A/N: Thank you, so much, to all my readers. You mean so much to me.
"Dawn is ever the hope of men."
- Aragorn son of Arathon
The sight of the blood covering his blade did not settle well in his heart. Standing in the narrow cobble-stone street, he gazed down at the sword he held, turning it around in his hand. It had been many years since he had wielded it; long ago, when it was the age in which he had his turn to fight against the Dark Lord. Time had changed much in Middle-earth since then. Sauron was defeated, and the old line of Kings had been restored. The Elves were beginning to leave the shores; to take to the Sea – home.
But even then, he was glad that he had lingered to see it done. That he had not travelled to Valinor as soon as he had planned. If he had not waited to see the crown upon the Man's head – Elessar seated in the seat of the High Kings – then he would not have been here when a new threat was unleashed upon Gondor.
His heart had burned with a white light he had not felt since long ago as he engaged in battle upon the streets of Minas Tirith. He noticed, however, that he did not fight as angrily; as unthinkingly as the soldiers of Gondor did. When he met the first Elf in combat, his heart began to break. They were his kin. They were the beloved children of Ilúvatar. Meant to bring light and beauty and wisdom to all of Arda. And yet they killed heedlessly, unleashing cruel slaughter on innocent people for the revenge of one immortal. But despite this, his heart still twisted as he cut down one after the other, spilling their blood on white stones.
He slowly came back to awareness from his sorrowful thoughts, shaking his head to clear it. He had stepped away into the empty street only to regain his composure, so that he might be a beacon of strength to the shattered Men of Gondor's army as they dealt with the aftermath of battle. It had ended but moments ago. There was little left of Darcyn's followers; none of the Elves had survived. As for Darcyn himself, he was now in chains in the Citadel, waiting for the punishment that all knew would soon be dealt. He himself had not seen Darcyn being led away, but he had heard the line of victorious shouts following his capture.
Looking once more at his sword, he lifted it and pulled a cloth from his belt. He had just begun to run it along the soiled blade when quick footsteps pounded against the ground behind him. Turning, he watched with furrowed brow as a helmeted soldier ran towards him frantically.
He raised his hands and stepped forward to meet the Gondorian. "Peace, soldier."
"My lord," the Man repeated breathlessly, almost skidding to a halt in front of him. His grey eyes were wide and blazing with panic. "My lord, the King has fallen."
The sword clattered noisily against the stones as it slipped from Elrond's lax fingers.
Not bothering to turn, the Steward stared at the sword that lay at his feet. The sun peeked through the clouds that had gathered overhead, but only for a moment, and the light glinted weakly against the silver of the blade not covered with blood before disappearing, leaving the sword in a grey shadow. It was such a dismal sight, the Man mused sorrowfully. A blood-covered sword lying on the stone, abandoned by its dying master.
But this was no ordinary blade. This was Andúril – the sword of the King. By all means, he should have long ago reached down to pick it up and clean it and rush it back to its master's side. However, he couldn't. His feet were rooted to the spot. But he couldn't take his eyes off of the sword.
For what else was there for him to gaze upon? The bodies? The piles of dead Haradrim and Elves and Gondorian Men? The pools of blood; the severed limbs? How could anyone look out over such death willingly?
Therefore he stared at the sword.
"Faramir, my lord." A heavy hand landed on his shoulder. Drawing himself up, Faramir winced at the protest his battle-weary body gave and turned to the silently demanding presence at his side. Beregond smiled at him sadly. "You are dead on your feet."
"We are all weary, Beregond."
"Yes." Sighing, the captain looked to his right, and Faramir followed his eyes. The Steward almost started in surprise when he saw the group of Gondorian soldiers that all stood assembled, their weapons still held against their chests and their forms alert. All stared at him. Faramir could have scoffed at himself for being so ignorant – how long had he been standing there, staring at the inanimate sword on the ground?
"I know you need time." Beregond spoke softly, sympathy in his voice. "And I would let you have it. But the Men are awaiting their dismissal."
Suddenly, Faramir's throat was tight. His entire life he had been mocked and ridiculed because of his tender heart; by the force of the emotions he always felt when so easily moved to compassion. That came forward now, and he gazed at the loyal soldiers before him with pride spreading through his veins. The Men are awaiting their dismissal. Still they stood at the ready, even though he could see that they were all exhausted; not only their bodies, but their souls as well. Watching their fellow Men be slaughtered for one man's twisted revenge was toiling.
Clearing his throat, Faramir walked towards them and found Joln among the crowd. The chief of Guard stood in front, his sword clasped solemnly against his chest. There was blood covering his left eye, but he nodded to the Steward. Faramir returned it and spoke, raising his voice so that they could all hear him. "Soldiers of Gondor. I have never fought with better Men. You have shown the true heart of this country – and that is loyalty, and courage, and goodness, and beauty. I would entrust my life to no one else. Our King..." Pausing when he felt his voice begin to falter, Faramir lowered his eyes to the ground and took a deep breath. After a moment of somber silence, he again looked up at the soldiers. "Our King was wounded. Many of you saw him fall. I am overjoyed to tell you that he still lives, because I know that it was feared that he did not. But I will not cushion your ears with false hope. King Elessar's wounds are grave. Even now he is fighting the clutches of death. As brave defenders of this city, you deserve to be told the truth. But we will not–" Bringing up a clenched fist, Faramir met the eyes of a young soldier in the front line, saying furiously, "We will not give up hope. We will not let the wicked intentions of our enemy make us cower in despair. He has surrendered with his tail between his legs, and we will let him think that he has escaped with his life. But he is not victorious because of this. Do not let him rule the hope in your hearts." Voice softening, Faramir rested his fist against his chest. "For your hope is your own. Do not give up on your city, or your King."
There was not a single soldier who didn't raise his sword silently above his head. Tears glittered in Joln's eyes as he lifted his blade, bowing his head to the Steward. Beregond rested his free hand on Faramir's shoulder. Holding his own emotion at bay, Faramir kept his hand pressed to his heart, and they all stood wrapped in the bittersweet silence that enfolded the courtyard.
The silence of victory, but the silence of loss.
2 Days Later.
A silent figure; clothed in a forest green cloak that seemed to shroud him in the dawn's mist; passed down the hushed street. There was a peasant standing by his cart on one side of the road, packing his apples. On the other there was an old woman, picking up shards of broken pots outside of her door. But other than the soft tinklings the old clay glass gave, the street was silent. These two occupants of Minas Tirith did not say a word as they watched the lithe being move past them.
After a short walk, the form emerged from the tunnel leading to the High Courtyard. Here, not long earlier, Men had milled about, charged with the task of clearing the court of bodies – those of Gondorian soldiers, and those of Elves. The Men had finished that task. They were now in the first level of the city, doing the same, but the wreckage there was much worse. Far more blood had been shed before the gates.
The Citadel was now silent. The entire royal family – the Queen and her servants, the Lord Elrond and his sons – all of them now stayed in the Houses of the sixth level. The Houses of Healing. Waiting anxiously and wearily at the bedside of the King.
He had been there as well. But suddenly the stone walls had become suffocating, and when he stumbled outside, there was only more stone. And more stone. He soon found that his feet were carrying him, bearing him away to a place he did not know.
But ah, it was here. The wall of the City. Where he could see out, out, out; into the trees and mountains. Here the breeze could flow, and it would have lifted his hair had it not been tucked away into his cloak. Here, he could breathe.
And here, he could finally see the sun rise.
The Elf's blue eyes sparkled with the flush of orange and pink that was the dawn as he quietly settled himself on the wall to watch. How long had it been since the Sun had performed such a magnificent sight for him? It seemed ages. Ever since that horrible moment – ever since that brutal blow to his heart – it had rained. Poured sorrow and fear upon the city of Men. Not that the Elf himself would have been much aware of it – he was tied by an unbreakable tether to a bed in the Houses of Healing.
'You've saved me enough, Legolas. But you can't this time.
Not this time.'
How agonizingly true this had been. How helpless he had felt; standing there with blood caking his hands and poison weakening his legs and agony pillaging his heart. How powerless – how utterly, painfully defeated he was.
'Heal, Legolas. Heal. Promise me.'
And Legolas had. He had opened his lips and let Elrohir pour the liquid down his throat and he had known that by all accounts he should now live. But when the son of Elrond simply tossed the glass vial to shatter on the floor in his haste to return to table holding the King, Legolas had felt the sharp clatter it gave resonate throughout his whole heart. Again, it was shattered. He had known from the start that if Aragorn breathed his last he would not live.
Closing his eyes, Legolas felt the familiar pull back to that terrifying moment.
Somewhere in the corner to the left, Arwen was wailing. It wasn't a pitiless wail of a hysterical woman – it was a desperate and terrified sound. Elladan's voice mingled with hers, but the way that it shook with tears didn't help the cause of trying to calm the Elleth.
She had been with Adala in the throne room. There had been no word of the King or her father and brothers since the battle had begun. Two messengers had been sent at the beginning; young soldiers stopping in the Citadel to hastily tell their Queen that a breech had been made and Elessar was staying to fight. Arwen already knew that her husband would engage in battle, and she held her tongue and did not utter protest as Elrond kissed her forehead and left with the soldiers to the first level to fight. But she had been hopeful – hopeful because to even entertain the notion that any of her loved ones' many years of living by the sword would fail them was more than her heart could bear.
Adala had stayed at her Queen's side from the beginning. After Lord Elrond had left, the maid took Arwen's hands and urged the Elleth to sit with her and tell her stories of the beautiful realm her Queen hailed from. Of course, Arwen had known that the young woman was merely trying to distract her while they sat under heavy guard in the Citadel, but her heart had warmed nonetheless. She had grown very fond of her hand-maiden and was grateful for her attempts to ease her heart. And in fact it had worked. Arwen had let the love she felt for Imladris fill her mind as she spoke of its wonders and beauties, illustrating her home-life for the eager ears of the Gondorian maid sitting before her.
And then another breathless arrival of a messenger shattered the serenity they had managed to find in the hall. This time, the words the soldier had to bear were words that were hard to find hope in even for Arwen Undomiel.
"My Queen, the King was wounded. Haythalm brings him to the Houses now; please, come."
Not minutes after Arwen and her maid had arrived in the healing halls, Haythalm stumbled into the House bearing the body of the King.
Arwen's heart gave a giant convulsion inside of her as soon as she saw the Man. The pain was so intense, so very real that it had buckled her knees, and Adala quickly tightened her hold on the Queen to hold her upright. The maid's heart was in her throat as she pulled Arwen close, holding her out of the way of the healers that ran forward and demanded Haythalm lay Aragorn on the table. Arwen fought her at first, but Adala held firm and whispered to her Queen that they needed to let the healers save him and not hinder their tasks. Eventually, Arwen stopped pulling against her hand and let Adala embrace her. Together they watched the people of Gondor tear the tunic from Aragorn's body and ball it up and press it against the hole under his ribs to staunch the blood steadily draining from it, as others grabbed bowls and water and towels. Arwen held tight to her maid and kept her eyes fixed on Aragorn's lifeless face as she silently willed him to live and struggled to breathe herself.
No one could say how much time had passed when Legolas and Elladan and Elrohir arrived. The Peredhil twins came first, their eyes wide and full of denial and even a small hope that what the soldiers had told them was wrong. But as soon as they saw Aragorn surrounded by the healers, that hope deflated from their eyes as quickly as darkness falls when clouds cover the sun. Elrohir remained rooted to the spot, his face ashen as he stared at the table, but Elladan saw their broken sister in the embrace of her maid and hurried to her, taking Arwen into his own arms.
Legolas came slowly. Hands stiff with blood and muscles aching from the terrible exertion of killing being after being, the Elf let his arms hang limply at his sides and drifted almost as if in a daze into the hall. The shadows cast by the sparsely placed windows flickered across his pale face; on his cheekbone there was a smear of blood, left by Aragorn's weakening fingers. His eyes were ringed red and full of water, tears not yet fallen, though others streaked his face like tiny rivers in the grime. His stolen clothes were covered in dust and dirt and blood. And as he came to a stop in the middle of the hall – and one of the healers surrounding the table shifted her location – the Elf watched Aragorn's hand slip from the table and hang there limply.
For some reason, that was when Legolas felt the cries again building in his chest, just as Arwen began to sob.
Starting violently, the prince turned his eyes upon the Elf that stood beside him. Elrohir's eyes were full of tears as well; with the grief he was keeping at bay; but he did his best to smile as he held up something between his fingers. At first Legolas did not understand. He stared at the vial uncomprehendingly, and then glanced back at Elrohir, furrowing his brow. The Peredhil understood his confusion and simpy touched two fingers to the prince's chest.
And Legolas knew.
It was the cure. The drink that would save him. Odd, he mused to himself, that now the poison was just a trivial thing, pushed to the back of his mind. Legolas stared at the vial like it was the most treacherous thing he'd ever seen before in his life. How dare there be an antidote for his physical ailment, when the way his heart was withering was in curable.
"Legolas," Elrohir finally murmured. "I know what you're thinking. And in the words of Estel, I should beat it out of you. You are insane."
Legolas shook his head.
Eyes narrowing, Elrohir pulled the cork out of the vial and glared at the other Elf. "Stop being so weak." The harsh words shocked the prince, therefore doing what was intended; pulling him from his stupor. "You need to be alive when Estel wakes. Don't you dare do this to us. Drink it. Now."
There was no use in arguing. Elrohir was too alike to his beloved friend; they shared the trait of immovable stubbornness. And so Legolas simply nodded. Elrohir put a careful hand on the back of the Elf's head and brought the vial to Legolas' lips. The prince tilted his head back obediently. Just as the last drop of liquid disappeared, one of the healers suddenly gave an alarmed shout.
"He's not breathing!"
Elrohir's reaction was instantaneous. He let the vial drop to the ground, and it shattered as the Elf whirled on his heel and sprinted towards the table. Legolas was left standing in the midst of the broken glass, his heart laying alike in pieces on the ground, floored by the words. Healers rushed around the table on all sides, trying what they knew. They breathed into Aragorn's slack mouth and furiously pumped upon his chest.
Elladan's angry voice soon joined the sound of Arwen's sobs: "Breathe, Aragorn! Valar, you bullheaded Man, don't you dare! Breathe!"
And when Aragorn suddenly gasped in a lungful of air; convulsed off of the table and began to cough; Legolas finally breathed himself, collapsing to his knees.
He could almost feel his knees strike the stones, jerking him back from the memory. His eyes flew open. The wonder of the Sun in the Elf's gaze was there no longer; a shadow now pooled in their ageless depths. Drawing in a deep breath, Legolas pulled one knee up to his chest and laid his arm across it, resting his forehead against his sleeve. He counted his breaths until he finally felt his frantic heartbeat begin to slow.
He was alive. Aragorn was alive.
And the Elf had vowed to stay at his bedside to ensure that it remained that way. He'd just needed to breathe. But even though he not been gone long; had only slipped out when everyone in the healing halls was still subdued and quiet with the dawn; Legolas already felt the tug on his heart to return. Not being by Aragorn's side, not feeling his solid hand between his own, unsettled him more than he would have thought. Up here, he couldn't carefully watch the King's chest rise and fall with life.
Taking one last look at the rising Sun, Legolas sighed and withdrew from the wall.
"What do you mean; nothing more?" Arwen's weak grasp she had of control was wavering greatly. The only thing that kept her from lunging at the healer standing before her was the tender grip her father had on her wrist, but even that was becoming insignificant in the face of the desperation raging in her heart. "He is your King!"
"Arwen," Elrond murmured, but his daughter yanked her hand free of his grasp and glared at the healer.
"You are charged with keeping your King alive," she whispered furiously. "And you will do this. Do you understand me?"
"My lady," Ruhin said gently. Even with the icy hatred directed his way in the Queen's eyes, the Man remained calm and gentle, his own gaze full of compassion. "We have done everything we can. We cannot stop death if it is Ilúvatar's will."
His words felt as if he had slapped her. Arwen stood rooted to the spot, staring at him. Elrond took the opportunity to speak, meeting the healer's eyes over his daughter's head and saying softly, "This does not mean that he will die."
Ruhin glanced at him, smiling at him gratefully, and Elrond gave him an imperceptible nod. The Man then directed his words at Arwen, "No, it does not. I promise, my Queen, that we did all we could to ensure his life. He is our King, as you said. And I do not want to be the giver of false hope, but for whatever ease it might provide your heart: I believe that he will live."
"You believe," Arwen whispered.
"I do," came the soft reply.
Swallowing, Arwen closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. She regretted her earlier outburst, but she couldn't find the words to say thus – so she asked in a weary voice, "Where is Legolas?"
Elrond's brow furrowed, the prince's absence brought to his attention for the first time. Even Ruhin glanced around the hall in surprise. The Wood Elf's absence was indeed odd. "I'm not sure, Arwen. Perhaps he simply went for a walk; he may have needed fresh air."
The soft reply to her question was followed by a sound that Arwen Undomiel would never forget, to the end of her days on Arda. As she let the healer's kind confirmation calm her previous ire, she heard a movement; a rustle of cloth from the bed where Aragorn lay. Arwen's heart leapt and her breath caught, and she hardly dared hope as she turned slowly, her eyes coming to rest upon her beloved. And as she watched, his head turned towards her and his brows furrowed – such simple action that made the Evenstar's heart sing with joy.
"Estel." His name fell from her lips like a prayer as she lurched forwards and ran to his side, sitting on the edge of the bed, immediately grabbing his hand with both of hers and bringing it to her lips, her eyes already sparkling with tears as they searched his face. "Estel nin, I hear you. I am here, melethron. I'm here."
When Aragorn's brows again drew together, as if he could hear her, Arwen's tears overflowed, a choked laugh bursting from her chest. She released his hand and instead cradled his face in between her palms, resting her forehead against his and gazing adoringly at his tense features. "I know you're there, my Estel," she whispered, stroking his hair, her hope-filled words falling from her lips to his. "Please return to me, meleth. I'm here."
Behind them, Elrond had taken a firm grip of the healer's shoulder. Ruhin winced at the strength behind it, his mouth fixed in a grimace as he patiently endured the Elf-lord's sudden apprehension, knowing that even if he voiced his minor discomfort he would be ignored. Elrond's wide eyes were fastened on the King and Queen and shining brightly. "Ruhin."
The healer grinned at the breathless quality of the High Elf Lord's voice. "Yes, Lord Elrond?"
"Have someone search for Legolas. Look first in the High Court; it's the closest to his beloved sun. And hurry. Send word that..." Pausing, Elrond swallowed and finally met the Man's eyes. The joy Ruhin saw there made the healer's smile widen. "Tell him that our King is returned."
There was something there.
At first, there had been nothing. And by all accounts the only way he knew there had been nothing was because now, there was something. A twinge. A small worm, kind of like a ray of light, but not quite one that shone. He felt it.
He knew who he was. He knew what had happened. After several moments – or at least he assumed they were moments; he couldn't really tell what time was doing under this blanket of darkness that he lay – he remembered. He remembered the dark Elf, smiling wickedly at him as he advanced. And then that horrible instant when Darcyn's face changed, twisted hideously to hatred and rage before he struck like a viper. He remembered the cold bite of the blade as it slid through his flesh...
And suddenly he became afraid. He had been tentatively lifting up the blanket of darkness, remembering detail after detail, but now the memory of the pain made him drop it and shy away. For a moment he hovered there, uncertain as to what he should do next.
Then, another face appeared. It became clearer and clearer until it blocked all traces of Darcyn whatsoever. And as soon as he recognized who it was, he gave a shout of joy and moved forward. It was his friend. The Prince of Greenwood. The Wood Elf whom he had known for as long as he could remember. Legolas stood behind Darcyn, and he focused on him until the dark Elf faded away. Joy and love burned in his heart as he continued towards the Elf-prince. But as he came closer, he slowed, and confusion dampened the joy. What was this terror on Legolas' face? The horror? Why did the Elf stare at him as if expecting him to suddenly whither?
And then he remembered that, as well. He knew why now he stared hard at the prince – because he had done it before. He had kept his eyes glued to Legolas' familiar face, letting the love he felt for the Elf strengthen him and give him courage while he waited for what he knew would be his death.
Legolas had watched it all.
And Legolas had held him while he died.
But he couldn't be dead. Shocked at himself for thinking such things, he momentarily looked away from the Wood Elf and around at the dark pavilion that surrounded him. Certainly this was not death. And the more he thought this, the truer he knew it to be. When he looked back towards where Legolas had been standing, prepared to comfort him and reassure him that this was not the end, the smile on his lips vanished. Legolas was gone.
Pain hit him like a wave.
It was an onslaught that took his breath away. Every fiber of his being cried out; he found himself reaching desperately for the blanket of dark, seeking to wrap it around himself once more and retreat back into the nothingness. He had just grasped the corner; had just begun to run; when suddenly he saw them. Their faces stopped him instantly in his tracks.
Arwen, appearing to him as if she were a dream in the forest, her blue eyes filling with warmth from the first moment their gazes met. Many years later, her hair like silk between his fingers as she wrapped him in her arms and her scent, her eyes twinkling with love and her smile warmer than the sun.
Elladan and Elrohir, sitting on his bed in Rivendell, black hair and ceremonial robes in states of disarray and impish smiles lighting their faces as they held up readied pillows of war. Books open on their laps as they avidly illustrated tales of Elven history, passionately including him in their ways and heritage despite their differences. Glancing at him over papers with warm eyes and affectionate smiles.
Elrond, settling down beside him in a flurry of robes and running a gentle hand over his weary head, offering him tea with the other. Holding his shoulders, his gaze full of love and truth as he reassured him that he was always home when in Imladris. Smiling proudly into his eyes as he placed Arwen's hand into his.
And Legolas, as the beaming Wood Elf bounded across the bridge of his home, his open arms enveloping him in the safe embrace of friendship and shelter. Riding beside the laughing Elf-prince, his own bouts of mirth nearly knocking him from the saddle. Legolas standing next to him, eyes fiery with determination and bow in hand, an unyielding protector at his side.
He could see them. All of them. Their devotion and their loyalry and their love for him shone forth; tugging at his heart and filling him with a warmth he knew he was blessed to feel. Therefore the pain suddenly became less frightening – less intimidating of a thing to turn to. He knew that in order to reach those that he so loved, he must come through it. Already the darkness that had become a permanent companion was falling away; the seams of it unraveled, and the blanket slipped farther and farther from his sight.
When he first began to open his eyes, he had not known that he was doing it. Light suddenly flooded his vision and his lungs drew in a reflexive gasp. A sharp tug came at his stomach from the movement, but he ignored it, resolutely pushing onward.
All at once he could feel every one of the sensations that came with being conscience. There were fingers cradling his face, and he felt smooth skin against his forehead and the brush of silk upon his cheek. He also heard her – the beautiful voice speaking to him, her tone like that of bells and sunlight and all of the beauty he had ever seen in his long life. She was whispering against his lips; pleading for him to return to her. "Estel. My Estel. I am here, meleth. I am here. Estel."
Finally, he opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was her – the most perfect sight ever to grace his weary eyes. When her face immediately lit up and her mouth parted in a joyous cry, he smiled, raising a stiff hand to cup her cheek. Running his thumb along her flawless skin, Aragorn gazed into her eyes and murmured, "Bereth nîn."
Literal Elvish Translations:
"Bereth nîn." — 'My Queen.'