Priceless Treasure

Chapter 15

by Cassia and Siobhan

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They had stayed on near Isengard at the foot of the embankment for several weeks while Legolas healed enough to travel. Eldarion’s wounds were barely visible now, mere scars that were mending themselves. He healed even faster than his father, with his mother’s elven blood in him.

The fears that Dyryn’s captivity had invoked in him receded into the past with each day they remained, and he had grown restless. Aragorn was glad to see them go and encouraged the youth to accompany Draecyn and his men on their hunting and scouting forays. The king stood outside the tent he had occupied with Legolas for the last month, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched his son ride off with the soldiers. A smile lit the man’s face as he barely heard his son dare the older men to a race and spurred his horse on without heeding Draecyn’s warnings. He shook his head ruefully, so much of himself in the boy.

"That one will turn your hair grey." The soft jibe at his elbow caused Aragorn to jump slightly and turn towards the voice, although he already knew who it was. There were few save Arwen who could approach him so quietly and not have him notice.

"That he will," he laughed with a sigh.

Draecyn turned in his saddle and fixed Jonath with a pleading glare, raising his hands in defeat.

"Go after him!" the captain of the guard was yelling at his men. "Don’t let him out of your sight!"

"He has too much of his father in him." Legolas leaned heavily on a piece of wood that Aragorn had found and smoothed down. The branch’s natural growth had formed a perfect ‘y’, and the elf had been using the crutch as his body healed.

Aragorn turned and looked his friend over, his gaze intense, judging for himself whether or not the elf should even be up.

"Do not mother me, Strider." Legolas reverted to elvish, using his friend's old nickname. "I will never get well with both you and Gimli hovering over me constantly."

"My, someone is very grouchy today." Aragorn tried to suppress his smile.

"Someone would like to return home."

Aragorn laughed aloud, his mirth contagious. "Oh, if only father could see you now. He would never let me live it down." Aragorn frowned in mock consternation at the elf, perfectly imitating his elven father, "Just once I would very much like to see you come walking in under your own power."

The imitation was nearly perfect and caused the elf to laugh lightly. "Now if only you had pointed ears as you spoke those words, I would swear by the Valar that your father stood here."

Aragorn cast his gaze back out to the plains, glimpsing the hunting party far on the other side of the rolling meadowlands. A sigh escaped his lips. "I miss him, Legolas." It had been years now since the elven lord had gone over the sea along with Galadriel, Gandalf, Frodo and many of the elven kind. Yet part of Aragorn would always miss his adopted father. He was glad that Legolas and his brothers had not chosen to leave yet.

The elf’s hand tightened on his friend’s shoulder.

"There was so much he knew. So much he taught me that I have even now forgotten. I almost lost you. I know he never would have made that mistake."

Quietness descended on the camp and Legolas let the easy silence hang between them. Lost in thought, Aragorn shook his head.

"You will see him again, Aragorn," the elf’s soft voice broke the stillness.

"Perhaps." Aragorn dropped his gaze and turned towards his friend. "But I was not under the impression that elves visited the Halls of Mandos." He smiled sadly.

Legolas simply shrugged, the smile that tugged at his lips causing the human to glower at him. "What know you that I don’t?"

"Did I say I knew anything?" The elf’s feigned innocence was unconvincing.

"You know sometimes, Legolas, I could swear you spent too much time with Gandalf. You begin to sound like him at times." He walked over near the fire and helped the elf to sit on one of the large stones that ringed the pit.

"Then I will take that as a compliment, for Mithrandir is very wise."

Aragorn could not contain his laughter as he taunted his friend, "I did not say you were wise, I said you sounded like that old man!"

Trying to feign indignation, Legolas gave a soft snort and easily changed the subject, "But truly I am ready to go home and I am well enough to travel. Let us be off tomorrow. It is time we returned."

"Very well, change the subject again. But one of these days I will get a straight answer out of you, you Silvan elf." Aragorn laughed, noting the misdirection and allowing the prince to have his secrecy as he sat down next to the elf.

"Oh don’t worry, my old friend. One day I will speak plainly and then you will understand, although I truly think you will not believe me even then!"

With a shake of his head, Aragorn picked up Legolas’ original train of thought. Pressing the elf for information he was not ready to give was about as fruitful as asking Gandalf the White questions. "Are you sure you are travel ready? The road is long."

"I am sure. I would return home to Ithilien and see how Trelan and Rainean fare." He noted the way the man dropped his gaze and nodded slightly. "After I winter with you of course."

Aragorn’s face brightened. "I have missed you. Your work in Ithilien is deeply appreciated. But your friendship is what I treasure."

The smile that broke across the elf’s face was brilliant, but he was interrupted by a commotion on the far side of camp as a horse came tearing into the encampment riderless.

"Is that not Draecyn’s mount?" Legolas questioned, unable to stifle the giggles as Jonath grabbed the steed’s reigns and vaulted in the saddle.

"Not again!" the captain of the guard muttered darkly before glancing at the king. "My lord, it seems your son has again won a bet against my men. DO NOT leave this camp, my liege. Hunting down one of you is enough to bring me to the end of my wits." With that warning he spurred the animal back the way it had come.

"I say we leave now and take a swift little trip back to Orthanc while he’s gone. It will take us no time to get back there." Aragorn leaned over next to the elf and whispered conspiratorially. He had no fear for Eldarion; the guards would keep the boy more than safe, even if they did want to kill him occasionally.

"You will be the death of him, you know that." Legolas just shook his head, grinning.

"It's good for him. Hones his tracking skills, gives him something to complain about, and it gives me no small amount of joy." Aragorn grinned wickedly, "What say you?"

"You are horrible, you know that?"

"Where do you think Eldarion gets it from?" He stood from his seat and whistled a shrill piercing note. Brego cantered into the camp and stopped near his master, nuzzling the human. "Shall we?"

"Shall we what?" Gimli’s booming voice carried across the quiet encampment and elf and human turned as one, shushing the short being.

"Well if you are planning on escaping this wretched plain, then take me with you. I have grown tired of flat meadows," the dwarf grumped.

"I suggest we take him with us or he will most definitely give us away," Legolas whispered in Aragorn’s ear as he stood slowly behind the king.

"Speak plainly and do not whisper elf. It's rude you know."

"Master Dwarf, Legolas was only looking out for your welfare. Are you sure you are able to ride?" Aragorn taunted.

With an irritated harrumph the dwarf stomped the foot of his previously broken leg and pierced the two friends with an even glare. "I need no looking out for and I am as fit as the next person to ride a horse. Where is it?!" He glanced around them.

Legolas laughed at the small being that he had come to love as deeply as any family member. He remembered the first time he had met the dwarf and how much he had held Gimli in contempt. Taking the reins that Aragorn proffered to him, he smiled as the king moved off to a picket line and chose the shortest of the fighting warhorses he could find, leading the stallion back to the rocks that ringed the firepit.

"If you want to accompany us, Master Dwarf, you are going to have to get on this steed by yourself. Legolas is in no shape to help you up or sit with you and I can no longer toss you, my friend." Aragorn raised an eyebrow at the glare the dwarf turned on him.

"Toss him?" Legolas asked inquisitively. "When have you ever tossed him?"

"Now! Now see here!" Gimli stomped forward, "You promised you would never tell the elf!" he stormed at the human.

"And I have not, my friend." Aragorn smiled wickedly at the dwarf, "Now quickly mount this beast before we are caught or I will!"

"You tossed him?" Legolas glanced between the human and the dwarf. "Where was I when this happened?"

"You were..." Aragorn struggled to contain his laughter as the dwarf climbed onto the rock next to the horse and clumsily clambered into the saddle, "well you were preoccupied at the time." He handed the reins to Gimli who snatched them away from the man.

"No more questions!" The king stopped them both from bickering as he mounted Brego. "Now quickly, up behind me." He reached down and helped the elf to vault onto the horse bareback behind him, "before Jonath returns and we are caught."

"Ah, so this is a secret?"

"Yes, Gimli." Legolas answered, his tone like that of one who was speaking to a child. He wrapped his slender arms around Aragorn’s waist and glanced over at the dwarf as the King eased his horse into a gentle trot.

"So where is it that we are going?" Gimli finally asked when they were well away from the camp.

"We, Master Dwarf are going back to Orthanc, one last time. I would like to see its gardens again and perhaps walk through its halls now that it no longer bears the stench of evil that once held sway." Aragorn answered softly as though lost in thought.

Legolas leaned around the human’s shoulder and tightened his grip on the man’s waist, gently bringing Aragorn back to the present, "What are you thinking of?" He asked softly in elvish not bothering to translate his words for their dwarvish companion who rode next to them.

"I was thinking of priceless treasures. Their value and their rarity." He spoke common so that Gimli could follow their conversation.

The dwarf glanced at the mithril circle that sat on the king's brow, its beautifully crafted gem held fast to the precious metal glowed brightly in the sunlight. "Aye, and we found many of those in that spire of Saruman’s."

Aragorn turned in his seat, allowing his mount to have his head as he glanced at the dwarf and then turned to look over his shoulder at the elf that sat behind him. "No Gimli, those were not the treasures I was speaking of. For everything that was in Orthanc was made by the hands of a human or an elf or a dwarf and can be remade. I was thinking of those things that cannot be remade, that once lost are lost for an eternity." He paused and gazed back at the growing tower and its encompassing walls that loomed before them, thinking through his emotions before speaking again, "I meant you. And Legolas and Eldarion. And even Jonath. I meant our friends and loved ones. They are our most priceless treasures." He smiled over his shoulder as Legolas tightened his grip on the man’s waist and leaned forward to glimpse the human’s eyes. "Would you not agree?" he asked, meeting Legolas’ steady, open gaze.

"That I would," the elf replied softly in elvish. He unclasped his right hand from Aragorn and reached out towards the dwarf riding next to them, repeating himself softly in common, "That I would."

Gimli’s small thick hand laid gently against the elf’s upturned palm. "So would I, my friends, so would I."

A trumpet blast from the camp behind them broke the moment and Aragorn burst out laughing. "That is Jonath," he replied to the curious glances of the others. "It is his new way of letting me know he knows I am gone and of alerting the others." Aragorn spurred his steed on, "Quickly, let's make the gate before he comes to drag us back."

"You know Arwen will never stand for that near the palace," Legolas leaned forward and spoke into the man’s ear.

"I know!" Aragorn glanced back. "The next time we sneak away, we are taking it with us!"

The laughter of the three friends broke across the gardens of Isengard, echoed by the trees that grew there, happy to once again be enjoyed by other living beings. A flock of myntails burst from the foliage on their right as they skidded to a stop near the steep stairs of Orthanc.

Aragorn glanced straight up the side of the dark shaft that pierced the sky. Thoughts of the near tragedies they had faced fell away and he lent his arm to Legolas as the elf slid off the horse and started up the steps. "Not so creepy anymore is it, Strider?" he teased.

"Not now that there is firewood for the fireplaces, no!" He laughed and slid off of Brego’s broad back before joining Legolas who was helping Gimli from his horse.

The small dwarf grabbed their forearms and did not let them go when they had lowered him to the ground. "You are right, Aragorn, friends ARE the greatest treasures of Middle-earth. I am sorry to say it has taken this dwarf far too long to realize that." He touched a stubby finger to the gem on the king’s circlet. "When all the jewels in the mines have been found, we will still have each other."

"Truer spoken than you realize, Master Elf." Legolas tightened his grip on the dwarf’s arm.

"And what do you know that I don’t?" Gimli squinted up at the elf.

"Don’t ask," Aragorn laughed and wrapped one arm around Legolas' shoulders, turning the elf towards the stairs as he draped his other arm down across Gimli’s shoulders. "I have asked him the same thing and he would keep his secret so don’t even try. He says when the time is right."

"Is that so?" the dwarf gazed around the human.

Averting the questions he could not answer just yet, Legolas smiled wickedly, "Now tell me, Master Dwarf, what is this with allowing Strider to throw you?"

Gimli stammered as Aragorn dragged them both up the steps with him, going slowly to accommodate Legolas’ injuries and Gimli’s pace.

"Well, I’ll tell you when you tell me about your time in Moria!" the dwarf spit out, finally recalling something about the elf that seemed to bother Legolas as much as his own secrets.

"I thought you had forgotten about that." Legolas rolled his eyes and pierced Aragorn with an irritated glare.

Seeing that he was suddenly caught between the two and had been the protagonist in both cases, Aragorn swiftly danced up the steps ahead of his friends. "Last one in has to fetch the firewood!" he called back down to them.

Legolas stopped on the step he was on as Aragorn disappeared into the halls of Orthanc. "So very much like the Strider I have always known." He smiled and glanced at Gimli.

"Aye," the dwarf laughed. "Of the three of us... I think he never grew up."

"That he didn’t and for that I am glad." Legolas glanced sidelong at the dwarf. "Last one in..." he repeated and nimbly raced up the steps despite the pull on his injuries. His laughter echoed the halls as he called out for Aragorn, trying to follow his friend.

Gimli stood where he was, his gaze fastened on the open doors, his thoughts years away. Slowly he nodded his head. It was good to have friends that never tired of his company. With a happy sigh he climbed the last few steps and stopped on the threshold. "That’s fine! It's always the dwarf that gets the short end of the stick!" he called into the spiral of Orthanc.

The laughter of a human and the light musical mirth of an elf drifted down to him from the upper levels. He smiled to himself; yes friends were worth it all.