Remember How to Smile

Chapter 6: Ghosts, Memories and Visitors

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Early morning light filtered gently through the window as the semi-sheer fabric of the curtains fluttered slightly.  Wakefulness tugged feebly at Aragorn’s consciousness, but he ignored its call.  Instead he rested in the comfortable, glowing peace of Rivendell at dawn.  Somewhere, birds twittered faintly in the trees.  Arwen, curled up against his chest with her head pillowed on his arm, did not even stir.  Almost two weeks had passed since they had returned to Rivendell and they had finally settled into the comfortable reality of being back here in this place, which held so many memories, both painful and pleasant.

Content to drift comfortably and let his warrior’s instincts relax for once, Aragorn did not hear the closed door slide noiselessly open, nor the swift footsteps that entered the room.
He awoke with a jolt and a start.  For a moment he didn’t know why he had awoken and his hand grasped automatically under his pillow.  It found only Arwen’s arm, which brought him quickly back to reality.  The world was shaking... no, just the bed.  The bed was shaking.  It was shaking because something, or rather someone, very small, but very full of energy was bouncing up and down on it with great enthusiasm.

Na-naAd-a!  Wake up.  Waaake up!” Dari sing-songed as he bounced on the bed.  His dark, unruly curls spun around his small head as he jounced up and down, his long, white nightshirt fluttering about him like angel wings.  Another bounce landed him atop his mother and father, but he continued to hop up and down anyway, even though it did not engender as much springy motion. 

Aragorn caught his son’s wrist in his free hand and pulled the boy down into a sitting position, trying to quell the shaking and avoid unnecessary bruising.  That quickly turned into a hug.

“Peace, peace, easy there,” he said with a smile and a yawn.

Dari hugged back before squiggling free and bouncing with only slightly less vigor in the little niche he created for himself between the bodies of his mother and father.

“Elladan an’ Elr’hir gonna take me hunting!  Elladan an’ Elr’hir gonna take me hunting!” the child chanted happily.  “We’re goin’ to go all the places they took you when you were big like me!”

Arwen was blinking sleep out of her eyes and smiled up at her son through a graceful tangle of dark brown tresses.  Then she closed her eyes again and burrowed down against Aragorn’s arm.  “Dear, your son is awake,” she murmured.

Dari was still going on about all the things he was going to do today with his uncles.  He didn’t really seem to care if his parents were paying attention or not.

Aragorn snorted softly.  “Why is he my son when he’s awake and your son when he’s sleeping?” he murmured.

Arwen gave a muffled sound that was no kind of answer at all and remained right where she was.

Dari was standing up and bouncing again, obviously having decided that his Nana and Ada were not near awake enough yet.

Aragorn caught his leg.  “We’re awake, we’re awake, Dari, all right?” he said fondly.  “But I bet Legolas isn’t... don’t you think you’d better go check?”

Dari latched onto the idea immediately and scrambled off the bed on hands and knees.  Dropping to his feet on the floor, he scampered out of the room, leaving the door hanging partially open behind him.

Aragorn immediately lay his head back down on the pillow again and nuzzled his face into Arwen’s hair.

“You’re horrible,” Arwen murmured contentedly.

“I know,” Aragorn responded with equal apathy.

There was silence for a few moments.  Then Arwen’s brows furrowed.  “Hunting?” she questioned with concern as Dari’s words finally got through her sleepy mind.

Aragorn chuckled.  “Don’t worry.  If they intend to take him everywhere they took me, the most dangerous thing they’ll run into is ferocious squirrels.”

Arwen seemed content with this answer and relaxed for a few more moments of stolen rest.

Legolas turned over, trying to find a cool place on his pillow.  A thin sheen of cold sweat made his bare face and arms glisten slightly in the early light flowing in from the window.  The growing radiance touched his closed eyelids and he stirred restlessly, a frown creasing his face.  Rolling over again and pulling the covers over his head, he tried to block out the brightness that was further disturbing his already troubled sleep.

He wasn’t really dreaming because he wasn’t sleeping deeply enough to dream, but nameless feelings of sorrow and dread chased themselves around his consciousness as he moved restlessly under the covers.

Dari banged the door open, entering the room with far less stealth this time.  His bare feet pattered across the polished wood floor, giving the half-aware elf’s senses a clear warning of his approach.

Yet it still took Legolas several long moments to try to drag his mind to alertness and make sense of what he was hearing.  His eyes snapped open and he shot up onto his elbows when Dari started bouncing on the bed next to him.   He realized he was breathing hard; it had been a bad night.

Every night lately, was a bad night.

Legolas almost dreaded going to bed now because he never really slept, no matter how tired he felt.  Or perhaps more accurately, he slept but he did not rest.  It was ironic and it was stupid.  He had slept better in the slave cages of Rahzon than he was sleeping now.  What in Arda was wrong with him?!

Frozen on his elbows and staring into space with a distressed look on his face, Legolas was momentarily lost in his own thoughts and oblivious to whatever Dari was doing and saying.  The next thing he was aware of was Dari’s small hand pressed against his cheek.  His eyes focused and he found that Dari was staring into his face with a puzzled, almost concerned, look on his small features.

“Leg’las?” the boy asked hesitantly, kneeling on the elf’s lap as he looked up at him questioningly.  The white, drawn look on the prince’s face frightened the child.  Dari had seen too many men look like that in the cages.  Sometimes, even though their eyes were open, they couldn’t see him.  They wouldn’t wake up and take the water he brought.  When that happened he was supposed to go tell Hetsupa.  There was always someone new in their cage the next day.  He hadn’t understood at first, but after a while his young mind had gotten a very thorough education in the understanding of death.

“Leg’las!” Dari’s voice was insistent and had lost the bubbly tone of a few moments before.  Unshed tears sparkled in the boy’s eyes.  It was all too close still.  Dari could forget and move on as sometimes only children could, but that didn’t mean it was gone.

Legolas’ gaze darted around the room for a moment as if assuring himself of his real surroundings.  He yanked himself out of his own troubles and wrapped his arms quickly around Eldarion.  He hugged the boy for a moment before setting him back down in his lap and treating him to a warm smile.

“You’re up bright and early this morning, young one,” the elf prince said cheerfully, trying to make up for his momentary lapse.

Dari seemed hesitant to trust the change in the elf’s mood.  He saw the way the prince’s eyes continued to dart almost automatically around the room.  It was a reaction Dari understood... at least in his own, limited way.

“He’s dead, Leg’las,” the boy said quietly and completely out of the blue.  “Ada says so.  He’s not under the bed or in the closet and he’s not goin’ to hurt either of us anymore.  Ada promised.”

Legolas blinked in shock.  “You mean Hetsupa, Dari?” he asked softly.  The cage manager was not the worst thing that haunted Legolas’ heart and mind, but obviously for Dari he embodied the whole hellish nightmare the child had endured.

Dari simply nodded.  If he had learned one thing in the cages it was the finality of death.  If you were dead, you didn’t come back.  So when Aragorn told him that Hetsupa was dead, he could take peace in the fact that the big, scary man would never come back for him.

Legolas’ smile widened.  Ah for the simple, trusting mind of a child.  He squeezed Eldarion’s shoulder.  “Well your Ada’s right,” he concurred.  “Besides,” he whispered conspiratorially.  “They seem to have been using these chambers as a storage place the past few years... there is no room in the closet for anything larger than a mouse to hide in there.”

Dari laughed and quickly forgot all pain and sorrow as he remembered why he had come here in the first place.  “Elladan and Elr’hir are taking me hunting today!” he bubbled.

“Well!” Legolas exclaimed appreciatively.  “That will be quite an adventure.  Does your Ada know?”

Dari nodded as he flopped stomach down onto the bed, rolling and unrolling himself in the quilt and getting the covers increasingly tangled.

“Uh-huh.  He said I should go tell you, make sure you were awake.”  Eldarion rolled too close to the edge of the bed and tumbled off, taking the quilts with him.  He was so padded and the ground so close there was almost no impact at all and he giggled as he threw off the encumbering mounds of bed-clothes that swathed him.

Legolas smiled wryly.  “Oh, he did, did he?  Perhaps we better go make sure they are really up and moving as well, shall we?” he asked with a wicked glint in his eye.  Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he straightened the ties of his un-dyed sleep shirt, smoothing the wrinkled twists out of the off-white fabric.

He opened and closed his left hand slowly.  It tingled numbly as if he had lain upon it too long.  Rising somewhat stiffly to his feet, Legolas tried to ignore the ache in his side.  Mornings were difficult.  For some reason everything ached more in the morning, making him regret ever having had to go to bed.  Pushing through the discomfort, Legolas plucked Dari out of his nest of rumpled bed-clothes on the floor.

Dari reached his arms up, eager to be lifted.  “Look, I’m an eagle in a nest!” he said, spreading his arms and pretending to fly as he was scooped into the elf’s arms.

Legolas chuckled and spun Dari around in a small circle, giving him the impression of flight.  “Why so you are,” the elf agreed as he settled the boy on his hip, ruffling Eldarion’s downy curls.  “What say we fly over and give your parents a surprise, hm?”

Dari nodded enthusiastically at the idea as they passed out into the hall.

Legolas pressed a finger to his smiling lips as they padded soundlessly down the long hall towards Aragorn and Arwen’s chambers.  Dari clapped his hands to his mouth to hide a giggle.

The door to the King and Queen of Gondor’s bedchambers was still slightly ajar.  From partway down the hall, Legolas’ keen ears could pick up the sound of conversation from within.

He froze.

“I don’t know,” Aragorn was saying, weary frustration evident in his voice.  “I thought... I thought this would help more than it is.”

“We’ve already talked about this.  You must be patient, meleth-nín,” Arwen said softly.  “Legolas is strong; he will overcome this as he has so many other things.”

“I hope so,” Aragorn agreed.  “I just... I worry about him, Arwen.  I’ve seen him through many recoveries, from injuries far worse than this, but I’ve never seen this... this sadness in his eyes.  I know Elrohir thinks it is all the sea-longing, but I do not know what to think.  I fear that more happened to him in Rahzon than he will tell me.  When we first arrived, he seemed to be improving and I thought all would be well.  But we’ve been here almost two weeks now and it seems to be getting worse again rather than better.  It’s like he’s going through the motions of life without living in it and he thinks I can’t see that.”  His friend’s silent distress was obviously tearing at the human’s heart.  Aragorn was silent for a moment.  He hadn’t meant for them to end up having this conversation on such a beautiful morning, but it had simply ended up happening as such things were wont to do.

Aragorn sighed softly as he slowly confessed the rest of his problem.  “Some of the rangers that came by yesterday told me that there is disturbing news about the condition of the fragile new peace accord with Harad.  There have been at least two border skirmishes with rebel factions since the last time he had word, and it takes a while for news to get this far out.”

Arwen drew her breath in somewhat sharply.  “You didn’t tell me,” she said quietly.

“I didn’t have a chance.  I didn’t want the others to know.  Jonath knows and has been ‘respectfully’ pressing me to set a date for when we expect to return to Gondor.  I understand his concerns.  I have full confidence in Faramir, but I hate leaving him in this situation alone.  It is one thing to be the Steward when it can be safely presumed that the King is never coming back, but another when he is only away and the people you are trying to govern know that you are not the final authority.  I was the one who made the accords with the tribes in Harad... will they accept the dealings of someone else, even in my name?  I don’t know.  I feel like I should return, but there’s no way I can leave with Legolas still in this condition.  I... I don’t know what to do, Arwen.”

Legolas backed away slowly, retracing his path down the hall.  He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on words not meant for his ears, but what he had heard stayed with him.  It hurt to think that he was causing Aragorn frustration and pain.  He had not realized what a burden his condition must be.  It wasn’t like the old days.  Neither Aragorn nor Legolas had the freedom to indulge in either leisure or healing as they once had.  They were both of them Kings now, even if Legolas refused the title.  Aragorn had all of Gondor to be worrying about, and Legolas had been very selfish to take him away from it.  Perhaps just as bad, the prince realized he hadn’t even stopped to give a thought to how his people in Ithilien were fairing in his absence.  Since Raniean was here with him, it meant that Brenyf was acting leader in his absence.  That did not trouble him, because Brenyf was perfectly capable.  Ithilien was in no danger and well protected by Gondor in any case.  But still, they were his people, his responsibility.  Shouldn’t he be worried about them?  He closed his eyes.  He would never be the ruler his father was, he knew that now.  He was, as Thranduil had sometimes told him, too flighty, too concerned with a million things that had nothing to do with his realm or his royal responsibilities.  He would not admit it, but in a twisted way he was glad that most of Thranduil’s court and a good portion of Mirkwood’s population had all sailed with his father.  He never expected or desired to be a king and found he liked it not a bit.  A prince he knew how to be, but kingship too often seemed to escape him.  Aragorn, he felt, did a much better job of taking his role and his burden more seriously.

Silently, Legolas resolved that he would not be yet another burden for Aragorn to carry.  His friend already had quite enough.  The elf resolved that he would smile and put all this foolishness behind him as he had done with so many other things in the past.   It couldn’t be that much more difficult than any other thing he had overcome – or so he desperately hoped.  He would not make Aragorn try to choose between his duty and his friend.  That was too unspeakably cruel.

Dari looked up at Legolas questioningly as they left the hall and made their way down the stairs.

“Let’s let your parents rest some more, all right?” the elf said with carefully practiced cheerfulness.  “How about we find your uncles instead, since I believe they seem to have promised you an adventure today, did they not?”

Dari bounced excitedly on Legolas’ hip, obviously agreeing whole-heartedly with this new plan.


Pale light filtered into the silent hall.  It was midday; the light that caressed the stone and marble balustrades was tinted a soft, faded blue as it passed through hidden glasswork crafted by some ancient elven artisan thousands of years before Aragorn was born.

Idly, the human wondered about that elf, about all the elves that had contributed to the building of Rivendell.  His calloused fingers ran lightly over the many, painted murals on the wall beside him.  He lingered briefly on the one that captured the frozen moment before Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand before moving on again.  Who had painted these pictures?  This history?  Had he ever even asked?  Had he known them and simply never put the two together?  Had they sailed over the sea, or had their immortal life been ended prematurely by death as had happened to far too many?

Aragorn didn’t know why he wondered these things after so many years.  He supposed it was because for the first time he was seeing Rivendell as a piece of history from a bygone era, rather than just his home.  Yet it would always be his home.  Not... like this.  Not empty and silent.  Not perhaps these bricks and this land which, dearly as he loved them, would someday be reclaimed by the nature from which they had been formed.  But all that Rivendell was and had been... that would live forever in his heart.
The hall was completely silent except for his breathing.  Dari had disappeared with Elladan and Elrohir after breakfast.  Arwen and Legolas were together in the gardens and he didn’t really know where everyone else was at the moment.  The solitude here at least, felt right.  This place had always been one of hushed peacefulness, as if out of respect for all the history it depicted.  Often in his life, Aragorn would come here to read or to think, or just to be alone.  It was thinking that drew him here today, but he found his mind drifting a hundred different ways.  He could not focus his thoughts and so became lost in memories instead. 

He paused when his wandering steps drew him to the slightly raised dais where a serene elven figure carved of marble looked out across the silent hall, seemingly oblivious to the fact that its hands were empty.  The shards of Narsil, now the re-forged blade of Anduril, rested in Aragorn’s bedchamber with his other gear, rather than on display here in the hall as it had for so long.

Aragorn felt no call to wear weapons here in Rivendell.  It was nice, in fact, to be able to leave them completely for a time.  So much of his life had been lived fighting one battle or another and he suspected that in many ways it would remain thus until the end of his days.  Would he even know what to do with complete peace should it come?  He wondered.

At least he had a chance to see peace.  So many... too many, had not lived long enough to see the fruition of their long labors.  Halbarad, Théoden, Haldir, Boromir... and so many others.  Yet Aragorn was reconciled with their passing.  They had all lived and died for the right reasons and, wherever they were now, they had found a peace more full than that which could be hoped for in this life.

A faint smile ghosted over Aragorn’s lips.  He remembered the evening Boromir found him withdrawn here, attempting and failing to read a book on which he could not concentrate.  Oh, he doubted very much that Boromir realized he had intruded upon the other man’s brooding.  He doubted that Boromir could ever have known how much his first words to him that evening had felt like a slap in the face.

“You are no elf.”


“You are no elf.”  Boromir seemed honestly surprised to find another man in this strange, elf-realm.

Aragorn met his questioning glaze steadily.  Internally, his mind and emotions were still reeling from what he had accidentally overheard earlier, but none of that showed on his face.  He was far too experienced and too cautious.

“Men of the south are welcome here,” he said simply.  Welcome, yes, Rivendell welcomed everyone who was an ally... was that all his place here was now?  An ally in the fight against the ever encroaching darkness?  If it was, he could live with that, he told himself... yet his heart knew he wanted, nay, needed it to be more than that.

“Who are you?” Boromir’s curiosity was not yet satisfied, nor was he put off by Aragorn’s lack of desire for conversation.

Who was he?  Aragorn could have chuckled mirthlessly, but he refrained.  There was the question, wasn’t it?  Who was he?  It seemed everyone had an answer for that but himself.

“I am a friend to Gandalf the Grey,” was the only answer he chose to give for the time being.  Was Gandalf the only friend he truly had in this place at the moment?  He wondered.  Once he would have been sure.  Now he was sure of nothing.


“Aragorn?” Legolas’ voice broke Aragorn’s reverie.  The human blinked and turned slowly towards his friend.  It seemed he was losing himself to his memories often lately, he supposed it was the effect that Rivendell had on him now as it slowly seemed to be turning into a memory before his eyes.

Legolas paused at the slightly haunted look on the human’s countenance.  Aragorn looked distant and lost in thought, before his dark grey eyes slowly came to focus upon the prince.

“Arwen sent me to look for you.  What’s wrong?” the elf asked quietly.  The look on his friend’s face was familiar.

Aragorn smiled ruefully and sighed.  “Nothing is wrong.  I was simply... lost in some memories.”

Legolas leaned back against one of the balustrades behind him, eyeing the human.  “Well they do not appear to be good ones.  What troubles you?”

Aragorn just shook his head and turned away.  He had never told anyone what he had heard that day, not even Arwen.  He had peace about it all now, but it still was not a pleasant memory.

“Oh, I see,” Legolas’ voice held a slightly sarcastic twang.  “I am apparently the only one to whom the advice ‘talking about it helps’ applies?” he gently prodded his friend with the human’s own counsel.  

Aragorn sighed again and grimaced.  “If you really must know...”

Legolas settled back more comfortably upon the balustrade.  “Yes, I must,” he assured parenthetically, earning him another look that was part grin and part scowl.

“Very well,” Aragorn conceded.  “After Frodo was injured by the wraith and brought to Rivendell, but before you arrived from Mirkwood with the tidings about Gollum for the Council, I... I overheard a conversation between Gandalf and my father.  Part of it was more like an argument really...” 


Aragorn paused before the door, about to knock, when Elrond’s voice halted him.  The elf lord was talking to someone and Aragorn could tell from his tone that his foster-father was disturbed.  He hesitated, not meaning to eavesdrop, but waiting to see if this were a conversation he should intrude upon or not.

“ people are leaving these shores, and when we are gone, who then will you turn to?  The dwarves?  They hide in their mountains, thinking only of treasure and caring nothing for the troubles of this world.”  That kind of apathy towards the bigger picture of the world in which they all lived was something that irritated the elf lord beyond words, whether it was being exhibited by dwarves or by his own more isolationist-minded kinsmen.

“It is in men that we must place our hope,” the second voice, which Aragorn recognized instantly as Gandalf’s, replied.

“Men,” Elrond rolled his eyes slightly.  “Men are weak.  It is because of men that the Ring survived.”  His eyes turned distant in memory.  “I was there Gandalf.  I was there three-thousand years ago... I was there the day the strength of men failed.  It should have ended that day!  But evil was allowed to endure.”  His voice held a deep, deep sorrow and a hint of bitterness that was not usual for the elf lord.

Without realizing it, Aragorn had pressed himself back flat against the wall by the door, his head resting against the cool stone.  He had never heard Elrond speak in that manner.  The elf lord had never told his foster son that he was weak and had done everything in his power to dissuade the ranger of that notion over the years... but there it was.  What he had just told Gandalf was only too clear.  Was that what his father really thought?  Was that what he had always thought and was simply far too kind and loving to tell Estel to his face?

Aragorn had heard that sentiment before of course... but never from Elrond.  The words didn’t sting, the source did.

“The blood of Númenor is all but spent.  There’s no strength left in the race of men; they’re scattered, divided, leaderless.”  The elf lord shook his head.  It was hard sometimes, so hard... to see what had happened to the descendents of his beloved brother, to see how he had failed his promise to watch over them.  To be forced to observe helplessly as the younger race stumbled and fell, again, and again... to want so much to help them and be unable to do so because they simply wouldn’t listen!  Like Isildur wouldn’t listen...

Pain filtered through the ageless windows of the elf’s soul.  What made good men fall so hard?  Isildur was a good man, or at least he had been.  Why could he have not withstood the final test?  What might Elrond and Celeborn have tried to say to him that they had not?  Why had they not been able to make him see?  And when he did not, why had they simply let the matter go?  So many failings, and not just those of men, led to this moment.  And now that cursed... thing was in his house.  It burned in Elrond’s consciousness like a festering wound, mocking him, tempting him, taunting him.  Frodo would only too gladly give him the Ring if asked, but Elrond would never ask.  He was wiser than that.  He had already seen the lives it destroyed.

All throughout the long and dangerous campaign that led up to the Last Alliance, Elrond had hidden and protected Isildur’s wife and his youngest son, Valandil, right here, in Rivendell.  He had... Valar help him, he had come to love them like family.  They had been so happy at the thought of finally seeing the rest of their family again... they had been preparing such a welcome for Isildur and his three elder sons.  Even Elrond had been glad because Isildur finally seemed ready to listen to him about the potential danger of the Ring he had claimed.  Then disaster struck.  Elrond had had to be the one to tell Aldaara and Valendil that Isildur, Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon were all dead.  It had broken his heart.  He could still remember when the messenger came to him, bearing the shards of Narsil and the grievous tidings.  Even now, many ages later, it was a painful memory to recall, although he had tried to comfort the grieving woman and child as best he could.

Elrond’s eyes were sad and distant.  He had seen so much in his life... maybe too much.  He had promised his beloved twin when they chose different races, that if he were able, he would always look after Elros’ children and his children’s children.  Yet so often there seemed so little he could do.  Even when he would help them, they would not let him.  Why could they not all be like Aragorn?  There was a man who could unite them all, if only he would accept that he was worthy to do so... and it wasn’t just Elrond’s fatherly pride that made him think that either.  In Aragorn alone of this era did Elrond see the true blood of Númenor, the reflection of his own departed brother.  Indeed, unless he consciously reminded himself, the elf lord barely remembered to count his foster son as a human at all.

Despite his irritated words, he did not truly think less of men in general, but sometimes they frustrated him so badly because they could not see the larger wisdom that would save them!  And the elf lord hated having to watch the humans’ suffering, year after year after year. Eventually they always died and could forget their pain as new generations shouldered the burdens left to them by their forefathers... but the elf was still here and he remembered it, all of it.  It was hard.

“There is one who could unite them.  One who could reclaim the empty throne of Gondor,” Gandalf echoed the elf lord’s own thoughts with uncanny precision.  It was not the first time this topic had been discussed between them.

By the door, Aragorn stiffened.  He knew he should leave, this conversation was not meant for his ears, but he could not tear himself away.

Elrond sighed, his face turning even sadder.  Ai... yes, Aragorn, he loved the boy and his father’s heart did not want him pushed out into the forefront of the rising conflict that sought to engulf all of Middle-earth.  The seer in him however, knew that only if Aragorn took up the mantle that was rightfully his could the conflict ever be truly resolved.  He knew Estel would rather count himself among the elves, yet the fact remained that his foster son’s future lay with men, whether Aragorn accepted that or not.

“He turned from that path a long time ago,” the elf said softly.  Aragorn’s choices were Aragorn’s to make, but they did have repercussions larger than just his foster-son’s own life.  “He has chosen exile.”

Aragorn turned away swiftly, not wanting to hear anymore, wishing he had not heard that much.  He did not allow the lump in his throat to form as it desired to do, but strode quickly out into the garden to lose himself in the trees.  He was not a young man anymore.  He was far past what any human could consider young.  Life had toughened and sobered him, and, he told himself, a man of his age and maturity should not be affected by what he had just heard.   But sometimes the heart does not always want to listen to the head, no matter how wise the counsel.

Evening fell, but Aragorn did not join the main company for dinner.  Legolas, newly arrived from Mirkwood, looked for him, but in vain.

Elrond was troubled by his son’s absence, but not overly worried.  Aragorn often had much on his mind lately, and if he desired to be alone, his father would respect his wishes.

Aragorn, for his part, spent the better half of the day trying to forget what he had heard, and discovering that he could not.  Elrond’s opinion meant more to him than he could safely admit.  He knew he was not meant to hear the words that had passed between the elf lord and the wizard... but that just made it all the harder to put aside.  If Elrond voiced those thoughts in private, what else might he think and feel that he was too kind to let the poor, weak, stupid human know?

Aragorn knew those thoughts weren’t fair; he should trust his father more than that after all these years, and trust Elrond he did.  But that didn’t make the hurt go away.

The ranger took refuge in the quiet halls of history.  Finding a book from the library and taking his repose, he was all but hidden behind one of the pillars in the hall.  He didn’t know why he lingered here, when it was so near the reminders of the heritage he was unsure he could accept.  Yet it was the only spot at the moment he felt peace.

He had not expected anyone else to be there, and was a little surprised when another man entered his quiet, little sanctuary.  For half an instant Aragorn thought his eyes betrayed him because the image of Denethor seemed to have walked out of his memories and into the pale moonlight to stand before the statue holding the shards of Narsil.

Then of course, he realized that the frame of the newcomer was too broad and the eyes too open and inquiring.  It must be Boromir, Lord Denethor’s son.  He had heard he was here but had not yet met the younger man.  Ah, but Aragorn felt old for a moment.  He clearly remembered when the grown warrior he saw before him was a wee babe whom he could lift into his father’s lap.  Was that how the elves felt when they thought of him, the ranger wondered?

Then Boromir had spoken those words that had meant nothing to him, and too much to Aragorn.

“You are no elf.”

A thin thread of tension wound an undercurrent that made their initially friendly greeting become somewhat uncomfortable, for Boromir at least.  When the younger man finally left, Aragorn sighed and laid his book aside.  He didn’t want to judge Boromir by memories of his father.  Such a thing would be totally unfair to the younger man, in whom he could see a good heart.  But Aragorn’s own heart was troubled right now.  Remembering Denethor made him remember all the myriads of reasons he had chosen that ‘exile’ that Elrond spoke of earlier.  Denethor had seen him as a threat; if he took up his title now and went back to Gondor as he knew some felt he should, he would only be seen as a bigger threat... he would bring war, not peace.  Those people did not need any more war.  What then, was he supposed to do?

Standing in front of the statue bearing the shards, Aragorn reverently picked up the broken hilt that Boromir had dropped and placed it back on the stand.  Was that symbolic?  Was something trying to tell him it was his duty to pick up the pieces of the broken human world?  How?  How could he ever be worthy of such a calling?  How could he know that he would not fall like so many had before him?  If even Elrond agreed that men were a weak, broken people... what kind of hope was he supposed to be?

“Why do you fear the past?  You are Isildur’s heir, not Isildur himself.”  Aragorn did not start at the quite voice that spoke behind him.  He recognized Arwen’s presence instantly.  He couldn’t bring himself to turn, to face her.  Elrond had told him, he said he would allow Arwen to renounce her immortality for no one less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor.  He had almost gotten to the point where that felt perhaps part-way obtainable... had almost believed maybe there was a greater calling for him in his life.  But after what he had just heard... did Elrond believe he really could be those things?  Or was it his way of trying to say no without breaking his children’s hearts?  Aragorn didn’t know anymore.  He didn’t know and his doubts were tearing him apart.

“The same blood flows through my veins...” Aragorn answered softly, staring up at the statue and the sword, the conversation he had heard earlier rang through his ears again and again, making his eyes sting despite himself.  “The same weakness.”  He turned shimmering eyes on Arwen.

Weakness... that was what the Witch-king had told him once.  That he was weak, that he would fall to the ruin of all he loved.  He had conquered those fears years ago for the most part, but this one remained.  Hearing Elrond voice a permutation of it had deeply shaken him and made him question too many things that should not have been questioned.  He was called "hope", but was not the flipside of hope despair?  What then if he failed in this illusive and ill-defined goal laid out before him?  Could he not as easily be the doom of men as the Witch-king had so maliciously foretold?  Could history not repeat itself all too effortlessly?  Might he not be Isildur all over again?

Arwen’s heart twisted at the pain on her beloved’s face.  She could not know what had happened to cause this reoccurrence of his fears, but she knew they were unfounded.  She could see in him that which he could not see in himself.  Perhaps such were the eyes of love.

“Your time will come,” she said softly, catching the ranger’s eyes.  “You will face the same evil, but you will overcome it.”


A deep compassion marked Legolas’ face as he listened to Aragorn recount the memory.  He had not actually had a chance to speak with his friend prior to the Council.  Afterwards, he could tell the ranger was troubled, but thought it due to the quest.

“Ahh, is that the real reason you nearly bit my head off at the Council when I told of Gollum’s escape?” Legolas said with an amused smile.

Aragorn blinked, hard pressed to remember what the elf was talking about for a moment.


//“Escaped?” cried Aragorn. “That is ill news indeed. We shall all rue it bitterly, I fear. How came the folk of Thranduil to fail in their trust?”  The news had honestly taken him by surprise.  It had taken him years to track Gollum down and far more trouble than he cared to remember to get him to Mirkwood.  He knew the wood-elves well and could not imagine how they could have lost him.

Legolas had not expected that particular recrimination from his friend. But he was prepared for it from the others, so he was not greatly put off.  It was, indeed, an almost unforgivable failure on the part of his people in his mind, but he would at least have them blamed for the correct set of faults.

“Not through lack of watchfulness,” Legolas said evenly; “but perhaps through over-kindliness. And we fear that the prisoner had aid from others, and that more is known of our doings than we could wish...”//


Aragorn shook his head when he finally dug up the memory in question.  He smiled faintly as well.  “Probably.  You’ll have to forgive me, Legolas, I was not entirely myself.”

Legolas gave a little tilt of his head that told Aragorn not even to consider it any further.  There had never been any hurt there between the two of them.  Yet he could still see other hurt behind Aragorn’s eyes, even from so many years ago.  Apparently that overheard conversation had done a lot of damage.  The elf closed his eyes for a moment, remembering an eerily similar circumstance from only this morning.  He was uniquely suited at this moment to know just how much words not intended for those who heard them could hurt.

“Did you never speak with him about it?” the elf asked quietly, although the question seemed hypocritical somehow.  Was he about to speak with Estel concerning what he had heard?  No.

Aragorn shook his head, looking down at his hands as he leaned against the railing beside Legolas.  “No.  I never knew what to say.  We weren’t exactly... talking a lot at that time.  We made our peace after Arwen and I married and things were right between us again.  But now that he’s gone... sometimes... I just wonder,” the man finished softly, realizing he suddenly sounded surprisingly like Arwen had a few weeks ago.  He supposed they all had things they would wonder about forever.

“I can’t tell you why he said what he said that day, Estel,” Legolas said slowly.  “But I don’t think you should let it weigh too heavily against everything else we have both heard him say throughout your life.  He may have sometimes been frustrated at the shortsightedness that human-kind perpetuates, but he loved you, Estel.   And as far as I know he never once thought you weak or unworthy.”  Legolas tapped his finger on the side of his forehead, reminding Aragorn of how deeply Elrond and Legolas’ minds had once blended.  “Trust me, I would know.”

A quiet, somber mood had settled upon them and Aragorn saw pain flickering behind Legolas’ eyes.  He could have kicked himself.  Certainly, this was a grand way to keep Legolas’ spirits up, wasn’t it?  A little voice in his head mocked him.

The human shook off the past with an apologetic smile.  “I’m sorry, mellon-nín; I didn’t mean to burden you with all this.  I have no idea why it should come back to me now, after so many years.”

Legolas reached out and laid his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder, stopping his friend’s apology.  “Estel, it is no burden.  Such feelings and memories are to be expected.  The world has changed.” The elf prince’s voice was naught but a whisper, yet it carried clearly in the silent hall.  “Homecomings, after so much change, can be painful as well as pleasant.  Do not think harshly of yourself because this is true.  After all, I have been home to Mirkwood only a handful of times after the War of the Ring, and not at all since father left and it has emptied.  Do you think I live in Ithilien only to be near you?” the thin attempt at humor masked a very real undercurrent of strong emotion.

Aragorn realized with a bit of surprise that this was true.  Legolas had spent a lot of time traveling with Gimli over the last few years and had reorganized all of the wood-elves who yet remained on Middle-earth into his new realm in Ithilien.  He and his elves, along with Gimli and his dwarves had remade the partially ruined city of Minas Tirith into one of the most beautiful places on earth before the elves turned their healing power on the lands south of Gondor.  Yet in all that time, he had never once spoken to Aragorn of how things faired in Mirkwood, or Eyrn Lasgalen as it was now more properly called.

“The time of the elves is over,” Legolas whispered, somewhat lost in his own thoughts.  “Those of us who stay are but the last fading leaves that winter has not yet blown away... but winter is not evil, Estel.  The autumn of the elves gives way to the spring of men, blossoming full in the promise of hope that you have helped to give them... I do not regret the change of seasons, but sometimes things change too much and are best left as memories, untouched by the reality of time.  Be happy, Estel, for although Rivendell has changed, it has not suffered as much as you think.  At least you may still recognize it.”  The last was spoken so softly, Aragorn almost didn’t hear the words.

“Has Mirkwood changed so much since Thranduil departed?” Aragorn asked, his quiet tone matching that of his friend.

Legolas’ smile was slightly pained, as if Aragorn obviously didn’t even begin to grasp what he meant.  “If it weren’t for Father, I would not have gone back again at all after that first time,” he admitted.  “It was not the same...” he stopped.  This line of conversation was not going to go anywhere good.  The elf’s fragile emotional balance did not need to relive those memories right now.  It would only ruin his resolve to not appear melancholy around his friend. 

“But then, change is the way of life, is it not?” Legolas’ demeanor shifted almost abruptly as he distanced himself from the emotions he could not deal with at this moment.  “Speaking of which, Arwen has decided to have lunch served in the gardens instead of on the veranda.  It’s a lovely day.  That’s actually why I’m supposed to be here.  She wanted me to fetch you.”

Aragorn struggled to keep up with the new turn in their conversation.  He was not entirely willing to let the other thread drop just yet.  There was obviously something there that caused the prince pain.  “Legolas, we’ve never talked about what happened when you went home after the War.  I know the fighting in Mirkwood was intense, but you never told me...”

“Let it remain so,” Legolas said quickly, swallowing hard.

Aragorn raised an eyebrow.  “Now what happened to ‘talking about it helps’?” he tossed the semi-taunt back at his friend once more.

Legolas smiled, but shook his head.  “And I am sure it will.  Someday.  Not right now, Estel, please.  Arwen is waiting.”

Legolas was almost physically pulling away from him now, so Aragorn reluctantly let the matter drop.  He knew his friend well enough to recognize when he honestly wasn’t ready to talk about something, versus when he was simply unwilling to talk about something.  Right now, the elf was not ready.  Aragorn could wait.  The last thing he wanted to do was add to the weight of the unknown burden he could see pressing down upon his friend’s shoulders.

Aragorn wrapped an arm around Legolas’ shoulders and swept his free arm out before him in a gesture of compliance.  “All right then, we should go.  Mustn’t keep her Highness waiting!”


The garden that Arwen had chosen was to the north of the main house.  A winding pathway ran back to the lower entrance of Imladris and made for easy access to the kitchens.  Two of the garden tables had been pulled side by side to create an extended tabletop. The large trees that framed the tiny courtyard filtered the noonday sun.

Aragorn sat between Arwen and Legolas.  He reached across the table to pour more juice for Raniean and Trelan who sat opposite them.  The empty chair to Trelan’s right was for Moranuen who had gone back in for more bread.

The table was filled with fruits of all kind and the remnants of a fresh loaf of bread that had just been consumed.  Pitchers of milk and juice were carefully guarded from the insects that had come out to investigate the new smells.  The twins had recently grown found of a buttery spread that Beoma’s grandchildren had perfected.  Small white bowls of the cream sat in the middle of the tables where they could not be fought over.

Aragorn cut another slice of cheese from the dark orange brick in front of him.  He pulled the cheese off the knife with his teeth before Arwen could reprimand him.  The afternoon outside was perfect.  Mora had promised a delicious dessert to top it all off but had yet to return with either it or the bread.

Conversation around the table came to an abrupt halt as the sound of raised voices cut through the peace of the afternoon.

“Is that...?” Aragorn’s question was cut short by another loud outburst.  He glanced meaningfully at Legolas.  The elf raised his eyebrows, reflecting his own surprise.

“Where is he?  Move out of my way, elf.  I know he’s here I was told by a good source.  Can you go no faster?”  The voice was gruff with the accent marking the speaker as no native to the area.

In seconds Mora rounded the bend.  Or rather was shoved around the bend in the pathway as he led a smaller being out into the courtyard.

“Out of the way! Out_of_the_way!”

Moranuen stumbled slightly off the pathway as the new arrival brushed past him storming onto the porch with a huff.

“Gimli?” Legolas questioned as the dwarf stepped into view.  “What are you doing here?!  Is all well?”

“Is all well?” the dwarf repeated incredulously.  “Obviously NOT!”

Stomping up to the table, Gimli grabbed the empty seat and plopped down in it.  Trelan scooted a little closer to Raniean.  They had all met the dwarf who had befriended their prince but they had not yet had many personal dealings with the being.  When Legolas brought Gimli to Mirkwood after the war, they had all had... other things on their mind.  The two warriors tolerated the dwarf for Legolas’ sake, but the Silvan elves’ thoughts on that race were still not pleasantly disposed and it was going to take a lot to change that.

The short elf openly glared at the dwarf, a dark look that was mirrored on Moranuen’s face.

“He was in the house!” Mora objected.  “I found him in the Hall of Fire, yelling.  He did not wait to be let in.  He insisted on seeing you, Prince Legolas, but will say nothing of his name or his errand here.  Do you want me to have him removed?”  Moranuen did not know Gimli and did not know what the intruder’s intentions were.  Gimli was not helping himself by being irritated and unconscionably rude towards the strange elf.

Moranuen was deeply disturbed by their new guest, but not for the same reason as Silvan elves.  Dwarven visitors were not common in Rivendell anymore these days but the elves of the vale were used to the strange race and bore them no ill-will.  It was this particular dwarf’s manners, or seeming lack thereof, that disturbed Moranuen.

“Removed!? Well I can see that the hospitality of the elves has not improved over the years,” the dwarf gruffly responded to Mora.

“Legolas?” Raniean queried his liege at the same time that Aragorn shouted the dwarf’s name in cheerful greeting.


“Hush all of you.  This is a meal we are sharing not an argument,” Arwen chided softly.  “Forgive us, Master Gimli.  I am afraid your presence here has taken us by surprise.”

Her voice soothed the ruffled feathers of her companions, bringing the conversation back down to normal tones.  She placed a hand on Aragorn’s forearm bidding him to sit back down.  Mora pulled another chair over to the end of the table and seated himself between Arwen and Raniean.  His face was still creased in a displeased frown but he kept his tongue.

“Well, I didn’t mean to startle you, Lady Arwen,” Gimli addressed the queen with a knowing smile.  “But I had heard that this young one was injured and as no one ever informs me of these things, I had to come find out for myself!”  The dwarf was staring hard at Legolas, sizing up the elf for himself, judging his physical appearance by his own standards.

“And, who, pray tell, informed you thusly?” Aragorn asked.  His curiosity was piqued.  “The last we had heard, the Lord of the Glittering Caves was still happily ensconced in Rohan.”

“Well, you heard rightly,” Gimli confirmed.  He speared a pear with the dinner knife and took a bite before answering. “I was on my way to visit some of my kin in the Blue Mountains.  I haven’t been back in ages you know.  There’s been no word from the clan in a few years and I wanted to see with my own eyes that they fared well.  We passed through Moria and were on our way down to the Shire when we met up with your messenger boy.”  The dwarf nodded at Aragorn indicating the runner was Gondorian.  He shoved a piece of bread in his mouth and resumed talking around the food he was eating.

“The lad told us he was on his way back to Minas Tirith with word that the King and Queen had made it safely to Rivendell.  When I asked why you’d be staying in a place like that he told me that the Elf Lord was with them and wounded.  Wounded!  Were you even going to tell me?!”  Gimli’s voice raised a notch in concern.  The dwarf’s eyes narrowed as he pierced the elf with a stern glare.  “I sent my company on without me when we passed the valley.  I can catch up to them later.

“How were ye wounded this time?”  Gimli asked gruffly, directing the question to Legolas.  “And how many did you kill?”  His full-bodied laughter resounded in the tiny glen.

Legolas’ face reddened and he gazed downward quickly.

“It wasn’t like that, my friend,” he answered softly trying to deflect the dwarf’s curiosity.

The sudden tension at the table was palpable and the elves shifted nervously as an uncomfortable silence descended.

“It wasn’t like what?” Gimli repeated quietly.  Realization hit him suddenly that he might have stepped in over his head again.  It was something he was always doing, nosing around in situations and assuming one thing when really it was another.  Sometimes he honestly did try to curb his overtly boisterous personality, but change was always slow in showing up when a person wanted her around.

“What happened, laddie?  Can you talk about it?” he pressed earnestly.

“Perhaps later,” Legolas offered with a small smile.  He glanced up at the dwarf and Gimli could see the weariness in the fair eyes.

“Well, has anything been done about the ones that hurt you?”  His love for the elf often showed through more in his gruffness than else wise.

“They are all dead, Gimli.  They won’t be hurting anyone anymore,” Aragorn intervened, shifting the conversation away from the prince.

“Good,” Gimli affirmed.  He pounded on the table with his gloved hand and stood to his feet.  “Good!! People like that have no business sharing this earth with the rest of us.”

“Gimli,” Aragorn’s tone warned the dwarf off of his tirade.  “How go things in the Glittering Caves?”

“Right.”  The dwarf reseated himself.  “I’m just saying...” he shrugged and allowed the subject to be shifted.  “That was the find of a lifetime, those caves.  They extend nearly all the way through the mountain range behind Helm’s Deep.  Amazing!  You haven’t seen our most recent excavations!  You’ll have to come back and visit us soon, Aragorn.  My people have taken a keen liking to your folk out there in Minas Tirith.  Not that we’d ever want to live in that tower of yours, although its got some very fine rock work.  Have you seen the halls on level...”

The dwarf’s discourse on stonework was cut short several long minutes later when Aragorn interrupted their new guest.  In the human’s opinion there were few things more dull than listening to Gimli drone about the beauty of cut rocks.

“My dear Gimli, it appears that you are still in your travel wear,” The king observed.  “Did you perhaps bring other clothing with you?  I am sure we have a room where you are more than welcome to stay and freshen up a bit.  We would love to have your company if you can stay on with us.  Moranuen can you show the way to your room, if you like.  Mora?”

Moranuen stammered, caught off guard by the request.  He was still scowling when Aragorn turned toward him.  The elf was spared however when Gimli drew the conversation back to himself.

“That would be good! I would love to stay!  I was hoping you would be agreeable to my being around for a few days.  I’d like to spend some time with Legolas.  But I’m a bit starved around the mid-waist if you catch my meaning.  May I remain with you out here and have a bite while you talk?” Gimli requested.  His tone had calmed and his voice quieted.  He was happy being around the people he had spent so much time with.  Pulling off his gloves he set them next to his plate and grabbed the nearest fork.  The utensil just happened to be Trelan’s, but the elf made no comment.  Glancing up at Aragorn the dwarf waited patiently for a response.

“Of course, my friend.  You must be famished.  Mora can see to your rooms while you eat.  Would you mind, Mora?” Aragorn requested of his long time friend once more.  He smiled as the elf glanced from the dwarf to the human.

Simply relieved that he wouldn’t have to be near the small being alone, Moranuen readily agreed.  He promised to bring more food on his way back out.

Quietly, Trelan stood.  He needed a break from their exuberant companion as well.  He usually made himself scarce when Legolas’ dwarven friend came around.  He didn’t truly dislike the dwarf, but Gimli tended to get on his nerves fairly quickly.  The dwarf was very aware of this and not at all bothered by that fact.  He actually seemed to rather enjoy it and would go out of his way to provoke such reactions, much to the Silvan elves’ chagrin.

“I think I shall go help him.  I was really looking forward to more of that bread,” he excused himself much to Raniean’s amusement.  As he walked past the taller elf Trelan reached out and smacked him upside the head for good measure.

“So very like the twins,” Aragorn laughed.

Mention of the brothers caught Arwen’s attention and she turned to her husband, a question on her mind.

“Darling, where in Arda are your brothers and our son?” She asked softly.

“My brother?!” Aragorn quipped with a laugh.  “Why are they always my brothers.”

“And with good reason,” Arwen warned him.  Her eyebrows raised in question as she awaited his response.

“Knowing my brothers, it’s probably best not to know!” Aragorn answered.  He laughed and moved away from the queen when she glared at him.  That had not been the answer she was looking for.

“Actually, knowing your brothers they are probably off teaching him essential lessons for his future life.  Like perhaps how to deal with orcs, wargs, trolls and political leeches...” Legolas spoke up from the other side of Aragorn.  He made a chopping motion across his neck to demonstrate the best way to deal with all the beings he had just listed.  His commentary elicited laughter from the small company.

“Well, you, dear friend, have the corner on that kind of diplomacy as I recall,” Aragorn countered lightly.  “Who was it that helped sneak me out of the citadel?  Leaving a wake of unconscious council members...”

“What is this you speak of?” Arwen teased.  “I do believe I have not heard this story.  Just where was I when this took place?”

“No! No!!” Legolas was trying to interrupt the conversation.  “It wasn’t like that at all!  It was your brothers!”

“Oh sure, blame them while they aren’t here to defend themselves!” Aragorn laughed.  “Nice try.”

“What happened?” Raniean asked, his curiosity piqued.

Mora and Trelan returned to find the table in chaos as Aragorn and Legolas tried to talk over the top of one another.  Gimli was simply content to finish off the fruit tray and was working on the brick of cheese.  His attention turned to Mora as the elf set out freshly baked loaves of bread.  Raniean and Arwen were trying to keep up with the shouted laughing conversation the two friends were having.

“One at a time!” Trelan reprimanded lightly.  “What are you discussing so?”

“The time that your liege got me out of a terrible, boring council meeting,” Aragorn answered.

“With the help of his brothers might I add,” Legolas defended himself.  “If you are going to tell them the story you had better tell them the whole story, Estel Elrondion!” Legolas warned his friend.

Aragorn laughed heartily at the use of his full title from childhood.  It was the name that was most used on him when he was in trouble.

“Very well then, from the beginning,” Aragorn consented.  “It was absolutely the most boring, ill-contrived, drawn-out, frustrating council meeting I have ever had the displeasure to attend...”