Disclaimer: For full disclaimer, please see chapter 1.


Well, this took me a bit longer than I had thought. For one, because the characters couldn't shut up again - I stopped counting at 45 pages. It was just becoming too depressive. I mean, I understand that they want to have some fun, too, especially now that no one is being tortured anymore, but too much is too much. •g•

The other reason is that chaos reigns here at the moment. I am not kidding you, it does. All my flatmates have moved out, people came to visit me, my mother too, we had to organise a huge good-bye/birthday party (I know, poor us •g•), oh, and yes, I had all my exams and had to write two big papers. But it paid off: I actually passed all my exams, even Historia de España, which is a major miracle. Now it is all over, and I can relax for a bit - till the next visitors get here. So, sorry for the delay (I hope you all found the note I left on my profile page?), but now it's finally here, the LAST CHAPTER.

That brings me to the next question: Will there be a sequel? Right now, I would say 'Yes, definitely'. •myriad of elves and rangers moan• Come on, guys, it's not THAT bad! Hmm, okay, perhaps it is, but that's beside the point. •g• So, the answer is yes, I am indeed planning a sequel, but it won't be here for a while. I am planning to write something with less than 30 chapters - stop laughing back there! I WILL manage it! •shakes fist• So, don't expect the next big story before October or so - I have to travel a lot and then find a flat, get everything organised for my university (coming back from Erasmus means another huge mountain of paperwork) and so on and so forth. It WILL get here though, don't worry, and this time I hope to update more frequently. It was really getting a bit ridiculous towards the end...

For more information about the upcoming story, read more after the chapter. Oh, and there is a bit of good news: There will be a short story before the next big one, as always a little story that I promised to somebody, this time to Jack. She has been very patient with me and I really have to write this. I am not completely sure about the name yet, but it's kind of a late birthday/Easter present and humourous story. I know, I am nervous myself! It will include Legolas, Aragorn and a by now stereotypical kidnapping and should be posted sometime in August, so keep an eye out for it!

So, here is that huge thing that pretends to be the last chapter. I have to say first that we won't get so much Aragorn-Legolas H/C about Torel's death - I chose a different solution, because I kind of have the feeling that the eternal Aragorn-Legolas-it's-not-your-fault talks are beginning to get a tiny bit stereotypical. And, strictly speaking, Legolas wasn't even there when Torel died (or during anything that led up to it), so if Aragorn won't talk to him, he doesn't even know what happened.
Be that as it may, Elrond and Glorfindel have a discussion, we find out just who gets Aragorn out of that (metaphorically speaking) little black hole he has fallen into, the twins try to sell a Nazgûl a pink outfit ... uhm, I mean, try to talk to Aragorn and Legolas, everybody finds out the name of Celylith's adorable little bat, Aragorn gets a birthday present and they get back to Rivendell, much to the joy of Elvynd and a certain red-haired healer. And that's about it. •g•

Enjoy and review, please!

Chapter 39

Legolas was feeling exasperated. It was a feeling he had grown accustomed to lately, much to his chagrin. It was not only a most uncomfortable feeling, it was also beginning to give him a headache.

Actually, he went on inwardly, leaning back against the cold wall at his back, it was a feeling he had grown accustomed toa while ago, strangely enough around the same time he had met Aragorn. It was a strange coincidence indeed, and one he would very happily point out to the ranger in question – if he only could.

He couldn't, though, because Aragorn wouldn't talk to him. He hadn't talked to him or his father or his brothers, not about what had happened in Aberon and not about anything else. It had been almost ten days now since the fighting had stopped and a little more than nine days since Aragorn had been found, and he was still not talking about anything or to anybody. The first time he had been allowed to see the ranger, Aragorn had looked up, apparently making sure that he was all right and that his brothers hadn't been lying. Once satisfied that his friend was alive and (relatively speaking) well, he had fallen back into his passive, listless state.

One reason for this was surely that the young man was still far from well. While he himself and Lord Erestor were healing slowly but surely – elven healing abilities were a wonderful thing sometimes – Aragorn wasn't doing all that great. Lord Elrond had told him (after a lot of uncharacteristic attempts to change the topic) that the man would have been able to cope with the injuries he had contracted or with the illness that had taken a told of him with such force, but that the two combined had been very nearly enough to send the young ranger to the Halls of Mandos and into the company of his ancestors.

Legolas exhaled slowly, listening to the low murmur of voices (or rather, of a single voice) that filtered through the heavy oaken door to the right of him. It was gleaming slightly, as if it had been polished lately, and the elf wondered lazily if any of Tibron's servants were actually finding the time to clean here. Aberon was beginning to get back to normal, with the dams mostly repaired and the debris cleaned off the streets, but there was still a lot to be done. No, it was far more likely that it was a trick of the light; Tibron was a generous and caring host, but he surely had better things to do than have his servants polish doors.

Ten days had passed. It was so very hard to believe. Ten days since he had lost consciousness in the courtyard of Donrag, Celylith's face swimming into nothing before the darkness swallowed him whole. He hadn't been truly aware of what was going on around him for the first five days or so, and he was fully aware of the fact that he owed Lord Elrond yet another debt he could never repay. If it hadn't been for the half-elven healer, he would have died in Donrag, about that he was very sure. Even though his friends thought that he refused to admit to himself how close to death he had been, he knew it very well. He even had a vague memory of great, misty gates appearing before him out of the darkness that had enveloped him, even though he did not know if it had been a vision or if he had really heard Námo's voice welcoming him to his abode.

He did not really wish to contemplate it, either.

His unconscious state had been a good thing, too, at least partly; but still, he knew how deeply it would have affected the others and especially Celylith. He loved Celylith like he would have loved any brother of his, and the last thing he had ever wanted was cause his friend pain. And yet he had, he knew that without Celylith even having to say a single word about it. His friend would have panicked, he would have blamed himself and been half-petrified with pain and fear and dread. He would dearly like to take back the hurt he had caused him, and still he knew that it would probably not be the last time for either of them.

A good thing it had been because, lying unconsciously and feverishly in his bed, he hadn't been able to worry about Aragorn. The young man had only truly beginning to get better a few days ago, and before that it had been a very, very close thing. Lord Elrond had almost worked himself into the ground trying to save his human son's life. Legolas was firmly convinced that only the elf lord's skill, tenacity and unwillingness to give up had saved Aragorn's life.

But now things were different. The Valar knew that he was not fully well yet – it was what everybody kept telling him, so he suspected that there was some truth to it – but he was definitely healthy enough to worry about someone other than himself. And Aragorn just happened to be the most grateful subject.

"…there you are!" A voice exclaimed, sounding exasperated as well. It was very well possible that there was an epidemic going on, Legolas decided calmly. "My lord," the voice added, just late enough to convey that the honorific title was in no way connected to the way the voice's owner felt about him at the moment.

Legolas turned around, careful not to move too much in the process. The stitches that held a large percentage of his innards together (those were Lord Elrond's words, not his) protested fiercely against the movement, and he settled back against the wall, exhaling softly. Even ten days of more or less enforced bed rest had not been enough to build up his strength sufficiently to remain upright and conscious for much longer than an hour, and he had already left the half-hour mark far behind.

The elf who was striding towards him, an expression of long-suffering annoyance on his face that would have make Elu Thingol proud, was obviously feeling neither exhausted nor tired. The minor wounds he had contracted during the fighting had already healed without leaving a trace, and Celylith looked very hale and very annoyed. His eyes were positively gleaming (probably with anger), and silver hair was streaming after him in a way that would have made the most heroic hero jealous.

Legolas, who had not been instructed by the finest warriors Mirkwood had to offer for nothing, immediately decided that offence was the best defence he had at the moment. Actually, it was the only defence he had at the moment.

"Yes." He nodded, as if he hadn't been told to stay in his room and rest. "I am here. And so are you, it seems. Is there any particular reason why you are yelling at me?"

Celylith's eyes narrowed slightly, and Legolas could almost hear him think something highly uncomplimentary. His friend was far too easy to read, he decided.
"I am not yelling," the silver-haired elf told him in a forcedly calm tone of voice. Eyeing his prince in the way a mother bear would eye her cub (or maybe a warg would eye a tasty meal), he sat down next to him, perching on the edge of the wooden bench as if he expected to have to chase Legolas yet again. "I am merely stating the fact that you are here."

Legolas raised an eyebrow, amusement sparkling in his eyes.
"I applaud your powers of observation."

Celylith's already narrowed eyes darkened, something that looked quite dangerous.
"Do not try to mislead me, my friend. You are out of bed against the healers' orders, again, and you know it."

"They never said anything about 'staying in bed'. In fact, a bed wasn't even mentioned."

The silver-haired elf's glare would have frozen lava in mid-flow.
"Not even you could confuse running around the house with 'resting'."

"Well…" Legolas began rather ineloquently.

"Why do you keep doing this to me?" Celylith asked, throwing his hands up in a thoroughly melodramatic gesture. "What have I ever done to you? Are you trying to drive me insane or is this another manifestation of your interpretation of the word 'amusing'?"

"Well," Legolas repeated, "you have to admit that it possesses some entertainment value."

Celylith closed his eyes and silently counted to ten. He then inwardly proceeded to enumerate all the reasons why he shouldn't kill the elf sitting next to him, right here, right now and with a smile on his lips.

"This tactic hasn't been working on me for the past four or five yéni, Legolas," he finally told his still smirking prince. "I won't go away just because you try and make me mad. I saw through that a long time ago. Now, why did you escape this time?"

Apparently, Celylith had also been instructed by the finest warriors Mirkwood had to offer. He should have know, really, since Celylith had been instructed with him.
"Do I have to tell you?" Legolas asked and leaned his head against the wall. He might be able to read Celylith like an open book, but he was just as transparent to the silver-haired elf.

Celylith looked at him for a moment, annoyance and faint anger fading and being replaced by understanding. He smiled slightly, settling down onto the bench and trying to find a more comfortable position.
"So he has not talked to you?"

"No," Legolas admitted. "He hasn't. He hasn't talked to anybody, not to me, not to the twins, not to Lord Elrond or anybody else. He just shuts us out."

"Perhaps he just needs a little bit more time," Celylith suggested. He didn't look or sound as if he was the least bit convinced. "It has only been…"

"Ten days." Legolas finished his sentence. "Ten days, Celylith. And still he just lies there and stares at the ceiling. I talked to Lord Elrond and he told me that that is far from normal. He has never before behaved like this; no matter what happened or how grave the injuries were."

Celylith shrugged helplessly, not knowing what to say, and was spared an answer when the door to Aragorn's room opened and Elladan came out, or rather stormed out in a remarkably quiet manner. The expression on his face was in stark contrast to that, though. He was grinding his teeth, and one could almost see the small bolts of lightning that were shooting out of his eyes.

Legolas merely raised an eyebrow, grim amusement shining in his eyes.
"Good morning!"

Elladan whirled around to face him and gave him a credible version of the look.
"Is it? Is it really?"

A small smile spread over Legolas' face before he could stop it.
"Not talking to you either, is he?"

Elladan let out several very interesting curses that he rightfully should not even know.
"I have tried everything. I have begged him, tried to bribe him, told him stories, asked him countless questions, just sat there waiting for him to acknowledge my presence and about a hundred things in between. I don't even know if he heard me."

"He is apparently not ready to talk yet," Celylith told the other two elves and moved a little bit to the side to make room for Elladan, who flopped down onto the bench with another rather vicious Quenya curse that the wood-elf had never before heard in his life. Carefully committing it to memory, he went on, "Why don't you just give him more time to come to terms with what has happened?"

"Because he is not," Elladan said curtly. "Coming to terms with it, I mean. This is setting back his recovery, Celylith. He is not interested in anything, not in getting up, not in reading, not in eating – nothing. He cannot get better like this, and if he doesn't build up his strength…"

"…he might suffer a relapse," Legolas completed the older elf's sentence. "Lord Elrond told me that the illness might be beaten for now, but that it might just as easily return."

"Not everybody is always ready to share their feelings." Celylith wasn't giving up. If Aragorn could have heard him, he would have been immensely grateful.

"Estel?" Elladan asked, a dark eyebrow arched so high that it almost disappeared into his hair. "You can say what you want about him," he paused a moment, probably giving the other two elves ample time to realise that, contrary to his words, he would not suffer his little brother to be insulted in his presence, "but he isn't emotionally closed-off."

"I wouldn't call it 'emotionally closed-off'," Celylith protested, a little more vehemently than he had wanted to. He wasn't someone to readily talk about his feeling with other people either. "Look at Lord Glorfindel. He doesn't enjoy that kind of thing either."

Elladan's other eyebrow rose to join the first.
"Glorfindel," he began slowly, as if talking to an idiot, "can hardly be a model for anything. He died once, and that would change most people. Besides, he killed a balrog, and that has given him delusions of grandeur. People with delusions of grandeur don't tend to talk about their feelings, unless they're cornered, tied up or otherwise forced."

"Besides," Legolas interjected, "look what happened the last time that he didn't want to talk about what was bothering him."

Celylith and Elladan winced more or less openly, and the silver-haired elf inclined his head in surrender. He knew which incident Legolas was referring to: A few years ago Lord Glorfindel had had some sort of miscommunication with Lord Elrond, and had promptly been injured gravely during an orc attack when he had ridden to escape his friend's questions. Lord Elrond was still maintaining that none of this would have happened if the other elf lord had just talked to him like a sensible being, while Lord Glorfindel was of the firm and often-voiced opinion that it had been nothing but a coincidence.

While Celylith found himself agreeing with Lord Glorfindel, he knew better than to voice his opinion. Many had found out the hard way that disagreeing with Elladan about something that concerned the health or safety of his family was a stupid and potentially painful thing.

"And it's not only that," the twin went on. "He's not only refusing to talk about what happened. He blames himself, for what happened in this town, and for Torel's death in particular. Nothing anybody said has convinced him otherwise."

"I don't know if anything can," Legolas said glumly. "He was there with the boy when the dam broke, that much we know. Who knows what happened after Aragorn sent Tibron's son away? No one is left alive to tell us."

A sudden movement to his left made him turn his head, and if he had been only a bit quicker, he would have seen the expression on Celylith's face that very clearly stated that he had just been granted a great revelation. The silver-haired elf sat up straighter, wonder on his face, before he shot to his feet.

"Of course! By Oromë's horn, it could actually work!"

And then he was gone, rushing down the corridor in a whirlwind of excitement and long silver hair. Elladan looked after him for a moment before he turned to Legolas, both his eyebrows arching even higher, if such a thing was even possible.
"He is a strange one, isn't he?"

"You should have seen him when we were younger," Legolas said with a calm nod, as if one of his best friends suddenly rushing off to Valar-knew-where amidst mysterious words was a completely normal occurrence. "Speaking of which, is it just me or is there the possibility that he just might have found … something? Probably something big, hairy, ugly, dangerous and malicious?"

"Just why did you have to go and say that?" Elladan groaned, covering his eyes with his forearm. "Now we're doomed."

"I beg your pardon?"

Elladan sighed, sounding very much like someone who was seeing his doom fast approaching.
"Elrohir and I have been suspecting something like this for some time. He is searching the stables right now, trying to find out if our suspicions are correct or not. But if you, too, believe that he might have found another one of his 'sweet, innocent creatures', then it truly must be so. And then we're doomed, either because his new pet is going to kill all of us or because your father will declare war on Imladris because we killed one of his captains."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that." Legolas shook his head reassuringly. "My father hates spiders. I do not use that word lightly; he hates them. If I tell him just why we had so many spider attacks last autumn, he just might give you a medal instead of declaring war."

"That would be something." Elladan grinned. A thought seemed to strike him, and the grin widened. "Generations of Noldorin ancestors would be scandalised."

"And generations of Sindarin ancestors would be at least slightly impressed," Legolas retorted. "That might cause somewhat of a problem." His brow creased slightly. "I wouldn't tell Fëanor, though, if I were you."

"Fëanor isn't a direct ancestor," Elladan protested in a tone of voice that quite clearly said that he had said that far too often already. "And I wouldn't be too sure about my Sindarin ancestors either. I don't think my grandfather would be too impressed. He and your father never really got along, I think."

Legolas grimaced slightly when he remembered the not very hidden contemptuous sparkle in his father's eyes whenever the conversation turned to the Lord of Lórien. About the other elf lord's wife, his father had never lost a bad word (which, considering his opinion about the vast majority of the Lords of the Noldor, was rather surprising), but that only proved that even King Thranduil of Mirkwood had as much respect for and mild fear of Lady Galadriel as the rest of Middle-earth.

"I cannot deny that," he finally said with a shrug. "I never asked what passed between them, and I don't really think I want to know."

Elladan could only agree with that. The fewest elf lords allowed petty rivalries or arguments to come between them; if they nursed a grudge, something truly serious must have happened between them at one point or other. Abandoning your kin or slaughtering your fellow elves were good examples for that.

Before he could truly think about what might have happened between the two fair-haired elf lords, Celylith returned, looking as if he was very pleased with himself. Elladan was already opening his mouth to ask him just why he was looking this smug when two more people appeared on the landing of the stairs, apparently having followed the wood-elf. It was Tibron, looking more rested than the last time he had seen him but still just as grief-filled, and Vonar, who still hadn't lost that shocked, disbelieving expression that fairly screamed that he wished that all that had happened lately had been nothing but a dream.

Elladan stood to his feet immediately to greet them, and only just managed to press Legolas back down when the fair-haired elf began to mirror his movements. Legolas gave him a dark look but consented, the pain in his arm and stomach once again convincing him that getting up might indeed by a bad idea. A moment later Celylith had reached their side, still looking like the proverbial cat that had eaten the equally proverbial bird, and the elven prince narrowed his eyes at his friend, confusion in the silver-blue depths.

"Just what is the meaning of this, Celylith?" he demanded to know in low Sindarin. "What are you doing?"

"We have been addressing this in the wrong way, my lord," Celylith told him. "We did not see it, because we are too close to Estel. That is also why you especially did not see it; you two, just like Elrohir and Lord Elrond, are just too worried about him. He is my friend whom I treasure dearly, but I do not have the same connection with him as you do."

Elladan and Legolas exchanged a quick look.
"You are not making any sense, Celylith," Elladan told the wood-elf for the both of them.

Celylith shook his head, apparently not disturbed by their lack of enthusiasm.

"You are trying too hard to help him, Elladan. All of you, your father, your brother, Lord Glorfindel, Isál, Legolas. You try to make him talk about what happened, try to help him through it, but you do not see one thing: You cannot. None of us can help him. We were, as you said, not there. We were not there when he and the two young ones were ambushed by Hurag's men, we were not there when they fought them off, we were not there when he had to make the choice to send one of them back to warn the council. We weren't," he paused a moment and turned to look at Tibron's wide-eyed son, "but Vonar was."

Elladan and Legolas turned their heads to look at Vonar, and the young man gulped visibly. After more than a week of encountering elves in his home on a daily basis and literally everywhere, he was beginning to get used to the experience. But still, no amount of practice could prepare you for the force of an inquisitive dual elven stare, especially if the elves staring at you were the sons of the Lords Elrond and Thranduil.

"I … I want to help," the young man finally said, licking his lips nervously. He hadn't understood a single word the three elves had said, but he had recognised his name and was intelligent enough to figure out what the subject of their conversation had been. He turned to Elladan, wide eyes becoming even wider and more earnest. "I … we – my family and the entire town, we owe a lot to Strider. Your friend said I might be able to help him. I would like to try, if you will let me."

"He is well enough to receive visitors, at least for a short time," Legolas said expressionlessly, refusing to hope that this might actually work. "Should we ask your father?" he added, looking at Elladan.

"I don't see any reason why," the dark-haired elf said. "It can hardly make things any worse."

"Then we would like to try," Tibron said, his voice firm, and placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "As my son said, we owe Strider a great debt. We did not want to disturb him until now, but if you think we could help…"

Elladan inclined his head and smiled at the two humans in front of him.
"We appreciate your concern. I know that you are busy, Master Tibron, and I thank you for coming here on such short notice."

"I am very glad to get away from the council for a while." Tibron smiled at him. "They have mastered the high art of annoying me even in my own house! Besides, I only came to thank Strider and see him for a few moments. If your friend here is right, this is between him and Vonar, and I would but intrude."

"Still, I thank you," Elladan repeated. "Let us go, then."

He led the two men over to Aragorn's room and, after taking a deep breath, pushed the door open. The room was just like he had left it a short while ago: Healing utensils and more pots and bottles than he could count covered almost every accessible surface. The curtains were half-closed, allowing the soft morning light to filter through but keeping out the glare of the sun. There were no personal effects anywhere close to the bed, though, no books or scrolls or anything of the like, the absence marked and fitting the utter motionlessness of the bed's occupant.

He would buy Celylith a barrel of the finest Dorwinion wine if this idea of his actually worked, Elladan swore to himself fervently. It pained him to see his little brother thus, so quiet and still and disinterested in what was going on around him. All this had shaken the young man far more than he or anybody else could have predicted, and he – just like Elrohir and Legolas – was just about ready to do anything to cause him to come back to them.

Physically, he was probably looking worse than ever. Since his body had been so weakened and on the brink of giving up altogether for long days, the various bruises and cuts he had sustained were only now beginning to heal, giving him the multicoloured look of somebody who had just been stepped on by something big and extremely heavy. There wasn't a colour Elladan could think of that couldn't be seen on Aragorn's face and arms, a fact that was even more noticeable because of the white bandages and sheets.

"You have visitors, Estel," he said quietly, not expecting the young man to even turn his head to look at them.

He didn't. It was an expected reaction, but still more than a little bit vexing.

Elladan sighed inwardly.
"I will be waiting outside," he told the two men, not being able to hide his tired, dejected expression. "If you have need of anything or if anything happens at all, call me."

With another long look at his young brother he turned around and left the room, softly closing the door behind him. Tibron looked after him for a moment before he turned his attention to the ranger lying motionlessly on the bed. Taking a step closer, he motioned his son to do the same and in the end pressed the boy into one of the empty armchairs next to the bed.

"I will not stay long," he began, looking firmly at the younger man. Strider wasn't looking at him, but he was very sure that the ranger was listening. "I have only come to thank you, Strider. What you did is something neither I nor our entire town can ever forget, nor can we repay you. Without you, most of us wouldn't be here today."

There was no visible reaction. Tibron, however, who was a father in addition to an innkeeper, was not prepared to give up this easily.

"We owe you and the elves a great debt, the greatest debt there is. I pray to the Gods that, one day, you will understand that. Until then, I want you to know that I will always be there if you have the need to talk. I consider you my honoured friend and guest whom I owe more than I have ever owed to anybody, and as long as I and my family live, there will always be a place for you in Aberon."

He turned to his son, quite clearly not expecting an answer.
"I will be outside if you need me."

A moment later he was gone, leaving the two young men alone. Vonar stared after his father, curiously looking a lot like a rabbit that was being cornered by a couple of foxes. In the end, he slowly and almost reluctantly turned back to Aragorn, who was showing the first faint signs that he might be interested in what was going on around him. Vonar didn't know it, but Legolas and the twins would have given their right arms for it.

"I … I don't know what to say," Vonar finally began, trying not to sound as lost as he felt. "I don't know if there is anything I can say. I should have thought about this earlier, but the elf – the silver-haired one, the one that is always with your friend – said that I might be able to help you and so I came." He smiled faintly. "I guess Torel did rub off on me in the end."

This time, Aragorn actually turned his head to look at him. Vonar didn't even notice, so caught up was he in studying his own fingernails.

"When we left to find you and your friend after you had escaped from Donrag, I did not agree with him. He hadn't told me what it was all about; he had just dragged me out of the town to 'show me something'." The young man smiled again, the corners of his mouth quivering slightly. "He always acted as if he was my older brother. He was only two years older than me, and still he liked to pretend that he was old and wise and knew everything better. But that night I told him what I thought about his actions, about endangering all of us to search for two people who had brought us nothing but trouble and whom we didn't even know."

Vonar paused and raised his head, his brown eyes locking with the ranger's grey ones.

"I called him unreasonable, foolish and insane. I told him that there would be a heavy price to pay for his actions, and I was right."

"Vonar," Aragorn began, squeezing his eyes shut as if he couldn't stand looking at the other man. It was the first time that he had truly addressed somebody and hadn't just answered shortly to a question, but neither of them noticed. "I … I shouldn't have…"

"But he did not listen to me," the brown-haired youth went on, ignoring the other's words. "He never did. He was like that, always making decisions as quickly as they had to be made and then sticking to them till the bitter end. I am sure that, sooner or later, some minstrel will take up the tale, make a ballad out of it and sing it to whoever pays a coin or two. And all my cousin really was and what he thought and felt will be forgotten."

"I should have sent him back with you," Aragorn interrupted him. "You were there. I tried to, and yet he would not heed my words. And, to my shame, I have to admit that a part of me was glad about his stubborn refusal to leave. I would not have survived without his help, and now he lost his life for mine."

"Yes, he did." Vonar nodded gravely, tiredly. His expression was sad and weary beyond his years. "He was swept away by the flood, and all my uncle found was his lifeless body. You were swept away as well, and here you are, alive and well."

He fell silent for a moment, perhaps having realised that one could say a lot of things about the ranger's condition, but not that he was well.

"I hated you for a while," the boy finally admitted, looking steadily at the dark-haired ranger. If Elladan could have heard his words, he would have forgotten about the barrel of Dorwinion and would have tried to strangle Celylith instead. "That is why I did not try to see you. The first few days you were too ill to visit; my father tried to see you, but the elf lord would not permit it. But after that, I could have come to visit you. But I did not, because I did not think myself capable of seeing you without losing my composure. I did not wish to look at you, and only see a reminder of my cousin's death."

"I understand," Aragorn said softly, absolutely no expression on his face. "Perhaps I would react the same way. I know that I can never gain it, but I still ask you for forgiveness. Through my actions, through my failure, your cousin and so many other people of this town were taken from you. There is nothing I can do to excuse it or to make it right. All I can say is that I am so very, very sorry."

Vonar looked at him, a frown creasing his forehead. In the end, the younger man began to smile. It was a weak, tiny thing, but it was real, and that alone was enough to astonish the ranger

"I do not think you understand, Strider." He shook his head. "I told you that I called Torel an idiot and a fool for aiding you. I told you that I told him that there would be a price to pay, a price that was heavier than any of us had thought. I told you that I dread the day when I will hear a minstrel sing about my cousin's death, turning it into a foolish act of heroism instead of calling it the tragedy it was."

Aragorn frowned as well, trying to interrupt him, but the younger man raised a hand and shook his head, surprising maturity on his face. Aragorn saw to his surprise that this was not the same wide-eyed boy he had met a few days ago, that these events had changed him profoundly and had caused him to turn into a very different person. And even though there was maturity now where there had been childlike enthusiasm before, Vonar had also lost something, more than anything else the hopeful innocence he had possessed before all this had happened.

"Please let me finish, Strider," the youth went on. "I told you all this. But what I did not tell you, what I want to tell you, is that Torel made a choice. He chose to help you and your elven friend, he chose to come with you to investigate the dams, he chose to stay with you until the end. He chose all that, and by denying it and his decisions and accusing those who bear no fault except surviving we would dishonour him and us and all he died for."

"You are like him, Strider," Vonar told him, leaning forward in his chair. "You think that all the fault and guilt is yours. I talked to my father about this over the past week, a lot of times. There is nothing you could have done to change what happened. There is nothing anybody could have done to change it. That the town is still standing is a miracle. You saved it, you and Torel and all the others who were sent to the dams to stop Hurag's men. He is not the only one who died; there are many more who did not return to their families. You had no part in my cousin's death, Strider. He would have followed anyone who had found out what Hurag was planning; he would have done anything to save our hometown and his family from almost certain death. "

"But he did not," Aragorn interrupted him. "He followed me. I took him there; I told him what to do and led him to his death. I did this."

"And you did not force him to follow." Vonar shook his head. "I knew my cousin, Strider. He did what he did out of his own free will. If he hadn't thought it the right course of action, he wouldn't have done it. It's as simple as that."

"It is not simple," the dark-haired ranger protested. "It is everything but simple! Do you know what happened when the dam broke? I managed to grab his shirt. Do you understand? I grabbed his shirt, but he was hit by the remains of the battering ram and could not hold on, and I could not hold him either. I let go of him, and he was swept away and to his death."

Tears were suddenly in Vonar's eyes, once again reminding Aragorn of how young the boy really was, no matter how mature he sounded. For long moments, he said nothing, but then he finally did, not being able to meet the ranger's eyes.
"You held him as long as you could. I saw you before he and you left for the docks, Strider. You were already dead on your feet. You did what you could and a lot more. No one could fault you for that."

"I can," Aragorn said softly. "And I will, for the rest of my life." For the first time in more than a week, his old, wry humour made an appearance, and he added, "Rangers live somewhat longer than the average human, so that could be a while."

"I would say that is a good thing," Vonar told him earnestly. "By remembering him and what he did, you will do honour to Torel's memory. But as I said, I knew my cousin. He wouldn't have wanted anybody to remember him for the way he died. Remember him for what he did and how he lived, and you will do him a far greater honour."

"You sound like my father," Aragorn said, and left it to Vonar to decide if that was a compliment or not. "But I don't know if I can do that."

Vonar didn't answer immediately. In the end he lifted his head and looked at the ranger, the tears he had held back so long finally beginning to fall.
"I know," he whispered. "I talked to my father about this, again and again, and I know that he is right and what I just said is the truth. And I spoke the truth, Strider; I do not hold you accountable or blame you for anything, and I knew Torel wouldn't have done it either. But…" He fell silent, but then continued bravely, "But I don't think I can do that either. I just … miss him, and nothing could ever make me forget the way he died. And…"

"And?" Aragorn prompted him gently when the younger man fell silent and would not speak for a long while.

"I … I didn't talk to anybody about it, not even to my father, but … but I can't help but think that I shouldn't have let him go with you that night. I don't even know how he convinced me to leave."

"You were injured. You were too weak to accompany us any further."

Vonar gave him a long look.
"I know that that's the pot calling the kettle black, but if you'll permit me to say so, Strider, you weren't exactly a shining example of health either."

"Maybe not." Aragorn shrugged. "But that is beside the point. Someone had to warn your father of what was going on. There was no way around it."

"I know," Vonar said, his voice so soft that even Aragorn's elven-trained hearing could hardly understand him. "I just cannot shake the feeling that it should have been him."

There was nothing Aragorn could say to that. Maybe it should have been Torel and not Vonar, maybe it should have been him, that was something he would never know, but what he did know was that neither of the two should have died, and most certainly not Torel. He had been so idealistic and brave and stubborn and so very young – so much younger than Aragorn had felt in a long time…

The pause grew into a silence that neither of them wished to break. It was not an uncomfortable silence, though, and so they let it grow for quite some time.

And later, when Vonar had taken his leave and Aragorn had succumbed to the sleepiness that still visited him frequently, it was the first time that the young ranger's dreams were not haunted by towering walls of dark water, or by a pair of fearful brown eyes that looked at him with a hope he could never fulfil.

Four days later, Elrond heaved a large sigh and tried to close his saddlebag with what was supposed to be a final gesture. Considering how little he had brought – they hadn't had a lot of space or time to pack when they had left Rivendell – it had taken an inordinate amount of time to prepare everything for their departure.

And all that even though he hadn't even acquired anything! He could not understand how these things always accumulated, especially now that he wasn't even travelling in his wife's company anymore. That was another thing he had never understood: How she-elves (or females of any other race, for that matter) could spend a single night somewhere and pick up several pounds of luggage at the same time, mostly in the form of clothing, accessories and other things whose purpose no male would ever be able to understand.

A sudden smile spread over the half-elf's features. He distinctly remembered saying those very same words to Celebrían when they had just been married for a few decades – more proof that newlywed husbands had a lot to learn (or, in his wife's words, were idiots). Galadriel's daughter had not been amused by what she had perceived to be thinly-veiled criticism or his question of why she needed another shawl when she already had more than a dozen. He had suffered the repercussions of this – in his eyes – innocent comment for a long time.

It truly seemed to him that his beloved wife had rubbed off on him over the years, because right now he had serious trouble convincing the bags to close. It didn't make any sense, since he had used an impressive amount of healing supplies and the bags should therefore be lighter instead of heavier, but, well, some things could not be denied or explained. He was only one step away from sitting on the highly uncooperative bags in a last attempt to close them.

Elf lords, however, did not do such undignified things, and since Glorfindel was somewhere close-by, he wouldn't either. Giving the leather bags a last dark look, Elrond grasped the strings that would close them and, after much mumbled cursing and wrestling with the leather, tied them shut. The bags almost seemed to shudder once before giving up, and while Elrond took them up and added them to the growing mountain of bigger and smaller satchels and bags, he decided that he really needed some rest and quiet once they were all back home. He would wait till his errant sons and friends were settled and would then leave everything in Glorfindel's capable hands and travel to someplace quiet and safe. Like, for example, Barad-dûr or Harad.

It was quite interesting how much and how quickly your perceptions could change, he mused. A few years ago, the thought of the people he loved constantly at death's door would have horrified him; now, however, it was an everyday occurrence.

Oh yes, Elrond decided when he realised just what he was thinking. He needed a lot of peace and quiet and tranquillity.

"Are you ready, my lord?"

Glorfindel's soft voice drew him out of his thoughts (which were right now centred on how wonderfully relaxing a swim in the lava pools of Orodruin would be), something for which he was quite grateful, by the way, and the dark-haired elf turned, one of his saddlebags still in hand. Glorfindel was peeking into his room, if elf lords did such things, and only now that he was looking at him did the other elf step into his room. The older elf was clearly ready himself, already having donned his arms and cloak. The cloak's dark colour emphasised the paleness of his face and his slightly hollow look, and Elrond thought not for the first time that he wasn't the only one who hadn't slept or eaten enough these past weeks.

"I see that you are," he answered with a small smile. "My bags refused to co-operate for a while, but I got the better of them."

"Yet another song will be sung about your greatness. 'The Lay of the Saddlebags'." Glorfindel frowned and leaned back against the doorpost. "Somehow it lacks poetry, though."

"Not necessarily." Elrond shrugged. "I am sure Lindir can come up with something."

"If anybody can, it is Lindir," Glorfindel agreed.

Elrond didn't say anything to that and only smiled in agreement. He put down the bags and turned back around, walking over to the bed and taking up his sword belt. If he had learned one thing during the past weeks, it was that he would rather eat his own cloak than walk around unarmed anywhere close to this town.

After he had wrapped the belt around his waist and fastened it, he turned back around to his friend, sudden doubt in his eyes.
"Should we be doing this, Glorfindel? Should we be leaving now, even though the prince, Erestor and Estel are not well yet?"

Glorfindel looked at him steadily.
"The only alternative I can see is staying here for a while longer; there is no friendly place or settlement close-by that could shelter us. And while the journey will be stressful, it will be better for everybody involved if we leave now. Being here is not conducive to anybody's recovery." He frowned. "I do not think Captain Isál truly likes anyone here, and Tibron and his brother least of all. If we give him a bit more time, he will come up with something that will cause at least a serious diplomatic incident."

"I cannot say that I would blame him," Elrond said. "Some of the councilmen and master traders have become quite … annoying."

"That is one way of saying it," Glorfindel mumbled, clearly unconvinced by his lord's choice of words. "They have been pestering us for days on end."

Elrond knew that tone of voice and knew what it meant, and he looked up sharply.
"Glorfindel. We talked about this."

"Yes, we did, my lord." Glorfindel nodded. "And my opinion hasn't changed. Toran is guilty, maybe as guilty as Hurag was. He is Tibron's brother, yes, but that cannot be reason enough to spare him."

"I am reluctant to execute the brother of my host, yes."

"I don't want to execute him," the golden-haired elf lord protested. "The council would do anything to placate you right now. We could hand him over to them and…"

"…have them execute him?" Elrond finished the sentence. "Really, Glorfindel, I had never thought that you were one to mince words."

"And I had never thought that you were so willing to let a guilty man escape," Glorfindel countered. "Why, Elrond? Give me one good reason and I will not speak of this again."

The half-elf sighed.
"Because Toran has already been punished, Glorfindel, more severely than we or the Council of Aberon ever could." His eyes turned serious and very dark. "He lost his son, Glorfindel, and he knows that the boy died because of the consequences of his ill-advised actions. There is nothing more we could or would need to do. Is that not enough?"

The fair-haired elf remained silent for a while, but then he inclined his head minutely.
"You are right, mellon nín. That is a good reason." He took a deep breath, clearly trying to change the subject, and added, "How is Estel?"

A frown settled over Elrond's face.
"Physically, he is mending, even though he will need several more weeks to recover. Emotionally, I am not so sure. Better, I would say. Whatever Vonar told him, it helped. He is still not back to his old self, but I think he will get there. With time and patience, that is."

"He's too young for all this," Glorfindel said gravely. "Far too young for any of this."

"Most humans would be too young for this, Dúnedain or no," Elrond said. "Most elves, too, thinking of it."

"And a good thing it is, too," the golden-haired elf told him. "If it weren't like that, this world would be a dark place indeed, a place not worth living in." He frowned. "There would be more healers too, I presume."

Elrond looked at him, a smile slowly beginning to spread over his features.
"You can be refreshingly positive when you want to be, mellon nín. In a slightly mad, unsettling way, but still positive. But," he went on with a shrug, "you are right, as you often are." He ignored his friend's whispered 'Always!' and continued. "It will be slow travelling, but I think leaving is the right option. I tried to convince Estel or Legolas to use stretchers – we could easily string them up between two horses – but they refused point blank and in a very definite manner."

"That was not all Erestor did when I asked the same of him," Glorfindel retorted, wincing at the memory. "He also snorted in that unique manner of his and looked at me as if I had questioned his intelligence." Elrond flinched in sympathy. "I think that he would rather walk up to the Dark Tower and declare his allegiance to its master than leave this town under anything but his own power."

"Stranger things have happened," Elrond told him with a small smirk. "I am sure Sauron could use a good chief advisor."

"Who doesn't?"

"Indeed," the younger elf agreed. "I don't know what I would do without someone who looks at me as if I am losing my mind at least once a month. I would surely sink into depression or begin to suffer from delusions of grandeur." He ignored the look on Glorfindel's face that clearly said that at least the latter had already happened (he was getting quite good at ignoring the other elf, he decided almost proudly), and added, his voice softer and far more serious, "How is he doing? I haven't had time to see him very often these past few days."

Glorfindel knew that, of course, but he didn't harbour any resentment about the fact. Elrond had been too busy preparing and organising their journey back to Rivendell and everything that it entailed to do much more than check in on Erestor once a day and only very briefly each time. To his knowledge he had spent a little bit more time with Estel and the prince (who, by now, was more or less camping out in the young ranger's room, which saved time if nothing else), but even their care he had more or less entrusted to his twin sons.

Who were, at least judging by the grim masks of annoyance and general unhappiness that had laid themselves over their usually so merry faces, very close to losing their mind and their patience. Come to think of it, the same look could be seen on young Celylith's face.

"As well as can be expected," he finally answered cautiously. "He is doing his best to forget everything that has happened this past month."

Elrond let out a long, weary sigh. That had been his reaction many times in the past, after many horrible events and catastrophes, and every time he had painfully been taught that this particular tactic never – ever – worked. Not even or perhaps especially for elves.

"I know," Glorfindel finally went on. "You and I both know that he will not, that he cannot, but you know him. He will not listen to me, at least not in this regard." He sighed as well. "I fear that, until he truly comes to accept this, he will make things only worse for himself."

"That is something Erestor would do," Elrond said. He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead in an attempt to alleviate the omnipresent headache that was intensifying yet again – not since they had set foot in this town had he truly been free of it. "He never expects the rules and limitations that apply to everybody else to apply to him also. He expects too much of himself."

"And there, my friend, he would not be the only one," Glorfindel told him, pushing away from the doorpost and taking a step closer to his lord and friend. "I know another who does just the same. You could even say that it is a kind of hobby, a personal preference. Now who could that be, I wonder?"

Elrond opened his eyes again, not even having the energy to feel disgruntled. With the hectic preparations of the past few days, his ever-present worry for Estel, his annoyance at Prince Legolas and Erestor for only partially heeding his orders and about a thousand things in between to occupy his mind and take up his time, he was finally out of patience. Elbereth, if they stayed here just one more day Isál wouldn't be the only one to kill a few humans and he would gladly join his young captain in a killing spree of epic proportions.

You could take diplomacy too far, after all.

Therefore, lacking patience that was required when dealing with Glorfindel at any time, he was in no mood for games or hints or other manifestations of the very elven trait of speaking many words without saying anything at all, a trait to which he himself succumbed frequently.

"Glorfindel," he began, forcing himself to calmness. He had joked with the other elf readily enough in the beginning, but even his patience had its limits, especially when it was coming to an end. He didn't even pause to think about whether or not that had just made sense. "You know that you are my friend and that I love you. You are as dear to me a brother might be, and I would do close to anything for you." He did not say truly anything; he simply knew Glorfindel too well ever to make such a suicidal statement. "That being said, please don't take it in a wrong way when I tell you that I am quickly losing my patience and that I will have to kill you slowly and painfully if you do not tell me what you wish to tell me."

Glorfindel, Manwë curse his insubordinate and sometimes far too cheerful soul, merely smiled at him, not looking impressed in the slightest. Elrond bristled. He was a millennia-old elf lord, renowned far and wide for his wisdom and kindness but also for his terrible might in battle, and people should not be impervious to his threats. Not even those who had killed a balrog and walked away from it, at least in a manner of speaking.

"Of course, my lord," the golden-haired elf said pleasantly, in a tone of voice that would have driven even the most even-spirited elf either to distraction or to murder. "You have been taxing yourself to the limit, Elrond. When we get back to Rivendell, you will have to take some rest. In fact, you will have to take a long, long rest."

"Is that your professional opinion?" Elrond asked, arching a half-amused eyebrow.

"It is." Glorfindel nodded in a most regal way. "Even Erestor acknowledges my superior knowledge in these areas."

"I seriously doubt that."

"There is, however," the older elf went on, "something I have been meaning to tell you for some days now. In fact, it is something Erestor told me to tell you. Even though he can be incredibly irritating in his super-Noldorin way, he can be quite astute sometimes."

"Glorfindel," Elrond said again, almost sounding tired, "Do I really have to repeat what I said a minute ago?"

"I hope not," Glorfindel told him, and even though he still looked exceedingly pleased with himself, the confident, playful façade was beginning to show some small, faint cracks. "Rule 18: Elf lords do not require information to be repeated to them."

"One of these days, you have to give me a full list of your rules. It would be nice to be prepared."

"Erestor has one, I think," the blond elf commented thoughtfully. "I don't know how he got it or when, but then again, he has his connections. He can be devious when he wants to be." Elrond only shrugged and nodded to that, and so Glorfindel added, suddenly not looking all that confident, "He … well, he told me to talk to you…" He trailed off and shook his head, oblivious to his friend's wide-eyed stare. "Oh, Morgoth take it. Erestor told me that you think I hold you some sort of grudge because of what happened in Donrag." He shook his head again, this time incredulously. "Why would you think such a thing, Elrond?"

For a few moments, Elrond was completely and utterly speechless. It wasn't something that happened very often – once every two or three yéni, perhaps – but Glorfindel was far too agitated and distracted to either notice or care.

"I was there when you reached the courtyard after having found Erestor, Glorfindel," Elrond finally answered, his voice pressed and carefully neutral. "I will never forgive myself for causing you the pain that I saw in your eyes when I refused your request to help him. You are my friend, Glorfindel; never have I wished to cause you pain. But I understand your feelings. I chose another one's life over your friend's, over my friend's life. I understand your anger."

Glorfindel took a deep breath and couldn't decide whether he was feeling sad or slightly annoyed. He had never met anybody with quite the same ability to blame himself for everything that happened around him. Then again, Tuor had been similar and even Eärendil, young as he had been when he had last seen him. It just might be a genetic feature, which would mean that it would exempt his friend from all blame, but that didn't mean that it made the trait any less bothersome.

"You are right, I was angry," he told the younger elf. "I was, Elrond. I was angry, and I was frightened and tired and almost out of my mind with worry. I can hardly remember what I told you in the courtyard, but whatever it was, I beg your forgiveness. I know that you did the right thing."

"I am not so sure about that." Elrond shook his head. "I am sure it was the sensible, the logical thing. But was it the right thing? I don't know."

"It does not matter anymore, my friend," Glorfindel said. "Both the prince and Erestor live and are recovering. That, in my opinion, means that you did the right thing. If I was too distraught to see it back then, forgive me."

"You said nothing, Glorfindel, nothing disrespectful or harsh. Nothing I would have to forgive." The half-elf bit down on his lower lip, probably without him even noticing. "In fact, you said nothing at all, and that frightened me more than anything else could have. You tend to be quite vocal when it comes to voicing your opinions."

"I resent that," the golden-haired elf protested. "That is simply not true. I am just as calm and unshakable as the next elf lord."

"Oh, yes." Elrond nodded. "In a most vocal way." He smiled at his old friend, but then he remembered what they had been talking about and turned serious again. "I should be the one asking for your forgiveness. I know that Erestor means to you as much, perhaps more, as he means to me."

Glorfindel exhaled slowly and, for a short, but very tempting moment, contemplated beating the other elf's head against the wall until he was listening to what he was trying to tell him. Coming to the realisation that that would be a mite disrespectful (and, in all likelihood, a violation of his very own rules), he settled for taking a step forward and placing his hand on his friend's shoulder. Elrond's head came up at the unexpected contact, and Glorfindel looked at him intently.

"I can only repeat myself: Why would you think such a thing of me, Elrond? No, please let me finish. Yes, I was angry when you told me that you could not come with me to aid Erestor, and frightened and in panic and worried. But that has passed, my friend, just like the heat of the battle that can overcome even the oldest and wisest of us, and I can think clearly once more. I bear you no grudge, son of Eärendil. I know that you did the right thing, the only thing you could do. I have led troops into battle, just like you have, and I know all there is to know about sacrifices, perhaps more than any other elf on this side of the Sundering Seas. It could have been Erestor in Prince Legolas' place, or Elladan, or me – or a warrior with whom you hadn't exchanged more than five words in all your life. It does not matter. Without you, the prince would have died, right then, right there. There was nothing else you could have done, Elrond, and both you and I know it. Any good leader would have done the same. I would have done the same."

Elrond didn't look completely convinced at that, even though the lines of stress and worry that had been visible on his ageless features had lessened a little bit, and when he opened his mouth to say something, Glorfindel shook his head and interrupted him, his hand tightening its grip on the other elf's shoulder.

"There is nothing I would have to forgive you, except perhaps the fact that you ran off with a handful of warriors and did not inform anybody about your intentions, scaring half the officers to death." Startled by that, Elrond gave him a questioning look, and Glorfindel shrugged nonchalantly. "I spoke to Commander Meneldir, so don't even think about denying it."

Elrond almost smiled at that but then thought better of it. Trying to avoid the other's eyes, he lowered his head, studying the highly fascinating floorboards, but Glorfindel would have none of it. The older warrior was suddenly standing in front of him, and cool, long fingers were placed under the dark-haired elf's chin and lifted his head. Cornered like a mouse in a trap, Elrond swallowed against the myriad of emotions that battled inside of him and met his friend's eyes, and almost breathed a sigh of relief when he saw not the anger and accusation he had feared but rather concern, mild amusement and love.

"Do not give me that look, pen-neth. You know you can be reckless at times. Where else do you think your sons got it from? From your wife? She is far too sensible for that; too much her father's daughter." He paused for a moment. "Elrond, surely you know that I was not angry at you? I was angry at the men, at fate, even at the Valar, at everything that had conspired against us and delayed us from coming to Erestor's rescue – but I was never angry at you. We are friends, Elrond, shield-brothers, brothers in all but blood. I trust you unconditionally. No-one is perfect, I know that, and even the mightiest of us make mistakes, but I know that you will always do what you think is right. There is no blame in this, my friend, not for you. And even if there was, there is nothing in this world that you could do that I would or could not forgive you. Nothing at all."

Elrond looked at him, no expression visible on his face. In the end, an almost amused glint came into his eyes, bringing them closer to the warm grey colour they usually were.
"You, with the possible exception of my parents-in-law and Círdan, are the only person in Middle-earth that can get away with calling me 'pen-neth'."

"It is true." Glorfindel shrugged, a smile beginning to spread over his pale features. He recognised a graceful, wordless acknowledgement when he saw one. "Compared to me, you are…"

"…but a sapling that hasn't yet seen his first winter," Elrond finished his sentence. "Yes, o wise and old one, I know."

"You don't have to call me that all the time." The golden-haired elf smiled benevolently. "But I like it. Respect is what many of you young ones lack very often nowadays." Elrond merely looked at him with wide eyes that were clearly stating that the half-elf considered him a seriously twisted, mad individual, but Glorfindel ignored it with annoying proficiency and continued. "Can we leave now? That diplomatic incident I was mentioning is just waiting to occur, I am sure about it. There is no reason to give Captain Isál even more time to plan the gruesome details."

"It would make everything more interesting," Elrond told him, but turned and took up his bags. "But yes, I am ready. Everybody is already waiting?"

"The warriors are." Glorfindel nodded, taking a quick step forward and relieving the half-elf of some of the bags that were threatening to slip out of his grasp. "The twins and young Celylith are bringing down Aragorn and the prince, or at least that was the plan. If they haven't succeeded yet, they might need our assistance."

"Oh, they will manage," Elrond told him, his voice full of unwavering conviction. "Celylith is one of Thranduil's captains and son of Lord Celythramir, which makes him automatically devious. And the twins are Celebrían's sons and Lady Galadriel's grandsons. They could talk a Nazgûl into buying an entire pink wardrobe."

"And none of your or your ancestors' character traits would have anything to do with that, I would assume."

"Mine?" Elrond asked, the very picture of innocence. "Why would you think that?"

"Why indeed," Glorfindel mumbled amusedly and followed his friend over to the door.

When they reached the door, Elrond stopped and waited for him to catch up, giving the room he had been given a last look. He had barely been here, having rather spent the time in various sickrooms, and couldn't say that he felt the least bit regret about having to leave it behind. Turning back without hesitation, he smiled at Glorfindel, the first real smile he had been smiling for several weeks.

"Thank you, Glorfindel. Somehow you always know what to say."

Glorfindel smiled as well, resisting the ridiculous urge to tousle the younger elf's hair. He knew it would be disrespectful and ridiculous (not to mention against the rules once more), but sometimes Elrond could look so much like the youngling he had met all those ages ago at the court of Ereinion Gil-galad in Lindon.

"That is because I am old and wise, young one," he told the other elf in his best arrogant-elf-lord voice. Elrond's smile widened into a grin, and he added while they were walking down the corridor, "But you aren't doing too badly either."

"You are my shining example."

If Glorfindel heard the irony, he was steadfastly ignoring it.
"I am honoured."

"My guiding star, one could say."

"It is good to be needed."

"When I am as old as you are, I want to be just like you."

"Thank you."

"Then again, who knows if I will ever reach such an ancient age…?"


"An age where hearing loss seems to be no uncommon occurrence … Put down that bag, Glorfindel! Whatever do you want to do with it, hit me? What an un-elf-lordly activity! I am sure there is a rule against it!"

A grumbling sound could be heard.

"Pardon me?"

"I said, Rule 11."

"One of these days you really have to give me a list."

"Demands, demands … you want your list, Erestor wants more books, Estel wants a refresher course in lockpicking…"

"I thought it was good to be needed … Estel wants a refresher course? You taught my son to do what?"

"Uhm, I really think we should be leaving…"

"You stay right where you are! You taught my son to do what!"

A few rooms to the left and a level up, Elladan and Elrohir were contemplating breaking all of Glorfindel's rules and trying their hands on a new Kinslaying. And this time it would involve the Sindar from the very beginning, which would make everything a lot more interesting (and, if they knew King Thranduil at all, also a lot bloodier).

Selling a Nazgûl a pink outfit would have been child's play compared to this.

Finally, when he could not stand the stifling silence anymore, Elladan folded his arms across his chest and gave the two beings sitting in front of him a look that he hoped was full of menace and authority. If it was, the two of them were woefully unimpressed.

"Why can't you just accept that you are not well enough to ride yet? What is so horrible about allowing yourself to be helped and using a stretcher?"

The two of them didn't react immediately. Both of them were sitting side by side on the edge of the bed, their legs (in Aragorn's case, one bandaged leg and one un-bandaged one) dangling over the edge and looking ridiculously like recalcitrant schoolboys. Legolas was looking better than his human friend, with fewer bruises and fewer bandages and more colour on his face. For an elf, however, he still looked weak and pale, even though the bandages he was still wearing were hidden under his clothes and the bruises and shallow cuts had faded almost completely.

"I am a wood-elf, Elladan," the slightly healthier-looking one of the two finally said, regarding the dark-haired elf with a look that clearly stated that one shouldn't have to say such an obvious thing out loud. "Wood-elves do not get carried out of human towns like invalids. Especially not if the inhabitants of said towns have tried to kill us."

"But you get carried into Mirkwood all the time," Elrohir told him, stepping up next to his twin in a show of support that failed to impress either the Silvan elf or the ranger. "Don't try to deny it. It happens so often to you that I am sure there are secret stacks of litters and stretchers all over Mirkwood, just to be sure. I fail to see the difference."

Legolas arched an eyebrow, exchanging a quick look with his silent companion.
"Then I cannot help you either, Elrohir. These people here tried to kill us, or at least didn't try to save us from such a fate. I am a prince of Mirkwood, and I will not show weakness in front of them."

"Stubbornness is weakness. Stupidity is weakness. Narrow-mindedness is weakness, ignorance is weakness, intolerance is weakness. Accepting help when you need it is not weakness."

For the first time since the twins had come into his room and had once again tried to convince them to allow themselves to be placed on stretchers, Aragorn raised his head and looked at his brothers, grey eyes uncompromising and steely.

"I do not understand why we are even still arguing. We – are – not – going – to – use – stretchers. End of conversation."

If Aragorn hadn't still been recovering – and not too well at that – at least one of the twins would have said something highly sarcastic or scathing. Things being as they were, however, the two dark-haired elves merely glared at their human brother in a way that very cl

"I can't possibly imagine," Elrohir said, deadpan.

Deciding that this was getting out of hand, Elladan interrupted the two of them.
"So you will not even consider it? Estel, please, you must see that you are not well enough…"

"I'll ride with you, then," Aragorn offered quickly – too quickly. Elladan looked at his younger brother, suddenly suspecting that the man had been planning this all along and had started bargaining high on purpose. "Or with Elrohir, or with ada, or Glorfindel or Isál – I don't care. All I know is that I will not be carried out of this city. I rode into it, and, by Varda Elentári's stars, I will ride out of it."

The twins studied the two pale, but very resolute faces in front of them, exchanged a resigned look and came to the decision that further arguing would be futile and a waste of time. Both Legolas and Estel were stubborn to a fault – they were their fathers' sons, after all – and if they decided on a course of action, they usually followed it, too. And when they were of the same opinion – something that happened far too often – and had therefore one another to provide moral support, there was virtually no way to sway them.

"All right," Elrohir finally acquiesced. "But I want your promises that you will ride with somebody else."

"Exactly," Elladan went on, finishing his brother's line of thought. "Estel, you will ride with one of us." Aragorn only curtly nodded his head, which reinforced the twin's suspicions that he was being played here. "And you, Legolas…"

"I will ride with Celylith," the wood-elf interrupted his friend. "I mean no offence, but before I would entrust myself to your riding skills, I would have to be either under a lot more pain medication or a lot more desperate."

"How can one not take offence at that?"

Legolas only shrugged and grinned, and Aragorn, sitting next to him, couldn't help but grin with him. Legolas' grin faded slightly as he turned and looked at Aragorn, seeing the dark, haunted shadows that hadn't been there before. Even though he was getting better, Torel's death was still haunting the young man, more than anything they had experienced before this. But now that he knew what had happened after Hurag's men had breached the dam, he could understand it far better.

He would look like that, too, if he'd had a hold of somebody only to watch him disappear under thousands of gallons of water to be swept away to his death.

They had talked a lot in the past few days. Legolas had come to understand that Celylith had been right; they hadn't been able to help his friend because they simply hadn't been there. They hadn't witnessed any of the events that had very nearly killed the ranger and had killed Toran's son, and overcome with grief and pain and guilt, they had been outsiders to Aragorn – and be it only subconsciously – and therefore people who could not possibly understand what he was thinking or feeling.

Legolas' first instinct upon hearing Aragorn's whispered explanation had been cursing the man and telling him what a fool he was for believing that he couldn't or wouldn't understand him. His second had been to hug him. He had done both excessively before Lord Elrond had appeared and thrown him out. The elf lord was very pleased about Aragorn's improved condition, but he wasn't pleased enough to let a patient of his get away with disregarding his orders and denying himself the rest he needed.

The elven prince gave the hollow face of his friend a long look. Aragorn was talking to them again, was answering questions, asking questions and even attempting to make a few jokes. But the knowledge of what had happened was never far from his mind, and he knew that the man would need time and rest to be able to put it behind him.

Once they got back to Rivendell, he would personally see to it that he got both.

"You Noldor," he finally said, remembering what they had been talking about. "Always so easily offended. It's what started all that trouble at the end of the Years of the Trees."

Elrohir and Elladan exchanged an outraged look.
"That 'trouble'? Murder and theft are more than enough reason for me!" Elrohir exclaimed.

"An overreaction, nothing more." Legolas shook his head. "You lot can be awfully sensitive."

"I have to say that that isn't too farfetched," Aragorn chimed in. There was a glint in his eyes that reminded the three elves of the time before all this, and the three exchanged a quick, satisfied look before they went back to glaring at each other. "Sometimes they are overly sensitive. Do you remember that one time when I pushed them into the river as a child? They are still upset about that!"

"Noldor." Legolas shrugged exaggeratedly. "No sense of humour, sensitive, prone to overreacting, and absolutely no capacity for forgiveness."

Aragorn nodded, deep sadness on his face.
"I am reluctant to admit it, but that is a rather accurate description."

"I know," the fair-haired elf agreed. "It's my father's."

"He would say something like that, yes."

Elrohir looked from one mock serious face to the other before he turned to his twin, a dark light shining in his eyes.
"I say we kill him."

Elladan raised an eyebrow while he mirrored his brother's actions, looking from the smirking Aragorn to the smirking Legolas and back again.
"Which one?"

"Does it matter?"

Aragorn looked at his brothers, smiling sweetly.
"Don't you have something important to do? Something that doesn't take place here? Like trying to find Celylith's new pet before he can officially adopt it?"

Elrohir glared at his younger brother. The man did – contrary to the three of them – not believe that Celylith had found another monster to cherish and protect. It was either extremely positive thinking or the naiveté of youth. The fact that none of them had managed to find out what it was or where he was hiding it did of course nothing to sway the ranger's position. When he had talked with Elladan about it, his twin had frowned deeply as if trying to remember something, but with everything that had happened in such a short amount of time, had not been able to figure out what it was.

Knowing Celylith, it was probably better this way.

"Speaking of which," Elladan interrupted his thoughts, "where is Celylith?"

"Readying the horses," Legolas said. "You know how Rashwe can get. He has been cooped up in a stable for the past two and a half weeks. He is not happy at the moment."

Elrohir couldn't suppress a small shudder of either fear or disgust that ran through him at that. He had accompanied Legolas when the younger elf had first visited his horse – if you could call it a horse – and he would like to forget the experience. Even though the animal had clearly been overjoyed to see his master, it had apparently decided that the twins in general and he in particular were responsible for Legolas' long absence. Considering that the horse was locked-up in a human stable, it had found an impressive number of possibilities of showing him just what it thought about that.

"He is never happy," Elladan told the elven prince firmly. "That … thing doesn't even know how to be happy."

Legolas looked truly hurt at that.
"You don't even know Rashwe, Elladan. You can't, or you wouldn't say something like that."

The older twin snorted in a way that made further words superfluous.
"Whatever you say, Legolas. And to answer your questions, Estel," he turned to his human brother, "our part in all this is to bring you down to the courtyard and talk some sense into you. The latter part did not go so well, obviously, but I will not fail in the first."

"What commendable dedication to duty you display," Aragorn teased his brother. "You should go and find Celylith. He can help you carry all our bags." The twins looked at each other, outraged, and he added, "What? You want to tie us to stretchers but expect us to carry out own luggage?"

Before either of the twins could answer, the door opened and Celylith walked in. Considering the dark looks on the two elves' faces, it was probably a good thing that they didn't get the chance to speak. If Celylith noticed the expression on their faces, he certainly did not show it; he was far too distracted for that. None of the occupants of the room could see a reason for the silver-haired elf's preoccupied state of mind, but preoccupied he was, that much was sure.

The wood-elf merely gave them a wordless nod in a manner of greeting and began to scan the room's walls, paying special attention to the corners. When he didn't find anything – or not what he was looking for, at least – he began to look at the furniture, as if he was expecting something to hide behind or inside of it.

For a few moments, the four only stared at their friend, but then Elrohir only shrugged, apparently having long ago accepted that wood-elves in general and Celylith in particular were by definition strange.
"So, mellon nín, are you going to help us carry their bags? I think you should; he," he nodded into Legolas' direction, "is your prince, after all."

Celylith barely looked up and only nodded absentmindedly. It was clear that he hadn't truly heard what the twin was talking about.
"Of course, of course. Whatever you say. Has one of you seen Lúthien?"

"Lúthien?" Elrohir's brow wrinkled in confusion. The name wasn't too unusual for she-elves – many parents, Sindar and Noldor alike, wanted to honour the most beautiful elf ever to walk this earth by naming their daughters after her – but he was very sure that they hadn't brought any she-elves with them. "What Lúthien?"

Celylith ripped his eyes away from a corner for a moment and gave the younger twin a blank look.
"What do you mean, what Lúthien?"

The four merely stared at the wood-elf, and Legolas finally summed up what all of them were thinking.
"What are you talking about, my friend? Have you by any chance taken a hit to the head lately? Who is this Lúthien?"

Celylith was ignoring him, but before Legolas could tell him just what he thought about that, Elladan groaned and closed his eyes. He was the perfect example for somebody who had just remembered something he had successfully suppressed for some time.
"Oh, you didn't. Please tell me that you didn't."

"Didn't do what?" That was Aragorn, sounding very much as if his very human patience was beginning to wear thin. "What are all of you talking about!"

Legolas stared at his friend, putting two and two together. He had seen too many of Celylith's 'pets' to be surprised by anything, and the eviller part of him couldn't help but grin at the other's words and the disbelief on the twins' and Aragorn's faces.

"You … you named your newest pet Lúthien?"

"Hm?" Celylith looked up, opening the window with his left hand. "Oh, yes. A good name, isn't it?"

Legolas was biting down hard on his lower lip in order not to burst out laughing (judging by the expressions of the three brothers, that would not be a good idea and probably end in mayhem and murder), but Celylith didn't even notice and turned back to the window. Sticking his head out into the morning sunlight, he squinted and moved around until his back was to the open window, staring intently up, at the thatched roof that was only a few feet above the window's upper edge. It was shadowy and dark there, but the sharp eyes of an elf – and especially a wood-elf – had no trouble piercing the gloom.

What could be there that might warrant such a focussed expression, Legolas couldn't say, though.

If Legolas knew his companions at all, at least the twins were contemplating seizing this opportunity and giving the silver-haired elf a little push, but before they could put any plan into action, Celylith made a sound of triumph and reached up, almost losing his balance and plummeting to his doom. The twins didn't even try to hide their disappointed expressions, but those quickly disappeared when Celylith leaned back into the room, his hands clasped before his stomach and his gaze fixed firmly on them.

The problem was that his hands were clasped around something, something small and black. Something small and black that looked suspiciously like a little bat.

Aragorn closed first one and then the other eye, firmly telling himself that these must be the long-term effects from all the hits he had taken to the head lately. Even the skull of a ranger could take only so much, after all. A moment later, he opened his eyes again, only to find that the scene in front of him hadn't changed: Legolas and his brothers were still staring at Celylith as if he had finally taken complete leave of his senses, and the silver-haired elf was still holding a small, black bat in his hands.

Ah well, he decided with an inner shrug and slowly and carefully placed his elbows on his knees, preparing to enjoy this spectacle. It could have been worse. Celylith could have picked a fell beast of Mordor or something equally disgusting. This bat was actually rather … fluffy. For Celylith's standards, that was.

"Let me see if I understand this correctly," Elladan began in a very calm tone of voice. "You actually kept this … this thing…"

"Do we really have to have this conversation again?" That had been enough to bring Celylith out of his enamoured trance, and he stared at the older twin disapprovingly. "'It' is a she."

Elladan shot him a look that would have impressed even the most mean-spirited warg.
"As if it matters."

"It matters to me."

"Fine!" the older twin exclaimed, apparently reaching the end of his patience. "So you kept her, brought her to Aberon and gave her the name of my great-great-grandmother?"

Celylith looked at him with a frown on his face.
"You make it sound as if it's a bad thing."

Elladan fell silent, apparently having been rendered speechless, and Elrohir leaned forward, incredulity and faint amusement in his eyes.
"How would you like it if we picked the ugliest warg cub we could find and gave it – excuse me, her – the name of your grandmother?"

Legolas groaned inwardly and allowed himself to flop back down onto the bed. That was it, he didn't want to hear or see any more of this.
"Now why did you have to go and say that?"

Celylith ignored him, a calculating expression coming into his eyes.
"That would depend. Would it be a long-haired warg or a short-haired warg? Personally, I have never liked the short-haired ones."

The twins exchanged a look full of incredulity, mild horror and a certain amount of pity.
"You are mad!"

"What interests me a lot more," Aragorn interrupted his brothers, "is how that thing…"

"Lúthien!" Legolas interjected, his voice slightly muffled by the arm he had thrown over his face but still clearly amused.

Aragorn gave him a blank look.
"As I said, how that thing got here. It's a bat! Why would it be outside of my window!"

"She got away from me yesterday night. Didn't you, Lúthien?" Celylith all but cooed at the small bat that was blinking up at it with large dark eyes. Elladan looked as if he either wanted to kill somebody or vomit. "I took her up to my room yesterday and left the window open. That was a stupid thing to do, and I am very sorry. Just imagine, little one, I almost wouldn't have found you in time!"

"Are you going to kill him or should I do it?" Elrohir whispered not very softly to his twin.

"Nobody is going to kill him until I get some answers." Legolas had sat up again and was looking from his friend (who was ignoring him) to the twins. "I would very much like to know just when he had the opportunity and the time to find a bat! I mean … a bat of all things!"

"Oh, I can answer that," Elladan said. "It happened in the salt-mines, when we rescued Meneldir, Dólion and the others. I don't even know how I could forget that! When he took it, I told him that it wasn't a good idea and that you would not be happy about it. I even have witnesses!"

"I am sure you do." Legolas smiled at him in a bright and thoroughly false manner. "And you just let him take it?"


By now, no one was paying Celylith any attention at all.

"'Let him take it'?" Elladan asked incredulously, ignoring the wood-elf's words. "What should I have done, just taken it from him? Are you insane? You actually do know him, don't you?"

Legolas shrugged slightly. Elladan did have a point; he – and a large percentage of Mirkwood's population – was familiar with Celylith's protective (or rather aggressive) tendencies when one of his pets where concerned.
"Still," he stated. "You should have done something. I will get you for this."

Elladan stared at him in open astonishment.
"You will get me for this? Ha! This pathetic excuse for an elf gave the name of one of my most revered ancestors to that … thing! You are his prince and his liege lord! I will get you for this!"

"I just want to inform everybody that I will not be the one to tell ada about this," Aragorn said in a cheerful and not very helpful manner.

"Quiet!" Elrohir wasn't shouting, but it was quite close. "We don't have time for this! If we don't join the others in the courtyard soon, we will be missed, ada will send someone to find us and people will find out. We will deal with this latest proof for the fact that Wood-elves are born brain dead once we have the time and are unobserved, not now!"

Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but quickly closed it again under Elrohir's quelling look. Celylith was either not paying attention or didn't care.

"So," Elrohir went on, looking at the other four occupants of the room in turn, "this is what we are going to do: The four of us will go down and join the others in the courtyard, just as we should have done a long time ago. We will then try to stall as long as possible, which will give you, Celylith," he almost bore two little holes into the silver-haired elf's head, "enough time to get that thing out of here and to wherever you have been hiding it these past weeks. With a bit of luck, you can join us before the good-byes have been said."

"But…" Celylith began.

"No," Legolas cut the other wood-elf off. "I like the plan. Go."


"No." Legolas didn't raise his voice, but the look on his face was the exact same one the Elvenking wore from time to time. When Thranduil wore it, resistance was quickly followed by pain, blood or death, or a combination of the three. "Take … Lúthien … and go, Celylith, before I am overwhelmed by the urge to do you bodily harm myself."

Celylith quickly realised that there wouldn't be any help forthcoming from anybody in this room, and in something that malevolent people might have described as a huff he grasped the edge of his coat, covered his newest pet with it and walked out of the room. For a few moments, the four of them merely looked after him, before they one by one started chuckling. In a matter of moments, all of them were laughing, even Aragorn, and for that fact alone Legolas forgot some of the irritation he felt towards his silver-haired friend.

"There … there is one thing one has to admit concerning you Wood-elves," Elladan finally gasped. "You are never boring."

"Insane – yes," Elrohir agreed. "Boring – no."

"Celylith is an exception." Legolas glared at the two of them.

"Actually," Aragorn chimed in, holding his still bruised and hurting ribcage, "I rather like the bat. In comparison to his earlier pets, it is almost … cuddly."

"Then, mellon nín," Legolas said silkily, looking at the man sitting next to him, "you may have it."

"Oh no." Elladan shook his head.

"Absolutely not." Elrohir followed suit. "Not in this world, and not in the next. No."

Legolas grinned and carefully stood to his feet, extending one hand to the young man.
"Noldor. No sense of humour."

Aragorn, being the loyal brother and son that he was, didn't say anything to that. For a moment, he just sat there and watched the twins pick up the many bags that were neatly piled up next to the door. Only a fraction of them were his and Legolas'; the main part was healing supplies that had been left behind.

Elrohir hefted the last bag over his shoulder and followed his brother out of the room, all the while mumbling something about annoying Silvan elves, even more annoying princes, insane captains and disloyal brothers.

With a small smile, Aragorn accepted the fair-haired elf's hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Knowing that even despite the young man's ceaseless assurances to the contrary Aragorn was in no shape to walk unaided, Legolas cautiously wrapped an arm around the young ranger's waist, careful not to press down too hard.

Without a look back, they walked out of the room and closed the door behind them.

In retrospect, Gelydhiel would find the day of the arrival of Lord Elrond's party strangely fitting. It was the first day of Laer, after all, the season of summer that signalled the defeat of the darkness of winter, and be it only temporary. It had always been her favourite month of the year, even despite the high temperatures that this time often brought with it.

Now, however, she just saw that it was a beautiful May day, with not a cloud in sight and the sun beaming down onto the lush green valley of Rivendell. The waterfalls glistered in the sunlight, a slight breeze ruffled the leaves of the ancient trees, the courtyard bustled with elves that wanted to greet their lords and friends, and next to her Gaerîn was fiddling with her hands.

The dark-haired she-elf stopped her silent ruminations abruptly. Gaerîn was fiddling with her hands? Gaerîn never fiddled with her hands or showed any signs of disquiet, and definitely not in public. Gelydhiel narrowed her eyes at the smaller, red-haired elf next to her, and could only just stop her jaw from dropping onto her chest. Gaerîn wasn't only fiddling, she was nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot.

And not only that, she added inwardly, Gaerîn was, if she wasn't very much mistaken, wearing her second-best gown, the dark-blue one that made her grey eyes almost look blue and showed off her slender figure, white skin and long red hair. The last time her cousin had worn that particular dress, it had been to the large feast their family had given in honour of one of her brothers turning 12 yéni – an occasion that always called for a great celebration – and had subsequently been busy fending off one admirer or another the entire evening.

The smaller healer was right now twisting her hands in front of her, forcing them to be still, and Gelydhiel didn't know if she should be amused or mildly concerned. Her cousin so obviously nervous and actually dressing up for somebody was a sight to behold, surely, but it was also so out of character for her that it was actually worrying. Oblivious to her thoughts, Gaerîn sighed deeply, and the impatient timbre of her voice was enough to prompt the other she-elf to speak.

"Are you all right?" Gelydhiel couldn't quite hide the smug smile that was lurking at the corners of her mouth, and promptly received a dark glare from the smaller elf.

"What?" Gaerîn un-twisted her hands for a moment to make a questioning gesture. "Of course! Why wouldn't I be?"

"Oh, I don't know." Gelydhiel shrugged innocently. "Maybe because Lord Elrond's party is mere minutes away from here? The border guards are rarely wrong in their estimates, you know."

"And I am looking forward to seeing him and everybody else again, just like everybody here," Gaerîn said, looking almost defensive. That was yet another strange thing. Gaerîn was a firm believer of the motto "Offence is the best defence" and never backed down or got defensive. If this wasn't so strange, it would be hilarious. "That is normal."

"You are wearing the blue dress."

Gaerîn looked up at her kinswoman's words, her grey eyes narrowing.
"'The blue dress'? You make it sound like a weapon! It's a dress, nothing more!"

"Oh, but it is, gwathel," Gelydhiel protested. "The blue dress is the dress. The one you only wear if there is a special occasion." Gaerîn opened her mouth to protest but didn't seem to find the appropriate words, and the smile on her face turned into a grin. "And I would say that this is a very special occasion."

"Fine!" Gaerîn snapped. "So I am looking forward to seeing him again. Are you happy now?"

"I have always been happy for you, ever since you two started talking to each other like normal people." The smugness and amusement in the other she-elf's voice were hard to miss. "Don't worry about Isál. The guards would have reported it if he were missing or injured."

"Not so loud!" Gaerîn looked about her, her slender hands describing frantic, pacifying arches. "Do you want everybody else to hear?"

"Gaerîn, dear," the dark-haired healer told her distant cousin, "everybody already knows. It was very hard to miss."

"Not my mother," Gaerîn answered wryly, taking the revelation surprisingly calmly. "If she did, my father would know, and he would already be asking me when the betrothal ceremony will be and my brother would lurk around in shadows and follow me wherever I go to make sure that my honour remains untouched."

The red-haired healer was joking, of course, but Gaerîn wasn't someone to mention something she hadn't given serious thought before, no matter if she was speaking in jest or not. Ignoring the amused looks of the two warriors that were flanking them left and right, Gelydhiel reached out and grasped the smaller she-elf's arm, drawing her into the shadow of the main building where they would not be overheard.

"Betrothal ceremony?"

Gaerîn disentangled her arm, carefully avoiding the taller she-elf's eyes.
"I was speaking in jest."

"I know." Gelydhiel nodded her head. "But I also know you. You wouldn't say something like that if you hadn't given it some thought." Gaerîn didn't answer, and the other she-elf took another step closer to her relative. "Is it really that serious?"

"I … I don't know," the red-haired healer mumbled. "I … yes. I think so. For me, at least."

Before she could say more, Gelydhiel had thrown her arms around her cousin and hugged her, only just resisting the urge to jump up and down with joy. They were in the courtyard, after all, with half of Rivendell watching their antics.

"That is wonderful, Gaerîn," she whispered in the smaller she-elf's ear. "I am so happy for you! I was already despairing, you know. You are bad and the captain is bad, but together you are an incommunicative catastrophe."

"Calm down!" Gaerîn retorted urgently. "Please, Gelydhiel, restrain yourself! This is only a flight of fancy; no one knows about it! He hasn't asked me anything yet, perhaps he is not even thinking about something like that."

"Oh, please." The taller healer shook her head but obediently took a step back, releasing her friend. "Of course he has been thinking about something like that! He has been thinking about something like that ever since he first laid eyes on you! In the dear captain's mind, you are already married with four little red-haired elflings running around!"

"We never spoke about the future." Now Gaerîn, too, was shaking her head, with enough force to make her long, partially braided tresses fly abound her shoulders. "I think it was because he could hardly find the courage to speak about the present. How can I know what he is thinking?" She wrinkled her brow, a tiny line appearing between her eyebrows that the dark-haired captain in question would have found most endearing. "He is male. How can anybody know what he is thinking?"

"Ah, my friend, I know. Trust me."

"Oh, do you?" Gaerîn raised a red eyebrow in question. "And how, if I may ask?"

Now it was Gelydhiel's turn to look slightly flustered, and Gaerîn could only watch in astonishment as a flush crept up the other healer's face.
"Well … you see…" Gelydhiel began, fumbling for words.


"Captain Elvynd told me," the taller she-elf finally admitted. After the hastily spoken fourth word, she clamped her mouth shut as if she was afraid what more she might say.

"Captain Elvynd…" Gaerîn began incomprehensibly. She wasn't the youngest healer to be appointed master healer in more than a thousand years for nothing, though, and quickly put two and two together. "Ah, I see. So what are you and the dear captain talking about, then, if you aren't discussing my private life?"

"Gaerîn, please," the dark-haired she-elf pleaded. "It's not like that. We are not discussing your private life. I was just asking him…"

The red-haired healer grinned, holding up a hand.
"Calm down, my friend. I was joking. I know that you wouldn't do something like that. What interests me, however, is just when you started talking to him."

"Why, I am one of his healers," Gelydhiel said defensively. "I am entrusted with his care. What do you expect me to do, just appear at his bedside twice a day and administer my potions without saying a word for over thirty days?"

"No." Gaerîn shook her head, a smile on her lips. "I would never allege that you possessed such a callous attitude. I just hadn't realised you were having such regular … talks with him."

"Will you please stop saying it like this?" Gelydhiel glared at her smaller cousin, absentmindedly wondering just when this conversation had got out of control. "You make it sound as if I am only one step away from eloping with him!"

"Ah," Gaerîn – ever the practical one – said, waving a hand derogatorily. "You wouldn't have to elope with him. I can't see his family complaining, you don't have any brothers, and your father does anything you want anyway. He would not withhold his consent were you to ask him."

"I know. Since my mother journeyed to the Havens, he has been rather overwhelmed by all of us females. With my sisters and your sister and all the other cousins, he doesn't really stand a chance and…" She broke off and shook his head. "Why am I even talking about this! I am not going to ask him, and neither is anybody else!"

"Not even Captain Elvynd?"

"No!" Gelydhiel exclaimed, loud enough so that the two warriors close to them turned around and looked at them with raised eyebrows. "Definitely not now!" Gaerîn raised her eyebrow without saying a word, and the taller healer leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. "Just … just don't let me talk anymore, will you?"

"Ah, but now it is getting interesting!" Gaerîn grinned evilly, apparently thoroughly enjoying herself. Revenge was sweet indeed. "Since when are you having those conversations of yours?"

"They're not my conversations," Gelydhiel protested, but knew better than to remain silent. If there was one thing to be said about her kinswoman, it was that she was persistent. "Don't talk like that about something about which you know nothing."

Gaerîn stared at the taller healer in surprise. Gelydhiel was usually a very kind a reserved she-elf, and now was one of the only few times when she had ever said something that even remotely began to sound harsh. The look of consternation and surprise was quickly replaced by a large smile that spread over her face, and she had to stop her hands from fluttering around like overexcited birds.

"Gelydhiel, you really like him!"

At that the dark-haired she-elf looked up, dark-blue eyes large and insecure.
"I … I honestly don't know. We've just … talked; all perfectly harmless, nothing I haven't done with others. Ever since he was well enough to leave his room, I have been taking walks with him in the gardens. Somebody had to make sure that he didn't try to escape and follow the others."

Gaerîn only shrugged in agreement. Ever since the captain had recovered enough to actually walk anywhere without falling flat on his face, he had tried everything in his power to be allowed to follow Lord Elrond's party. With Lord Glorfindel, Lord Erestor and Lord Elrond himself and all his sons gone, Rivendell was temporarily ruled by the rest of the council and the remaining senior captains. The captains senior to Elvynd who were now in charge of the warriors had only snorted when he had asked them to allow him to follow the others and had looked at him as if he had just asked them to travel to Mordor and join forces with Sauron. The council had used more words than that, but the answer was the same: None of them would take the risk of chancing Lord Elrond's wrath by allowing one of his patients to essentially commit suicide, and especially not when said patient would only seize the opportunity to give the term revenge a whole new meaning.

Which, of course, meant more work for the healers, who now not only had to watch Elvynd for medical reasons but also for a whole set of different ones. The captain had been authorised to take walks in the gardens of Rivendell and also as far down as to the first guard post, but all the stablemen knew what they were to do if he appeared anywhere near the horses: Knock him over the head with a pitchfork and get a healer as quickly as possible.

Needless to say, Elvynd wasn't taking it very well. The men of Donrag had killed his men and Lord Erestor and had almost killed him, and now his lords, his men and his best friend had ridden to punish them – without him. Rationally, he knew that he was still not fully mended yet and that such an expedition would be too taxing for him (even now, more than thirty days after he had reached Rivendell), but that didn't mean that he didn't feel angry, frustrated and helpless.

Come to think about it, Gaerîn decided, the captain had seemed less angry, frustrated and helpless and generally calmer when Gelydhiel had been around.

"You have to give him time," she finally counselled her friend. "He is still not well, and Isál's absence weighs heavily on him. Once he sees him alive and well, or what counts as well for those two … well, then we'll see."

"See what? I don't even know what I think about all this! We're just … talking."

"Oh, yes." Gaerîn nodded. "And taking walks in the gardens. In the romantic, moonlit, beautiful gardens where you can disappear behind a hedge for a little extra-solitude."

Gelydhiel glared at the smaller she-elf.
"If you keep saying things like that, my father might actually change his mind and forbid me to ever see him again." She frowned. "Besides, just why do you know that?"

Gaerîn fell silent immediately and blushed in a way that, in combination with her red hair, didn't look all that attractive. It took her a moment to compose herself, but then she glared at the taller she-elf fiercely.
"If you don't stop grinning like a dim-witted troll, gwathel, I swear that I will…"

She fell silent just in time and turned around with a sweet smile on her face when she perceived movement to their left. The large smile on her face was enough to make the dark-haired elf who was walking up to them falter for a moment (if Gaerîn was smiling at you like that, it just couldn't be a good sign), but then he steeled himself and stepped closer. Next to the red-haired healer, Gelydhiel stiffened and desperately searched for a neutral expression.

She wasn't very successful, but Elvynd was far too preoccupied with his own troubles and worries to notice. When he finally had gathered enough courage to look up, the dark-haired she-elf had managed to force the mask of calm friendliness onto her face that she had perfected in the many years of serving as a healer.

"Good day, my ladies."

"Good day, Captain." Gaerîn nodded at him, trying her best to hide the small smile that wanted to spread over her face. "Are you ready for the big event?"

"As ready as I will ever be," Elvynd told her with a small smile of his own. "I am close to where they will stop their horses and I have this." He nodded at the large piece of wood he was holding in his right hand.

Gaerîn looked at the makeshift club in confusion, feeling as if she was missing something important here.
"If you'll forgive me for asking, Captain, but why would you need that?"

Elvynd gave her a puzzled look that clearly said that he considered this to be a very strange question.
"Why, to hit Isál over the head with it, of course. Leaving Rivendell before I got back, what was he thinking?"

Gaerîn almost winced openly. The young captain had made her tell him everything Isál had said and done since the news of his "death", and had been none too pleased with what he'd heard. He didn't have to say it, but he feared that the other captain might do something reckless and stupid in order to avenge him, a worry that Gaerîn secretly shared.

"You … you don't really want to hit him, do you?" she finally asked somewhat timidly.

Elvynd gave her a quick smile.
"No. But it will be amusing to watch him try and reason his way out of this."

Before she could stop herself, Gaerîn let out a slow breath. She had been telling the truth; she was looking forward to seeing Isál again, and the last thing she wanted was having to drag him off to the healing wing before they could even exchange a single word.

"That is good to hear." She fell silent for a moment, but then she caught Gelydhiel's desperate eyes and quickly continued, "I trust that you are feeling better today?"

Yesterday Elvynd had been plagued by a violent bout of headaches. It was something that happened very frequently, and these headaches were actually serious enough to merit the word migraines. They had found out that no potion they could think of was working, probably because these weren't "normal" headaches but were rather related to the head injury the dark-haired captain had sustained during the fight. Yesterday had been an exceptionally bad day, so bad that the tiniest ray of light was enough to send fiery stabs of pain through Elvynd's skull.

Come to think of it, it had been Gelydhiel who had made sure that the curtains were drawn tightly in front of the windows of the captain's room, that no servants or visitors disturbed his rest and there was always a cool, wet cloth on his forehead.

"Yes, I am, thank you." Elvynd inclined his head slightly. The cautious movement was in stark contrast to his confident words; it seemed as if he young warrior was afraid that his head just might fall off if he inclined it in too drastic a manner. "I am feeling quite … rested today."

Next to Gaerîn, Gelydhiel was blushing, causing the red-haired healer to look from one dark-haired elf to the other in confusion. Deciding that it was something between the two of them (something she would get out of her cousin later today), Gaerîn decided to be merciful and spare her friend from having to say anything.

"I am glad, then," she said. "Did the potion I made help?"

"A little, yes." Another one of Elvynd's minute nods. In other words, Gaerîn decided, it hadn't helped but the captain was too polite to say so. "I could bear the light better."

Gaerîn looked at the dark-haired captain, all personal amusement at this situation fading. Elvynd looked far better than when he had arrived in Imladris, yes, but that wasn't too hard to achieve. He had been more than half dead at that time, after all. The arrow wound had healed nicely in the end, after them having had to battle the infection and fever that had almost enough to shut down Elvynd's body completely.

The head injury had been a bit trickier, as head injuries were bound to be. For the first week and a half, the injured elf had hardly been aware of what was going around him, blinded by the pain that raged in his head. They had constantly been giving him sleeping potions for almost two weeks, to spare him the agony that awareness brought with it and to give his body a chance to rest. Eventually, it had healed as well, so that the only reminders of it were the headaches and the faint scar that started between his eyebrows, ran diagonally over the left side of his forehead and disappeared in his dark hair.

No one knew if the scar would fade. With time and some more of Lord Elrond's salves that softened scarred tissue and aided the healing process it probably would, but Gaerîn for one didn't believe that it would ever disappear. It would stay with Elvynd forever, as a faint reminder of what had almost happened.

And, she added quietly, studying the young captain's weary eyes, as a faint reminder of what had happened and of what he had lost.

"We can ask Lord Elrond if he has any ideas," Gelydhiel chimed in, having decided that this was ridiculous. Nothing had changed between them, after all, so why would she suddenly be afraid to talk to him? "We do have some excellent healers here, but none of us are a match for Lord Elrond."

Elvynd smiled at her, a smile that made the shadows in his eyes a little less visible.
"Thank you for saying it, my lady, but I think we all know better. The headaches are just something I will have to live with."

"No," the dark-haired healer shook her head. "You don't know that. They will probably fade with time anyway, but there is no reason why we shouldn't try to speed up the process, now is there?"

The young captain looked at her with something akin to wonder in his eyes.
"You really never give up, do you?"

"Not if I care about something, no." Gelydhiel shook her head, looking at him bravely.

Gaerîn was beginning to feel decidedly uncomfortable. She had the distinct impression that she shouldn't be here, but before she could follow that line of thought any further, the elves around them began to stir and a murmuring was beginning to fill the air. Gaerîn, who had been present for enough homecomings, knew only too well what that meant, and forcedly clamped down on her excitement. She had already behaved undignified enough today; she wouldn't start hopping up and down like a young infatuated elf maiden.

Grasping her friend's hand and trusting that Elvynd would follow, she pushed her way through the crowd until she could see what was happening. Considering her height, that took quite some time, but no one tried to stop them. There were few in Rivendell who dared oppose her, after all, which was only one benefit of being a healer: Accidents could happen to everybody, after all, and everybody could end up in the healing wing.

Most of the people who did dare oppose her were right now riding through the gates of Rivendell, their horses' hooves clattering loudly on the cobblestones. It was a long line of riders that rode into the courtyard, all of them dust-covered but most looking rather refreshed. It had taken them eleven days to travel from Aberon to Rivendell, three or four days more than it usually took. Even though the three most seriously injured people had refused to use stretchers, they had had to take frequent rests and travel much more slowly than on the way there.

Elrond was the first one to make it through the gate, only to be immediately swarmed by elves who wanted to welcome him home. In a matter of minutes, the entire courtyard had been thrown into chaos, with elves trying to get off their horses to greet their family and friends or said family and friends trying to push their way through the crowd to reach the warriors. Greeting yet another elf that had been pushed towards him, Elrond noted with a smile that Ferdhôl, the warrior of Elrohir's troop who had almost died defending Legolas' life, was almost pulled off his horse by his two brothers and one of his cousins. Next to him, one of Isál's men had managed to dismount and was hugging his wife and one of his children, while Annorathil was apparently trying to assure his sister that nothing had happened to his nephew, the young elf standing next to him and smiling nervously at his mother.

Glorfindel was staying close to Erestor's horse, "just in case". Erestor was doing much better now, more than three weeks after the fight in Donrag, but Glorfindel would hear none of it. The dark-haired councillor was beginning to get seriously annoyed by his friend's overprotective attitude, but Glorfindel was suffering these bursts of short temper with equanimity – which, of course, only served to infuriate the Noldo further.

Right now, however, his chief advisor was clearly enjoying himself. It did not really surprise Elrond, of course; he had known his friend long enough to know that he possessed a wicked sense of humour, if he deigned to show it. That one time came to mind, for example, when King Thranduil (only that he had still been Prince Thranduil then) had visited Imladris with his father before the War of the Last Alliance to confer with him and Gil-galad and they had all got drunk and then… Elrond quickly ended that particular line of thought. In mutual understanding, Erestor, Glorfindel, Thranduil and he had never again spoken about that night (of which he could remember little except for the High King's and King Oropher's fury), and he would not think about it if he had any other choice.

Be that as it may, Erestor looked very much as if he was having the time of his life. There hadn't been any carrier pigeons in Aberon nor had he wanted to send a messenger to Imladris to report what had happened and herald their arrival (after everything that had happened, he didn't trust the people of Aberon enough to risk the lives of one or two of his warriors in such a fashion), and therefore common opinion in Imladris was still that Erestor had died with the rest of Captain Elvynd's men. Erestor was clearly amused by the stares and soft exclamations that greeted him wherever he went, and Elrond was sure that he would continue to be amused by it for some time to come.

Close to his two friends, Celylith and Legolas had managed to dismount without undue trouble, or so it appeared. It was something he personally would contribute more to the prince's horse than to anything else – half of Rivendell was terrified of it. It was, in his humble opinion, the sensible half. The prince had ridden alone these last few days, which he had not been able to deny him, at least not for purely medical reasons. His wounds were healing nicely, and even though he was far from fully mended, he was definitely strong enough to ride unaided, at least if the proper precautions were taken and he rested enough.

Young Celylith's approval hadn't been so easy to gain, however. The two wood-elves had taken a small "walk" away from the camp the morning after he had given his consent, but despite their attempts to put enough space between their companions and themselves, raised voices had filtered through the woods and into the camp. The silver-haired elf had not been happy with his prince's choice and had told him so, from the looks of it loudly and repeatedly.

In the end, however, Legolas had done exactly as he pleased – he was Lord Thranduil's son, after all. It really surprised no one, not even Celylith who had come back to the camp narrow-eyed and with a little line of disapproval between his eyebrows. He hadn't spoken of it again, though; by now Elrond knew well enough that the captain would never criticise his prince in public or in front of witnesses.

The journey had taken the hardest toll on Aragorn, as could have been predicted. It had been three weeks now, but with the illness on top of his injuries, his weaker healing powers and the stress of travelling, he was still weak and tired easily. His shoulders were still hurting him, even though Elrond knew he would never admit it, and even though most cuts and abrasions were healing, he could not walk unaided due to his broken leg and still had trouble catching his breath. He had, to his disgust, been riding with Elrohir or Elladan the entire time, and was right now being helped off the horse by Isál, who was simultaneously answering about a dozen questions at once.

Elrond began to make his way over to where his sons and the two wood-elves were standing, intent on dragging all of them into the house and his healing wing before they could get into trouble. All the ingredients were here, after all: A lot of excited people, weapons, horses, and water and cliffs close-by. If he didn't do something soon, he would have to patch up one or more of them. Again.

It was slow going, with so many elves trying to greet him and ask him what had happened (this time, but everybody was too polite to say it), and when he finally was almost close enough to touch Elladan, a tall, dark-haired figure pushed its way through the crowd and stopped right in front of the small group he was trying to reach. It was Captain Elvynd, as he quickly saw, moving fluidly and without the need for assistance. The younger elf looked much, much better than the last time he had seen him, and the only sign of what he had been through was the fresh pink star that ran over his forehead. It would fade with time, perhaps even considerably, but the healer in him doubted that it would ever disappear completely.

Elrond stopped in his tracks and sighed softly. It was a great relief to see the captain so well; even though he had never truly doubted that Elvynd would survive and recover, it was good to actually see him with his own two eyes.

The object of his scrutiny had managed to push his way through the crowd and had stopped in front of the six others. There was no emotion visible on his face, and for the first time Elrond saw that the young captain held a club-like piece of wood in his hands. Isál, however, did not seem to notice, his eyes glued to his friend's face.

Elvynd tore his eyes away from the other dark-haired elf and gave the three brothers, Legolas and Celylith a quick nod.
"My lords. It is good to see you again."

Elrohir nodded back for all of them, a smile on his face that was mirrored by the others.
"And you, Elvynd. I can't tell you how happy we are to see you alive."

"Yes, that seemed rather unlikely for a while." Elvynd smiled back at his young lord. He turned serious for a moment. "Are they dead?"

None of them had to ask of whom the captain was speaking, and Elladan nodded with a cold smile on his face.
"Oh yes. They are, all of them."

For a moment, there was nothing on Elvynd's face, no satisfaction, no contentment, nothing. Then he slowly closed his eyes and exhaled, and when he looked up again, it was as if a shadowy weight had been lifted from his shoulders, allowing him to breathe more easily.
"Then I am content. It is over."

"Yes, it is," Aragorn said softly and couldn't help but lean against Elrohir in exhaustion. The journey had sapped his strength far more than he would have thought, and his entire body was throbbing like a giant bruise. "They have paid for what they did."

Elvynd merely nodded before he returned his attention to his friend. During the entire exchange Isál had remained silent and was still only staring at the other captain as if a single word out of his mouth could shatter him and make him disappear. His eyes wandered over him slowly, scanning him from head to toe, and when they came to rest on Elvynd's forehead and the scar there, his eyes clouded over in rage.

Before he could say anything, however, Elvynd had taken half a step forward, the makeshift club he held in his right hand tapping onto the open palm of his left one.
"So," he said, his voice cracking and not sounding steady at all. "Shall we do it here or would you prefer a more private environment?"

Isál gaped at his friend, clearly not understanding what he was talking about, and it took him quite some time to find his voice.
"Do … do what?"

"Why, and here I thought that to be obvious." Elvynd told him, his face still serious. "I intend to crack you over the head with this for running off like that before I had the time to get back, and that in that state of mind. What were you thinking?"

"I probably wasn't thinking at all," Isál admitted with a small shrug. There was a smile beginning to spread over his features that he just couldn't hold back. "As usual."

"True." Elvynd nodded regally. "That is why I am here, after all, to do it for you."

"Yes," Isál agreed, still not averting his eyes from his friend's face. "That is why you are here."

For long moments, the two of them were only looking at each other without another word, but then the spell was broken. The club landed on the ground, probably hitting some poor elf's toes, and Isál pulled his friend into a hug that should rightly have cracked at least a few of his ribs. For the longest time, neither of them spoke, but then Isál's voice could be heard, sounding muffled by his friend's shoulder and emotions that were so strong that they were hard to identify.

"If you ever – ever! – do something like this again, mellon nín, I will crack you over the head, do you hear me? Getting yourself almost killed without telling me, honestly!"

Elvynd laughed, the first real laugh anybody had heard him utter since he had woken up in Rivendell to find his nightmares reality and his best friend gone.
"The next time I get ambushed and have my head cut open, I will endeavour to inform you in a timely fashion. Would that please you?"

Isál's answer was a wordless snort. It took the two of them some time to finally part from each other, and the jaw-splitting smile that both of them were wearing was still on their faces when they finally did. Isál was already explaining to Elvynd what had happened, his hands describing wide, dramatic arcs, while all of them slowly made their way over to the main house, when the crowd in front of them parted as if separated by a magical hand and Gaerîn appeared, a hesitant smile on her lips.

The others were about to greet her, but quickly realised that she wasn't paying them any attention at all. Her eyes were fixed on Isál's face as unwaveringly as Isál's had been focussed on Elvynd earlier, and she was standing as still as a carved statue. Isál, however, seemed to have lost his capacity for articulated speech yet again, an occurrence that had probably been aided by the unexpected sight of Gaerîn in that dress.

The two of them looked at each other, clearly unaware of anybody else around them, and it was Gaerîn who found her voice first, as could have been expected.

The dark-haired elf swallowed heavily and dragged his eyes away from the sight of just how well that dress fitted his beloved, and quickly looked at her properly.
"My lady."

Next to his friend, Elvynd was rolling his eyes. He knew that Isál was deeply in love with Gaerîn and that she, too, had developed feeling for him, so why did he have such a hard time even talking to her? A moment later he remembered his own frequent and inexplicable muteness when talking to said healer's cousin, and stopped his inner monologue abruptly.

Fortunately for all of them, Gaerîn decided to end this stalemate right then and there. Ignoring the elves around them and throwing propriety, good behaviour and modesty into the wind, she took another step forward and kissed the silent captain. For a moment, Isál seemed to be shocked more than anything else, but he quickly warmed to the idea of what was happening and kissed her back just as fervently.

Just in this moment Elrond finally managed to push his way through to his sons and their friends, and couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the rather inappropriate sight that greeted him. Had the two of them been aware of anything but themselves, they would surely have been mortified. Things being as they were, however, Elvynd merely gestured at them that he was going to stay behind with his … preoccupied friend, probably to quickly pull him away if Gaerîn's mother unexpectedly showed up, Elrohir wrapped an arm around Aragorn's waist to steady him and Elladan quickly pulled his father away. Elrond's other eyebrow rose to join the first in comment of his son's quick actions, but he allowed himself to be led away after having made sure that the two wood-elves were following.

It wasn't his problem, after all, and besides, he very much doubted that they would do more than kissing in the middle of the courtyard.

After what felt like an hour, they managed to reach the stairs leading up to the main house, having had to stop to greet half of Imladris on the way there. As soon as he had set foot on the first stone step, Elrond felt how a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. Home. He stopped for a moment to savour the two syllables. They were finally home.

And as always when his beloved sons came home, he had to drag them into the healing chambers. Some things never changed.

"All right," he said and turned around to face the five far too innocent-looking beings in front of him. They had probably been planning to slip away in the chaos of their arrival, before he even remembered that there was such a thing as a healing wing. Ha, he told himself gleefully. His sons would still need some practice before they would be able to outwit him. "Elladan, Elrohir, please escort your brother to the healing wing. Captain," he was turning to give Celylith the look, "I trust that you will accompany your prince there without getting lost on the way."


"Lord Elrond…"

"No," Elrond said almost happily. "No arguing. I will join you there momentarily."

Legolas and Aragorn were shooting him mutinous looks, the latter through eyelids that had half closed in exhaustion, but that availed them nothing, of course. No one could contest Lord Elrond's look, especially not when he was at home and knew that he had every reason to be smug. Stubborn the two of them might be, but they weren't stupid and knew exactly when it was better to give in gracefully. A moment later Aragorn was being half-carried to the healing wing, Elladan to his right and Elrohir to his left, while the two fair-haired elves followed slowly, Legolas quietly trying to convince Celylith to let him 'slip away'. The silver-haired elf merely laughed and tightened his grip on his prince's upper arm. If he ever felt the undeniable wish to visit the Halls of Mandos, he would disobey Lord Elrond's medical orders, not a moment earlier.

Elrond slowly walked up the stairs after the younger elves, stopping frequently to greet one elf or another. To his left, Glorfindel and Erestor emerged from the crowd, and Elrond silently vowed to himself that he would somehow trick Erestor into setting foot into the healing wing in the near future. His dear chief advisor was a lot better, yes, but he would like to examine him again and have another look at his hand. Here in Rivendell, where he had a group of trained healers and all the instruments he needed at his disposal, he simply felt a lot better and far more secure.

At the top of the stairs Elrond stopped for a moment and turned back around towards the courtyard. His eyes wandered over the familiar sights and came to rest on the many exuberant faces that were turned towards him, and without him even noticing a large smile spread over his face. He hadn't realised how much he had missed Rivendell and all its inhabitants..

He waited for another heartbeat of two before he turned around and followed his sons and their friends into the house, the broad smile still on his face.

Valar, but it was good to be home.

The room slowly swam into focus, something that confused him quite a lot. Not the room in general of course – it was his room after all – and not even the fact that he was in his room – he had happily accepted the fact that he was back home – but rather the fact that he couldn't remember going to sleep. All he could remember was reading the newest scroll Elladan had brought him and then…

Frowning slightly, Aragorn sat up as best as he could without moving too much, and quickly found that the strange pillow he had felt under his cheek was in fact said scroll. For a moment, he only stared at the length of parchment and narrowed his eyes, trying to decide whether or not the script looked slightly faded. If the ink had somehow stained (in that case he would have parts of paragraph 56 of the fifth volume of the History of the Noldor printed on his cheek), Elladan would kill him.

Their father had given the entire book (which, after all, consisted of 24 volumes) to Elladan some years ago as a Yestarë present, and the older twin loved it fiercely. Elrohir had received the History of the Sindar that same year (which consisted of 26 volumes, which only proved that the Sindar would rather die than be outdone by the Noldor at anything), since Elrond was a fair elf and very conscious of his mixed heritage.

Right now, Aragorn was reading half a volume of the histories every day; every day a different one of course. Yesterday he had finished Volume 4 of the History of the Sindar and was already close to finishing today's part of Volume 5 of the History of the Noldor, and had already reached the point where he would give his right arm for a paragraph about the Silvan Elves, or the Nandor, or the Vanyar – everything but the Sindar and Noldor.

Carefully smoothing the expensive parchment and rolling it back up, Aragorn placed the scroll on his bedside table. It wouldn't do if Elladan came in and saw his book mistreated; while Elrohir was the one who was more interested in books and lore, Elladan was still enough his father's son to look upon books as something sacred that only the stupid or ignorant damaged wilfully. And so was he. If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it was to see books mistreated.

The only problem about all this was that he couldn't remember going to sleep. He had just thrown Legolas out a moment before – the wood-elf was becoming very good at hovering – and had just wanted to read for a bit more, and then … nothing. Aragorn frowned. Had he drunk anything? But no, he was too experienced for that; he hadn't touched anything that could have been laced with drugs of any kind, except for the potions that his father forced down his throat on a regular basis.

There was another explanation, which was probably also the most logical one: He had just fallen asleep, plain and simple. Accepting that would mean accepting that his father, brothers, Legolas and associates (in this case most of Rivendell) had been right and that he still had to rest and regain his strength. He was no fool, of course, and had been trained in the healing arts too thoroughly to deceive himself about his physical condition. The broken leg made it hard to ignore, after all; he could not walk without the help of a crutch, a walking stick or a helpful elven arm, and that probably wouldn't change for the next two weeks. His overall condition was still very weakened and his lungs had not fully healed; a combination that ensured that he had to stay lying or sitting down for most of the day if he didn't want to end up as a gasping heap on the ground.

So yes, he was fully aware of his condition, but that didn't mean that he wasn't also highly frustrated. The fact that Legolas, who had been injured at least as badly in Donrag, was already up and around, showing little sign of his injuries, only added insult to injury. It was one of the things that sometimes made him think that living with elves was a punishment: When he was still forced to remain abed to recover, everybody else, even those who'd had one foot in Mandos' Halls already, were joking and dancing in the Hall of Fire and generally behaving as if nothing had happened.

It wasn't only frustrating, it was unfair and infuriating.

Aragorn forced himself to breathe out slowly and carefully rolled over, wincing slightly when the healing lacerations on his back and his still sore ribs complained. He ignored his body's signals with an ease that only long practice brought and carefully sat up, scooting back until his back hit the headboard. Now in a more comfortable position, he firmly told himself to calm down and regain some perspective. It wasn't their fault that their bodies healed more quickly, after all, and they were doing everything they could to take his mind off his "incarceration".

And that was perhaps the worst thing about it: After three days of being confined to his room and constantly being surrounded by cheerful elves, he was beginning to become a tad irritated. His brothers, Legolas and the others were doing their best to cheer him up, after all, but if there was one thing he had learned over the years, it was that it was almost impossible to cheer someone up who simply didn't want to be cheered up and resented the very fact that people were trying. Not that his less than enthusiastic response had fazed anybody, of course. They were all just ignoring his bursts of bad temper, something that of course only made him more irritated.

The young ranger sighed again. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate what they were trying to do. They were doing what they could, and he did not blame them for it. It was only that he was beginning to feel smothered by so much uninterrupted companionship. During the journey it had been different, somehow, with the landscape and the other warriors to take his mind off things, but here, in his room with nowhere to go, it was a lot harder and more confining. It gave him too much time to think, too much time to remember things he would rather forget. The good-bye from Vonar and Tibron had been hard enough, and even though he bore neither of them a grudge, he knew that he would need some time before he could even think about returning to Aberon to see them again.

Aragorn sat up and gave the curtains that were half-drawn in front of the door leading to his balcony a longing look. The cloth was swinging back and forth with every slight breeze that caught it, allowing the rays of the afternoon sun to filter into his room. The dark-haired man narrowed his eyes and came to a decision. He would get up and go into the gardens and sit down there for a while, no matter what his father said, and no one would be able to…

"I can only repeat what I said earlier," Legolas' voice interrupted him in mid-sentence. "I will not help you climb down from the balcony, and that is final."

Aragorn turned toward the voice, not even surprised that Legolas had managed to open the door, enter the room and walk up to him without him hearing a single sound. The wood-elf wasn't only getting very good at hovering; he was also becoming very sneaky.

"I swear to you on my honour that I never entertained that thought," he told the blond elf with a far too innocent smile. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, something that caused Legolas to take yet another step closer to him, looking very much as if he just wanted to dump him back onto the mattress without even discussing. "I am not going to climb down from anywhere. We are in Rivendell, Legolas, in civilised parts. That's what stairs are for."

Legolas only raised an eyebrow, took up one of the carved wooden chairs that were clustered around the bed and sat it down right in front of his friend. He straddled the chair and put his chin onto the backrest, studying the man curiously.
"So that is what you are going to do?"

"Yes," Aragorn told him. "That is what I am going to do." Legolas didn't budge or say a single word, and he added, "Please, Legolas. I have to get out of this room before I break something! I cannot stand being cooped up much longer."

"I understand that, Estel," Legolas said in the exact tone of voice a mother would have used for speaking with her whining child. "But your father does not share that particular opinion. His orders were very clear."

"Oh yes." The man nodded darkly. "'Five days of bed rest, and if I see you out of the room before that, I will have Gaerîn get the chains'." He grimaced. "I remember."

"Besides," Legolas went on with an evil smile, "there is nothing out there that is even remotely interesting. There is only a light breeze, a perfect temperature, sunlight that is filtering through the trees, bright green leaves on all the trees, butterflies and singing birds everywhere…"

"You are evil. And cruel. Even vicious, one could say." Aragorn gave the elf his best wounded-puppy-dog look. "A typical Sinda, in short."

"Do I really have to start enumerating all the faults of the Noldor yet again?" the elven prince asked, doing his best to sound exasperated. "I don't think you really want that, unless you want to spend the next few hours listening to me drone on and on."

"As if that would bother you." Aragorn grinned at him. "You love hearing your own voice, we both know that." He ignored Legolas' snort and added, "Besides, I would be careful if I were you. In case you hadn't noticed, you are in house of a Noldorin lord and are surrounded by Noldor."

Legolas shrugged, clearly unimpressed.
"They can't do anything to me without causing a diplomatic incident or a war, and they know that."

"Keep up that attitude and you will find yourself floating face-down in the Bruinen," Aragorn told him, amused. "With a couple of arrows in your back, of course."

"Ah, then I truly do not have to worry," the prince declared, looking very pleased with his reasoning. "Everybody knows that you Noldor couldn't hit a barn door if you were standing right in front of it."

"Now that is just not true," another voice commented. Aragorn looked up, feeling mildly resentful that no one seemed to consider it necessary to knock anymore. This time it was Celylith who was standing in the doorway, a large smile on his face that didn't look very genuine. "If they are less than ten foot away from their target, even Noldor have a slight chance of hitting it." He frowned in mock thoughtfulness. "If it's not to small, that is."

"You are hilarious today, Celylith," Aragorn commented sourly. Now there were two of them; just why did wood-elves have to go everywhere in packs?

"Thank you, Estel." The silver-haired elf grinned at him. He picked up another chair and put it down next to Legolas', unknowingly mirroring his prince's earlier movements. "I do my best."

Aragorn returned the grin just as evilly. Celylith wasn't the only one who could play this game, now was he?
"How is Lúthien?"

Immediately, the two wood-elves' faces darkened. Legolas had been trying to order Celylith to set the small bat free (or rather set it free in a cave and block the entrance, since the animal seemed to have grown quite fond of the silver-haired elf), but Celylith had refused to do so with unusual success until now. Aragorn supposed that it was only a matter of time – Celylith was Legolas' subject, after all, and Legolas was his father's son – but until then, Celylith would move heaven and earth to find a way to disregard his prince's orders. How the wood-elf had even brought the bat to Rivendell in the first place was anyone's guess.

"Very well, thank you," Celylith said with a tight smile. Not even he could miss the evil look Legolas shot him, and so he quickly closed his mouth and contented himself with glaring at the young ranger.

Legolas stared a little bit longer at the silver-haired elf before he returned his attention to Aragorn, who was right now thinking about trying to use this moment of distraction and escape into the gardens before they remembered that he was here.
"Be that as it may, you are staying here."

"Since when are you on their side?" Aragorn asked, wondering if he should feel truly hurt.

"Since the last time you tried to get up and nearly brained yourself on the corner of a table when you fell over."

"Ah, that," Aragorn said dismissively. "That was a little misstep, nothing more."

"No matter," Celylith said firmly, coming to his prince's aid. "You are not leaving this room."

"Just what is going on here?" the man asked, almost deciding to pinch himself. Was he still dreaming? "Why are the two of you so adamant about me staying here?"

"Because otherwise you would have been gone before we could get here," a new voice declared. Aragorn turned around, irritated, and decided that he should just give up on the notion of anybody respecting his privacy and actually knocking. The voice belonged to Elladan, who was sticking his head into the room, a big smile on his face. "And that would have been a shame!"

Before Aragorn could ask just what in the name of Eru Ilúvatar he was talking about, Elrohir's head appeared next to his brother's, and the two of them entered the room. The man's irritated thoughts ground to a standstill when he saw what his brothers were carrying: Elrohir was holding a large tray laden with what looked and smelled suspiciously like honey-cakes, having trouble to even look over the top of it, while Elladan was only holding a small package, about twelve by fifteen inches. Around the smile on his face, Elrohir was shooting his twin dark looks that the older elf just as steadfastly ignored.

The two of them stopped in front of his bed, apparently waiting for him to say something. Aragorn looked from one smiling face to the other in confusion, feeling very much as if he was the only one who had no idea what was going on here. Truth to be told, that was probably true.

"Could somebody please tell me what is going on here?" he finally asked in a rather faint manner. If this was one of the twins' jokes, he was not in the mood for it.

"Why, Estel," Elrohir said as he carefully deposited the large plate on the nearest nightstand. "And I thought that would be obvious. This is a begetting day – I mean a birthday – celebration."

Aragorn gaped; there was no other word for it.
"Elrohir, my birthday was almost three months ago."

Elladan smiled at his little brother's tone of voice, the one that was implying that Elrohir had apparently just taken a fall and landed on his head.
"We are aware of that, Estel," he said, carefully putting the little parcel he held on a free chair. "But we were in Baredlen then, and had no presents for you. And Yestarë we missed, too. We couldn't let that stand."

"So you..."

"Organised a little celebration for you." Next to him, Legolas was positively beaming. "Everybody is waiting in the Hall of Fire, but we wanted to give you your presents in private."

"Exactly," Celylith agreed, eyeing the cake-laden plate with growing interest. "Are those real honey-cakes? With," he sniffed delicately, "nuts?"

"Of course," Elrohir said, slapping the wood-elf's hand away. "And they are for Estel, not for you."

Aragorn gave the veritable mountain of sweet cakes a quick glance.
"Why don't you all help me eat them? If you want me to eat them alone, you won't have to worry about me leaving this room, because I will never walk again."

"Thank you, Estel. You are a true friend," Celylith said over his shoulder, already reaching for one of the sticky pastries. He turned back around and shrugged off the disapproving look Elrohir gave him. "What? I didn't have lunch."

Aragorn did his best to hide his smile, and was rather surprised when Elladan suddenly appeared next to his shoulder, offering him a hand up.
"What, don't you want to have a look at your present?"

The young ranger looked up at his elven brother, the confusion making a reappearance.
"But I thought…" he began, gesturing at the parcel on the chair.

"Ah, that is only the second part of it," Elladan explained, grasping the man's hand and carefully pulling him to his feet. "The first part is waiting over there."

Aragorn looked into the direction in which his brother was pointing, his confusion deepening. Up until now, all this indeed had all the trademarks of one of his brother's jokes, which usually involved him being confused, too.
"The present is waiting on the balcony?"

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a conspiratorial look. It was something that, under different circumstances, would have caused Aragorn to run for cover and hide.
"Something like that. You will have to come and see."

There was nothing Aragorn could do but trust that, this time, they wouldn't do something to him that would result in blood and mayhem (in his current physical state, their father would kill them if they did), and so he allowed Elladan to walk him over to the balcony doors and push aside the curtains. The three other elves were crowding behind them – probably to watch how Elladan sent him plummeting into the Bruinen or the courtyard – and it was a good thing that the balcony was in fact so large, or they wouldn't all have fitted onto it. It was so large, in fact, that it reached around the corner of the building, therefore allowing a view on either the courtyard or the garden and the river.

Elladan quickly steered him over to the right, therefore apparently wanting him to have a look at the courtyard. That made sense; landing in the courtyard would be a lot more painful than landing on something potentially soft, like a bush or even a tree. He didn't know why Elladan would do that to him, but then again, elves could be a vicious lot with long memories. He might remember something he himself had already forgotten a long time ago. His brothers could be like that, which made living with them so much more interesting, of course.

They reached the edge of the balcony and Elladan motioned him to look, that large grin still on his face. Aragorn limped closer, his un-bandaged left hand closing around the carved wooden balustrade. For a moment, he didn't really know what he was seeing, but then his eyes grew wide and surprised.

Elvynd and Isál were standing in the eastern part of the courtyard, as close to his balcony as possible. Judging from their expressions and gestures, they were discussing something, and Aragorn could guess what it was. News of Isál's and Gaerîn's … inappropriate behaviour had quickly made its way through Imladris, resulting in two pairs of rather unhappy parents and one brother who had been dying to have some time alone with Isál. Ever since then, the dark-haired captain had been trying to avoid just that meeting, up until now with impressive success. Aragorn smiled inwardly. Isál and Elvynd were probably right now discussing possible hideouts or tactics should Gaerîn's brother ever catch up with him.

What caught his attention far more, however, was the fact that Elvynd and Isál were standing in the courtyard and Elvynd was holding the reigns of a horse – his horse. Even though he had not been riding the animal on the way back to Rivendell, he had seen it every day, trotting next to him tirelessly. It was a large, dark mare he had been given in Mirkwood last winter and which, after a fight with some wolves, he had named Rácatári. It was a slightly … strange horse, not in the same, evil way as Rashwe, Legolas' horse, but it was disconcerting enough.

Right now, however, she was looking very different from the last time he had seen her. There was a new saddle on her back, made of light brown leather that looked so soft that Aragorn couldn't help but long to touch it. The saddle, the tack and the blanket were decorated with silver wreaths of leaves that had delicately been sewn into the leather, even into the saddlebags. The blanket was one of the ones that the Elves of Rivendell weaved, soft and light and still strong and durable, but instead of the grey or white that these blankets usually were, this one was dark green. In short, the animal looked magnificent, and judging from the proud toss of her head she knew it, too.

For long moments, Aragorn could only stand there and stare. In the end, when it became obvious to the elves that Aragorn wasn't going to say anything anytime soon, Legolas took a step forward and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, peeking over the man's shoulder. Elvynd and Isál had done an exceedingly good job. The horse looked splendid indeed – not quite as splendid as Rashwe, of course, but a close second.

"So, do you like it?" he finally asked.

"Like it … Valar, of course I like it!" Aragorn exclaimed, turning around and looking at the four elves with shining eyes. "How could I not? You did this?"

"Your brothers did a good job." Legolas shrugged modestly. "All I did was help threaten Elv… a few people."

Elladan made cutting, hushing motions with his hands, and Aragorn grinned.
"I don't think I want to know. I really don't think I want to know."

"Since you only got the horse in Mirkwood a while ago, we decided that you needed new gear for it. It is always better to have a custom-made saddle," Elrohir told them.

"But … but how did you organise all this?" Aragorn asked wonderingly. "I know that design, you know. That is something the Elves of Mithlond would do."

"Actually, we ordered it when we had just got back from Baredlen," Elladan answered. "Elvynd's father helped us procure it."

Aragorn nodded, still a little bit overwhelmed and feeling that he had a good idea of whom the three of them had bribed to get his present.
"I see. Well … all I can say is thank you, I presume. It is beautiful, all of it."

"You are most welcome, muindor dithen," Elrohir said with a smile, throwing his arm around the man's shoulder and beginning to steer him back inside. "And now let's get back inside and open your other present. This is the one from the family."

Elladan stepped up to the balustrade and gestured at the two captains that their part in this was over. The two of them waved back and began to lead the horse back over to the stables, still deep in conversation. The twin decided that he didn't really want to know what solution they had found for Isál's problem.

"Estel is supposed to be the excited one, not you," he told his twin as he followed the others inside. "You are behaving like an elfling."

Elrohir ignored him, probably distracted by Celylith who was already devouring his second honey-cake while Legolas had just taken his first.
"These are really very good," the silver-haired elf told them, his mouth still full.

With a mumble that sounded suspiciously like 'Wood-elves', Elrohir pressed his human brother into an armchair and went to fetch his present. While Aragorn was removing the protective paper covering that was wrapped around it, the twins positioned themselves on the bed, side by side. By now, Elladan, too, had succumbed to the temptation of the honey-cakes and was nibbling one.

"Ada wanted to be here when we gave it to you, but he got held up in council," Elrohir explained. "It is always the same when he is gone for a while; they find thousands of matters that require his 'urgent attention' and that will keep him occupied for a few days. He will join us later in the Hall of Fire."

Aragorn nodded but didn't answer, his eyes fixed on the object that was revealed when the paper fell away. It looked like one of the writing tablets that children used when they were learning how to write, one of those wooden tablets that were filled with wax so that the writing could easily be erased. Right now, the lid was closed, but there was a small metal latch on its right side that he flicked open. When he opened the lid, he was, for the second time in less than ten minutes, reduced to mindless staring.

It wasn't a writing tablet, that much was certain. It was a picture frame with two wings, one of the sort that could be placed on a desk or mantelpiece. On the right side, drawn on fine, crisp, white parchment, there was a portrait of a man with dark hair and grey eyes. On the left side, there was a woman, with the same eyes and the same hair colour, but her long dark tresses were unrulier and almost curly, very much like his own hair.

The woman was young and beautiful, and even though the man's face was stern, there was also something deeply kind about him. Even though Aragorn could have sworn that he didn't know them, he felt as if he had seen them before, as if in a half-forgotten dream. Suddenly the realisation hit him like a bolt of lightning: The man, even though his face was broader, looked like he might look like in a few decades.

Aragorn turned around, a frown on his face that was softened by the questioning look in his eyes.
"Are they…"

"Yes," Elladan said softly. "Your parents. There are still enough of the artists who remember them, so they drew them from memory. Your father was easier to draw since he was here often, but there were also two portraitists who remembered your mother."

"We thought that it was time that you had a picture of them," Elrohir added. "It would not do if you forgot where you come from."

Aragorn did not say anything for a long time, the forefinger of his left hand softly tracing the contours of his mother's face. After several minutes, he finally reached out and carefully placed the pictures on the desk next to him, turning them until they could easily be seen from the bed. Apparently finally satisfied with the position, he turned towards his brothers, his eyes large and very bright in his face.

"I could never forget where I come from," he said firmly. "You have been teaching me everything about that, after all, everything about their ideals, their hopes and about the dreams that they had for the future and for me. And just like I could never forget that, I could never forget where I am or who made me who I am, even without a picture. You are my family, just like they are." He swiped his left sleeve quickly over his eyes. "I thank you, my brothers, for this priceless gift."

Before he could say another word, the twins had enveloped him in a careful hug.
"There is no need to thank us, little brother," Elladan said quietly, holding onto the too thin body of the man. "You are our brother and we love you. That is what families do."

After a moment, the three of them broke apart and Aragorn took a deep breath, his eyes still gleaming and bright. He turned to Legolas who had been watching the scene with a smile and gave him a long look.
"I thank you as well, mellon nín. For everything."

Legolas, knowing that Aragorn was talking about more than just the presents, only inclined his head before he returned the look seriously.
"There is nothing you would have to thank me for, Aragorn. You would have done the same for me."

"I might." Aragorn smiled back at him. "Still, I thank you. You, too, Celylith."

"There is no need, Estel." The silver-haired shook his head, by now well into his fourth honey-cake. "Are you coming now? Everybody is waiting downstairs."

"Yes," Aragorn said, feeling so happy that he thought he might burst at the seams. "Yes, I think I will. Lead the way."

And that Celylith did, after having snatched a last cake from the rapidly shrinking pile on the large silver plate. Elrohir stretched out his hand, silently offering him his help, and Aragorn gratefully took it, allowing his brother to help him make his way out of the room after Elladan and Legolas.

There were people waiting for him, after all, and as the apparent host of this celebration it would be most rude to let them wait.

Much later that same day, when the sun had already sunken below the horizon, the Hall of Fire was once again empty and silent. The only light came from the glowing embers of the fireplace, and the shadows in the corners were lengthening and growing into bizarre shapes.

The celebration had not lasted all that long, especially since the host had not been able to keep himself awake for more than a few hours and had then been dragged off to bed by his brothers. The man had protested, of course, but the look Elrond had given him in combination with the exhaustion that had swept over him had quickly made him reconsider.

At first glance, one would have been tempted to say that the hall was completely empty, which would have been true if not for the two shapes sitting on one of the comfortable sofas in front of the fireplace. The two were utterly motionless, either resting or asleep, and the only sound that could be heard was an occasional crackle from the dying fire.

Elrond certainly didn't notice them at first when he made his way through the Hall of Fire, intent on reaching the back of the house. After the little celebration he had had to return to the council, and had been held up until now. Erestor wasn't attending the council meetings since he was still recuperating and Glorfindel had had pressing things to discuss with his captains (or that had been what the golden-haired elf had quickly claimed). Never before had he realised how much he missed Erestor's dry wit or Glorfindel's good-humoured jests in these meetings; the last three days had been nothing but a series of long, odious council sessions. Well, there was at least one positive thing about it: They had nearly caught up, which meant that things would go back to normal very soon.

Or, he corrected himself, to what counted as normal around here.

He had already almost reached the door leading to the back part of the house when a tiny movement to his left caught his eye, and he stopped in mid-stride. Turning around, he narrowed his eyes until the shadows coalesced into more clear-cut shapes, and when they did, he couldn't help but smile. For a moment, he hesitated, but then he made a decision and slowly walked over to the lit fireplace.

On the sofa in front of it, there were two figures, one with dark and one with fair hair. At first, Elrond wasn't sure if they were awake or sleeping until he saw the eyes of the blond one move and focus on him at his approach. The dark-haired elf's eyes remained vacant, and judging from the even rise and fall of his chest and the relaxed expression of his face, he was fast asleep. The half-elf smiled at his friends and sat down in the armchair opposite the sofa, his back to the fire.

Elrond studied his two friends, the fond smile on his face widening.
"So," he finally addressed the fair-haired elf in a soft tone of voice, "did you come here together or did you follow him?"

Glorfindel gave his friend a look that spoke volumes.
"What do you think?" Elrond only laughed silently, and so the older elf leaned back into the cushions, careful not to disturb his companion. "Mount Doom would freeze over before Erestor would ask me – or anybody else, for that matter – to come to the Hall of Fire with him to watch him sleep."

"He was here yesterday night as well, you know," Elrond told the other elf lord, absent-mindedly reaching out and pouring Glorfindel and himself two glasses of red wine from the carafe that sat on the table to his left. "I found him when I went to my chambers at around the second hour."

"I know," Glorfindel said quietly, accepting the glass from his friend. "I saw him, too." He looked at the dark red liquid and added almost in a whisper, "He doesn't like the dark anymore, nor to spend the nights alone in his rooms. It reminds him too much of his cell in Donrag."

Elrond looked at him with interest.
"Did he tell you that?"

"Not in so many words," Glorfindel admitted. "But yes, he did, in a way. You know about his nightmares?"

The half-elf nodded solemnly.
"I have been meaning to speak with you about them. They were hard to miss during the journey. Does he still have them?"

"As far as I know, yes," Glorfindel said. "He never talked to me about them, but he is not the only one who can discover things when he wishes to." He sighed tiredly. "I tried to lead a conversation towards that topic once, but it did not go very well. We just have to give him time, and trust that he will come to one of us to talk when he is ready."

Elrond nodded, studying Erestor's still profile. He was making steady progress, and it would be only a few days until he could take off the bandages that were still tightly encircling his hand and forearm. Being back in Rivendell had helped him enormously, it seemed, so much that he seemed in fact almost completely normal. He was still paler and thinner than usual and there was still the bandage around his arm, but those were the only outer signs that served as a reminder of what had happened to him. Even his old sense of humour was slowly returning to him, much to the chagrin of countless council assistants and secretaries.

It was all not true, of course. Neither was it a lie. Erestor was simply not there yet, no matter how much he would like everybody, including himself, believe it.

"Should we take him to his rooms?" Elrond asked softly. "He looks deeply asleep; I doubt he would notice anything."

Glorfindel shook his head almost immediately.
"No. He would not thank us for it and would perceive it as a weakness on his part. It would be best if we just left him here, giving him the chance to wake up on his own and make his way to his quarters."

Elrond took a mouthful of the red wine, pondering his friend's words.
"You might be right. There is no harm in him staying here, after all."

"No, there isn't," the blond elf agreed. "I will stay here and make sure that no one disturbs his rest."

Elrond nodded slowly and shifted slightly to find a more comfortable position.
"Very well, then." He craned his neck and looked out of the window to their right, studying the night sky. "I would say I have more than two hours before I have to check up on Estel."

Glorfindel looked up from where he had been studying his sleeping friend.
"You don't have to stay, Elrond."

The dark-haired elf smiled and settled back into his armchair.
"Neither do you, mellon nín."

Glorfindel smiled back at him and leaned back into the cushions, his eyes once again wandering over to the glowing embers of the fire. Neither of them had to stay, but they both knew that they would until Erestor either woke up or they were called away from their self-appointed post on some sort of emergency. And that, Glorfindel decided, his eyes straying to Elrond's calm face, was just how it was supposed to be among friends.

Behind them, two figures stopped in the doorway, apparently surprised by what they saw. The fair-haired one of the two had wrapped his arm around his companion's waist, clearly helping him walk, but it was the dark-haired one that spoke first, his voice so soft that no one other than the elf beside him would be able to hear him.

"We can use another way, Legolas. It will take longer, but we will get to the gardens just the same."

Legolas narrowed his eyes at the three still figures sitting in front of the fire.
"Are you sure they are not just sleeping?"

"Yes," Aragorn said uncompromisingly. "Glorfindel wouldn't sleep with Erestor like that, trust me, and neither would my father. And besides, even if they were, we would never get past them. It is something I have learned after many frustrating childhood attempts."

"Very well, then," Legolas conceded. "To the gardens it is. Speaking of which, why I am helping you again?"

"Because you are a wonderful and very understanding friend?" Aragorn offered.

"That must be it," the prince agreed, tightening his hold around his friend's waist. "Tell me, Estel, where does that alternative route of yours lead us? Is it safe?"

"Perfectly safe," Aragorn assured him as they all but tiptoed out of the hall.

"No dragons?"


"Wild oxen? Bats? Spiders? Bears? Wargs? Wolves?"

Aragorn shook his head with a grin.
"Not the last time I took it, no."

"Evil maniacs who want to kidnap us?"

"Well, we will pass rather closely by the twins' windows…"

"Thank you for the warning," Legolas told the man. "Is there anything else I should know about?"

"Come now, my friend, what kind of surprise would it be if I told you?" the ranger asked in mock seriousness. "It would take the adventure right out of things. Just follow my lead and we will be fine."

"That," the fair-haired elf said gravely, "is usually my first mistake."

"You can admit it, Legolas. You would miss all this."

Legolas slowed down and carefully pulled his friend to a stop, his eyes looking suddenly serious and dark
"You know, Estel," he said, locking eyes with the ranger, "I believe I actually might."

Aragorn only looked back at his friend and smiled, placing an arm around his shoulders to help balance his weight. Without another word they resumed their slow walk, leaving the Hall of Fire, its occupants and its deep shadows behind.

And soon enough, after a short uneventful trip through dark corridors, they could see the first faint ray of moonlight stream through a window, guiding them towards their goal.

The End.

yéni (pl. of yén) (Q.) - elvish unit of time, equivalent to 144 solar years
mellon nín (S.) - my friend
pen-neth (S.) - young one
muindor (S.) - brother (by blood)
ada (S.) - father (daddy)
Laer (S.) - the second season of the elven year, 'Summer'. On a modern calendar and according to the Reckoning of Rivendell, the time between May 22nd and August 2nd.
gwathel (S.) - (sworn) sister, cousin
Yestarë (Q.) - 'First-day' or Winter Solstice; the first day of the elven year. On a modern calendar, it falls on the 28th of March
muindor dithen (S.) - little brother

Ahh, so that's it. Everybody's home safe and sound (or more or less safe and sound), the villains are dead and Celylith has a new pet. I know, I know, there ARE a lot of questions here that haven't exactly been answered: What about Erestor? Will Legolas make Celylith give up his adorable little Lúthien? Will Elrond kill Celylith once he hears about that name? Will Aragorn manage to heal without getting into even more trouble? And just how long will Isál manage to elude Gaerîn's brother? The answers to all these questions (well, at least to a few of those; my alter ego would have a fit if I answered all of them just like that •g•) and a lot more are in the next story. Yes, I know that this is a rather pathetic attempt to get you to read that one, too. What can I say? I'm evil. •g•

And now, as always, to thank a few people...

First, as always, Jack, who has helped and encouraged me to no end. Her suggestions have always been extremely helpful and often very bloodthirsty. •g• No, she isn't very popular with my characters, I don't know why either.

Second, my flatmates for accepting that sometimes I needed some time and space to keep writing.

Third, all the people who encouraged me to write in the first place! There is no better incentive than people sending you emails saying "When will you start posting, woman?"

And, as always last but not least, my wonderful, lovely, amazing reviewers! •huggles all of them• Especially this last year you have been extremely patient and understanding. Your suggestions and comments were always helpful and very often hilarious, too, and every time I had somehow written me into a corner, you guys and/or Jack helped me find a way out of it. There are no words to express my gratitude; just know that I am completely addicted to your reviews (oh, but I am beginning to kick that Diet Coke with Lemon addiction •g•) and that they were helpful beyond words. They continually made my day, so THANK YOU VERY MUCH, all of you!

So, I guess, this is it, the end of yet another insane story. I very much enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it more than my characters enjoyed being in it. •shrugs• Sometimes I can just not understand them...

I would be extremely grateful for an overall review of the story, just to hear what you thought of it in general. Now that it is finished, it is always very helpful if people point out what they liked and didn't like. This way I can improve my writing for the next story. Speaking of which: I guess I will see all of you in two and a half months then (that's an estimate, people!), if you disregard Jack's little story that will be coming sooner, when I start posting the next big story, "Visions of Betrayal". It would be story Nr. 7 (or rather Nr. 8 when you count Jack's story), I think. It will be taking place mainly in Rivendell and surroundings, Aragorn, Legolas, the twins, the rest of the Rivendell elves and maybe even Celylith and his bat will make an appearance and the Rangers will play a big part. Was about time that Aragorn took up his duties, wasn't it - whatever could go wrong? •innocent smile•


Additional A/N:

My apologies to Lilandriel, Miruial and Kalmiel for not replying yet again - your email addresses didn't show up on the review, it's not listed on your profile pages and your homepages' URL are invalid! Sorry! The same goes for Firniswin (no email address on the profile page and nothing I could find on the homepage on first glance). You guys should consider putting your email addresses onto your profile page or maybe review anonymously and leave your email address every time. Sorry again!

So, remember, leave either anonymous reviews with your email address or signed reviews with your email addresses on your profile page, otherwise I can't send you the review replies! Sorry for the inconvenience!

Oh, and: Since I am posting this from an internet café (my internet is down again), I will have to send the review responses later. I have just discovered that my email provider will not let you send emails to more than five people or so, or if it does, I cannot discover how to do it. That is the reason why I use Thunderbird! •grrr• These glitches usually last about a day or so, so I will send them tomorrow (or earlier if I'm really lucky). Sorry for that, and thanks for your patience!