TORMENTED FOOL 8: BREAKING OLD TIES

'I am worried.'

Éowyn turned to her husband in surprise. They had stood in silence on the pale stair of the White Tower for a long time, welcoming the serenity of the early afternoon; the stirring of guards and citizens in the lower circles, as well as the soft sunlight and cool breeze, was calming to them. Although, as it turned out, perhaps it may not have been enough to distract Faramir from his recent thoughts. Éowyn sighed.

'What is it that worries you, my love?'

'I do not know,' he answered darkly, without looking at her. 'Everything is rousing an unsettled feeling within me. I believe something may be brewing.'

Her eyebrows slanted mournfully. 'This is not about Legolas again, I hope?'

'We have not seen him for a long time,' answered Faramir almost immediately. 'Who knows what may be happening behind closed doors, what he may be doing to himself. I worry for Mithrandir and Lady Galadriel also. I only wish that they would tell us what is on their minds, tell us what they know. Because it is obvious that they indeed know something.'

Éowyn did not know how to answer to this. A discomforting uneasiness suddenly prickled within her, and she knew, all of a sudden, that she shared the way her husband was feeling. They, like everyone else, could feel the gloom that was rising – and she knew that it would hurt everyone immensely if anything were to happen to the Mirkwood Prince. Unexpectedly, and she knew not from whence it had come, her clear voice rang through the air, and a song began to spill from her lips:

A dweller in the Elven-glades,

a lone and moonlit wand'rer,

His wind-kissed hair so pale and fair,

A gentle, breathless wonder.

He waits alone – and in the eve,

the glade around him shimm'ring,

He sings his tale beneath the veil

of stars, with soft eyes glimm'ring…

Faramir did not understand what these words meant, but even though he knew that there must be much more to the song, Éowyn did not continue singing. She tore her gaze away from the soft glow of the Pelennor and looked into his eyes with utmost sorrow; overcome with emotion, he gathered her into his arms and brought her into a soft embrace. She welcomed the gesture, holding him tightly against her, and they remained thus, wordless, for a long time.

...

'Have you ever fallen in love?'

Legolas rolled over in surprise, the long grass brushing lightly against his pale arms, not having expected the question from the silent Elf next to him. He tried to stifle a blatant laugh as he asked, 'Why do you ask, pray tell? Hasn't everyone fallen in love? And that is a very strange question for you to ask from nowhere, having only been close to me for a short time.'

Faunel turned his head, and looked seriously into the eyes of the golden-haired Prince beside him; though Legolas' eyes showed amusement, Faunel's expression was unmistakably serious.

'I only sense that you have fallen out of love, or find no more hope in love.'

'Hope?'

Estel.

'Nay, nay,' Legolas tittered, though it was clear now to Faunel that it was not as genuine as the Prince would have liked it to sound. He bent sideways and poked at the nose of the dark-haired Elf mischievously, who wrinkled his nose adorably in reply. 'In love, there is always hope, my friend.'

Faunel looked up innocently at Legolas, who was lying on his side next to him; a gentle hand nudged the fair chin, and he smiled suddenly, a smile which caught the Prince's breath. Faunel evoked so much gentle wonder, for he was not a character who was easy to guess; even so, he was outstandingly kind in Legolas' eyes, for he always showed worry and care, even in the matters that did not concern him.

'Then who is on your mind?' Faunel smirked. 'Is it I? For I would hope so, seeing as I am looking into the eyes of one who is so radiant and beautiful.'

Legolas could not help but laugh, and in his heart something deep from the earth began to stir. 'Ah, so now you hope that my eyes are set on you, do you? You will need much more than a mere questioning to win that, comely one. Would you truly pursue me even though you sense that trouble is on my mind, whilst you could easily have others of the Eldar who would gladly take your hand?'

Faunel turned his gaze to the field of skies that lay above him, and he saw what Legolas felt in his heart; the White Tree, with great boughs that reached and touched one another alike fingertips, stood loftily as a solitary column in a great hall. The grey sky was pale with the shimmering clouds, and the grass, brilliant green in the sun, swirled around him with the smell of life. Birds flew overhead, and the air was a faint spiritual breath. Faunel felt Legolas' gentle hand upon his own, searching for an answer; he grinned and laced his fingers with the Prince's, looking deep into the shimmering eyes.

'I would.'

Legolas heard this, a voice that seemed to come from the depths of the earth, and softly caressed Faunel's wintry hand.

'Then pretend that there is none on my mind,' he uttered, 'and show me what you have in store for me.'

Faunel turned immediately, and did as Legolas had bidden. Among the grasses of the Pelennor, away from the White City, the warmth of life surrounded the two that lay together beneath the sunlit sky, not caring where they were or who could have seen them.

...

The liaison went on, in secret and pleasure, for many moons unknown. Aragorn felt the bitterness of jealousy in his heart, for he knew no more than of the waning heart of the Mirkwood Prince towards him, and that his eyes had turned to the Elven boarder at his tower whose identity was not even well-known to those he spoke to the most. Neither Faramir nor Éowyn, whom Aragorn had pleaded to stay to calm the troubles in his heart, knew much about Faunel; though the Elf was under their care, and dined with them and rested sometimes in their quarters, he spoke very little concerning himself and cared to listen more to news of all things that moved in Gondor. A suspicious and destructive fire burned within Aragorn, a fire of self-loath and anger and, most of all, of jealousy.

Many a night Elrohir came to Legolas' chambers to observe the well-being of his friend; and for most of the nights, though he waited long, the golden-haired Elf never came. On those rare days that he did return to his chambers, whether or not he did so before the middle of the night, he would only bid Elrohir leave and not to worry about visiting him again. Though the vigilant son of Elrond suspected that it was Aragorn who stole the Prince away at night, the wary King only stated that, for many long weeks, he had neither seen nor spoken to Legolas except during work. Seeing the truth that scorched behind Aragorn's eyes, Elrohir was not witless enough not to realize that something was occurring in the darkness, away from all eyes. Yet he wished not to say a word to the grieved King, lest his thoughts be turned away from the welfare of his people.

The Maia Wizard Gandalf and Galadriel the Elf-Queen of Lothlórien worried many, for none ever knew what stirred within their minds; oft they would be seen seated together at a table, looking not at one another nor anyone else, and speechless as they had been that murky day in the fire-room of the Fellowship house. Even they could not decipher the cold winds that froze their spirits to ice, and both feared taking counsel with each other, lest their dim thoughts be false. In this state none dared to rouse them, for all could guess what it was that plagued their hearts, and could do no more than bow their heads in sorrow.

Bitterest of all was Arwen Undómiel, who would do naught but sit upon her bed in the Royal Bedchamber and muse upon nothing. She did not know in the first place what it was that she wished to allow her mind to pass by. She cared not for the genuine attempts of comfort from Elladan her brother or her grandmother, shunned her husband at all costs from seeing her, and fumed within her heart at the very sight of the Mirkwood Prince. And the thought of the strange boarder Faunel, the Elf who had come from nowhere one unexpected day, was very perplexing to her; for she had not known that he was even dwelling there, and suddenly he had appeared, with the accursed Elven Prince defending him against her.

But in most confusion was Legolas, who did not understand why he allowed himself to be touched by Faunel. The enigmatic boarder had come to the Prince in more ways than one, most nights that he could; the pair was different to what Aragorn and Legolas used to be and, because of this, the Mirkwood Elf's willingness to remain with Faunel perplexed him even more. Faunel was nothing like Aragorn; the dark-haired Elf's presence evoked the most fervent of desires, and his touch was eager, yet it seemed as though there was nothing within him but sweat and flesh. Legolas remembered that Aragorn was very, very different; the Man was far gentler, and hardly cared – that is, if he cared at all – for the excitement found in lust. There was a closeness about him that felt like care… in fact felt almost as love would.

But he knew he could not return to that now. He had already allowed himself to touch the King, and now he allowed an Elven stranger to touch him. He no longer knew where his soul lay, and if he strove to find his answer, his heart and his mind would tell him nothing. So he hearkened to his body.

...

Legolas, with a heart filled with bliss and contentment, had made his way back from his encounters with the Star-Cloud and was about to step through the door to his bedchamber when he realized that someone was already standing before it. His heartbeat quickened. The slender figure stood in the shadows, his arms crossed; the rigid stance in the figure told Legolas that the reason for his coming was not to bid him good morning. The sun had not yet even risen. Cold, cloudy mists still lingered in the night, but not as cold as Legolas' insides suddenly turned; as an automatic reaction, he brought his mantle tighter around himself and wrapped his arms around his body, unable to contain the shivering which had involuntarily betrayed him.

There was something different about the way the figure stood before his door, an air of firm ice mingled with heated suspicion, so that Legolas could not discern what his intentions truly were. The Elf in the shadows, however, did not waste any time acting upon them. Legolas almost quailed beneath the strong gaze of the intruder, although he was able to hide it; his alarm at the sudden appearance of the invader was meshed with frustration.

'I have waited for you all night,' the soft voice said.

'Why?' Legolas retorted, his voice deep with distrust. 'I told you that everything was well – in fact, I have specifically asked you to cease coming. You need not periodically inspect my comings and goings; I am no child, and it is offensive to me that you would treat me like one.'

'Perhaps if you would stop acting like one, I would take your request into consideration,' the other Elf seethed. 'Where have you been fleeing to in the night? Everyone has been worried for you, Legolas. And it disappoints me that I can tell them nothing, because seemingly the trust has left our friendship. You will not even confide your troubles in me.'

The Elf-Prince clenched his fists. 'There are no troubles I can confide in you – the only trouble perceivable here is your obstinate, unyielding attempts to capture me in the midst of some sort of mischief-making. Indeed has the trust left our friendship, seeing as you cannot even think straightforwardly long enough to consider that maybe I, as your friend, am telling the truth about my condition. Furthermore, I can hardly believe that you have been telling everyone that I have not been in my chambers at night – that is my own business and purpose, solely, and if you would kindly promise to cease your incessant rumor-mongering and step aside, I would like to get some rest before the sunrise prompts me to return to work.'

'I hardly had to tell them at all,' responded the other Elf angrily. 'They themselves knew, they have always known. It is not only in the night that you have been vanishing like a ghost, Legolas. Or have you yourself not even noticed? You have not made yourself present, you no longer share supper with us—'

'Have I ever had any obligation to?' Legolas interrupted in disbelief.

'—And no one has said anything, but they all feel it. The suspense of sitting alongside Mithrandir and Lady Galadriel for even one hour is enough to fuel the fire that is blazing within me now. Your absence has not been subtle; rather, it has been screaming an ironic, deafening silence into the atmosphere surrounding all of us. I have not been speaking with them, therefore my ways are not rumor-mongering; you should be grateful that at least I am the only one who has thus far cared enough to grapple beyond the silence and venture to understand how my close friend is faring. I have been worried about you, and yet all that I receive during this attempt to comprehend this darkness is your childish accusations and inability to see beyond your own purposes.'

'How dare you call me childish!' the Prince yelled, taking a step forward.

'I was speaking of the immature nature of your insinuations, but never did I say that you yourself were childish. Although, seeing as you were so quick to assume that I was referring to you, you cannot claim that my statement on your childish accusations was in any way erroneous.'

Legolas, unable to answer, bit his lip, but the anger that lay between them both blazed in invisible flames. The golden-haired Prince was still shivering, although he now shook with fury rather than dread; but the other Elf was merely standing calmly before his door with his arms crossed – which incensed him even more.

'Have your finished with your insults? Because I am not here to be foulmouthed,' Legolas seethed. 'I desire sleep. I am exhausted. Step out of the way.'

'That is hardly my problem,' the other Elf snapped. 'You chose to steal yourself away in the night, now you alone may bear the consequences. I am not allowing you to sleep just yet. This interrogation is not over.'

'You claim to be my friend, and yet you cannot even trust me. I am sorry, Elrohir, but contrary to your belief, I am mature enough to look after myself – and, sincerely speaking, I do not really care if you are too dense to believe me. Now step aside!'

'Make me,' Elrohir narrowed his eyes. Legolas suppressed the urge to strike an undignified blow at him, and then was surprised at himself for even considering it; never in his life had he ever considered harming any of his own kind. It was not the nature of the Elves to be violent outside the battlefield, and the realization of the darkness of his thought alarmed him.

The son of Elrond, who seemed to sense this, slanted his eyebrows in sorrow.

'Legolas, mellon nîn, we are all concerned for you,' he uttered slowly. 'Our spirits are filled with grief, knowing the shadows that have clouded you in recent days. I feel helpless because you have ceased to permit me to share your burdens. Mithrandir and Lady Galadriel have been wordless since you have stopped coming to gather with us; their wisdom has turned into doubt. Faramir and Éowyn are torn between staying and leaving. The halflings' hearts are breaking with anxiety. My heart has been breaking from confusion. My sister's heart has been breaking in her isolation. Aragorn—'

At this, the Mirkwood Elf almost ceased breathing.

'I am fine, Elrohir,' he interrupted. 'Do not worry about me. There is no trouble. I am fine. You are indeed a true friend; I have been blinded to it before, but there is nothing wrong—'

'You can provide no evidence for the truth of that statement, but I will not pester you. Please – I beg you only to remember that we are your friends, and that we know that something is occurring behind closed doors, whether by your doing or not. We can sense it.'

'Well, you sensed wrong!' said Legolas in exasperation. 'How on Middle-Earth would they know? Especially since you have said that I have not been making myself present in gatherings and I do not come to share in supper – which implies that you have been the only one seeing me. Well, perhaps apart from the King, whom I see when I am on duty; but even then, I do not speak to him at all. If they do not know the truth, then clearly the only thing they can choose to believe is your word.'

'…Which is impossible, because I have not spoken with them about the troubles of my heart,' Elrohir contested. 'And apart from that, I do not believe that Aragorn and I have been the only ones seeing you. Do not think that I do not have my suspicions about why you neglect to return to your bedchamber in the night.'

Legolas' insides, abruptly, turned to ice once again. He looked away, but felt the eyes of the Imladris Elf studying him. All of a sudden he felt weary and old, and he yearned for nothing more than to sleep and forget everything, to forget this argument, to forget Faunel, and to forget—

I cannot even say his name.

The very idea of forgetting him was bitter in the back of the Elf's mind, and he felt ill in a way impossible for Elves even as he thought the words.

'I wish to sleep,' he muttered helplessly. 'Please, Elrohir, let me into my chambers.'

Elrohir looked upon him with soft sympathy and, to Legolas' surprise, stepped aside. The golden-haired Prince again shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. Hesitantly, he walked forward and opened the door, deliberately trying to evade the Imladris Elf's gaze.

'I am only concerned for your well-being,' whispered Elrohir on a final note. 'You can hide things from me, and you can lie to me. But do not forget that you cannot hide things from yourself; nor can you lie to yourself.'

The Prince halted mid-stride, his hand stiffly clenching the door-handle. His grip tightened. Then, without looking back, he released his grasp, swept into his bedchamber and violently slammed the door.

...

The affair had lasted for innumerable nights when Aragorn woke in the night, his spine having turned stiff in the hard chair in which he had fallen asleep. He cursed under his breath, incensed at once again being woken at so ungodly an hour, and wiped the sweat from his forehead; his dreams had been cold and terrible, and he wished not to remember them. The table before him was covered in mountains of parchment, and the candle that had stood proudly near the edge had burned away to nothing, so that not even the inevitable trails of smoke remained. As his gaze fell upon it, Aragorn felt a pain in his heart as he realized that he was no different from the candle: so proud and tall he once was, burning with a bright flame; now he felt small and empty, as though he had died away to nothing.

He rose from his chair and stretched his aching arms, stifling the slight yawn that threatened to escape. His awakening, as it had been for many days now, was as uneasy as his sleep. Pale moonlight was streaming in through the windows, softened by the milky clouds that accompanied the soft grey of the approaching dawn. Aragorn groaned; he knew that there was no way that he could possibly return to slumber – the coming morn was promising a biting coldness, and the Man's neck and back ached terribly. He defeatedly walked to the door and departed from the room, determined to find some means of occupying himself until he was to return to work at sunrise.

The hallways of the White Tower had never seemed so bleak. Grey floors, grey roof, grey walls… a cold, pale grey, much like the dawn, with its icy mists and mingling lights as the moon fades. Aragorn felt a slight discomfort prickling in his heart as he slowly walked through the hallways; his lone footsteps echoed, deafening in the uncomfortable silence of the late night. One pair of light footfalls, traveling alone… so alone.

He remembered his sleepless nights as he walked through beautiful Elven-glades with Arwen before they became true lovers. She always accompanied him on his walks when he was bereft of sleep; she would speak to him and comfort him as a close friend or sister would, and they would always smile together, appreciating the splendor of their surroundings. Aragorn remembered clear skies, bright stars, and the cool, calm breeze that swept over them both. He remembered cherishing her presence and her friendship, and the consolation that her company provided as they walked unshod through soft grass.

They were no longer in love, but at that moment Aragorn wished beyond anything that she was beside him again as his friend, speaking to him softly and with understanding, and hearkening to his words with the unwavering care that all who knew her had been blessed with experiencing. He wished that he could speak to her about the troubles of his heart as he had once done. She had never, ever left him alone if he wished to confide his burdens to another; she was always there, her attention rapt, her heart and mind wholly open.

The Evenstar had been as an elder sister to him ever since they'd met; the Man had fully accepted the truth that they would never again love one another the way they once had, but it had not truly dawned on him until that moment how much he still needed her as a friendly companion. He missed her genuine care and understanding, which she had been denying him since the wedding night.

Aragorn stopped, staggered and leaned against the wall in grief.

Apart from that was the matter of Legolas, which was precisely what he had desired to speak to Arwen about – even though he knew that attempting such a thing would be a deathwish. It hurt Aragorn to an immeasurable depth to know that, due to his carelessness and his lack of self-control, he had mortally wounded the two people whom he cared for more than anything in the world. He pressed his brow to the pale wall, willing for the soft coolness to calm him. It was failing; he could hardly have felt less calm in his entire life. He was growing restless and, in this state of madness, he actually considered running and rousing everyone from sleep, just to speak to someone – anyone –

'My Lord?'

Aragorn whirled around in utter shock, completely breathless.

'Faunel,' he murmured, his heart still beating quickly. 'What on Middle-Earth are you doing awake at such an early hour, and sneaking upon me whilst I was unaware? You frightened me to no end.'

The Elf, laughing, bowed slightly. 'Perhaps you should have been aware, then. I crave your pardon nonetheless, my Lord… I was restless, and was seeking any handmaiden who could perhaps prepare a hot bath for me, as I am in need of it. The sun, of course, is due to rise quite soon, and at that hour we must all be ready to return to work.'

Aragorn crossed his arms; the Star-Cloud's presence made him extremely uncomfortable, especially with the knowledge that this boarder had, indeed, grown quite close to Legolas. Although the Man had longed for no more than to speak with someone at that moment, Faunel's words and mannerisms were for some inexplicable reason unbecoming. Aragorn felt an abrupt desire to cut the conversation short.

'My Lord—?'

'Return to your bedchamber,' the Man interrupted. 'I will send a handmaiden to you. What duty has Faramir assigned you this morn?'

'He has given me leadership of guard of the fifth circle,' answered Faunel, and Aragorn detected in the voice a shred of smugness. He realized all of a sudden, however, that he must not have hidden his reactions well, for a different, more uneasy expression crossed Faunel's features. The Man quickly gave a nod.

'I see.'

'—Lord Aragorn, what troubles you?' the Elf said softly, with a tone of voice that Aragorn refused to believe was concern. 'Do not embrace the shadows… it will destroy you.'

The Man, feeling suddenly heated, turned his sharp gaze onto Faunel's eyes. The beautiful Elf did not quaver; in fact, he seemed completely unaffected by the burning challenge that the Man no longer bothered to keep to himself. It irritated him even more.

'Why are you awake at this hour, Star-Cloud? You have not answered me.'

The Elf smirked shamelessly. It seemed, suddenly, as though he had actually desired for Aragorn to ask that question. The Man bit his lower lip, restraining his tongue from letting loose anything undignified.

'Ah, but why spoil the surprise? I am sure that you, out of all people here, would be the first to find out for yourself, Lord Aragorn. In fact, I believe that the reason you are also awake and wandering the hallways at so early an hour would be because you already know.'

The Man froze. He had had his suspicions, indeed, but now that he had let the question escape his tongue, he felt that he desperately did not wish to hear the answer. He held comfort in the fact that Faunel's statement had not been entirely true, but the words that did hold some truth made him feel utterly cold; he bowed his head slightly, and did not see the sudden impish twinkle in Faunel's eyes.

'I do not know of what you speak,' he hissed through clenched teeth. 'I am here because I could not return to slumber, not because I desired to spy on you. You believe that, as King of the White City, I would have no better ways to pass the time?'

The Elf merely raised a mischievous eyebrow at this, and Aragorn, with irritation, knew that Faunel was skeptical of his words. It took him a tremendous amount of effort to suppress his bubbling annoyance.

'You truly do not know?' Faunel lit up playfully, and the Man inwardly shuddered – he was suddenly reminded of the day Faunel had first arrived at Minas Tirith, when the Elf had spoken so boldly before him that Aragorn could even see the obvious surprise that crossed Faramir's face. He utterly despised the spritelike nature of Faunel's character – he would have preferred anything else, even disdain; at least outward hostility would have given the King a rational reason to banish this stranger from his lands. He pressed his lips tightly together as the Elf walked closer to him.

'Forget it,' said Aragorn darkly, taking an unconscious step backward. 'I can already guess that, whatever it is you are to tell me, it would most likely be unpleasant for me to hear,'

'Oh, I do not deny it indeed may be,' answered Faunel softly, curling one of his cold, soft hands around Aragorn's own and leaning forward. 'But I wish to tell you anyway; this might even prove to be entertaining. Even though none here is likely to have known about it – seeing as they do not know I even exist, which is absolutely no problem on my part – I have guessed where your wavering thoughts have gone, my Lord; I can guess why your wife no longer desires you. And, furthermore, I can guess where his current darkness comes from, why it surrounds him.'

'Who are you talking about?' Aragorn demanded, his heart quickening. Faunel leered, leaned forward even more and brought his lips to the Human's ear.

'I had first taken him long before this,' he whispered. 'I am awake this early because I took him, because I knew him.'

The Dúnadan sprang away, horrified, as though the words had burned him. He gazed upon the Elf in horror, speechless, as though all rational thought had been drained out of him. But Faunel only smiled, and released the Man's gentle hand, which had gone limp. He could see in the faint light that Aragorn shivered, although he doubted that it was only from the cause of the coldness of the morning.

The Elf bowed slightly.

'I will be expecting the handmaiden before I am to go to duty, my Lord,' he said and, raising his chin with a small grin, promptly turned and walked away towards his chambers.

...

When the sun had risen and the stirring of movement could be heard from beyond the windows, Legolas rose from his bed in the Fellowship house, dreading the moment when he must inevitably leave his chambers and, possibly, have to encounter Elrohir in any way. The morning was bright and beautiful, but the Elf-prince felt no desire to share in its joy; the crisp, fresh air was biting to him, and the pale white light blinding. He despised every ray of sunlight streaming through his windows that told him that, as Chief Advisor of the King, he was due to return to service.

Fortunately, some days he had not needed to see Elessar, for which he was grateful, and this day was one of those days. On such days the Dúnadan had not expected him to do more than to aid him with the coordination of scheduled tasks, and perhaps a few decisions that needed to be made; these Éowyn and Elladan faithfully took turns delivering to his chambers in the form of paperwork, on the days that it was needed. Legolas, sliding his day-robes upon his shoulders, frowned at the thought of this work.

The door creaked open, and the Prince was surprised; Éowyn and Elladan were both very respectful, and always knocked. However, everything made complete sense when he saw that this morn it was neither the wife of Faramir nor the son of Elrond who had come to deliver the parchments, but Faunel.

He smiled weakly as Faunel entered the room and closed the door behind him.

'You should be bringing me breakfast, not work,' Legolas said. The dark-haired Elf, able to hear the slight grin in Legolas' voice, laid the stack of parchment upon the nearby table and smirked.

'I came across Lady Éowyn, and thought that I may as well bring these to you, for I would be able to see you at the same time.'

'You would only distract me from my duties, Star-Cloud,' the Prince laughed softly. Faunel swept over to him, embraced him and kissed him intensely.

'Perhaps, seeing as you enjoy being close to me, that is not such a bad thing,' the dark-haired Elf whispered, moving his kisses to the Prince's tender nape. 'Although, I cannot linger here long; I must also return my guard in the fifth circle. I have heard from Lady Éowyn that your father wishes to speak to you.'

Legolas groaned in frustration and pulled away. 'Oh, for the love of Manwë. Every time I have had to see him, he has had nothing pleasing to say to me. I do not understand why everyone is treating me like a child; I have learned my lesson since the last time I made a rash decision.'

Faunel's eyes gleamed.

'And what would that have been?' he raised an eyebrow suggestively. Legolas, looking at the expression upon his face, suddenly felt uneasy.

'Nothing important,' he uttered. 'Come, I am not leaving you in my chambers alone. Knowing you, you would probably have left nasty surprises for me by the time I return. Your friskiness reminds me of Merry and Pippin.'

'Who?' Faunel asked, genuinely confused. Legolas, opening the door for him, grinned playfully.

'It doesn't matter.'

...

Aragorn waited hesitantly by the door, dreading what the King of Mirkwood would say to him. He had meshed feelings about what was occurring inside the chamber; Thranduil was speaking to his son, but of course, the Man could not hear anything behind the door. He wished suddenly that he could have restrained himself from any foolish actions – he had rushed immediately to the Mirkwood King at daybreak and spoke to him, without thinking of what Legolas' reaction would be. He covered his face with his hands. If anything, he would be lucky if the Elf-Prince would even be willing to look at him again, let alone speak to him.

The door creaked open, which gave Aragorn's heart a nasty jolt, and the conversing voices of Thranduil and his son were suddenly clear. He wished suddenly that he could just walk away; the last thing he wanted to see now was Legolas' anger. However, he froze in his place; he could see the Prince's golden head slowly backing away from the chamber. The Man noticed, suddenly, that there was in fact no anger at all in the way father and son were speaking together.

'…I cannot say that this is what I have been hoping for, but I am grateful nonetheless,' Legolas' gentle voice rang out. 'There has been too much darkness recently; it is the last thing we need, especially seeing as the war has just ended.'

'I must be honest with you and say that that is the only reason for my decision,' Aragorn could hear Thranduil answering, 'otherwise I would have preferred that you found some other means of redeeming yourself. My approval is not absolute, and my acceptance is grudging, but I am glad that you are grateful that I have at least not refused you.'

'Thank you, my Lord.'

'You are welcome,' Thranduil answered. 'I believe Estel is waiting outside. Please send him in, I wish to speak to him.'

There was a sudden, uneasy silence that made Aragorn desire not to be there at all. His breath was constricted as Legolas finally emerged from the chamber, his eyes devoid of emotion. He looked upon Aragorn without any anger, but without any amusement, either; the Man willed himself not to tremble. He felt utterly, utterly ill. It seemed obvious at this moment that his friendship with the golden-haired Elf could not have been worse. The Prince, however, looked as though he could care less.

'Father wishes to see you,' he said plainly, and began striding away without looking back. Aragorn thought he saw a familiar gleam at Legolas' throat as he had turned; a painful memory suddenly returned to him as he watched the Elf's retreating form, a memory of blurred boundaries between worlds and clouded senses of judgement, something so beautiful but at the same time something he preferred never to remember again. A memory of a time he had been close enough to admire the silver creature, with its long bowed neck and enormous wings…

It will leave a mark.

'Elessar?'

Surprised, interrupted from his state of reminiscence, Aragorn turned bewildered eyes to the Mirkwood King, who was studying him with concern.

'Are you well, Elessar?'

Aragorn, swallowing, slowly nodded. Thranduil, however, did not look convinced.

'Well, come and enter,' the Elf-lord said curtly. 'There is something important which I wish to discuss with you.'

Leaving the door open, he disappeared into the room. Aragorn bowed his head and breathed deeply, the strong memory of the creature now fading to the back of his mind. For one brief moment he wondered what it was, what it meant, why it affected him so; and suddenly, a strange, inconceivable idea flittered past him… he wondered what it was trying to say.

He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and entered the room. He must be mad, thinking such a thing – but then again, he realized that everything he had done since the wedding night had not exactly been rationally thought through before he had done it. The Man felt another surge of discomfort flow through him as he beheld the expression upon the Mirkwood King's face; clearly, he was becoming less adept to concealing his emotions.

'Are you sure you are well?' Thranduil repeated disbelievingly. Aragorn took the seat before him.

'Yes, my Lord,' he said in a clear voice, although Thranduil sensed the uneasiness that lay behind it. However, desiring to pursue the matter no further, he ignored it and went straight to the point.

'I have spoken to my son, Estel,' he said. 'I have told him that you had suspicions of his encounters with the Elf-boarder, and that you had informed me for his best interests. You need not worry, however; I was not foolish enough to tell him of what that boarder had told you. Although it seems like it would not have mattered if I had, because he confessed it.'

Aragorn felt as though his heart had frozen to ice.

'He – he did?' the Man stuttered. 'That is a surprise. I had expected him to deny it.'

'So had I,' said Thranduil. 'But that matters little, because that is only part of what I wished to discuss with you. I must be honest with you, Estel – I believed that his actions on the night of your wedding were reckless beyond my expectation, and I must once again apologize on his behalf; his lack of judgement had shattered your marriage, and old ties were broken. For that, I am truly sorry.'

Aragorn nodded, but did not understand what the Elf-lord was trying to say.

'I wish, however, to forget that matter, and look forward instead – I have forgiven him because he had given his word to me never again to lose sight of reasonable thought, and I am also confident that you, Elessar, being a Man so great and valiant your entire life, would be able to reconcile with your wife. For his actions, I desired no less than for my son to attempt to redeem himself, and he has indeed shown his effort. For now, I believe that we should forget the matter of the Star-Cloud.'

The Man could hardly believe what he was hearing.

'…Forget, my Lord?'

'Yes. As I said, he has indeed shown to me that he is attempting to retrieve himself from the darkness which had thus far clouded his thought, and I have faith that he will not end up diving deeper into it. I am grateful that my patience has allowed me to forgive him, as he has proven that he is willing to supplant his innocence with knowledge and maturity; however, this matter regarding the Star-Cloud is highly insignificant to your concerns, which should be with your people. For now, I believe that my son will be learning to take care of himself; and although I greatly appreciate your regard for his well-being, I would indeed prefer that he no longer acted as a distraction to you, so that you may be able to bring into focus the interests of your people and your reconciliation with the Evenstar.'

Aragorn, roused, rose to his feet. 'What are you saying?'

Seeing this upsurge of steam, Thranduil's eyes, suddenly, became cold.

'I am saying, Aragorn,' the Elf said in a tight-lipped manner, 'that I do not want you to interfere with Legolas and Faunel's alliance.'

(To be continued)