Remember How to Smile
Chapter 7: Council Meetings and Mud Puddles
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The man at the end of the table was droning on and on about whatever it
was that had him upset this time. He stalked back and forth
across the front of the room, repeating himself and emphasizing his
points with expressive motions. Aragorn reflected that the man
must think this made him look more sincere or impressive or...
The marble room echoed the large man’s voice oddly. He had but to
talk normally to project his deep, bass voice throughout the entire
chamber. One side of the room was decorated with large picture
windows. Artisans had carved the edges of the glass in patterns
of leaves and flowers, mimicking the natural beauty of the interior
court the windows overlooked.
These were the council chambers of Minas Tirith. Situated on the
inner yards of the upper level, none but the king and the regents were
King Elessar sat in a large chair at the head of the assembly,
listening to the man that droned endlessly at the far end of the
room. They had been over this council member’s grievances before
and the King was doing all he could to remedy the situation. The
council had convened four days ago to recognize problems in the outer
regions with the remnants of orcs and mountain men that had teemed up
to harass the more remote villages.
“Council Member Atrius Carlda, from the western lowlands, that was the
man’s name.” Aragorn reminded himself idly as the man continued
speaking. He was still trying to memorize all the faces and names
he with which he was constantly confronted. The spokesman barely
stopped to breathe during his tirades. It fascinated the former
ranger how the man could speak so much and never pass out from lack of
oxygen. “Actually that would be interesting,” the king thought
with dark humor.
Drumming the fingers of his right hand idly, Elessar rested his chin in
the palm of left hand and concentrated on staying awake. He had
spent almost a month on a long, whirlwind inspection of the state of
Gondor’s out-most defenses, but had not found that half as exhausting
as the subsequent weeks of council meetings and negotiations.
Gondor was still reeling from its losses in the final war with Mordor
and the mismanagement of Denethor’s last years. It was recovering
well, but would take quite some time before it could begin to achieve
its former level of abundance. The resources King Elessar had to
disperse for the rebuilding and strengthening of the ravaged outer
regions had to be carefully rationed. Every Regent was, of
course, of the opinion that his area needed those resources more than
After hearing everyone’s pleas, Aragorn had made his decisions, but he
was quickly finding that was not the end of the matter. This
latest round of meetings seemed to have become little more than an
excuse for some of the Regents who were displeased with his previous
decisions to vent their concerns and try to change his mind.
King Elessar frankly saw little benefit in sitting around and talking
about marauding orcs when he would just as soon be out there getting
rid of them. He knew, however, that that was his job no
longer. Yet it was not as easy for Aragorn to adjust to his new
responsibilities as he had imagined. There seemed to be so little
accomplished by all this endless talking and political
maneuvering. What did they hope to do? Talk the orcs to
Aragorn smiled wryly. Regent Carlda might just be able to do
that... maybe they could find a use for the man after all. It was
quite amusing really, to imagine the man walking up to a big ugly brute
of an orc, unrolling a very long scroll and pretentiously informing the
creature that he had a list of complaints to take up with it.
Aragorn could almost feel sorry for the orc in his mind’s eye as it ran
screaming from this new and terrible threat. The King’s fingers
continued to drum lightly on the edge of the table.
The cool, gentle touch of weathered fingers stopped his nervous habit
and Aragorn smiled dryly at the old man that sat on his right.
Nalthon had to be the oldest man alive in Gondor, of that the king was
nearly convinced. The warm smile that he laid on his liege was
kindly and reminded Aragorn of tales of grandfathers that he had heard
other humans tell. The man’s skin was weathered and worn and his
thick, white hair framed wise, blue eyes that watched the younger man
The elderly representative had been attached to the king to help
familiarize him with the layout of Minas Tirith and the requirements
the King’s position held. Elessar was grateful for the man’s
counsel, but there were times he wished he could escape the ever
watchful eyes of his appointed mentor. The man was as fastidious
as Celboril and hovered more than Elladan ever had. He was,
however, a good man.
Nalthon instructed Aragorn in how Denethor had held court and to what
the peoples had become accustomed. He lamented the pitfalls and vices
that the former steward had fallen into and encouraged the positive
growth he could see in Aragorn. He also schooled the new King in
his civil duties and governmental appointees, reminding Aragorn of
different peoples’ names and positions many days after they were
introduced to him. Council member Carlda had been one of
Denethor’s favorites, a confidante.
Estel was familiar with the expectations of royalty. His adoptive
father had seen to his schooling that area. Dealing with humans,
however, was a far cry from the elven-run kingdoms and the differences
were many. That was where his advisor came into play.
Nalthon had warned him about Carlda’s penchant for hearing his own
voice. However, the regent still held the hearts of many
Gondorians and he never missed the chance to remind the king of that
Winning the population over was a slow uphill battle. The evil
that had invaded Gondor through the steward was still waning and there
were yet many pockets of resistance. Denethor’s reign had failed
badly at its end and left a lot of unrest in its wake. It grieved
Aragorn to remember the younger man he had once known and hoped would
grow up to become a great leader. Perhaps Tarcil had been correct
in his assessment of the man Denethor truly was. Although Aragorn
wondered if he would have fared any better living through the hard and
tumultuous times that the former steward had seen. He remembered
hearing of Finduilas’ death. The loss of his young wife had
changed Denethor greatly, or so he had heard. He looked in his
heart, but could find only sorrow for the former steward. He
hoped he was happier now, wherever he was.
Aragorn flattened his hands calmly on the table top, trying to set
aside the nervous habit at his seneschal’s gentle remonstration.
Barahir clinked loudly against the marble table and he cringed slightly
when Carlda glanced his way. The king tried to concentrate on the
repetitive points Carlda was making – for the fifth time.
A barely perceptible tap on the large picture window nearest Aragorn’s
seat drew the man’s attention away. With a broad smile he noted
the blond-haired elf that stood outside in the courtyard.
Legolas smiled back. He had come to Minas Tirith last week.
They were supposed to go out hunting and spend some time together
alone. For the past two years Aragorn had been kept busy either
in Minas Tirith itself or out in the battlefield subduing the last of
the enemy’s strongholds and they had not seen one another.
The two friends’ plans had been made months in advance...until Council
Member Carlda had called this emergency session of the board.
Aragorn fought the grimace that memory called up.
Outside, Legolas raised his hands and shrugged, looking skyward.
It was getting late in the day again, were they going to go? He
hoped that today they would be able to break away and spend some time
together. He missed his friend of late.
The prince understood the privileges and responsibilities of running a
kingdom better than most. Of all the people around the king,
Legolas had been his biggest supporter and the most
understanding. Though Elrond had schooled the human well in the
areas of politics and running a kingdom, the more practical points of
sovereignty Aragorn had picked up from Legolas. After all, the
wood elf had been helping his father run the kingdom of Mirkwood for
millennia. Legolas was now a leader in his own right over his
people that had remained behind to rebuild the destroyed forests of
Ithilien. Despite the elf’s own doubts to the contrary, he took
his leadership seriously, easily accepting the role of King of the Wood
Elves, even if he formally refused to accept his father’s title.
The elves within the realm of Gondor were autonomous. Aragorn did
not impose his rule on them and had actually encouraged Legolas to take
Thranduil’s abandoned title of Elvenking when he granted his friend’s
request to resettle the remainder of his people in Ithilien.
Legolas refused, saying that only one person should claim the title of
King in these lands and that right he reserved for Aragorn. The
elf was content to remain a Prince and a Lord of his people in name,
even though he fulfilled all the functions of their king.
Legolas was glad for all the things he had learned serving under
Thranduil so many years but he was also painfully aware of what
happened when a ruler never took time for himself. The memories
of his father were no longer painful and he recalled the hours his
father had spent entangled in endless meetings and affairs of
state. The wear on his spirit had lent Thranduil a hard edge that
sometimes cut those he loved. Legolas did not wish the same fate
on his friend.
It was past time for the king to take a break, perhaps a long one if
the elf had anything to say about it. He had left Raniean in
charge and commissioned the elf to work with Faramir as they helped to
drive out the evil and the pain inflicted on the once fair lands.
Under the expert care of the elves, Emyn Arnen would flourish once
Casually glancing out the window, Aragorn rolled his eyes and slipped his hand up mimicking a talking mouth with his fingers.
Nalthon reached over and simply placed a piece of parchment in the
king’s hands, surreptitiously hiding his liege’s irreverent
motions. Barely containing his smile, Aragorn nodded to his
servant and pretended to read the paper. He glanced sidelong out
the window at the elf. He could see that Legolas was laughing.
The king wasn’t the only one who was watching Legolas. Nalthon
shot the elf a reprimanding look. When those two got together he
had his work cut out for him. The king and his elvish friends
were apt to act remarkably like overgrown children.
Throwing up his hands, Legolas turned and sat down on a bench beneath
the window, his back gently resting against the glass pane. It
seemed like today was going to be a repeat of the past few days.
Legolas had been here for a week now and had only seen Aragorn for all
of about an hour uninterrupted. His friend had been highly
irritated with the cabinet members when the council had convened
without asking him first. He was still fighting an uphill battle
with some of the older representatives who were used to the way things
were done ‘in the old days. Aragorn’s diplomatic skills and his
easy demeanor with people were slowly winning them over. The
former ranger was convinced that by the end of this year things would
be running more smoothly in the courts.
Legolas had been looking forward to seeing Aragorn again and reporting
on the progress near Mordor. However, Nalthon never left the
king’s side the entire time that Legolas had been with him. It
seemed the elderly man had appointed himself the king’s permanent
shadow. He even went so far as to remind Elessar that Carlda had
his good qualities when Aragorn had told Legolas just what he thought
of the pompous councilman. Legolas just wished the other human
would keep out of their conversation.
Trying to sneak away from Nalthon became a favorite sport for
Aragorn. He found the old Gondorian harder to give the slip to
than his new Captain of the Guard, Jonath, who was also becoming
distressingly adept at second-guessing his liege. Aragorn had
never known that being a king had so much in common with being a
An hour or more passed as Aragorn mediated the discussions and
arguments that arose from Carlda’s discourse. Not all the other
regents were in agreement with their fellow councilmember and Aragorn
had mediated more than one outburst caused by the man’s out-spoken
opinions. With a sigh he glanced back out at his friend.
Legolas was pacing in front of the window, obviously distracted.
Something stopped him in his tracks and he looked off to the left,
watching intently. After a few moments Legolas turned back to the
window and held up one hand asking his friend silently to give him a
moment. When Aragorn nodded almost imperceptibly, the elf ran off
and did not return.
Aragorn watched the gardens, leaning around to see past the post that
divided the large window but the prince was nowhere to be seen. A
small cough from Nalthon redirected Aragorn’s attention. The
council members were watching him closely as though waiting for
something, an answer perhaps.
Trying to regain his composure, Aragorn cleared his throat and asked if
the question could be repeated. With an exaggerated sigh, Carlda
launched back into his lengthy discourse, assuming the king had not
clearly heard his preamble. It took every ounce of strength
Aragorn had to not sigh and roll his eyes. He had only asked for
the question, not the five hundred yards of rhetoric leading up to
it! He had the strongest desire to lay his head down on the table
and surrender in defeat.
Finally the king could take no more. He had just started to
interrupt Carlda when there was a slight tapping on the door to the
Glancing up, Aragorn indicated that the doors should be opened.
Upon his request the servants unlocked the portals and accepted a small
envelope from a messenger. Quiet whispers were exchanged between
the runner and the palace servants as the meeting was momentarily
Nalthon readily accepted the note and the whispered message from the doorkeeper and passed it on to Aragorn.
“My lord, the messenger said only that it was important,” the seneschal
commented quietly as he passed the sealed parchment to Elessar.
Turning the note over, Aragorn barely repressed a small laugh when he
glimpsed the seal. It was Legolas’ signet ring, the edsiria of
Mirkwood, passed down by his father just before Thranduil had left for
the undying lands. The seal had been applied hastily and was
Breaking the red wax, Aragorn opened the letter and immediately fell
into a coughing fit in order to cover up his mirth. He scowled
over the top of the scrawled message, trying to look serious and
important as his eyes roved back over the two sentences once more.
“The king is needed urgently
outside. Tell the wind bag you require a recess and meet me in
Thankfully, the contents were written in elvish so there was no hope of
the note being read or understood by anyone else in the room.
“My lord?” Nalthon asked softly, “Is everything well?”
Aragorn looked up innocently at the man, stalling for time.
Folding the parchment back up he took a deep breath and rose to his
feet to address the council. The chambers were silent, every eye
fixed on the King.
“I need to call a short recess. A matter has come up that requires my attention,” Elessar addressed his regents.
“I must protest this interruption!” Council member Carlda jumped to his feet.
“And it cannot wait,” Aragorn concluded holding up his hand and
silencing Carlda. “Please, help yourself to refreshments while
I’m away. We’ll reconvene when I return.” The king nodded
to the servants by the door who immediately left to bring food and
The regent fumed, shutting his mouth and frowning at the king.
His face nearly turned red from holding his tongue and his
breath. Aragorn had to fight the laughter that the sight invoked;
it was not often that Carlda lost his temper.
Aragorn had no idea what Legolas had in mind but he hoped it would be
worth the politely vicious tongue-lashing the regent would give them
all when they reconvened.
Brushing past the confused regents, the king made his way to the
door. Aragorn laughed softly to himself as he stalked down the
hallway towards the garden entrance. He knew he was going to pay
for the slight he had dealt his cabinet but there truly was a limited
amount of time he could tolerate these people. Maybe he would let
Faramir deal with the obstinate man while he was gone... but that
wasn’t fair to Faramir he supposed.
The gate to the gardens was open this time of day and Aragorn strode
out into the immaculately pruned yard. The smells of a thousand
different flowering plants and herbs assaulted his senses and he
breathed in deeply. The immediate area was empty and Aragorn took
the winding path that would lead into the heart of the small plot of
In the center of the garden a fountain rose from the ground
itself. The water basin was sunken below the level of the grass
and housed a colorful array of ornamental fish. Their dorsal and
tail fins cut through the top of the pond as they chased water bugs
across the glassy surface.
Walking slower now, Aragorn allowed himself to actually enjoy the peace and solitude that the trees and privacy here evoked.
Nalthon’s voice caused Aragorn to jump. He spun on his boot heels and turned to face the direction of the sound.
The king had come to such an abrupt stop that the old servant barely avoided colliding with his liege.
“Nalthon? What are you doing here?” Aragorn asked, glancing around them to see if anyone else had followed.
Before he could speak another gave the answer for him, in elvish no less.
“He comes because he is your shadow!” Legolas dropped from the
trees on Aragorn’s left and approached the human. A broad, warm
smile split his face as he embraced the man briefly.
“I got your note,” Aragorn quipped holding up the parchment and eyeing
his friend with barely contained mirth. “Pray tell, what is so
The elf answered in the high tongue, continuing to hide their conversation.
“Your sanity my friend and your freedom!” Legolas stepped lightly
around the king, looking for any others who might have followed their
liege out. “That man Carlda is an idiot. Did he not already
go over every point yesterday? Must he repeat himself that way
and speak to you as though you were a child?”
Aragorn’s full laugh filled the glade they stood in, startling the
fish. Their bright colors flashed in the sunlight as they sought
the shade for shelter.
“Legolas! Your people consider me child!” The elvish
words were full of laughter and indiscernible to all but the two
“Yes, but we have a reason to do so and you are not our leader.
Even so, none of us would deign to speak to you the way he does.
You know father had a way of dealing with elves just like that
Legolas’ tirade was cut short as Aragorn lunged at him and covered his mouth.
“Have you forgotten my shadow?” the man whispered, motioning with his head to the elderly gentleman that stood behind him.
Prying Aragorn’s fingers from his face, Legolas leaned in closer and asked softly. “Does he speak elvish?”
Aragorn glanced sidelong at Nalthon. The man stood a pace away
watching intently, his arms crossed as though biding his time.
“I think not. Although he has lived in the palace many years,” Aragorn replied
“Well he may read Quenya then, but I doubt he is as fluent in Sindarin
as are you.” Legolas continued, one eyebrow quirked up in
question. It was true. The Gondorians were more familiar
with elvish languages because of their heritage, but only the nobility
was taught the distinctions and finer linguistics of the high tongues.
The king laughed quietly before moving back and continuing their conversation.
With a sigh, Aragorn glanced back towards the council chambers.
“Well I am grateful for the break, my friend, but I need to get
back. There truly is no emergency and I’ll never hear the end of
it if we don’t settle these problems today. I do not wish to
extend this council meeting any longer than necessary.”
“You aren’t going back today, or tomorrow or the next day,” Legolas
stated firmly. He stared hard at the king. “Trust me, my
friend. Your time in that chamber is done for the week. I
have been your guest for the past five days and seen you one hour in
that time. Do not turn into my father on me. There are ways
to run a kingdom and ways for it to run you. You must learn the
difference. You have already told Carlda that everything is being
done to stop the raids. You ordered Jonath to send his finest men
out to put an end to it, did you not? If that answer does not
suffice, then Council member Carlda must learn to trust his new
king. Your word is as good as having the deed done. There
is none higher in the land. You are not a Steward; you are the
High King. Let him think on that for a while.”
“What do you suggest I do?” Aragorn asked, shrugging his shoulders in
defeat. “I hold their allegiance, but not yet all their hearts.”
“You will,” Legolas encouraged. He rested his hand Aragorn’s
shoulder and squeezed gently. “Give them time. Look at the
leadership that has ruled them so long. The times they have
prayed for are finally here and it will take patience while they
realize that fact.”
“And my shadow?” Aragorn turned towards Nalthon who had moved forward and was questioning the king.
“He works hard, perhaps too hard sometimes. I believe he also
needs a rest. I’ll take care of him,” Legolas whispered as he
walked around the king and stepped lightly past the servant.
“My Lord, with all due respect, you must return to the chambers.
The issues brought up by Council Member Carlda must be dealt
with. As the king it falls to...” The older man’s words
were cut off as Legolas grabbed the servant from behind, placing a
square of cloth over Nalthon’s face and forcing him to breathe through
The fabric was laced with a potent drug that quickly subdued the
seneschal, sending him into a deep, restful sleep. Legolas picked
up the limp body, allowing the cloth to drop to the ground so he
wouldn’t overdose the human.
“Legolas! What in Arda are you doing!” Aragorn stooped to
retrieve the drug-laden square, carefully sniffing the fumes it
radiated. He jerked quickly back when he recognized the
scent. “Where did you get this!? Is this how your father dealt
with problems in his court?”
The elf laughed lightly as he dragged the servant to a nearby bench and
laid him carefully down on it. “My father? Certainly
not. I’m certain he’s throwing a fit in Valinor right now.
This idea came from a different source altogether,” the prince answered
cryptically. “Do not fear, no harm has been done. Dear
Nalthon will awaken feeling more rested than he has in years. You
could have ordered him away, but he would only worry and fret and
follow you anyway. Trust me; this is a favor to both of
you.” He brushed his hands off and started to walk out of the
garden, leading the king away in the opposite direction.
Dumbfounded by the turn of events, Aragorn simply followed. He
cast a look over his shoulder at Nalthon and rolled his eyes. How
would he ever explain this to him? This was shaping up to be a
diplomatic nightmare, but it was so hard to care. Running down
the path he caught up with the retreating elf.
In his time in Minas Tirith, Legolas had easily memorized the
passageways and adjoining halls. It wasn’t so different than
Thranduil’s palace really. Expertly he led them towards the
king’s personal chambers by the back routes. They had nearly
reached the private quarters when Carlda stepped out of a passage just
behind the king. He had been trying to talk the kitchen staff out
of more food when he saw Elessar walk swiftly by.
“King Elessar!” Regent Carlda called down the hall, stopping the king in his tracks.
Aragorn cringed, grimacing as though in pain before regaining his
composure. Turning slowly around he faced the councilman.
“Yes, Councilman Carlda?” Elessar drew himself up to his full
height and pierced the man with a glare that would have made Elrond
proud. “If it can wait, I need to finish my business. Now
please if you will excuse me.” Aragorn tried to disentangle himself
gently but Atrius Carlda was not used to being shrugged off.
The council member had spent hours simply bandying about the affairs of
state with Denethor. The Steward, though firm in his will about
all that he ruled, had genuinely enjoyed the man’s company and dry
sarcastic humor. It was Atrius’ every intention to wedge himself
into the new King’s immediate company as well. Elessar’s
reticence to the councilman’s point of view on most matters annoyed the
Now he was faced with the opportune moment to get into the King’s good graces.
Or so he thought.
“Really, my Lord, I do not think this can wait,” Carlda fell into step
with the tall Númenorean. Denethor had been much shorter, or
so the man thought.
Turning on his heel Aragorn resumed his swift pace up the hallway,
hoping to catch up with Legolas. The elf was nowhere to be seen.
Glancing at the man that walked beside him, Aragorn addressed the councilman in a manner he hoped would please Nalthon.
“Councilman Carlda, I am afraid that the recess from the proceedings is
still in effect. I have some personal business that really cannot
wait. If you would please go back, partake of the refreshments
and the gardens, either I or a messenger will bring you word,” Aragorn
tried to gently dissuade the man from following him. Beyond the
next turn the man would be blocked from continuing into the private
parts of the palace anyway.
They passed by an alcove shrouded in darkness. For a moment
Aragorn was almost positive he had seen a shimmer in the deepest
corner. A faint, familiar presence resonated like a spark of
recognition before they moved by the wall recess.
Before Carlda could respond to his liege, he was grabbed from behind
and quickly subdued. Consciousness fled as an acidic smell filled
his nostrils and breathing became difficult. Darkness replaced
the panic as Councilman Carlda went limp in Legolas’ arms.
“Legolas!” Aragorn hissed fiercely as he helped the elf ease the
unconscious man down onto a small bench at the back of the alcove where
Legolas had been hiding. Grabbing the cloth away from his friend
he shoved it into his pocket and glared at the elf.
“I cannot believe you just did that! This has got to stop!
You are going to get me into so much trouble! How many of those
do you have?” he asked as the two crept back to the hallway glancing
furtively up and down its length. All Aragorn needed was to be
caught in such a compromising position.
The elf laughed softly as he headed up the passage towards Elessar’s
rooms. Nodding slightly to the palace guards he walked into the
king’s chambers unrestricted and quickly began pulling out Aragorn’s
old ranger clothing.
Softly closing the doors behind him, the king stalked after the
elf. “Legolas, I have just walked out on the affairs of state and
drugged a cabinet member and my own seneschal, at least one of
whom is probably never going to forget it or forgive me for the rest of
his entire life. Have you any idea how on earth I am going to get
out of this mess?” he whispered to the wood elf. A scowl crossed
his face as he watched Legolas shove extra clothing into his old
knapsack. The elf tossed Aragorn’s well worn ranger outfit at the
“Quickly, we haven’t a moment to spare. Someone will find that
old windbag or Nalthon and our ruse will be up! Did you or did
you not intend to sneak out this week and spend some time in the woods
hunting? Was it not your idea to lose your guards and entourage
and spend some time alone? Or did I misunderstand you?”
Legolas countered just as quietly. He closed the curtains
discreetly while the king shrugged out of his formal wear and slipped
quickly into his old leather trousers and tunic.
Aragorn watched the elf with a certain amount of disbelief. He
was still a little surprised by everything that had happened.
“Yes, of course I want that; I just hadn’t thought I would be leaving a
trail of senseless council members behind me,” he said wryly.
“Elessar, do not forget you are still Estel,” Legolas warned
quietly. “Your advisors mean well, but if you let them take over
your life you will never get it back, trust me on this. Any
pressing issues have already been settled. This whole debate has
turned into a power struggle with all of them scrabbling to establish
themselves in your eyes and your graces. They’re driving
themselves to a frenzy and banging uselessly against one another.
Everyone will benefit from letting it drop for a little while.”
Smiling, Legolas handed his friend the much mended overcoat he had
always favored. Aragorn no longer looked the part of the
king. He simply reflected the quiet, young ranger Legolas had
“Something is not quite right,” the elf muttered appraising the man.
“What?” Aragorn turned in a full circle, looking himself up and down in
the long mirror that stood at the far wall. Bending over he laced
his tall leather boots a bit tighter, cinching the ties around his
calves. As he did so, Legolas realized what had troubled him and
quickly held the man down.
“Don’t move,” the elf ordered as he took one of his long bladed hunting
knives and easily cut the band that held Elessar’s hair back from his
When Legolas released him, Aragorn stood up, his hair fell into his eyes and framed his face in a haphazard manner.
“Yes! That was it!” Legolas laughed softly as his friend pushed the
wayward strands out of his eyes. “Now let us go quickly before we
are found out.”
“Right,” Aragorn growled playfully, “we can’t exactly walk back out the front now can we?”
“My friend,” Legolas replied patiently, “why do you think it is that
palaces come equipped with windows bracketed by lovely
overgrowth?” The elf smirked as he re-opened the curtains and
pushed the windows outward.
True enough, just below the bedroom window grew a tree, not quite as
old as the others in Aragorn’s private garden. Its highest
branches reached up to the edge of the sill as though inviting the King
to test them out.
Nimbly, the elf leapt out into the waiting canopy. He turned back
and held out a hand, motioning silently for the human to follow.
Aragorn tossed his knapsack out at the elf, slung his old bow and
quiver over his shoulder and without a second thought followed his
friend down the tree to the garden floor. Legolas was
right. He needed some time away. He was no use to anyone in
his current, restless state. Perhaps a little time away from the
palace would clear his mind and help him not be so edgy and irritated
with the council members. He was glad Arwen was away visiting
Celeborn. He wouldn’t have thought of leaving without a word to
her if she were here.
Aragorn reached the ground a few moments after Legolas. Here, for
the most part, they should have been safe from prying eyes. The
king’s gardens were for the royal family alone and not shared or
accessible to any other part of the palace except through the private
However, the day was turning out to be anything but normal.
Jonath swept into the garden on the far side with a small contingent following close on his heels.
“Fan out, search every corner. Find the king or the intruder and
quickly!” The guard ordered as he stalked down the path in front of him.
Legolas backed slowly into the foliage at the base of the palace wall,
pressing Aragorn against the cool stone and out of sight. The
man’s dark clothing blended well with the shadows as the elf stood in
front of him.
“Do NOT drug him Legolas!” Aragorn whispered fiercely at his friend.
With a slight movement of his hand, the elf shushed the king and glanced at the advancing royal guardsman.
“Legolas! Thank the Valar you are safe. The King would never
forgive me if you came to harm.” Jonath smiled worriedly at the
elf. He watched as his men scoured the garden, closing in on
their position. “Have you seen the King? I must find him
immediately. There is an intruder in the castle. He
overcame Nalthon and Regent Carlda. Neither one is able to help
much as they are still unconscious, but one of the kitchen servants
reported that Regent Carlda was last seen with Lord Elessar. And
I know Nalthon would never willingly be separated from the King.
If anything were to happen... I would not be able to forgive
myself. When I left him with the council this morning, I did not
think that with Atrius Carlda as the speaker they would be able to
recess for quite sometime.” Jonath’s worried report tumbled out
urgently. He should have been more attentive.
Aragorn had become very fond the man who had become his personal guard
and could not stand to hear him fretting so. Before Legolas could
form a response, the king stepped out from the foliage, revealing his
“My lord!” Jonath rushed forward surprised, stopping himself just short of hugging the man he thought he had lost.
His moment of astonishment was short lived however when he took in the
kings attire. Glowering at the two friends, he glanced from the
human to the elf and back.
“My lord?” Jonath questioned darkly, “There is no intruder per se is there?”
The guard’s glance settled lastly on Legolas who returned the stare
innocently. Years of living with Thranduil and growing up with
Raniean and Trelan had taught him how to school his looks perfectly
when caught in the act.
“Send the men away, Jonath,” Aragorn whispered quietly. “I would have a
word with you alone. Please,” he entreated the soldier.
With a nod, Jonath turned back to the contingent that had followed
him. He ordered them into the personal areas and told them to
scour the grounds near the council chambers once more. When the
garden had emptied of all but himself, the elf, and king he turned back
to the two friends.
Crossing him arms over his chest Jonath set his gaze hard on the man
before waiting for an explanation. The King had no obligation to
explain himself to his chief guard or anyone else, but whether there
was or was not a threat to the King’s safety was definitely the guard’s
Legolas was impressed and nudged Aragorn as the man moved out from his
hiding place. “I do believe he learned that one from your father.”
“This is not funny, my lords. I feared you had been
abducted. I found your personal seneschal and a council member
unconscious, both having last been seen in your company. What was
I supposed to believe?” Jonath wanted an answer.
“You are right, Jonath. I should have let you know at the very
least.” Aragorn ran a hand through his hair brushing it out of
his eyes. “I have been at council for the past five days. I
have heard Atrius Carlda’s complaints until my ears are ready to fall
off. That man will not listen to reason. I am certain he
wishes that Denethor was still in power. There is nothing more
that can be done that we are not already doing. He will accept
nothing that I offer.” Aragorn sighed deeply and walked toward
the center of the garden.
“Talking with him is wasting our time and his. The last three
days that man has done nothing but argue with the others and myself,
trying to divide the cabinet. Have you not sent your best men out to
curb the attacks in the outer regions?” Aragorn asked in frustration.
When the soldier nodded to the affirmative, the king countered with
another question. “And are you not pleased with the outcome of
Another nod to the affirmative answered him again.
“Then if you are happy, and I am pleased and things are settling down,
why is it that he is not? Must I continually fight the ghost of a
man long dead who cared more for his own comforts than for his
people? The affections of Denethor’s more loyal subjects are
harder to win than that of a warg, and I would know, Jonath. I’ve done
that before!” The king’s tone was heated as he walked around the guard
and the elf. He glanced back at Legolas quickly amending his last
statement. “Well actually it was Legolas that she was taken with for
some reason and did not kill us but it was still easier than with that
Jonath stood quietly, enduring his king’s tirade. He had no
answer, nothing that would quickly fix the problems that lay before
Elessar. He did not envy the king his position but as his
personal guard it was his responsibility to see to the king’s well-being.
Aragorn stood facing the interior of the garden, his eyes averted from
the two who stood behind him. With a sigh of defeat he spoke
quietly, knowing he could be easily heard.
“Legolas, I am sorry, my friend,” he sighed softly. “I would that
things were different, but I believe I must remain here and work this
out. I do not know how I will explain this, but I need to.”
His words were quiet and held the slightest hint of sorrow.
Jonath glanced back and forth between his liege and the elf.
Legolas’ eyes were fixed on Aragorn’s back. The guilt in his gaze
was obvious as he turned and glanced at the soldier. He hadn’t
meant to make so much trouble for his friend, he had wanted only to
help. Perhaps he had chosen a poor way to accomplish that end.
“My lord, I think you should return to your chambers,” Jonath spoke quietly into the uncomfortable silence that had fallen.
Aragorn turned and looked at his personal guard a slight smile on his
face. “Are you sending me to my room Jonath?” He laughed softly.
“Yes, my lord, I am.” Jonath smiled conspiratorially at the
king. “I believe you should spend the next three days at least
confined to your quarters whilst we find this one who has overcome your
seneschal and Councilman Carlda. It is vitally important that
this intruder be found before the king comes to harm.”
Aragorn stared at the man in front of him, a smile forming slowly on his face as he listened to his personal guard.
“I will place my men at your door and bring you your meals myself,”
Jonath continued. “Since we don’t know who the intruder is or
what his purpose may be, no one else can be trusted near you.
Arwen is away visiting her relatives. You will simply be kept
busy and under guard. And Carlda will have plenty of time to
regale everyone within hearing of his near death experience. I would
say this might even take his mind off those raids, what with his life
in danger.” He shrugged as though it were the simplest thing in
“When I deem it safe, you’ll be free to roam about Minas Tirith once
more. Three days ought to be enough time to drive any intruder
from the city, wouldn’t you agree?” Jonath asked in a surprisingly
The soldier was caught off guard as his king wrapped the man in a fierce hug, pounding the soldier on the back as he laughed.
“I would agree, my dear Jonath,” Aragorn replied. He stepped back
and clasped the man’s arms in his hands. “I will return in three
days,” The king reassured his commander.
“Next time, ask me,” Jonath implored. “I can be of help when you
need to escape your own countrymen, as well as any other foe, for a
moment of peace. That too is why I have been attached to you as
your personal guard. Escape anyone else, my lord, and I will help
you. But please, I pray you, do not attempt to escape me without
word, because it is my job to find and protect you and I can do no
He turned to the elf who had remained quietly in the background, “ And
you had better see to it that the king returns unharmed, in one piece
and in NO need of any medical attention,” Jonath warned Legolas.
“I have heard the tales of what happens when the two of you get
“They are highly over-exaggerated,” Legolas laughed as he grabbed his
friend’s coat sleeve and tugged the ranger king towards the outer gates.
“Not that way, all of Gondor will see you!” Jonath pulled Aragorn
with him to a wall on the far side of the garden. A hatch opened
beneath the man’s touch leading out of the city proper. Steps led
down away out of sight spiraling into depths of the mountain. “If
you follow them all the way down, the passage opens up on the north side
of the mountain. It is a long walk but none will stop you or find
you. There are rooms and provisions stocked and accessible along
the way should you grow tired. You can access every level from
this tunnel if you should choose to. If you keep to it, and do
not stop you should reach the valley floor before sunset.”
With a grateful smile, Legolas began the descent leading the way by the light of his natural glow.
Aragorn turned back just inside the passage. “Hannon le,” he
spoke softly, smiling as the guard nodded. “I will return at this
time by this passage in three days.”
“In one piece,” Jonath warned.
“One piece,” Aragorn echoed.
“We promise, we promise. No scratches, no cuts, whips, spider
bites or warg encounters,” Legolas’ voice echoed up from the first
bend. “Come, Estel!”
“Why is it I find no comfort in his assurances? My lord, let us
not make a habit of this, please,” Jonath requested softly, “I will
have my hands full with Carlda when he awakens and I do not look
forward to his ire. How Denethor ever stood the company of that
man is beyond me.”
“I promise, Jonath. This will never happen again,” Aragorn
reassured his Captain. “From now on I’ll let you in on it
first. You are very good at this.” The king laughed when
the soldier just smiled.
“Estel!” Legolas’ voice reverberated up the stairway, “Are you coming?”
With an impish smile the Dùnadan bounded after his friend and disappeared into the darkness.
Jonath easily pushed the access panel close and walked back through the
gardens. He prayed that Ilúvatar would send his king home
in one piece as he walked back towards the council chambers forming
what he would say to the regents when he got there. He smiled
softly to himself as he remembered the gratefulness in the king’s
eyes. He had known for several days now that Elessar needed some
time away but had been unsure about how to approach his liege on the
subject. Fate had known just how to remedy that for him.
The door at the bottom of the steps hadn’t been used in years and it
took both Legolas and Aragorn to open the ancient portal. The sun
was setting in the west, painting the fields before them in warm pastel
tones by the time they exited the mountain passage. Heading out
south around the base of the city they made it to the edge of
Lossarnach just as the sun set behind the mountain ridge.
The freedom of simply walking beneath the wooded canopy once more
lightened the heart of not only the king but his elven friend.
For Aragorn, the time spent in Legolas’ company was as though he had
stepped back through a portal, no longer carrying the worries of the
world on his shoulders. He raced through the trees after the elf,
dodging roots and ducking branches while his tracking skills slowly
In the near distance the glow of a fire caught his attention and he
veered in that direction following closely on Legolas’ heels.
Sprinting into the meadow, Aragorn skidded to a stop in surprise.
Two identical elves stood slowly to their feet as shocked by the
intrusion as the King.
All pretenses were abandoned as the twins recognized their guests and
in moments Aragorn was enveloped by his brothers. Their questions
barraged him for answers, their laughter ringing through the vale.
Aragorn had not expected his brothers to be visiting anytime soon and the surprise alone was worth sneaking out of the palace.
As the welcome slowly died down and the four seated themselves around the fire, Aragorn beset the twins with his own questions.
“Which one of you gave this to Legolas?” the human asked. Mirth
belied the serious tone of the query as he tossed a soiled square of
cloth at Elladan.
Elrohir snickered softly as his twin gingerly picked up the fabric and flicked it into the fire.
“I do not know of what you speak, dear brother,” Elladan answered innocently. “You are not suggesting...”
His words were cut off as Aragorn’s pack hit him full in the chest,
knocking him off the log he was seated upon. “You nearly got me
into so much trouble! Did you even measure it correctly?”
“Of course!” Elrohir exclaimed, pulling his twin back up and pushing
Aragorn’s pack away from them. “You think we would trust a Silvan
elf with herbs that potent?”
“I beg your pardon!” Legolas defended himself only
half-heartedly. He was simply glad that they had this time
together. Aragorn was relaxing before his very eyes. The
tensions of the last few days leached away in the laughter of the elves
The council would reconvene next week, the troubles of today would
still need attention and the kingdom would survive three days with her
king in ‘seclusion’.
Legolas leaned back against the trunk of a large oak tree and listened
contentedly to the brothers laughing. If he had to do it again,
he would have drugged the entire council.
“You didn’t?!” Arwen questioned disbelievingly. She laughed and shook her head when Aragorn’s face flushed.
“I am afraid we did!” He consented, to the laughter of those at the table.
“Now that is what I call diplomacy!” Gimli commented
appreciatively. “I wish I could have been there to see that!” He
brushed crumbs out of his beard and stretched.
“You two...” Arwen shook her head, glancing from Aragorn to
Legolas. Her gaze caught slightly on Legolas. For a moment
he looked distant and drawn, but half an instant later he either sensed
or saw that she was looking at him and a bright smile reappeared on his
Arwen looked away, but continued glancing at Legolas out of the corner
of her eyes. She had watched the Silvan elf off and on during the
retelling of the story. Legolas had seemed to be engaged and
listening as Aragorn had started off but part way through it was
obvious that the prince’s thoughts were far away. He laughed in
all the right places and watched Aragorn as the man regaled them but it
was easy for her to see that Legolas was not with them in spirit.
When Aragorn looked to him for confirmation he responded, but only when
the human was watching him.
Legolas smiled pleasantly at the end of the story and laughed with the
others. It was what was expected of him and it felt good to go
through the motions, but his heart and mind felt a million miles
away. He had tired through the morning and not kept up with the
rest of them. In his soul he was still weary and the joy that he
forced on his face did not reach his heart nor did it originate there
like it should have. Legolas was trying to keep his cheerful
front up and was not aware that anyone had seen through his
charade. He was inexplicably worn, tired in more ways than just
physically. But he had far too much practice repressing what he
felt in favor of what was expected of him, and so he carried on as if
nothing were the matter. What good would it have done? It
was better to sit with laughing friends and pretend to feel the same,
than to bring them down into whatever he was feeling. Misery may
love company, but Legolas did not, not like that.
This time, however, unbeknownst to him, he had been caught in the
act. Arwen reminded herself to speak with her husband about it as
soon as they had a quiet moment to themselves.
All such thoughts were momentarily forgotten when Elladan, Elrohir and Eldarion arrived unannounced on the scene.
Dari looked tired but extremely happy as he bounded across the lawn to
his parents' side. The small boy was dripping wet. His
leggings were caked with mud almost all the way up his thighs and dead
leaves clung to him at odd angles. His grubby face was beaming.
“Good gracious! Dari! What in Arda happened to you?” Arwen
asked in surprise as Dari scrambled happily up into her lap, blissfully
unmindful of his current state.
Elladan and Elrohir were only a few steps behind him, but their
appearance was little better. The three of them were quite a
sight. They looked as if they had been swimming with their
clothes on and then went for a long roll in the fallen leaves.
Aragorn quirked an eyebrow in amusement. That could very well be
exactly what they had done. He seldom put anything past his
Elrohir dropped down into an unused seat with a bright smile.
Elladan helped himself to some of the leftovers on the table that Gimli
hadn’t finished, proving that dwarves did not hold a complete monopoly
on diminished manners among friends.
Legolas watched them with a suppressed smile. They had obviously
had a wonderful time. He felt sure that he was witnessing a scene
that could have come out of Estel’s childhood. It was clear how
much the twins had missed having a child around since Estel grew up.
Arwen held her dripping, muddy child carefully. She plucked part
of a maple leaf out of his widely tangled curls and fixed her brothers
with an only partially amused glare.
“We were tracking trolls!” Dari bubbled exuberantly. “I fell in
one of their footprints!” He pointed to the mud smeared across
the front of his knees and elbows as proof of the adventure.
“Trolls?!” Trelan asked in alarm.
Aragorn waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, letting him know there
was nothing to fear. He knew exactly where those ‘troll’
footprints were and if they had indeed been made by trolls at some
point it must have been ages and ages ago.
Arwen smiled at Dari and kissed his forehead gently in approval.
The look she turned on her brothers was slightly less approving.
“Really, you two... did father let you run this wild with Estel?”
Elrohir was trying to comb the leaves out of his own wet, tangled ebony
locks. “Wild? This wasn’t wild. Wait until we show
him where the bears hide!”
Dari squealed with delight at this idea, bouncing on his mothers
lap. He squirmed his head away when she attempted to wipe some of
the mud from his face. “Can we go now?!”
Elladan had pulled off and wadded up his wet outer tunic and was using
it to wipe his own face clean. He glanced from Dari to Arwen and
back to Dari again. “Um... no. I don’t think that’s a good
idea. But maybe tomorrow, all right?”
Dari seemed to like that idea very much, but Arwen rolled her
eyes. “We’ll see about that,” she muttered, then squeaked in a
very undignified manner when Elladan threw his wet jacket at her.
The heavy, dripping article of clothing caught her on the shoulder and
the sleeve lazily smacked the side of her face.
“Oh come on, Sis,” Elladan said with a roguish smile. “Don’t tell
me you don’t remember ever coming home covered in mud and having the
time of your life.”
Arwen lobed the sodden jacket back at her older brother who ducked only
just in time. “Yes, and I also remember Ada and Nana having a
“*Nana* had a fit. Ada only disapproved because Nana was there,”
Elrohir offered his opinion without being invited to do so. “He
never cared near so much about us bringing Estel back a little dirty.”
“Oh, no, he had to reserve his ire for more important things, like when
you brought me back sick, bleeding or with a broken ankle...” Aragorn
remarked with helpful sarcasm.
“Arwen, you remember the time after the rainy season ended and we went
down to the bubbling springs and found them all silted in?” Elrohir
asked, intentionally changing the subject. “And Ada had been
reading you those books about the wild people down in Harad who didn’t
wear anything but tattoos and mud painting, and you decided to-”
Elrohir was cut off as he had to duck a flying bread roll.
“I don’t think we need to talk about this right now!” Arwen said quickly, glaring daggers at her errant brother.
“Hey! No throwing food,” Elrohir protested, laughing merrily at the dangerous look in his sister’s eyes.
Aragorn’s eyebrows were raised so high they were trying to escape his
forehead. “No, no, I want to hear this.” It was revelatory
to realize that Arwen had been the twins’ first baby sibling.
They would already have been young adults by the time she was born and
Aragorn suddenly realized that he and his wife probably had more in
common than even they realized yet.
“No you don’t, dear,” Arwen said with heavily accented mock-sweetness.
Aragorn wisely took the hint. “On second thought, maybe I better
go give Dari his bath so he can have some lunch and his nap, right?” he
said with a smile.
“Better idea,” Arwen concurred with twinkling grin. Aragorn rose
and took Dari out of her arms. Arwen leaned up and gave him a
quick kiss on the cheek. Aragorn smiled and turned his head to
give her one on the lips before he carried their son towards the house.
“Now why doesn’t that work for me?” Elrohir groused.
“Well, I don’t think Aragorn wants to be kissed by you, laddie,” Gimli
put in pragmatically. He winked at Legolas, the only indication
that he knew he was making a joke.
Legolas and the others dissolved into laughter at the surprised and flustered look that crossed Elrohir’s face.
“That is NOT what I meant. I meant that he never shuts up when I tell him to!”
“What can I say? He’s a wise man,” Arwen said, rising to her feet
and straightening her now disheveled clothing. Her laughing smile
belied her regal tone.
Elladan snorted. “He’s a married one.”
“That’s what I said,” Arwen said sweetly, still not having totally
forgiven her brother for lobbing wet clothing articles at her.
“Not that you would know anything about that...”
Arwen laughed and was forced to flee quickly towards the house with Elladan in pursuit.