Disclaimer see chapter one.

Author's Notes: This is the last chapter of my story, and I can promise you that it does not end on a cliffie. (g) My next story is already finished, and there will be a short preview at the end.

I want to take a moment to thank all of you who reviewed this story, and/or placed my story or me on your favourites list or author alert. It makes me feel honoured. ((hugs))
I also want to thank all silent readers of my story, I hope you enjoyed it, too. :)

And now, on to the story! I hope you enjoy and tell me how you liked it. ;-) (Has anyone else noticed how close to 100 reviews this story is now? If I get those 100 reviews I will either faint or dance a jig. LOL.)

Thank you, as always, to my dear editor, Imbecamiel! ((hugs))


Some Elvish translations:
mellon-nîn: my friend
ion-nîn: my son
adar: father

------------------------------------------------

Chapter Six: Ithil-na-faron

------------------------------------------------

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
Helen Keller

------------------------------------------------

"Legolas?" he asked, laying one hand gently at his friend's cheek. "You have to wake up now!"

There was no reaction, but what he felt made the ranger frown. His hand wandered from his friend's cheek to his forehead, and he did not like what he found. Legolas was running a fever. Thankfully, it was not high, but it explained his friend's lack of reaction and the closed eyes.

Aragorn was suddenly angry at himself. Legolas could have burnt up with fever and he would never have noticed, because he had had to fall asleep. Perhaps there was nothing he could have done, but even being helpless was better than being unaware of his friend's state. He knew that Legolas' condition could have worsened drastically during the night after a fever had set in, and it scared him even belatedly.

A rope fell down from above, waking Aragorn from his dark thoughts. Thranduil appeared again, and the glow was around his head and golden hair once more, making him appear like an enchanted being from another world. Aragorn realized distractedly that this effect must be caused by the last rays of the evening sun falling on the clearing above. Then Thranduil kneeled down and the glow was gone. Without hesitation, the king gripped the rope and swung over the edge of the hole. He climbed down swiftly but carefully and soon reached the ground.

Aragorn felt a heavy weight fall off his mind the moment Thranduil set foot on the cave floor. The nightmare seemed to be truly over, for all of them. Perhaps it was only his imagination, but with the arrival of the king even the dim light in the cave seemed to be brighter.

Thranduil looked around warily, and his eyes immediately fell on the carcass of the bear. His hand closed around the hilt of the hunting knife at his belt, as he undoubtedly felt the lingering darkness of his old enemy around the dead beast, but then he relaxed slowly. He looked around once more, but seemed to be content with what he saw, turning his full attention to his son and Aragorn.

He quickly crossed the distance between them and knelt down in front of the two younger beings. His eyes rested on Aragorn for a short moment, seeing that the ranger was alert and seemed to be in no considerable pain, then his gaze was drawn to his son, noticing immediately the makeshift bandages around the younger elf's leg and arm, the blood and the closed eyes. He looked back at Aragorn questioningly. Seeing the silent fear in the king's eyes Aragorn hastened to reassure him.

"He is alive and will recover quickly."

Thranduil closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again to look down at the pale features of his son.

"He has a broken leg from the fall down here, and the bear over there attacked him and bit him in the arm. Otherwise, he has only minor injuries. He also has a light fever, but with the right treatment it will be cured quickly."

Thranduil nodded, only too aware of the consequences it might have had if he had found the both of them not now, but hours later.

"It seems there are many things you have to tell me," he commented, looking around the cave, at the carcass, his son, and finally Aragorn. "But not now. I think we should get both of you out of here as soon as possible."

Aragorn could only wholeheartedly agree.

"Are you hurt?"

"Only a sprained ankle and some scratches and bruises," the ranger replied. "I will be able to climb without too much difficulty."

"In that case you will be pulled up first and I will take Legolas and follow."

Aragorn shook his head decisively. "No," he said. "Get Legolas out of here first. It will not hurt me to stay here a little longer."

Thranduil's green eyes bore into him in an intense scrutiny that he knew only too well from Legolas. Then, seemingly convinced that Aragorn was not hiding any injuries or trying to be braver than he was, the king nodded again. "Very well."

He leaned forward slightly, his eyes softening when they looked upon his only child. Gently, he cupped his son's face in both hands, lightly brushing back the hair as he did so. "Legolas? Listen to me, ion-nîn! I want you to awake now."

Legolas began to stir slightly, then his eyes opened and he blinked drowsily. Finally, his gaze fixed on the face in front of him. "Adar?" he whispered disbelievingly.

"Yes, it is me," Thranduil answered and smiled down into the sleepy blue eyes of his son, which were slightly glazed with fever and also showed a pain that he never wanted to see in them again.

Legolas blinked again, and his gaze went past his father, seeing that they were still in the cave. "But… how…?" he asked, confused.

"I could feel you were in danger," Thranduil answered softly. "We have been searching for you and Estel for hours."

Legolas accepted this explanation without question, but his eyes widened in a new sudden fear. "Estel…!"

Then he felt the arm around his shoulders, which gave him a comforting squeeze. Looking up he saw Aragorn smiling down at him.

"I am here, Legolas."

Legolas sighed with relief and relaxed again, finally realizing that they were safe and about to be rescued.

"I think it is time to get both of you out of here." Without waiting for an answer, Thranduil slid his hands under his son's body and drew him gently into his arms. Legolas paled a bit and pressed his lips together tightly as his leg protested against the movement, but he made no sound and did not resist. Thranduil lifted his son off the ground and rose. Legolas rested his head against his father's shoulder, and Aragorn was not sure if his friend had fallen into an exhausted sleep yet again.

The king moved over to the rope, and Aragorn followed him more slowly, walking with a slight limp. Thranduil bound the rope first around himself, and then around his son, holding on to the younger elf tightly. Looking up, Aragorn saw that other elves had appeared now in the opening above them, ready for any command their king might give them. Thranduil jerked on the rope once, supporting Legolas with his other arm, and the elves instantly began to pull them up.

Aragorn followed their progress from the ground and finally saw their silhouettes disappear over the edge of the hole. Moments later, the rope came back down and it was his turn. Less than a minute later, he crawled over the edge of the hole and out into the late sunlight. The trees were whispering in a light breeze, and he felt grass and earth under his fingers.

For a moment he just sat there, staring at the last rays of sunlight playing through the foliage of the trees, and the blue sky above, and he thought he had never before seen anything more beautiful. Looking around, he saw that Legolas was awake and sitting propped up against a tree trunk, his father beside him. Their eyes met, and they smiled at each other in silent understanding. Being out of that dark cave seemed like being reborn into a new and better world.

-------

Neither the king nor the prince had led the Hunt today, as the one was being treated by the healers, and the other was busy hovering over both the healers and his son. Also, the festival began later than usual, but the elves did not really care. To them, the survival and the rescue of both their prince and his human friend was another reason for celebration today.

So it was a merry crowd that finally gathered under the boughs of the mighty Mirkwood trees and the pale blue light of Ithil-na-faron, the Hunter's Moon. A large fire was burning in the middle of a clearing, tables had been prepared, beautifully decorated, and were now laden with food and drink, and new songs had been added to honour the newest victory against the darkness. The elves wore their most festive robes, and had decorated their hair with leaves, flowers, and berries.

In the darkness and the silver light of the moon, the soft glow around their fair faces made them look even more beautiful and ethereal. A minstrel played a gentle melody on his harp, and sweet voices rose in a joyful song, accompanied by silvery laughter. Aragorn could only look and listen in wonder. He had never seen the fierce Mirkwood elves like this before, and he had never experienced a night as enchanted as this one.

But the one who stood out, even among all the beauty around him, was Thranduil. He could not have been mistaken for anything else but a king, and he looked magnificent. He wore the same crown of leaves and berries that Aragorn had seen before, and the same robes in all the shades of the autumn. His hair was like spun gold, and the robes moved like flames around him. His bearing was noble, but in this night he was neither fierce nor stern, and the gaze that rested on the elves around him was warm and nearly fatherly. There was a special gentleness in them whenever his eyes rested on his son, and a deep gratefulness.

Aragorn looked at Legolas and smiled. It had not been easy to bring him here. The healers had carried him on a litter, and they had protested, complained, and resisted each step of the way, while Legolas had demanded to walk on his own feet and insisted that he was fine. Only Thranduil's authority had made them all obey in the end, while Aragorn trailed behind, trying his best not to laugh out loud. It had earned him another icy glare from Legolas, but he did not really care.

Legolas was indeed much better now, but he was not "fine" and the healers had not been happy about moving him at all, declaring that he needed rest more than anything else now. They were right, of course, but Aragorn and Thranduil had been of the opinion that there were things that were more important than one night's rest. Somehow it felt right that both Legolas and Aragorn attended the festival this night. It had become their Hunter's Moon, their Blood Moon, especially Legolas', and they had survived to tell the tale. They needed to be here and bring it all to an end.

Looking at his friend, Aragorn knew that the decision had been right. Legolas looked completely at peace now, even joyful, and Aragorn knew that the memory of darkness was fading from his mind as it was from his own.

Legolas' robes were silver and blue and looked as if they were made out of moonlight. He wore a fine silver circlet around his head, which Aragorn had only seen once before, and he did his best to ignore the one healer that was still lurking behind him. Legolas' face was still too pale, his arm rested in a sling and his right leg was propped up on a stool, but he was clearly enjoying himself.

Aragorn was sitting right beside his friend, clad in a dark blue tunic and matching trousers that he had brought for the occasion. His small cuts had been treated, and his ankle was bound tightly. Both friends were stiff and bruised from their respective falls, but they did their best to ignore it.

Finally, Thranduil rose and a hush fell over the crowd. The king looked at the full moon that was shining down brightly on the clearing, unobscured by any clouds, and back at the gathered elves before him.

"You all know what we are celebrating today," he began. "Tonight is the time to remember our victories and our losses. We have survived again and we stood firm against the darkness. This night is our triumph. We will fight on and we will not be defeated. The Hunt will continue until the Great Greenwood is alive again and not only a distant memory in our hearts, buried by years of darkness and grief."

Looking at the ethereal creatures around him, Aragorn saw that they had changed into grim warriors again, listening intently to the words of their king and supreme commander. Pain and dark memories were edged in many faces, but there was also pride and determination. He knew their feelings all too well, and in this moment it could have been his own rangers before him instead of millennia old, magical beings. He felt that he belonged here as much as he did to Rivendell and to the rangers.

There was a sadness in Mirkwood that ran even deeper than in the other elven realms, but there was also a fighting spirit that was unequalled. There was no ring to protect these elves, nothing to defend them but the strength of their own hearts and hands. And in this moment he knew that a lot of that strength came from their king – and their prince, though Legolas was not aware of it.

There was sadness in Legolas' eyes now, and Aragorn wondered how many elves had been lost this year that his friend had known… and remembered at the same time the rangers that had been lost to the same shadow. Legolas turned his head, and their eyes met, both knowing that the other one shared his pain, and feeling comforted by it.

Then Thranduil turned and looked directly at them. "There has been another triumph today," he went on, "another survival that is worth celebrating."

He looked first at his son and then at Aragorn, deep emotions shining in his eyes. Quietly he recounted what had happened today, as he had learned it from Aragorn and Legolas, and the friends felt the gazes of all elves on them who did not yet know exactly what had befallen them today.

When Thranduil fell silent again, there were shock, gratefulness, and sorrow on many faces. The king nodded towards one elf, who silently took a large torch and lit it on the fire in the middle of the clearing. Some elves who had stood together on the other side of the clearing parted. Surprised, Aragorn saw a large pile of wood and the carcass of the bear upon it. Suddenly he knew exactly what the torch was for.

He felt Legolas tense at his side. The sight woke dark memories in both of them, memories of a dark cave and a desperate fight that had been all but forgotten in the hours before. The elf with the torch came towards Thranduil now, and handed the torch over with a bow. Thranduil took it and turned to his son. Aragorn suddenly felt worried. The king seemed about to hand the torch to Legolas.

The prince was not even able to stand on his own, and Aragorn could only hope that he would not try anything stupid, like walking across the clearing and setting fire to that pile of wood. He wondered if Thranduil would really allow an act like that. Concerned, he watched as Thranduil gave the torch to his son. Legolas looked at the carcass for a long moment, and then at the torch in his hand, seemingly lost in thought. Finally he straightened.

"Aragorn?" he said, meeting his friend's gaze and holding it.

Distracted by his concern, Aragorn needed a moment before he understood what Legolas wanted from him. He rose and took the torch from his friend's hand.

"For us both, mellon-nîn," Legolas said quietly and smiled at him.

"It will be my honour," Aragorn answered and smiled back. It was a genuine smile, but also filled with grim satisfaction.

Aragorn walked slowly across the clearing, the torch in his hand, and the elves parted before him. Looking at the carcass one more time, he lowered the torch to the pile and the dry wood caught fire immediately. He threw the torch on it and stepped back. The fire crackled and burnt high, hungrily devouring both the wood and the carcass on it. When there was nothing to see but the flames, Aragorn turned his back to the pile and went back to his place on the other side of the clearing, and his waiting friend.

He felt as if a shadow had been lifted from his heart.

-------

A few hours and many songs later Legolas fell asleep in his chair, and Thranduil carried him back to the palace while Aragorn limped along at his side. They tucked the exhausted prince into his bed, and Aragorn checked on his friend once more to make sure that his injuries had not been aggravated and he was not running a fever again.

Finally, Thranduil sent the human to his own bed and Aragorn just managed to crawl under the covers before he fell asleep. There were no dark dreams that night, and Ithil-na-faron shone brightly and silently in the dark sky above.

- The End -



Author's Note
:
This story - or rather the festival in it – was inspired by the following description of the Hunter's Moon: "According to folklore, October's full moon is called the "Hunter's Moon" or sometimes the "Blood Moon." It gets its name from hunters who tracked and killed their prey by autumn moonlight, stockpiling food for the winter ahead. The Hunter's Moon of 2005 is due on Oct. 17th." (Space Weather News Oct. 15, 2005)

Preview for "Wounds"

He had stopped moving some time ago. He did not feel the cold anymore. He just sat there in the snow, the large dark rock at his back the only thing that kept him upright. He was alone, with only his painful memories for company. But his mind was nearly as numb as his body now, and the memories slowly faded away. There was no regret anymore, no pain.

Slowly it began to snow, big snowflakes that floated on the light wind, tumbled, and landed gently on the already white ground. He watched the snowflakes for a while, and listened to the silence. It was peaceful. The snow continued to fall, clinging to his hair and melting on his face, covering his knees with a powdery white layer. Some time later, tired eyes closed, and the silence seemed to deepen.

A red spot stained the pristine white snow beside the still figure, like a molten ruby in the midst of glittering crystal.

- End of Preview -

The story will be posted at the end of next week. The summary can be found in my profile. :) I would love to see you again,

take care,

Tinu