Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and sceneries belongs to JRR Tolkien.
V – STRONG FEELINGS
I have reasons to miss you,
To miss our coexistence in comrades' conversations,
The simple shake of hands, not even that, the voice
modulating known and banal syllables
which were always sure and safe.
Yes, I miss you.
Yes, I accuse you because you did
What was not foreseen in the laws of friendship and nature
You did not even leave us the right to ask
why you did it, why you were gone
To an absent one - Carlos Drummond de Andrade (a Brazilian writer)
In a few hours, the dawn came with its colors and sounds. The land had been cleared of bodies—both orc and elven—and it seemed as though no horrendous battle had ever taken place. Elladan approached the group, stopping beside his brother. Elrohir, who had coordinated the efforts during the night, watched in silence while the blond soldier put some stones on the last tomb they'd built, singing a sweet and sad song in the ancient Silvan dialect.
"His tune sounds like the birds singing," commented the younger twin.
"That's true," Elladan said, nodding.
"He worked relentlessly." Elrohir sighed, still looking at the archer, who was kneeling in the dirt. "He has won my admiration."
"And mine," Elladan said. "But my heart hurts so badly for him," he admitted, crossing his arms and inclining his head slightly, as if examining a sad picture, searching for difficult answers. "The greatness of his spirit is visible to the eye and touches the emotions of anyone who would look upon him."
Elrohir forcibly exhaled. He completely agreed with his brother. He wanted to do more, but he did not know how or what.
"I can't even conceive the enormity of his pain…" He looked at his patrol's members, friends of his childhood times. He couldn't imagine the idea of losing any of them. "It must be a terrible feeling… I do wish we could have arrived earlier."
"So do I…" Elladan lowered his eyes.
They stayed there for a while, lost in their own thoughts and fears, until Elrohir started to talk again.
"How's the captain?" he asked.
"The fever has finally broken," Elladan gladly informed him, looking again toward the young blond elf, who was now sitting back on his knees, visibly exhausted. "Thavanian is a Sindar. They are very strong elves. I believe that it will not take long until he will be standing."
"So maybe we should try to make this soldier rest now."
Elladan nodded, moving immediately, as if he had just been waiting for his brother's suggestion. He took a few steps and, noticing the blond elf hadn't felt his presence, he knelt quietly beside him.
When he realized he wasn't alone anymore, Legolas immediately wrapped both of his arms around his body. The movement awakened in Elladan an incomprehensible feeling, something that nudged at him gently. But the feeling was gone as quickly as it had come, replaced by another. His presence didn't usually cause unease in people; after all, he was a healer. No one had ever reacted to him in this way before.
"Your friend is recovering well," he said, trying to find good things to comment on. He wanted to say something to cheer the tired soldier. "I think all the risk has gone."
Legolas' light eyes finally landed on him and the blond elf nodded with a sigh. "I owe you," he replied.
"You owe us nothing."
"You have helped us. I could not have done by myself what you and your group helped me to do," Legolas sadly admitted, lowering his head and digging his fingers into the soil beneath him.
Elladan sighed and frowned, watching the soldier's gaze lower, as if he were captivated by the sight of his hands disappearing into the loose earth surrounding him.
"It was the least we could do," he managed to say, still observing the gentle movement of the other elf's fingers as they delved more deeply into the dark soil. The soldier seemed as if he were in deep concentration. Elladan looked toward the grave again, where the last elf of the group had been buried. "We are very sorry for your loss."
"I am grateful to you all," Legolas said, with his eyes still closed. His voice seemed strangely lost, as if he were in some kind of dream.
"You need rest now."
Legolas did not answer nor reopen his eyes. It seemed as if he wanted to be as one with the earth, his hands submerged in the soil. Elladan did not understand why, but the scene gave him chills.
"They are at peace now…" Elladan said. In his mind an idea was starting to tease him. This was a very brave soldier, but it was clear he was having a hard time dealing with the loss of his friends. "I have heard that every great soldier gets a mighty reception in Mandos' Halls. They have died defending their land, and that's an honorable thing."
Legolas sighed again, his lips slightly parted. He continued sitting there with his eyes closed, his hands buried in the soil, the same ground his father defended with all his might, the same earth that now covered his friends' bodies. Underneath him was Ainion's grave. Strange feelings invaded his mind then, as they often did when he was exhausted or injured. Thoughts about how maybe he could also go; now that everything was calm and Thavanian had someone who would help him. He could follow his friends and have this soil covering his body too, as he'd secretly wanted since his mother had gone. Elbereth, he wished he had gone with her.
"Our king's land…" he whispered to himself, remembering what the twin has just said. "It covers my friends now… That's the greatest honor."
Elladan took a deep breath, touched by the meaning of those words. But then the soldier's strange attitude made more sense to him than he wanted it to make. He was not just feeling the earth, he was not just wishing his friends a farewell. Worried about that dark idea, Elladan touched the blond elf's shoulder gently, awakening him from the chilling thoughts that might be crossing his mind.
"You did your best," he vehemently said. "Don't think otherwise, please. Your friends have found peace because you were here to give them a place for their bodies to rest, to give them your praises, your songs…"
Legolas pressed his lips together, and his effort not to weep was evident, even though he tried to hide it. He just shook his head slightly and his brilliant blue eyes moved over the ground in front of him.
"I would… I would have followed them…" The truth escaped through the prince's lips, giving Elladan's earlier conjectures a certainty. Legolas noticed his lapse, so he immediately looked at him, pulling his hands out of the loose earth beneath him. "I… I'm sorry… I'm just tired… I…" he stammered, already caught by the wise, gray eyes of the elder son of Lady Celebrian.
Elladan looked at him seriously, his lips drawn tight, but he said nothing. He just raised his hands and took the archer's, holding them between his own.
"They are dirty," Legolas said, surprised, and tried to free them immediately, but the twin was now facing him, his eyes even more serious than before.
"You are feverish. Are you hurt?" he asked, raising his hand and touching Legolas' forehead. The prince tried to flinch away, but Elladan held him by the arm now. "Why are you feverish? What happened? What are you hiding from us?"
"I'm not hiding anything." Legolas went pale, still trying to free himself from Elladan's grip. "Let me go, please."
But Elladan wasn't convinced. "Peace, soldier," he said, still holding Legolas' arm. "I have no intention of hurting you. You can trust me," he added in a tone of frustration. He moved one of his hands to Legolas' shoulder and tried to look at him. The healer inside always felt terribly guilty when he couldn't read someone's suffering or hurt.
"It's nothing. Believe me..." Legolas tried to say, feeling bad with the evident distress he saw in the eyes of the other elf. Elladan barely knew him but seemed really worried about his situation. "Please, my lord. You have already helped me extensively. I am thankful for everything you have done…"
"You would have done the same in our place, I am sure, soldier," Elladan said seriously. "And if you are hurt you must tell me. There is no shame in being wounded. Participating in battles can hit us in ways we do not expect. Our bodies and our spirits suffer. We have to accept help sometimes. It is part of being a good soldier, part of being one of the group."
Legolas slowly stopped fighting, frozen by Elladan's words. The twin, however, didn't release him and the concern, still present in his eyes, slowly broke down Legolas' barriers.
"I ask you to not get me wrong, my lord… I would have told you if I thought I needed help…" Legolas acted as he thought someone in his place would, but his simple answer did not erase even a trace of apprehension from Elladan's face. The twin just clenched his jaw, and his eyes darkened a bit.
"You are feverish," he repeated. "You need help. You and your captain are considered part of our group until you are able to follow your own path again. So I am your healer now."
Legolas nodded quietly. "I meant no offence, my lord…" he said.
"Elladan. My name is Elladan. I am not offended. I just want to know what happened."
Legolas dropped his eyes, exhaling as he relaxed his shoulders. It was hard to find a plausible justification about something when his mind was so tired and confused. He was feeling like a victim of a hurricane, battered from being tossed about by heavy winds. Having finished his obligations to his lost friends hadn't brought him the peace he wanted and needed.
Elladan noticed his discomfort.
"Tell me," he said, back to his patient tone. "Let me help you. That's why I am part of this group. That's my role."
Legolas grimaced. He closed his eyes, touched by the sincerity of Elladan's words. He stayed silent for some moments more, then raised his eyes, looking uneasily at the older twin.
"I… was attacked by a spider two days ago," he revealed in a resigned voice, but his body relaxed a bit. Telling the truth was always the best way to take. He wished he could tell the twins everything, but he couldn't. He pulled his arm lightly from Elladan's grasp and the other elf finally gave him his freedom, but he still could feel the healer's eyes on him.
"A spider?" Elladan frowned.
"Yes… These creatures have a kind of… venom… I am more sensitive to it than most elves are," Legolas said, trying to explain, understanding Elladan's tone of doubt. Spiders are mortal creatures, but the only power of their venom was of stunning or paralyzing its victims. With him, unfortunately, the story was a bit different. "At least that is what the healer in my land used to say… I know it sounds strange… But it takes me just a little longer to recover than others who are stung…"
"Wait a moment! Was it the brown spider you told me of?" Elladan asked in a surprised voice.
"Yes... These brown ones are the least likely to attack… But we met it as it defended its offspring, so it was more aggressive than they usually are… But the bite is not serious, sir."
"They tend to be shy, but when stirred they turn extremely aggressive. And I have heard that they do have a very lethal venom,"
"I am sure I killed it before it had injected its entire dose into me," Legolas said, but the mere mention of the dark event made his hand move instinctively toward his abdomen, as if protecting it, an action which was immediately noted by Elladan's skilled eyes.
"But you were its target," he said, bending and trying to open the soldier's tunic. "That fact is enough to make the spider release more of its venom, not less. Let me see."
Legolas flinched away again and Elrohir, who had gone to answer the call of one of his guards, came back, finally noting that something was going on between his brother and the Silvan soldier.
"What's wrong, Elladan?" he asked.
"This soldier was bitten by a brown spider. Tell him to let me see the condition of the injury, Elrohir."
The younger twin frowned, alerted by the severity of what he'd just heard. His eyes roamed past the two other elves as he considered his options. Too many things had happened in the tragedy of yesterday, and it made him wonder at the wisdom of forcing the desolate elf to do anything he did not want to do. He'd already suffered too much.
"Tell him, please, Elrohir," Elladan insisted, when his brother was a few steps from him. The twins exchanged an indecipherable look, and then the younger one just nodded, even though he did not seem convinced he should do what Elladan wanted him to do.
"Let us help you, mellon nîn," he said then, trying to be gentle. "Elladan will not do you any harm."
Legolas took a deep breath and his shoulders tensed again. This time he did not raise his eyes. It was even worse looking at Elrohir than it had been dealing with Elladan. He had missed them for so long, and this wasn't the best moment to meet them again. His heart was broken and just listening to their voices seemed to drive him to tears. It was hard to control himself.
However, his reaction was so apparent that the brothers looked at each other again.
"We don't mean you any harm, soldier," Elrohir repeated.
"I know, my lord… But it is not necessary that Lord Elladan spend his time on me… I know what to do. This has happened to me before… It happens all the time in this place."
"And what do you have to do?" Elrohir asked, crouching in front of him. The proximity of them made Legolas pale again, feeling like a small animal caught in a trap.
"I have an antidote. We carry it with us…"
"And why haven't you taken it yet?" Elladan asked, surprised.
Legolas breathed deeply, but the answer to that question stayed only in his heart. He had just not taken it yet because he feared the effect it would have on him. He feared to sleep in this dark place, in these dark circumstances. He knew what this kind of sleep would bring to him. But he just couldn't admit that in front of his childhood heroes.
"You are tired, soldier," Elrohir said, reading the blond elf's silence. "And you also need some care. Let my brother help you. There is no shame in that. That's why we are a group. We all help each other," he said, unknowingly making the same point his brother had made earlier.
"I have received enough help today that I no longer know what should shame me and what should not, Captain," Legolas said unhappily, and Elrohir shook his head in disapproval. "But I can also see that everyone, including you, my lord, and your brother, are tired as well. I have the antidote. If I may, I will prepare it and take it. So I can try to find rest in one of my friends there," he said, looking at some of the old intertwined trees which were surrounding them.
Elladan let out a slight sigh of disapproval, but his lips rose in a small smile.
"I appreciate your consideration and respect, soldier," he said, touching Legolas' shoulder again. "But we both know that a healer is unable to rest without the certainty that his skill is no longer needed."
Legolas parted his lips to continue his insistent speech, but then he was suddenly distracted by something. Elladan seemed a bit tired of waiting and had placed his hand exactly over his wound, surprising him with the capacity of his healing power. It had startled Legolas, but then he couldn't help closing his eyes, soaking in the soothing energy emanating from the elf's touch. He knew Elladan was a healer, he could see it in his eyes, in the way all nature around them felt his energy. But he had never felt such energy himself before, not even in Faernestal's hands, the healer in his father's halls, who was known as one of the best in Middle-earth.
Elladan exhaled, silently relieved that the blond elf was willing to be helped. It worried him that he could detect little strength remaining in the soldier's body, and he knew he had to act at once.
"A spider," Legolas repeated with his eyes closed, as if replaying the scene in his mind. "It was defending its offspring."
"Creatures of darkness," an exhausted Elrohir said, sitting beside his brother.
"Evil can seduce some, but transform others in its hands," Legolas sadly added.
"Let me see where the spider wounded you," Elladan said again, leaning closer.
Legolas opened his eyes and swallowed hard. He hedged for a few more moments, but soon realized that the young healer would not change his mind, so he gave up his protesting and loosened the ties of his tunic, avoiding the eyes of the two brothers. Elladan moved closer, gazing at the purplish lines across the prince's abdomen. He didn't like what he saw.
"You will have a fever for a while longer. Unfortunately, that is what is needed," he said, and Legolas shuddered. That was not the best of news, although to the blond archer it seemed to be expected. "You must have the antidote to control it or you will not heal."
"You said you were sensitive to the venom..." Elladan remembered, still concentrating on the signs he could read and feel under his hands now.
"Yes. A little... I mean… I think so. Even after taking the appropriate antidote my body takes longer to heal than most. That is what the healer told me once. But spider attacks, even from the brown ones, are routine in our land, much more frequent than we would like them to be. I know I will be fine."
"Why have you not taken the antidote?" Elladan repeated.
Legolas sighed, moving his eyes to the ground beneath him again.
"Because it puts me into a deep sleep. Not very appropriate to the situation we have been in," Legolas said, even though he knew it was only a half truth. "But there's no hurry. I did not get much poison. Today, if you allow me, I will take it and rest. Hopefully, I will be better tomorrow."
Elladan nodded, still feeling the heat emanating from the blond elf's abdomen.
"If, as you are saying, you have had this antidote before, you are aware that you have to eat something before taking it. The antidote can upset your stomach," he said, but then the healer raised his head and looked the soldier straight in the eyes. "If you eat and get your medicine everything will be fine. You will lie down beside your captain, and I will look after you both in your rest. There will be nothing to worry about."
Legolas parted his lips. To him it seemed as if the older twin had read his thoughts and fears. Could that be possible? He had a moment of hesitation before shaking his head, shifting as if he was about to rise to his feet.
"I do not want to be inflexible, my lord, but I prefer to sleep in one of the friendly trees over there, if you do not mind," he said, looking back toward the dark forest.
"It's not convenient," Elrohir said, opposed to the idea.
"There is no inconvenience in these trees," Legolas whispered, trying now to get up. He was surprised to see how hard it was to get his legs to cooperate with him. "I know them all. We frequently camp here."
"What's your name, soldier?" Elladan finally asked, rising and helping Legolas to stand.
Legolas paled again. He had been worried about this moment, but had fed the weak hope that, if presenting himself as a mere soldier, these lord elves wouldn't need to know who he was. He didn't expect the attention the two brothers were giving to him, when he was only supposed to be just a member of the patrol.
"You can trust us," Elrohir said, and there was a disappointed tone in his voice now. A tone that made Legolas feel ashamed.
"I trust you both, my lords… Forgive me if my actions made you think otherwise."
Elrohir bent his head a little, staring at the blond elf as if analyzing the answer received.
"My name is Elrohir," he said, repeating the information. "This is my brother, Elladan," he placed his hand on his twin's shoulder. "Who are you?"
Legolas looked at him, and what little remained of his courage made him do something he hated doing, but had done a lot of during his childhood. He just lied.
"My name is... Ainion," he answered, deciding to use the name of his friend, the only one in whose place he thought he fit. Ainion was the only Silvan elf in his group, but Legolas also felt that he was a Silvan elf, or half-Silvan, as people used to say. He just didn't feel the part of his blood that had his father's ascendants' characteristics, his Sindar blood. No, he would never feel like a Sindar elf. He was part of the forest. He was Silvan, as his mother was.
In front of him the twin brothers looked quickly at each other, and Legolas worried about their attitude. But then Elladan dropped his shoulders, approaching him again and taking hold of his right arm.
"So dine with us, Ainion," Elladan proposed with a sad smile, giving to Legolas that sensation of being read again. "And we will talk about where you will sleep later. I want you to take the antidote with a full stomach and as soon as possible. The medicine is too strong to take without eating first," he finished, slowly pulling the prince toward the campfire. Legolas stumbled at first, and each of the brothers took a side of the archer to help him make his way to the fire.
"I am fine," Legolas quickly said, trying to move away, but the twins would not allow it. "I'm… really tired, my lords. I don't believe I can eat anything right now."
"We are not your lords, Ainion," Elrohir said in a warning tone. "But if my brother told you, as a healer, that you have to eat something, that is exactly what you are going to do. You are in my group now, and I am a very austere leader."
Elladan could not contain his smile, as he helped the young warrior to sit near the fire, beside Thavanian. He recognized an old game Elrohir used to play. It was one of Elrohir's masks, which he used with skill. Elladan knew his twin very well and, despite the sad and delicate situation, he was happy to see him doing something he hadn't done for a long time; provoking someone just to turn the situation into something lighter.
"One thing is true, Ainion," Elladan said with his characteristic laugh, sitting down beside Legolas. "Elrohir likes everything to be done his way." He seemed to find pleasure in being a part of his brother's wiles. "And most people are usually happy to do everything possible in aiding him in doing that."
Legolas smiled gently and his eyes followed the sound of Elrohir's voice as he talked with his friends by the fire. He couldn't avoid remembering the elf knight's telling him stories when he was a child. The more time he spent with them now, the harder it was to keep himself from unveiling his identity to them. How had this happened? He'd covered so much territory, had seen many elves, yet here of all places he'd met Lady Celebrian's sons…
Elrohir came to sit with Elladan and Legolas as his brother completed his thought, saying that in fact the group always did everything the way the captain approved of, except for the food, of course. He promptly punched his twin in the left arm.
"Ouch!" Elladan complained, rubbing the soreness away. "But it is fact. Tell the truth to this soldier, Captain," the eldest brother kept on, needling his twin a bit more. "If the food was to Elrohir's liking we would not have passed many ages with our stomachs intact. He likes for his food to emulate the life he lives. He likes it very spicy."
"That's not true," protested the other twin. "The cook of our group is just an incapable amateur. He makes a broth that has absolutely no taste."
Legolas couldn't hide the smile that crept to his lips when he heard the bickering between the two brothers, which was something they used to do when he was a child just to make him laugh. That good memory and the laughter at this present scene attenuated the bitter feeling that was in his heart in a way he wouldn't have expected. He dropped his head and his smile faded, but he dared to keep that feeling inside him, even knowing he shouldn't.
"Try and draw your own conclusions, Ainion," Elladan proposed, taking advantage of the light moment and looking at the elves around the campfire. "Elrohir, get us a little food, toron."
"I bet it is not ready yet," the younger twin said, standing up and moving away while still muttering things about the cook's inabilities. Legolas followed his movement, watching him approach the rest of the group, baiting his soldiers and making them laugh. Elladan was smiling as well, awaiting his twin's return. At least the magic that colored the friendship of Celebrian's children with such beautiful colors and sensations was still there. That was Legolas' thought, when he closed his eyes as if to keep that feeling alive inside him. Those were the first moments of happiness that had touched him in a long time. He breathed deeply and relaxed his shoulders, finally forgetting to lift his tired eyelids. The remembrance of the twins in his painting resurfaced, mixed with scenes of the near and distant past. They were all falling, just like petals drifting in the wind. He also felt as if he were falling, like a dry autumn leaf.
"What happened to him?" He suddenly heard Elrohir's voice, sounding vague and distressed.
"It seems that the amount of poison was not as insignificant as our soldier tried to make us believe," Elladan replied in an even more anguished tone, and Legolas felt the twin's palm on his face. "The fever has worsened. It heats him too much now."
"Do something, Dan!"
"Hold him for me."
Elrohir's arms were around him then, and Legolas could hear the rapid beating of the younger twin's heart. In the past, when they played together, and Elrohir chased him through some of the smaller corridors of his father's halls, even knowing the Queen and Lady Celebrian would not approve of it, Legolas could hear the heartbeat of the twin. He had discovered then that hearts also beat fast because of joy, not just great fear. But now Elrohir feared for him, even without knowing his true identity. How could he hate him? Legolas wondered. He had never really been able to do that and he found that he still couldn't do it.
"It is ready," came Elladan's anxious voice.
"Is it strong enough? Does it have everything he needs?" Elrohir asked nervously.
"Trust me," the twin said firmly, and Legolas felt a hand lift his head. "Ainion, you have to drink this tea. Wake up, please."
The twin's tone was so urgent that he knew he had to obey, but he was tired and felt so cold. The images of the fateful battle were now merging with others in a whirlwind which made him feel dizzy.
"Wake up, Ainion. Come on. Help us!" Legolas heard, and then he felt a mug touch his lips and a bitter liquid run down his throat. He accepted what was offered, recognizing the taste of the antidote he used to take, mixed with some other herbs.
Reality then faded into darkness.
Legolas woke gradually and blinked a few times. A beam of sunlight hit him directly in the eyes, coming through the leaves and branches above him, making him cover his face with both hands. What place was this? He tried to remember where he was and what had happened. All too quickly the experiences of the past few hours inundated him like a sudden dipping into a cold running stream. Confused and distorted images came to him; images that he wished he had not remembered.
His hands scrubbed at his face in an attempt to help banish these thoughts. The best thing to do was the hard task of ignoring them, at least for now. He had other things to worry about. The twins... How much should he tell them? How much should he trust them? He needed some answers to these important questions.
He looked at the world around him. There was clarity in the branches above. Sunlight came from the treetops. The height of the brightness indicated that more than half of the day had already passed. He just needed to know half of which day.
"Shhh. Slow down," the voice of one of the twins warned him, when he started to get up on one elbow. A hand gently forced him to lie down again. "You will not be able to walk in the woods for a while."
"Walk in the woods?" Legolas asked in confusion, and only then realized that his throat was dry and, as a result, he had virtually no voice.
"Has he woken up, Elrohir?" the other twin asked, and he suddenly appeared beside his brother.
"It seems so, toron. At least he understood my words. I think the delirium must have passed."
"Delirium?" Legolas tried to sit again and Elladan moved to help him. He sat behind the prince, holding him in his arms to let him lean against his chest.
"Now he will improve even more." There was a satisfied tone in the healer's voice. He took his water skin and offered it to his patient. Legolas gladly accepted, quickly downing its contents.
"Slowly," Elrohir advised. "You have not put anything into your stomach since yesterday."
"Have I been sleeping since then?" Legolas asked incredulously. "Have I slept an entire night?"
"I would not say that," the elf behind him commented dryly. "The fever has not given you peace. Few were your moments of rest. You need to sleep a while longer."
Legolas looked around, confused. The camp was still intact, the fire burned at its center and around it some soldiers were sitting. They sang melodies in a very quiet tone. Legolas searched around him for a few more moments and found the one he sought. His bodyguard was still where he had been placed, with some blankets covering him. He seemed to sleep deeply with his eyes closed.
"Thavanian..." he said in a worried tone as he tried to stand. Elladan helped him carefully, but soon Legolas realized he was not really prepared for such a movement.
"Your captain is better, Ainion," Elrohir assured. His left hand was on Legolas' leg. "You have to rest as my brother has advised you to do."
"I have been sleeping since yesterday, if I have understood what you said," lamented the blond elf. His eyes were still focused on the pale face of his wounded friend.
"You have not really slept, soldier," Elladan said. He moved then from behind Legolas and forced him to lie down again.
"But I feel better," protested the prince.
"Yet you are not recovered. The fever overtook you; your body has had no rest."
"That's true," Elrohir said as he nodded. "You even escaped from us once and disappeared into the woods during one of our moments of distraction. I have never seen anyone do that before."
Legolas' eyes rounded and the twins could not hide slight smiles.
"You are mocking me, I see." The prince didn't believe them.
"Not really," Elrohir assured him, a little hesitantly. He looked at his brother and bit his lip, visibly trying not to laugh this time.
"You got up and walked through the woods," Elladan explained, but the elder twin seemed as amused as his brother.
"What did I do?"
"You did nothing special, just walked and said things that we could not understand," Elrohir added, still trying his best to hide a smile. "Probably you spoke the language of your ancestors. Do your people communicate with some special dialect in the dark woods?"
Legolas frowned. He followed the other elves' tale with all the attention he could spend, but still did not understand very well what had actually happened.
"Are you telling me that I got up, left here and began to wander through the forest?"
The prince's questions were the last straw, and the brothers started laughing then. Legolas was lost, looking alternately at each twin without understanding.
"You looked like one of those wandering souls the Edain talk about time and again." Elladan shook his head. "Especially with the stars to encourage the natural brightness of your body."
"Wandering souls?" Legolas asked blankly. He was not very familiar with the traditions and beliefs of the Númenor descendants.
"Ghosts. Spirits who wander and haunt," Elrohir explained, and when he laughed with more intensity Legolas finally blushed. He still did not understand what he had done, but the twins' expressions made it clear that it must have been something amusing.
"Have I done something for which I should feel ashamed?" he asked, afraid. "Or did I just walk through the forest?"
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged indecipherable looks and then the younger twin lifted both eyebrows.
"Well," he said, holding back his laughter now. "You merely walked among the trees without any bad intention, by our perception. It was as if you looked for someone... But..."
Elrohir lowered his head, covering his lips to hide the smile that wanted to return to them and said, "If you will check your condition beneath these covers, you may comprehend..."
Legolas' gaze became lost again while he was trying to understand what he had heard. He then moved his eyes to his still sore body and finally understood what had awakened the brothers' laughter.
"Ilúvatar," exclaimed the young elf who blushed terribly. He closed his eyes tightly and frowned in utter embarrassment.
The twins could not help themselves when they started laughing again.
"Forgive us, Ainion," Elladan said, the first to catch his breath. "I had to undress you, because the sweating from the fever flooded your clothes."
Legolas did not answer, his face covered with both hands. He just shook his head miserably. Elbereth, whatever else he had done, he hoped to continue not remembering it.
"Come on, come on," Elrohir said, pulling at the prince's hands. The situation did not seem so funny anymore. "It was not that bad. Now we are laughing, but yesterday we were very concerned. All of us were."
Legolas turned his face away and closed his eyes again. Thanks to Ilúvatar the twins did not know his identity. What they'd just told him about was, beyond doubt, not the impression of himself he wanted to leave in the memories of these mighty warriors.
Elladan chuckled again and then shook his head. He waved to one of the elves near the fire, who seemed have understood the message, filling a bowl with the food that was on the grate and bringing it to them.
"Now you eat," Elladan said as he passed the bowl to Elrohir to hold. "We will aid you." He helped Legolas sit again and returned to his place behind the prince, letting him lean against him once more.
Legolas frowned at the smell of the food. He was sure it was good, but his stomach did not seem prepared to receive anything.
"What?" Elrohir came closer, with a sly smile, and lifted a full spoon. "It is not bad. You provided us with enough orc meat to make soup for weeks."
Then, the grimace the prince had been trying to hide came to him so immediately that he felt the muscles of his face ache. He moved his head and realized that he had no control over his stomach anymore.
The worst part of it all, however, was that he felt that it was not the first time.
Elrohir laughed musically.
"Do not be so cruel, toron," Elladan reproved him. "His stomach is not in good condition."
"Obviously! He threw up his guts all of yesterday and into today. It is almost unbelievable he still can speak."
"Elrohir!" Elladan said, finally fuming. He took the bowl from his brother's hands in a decided movement. "Go find something to do. I know you do not like to take care of the wounded ones, but you do not need to leave them in worse condition than they already are."
The younger twin only smiled. He did not seem worried by his brother's words. He just twisted his head so that Legolas could see him.
"I am merely repaying the favor," he said, with an ironic, almost cruel look. That was one of Elrohir's masks Legolas knew very well. The younger twin, better than anybody, had the ability to confuse or humiliate a person till they felt the most complete embarrassment. He did that often, for a lot of different reasons.
And he enjoyed doing it very much.
"What… What do you mean?" Legolas dared to ask, even though he knew he would deeply regret the question.
"You really do not remember, do you?" asked the dark-haired elf with a theatrical arrogance that the prince knew well. When Elrohir was trying to have some fun by embarrassing someone, there was no chance his victim would escape it. "I could not eat yesterday because of you."
Legolas' brow furrowed with that fragmented piece of information. But then the smell of the food displeased his stomach again, and he finally concluded why the sons of Celebrian perhaps had had problems eating. He was even more ashamed and he was sure his face reflected that. He had obviously done more embarrassing things than walk naked under the stars.
"I… I am sorry," he managed to say. "Fever transforms us into repulsive beings."
Elladan offered his brother a reproachful look, which Elrohir simply ignored. He just stared at the still embarrassed blond elf.
"Funny beings, you surely meant," the younger twin corrected then. "It is true that you threw up your guts yesterday," he said with a nod, and Elladan clicked his tongue in indignation. "But it was not the misadventures of your stomach that kept me from eating. It was your walk through the forest. You disappeared and we all had to go out looking for you. And the stupid cook left the dinner on the fire for too long, and we had to eat berries until daylight, when we could finally see to hunt."
Legolas parted his lips, feeling his jaw drop slowly. Then he blushed again. Valar, he would never be able to erase the image of himself that he had inadvertently offered to the entire group.
"I ask... for you to forgive me, my lords..." he said miserably, and cursed himself for not finding something less inane to say. Foolish elf; he seemed condemned to live his entire life between mistakes and apologies.
"I have already forgiven you," Elrohir replied with an ironic smile of someone who did not seem really bothered. To finish the subject, he took back the bowl from Elladan's hands, lifting another spoonful. "I only forgive someone after I have gotten my revenge. Get used to it now and eat. You are lucky the clumsy cook did not burn everything as he did before."
Legolas looked at the food but then his stomach was nauseated again.
"Is there meat in this soup, my lord?" he asked cautiously.
"I am not your lord. Call me by my name, Ainion. And I told you I was joking with you. There is no orc meat in this food."
"But is there any meat?" Legolas insisted, stretching his neck slightly to try to see what was actually in the bowl.
"Why do you want to know?"
"I do not eat meat, Lord Elrohir. I apologize if I seem ungrateful."
"You are not serious, are you?"
"Yes. If there is some meat in it, I will thank you, but deny your goodwill. I may ask about some of the berries you mentioned before."
Elrohir shook his head and put aside the bowl. Elladan smiled calmly.
"The Silvan elves are not vegetarians, are they, Ainion?" he asked.
"No, Lord Elladan."
"Neither is the royal family…"
"So why have you adopted so strange a menu, if it is not in the tradition of your people, nor the people of your king?"
"I do not follow traditions, Lord Elladan," Legolas replied with a lost look of one who is not surprised by the question. "I just do what I think is good for me, if it will not dishonor me."
The older twin smiled, raising his eyebrows significantly at his brother, who now looked the patient over, his chin up. He knew Elrohir was staging one of his captain moments, a lesson well learned from their mentor Glorfindel.
"Give him some travel bread, toron," he suggested then, and the twin nodded, stretching out and searching through a nearby backpack beside the campfire. In moments, he took out some pieces of bread wrapped in very green leaves.
"This you eat, I hope," Elrohir joked, passing the bread to the prince's hands. Legolas nodded and thanked him, then he broke off a piece and put it in his mouth.
"Is Thavanian really well, my lord?" he asked, and Elladan moved his always attentive eyes to the patient.
"He is," he said with an exhausted but satisfied sigh. "He recovers at an enviable speed. Your commander is a strong soldier."
"Yes, he is," Legolas agreed thoughtfully. He set the bread aside after eating only two bites. The concern, however, was not gone from his face. "I think I have not... thanked you both properly."
"You do not need to," Elrohir stated, shaking his head.
"I do need to." Legolas lowered his eyes, trying hard not to get carried away by the same sadness he'd felt the day before. "If you had not come, I do not know what..."
"Ainion." Elladan caught his attention with a serious, but understanding tone. He lamented the pain he still felt in his patient, but wisely wanted to end this matter for the moment. "Do not think about yesterday. Not until you are recovered."
Legolas nodded silently. "But there is still today," he said, raising his eyes again. "And I feel that you are stuck here because of Thavanian and me. I am sorry for that."
"You would have done the same if the situation were reversed, I am sure," Elrohir said, quite seriously too, and Legolas could not help but wonder about the thousand faces of this elf.
"I am grateful anyway. I hope we are not causing a great inconvenience, besides my shameful wanderings through the dark forest," Legolas said, embarrassed, and the twins smiled, making the prince feel a bit better.
"Nothing unsolvable," the younger twin finally said.
"If you help me to build a talan and lend me provisions, I can stay here with my friend until he gets better, and then you may continue on your way. I promise to send repayment as soon as we return to the king's halls."
"You speak folly," Elrohir said.
"In fact, we mean to return to our land," Elladan explained. "Our plan is to wait until tomorrow, when I believe your captain may be transported. We will make a stretcher and by the full moon we will be in Rivendell, where Thavanian should recover more effectively."
Legolas paled. "Do you suggest we cross the river?"
"Yes. We do it frequently."
"I cannot. I... cannot leave the woods."
"Why?" Elrohir asked, puzzled. "We have met Silvan elves like you before on the other side of it. Have you ever crossed by the Old Ford, by the Forest Road? It is still a safe path. We simply must be careful in the High Pass. There are still some orcs who insist on staying in that region, much as we try to show them that it is a big mistake. Stupid creatures."
"There are few of them there," Elladan said, while he helped Legolas to lay down again, when he realized the soldier had no intention of eating any more. "I dream of the day when there are none."
"We will make your dream come true, toron. And it will not take that long. Our hunts always have good results."
Legolas looked from one twin to the other now.
"Do you hunt orcs?" he asked.
"Always," Elrohir confirmed with a deep breath.
"Do you leave home only for this?"
"Does that surprise you?"
"Yes... Were you not diplomats and merchants, who usually crossed the land in search of knowledge and agreements for your city?"
"How do you know that?" Elrohir asked, his face suddenly serious.
Legolas shrugged uncertainly, hoping to cover his mistake in asking this question. He knew Elrohir well enough to realize that he wasn't wearing one of his masks now. He was really intrigued by what he'd heard.
"I... I remember... Thavanian once commented about you..." Legolas tried to think quickly, hoping he would be convincing enough.
But Elrohir's eyebrows rose immediately. "Oh yes!" he said, seeming to have accepted Legolas' impulsive explanation. "We always had a story of our travels to tell the prince."
"True. And Legolas must have retold all of them." Elladan smiled.
"And certainly added great achievements to them."
"No doubt." Elladan laughed. "He considered us the best warriors of Middle-earth."
"Yes, he did."
"Why didn't you ever come back again?"
Legolas felt the question slip from his mouth before he could stop it. He was not sure if this was the right moment to ask it, but he could no longer hold it back, and the opportunity, even though risky, had suddenly presented itself.
Elladan and Elrohir went quiet and the cheer immediately left them. A pallor overtook their faces, and, even though they had not looked at each other, they appeared to share the same bitter thoughts. Legolas frowned. Rare were the times he had seen them sad or distressed. He immediately regretted his words.
"Please; please forgive my prying, my lords. Your lives are not my concern." It was all that surprise enabled him to say, though his heart was even more despaired by the response he knew he would not now receive.
Elladan sighed then and looked toward the distant trees, a dark and confusing tangle that seemed to reflect the thoughts of Celebrian's firstborn.
"After all this time, these forests still have a certain magic," he said in a nostalgic tone, and Legolas realized that he proposed to escape the subject.
"Indeed." Elrohir stretched his legs out and leaned back, supporting himself with both palms on the ground behind him. He threw his head back with a long, loud sigh. "I am homesick."
"How long have you been away?"
"Not long," Elladan said, already aware of his brother's signs of tiredness. He knew him better than anyone. He acted upon his conclusion and pulled at his twin gently. Elrohir gave up, lying down and resting his head on his brother's lap.
"Two seasons," he said, closing his eyes to accept what was offered him.
"It is nice to go home." Legolas rose on one elbow to look at Elrohir. The elf captain probably had not slept for days and the fatigue seemed a punishment. "I see you are very tired," he said. "If I may, I can stay near my captain and look after his sleep, so you both can have some rest."
"Our rest only comes when we are at home," Elrohir said, his eyes still closed. "Sleeping under the grace of our good father."
The prince looked down and a character from the books he had read formed in his mind: the half-elven lord – one of the mighty rulers of old that remained in Middle-earth in the Third Age. He had never seen him. He wondered what he would look like.
"Lord Elrond Peredhel," he remembered.
"Do you know him?" Elrohir opened his eyes.
"No. Only the fame that illuminates his path. And that is enough to make me admire him."
"Your king and he did not get along very well," the younger twin mentioned, and Elladan poked him in the same instant. The harsh truth was the structure of all of Elrohir's speech, and he never seemed to mind telling it.
"They have their reasons," Legolas said, and in truth he was not offended. "Reasons older than me and even both of you, too."
Elrohir raised his eyebrows and Elladan just smiled.
"You are very wise for someone so young, Ainion," said the older twin.
The prince blushed slightly, lowering his face.
"But the Lady of Imladris and the queen were friends…," he said shyly, and the twins' faces lost their brightness once more. Legolas was filled with regret again, but he didn't know why the twins had reacted this way. He could not tolerate the doubt their behavior caused him. The twins' reaction was making his mind insist on considering the unbearable idea that Celebrian might have had the same destiny as that of his own mother.
"Forgive me, but..."
The two identical elves fixed their darkened eyes on him, but Legolas swallowed his doubts and fears. He just hoped he was not arousing their suspicions too much in his search for the truth.
"I know it does not concern me..." he began again in a soft voice, turning away from the inquisitive eyes that stared at him. "But Lady Celebrian was a presence that only brought happiness to our Queen… To us all... So I cannot stop wondering how she is... even knowing I should not ask… and..."
"Our mother is waiting for us in Valinor," Elladan replied tersely, as fast as someone might who wanted to see a subject closed immediately.
Legolas almost sighed with this news, nearly unable to contain himself, while a mixture of relief and sadness invaded him. This was only half the story, he knew, only a fragment of it, a story with no beginning or end. But Celebrian's light was still shining and, somehow, that was a consolation.
Elladan noticed the strange reaction of the elf.
"Ainion? Are you all right?" he asked. "You've gone pale again."
"Yes..." The prince mumbled and rubbed his face to try to erase the signs that had been caught by the healer. "I... I am sorry for... for that… How... long has she been gone?"
Elladan and Elrohir frowned and tilted their heads slightly. They gave Legolas a suspicious look that made him realize he needed to offer an explanation for his insistent questions. The twins had good hearts, but were also known for their extreme discretion about their own lives.
"Our Queen has left us... left us in a sad way," Legolas said, deciding to open his heart, to expose a wound which was not yet healed. It was hard to speak of this, but it might be the only way to ease the distrust he saw in the twins' eyes. He felt so tired of offering lies; he wanted to give his friends an answer, a very truthful one. "She… went a different way... but... I think that… the sense of loss... Our feelings are… are similar… I... Our people… We miss... We miss her very much."
He wanted to continue, but realized that he would not be as able to speak on that subject as he needed to be. Just mentioning what happened, even without the details of the darkness, made his body grow cold in the desire to denounce all his lies, to tell them the truth about everything.
"We are sorry for your loss," Elladan and Elrohir said in unison, seeming to get the answers they needed to put Legolas at his ease.
"Losing the Lady of Imladris' friendly presence was a great pain for our people," Elladan admitted. "But we all would agree that the way your queen had to choose… The path she had to take was unique. We are very sorry."
Legolas closed his eyes and felt his body calm completely. For so many years he'd wanted to hear this. Every spring he waited for them to appear, to offer him this kind of support, to get this sort of consolation, from the ones he loved so much. But that day never came. Yet strangely, the brothers' words had had in his heart the same effect they would have produced in his childhood, had they returned to give them, and the prince realized that even with all the inconsistencies, all the questions, he still loved these two warriors with all of his heart.
Elrohir reached out and touched the blond elf's hand. Their eyes met again and Legolas noticed him furrow his brow slightly as if seeking a particular piece of information. But soon he just sighed and his face was sad again.
"Our mother..." he said then. "She loved Lady Elvéwen as if she were her own sister..."
"That's why she... she never returned? Because our Queen died... and she..."
"She felt embarrassed," Elladan explained patiently, seeming not to understand the prince's insinuations. "We wanted to come back, even with the absence of Lady Elvéwen. Because we loved Prince Legolas. He was special in our hearts... But King Thranduil did not answer our letters... Not even the messages of our birds. We believed then that we were no longer welcome... Our mother was not offended. She just said that the king was acting this way because he needed to have a place to hide himself; he needed a place where he would be able to suffer unseen and without fear of recrimination... So we waited, hoping time would not erase our friendship... But we never met either the king or his son again."
Legolas heard the story in silence, a huge lump in his throat, tying his words in knots that he couldn't express, but an old and grievous sadness slowly started to disappear from his chest. He realized then that the things that people had told him when he was an elfling were untruths… The twins had not forgotten him… He was important to his friends… They were not angry or disappointed with him… He had not done anything wrong… They just… They… They had not felt as if they could come back…
"Then Lady Celebrian had gone..." Legolas said with a sad tone. "And there was no reason for you to return to the Forest anymore…"
"Legolas is an adult now," Elrohir pointed out, closing his eyes with a resigned sigh. "An adult who surely would not even remember us, or, if he does, he probably hates us."
"No. He does not hate you!" Legolas said without thinking, and Elrohir, who was now propped up on one elbow, looked directly at him. Legolas then turned pale again. Elladan crept closer to him, making him lie down to ease his apparent weakness.
"You are too tired, Ainion. You must rest. That's what I advise you to do and what I will see done."
Legolas obeyed while Elladan pulled aside the blanket that covered him to check the purple lines that were still on his abdomen. The healer placed a hand over them and was frustrated to notice the fever had returned.
"I am just sensitive to the venom," Legolas said again and looked away, as one who regrets or apologizes. "The fever will cheat you many times, Lord Elladan. But you will see that it has not come back so strongly this time."
The twin clicked his tongue, getting up in a decided movement to fetch some herbs from his bag. Then he put them into a mug of water on the fire.
"These spiders are another wild race that should be extinct," he complained, stirring the leaves in the mug with a spoon.
"The Forest, unfortunately, is their territory too; I should have been more careful," Legolas said as he explained the incident. "But I confess that I cannot feel sympathy for them."
"The forest should not be the territory of such awful creatures," Elladan answered distractedly, while he continued at his task.
Elrohir, however, seemed not to have paid attention to the conversation of the two elves. He still had not clarified a doubt in his mind. He crept close to the prince, looking into his eyes.
"Why do you think Legolas does not hate us?" he asked, and in his eyes the prince saw so much pain that the truth almost escaped from his mouth.
"Because..." Legolas said, and then paused, tied now by the untruths he had told and still troubled somewhat by the old doubts he had. "He does not hate anyone..."
The twin's disappointment was visible in his face. That was obviously not the answer he wanted to hear.
"Tell me about him," Elrohir said then, and his eyes lowered and focused on the grass surrounding him.
"What do you want to know, my lord?"
"I am not your lord, Ainion," Elrohir said, then sighed heavily. "Stop calling me so, you silly elf."
There was no way that nickname, which was a common treatment the twin had used to provoke Legolas when he was a child, passed unnoticed by the prince. Legolas clenched his jaw and his eyes were teary. Elrohir looked at him with concern and grabbed one of his arms, tightening his jaw after feeling that it was hot again.
"The fever has returned."
"Do not worry, my lord. I will be fine," Legolas assured him. He closed his eyes, suddenly no longer able to face the twins.
Elrohir, however, did not seem willing to let his instructions be forgotten.
"Ainion," he said, and Legolas was forced to reopen his eyes. "Call me only Elrohir. We are friends."
And never, never in his life had Legolas wanted so much to be exactly where he was at this moment, even after everything he had been through. He never felt so confused, but nor had he felt such hope of ridding himself of certain grievances that he'd carried for a very long time.
"Call me Elrohir." The twin repeated as he smiled. He had noticed the surprising emotion his invitation aroused in the strange elf. His heart was starting to admire Ainion without any special reason for doing so. He just did not want to see him sad again. "Call me Elrohir, silly elf."
Legolas took a deep breath.
"Elrohir," he said, and then he surrendered to his feelings, the tears starting to fall from his eyes. He did not want to lie; he did not want to lose his past. He was so afraid all those misunderstandings were crystallized to the point that there was no turning back. He looked away and pulled the arm that the twin had been holding out of his grasp, and then covered his face with both hands.
"Elladan," Elrohir called to his brother, worried. "Do something for him. He suffers again."
"It is ready," Elladan said, kneeling carefully and lifting Legolas' head. "Come on, Ainion, be a good patient and take this medication."
Legolas uncovered his face and held the mug with both hands, drinking the tea in small doses. Whatever it was that Elladan wanted to give him, he was willing to accept because he knew that was the wisest attitude to take. A high fever could always put him at risk, and he was not referring only to his tendency toward strange walking in the forest.
"I know the taste is not the best," Elladan said, laying the patient's head down again and covering him. "I made it a little stronger this time, and I added other herbs. The fever is not going to punish you as badly as before, or I will lose the title of healer I have."
"I am grateful, Lord Elladan," Legolas replied, turning his head a little on the blanket that was his pillow.
"Just Elladan," the older twin corrected. "My opinion is no different from my brother's."
Legolas sighed. "Elladan," he finally repeated and closed his eyes.
I'd like to thanks Emily, Elf With Redbull, Nocx, SparkyTAS, Pooch2010, BlackMinx17, KaribookWorm, Reader, Evereven (aka Puxinette), Lia Whyteleafe, a-mild-looking-sky, DreamingIn2Eternity, SivanShemesh, HelloDenmark, Laureiel, Win Lockwood and a "guest" for their reviews. Your comments were really important to me. I am glad you are still enjoying the story.
And my special thanks to my wonderful and patient beta Puxinette; without her, I am nobody.