Cell Number Eight

Chapter 4: Many Explanations

by Cassia and Siobhan

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The footsteps stopped as the person entering the cell finally got close enough to see the shadow-shrouded form in the corner.  The sword in the human’s hand lowered suddenly and he pushed the torch he was carrying further forward so that its light illuminated the form of the elf, whose natural radiance had all but faded away.


The elf’s head jerked up at the familiar and totally unexpected voice.


The King of Gondor had already dropped down on one knee next to his long-time friend, horror and sorrow fleeting across his face as he took in the elf’s state.  He had never expected to find this.  Not in a dozen lifetimes!  The horrible surprise left him breathless and reeling.

“Legolas, what are you doing here?” Aragorn breathed in shock.  Dropping his sword, he gently brushed the elf’s tangled hair back from his face, seeking the prince’s pain-glazed eyes.  Legolas was hurt, very badly hurt, and fear knifed through the King’s heart like the sharpest of blades.  “I thought you were still in Ithilien. I didn’t even know you were missing!  How...?”

Legolas was trying to speak, trying to interrupt his friend.  “Aragorn... Aragorn, you’ve got to...”

But at that moment another soldier appeared in the doorway of the cell, dressed in the black and silver of the Gondorian palace guard.  “Your highness?”  The man seemed to be struggling with something.  It was Dari.

The boy was trying his best to wiggle out of the soldier’s grasp, still clamoring to be put down.

“Yes, Jonath?” Aragorn turned just in time to see the captain of his guard lose hold of the bundle in his arms.  Dari hit the floor running and fairly flung himself into the King’s arms.  “Ada!”

“Dari!” Aragorn hugged the boy fiercely, lifting him off his feet and into the king’s strong arms.  “Oh, Eldarion, I thought I lost you, my son.  I thought I lost you...” he whispered, tears of joy streaking silently down his face.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m ‘kay,” Eldarion nodded.  “But Leg’las is hurt!  I tried to fix him, but I can’t.  Don’t let him die, Ada, please!  He’s my friend.  He keeps me safe from the bad men and doesn’ let them hurt me.”

“He has a habit of doing that.” Aragorn cupped the side of Legolas’ face gently in his hand.  Reluctantly setting Eldarion down, the King was already moving to check the elf’s wounds.  “Don’t worry, Dari, we won’t let him die, will we?” The human’s eyes locked with Legolas’.

Legolas smiled weakly.  “Not if we can help it.  It is good to see you, mellon-nín,” he added quietly as Aragorn assessed his injuries with efficient expertise.

Eldarion stayed close to his father, clinging non-obtrusively to Aragorn’s tunic as he stood beside the older man, watching the King try to help the injured elf prince.

“You’ll be okay, Leg’las, my Ada can fix anything,” Dari assured, glancing up at his father with complete trust and love in his young eyes.

“I believe that,” Legolas rasped quietly, eliciting a wry glare from his old friend.  A faint grin played across the elf’s lips.

“I know, I’m late.” Aragorn smiled softly back.  “But this time you look terrible, my friend.”  The elf’s wounds were serious, but if Legolas had the spirit to fight, then Aragorn thought that with some immediate care the elf had a good chance of pulling through.  Dari continued to cling contentedly to his father’s arm, handing him things when he asked for them as the king did some emergency medical care.

Legolas chuckled at the old joke between them.  “Not as terrible as I might... Your son is already following in your footsteps, Estel.  He has a healer’s heart.  However, I would like to know how you let him get here!”

Aragorn smiled warmly at his small son and then back at Legolas.  “Now you sound like Elladan!  Believe me I never, never intended...” the King stopped, rubbing the side of his head gently against the top of his little boy’s to assure himself that Dari really was there and safe.  “Well, I think we both have some tales to tell one another, my friend.”


I’ll spill my soul to you
Hold it open, let you swim inside
Whatever you do
I trust somehow you’ll make it right.

I always tell you everything.
I feel like you should know...
But what I can’t say is deafening
the ache inside, it won’t let go

Won’t free my tongue to say
What’s really hurting me...

So listen without words
Hear my heart plea
Don’t give me answers
Just listen to me.


Legolas rested easily beside the fire, staring up at the stars.  He was still very weak but, if he did not try to sit up or breathe too deeply, he could cope with the pain.  It was good to be outside in the open again, with friends.  It seemed a life age since he had been anywhere other than cell number eight and the killing fields of the arena.

He imagined he could smell the tang of salt water on the breeze, but he knew it was only the soldiers cooking, because they were too far away from the ocean for it to be anything but his imagination.  Part of him wished that were not true.  A small but vocal corner of his heart harbored the strong desire to ask Aragorn to take him to the coast, just to see the sea, to watch the billowing waves as they crested under the siren call of the gulls... just to be there in reality as he had been almost every night in his dreams since being committed to the blood pits.

Legolas drew his breath in slowly, pushing the longing back down into the aching pit of his stomach.  He could not go there, not now, no matter how strong the wish.  He knew Aragorn would do anything he asked him, but... he dare not make such a request.  Legolas knew he was too weak, his heart too weary.  If he gave in to his desire to see the ocean now, he would never be able to tear himself away again, no matter how desperately the other half of his heart desired to remain on Middle-earth.

The prince pulled his mind back to the moment and to Aragorn, who sat across the fire from him.  Or at least he had been sitting across the fire from him.  Now, Legolas suddenly found that his friend was actually kneeling beside him, watching the elf with worried eyes.

The King of Gondor wore his tunic only partially fastened, dividing the White tree on the front neatly in half where his under-tunic showed through from underneath.  The Gondorian jerkin seemed to be the extent of his concession to military dress at the moment, as the rest of his attire was distinctly more reminiscent of his ranger days than anything else.

“Legolas, do you feel all right?  Did you even hear me?” Aragorn’s voice was soft and not upset at having been ignored.  He was concerned, however. 

Legolas realized with a start that he had not and gave his head a small shake.  “Forgive me.  I-I did not.  What did you say?”

The King of Gondor smiled.  “Never mind.  You’re tired, I should let you rest.  Forgive me for keeping you up so long, my friend. I have missed you and it was selfish of me.”

“No,” Legolas suddenly reached out and gripped Aragorn’s arm, not letting him leave.  He was weary, but he did not want to sleep.  He would only be tormented by visions of the sea again, for in this matter he no longer had control of his dreams.

Aragorn saw the conflict in his friend’s face, although he did not understand its source.  His dark eyes searched the pale, blue ones before him.  “Legolas, what is it?  What’s haunting you?  Is it because it was men...?”

Legolas shook his head quickly.  “Aragorn, I do not fear men, and their cruelty darkens my heart no longer. Those are things that have healed, mellon-nín.”

Aragorn could see his friend spoke the truth, but that didn’t explain what he still saw.  “All right, then what?”

Legolas did not answer.  He rolled onto his side with some effort.  “I would not see you go yet, if you’re willing.”

Aragorn nodded slowly and settled down across from his friend once more.  He knew enough to know when Legolas didn’t want to talk about something.  “All right but, if I weary you, you must promise to tell me.  You have me worried for you, my friend.”

Legolas smiled.  “Then I’m sorry, for such was not my desire.  But I have so many questions... things that do not make sense.  Why did the people of Rahzon think you were the Khelekir?  And what brought you to Rahzon?  Were you looking for Eldarion?”

That had been puzzling Legolas since he had been conscious enough to consider the question.

“Yes, and no,” Aragorn shook his head.  “I have been searching for Eldarion, but it was not that that drew me to Rahzon actually.  As for the Khelekir, that is what those people call us in their tongue.  We have been trying to eliminate the illegal slave trade here and the games that fuel it.  Don’t worry,” Aragorn saw the look of confusion pass over his friend’s face and quickly set him at ease.  “If you heard those wild stories they tell about us supposedly killing everyone in our path and being bloody murderers, it’s not true.  Although those poor terrified slaves in the cages certainly seemed to be whipped up into quite a terror about it until they finally understood we were giving them their freedom.  It’s just something that the warlords made up to frighten the people into hating us more, so they would fight us to the death without even thinking of surrender.”  The King’s eyes were sad, thinking of how many might have been saved instead of lost because of lies.

Legolas smiled faintly and nodded.  “Like the poor hill men after the battle of Helm’s Deep, convinced we were going to burn them alive or eat them or something similarly horrible...” He shook his head.

“Yes.” Aragorn returned the smile.  “Like that.”

Ada...” a small voice took Aragorn’s attention as Dari pulled lightly at his sleeve.

Aragorn smiled gently at his child as he lifted the boy into his lap.  “Here’s someone else who should be in bed, yes?” he asked gently, smiling down into the large, sleepy eyes.

“Nooo,” Dari shook his head in protest, wiggling deeper into his father’s embrace.  “Not sleepy.”

Aragorn sincerely doubted that, but let it pass.  Arwen was the bed-time enforcer at home, not he.  The King was of the mind that when Dari was tired, he would sleep.

From across the fire, Legolas watched the father and son with a small smile.  It did his heart so good to see Dari back with the father he had never thought he could return him to, and he got more than a small share of enjoyment from watching his old friend with the child, who undoubtedly was very like Aragorn himself when the ranger was young.  Having been like a parent to Dari, even for just a while, made Legolas envy Elladan and Elrohir having been able to watch Estel grow from childhood into the man he was now... although it also gave him a little understanding of why sometimes they still seemed to be so protective of him.  In their hearts, Aragorn would always be their baby brother.

“Sing to me, Ada,” Dari pleaded with a sleepy voice.  “Sing the hope song...”

Aragorn blinked. He didn’t understand what the child meant.  “The hope song, Dari?” he queried.

“He means he wants you to hum him the Haradrim slave’s lullaby,” Legolas supplied the explanation quietly. “I used to sing that to him to help him sleep; I told him it was a song about hope living in the darkest of places... like in slavery.”

Aragorn smiled softly at the old memories.  Harad... it was appropriate in an ironic way, considering how and why the child had almost been lost.

“Please, Ada?” Dari entreated in a small voice.

Aragorn nodded.  “Of course ion-nín.  Let’s see if I can remember it...”

Quietly, Aragorn began the old, familiar melody.

Legolas closed his eyes.  So many memories, so much life, laughter and yes, even pain... such a rich history he and Aragorn had formed together over the years.  The memories seemed at the moment sweet, but also sad as they receded into the past.  He found himself suddenly considering what life would be like without his dear friend and the ache of the thought was almost too much as it added to the swelling pain that throbbed in his heart.

For the first time in his life Legolas truly felt old, and it wasn’t a feeling he particularly relished.  Yet it wasn’t one he could ignore either - the world-weariness of a soul who had heard the summons to leave, but was not ready, or willing to heed it yet.  Valinor was calling him to the sea, to the promise of peace and the end of all earthly sorrows... and yet in leaving Legolas knew he would find his greatest sorrow because he would have to leave Aragorn behind if he went now.  No.  He wasn’t ready for that.  Yet... the unfulfilled longing hurt so much.

By the time Aragorn fell silent, Dari was fast asleep.  For a moment the King thought that Legolas was too, until he saw the lone tear slide from under his friend’s dark lashes.  The human’s brows creased.  Something was wrong.  Something inside Legolas was torn, anguished... and Aragorn could not seem to understand the cause, or how to help.  This hurt and frustrated the ranger, but he did not speak, unsure if it would help or harm Legolas to know that his inner pain was so outwardly apparent.

Presently Legolas realized that Aragorn had fallen silent and felt the former ranger’s eyes on him even before he opened his eyes.  A weak, but genuine smile met the ranger’s concerned, inquiring gaze.

“Is Dari asleep?” the elf asked quietly, trying to banish the thickness of emotion from his voice.

Aragorn nodded, stroking his child’s soft, dark curls with the reverence of one who realizes they might have been denied that pleasure forever had things come out differently.

“Thank you, Legolas,” Aragorn said quietly, looking back up to meet his friend’s gaze.  There were tears in the human’s eyes and that nearly undid the elf, causing Legolas to have to blink rapidly to remain self-contained.

The joy and pain that mingled in Aragorn’s eyes ran deep.  “People call me Hope, but I had almost lost hope that I would ever see my son again.  I thought...” one of the tears glittering in his eyes slid down the man’s weathered cheek, but he didn’t bother wiping it away.  He was not ashamed of his feelings for his family and friends.  “I thought he was gone.  Legolas, he would not have survived in that place alone.  Many times you have saved my life, but what you did for Eldarion I consider a debt beyond hope of repayment.  I don’t think Arwen and I could have... we couldn’t have lost him...” the human swallowed hard, cradling the small body in his arms even closer.

Legolas shook his head.  “If I saved him, then we are even.  It is I who owe him, Estel.  Truly, he carries a part of you inside, for he was my hope, my light in the dark that kept me struggling on when giving up would have been much easier...” Legolas touched Dari’s pendant, still around his neck, “My star, in the starless night.  Without him there, Estel, I would not be here now.”

Aragorn saw the truth of that statement in his friend’s eyes.  “Then we should thank Ilúvatar, for knowing better than we do,” the human’s voice was soft.  “Only he could have used two such horrible events as yours and Eldarion’s capture to bring about a happy ending for both of you.”

Legolas nodded slowly.  That was very true.  Either event happening by itself, would likely have ended only in tragedy.  The elf smiled faintly, attempting to pull himself back from the edge of the depression eating at his heart as he dwelt on happier things.  “Very true.  You know, if Dari was not your son, and had he been orphaned as I thought, I would have adopted him if we could have ever escaped together,” the elf admitted.  “I expected,” the prince’s grin widened, “That you would help me.  Little did I know the truth.”

Aragorn smiled back.  “He could not have asked for a better foster-father at need.”

Legolas rolled his eyes.  “Oh yes, he could have.  You fill the parent role much better than I, mellon-nín.  I am very relieved.  Although still confused on many things... I cannot believe I never once suspected he was yours.  He never mentioned you until the end, and his name...”

Aragorn laughed quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping child.  “Eldarion cannot pronounce his real name yet.  He’s been Dari since he was old enough to talk... but then you haven’t seen him since then, have you?”

Legolas shook his head.  “What happened, Aragorn?  Is Arwen all right?  Dari seemed truly convinced that his parents were gone forever.”

Aragorn sighed deeply.  “In a strange way this all happened because of a treaty with Harad.  Peace with our southern neighbors is something I’ve wanted ever since I took the throne and we finally had a breakthrough not very long ago.  There have been centuries of enmity between our two peoples; it was time for it to end.”

Legolas nodded in understanding.  It was no surprise to him that Aragorn felt that way.  He had been cared for and adopted by a Haradrim family during a very stressful and frightening time of his life, many years ago.  That memory and that tie with those people, even sworn enemies of Gondor though many of them were, had never faded.

“Did you know that Sircyn’s youngest son is now one of the leading Warlords?  Well he is, although that was a surprise for me to learn as well.  He convinced most of the other major tribes that at least talking about peace was a good idea, and they finally agreed to meet with me.”

Aragorn smiled.  He distinctly remembered the hostility with which he had been greeted by most of the tribal leaders at first.  He also remembered their shock when the King of Gondor addressed them fluently in their own tongue and observed all the proper customs of their people during the meetings.  Slowly, the opinion that this foreign King could not understand or respect them and their ways had softened in the minds of many of the delegates.  Even so, a number had remained unmoved, but the majority was eventually won over and a peace agreement was declared.

It was a time of great celebration.  The Warlords brought in their families to prepare the feasts and out of respect for their customs, and the importance that this held for the future of Gondor, Aragorn sent for Arwen and Eldarion to join them as well.

The celebration ceremonies had gone smoothly, and Dari was endlessly fascinated by the new people and creatures, especially the Oliphaunts.

When it was over, Aragorn remained to finish up business with the chieftains afterward, sending Arwen and Eldarion home under the watchful protection of the Gondorian army.

On the way back, disaster struck.  The party was attacked by a ruthless band of the Haradrim who did not approve of their leaders’ decision to ally themselves with their former Gondorian enemy.  Vastly outnumbered, the Queen and the little Prince were intentionally separated from their protectors.

What the attackers had not counted on was finding a vicious elf warrior hidden beneath the queen’s dainty robes.  Spurred by the maternal instinct to protect her child and aided by her elven heritage, Arwen killed many of the enemy, but eventually took grievous hurt trying to protect Dari.  When it became clear she could not defeat them all, the Queen hid Eldarion in the deep hollow of an ancient tree, desperately bidding the old oak to watch over her baby.

//“Shh, quiet little one, we’re going to play a game.  You’re going to hide here and not let anyone find you until I come back.  Just be brave, Dari. Be brave, my little star,” Arwen whispered, soothing her child’s fears.  “And if I do not come, wait for Ada, he will find you, ion-nín. But you must be silent.”

“Nana, you’re hurt...” Dari was worried over the large crimson stain drenching the sleeve of Arwen’s pale grey dress and spreading down her side.

Arwen pressed a kiss tearfully against her child’s forehead.  She did not expect to live to see him again, but she hoped beyond hope that Aragorn would somehow find him and forgive her the sacrifice she had chosen.  

“Whatever happens,
ion-nín, my love will always be with you, for the rest of your life,” she promised.  Tears stained her face as she tore herself away, hearing the approaching enemy closing fast upon them.  “Remember that, and wait for Ada to come!”//

In a last, desperate attempt to keep at least Eldarion safe from harm, Arwen led the attackers away on a wild chase deep into the forest.  Dari waited and waited for her to return... but she did not come.  Neither did Aragorn.

When one of the injured soldiers came limping into Aragorn’s camp the next day, the King of Gondor thought his heart had turned to ice.  He left so fast his guards could barely keep up with him, but there was no way by then he could have arrived in time.

//The horse’s dark body was flecked with foam and lathered with sweat as he gave his all for his master.  When Aragorn reined him in, the creature pulled to an obedient halt.  It didn’t matter how fast the horse stopped, Aragorn was swinging out of the saddle before he stopped moving.  All around the King’s feet lay a gruesome maze of bodies, the bright helms and white trees of Gondor on their uniforms stained and tarnished with the blood of death.

There were only Gondorian dead here, as the Haradrim had removed their own before they left.

Aragorn’s heart, which had been pounding up in his throat since he first received word, sank to his stomach and froze into a solid lump of ice as he surveyed the carnage. 
Ai, Elbereth... he knew these men, all of them, they were good people, they did not deserve to fall this way with their bodies left for carrion... yet that was not the most terrible thought in his mind.

“Arwen!  Eldarion!  ARWEN!” he walked around the glade, scanning the gory and trampled ground desperately for any clear tracks that would help him, any indication at all of what fate had befallen his wife and child.  He could find nothing.  Then, his roving eyes landed upon something that made his frozen heart shatter.

Trampled into the mud and only faintly flickering in the fading light of evening, the Evenstar pendant lay forlorn and alone on the forest floor.  Its chain had been snapped and an ominous red stain darkened the silver petals along one side.

Aragorn had slipped the precious necklace, that he almost always wore, around Eldarion’s neck when they said goodbye.  The child had not wanted to leave his father, so Aragorn gave him a piece of his heart to carry with him until they met again.

Tears filled the King of Gondor’s eyes as he fell to his knees, crushing the broken necklace to his breast.

“No!  Dari!  Arwen!” his anguished cry echoed mournfully through the trees.  Jonath and the other soldiers finally arrived only just in time to hear the sad sound.

It was with breaking heart that Jonath walked quietly to his liege’s side.  He softly bid his soldiers to begin caring for the dead and scouting the area, and then just laid his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder, wishing with all his heart that he could take away the horrible toll of this day.

Aragorn remained on his knees in a heart-sick daze for several minutes until Jonath’s gentle urgings brought him back to reality and he struggled to his feet again.  Arwen and Eldarion’s bodies were not among the dead numbered here.  If he did not have proof of their death, there was still a chance they were alive.  The small, stubborn flame of hope that was Estel refused to give into complete despair without a fight.  He would get them back, he had to... if he did not it would destroy him.

“Estel...” the voice was faint, he almost thought he had imagined it from the deep desire of his heart except that Jonath’s head perked up at exactly the same instant.
Spinning quickly, Aragorn saw a sight he would never forget as long as he lived.

Arwen stumbled out of the trees towards him, her face marred with blood and soot.  Her dress was torn and crusted with blood, he could not tell how much of it hers, and how much of it not.  A stained sword dangled limply from her fingers and she wavered unsteadily.

Aragorn was at her side in a instant, gathering her slim frame into his arms, cradling her head against him like one might a child as he embraced her in love, joy, relief... and surpassing fear.

The slender elf woman, looking now less like a warrior and more like a wounded doe, collapsed, sobbing into her husband’s strong embrace.  Aragorn could tell at once that she was badly wounded, but that did not seem to be the source of her distress.

“Eldarion is gone!  He’s not where I left him... I lost him, I lost Dari...” the distraught mother cried in heartbroken sorrow as Aragorn held her tight

They combed every inch of the woods, they searched for days, weeks, months, even as hope dwindled and the reality of despair set in, but Eldarion was not to be found.

Long nights found Aragorn alone in his study, chafing away and dying inside because his duties had finally recalled him from the search and he could hardly bear leaving it in the hands of others, no matter how capable.  Arwen’s body healed, but Eldarion’s loss ripped a large whole through both their hearts.  One little boy, alone... there was no hope he could still be alive, was there?

//“Stop it, meleth-nín!” Arwen grabbed Aragorn’s arm, her voice half plea, half demand, halting his incessant pacing.  Outside the city, bells rang early morning.  Aragorn had not slept.  In days.

“Stop it, you’re killing yourself.  It... It won’t bring him back.”  Her voice quavered and broke.  Aragorn held her close and buried his face in her soft, dark hair.  To him, being a father was even more important than being a King... with Elrond as his only reference, he set very high expectations of himself and his self-perceived utter failure was crushing.

Arwen softly caressed the Evenstar, which hung once more around the King’s neck on a new chain.  “You know,” she said softly.  “Father had this made for me when I was a little girl.  He said it reminded him of the necklace his mother wore for a time, with the Silmaril.  He told me how her little brothers had been lost... abandoned to die in the woods and never seen again...” her shoulders shook with silent sobs.  “I always thought it was sad, but I never knew... Estel, I should never have left him!” sobs choked her and she could not go on.

Aragorn laid a finger against her lips, kissing away her tears.  “
Melethril, my love, it was not your fault... please, darling, please don’t.  We’ll find him, Arwen, we have to.”  He willed his voice to be strong for her, to convey more surety than he possessed.

“Estel,” she murmured through exhausted tears.  “Always hope.”

For many excruciating months, hope was all they had to go on, very thin hope at that.  When a vague report of a child matching Dari’s description having been spotted somewhere to the far east came bundled with other tidings of slaver raiding on Gondor’s borders, it offered precious little optimism, but a little was better than none, and when more and more reports came, telling of the rampant raiding and upsurge of forced slavery from many outlying Gondorian provinces, any action had seemed better than idle torment.

It was only after talking with Dari that Aragorn was able to begin piecing together an idea of what had happened to the child after the fateful attack.  Apparently Dari had waited until dark, but his mother did not come back.  Hungry, thirsty, frightened and fearing for his Nana, the boy had wandered away from the safety of his hiding place.  Nighttime alone in the woods scared him and he ran blindly through the darkened forest for a time, until the lights of a campfire drew him in like a moth to a flame.  Unfortunately, the fire belonged to a roving band of Rahzon slavers on their way home from a raid; perhaps even the same group who had taken Legolas weeks earlier.  Dari had been taught to trust adults and went with them without a fuss when they said they would get him home.  It was not until days later that the child began to realize these men were not taking him back to Gondor, or his parents.  He tried to run away but was easy to catch and, after that, Dari would not speak of anything that happened until he met Legolas.  It was as if it were too traumatic for his little mind to remember or dwell upon.  The slavers had no idea who the child was, thinking him merely some boy who had the misfortune to be lost in the woods.  His addition to their lot of slaves for the arena had been an after-thought because they knew that cage brats were in demand... they never knew that they had kidnapped the Crown Prince of Gondor.

By the time Arwen had lost her pursuers and been able to make the long trek back through the forest to find him, Eldarion had already been long gone.

The little prince in question gave a soft, gurgling snore and shifted slightly in his father’s arms, drawing the eyes of both the elf Prince and the Gondorian King to rest upon him once more as they considered the horrible what-if’s that had fortunately not come to pass.

Despite his own inner battles, seeing Dari happy again mended a small part of Legolas’ heart.  So long he had yearned to give Dari back the parents he seemed to miss so much... realizing now who those parents were made the prince all the more glad things had turned out as they had.  He shivered involuntarily as his thoughts drifted back to the night he was freed.  He had not wanted to die there, locked away in a cage; the thought had been more horrific than he realized at the time.  It could have all ended so differently.

It very nearly had.

Seeing his friend shudder, Aragorn immediately called Jonath over and passed the sleeping child to his second-in-command as he swiftly moved back to Legolas’ side once more.  So lost in dark memories was the elf, that he did not notice when Aragorn stopped speaking.  The frightening reverie of the past months was broken as a heavy blanket was draped around his shoulders and a gentle hand cupped his now tear-stained face.

Legolas realized two things with a start: first, and much to his mortification, that he had been crying and not realized it; and second, that Aragorn was next to him once more, speaking softly as he dried his friend’s tears.  As Legolas looked up at Aragorn, an agonizing bolt of longing shot suddenly through his heart, nearly taking his breath away.  That surprised the elf even more.  By the stars, what was wrong with him?  Here he was with his best friend in the whole world, and he felt so wretchedly lonely.  It wasn’t right... he was free now, everything should be fine, what was wrong with his heart?  Why did he have no control anymore?  The elf tried to pull back as the gentle touch startled him, an automatic response he had learned eons ago when touched by other men.  The fear was gone, but the reactions remained when hurting and confused as he was now.  He was so wretchedly confused, he wished the earth or the sea would swallow him up... the sea... curse its beautiful expanse, he wished he had never seen it, never fallen under this terrible spell.

Saes...” The prince whispered shakily, some part of him pleading for Aragorn to make these feelings go away, as illogical as he knew such a request might be.

“Legolas, it’s all right now.”  His friend’s voice echoed like gentle ripples across the face of the turmoil of the prince’s thoughts and emotions.

Aragorn pressed his forehead against the elf’s left temple as he knelt by the prince, trying to calm the tremors that chased through Legolas’ soul.  The elf he held breathed in deeply, closing his eyes against the pictures that flashed through his waking memories.  Blood, death... all those helpless, hopeless people he had had to kill... even the memory threatened to make him ill.  With a sigh, Legolas leaned against the King and worked to calm his breathing.  He swiped at the tears that still rolled down his face in embarrassing trails.  His time in the pits had marked him more than he had realized... and more than he wanted to admit.

“I’m sorry.  Dari recovers so quickly and I feel as if I were the babe and not he,” Legolas whispered softly.  “I just...” His voice trailed off and he stopped speaking.  How could he explain?  How could he ever paint a picture dark enough to describe what life in the blood pits had been like?  How could a mortal ever understand what the call of the sea was doing to him... and how could he ever think to tell Aragorn, when he knew the pain that the very idea of his leaving would cause?

“You protected Dari so he could keep his innocent resilience.  There was no one to protect you.  Give yourself time.”  Aragorn’s words were barely a whisper but he held the elf’s head against his chest now, letting the prince hear his voice.  “No one should have been subjected to what you have been through.  No one.”

The moments stretched out long and silent.  Neither man nor elf moved.  Jonath had taken Eldarion and bedded him down for the night in Aragorn’s tent.  He and his men kept a quiet watch from the edges of their own fire ring, giving the King and the elf the space they needed.  The night patrol checked in and the next party was sent out.  Only the sounds of the fire and the woods about them broke the peaceful stillness.

“Wait until Arwen finds out where Dari was,” Legolas finally whispered, trying to turn the subject away from himself.

Aragorn felt the elf smile against him and he shook his head, a soft laugh accompanying his answer. “She will have someone’s head, probably mine because I’m handy.  But beware, my friend. When she learns who it was that protected our little one all these long months, she will pamper you and mother you until you are sick to death of it.  I have learned that Elladan has nothing on Arwen when it comes to being motherly.”

The quiet chuckle that answered his jest brought a smile to the human’s face.  He sat back.  Releasing the elf, he seated himself on the ground by his friend.

“Oh, joy.”  Legolas answered sarcastically; “Can we tell her it was all Jonath’s doing?  Or, better yet, just stay here until I am well enough to travel?  I can return to Ithilien and she will never know.”  It was only a joke as they both knew well.

“Jonath won’t keep any more secrets for me.  He’ll tell her.  Then we’ll both be in trouble.”  Aragorn glanced secretively at his second-in-command who was glowering openly at his king now.

Changing the subject, Aragorn quietly asked the question he had been harboring the past few days, “Legolas, tell me how did those men capture you?  Eldarion I had dared hope that we might find out there somewhere... but we had not heard that there was trouble near Ithilien.”

The elf swallowed hard, averting his eyes from the gaze of his friend. “I...” He stopped speaking and sighed deeply, remembering back to the day so many months ago.

“I was checking the progress on the south-eastern border lands of Ithilien and only had two others with me.  Raniean and Trelan stayed behind to oversee the work we have started.  It must have been before Dari was lost, for I remember hearing that there was some kind of peace negotiations underway with Harad.  I knew it had to be all your doing.  We encountered a rather large group of men.  Strange men they were to us, more like the Easterlings than anything else.  They said they were merchants, and they had many pack animals and goods with them.  In my heart I did not trust their large smiles and fair words, but my companions saw less amiss than I and I second-guessed myself, thinking that old prejudices still wanted to have their way with me.  So we welcomed them and gave them kind greetings.  We remained wary... but not wary enough...”

//Legolas shook his head, rubbing his temples.  His body screamed that something was wrong, but his mind responded sluggishly.  This was not right, he should have noticed something wrong earlier... but it was fast becoming too late.

In alarm, Legolas looked around, only to see his two companions also rubbing their heads, eyes leaden and glassy.  The smiling faces of the men around the fire had hardened into something alarming.

Fear surged through Legolas’ body and he shot to his feet, trying not to stumble.  The elves had consumed only their own food and wine and nothing that belonged to the strangers, so the prince did not know how it had happened, but they had been drugged, that much was clear.

The slavers did not expect resistance from their prey after having been so heavily sedated, but they had not counted on the resilience of elves.

Legolas bid the memories away even as he retold them, wishing to not see his two friends fall yet again.  He had been there, and yet been unable to stop what had happened.  He had not been able to save them.  That still burned and would take time to heal.

“They attempted to drug us with only partial success.  I still do not know how they got their foul potion into our food, but somehow they must have.  When this was realized, a fight broke out.  I killed nine of their men that day, but my companions were also slain.  I don't really know what happened after they fell.  I do not remember being hit by poisoned darts, but I was told when I awoke in my cell that that was how they had secured me.  And apparently how they kept me unconscious for most of our journey, of which I remember nothing.

“I was supposed to be gone for several months at least... in all probability neither Ran nor Trey would have thought anything of my prolonged absence until recently, perhaps.  They have become used to me disappearing at will for longer than expected.”  Legolas stopped telling the tale. He closed his eyes shaking his head, collecting his thoughts and dreading his next words. They had lain heavily on his heart and he had not wanted to give into them, but they needed to be spoken aloud and, here with Aragorn, he was safe to speak all.

“I should never have trusted them, Estel.  My time with you and other men took away the edge, dulled that warning in me that might have saved us.  I heard it but ignored it; I thought the fault was in me, in my old misgivings.  I thought that was in the past... it was truly foolish of me, but I suppose I may even have thought that ignorance, intolerance, and cruelty were gone, or at least fading.  But I suppose those things will always exist in an imperfect world and am ashamed to admit that for once I was not prepared for such.”  His voice was soft, the conversation kept between the two of them only.

Aragorn’s heart ached.  He had finally come to understand why Legolas had kept his heart closed for so long when he first met him.  Legolas was by nature either closed or open.  If he gave himself over to trusting, he did so with his whole heart, and that left him vulnerable to worlds of hurt.  “Legolas...” Aragorn’s apology was cut short as the elf finally met his gaze.

“No.  Do not apologize.  I did not say that to mean it was your fault... the fault was mine, I just...” The elf sighed.

Aragorn worried his lower lip with his teeth.  There seemed to be so much going on inside Legolas that it was like a balled up knot that confused him, and he wasn’t sure where to start untangling in order to reach the heart of what was really troubling his friend.  “We all make mistakes.  The cruelty and greed of men are not your fault.  I’m just sorry I did not come sooner... or that I did not even think to send word to Faramir asking if all was well in Ithilien as I usually would have.  There were a lot of duties I fear I failed after Eldarion’s disappearance,” the King admitted softly.  He had his own guilt to carry over everything that had happened, and it went deeper than the elf realized at the moment.

“Aragorn, you couldn’t have known...” Legolas started to say, but Aragorn shook his head insistently, his eyes etched with a deep, painful remorse.

“No, Legolas, listen to me, because I need your forgiveness...” He dropped his gaze.  “There’s more.  I... I sent word to you after Eldarion was lost.  I wanted your help, I needed your support.  I didn’t ask you to come, but I thought you would.  Raniean sent word that you were away, and he was forwarding the letter on immediately, but I never received an answer from you.  I should have known something was wrong... instead, I just felt hurt,” Aragorn whispered hoarsely, unable to meet his friend’s eyes.  He hadn’t wanted to tell him this, but he felt he must.  He had to trust and hope that Legolas could forgive him, even if it would take him longer to forgive himself.

Legolas was surprised, and saddened that his friend thought he might have acted so cold at a time when Aragorn was obviously hurting and in need of him.  He was also a little shaken that Aragorn could have found out earlier that something was wrong, and hadn’t.  “How long ago?” he whispered quietly.

“Two months at least.” Aragorn pried his gaze from the ground and lifted it to his friend’s face, knowing that Legolas deserved that much, no matter how it hurt to see the ripples of pain and surprise chasing across the fair features.

“Two months...” Legolas echoed softly, trying not to imagine how different things might have been had anyone realized he was missing that long ago.

“I’m sorry,” Aragorn breathed quietly around the painful lump in his throat.  “I assumed you were just too far away to be reached, or too busy... I didn’t pursue the matter.  I didn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that you were... I’m sorry.”  He turned his face away, sickened by the knowledge that Legolas had spent those long months wondering why no one had come for him.  Crushed by the idea the he could have done something and did not.  Silent tears he did not wish the elf to see escaped his eyes.

Legolas took a deep breath.  He could have felt hurt, if he allowed it, he could have wasted his time imagining what-if... but he did not.  Aragorn meant more to him than engaging in imagined possibilities.  Their friendship was more important.

“Estel, your son was missing, your wife injured.  No one thinks clearly at times like that.  Raniean must have forwarded your letter on to my last known location to wait for me, and if he was not concerned, why should you have been?  They would have had no cause for alarm and neither did you.  You didn’t know there had been slavers as far into Gondor as Ithilien, did you?”  The elf was ready to forgive without question, but a small corner of his heart needed to know that his own defense of his friend was true and that the human had truly not been given a cause to worry.

“No.” Aragorn whispered.  “We thought all was well, else I would have been more concerned at your silence.  Raniean warned me in his response that it might take some time for the message to reach you as you were off on one of ‘those’ trips again.  If I had heard there were raids there, if I had known the smallest thing seemed amiss...” He shook his head, his gaze open, allowing the elf to search his soul for any shade of deception.  “Legolas, I swear I would not have stopped looking until I found you.  You know that.”

Legolas nodded almost imperceptibly.  Yes, he did know it; he had just needed to hear it spoken.  “How did you find out?”

“That you were taken?  I found out when I stepped into your cell and found what I thought was my worst nightmare come true,” the King shook his head in regretful horror.  “Word reached me as we were traveling to Rahzon that an elvish envoy had come to Minas Tirith.  I thought it was you, and that you had finally received my message.  I sent word back to have you stay there and wait my return.  Since then we have heard nothing from the White City, there hasn’t been enough time.   I assumed all was well.  Now I am sure that the envoy must have been Raniean and Trelan, no doubt beginning to worry about you and perhaps hoping that you had detoured straight to Gondor without checking in with them first.  Had I known...” Aragorn was not quite ready to let go of the guilt for having suspected nothing while Legolas was being held captive in such hellish circumstances.

The statement fell quietly between them before the human picked up the tale once more, “The slavers were easy to find but they kept us at bay for a while.  It was a difficult battle.  They had clans of orcs and wargs that worked with them and it took us a week to break through their defenses.  The night I found you was the first time we had breached Rahzon itself.  My forces have been divided since Eldarion’s kidnapping.  Half my men are leagues from here scouring the cities and outer ports near the place where Eldarion was lost.  Part of Jonath’s contingent has stayed at Arwen’s disposal, protecting her in my absence.”

“There was so much chaos the night you came... it felt like the world coming to an end...” Legolas admitted.  Haunted eyes turned back to gaze upon the man who was now a king.

“I know.  We had hoped for a peaceful ending once the city was breached and it was obvious they could not withstand us, but their leaders had the people so whipped up that they would fight to the last man before surrendering.”  Aragorn broke off the contact and stared into the fire, letting its hypnotic weave and dance settle his heart.  The images from that night were burned into his memory.  “Even the slaves in the cages fought us at first.  I regret all those who would not understand or believe that we came only to free them.  The power of lies can be so destructive!  Many of them were already wounded so severely that some of them died before we could get them help.  I feared when I entered your cell that you would have been one of those.  When I saw it was you...”  Silver eyes locked onto the blue ones, “Legolas, I swear my heart stopped beating.  I am so sor-”

Legolas raised his hands to his friend’s lips, cutting off yet another unnecessary apology.  “No, Estel, let it go.  There is nothing to forgive.  I am simply glad you came.” The smile that graced the prince’s fair features was erased a moment later as an aching wave of pain rolled through him and he caught his breath, waiting for the tightness in his chest to lessen.  His wounds would not be forgotten easily.

Aragorn was in motion before his mind registered what he was doing.  His old worn pack was beside him and he dug through it, quickly seizing the small jar of ointment he constantly carried.  Placing his left palm against Legolas’ forehead, he quietly bid the elf to relax and gently unbuttoned the prince’s shirt, lathing the cuts and wounds with the thick lotion and numbing the pain.  In moments Legolas was breathing easily again.

“I need you to relax, your body has not yet caught up with your spirit,”  Aragorn instructed softly as he placed new bandages against some of the deeper cuts.

“My spirit is hardly better,” Legolas murmured quietly, garnering him a hard look from his friend.  “I wish your father was here.”  Legolas said louder, “Although you learned well from him.”

“I know.  I do too, but... he is here.” Aragorn smiled softly.  Long had he harbored the same desire, ever since his father had left for the undying lands.  “A part of him is in you, and in me.”  The king gently laid his hand on the elf’s chest above his heart, careful not to apply too much pressure for fear of hurting his friend.

Legolas nodded.  Aragorn’s eyes were searching him again, still trying to see what it was the elf was hiding, what it was, despite all their words, that he wasn’t saying.  It felt as if they had talked themselves in complete circles and covered many issues... but not whatever elusive one it was that the elf was refusing to go near.  It was frustratingly like a journey on an unknown path that had no apparent direction.

The dull ache in Legolas’ heart deepened, increasing his feelings of loneliness.  He was with his best friend, but the pain he could not share for fear of hurting one he held so dear left him feeling isolated and alone.  Could Aragorn even understand what he was going through?  As much as the prince loved him, the King was still a man, and would perhaps never feel the call of the sea or know the way it was now making him suffer.  Yet if he couldn’t tell Aragorn what he was feeling, who could he tell?

“Estel...” Legolas ducked his head under the human’s intense, searching gaze.  His brows furrowed, not sure what to say, how to start...

A tiny voice interrupted their quiet conversation.  “Ada, I want Nana.”  Eldarion called out from the door of the tent.