Remember How to Smile

Chapter 7: Council Meetings and Mud Puddles

by Cassia and Siobhan

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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... something.

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 allowed inside.

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 anyone else.

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 death?

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 carefully.

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 fact.

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 again.

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 prisoner.

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 chamber.

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 suspended.

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 crooked.

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 the garden.”

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 drink.

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 land.

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.

“My Lord?”

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 important?”

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 friends.

“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 belligerent old...”

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 it.

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 regent.

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 man.

“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 always known.

“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 face.

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 rooms.

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 whereabouts.

“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 business.

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 those offensives?”

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 stubborn malcontent.”

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 the world.

“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 business-like voice.

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 other.”

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 together.”

“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 resurfaced.

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 around him.

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 face.

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 brothers.

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 fit!”

“*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.