Author's Note: Well, here we are at the end of the story. I hope all who read it found something to enjoy in my little tale of friendship and adventure. I want to thank everyone who accompanied me through this story and especially those of you who reviewed and shared your thoughts with me! (((hug))) I would love to 'meet' you again one day in another story, but if I don't see you again I just want you to know how much I appreciated your support and how important it was for me:)
Here's the epilogue, I hope you'll enjoy reading it. And yes, feedback is still very welcome:D
Disclaimer: See Chapter One. I'll never own them, but I sure love borrowing them! ;-)
"A friend is somebody you want to be around
when you feel like being by yourself."
Aragorn was sitting on a straw bale, leaning against the sun-warmed wood of the stable wall behind him and chewing idly on a blade of grass. One of his knees was raised and he had one arm draped across it, while his other leg dangled in the air. It was a beautiful day, filled with bright sunlight and the dazzling colours of spring. The sky was blue without a trace of clouds, and a soft wind was playing teasingly with strands of the man's curly dark hair.
Birds were singing in the nearby forest, there was the occasional humming of a big bumblebee flying by and the ranger was doing something he had always loved doing, and would never tire of: watching his best friend practice archery. Yesterday Legolas had been officially declared well again, and his first action early this morning had been to go straight to the archery field, as Aragorn had known it would be.
In fact, the place they were in now was not really an archery field, but simply a meadow behind some of the stables which the experienced warriors in Thranduil's court and army had taken to using for weapons practice when they wanted to be undisturbed and amongst themselves. Warriors who needed to regain their skills after a severe injury often chose this place for practicing instead of the usual training grounds in the big courtyard.
Today Legolas had the place entirely to himself, with Aragorn as his only audience. The ranger knew that that was the way the elf wanted – and needed - it to be. Legolas was clad in the usual green-and-brown garments of the woodland warriors, and he blended in with his surroundings perfectly. The sunlight seemed to be drawn to the elf's fair hair, turning the shining strands into molten gold.
Legolas was taking his time, and his movements were slow and unhurried. Aragorn was aware that his friend was not here to demonstrate his skills today, or even to practice, but to reclaim something that the orcs had tried very hard to take from him: his spirit, his strength, his belief in his skills and his abilities to defend himself and those he cared for. There had never been a better way for Legolas to regain his balance than practicing archery.
Bow and arrow were much more to the elf than merely his weapons of choice. Aragorn had always found that easy to see and understand, since a sword would likewise never be just a means to defend himself to him.
Legolas' skills with a bow were amazing, but more than that, bow and arrow seemed to be a natural extension of himself, reflecting the innate grace, poise, and calm of his soul. Also, the elf's lightning-quick reflexes when he shot arrows in quick succession and his ability to hit any target dead-on seemed to mirror the sharp intelligence of his mind, which anyone who had ever entered a discussion with him learned the hard way.
Legolas checked both the bow and the arrows he intended to use carefully, something he had done each day since his father had given them back to him, as if needing to reclaim them. There was still a quiet joy in the elf's eyes when his fingers closed around the familiar wood of his bow that showed just how much he had loathed knowing it lost and in the enemy's hands.
Finally content, Legolas assumed his usual fighting stance. Aragorn watched his friend shift his weight slightly, testing the strength of his barely healed leg and adjusting his stance accordingly. The elf raised his bow and drew the string back experimentally, this time testing his still-weakened left arm. A frown flitted across his calm face, showing that he was less than pleased with the result.
Looking at the target for the first time, he put an arrow on the string and drew it back as far as his weakened arm would allow. For a long moment he stayed like that, eyes fixed on the target, head tilted slightly to one side, bow and arrow seeming a natural part of him, body and weapon an image of harmony and balance. Aragorn leaned forward expectantly, putting his feet on the ground and resting his elbows on his knees, fingers playing with the blade of grass he had been chewing on. He had not seen his friend look so at peace with himself for too long a time, and it lightened his heart.
The straw bale dipped slightly under him as a new weight settled down beside him, but the ranger did not turn his head, having a good idea who had joined him and not wanting to miss the shot. Legolas' hair moved lightly in the breeze and his left arm began to shake imperceptibly. He took a deep breath and released the arrow, exhaling.
The green-fletched arrow cut through the air, humming as if pleased to be freed from its restraints, hitting the target a fraction of a second later with a resounding thud center-on. The arrow vibrated from the force of the impact, and three pairs of eyes watched it as if transfixed. Aragorn finally tore his gaze from the arrow and cast a short look at the newcomer at his side, realizing without surprise that the King of the Woodland Realm was sitting on the straw bale right beside him.
There was a hint of pride and contentment in Thranduil's eyes as he watched his son at his favourite pastime. Looking back at Legolas, the ranger saw the same contentment reflected in the younger elf's eyes as he studied the target, the fingers of his right hand unconsciously tracing the familiar lines of the intricate carvings adorning his bow, almost caressing the smooth wood. There was a soft smile on Legolas' lips and in his eyes, as he took the next arrow from his quiver and prepared for another shot.
"How is he?" Thranduil asked quietly.
Aragorn turned his head, surprised by the question, but the king's eyes remained on his son. Thranduil knew just as much about Legolas' physical and emotional well-being as he himself did, so Aragorn decided that he was seeking confirmation of his own thoughts rather than anything else. Since Thranduil had returned from his 'hunt', Legolas' nights had twice been disturbed by distressing nightmares, though his physical recovery had continued to be quick and steady since both the poison and the grief had been taken care of.
When the first nightmare occurred, Aragorn had been roused from sleep by his friend's moans and restless tossing and turning. He had woken the elf and sat with him and talked to him until both confusion and fear were gone and Legolas had calmed down again. The second time Aragorn had been woken by a scream and nearly jumped out of bed, moving towards the connecting door before he was even entirely awake, but when he reached Legolas' room he found that Thranduil was already there.
Being a light sleeper and being placed in Legolas' guest room with the door between his room and the elf's ajar most of the time, Aragorn had been well aware that Thranduil had looked in on his son almost every night since his return. The ranger had retreated quietly and closed the door behind him, knowing his friend in good hands. He had heard soft voices behind the door for a long time, and he had not heard Thranduil leave that night.
Aragorn knew that a lot had been told and shared and set to rest between father and son during those long hours, and was glad about it. In an effort to spare his father unnecessary pain, the younger elf had never spoken to him about his captivity, his feelings, and his fears, and both had suffered for it. It had been one of the times when the ranger found himself wishing that his friend would be a bit less stubborn, however well-meant the elf's intentions might have been. Both Legolas and Thranduil had seemed tired and subdued, but also more at ease after that night.
Neither Nestadren nor Aragorn had ever been able to truly explain or understand why Legolas had still not been able to control his dreams after all orc poisons and potions had finally been cleaned from his system, but to the relief of everyone involved the second nightmare had also been the last one and since then there had been no more setbacks or interruptions in the elf's recovery. After all Aragorn had seen of his friend in the meantime and today, both the healer and the friend in him were convinced that there was nothing to worry about anymore.
"He will be fine," Aragorn responded to the king's question, calm conviction in his voice, his eyes never leaving Thranduil's face.
The king finally turned his head, and their eyes met. There was a flicker of gratitude in the green eyes of the ruler, and Aragorn knew that his words had been all that was needed. He decided to add something that had been on his mind for a while now. "I believe it would be wise to make sure that he does not run into any orcs for a while, though."
Thranduil's gaze strayed back to the lone elf on the training field in front of them, who was just about to fire his third arrow. "I have been thinking about that," he said slowly, "and I agree. Perhaps it would be a good idea if you and my son were to spend some time in Rivendell together."
The sentence was half question, half suggestion. Stifling a smile, Aragorn answered, "It sounds like a good idea to me."
"Then it is agreed," Thranduil said, satisfied. "I doubt that it will be a problem to get my son's approval. Of course, you and he will be accompanied by a large contingent of my best warriors, when the time comes."
Aragorn winced inwardly at that, but he knew that there was no way around it this time. In fact, he was not sure if he himself was willing to take the risk – the Misty Mountains had not been a safe place for travellers for a long time, and after what they had been through neither Legolas nor he needed any kind of adventure for a while.
He did not look forward to having to explain to his father and brothers why they were accompanied by a large escort of the best warriors of the Woodland Realm, however. Somehow he did not believe that they would like his account, especially the part about being poisoned, chased by orcs, and almost being killed more than once. Neither would Halbarad, for that matter, once Aragorn had rejoined the rangers and explained his lengthy absence to them. He could almost hear already what all of them would have to say, and it would be a lot.
Pushing those thoughts aside with an effort, Aragorn simply nodded at the king. It might be annoying sometimes, but being worried about, scolded, and fussed over was also a precious gift he hoped he would never have to live without. It would be good to spend some time in the place he still called 'home', with his best friend at his side.
Besides, the mere thought of Legolas going on patrol again after what had nearly happened to him made the ranger feel nauseated, and he knew that his friend would not stay behind the palace walls for long. This way, the elf would be safe for a while, and prepared for whatever awaited him when he came back.
Having said everything that needed to be said, Aragorn and Thranduil sat in silence together for some long moments, watching the prince, who seemed utterly oblivious to their presence, concentrating solely on the bow and the arrow in his hands, and the target in the distance. With fluid, seemingly effortless movements, the young elf shot three arrows in quick succession, all of them hitting the center of the target.
Aragorn could not help smiling at that. Legolas would be back to his old self and his old form in no time. The elf turned around and waved at him, and suddenly the ranger noticed that there was only empty space on the straw bale beside him. Thranduil had left just as quickly and silently as he had come, without Legolas ever being aware of his presence.
The elf waved again, smiling at him, and Aragorn rose, recognizing the invitation for what it was. Grabbing his own bow and quiver, which had been leaning against the stable wall beside him, he prepared to join his friend, get some valuable advice about how to improve his archery, and make sure that Legolas did not over-exert his still-weakened arm while he was at it.
He had no doubt that this was going to be a great day.
- The End -