Within a week, Estel was much improved. Two weeks late, he was able to rise, though he was not yet allowed to ride or use a sword or bow, he was so happy to be able to walk out of doors once more that he did not mind the restrictions. He spent most of his time planning a great adventure with his brothers and Legolas, who remained in Rivendell to personally oversee his human friend's recovery.

Estel chuckled softly to himself at the thought of the Mirkwood prince. Legolas had been so attentive that only this morning, Estel had teased him by replying to his request to stop and take a rest, "Yes, mother." Elladan and Elrohir had laughed, and Legolas had, after a brief sulk, laughed as well.

Far from offended by the extra attention, Estel allowed himself for once to bask in it. After his ordeal, it was as if the love he felt for his family and friends and the love they felt for him in return filled all of the empty places left in his heart by the creature of Sauron and its lies. Every time one of his brothers smiled or laughed, he could almost feel one more part of the cold emptiness disappear. Every gesture of affection Elrond showed his human son chased away the shadows of doubt, and the elf lord showered Estel with understanding and love. Determined not to make the same mistakes that he had in the past, both distant and recent, Elrond visited with Estel daily, refusing to allow the young ranger to speak only of pleasant things.

At first, Estel was upset that his father wished him to speak of the things he had suffered, but Elrond was patient with him and shared as much as he listened. Very quickly, Estel began to understand why his father insisted that he not try to forget about what he had been though. He did not want Estel to make the same mistakes he had made himself, and wanted to protect his son against the temptation to lock away his emotions and become cold and distant. Though he did not enjoy remembering the pain, Estel understood that it was necessary to sort though these things, and was grateful that Elrond was there for him every step of the way.

One piece of the emptiness Estel knew would be with him always, and no amount of understanding or cheer from his father or brothers would ever banish it. The creature had not succeeded in breaking Estel's spirit or his body, but it had managed to bring to the surface his fears about his destiny and his human heritage. Estel had always known that he was mortal and that his elven family was not, but Sauron's creature had twisted that dagger and opened a wound that had long lain dormant. He had always imagined that he would die an old man while his father and brothers remained youthful, and had been more concerned with how they would deal with his passing than for his own death. Now, he realized that it was entirely possible and more than likely that they would voluntarily leave him while still he lived to live out their immortal years in the Havens, a place he could never hope to see. After seeing in Elladan and Elrond's

minds how much the departure of Celebrian had hurt them, it was not in his heart to cost them so much as a year's delay.

The only one who knew of this was Legolas, who knew that the only thing Estel feared more than his destiny was to fulfill it and live the rest of his days alone. The small amount of relief he had been able to offer his human friend by promising to stay in Middle Earth until he passed was well worth the sacrifice. If not one other would stay with him, then at least Legolas would be there to bring whatever happiness he could into Estel's life.

The Prince of Mirkwood entered Elladan and Elrohir's sitting room to find that Estel was already there. The young ranger lounged on the sofa, a soft pillow between his healing ribs and the cushion of the seat. Maps were spread out in front of him and on the floor surrounding him, and his chin rested on his hand as he stared at the maps, his eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly in concentration as he thought. Legolas bit his lip in concern as Estel slowly pushed his body into an upright sitting position. He had not yet seen the elf, and his brothers had not yet arrived, giving him no reason to muffle any groans or hide his reactions. Estel bent double, holding his arms tightly across his chest and rocking back and forth for a moment before straightening again. Stiffly, Estel managed to get to his feet, taking a moment to stretch and flex his left leg.

His concern for his friend got the better of him, and Legolas could no longer stand in the doorway merely watching. "Estel?"

The young human started, turning quickly to face him.

"Estel." The elf's voice was soft with concern, but there was no pity in

the clear, blue eyes. "Is all well with you? You seemed to be in pain, more so than yesterday."

Rather than arguing or accusing Legolas of guarding him as though he were an egg and Legolas the hen, Estel smiled, his gray eyes offering a rueful twinkle. "There is no cause for worry, my friend. I fell asleep for a time lying on my stomach, and I fear that it was too long." He pulled his tunic up to show his chest, and Legolas was surprised to see that the bruises had not yet healed. Estel's flesh was still a patchwork of green, blue, and black, though the yellow of fading bruises was present as well.

It was small reminders such as this that caused Legolas to think about just how long it took for fragile mortal bodies to repair themselves. Thinking about Estel in elven terms came naturally. Legolas pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. Estel did not need a morose elf, burdened with sadness, hanging over his shoulder. He needed his friend.

"Ouch." Legolas winced sympathetically. "Is there anything I might do to help?"

"Yes. If you see me lying asleep on my stomach, be kind and flip me like a flapjack. I'll thank you for it. I've slept on my stomach since I was a child. The habit is hard to break." Estel paused for a moment before he spoke again, changing the subject. "Have you seen my brothers? I thought they were to meet us here."

"Your father has been meeting with them for over an hour. I believe their latest mischief has been discovered."

At this, Estel's face broke into a smile, and he laughed softly. "I told them that it was a bad idea, but their curiosity could not be satisfied until they had tried it for themselves. Is Ada very angry?"

"I do not know if 'angry' is the right word to use. More than anything, I believe that he would just have preferred not to arrive home from his herb gathering only to have a pail of water emptied onto his head for the simple crime of opening the door. Last I heard, Elrohir was protesting that the bucket was not meant for Elrond, but for you and I."

"Knowing Ada, I don't think he much cares whom the bucket was meant for, only that it completely drenched the herbs he had only just gathered. I suppose some of the blame is mine. I did start the prank war, after all. Perhaps he would allow me to gather the herbs he lost?"

Legolas snorted very un-elvishly. "Not very likely. Your Ada is not going to let you leave this place without escort for some time yet. And please answer me honestly, Estel. Do you really consider yourself to be fit for riding?"

With a sigh, Estel answered him. "No. I can barely move my left arm and the rest of me is stiff and aching yet."

"Very good answer, my friend." He patted Estel's shoulder gently in a gesture of mock-congratulations. "You may yet come to your senses and stop believing that you are indestructible."

Pulling a rude face at his friend, Estel laughed. "Prissy elf."

It was good, very good indeed, to hear laughter from the young ranger once again when not so long ago at all he had feared never to hear it again. "We were not supposed to meet your brothers here until a short while ago. Why were you sleeping here?"

Estel sat back down, this time careful of his hurts. "I have long loved this room. As a child, I used to take my naps in here occasionally. I liked drifting off to sleep knowing that my brothers occupied the rooms to either side. It made me feel safe when I was small."

"And now?"

"Now, it gives me good memories of feeling safe when I was small. My dreams are never frightening when I rest here."

"And are they frightening when you rest elsewhere?"

"They are not as bad now, nor as frequent."

"But you still have them. Is it the creature? Do its lies still haunt you?"

Estel shook his head, his eyes cast downward. "Not its lies, only the truths."

Automatically, Legolas reached out and raised Estel's chin, forcing the young human to make eye contact. He did not let go immediately, his hand remaining against Estel's cheek for emphasis. "It spoke no truths, my friend. A creature such as that could have no concept of truth, when it was created for the purpose of deceit and lies. I will not see you torment yourself needlessly. When truth is twisted and used to wound and deceive, it is no longer truth, but deception. Listen to me, and believe that what I tell you is true. I would never seek to manipulate you, Estel. Do you believe me?"

Without hesitation, Estel nodded. "I could never doubt you, Legolas. You know that."

"Then, if you cannot doubt me, and I cannot lie to you, it stands to reason that we can trust one another, does it not?" The elf-prince smiled to lighten the mood.

It worked. A brilliant grin crossed Estel's face, and this time it reached his eyes. "Of course, you know that you are only so wise because you are terribly old?"

"Indeed, I am so old that it is surprising that I do not walk with a cane and endlessly recount stories of my youth!"

"Well ... you never miss an opportunity to tell of the time long before I existed that you and my brothers fought an impossibly large troll and won. Perhaps a walking stick and a gray beard are not so far away for you - if you weren't an elf, of course." The teasing twinkle in Estel's gray eyes was a welcome sight, but before Legolas could tease back, they were interrupted.

"And what, may I ask, is so funny about a gray beard and a walking stick, Legolas Greenleaf?"

The elf and the human turned to the doorway to see Gandalf, arms crossed, frowning at them. Behind the wizard stood Elladan and Elrohir, who were thoroughly enjoying their younger brother and friend's discomfort.

"Um, well - " Estel began, then glanced beseechingly to Legolas.

When the Mirkwood prince shrugged helplessly in response, the wizard began to laugh heartily. "No offense was taken, as I am most certain none was intended."

Just then, Estel noticed that Gandalf carried a scroll and many maps. Gandalf's blue eyes twinkled merrily at the look of excitement on the young man's face. "Yes, young Estel. You, your brothers, and the son of Thranduil may put away your maps and your plans, for I have a favor to ask of you. A quest, if you will."

(To be continued in another story. Not sure when it will be finished, but this is, officially, the end of By Some Evil Spell.)