Hi folks!

Well, here we go, story number two is all ready (well, a few chapters are, after all *g*) and waiting to be read by you! And it's even on time, isn't that great? I still think it's a miracle of biblical proportions, but I think only people who are from this country can truly understand what a really exceptional occurence it is to get internet access on the day they told you you would get it... *g*

Very well, here is my second story, which is a sequel to "An Eye For An Eye" and will probably be easier to understand if you've read that story, but it's not necessary I think. You should be fine either way.

I really do hope you'll enjoy it!
Oh, and thanks a lot for all the lovely reviews for ch 22 of "An Eye For An Eye", they were one of the reasons why I tried to get this out as soon as possible! Thanks so much! *huggles readers*

Okay, enough of the ranting and on to the story!!

The Heart of Men

By: Nili

Rating: PG-13 to be on the safe side, I think.

Spoilers: Hmmm, good question. This is a sequel to my first story, "An Eye For An Eye". It might be easier to understand if you've read it, but I don't think it's really necessary. There might also be a few spoilers for "The Hobbit", so if you're reading that book at the moment and are still wondering whether the dwarves or the dragon will survive, then don't read this.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything in Middle-Earth, every recognizable character, setting, place and so on belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien, but the rest (places, characters, spiders, demon-horses etc.) belong to me. I do not have permission to use any of the above, but I do so anyway. Evil, hm? Oh, and yes, this little story was written just for fun, and I _certainly_ will receive no money for it, though it would be a great way to earn my living. Please do not use any of my original characters without asking me first (ha, as if that's going to happen...). Thanks a lot.

Summary: After his encounter with Cornallar and his men, Aragorn winters in Mirkwood with his friend Legolas. When a simple visit to Lake-town stirs up more trouble than either of them could have imagined, the elven prince and the young ranger find themselves thrown head first into a maelstrom of suspicion, disappearances and greed that threatens both their lives and the precarious peace the new King of Dale has managed to uphold.

Series: Well, that's a grand word, but perhaps I'll start a mini-series of my own! *g* As I said, this is a sequel to "An Eye For An Eye", taking place about three weeks after said story.

Additional notes: I have decided to follow Cassia and Sio's lead and pretend that Gilraen was killed with Arathorn, not because I don't like her, no, but because it's very hard to integrate her into Rivendell-life. Well, too complicated for me, and since I'm still new to this author business this is the easiest solution.

Some people have told me that my whole concept is an AU, and I think they are correct, in a way. I totally ignore the fact that Aragorn's supposed to have met Arwen just after he had been told of his heritage, and I am aware of the fact that I am not Tolkien, and therefore do not even begin to sound like him. I could never write as well as he does, so well, you will have to bear with me.
Please also note that I have chosen to use "mellonamin" and not "mellon-nîn" or "nin mellon", it's just because the dictionary I use does it that way and I still haven't found a better one. If you know one, please send me an email and let me know.
So, if this bothers you, just read "nin mellon" or "mellon-nîn" every time "mellonamin" is used, okay?

As some of you know, English is not my first language, so please DO tell me when (not "if" *g*) you see a mistake. Since I'm a perfectionist, I _hate_ it when there are errors in my stories, and it really helps to improve my abilities. Thank you!

Chapter 1

"…and I hate to say it, my friend, but I told you so. I expressly warned you that something like this would happen, but would you listen? I don't really think I need to answer this question, do I? Really, Elrond, this time all of you have outdone yourselves, I swear that those reckless sons of yours are beginning to rub off on you. What were you thinking, going after them alone? You could have been killed, and I would have had to explain your erratic behaviour – not to mention your death, that of your sons and the prince's – to your parents-in-law, which is a thought that makes me shiver and a fate a lot worse than death."

At this point the Lord of Imladris let the letter he was holding sink down onto his lap, chuckling helplessly. Glorfindel could exaggerate things grossly. But then again, he mused, it would take more courage than a single elf or man could possibly possess to face the Lady of the Golden Wood and her husband, bearing the news that their son-in-law, all of their grandsons and the Prince of Mirkwood were dead.

Elrond turned serious again when he thought of how close to that they had come less than three weeks ago when Cornallar, an elf lord which all had deemed dead, had returned after 3000 years to avenge the death of his son which he wrongly blamed on the Master of Rivendell. To avenge him by killing Elrond's youngest son, then the elf lord himself and all those who got in the way of his plans, namely Elladan, Elrohir and Legolas.

'And,' the dark haired elf lord mused, 'He very nearly succeeded. If not for the timely arrival of the Mirkwood warriors, Aragorn would have died, and I would have been powerless to prevent it.'

He quickly shook his head, drawing himself out of his dark thoughts. Cornallar was dead, as were most of those who had helped him, and his sons and the prince were alive and well. Elrond grimaced, oh yes, they were very well, judging by their behaviour. It was a miracle that King Thranduil hadn't already ordered him to take his sons, leave his realm and never come back, thank you very much.

He let his eyes wander over the part of the royal gardens he could observe from the balcony he could access from his rooms, unperturbed by the cool breeze that blew brown and red leaves onto the small platform and into his room. Yes, the twins and Legolas were definitely hale again, and had been for over a week now. Their elven bodies allowed them to heal a lot faster than other beings, and their numerous injuries, enough to provide the author of a medical textbook with enough visual aids to make him or her exceedingly happy, had healed nicely.

Estel, on the other hand, was another matter. The first week the young ranger had done little more than sleep, which had allowed his fractured skull to heal up to the point where he could lift it without the feeling that it was being slowly squeezed in a vice until his eyes felt ready to pop out of their sockets.

Yes, the father of the boy in question sighed, those first eight or nine days had been gloriously peaceful, the only thing he had had to worry about was to get Estel to take his medicine and chase his brothers and the prince out of the room so that the human would get enough rest.
Naturally, that had been a condition too good to last. After that first week the young man had obviously decided that he was completely healed and needed to make up for the days of resting by coming up with some of the most elaborate escape plans the elf lord had ever seen. Aragorn was being aided in his endeavour to escape his father and the palace healers by his brothers, who really should know better, Elrond thought irritated. Legolas was apparently torn between the urge to help his friend and to make sure that the human got enough rest, but the first outweighed the latter the more time passed and the stronger Estel grew.

In addition to that had Celylith, one of Legolas' closest friends, decided to assist as well to make up for the fact that he hadn't noticed that his best friend Glónduil had been supplying Cornallar with information, something for that nobody blamed him, not even Aragorn. Nobody in Mirkwood had thought that Glónduil's contempt and hate for humans ran so deep that he was willing to help someone as insane as that elf lord.

Elrond shook his head and sighed once more. Aragorn alone was bad enough, Aragorn and his brothers were worse, but Aragorn, his brothers and two other young elves were unbearable. It was almost impossible for him and the other healers to keep up with whatever scheme those five young ones had planned next.

He ran a hair through his dark, braided hair. Yesterday he had told his human son that he wasn't allowed out of his room yet thirty-eight times. Thirty-eight! And every time he had told him no, Aragorn had looked at him with big, hurt silver eyes, as if he was keeping the boy "locked" in his room out of sheer cruelty. Even though his head was healing, there were his broken ribs, his still healing lacerated back and several other wounds, mostly deep cuts and slowly fading bruises. He was simply not strong enough to get up and do Valar-know-what with his brothers and elven friends, Númenorean descent or not, and every sensible being should be able to understand that.

Unfortunately for him and Lord Thranduil's healing staff, the five of them saw that differently.

The Lord of Rivendell shrugged lightly and turned his face towards the left to catch the last rays of the slowly sinking sun, already noticing the drop in temperature as it disappeared behind the tall trees. The last days of autumn were fast approaching, and soon they would need to return to their home in order to avoid being caught by the winter storms on their way over the Misty Mountains.

He wouldn't worry about his youngest now, he decided, Hithrawyn, the master healer, was bearing that burden this afternoon, which left him with enough time to read the highly amusing letter of his friend and advisor, who had returned to Rivendell about one week ago only to find his lord and his sons gone and the whole place in something of an uproar, a situation which the golden haired elf did not appreciate in the slightest.

No, he grinned inwardly, taking up the letter once more, Glorfindel did not sound amused at all…

"You know that I have only the utmost respect for you and your decisions, my lord, but the only word to describe your actions is foolhardy. Foolhardy, and absolutely unbecoming to an elf lord. Honestly, Elrond Peredhil, I would have thought you knew better than to ride off at dead of night without taking an escort with you! I understand your motives of course, but this is hardly proper or wise behaviour!"

Elrond grimaced slightly, here it came, Glorfindel's Things-a-proper-elf-lord-never-does-speech. Suddenly he was very glad he wasn't at home in Rivendell, the only thing worse than Glorfindel delivering his Things-a-proper-elf-lord-never-does-speech was Glorfindel delivering his Things-a-proper-elf-lord-never-does-speech and shooting you his You-know-you-deserve-this-look.

The elf lord resumed his reading, finding that his golden haired friend had come up with a few interesting things he threatened to do to him lest he dare do such a thing ever again.

'He is just offended that I didn't take him with me,' he decided after a while, raising an eyebrow when he read the last threat, something about him being chained to a pole, tar and an particularly ill-tempered balrog.

After a few more pages of lecturing and threats, Elrond reached the end of the message, and smiled softly when he read his friend's words.

"…and even despite all this, I thank all the Valar and Ilúvatar himself that you are safe, mellonamin. Please return as soon as possible, for I do think that Erestor will have a fit if you stay away for much longer. Every time you or the Lady Galadriel are mentioned a vein under his eye throbs nervously, and a few days ago I found him in your study, rehearsing a speech in front of your empty chair explaining why it wasn't his fault that the twins and Prince Legolas had followed you. I really think he will not last for much longer if he can't get this over with soon.
Please give my regards and well wishes to those demons you call your sons, and I truly don't envy you the task of keeping Estel in bed and the twins away from him.
I pray for your swift and safe return, and once you arrive here, we will have a serious talk about all this.

May Elbereth watch over your path, my friend.


Elrond's smile grew a little wider. He was missing his friend, and despite the long speech Glorfindel would give him once he arrived he was looking forward to talking with him about what had transpired during the past month. He needed his quiet insight; there was no better person he could think of to help you analyse your actions than his golden haired advisor.

While the Lord of Rivendell was still contemplating how he would start explaining all this to his friend, a hasty knock sounded on his door and its wings were thrown open, something which surprised Elrond slightly before the surprise was quickly replaced with dread.

This was the house of Thranduil Oropherion who didn't take kindly to people who ignored the valid rules of conduct, and every member of his court knew that.
Elrond closed his eyes and slowly shook his head, a voice in his head noting that if he kept moving it from side to side as frequently as he did lately, it would probably come loose and fall off his shoulders.

If someone barged into his quarters like this, it could only be ... and that meant…

His feelings of dread increased, and before he had time to open his eyes, a sharp, exasperated elven voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Lord Elrond!"

Sadly acknowledging the fact that there was only one elf of that name in this room, he opened his eyes and looked into the highly infuriated face of Hithrawyn, King Thranduil's best healer. The blonde elf came closer, lifting a slightly shaking white hand and pointing accusingly at the speechless elf lord in front of him.

"Lord Elrond," he repeated, stopping in front of Elrond's beautifully carved wooden chair, "You know that I am most glad to help you and your son, but enough is enough! I refuse!"

The Lord of Rivendell felt the unmistakable signs of an approaching headache, and he moved one of the hands that still gripped Glorfindel's letter to massage an aching temple. Somehow, he thought dryly, he seemed to experience headaches more and more frequently during these past two decades, precisely ever since Estel had learned the elvish word for "prank", which had of course been one of the first Sindarin words Elladan had taught his little brother twenty years ago. By the time the two of them had reached the expression "to drive someone mad", everything had been lost.

"What has he done now?" he asked in a tired voice, already dreading the answer.

"It's not only him, my lord," the healer whined, finally remembering his manners and giving the elf lord a quick bow. Elrond stifled a smile when he heard the other elf's tone of voice; it took quite a lot to make an elf whine. And he imagined it was even harder with a wood-elf.

"It's all of them," Hithrawyn exclaimed, very obviously resisting the urge to wring his hands. "He wouldn't drink the sleeping draught you prepared for him, and those … elflings even encouraged him! This time the prince was the worst of the lot."

The Lord of Imladris noted that the master healer's hands were beginning to twitch and move as if to close around someone's neck, and he forced himself to nod in understanding.

"And then they … they …"

The twitching increased and a murderous look of such intensity spread over the younger elf's face that Elrond quickly looked over the healer's shoulder to make sure that Legolas hadn't followed him. He really wouldn't want to explain to Thranduil why his master healer had tried to strangle the heir to the throne.

"Very well," he said quickly and rose to his feet, careful not to ask what exactly his wayward children had done. As he had told Glorfindel many times, it was best not to ask.
"If you come with me I will do what I can. I beg your pardon for my sons' behaviour, I will see that they are sufficiently punished."

At the last word Hithrawyn's eyes seemed to light up.

"Punished…" he mumbled under his breath, hands twitching once again. Elrond raised an eyebrow and gave him a questioning stare, and the other elf quickly regained his composure.

"That is good enough for me, my lord," he said, bowing slightly and following Elrond out of the room.

After a short walk during which the dark haired elf lord entertained himself with vivid visions of what he would do to his sons once he had made sure that Estel drank enough sleeping potion to keep him drugged until the next month, they reached the room next to Legolas' in which the young ranger was staying every time he visited his elven friend.

Elrond eyed the open door wearily, resisting the sudden powerful urge to knock his head against one of the stone walls. Repeatedly and until either the wall or his head gave way.

"You left them alone?" he asked, piercing the other healer with an unbelieving glare.

"Uhm, I, I didn't think … I mean they wouldn't …" Hithrawyn stammered, giving both the empty room and the elf lord next to him who was shaking his head vigorously now nervous glances.

"I am sorry, Lord Elrond," he finally said. "I should have known they would seize this chance."

The dark haired elf lord opened tired grey eyes and gave the master healer a weak smile.
"Don't be, Hithrawyn. I should have known better than to let you face all of them alone, 'twas rather like feeding a lamb to a pack of starving wargs…"

Elrond leaned against one of the door posts, surveying the room, his eyes wandering over the four armchairs the young elves had dragged to Aragorn's bedside and coming to rest on the rumpled sheets that covered the soft bed. Indeed, he should have known that all of this had merely been a manoeuvre to provide the five with enough time to escape…

"My lord?" the blonde elf questioned. "What shall we do? They could be everywhere by now, we will need the guards to find them, and even then it will be hard." He shrugged hopelessly. "When Prince Legolas wants to disappear, then disappear he does."

The Lord of Imladris frowned in thought, where would they go? They couldn't leave the palace, no matter what Estel said, his body was far from healed from the traumas it had endured during the past weeks. They wouldn't go to Legolas', the twins' or Celylith's quarters either, that was far too obvious…
Where would he go if half the healing staff were chasing after him? Not that he would run off like that in the first place, he amended quickly, that would be truly un-elf-lordly behaviour.

After a second he turned around, smiling grimly at the master healer.
"I can't speak for the prince or Celylith, but I think I know where my sons would go."

He turned around and quickly made his way back the way they had come, deep red robes swishing softly over the polished stone floors, closely followed by the confused Hithrawyn.

'You can run,' Elrond thought darkly as he rounded a corner and headed for the next staircase, 'But you cannot hide. Not from me, my sons.'

"I don't think this is a very good idea," Elrohir said, peering around the corner cautiously and flattening his body against the white stone wall in the process.

"Nonsense, brother, where would no sensible person hide if all the healers were looking for him?"

With a tired sigh the younger twin turned back to his companions, surveying their appearance closely and deciding, not for the first time, that he somehow had ended up in the company of a horde of lunatics. Highly entertaining lunatics maybe, but lunatics nonetheless.

"He is right, Elrohir," Estel nodded, leaning a little harder on Legolas' arm that was keeping him upright. "No intelligent being would hide in the healing wing."

"Then remind me again just why we are doing it, brother!" Elrohir whispered fiercely, glaring at his human brother. "Just look at you! You are wearing only a shirt and a robe! If father catches us, he will drug you into the next age and kill all of us. If we are lucky."

"Oh, Elrohir, stop it!" Legolas rolled his eyes. "Where is your thirst for adventure?"

"I left it in those accursed goblin tunnels of yours, mellonamin," Elrohir shot back, his eyes twinkling teasingly. "You know, the ones where we almost died because of that little walk under the mountains you suggested?"

"As if I could ever forget," the prince mumbled, suppressing a cold shiver. He really didn't want to think about those two days.

"I must admit, Legolas, I think Elrohir has a point," Celylith chimed in, turning back to face his friends from where he had watched the empty corridor behind them. "Why should we do what only a suicidal person would consider? I mean, honestly, whose idea was this? Hide in the healing wing!"

Legolas and Aragorn turned simultaneously to give the silver haired elf a cold stare.

Celylith swallowed nervously and tried to ignore the snickering twins.

"An excellent idea indeed, my lord," he said quickly to Legolas, moving closer to where the two friends were standing and taking the young man's other arm. "Shall we?"

The five of them moved quickly round the corner, making their way as soundlessly as possible towards one of the rooms that were empty right now, or so had Legolas assured them when he had been here this morning to "scout the terrain".
Their plan was to hide until the healers had given up their search and then escape to do something interesting. Right now Aragorn didn't care what, even drawing his entire family tree back to Beren and Lúthien would appear fascinating after more than two weeks of doing virtually nothing. No, wait, he had done that yesterday already. Twice.

After a few seconds they had reached the small room and while Legolas and Celylith lowered the young ranger onto one of the two beds that were the only pieces of furniture that occupied the space, the twins closed the thin wooden door quickly, leaning against it in relief.

'Well, that went quite well,' Elrohir gave an inward sigh of relief, 'Perhaps it's not such a bad plan after all…'

Elladan seemed to agree with him on this.
"Perfect," Elrond's oldest son said happily, pushing a strand of dark hair behind a pointed ear, "They won't find us for hours in here."

"Are you so sure about that, young one?"

The deep voice made all of them whirl around, and the five young beings watched with wide eyes as Lord Elrond Peredhil of Imladris stepped out of one of the dark corners which they hadn't checked in their hurry to get inside the room.

Elladan opened his mouth to say something, but all that could be heard was a small wheezing sound before he closed his mouth with a snap.
The door behind the twins opened to reveal Hithrawyn and two other healers, who wore expressions so dark that they would have had a horde of uruks run in panic.

Legolas smiled nervously, unconsciously edging closer to the window. It wasn't too deep down, and everything was better than to face the wrath of a healer.
'A Elbereth, Lord Elrond…'

Elrond fought very hard to keep a straight face. These five looked so much like startled deer that it was almost ridiculous. Slowly he stepped closer, watching with silent amusement as the young elves and the ranger seemed to shrink in front of his very eyes.

He slowly folded his arms, giving each of them the look, the one that very clearly said that they were in deep, deep trouble.
"Well?" he asked in a silky voice, trying very hard to stop the corners of his mouth from twisting into a smile that would spoil the whole thing.

As if on cue, four of the five fixed their eyes on Elladan, and Elrohir nudged his twin in the ribs to emphasize their point. Elladan glared at the others before turning to his father.

"Well," he began, desperately trying to come up with a believable story, "Well, we decided to take a little walk."

Aragorn groaned inwardly. 'Very convincing indeed, brother, well done.'

Elrond raised an eyebrow.
"A walk? To enjoy the beautiful scenery here, I assume?"

Elladan blushed slightly and fumbled for words before being interrupted by the Prince of Mirkwood.
"Yes, my lord, we thought that Estel could use some exercise and…"

At this point the master healer interrupted his prince, something that he never would have done under any other circumstances. But right now, Hithrawyn just didn't care, and in his opinion King Thranduil should even thank him if he strangled that little princeling.

"What the edan needs is rest! You had planned all this, hadn't you? It was all a plan to make me leave the room…"

Legolas eyed the other elf with a mixture of surprise and apprehension. He had never seen the healer like this before, and Hithrawyn's hands that seemed to be yearning to close around someone's – and in the prince's opinion, his – neck worried him more than a little bit.

Before the master healer could do something he would have had trouble explaining to his liege lord later, Aragorn's voice interrupted the silence.

"Please, ada," he begged, turning huge grey eyes on his foster father, "It's all my fault. I made them help me. But if I have to stay one more day locked in that room I will simply go insane!"

The twins looked at each other in surprise, but silently agreed not to contradict that statement. Their father wouldn't hurt Estel for he wasn't completely healed yet, but he might very possibly hurt them

Legolas on the other hand shook his head and took a step closer to his human friend.
"It is not only Aragorn's fault, Lord Elrond; I helped him out of my own free will."

He grinned at the young man and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, "As if you could force me to do anything I don't want to do, human."

Aragorn shot his friend a look full of annoyance and gratitude. While he didn't want his friend to get into any more trouble, he was very glad that he didn't have to face his father's wrath alone.

Elrond looked at the two of them who looked at him like a pair of criminals about to ascent the scaffold, and this time he couldn't stop the slight smile from spreading over his features.

"Very well," he shook his head, "We will talk about this later. I will make sure Estel gets back to his room and goes to sleep and then I expect all of you," he graced all of them with a stern look, "in my room so we can discuss this little episode. Understood?"

The four young elves nodded eagerly, apparently glad that Elrond wasn't dragging them in front of the king demanding that they be thrown into the dungeons for a few decades. Aragorn however didn't look too pleased with the developments, but knew better than to protest. He didn't want to be given the look twice on one day, and so he allowed his foster father to carefully pull him to his feet and steer him into the direction of the door. Before they passed out of sight, the young man turned slightly in his father's grip and gave his brothers and friends an apologetic smile. With one last look at Elladan's broadly grinning figure, who was spreading his hands and shaking his head in a gesture that very much said "Rather you than me", they passed round a corner and he turned back to the elf lord.

He gave his foster father a careful smile, trying to gauge from his expression if Elrond was really furious with him.
"How did you know where we were?" he asked after a little while.

Elrond snorted softly as they were slowly making their way to the upper levels of the palace, ignoring the curious looks some of the passing elves gave them.
"Please, my son, I have had to put up with your brothers for more than 2800 years now, I think I know quite well how their minds work, scary as that thought might be. Besides, as you well know, there are only two good places to hide something: First, in plain sight, and second, where no sane person would suspect it. And since I know you and your brothers well, I knew which of the two you would choose."

The young ranger stared at his father with wide eyes, deciding that they were beginning to rub off on him. At times likes these he could very clearly see from which side of the family the twins had got their rather unique sense of humour.

The dark haired elf smiled at his stunned human son as they were slowly walking down the corridor that led to the young man's room.
"But I have to admit, I was tempted to check the dungeons as well," he admitted, causing his son to stare at him in shock.

"Ada! I would never hide in the dungeons!" he exclaimed as they crossed the threshold of his room. "I have to admit that they are quite light and airy here compared to some others I have seen, but they are still dungeons! They are just one notch above an ordinary cave, nothing more."

Elrond smiled slightly as he helped Estel lay down, making a mental note to see to it that the four young ones returned the armchairs from where they had got them.
"Don't let any of our hosts hear that, Estel, or you may find yourself thrown out of Mirkwood faster than you would like."

Aragorn grinned wickedly, relaxing into the soft sheets. The little trip had tired him more than he cared to admit.
"But I have told them, more than once actually. I have to admit that it produced some rather … interesting reactions."

"I bet it did," Elrond mumbled softly, pulling the covers up to his youngest son's neck before turning serious and giving him a stern look.

"Why did you do it, Estel?" he asked quietly, looking the young human in the eye. "You know you still need rest, you may heal faster than a normal human, but you are no elf, my son."

Aragorn dropped his eyes to his hands that he had with some difficulty freed from the covers that his father had pulled over them and were now fiddling with the top blanket. He hated it when his father looked at him like that, with disappointment and worry in his grey eyes. He hated disappointing or worrying his family, but somehow he always seemed to do it anyway.

"I know, father, and I am sorry. But I cannot stand being cooped up like this for much longer! There is so much I have to do and see and I still haven't visited Celylith's sp…, his, uhm, his spade," he finished rather lamely.

The Lord of Rivendell lifted a dark brow and gave him a suspicious look.
"What would a young warrior such as Celylith want with a spade?"

Estel smiled unconvincingly and carefully leaned back into the pillows Legolas and his brothers had insisted he kept behind his back once he had been strong enough to sit up. There were at least two dozen of them of all colours, sizes and forms, and the young ranger strongly suspected that several other elves were sorely missing their cushions now.

"I don't know, ada, that is why I have to see it."

Before his father could reply, he hurried to continue.
"I didn't mean to worry you, father. I just needed to get out of the room for a bit, and I already feel much better."

Elrond gave the young human an admonishing look before turning his eyes onto the small nightstand in front of him, sorting through his medicines before taking up a small glass vial.
"Well, that is no reason to drive King Thranduil's best healer to the brink of insanity. I swear to you, Estel," he added, not taking his eyes off the goblet in which he mixed the contents of the vial with some water, "If that poor elf kills the prince, it will be your fault."

He placed the cup in his son's hand and studied the man closely whose eyes were now fixed on his hands that held the drinking vessel. He put a finger under Aragorn's chin and lifted his head until their eyes met.

"I know, Estel," he said softly, smiling at the boy, "I know you are sorry. And I understand why you and the others decided to take your little 'walk'. It doesn't mean that I approve of it, of course, but I am not angry with you. Drink this," he raised a hand when he saw the rebellious sparkle in his son's eyes, "Drink it, and when you wake up tomorrow I promise you will be allowed out of bed for an hour. Tomorrow is the day the trader will be arriving to have a talk with Seobryn, and if you are strong enough, you can go and visit him before they meet."

At that Aragorn's eyes seemed to light up. He would very much like to see the boy again who had helped him survive Cornallar's captivity and had in the end risked his own life to help him. Elrond had pleaded Legolas' father not to turn him over to the jurisdiction of the men of Dale with the other humans that had survived their encounter with Celylith's extremely angry guards that had come just in time to save them, and the elven king had agreed to help find a new home for the young man.

That Seobryn should become a trader had actually been Elrond's idea, since the boy loved to travel but possessed absolutely no stealth whatsoever which made it impossible for him to live with the rangers, so the life of a far-travelling tradesman seemed like the logical choice.
Since the elves of Mirkwood did a lot of trade with the people of Lake-town, King Thranduil had quite some influence amongst the trading community there, and one of the most respected members of that guild had agreed to visit the woodking's halls to see if Seobryn had what he was looking for in an apprentice.

"I had completely forgotten! That would be wonderful, ada." Aragorn's eyes wandered back to the goblet he held and he screwed up his face in disgust. "I don't need this."

"Yes, you do," his foster father replied, pushing the cup containing the sleeping draught back towards the young ranger. "I know you do not sleep well."

Estel lowered his eyes quickly, but not quickly enough to conceal the guilt from his father's keen eyes. How did Elrond always know these things?
"I sleep well enough," he said, sounding unconvincing even to his own ears.

"You are having nightmares," the elf lord stated quietly, studying his youngest closely. The dreams had started about a week ago when the young human's body had become rested enough to actually sleep and not fall into deep unconsciousness every time he closed his eyes.

He put a hand on Aragorn's shoulder, looking earnestly at him.
"If you want to talk about them…" he offered his son.

"No!" the young ranger shook his head a little too quickly, a slightly haunted look in his eyes. Seeing Elrond's disapproving face, he added, "I … I can't remember them."

The Lord of Rivendell hid a sad smile. Estel had always been like this, trying to hide from others what he perceived to be his weaknesses, even from his family. The boy always thought they would make him appear less in the eyes of his adopted father and brothers, while the direct opposite was the case.

'And,' Elrond sighed inwardly, 'he has never been able to lie to me and, by Elbereth's stars, I hope that he never will be.'

He inclined his head slightly.
"As you wish. But if you should change your mind, I will be here to listen. As will be Legolas and your brothers."

At that the dark look disappeared from Estel's face and he smiled at his elven father.
"I know, father," he said, taking a sip of the potion and grimacing at its bitter taste. "This is even worse than usual!"

The Lord of Imladris rolled his eyes and put a hand under his son's, forcing him to down the rest of the cup.
"It is not, and even if it were, you would deserve it for what you've done today. Besides, it is not supposed to taste pleasant, it is medicine."

Aragorn tried to glare at his father, but his limbs were already beginning to feel heavy and his eyelids were beginning to drop despite his struggles to keep them open.

"You could put some honey in it. I wouldn't object to drinking that," he mumbled tiredly.

Elrond smiled at the sleepy human in front of him.
"And give you another reason to get yourself injured? I think not, my son." He brushed a strand of dark hair out of the boy's closing eyes. "Sleep now. We will wake you in time to visit Seobryn."

With an almost imperceptible nod Estel fell asleep, and after a few moments Elrond rose from the bed, still looking at his youngest son.

"Young ones," he muttered softly, giving Aragorn one last fond look before turning towards the door.

His mind returning to the four younger elves that awaited him in his quarters, he quickly left the room and quietly closed the double door. Walking back into the direction of his rooms, he forced his face into a stern façade. He had some things to discuss with those irresponsible elflings that were always so keen on insisting that they were grown-up.

Elrond snorted softly, earning himself yet another curious glance from a passing guard.

Ha, grown-up indeed!

Several hundred leagues away, a dark figure was watching the setting sun, watching how shadows were beginning to creep over the lands. His lands. All his eyes could see, all even elven eyes would have been able to see, all this belonged to him.

But it wasn't enough, it was never enough.

And how could it be, he asked himself darkly. He deserved so much more than what he possessed, they deserved so much more…
'Soon,' a small voice inside his head whispered, 'Soon all the lands to the east of the mountains will belong to you, and then it will be enough. Finally you will have achieved what your forefathers have only dreamt of.'

He frowned openly. He wasn't good at waiting, and he never had been. But right now it was all he could do, wait and watch the slowly darkening world from his window.

"My lord?" a timid voice behind him asked, and he turned slightly to fix his eyes on one of his servants.

"What?" he asked, suppressing the sudden agitation he felt.

"He is back, my lord," the servant said quietly. "The rumours have proven to be indeed true. He urged to act as quickly as possible, from what I gathered there are several other parties involved as well. Shall I send him in?"

The figure clothed in black and grey turned back towards the window, smiling in grim satisfaction. Finally it began, the first move at whose end would stand what he had always desired…

"My lord?" the servant asked again, sounding very unhappy that he had to disturb his lord yet again. It was never wise to do such a thing.

He blinked quickly, drawing himself out of his reverie.
"Yes," he answered the servant and dismissed him with a wave of his hand, "Yes, send him in."

The other nodded and, after giving him a small bow, exited the room as soundlessly as he had come.

The dark figure at the window didn't notice the servant leave the room, his eyes once again fixed on the creeping shadows that started to engulf his lands. Shadows could be useful sometimes, he thought with a wry smile, they could conceal many things until it was too late to stop them…

'Nobody will stop me,' he thought firmly, his hands gripping the window frame, 'Soon it will be too late for anyone to stop me.'

He forced himself to calm down and take a deep breath. His time hadn't come yet, he would wait, for a little longer. He smiled again, watching the last of the sunlight disappear behind the mountains. He had waited for so long, he thought as he heard the sounds of two beings draw closer to his rooms, he could wait a little longer.

After all, what were a few months or even years in comparison to the centuries his family had already waited for this moment?

Darkness fell over the lands, and he turned to face his visitor, an eerie smile still playing about his lips.


mellonamin - my friend
edan - human, man
ada - father (daddy)

Ah well, here we go again. Most of you will know that I use this bit of space to beg for reviews, and what's the point in changing such an old and august tradition? *g* Okay, so: Would you review, please? I mean, hey! It's only my second story and the first chapter and and and... *takes deep breath* Please? Please? Pretty Please?