15. Epilogue 2
Imladris. Men called it legendary, one of the last elven strongholds of Arda. Even to elvish eyes, there was something about it that befitted legend--a glamour, and a memory that lay heavy across the land and bewildered the senses. Everything seemed so very clear here, from the air to the earth, and the scent of pine surely had never been so sweet even in the lost days of the First Age. They loomed up on the steep slopes of the valley, towering over a traveler, but in a welcoming way. A joyous way, for these trees knew naught of evil, and had never learned to fear the darkness, for there was none here. With their roots dug deep into the soil, they raised their lofty green limbs in proud celebration of their splendor, their age, and their perfect dignity, and delight in being the children of Yavanna. The prince who gazed up at them reluctantly tore his eyes from the contemplation of their beauty, and reminded himself that he had a purpose here and ought not to be distracted, even if his business was not nearly so pressing as the errand that had brought him hither from his father's halls in Mirkwood. Legolas turned back towards Elrond's house and went swiftly down the road, sprinting the distance in an excess of good spirits for the fair day.
Once he reached the house, he slowed, though he still went swiftly through the halls, threading his way through Imladris' labyrinthine ways with an ease a hobbit might envy. A curious folk, the Periannath, and he was eager to see more of them, for he had only barely known of Bilbo Baggins in Bard's day, when the dragon had been cast down. But that would wait, and he was not impatient on that account, being elvish. There would be time for such observation, but other tasks would not wait, and though he looked forward to seeing an old friend, his heart ached, too. The door was still closed when he arrived, and sharp hearing picked out the sounds of someone moving about inside, and he smiled, relieved to have guessed correctly. Leaning against the wall to one side of the door frame, he studied the intricately carved stone that graced the corridors, and the cunningly woven hangings that served as background for them. It was not long until he heard the door handle twist, the latch lift, and a figure emerged from the room, pack slung over one shoulder, and Legolas raised a brow.
"The Road does go ever on, but must you see it to the ends of Arda?" Aragorn glanced sharply at him, clearly startled to find him there, but after a heartbeat, the Ranger relaxed slightly and chuckled as he shut the door behind him.
"That would be the work of a lifetime, and I have not one to spare," he answered.
"Clearly not. You have only just arrived, my friend, and yet," Legolas gestured to the backpack.
"Each time I return, it seems I see less of Imladris," Aragorn confessed with a shake of his dark head, and Legolas noted that there were a few more silver strands to be found there. "Five days--and much time spent worrying in a sickroom. I think I am more intimately familiar with the inside of the Prancing Pony at Bree than I am with these chambers, which once were home."
"Whither shall you go now? Lord Elrond has retained me, in the event that he may need a messenger later on, one to carry the whole tale to my father. But the rest of my party shall return home by the swiftest route, bearing such tidings as are deemed good for them to carry, and to alert my father of the danger of the Nazgûl," Legolas paused, eyeing Aragorn closely. "You saw much of them on your journey here, did you not?"
"More than I could wish," Aragorn replied, and sighed softly. "Thank the Valar for the hobbits, else I know not what I might have done--had I not had to think of them...." He paused, eyes unfocused and far away, and Legolas frowned, worried. But it was a brief moment, and then the Dúnadan shook himself, and gave the prince a slight, grim smile. "Strange as it may seem, I think it may have helped to see them again--to see all of them. What memory could they raise that could rival that of Khamûl? And yet I had no need of memory, for they were there before me, and I could act this time, instead of suffer in my own mind only."
"Strange indeed, and far too close a call for my peace of mind, but I am glad that your heart is more at ease now," Legolas replied.
"In any case, you asked whither I am bound. My brothers and I shall go south to see if we cannot discover what has become of the Nazgûl."
"And you must leave now?"
"Haste is needed, for we have no time left. Now are all hours reckoned mortal, my friend," Aragorn answered. "I am glad to have spoken with you, though, for I fear I was not particularly... attentive... last night."
"Ah, but you were! And the lady Arwen surely appreciates your attention," Legolas laughed, as he and the Ranger started off down the hall. "No wife waiting for you indeed!"
"I would appreciate it if you would say nothing about that. It may be an open secret in some quarters, but 'tis best not to speak overmuch of that topic," Aragorn murmured.
"As you wish. But ere you go, I did have a message for you," Legolas replied, and touched the other's shoulder to halt him. Aragorn raised a dark brow, alerted by the serious note in the prince's voice. "I would have sent word earlier, yet it seemed the chance never arose--some things were meant to be told in person, or confided by family, and Nindarth, though he left ere I did to take the western road, left not long before me, and so I thought I would bring word myself." He drew a breath, and gazed directly into the Man's eyes, as he said, "Aradhil is dead."
Aragorn was silent a long moment, and then he nodded slowly. "When?"
"A few days after you and Mithrandir departed. It was very swift."
"Swift indeed," the Ranger replied, frowning. "I would have thought he would have had weeks left him, for that is the normal course of things among the Eldar. Was there aught amiss?"
"No," Legolas answered, and gave a slight, queer smile. "Nothing at all." The Ranger absorbed that, his grey eyes searching Legolas' green ones.
"Nothing at all?" he repeated, and then shook his head, glancing down, plainly sensing that more lay behind that than the Elf was willing to admit. "Well," he said at last, "I am relieved, then, if I may say it without offense. Whatever I may have thought of him, I am glad that he has some chance of peace. And what of you, Legolas?" Aragorn raised his eyes again, and there was concern in them now. "How did it end between you?"
"He never woke, so I know not what he might have felt. But... for my part, I think there was no anger left when he died. Nay, I am certain of it," Legolas replied softly, with that same, queer smile, and the Ranger's grey eyes grew the sharper as he turned these words over in his mind. Ere he could ask, however, Legolas continued, "But you have tasks to attend to, and the lords Elladan and Elrohir surely await you. Until we meet again, Dúnadan, for however long or short a time that may be. A safe journey to you!" And with that, he turned and slipped away down the halls and out again, bound for the tree-clad slopes and such comfort as they could bring. And as he walked in the shade beneath their boughs, he thought, No, I am not angry with you anymore, Aradhil, nor do I crave your pardon, as once I did. I think I am less selfish than that now, and so I hope only that I was, in the end, an instrument of peace for you. But I shall await your judgment when we meet again, as all Elves must. And in the mean time, there is Aragorn, and a world before me to learn to love ere I leave it!
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