1. The Song of the Sword
A/N: If you have read Ziggy's fabulous stories Sons of Thunder and More Dangerous, Less Wise, you may recognize bits and pieces of Legolas' song. It is used with her gracious permission.
The Song of the Sword
He was not the maker, but he was determined to be the remaker and determination overrode all other considerations. He set to with an undaunted will.
He could hear already the original voiceless music soaring above the clamor of fire and forge, hammer and tong. It was a song of power, a song of passion, a song that rang of brotherhood in blood and carnage, but also of the peace and prosperity the edge of the sword would bring.
It was a song that called to kinship, to arms, to war against all evil. But most of all, it called the heart to come home to face this last challenge.
Come home … come home … come home … the battle is not yet won.
Heeding a whisper only he could hear, the remaker began layering in the music of a summer forest: the soft susurration of gossiping tree tops, the wind playing hide and seek among the trailing branches of withe willows, water lapping stones lining deep forest pools, the silence of a starry night glimpsed through a leafy canopy.
It wrapped like silk around the tang, riding the fuller and sinking deep into the heat-softened pieces of the reforged blade. Turning … turning … ever turning … scorching heat of the forge fire making porous the blade's surface, it absorbed the song in every part, until it overflowed and began to sing a new song; a duet where before it had been a solo.
Encouraged by that same voiceless whispering, the remaker began to layer in more than just music: memories of the omniscience of an ancient wood and the wild things that made it their home, of sentient flora and fauna, evening meals over campfires, along with shared privation and laughter.
The sword shone brighter, laughing with the joy of its renewed life. Its song grew deeper and broader, an aria instead of just a melody.
Lifting it with tongs from its last bath in the trough of diverted water from the Bruinen, the remaker inspected the long grip and crossguard minutely. His keen gaze moved down the fuller, fingertips tracing the heraldic device of seven stars set between a crescent moon and rayed sun, inlaid among runes engraved within the groove.
When it was cool to the touch again, he hefted the grip and carefully clasped the tip with a sturdy piece of leather. The flex was not visible to the eye, but he felt it, felt the infinitesimal give that would allow the sword to vanquish enemies without shattering.
It balanced perfectly in his hand as he released the end, dropping to guard position as naturally as if it had been his companion in the long course of study he had embarked upon from the time he could hold a wooden sword.
It was an extension of his arm, an extension of his body, an extension of himself … for into it he had poured all his renewed hope, his vision of the future it would aid in forging, his dreams and desires … his heart and soul.
Andúril ran with fire down its edge, bright and keen and anxious. Quivering with eagerness, it plunged into the sheath, humming its new song.
Like the inexorable diminishment of Ithil's waning, the tide was slowly receding; Legolas' life no longer hung in the balance. Aragorn knew this with undeniable certainty.
And so he had sent them all away: the few healers who had been in residence, for most had gone home to families during the absence of the lord of the valley; Halbarad who had claimed the right to stay, for he was friend to both of them; even Durhíth who had earned the right to stay.
Aragorn drew the high-backed chair closer to the sleeping couch and reached again for the pliant hand lying atop the coverlet. The unnatural coolness of the fingers crossing his palm felt like an offense against nature. The elf's hands had always been warm, no matter if it was cold as the Helcaraxë. No amount of chafing, now, would bring back even the memory of warmth.
The chill penetrated Aragorn as well, dulling his already sluggish thoughts. Exhaustion blanketed him like imperiling darkness, but he hung on doggedly, fighting as much by instinct now, as will. He knew the danger, knew his own life might be forfeit, but he could no more withdraw from the bond and leave this creature of light to struggle alone with the darkness than he could walk away from any friend in need. Much less Legolas.
He had instructed Durhíth to pull back the filmy draperies blocking the view of the terrace, wishing, hopelessly he knew, for some beneficence from the effulgent light of the full moon hanging like a blue Fëanorian lamp in the ink dark sky.
He had spent the last two days praying alternately for his father's return, or the Valar's intervention, while he had mixed herbs and potions to spoon down the elf's throat. He had tried yet again, here where he had learned the art, to draw on the earth energy in an effort to keep them both alive long enough for help to reach them; but here, too, he had been rebuffed. Neither rock nor stone, tree nor root had heeded his call.
What a twist of fate, Aragorn thought wearily, that now, when his need was so desperate, his foster father was gone from the valley. Not once on their anxiety fraught journey home had that thought crossed his mind. After all, Elrond had left the valley only once in the ranger's lifetime.
It had taken six days to make the difficult ride, when normally it should have been no more than three. Legolas' injuries, and the lung congestion brought on by broken ribs, had made it impossible to travel with any speed. And this inexorable waning had begun just a day into their return, when the elf had woken again, only to fall rapidly back into an unconsciousness from which Aragorn had been unable to rouse him.
The ranger had begun to wonder if the lack of healing – since elven physiology preordained self-healing – had something to do with Legolas' song. Knowing his own song had been stolen, and used to lure the Mirkwood prince into a trap, gave added weight to the thought that perhaps the prince's song had been tampered with as well.
It had been discordant and off key from the moment he had found the prince chained hand and foot inside that vile hut in the foothills of Carn Dûm. But surely, here in the valley, even without Elrond's aid, Legolas should have begun to recuperate.
Winkling any details from the prince about the capture, and the reasons for it, had necessitated perpetrating a bit of coercion on Aragorn's part, the nature of which had revealed far more than Legolas would ever have voluntarily offered.
Details such as the fact the prince had ridden directly into an ambush, alone, because he had heard a deviously stolen version of Aragorn's song and thought the ranger hurt or ill. And subsequently been hauled off to Angmar, with frequent stops along the way to be tortured for information as to the Dúnadan's identity.
Legolas' reason for resisting had been solely centered upon staying alive long enough to be rescued – or so he had claimed. The truth of the matter had been laid bare in the first moments of joining, when Aragorn had reconciled all the bits and pieces of knowledge he had already possessed, with the new understanding he had obtained being privy to Legolas' most deeply buried thoughts.
That someone not of Aragorn's immediate family would willingly lay down their life rather than give up his identity – an identity that, if he was to pursue his birthright as Isildur's heir, must sooner or later be announced to the world - had shaken him to the core.
Despite his long held reservations as to the imprudence of his blood, that act of loyalty had at last inspired Aragorn to reexamine his willingness to pursue the patrimony bequeathed to him by virtue of his ancestry.
He had told no one, and would not now, unless he could offer the tidings first to Legolas. Though it appeared it was too late. The end was near and he had no expectation that any of his fervent prayers would be answered.
Death did not so much stalk as wait, and it was patient. He bowed his head over the hand cupped between his own, and kissed each finger.
"You made a promise; I call upon you now to fulfill it." The low cry was wrenched from his heart as tears pooled irrepressibly, spilling over to splash heedlessly on the translucent skin. He wanted to shake the elf until those green eyes opened wide in disbelief, the pale lips shaped words of remonstrance, the cold fingers curled around his wrists to end the agitation. "I forbid you to die, Legolas Thranduilion."
The sheet he had drawn over the elf for modesty's sake drifted down from the hard-muscled chest, clinging to the narrow hips as Aragorn abandoned the chair to perch on the edge of the bed. Sliding an arm beneath the archer's shoulders, he drew the yielding body into an encompassing embrace, pressing Legolas' ear to his chest.
He knew no other remedy, but he refused to relinquish hope before the body he cradled ceased to breath.
"Let the beat of my heart sustain you; let the breath of my body fill you; let the blood of my veins cleanse you. You will hold nothing back!"
Had he held a mortal, flesh and bone would have been gasping for air, but such was the marvel of elven anatomy, even when only one heartbeat echoed in response to twenty of his own, Legolas lay peaceful and serene in his arms.
Time became measured in those heartbeats.
On the distant horizon, Tilion, peering down on the tender scene from his steerage port, anchored the last flower of Telperion and cast down its rays upon the pair, bathing the chamber in a subtle iridescent glow.
As though wriggling fingers plunged into the warp and weft of time, its length and breadth spread, eternity obligingly stretching to accommodate the meddling.
Aragorn, his attention focused solely on the elf, and thus entirely unconscious of the gift, did not notice the moon-sparkle floating like dust motes in the air.
The Maia, perhaps missing his hunting days, had been tracking their progress since first he had glimpsed the ranger skulking from shadow to shadow, crawling up and down ridges of boney earth long nights ago in Carn Dûm. Intrigue of any sort garnered his attention, though he could rarely be bestirred to involve himself in the affairs of the Children of Ilúvatar.
This, however, was a special case, for he knew Yavanna kept a weather eye on the youthful archer. It amused him no end that Aulë's spouse took such an interest in this pulchritudinous representative of the Firstborn. For that, and more personal reasons, he would willingly stall his voyage. Especially if by doing so he could afford the pair the extra hour he knew would see help to the door; for he had been following another urgent journey for the last two days as well.
And of course, it did not hurt that it would annoy Arien in the bargain.
Hopelessly, Aragorn narrowed all his formidable concentration to willing his heart to beat for both of them, though the stretches between those answering heartbeats continued to lengthen … twenty … thirty … forty … until they were standing side by side on the threshold of the door to Beyond.
Time slowed further yet.
He could not have said if an hour or a week had passed – it felt like a lifetime – when a hand on Aragorn's shoulder breached the veil, bringing him abruptly back to himself.
It was corporeal; solid and warm. The sense of purpose it imbued brought his head up to meet a pair of fathomless grey eyes boring into him. Those eyes shored up the faltering rhythm of his own slowing heart. A touch of warm fingers upon his brow and renewed strength and courage flowed through the open channel.
"You must release him to me, Estel; I cannot tend to him when you are so entwined."
"Atarinya." Every bone in Aragorn's body turned to sand. "I've been calling you."
"And I have come, release him to me." Elrond had paused in the doorway only long enough to run a shaking hand over his eyes. He had expected to return to his youngest son's mangled body, for Aragorn's insistent, heartrending cries for help had reached him across many leagues and without the aid of any artificial enhancement; just the cry of a son heard only by the heart of a father.
He had turned back three days into a leisurely trip to Lothlórien to visit Arwen, and ridden for home with all speed, stopping only to rest his horse, for Aragorn did not come home save for some injury he could not rely upon his body to heal.
It had been more than six years since they had seen him last, and that time he had staggered into the valley looking like one of the stick figures Erestor had taught him to draw in very early art lessons.
He had been alone, on foot, on his usual wilderness wanderings and fallen from a cliff during combat with a band of orcs. The fall had probably saved his life; the orcs had thought him dead and gone on without bothering to make certain, but a shattered wrist and broken ankle, in addition to several broken ribs had made the return to Rivendell a slow and laborious process.
He had been home six months.
The event had initiated an argument about his heritage and the sacred trust the young man bore. Aragorn had flatly refused to pursue his right to the throne of Gondor, and Elrond, mindful of the role the young Dúnadan would likely play in the history of Middle-earth, had lost his temper.
He had known then, there would be no more foster sons to be nurtured to manhood in Rivendell, no more children to brighten his days and drive him mad with worry and despair. The knowledge had driven him from his usual careful circumspection in his role as guardian to his brother's heirs.
He, who had chronicled more of Arda's history than any other living being, who had rarely lost his temper in all the centuries of war and hardship he had endured with kith and kin, had been unable to swallow down his anxiety for this last heir, the last scion of his brother's house. The last rightful heir to Gondor's throne and thus the last who might make the call to arms that would once more rally all the peoples of Middle-earth to fight the scourge of Morgoth's successor.
Gandalf believed the One Ring had been found. Aragorn knew this and still he had hesitated, torn between duty and desire. Elrond had held out his daughter as both spur and carrot and Aragorn had loosed his own aggrieved anger over perceived manipulations, which, in all honesty, Elrond had been unable to deny.
They had parted company with hard words between them and Elrond had regretted it for every moment of every hour that had passed in the intervening years.
He had heard and answered the call with something akin to relief that he had not been completely barred from his son's life.
He would mend things now, and keep a careful tongue in his head. A father's role was not to tweak and twist and turn, it was to model and mold and teach so the child would know his heart in the fullness of time.
The ranger's grey eyes slid closed on a long sigh. "You heard me."
Elrond took the hands lifted wearily up to him and drew his child to his feet. Knowing the careworn ranger rarely felt the hands of another, he wrapped this precious gift tightly in his arms, holding him for a long moment before pulling back to cup Aragorn's face between his own hands.
"Tell me quickly what has happened with Legolas." He touched that place in his heart that bound him to this young man, carefully bolstering the flagging energy. Too much and the wick would flare and burn itself out; too little and he would not get the story directly from Estel, for his son was hanging onto consciousness by the merest spider silk of thread.
The words tumbled out of Aragorn, no parsing this time, nothing held back. He described finding those ivory handled knives and the dawning of certainty that Legolas had been taken captive. The hectic pace at which he had driven his men toward the ancient capital of the Witch King of Angmar and the frantic casting about when the wide-unbroken trail had suddenly disappeared among the rocky escarpments of the foot hills of Carn Dûm.
He spoke of the lost time as they had desperately sought for signs of passage, the two deaths that had resulted during the rescue of the prince, and the initial swift appraisal of injuries and illness before he had allowed them to move on. Briefly he outlined the more sustained efforts to provide relief that first night, knowing it would aid his foster father in understanding what needed to be done for Legolas.
Only then did he speak of the revelation of his stolen song that had lured Legolas into the trap in the first place, followed by a litany of his attempts both to reenergize and restore the elf's song, which had been so thoroughly rebuffed.
Elrond folded up and tucked away his dismay; he would not burden Aragorn with the terror the telling had awoken. Instead he leaned to kiss the furrowed forehead and then drew his son into his arms once more. "You must rest now, Estel," he murmured, "I will assume the watch."
"Atar, he did this for me, knowing full well the consequences of his choice." Aragorn drew back, anguish limning every line of the exhausted body. "It is because his tune is so out of harmony with the great Song that he does not recover. You will be able to disregard the pain it gives him and release what binds his song. It is not mete that Legolas, of all people, hurt in this way, Atarinya." The use of the childhood appellation came naturally and instinctively, adding a layer of unconditional trust to the plea. "Do you understand what I am saying?" He clutched his father's arms, as much to keep himself from falling as to convey his absolute certainty of his friend's death.
"I understand your fears, and I will do everything in my power to aid the prince." Elrond let the unqualified love he felt for this child expand until it encompassed them both, soothing Aragorn's weary mind in a way no words could accomplish. "Let Durhíth help you to your chamber now. I will send to wake you if there is any change, but you must rest or you will be of no use if there is a crisis to come."
It was the one thing – now that his father was here – that could turn Aragorn from the chambers of healing. If there was a crisis, he would need to be alert and rested in order to lend any small help of which he might be capable. His whirling mind latched onto the one thing it was still able to process. "You know Durith?"
"Aye." Elrond kept his voice neutral when he offered, "Halbarad avails himself of the opportunity to stop here whenever he passes by on his duties between the Shire and Fornost." Aragorn, too, had stopped to rest at least a night or two on his toing and froing about the land, until his words had turned the youth away.
"Did you know … Durhíth … learning … healing craft?"
"I did not." Elrond nodded in Durhíth's direction. "We must speak when there is time again."
"Told him … told him—" Aragorn raised a trembling hand to his forehead. "Would ask … you …" he trailed off, the last of his strength rapidly draining away now that he was no longer required to focus.
"We will discuss whatever you have told him on the morrow. Go, Estel, your presence divides my loyalties and Thranduil will not take kindly to my choosing my own son over his."
Elrond waited only until Estel was in the hallway before whirling to cross the short distance to lean over his son's best friend. "Ai, Thranduilion, you have given me back my heart. What must I do to save yours?" He would not think of the piercing of his own heart upon finding his son standing with the elven prince in the doorway to Beyond the Circles of this World.
Later - he would be grateful later that he had come in time - after he had healed what ailed the Prince of Mirkwood. Thranduil's son was of the heartwood of the old forest from which he hailed, he might bend to whatever storm assailed him, but he would not break.
That one of the Firstborn yet bore the signs of torture he was uncovering, was of itself a sign of some heinous rending. Elrond touched abraded wrists with a word of healing. Knowledgeable fingers whisked over the broken leg and still swollen ankle. Fingertips stroked lightly over the lacerations still marring the wood elf's physical body.
To no avail, the mutilations remained unaffected by either his hands or the healing spell he sent ever ahead of his gently probing touch. He found no mortal hurt, but each gliding stroke of fingers upon cool skin communicated a deeply embedded wounding in the tender, young fëa.
Bottling rage such as he rarely felt these days, Elrond ran his hands once more over the prince, searching deeper, beneath the surface torments for the invisible trauma that blocked the mending.
His mind brushed … an eye?
And like a puppet at the end of tangled strings, Legolas jerked capriciously – a sudden maelstrom of whirling limbs and flying hair.
The coiled spelled slashed at the perceived threat, jolting the unprepared Imladrian lord so off balance he stumbled back several steps before righting himself.
"Sweet Elbereth!" Elrond breathed, smelting curse and prayer into a single utterance. He shuttered his energy instantly, lest the sullen thread of cogent magic attempt to feed off him. The enemy had recognized him in that instant, though, just as he had identified the foe.
They knew one another of old.
Rivendell's master sketched a quick spell of containment; he did not want this evil escaping the confines of the room.
And as suddenly as those long archer's limbs had begun flaying about, they dropped like lead back upon the sleeping couch, an equally unnatural stillness replacing the sudden explosion of violence.
With far more care this time, Elrond began to explore the wrongness he sensed.
At the very core of the elf, wrapped around the music of the Ainulindalë, the intrinsic Song that was life to an immortal, was barely visible. Instead of the bright green and gold promise he was accustomed to finding at the very center of Thranduil's son, a sickly yellow glow pulsed feebly - all that was left of the youth's corrupted song.
The spell had woven itself into the wood elf's bright, engaging melody, altering the timing and tarnishing the notes, as though the malady creeping into his forest home had crept into the elf's fëa as well. To be without its music was to wither and fade away.
Elrond was at once relieved and alarmed. Relived that he could assure Estel there was a reason for his failure to call up the earth energy, and that he had felt none of this taint in the song of his son. Alarmed that if he could not find and extract the root of the spell quickly, it would completely annihilate young Thanduilion's song.
And then there was the distinct possibility he did not have the power to fight this enemy.
Banishing all extraneous thought, the Master of Imladris figuratively pushed up his sleeves and bent again to the task at hand, probing gingerly at the edges of the befouled magic.
A diffident throat clearing broke his concentration.
"What?" He did not look up.
"Sir, may I … that is – I wish to …" The young voice faltered and Elrond raised his head to glare at the interruption.
"What?" The healer's mind was already turning over how to disentangle the pulsing threads of evil strangling Legolas' song. "You wish to what?"
"I would like to stay and observe, my lord," Durhíth managed in a rush of tumbling words.
"Observe?" The master repeated, pulling his mind back from the convoluted path of spell casting.
"Aye, sir. And if you have need of an extra pair of hands, Legolas knows my touch now. It would perhaps be less stressful if he is not surrounded by strangers he does not know well?"
Elrond paused to consider before stating, "You speak with a voice of wisdom. You are correct. I am sure, even as weak as he is, Legolas will attempt to rebuff any further strangeness he perceives. Aye, then, if you are willing and able, stay, for I may well need some assistance."
"In fact," he continued, "I do not wish to leave Legolas alone, but I have need of some things I cannot send another to collect." Elrond straightened, beckoning the youth into the chamber. "I will be but a short time."
"Is there aught you would have me do? Grind herbs? Prepare potions? I have some skill at both and some knowledge of the efficacy of common things."
"Unfortunately, herbs and potions will avail us little. No, just … sit with him."
Elrond was wont to tell Aragorn elves did not practice magic. Magic was an illusion of reality. Elves, however, lived in such close harmony with nature that its properties lent themselves to malleability, thereby creating the illusion of magic to mortal eyes, when in reality it was closer to collaboration on an elemental level.
This, however, was magic; deep, dark, tainted sorcery. The kind of malignant hermetics that captured living things, contorting their very nature into something so perverted they remembered not their own form.
Durhíth was already drawing up the chair Aragorn had abandoned as Elrond departed.
"Thank the Valar you arrived in time, Master Elrond!" Halbarad was coming down the stairs as the master mounted them. "I feared Aragorn would follow Legolas into death attempting to keep the elf in this world!"
"He would have." The elf lord stifled a sigh. His son was nothing if not loyal.
"What of Legolas?" Halbarad inquired, worry lines creasing deeper furrows into his weathered face. He turned as Elrond passed him on the landing and followed him to the top of the stairs.
"We will know soon." Elrond paused briefly. "In the mean time, I must apologize for the breach in courtesy of my house. With no one expected to be here, there is minimal staff on the premises. I will attempt to send someone to find a cook, but as you are all well versed in fending for yourselves, please make free with the amenities and provisions."
"The courtesy of the Last Homely House is never lacking." Halbarad fisted a hand to his heart, bowing his head. "But if our presence is in any way obtrusive, we will take ourselves off, sir, though we are all anxious."
"Nay, you know you are welcome, Halbarad." Elrond had had cause to be vastly grateful for Estel's cousin's perception. The Dúnedain had often gone out of his way to bring news of Aragorn, though the elf lord was certain his stubborn ranger had never spoken of the dissension. "I am as determined as Aragorn in this matter. Though I cannot assure you of the outcome, I can assure that this is a battle I will not forfeit."
Acquainted as he was with the taciturn nature of all the Rangers, he discerned, clearly, the relief in the barely checked sigh. Elrond turned, grasping Halbarad's shoulder. "There are no bounds to my gratitude for what you have done for me and my house."
Aragorn's lieutenant met his gaze steadily, though Elrond well knew the effort it cost.
"If I have done some small thing that eased the burden of your heart, Master Elrond, it was my duty, but also my pleasure. He is highly regarded by our people, too; we understand what a gift he is to this Age."
"He is the key, Halbarad. But he will need you, and Legolas … all of you, to open the lock."
"Aye, sir, I have discerned this as well."
It was not the lieutenant who broke the connection. Elrond looked away first, sensing the hard knowledge the Dúnedain carried willingly. "May Elbereth guard you all." He turned away swiftly to stride down the corridor, closing the door to his chamber behind himself with a quiet click.
He did not take time to change out of his dusty riding clothes, he had come only to retrieve Rivendell's most closely guarded secret. Another door was closing down the opposite side of the wide, airy hallway as Elrond returned only moments later. Thankful, the elf lord continued on down the stairs. If he could not keep watch over his son, he would gladly accept Halbarad as a substitute.
Entering the healing chamber on silent feet, he closed and locked the door behind himself. Crossing the room, he leaned to, but did not touch, Legolas again. "It may take some time to identify a suitable course of action," he said quietly, "we will begin with grounding. Have you learned this?"
"No, sir. I watched Aragorn attempt it, but he said the earth was not receptive."
"That is because the spell repulses all that is good and Estel has not had thousands of years to master the healing arts. This, then, will be your first lesson. When time is not of the essence, I will teach you to do this yourself. For now, observe closely, I will include all of us."
As he had taught all his sons, and his daughter as well, Elrond closed himself off from all unnecessary stimuli, stirred the banked embers of his healing fire and reached deep to ground himself in the earth where rock and stone joined their harmonies with the song of the Bruinen as it roared over its shelf just beyond the bridge.
Knowing one must fight magic with magic, Elrond cast a circle, encompassing their trio within its protective circumference. He had retrieved Vilya, since it did not leave the valley, and it woke now upon his finger, sending a bright thrill up his spine as he sought strength to fortify them all for the coming battle. But he sent it back to sleep. He would make full use of it only if the situation became dire, for to reveal the ring was to expose the stronghold that was Rivendell and that could only happen as a last resort. Indirectly, however, its vitality would still lend additional strength.
There was no denying the Lord of Imladris when he called upon earth energy to kindle and strengthen his own, and indeed, there was no hint of reproof or rebuff at his request. The hum of it skittered along his skin, racing along well-traveled paths to shield the initial shock as Elrond delved cautiously into the tangled skein of the poisonous spell.
It recoiled at his touch and shrank in upon itself, tightening so that no holes or loose ends presented for unraveling. It pulsed with reawakened energy and Elrond felt the immediate drain on his channeled resources. Crude it might be, but a puissance spilled from it that crawled like fire over the earth energy, attempting to divert the flow into itself.
He could, and did, block its attempt, but not without effort. Had not a surrogate wielded the initial spell, he would have been hard-pressed to hold his own against it, let alone make any progress toward ridding Thranduil's son of the threat.
If Sauron had had full knowledge of this sortie it would have been perpetrated with far more finesse, and Elrond's hope of unraveling the spell next to nil. Fortune – or the Valar – had smiled upon them in this at least. Or perhaps the eye had been trained on other minions initially.
He had battled this enemy in the flesh in another Age, and been defeated. It had taken the unexpected strength and will of a mortal to overcome this dark power and that battle had ended in retreat by the Dark Lord, rather than surrender.
Sauron might have had another three thousand years to perfect his arcane arts, but Elrond had also had an additional three thousand years of preparation and this time he did not battle for an ideal, or a way of life, he fought for a soul as dear to him as one of his own children.
In this, he would not countenance surrender or defeat. And so the battle of wills was joined.
Durhíth came and went on silent feet; quite an achievement for one of such height and girth. Elrond found the youth's claim to be true; the ranger was both skilled and knowledgeable in herb lore, and so he wasted no energy on further instructions, leaving his newest apprentice to crush and powder and pour many of the same distillations Aragorn had used.
Tilion lingered as long as he dared before pulling up anchor. Eventually he drew in his net, releasing the winds of time so its breezes once more billowed the sheer draperies framing the wide terrace doors, and set a swift course for his berth Beneath the World. Now that the Master of Imladris was returned, his time would be better spent seeking the aid of Yavanna.
On a time, deep in the night, though Elrond had ceased to reckon the passing of it, his patient, disciplined disentangling hit a snag.
A hand shot up, fastening with unerring accuracy around his throat.
Glass shattered on the tile floor as Durhíth dropped a beaker to lunge across the prince, his vast height giving him barely enough leeway to narrowly avoid snapping the cracked ribs. What it did not give him, was purchase enough to affect any change in the efficiency of those squeezing fingers.
Legolas might have been a carving, the serenity of face and form marred only by the broken nose, the bow-string tautness of the arm, and the fingers at the end of the slender hand constricting with lethal force.
The Master of Imladris made not a sound, but his eyes were beginning to bulge and his own fingers, wedged beneath the encircling digits and wrapped around the archer's slender wrist, were making no more headway than Durhíth's futile attempts to loosen the hold.
"Do --- not!" Elrond ground out, throwing out an arm to block a blow that would have snapped the prince's taut forearm. Instinct was a powerful tool for preservation, but physical strength would not overcome sorcery. He bent his will back to the puzzle, ignoring the intense pressure building in his chest and returned to his unhurried disentanglement.
An image of Helluin, its ice blue fire reflecting the brilliance of Alcarinquë, burst in Elrond's vision as though he had awoken beneath the stars of Cuiviénen. He could no longer see Durhíth, though he felt the ranger's presence. The Valacirca exploded behind his closed eyelids and the red mist of Menelmacar infused the cascade of falling stars as blood vessels began to implode.
The loss of eyesight did not impede his progress; he had been working blind before. Instead, with no visual stimuli to distract him, Elrond discovered a new sensitivity in his mental fingertips.
He could feel the heightened malevolence, and passing them over the irregularly shaped mass, found he could now feel the difference between the cooler, more tractable spots and the hotter, intractable places.
The fingers fell away, Elrond sucked in great gulps of air and Durhíth's legs turned to jelly.
"By the All Father," the Dúnedain breathed quietly, sinking to his knees.
"That …" Elrond began, then had to wait for his violated vocal chords to catch up, "was unexpected," he said raggedly, carefully fingering the bruises on his throat. They would be gone by morning, but he should not have needed the reminder to avoid underestimating this foe.
"The strength is not his and it is perhaps weaker because it is wielded from a distance, but we may have to bind him before this is done. I do not wish to do so as long as it is unnecessary."
Without a word, Durhíth immediately positioned himself behind and to the side, laying his hands without force upon the elf's torso, prepared for any eventuality. "He is icy cold again."
"That will likely change." Pausing only long enough to regain his breath, Elrond delved back into the fray, positive now he could unravel and counter the cantrip that sustained the spell. He stroked the ring's nascent power without waking it, channeling it through the earth energy he kept shielded so it could not be diverted, and began his own silent incantation.
He must go carefully still, lest the spell possess some hidden snare that if tripped loosed a killing blow. Closing his eyes, since vision had returned as well, he sent out feelers for the coolest, most vulnerable place to begin.
The wood elf's body fought over every inch of gained ground and suffered as a consequence, but so did the healers. Durhíth sustained a broken rib when – caught in the web of the enchantment and slowed by the long night's fatigue – the archer's wrist smashed into his solar plexus with the force of a crashing tree.
Elrond had a black eye to match his bruised throat, and multiple lacerations where he had not been quick enough to duck flying fingernails.
Legolas' cracked ribs were broken, his chest and arms sported multiple perfect imprints of Durhíth's fingers and the broken leg had a second break where the ranger had blocked a kick that would have knocked his teeth out.
Dawn was breaking, the birds awakening with soft twitters of greeting, as they assessed the damage. They were a battered trio, but the spell was broken, and Legolas free of its enchantment. His song, however, was irreparably damaged, its unique, individual properties changed all out of recognition.
They had won the battle, though the Mirkwood prince might yet end up a casualty of war.
Aragorn sank his cheek purposefully deeper into the feather pillow. He was content, for the moment, with the pleasure of the smell of clean sheets, a yielding mattress, and the scent of food he had not had to cook tickling his nose, though weariness still ached in muscle and bone.
His contentment lasted approximately five breaths - before wakefulness and memory married up, birthing remembrance. He shot off the bed, yanked on the leggings he had discarded – with nothing to gage time, he knew not how long ago – and raced from his chamber, dragging the rumpled tunic over his head as he ran, barefoot, down the stairs.
The closed and locked door to the healing chambers barred him for only a few seconds while he searched his scrambled brain for the word of opening. The force of his barely leashed apprehension slammed the door back against the wall with a splintering sound.
He stopped on the threshold, stock-still except for the frantic seeking of his eyes.
The room stank of creosote, as if lightning had struck multiple times, but left only its lingering burnt smell behind. Morning light creeping into the room struck facets of broken prisms, casting rainbows of color upon the walls and filmy curtains drifting on the cool breeze.
"'Ware the floor, Estel, there is broken glass everywhere," Elrond warned, as Aragorn made to step forward.
"Legolas?" That healer's mind was tallying the new bruises clearly visible on the still silent and unmoving elf, the black eye and scratched face of his father, and the careful way Durhíth moved, holding his arm tightly to his lower ribcage as he shifted to the side so Aragorn would have a clearer view of their patient.
Elrond uttered wearily, "We have broken the spell."
His astute son heard the unvoiced but, snatched a book from the escritoire that housed the medicinals in the room and dropped heedlessly to his knees, sweeping broken glass from his path with the stiff edges. He did not rise again until he was at the side of Legolas' bed, and then only from his crouch. He remained kneeling and reached to take the plaint body into his arms again. His gaze sought his father's beseechingly, for he knew immediately, just as he had discerned the how and why of Legolas' capture, what was missing.
"You must give him back his song, Atar, at once! He cannot live without it! Put it back! Now!"
His tone weighted with a sorrow that seeped from the very marrow of his ancient bones, Elrond gave voice to the dread he had begun to suspect from the moment the potent spell had splintered in a hurricane of despoiled fury. "I cannot, my son."
"Of course you can. Do not tell me you will not use magic. This room is full of magic; I smelled the taint of it while still on the stairs. Put it back." It was Aragorn, not Estel, who tenderly returned his burden to the sleeping couch and rose to his feet, a new dignity mantling his shoulders despite the fatigue still flowing like a river current through his body. "I will not build a kingdom on the backs of friends I must leave behind in order to achieve a goal I have never cared for, nor aspired to. If I must do this thing, then I will, but not without those who have made it possible."
Aragorn, standing in the middle of the storm of wreckage, closed his eyes and bent his head, reaching to lay a hand on Legolas' shoulder. "I would have told you first, mellon nin."
"Estel –" Elrond rose slowly, reaching a hand toward the impossibly stern mien of his son. "Estel, it is not possible —"
Anger barely masked the soul-wrenching agony wracking the Dúnadan. "I have no abode where hope may reside; it is a fickle companion and abandoned me long ago." Aragorn's closed countenance was echoed in his stiff-as-a-board posture. "It is you who made me what I am; you will call me by my true name."
Once more, forever stretched to accommodate the poignant moment.
"I am sorry, Aragorn." If an elf could shrink, Elrond did so, the weight of eons of difficult decisions bowing the erect shoulders so he hunched like an old man. He could not shrink from his duty though. "I cannot heal him. In your heart, you know we must let him go. Legolas would not want to live in this state."
Durhíth's sharp glance was colored by shock, then askance. He had not yet reckoned the full cost of their victory. "But – did we not save his song?"
"No!" Aragon slashed the air with the single syllable. "No," he said again, furiously. "I will give him mine. It will sustain him, at least. Until … until …" The façade cracked, dignity and borrowed poise leaking away as reality shoved through the opening. "No," he moaned. "No!" And sank again to his knees.
The cloaking silence that descended crackled with poorly concealed tension.
Elrond remained on his feet, sustained only by will, for he badly needed rest to restore equanimity to his own body. Durhíth hovered, uncertain, behind the sleeping couch.
"Leave us," Aragorn said, after a time - his voice emotionless.
"He gave his life for me," the ranger interrupted, "I will not abandon him. Leave us." He voice cracked like a whip this time.
Durhíth sought Elrond's eyes, registered the defeat, and slanted a glance at Aragorn protectively bent over Legolas' still form. "Will you allow me to clean up this mess?"
"I have no intention of moving from this place. Just go."
They went, Elrond leaning on the arm Durhíth timorously lent, leaving the elf and the ranger in solitude.
Aragorn bowed his head. He had thought the old hurts at least well-scabbed over, if not healed. He could not afford to allow rancor room in his heart just now, he needed to find forgiveness; animosity always blocked channeling.
Sighing, he hitched a hip onto the couch, levering himself and the dead weight of the – fortunately lightweight – elf into a reclining position.
"I will carry you, mellon nîn, but you must hold on," he whispered, thinking it would have been far kinder to let the elf slip away on his own watch if unwearied death waited still to have the final say. "We will find a way; I swear to you, we will find a way to restore your own song."
He had nothing but his own stubborn will; no foresight, no tools, no knowledge whatsoever, of what he attempted, but he would not let that stop him. If his foster father had molded and shaped him by collusion, the elf lord had also taught him that nothing was impossible.
In his wilderness wanderings, he had forded impassable rivers, crossed insurmountable mountains, fought impossible battles, faced improbable odds. He had learned by heart that it was true – nothing was impossible.
He reached tentatively for the earth energy, though without hope. This would require a level of rapport deeper even than he had achieved in the joining he had affected in order to give the elf some surcease from the pain of his injuries. He had been too tired to ask why he had been repulsed, even here in Rivendell, when he had shared their ordeal with his father, but he could think of no alternative now, to facilitate the sharing of his song, and so opened the channel and offered the thanks and blessings that initiated the flow of energy.
Surprisingly, it did not just acknowledge his call, it roared through him like a whooshing furnace scorching diffidence and burning away any doubt that he had a right and responsibility to exercise its healing power.
He had been rebuffed so many times, Aragorn was unprepared for the overwhelming affirmation. He did not try to control it; he simply allowed the essence to fill up those empty spaces the elf's peril had gouged out, and accepted with gratitude, the easement of the paralyzing exhaustion that would have engendered ineffectiveness.
He breathed deeply, experiencing an appreciation of the renewal in a way he had never had cause to before. Weariness dropped away like fallen comrades on the field of battle; lost, but not forgotten.
Though he knew not of the ring of power his foster father bore, Aragon was well aware that here within the borders of Imladris, where root and branch, tree and flower, rock and stone lived under the protection of Arda's greatest lore master, the earth's energy was far more potent than elsewhere.
He had found its like nowhere else in his extensive travels. And he had practiced the healing arts north, east, south and west; from Eriador to Rhûn, Forochel to Haradwaith. Not even Lothlórien boasted the well of earth energy Rivendell afforded a healer.
Usually. It still stung a bit that he had been so soundly rebuffed initially.
He let it seep into muscle and bone, permeate sinew and tendon, infuse every crack and crevice, each nook and cranny in his weary soul. Let it spill over into Legolas as well. Encouraged it to sink deep into both of them, so the joining was as acute as he could possibly render without losing himself in the process.
Aragorn did not try again, as he had in those early attempts to aid the elf, to give Legolas back the elf's own song. Nor, he realized - not a moment too soon - could he give Legolas his song.
The prince had been lured nearly to his doom by Aragorn's song. For the ranger to attempt to implant either of their songs now would do far more harm than good.
He needed the elf to associate the embedding with wellbeing and safety, not pain and suffering. He needed … a new song.
And so he wove together an array of life songs he knew by heart: snatches of his foster father's harmonies lilting with the life of Rivendell; pieces of Arwen's deep, still waters; sections of the hot fires in Glofindel's scorching melody; even a few notes from each of his brothers' refrains. He did not know Thranduil's song well, but mixed in a bar or two of what he remembered, and a bit of the magical foreign notes of the old wizard's as well.
The whole should perhaps have been less harmonious, pieced together as it was, but the fundamentals were being joined by a series of overtones blending into partials, so the sum of the parts came together – if not quite as the music of the Ainur - at least pleasantly.
Aragorn began to be aware of a presence he could not identify, though gradually he felt his awareness being expanded so he understood that the playful overtones in the music were an extension of the source of the presence and it was not only benign, but beneficial.
He could feel himself relaxing, his mind opening, reframing his parameters of normal - though normal was a relative term in Elrond's household - in order to accommodate the ambiguity of this unseen partner.
There was no question the presence shared his goal. Invisible hands poured out fertile soil in which to plant the new tendrils of song, rooting it with the tenderness of a master gardener, then nurturing the young shoots to maturity in the space of heartbeats.
He felt, too, the presence strengthening the song so it became both beacon fire and welcoming hearth, the source of all music and the reaffirmation of life.
Like Arda in the Spring of its awakening, the barrenness at the core of the elf was showing a fresh, tender green, twining shoots of the new song spiraling up to entangle his fëa, to anchor it again in the safety of light and warmth.
A gift and a promise, the presence offered in Aragorn's mind. And the germ of an idea sown and nurtured with as much delicacy as the new song. I will come again when you are ready.
With renewal came renewed signs of life as well. Legolas began to warm, a flush of color tinting the alabaster of his skin. He did not stir, but because they were joined so deeply, Aragorn felt the shifting of attention in the elf's wandering fëa.
Slowly the time between echoing heartbeats began to shrink. Legolas' chest began to rise and fall again in a regular rhythm, each strengthening breath sweeter even than the music of the great Song.
Lulled by the breath of the elf, Aragorn slipped into that meditative state the elves called reverie. For mortals it was that place between; between sleeping and waking, where the mind was free of all restraints, allowed to wander at will without guidance or inhibition. Where newly planted ideas, if allowed to bud, fattened upon the branch until the tightly furled petals began to stretch out one by one by one, revealing a mature bloom.
And in blossoming, brought the intentions of the presence to fully faceted fruition.
Aragorn slept again. And this time, when he woke as Tilion's silver light crept into the chamber, his rest had not only been agreeably restorative, his dreams had revealed the path he must follow.
He had not far to look for his father, Elrond sat slumped upon the waiting bench just beyond the door to the healing chamber, elbows propped on his knees, chin resting on his entwined fingers. Already the scratches on his face were gone, the black eye only faintly shadowed by a touch of lavender.
"May I?" Aragorn asked, though he did not wait for a reply before sliding down the wall to plant his backside on the bench as well.
Nor did he wait for his foster father to initiate dialogue. He had things he needed to say. "I am sorry, Atar. I went to bed with certainty that when I woke again, Legolas would be well and hearty. In my exhaustion, my expectations and emotional state had reverted to that of a twelve-year-old." His remorse weighed the more heavily seeing the unusual posture. He could not recall ever seeing his father slouched like this, as if he bore the weight of Arda upon his shoulders.
The Lord of Imladris sighed. "I am immortal, Aragorn, not infallible."
"And I am neither immortal nor infallible. That twelve-year-old was furious that you did not meet his expectations. But I think I understand the root of our argument better now." Aragorn turned so the grey gazes clashed and held. "I have failed to meet your expectations; I am sorry I have let you down, Atar."
"Nay, Aragorn, the fault is mine. I was wrong to attempt to use your love for Arwen to persuade you to a course of action. It was not wisdom, but fear, that drove me to importune you so. And I am supposed to be the ancient one, wise beyond ken."
Elrond straightened. "It was not my job to shape your destiny, though I certainly have attempted to do so. And for this, I humbly beg your forgiveness. It was our job to make certain you had the breadth of knowledge and understanding that would fit you to be a king and then set you free to pursue whatever destiny you chose."
"In my anxiety for the future of Arda," he continued, resting his hands upon his knees lest he reach out prematurely, "I lost sight of that and am guilty of every charge you laid before me in our last quarrel. I have lived in torment, knowing I drove you from your home carrying such a burden as none should ever have to bear. For this, too, I crave pardon, and dare to ask only because I know how tender is that heart you hide away from others."
Aragorn, completely at a loss for words, could only stare.
But Elrond was not finished. "Yours was never the temperament of a warrior. Aye, you played at war games with your brothers when you were young, but it was clear to me the first time you came home from one of their sorties, that it was not a life you would choose, even though you are good at it."
Now he turned again, and held out a hand, grateful when Aragorn accepted the small gesture of familial love, that hand embrace that would allow him to join them again, so Aragorn would know on an experiential level, the depth of his father's refound unconditional love.
"That is because you have disciplined yourself to be good at anything you turn your hand to, whether it's learning a language, or forging a sword. You are a healer of hurts and a born diplomat, able to see all sides of an argument and persuade your opponents to your view. It is why you were a successful leader in Rohan, then Gondor."
"I saw the toll of those posts." Elrond bowed his head over their joined hands. "I saw the toll and counted it as maturation and made no attempt to aid you in clarifying the lessons you took away from them. Between Gandalf and I, I suppose we have driven you nigh unto insane."
"I am sorry for that, too," the elf lord said again. "I hope you know I would have given my own life for young Thrandulion's. I can only pray that this further breach between us can eventually be mended."
Aragorn blinked; his mind was still churning with logistics. He could not adequately process all he had just heard., so he spoke to the last bit only. "Did I not say – Legolas lives?" The thought pierced his mental acuity that his father must be far more anxious than he had imagined. Elrond always knew about everything happening in the valley.
It was only then that he realized the full extent of the subtle joining as well. "Atar?" He had no room, and no time, to examine the sudden onslaught of emotions cascading over him like the falls of Sirion. "Atarinya, may we speak of this later. Legolas lives, though there is further work to be done in order to restore his own song to him."
Elrond blinked too, slowly, as if Aragorn spoke the simple words in an unknown language.
"He is in no immediate danger, though should he wake, he will be inordinately confused."
"Confused?" Elrond echoed, making no attempt to conceal his own bewilderment.
"I hope you will not mind that I have borrowed snatches of your song, Atar, and Glorindel's and Arwen's. Oh - and the twins. I mixed in some of Thranduil's as well, what I could remember of it, and Gandalf's, too."
The elf lord shook his head. "You have borrowed … songs?"
"Errmmmmm …" Aragorn hesitated, unsure how to explain what he had done. "Borrow is perhaps too strong a word. I have taken nothing away from anyone, even temporarily. But since Legolas must have music in order to live, I have devised a new song, one made up of many parts from folk he knows well, so it will be familiar to him, and comforting, while I endeavor to return his own."
Elrond's jaw dropped. The audacity of attempting such a feat was nearly incomprehensible; that a mortal had not only attempted, but been successful at the transplant, was unimaginable.
The ramifications of the achievement were staggering.
He had seen one Age end and another pass; he was thousands of years old and had chronicled the history of Arda. There was nothing new under the sun – except there was obviously - and his youngest child had managed to surprise him yet again. Aragorn had resumed speaking; he had to pull himself together.
"…I will need assistance; it is not a job I can do alone."
"Of course I will lend whatever assistance I may, but you have accomplished something I would never have imagined could be done! I have many questions, Es – Aragorn." It was going to be difficult to drop the familiar Estel, though Aragorn suited the new strength of purpose Elrond was sensing in his son.
"I have far more questions than answers, Atarinya. And there is no time to search for elucidation. When we have given Legolas back his song, I will answer anything I can. May I have the shards?"
"Shards?" Elrond repeated again, barely stifling the need to shake his head to clear it.
"The shards of Narsil," Aragorn reiterated, reining in his impatience. He did not have the skill to reforge the sword alone; it would require a swordmaster's knowledge. "Did Glorfindel go with you to Lothlórien?"
"Aye, he did. And of course, Aragorn, the sword is yours to do with as you will. What need have you of Glorfindel?"
Aragorn arched an eyebrow, slightly diverted by his father's befuddlement. Not in all his years of growing up, nor any of his visits home since his first unhappy departure from the valley at the age twenty, had he seen Lord Elrond lose that serene elven composure.
They had argued – vehemently – the last time he had been home, though his father had never raised his voice. It had been Aragorn who had lost his composure and stalked away from the confrontation, refusing to heed either entreaty or command.
It had been a long and lonely six years of self-denial, for every time he had turned toward home, Elrond's parting words had flamed like fire in his mind - "You will take up your heritage someday, because you are incapable of denying it."
And here he was – taking up his heritage. If it required reforging the sword that had cut the ring from Sauron's hand, if it entailed taking up that sword in mortal combat, if it meant wresting a kingship from the line of Stewards it had reverted to lifetimes ago – he would do it. If he must call at the Black Gates of Mordor with trumpets and heralds announcing his heritage – he would do it.
At the very least, such an act might garner safety for those he loved.
Legolas had offered up his life willingly, the least he could do in return was make manifest the destiny the sacrifice had paved the way to accepting. "I need Glorfindel's help reforging the blade."
Head spinning with shock still, Elrond took a deep breath. Aragorn had made no attempt to shield anything of himself in the joining; he had hidden nothing. It was right there – on the surface – the purpose that drove the new resolve.
"I do not understand," the elf lord began, only to be interrupted forcefully.
"Atar, please! Not now! Where is Glorfindel?"
"What in your education has given you the idea that to love in any capacity is diminishing?"
The question, out of the blue, as Glorfindel turned the iron that was becoming a sword, caused Aragorn's rhythm to falter. The stroke struck out of true and the blade sprang up like a writhing snake raring to sink its fangs into tender flesh. Only the elven lord's quickness kept it from adding a new scar to the Dúnedain chieftain's already impressive array.
Aragorn dropped the heavy hammer to rest upon the rim of the fire pit, dragging the sleeve of his tunic across his face, smearing sweat and grime with equal opportunity. "Where, pray tell, did that non sequitur arise from?" He was grateful for the sword master's return, only a day after Elrond's, this endeavor would likely have failed otherwise, but he heard in the question a far more personal inquiry than he thought himself capable of responding to.
Aragorn was hot, tired, and beyond anxious, his patience thinned to non-existent. "I am not in the mood to play games. If you have something to say, say it and be done with it, but do not beat around the bush.
"Come, let us leave this for awhile. The sword must rest and so must you. We will walk to the river."
When Glorfindel said we will do this or we will do that, there was no arguing. Aragorn drew off the heavy leather gloves, laying them next to the hammer and followed the tall elf out through the open doors of the forge.
"You loved coming here as a boy." Glorfindel led the way down to a shady spot where the river curved into the bank, slowing the swift running current to a lazy swirl. "Erestor always looked here first when you failed to show for studies. Shall we remove our foot gear and dangle our limbs in the water?"
"I am not in the mood for reminiscing either," Aragorn stated baldly, though he did plop down on the river bank and pull off his boots.
"Fine. We will move directly to the query and response portion of this discussion. Why have you not told Legolas how much his devotion has succored you?"
Aragorn's keen mind raced through any number of responses, calculating believability as his brain identified with surety, the path Glorfindel's questions were leading down. "You have formed the opinion that I have formed an attachment for Legolas." He thrust his feet into the water and flopped backwards, feeling exposed to his very bones.
Glorfindel tossed his boots aside and stretched his feet down into the water as well, but he remained upright. "Estel," he said gently, "love is not something to be hidden. It does not ask for permission, and reveals itself wil-you-nil-you in all manner of ways."
"There is a difference between loving someone and being in love," Aragorn retorted quickly, though his heart was not in it.
"Aye, I'm glad you recognize at least that. I will ask again, from whence comes the belief that being in love with someone is in any way diminishing?"
"I did not say that is what I believe."
"Then why do you fight this attraction? Why do you not tell Legolas what is in your heart? Has it occurred to you that this is more than just his song? That he fades in order to accommodate you? You do not wish to be torn by your desire for both Arwen and Legolas and so you deny what is between you for the sake of whom … Arwen? Legolas? Yourself? Legolas senses this and chooses the easiest path for you. "
"He would not do that."
Glorfindel made no reply, the silence accompanied by the river's song and the hum of insects and birds going about their noonday business.
"He loves life too much to choose to fade. Legolas is the epitome of the elven joy of life!" Aragorn wrenched himself upright to make the accusation.
The elder elf raised an eyebrow. "I agree. But his heart is wholly given; he is incapable of taking it back. He will do whatever he thinks is necessary to smooth the path before you."
"I cannot make this decision."
"He does not expect you to, which is why he has made the decision himself."
Aragorn sank back with a sigh. He had been wrestling with this choice for days now, taking out his frustrations on the sword, hammering it into its pre-ordained shape as he could not hammer out the unruly wrinkles of his heart. "What of Arwen? She would not understand."
"In that, I must disagree. You forget, mortal, that she has thousands of years of experience. She understands the human heart in ways you will never have the time to."
"That's … brutal." Aragorn dropped an arm over his eyes.
"Aye, but true, and there is a life at stake here. You do not have time to dither. Mind, I do not say she will be accommodating, but she will understand."
Accommodating? How did one ask a wife to accommodate the demands of the heart, for his eyes had been opened in a way he could never have imagined, by Legolas' willing forfeiture of his own life in pursuit of a goal Aragorn had not, at the time, accepted.
"The laws of the Noldor are not so accommodating."
The balrog slayer snorted, a sound so at odds with the elf's heroic mien, it always caught Aragorn off guard. His head came up in disbelief.
"Do you say then that you believed, and observed, every law your atar laid down for you?"
"That's …" Aragorn paused again, but shook his head and continued, "different."
The Dúnadan sat up again, leaning back on his hands. "To begin with, the rules of my childhood were not laws, they were fences for my protection and when I did not obey them, I suffered the consequences. Further, while Noldor law is not my law, nor the law of my people, if I do not respect the laws of others, how can I expect any subjects I might acquire in some distant future, to obey laws I am required to enact as a ruler?"
"A well-spoken response. I am glad to hear you have given this some thought, for I do not believe you organized it on the spur of the moment."
"Nay, I did not," Aragorn admitted.
Glorfindel twitched a blade of grass between his fingers. "You would have to be very circumspect in your relationship with Legolas, but it is not impossible, Aragorn. Perhaps the fruit of this association is meant to be a better understanding of surrender."
Aragorn's snort was not so unbelievable as the balrog slayer's.
Glorfindel correctly interpreted the rude sound. "You think you have learned submission then? Growing up mortal amongst the First Born must assuredly be a humbling experience, but you mistake if you believe that was willing submission. You learned to accommodate it; you have never willingly submitted to anyone or anything in your life, Aragorn, and this may be your greatest test."
The elf's sharply honed perception sliced as cleanly as that sword they were reforging would someday cleave. Aragorn heard and knew the observation to be true. He had never embraced his mortal limitations, though he had learned to accommodate them. And there was that word again: accommodate.
"If you are to rule, you must understand that willing surrender comes only through love. People may be ruled by fear, through threats and intimidation, but the individual who perpetrates those tactics must have eyes in the back of their head. I do not believe you are even capable of ruling in that manner, for there is no malice in you. A heart understanding, though, of why your subjects will submit will go much further toward endearing you to them, for they will see themselves reflected in your actions."
"It is a giant leap of faith."
"Aye. Love is always a leap of faith; but you are more fortunate than most. You are not flinging yourself into the void of unknowing, or even at someone whose capacity to love is suspect. If you will offer yourself, you will be richly rewarded in turn. To be loved by an elf is an immeasurable gift; to be loved by two immortals will be …" Glorfindel paused and Aragorn, who was shredding his own blade of grass, looked up again.
"Will be what? The death of me? You are correct, I cannot imagine Arwen will be accommodating of this development, but it is not in me to allow Legolas to make this further accommodation for me."
"I am glad."
"Aragorn?" the elf lord prompted when the silence lengthened again.
"You do not think this is wrong?"
"More to the point, do you think this is wrong?"
Aragorn's answer was slow in coming. "I do not believe that love is ever diminishing. But there are societal norms that will be shattered with this choice; cultural laws that will be broken."
"Aye," Glorfindel acknowledged. "But progress is never accomplished where no one dares. There will be consequences, but you are smart enough to minimize the negative repercussions and Legolas will guard your reputation as if it were his own."
Another long silence ensued. Glorfindel let it run its course before reaching for his boots. "Do we return to the forge?"
"Aye. I have need of that sword." And for more reasons than Glorfindel had discerned as yet.
The elf rose, waiting to reach a hand down until Aragorn had his boots back on. "Come then, let us finish this with all due haste, before that arrogant whelp accomplishes his purpose."
A blade with the heritage of Narsil was not lightly melted down to be poured into a new blank; that would quench both the power of the weapon and its spirit, leaving the wielder bereft. One must transform, but still retain its properties with minimal loss of mass. A difficult proposition, since it had been broken into multiple pieces.
Given that the First Age sword had been dwarven forged, at a time when Arda had been young and its natural resources newly created, their first challenge had been finding a match for the iron.
If Aragorn's first bit of turning luck – or fate - had been Glorfindel's unexpected return, the second was equally unanticipated. From beneath a velvet drape in his study, Elrond had produced a large chunk of pitted rock he named sky iron, a relic from his own childhood days of scavenging – a trait Estel had shared in his youth.
The blade had accepted it, allowing the heating and reheating, the progression of folding and refolding that would meld the pieces and make the glaive fundamentally stronger.
With the first tentative hammer blows, even before he had fallen into that rhythm all smiths eventually acquire, Aragorn had opened himself to the song of the sword; reckoning their compatibility, gauging the blade's disposition and its willingness to submit to his will.
The deference came in the knowledge that its self-worth was measured by the strength of the arm wielding it. But the sword made known it could confer great power to its holder if it chose, or, by the same token, withhold it, so it was just an extension of an arm.
An equal partnership then, Aragorn had agreed, more than willingly to acknowledge this facet of their relationship.
Its song was fierce and passionate, a song of power, a song that rang of brotherhood in blood and carnage, but also of the peace and prosperity the edge of the blade would bring. It was a song that called to kinship, to arms, to war against all evil. But most of all, it called the heart to come home to face this last challenge.
Come home … come home … come home … the battle is not yet won.
He had thrilled to those first notes, and even in the stifling heat of the forge, goose flesh had stippled his skin at that last cry … come home … come home.
It had dovetailed perfectly with Aragorn's need and the blade willingly accommodated the new song the ranger layered into it, fold by fold, crease by crease, hammer blow by hammer blow.
The iron had shivered excitedly with every blow, for with each tempering and ring of hammer, it had become further cognizant of its original shape and purpose.
By the time Aragorn and Glorfindel changed places, many days after that first tentative exploration between sword and wielder, in order to allow the sword master to make the final adjustments and tapering, a voiceless duet soared above the clamor of fire and forge, hammer and tong, ringing in the rafters as both sword and wielder recognized the end was finally in sight.
One last time, the blade swam gratefully in the diverted waters of the Bruinen. One last time, it was lifted and held first at arm's length as Glorfindel sighted down the straight edge, then drawn closer to the elf's face so his sharply-focused gaze took in every detail of the new forged pommel … the grip … the crossguard … and then the blade, as the water evaporated to steam.
Glorfindel turned it to balance across his palms, holding it out to its new master. "You have done exceptional work, Estel." The golden head bowed in deference. "May you serve one another well." He passed the blade into Aragorn's upraised hands and turned aside. He moved to a far corner of the forge to retrieve a wrapped bundle, returning to lay it across Aragorn's hands as well.
From its silk wrapping, Aragorn withdrew a tooled-leather, fleece-lined sheath.
"A sword of such making deserves a home of comparable worth," Glorfindel remarked, when Aragorn lifted his gaze from the work of art, his fingers still mapping the silver-dyed tooling. The device on the scabbard echoed the design etched into the sword's fuller – seven silver stars bookended by a rayed sun at the opening, followed by a crescent moon at the tip.
"It is …" His voice caught and Aragorn had to clear his throat. "It is incomparable. Hantanyel - thank you," he offered in the high speech of the elves, bowing his head in return.
"If you are to be a king, you must look the part as well."
Aragorn's gaze lifted again, searching the elf's face for any telltale sign of mockery, and found none. They had spoken little after their discussion at the river, their focus on the reforging of the blade that was broken. "Atar has told you of this?"
Glorfindel slanted a glance at the sword. "Elrond has said nothing of your purpose, yet what other choice requires its reforging."
The inflection informed Aragorn he had no need to answer, for it was statement, not a question. Even so, he replied, careful to keep his tone neutral, though he wanted to huff the response. "That was not my first reason."
"No?" Glorfindel drew the piece of silk from Aragorn's grasp, wafting it into the air. "Try it."
Aragorn's hand closed around the grip almost without volition; the sword was ready and eager to prove itself.
The silk floated to the floor in two pieces.
"You have accomplished the improbable already. Perhaps you turn your thoughts to the impossible – Thranduilion's own song?"
Aragorn bent to collect the cleanly sliced silk. "Is not facing a Maia more powerful even than Gandalf an impossible task for a mortal?" Rising, he lifted the sword between them, his gaze fixed on the sheen of fire dancing along the edge. "Yet I am expected not only to face him, but to win the day. Providentially, experience has born out the truth of what my first teachers taught me – nothing is impossible." He paused, glance straying to the elf, before pronouncing, "I name you Andúril, Flame of the West."
The blade shone red hot, as if withdrawn straight from the forge fire, though it was perfectly cool. It was not the color of blood, but the color of energy and passion. The color of righteous indignation and action, the color of justice enacted with both mercy and compassion. It was the color of a kingship yet to be won.
Aragorn pulled back from the clarion call. "Patience," he murmured. "First, we must raise the dead."
It had been a long fortnight, laboring at the forge, but he knew at least, that this secondary part of his plan had come to fruition. The next hour would see the dénouement one way or the other. If it did not work, he would have to allow the elf to waken to the strange new song. The alternative was not to be born.
The composite song was no opus, but it had kept Legolas' heart beating and the breath whooshing in and out of his lungs. They had done nothing either to try and wake him, or keep him under. Elrond, who had had the care of the patient whilst Aragorn had been reforging the sword, had thought it best to let nature have its way.
Aragorn wiped the back of his sleeve across his eyes again – to no avail. It was still as wet as it had been when he had walked out of the forge with the new made sword. He knew they had heard his step upon the terrace, but doubt assaulted him again, impeding further forward progress.
Yet there was nothing he could do but move forward. The sword was as ready as he could make it. If he failed, it would not be from lack of trying.
Every eye in the room turned to him as he stepped through the diaphanous drift of draperies, except the elf's, who slept on.
They knew Legolas was not in reverie, that he slept the sleep of mortals, deep in dreams. And were hoping that the dream paths he walked would eventually lead him home again. But there were no assurances.
The moon had gone full and returned to its crescent shape since last Aragorn had slept properly. Still his patience was little more than a veneer, and so he closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath before he spoke.
"I cannot attempt this with an audience."
"Sir, you will need –"
"We will wait beyond the door," Elrond said, stifling Halbarad's half-formed question along with Durhíth's intended observation as he took both Dúnedain by an arm. "Call if you have need." He closed the door firmly behind their trio.
It was late afternoon, the sun still shone brightly, and Aragorn had been surprised to see the moon sailing the sky as well as he had walked the path from the forge back to the house.
It happened rarely these days, though as a child he had loved hearing the story of Tilion's desire to court Arien, the fire Maia, whose task it was to guide the sun, and his subsequent castigation for steering the moon to close to her fiery brilliance.
Aragorn turned, perhaps to give himself one more moment, perhaps in response to some sub vocal nudge he did not yet realize, and drew back the draperies so the room was open to the terrace again, inviting in the light breeze, along with the sunshine and the lazy feel of the warm afternoon.
A fortnight in the forge had banished the lingering physical chill he had brought back from Carn Dûm, but not even the forge fires had been able to ward off the chill of Legolas' life hanging for so long in the balance. Now, he was chilled again with his own doubt and craved at least the physical warmth the afternoon sunshine offered.
He had considered going to change into dry clothes before his presumptuous behavior killed them both, but he did not think Legolas would care if he woke to a sweaty, stinking ranger, so long as he could find his way home again and wake to his own song.
Alternatively, he doubted the elf cared – if they were going to die – if the arms that held him were covered in a sweat-soaked tunic.
Aragorn well knew what he attempted could prove fatal to both of them, but he had no choice.
Not just life, but much of an elf's power resided in their song; it was fundamental to who and what they were and grew with them throughout their life.
Legolas' song rang with the inaudible snap of a bowstring, the deadly swiftness of arrows, the swish of ivory-handled knives; but it also sang of all things green and growing, of hands that created with as much fervor as they drew that bowstring, of a tenderness for the wild things that made their home in his forest. If it had had lyrics, the words would have spoken of a wielder of grace and mercy here, too, of steadfastness and nobility of spirit, for all those things made up the song of the Mirkwood prince.
Aragorn unsheathed the sword, laid aside the scabbard, and hefted it close to his body. Its weight seemed suddenly lighter, as if counter-balancing the weight that had bowed the ranger's shoulders this last moon cycle. He felt its presence like a living thing, bolstering his flagging confidence, encouraging his resolve.
Just on the edges of his mind, the other presence hovered as well. He had no need to investigate further as just its proximity was reassuring; he knew it and welcomed its assistance. Opening himself completely, he allowed the healer's essence to rise unguardedly. In this shielded room, he had no qualms about exposure.
He did not have to ask this time. Just the act of opening himself brought the energy boiling up like a geyser, rejuvenating aching muscles, soothing tired bones and restoring acuity to his enervated mind.
Aragorn waited with no will of his own.
He did not have long to wait.
In his hands, the sword began to chime with a soft inaudible ringing, as of a bell far, far away, heard only at the edges of consciousness. Not so much as sound, but as an invitation - a call if you will - to come and seek its source.
Anxiety and doubt melted away. He had not given the sword this, nor was it any piece of the song it had learned in the hands of Telchar, its maker, or any of its subsequent partners. But he knew its quiet intonations would reach the elf's fëa, facilitating the beginning of the journey home, for curiosity, too, was a part of Legolas' song.
Aragorn moved to the foot of the bed; he wanted to absorb every nuance of the waking, to feel it in every part of his being so that it was ingrained in his body memory for the rest of his life.
He was only a channel, for he did not want his own song in any part of the mix, lest its melody alarm the elf and send him into retreat.
He could feel the humming of the blade in his hands as a warm, garnet light began to suffuse the room and the sword began to sing.
The music began no louder than the chiming that continued beneath the solo notes, as if carried on the wind. The merest hint of sonance brushed Aragorn's mind like the wings of a butterfly, a distillation of the power of the song condensed into a single line of music.
Slowly, so slowly it might have been those first moments when Eä was sung into existence, whisper layered upon whisper and the music grew with each new layer of intonation. Note by note, chord by resonating chord, the melody rose, evolving, ever evolving until it became a swelling concert of sound that called with the power of the Ainulindalë – come home … come home … come home.
There was no overt moment on the part of the elf, but Aragorn felt the intensity building in the quiescent body. He, in turn, nudged the sword, humming inaudibly until the green and gold notes began to twine through the extant song, separate but a part of the whole. And like a new vine reaching its first tender shoots toward the sun, the presence began to grow, too, sending out new tendrils of Legolas' melody – springs bubbling up from the earth to fill deep green forest pools, water dripping from a lifted muzzle as a deer raised her head from the pool.
A scintillating mix of earthborn scents drifted through the room as tightly closed buds at the center of the song, unfurled, blossoming so that petals fell like a silver summer rain. A zephyr of cedar-scented fragrance banished the smell of crushed and burnt herbs, comingling with the scent of dark, rich soil and pine. And underneath, like a repetitive bass note, the unmistakable tang of campfire.
Aragorn dared not blink, lest he miss the lift of a finger or the twitch of a toe beneath the sheet.
It was an arm that lifted first, though, to rest above the head that turned languidly into a stretch of long dormant muscles. The green eyes opened, slowly, though not with reluctance, to leisurely survey the quarters, coming to rest finally on Aragorn. They rose to meet the grey eyes watching him so attentively, full of questions that needed no answers, for in that moment, Aragorn loosed the bonds of his own spirit, so they were -- again – one.
This time, however, he held nothing back; not those caliginous places he guarded so carefully, nor the well of sorrow he rarely allowed any to see, not even his mostly closely kept secrets. Aragorn purposefully laid himself bare, returning to Legolas what he had coerced from the elf in his benighted attempt to offer some surcease from the wounds he could see, now, were at last beginning to heal.
The elf smiled. A smile of such singular sweetness, Aragorn thought his heart might well burst with the swelling. It bestowed a heart understanding of their joining, of this new acceptance on Aragorn's part, and the gift of renewed song, it shone with gratitude and thankfulness, but most of all, that smile granted absolution. Though there was a hint, too, of mischievous satisfaction that Aragorn acknowledged an acceptance of his role in events yet to come to pass in Middle-earth.
"How long have I slept, mortal?" Legolas yawned and rubbed his eyes.
Aragorn favored his friend with a rueful smile, not quite as blinding as the elf's. "Long enough that a new Age has come to pass."
"Indeed." Humor spilled over in the light rejoinder. "You are to be a king; I must have slept long and deeply for certain. What further history of the world have I missed?" The green eyes settled on the still glowing sword.
"Ah, my friend, those are mysteries destined to be unveiled at some later date." Aragorn retrieved the scabbard and sheathed the sword, laying it on a small table nearby.
A soft weir light continued to leak from the tightly sewn seams of the scabbard, mingling with the glow of the setting sun and rising moon to suffuse the chamber once more with the iridescent light of diffused time.
Legolas obligingly moved over as Aragorn set a hip on the edge of the sleeping couch. The ranger seated himself more comfortably and reached to take up the fingers of one long, slender hand. The marks from the restraints still marred the normally flawless skin, but they were fading rapidly now, sinking away where no one else might ever discern them.
Likely in just a few days, Legolas would be whole again, though there were still deep currents of mental fatigue and a trace of anxiety playing along nerve endings. Aragorn knew from experience, those things would take longer than the healing of the physical wounds.
He channeled more energy into the elf, watching – with eyes newly opened to an affection he did not wish to resist – the rising tide of essence filling the hollow spaces carved out by pain and illness. And cupped those fingers, grateful for their warmth when not so long ago he had despaired of their ever being warm again.
"I will do this thing asked of me because you have given me the courage to pursue the crown, and with it, the peace of Middle-earth. I am humbled by the sacrifice you have already made, it seems unfair to ask for more, but I cannot go forward without knowing you will be beside me through thick and thin."
"Like an engaging pup that follows you home?" Legolas inquired, smirking. "I owe allegiance to my father and my home, but you have the rest, Aragorn." He yawned again and stretched, tallying the healing physical hurts, though they were of little consequence set against Aragorn's revelations. "You have my bow, and whatever else I may offer in time of need."
Aragorn spread the fingers of the hand he held, threading his own through them. "I will not burden you with this hereafter, but I must say the words lest something untoward part us again." He bowed his head for just a moment before looking up. "I am more grateful than I can express for the gift of your friendship, it is priceless to me. And I will ask this one boon of you. Do not take upon yourself, ever again, the responsibility for my choices."
Those warm fingers tightened briefly in acknowledgement, before Legolas turned the tide of sentiment with his usual impeccable timing. "When did I last eat? I am famished."
Overhead, Tilion, lounging with his arms crossed over the port-side bow, laughed aloud. "Well, m'lady?" He turned to his guest in her flowing green gown. "Is our work here done?"
Her complacent smile was answer enough.
From far below a gentle chiming followed the ancient vessel as they pulled up anchor and caught the winds aloft. "Are you in a hurry to get home?" Tilion inquired. "Or would you like to see some more of the world from this vantage point?"
Disclaimer: This is a work of transformative fan fiction; all characters and settings belong to the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. The story itself, and the original characters, are the intellectual property of the author. No copyright infringement has been perpetrated for financial gain.
With grateful thanks to my beta, Anne, as well.