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Chapter Ten – Legolas and Aragorn

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When Aragorn returned to camp in the late evening, he found Kenuric waiting for him at the picket lines. As he gave his horse—not nearly so lathered as the one he rode the day before—to a young ranger, he brushed past the healer and started down the path without a word. Kenuric quickly caught up with him and matched Aragorn stride for stride. "Legolas is doing whatever he has planned for the bodies of Nienor and Lenwë tonight. I thought you should know."

"Good. Then this whole sorry episode will be over and done with, and maybe we can return to lesser matters, like trying to free Arda from evil!"

"It is always unfortunate when novices resort to sarcasm. You should leave it to those who excel at it."

A tiny quirk of Aragorn's lips had Kenuric thanking the Valar that a chink had appeared in the man's defenses. "Like you?"

Smugly. "Of course."

They walked on together, the tension that had been pouring off Aragorn a little diminished, and Kenuric grasped the opportunity presented to him. "Legolas said he needed to do whatever he will do - alone."

"Then we will see he is not disturbed."

"That is what hesaid, but I think he would appreciate the presence of a friend. One friend in particular."

"Kenuric. No."

"But –"

"There are more…difficulties…than you know of. More than just a healer not wanting to see a young life ended for no good reason."

Kenuric prayed that the man would keep talking. "It will ease you to speak of it; you know this."

"The trouble is between Legolas and me. I cannot speak of what he has told me privately, believing it was between the two of us alone."

"I do not know him well, not as well as I should perhaps, but I know he suffers to see you estranged from him. He would be grateful for anything that would reconcile you."

Aragorn halted and Kenuric turned to face him. Then the healer spied a rock outcropping and pushed Aragorn gently in that direction. When he had seated the man, he found a smooth place for his own somewhat meager behind, and spoke as persuasively as he could. "Now tell me, Aragorn. Just let the words come, in whatever order you choose. You listened to me rant and rave when I was near to self-slaying—if there is any way I can help you, I will."

"What happened to 'Lord Aragorn'?"

Kenuric's eyes skated away from the younger man's. "You know I have a temper, and can be –"

"Childish?"

Kenuric's eyes returned and he said loftily, "I prefer the term intemperate." His gaze softened, "Do not change the subject, Aragorn."

Aragorn pulled up one knee and rested his chin upon it. Kenuric sat so that he could watch the other man's face, but remained silent. At last, with a sigh, Aragorn began. "Before ever Lenwë and Nienor came, there was a slight estrangement between Legolas and me. It was all of my making, you understand, and he was hurt by it as well as frustrated, for I would not discuss it with him. Then, when he was at his wits' end, through one of those strange coincidences of life, Nienor and Lenwë brought things to a head between us. You will understand this well, Kenuric, for the main point between us was that I could not face that I might cause Legolas' death through fading, if I myself fell through battle or mischance. It came near to happening a little over a year ago. I was sore wounded with a blow to the head, and I did not have you to attend me." Aragorn slanted a pale shadow of one of his mischievous grins at the man beside him. Kenuric snorted, but acknowledged the compliment with a slight smirk, then waved a hand to indicate Aragorn should continue. The man sobered again. "I was unconscious for many days, and the healers there told Legolas there was no hope—that I would die within a day or so. He began to grieve, and when I, by the grace of the Valar, returned to sensibility, he had begun to weaken. I dealt with his grief and fear by pretending that nothing had happened, and refusing to discuss it. I not only did not give him the succor he needed at the time, but I began to withdraw from him, as if by doing so I could lessen our future pain. He saw me as cold and distant, and in truth, looking back, it is as though I had enclosed myself in ice."

Kenuric loosened his tight jaw. "You say well that I would understand, for you were the cause of my own thaw—though my time of ice lasted twenty years. You speak of it as if this chill were in the past, so I assume you found a way to reconcile yourselves to inevitable pain?"

"Legolas deals with it by speaking of it to me. To be honest, and between you and me only, I hate it. I was raised by elves, but I am a human male: when I am upset I would rather spar, or run, or gallop for miles than talk something to death. Legolas and I met when I was a child, and he made the decision then, so he says, that he would accept future pain as the price for our association. But from time to time, he must talk his way through it. For me, the thought of his death fills me with such distress that I try not to think of it. At all."

Kenuric chuckled. "I can see that there is a conflict there. So he would try to speak with you about it and you would -"

"Cut him off, yes. I was blind to how much my avoidance of the subject hurt him."

"But you say you dealt with that, and all was well between you again."

"Oh, we talked some of it out, but only just before Lenwë made his dramatic exit."

The two healers frowned in perfect accord as they contemplated the effrontery of a patient taking his life into his own hands. Then Kenuric continued, "So you had barely come to an understanding when you found yourselves on opposite sides of a life-and-death question."

"Not only that, but Legolas saw Lenwë and Nienor as a reflection of our own future situation. He said I refused to contemplate Nienor's fading, because by keeping Nienor alive, I believed I was saving him. Ridiculous, is it not? Elves!"

Kenuric merely quirked an eyebrow.

Aragorn sat up straight. "Surely you do not agree! You were furious at the prospect that I might let him die!"

"So I was, and I am still having trouble dealing with it. That is beside the point. This is a very complex situation, Aragorn. Legolas' motivations are the most straightforward here. Yours are a combination of conflicts with your healing vows, and your relationship with an elf. You will not come to terms with everything today, or anytime soon. But your friend does not have time to wait for you to resolve these issues. He needs you tonight. Aragorn, he needed you these last two days."

Aragorn stared steadfastly into the distance, but one silvery tear slipped down his cheek. "I know." He lowered his head and whispered. "I cannot understand why he bears with me. I seem to bring him nothing but pain."

Kenuric was pleased to feel indignation fill his mind. Too much of the gentler emotions made him queasy and upset his equilibrium. He stood, shaking out his skirts brusquely. "If that is not the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard you utter—and believe me, I have heard much nonsense come from your mouth! A man does not gain and keep the affection of one of the Firstborn unless he has a great deal to offer such a friendship! Now, I have it on good authority that Legolas has ordered two horses for tonight. Are you going to order a third?"

"How can I simply join him, after the way I have treated him?"

Kenuric threw up his hands. "Valar preserve me from fools! Do as you please—I am done with both of you!" He started to stride off in the direction of the camp clearing, but stopped and spun around for a parting shot. "I never thought to see the day that I could name Arathorn's son a coward!"

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The sun had set and the nearly full moon was rising over the tree-tops when Legolas led two horses into the compound clearing. He had managed a few hours of rest, and was as ready as he could be to perform his last service for Lenwë and Nienor. He stopped outside the healing hut, bid the horses to wait, and disappeared within. He soon returned carrying a large bundle which he placed upon the pack horse. He then drew the two horses deep into the woods until they came to the spring which gave wholesome water to the encampment. The rangers had led a pipe of reeds to the camp proper, but here the frigid spring ran trickling out of the rocks which hid its source. The rangers, with great labor, had worked a niche into the cold rock so that Lenwë's body might be preserved until a decision was made as to how it should be disposed. Legolas now scooped out the thick covering of insulating leaves, and lifted the blanket wrapped body from its stone tomb. He laid it over the pack horse, side by side with Nienor, and then secured the two elves with rope. He mounted the other horse and beckoned to the first, as they quietly began to pick a way through the dense forest. When Legolas arrived at the perimeter guard post, he passed by the sentry with a word and headed for a meadow a few miles from the rangers' outpost. They had to travel slowly, for Legolas had been unable to force himself to truss the elves as tightly as he should have; he could not bring himself to treat their bodies as mere baggage.

When Legolas at last stopped the horses, they stood in tree cover at the edge of a wide, rolling open space carpeted with grass and many flowers. He untied the two elves and laid them in the shadow of a great oak. Then under the light of the moon he began to gather deadwood. He filled his arms until he could barely see over the top of his burden, walking with a lack of grace that would surprise those who knew him as he tried to balance his load. He moved out into the open, close to the trees but far enough away to ensure no threat to them. He laid the branches on the ground and went back for another load.

Again and again he gathered loads of branches, ranging in size from thin as arrow shafts to thick as his upper arms. He had to move deeper and deeper into the forest to glean more wood and the moonlight could not penetrate there, even in little patches. In the gloom he bent down, reaching for a branch as thick as his wrist, when another hand closed around the weathered wood just above his own. Legolas jerked his gaze upward to see a well-beloved face hovering above him. Without a word the man raised the branch and reached for another. Legolas stood, hands slack at his sides, and watched Aragorn take an armload of wood out to the mound Legolas had accumulated. Still without a word the man passed close to the elf and bent to lift a pine bough from the ground. Legolas remained rooted where he stood like the oaks and evergreens around him, as the man made two more trips to the stack of wood in the meadow. Suddenly the elf started forward and stepped before Aragorn, his eyes questioning. In the dimness he watched as a hand rose and touched his cheek briefly, then fell away. With a dry sob the elf darted deeper into the wood and snatched at more branches. Beside him the man also gathered, and together they built the stack of wood high, but flat across the top. Together they built the pyre so that it would burn cleanly and fiercely hot. Together they spread the blankets that Legolas had brought, and together they lifted the bodies and laid them reverently side by side. Aragorn stepped to the front of the great stack and pulled a wrapped bundle from within his tunic. He pressed the small package against the wood, slowly working it inside until it could no longer be seen. Legolas raised a brow at the odd action, but Aragorn shook his head. Legolas then went to fetch a pitched torch from behind his saddle, and lit it with flint and steel. He moved to the head of the great mound of wood and stood with the flaring torch upheld for long moments. Then, just as he lowered it to the tinder he had carefully placed in readiness, another hand clasped the torch over his own. Together they fired the stack, holding the torch motionless until the tinder caught, then moving on. Again and again the two held the torch to the dry wood and tinder, and though their eyes met often, they spoke no word.

When the pyre was well alight, Legolas sank to his knees. He tried to sing, but his throat closed too tightly, and only a soft keening could be heard. Two hands gripped his shoulders tightly from behind, and his body was pulled back hard and braced against Aragorn's legs. It was from the man's lips that the proper lays soared into the night, along with the fiery sparks that rose quickly to the heavens. The flames roared higher and higher until the bundles that had been two of the Firstborn could no longer be seen, and the man and elf were forced to back away from the intense heat.

It was mid-morning before the pyre sank down to glowing embers and ash. Both the man and elf were covered in soot, their eyes red from hours of staring and from the desert dry air created by the fire. At some point Aragorn's legs had given out and he collapsed next to his friend. Now he cautiously straightened his back and rose to his feet, easing out the tightness from muscles held too long in one position. Legolas remained on his knees, though his straight back was now bent with weariness. Aragorn began to speak, but only a dusty croak issued from his mouth. Clearing his throat roughly, he tried again. "I have water in my packs." He hesitated when there was no response, then walked stiffly the considerable distance to the trees where he had hidden and secured his mount. By the time he returned to Legolas with a waterskin, he was moving more easily and only a soft grunt escaped his lips as he once again went to his knees beside Legolas. Aragorn pulled the stopper from the waterskin and soaked a small linen square. He shifted around in front of Legolas and one hand raised the elf's chin while the other began to tenderly cleanse away the dark grit from the elf's face. He was struck by the fact that although he could feel the stiffened tracks of tears on his own face, there were none streaking the dust and grime on Legolas. His eyes closed briefly at this further sign of wrongs done before he continued his gentle ministrations. He had dampened the cloth for the fourth time before the glassy eyes began to focus. As though only now realizing that his friend was beside him, Legolas whispered, "Estel?"

"Yes, I am here." Aragorn raised the waterskin. "You need water."

Like a child that accepts whatever is done to him, Legolas opened his mouth and Aragorn carefully fed him sips of the spring water, cool from the long night. When at length the elf turned his face away, Aragorn stoppered the skin and set it aside. He coaxed gently, "I have much to say to you, Legolas, but let that wait until you have rested. I have brought all we need for a small camp. There is food and fresh clothing, and I crossed a small stream not far from here if you would like to..." The man trailed off as he realized he was babbling. He said more quietly, "Tell me what I can do for you, and it is done."

Legolas appeared to simply gaze at the hands clasped loosely in his lap. He gave no sign that he had heard Aragorn, or even remembered he was there. After a few moments he began to tremble. Aragorn tentatively reached out a hand, and the elf clasped it desperately in both of his. Moving slowly, the man leaned in to pull the fair head against his shoulder. At first Legolas was stiff and resistant in his hold, but as the trembling became deep shudders, the elf relaxed into the comfort he had craved for three interminable days.

The first muffled sob caused Aragorn to glance skyward in thanks, and to tighten his arms as he began to whisper soothingly. "That's it, weep now. It is all right. It will be well. Soon, I promise. For now, let loose your grief for him."

Gasping, the elf said brokenly, "I did not desire their deaths. I did not want Nienor to die!"

"I know. I know. Shhhhh. I know you did not. It's all right." Aragorn longed to beg his friend's forgiveness, but for now he thought only of the elf's grief; grief that could at last find its way out of the heart. He murmured and soothed while Legolas wept and clutched his tunic tightly, as if to a lifeline.

At last, eyes blinking blearily, Legolas raised his head. Aragorn smiled to see the elf drag the back of one hand across his face like a village urchin. Then the smile faded as he said quietly, "I am sorry for leaving you to deal with Nienor's death alone."

Legolas turned his face away and whispered, "I needed you, Aragorn."

"I know. I know there is nothing I can say; no excuse I can make. I am sorry; a million times I am sorry I left you alone at such a time."

Legolas said again, "I needed you." Then he turned back to face Aragorn, his eyes shining with forgiveness. "But I needed you last night as well, and you came. Even though your own heart is torn with guilt, anger, and doubt, you came."

Aragorn shook his head in frustration. "You forgive too easily - you always have. I do not deserve such consideration."

"It is for me to decide –"

"No. Not this time. This was no petty misunderstanding from words carelessly chosen. Not only did I know how difficult Nienor's death would be for you, Kenuric made sure I could not plead ignorance of the hardship I imposed upon you."

"He should not have interfered. It is between the two of us alone."

Aragorn smiled wryly, "It appears you have a staunch champion in my healer. He scolded and shamed me into realizing the pain I have caused you."

Legolas began to reply, then yawned as a great wave of weariness overcame him. Aragorn rose to his feet, pulling the elf up with him. "You need rest, then food, then more rest."

Legolas turned his head back to gaze on the smoldering coals behind them. "No, we must finish what I came here to do. The…they…cannot be left so."

"It will take two days or more to cool sufficiently. Plenty of time to rest and eat. And talk, for I have much yet to say to you. But not now; now you will rest."

The elf grumbled as he was led away, a strong arm supporting him. "I am a grown elf, you know. I can make my own decisions."

Soothingly Aragorn replied, "Of course you can. And right now you choose to rest."

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It was mid-afternoon before Legolas roused from reverie. In the hours since he had been coaxed to lie on a blanket and had his head gently pillowed on a folded cloak, a tidy camp had been created around him. Aragorn sat cross-legged before a small fire, tending a simmering pot. When he saw awareness in the elf's eyes, he smiled warmly and began to spoon a thick gruel into a shallow bowl.

Legolas grimaced as he sat up and accepted the dish and a small horn spoon. "I do not like barley porridge."

"It has berries and nuts in it."

"That just means the berries and nuts are ruined by the porridge."

"It is good food for sick elves."

"One: I am not sick. Two: who says so? Three: I do not like it."

"One: you are exhausted and that is as much a stress on the body as illness. Two: Elrond says so. Three: I put berries and nuts in it that I gathered at great risk to life and limb, so you will eat it. If you let it get cold, you will like it even less."

Aragorn watched like a fond parent as Legolas reluctantly ate the thick, lumpy substance. "Estel, this is truly dreadful. Much worse than usual."

"Well, I had no milk, and the berries were not ripe. The nuts are good, though."

Legolas managed to choke down more than half and had to admit that the porridge sat comfortingly in his stomach, stilling the hunger he had not been aware of until it was eased. He returned the bowl to Aragorn who magnanimously said nothing about the food that remained uneaten. The man busied himself with tidying away the cooking implements and stirring the fire before he dropped to the ground next to his friend. The forced banter was put aside as he asked seriously, "How do you fare?"

Legolas sighed and his eyes strayed to the black oval in the green of the meadow. Then he turned a face etched with misery to Aragorn. "I have been in darkness. Like that in the depths of a cave that has no end, or like that miasma that hangs ever beneath the plumes of malevolence that emanate from Dol Guldur. Two of the Firstborn have gone to Mandos' Halls in the space of days. One was a myth the likes of whom I had never thought to meet, save for my privilege of knowing Glorfindel. The other was the personification of loyalty and love, youth and beauty." Legolas began to rock, arms tightly wrapped around himself as though the cold of the Halls touched him as he sat in the dappled sunshine.

Aragorn scrambled close to his side, kneeling as he pulled the elf roughly against him. One hand fisted in the flaxen hair, pressing Legolas' face deeply into a leather clad shoulder, the other surrounded ribs with force enough to near crack them. "Enough! You break my heart with your grief, and though I deserve it, and would welcome the pain as penance, I cannot bear to see you suffer like this. Let them go, Legolas, let them both go. You did all in your power to help them, you brightened Nienor's days in our camp, and by doing so gave Lenwë the greatest boon he would ask of you or anyone."

Aragorn's fierce words began to break through the smothering shroud of sorrow that encompassed the fair prince of Mirkwood. The man continued, his voice and hands now gentle, "I should have remembered how difficult you would find their passing; Elrond always said it felt as though a piece of his own fëar departed with every elf that died while under his care. And these were no ordinary elves were they? It is only natural that you should feel their passing all the more."

Legolas raised his head, grasping at Aragorn's words. "Indeed they were not. A stone would have felt the weight of Lenwë's years and wisdom. And only the blackest evil could have looked upon Nienor and not felt blessed to know him." Legolas drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I will think of them in Valinor together, Lenwë sitting beneath a great tree, finished with his wanderings at last and at peace. And Nienor will run laughing through the fields to meet him, or walk singing through the deep forests, and all will rejoice to hear him."

"As you will one day. Think how pleased you will be to meet each other again."

"Yes. Yes….I…will be….pleased…" Legolas slumped against his friend and for a heart-stopping moment Aragorn feared for him, until he felt the soft sigh of breath against his neck. The elf was still exhausted from his ordeal, but perhaps now his reverie would be less troubled.

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After two days Legolas was much recovered, feeling stronger and no longer quite so burdened with sorrow. He and Aragorn spent the third day completing the ritual for the remains of Lenwë and Nienor. Together, just as they had built the pyre and fired it, Legolas and Aragorn used curved sheets of tree bark to carry the cooled ashes to a hole dug at the base of one of the venerable oaks that made up the small wood. It took them from sunup to sundown, for digging such a hole amongst ancient tree roots was a formidable task, especially when undertaken with one sword and two elven knives. When the last ashes were tipped into the hole, Aragorn and Legolas covered them first with the forest mold removed from the hole, and then with the turves that had been put aside when the hole was begun. As Legolas dribbled water over the replaced grass, he drew his fingers through the green blades and smiled. He stood and stretched his back, for even elven backs protest at bending all day long, and said with satisfaction, "They are together in death as they were in life." He reached a hand down to Aragorn and helped pull the man to his feet. Legolas said softly, "We have done the best for them that we could, from the day they first found our camp. I see a light shining before me in the darkness, and in a short while I think I will walk fully in the sun again."

Aragorn felt a great weight lift from his heart. "I will pray that day comes soon, and aid and strengthen you in any way I can." The man shrugged his shoulders, easing tight muscles and feeling the ache burn down his back. "I have not spent so much time digging since I was a youth working in the gardens. Let us eat a quick supper and then get some rest. We can wait until tomorrow to journey home."

Flexing sore fingers, Legolas agreed and soon the two were resting beneath the stars, one snoring softly and one with open blue eyes hazed as if he looked through the finest linen gauze.

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The sun was just burning off the morning mist when two riders held their horses motionless a few feet from a newly created grave. Legolas and Aragorn sat silently, making their final farewells to the two elves who had come so dramatically into their lives, and who had departed with even greater drama. At length Aragorn lifted his hand and as if that were a signal, the two friends made the same elven gesture of farewell and respect, touching hand to heart and then sweeping the hand gracefully to the side. Then together they turned their horses and headed for home.

They rode in silence for an hour or so, letting the horses amble at their own pace. Then Legolas asked, "What did you place inside the pyre?"

"Letters. At least the one addressed to me was a letter, and they all looked to be the same."

"All? How many were there? Who were they from?"

Aragorn took a deep breath and braced himself. "They were from Lenwë. There was one for you, Nienor, Kenuric, Elrond, and myself."

"Why did you burn them unread? I do not think you had the right to keep my letter from me."

"I read mine, and then I read Elrond's. There was no point in giving you something that could only cause you more pain. In Elrond's letter, Lenwë left instructions on where and how to find various treasure stores that he had hidden, that they might be used to provide for Nienor. In my letter he gave me advice on how to deal with him, and pleaded with me to place him under my protection if I could not take him to Imladris. It…it was not pleasant reading given the choice we allowed Nienor and the path he chose. I knew the other letters must be in the same vein, and since Nienor was fading I saw no reason to increase the guilt you would feel at Nienor's passing. I did the same with Kenuric's letter, and if you are angry enough with me to tell him what I have done, say so now so that I may begin to ride hard for Harad or some other far country."

Aragorn's attempt to lighten the mood failed abysmally, and he prepared himself to suffer Legolas' wrath. The signs were there to be seen: the furrowed brow, the pinched mouth, the fire that darkened the eyes and near scorched Aragorn with their intensity. Then, just when the lips parted to deliver a ringing denunciation, the fire died. The elf slumped and spoke with tired resignation. "I am not going to fight with you about this. There has too much between us of late for me to start on yet another issue. You meant well, and with Nienor gone there is nothing that can be done to carry out Lenwë's wishes."

The two friends rode in silence once again, with Legolas turning something over in his mind and Aragorn too grateful for his reprieve to press for further conversation. As the horses stopped in the middle of a shallow stream to drink, Legolas' narrowed eyes fixed on the man beside him. "When did you read the letter?"

"What?"

" Lenwë's letter. When did you read it?"

"Does it matter?"

"Perhaps a great deal. When, Aragorn?"

"I can hardly recall; we were so busy with Nienor –"

"Do not think to evade me. When?"

"About a week into my attempts to persuade Nienor to stay. The letters were put aside in a store cupboard – probably by the apprentice healer in all the haste to tend Nienor – so I did not receive them as soon as I should have."

"You read it while trying to make up your mind what to do. You read a letter written by a very cunning elf who was well aware of the emotional effect of the words he used. An elf with one thought only: that he might craft circumstances in such a way that Nienor would be cared for by a man and elves who are highly placed and carry great influence." Legolas gazed on his friend with sadness, but this time it was not for the loss of two elves. "I begin to be grateful that I did not read his letter to me. His words must have pierced like an arrow, and once Nienor was gone, they echoed in your heart and would not be silenced. Much becomes clear to me now."

As the horses moved on, scenting their home corrals on the lifting breeze, Aragorn refused the excuse offered him. "Do not blame Lenwë for my actions. I was the one that left you to deal alone. I was the one who refused you comfort. I, not Lenwë."

"As you said so forcefully, you are a healer. Not only of the body, but of the mind and heart. In addition, you are a man most chivalrous. It is as natural for you to defend and protect the weak as it is for you to breathe. Many things combined to engage your will to hold Nienor to Arda. Lenwë's letter must have stung like salt rubbed into a festering wound. You are not the only one to have been unmindful of a friend's pain."

Stunned by such grace, such freely offered absolution, Aragorn gave his friend the truth that he himself was only beginning to see. "You are right, as you nearly always are. Lenwë's words bit far harder than he could have imagined, for in him I saw much of my father: great age, great wisdom, great authority, carried as easily as I wear a cloak in winter. I could not help but desire to do his will if I could. I was torn by the truth of both your words and Kenuric's. And over and surrounding all was the dread in my heart of watching an elf fade. You are much like him, you know. You spoke often of his beauty and grace, but have you never seen your own reflection? You said he was the personification of loyalty and virtue; do you not see that you are those things to me? I could not bear to be in the same room with him as he died – I could not!"

"Aragorn, is it a trait of men or of you alone that you hesitate to speak of the concerns of the heart? We touched on a little of your anguish that night, but how much more you were keeping from me!" The elf shook his head in self-disgust. "Forgive me, Aragorn, for I was so intent on Nienor that I was unaware that you were also in need."

"I will not hear you if you are to speak nonsense. The fault was mine. Kenuric painted me a compelling picture of the state you were in, and still my heart was a stone."

"Ah, Aragorn, it is because your heart is not a stone that we came to such a pass. You are like a hedgehog – nay, a miserly hedgehog." He laughed at Aragorn's soaring eyebrow, but became serious again almost at once. "You hoard your pain, curling around it and setting up barriers against those who would seek to ease it. You think to spare us concern. You think you must bear alone or be less than a man. Who knows what else impels you to seal your troubles away, for I surely do not. I only know that it grieves me when you will not let me into the fortress you make of yourself. You guard your ramparts with a frost that burns when I touch it."

Aragorn stared at his lifelong friend, taken aback by his insight. He truly had not been aware that his anger was a defense, even when Kenuric had spelled it out for him. Now the gentle voice of one who was his heart's brother showed him his fault as well as the good intentions that were its roots. He sighed deeply. "I would so like to say, in ringing tones, that all will now change, that I will never seal myself away from you again. But I doubt I would keep such a promise easily."

"Just say you will try. That you understand that what hurts one of us, hurts both. That shared pain is easier to bear."

"I will try. I will try and I will also be more willing to listen when you have need to speak, even when the words touch upon my fears."

"Then I am content." Legolas turned his gaze straight ahead, for even elves who speak freely of matters of the heart find some things difficult to say. "Once, when I was very young, I tended a wounded fawn, and came to love it. It could not be healed and died, in spite of desperate care and a thousand child's tears. In my grief I cried out to my father that I did not want to feel such pain; that I never wanted to feel it again. I will never forget his words to me: 'The more the love, the more the pain, my little leaf. Would you push love away to spare your heart? Would you truly wish to live cold, so very cold, when warmth, laughter, and joy that can not be contained is also your portion? You have frightened me out of an Age of my life on many, many occasions. You have angered me with your heedlessness, you have hurt me with piercing words. Should I go to the Valar and say, 'No, thank you. Take him back. He is not worth the pain.' ?' I think my eyes were wide as saucers when he said those words - my Ada, saying he did not want me! Then he went on, 'Legolas, one hug of your arms around my neck, one whisper of 'I want my Ada' when night terrors haunt you, one touch of your lips on my cheek, are more than recompense for all the fear, anger, and heartache that you could ever give me. Love is worth its price.' I believed him, Aragorn. I believe him still. And I love."

As the horses stopped before the corral, Aragorn fought the lump in his throat before he forced out hoarsely, "I also, Legolas."

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In the shadows of the trees overhanging the horse pens, a watcher gazed intently as the two riders dismounted and moved into a brief embrace. As they began to strip saddles and gear, he carefully noted the lack of tension in shoulders and hands, and the warmth in the voices that discussed nothing more than the care of horses and tack. He smiled as he turned away and stepped quietly onto a little used path. His thoughts were a curious mixture of sadness and deep contentment. As he had waited for three days for the return of the two friends, he had bid his own farewell to Lenwë and Nienor. He mused on how suddenly they had appeared, and how tragically they had departed. He used some of the time to carefully chronicle their sojourn in the ranger's camp. He feared they would soon become just another story to tell children at bedtime, so strange was their tale, and so far beyond human ken their lives and motivations. His somber thoughts yielded to plans for the coming days. It seemed that all was now well between the Chief of the Dunedain and his closest friend, so Kenuric was free to meditate on simples that needed replenishing, a sorely neglected manuscript, and the return of balance and peace to his world. Well, as much peace as could be expected in these times, but alarms and battles have their own familiarity, dreadful as that was to contemplate. Yes, there were many duties and tasks that had been set aside while the two wandering elves tarried with the rangers. Almost rubbing his hands together, Kenuric lifted his head and quickened his pace.

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End "Fidelis"

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