Mellon Chronicles

Remember How to Smile

Chapter 1: Homeward Bound

by Cassia-(T) and Siobhan-(T)

"Remember How to Smile" art by Cassia

"Remember How to Smile" art by Cassia-(T)

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I hear the wind across the plain
A sound so strong - that calls my name
It's wild like the river - it's warm like the sun
It's here - this is where I belong.

Under the starry skies - where eagles have flown
This place is paradise - it's the place I call home
The moon on the mountains
The whisper through the trees
The waves on the water
Let nothing come between this and me...

’Cause everything I want - is everything that's here
And when we're all together - there's nothing to fear
And wherever I wander - the one thing I've learned
It's to here - I will always.... always return

--Brian Adams

The mornings were crisp and cool now that autumn was settling across the mid-northern regions of Middle-earth.  The trees on the west side of the Misty Mountains were aflame with the wild colors of the seasonal change.  The riotous colors cascaded in rivers of red and yellow down the slopes leading to the Bruinen, which ran its course far below. 

Rivendell lay nestled on the far side of the valley, cloaked in the warm tones of afternoon light.  The small party that traveled to the Last Homely House began their descent down the western face of the mountains following a nearly overgrown, rarely used trail that led to Imladris.  The trail was too steep for their horses to safely make the passage while bearing riders, so the company dismounted and led their horses down on foot.  

Legolas glanced at Aragorn out of the corner of his eyes.  The King had withdrawn, becoming quiet and distant the last few leagues. 

The elf stumbled slightly, pulling Aragorn from his reverie.  Quickly, he stepped nearer the prince and wrapped his right arm around Legolas’ waist, ignoring the elf’s protest.  

When Legolas had quieted, the king spoke softly, “We are nearly there, and I can’t have you tearing those stitches so close to home.  You really do need to walk in under your power you know,” he chided quietly.  The small smile that touched his lips was not mirrored in his eyes. 

The fact that Legolas was healing so slowly troubled the man.  He hoped Rivendell would hold the answers they both sought. He feared what would befall them if it didn’t. 

With a shout, Eldarion brushed past both adults and ran ahead, followed closely by Draecyn who had been given charge of the child. 

“Well, at least someone is happy,” Legolas laughed.  He watched as the Gondorian soldier gave chase to the small boy.  His serious attempts at capturing the child turned quickly into a game as Dari did his best to avoid being caught. 

It had taken them longer than normal to the reach the valley of Imladris.  Aragorn had insisted on frequent stops and rests as Legolas’ injuries tired the elf more quickly than usual.  Draecyn had caught up with them near the gap of Rohan, having ridden hard the whole way.  He reported that Trelan and Raniean had indeed been awaiting word in Minas Tirith along with Arwen.  They had very nearly gone out looking for Legolas and Aragorn both after Arwen had recounted the tragedy of losing Eldarion.  However, Draecyn had gotten to Minas Tirith first.  Now, they were journeying with the queen, also headed for Rivendell as per Aragorn’s request, but moving more slowly than Draecyn’s hectic pace had carried him.  They were probably not very far behind at all now.  Secretly, Aragorn wished to reach Rivendell before they did.  It was going to be different, seeing the house empty... and he wanted to be able to confront that alone, before he had to confront it in Arwen’s eyes as well as his own heart.

The years had done little to dim Rivendell’s light.  Although the gardens and pathways reflected the lack of attention they had once received, the house stood as it had for years, a haven of quiet and peace, a place of rest and tranquility.  It was as Legolas had said: the valley was not dead, it merely slept. 

The flagstone steps rang underneath the King’s boot heels just as they had when he had returned home so many times, then only a ranger.  A strong feeling of familiarity tugged at Aragorn’s heart and for a moment it was easy to forget that this homecoming was different than any other time.  It was easy for the years to slip away in an instant... before the quiet, stillness of reality intruded once more.  No one waited for them on the porch and the doors were not thrown open at their arrival.  The deep voice that Aragorn longed to hear did not welcome him home and his steps faltered. 

“Estel?” Legolas whispered softly.  He glanced at his friend, following the path of the human’s gaze.  

Aragorn was staring at the empty servants’ quarters.  The home Celboril had occupied for centuries stood dark and quiet.  The door was slightly ajar and cobwebs decorated the eaves.  Swallowing hard, Aragorn tried to calm his emotions and force them down.  He knew that the staff had left with his father years ago when the elf lord had sailed to the undying lands.  It had been hard to let them go then, but the emotions had been easier to repress.  There was a fractured kingdom to reunite, he had a family to look after, affairs of state crowded his desk and his council was constantly being demanded.  There had been little time given to grieving and he had been glad then for the distractions.  But now... 

When Aragorn finally turned and met his friend’s gaze, Legolas was startled by how very young and vulnerable the human looked at that moment.  Despite all his years and his position, the King of Gondor did not stand in Rivendell’s courtyard.  Here, it was Estel, the adopted son of an elven lord who had returned home.  Regret tugged at the elf’s heart for a moment.  He had known this might not be easy for Aragorn, but the look in the King’s eyes was all too familiar.  

“He is not here,” Aragorn whispered, his voice thick with emotions. 

“I know.”  Legolas read the man’s thoughts easily; they mirrored so much of his own grief.  “You knew he would not be, Estel.”  Legolas stepped closer as Aragorn broke the contact and glanced out across the untended gardens. 

“I may have known it...” Silver eyes locked onto the blue ones, watching him closely as his own sense of loss betrayed him. “But I was unprepared for it.” 

“The door is open, my lord,”  Jonath called down to his liege.  The palm of his right rested against the ornate wood.  Barely pressing, he waited for orders.  

Dari, under no such constraints, leaned against the heavy wooden portals and squeezed into the darkened house, racing inside ahead of everyone else and squealing delightedly as Draecyn called after him to wait. 

“It was rarely locked,” Aragorn replied.  He glanced quickly at his second-in-command before dropping his gaze and walking slowly around the house and into the gardens. 

“Legolas?”  Jonath questioned the elf, unsure of what to do now.  

The elf gave the soldier a wan smile and a shrug.  He nodded at the doorway. “Go on in and see if Elrond’s sons are about.  Look after Dari.  We will follow in a moment.” 

With a nod that was part salute, Jonath opened the doors and led the small party into the interior.  Rivendell itself seemed to lighten as the sounds of life returned to its halls and the squeals of childish laughter rang from the stairwells. 

I'm walking down your street again and past your door
But you don't live there any more
It's years since you've been there
But now you've disappeared somewhere... like outer space
You've found some better place.

And I miss you - like the deserts miss the rain...
And I miss you - like the deserts miss the rain...


Aragorn walked slowly through the overgrown gardens, assaulted by memories of the past.  Leaves fell like colored snow through the boughs of the thick canopy, coating the pathways in a fiery brilliance of chaotic colors.  The archways and benches were covered in creeping mosses and greenery as the wilds began to reclaim what was theirs.  The elves had built their homes for permanence and yet with the realization in mind that they would not be in Middle-earth forever.  And so it was with great artistry and skill that elvish residences had been created to one day be reclaimed by nature and so eventually disappear completely from the world of men.  It seemed that Rivendell had come to the conclusion that that time was drawing nigh.  Now that the power of the elves no longer hid and maintained the dwellings, nature had begun to take over its role. 

Brushing the dirt and vines away from the bench before him, Aragorn ran his fingers gently over the face of the cool granite archway that overshadowed the small niche.  “It was here that I stood with father when the earth shook and nearly destroyed Rivendell.”  He spoke quietly as Legolas stopped next to him, explaining why this certain arbor held such cherished memories. 

“Father and I rebuilt this archway, the very one that had fallen on him.  We built it together just the two of us...” His voice faltered, “And we talked...a lot.” 

Legolas didn’t answer; there was nothing to say.  He joined his friend on the stone bench when the human sat down.  He knew what Aragorn was feeling.  It echoed like the ache in his own heart.  

“I tried not to think about it,” Aragorn spoke softly. 

The elf glanced at his hands in his lap, not pushing, not commenting.  Aragorn needed this he corrected himself, Estel needed this time. 

“It hurt so badly when he left and there was no time to even think about what that meant.  Arwen was distraught enough for us both and the pressures of the new kingdom were intense.  As soon as we returned, there were the mountain men to deal with in the north and uprisings to the south and the council demanded so much of my energy that I pushed it out of my mind.”  Aragorn stopped and swiped at the tears that traced down his cheeks.  He didn’t meet Legolas’ gaze when the elf turned to watch him, he couldn’t.  The man kept his eyes riveted straight ahead, fixed on the corner of the grand house, willing his father to turn that corner any minute and ease the ache that crushed his chest.  “I always knew the time would come when he would go.  I never wanted to accept it though and I suppose until now I never really have.” 

Dropping his gaze, Aragorn swallowed hard and glanced at the elf.  He had brought Legolas here in the desire to help the elf rediscover joy in life.  He had not expected to be confronted with so much hidden pain of his own.  He felt guilty for even bringing it up, but Legolas’ compassionate gaze was encouraging.  

“Go on, Estel,” the elf whispered softly.  “The world... it moves us so quickly sometimes and entire lifetimes change at a moment’s notice.  Everyone must find their time to grieve.” 

Aragorn looked down at his hands.  Maybe Legolas was right.  How could he try to help his friend if he could not acknowledge his own heartaches and sorrows? 

“Arwen and I did not go with him to the Havens.  It would have been too hard... especially for her, to see the other elves sailing where she has chosen never to go.  We said goodbye here, in Rivendell and left for Gondor the same day he left for Mithlond.  I could almost pretend that I was just going away again on another journey and that nothing had changed, that home would always be the same, always waiting the way I remembered it... I never returned after that.  I don’t think I allowed myself to fully believe that he was never coming back again until today.”  He sniffed softly, trying not to let the embarrassing tears fall. “I miss him, Legolas.” 

“I know,”  Legolas answered softly, resting his hand on the man’s shoulder.  “I remember the first time I returned home to Mirkwood after Ada left... I never went back again.” 

A small nod was all the answer the prince received.  Aragorn sighed deeply and buried his face in his hands. 

Legolas watched him quietly.  He did not apologize for asking to come here, even though for the moment it seemed to cause his friend heartache.  He knew it was something they all had to face one day.  Time held still for no one and even elves were bound to its inexorable tide eventually.  It was sad to see Rivendell and know that it was not as it had always been, yet it did not strike Legolas’ heart the same, painful way that Mirkwood had struck him.  There was still a lingering peace in the valley that seemed to blanket the grief they brought here.  It covered their sorrow with beauty, like snow covered battle-torn earth, hiding, if not erasing, the scars.  Being here seemed to have the therapeutic effect of shedding a river of tears.  They might ache, but the peace and release that followed was strangely comforting.  

The sounds of soft footfalls alerted the prince that they were not alone.  Aragorn glanced up when Legolas’ hand left his shoulder and he turned, looking behind them as the elf stood to his feet.  

The intruder, surprised to find others in the normally vacant garden, stopped up short and stared back at the elf and the human. 

“Legolas?  Estel?”  the newcomer asked hesitantly as he stared hard at the tear-stained face of the man that stood slowly next to the elf. 

“Mora?” Aragorn whispered disbelievingly.  He shook his head and frowned. “How can this be, I saw you leave with Ada.”  His voice was rough and his breathing hitched as he questioned the elf that approached them. 

“Estel, it is you, isn’t it?” the elf questioned further, a wide smile breaking across his face.  ”What are you doing here?” 

Before he could process what was happening, Aragorn found himself crushed against the dark-haired elf and held tightly in the other’s arms.  “By the Valar, Estel, I have missed you.  I went to the White City looking for you, but the first time you were not there and the second time I was told you were not available.” 

“What?  You were there, and I wasn’t told?!” Aragorn could not believe his ears.  

Mora seemed slightly puzzled at Aragorn’s reaction.  “They said you were told, but made it very clear to me that you could not be bothered.  I did not wish to trouble you.” 

“WHAT?!” the King repeated, nearly exploding this time.  “I was NEVER told that you were there. I swear it, my friend.  I would never have brushed you aside like that.  Who told you such a thing?!” Aragorn’s ire rose faster than he could register as he grasped the elf’s arms tightly.  “I thought you were gone.  All these years I thought you were gone.  Mora, I swear I saw you leave with Ada.  I did not know... I...I would have visited sooner, I...” 

The King was silenced as the dark-haired elf simply shook his head.  He stepped back slightly but did not release the man as though fearful that Estel would disappear. “I had begun to fear that such might be the case.  I’m sorry, Estel, I should have known better and returned again.  But it matters little now that you are here!”  Moranuen pulled the man back against him and hugged him once more before releasing the King and greeting Legolas warmly, talking all the while. 

“I did in fact leave with your father.”  The elf laughed softly as he recounted the tale.  “I had not wanted to, my heart desired nothing more than to stay with Elrond’s sons but...well your brothers worried so for your father when they informed him they would remain behind with you.  So I went at their behest but my heart was not in it.”  Moranuen pushed Aragorn back down on the bench and sat across from the elf and the man on an adjacent seat, enjoying the cool of the approaching evening.  “I did leave.  I even started to sail, although I could not find the joy in it that everyone else was experiencing.  One of Gwaihir’s children accompanied us for a time, seeing us off.  We were two days out when I knew I had made a serious mistake I could not now call back.  I did not know what to do.  Elrond knew that my heart was sick for, although the sea called to me, I felt as if my time in Middle-earth was not completed.  Your father asked the great eagle to bring me back and he complied before returning to escort the ship.”  Moranuen laughed at the incredulous look on Aragorn’s face. “So, I have been tending the gardens and keeping the grounds ever since, although I admit that I am not as good at it as Celboril was.”

“I still can’t believe I was never even told.” Aragorn’s ire had mostly bled away in the face of his happiness at this totally unexpected reunion.  He leaned forward, mirroring the elf’s smile. 

“I meant to make the long journey to see you again, once the Kingdom was stable.  I had assumed that your brothers at least would have told you, but I suppose Elladan and Elrohir probably thought I had told you myself when I went out there.  I didn’t tell them that your councilors turned me away.  I was afraid they would do something rash and make more trouble for you.  I am sorry, Estel.  Given the state of affairs at the time, ‘twas easy to believe you were busy.  With the kingdom weighing so heavily on your shoulders, I didn’t want to bother you,” he responded quietly.  The man before him had changed much and the piercing gaze the former ranger laid on him was so filled with emotion and intensity that he shifted nervously.  It had been a long time in human years since the young man named Estel had been home. 

Seeing the hesitancy, Aragorn dropped to his knees in front of the elf and took his long time friend’s hands in his own. “Moranuen, you must believe me.  I was never informed that you came to Minas Tirith.  I did not know that you had returned.  I would never have turned you away so coldly, or refused you time, my friend.  My brothers have been in and out of the White City and so I never would have thought that not all who came to see me would be admitted.  It is a situation I shall rectify at once upon my return to Minas Tirith.  Please, forgive me.” 

The silver eyes that glanced up at the elf held none of the distance they had moments before and Moranuen recognized the young man he had known hidden inside in the King that was now before him.  The smile brightened on Moranuen’s face, mingled with relief.  Estel had not changed so much as he had feared.  Leaning forward, he kissed Aragorn gently on the forehead. “I’m so glad you are here, Estel.” 

It suddenly occurred to the Noldo that the presence of the King in Rivendell was not just an unplanned event.  “Wait a minute...” Suspicion crept into Moranuen’s voice. “Why are you here, you two?”  He eyed the friends over carefully.  “You are both walking, but I sense there is more to this visit; you did not expect to find anyone home did you?  What’s going on?” 

It was Legolas’ turn to drop his gaze and fight the urge to fidget.  He glanced at Aragorn who was staring at him.  The ranger’s gaze asked an unspoken question.  Just how much did Legolas want Moranuen to know?  

“That would be my doing,” Legolas whispered quietly. 

Aragorn returned to his seat by the prince and gently laid his hand on the elf’s shoulder.  “We came to rest,” he answered the question softly. 

“Then you have come to the right place.” Mora was on his feet in an instant.  It had not been so long to his elven perception of time that he did not remember the look that passed between the two friends.  Whether the wounds were physical or merely emotional, they did need rest.  “Let us go into the house.  The fire still burns in the Great Hall and your rooms are as you left them.” 

A soft smile spread across Legolas' face as Mora easily changed the subject and led them back towards the house. 

“Tell me, Mora, how did you enjoy your ride on the great eagle?”  Aragorn grinned conspiratorially at Legolas, recalling their own ride years ago when both had been flown to Imladris by Gwaihir and one of his kin.  

“It was something I will never forget, that is certain!”  Mora glanced over his shoulder as he walked up the stone steps to the doors.  “Oh, and, Estel, you will be glad to know that the eagles have started their great migrations just as was foretold.  They are wintering in the Grey Havens and will return in the spring.  They too are preparing to go over the sea.  Your brothers have sent letters to your father and mother via some that have already left.  Tomorrow, Gwinhain, grandchild of Gwaihir, will be the last one to make the journey.  He is stopping by the valley on his way.  If you would like to pen your father a letter I am sure he would take it for you.  

Aragorn smiled and nodded.  He would like that very much.  

Moranuen stepped into the house before them, holding the door open.  Aragorn brought up the rear, walking slowly inside and glancing around the entryway.  He stopped on the threshold.  Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply.  It was a small gesture, a simple act he had grown accustomed to doing when he had been away from home for long periods of time.  The scents that wafted to him through the house still carried the smells he associated so closely with his father – the lingering sweetness of athelas, the musky scents of herbs and the heady smell of burning wood from the Hall of Fire. 

Moranuen, unaware that his guests had lingered, walked further in to the house, talking quietly to the two.  Sounds of laughter and tiny running feet could be heard in the guest quarters on the lower levels.  Jonath’s deep voice interrupted the mild melee, calling out for Draecyn’s position.  If it weren’t for the fact that he could feel Elrond’s absence - that quiet dark void that should be filled with light - Estel knew he was home. 

“Your brothers should be back later today.  They went out hunting, trying to fill the cellar for the winter.  There are fewer hunters now, but fewer of us to eat it as well.  However, with guests we may need to...” Mora stopped and turned back, a wide smile spreading on his face as he watched Aragorn open his eyes.  

“Welcome home, Estel,” he spoke softly as the man’s gaze lighted on him. 

“It’s good to be back.”  Aragorn nodded his acceptance.  “Did you say my brothers were returning?” 

“Yes, they said they would return today.”  Mora watched as Legolas slowly began to make his way up the steps.  Aragorn was by his side in an instant, helping him climb the flight of stairs.  Mora knew the thought of an empty Rivendell was distressing to the former ranger.  

“Don’t worry, Estel, the house does not stand empty at all times.  Taradin and Garith’s kin still visit often and they bring with them the townsfolk in need of healing.  Your brothers have taken up where your father left off.  Not to mention that Beoma’s grandchildren are always making trips through the pass, keeping the twins stocked in honeycakes.  They love to stay and dote on your brothers now that the household staff is gone and often we have a few of them wintering with us.” 

Aragorn stopped on the first landing and smiled down at his friend.  “It does sound just like home.  Father would be happy that the townsfolk come here still.” 

“He would be,” Legolas agreed quietly. 

“My Lord?” Jonath’s voice boomed down the hallway. 

“Here, Jonath,” Aragorn called. 

“Have you need of anything, my King?”  The tall warrior stepped into the hallway, surprised to see a strange elf in the entry. 

“No, we are well.  We are going to see to the rooms and will be down shortly.”  Aragorn watched as Legolas cautiously resumed climbing the stairs.  The elf’s body still ached and he was more tired than he wanted to admit.  His only desire now was to find a bed in one piece and fall into it. 

“Jonath, meet my very good friend, Moranuen.”  Aragorn turned back to the two beings. “Moranuen, my second-in-command of the troops, Jonath.” 

“Have we met?” Jonath asked cautiously. 

“Perhaps you were in Minas Tirith when I came through,” Mora answered, accepting the outstretched hand and bowing slightly. 

“Jonath?” Aragorn questioned, his countenance turning suddenly dark. “Where you there when Mora requested to see me?  Did you tell him I could not see him?” 

“No, my liege, I would not do that unless you bid me.  But I vaguely recall seeing an elf at the gates bearing his resemblance, though it was years ago.  I was called away and assumed he had been admitted.” 

“He was not.”  Aragorn’s answer was curt.  “I would not see that happen again.” 

“My apologies, my lords, it will not.  When we return I will inform the gate keepers as well.” Jonath glanced between the elf and his king. 

A smile replaced the King’s frown.  His personal guard was a good man.  “Thank you, Jonath. We’ll be down shortly.” 

Mora easily accepted the humans and led the warrior into the main hall, striking up a conversation with the man and setting him instantly at ease.  The peace of Rivendell took over and soon all beneath the rafters were contentedly gathered in the Hall of Fire, save for Aragorn and Legolas.

Legolas had made his way into the room that had always been reserved for him.  It was the one closest to Estel’s and to his surprise it still held an extra set of his clothing.  Carefully he pulled the dust cloths from the furniture, wadding them up and shifting the coverings into a corner of the room.  Wood was stacked in the hearth and he quickly kindled a small fire.  Sitting gingerly down on the bed, he lay back on the soft mattress and sighed deeply, closing his eyes.  Yes, this place was comfortably familiar.  A place he was used to coming back to when the world outside had been too harsh and life had taken its toll on him.  He supposed it was strange, really, that he should feel more at home here in this place than in Mirkwood, even now when the shadow was finally lifted... but it didn’t feel strange, so Legolas decided he did not care.

Aragorn followed the elf into the room and stood in the doorway, leaning against the door frame.  “This was a good idea, mellon-nín,” he said softly, smiling as the elf opened one eye to gaze at him. 

“It was,” Legolas stated simply, letting his head fall back against the pillows. 

Aragorn pushed away from the door and headed to his own room, his voice calling back down the hallway and setting the elf to laughing. “Don’t you dare fall asleep with your boots on. Celboril would come all the way back over the sea just to have your head if he found out you were disrespecting the furniture.”
Gently, Estel pushed the door to his room open and glanced inside.  Night had fallen and the chambers were dark.  Blindly, he groped for the small table that sat next to his bed.  Behind him, down the hallway, Mora was lighting the glow globes.  With the twins gone, he hadn’t been prepared for company.  Aragorn’s fingers fumbled across the tabletop and wrapped around the small shell night light that sat like a sentinel next to the bed.  He deftly struck the tiny flat of flint and lit the lamp, his hands remembering as if by rote what his nightly routine had been so many years ago. 

The soft glow of the light illuminated the room.  It was just as he had left it, save for the dust cloths that Celboril had carefully draped over everything.  Those were quickly wadded up and discarded as the man walked around the room, reacquainting himself with his surroundings. 

Pulling the dusty sheets from the bed, Aragorn threw them atop the pile in the corner.  His gaze landed lastly on the night table and his old wooden oliphaunt carved by another man he had once called father, a man whose descendants now carried on his name and memory. 

“Cabed.”  He was surprised he had spoken the name out loud and he jumped slightly when a voice behind him interrupted his reverie. 

“Ah yes. I remember that old Haradrim.” 

Legolas eased down onto Estel’s bed, tucking his feet underneath him.  Aragorn noticed with a smile that the elf wore no shoes. 

“This place holds many memories and all of them are good,” Legolas continued quietly.  “I believe this may be the only place in Arda I can say that about.  Thank you, mellon-nín, for returning here with me.” 

Aragorn started to answer his friend when a tiny shout interrupted them and Eldarion burst through the partially open door. 

“Ada! Ada!!”  The little boy flung himself at the man.  He wrapped his arms around Aragorn’s neck and excitedly began talking to his father as Aragorn stooped to pick him up. 

“Elladan and El’hir are back! They said I could sleep in El’hir’s bed tonight! Can I? Can I please?” 

Legolas stifled his laughter as Estel pulled his face slightly away from the eager boy who was inches from him and pressing closer.  Dari was such a different child now that he was back with the people he knew and loved.  The little boy was far less quiet and reserved then he had been when Legolas met him in the slave cages, and the elf was glad.  For the most part, Dari was also no longer shadowed by the pain and fear he had carried far too long.  The young bounced back so fast sometimes.  It was wonderful to see.  

“Please, Ada?”  Eldarion gently touched Aragorn’s face, pushing the king’s hair out of his eyes like his father was so fond of doing with him.  His tiny fingers traced down the strong chin and played over the Evenstar where it lay glittering in the hollow of Aragorn’s throat.  “Please?” he begged one last time. 

“Estel?  Estel!” The twins’ voices could be heard as the elves pounded up the stairwell. 

“El’hir! In here!!”  Dari called back. 

With a kiss, Aragorn set the little boy down and pushed him towards the door.  “Yes, you can stay in El’s room tonight as long as he has agreed,” he consented easily to the child’s wishes. 

The door to the room was thrown wide, ricocheting off the wall behind it as the two brothers outside vied to enter first. 

With a shout of joy, the King was enveloped by the two elves that were talking and laughing all at once.  It had only been a matter of months since they had last seen each other, but this was different, being together in Rivendell once more. 

Extricating himself enough to turn and face Legolas, Estel found the elf still sitting contentedly on his bed, watching the family reunion. 

“Legolas! It’s good to see you again!  How goes the rebuilding of Ithilien?” Elladan questioned cheerfully as he released his younger brother.  “We have heard good things, but news the past few months has been sparse.” 

The shadow that chased through the prince’s eyes was not lost on the elves nor the king, and the twins quickly sobered.  “Do things not go well?” Elrohir asked quietly. 

“Things have gone well with the rebuilding,” Aragorn answered for his friend, seating himself next to the golden-haired elf.  “There were raiders in Ithilien a few months ago and Legolas had an undesirable run-in with them.  We have come here to recover and spend time healing,”  Estel spoke for them both. 

“That is not all, is it?  You are not telling us everything, are you?” Elrohir pressed for more as he watched his younger brother.  The human evaded his gaze.  

Eldarion who had been watching quietly from the doorway spoke up softly; he was holding Aragorn’s wooden oliphaunt, turning the toy over and over in his small hands.  “Het’spa was mean to us both.” 

“Aragorn?” Elladan questioned softly, but his tone held an underlying intensity.  They were used to Aragorn and Legolas getting themselves into trouble, but Dari?  What could possibly have befallen their little nephew?  

Stooping over, the human scooped his son up in his arms and reseated himself, holding the little boy closely.  “There is more, but we should discuss it later.”  He held his brothers’ gaze, asking for leniency and warning them that now was not the time.  He tried to avoid talking about Dari’s kidnapping in front of the child.  It was best to let the young mind forget and not dwell on the horrors he had witnessed.  

“Leg’las was hurt bad.”  Dari reached out and petted the elf gently with one hand, showing much more concern for his former guardian’s state of being than his own.  “But he’s better now!” The little boy brightened, the dark memories quickly given up for the questions that their new situation placed in his young mind.  

“Look, Ada, it’s like the big Mum-mums in the South!  Can I have it?”  Dari turned his attention to his father and held up the wooden toy.  The child could not say ‘Mûmakil’ yet, but had been enormously fascinated with the giant beasts when he visited the peace talks in Harad.  

Aragorn touched the oliphaunt fondly and nodded. “That was mine when I was younger.  I think Kidrin would want you to have it.” 

“Kid’in?” Eldarion mimicked.  “Who’s that?” 

That is a tale for another time.”  Aragorn smiled widely and put the child down, “Now go on with you, find Draecyn.  I need to talk to Elrohir and Elladan, and Legolas needs to accompany me to the apothecary.” 

“Oh no, I don’t.” The Silvan elf balked as the ranger eased him off the bed and steered him out of the room.  The sounds of Eldarion’s swiftly padding feet could be heard as he raced down the steps, happily clutching his new toy and searching out the soldiers. 

“I believe your men are in the kitchen with Mora trying to make something for dinner,” Elladan commented wryly as the foursome made their way to the apothecary.  They all pointedly ignored Legolas’ protests, so he presently gave up protesting and let them have their way. 

“Jonath wasn’t in there was he?” Aragorn stopped and glanced sharply at the twins, “He can’t cook to save his life.  His food is terrible; we have to stop him!” 

With a laugh Elladan pushed his brother forward, walking with them down the stairwell and into their father’s pantry. 

“Not to worry, Mora is a horrible cook as well.  But we have gotten used to what he throws together and calls food.”  Elladan laughed at the grimace on his human brother’s face.  “He has picked up some of Beoma’s children’s habits when cooking and it’s not wise to meddle.” 

“As long as it’s hot and we don’t have to cook it, we don’t complain!” Elrohir added cheerfully.  He cleaned off a spot on the long wooden table that took up the center of the small room. 

With a pained sigh, Legolas eased gingerly up onto the waist high counter and sat facing Estel.  He knew what his friend wanted of him; he didn’t even have to be asked after all these years.  The truth was that he didn’t really mind that much either.  He trusted Aragorn’s care and as much as he would have liked to deny it, he probably needed it.  He was far too weary lately, tiring easily and given to a listless restlessness.  The prince did not like it at all. 

Aragorn smiled gently up at the exhausted elf.  The healer ignored his brothers for the moment as they moved about the room, teasing one another and the two friends. 

“You are tired and you did not let me know,” he accused the wood-elf quietly, but without any serious reproach.  

Legolas returned his friend’s smile.  There was no denying it, he was sleepy, but he was not about to retire for the evening now.  Rivendell was bringing some unknown part of him back to life.  For the first time in many days, some sense of peace had returned to his soul.  A peace that had been slipping away from him for some time now, but had been utterly missing since Rahzon. 

“I am fine,” the elf answered with a small laugh at the look of frank disbelief that Aragorn laid on him.  “No, honestly I am, Estel.  It is this place and the company.”  Legolas rested his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder.  

“I imagine you want to look at the stitches again?”  When Estel nodded, the prince began slowly unfastening his tunic.  “Then I will need help, because I really am tired,” he admitted.  The elf’s fingers tugged somewhat wearily and ineffectually at the intricate fastenings of his tunic for a moment without much real effort.  Sometimes it was just so hard to move it hardly seemed worth the effort.  Most of the time this was a cause of consternation, but he had almost gotten used to it over the past few weeks.  Anyway, he wasn’t going to let it disturb him right now when everything else was so nice.  The elf’s smile mirrored the one on the King’s face as Aragorn gently brushed his friend’s hands aside and worked the fasteners open for him as Legolas had known he would.  

Easing the shirt off the elf’s shoulders, Aragorn exposed the still healing wound.  Legolas pulled his breath in with a sharp hiss as the man gently moved his arm up and out of the way.  Seeing his friend’s discomfort, Estel stepped closer to the table.  Leaning in near, he allowed the elf to rest his arm atop the King’s head as he worked. 

The twins returned with supplies and Elladan started a small, contained flame licking the bottom of a fresh pot of athelas.  The sweet smell flooded the room, calming the prince’s labored breathing.  It had been weeks since they had rescued the elf from Rahzon, and still the deep wound had not quite healed.  That was not at all usual and it worried Aragorn. 

Leaning across the table from behind Legolas, Elrohir gently inspected the stitches, gingerly prodding the cut.  The elf prince closed his eyes and swallowed hard, allowing the two healers to have their way with him.  The injury was still painfully tender. 

“It does not look as if it is healing properly, Estel.  How long has it been like this?” Elrohir whispered, his voice soft, not to hide the situation but because of the proximity of those around them.  His little brother had become a renowned healer.  If the injury was not healing promptly under his care, then there was more to this wound than met the eye. 

“Several weeks,” Aragorn hedged slightly.  “Perhaps a month.”  His voice was a little tense.  He knew what kind of reaction that would garner.  

“A month...” Elladan checked himself sharply, not allowing any further outward display of the shock he felt at such information.  He and Elrohir exchanged a look.  

Elrohir seemed to be trying to think of some non-alarming way to respond to that revelation.  “That’s... that’s a bit unusual, isn’t it?” he said at last, knowing perfectly well how unusual it was.  

“I know it is.  I do not know why this is happening.  I didn’t have the herbs I needed in Rhazon, but Legolas usually heals much better than this even on his own.”  Carefully the man washed the wound with warmed water.  He slowed his ministrations when Legolas’ free hand grasped his shoulder and tightened painfully on his collarbone.  “Easy, mellon-nín, we will numb it again, give me a moment,” he spoke softly in the grey tongue as Elrohir turned and began rifling through a cupboard behind him.  He knew Legolas hated the regular ritual of having his wound cleaned and redressed.  

Elrohir did not let his brother see the worried frown that creased his face.  He didn’t think Aragorn quite realized what he might be dealing with here, but did not yet know enough about the situation to feel comfortable saying anything. 

Sounds of loud crashing and raised voices could be heard coming from the kitchen, startling the three elves and their human companion. 

With a quiet laugh, Elladan eased around Elrohir and headed for the door.  “I’ll go see what they’ve done now.  There are days I miss Celboril.”  He heard his human brother call out to him as he walked away down the hall. 

“If Dari is in the way send him on back here!”  Aragorn leaned out, trying to see down the hall as much as his position would allow. 

“Eldarion is sleeping in the great hall, my lord,” Jonath answered, walking into the pantry.  He was wiping his hands on a towel tucked into the strings that tied a full-length apron about his waist.  The warrior’s face flushed as Aragorn appraised his attire with a raised eyebrow. 
“Moranuen insisted I wear this,” the soldier defended himself.  He dropped the rag to his side and crossed his arms, glaring at the King.  He was far too polite and respectful to point out how many times he had seen his liege wearing things he considered to be far more disreputable or ridiculous.  The King’s favorite overcoat was an excellent example.  

Stifling his laughter, Aragorn tried to replace his skeptical look with something akin to seriousness.  He failed miserably.  Legolas made no such attempt; the elf’s musical laughter caught at the king and lifted his spirits.  Legolas hadn’t laughed in days. 

“My dear Jonath, did you say Eldarion has fallen asleep in the Hall of Fire?” Aragorn finally composed himself enough to ask.  

“I did, my lord.” The warrior scowled.  

“He still has nightmares and this house is yet foreign to him...” Aragorn worried aloud. 

“I will bring him in here.  He may sleep in the corner while we finish,” Elrohir quieted his brother’s anxiety.  He handed the King a small jar of lotion and stepped around the Gondorian that blocked his path. 

“That color suits you,” the younger twin commented, looking the man up and down before darting into the hallway.  The laughter from the king and prince chased after him. 

With a shake of his head, Jonath turned and stalked back to the kitchen muttering under his breath about elves and their strange sense of humor.  

Legolas’ soft laughter was disrupted as a sharp pain lanced through his side.  With Aragorn’s head holding his arm up, he was unable to curl in on himself.  Estel quickly turned his attention back to the injured elf.  Talking quietly to Legolas in his native tongue, he hurriedly unscrewed the lid to the jar Elrohir had given him. 

“Just a minute, give me a minute, the pain will lessen.”  Dipping his fingers into the thick ointment, Aragorn lathed the healing lotion over the stitches and the slightly inflamed edges of the ragged cut they sutured.  The concoction was something his father had created.  The oils of the plants numbed the pain on contact and began to draw any infection out of the wound, countering it with its natural healing powers.  In seconds Aragorn was rewarded with a soft sigh from Legolas. 

“It is better,” the elf whispered.  His breathing eased and he relaxed, leaning more heavily against his friend. 

Elrohir re-entered, carrying Eldarion wrapped in a blanket.  The child was asleep and clutching the small wooden toy he had acquired earlier.  Aragorn glanced up quickly and smiled as he watched his older brother with his son. 

The elf laid the little boy down, whispering quietly to him in elvish before joining Aragorn and helping to tend to Legolas. 

“You used that horrible sleeping trick on him didn’t you?” Estel half accused, half questioned. “The one Ada used to use on me all the time?” 

“Works wonders once you perfect it.”  Elrohir smiled. “He will not wake now until morning, I assure you.”  The elf took the jar from his little brother’s hand and attended to a slowly healing cut across Legolas’ back.  

“You took quite a beating,” the Noldo commented softly, gently rubbing the lotion across the Silvan elf’s lower back as Aragorn continued carefully prodding Legolas’ ribs, testing the bones that were nearly healed.  Elrohir wondered if all these injures were as old as Aragorn had indicated before.  He decided they probably were although, if he had not known, he would have thought them much more recent.  Skilled fingers lathed the ointment over the cuts and bruises on the prince’s back a second time.  Elrohir was more disturbed than he wanted to admit.  These marks did not have the look of old wounds, yet neither did they appear to be fresh.  To the first-time observer it looked as if the prince’s body had simply wearied of trying to repair the damage and was trying to accept the injuries as part of its natural state of being.  There was no apparent infection, but they were obviously still painful.  

With a weary sigh, Legolas laid his head down on the arm that rested on Aragorn’s head.  He was so tired of this particular ritual and longed to be whole again.  He couldn’t understand why his body simply refused to heal, why he had to keep enduring this pain.  Closing his eyes he rested against his friend.  Beneath him, Estel stilled his movements and gave the elf a bit of respite. 

“He did at that.  I thought he was not long for this world when I found him in Rahzon.  They were forcing him to participate in the pit fights.  That he lived as long as he did in that captivity says a lot for his spirit,” the man explained simply, knowing his brother was curious.  Slowly Aragorn picked his ministrations back up again as he quietly told the entire tale to Elrohir.  He did not like keeping secrets from his family and Legolas gave no indication that he was uncomfortable with the telling. 

When they had finally finished dressing and re-bandaging his wounds and the tale had been told, Aragorn tried to stand up, thinking to help Legolas back into his tunic.  He found, however, that the elf was not complying. 

Elrohir’s hand on his arm stopped the man’s movements.  “Estel, he sleeps.” 

Aragorn stilled and glanced up at the elf that rested against him.  Legolas’ breathing was deep and slow; his weariness had finally gotten the better of him.  Slowly, Estel wrapped his arms around the elf’s waist and braced the prince against him. 

“Elrohir, clear a space and help me ease him down.  He should rest while he can.  We can wake him later,” the human whispered softly as Legolas settled in his arms.  He knew that Legolas found sleeping difficult lately.  If he was actually resting without aid, that was a good sign.  

Quickly, the Noldo elf complied, spreading out Legolas’ tunic and wadding up a towel for a makeshift pillow.  He cradled Legolas’ head in his hands as Aragorn laid the prince down. 

Removing his own outer tunic, the King laid it over the sleeping elf, tucking it in around him, forgetting for the moment that Legolas would not feel the cold as he might.  The prince shifted slightly and Estel lay his hand on the elf’s chest, speaking softly to him. 

“Rest, mellon-nín, sleep... just sleep,” he whispered, invoking the elvish command as best he could.  Legolas stilled beneath his touch as his sleep deepened. 

A soft smile spread across the king’s face as he watched his friend, “I nearly lost him, Elrohir, and I wouldn’t even have known.  None of us might ever have known what happened to him... or Dari.” 

“But you didn’t lose either of them,” Elrohir pointed out reassuringly, pushing Aragorn towards the door. “You will all be better after some rest.”  He glanced to where Eldarion lay sleeping contentedly. “They can both stay in here for now.  No one will disturb them.” 

Reluctantly, Aragorn followed his older brother into the hallway. 

Once they were out of the room, Elrohir pulled his brother aside.  His grey eyes were deeply concerned, although he had hidden his feelings from Legolas.  “Estel, what else is wrong with Legolas, truthfully?  It’s the sea-longing, isn’t it?” 

The human sighed and nodded.  He was surprised his brother had picked up on it so swiftly.  “It is, but he doesn’t want to go.  I – I don’t’ really understand it, but apparently it’s leaving him no peace.  And after everything else that’s happened...” the human shrugged helplessly.  Did it all connect somehow?  He didn’t know.  “I’m really worried, El, he’s so tired all the time and that wound... even on a human it should have healed weeks ago!” 

Elrohir closed his eyes tightly for a moment, before opening them again with a sigh.  “I feared as much.  It... it was like that for Nana when the sea longing took her.  She didn’t want to leave us, but she could not bear to stay.  There was a cut on her back from the orc attack that never healed.  It did not become infected or fester, it simply did not mend.  Ada said it was because her body had lost the will to live on this side of the sea and that only in Valinor could she be whole again...” The twin’s voice was wistful and sad.  He could see his pain mirrored in his younger brother’s eyes and desperately hoped that this would not be the way of things with Legolas as well, for Estel’s sake if nothing else.  

“Are you saying there is no hope that he can truly recover now?” Aragorn’s voice was hoarse with sudden disbelief and anguish.  He had not considered this.  He supposed he had been hoping, however foolishly, that if they could only get Legolas to Rivendell, then somehow everything would work out all right one way or another.  Yet if even Elrond had not been able to heal this kind of malady, what hope did he have?  His heart ached fiercely.  Had he brought Legolas here only to say goodbye? 

“I did not say that,” Elrohir said quickly, trying to ease his brother’s fear a little.  “Legolas’ spirit is strong, it always has been.  He has already survived things in his life that many elves would have crumbled under.  Their fates do not have to be the same.  But we must help him, Estel.  We must help him find a balance between his sea longing and his desire to remain.  I feel in my heart that only then will his spirit be able to find peace, and his body be able to mend.” 

Aragorn sighed.  “I know.  But how do we do that?  I wish father were here, I am so inadequate in these matters.” 

“That is not true.  Ada would be proud of you.  You have become quite a healer, Estel.”  Elrohir smiled proudly at the human.  

“I still wish he were here, I would not worry so over Legolas and Eldarion with him near.  He always had such a calming effect on those in his care.” 

“I do not think you realize that you have that same aura about you as well, Estel...” Elrohir’s words were cut short as the two rounded the corner leading into the kitchen.  

Draecyn was seated on the countertop, wearing one of Celboril’s aprons and laughing uproariously.  Jonath, standing in front of a large pot, spun on his heels and pointed the spoon he was stirring with at the soldier, threatening the underling with the severest of punishments.  Red sauce dripped from the ladle and nearly spilled onto the floor before Mora noticed and caught the wayward sauce with his fingers, tasting the consistency of the paste. 

Ignoring the two humans’ banter, he encouraged the older soldier. “That’s perfect!  No, quickly over, keep stirring it or it will burn.  Don’t listen to him, you are good at this.” 

“I am not good at this,” Jonath muttered darkly, “I am good at the handling of arms and commanding soldiers and keeping watch over my wayward liege, but I am not good at this, nor do I enjoy it.” 

“But you look nice in that apron,” Elladan commented from the far side of the kitchen where he was busy cutting a loaf of warm bread. 

The argument sent Draecyn further into half-stifled hysterics, much to Elladan’s amusement and Jonath’s displeasure.  To his credit, the young soldier really was trying very hard to rein himself in, but it seemed too monumental a task for him to manage.  Draecyn wiped a few strands of curly, dark hair out of his face.  Elrohir silently gauged the young soldier’s age to be somewhere around twenty years, or perhaps a little younger, but he wasn’t too good with human ages.  

“So help me, when we get out of this place and are headed back to Gondor, do not think I will let this go forgotten, Draecyn.  If you think your life is hard now, chasing after Eldarion, just wait until you have to do it with my...” The angry tirade was cut off as Aragorn cleared his throat causing both men to stumble to attention.  In his haste the younger soldier nearly tripped over himself as he jumped to the floor, giving a hasty salute. 

The antics of his men caused Aragorn to lose all control and he joined the elves, laughing deeply. 

Seeing his lord at ease and enjoying himself took the edge off of Jonath’s anger.  He smiled at Draecyn before commenting darkly, “I’m glad you find this amusing, my king.” 

Draecyn quickly took the hint and sobered up as much as was possible.  Jonath was a remarkably understanding commanding officer most of the time.  But you absolutely did not cross him or disrespect him in the presence of the King. 

“I think Elrohir and I will retire to the dining room and stay out of your way. Call us if you have need of help.  Elladan, when you are free would you join us please?” Aragorn requested quietly, hoping for a private moment alone with his brothers.  Had it been any other night than his first night back, Mora would have insisted on making them all help.  It was the way things were now and although he did the majority of the cooking, the times they spent in the kitchen preparing food together were some of Mora’s favorites.  

He nodded at Elladan and smiled warmly. “Go.  The three of us will be fine here.” 

They had barely reached the study when the doors to Imladris were thrown wide and a commotion of colors and sounds burst through the entry.  Arwen and her entourage swarmed into the Last Homely House, calling for her husband and child. 

“Estel!”  She hurried to her husband as her maids filed in behind her, followed closely by Raniean, Trelan and a small company of soldiers. 

Aragorn looked up with delighted surprise.  He had not expected them to arrive so soon.  They must have either made incredibly good time or pushed themselves rather hard. 

The instant Arwen turned the corner and saw him, Aragorn realized it must have been the latter.  The Queen of Gondor was as beautiful as ever, but her riding cloak was stained with dust and her face was lined with worry.  The look she fixed on him was half joy, half irritation.  

“Where is he?  Where is Eldarion?  The messenger only said that he was well and you had found him.  Where has he been, what happened?  Why didn’t you come home, why didn’t you wait for me?”  The worried questions fell from her lips in a torrent as Aragorn pulled her close and held her against him, shushing her urgent inquiries. 

Arwen allowed her husband to hold her, although she was not about to let him out of answering each and every one of her questions.  Still, his presence calmed her and she felt her frenzied rush of emotions slowly bleeding away to something more manageable.  Turning against his chest so she could look up at him with concern in her lovely, ageless eyes, she fixed her husband with a searching gaze.  She had been surprised when the messenger reported where Aragorn was going and more than a little puzzled and hurt at the mysterious actions.  He knew how much she worried about Dari, why had he not waited for her?  Now, she wondered suddenly if there was more going on here than she knew. 

“Estel...are you all right?” 

“Dari is fine my love.  He is sleeping.”  Aragorn tried to sort out and answer her questions one at a time as he stepped back, holding her face in his hands and giving her a small kiss on the forehead.  “Don’t worry.  He is all right and so am I.”  Taking her trembling hands in his own he pressed them gently to his lips.  “I’m sorry we didn’t wait for you, my love.  I... I will explain later, all right?” his eyes begged her forgiveness and patience.  He wanted to talk to her about his concern over Legolas’ condition and his sluggish healing, but not here, not in front of everyone else.  

Arwen squeezed his hands.  She did forgive him and she trusted him, she would wait and hear his reasons when they could talk privately.  After she had seen for herself that Eldarion was all right and held the child in her own arms again.  

Raniean and Trelan had made their way around the women and intercepted Elladan and the Gondorians who had come to find out the source of the disturbance.  

All around him, people were talking and asking questions at once. Aragorn stepped back out of the way, leaning against an intersecting corner as he watched the melee.  

Elrohir entered carrying a sleeping Eldarion and quickly garnered the Queen’s undivided attention.  The younger twin had heard Arwen’s frantic questions and desired to put his sister at ease.  Arwen rushed to his side, taking the child from his arms and kissing the little boy.  Dari woke slowly, his face eagerly mirroring his mother’s delight as soon as he registered who was now holding him. 

“Nana!” he hugged her neck tightly.  “Nana, look what I found.  Ada says I may keep it.”  He held up the small wooden oliphaunt excitedly, explaining all that had happened in his own simple terms.  

Elladan was talking with Trelan and Raniean, settling their anxieties about Legolas.  

Draecyn led the Queen’s entourage off towards the guest quarters while Jonath, who had abandoned Mora for the moment, redirected Lady Arwen’s bodyguards out to Celboril’s old quarters where he and Draecyn were staying.  Drawn by the commotion, Mora exited the kitchen moments later. 

Laughter, tears and greetings were exchanged as everyone talked at once.  In the excitement of all that was happening, the ranger in Aragorn took over and he quietly removed himself, simply watching from the corner, a soft smile decorating his face. 

The gentle touch on his back startled the King and he turned, glancing into the blue eyes of the elf that had crept up behind him. 

“It is still the same, is it not?”  Legolas asked, his eyes taking in the scene before them.  He was fiddling with the catches on his tunic, slowly buttoning them up. 

Aragorn didn’t answer right away.  He glanced back out on the unfolding scene.  He could feel Legolas behind him as the elf leaned tiredly against him. The warm scents of the evening meal seeped into the entry hall beckoning the guests to stay, inviting them in further.  It seemed as though the very house itself breathed deeply of the joy of its inhabitants, lulling the visitors into a peace and calmness that could be felt nowhere else on Middle-earth.  Aragorn almost thought he could hear his father’s laughter amidst the talking of the others as he let his senses be soothed by the familiarity of his home. 


The simple word startled the elf and he stepped back as Aragorn turned towards him, giving the prince his full attention. 

“Yes, it is still the same.  I would swear I even heard my father’s laughter,” Aragorn repeated his answer. 

“As did I.” Legolas smiled back at his friend knowingly.  Rivendell had begun working its spell on them all.  Elrond might be gone, but the magic of Rivendell lived on in their hearts.  It always would. 

The soft conversation broke into the orchestrated chaos and in moments the small family had joined the two friends, joyfully pushing one another down the hallway toward the dining hall and the meal Mora had prepared.