Curse of Angmar

Chapter 2

by Cassia and Siobhan

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The sun had ridden half way through its course across the sky when Aragorn finally convinced his brothers and Legolas to stop for a bite to eat.  The four had been out with the hunting parties since early morning and had sent the other elves back to Imladris with their catches only an hour ago.  The game on the plateau they hunted now was sparse, but their boredom had turned into sport as they took turns hunting each other. 

Aragorn had been the last one to play the part of the prey and none of the elves, including Legolas, had been able to track the human.  When the three hunters had finally given up on finding him, their quarry had leapt into their midst from the branches of the huge trees that spread out a thick, leafy canopy over the elves heads.  The shock and surprise on the elven faces had given the human great amusement. 

Elladan gave the ranger a shove as he recovered from the initial shock. 

“Estel, will you never grow up!?” 

Attempting to sober, Aragorn straightened up and glanced amongst the elves.  “No,” the man answered with mock seriousness before breaking into a huge smile.  The twins had almost gotten over their initial shock at the changes the years apart had wrought in their human brother and Aragorn noted with amusement that he was once again back to being their ‘little’ brother.  And he liked it that way... although he would never admit that to them.  “Please, let us break for food. I am starving. Please.”  He eyed Elrohir, knowing the youngest twin would have the most sympathy. 

Shaking his head Legolas hooked his fingers in the ranger’s sleeve and dragged the man with him, back through the woods, trailing the twins.  “There was a pond not far from here.  We can eat there.” 

Aragorn was laughing as he stumbled after the prince, jogging to keep pace with the swift being. 

“Only if it is not near a cliff,” Elladan taunted, elbowing Elrohir who joined in the teasing. 

“Yes, you know how clumsy Estel is around them,” the youngest twin continued. 

“Or an orc encampment...” Elladan picked up the thread again. 

Doing his best to ignore them, Aragorn shook his head and rolled his eyes, walking next to Legolas who was trying not to break out laughing. 

“Or dwarves...” Elrohir laughed. 

“Or rivers, or cities...” 

“Wargs or wolves or old mills that he could fall off of.”  Elrohir stopped talking and jumped back as Aragorn rounded on his brothers. 

“Now, that was not my fault, and so long ago I can’t believe you are even keeping score!  I have not fallen off a building since I was a child.” Aragorn advanced on the two who split up trying to stay out of reach. 

“No, just waterfalls, trees and cliffs, things like that.” Elladan ducked as the ranger turned towards him, playfully lunging at the elf.  He rather suspected that Legolas had told them about the cliff incident in Mordor and that had helped set this off. 

Legolas snagged the back of the ranger’s coat and jerked him around forward.  “Ignore them, they are just jealous because your father gives you more attention.  They only wish it was they who lived such an exciting life.” 

The taunt elicited a stammering of arguments and denials from the twins but Aragorn had stopped listening.  His war honed sense of danger had kicked in. Something was not right and he began to search for the source of the disturbance.  Grabbing Legolas’ arm, the ranger slowed the elf and glanced warily about them as they reached the edge of the glade.  The deep pool Legolas had mentioned sparkled on the far side of the meadow, fed by a high mountain stream, but the ranger did not proceed towards it. 

Legolas held up his hand, silencing the elves behind him.  Noting the tenseness in the prince, they all began to listen to the woods about them and heard what Aragorn had first noticed: the forest was silent. 

“We are not alone,” the ranger barely whispered, turning slowly and gazing into the cool recess of the woods. 

He caught Legolas’ gaze as the elf glanced sharply his way.  Without words the two friends communicated.  Aragorn directed the twins to separate and head back the way they had come.  Legolas would head through the woods to the right and Aragorn would take the left. With a curt nod of agreement, the elves disappeared without a sound into the forest seeking what it was that hunted them. 

Aragorn slowly drew his elven hunting knife, the blade quietly singing as the metal slid from its sheath.  He stalked through the forest, constantly glancing above him into the tree branches overhead, wary and alert, every fiber of his being tensed and ready.  There was definitely someone or something out there; he could feel their proximity.  Slipping to the edge of the stand of trees as he completed a full circuit around the meadow, Aragorn stopped at the point where he should have met up with Legolas, but the elf was not there. 

His worry notched up higher in his throat and he stood very still, straining to hear in the unnatural quiet. 

The soft sounds of booted feet on the carpet of undergrowth caught his attention and he swiveled to his right, running silently in the direction that he had been alerted. 

The trunk of a large old tree sheltered him from immediate view as the ranger stalked up on Legolas.  The elf faced away from his position; he had just dropped his elven blade to the ground and slowly raised his empty hands.

A man stood behind him, his features concealed by a hooded cloak.  One of the human’s arms was around the prince’s neck, the other holding a thick hunting blade against the elf’s jugular.  Whatever the human was saying was blocked out by the rushing adrenaline that spiked through Aragorn.  He would not suffer his friend to be tormented or hurt by any man every again if it was within his power. 

What he could not see, however, was the smile that played across Legolas’ lips and the relaxed cast of the proud shoulders as the elf released the tension in his body; his ‘attacker’ was known to him. 

Just as Legolas turned to greet the human who had so surprised him, he caught a glimpse of Aragorn as the man lunged at the hooded figure, roughly dragging the man back a few steps away from the prince and the perception of threat.  Pressing the elven blade hard against the human’s neck, he drew close and questioned the other harshly. 

“You think the elf is game?  You like hunting elves?” Aragorn tightened his death grip on the man’s neck, squeezing his airway as gloved hands pried frantically at his arm.  “You have chosen your prey poorly.  You are not welcome in these mountains, do you understand?”  The ranger growled angrily in the other’s ear, giving his captive a good shake. 

“Aragorn, no!” Legolas leapt forward, stalling his friend from hurting the would-be attacker. 

“Aragorn?” the human in the ranger’s grasp rasped as Strider quickly released the man and stepped away from him, unconsciously placing himself between the hooded figure and the elf prince. 

“Estel, it is Halbarad. The rangers have been searching for you,”  Legolas explained, switching quickly into the elven tongue as his friend caught up with all that had just transpired. 

The ranger before him smiled brilliantly, rubbing his neck where it was still tender from the attack.  “Aragorn! I never even heard you come up behind me, and look at you!”  Halbarad gave the young man before him a careful glance, “We have heard the tales of Thorongil.  It was my suspicion that is was in fact you.  When the rumors said that the great captain of the Gondorian army had abandoned her, and that Estel had returned to Rivendell, I knew it was true.” 

Before Aragorn could respond, the ranger walked out in to the open meadow and pressed his gloved fingers to his lips, releasing a long, low whistle.  In seconds other rangers stepped out into the sunlight of the small glade joining their leader.  Elladan and Elrohir raced to the edge of the glen and immediately began greeting the newcomers that they recognized. 

Aragorn turned to Legolas and looked the elf over quickly. “You weren’t hurt?”  He was still trying to reconcile the threat he had perceived with what had really transpired.  The elf prince stepped close to his friend and lowered his voice, glancing at the human and quietly reassured him. 

“I am fine. Halbarad did not harm me, well other than my pride at being surprised by a human.” Concern quickly colored the elf’s formerly teasing gaze. “Are you all right?” 

“I thought you were in danger.  I thought that...”  Aragorn sighed deeply, releasing his fears and pent up tension, not finishing the thought.  He hated the war-like responses that had been drilled into him.  This was the second time he’d nearly harmed a friend because of an over-reaction.  It would take time to hone out those responses and not take reflexive action now that there was no immediate threat in his life. 

“You thought I was being attacked.”  Understanding filled Legolas’ eyes.  Understanding and compassion.  Aragorn had set himself up as the elf prince’s fierce protector during those long, hellish, hopeless days in Mordor; that would not be easy to let go of now that it was no longer necessary. 

“Yes, again.”  Aragorn’s voice was now only faintly edged with tension. 

With a small smile Legolas laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “It is well.  I am fine, although you scared the life right out of me.  If he had been an attacker I should fear for him with you about,”  the elf joked softly, trying to bring a smile to the ranger’s face.  His attempts were rewarded as Aragorn smiled and shook his head, wrapping his hand around the elf’s arm and giving a tight squeeze before he turned back to the others who were busy conversing with the elven twins. 

“Aragorn!” Elladan looked up from the conversation, “You must hear this.” 

The two friends quickly crossed the distance between themselves and the knot of rangers that were talking quietly to the elves. 

“They say it is a wight,” a younger ranger to Halbarad’s left spoke up. 

“Arendur, Elrohir was not challenging you, merely questioning.” The leader of the rangers deferred almost imperceptibly to Aragorn as the Dùnadan joined the circle, stepping aside lightly to allow him in.  “Though the barrow-wights are never up to any good, you are correct, Elrohir; it is highly unlike that it is them.” 

“You speak of barrow-wights?” Aragorn questioned, joining them in the middle of the conversation.  His question was directed to Halbarad but he glanced around the group of men curiously, noting the ones he recognized.  His gaze landed last on Legolas. 

“Yes.”  Halbarad’s statement redirected Aragorn’s attention and he raised an eyebrow in question, urging the other ranger on.  “In the hills east of the Shire there has been suspicious activity among the Barrow-downs, or so they say.  People have gone missing, Hobbits have been taken from the paths that cross near there.  All of the little folk have been freed but their possessions are gone.  Rumor has it that a few of the humans who have disappeared have never been found.  Even animals have been reported as stolen.” 

“That does not sound like the scheming of a wight,” Legolas offered softly. 

“No, it is highly unusual, but the folk around there are adamant that the barrow-wights have been stirred up.  There are even stories flying about that the wraiths have returned and are searching the area, taking people as slaves for Mordor.” 

Legolas shuddered involuntarily, his eyes momentarily clouding. 

“That is highly unlikely; the wraiths are holed up in Mordor itself.  Or at least one of them.”  Aragorn didn’t offer how he knew that information, he simply made the statement, ignoring Halbarad’s unspoken question. 

When the Dunadan was not forthcoming, Halbarad nodded in understanding and continued, “Others believe that it is highwaymen.  Whatever the cause, it is an evil venture and it needs to be stopped.  Someone must find out what is at the root of the disappearances and thievery.  If it is the barrow-wights, then we will need more help than simply elves or rangers have to offer.” 

“Are you headed there now?”  Elladan asked from the far side of the ring. 

Halbarad cast his gaze to the forest floor, hesitant to continue, “Actually, that was why we came.”  The ranger met Aragorn’s eyes finally.  “Our numbers have lessened the past fifteen years that you have been gone.  These are all that remain of my camp.  We were on our way to combine our forces with another encampment when word was brought to us of the goings on in the Downs.  The wars on the borders of Gondor and Ithilien have drawn away some of our number, stretching us thin, and the constant increase in reports of orcs and wargs have kept the rest of us busy.  There are none that I can spare to keep watch over the South Farthing let alone the eastern downs.  I was hoping that since you were back...”  Halbarad let the question hang between him and the younger man.  He had heard some of what had happened to Aragorn during his stay in Gondor and then the rumors that the ranger had passed into Mordor, following Legolas.  He was not sure that the man would want to take up the challenge so soon to returning home.  He knew he wouldn’t. 

“If there were anyone else I could trust, I would ask them first.”  Halbarad’s voice dropped so that the request suddenly became a thing between the two of them alone.  “If you would rather not, since you have just returned, I would completely understand...” 

The older ranger stopped speaking as a wide smile crossed Aragorn’s face.  The man who he realized was no longer young stepped closer to him and grasped his arm.  “You do not need to worry, Halbarad.  I will go and look into this and if it is a barrow-wight I know just whom I will call upon to help in the matter.  If it is others, then that person or persons will be dealt with but it will stop,” he reassured. 

“I’ll accompany you,” Legolas offered. 

“And we’re coming too!” Elrohir called to his younger brother. 

“You hate the barrows,” Elladan frowned, glancing at his twin.  “You said they were more frightening than...” 

“Shut up, Elladan.”  Elrohir viciously jabbed his brother, silencing him as the rangers turned to stare at the two elves.  The twin’s face reddened slightly as he barely caught the soft snickers of the men around him. 

“There, see?”  Aragorn laughed returning his attention to Halbarad. “It’s all taken care of.  We’ll leave tomorrow at first light. But first please be our guests tonight.  Father would love to have you spend dinner with us. He so enjoys hearing what you have been up to.  Besides,” Aragorn grimaced and pointed at the red welt that had formed around the other ranger’s neck, “I feel I owe you for that nasty bruise you are going to have.  I am so sorry, Halbarad. I truly did not recognize you.” 

The ranger’s deep booming laugh filled the meadow. “Oh, Aragorn, if you could have seen my face when you snuck up on me from behind.  I remember the days when you could never pull one over on me.  I am just very glad for Legolas’ help.  You have grown quite adept in your stalking techniques.  I fear I can teach you no more.” 

Aragorn’s face reddened and he glanced at the ground, rubbing the back of his neck idly with his hand, slightly embarrassed at the mention of how terribly loud he used to be when in the wilds. 

“Well perhaps you can still teach me how it is that we have passed fifteen years and you look the same as you did when last I saw you.” Aragorn swatted at the long locks of dark hair that fell about the other ranger’s shoulders, “Why if it weren’t for that graying in your hair I would never have known the years had passed at all.” 

Halbarad feinted at the younger man.  “Why you...”  He laughed as Aragorn ducked and pushed Legolas forward. “You’re a fine one to talk.  Not all of us were born with Númenorean blood in our veins.  And I’ll have you know the wear of the years shows in you as well, if not so much.”  He followed as Aragorn began to lead them back toward the rift that Rivendell had been built into. “I see you’ve a few new scars to flaunt for the ladies.” 

Choking on his laughter, Aragorn cast a quick glance over his shoulder. “And you are as bad as Elladan.  Come, we were just breaking for food.  Let us return home. Perhaps Celboril will be able to scrounge us up something to hold us over until dinner.” 

The small entourage of men and elves made their way off the mountain, their cheerful banter filling the woods as they passed beneath the wide-flung canopy. 


The hunger of the guests had been sated and Elrond had invited the rangers to remain into the evening and enjoy the hospitality of the Hall of Fire.  Already the great room was beginning to fill with elves from the surrounding homes.  They talked and laughed and sang.  More of them entered the large gathering place as the rangers filed in.  Some were producing instruments and in moments the Hall filled with music that lifted the heart and hung in the air. It reminded one of being outside gazing at the stars, hauntingly beautiful and at the same time ageless and old. 

The rangers were received warmly and immediately joined the guests, dispersing through the room.  There were small pockets of elves and humans recounting tales on the east side of the room.  There, Elladan and Elrohir traded stories with their listeners and trying to out do one another.  

Legolas realized that he recognized few of the elves that filled the hall besides Celboril and some of the serving staff that he had become accustomed to seeing on his frequent visits.  He followed Aragorn as the human wound his way from one side of the great room to the other, greeting neighbors and trading news.  It seemed that most of Elrond’s guests were familiar with the elven lord’s human son and warmly welcomed him back. 

The Sindarin elf was waylaid by Celboril who caught his sleeve and pulled him nearer.  The older elf was laughing helplessly and begged the prince to stay. 

“You must help me.”  He smiled at the ranger who stood next to him, glowering.  Halbarad crossed his arms indignantly and glared at the laughing elf. “He sings like a lovesick elk.  He cannot keep a tune and swears he can.  Help me teach this whelp what singing truly sounds like.” 

Legolas laughed in spite of himself.  His spirit, still somewhat recovering from his time in Mordor was lifted as he glanced between the two beings. 

“I do not sing like an elk!” Halbarad sputtered.  “Lesgalwen, play that ballad again and we shall let Legolas be the judge of my singing abilities.” 

Aragorn, oblivious to his friend’s plight, slowly shifted through the elves gathered in his father’s house. It had been years since he had been in the Hall of Fire and still it was all he had remembered it to be.  The atmosphere was full of mirth and light.  The musical sounds of elven laughter buoyed his own flagging spirit as his mind turned to the things they had discussed at dinner over and over.  His attention was captured as Lord Elrond entered the room.  His father. 

The smile that spread unconsciously across his face widened as the elves cheered and welcomed the elf lord into their midst.  It seemed as though all the surrounding homes in Imladris had emptied and their inhabitants had gathered here for the evening as was so oft their want to do in the Hall of Fire. 

Elrond moved easily among the many guests gathered under his roof, serving them and seeing to their needs.  The Hall of Fire was indeed large enough to hold even more, but the company that gathered tonight was plenty and easily entertained themselves. 

The servants of the House of Elrond were never required to be such in the Hall of Fire.  They served their lord willingly, faithfully by choice and some out of familial devotion like Celboril who had known Elrond since his childhood days.  Never did one of the Firstborn serve another under duress and Elrond for his part made sure that they were treated as guests at such gatherings.  He handed Halbarad a mug of heated wine as he passed by; it looked like the man could use it.  The elf lord’s laughter echoed through the hall when Celboril winced as the ranger missed a higher note. 

Clapping his hand on Legolas’ slender shoulder, the lord of Imladris bent close to the Sinda elf, speaking loudly enough for those around to hear as he teased.  “Please, Legolas; teach Halbarad how to sing the Ballad of Elendil before it is ruined forever.” 

With a laugh and a mock bow the blonde-haired elf acquiesced.  “As you wish my lord.”  Legolas had up to this point been simply offering pointers and partially taunting Halbarad as Celboril attempted to teach the ranger the elven song, refraining from singing the melody himself. 

Aragorn, having made his way through the large hall flopped down into one of the soft, comfortable chairs that was situated on the far side of the room and watched as Legolas began singing.  The Sinda elf’s voice started out softly, the notes pure and rich.  The musicians around Legolas picked up the song, their instruments a soft, melodic backdrop for the elven voice.  Remembering the words more clearly and finding his courage, the elf’s voice strengthened.  He let his thoughts infuse the words with the images that he saw in his mind as he closed his eyes and the song filled the room, silencing even those in the far corner telling tall tales to one another.  Aragorn closed his eyes as well and sank into the comfort of the chair, letting the rich elvish words and the sweet notes wash over his restless soul.  A smile touched his lips.  Legolas sang like one of the famed bards of old, never missing a note and singing with a clear, pure voice that the ranger found soothing. 

As the song slowly quieted and slipped away the room erupted in cheers, quickly falling back into the low buzz of people talking and laughing with one another.  Stories were picked back up mid-sentence and a dozen different tunes were taken up, as more instruments were unpacked.  Clapping Halbarad on the shoulder Legolas excused himself and walked slowly through the hall, making his way to where Aragorn lay sprawled in a deep, soft chair. 

The elf seated himself quietly on the large, plush wing, pulling one knee up to his chest and resting his chin on it.  Neither friend spoke.  Aragorn had not opened his eyes but he knew that the elf had joined him.  He could smell the scent that was singularly Legolas and had felt the slight movement of the chair as the prince settled himself on the arm. 

The warmth of the room and the light-hearted pleasure of good company lulled the companions into a state of peace and contentedness.  The fire in the great hearth sparked and roared merrily as it was constantly fed.  Aragorn had always loved this room, he had found it fascinating as a child to discover that the fire was continually kept going and never died out.  In fact, even when the Bruinen had jumped its banks, now so many years ago, and the house had been almost completely evacuated, Celboril had never let the fire go out. 

The ranger’s thoughts turned to the past, remembering and embracing once more his rich, elvish heritage that his adopted father had so willingly and easily shared with him.  Oh but in his heart he was elvish, and he silently cursed his natural born lineage.  Men.  Thoughts of the men he had known who had served under and with him brought mixed feelings and uneasiness filtered quietly back into his heart unbidden. 

“You are ill at ease on such a pleasant evening.”  The light weight of Legolas’ hand on his shoulder stirred the ranger from his reverie. “What troubles you, Estel?” 

For long moments they sat, the elf content to allow the human the time he needed to respond.  When he spoke, Aragorn’s voice was soft, meant for the prince’s hearing alone.  The words surprised the elf. 

“Will you be wanting to leave for home soon?” Grey eyes finally opened, fixing on the silver-blue ones that stared down at the human in surprise. 

“I hadn’t given it much thought,” Legolas replied honestly, for he had not.  Time was a different matter among elves.  And although he knew Thranduil would desire word of his plans if he were able to send it, his accountability to his father was not as it had been when he was younger, or as it would have been were he human. 

Aragorn nodded slowly and looked back to the intricately tiled floor.  He kept forgetting that Legolas and his father had a different relationship than he and Elrond; due in no small part to the very fact that time was perceived so diversely among the races. 

“Why do you ask?”  Legolas shifted slightly, turning so the Dùnadan had his full attention.  The celebrations in the room were forgotten as the two friends talked quietly.  “Do you wish me to leave?” 

“No!  I mean... unless you want to.”  Aragorn turned in the large chair, drawing his feet up onto the cushion and resting them on the arm near Legolas’ thigh.  That was exactly the opposite of what he wanted.  “Actually, if you don’t mind, I would have you stay on for a time.  Even after we return from the Shire I mean.” 

“Estel, I had no plans to leave anytime soon.”  The prince glanced up as a party of elves passed them by, exiting the large room.  Returning his stare to the open gaze of his friend he continued.  “I want to stay...” Legolas words faltered and softened and the ranger was forced to concentrate on what he was saying. “My heart needs it right now.” The elf lightly touched his chest, his thoughts far away.  He loved his home, but Mirkwood in general was no longer a place of light, and Legolas wished to linger in the beautiful bliss of Imladris for a time before he faced the journey into the dark woods. 

Concern colored Aragorn’s gaze and he started to speak when Legolas glanced up at him once more, the shadow of remembrance passing swiftly from the deep blue eyes.  “It is good for me to be here with your family, with you and with your father.  And if it is also your wish, then I would be more than glad to remain.” 

Nodding slowly, it was Aragorn’s turn to shift his gaze anywhere away from the searching glance of his friend.  He knew the elf could see into his soul in a way that most others never could, never chanced, and weren’t allowed.  Usually that was all right, but for some reason it was hard to let the prince see his hesitancy, the indecision that warred inside of him.  “Yes, I would that you stayed on, but I did not want to keep you if you wished to return to your father.” 

The light laughter of the elf surprised the ranger and he glanced up quickly, confused. 

“Oh Aragorn, these months I have been away from my father’s kingdom are as days for him.  He will not have missed me so soon although I think I should wish to send him word that I am well and staying on in Rivendell.  Truly he has probably already guessed.  We have finally accustomed him to our ways, mellon-nín,” the prince’s laughter was light.  “When he learned I meant to visit you he appointed a lieutenant to take over my patrols for an indefinite period of time and started making long-term care arrangements for my Ketrals.  He won’t have them in the palace when I’m not there.”  Legolas’ hand on Aragorn’s shoulder tightened slightly.  “He does not expect me back immediately.  I will stay.” 

This was indeed what Aragorn’s heart was questioning that he had not had the courage to ask.  He was a leader of men, a captain in the army of Gondor, a man raised among elves to be both human and elven; the misgivings of his heart and the indecision that plagued his thoughts bothered the ranger. 

“Your heart needs the rest too, Estel.”  Legolas read past the walls and the closed, emotionless face that stared up at him.  “You are weary.  Perhaps... perhaps it would be better if we told Halbarad that we cannot go at this time?  It is no slight to you.” 

“No.”  Aragorn didn’t shift his gaze, allowing the elf to see his fears and hesitancies; he trusted the prince with his life, with his soul. “No,” he repeated with a sigh, “there is not the manpower to be spared elsewise and the inhabitants of Bree and the Shire need help.  Something like this will lock the countryside up with fear.  They are simple people, Legolas, and they have had to live with evils such as this for far too long.  If you will go with me I would be grateful for your company, my friend.  And between you and my brothers I have nothing to worry over.” 

Legolas gazed up at the ceiling for a moment as though pondering his reply, but the smile tugging at the corner of his lips betrayed his thoughts.  His hesitancy garnered the desired reaction as Aragorn laughed softly and gave the elf a small shove.  

“Yes,” Legolas laughed, dodging the playful smack. “I would enjoy being out with you, Estel, and your brothers as well.  It has been a long time since we have all traveled together.  It will be exciting for me, as I have never been that far west yet.  I would love to go.”  He smiled down at his friend, “And I will stay here in Rivendell when we return for as long as you should wish.  There isn’t another Yén for a few years and seeing as father and I parted on amicable terns for once, I have no pressing reason to return home.”  The elf’s smile reached his voice, softening the words in jest. 

Aragorn mirrored the smile the elf favored him with and pushed himself up out of the deep cushions of the chair.  Extending his hand down he pulled the elf up and wrapped his arms around the prince’s slender shoulders.  “Hannon le, mellon-nín,” he whispered in Legolas' ear.  “That being the case, my dear elf, I am going to retire for what remains of the evening. I have not the stamina that you do and if we leave in the morning I wish to be fresh and ready.” 

“Yes!” Legolas shoved the human towards the doorway. “I wish not to have a grumpy ranger on my hands.  Nothing is more intolerable!”  

“Prissy elf!” Aragorn called the old taunt over his shoulder affectionately. 

“Filthy human!”  Legolas called back in kind, “Bathe while you are at it!” 

The room silenced a degree as the two old friends called the jaded remarks to one another.  Aragorn blushed deeply as he glanced at his father, realizing the words spoken in jest had been heard by more than just Legolas.  Elrond gracefully crossed his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow in question. 

“My pardon, gentle beings, but I must take my leave of you.  As my friend has so kindly pointed out, I am in need of a bath and a bed!” the ranger called to their guests.  He smiled widely and pointed to the wayward strands of hair that fell into his eyes as proof.  His admission brought a round of laughter and a good deal of teasing from the other rangers in the room.  The voices of his brothers could be heard over the tumult of the cheer and he glanced once more at his elven father.  The elf lord’s smile widened and he shook his head fondly. 

“Off with you then,” he mouthed silently, “I will be up later.” 

With a nod Aragorn turned and left the great hall seeking out the quieter places of the Last Homely House.  He hoped his father would wake him even if he had fallen asleep by the time Elrond sought him out.  He really needed to talk with the older elf.

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