5. Healing and Comfort
As dawn neared, they defended still the caves, the rock, and the tower. They were not yet broken, although the precariousness of the defense was lost on none. Aragorn took counsel with the King who paced, fretfully, in his chamber in the tower.
"What choice have we, bottled up behind these halls of stone, strong though they be?" the King asked. "I grieve to sit and do naught but wait for the enemy to overwhelm the defenses. Well may it be that this is my last riding, and I would it end on the field, with a spear or sword in my hand, and an escort of dead enemies before me to ease my way. I will lead my men to ride down upon them at sunrise."
"I and my sword will be at your side, lord," said Aragorn. And he walked among the Riders as they readied for the last, desperate charge. All who could ride were mounted, and as the sky paled they rode out to face the hosts of Saruman.
When the great gates opened, and the wild horns sounded, it seemed as if every hill sent echoes into the Coomb, and then resounded from North, South and West to hearten the riders. Forth they rode, prepared to sell their lives dearly, for they had scant hope to see sundown. The battle was fierce, but the proud Rohirrim on their great horses cut their way to the Dike, and there Théoden, with Aragorn beside him, stopped in wonder. The Coomb was no more. Where the grassy dale had been, now a dark forest stood. The orcs were mad with fear, caught between the Riders and the ominous trees whose branches tangled together, so that none could pass without stooping and entering the shadowed arches. In their fear they wailed and cast off their weapons, and charging the living branched barrier, they ran into the dark caverns beneath the bare trees, and none survived who passed into that wood.
The clash of arms was over, and the healers took up their own battle. Éomer and Aragorn walked among the wounded, speaking words of encouragement and comfort and Aragorn helped the healers as he could, for he had been taught by Elrond. One Rider, moaning as he awaited the healers' attentions, clutched at Aragorn's arm as he walked past, seeking a few words to distract him from his pain. Legolas and Gimli stood nearby, and they saw the flinch, the effort it took for the Man to stand his ground, neither fleeing nor throwing the injured man's hand from him.
The elf and dwarf regarded their comrade, pity and sorrow in their eyes. "He is strong," Gimli said, but his voice lacked its usual conviction.
"The strongest of Men," Legolas agreed, "may the Valar grant it will be enough."
Later, when one of the soldiers who had fought near him clasped Aragorn's shoulder from behind, only the elf's sharp eyes saw Aragorn's face tighten and his hand jerk to his scabbard. Legolas was instantly on his feet and moving toward the pair. Before he had taken three steps, the hand had fallen from the sword hilt, and the two were talking amiably. No one else seemed to have noticed.
At last all that could be done, was done; and many who were weary with the hours of battle sought ease. Gimli insisted he could not bear to leave without again visiting the Glittering Caves. Legolas, laughing, had declined to accompany him. "What, master dwarf, would you revisit holes in the rock to remember where you fought, at bay?"
"Holes!" snorted Gimli. "These are a marvel of Middle-earth, places of rare beauty, fair with the music of waterfalls and the glimmer of gems. I will not leave without gazing upon their glory again." He turned to Éomer. "Do the Men of the Mark see nothing of their beauty? Do they see aught beyond a place to fly at need?"
Éomer smiled. "Very well, Gimli, you shall show me this beauty that my eyes have missed these years past. For though I fought there at your side, I had not the leisure to notice the glory you speak of. I will accompany you on this pilgrimage to the halls of stone. For if you will sit a horse, I can walk in a cave." In good cheer, Éomer and Gimli passed beyond the Deeping Wall, and made for the Glittering Caves of Aglarond.
Legolas wandered to the stables and saw that Arod and Hasufel were well settled, while Aragorn went to rest in a chamber in the Hornburg.
Once there, his thoughts strayed to Arwen. As so many times in the past years, he imagined her at his side; her beauty, her merry smile, her fair form. Her clean sweet scent lingered in his memory, and he imagined her skin under his fingertips, white velvet against the black satin of her hair. So it had felt to him in times of laughter and play amid the trees of Rivendell, when they sat together on the grass and she touched his cheek tenderly as he leaned close to press his lips to hers.
He had longed for her during his travels in every way, his heart remembering her quiet companionship, his arms remembering her soft weight cradled within them, his chin remembering how her head tucked beneath to rest with her cheek against his breast. He had long since learned to master himself and be patient for that which he desired, whether the throne of his forefathers, or the pleasures of the marriage bed. Yet still he had ached for her, recalling tender moments that stole his breath.
He shuddered then, as the hateful thoughts set a chill in his heart while sweat sprang to his brow, for in his mind's eye the delicate hand that touched his cheek had become scaly and coarse, the sweet, intoxicating scent overlaid with a foul reek. Alas, that the memory of the fairest thing in Middle-earth was now tainted, and a source of such delight was turned to a source of pain. He understood now the despair of Celebrian. Had Elrond truly known why she had no choice but to leave? Had she shuddered under his touch, not out of passion, but because every loving caress recalled only horror? And if Elrond had known, surely this had torn his heart to shreds, to see his beloved wife recoil from him. Was there no healing this side of the sea?
When Legolas sought the guest-chamber, he saw that Aragorn was yet wakeful, and came to sit beside him. "You have neither rested nor slept. What dark thoughts sit upon you uneasy?"
Aragorn's voice was full of torment. I have commanded men for years. I have commanded armies. How is it that now I cannot command myself?" he cried.
"You think to command yourself to forget?" Legolas asked, gently.
He reached out to place a consoling hand on the man's shoulder. Aragorn shuddered and his muscles became rigid under the light touch. His eyes looked like those of a hunted animal.
Legolas drew back. "Time has not yet brought you healing. And you fear perhaps there is none?"
"I have seen none. And I know not how to seek it," Aragorn replied, anguished.
"You said once that my friendship brought you comfort. Perhaps it can bring healing as well." Then the blue eyes locked on his as a slender hand slowly reached forward again, and rested a fingersbredth from his own. Legolas regarded him steadily, a questioning look on his face.
Aragorn sat very still, looking at the hand, but he did not withdraw. After a few moments he looked up at the face of his friend, his mouth suddenly dry. "I do not know if I can do this," he whispered.
All was silent for a time, and then Aragorn spoke again, his voice low. "You offer me a great gift, one I do not know if I can accept. But certainly I cannot take it without knowing the cost to the giver."
There was a soft, musical laugh. "The passion of men cannot be sustained for the lifetime of elves," he said. "I love you well, Aragorn, but it is not love such as you and Arwen will share. I mourn the hurt to your spirit and the shadow on your future joy. I would offer you such healing and comfort as I can." Looking at the elf's face, Aragorn could not doubt his sincerity.
At last the Man nodded. He leaned forward as if forcing himself, and eyes open, pressed his lips briefly to the other's before moving back to sit on the pallet. He took a deep breath then, as if to steady himself for a difficult task.
Legolas stood and put aside his weapons, so he bore neither bow, nor quiver, nor his long white knife. He put aside also the leather bracers and suede jerkin he habitually wore, and stood clad in a tunic that gleamed like pearl against the dark green leggings.
He was beautiful.
He was beautiful, as all elves were beautiful, for to gaze upon them was to see the glory of Ilúvatar reflected in a well-polished mirror. Their radiance shone in the eyes of mortals, dazzling many. But to Aragorn, raised in the House of Elrond, the radiance did not blind, but rather beckoned, familiar and comforting. Legolas came to his side.
The slender, tapered hand was laid near to his, but did not touch him. He took a long breath and moved his own hand as if the inches were leagues and he pushed against a great weight. Their fingers touched. Legolas did not move. Aragorn's breathing slowed and gradually his muscles relaxed.
Slowly, slowly, his hand covered the paler hand, and slid gently along the planes of wrist and forearm, and softly brushed up the length of the arm to the well-muscled shoulder and smooth neck. He reached for the clasps on the shimmering tunic. When nothing remained to keep his fingers from the soft skin, his palm traced a path down the center of the chest.
Legolas did not stir, but his breath caught and then stilled, and he felt his heart quicken its pace. He waited. This was not for his pleasure, though pleasure indeed there was. This was for healing. He kept himself still and composed.
The sound of that sudden indrawn breath lit a flame that allowed-- that encouraged-- Aragorn to go on. The strong fingers quested gently over limbs and chest, abdomen and groin; eliciting gasps in their passing. Each sigh from his friend's lips was a gift, each sudden motion beneath his skilled hands a reward that set his own pulse racing. And as he continued, the slender body made the small movements and sounds that betrayed pleasure, then the more abrupt ones that betrayed mounting need, and at the last, release and joy.
Aragorn was caught up in the fire he had created, warmed by passion's reflected heat. He felt it burn within him, kindled by the pleasure he had given. When his friend lay spent, he drew back into himself. Although his mind still knew fear, his body demanded to receive attention. He looked at the flushed, luminous face and bent to bring their mouths together, their tongues dancing within. The fire ignited him, rousing desire, burning low in his belly. He straightened, and after a heartbeat, his hands moved to his borrowed clothing, and hesitantly he removed jerkin and tunic.
Legolas' eyes followed his movements, admiring the strength and courage of the man. But still Legolas did not touch him, for surely all choice and control must belong to the one whose wounds had not yet healed.
"I will do what you wish, as, and when, you will," he offered.
Aragorn reached forward and took the hand once more, kissing it and pressing into the palm that moved to cup his cheek. "I would learn to trust again."
Legolas sat up, and moving slowly, eyes ever on the face of his friend, slid his palm along the dark-shadowed jaw and neck. His hand stroked the dark hair softly. "And I would learn what pleases you." The pale hand trailed up the inside of the arm, and then wandered to collarbone and chest; bringing ragged breaths in its wake as the slow, teasing strokes found ever more sensitive skin. He smiled, knowing the shudders under his hand were not of fear now, but rather born of desire. When next Legolas paused to ease all barriers from his way, he heard a moan, and the hips below curved up to meet his hand, hardened flesh seeking again the rough callus of the archer's palm. He turned mouth as well as hands to the task of pleasing, and soft blond hair trailed over hip and thigh.
Dark thoughts had been driven away by the delicate fingers and knowing lips. The touch of these left room only for the aching need at Aragorn's center. And when that need and the touch that fed it had built to unbearable levels, low groans turned to louder cries, and all thought ceased, swept away by the wave of pleasure that engulfed him.
When he could think again, he knew that it was the pleasure he gave rather than received that was the greatest gift. That he could take pleasure himself was a relief, and a promise, but it was less to him than the knowledge that he was able to give.
"Le hannon an ant hen, a mellon vell," Aragorn said, strength in his voice.
"Sen ant an anim a an Arwen i anim mell," Legolas answered, and kissed him softly.
Loosened and relaxed for the first time in days, Aragorn stretched, rose and washed himself, then lay quiet next to his friend. Legolas looked down at him and saw Aragorn's face was at peace, sleeping, the fires banked. He spread his cloak to cover his friend warmly, and sang softly so as not to awaken him.
"Le hannon an ant hen, a mellon vell."
Thank you for this gift, dear friend.
"Sen ant an anim a an Arwen i anim mell."
It is a gift to me as well, and to Arwen who is dear to me.
(I did my best on the Sindarin, but I am far from comfortable with it. Corrections cheerfully accepted.)
For anyone who has enjoyed this, thank also AfterEver and Amanaishalez who took the time to make wonderful comments. A good betareader is an author's best friend!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.