". . . But nobler is his spirit than the understanding of [evil]."

– Legolas, The Last Debate

Chapter 60: Darkness Into Light

Spring came early to Minas Tirith that year. By the end of February the snow had mostly gone save for a few scattered patches that clung to the north shadows of the city walls. The mud of the Pelennor fields was covered by a light haze of green, and new shoots were pushing up through the cracks in the city paving stones. Some of the trees in the lowest levels had already blossomed, while the unopened buds swelling along the branches of the White Tree and the other saplings in the upper levels told of more to come.

The day of the New Year dawned clear and cool. The swift-rising sun quickly burned off the mist from the fields and promised real warmth before the day was done. In the Royal Chambers Arwen pushed the windows open wide, allowing the green-scented air to pour through the rooms.

The birds were singing in the eaves and gardens of the city. Arwen paused in the King's study, leaning out over the sill to listen. From this vantage point she could see over the expanse of the courtyard lawn, past the encircling walls and the roofs of the lower levels, out to where a horse and two riders were picking their way through the fields toward the city.

A noise behind her made her turn her head. "He is coming," she said.

"Good," Aragorn said. He came up behind her, lightly encircling her waist with his arms as he looked over her shoulder.

Arwen rested her hands on his, enjoying the solid warmth of his chest against her back. "Gimli is with him."

Aragorn chuckled, his breath teasing her ear. "I do not need your eyes to tell me that. If ever Legolas goes anywhere without Gimli, now, that will be news."

His tone was light, but Arwen felt compelled to defend against the self-recrimination that she knew lay beneath the surface, his unspoken belief of why Gimli was still dogging Legolas' footsteps on this visit, to this city.

"It is the sea-longing," she said. "I do not think he yet trusts Legolas not to abandon us and sail the next time a strong breeze blows in from the West."

"Mmm," Aragorn said. He gave her a last squeeze and released her. "We will see."

"The truth is, elvellon, you enjoy it."

"I? I? You're the one who frightened that poor guard at the gate. I'll bet you scared half an inch off that boy's growth."

Arwen heard Legolas and Gimli coming while they were still in the corridor outside the Royal Chambers. She exchanged a look with Aragorn, smiling.

"You were the one holding the axe."

"Och, I wouldn't have used it."

"Did he know that?"

"Doesn't matter. I doubt he even noticed, what with you staring at him like that."

Arwen wondered idly if they were aware of how their voices carried through the marble halls. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they did it deliberately. It could be that Legolas and Gimli got along in perfect harmony when they were alone, and only ever argued for the benefit of outsiders. But somehow she doubted it.

"I told you before, Gimli, the bow of Galadriel –"

"– does not wait in a guardsman's shack in the rain, yes, I know, I know. But in case you hadn't realized, Legolas, it isn't raining."

There was a knock at the door, and the Chamberlain entered. "Lords Legolas and Gimli to see you, Your Majesties." He sounded resigned.

Gimli entered first, bowing low when he saw her. His hair was still damp from his bath, braided in a thick queue down his back. "My lady. You look more lovely with every day."

"Lord Gimli," Arwen said. "Lord Legolas. It is good to see you again."

Legolas bowed. "Queen Undómiel. Gîl síla erin lû govaded vîn."1

Arwen clung to her smile, but a knot was beginning to form inside her stomach. "So formal, Legolas?"

"My lady," Legolas said. He looked as if he would say more, but stopped. Instead he turned to Aragorn. "I bring greetings from King Thranduil of Eryn Lasgalen. He wishes to express his gratitude to the King of Gondor and Arnor, and he invites you and your people to celebrate with us in the Greenwood on Midsummer's Day."

"I am honored," Aragorn said. Arwen frowned. It wasn't just Legolas. Aragorn's manner was also too stiff, too formal. She could feel the screen of protocol come down like a protective wall between them. But she did not know how to breach it, or even if she should. "Please convey our thanks to the Elvenking. We are humbled to accept his invitation, a privilege bestowed upon few of the race of Men."

"There is something else," Legolas said. "He also sends this, a small token of thanks."

He drew out a long, flat box and extended it to Aragorn. Aragorn took it, glancing at him questioningly. But Legolas' face betrayed nothing.

Aragorn opened the lid and froze, his eyes widening. Arwen, looking over his shoulder, gasped. "Is that . . .?"

"It is," Aragorn said. He lifted the chain of emerald and silver links, holding it up so that she could touch it. It was heavy, though it had been forged in the likeness of silver and green leaves so delicately wrought that they were translucent in places. It was worn over the shoulders, and where the chain clasped on the chest there was the likeness of an oak tree fashioned of silver, with tiny diamonds woven like stars among its branches.

"The ruling chain of the House of Oropher," Aragorn breathed. "Legend says that it was made before the sundering of the kindred, by the hand of Celebrimbor himself." He looked up. "You cannot mean to give me this!"

"The Elvenking gives it in gratitude for the life of a Prince of Eryn Lasgalen," Legolas said. He raised one eyebrow. "It would be unwise to refuse him."

Aragorn swallowed. "I know, but really . . ."

"That cannot have been a decision he made lightly," Arwen said. "Some in the court must have opposed him."

"Oh aye," Gimli said cheerfully. "There was a near riot in the council room, you should have seen it."

"But my father said that it was a gift befitting a great King," Legolas said. "And that I was to tell you, you have proven yourself a great King."

Aragorn looked away. Arwen cleared her throat.

"Then on behalf of the King and myself, I thank you," she said. "This is generous beyond measure. Please convey our gratitude to the Elvenking when next you see him."

Legolas bowed. Arwen felt like swearing. Valar, now she was doing it! They were all hiding behind the ritual of protocol, cowering like children when there were real words that needed to be said. She had known Legolas all his life. More than anything now she wanted to simply hug him, to pull him close in joy and gratitude because he was here, and Aragorn was whole again, and they both lived. But the barrier of everything that had been said and done between them loomed too high for her to cross.

Gimli grunted. "Well now that's taken care of, I could do with something to eat. We've had nothing but waybread and dried fruit the last week. I don't suppose the kitchens are open?"

Aragorn looked as relieved as Arwen felt at the introduction of a safe topic of conversation. "Certainly," he said. "We can go down to the great hall."

"No need," Arwen said. "I'll have something sent up. I need to take this to the treasury in any case."

Taking the Chain of Oropher from Aragorn's unresisting hand, she closed it in its case and tucked it under her arm. She looked up to find the three males staring at her with almost identical expressions of surprise. She smiled back at them sweetly. "Legolas, would you escort me?"

Legolas blinked. He glanced from her to Aragorn, and Arwen saw Aragorn, meeting his gaze, give an almost imperceptible nod.

Legolas turned back to her and smiled. "Of course, my lady."

As they left the room Arwen heard Gimli settle into a chair behind her, causing its cushions to creak. "Well good for her," he said, apparently to no one in particular. "If anyone can get some sense out of that lad, she can."

Arwen waited until they had put several passageways between themselves and the Royal Chambers. In an empty corridor that led to the stairs down to the treasury she came to a halt beside a narrow arrow-slit window. Legolas stopped also, eyebrows raised in an unspoken question.

"How are you?" Arwen said.

"I am well," Legolas said. "And Your Majesty?"

Arwen hesitated, and then, mustering her courage, she said, "I am many things but, mostly, now . . . I am ashamed."

Legolas looked at her in astonishment. "You have no cause for shame, my lady."

"Don't I?" Arwen said. "When I think of how I treated you, Legolas . . . I used you. I took advantage of your regard for me and I put you in danger."

Legolas turned to face her fully then, fixing her with an intent gaze. "I did not do it solely for your sake, my lady. I may not have loved him in the same way that you did, but never forget that I did love him. I would have gone to him with or without you."

Arwen swallowed. "I know," she said. "That's just it, don't you see? When you had paid the price that I could not, I begrudged Aragorn's healing of you. I was jealous of his love for you."

Legolas fell silent. He looked down, folding his arms across his chest. The pale light from the window fell in a narrow band across his hair and forehead, leaving his face partially in shadow.

"And do you feel that way still?" he said at last.

"No!" Arwen said. "No, of course not."

"Why not?" Legolas said. "Is it –" he stopped, and his jaw tightened. When he spoke again it was as if he were forcing himself to say the words. "Is it because I told you that I loved you?"

The strength seemed to drain from Arwen's arms and legs, leaving her weak. She bent down and set the case on the ground lest she drop it. Straightening up again, she took a deep breath. "No. It is because I love him, all of him. This past year I saw the worst and the best of him. His love for you is a part of the very best of him, Legolas. I would not have it any other way."

It was a moment before Legolas spoke. Finally he said, "You acted as any would have done, in love and fear for your husband. You have no reason to feel ashamed, my lady."

Arwen released a long breath in relief. Then looking at him she said, "Do you regret what you told me, Legolas?"

Legolas gave a strangled laugh, turning his face away. "The words? Yes. Every day. The feeling behind them? No. Never."

Arwen felt the heat rise in her cheeks. She looked down. "I don't know what to say."

"You need say nothing," Legolas said. "If I could take them back, I would. As it is I can only ask that you forget them. Your friendship is too precious for me to lose because of one moment of selfishness."

"It wasn't that," Arwen said. "It was never that." She stepped forward, taking his hands. "I have always treasured your friendship, and now I know it is even more dear than I imagined. How can I forget that? If we have come through the fire and now know the true strengths of our hearts, then isn't that a good thing? We will go on, all of us, better than before. You will see. You have nothing of which to be embarrassed, Legolas."

Legolas did not answer. Arwen waited, feeling the smile fade from her lips. Finally she said, "Please look at me."

He did so, reluctantly it seemed. She looked into his eyes. There was light there, and life, so different from the shadow that had once frightened her. Legolas looked almost as he had done when she first saw him in Minas Tirith, at the very beginning. Almost. And yet . . .

"There is an emptiness here," she touched his chest, just above the beat of his heart. "What is it? Is it the sea?"

Legolas stepped back. "No."

"What, then?"

Legolas bent and picked up the case that held the Chain of Oropher. "We should go. Gimli will be missing his tea."

"Legolas?" Arwen caught his arm, but he did not stop. He walked on swiftly, forcing her to hurry beside him. "What is it? Please tell me."

He paused, a bare hesitation in his stride, but then continued. "I never could refuse you anything. But I think . . . not this time. No."

Arwen bit her lip. "Will you tell Aragorn, then?"

Legolas stopped. At the threshold of the stairs he hesitated, and then said, "If he asks me."

"Will you give him the chance to ask?"

He shot her a look, part amusement, part respect, and said, "You cannot send him to ferret it out for you."

"I won't," Arwen said. "But if he seeks you on his own . . ."

Legolas sighed. "Yes. He will have the chance to ask."

Something was wrong. Aragorn could feel it, could see it in Arwen's eyes and in Legolas'. They at least had seemed easier with each other since their return with food and drink from the kitchens. The watchfulness, the careful formality between them was gone. But though she talked and ate with apparent ease, Arwen's eyes lingered on Legolas, and Aragorn saw the worried frown lines drawn between her brows. And though Legolas smiled at the right times, and spoke and even laughed; he seemed distant somehow. His gaze slipped past Aragorn and Arwen and even Gimli, as though he were reluctant to meet their eyes.

Well what did you expect? Aragorn thought, impatient with his own disappointment. That we'd slay the enemy and all live happily ever after?

He had seen soldiers returned from battle before. He had led companies home from the battlefield, both victorious and otherwise. Even those not physically injured were changed by war. Aragorn had seen brave men driven to despair months and even years later. Its effects on mind and spirit could not be dismissed, not even by the strongest warrior.

And Legolas . . . in his mind's eye Aragorn saw again the knife coming down, the jerk of his friend's body as it pierced his heart. What had that done to him? The scene of Dragaer's cabin, the barriers within Legolas' mind had broken apart. What did that mean for him now?

It was not just the awkwardness of coming together again, of pretending normalcy after everything that had happened. Something was missing. Aragorn found himself trying to catch Legolas' eye, searching for something he could not name.

He had hopes, when they went to the nursery. After all, Eldarion had helped Legolas before, or he seemed to. And indeed at first it seemed his hopes were realized, for when Eldarion saw the Elf he broke into a broad grin and stretched pudgy arms toward him. Legolas, lifting him up, smiled almost as greatly, and laughed aloud when Eldarion seized double handfuls of his hair with a crow of delight.

He did manage to disentangle himself from Eldarion's grip by slipping a gift from his pocket: the figure of a horse in full gallop, whittled by Legolas, Gimli said, during the journey from Eryn Lasgalen to Minas Tirith. Eldarion's eyes grew wide when he saw it, and releasing Legolas' hair he grasped the horse eagerly, and then tried to put it in his mouth.

But even with the baby in his arms Legolas was still removed, with them but apart. Aragorn was past concerned now. He was growing worried, and beyond that he was frustrated.

He took Gimli aside at the evening meal and asked him directly. "What is it?"

Gimli didn't bother to ask what he meant. "You've noticed then. I didn't think it would take long. Blamed if I know – he's better, you can see that he's better, he's practically completely healed now . . . but he isn't." He shrugged. "It's the sigin-narag, the war sickness.2 It must be."

"Is it?" Aragorn said.

"What else could it be? If it was still the – the how d'you say it – the delgurth, he would be dead now."

"I know." Aragorn glanced toward where Legolas was sitting with Arwen. To all appearances they were listening to the small group of musicians who played on a low dais in the center of the great hall. But Legolas' gaze was abstracted, as though he were looking inward at something only he could see. Aragorn suddenly doubted that he could hear the music at all.

"Is it the sea-longing, do you think?"

Gimli grunted. "I wondered that – but it's different. He isn't the same as he was before. And he hasn't mentioned the sea." He shook his head. "You'll have to ask him. He won't even admit to me that there's anything wrong."

Arwen said much the same thing that night as they were preparing for bed. "I think it's a matter between a healer and his patient," she said, and kissed him. "Don't worry, my love. You'll know what to do."

Which was of no help at all.

Aragorn had difficulty sleeping that night. He lay awake, gazing into the darkness for a long time. When he finally fell into a fitful slumber he dreamed of Dragaer, standing over him. He was naked, bound upon a bed in a room lit by a flickering orange light. As the Corsair reached for him he knew: Minas Tirith was burning. Dragaer would take him here while Minas Tirith burned. He tried to fight, choking in rage and despair . . . and then the scene dissolved, and he was standing upon a high cliff overlooking the sea. The wind blew the empty grasses at his feet, and the setting sun stretched a glittering path over the water. He squinted, holding his hand up to shade his eyes, and saw a grey ship sailing away, following the path of light to the horizon.

Aragorn bolted awake. He sat upright, staring into the dark while gradually his heart slowed. Beside him Arwen lay still, her breath slow and regular. A faint light was edging the draperies over the windows, enough for him to make out the shapes of the wardrobe and the washstand by the wall. It was almost dawn.

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood. He knew what to do. He knew it with a certainty as great as the sorrow that still lingered from the dream, the grief that had filled him as he watched that grey ship sailing away.

He dressed as quietly as he could in the dark and slipped out the door, shutting it carefully behind him. He did not see Arwen lift her head as he left, nor was he aware as she watched him go.

Sounds carried in the citadel. Footsteps rang on the marble passages, and the high ceilings and long empty walls picked up and carried every echo. Aragorn's ranger training was a match for these challenges but now, standing in the passage outside Legolas' door, he knew that knocking was not an option.

So he whistled. "Sun-up-wake-up," the four note call of northern Mirkwood's morning warbler.

He waited, and shortly heard an answering call from within. He turned the handle – but the door did not move. There was a pause. Then came the sound of a bolt being drawn back, and the door opened.

"I forgot," Legolas said. "Sorry." He was already crossing the room back to where the door of his balcony stood open. He was fully dressed, his boots laced and a hunting dagger at his hip. Aragorn wondered if he'd bothered to sleep at all last night.

"It's all right," Aragorn said. He did not say what they both knew: that Legolas had never used to lock his door.

He followed the Elf out onto the balcony. The sunrise was in the east, behind them, but from here he could see the dark mass of the hills that circled to the south and west. An edge of pale pink just touched the southern hills. The sky was a deep indigo into which the stars were slipping one by one.

Legolas sat on the balcony railing, pulling a knee up to his chest. He looked out over the empty stretch of the courtyard. "Did you speak to Arwen?"

Aragorn blinked. "No. Why? Should I have?"

Legolas turned his head, resting one cheek against his knee while he cast a searching look at Aragorn. "No," he said at last. "It's all right."

Aragorn returned the look. "All right," he said. "Then may I ask a question?"

Legolas nodded.

"What's wrong?"

"What makes you think something is wrong?"

Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Let's see. Three months ago you accused me of harboring suspicions against you and Arwen. You're distracted, moody, distant . . . actually, now that I think of it, everything that the Dwarves accuse Elves of being. I should send word to Thorin of Erebor. He'd be delighted."

Legolas grimaced. "I am sorry. I did not intend to evade the question. It . . . is difficult to talk about, that is all."

Aragorn nodded. "I gathered that." He leaned on his elbows over the balcony rail. The sky was a deep blue now, with traces of pink extending to the south. Birds were waking, piping their songs to the morning.

"I still have dreams about it," Aragorn said after a time. "Not every night, but . . . I dream about him. Dragaer. It can take years to recover from trauma, of course – Faramir once told me that he still dreams of the pyre. But I wake up and I think: I only experienced the memory of it. What you must be going through . . ." he trailed off.

Legolas did not answer. He was staring toward the western hills, unblinking.

"When did you last sleep, Legolas?"

"Two nights ago," Legolas said. "I did not dream of the Corsair."

He glanced sidelong at Aragorn. "Elves do not dream as mortals do. You gave me the choice of whether to look upon those memories, and I do not choose to walk that path in dreams."

"What is it, then?" Aragorn said.

Legolas drew a slow breath. "You remember when you entered the . . . memory of Dragaer's cabin. What you saw."

It was etched into Aragorn's mind: the image of Legolas bound, stretched upon the bed. He nodded.

Legolas sighed. "When Dragaer took me I told myself that it was the sea. In order to survive, I transferred it – the pain, the shame, the anger – everything into the sea-longing. But in order to do that I had to also feel it. A part of me had to experience the delgurth as it truly was."

Aragorn frowned. "He told me," he said slowly. "Dragaer said that so long as . . . that part of you . . . lived, the delgurth would also."

Legolas turned his head to look at him, his eyebrows raised. "You knew? Then you knew how to escape. But you stayed. Why?"

"What choice did I have? I couldn't risk hurting you on his say-so!"

Legolas studied him for a moment. "You had a choice," he said at last. "You always had a choice."

Aragorn shook his head. "I didn't know what it would do to you. Legolas, a person cannot partition himself into separate beings! You can't just – just block off a part of yourself from the rest of your mind. Not even an Elf can do that."

"No," Legolas said. "He cannot. And no Elf can survive the delgurth and also remain in Middle-earth. An Elf who is raped and does not sail . . . dies."

Aragorn stared at him. His throat was dry. "But you can't die," he whispered.

"I did die," Legolas said. "The part of me that was trapped in the delgurth died. I killed him myself."

Aragorn rubbed a hand over his face. "I don't understand. What does that mean? What happens now?"

"Now? We go on. You rule your people. I continue my work in Ithilien. The Orcs have been harassing us again . . . perhaps you and I might take a warrior party and root them out. I think that I would enjoy that."

Legolas paused, gazing into the courtyard. The White Tree was just becoming visible, its slender branches distinct against the velvet darkness of the grass.

"And when you have lived long and have grown full of years, and the time comes when you depart this world . . . then I will leave also. I will sail from these shores, and the longing will be answered at last. And by the Valar's grace, in the Undying Lands, I will be whole again."

Aragorn swallowed. "But I thought . . . I wanted you to be healed now. I tried . . ."

Legolas laughed. "You did heal me! Elbereth, Aragorn, did you think my father sent you the Chain of Oropher because he thought that it would suit you? No Elf in the history of Middle-earth has suffered as I have and lived. And no Man in history has sacrificed more greatly than you did, to save a friend."

"I might say the same about you," Aragorn said.

Legolas sobered. "You might," he said. "It was not a coincidence that the Valar's call returned to me as I held Eldarion in my arms. Aragorn . . . Estel. I held your son, and I saw Hope restored. There could be no greater healing of the spirit than that. But you cannot expect me to return as if nothing had happened. Some scars . . . remain."

Aragorn ran his hands over the railing, feeling the marble smooth and cold beneath his palms. His fingers closed upon it, tightened. "You do not need to wait. You could sail now."

"I could," Legolas said. "But I will not. I will stay."

"A friend would not ask you to do that."

"A friend," Legolas said, "would not need to."

"I could order you to go."

Legolas smiled. "So could my father, far more effectively. But he will not. You will learn, Estel, that the secret of good Kingship is to not command your subjects in things that they will not do."

Aragorn sighed. The swifts were out now, darting over the city rooftops. He watched them as they climbed and dove in wild, soaring arcs. Some scars remain. But even scarred, Legolas possessed the greatest spirit that Aragorn had ever known. When he thought of all that Legolas had done . . . a spirit like his might overcome the loss. A spirit like his might do anything.

"You mentioned something about Orcs," he said after a time.

"Mmm," Legolas said. "Remnants from Mordor's destruction. I think that they are holed up in the western hills of the Ephel Duath. From there they send raids against our settlements."

"We should stop them."

"We? You mean, you and I? The King of Gondor and a Prince of Eryn Lasgalen, going out alone against the agents of the Enemy?"

"Well, when you put it like that," Aragorn began, and then caught the glint in Legolas' eye. They exchanged a long look.

"If anything happens to you, your father will hang my body from the highest tree in Mirkwood," Aragorn said.

"You had better come with me, then, to make sure that nothing happens," Legolas said.

"Gimli won't let you go without him."

"Well, now we have to go," Legolas said. "He'd never forgive me if I kept him from a good fight."

"A good fight," Aragorn mused. "With sword and axe and bow against a real enemy with no mind games and no tricks and no palantír anywhere involved . . ."

Legolas met his gaze. Slowly they both began to smile.

"When the sunlight reaches the top of those hills," Legolas said. "Then we go and wake Gimli."

Aragorn grinned, leaning against the railing. "Sounds like fun."

Together, they watched the sky grow light.

The End.

1 Gîl síla erin lû govaded vîn: Sindarin, "A star shines on the hour of our meeting." Readers will note that this phrase is different than the one that Frodo said in greeting to Gildor, 'Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo.' The difference, of course, is that Frodo spoke in the High Elven tongue, Quenya, which even Gildor noted was not used much anymore. As a Wood-elf, Legolas would speak Sindarin.

2 sigin-narag: Khuzdul, literally "the long black." Intended here as a Dwarven term for post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Coming in 2013: The Gloaming, an original novel by Lamiel. In a world ruled by monsters, you have to be a monster to survive.