A/N: As always, the reviews are much appreciated. Thank you. My Hits List tells me that far more people read and don't review than do review. Please know that every single one of you that read any of my work is very important to me.
Let me hear from you, and thanks in advance for the reviews for this last chapter. Yes, we've finally come to the end of this tale. (Try to hold back your tears. :o)) I'll have more to say at the end.
Now, everyone, enjoy!
Chapter Twenty Five
With a deep sigh born of frustration and sadness, Aragorn stood up and followed Legolas back from the stream to their small camp. When he got there, the elf was sitting cross-legged on the ground, staring down at his hands, as his fingers twisted in agitation.
Aragorn sat down next to his friend but did not speak. At the moment, he thought that Legolas needed a little time of peace and quiet to calm himself, not to be told yet again that he didn't need the necklace or that the two of them could fight the stone's pull on him. However, that didn't mean that Aragorn wasn't itching to say exactly that and keep on saying it until the words sank into the elf's head.
It didn't take long before he also wanted to grab Legolas's hands to still the repetitive finger-twisting that was starting to get on the ranger's nerves. Instead, Aragorn forced himself to keep still. He needed some quiet time, as well.
As Aragorn sat and thought about the situation, it broke his heart to see the strong-willed elf in such a state. In the past, he had seen Legolas brought low from injury and from sorrow, but even in those dark times, the elf had never been like this.
Basically, Legolas looked the same on the outside. He was a little worse for wear from his recent experiences, but then, who wouldn't after being captured, shot twice, forced to travel under cruel guard while still injured and then held in a dungeon? He could only imagine the vision he himself must be presenting. He almost laughed, nothing new there.
The man's thoughts returned to the elf. It was Legolas's eyes that made Aragorn shudder. They were... He couldn't even put into words how they looked, though haunted was about as close as he could come to describing what he saw there. Even someone who didn't know the archer could see that something was definitely wrong with him.
At long last, Legolas broke the silence. "You really do not understand, Estel, and I cannot explain it any more clearly than I have already." His voice was soft and sounded resigned to defeat.
"I'm trying to understand, Legolas. Believe me I am. I know it's not the same, but I can remember that when the necklace touched my skin, it not only burned but seemed to enter my mind. It made me...," he paused at the distasteful memory. Taking a deep breath, he resumed. "It made me want to do whatever Allaura asked of me. The last thing I recall is kissing her, and I don't mean lightly on the cheek. It was pure desire on my part. I wanted her right then more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. Yet, now I know that if I'd been in control of my emotions, I never would have even touched her. She was beautiful, but she revolted me."
The man paused again, as he glanced sideways at the elf, trying to determine if what he was saying was being accepted. The expression on Legolas's face had not changed, though the ranger now also saw sympathy in his friend's eyes.
"You told me that after you came back and was finally able to remember most of what had happened. I am glad you did not have to go through what I am going through now."
"And I'm sorry that you do," Aragorn replied, his own eyes full of sympathy for the sensitive elf.
When the man opened his mouth to say more, Legolas reached over and put his hand on Aragorn's arm. "Do not say it, Estel. I know you think you can help, but you cannot."
'We'll see about that,' Aragorn said determinedly to himself. Then he got up and held his hand down to Legolas. "Come with me."
Legolas stared at the ranger's hand for a moment before taking it and allowing his friend to pull him to his feet.
Aragorn led the two of them away from the camp. He couldn't hear Legolas's footsteps behind him but knew the elf was following. He was pleased that his friend was willing to find out where he was being taken, but he was not pleased that Legolas showed no apparent curiosity about it. 'I'll take what I can get,' he told himself.
When Aragorn halted, Legolas looked around him and then at the ranger, allowing his silent expression to ask the question of why they had stopped.
Aragorn put his hand on the large oak tree they stood beneath. He frowned when Legolas didn't seem to know what the man's gesture was trying to tell him.
"Climb up there," Aragorn said, as he titled his head up and looked into the branches of the old oak.
Finally understanding, Legolas shook his head. "I know what you are trying to do, but it will not work. The tree cannot help me, because I cannot hear it."
"You haven't yet sat in it and asked it to talk to you. I think you may be surprised at what ;you might be able to hear."
The ranger was almost holding his breath. He didn't know what he would do, if Legolas refused or worse yet, walked away.
With a deep sigh that
spoke volumes, mostly that he would humor the man, who he was sure wasn't going to give up until Legolas did as he was bid, the elf leapt into the tree and made his way to a branch about half way up.
The man below gave a deep sigh of his own, as he climbed the tree much more slowly and with much more effort. It wasn't for the first time, or even the hundredth, that he wished he possessed even half the abilities of an elf.
Eyeing the branch Legolas was on, Aragorn stopped on one a bit lower and a bit sturdier. He didn't want to risk breaking the smaller branch the elf was on and end up falling and breaking his neck.
With a touch of sarcasm, Legolas said, "Let me guess. I am supposed to grasp the tree and listen to it."
Aragorn bit his lip to keep from returning the elf's sarcasm, and instead told his friend, "No. I think you should talk to it first, and then listen to its answers. It knows you are in distress."
"And say what?"
"Legolas, you've been talking to trees your whole life. Just talk to this one the way you would if..."
"If I was not mad?"
"You're not mad, and that's not what I was going to say." Aragorn couldn't help letting a bit of anger enter his voice. Realizing that losing his patience wasn't going to help any, he softened his tone. "I was simply going to say talk to it the way you would if you were at home in Mirkwood. This tree is old, and probably hasn't seen many elves, especially in recent times. I'm sure it would love to communicate with you."
More to appease the man than thinking it would actually work, Legolas moved on the branch until his back was against the tree's trunk, He crossed one leg over the other and stretched them out in front of him. He put both hands down below his body and pressed the palms against the rough bark. Leaning his head back until it, too, rested against the tree trunk, the elf closed his eyes and began his attempt to silently communicate with the oak.
To Legolas's utter surprise, he heard the lament the tree began at the state the elf was in. It seemed to understand the distress this silvan elf was enduring, though it could not, of course, know the reason behind such distress.
'Do not weep for me,' the elf silently told the oak. 'I am but one elf, who is no longer worthy of your concern.'
The tree did not agree and before long, all the trees in the area were imparting their own concerns for him.
'You are Eldar, a noble elf of royal blood. You are more than worth our concern.'
Legolas had always communicated with trees through feelings and senses, not having to think rationally about the messages, just knowing them in his heart. But to his surprise, he now heard...words. They were silent and filled his being, but they were most definitely words.
In his mind, Legolas replied, 'Nay, old one. I have been tainted by evil. My heart and my soul are no longer my own. You cannot save me any more that my friend can.'
The tree had not forgotten about the human that sat near the elf in its branches, but he was not the concern right then. 'If one of the Firstborn is not worth saving, then who is?'
The blond archer could not answer that question. In utter despair, Legolas said, 'Perhaps no one is.'
'You are wrong, young elf. Your heart is burdened, and you feel that all is hopeless, but you can learn to believe in yourself again. We will help.'
Before Legolas could say more, all of the trees that his keen senses were able to detect, began a song of hope and renewed joy. It soon echoed throughout the forest.
'Hear us,' the oak tree spoke into the elf's mind. 'Hear our song. Block out all else that distracts you. Let our song flow through you. For you know that we are here to help you regain the joy of the Firstborn.'
Legolas listened. It took an effort on his part, but he forced his consciousness to concentrate only on what the trees were saying.
From the branch below, Aragorn watched Legolas's face. After a while, he saw the elf's expression take on a more relaxed look. Although it was still far from the peace the ranger had seen on his friends' face in happier times, when the elf was one with the trees, it nonetheless eased the anxiety in Aragorn's heart and offered him hope.
The two beings stayed in the great oak for several hours. Aragorn didn't want to get down and disturb what he was sure the tree was doing to help Legolas. But the time finally came when he couldn't stay on that branch one more second. The whole lower half of his body, especially his behind, had gone numb, which was not a good thing and would definitely hamper his descent, but he couldn't stand the inactivity and longer. He had to move.
As quietly as he could, Aragorn twisted, stretched and rubbed his legs to get the circulation moving again, and when he finally got the painful signal that they were awake, he carefully began to move off of the branch.
"Do you need me to help you?"
The elf's soft voice startled the man so much, he almost slipped off the branch he stood on.
Legolas was beside him before the ranger could even take a breath. He welcomed the elf's firm grip on his arm. "Thank you," he offered in gratitude.
A blink of the man's eyes later, and Legolas was standing on the branch below him, reaching up two helping hands. Aragorn was not so proud that he wouldn't accept the elf's help, and between them, they reached the ground safely.
Forgetting all about his near fall, Aragorn asked anxiously, "Did you hear the tree?"
The archer nodded. "I heard them all," he replied, sweeping his hand around him at all the trees that surrounded them. "This one in particular had much to say to me."
Aragorn grabbed Legolas's shoulder. "I can't tell you how happy that makes me to hear you say that, Legolas. I was sure the trees could - and would - help you."
"You knew more than I did, but you were right." A slight frown then crossed the elf's face. "But, Estel, do not rejoice just yet. I am not cured of the stone's power over me. It is but one small step."
"But it's a step in the right direction, mellon nin. That's the hope you must cling to. And this is just the beginning. When night falls, you will have the stars to help you, as well."
That statement brought a genuine smile to the elf's lips rather than one of the sad little half smiles that was all he had been capable of giving until now.
It was the first of many such smiles, as the two friends slowly made their way to their camp.
"The tree spoke to me in words, Estel, just as you are speaking to me now. That has never happened before" Legolas's voice was still full of wonder.
"It did?" Aragorn was amazed, since Legolas had described to him in the past how he heard the trees speak through feelings and senses.
An idea dawned on Legolas. "I believe the Valar made that possible."
"I wouldn't doubt that for a moment. We all know you are worth any effort to save."
"That is what the tree told me."
"Smart tree. Looks like I picked the right one," Aragorn normally would have been a bit smug in making that statement, but right then, he was just happy that things had worked out the way he had hoped.
"Smart ranger," Legolas remarked, trying to ease his friend's concerns by using a touch of his old humor.
x x x x x
There was much work yet to be done to bring Legolas back to himself, but Aragorn was hopeful that by the time they reached Rivendell, their destination, Legolas would need very little, if any, further help.
Each day Legolas, usually alone, ventured into one of the trees along the path the two friends traveled. Each night, except when it was cloudy, Legolas lay under the stars and looked up at them, as they wheeled above him in the heavens. And each day the pull of the stone lessened just a little bit more.So it was that gradually, as Legolas spent more and more time communing with Nature, he came to agree with his human friend. The trees, the stars and all the natural world around him was what would bring him back from the depths of his obsession with the blue stone. And the steadfast support of a certain ranger played a large part in the elf's recovery, because through it all, Aragorn was there. Sometimes he talked; sometimes he was silent, but no matter what form his presence took, he was always there by Legolas's side.
When the two finally looked upon the valley of Imladris several weeks later, Legolas stopped and looked at Aragorn. "I hear it, Estel."
Thinking Legolas meant the roaring of the numerous waterfalls that graced Rivendell, the ranger said, "Yes. The sound of a waterfall always reminds me of home."
"No, Estel, not the waterfalls. I hear the Song of Ilúvatar. In here," Legolas said, as he rested his hand over his heart. There was a look of peace and unmistakable joy on his fair face, and his eyes looked brighter than they had since the elf had first looked upon that accursed necklace.
"You are whole again, mellon nin" Aragorn replied, more grateful than words could express that it had finally happened. Aragorn put a hand on the elf's shoulder and gently squeezed it. "And you are home." He knew that Legolas had always considered Rivendell his second home and the elves here his second family.
As the two friends made their way toward the Last Homely House, the trees of the fabled elven realm welcomed the wood-elf, and with peace in his heart, the wood-elf responded.
Let's all take a deep breath. That was some adventure. I managed to get this last chapter written while the evil, angst-ridden plot bunny wasn't looking, which wasn't easy.
Again I thank everyone who read and especially those who also reviewed.
At the end of one long story, I usually post the summary to my next one (other than the short Teitho Contest stories I write), so everyone will know what's coming up next. Even though I've got the beginnings to a new story, it's in its infancy, and I don't yet have a summary worked out. I can tell you it's another Legolas/Aragorn adventure. If you have me on Author Alert, you'll know when it comes out. Hopefully, that won't take too long. :o)
Love you all. Take care and stay safe. I want all of you back for the next story!
Namarie for now.