A/N: Hallo, there! Now, listen up... there is both good and bad new first.
Bad news: I have decided that as response to 'Return of the Prince' is rather, say, lukewarm (due mostly, I think, to me being unreliable when it comes to updating etc)... I shall instead write a few other stories and vignettes before returning to it. I have to stir up my reviewers, you see, after being underground for so long. Plus, I am going to completely re-write the story, because its a bit rubbish at the minute: I shall cut characters, add banter... the whole shi-bang.
Good news: I have kindly done this for you instead! Just to tide you over you understand... you might find it entertaining and hopefully a little sweet and touching.
Let me know! Yours, in apology and gratitude, your loving author, AliciA. xxxxxxxx
A sharp, piercing cry rent the still, muggy Gondorian night, making a mockery of the peace that had prevailed there that evening.
Aragorn winced even in his sleep when he heard this call, for he knew what it meant for him: he would get no more sleep that night, just as the night before, and the one before that... in fact, since his beloved Eldarion was born, two weeks ago, he had not had one decent night's rest.
His over-attentive mind was dragging his reluctant spirit back into the world of the wakeful, but not before burying his face deeper into his pillows and sinking further beneath the coverlets in a half-hearted attempt to escape the gnawing alarm.
Realising this was folly, he sat up with a groan, casting a look at his wife to see whether he would get any help this time. But the fair Arwen was peacefully sleeping and Aragorn found, much to his disgust, that he could not begrudge her rest... she had been exhausted from the labour, and though she took to motherhood like a swan to water, it was hard upon the first-time mother. So it had been Aragorn who had gallantly been getting up in the wee hours of the mornings - every morning - to lull Eldarion back to sleep each and everytime he woke.
"Ai! Be at peace, child: I am coming, I am coming..." he croaked his routine phrase, voice sleep-laden and full of woe.
He stumbled across to the crib at the side of the chamber, feeling the pleasant cool breeze from the open window upon his bare chest for he was clad only in sleep-pants, refreshing him and making him feel less like something from the Dead Marshes. When he came to the ornately carved, wooden cradle, Aragorn bent his tall frame easily to embrace the crying child and lift him from his swaddling to the comfortable niche upon the King's chest that his son fitted exactly into, like some wayward piece of an elvish jigsaw.
"There now, ion nin..." he mumbled, stifling a yawn and instead breathing in the familiar, intoxicating perfume of the babe.
Though Eldarion quieted a fair bit, he still fretted, and would not be comforted though Aragorn attempted for a long time, instead wriggling in the ex-ranger's strong arms, and no matter how much Aragorn attempted to soothe him, Eldarion simply would not be coddled this night and refused to be lulled back to sleep. The newborn boy already had the stubborness of twelve, century-old dwarves - and Aragorn dreaded to think what Eldarion was going to be like in his tweens.
But at that moment, all he cared was for a bit of peace and respite, and so he deftly shifted the still-crying child to his shoulder, knowing now through experience that this was termed Plan B and was usually successful if Plan A - also known as 'the chest' - did not work. He even bumping the light baby gently up and down in an effort to cease the noise escaping through his small throat... but all this position served to do was distort the nature of the cries, making them slightly louder to his sharp ears.
"By the Valar, Eldarion," Aragorn swiftly became more and more awake, "you are not my ally this night, are you?"
He gently lowered the crying child to another comfortable position, carefully tucking him in the crook of his left elbow, held by crossed arms and pressed against his chest. But Eldarion simply would not have it, and despite continued - and gradually more fervered - rocking on Aragorn's part, he would only cry louder.
The bedraggled learner-father paced repeatedly up and down the length of the chamber with the babe, and eventually became frustrated: "Listen to me, ion nin! I command you, as your King, to be silent! Silence!" It was a half-jesting, half-deadly-serious order... but it didn't work either way.
Aragorn let out a gusty sigh and rolled his eyes, annoyed at himself for not knowing what to do... the baby did not feed during the night; he could tell that no nappykin-changing was required; he wasn't too cold nor too hot.
"Would that I was blessed the patience of a Maia, the skill of an elf and the good-will of a halfing," he grumbled to himself, a little frantic about what he should do.
Eldarion answered with a particularly piercing shriek.
Arwen stirred in the bed, sighing deeply and turning away from the noise. Aragorn glanced over at his wife fearfully, knowing that Gondor would be without a King come the morn if he woke her. "I think it best that we leave your mother," he confided in the inconsolable baby, "and find somewhere we can continue this in... ...peace." He yawned again, exhaustion sweeping over him like some sort of smothering blanket.
So he picked a soft quilt from off the back of the fireside chair, wrapped it one-handed about his shoulders - still carefully holding the squalling child - and left the room quietly, closing the massive oak door behind him with a click.
Greful and Dartarn, the two guards charged that night with the King's keep, straightened at once with a guilty flurry... they had been slumped and slouching against the stone walls as they themselves fought to stay awake. Aragorn grinned knowingly at them, and raised a dark brow in amusement... they at least had the presence to look ashamed at their lapse in concentration.
The ex-ranger padded down the hall in only sleep-pants and a quilt, not caring what he looked like, and trying to ignore the fact that Dartarn was following him... it was the man's job, after all... and the fact that Eldarion was still not quieting. After a short burst of searching, he came to a door down near the very end of the long corridor, it belonged to a room he knew to be deserted - aside from being far away from his own chamber (and so away from the sharp ears of his resting wife), it was also far away from any of the other guest rooms, where Legolas, Gimli, Faramir and Eowyn were all residing. He did not wish to wake any of his friends, merely through his own parental incompetance.
Awkwardly opening the door with his elbow, he slipped inside and shut it behind him again, trusting Dartarn to stand guard outside. He turned and found the room lit as though it were expecting him, a fire crackling half-heartedly in the hearth.
Though the candle-light was easy upon his weary eyes, the glassy-grey orbs narrowed anyway, and he stepped cautiously into the quarters - although what hope he had of a surprise attack, he knew not what as he still clutched the screaming First Prince to his chest. The lights should have been snubbed out already, for it was far too late at night, and far too early in the morning.
The large balcony window and door was open, and the curtains twisted gently in the slight moist breeze, beckoning him closer. Aragorn moved towards them, with the intent of shouting if there was an intruder, and was surprised to find the narrow back of a very familiar, golden-haired prince, standing easy upon the balcony and leaning against the stone barrier.
"Legolas, confounded elf! Whatever are you doing, haunting my guest rooms in the early hours?" he cried, heart racing a little faster than usual.
"I hardly think what I am doing can be construed as 'haunting', Estel, as I have not once left this room since I came in here," his best friend replied in an almost lazy manner, turning smoothly to smirk at him, large eyes lighting up at the presence of his friend. "And I conclude it is to rain."
Though a smile graced the fair face, Aragorn's sharp eyes caught the tension around his sparkling green eyes, and the unnatural strain around his lips. But before he could ask what was bothering the prince, Legolas looked to Eldarion, handsome features crumpling, concerned at the sheer level of noise the child was making. "Mayhap you would like some help, mellon nin?" he offered, not unkindly.
"Oh yes, I'm sure you of all people - an elf who has been no where near children for at least half a century - can help me," Aragorn sounded only a little wistful when he said this, as if he secretly hoped this to be the case. He wrapped his arms around Eldarion once more, but only succeeded in slightly muffling the horrendous noises coming from somewhere deep within the newborn babe.
The King yawned, mouth wide, and a sudden thunder-clap sounded, rolling all across the plains of his land as simultaneous torrents of warm rain began to sheet down outside the bay window.
Legolas turned to look at his friend in mild admiration, one golden brow arched, "I bet you couldn't do that again if you tried," he said plainly.
"I'm not exactly sure how I did it in the first place."
Legolas suddenly sighed in irritation - something he was not usually prone to do - at the change in subject and held his hands out, "To your previous question, I believe you are forgetting how good Sam's little Elanor was when in my company..." A note of pride entered his melodious voice then as he added, "Rosie called me 'a natural'."
Aragorn laughed aloud at how the prince's thin chest puffed outwards in happiness when he said that. It was another confirmation of what he had always thought: that the elves were marvelous beings... to retain a certain kind of childlike innocence despite seeing the things they had with their wise eyes. Aragorn himself, who had known the prince for almost all of his human life, probably knew only half of what Legolas had done and experienced through his long years: and yet here the creature was, pleased as punch to be named 'a natural' mother by a hobbit-lass. He would never completely understand them... though he was thankful for coming so close, the closest of any mortal at least.
"Aye, well, don't let it go to your head..." he warned in jest with a fond smile dancing across his face.
Legolas frowned in annoyance, "Do you want my help or don't you?"
"If you think it to be of any use, then be my guest, mellon nin," Aragorn handed the shrieking child over to his best friend thankfully, shaking his touseled head in disbelief.
He watched as the elf looked momentarily awkward. Legolas' slender hands seemed suddenly too big to manage the precious babe resting in them, but then instinct took over, and Legolas drew Eldarion warmly to his chest. A claming balm appeared to wash over Aragorn's firstborn, and his noise quieted some as he was enveloped by the natural glow elves posses that shone all the brighter from Legolas now... inquisitive grey eyes frowned up at Legolas from a busy face. Legolas himself looked down in wonderment at the small bundle of life he now held within his arms, awed at the continuing beauty and creation life and the Valar gave the worlds, and Aragorn let an amused grin crease his face: he couldn't tell - between the baby and the prince - who was more interested in who.
"There now, young one," Legolas' deep voiced soothed away the frown in Eldarion's forehead as he used one of the names King Thranduil had used for him a long time ago, before he sailed across the sea.
Aragorn, deciding at the sight of a slightly-lulled newborn, that it was at last safe to relax, all but fell into the nearest chair with a heavy grunt, pulling the quilt he had brought across his knees like an old man. He watched the crackling fire wearily through lidded eyes, sinking down into the plush velvet of the seat till his head rested on his own shoulder. He looked back up at the elf, pacing about with Eldarion, and once more caught a certain restlessness in Legolas' movements, a slight jerking in his thin limbs and a tenseness across his back and proud shoulders, as if he were distracted... but Aragorn had seen this mood before, and knew all too well what the problem was.
"Legolas," he began carefully. "It is clear to me you are somehow sick at heart... you have of late lost all your mirth." Aragorn watched as Legolas looked down, an almost guilty expression passing over his fair features, and he continued gently, cautiously, "I know what ails you, mellon-nin."
The proud prince's green eyes flashed thunderously, and his chin raised in defiance automatically, a reaction bred into him through his father - never show weakness - "Think naught of it, Estel: certainly my trecherous heart longs for white shores from time to time... but surely you know me better than to think I would just up and leave you!" A strange, foreign tone - a little hurt, if Aragorn had to lable it - had entered his voice in that last part, displacing the arrogance, and the King's own heart grieved for the dilemma that was slowly but surely pulling his best friend to pieces.
"It is precisely because I know you as I do that I am worried, elf... you know that," the man countered, a slight anger creeping in through his voice. He knew the large heart Legolas housed within him - how it ached with any small slight to someone else, how it danced and sang aloud when he was happy, how it raged with ferocious passion at very little provocation... and how it was now slowly breaking with the harsh decision that was so much harder for the prince of Mirkwood than for all other elves who must make it. How many other elves have such an amount mortal friends, counting upon them?
But Legolas kept his eyes, refusing to break the look for a long time, defying the implication that his heart was his weakness. Then he said something which Aragorn knew would ring in his ears till his very last moments of breath:
"Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark...
And may there be no sadness of farewell, when I embark."
Legolas had just softly repeated a phrase often said by his second-oldest brother, Fienngil, whenever the warrior - clad in no armour and fearless to the very last - had ridden out into fierce battle, fire flickering in his eyes and fury dancing upon his blade.
It was part of an old elven poem that spoke of tenacity and the inherent stubborness of all elves... to Fienngil, it had encapsulated every one of his notions: that he would always be on the front line in a charge, no matter what, and he would never say his goodbyes before he went... he rode out too many times for that. But in saying the verse, he let his family know how he felt, about them and himself, without repeating upsetting goodbyes each and every time. It had given the Royal Family some kind of closure when brave Fienngil was eventually struck down in battle, cut down while protecting Legolas and the Crown Prince, Tusinduil, for they all knew, after years upon years of this phrase being spoken by him, what he had meant.
For Legolas, who had barely survived that same fateful battle, the poem asserted his decision to wait until all his friends had passed through their lives before he sought the Undying Lands his heart so yearned for... he would not permit to bring any sadness into his dearest friends' lives, on no account would they be upset because of him. He would wait out the twilight of his happiness, and travel past the evening sure to eventually swallow up his heart, and only when the darkness of utter loneliness was all around him... when darling Pippin and Merry, and good old Sam, and Aragorn and Arwen and Eldarion... and, of course, his dearest Gimli... had all passed away to a place they would no longer miss him, would he pass across the seas to the place he would be able to keep their memories alive forevermore. Tears sprang to his eyes at the thought, not for the first time, of how many more years he would have to endure in such unbearable pain... and Legolas hated himself for thinking this way, finding it selfish and pathetic.
Thankfully, Aragorn knew his best friend enough to recognise this, and realise it was the end of the discussion... for now at least.
He nodded in understanding, head falling deeper into the plush cushions of the chair and under the soft quilt, the warmth of the fire caressing his cheeks. Legolas continued trying to soothe Eldarion, rubbing his small back gently with one large, skilled hand. Aragorn roused himself to speak, "I take it back, princeling, you do seem to be a natural, as Rosie said."
Legolas grinned broadly in a decidedly-human way, a trait his father had mourned aloud whenever he saw it becoming his youngest son's face, "Aha! You see... not that I am one to say 'I told you so'."
Aragorn managed to yawn and feign innocence simultaneously, a skill he had worked hard at all his long years as a ranger, "No, no... of course not, my lord."
"Oh shut up, irksome human."
"And that's mature..." he shook his head then, as if talking to someone else, said "... such a condescending elf."
"Better than being a filthy mortal, even if he is 'supposedly' a king," Legolas was obviously trying for haughty, but the small sighing yawn - hardly noticeable but for it's slight melody - that punctuated the insult belied his immense fatigue and ruined the effect.
They smiled fondly at one another, completely comfortable with one another's presence, and Legolas came and easily drew up another chair beside Aragorn and the fire. He folded his long limbs into it and let his golden head fall back against the chair with a contented sigh.
Eldarion, however, did not appreciate this unexpected change in altitude, and he began to scream loudly once more... Legolas jogged him gently but even lulled in the arms of an elf, Eldarion would not be bested, and he began to wriggle about some more, kicking his little feet out of his blanket.
And so Legolas began to sing, humming softly at first before the words softly broke free of him, tucking the child gently back into his swaddling clothes. His mother used to sing him this song and then, when she had died, his elder sisters whenever he was injured, unhappy or ill at heart - he found it had always helped to soothe him, and his aim was that it would have the same effect on Eldarion - he heard Aragorn make a small noise of contentment, and smiled to himself as he sang, for it seemed to be relaxing the seven score-year King rather than the fortnight-old child:
"The greenest trees you'll ever see are the ones in your mind,
And all the answers and the dreams - will come to you in time...
You will be living life the way you feel...
I know the world around you: everyone shares the sky,
You'll never see darkness - you are the daylight...
You will be living life the way you feel...
Go away with a smile; don't forget about your past;
Don't keep yourself from giving.
I will always be watching you be yourself and staying true,
Because it makes me feel like life's worth living...
The way you feel...
I've never minded where you're going:
I know that change will be a part of you.
I'm not going to hide anymore,
I'm going to listen to myself:
And maybe one day I'll be real, too...
You will be living life the way you feel,
You should know you'll be living life
the way you feel: and that is real."
Legolas' lilting voice trailed off, and he yawned very humanly. The singing had enabled him to find the sleepiness that had been so elusive to him before, the song having pushed away the thoughts in his head and the pain in his heart.
He looked down - Eldarion was sweetly puckering up his rosebud lips in sleep, sucking his own tongue in comfort. The ancient elf had never had a younger sibling - Aragorn being the closest thing in that respect, though he had met the wild young human at around ten years old, so had missed out on this sort of thing. His heart was filled with relief and love as he looked down at the dark-haired babe - it was as if the Valar had bestowed him with something to keep him going, to allow him a continuing purpose in Middle-earth, preventing him from going to the Undying Lands before he really wanted to. He looked across to Aragorn, expecting the King to carry on with the awkward discussion of before, to try and unpick his reasonings and explore his mind... but found the ex-ranger fast asleep, stretched out in his chair, long legs and folded arms resting underneath the quilt.
"What would I do without my mortals?" Legolas wondered aloud, shaking his fair head.
Smiling, he then quietly reached over pulled the blanket from the unused bed in the chamber, and drew it up around Eldarion to prevent the chill that might creep in from the still-open window. He curled up in the chair, shaping himself around the sleeping babe, folding his long limbs into a comfortable position, covering himself almost completely with the same blanket.
Turning his golden head so his right cheek rested upon the soft velvet of his chair, he nestled in deeper, feeling the lids of his eyes drawing down heavily. They stopped at about half-mast - showing how tired the elf really was - and his last cognisant thought was how peaceful his King looked in slumber, Aragorn's suddenly-boyish face being turned towards him and filling his vision until the very last moment.
A/N: Please review - this is the first story I have done in some time, now! Need encouragement!