A/N: Just a few words before we go anywhere. Cue the bold lettering please.

WARNING! The following story is rated R due to violence and sexual content. This story will contain a male/male pairing (Aragorn/Legolas) and contains non-consensual sex acts. It is not pretty, and is DEFINITELY NOT FOR ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 17 TO READ WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF A GUARDIAN.

I suppose I should also say that this story is an AU (alternative universe), though this fic follows the steps Tolkien laid out for us exactly. I have introduced one more element into the mix, my own blend of evil, though nothing changes of the outcome. Let's see where that takes us.

Of course, credit/blame should go where it is due. It's all Lamiel's fault ::points to Lamiel::. Had she not questioned one of my canon gaffs some time back, or better yet, suggested a way to make another story of mine more *ahem* exhilarating, this fiction might still be sitting in the recesses of my sorry head. Funny how things happen; she became the beta for this story as a result. And I am eternally grateful to her for her help. For months and months. she has been my greatest champion, cheering me on through my doubt, offering suggestions where needed, and performing that most tedious of tasks -- editing '. . . and editing . . . and editing. Good gravy, she is resilient! I think I shall worship her now. Will you join me? If you've read her stories, you should. If you haven't go look them up. She's on my Favorite's list. You'll see why.

I also owe a huge thanks to Elf Lady for being another set of eyes in proofing. Even in the throes of all the stuff going on at her own website, she gave me her time, and I truly appreciate that. (Elf Lady photo archives all things Orlando Bloom, and there's this new movie with him in it about to break loose at the theaters. It's hell week for her, or joy week, however you want to look at it, but go see www.elflady.com if you want to be in on all of the Troy/Orlando Bloom goodness.)

Thanks also to Angel. I'm sorry technology got in the way of a really good thing but I truly appreciate what was put in despite it.

Enough of this. Time to read.







Summary:
The will of the Ring is strong - stronger in fact than many may realize. And as we know, the Ringbearer was not the only one to suffer its seduction. In this tale, which follows the course of the Fellowship from Hollin to Rauros, Aragorn comes to see that the Ring's power can be deceptive and that lies can be made into torments all their own. Featuring Aragorn and Legolas. Non-con and slash warning. Rated a strong R.

Disclaimer: All characters and places used in this story are the creation of J.R.R. Tolkien and belong solely to his estate. No profit was made from this venture. I did it because my muse threatened to pummel me if I didn't.







Heart of the Dream
by Ithilien



Chapter One: With Roots Running Deep


Elven eyes can penetrate a soul. This was common knowledge among beings that dealt with that fair race. Even the staunchest of men had difficulty maintaining contact in this most intimate of ways. They would tell you it was as if your heart were laid bare when an elf beheld you.

Aragorn had long known this. It was the only thing about elves that he found disconcerting, despite the many years he had spent in their company. It was telling that he could hold their eye longer than any man he knew, but he had never come to terms with how deeply they could delve. They could wrench the most secretive of thoughts from a man, though one might never be sure if that was truly their intent. All save one had the power to cut through him, but only because she chose not to use this weapon. She did not wield the power of her stare upon him.

"Undomiel," he whispered as the cool eyes of Galadriel bore into him, cutting through the word that he had erected to protect him. The elf Queen knew his love was only a mask to what he hid beneath the surface of his heart.

Still, he would remember Arwen's loving gaze. She above all others looked at him outwardly. She accepted on faith the person that she believed him to be. If she only knew what was in the deep recesses of his soul, she might not be so willing to trust him.

I have betrayed you, my love.

There were men who would say that the stare of an elf was painful to bear. Of course, this was untrue, at least physically. Perhaps what they really meant was the intensity of those eyes could cause introspection so great that it hurt, like a knife's cut, and that was true. But in all kindness to the elves, it should be noted that the agony came from within, caused by one's personal judgment of oneself, not from that which the elves wrought.

Aragorn felt the pain now being subjected upon him. His heart beat wildly, retribution leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. Galadriel's eyes raked over him, and it felt like rock tearing flesh. She knows, he thought, and he did not need her voice in his head to confirm what was already there.

They stood on the great talan before Galadriel and Celeborn. All of the Fellowship was there, save Gandalf. His heart ached for the missing wizard, but he knew he would be judged for other things beyond that loss. Their journey had brought them to Lothlorien, and they sought refuge from the enemy. Yet he truly knew the enemy was among them. They would only be hiding from themselves.

Celeborn had made his greetings, his demeanor cordial, but cautious. Galadriel probed their individual minds, and he knew her intent was to see the truth of their hearts. He shuddered, knowing what she would find when she looked into him. Horror. Wickedness. Base villainy. And true to his worries, she lingered over him.

The voice in his head was rich and strong and powerful as it rolled through his mind. "Shall I expose you now for your crimes, Strider of the North, or would you rather I drew this out slowly and made you look upon yourself in smaller ways?"

He bowed his head, unsure what he might reply. He felt the crushing agony of his own inflicted tensions. Muscles constricted in his chest making him feel as if a horrible weight were upon him, and his stomach felt as if a stone sat in his gut, heavy and unpurged. In his mind he replied, "I know my sin, fair Lady. I am not worthy to stand before you. Mete out justice as you see fit. I will object to none."

And with that he relinquished any holds he might have had and allowed the elven Queen admittance into his memories. It was with shame that he looked back on the crimes he had committed. And Galadriel would judge him. Secretly he welcomed it, the penance she would lay upon him. But sadly, as much as he wished to shed himself of the mantle of hurt and guilt he wore, he also knew nothing she said would be enough. He knew his sin.



***
***
***


The cool wetness of the waterskin being handed to him startled Aragorn. The muscles in his jaw clenched, and he felt a sudden tenseness run over his body. The icy feel of moisture nipped him, prompted by a breath of wind, and it made him tremble slightly with the chill. And too, it was invigorating, a sensitive reminder of life in the wilds. The cold of winter could be brutal and thrilling, and he breathed in the chilled air, taking the freshness of it into his lungs and feeling the full of the earth's beauty.

A brush of flesh grazed him as the flask was exchanged. The passing hand was warm and smooth, and he looked at the long white fingers pressing the waterskin upon him. His eyes locked upon them. It was not that he had not noticed the form before, but somehow that cool touch combined with warm skin caught his attention. And there, the one passing the flask seemed to lean in to the gesture, and a small thrill ran through Aragorn. There was sensual pleasure to be found in the press of flesh to flesh.

"Aragorn?"

A light voice, lilting with a musical quality that made the word seem accented and strange, caught his mind and he looked up to the one who had uttered the sound. He suddenly met the sparkle of elven eyes.

Everything occurred in the tedious pace of slowed time then. He glanced back down at the hand that was pulling away, watching the grace-filled motion, intrigued by the slender fingers, the sinewy tendons, the short and neat nails, the unblemished skin. The hand contrasted so very dramatically with the man's sun-baked flesh. Aragorn looked to the waterskin and noted how his hands were ruggedly calloused, darkened with soil and stain. They showed deep gouges and old scars of torn skin, marks that told the tale of his life in the wilds. But there was not a scratch upon the other's beautiful flesh.

It was so small a thing. It seemed incongruous that he should even notice it. Legolas had refilled their waterskins, typical really of the helpfulness he offered within their Fellowship, and now he was passing them about. It was just a minute part of camp life, but somehow it had caught his attention.

He looked back into the elf's eyes. Such beauty.

It was not something he might normally ponder, for he had no attraction to men, but his thoughts drifted on the current of that thought as if in a dream. . . . Legolas was different than men. He was beautiful, and his beauty demanded admiration. He longed to fall into the light of the elf's eyes and remain there. He was buoyed by the moment, his breath carried away. He was frozen and perplexed and enthralled and at that given second in time he wanted nothing more than to be still, and to take the vision into his soul. He was trapped and he cared not.

"Aragorn?"

And then those eyes penetrated him. They pierced his wandering thoughts and he was suddenly free of his mesmerized gaze and caught in the shame of his perverted reckoning. Instantly, the outward yearning was gone. So slippery and willowy was it in its relinquishment that Aragorn could hardly recognize it had been there. It had taken him like the brush of a wind, and in that brief moment it seemed the breeze had changed.

Was that a taste of the Ring's prying? he wondered as he returned to the person he knew himself to be, shivering in sudden distaste. All that day, the Ring had been gently trying the man's thoughts, or at least that is what he supposed. He scowled though, knowing he had his doubts on that as well. Still this latest meandering, so wildly errant to his normal state of mind, seemed to indicate the Ring was toying with him. He turned his eyes to Frodo, looking for a clue as to why this was happening but found nothing there. And then he turned back to the embarrassment at hand. Such erratic thoughts did not suit him. Ring or not, he would will them back. They had no place in his heart. Even still, he could not quite school his immediate shame.

Legolas blinked inquisitively, cocking his head to the side. His lips turned up in a modest smile, likely noticing Aragorn's ruddy shade and suddenly evasive eyes.

"Are you well?" the elf asked simply enough.

"I am," Aragorn answered with eyes downcast. Of course it was a lie. His heart was thudding in his chest and a constricting lump in his throat all but kept him from breathing, and he felt sure Legolas could see the physical signs that his words were untrue.

But the elf did not appear to regard him as false. He nodded as if that was all he need know and moved away, glancing back in query as he did, but finding the sight not worth exploring. Aragorn watched with something akin to an ache as the elf walked past, continuing to hand out the water implements to their various owners as they made ready to break the camp and he wondered why the elf had so caught his attention. Was it the Ring truly?

Fatigue. He put it to that, for even these first few days of the Quest were difficult and tiring. They traveled higher and higher up into the mountains and it was wearing upon them all. The smallest among them were not conditioned for this road, and it made the burden of the others that much greater because of the additional tasks they must take up. Fatigue was playing upon them all.

He glanced about, thinking of the others, and as he did so, his gut tightened.

Apprehensively, he considered the responsibility he had taken in this Quest. They were all in his care, and though he knew himself to be a capable enough leader, he somehow felt his inadequacies wore through his staunch armor. For the first time in a long time he felt uncertain of his skills. But he pushed such self-doubts aside. This Quest was too important to let his worries hamper him.

Still, playing the role of leader did not come easily to him. So long in the wild he had answered to no one. His concerns centered on himself and those he guarded from afar. But now . . . Now he was the guardian of the Ringbearer, second only to Gandalf as the guide of the Fellowship, and he knew that many of his companions, especially the Hobbits, looked to him for his strength and knowledge. He did not know if he could meet their expectations, for though he appeared confident and sure, he was as capable of failure as the next man. He had flaws. He was no model of perfected skills.

For that his eyes sought out Legolas again. Strong, true, skilled and sure. In some ways, the man envied the elf for his perfection in almost everything he did. Aragorn doubted Legolas ever suffered such qualms as he did.

A jolt of insecurity hit him. He suddenly felt small in comparison and his shame wrapped around him like a cloak. Measuring himself against the elf, he could not stand up. He was the inferior. And just as rapidly, he fought it off, recognizing that this was but the murmuring of the Ring. It was a subtler effect than the last prod, and therefore was more dangerous in his mind. Yet he caught it and he consciously drove his mind to other thoughts.

Warily he observed those around him. He knew they too were feeling the daunting duties put before them. His eyes settled again upon Frodo. The Hobbit suffered almost constantly the silent urgings of the Ring. Aragorn could see the worry lines creasing his small friend's brow and mouth. He could not imagine what it must be like to endure that kind of prodding, for though he too was the subject to the bauble's yens, those small moments were all he ever had to endure. They were nothing compared to the suffering Frodo must be made to take. The Hobbit proved himself the more worthy among them just in that.

What must it be like, to be taunted so? Aragorn could not guess, for despite the inadequacies and doubts foisted upon him, that object spoke nothing to him of taking It into his possession. He felt certain he could not do such, for he saw the Ring only as ugly, a hideous weapon that needed to be put to an end for the sake of mortal salvation. It seemed to Aragorn It must whisper of the power It could wield, but to that the Ranger felt immune. He had no desire for dominance. Neither did he wish to rule. The Ring could not touch him this way.

Nay, for Aragorn's desires were simple. He wished only to spend his life with his true love and he scorned the Ring's pitiful temptations. It was nothing compared to what she gave him.

Arwen.

Just her name was enough to send a pleasant thrill to his heart. He relished the thought of her beauty and he mourned his parting from her. A few days were all they had managed in their journey, yet it felt like a lifetime. It was always like this though, and he knew it would pass only with the modesty time offered. Still, how long had he loved her and been kept apart from her? It twisted his heart that they must always do the same. Their places in the world kept them away, but that would soon end. This Quest would set their destiny to right, and he would see them together if he could. He would. He must. He loved her as he loved his own soul.

His mind wandered away to a time and place better than this one -- a bower in the Imladris gardens. Was it just a month back? He remembered autumn's grace in that den, but the loveliness could only attempt rivalry of her beauty. He thought on her then, considering her loveliness, her wisdom, her fairness. Her words of encouragement had given him the strength to commit to this Quest. She knew how important it would be, for this world, for his world, for their world jointly. She had insight into what they would be, and he could see the vision with her as she told him all they would become. Glories and love and beauty. They had that to look forward to together. And though he could never match her, he knew he balanced her, for he had physical strength and perseverance that she could not wield. He had the ability to seek and destroy that which kept them apart, and he fed on her faith. She was his stamina and he was her brute force. She complemented him, and he her. Together they were whole.

He sighed. She was everything to him and he would willingly lay down his soul for her if she should ask it. He breathed that he might be given the opportunity to feast upon her honey voice and dauntingly beautiful eyes. He would forever be her ardent admirer. He was hers to command, and he would willingly do anything she bade of him.

Perhaps that was power for her memory strengthened him. And if that was so, he knew that he also wielded it over her, for as much as he would give for her, he was certain she would return the same. But the Ring and Its power? He scoffed at that ruse. He had power already in the guise of love, and he wanted no more than that.

Still, if he were to claim his prize, his jewel, his love, he must assume the position that had been so horribly marred all those many years ago. He must take his rightful place on the throne of men. Only then would their union be made real, and for that, Aragorn was determined to succeed.

Nay, power was not what Aragorn sought. What he wished was the means to hold his beloved nearest him and never be forced to let go. And in order to obtain that, he needed to see the Ring destroyed. He could not think beyond that, for he knew their shared destiny was great and he put his trust in her vision and what the powers deemed their fate.

All stray thoughts could be damned. His heart was with her. He would not be pushed from his course by the Ring toying with his brain.

He turned back to the Fellowship as all gathered their gear. Evening was drawing near, and the night would be chill. He drew his cloak in tighter to his body as he rose, thinking of the road ahead as they traveled. Gathering the last of his implements, he cinched his belt to his waist and swung his pack over his shoulder. It was time to forge ahead.

He pushed all thoughts from his mind and marched to the center of the group. Wallowing in this longing would only make his mission that much more painful. Just as he always did, he tucked his secret aches into the deepest places in his heart and he focused his mind narrowly on what the road brought before them. He could gain nothing by looking back or wishing for something more than what had been doled him. And so he set out, ordering the group to move forward and on.



***


There seemed to be something amiss as they traveled that night, and after a time of pondering it, Aragorn realized the music was not with them. There was always a melody in some form following their steps, and Legolas, who usually took the rear guard in their company, was the one who oft provided it. After just these few days of travel, it seemed odd to be without the song. Aragorn felt it indicative of a mood gone deeper. Recalling his own strange condition earlier that day, he fell back, letting the others pass him that he might check on his comrade's state. He wondered, as they went on, if any missed the music as he did.

The elf did not notice him standing aside at first, and this too proved at odds with what Aragorn knew. Elves were known for their incredible senses, and Legolas should have been entirely aware of his proximity as they were marching. It was strange to see

Legolas so distracted, for it was uncharacteristic to find his friend in deep contemplation. Merriment was more often at the beckoning will of the elf prince, and Aragorn had little experience seeing the fair creature in a state of sober thought. Yet here he was, marching in the last position of the group, gazing outward into the distant horizon, only not looking, not seeing, staring at something within.

Aragorn approached the lone elf, and Legolas became startled as he realized the man's near presence. The elf must have suspected Aragorn's thoughts for his demeanor grew apologetic. "You need not linger, Aragorn. I shall not let harm get past me."

Matching his friend's stride, Aragorn nodded. He could accept the claim, for he knew Legolas' abilities, and he was aware the elf would not let them down. But he also was resistant to leave without speaking to the archer first. He was keen on knowing Legolas' mood, just as he would be for any of the Fellowship if he had found them at odds with what he knew. It was the responsibility of a healer to tend to their souls as well as their bodies and so he delayed his parting that he might probe the elf's change in disposition.

"I do not doubt your skills, my friend, but I can see something weighs on you," he said. He knew not if Legolas had expected him to remove himself, but his friend appeared wary with the words. Watching him, Aragorn could see the elf's face was stoic and drawn, and Aragorn felt the solemnity proved him right in his worry. He offered then, "I am here to listen, if you would have me."

Again Aragorn glanced at the elf, and after what seemed a grim nod, he saw a weak smile come to Legolas' lips. His own mouth drew up into a grin when he heard the words that came. "I knew you would say that," Legolas murmured in drawled voice, as if to tease, but then the severe reserve returned and the elf said with a simple bow of his head, "But I think my thoughts are best left as my own, Aragorn."

So there was something of bother to the elf. Aragorn knew he could not let that small admission slip so easily. The elf's mood must be heavily affected, and so he encouraged the other by saying, "The road ahead will most certainly grow dark. Should our thoughts match that, it would be better to speak on them while we might still see."

A long minute passed without any response, but Aragorn could read the schooled countenance of his friend. To him, Legolas appeared to almost suffer pain with his considerations. At last he spoke in a careful voice, as if weighing his words, "Have you ever traveled in the southern portions of the Mirkwood, Aragorn?"

Aragorn furrowed his brow. For a moment, it seemed strange that Legolas would answer him so. He wondered what the question might have to do with his offer to hear his friend's worries. But then he recalled past journeys on that trail and realized the point that was being made. Indeed he had been to the dark regions of the wood, and he knew what mood the elf meant to convey. Involuntarily, he shuddered. Even now, the man could remember the oppressive sense of wariness he had felt in that forest, as if he were constantly being watched, and that there were a presence bearing down on him. He affirmed his answer with a nod, feeling that he need not speak more on it.

"Then you would know what lives in my mind," Legolas replied. "I feel that now. Only I fear it is the Ring which brings me this oppression."

"The Ring?" Aragorn asked, his voice coming up in alarm. The words sounded terribly loud to his ears and he glanced about nervously, gladdened that none had heard him or turned when he had spoken.

In sharp contrast, Legolas' voice became a whisper, and he slowed his steps as he turned to face the man. "I feel It has been toying with me," he admitted in a secretive hush. His eyes appeared honest and hurting.


Aragorn felt jarred. The elf's pleading expression drew an ache to his heart. The man searched himself to find an answer to the elf's broken cry, silent though it was and the revelation was quite startling. That the Ring's prying hurt the elf as it did was a rending blow. It proved Aragorn was not alone in the Ring's taunt, but further it proved that Legolas was not an equal to willing It off. That worried him. What if the Ring found this to be a weakness among them? He felt his lips twitch, his brow creasing into a frown. That weight lay heavy in his gut. "Tell me of it," he urged, taking the elf's forearm and pulling him aside. He would know how the elf's worries were manifested.

Legolas' eyes grew distant, almost tearful. It took him a moment before he could speak, and he appeared to hesitate before ever doing so. "It makes me look with eyes not normally mine," the elf answered with no emotion, but Aragorn knew Legolas was struggling to maintain his composure. "It makes me feel uncertain of myself and the others among us, and it whispers to me of deceit and desires I normally would not know."

Aragorn's heart skipped a beat and he thought he might choke. These were the same feelings and battles he had been fighting. But Aragorn had pushed those taunts aside, making them out to be but minor annoyances, where the elf had not done so. He drew himself up, finding his own strength and willing it almost inwardly upon the elf. He would give Legolas his stamina if he could. "Yet you resist It, Legolas," Aragorn replied, using the words as a bolster to assure both the elf and him that it could be done. "Tell me that you resist It!" The demand was rather brutal, but he felt at the moment the elf needed this encouragement to come hard.

"I know it is a lie," Legolas stated authoritatively, curling his lip in a sneer as he lifted his chin. His eyes gleamed with the checked anger and prideful tears.

Aragorn gazed at the elf then and saw the mettle of the Legolas' courage. Provoked by the Ring as he was, his friend simultaneously appeared so sure and so powerful. It seemed at odds to the confessed difficulties the elf had just revealed and again Aragorn's vision of Legolas in a state of perfection returned. Guardedly, he decided then that there was no reason to let on to the elf his own troubled thoughts. They would only serve to add worry. To each his own task, Aragorn thought. That is burden enough, though he knew he was taking the greater of it by keeping his troubles to himself.

And then in order to strengthen the elf's resolve, he laid a hand upon his friend's shoulder and asked in the way of a comrade, "Why did you come on this journey, Legolas?"

This time it was the elf that seemed startled by the oddity of the query. He stared hard at the man as he considered it, and with a perplexed shake of his head he spoke as if there were no other answer. "My home is in jeopardy. I feel I must do something."

Aragorn understood the reply. Long years had the Silvan folk fought off the menace that lived in Dol Goldur, all with no real hope of vanquishing those who resided in the gruesome tower. Over the course of many centuries time, there could be little doubt that the elves were slowly losing the battle. Though Legolas and his kin fought head to head with the menace, it seemed apparent that the power in their forest was derived from another source. There was no weakening the thing that had planted itself there. Like a deep-rooted weed, no matter how hard they tried to pry it out, it always grew back, resilient even to the pervasive good the elves had delved to the north. And worse, the tower laid seed, spreading its wicked spores into the earth and poisoning what was pure around it. It was time, Aragorn reasoned, that another tactic be utilized, and he could see now how Legolas felt he fit that role and reasoning. A merry face he might have worn for the sake of the others before him, but in truth Legolas was a fearsome warrior and he had drawn the logical conclusion for why he might accompany them on this journey. He would see the source of the dark power invading his home destroyed.

"Then you must remember your cause, Legolas. You have better reason than any that the Ring can contrive. Hold to that," Aragorn said bravely, stating a complex concept with simplicity. But he knew that Legolas would understand. He gave the elf's shoulder a gentle squeeze. It meant as much as an embrace, and he knew the archer perceived it. "I believe in you, Legolas," the man said, breaking through the edgy front to offer the kindest words he could think to give.

Legolas blinked then seeming truly perplexed by the sincere show of compassion. "But you do not know me."

That in turn caused Aragorn to blink, and then to burst into laughter. He had to concede this was likely true, at least in the eyes of an elf, and the thought struck him as funny. For their short time -- it was a decade by the man's counting -- they had only in the last few years grown closer. Gentle was their friendship, like the new leaves on a tree, but this Quest drew them even nearer, and Aragorn saw it as a way to harden off their more tender trepidations. Still, Aragorn understood, smiling at the wariness Legolas had for this familiarity. He knew well the anxious apprehension almost all elves had at giving themselves over to mortal friendships. But despite their few years of closeness, Aragorn felt sure he had seen enough that he could judge soundly the merit of the elf. Legolas was different, more accepting than other elves. He was exceptional in his willingness to be of open mind, his thoughts were unblemished by preconceived thoughts or prejudice. Further, Legolas seemed to truly believe in him. There was no reason Aragorn might not return the sentiment.

The elf appeared nonplussed by the laughter, but then seemed to understand the mortal penchant. He dropped his tensions, and Aragorn appreciated that, for he did not wish to appear as if he were forcing himself on the elf. Still laughing in order to lighten the stiff moment, Aragorn said, "I know you, Legolas. Truly, I do. And I know you will persevere. The Ring may speak thoughts into your mind, but I know you will come out well. I can see that in you," and Aragorn thought he could indeed see it. He need not say it of himself, for it was unnecessary that he reveal his small torments, but the exact truth applied to his battle with the Ring as well. Goodness resided in them both, and he chose to see that as a means to get them through that device's wicked teasing. "I believe in you," he completed, smiling warmly and laying down deeper roots on his side of their friendship.

Legolas' own smile was faint, his thoughts hidden, but it seemed as if he were allowing this much in as a concession to the man's open approval. He nodded, as if in agreement. He then turned his eyes to the distance again and returned to their path while Aragorn followed.

A quiet peace fell between them then, and long moments passed with only their footfalls, the wind whispering and the occasional far-off cry of a hunting hawk to break the silence. And then after a tentative time, Legolas began to hum a soft tune.

Aragorn knew the song, having grown up surrounded by such music, and his mouth began reciting the words before he even had time to think. But then he faltered, for he realized he had begun in the Quenyan form before the other had even begun the words, and that was wholly wrong. In elven fashion, it was considered unmannerly to have done so, for he was in essence stealing the music and putting words of his own, or in this case a higher, haughtier tongue, to it.

He cringed at the mistake for the error was an insult, like a slap in the face, to Legolas. More clearly, it was as if Aragorn were pointing out Legolas' lesser status among the elf races. Normally, the saving grace would be to note that the mistake came from a man, but Aragorn was not an ordinary mortal. Here it could be seen as a mocking reminder of Aragorn's presumed place among his own race, making the elf seem all that much lowlier for the tongue the Mirkwood elf spoke as opposed to the one used by the man. And in a way it was true, for having resided solely in the Silvan wood all his life, Legolas likely only knew the song in its Sindarin form.

But to his surprise, Legolas joined him, and he did so in Quenyan. Gentle and kind, the act showed Legolas' immediate forgiveness for the error in the man's clumsy grace and how he could see beyond the man's flaws. The elf reached into the heart of the matter, and Aragorn could see that Legolas knew no harm had been intended. In fact, it seemed to Aragorn that the willingness to accept the song in a greater tongue was a gesture on the elf's part, a means to show he could overlook the small pettiness that could divide peoples entirely, and to establish his own deeper roots into their friendship. It demonstrated incredible grace on his friend's part and Aragorn could not help but be grateful for that.

The fair elf's accent in Quenyan was much more inflected than his, but it was lovely just the same, and Aragorn was moved. The song became a tender sign of friendship as they sang it together, their voices blossoming in the union. The light baritone and low tenor intertwined. But then came the refrain and Aragorn let the elf complete the tune, changing the words into Sindarin as he would choose. He was pleased by the complement of the elf's voice, and especially by their tandem use of language. It felt, with Legolas, as if they fit together well, this experiment into a tentative voice, and he marveled at how the elf made their joined song feel so natural and easy. It seemed so intimate, like a touch that had gone astray but been welcomed nonetheless. And here too, he thought how nice it was to hear music again, for it felt as a cure in a way. And he knew the others likely enjoyed it as much as he did, because it was always a joy to hear Legolas sing.



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It was eight days into their journey when Aragorn came upon the patch of growing galenolas. The Ranger was surprised when he discovered it, for it was exceptionally rare, and seldom had he come across it in any of his travels. Further, it was late in the year and he did not think anything flourished in the cooler climates where they traveled. Yet here it was, growing abundantly. At first he thought not to pluck any of the foliage of the round-leafed plant, for he was fully stocked on herbs and healing medicines in his kit. But as they continued their journey, and the plant's occurrence seemed to proliferate with their southern travels, he decided it might do little harm if he were to pluck a small amount. It would weigh nothing, and he knew such an opportunity to gather the medically valuable plant might not come again. He knew not what lay ahead and he felt it better to be prepared if he could.

Hesitantly he took a small sampling. He was surprised by how deeply entrenched the plant was in the earth; its roots ran deep and seemed to spread rampantly. But in truth his mind was on other things. Specifically, he was making note to himself that he would need to be careful in keeping this herb.

Those that could wield it in its full uses were few between, and they often traveled in dark circles. The plant had a lurid history, much of which Aragorn had heard only when he had passed through the company of men. Never had it been mentioned among the elves, which was strange because elves had far better knowledge of herblore than any of the races Aragorn had encountered. Stranger still, when he had asked Lord Elrond of it, he had been admonished like a child uttering vulgarities. It was only after careful questioning that the reluctant elven healer had eventually conceded the Dunedan's right to learn and taught him the proper use of the herb.

At first Aragorn could not understand his foster father's reluctance in regards to this plant. He came to see that galenolas could be an effective pain reliever. In fact, it was far better than any other herb that Aragorn kept in his Healer's kit. When applied topically, the fresh leaves could anesthetize, and it was easy to concoct. And when ingested, it could be very successful in treating the deeper pains of injury. This was a great aid in treating the hurts of elves, for they were known to have high tolerances to most mortal remedies. With other herbs, the amounts needed to quell the pain of an elf would normally kill a man. But galenolas could be used in modest amounts.

And the same was absolutely true for mortals, with the only difference being that the dried form must be used there. That was key, incredibly important, and such was the thought in Aragorn's mind as he carefully plucked the leaves of the fresh plant.

This he knew: when used in opposing application to what he had been taught proper -- dried leaves to elves, fresh leaves to men -- the properties changed for the user. He was told the herb could have a sedating effect when utilized in this way though he had no first hand knowledge. Lord Elrond forbade such use and would not elaborate on his teaching to give greater knowledge on how to harness that effect. Aragorn was thereby forced to rely upon what he had heard in the dark halls of men. Sleep induction was all of the true effects that he knew and even this information was hazy.

Still, he had heard what was said. Secretively he had been told that if fashioned correctly, dosed a certain way, or administered with heat or cold, the herb could draw out a variety of latent qualities in those dosed, and dark menace seemed to hover over those hushed confidences. Such knowledge was abhorrent, and Aragorn did not bother to ask of those potions, nor was he told. Such mysteries were kept well guarded. But he did know that in all cases of use the reversed application rendered its user into a languid state of sleep and that was the only knowledge he attempted to learn. Still, Aragorn could see how the drawing of latent traits made the plant dangerous to use. In the wrong hands, it could be abused.

Thus, Aragorn respected his elven father's wishes and had vowed to use galenolas only when absolutely necessary. He catalogued the information as he refreshed his mind on it, knowing the leaves he was plucking, as they came to dry, could only be safe if he gave them to the mortal members of the Fellowship. This was easy enough to remember, as there were only two immortals among them. He would be certain neither of them were administered anything of the leaf, dry or fresh. There was no need to put them, remote as it was, into harm's way.

These were his thoughts and they were honorable. But the roots to a man's soul may run deep, and often they are not unearthed with simple honor. Little did Aragorn know that even the best of intentions could be manipulated into devious purposes.



TBC



A/N: Until next time, *cough review button cough* thank you for reading.