he rubbed Aragorn’s back as the man’s breathing calmed. 

“There you two are,” a voice behind spoke, startling them both. 

The sudden movement cause Aragorn’s head to spin and he groaned softly as he focused on Gandalf. 

“How do you feel?” the wizard questioned as he crouched down in front of the man. 

“Like I lost the drinking game tonight and not Gimli,” Aragorn whispered.  Sounds were exaggerated to his hearing and his words were slightly slurred. 

“Did he learn anything from you?” Gandalf pressed. 

“No, nothing.  I did not let him in,” the ranger answered wearily. 

Touching the man’s forehead with his hand the Istar judged the human’s state of being for himself.  He nodded slowly and stood to his feet. 

“Good.  We cannot risk him knowing you are so close to him just yet,” Gandalf spoke softly.  He knew the effects of attempting communication with a palantir for the first time... especially considering who was on the other end.  And Aragorn’s first experience had come suddenly without any preparation.  He was surprised the human had handled it so well. 

“How is Pippin?” Legolas queried. 

“He will be fine.  He is suffering from the contact but he divulged nothing of our plans,” Gandalf’s answered.  His scowl deepened when Aragorn took a slow breath and closed his eyes.  “We were lucky this time.  You should probably come in, Aragorn, it is warmer inside.” 

“I would stay out here for a bit, Mithrandir, if you don’t mind.  The cool is helping to clear my head and I do not feel well just yet,” Aragorn responded softly.  He slowly directed his gaze at the wizard, fearful of moving too fast just yet. 

“As you wish.  I am just inside should you need me.”  The last statement was directed at Legolas who simply nodded in compliance. 

Legolas wrapped his arm around Aragorn’s shoulders and let the man lean on him. 

“It wasn’t him,” the elf whispered softly.  It was understood by both of them just what ‘him’ Legolas was referring to - the Witch-king.  Admittedly, it had actually been someone far worse, but as twisted as it was the unfamiliar evil was in a way better than the all too familiar.  

“I know...” 

With a nod the prince let the subject drop until Aragorn wished to talk about it further. 

A small laugh from the human surprised the elf and he glanced at the man. 

“I think I can fully sympathize with how you felt earlier,” Aragorn answered the unasked question.  “This is definitely how it feels to wake up after having too much to drink.”  Gingerly he held his head in his hands and waited for the feelings to pass.  They would.  He knew from experience. 

For now, he was content to sit outside, away from the others and enjoy the quiet peacefulness of the night.  Slowly the ringing in his ears abated and the odd buzzing in his head quieted.  Turning to his friend, he quietly asked how the elf fared. 

The soft conversation of the two friends was the only sound that could be heard as the stars were unveiled and the grip of evil fled from the hills of Edoras.