Chapter One: "You Must Be Jesting!"
He was quickly accustomed to his state, being adaptable by nature. It was merely another facet of his long -- and often difficult -- life. He was ill -- it was a fact and he accepted it.
And though he felt he might have good reason to suspect his was a mortal illness, he didn't bother sharing it with his companions. They were already troubled by their plight, he reasoned, so why trouble them further? He was the one they looked to for leadership -- even with the mighty Gandalf among their number...
The bouts of nausea weren't constant, which was fortunate. He found he could suppress them to some degree by chewing on something salty, just as his mouth started to water -- the warning signal that he might soon vomit.
The moments of dizziness were harder to deal with, yet he endured. He was used to enduring -- further, he was used to enduring without complaint. After all, before being known to this company as Aragorn, he was the Ranger Strider, who had spent much of his life roaming the lands in fair weather and foul...
So he was surprised when Boromir approached him one evening, just as he'd suggested they settle in for the night.
"I know you won't tell the others," the man said, his voice a near whisper, "but surely you'll tell me."
"Tell you what?" he asked, glancing sideways at Boromir as he spread his blankets on a smooth patch of ground.
"All seem unaware that you're sick, my friend. It surprises me they don't realize it -- as I do."
"It's nothing," he replied too quickly. He felt suddenly hot and weak; he sat down hard in the midst of his blankets and let his head droop forward.
Boromir knelt beside him and put a warm hand on his shoulder. "I'm no fool," he said, "I can tell when a man is ill."
Aragorn uttered a short, bitter laugh. "Perhaps that's it. The others are not men, as we are, so they don't see it. And it's best that they don't," he added, caution in his tone.
"You'll never be able to continue this quest. Not unless you rest."
"There's no time for it. This hard winter continues to lick our heels as it is. It seems that even the seasons oppose us some days," he added, voice weary.
"Let me help, then. Let me take as much burden as I can. The others need not know." Boromir shifted to sit beside him, placing a comforting arm around his shoulders.
Neither man saw nor heard Legolas' approach -- for how could they? The elf walked across the ground as if drifting above it; his tread was gentle and smooth -- not a leaf stirred, nor twig cracked. He stood at a distance and watched, his features clouded.
Aragorn leaned his head down on Boromir's shoulder. "I cannot refuse you. These past several weeks have been a trial." His words were too soft for any but Boromir to hear.
Legolas cocked his head, his expression grave; an unaccustomed rush of blood flushed his pale face as he stood observing the two men.
Time sauntered along as Aragorn rested against Boromir. In the distance the sun was beginning to set, crimson edges bleeding on top of the jagged mountain. Finally the sun finished descending; all birdsong had long since died while the woodland creatures who prowled the night began their soft rambling through the brush.
"It's time to sup," Boromir said, his voice gentle. "And you could use a good, hot meal," he added. "I smell the fire -- and food." There was forced cheerfulness in the man's voice.
Aragorn lifted his head and glanced into Boromir's eyes. "I can't. It comes on me most oft in the morning, but sometimes it plagues me at any hour. I feel too sick just now to eat. But you go," he urged. "Keep their minds off me, if you can. You spin a good tale," he added, managing a smile.
Boromir gave Aragorn one quick hug before rising. "I'll tell them you're eating alone tonight. That you have many things to think over – plans to make. Don't worry, they'll believe me."
Legolas stepped back into the gathering shadows; Boromir passed by him without notice. When the man was gone, he glided forward, stopping only when he'd reached Aragorn's side.
"Shall I bring you food?" he asked softly.
Aragorn started. "I didn't hear you," he said, gathering himself and rising. "You're always so quiet," he added, voice rueful. He smiled at Legolas and Legolas returned his smile.
"You seem so distant these days," Legolas said, staring into Aragorn's face. "It wasn't so when we started out on this journey."
He searched Legolas' eyes -- his smile had evaporated. "I don't mean to hurt you," he said.
Legolas bent his head forward. "Hurt me? You could never hurt me," he said, tone soft yet adamant. "There's too much between us," he added.
"There's no time for it."
"It takes no time for me to love you," Legolas replied. He lifted his hand and extended it, but on seeing Aragorn's wary expression, let it drop to his side.
"We must focus our thoughts and efforts on this quest," Aragorn said. "We cannot afford to be distracted."
"Distracted? You think to be close to me is a distraction?" His voice rose, gently chiding; Legolas' fair face was taut with emotion.
Aragorn turned away, lips pressed tight. They stood close, yet not touching; the sounds of the night grew louder around them.
"Go eat," Aragorn said, his tone dismissive. "We'll talk another time."
"You think to order me away from you? Perhaps you prefer the arms of Boromir these days," Legolas replied hotly, turning on his heel and slipping quickly away.
Aragorn sighed and sat down again. Tears trembled at the edge of his eyes and spilled over, streaking through the dust on his cheeks. He was silently racked by sobs as he sat alone in the gathering darkness.
It was full dark when Boromir returned to his side. Aragorn sat with his shoulders humped over, feeling old and used up. There was a pain in his midsection; he kneaded his side with gentle fingers, seeking to alleviate the small cramp.
"You look awful, my friend," Boromir said, sitting beside him. He extended a slab of bread, spread thick with jam. "We'll not see preserves again for some time, I suspect," he commented, pressing the food into Aragorn's hand. "Enjoy it while you may."
Aragorn shot him a grateful look as he began to eat. "Tastes good," he said, spirits rising. "I feel a new man."
Boromir reached into the confines of his cloak and withdrew a flask. "In that case, let's make you not only a new man, but a better one! A drink of this will grow hair on your chest."
Aragorn started to take the bottle, but thought better of it. "I have the second watch," he said, gesturing it away. "I'd best keep my wits -- what little wits I have, that is. Besides, I've little enough on my stomach." The two men grinned at each other as Boromir replaced the flask in his pocket. The night was clear and bright; the moon tipped toward full in a sky brimming with stars. It was light enough to see one another's expressions without the glow of a fire.
"I'll take your watch," Boromir offered.
"But don't you have the first watch?"
"Well, I'm well-rested and have a full belly. I, too, avoided drink -- beyond one mug of heather beer, so my head is quite clear. I find sleep has been a kind mistress of late, pushing aside all but the sweetest dreams. I am wide awake -- and happy enough to stay that way."
Aragorn studied him. "You're certain? I hate to put a burden on you."
"It's no burden," Boromir assured him. "And if you don't get more rest, you'll surely falter. What good would you be if you fell into exhaustion?" he added.
"I see how you try to manipulate me, friend," Aragorn replied, smiling. "But I'm weary enough to let you, it seems."
"Why did you not sleep while the rest of us ate and talked round the fire? Surely you could have used that time better than to sit here, brooding."
"I was not brooding."
"Don't put your back up with me!" Boromir exclaimed, patting Aragorn's shoulder. "I know well enough when a man's been brooding."
"I can't help but wonder at this illness of mine. On some days I'm fine as ever I've been. On others I can barely manage to put one foot in front of the other, much less move with a speedy tread. One moment my appetite is large and healthy and I eat as much -- or more -- than any of us. The next I am caught by sickness and can't bear the sight or smell of food. I retch until my belly aches with it, even though I've nothing to retch up. And sleep oft comes hard, I find."
Boromir stroked his beard, thoughtful. "There are many illnesses that can bring a man low. But I see by your face that you worry this is serious, do you not?"
"I admit I've wondered if it might be mortal."
"But why?" Boromir exclaimed, plainly distressed. "You're a strong man, even now!"
"I feel some sense of foreboding. I suppose it's ridiculous..." Aragorn trailed off. He couldn't find the right words to express his fears.
"Perhaps we should ask Gandalf. He's the closest thing we have to a healer," Boromir said, gazing up at the sky.
Aragorn chuckled. "You don't know that I'm a healer, do you?" he asked.
Boromir's head twisted quickly to face him -- the surprised expression answered Aragorn's question better than words. "Even so," he said, musing, "they say no healer should care for himself."
They were quiet for a moment, allowing the soft sounds of the forest to wrap around them.
"Well," Boromir asked, "what do you think of your symptoms, then?"
They sat together once again, in companionable silence as Aragorn considered. "I think you're right," he finally replied, "I'm too grim about it. There's no reason it can't be a passing thing. And some days I think myself mad to believe I'm ill at all! Why, some days I feel as happy as can be -- light as a feather on the breeze. Able to walk the day away with nary a care."
"These moods of yours seem to change like night and day," Boromir remarked, grinning.
They both chuckled. "I suppose that's true, now that you mention it. I do seem to go from high spirits to gloom, without a pause between."
"And what?" Aragorn asked, puzzled by the question.
"So how many other things have you noticed? Let me count them off thus far." Boromir lifted one gloved hand, fingers spread. With his second hand he began to tick off each symptom as he spoke.
"Your moods are oddly changeable. You sicken many a morning -- and sometimes during other hours of the day. This nausea can bring you to retching -- even when you've nothing to retch up. You're weary, but on many a night sleep eludes you. Some days you feel strong and able -- while other days you feel weak and poorly. Does that cover it?"
"I've had a small pain today in my stomach," Aragorn added. "It seems like a cramp of the bowel -- yet different in some way. And speaking of my bowel, I'm not as healthy there as once I was."
They shot each other rueful glances -- it was not well to have such difficulties. Taking a good squat was a happy part of a man's day, after all.
"Oh! And I must make water more oft than usual, it seems. A strange thing..."
"And is there an unusual color when you piss?" Boromir asked crudely, voice sharp.
"No, no. I take water whenever I can -- perhaps more frequently than in the past. But the color of my stream is pale -- nor is it cloudy. And there's no sign of blood."
Boromir sighed. "How many times does our piss signal illness?" he said, not really asking a question. He was clearly relieved by Aragorn's words.
"Yes, it's true enough. But as you can see this brings no reason for concern, excepting that I am more frequent than usual to relieve myself."
"So, what do you make of it, Healer?" Boromir asked, smiling.
Aragorn laughed softly. "If I were a woman who had at some point lost her maidenhood, I'd swear I was with child. All these things would seem to point to it."
Boromir, too, laughed. "Well, then I suppose you'd try to put some blame at my door?"
Aragorn shook his head. "No. We didn't start warming each other's bedrolls 'til after I'd started to feel ill."
"I'm relieved to hear it," Boromir said, teasing. "I've noticed more than once how quick you are to put that hand of yours to the pommel of your sword," he added. "I think I'd find myself pressed into a wedded bliss unlike any I'd ever imagined."
Aragorn barked laughter. "Should I put my sword to your neck that we become handfast?" he asked, jesting. "A child as special as this should be born in wedlock. Wouldn't you say?" He cupped his hand over his belly and grinned into Boromir's dancing eyes.
"If you could indeed give birth, then I suspect there would be many knocking upon your door. Well, if you had a door to be knocked on, that is," he added, still grinning.
"You joke, but it's not unknown that some males may bear a child," Aragorn said, sobering. "I've seen it myself when I was dwelling with the elves."
Boromir's grin faded and his eyebrows rose. "You must be jesting! Now I truly wonder if you think me daft. Do you believe I'd find such a thing credulous?"
"No, in truth. I've seen it, I tell you. It was a strange sight when first I laid my eyes on it, I admit, but after a time it seemed common enough."
"But I've most certainly never seen the like. Surely not while visiting Rivendell."
"Male elves who are big with belly aren't likely to come parading themselves around strangers, Boromir. For that matter, do you recall seeing any female elves who were pregnant?"
"Your point is well made. In fact, I've oft wondered that with their long lives they don't have dozens of elflings covering hill and glen!"
"They do seem to marshal the begetting of babes, I suppose. An example I'd mention would be that Elrond has but three children in his many thousands of years alive."
They both pondered his words. "I suppose they can control it, then?" Boromir asked.
"Perhaps it's more a case of controlling what causes it," Aragorn replied, amused. "They are far more disciplined about such things than we."
Boromir made a derisive noise. "Ah, perhaps! Or perhaps they simply have less fire in their bellies than we. They seem too placid to care much for the heat of two bodies clashing as one -- at least to my eyes."
"You might be surprised, my friend."
Boromir laughed. "Well, I saw you once with the Lady Arwen, and I thought you the epitome of courtly love. It quite put me to thoughts of writing poetry -- were I a poetic man."
"Jest as you will, but elves have hotter blood than you'd suspect."
"Well, I admit I know little of elves and their ways, even after all this time spent with Legolas."
Aragorn knew he'd given himself away, starting when Boromir spoke the name. He could only guess what his expression had revealed. He turned his face away and stared out into the night.
"So that's how it is," Boromir said, voice soft. "I should have guessed it back at the Council of Elrond, should I not? He was quick enough to fly in my face in defense of you."
Aragorn turned back and stared into Boromir's eyes. "Do you judge me harshly for my love of this elf?" His words were flat.
His friend smiled. "Why would you think it?" he asked.
"You know how it is between Arwen and me."
"What has one thing to do with the other?"
"I suppose it seems I betray each of them," Aragorn replied.
"I've never understood why it is we're expected to love but one time in this life. There's too much love in me to share with but one other person. So -- it seems -- is true of you."
"But true love does demand that vows be made -- and kept," Aragorn argued.
"How not? Yet why must a vow to one preclude a vow to another? No, I've never understood that reasoning. A man or woman with enough love for many is one who loves strongly. I should like to have such a person offer love to me!"
"And you'd be glad to take a portion, rather than have it all for yourself?"
Boromir chuckled. "You know, we chide the young if they hoard their sweets and will not share them with their fellows. And yet if we jealously guard one person and hold them fast to us alone, then our behavior is somehow grand! Give me even the smallest bit of a true love that burns bright and I'll gladly take it. Think of love as a garden, my friend -- where it may grow faster and bigger if there are many to tend and nuture it, rather than just one."
"But as you love more than one, why defend such ways?" he finished, staring over at his friend.
Aragorn shot Boromir a rueful grin. "I suppose I feel some guilt over my actions."
"Well I, for one, am glad to hear it. Some days I think you more like an elf than a man -- so it's good to know you're more a man, after all."
"Because I am not true?"
Boromir laughed loudly and lightly thumped Aragorn's shoulder. "No. Because you feel guilt for doing so! Guilt is part and parcel of a man's life -- or so it seems. I totter as best I may each day under my own burden of guilt." He sighed and stared into the night, unseeing. "Would that I could shift out from under it," he added to himself. "Well, I'm off for the watch -- and late as it is! We'll have to speak of all this another time, it seems. I'm interested in hearing more about pregnant elves -- be they male or female!"
"I suppose we've both been watching well enough as we talked," Aragorn commented, smiling. "And you've eased my mind greatly. I thank you."
"I can't see how, but am glad if this is so. Shall I come by after my two watches to bed here with you -- or no?" Boromir asked. "Or will Legolas be coming to drive away the chill of this night?" There was a sly tone to his question -- and a sly smile on his face to match.
"I doubt he'll come." Aragorn's tone was careful. "No matter. I'm tired enough to sleep like the dead. Go. And return late if you wish."
Boromir stood and stared down at Aragorn, studying him. "If you love the elf, why not lie with him? Perhaps he could drive away what ails you."
'I long for him,' Aragorn thought in silent reply. "Well, these days we aren't so comfortable with each other, I find," he answered quietly. "Perhaps one day soon I'll feel well enough to make things right again."
"Ah, we never fight. Strong words may pass between us, but we do not fight. Not after these many years of friendship."
"Well, then, I'll be back. Meanwhile take my cloak to add to your blankets. I see you shivering, though you'd hide it."
Aragorn turned a grateful face to Boromir as his friend added the garment on top of his blanket. "Many thanks," he murmured.
Boromir moved away. 'He's probably seeking higher ground,' Aragorn thought, watching him depart.
Sleep came slowly -- and with it came fitful dreams. He reached through the mists of his dreams for Legolas, but could not reach him.
"Legolas!" he cried out, waking himself.
"I am here," the familiar voice answered.
Aragorn could see that Legolas had come running to his side, yet the elf was not winded -- nor was a hair out of place.
"I... was dreaming," he said, surprised to find his eyes filling with tears.
Legolas knelt and lifted the cloak and blanket, crawling in beside him. "You weep," he whispered, drawing Aragorn into his arms.
"I'm glad you're here," Aragorn replied, pressing against Legolas.
"I am always here. Sleep now. You're weary."
And finally -- curled against Legolas -- he slept.
-the end part one-
Title: "Love Is A Garden" 2/2
Dedication: To Mistress Marilyn. She started her submission for this same challenge far earlier than I -- and reading the beginning over (as her beta) is what inspired me to write my own fic. Today she lost hours and hours of work through some computer glitch -- and yet she's gone back to rewrite, undaunted! Her amazing dedication to her writing continues to amaze me. I aspire to be as driven as she is to find just the 'right' words to use in my own fics...
As the Fellowship continued their journey, Aragorn noticed two pleasant changes in his daily life: Boromir was always willing to lend him a (surreptitious) helping hand -- and Legolas was by his side when it was time for them to bed.
Whatever unhappiness had passed between himself and Legolas seemed to have evaporated, without the need for discussion. Aragorn still held back from intimacy, but Legolas appeared willing to forego love for the time being...
Boromir's constant tales and good humor cheered Aragorn. He still found physical efforts grueling, though fortunately none but Boromir seemed aware how he struggled.
Gandalf shot him an occasional sharp glance, but kept silent. As long as none questioned him, Aragorn felt justified not being forthright about his illness.
And as for the illness, it seemed to have leveled off somewhat. He retched less frequently -- though he made water more often. He still felt strange pains in his body -- but they were minor. (Generally he found them easy enough to ignore.)
His moods were still erratic, but the friendship he shared with the others helped to keep him calm.
In the rare instances when tears sprang to his eyes or angry words crept to his lips, he found it simple enough to quash them. (And as they were all beset by ill temper from time to time, no one thought less of him in those hours when he was unable to suppress annoyance or pique.)
Both he and Boromir had hoped to discuss things further, but it seemed as if they could find little time alone together. Aragorn was unwilling to be overheard, so they agreed to wait until a propitious occasion presented itself.
They finally reached and entered Moria, where they lost Gandalf to the Balrog. Despite Boromir's objections, Aragorn pushed the others as they quickly fled the horror. They had little time to deal with the sudden shock of Gandalf's death.
Soon after, they came to Lothlorien; there they encountered Haldir, the Marchwarden -- and his band of fellow protectors.
The Golden Wood was a place of mystery -- and a certain amount of fear, as well. The elves there jealously guarded their privacy, unlike those who resided in Rivendell. Aragorn was forced to rage in Elvish with Haldir in order to convince the elf to allow them to remain. The Fellowship reeled from the pain and grief of losing one of their number -- they desperately needed a place to rest.
Once in Caras Galadon -- The City of Trees -- Aragorn finally allowed himself to relax. It was time to find what solace they might; it was time to attempt some recuperation before they continued their quest.
It was Lord Celeborn who beckoned to him on the fifth night and drew him aside from the rest...
"Tell me your news," he softly commanded in Elvish, staring into Aragorn's eyes.
"What news have I not already shared?" Aragorn asked, meeting his stare without blinking.
Celeborn gestured him to one of the mallorn trees and they climbed the long, winding stair together to the flet above.
"Please sit," Celeborn instructed him. "We can speak here privately without fear of interruption." Celeborn seated himself and looked up expectantly at Aragorn. He was a regal elf -- tall and imposing -- with an imperial glance. But Aragorn had known him for many years and was not overly awed by the Lord of Lothlorien.
He sank down beside Celeborn and waited for the elf to speak further.
"You have personal news that you have not mentioned, have you not?" Celeborn spoke in a majestic, deep voice -- yet his words were gentle and held no edge. He might have been inquiring about the weather for the lack of intensity in his tone.
"Yes. But I have only shared it with one other," he replied quietly, not looking into Celeborn's face.
"And that other is not he who sired your child?"
His child! So it was true; Celeborn had seen it.
Aragorn turned to face Celeborn, annoyed to find himself flustered and blushing. "No," he answered tersely. Until this moment he'd been unwilling to believe in his own state -- but at the elf's words he realized he'd been certain since the day he spoke of his 'illness' with Boromir...
"Did you think that Galadriel would not see your condition in her mirror? Did you think that I would not notice the difference in your very scent? How can you hope to hide this?" The questions were unemotional, but cut to the core. Aragorn ducked his head, unable to meet Celeborn's steady gaze.
They sat in silence and Aragorn knew that Celeborn would be willing to wait on his reply indefinitely. Time was altered for all elves, who knew well the virtues of patience. But time also flowed differently inside the Golden Wood. It was only another element of the mystery that engulfed Lorien...
Finally he lifted his face and looked at Celeborn. The elf's expression was placid, but his eyes seemed to bore into Aragorn. "Forgive me if I seemed to underestimate you or the Lady," he said, apologetic. "I should have realized you would know -- even if I did not."
Celeborn's eyebrows raised. "So, you doubted the spark inside you?"
Aragorn nodded. "I'm no elf. Why would I believe this possible of a man?"
"You are a Ranger who was raised in the company of elves. Clearly you have more magic -- and power -- than even you can credit."
"Perhaps. It seems it would take much of both to make me bear a child."
"It's happened before," Celeborn replied. "Though it's a rare thing."
"I'm not the first, then?" Aragorn couldn't hide the relief he felt.
"No. But as I said, it's rare. I haven't known a male who is not an elf to experience quickening for some spell. A hundred years or more," he added.
"Not a great stretch in your long life," Aragorn said, smiling.
Celeborn returned his smile. "No. But long for men. Tell me," he continued, "how will you manage the remainder of this quest?"
Aragorn sighed. "As best I can. What other choice do I have?"
"There is, perhaps, another way. It would be... difficult. And painful."
"You offer some assistance?" Aragorn felt a sudden spark of hope.
They stared again into each other's eyes. "It has been done with elves," Celeborn replied. Aragorn thought he saw reluctance on Celeborn's face. "We could try -- if you and the sire are both willing."
Aragorn's expression clouded. "I haven't told him, yet."
"As we've established," Celeborn said, voice patient.
"What is his part?"
"With help from Gandalf it would have been easier, I imagine. With more assurance of safety. He had great power. But even so, I think it can be done," Celeborn said, musing.
"We were discussing the sire's part," Aragorn broke in more fiercely than he'd intended.
"You do know the sire?" Celeborn's quiet voice showed curiosity, nothing more.
"Yes. Of course I do," he replied, trying not to sound annoyed. "Haven't you guessed who it is?"
"I prefer not to waste time on speculation."
"While attending the Council of Elrond last October I bedded with Legolas Greenleaf of Mirkwood."
"I had hoped as much. That makes the task of speaking with him easier than to send some great distance for any other."
"Again, what is his part?" Aragorn asked. He was unable to keep from sounding querulous. Celeborn's calm -- his measured method of thought and discussion -- was suddenly unendurable.
"In a situation as grave as this, it is fitting for me to seek the permission of both those who were involved in the child's creation."
Grave. Aragorn's heart grew heavy. He felt apprehensive -- reluctant to speak further and possibly hear unwelcome words...
Lamps swayed through the mallorn trees and soft elven voices sang a distant lament to Gandalf as man and elf sat silently together. The thick branches and golden leaves obscured the night sky, for which Aragorn was glad; he had no wish to gaze on a bright moon glowing in a starry heaven.
Finally he cleared his throat and spoke, "The child is mine. It's for me to decide what will be done."
"Men are so interesting," Celeborn observed, a touch of wonder in his tone. "I am fascinated by the way you think. Do you feel this from a sense of possession? I know how men enjoy trying to govern the many aspects of their environment -- even when unable to govern themselves. Or do you simply seek to remove a difficult burden from the shoulders of Legolas?" There was a scholarly sound to his voice, as if he were making a study of Aragorn's words.
"Any choices should be my responsibility."
"Ah, yes. Responsibility. Then you wish to spare Legolas. I see."
"I'm not trying to spare him." It was difficult to keep his tone from sounding angry.
"Are you not? Well, in any case, I insist he be told -- and that he participate in determining what will be done. And as you seek my help, you have no choice but to comply with my wishes."
Aragorn sighed. "As you will," he replied, resigned. He was surprised by the relief he felt in being forced to confront Legolas. He'd had a hard time not sharing his illness with the elf from the beginning, even though he'd felt it best. To have the decision thrust upon him eased his guilt. There was gratitude in his eyes when he turned them toward Celeborn.
"I will speak with him, then," Celeborn said, rising. "It would be unwise to wait, as I believe there's little time to spare on deliberations before we take action. Wait here for me to return," he commanded, beginning his slow and gliding decline downward.
Aragorn studied his hands and took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself. He kept hearing Celeborn's voice intoning the word 'grave,' over and over again. His hands trembled and he clenched them in tight fists, feeling tears filling his eyes. He squeezed these back, impatient with his emotions. He fervently wished Boromir could be beside him, offering the humor and sympathy of a good friend -- a friend who, like he, was a man.
The sound of the many-versed lament for Gandalf continued to drift on the breeze, more lovely than melancholy. He only half-listened, not bothering to try to catch the words of both praise and loss. It was enough to hear the melodic harmony and allow his thoughts to blur. He hoped that Celeborn would bring Legolas to him soon. He suddenly had need of comfort from the elf who had sired his child...
Celeborn approached Legolas with his usual composure, offering a brief gesture of summons in place of speech. Legolas rose from where he sat on the huge, gnarled roots of one enormous tree and silently followed him, ignoring the look of inquiry from the dwarf Gimli. But Celeborn did not ascend to the flet where Aragorn waited. Instead he guided Legolas to a neatly paved pathway that led into the darkness of thick wood. Legolas walked with ease over the perfectly arranged and polished stones as he followed behind, wondering why the Lord of Lothlorien had earlier drawn Aragorn away -- and why Celeborn now beckoned him.
They reached a grotto formed of small, dense trees and bushes, dimly lit by lanterns that hung artfully among the branches. Inside this cave of leaves was an ornate wooden bench, carefully carved with images of fantastic beasts and covered in beaten silver and gold. Legolas marveled as Celeborn motioned him to sit.
"Why have you brought me to this wondrous place?" he asked, gazing up at Celeborn.
"I would tell you a thing of great importance," Celeborn replied, towering over him. "It is difficult to find the right words."
Legolas offered him a single nod in acknowledgement of his dilemma. An elf as long-lived and wise as Celeborn would never wish to speak in haste, or to utter rash words -- and for him a single matter of emphasis might seem portentous.
"The Ranger Strider -- known to us as Aragorn -- is with child," Celeborn said, voice solemn. "The child he carries is yours."
Legolas leapt to his feet, momentarily overcome. He bit his lip, just managing to avoid an outburst as he stared at Celeborn.
Celeborn placed a gentle hand on Legolas' shoulder. "I suspected you had no clue of his condition." He pressed Legolas down and sat beside him. They continued their steady gaze, eyes locked.
"This pregnancy cannot follow him as he leaves Lothlorien. There is too much peril facing him -- facing each of you."
"What are you saying?" It was an effort to keep his voice from becoming strident. "How can it not 'follow' him? Surely the pregnancy is not that far along. The child must have been conceived in Rivendell – which means..."
"Do you know the date of conception?" Celeborn gently interrupted. "It would be a help to me."
"The end of October, one of the days just after the Council of Elrond," Legolas replied, fighting to govern the blush that rose to his face. Though he knew there was no cause for embarrassment, he found it difficult to continue to meet Celeborn's eyes.
"That would make the child inside him less than three months along."
"Yes, I suppose that's so," he said, his tone one of acquiescence.
"I seek your permission as the sire to do what has need of doing, Legolas -- without question. I assume you will place your trust in me?" Celeborn asked, his tone forceful.
Legolas lifted his chin and looked directly at Celeborn. "What is Aragorn's will?"
The Lord of Lorien shook his head. "We are speaking of your will here. Give me your answer," he ordered.
Legolas studied Celeborn's face, wanting to ask questions -- wanting to know more. He wished he could speak directly to Aragorn before replying, but it was clear that Celeborn wouldn't allow it.
"You have my trust," he said, finally. "Do as you will."
Celeborn nodded, satisfied. "Return to your comrades," he instructed.
"I would see Aragorn. Take me to him."
Celeborn's expression was one of surprise. "Do you command me?" he questioned.
This time Legolas was unable to hide his blush. He could feel the heat on his neck and face, rising to the roots of his fair hair. "Forgive me," he replied, offering Celeborn a courtly bow.
"I will take you to Aragorn when the time is ripe," the elf Lord said, his tone softer. "Time. We must use it well. As always, the future depends on it," he added.
Celeborn rose and departed, leaving Legolas inside the small enclosure. 'I have given him permission to end the life of my child,' he thought, feeling hollow. Or, worse, he had given him leave to risk the life of his beloved Aragorn! Unexpected tears sprang to his eyes and he shivered at the feel of ice tingling in his chest and hands. The pain was unbearable. Alone in the grotto of trees, Legolas bent his head and wept.
"What's happening?" Boromir asked when Legolas finally returned. "Where's Aragorn?"
Six pair of eyes were staring questioningly up at Legolas.
"Nothing," he answered. But he looked into Boromir's face and silently signaled him. "I'm going to retire, I think," he added.
Boromir followed close on his heels as Legolas entered the tent at the base of the mallorn tree. "What is it?" he whispered, glancing back at the flap of cloth that was the only door separating them from the others.
"We must speak alone," Legolas whispered back. "I must share a secret with you."
"You've been with Aragorn," Boromir said. "He finally told you."
Legolas' face turned dark. "He told you before he told me?" he asked. He was as quiet as before, but there was a sharp edge to his words.
Boromir put a calming hand on Legolas' shoulder. "He didn't wish to worry you. And his illness seems improved to me -- I'm sure it's nothing serious." There was a touch of tale-teller telling a tale in the way he spoke.
"Illness? What are you saying?"
"Is all well here?" the gruff voice of Gimli inquired as the dwarf entered the tent, glaring up suspiciously at Boromir.
"All is well," Boromir replied, turning Gimli a bright smile. "We're merely speaking of Aragorn's absence."
"Where is the lad?" Gimli asked, his bushy brows still drawn together. "And where have you been off to?" he asked Legolas.
"Gimli, not everything I do and say is your business," Legolas replied, his voice sharper than he'd intended.
Gimli's thick hair, beard and mustache -- his fierce features -- concealed any change of expression, though Legolas thought he caught a glimpse of pain in the dwarf's eyes.
"Very well, then. I'll bed outside, I think," Gimli replied, departing.
"I didn't mean to hurt his feelings," Legolas said. He felt angry with himself, with Boromir and with the absent Aragorn, as well.
"He'll be fine," Boromir answered, dismissive. "If you don't wish to speak here, perhaps we should take a small turn outside and talk as we walk."
"Then they'll all wonder what we're speaking about."
"Let them wonder. I've had enough of secrets to last me the rest of this journey," he added, throwing out his hands. "First Aragorn and now you! I've done my best with it."
The thought of Aragorn confiding in this man before him made Legolas lift burning eyes to Boromir. "Yes, let's go. As you say, let them wonder."
He moved outside swiftly, hair flying, not looking back to see if Boromir followed him.
"Damn it," Boromir cursed under his breath. "Why am I in the middle of this muddle?" He lifted the tent flap and headed after Legolas.
"I'll be damned," Boromir said for the third time as Legolas finished speaking. "He told me it was possible, but I had no idea he meant it was possible for him."
"You must forgive me for my outburst before," Legolas said, looking into the man's face. "Though I would wish that one of you had shared these concerns for his health, I now understand why you did not."
"Heavy with child," Boromir murmured, musing. "To think we actually came upon the cause of his 'illness' and jokingly dismissed it! Well, I'm glad to know it's nothing life-threatening, at least."
Legolas stopped short in his tracks.
"What is it?" Boromir demanded, putting a hand on each of Legolas' shoulders and looking into his face.
"Celeborn said that Aragorn's pregnancy could not follow him when he left Lorien," he answered, his expression sorrowful.
"How can it not?" Boromir asked. "He's but a few months gone."
"Celeborn will manage the matter. I know not how."
"Ah. I see. I had not thought that elves would put an end to the life of a child," he added softly.
"I suppose there's no other way," Legolas said. "Aragorn is greatly needed on this quest -- he cannot be spared for the months required to carry a babe to term." He avoided saying 'my babe,' afraid emotion would overcome him.
"I could wish there would be a better harvest from your garden of love." Boromir seemed to be speaking his thoughts out loud, rather than addressing Legolas.
"Garden of love?" he asked.
Boromir chuckled, mirthlessly. "I told Aragorn that his love for you -- paired with his love for Arwen -- was a good thing. That he need feel no guilt that he loved more than one -- and perhaps wished also to be committed to more than one. I likened it to a garden, where tending and nurturing from more than one hand brings faster and bigger blooms."
"I would gladly tend such a garden, would Aragorn allow it," Legolas replied.
"In time, my friend. Should you both survive this trial, I know his love -- and yours -- will bring the two of you together. Truly, I tell you he wishes it as much as you do."
"Your words are a balm. I will leave my trust in Goodness -- and the Lord Celeborn. And pray that one day our love may find a proper moment to bloom."
"Well, and if there has been this one, you may be assured that other babes will follow," Boromir added. "Should you both wish it."
Legolas nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"An uncanny thing," Boromir continued. "But your love was the magic that made it happen."
"I will grieve for the one we must lose," Legolas managed. "But hope for another, as you have said."
"Then my own hopes will join yours. Don't worry. Aragorn is stronger than any man I've met. He'll endure whatever is done and live to tell the tale. Let's return -- the night air is chill and you're shivering."
"Am I?" Elves did not shiver -- nor would the cold be a bother. "I suppose we should return."
"We are a strange company," Boromir remarked as they headed back. "But I imagine us all as true friends henceforth, when we've seen this through." He didn't need to add that it was more than likely they would fail; Legolas was young by elf standards, but far from naive. He knew the odds as well as any.
"I thank you for your kindness, Boromir," he said, putting a hand to Boromir's arm. "I will never forget it."
Boromir managed a small laugh. "It's nothing! We are a fellowship, after all."
The day after in the pale light of early morning, Celeborn gathered them as they woke and told them that he 'had need' of Aragorn, who would remain sequestered with him for a spell. No one questioned the elf Lord, nor did they speak long of it after, for both Legolas and Boromir made light of his pronouncement and went about as if untroubled. Their ruse worked well -- the others took little note of Aragorn's time away.
For Legolas' sake Boromir thrust aside his own worries -- worries already shared with the missing Aragorn. He became a shadow for the elf, always on hand when sadness threatened to overcome him...
Three weeks had passed when Celeborn came to speak again to Legolas. Boromir drew quickly up beside him and put a hand on one shoulder.
"I must speak alone with Legolas," the elf Lord said, using the common tongue.
"He knows," Legolas said, voice soft. "You may speak to us both."
"Very well," Celeborn replied, his eyebrows slightly raised. "Then may you both come with me."
The others were scattered about and took no note of their departure as they moved to follow.
They reached a path that reminded Legolas of the one he had tread the night Celeborn had spoken with him. Yet it led in another direction entirely, though again pressing deep inside the thick wood.
"Have care to stay on the path," Celeborn instructed, "do not set foot off it."
"I like not this place," Boromir complained in an undertone to Legolas. "I'll be well glad to be quit of it."
"He heard you, you know," Legolas replied. "Elves have a strong sense of hearing."
"With ears that size, how not?" Boromir answered, covering his embarrassment with a jest.
They came to a bend in the path and Celeborn was careful to guide them away from the twist that led east. As they pressed on, Legolas felt himself becoming more and more anxious. Were they finally going to see Aragorn? Or would this lead to another place where Celeborn would share tidings with them? Perhaps unpleasant tidings?
Finally they reached a clearing that stretched before them; it was akin to a small meadow, surrounded by a circle of thin, tall trees. There was a patch of well-tended grass there, speckled with wildflowers. In the center was a narrow couch; it was here that Aragorn reclined, covered by a satiny blanket.
Legolas burst away and ran to Aragorn's side, tears spilling unheeded down his cheeks.
"Aragorn!" he cried. "How I have worried!"
Aragorn drew back the cover, smiling. "Would you not greet your daughter, my love?" he asked.
And there, curled in his right arm and pressed to his breast was a tiny jewel of a babe; her skin glowed with a pale radiance and her small, pointed ears were nestled in silky curls that were the precise color of Aragorn's hair.
Boromir and Celeborn joined them, standing behind Legolas as he stared down at the child.
"But how?" Boromir asked, voicing the question Legolas had been unable to utter.
"There is another circle at the end of this path -- following the turn we avoided," Celeborn replied. "Inside is a place of great and wondrous power, where Time may be bent if those who enter are courageous and worthy."
"You speak in riddles," Boromir said, his eyes riveted to the child in Aragorn's arms, while Legolas fell to his knees and leaned forward to stroke the babe's soft cheek.
"She sucks harder!" Legolas exclaimed, joy and wonder in his voice.
"Your stroking encourages her," Celeborn replied.
"Tell us more of this." Boromir turned his glance to Celeborn. "We would know all."
"Aragorn and I entered the circle of Time. There we stayed while hours turned to days and days to weeks. All the while Aragorn increased as his child grew. There was much pain as Time took wings, but he endured. Then his delivery was upon us; it was my honor to guide the child out of the comfortable darkness of his man-womb and into the light of Middle-earth. The birthing, too, was painful, but the child thrived from her first breath, as you can plainly see."
A female elf approached them, her head bowed. "It is time, my Lord," she said, not raising her face.
"The child must go to her now to feed," Aragorn explained. There was a trace of sadness in his voice. "She is our wet-nurse and will tend our babe," he said. His eyes bored into Legolas as he continued, "She will care for him beside her own child when we depart. I only give suck to bond with her, while time will allow it."
Aragorn handed up the child who bleated softly as the elf adjusted her robes and gave him her breast. Then the babe began to suckle as the woman carried her away.
"This is surely a miracle!" Boromir exclaimed. "We had thought the child's life must end here, that you might go forth with us."
"There was that chance, my friend," Aragorn replied, shifting to sit straight. "The Lord Celeborn did not know if either the babe or I would survive the circle of Time."
Legolas rose to his feet and turned to bow before Celeborn. "You have done what I thought impossible," he said, voice choked with un-elf-like emotion. "You have saved our child -- saved this man whom I love -- and risked much in doing so. For you, too, entered this mystical circle -- surely not knowing what mysteries it might reveal."
Celeborn lifted Legolas' chin and smiled into his face. "All that was risked was done willingly -- both by Aragorn and by myself. Though you have joy in this moment, do not forget that you have many hardships in the days before you. Soon you will part from your child, not knowing if you may ever return to claim her. Your courage will be tested again and again. But I believe you three -- and those others of your Fellowship -- will prove victorious."
Celeborn moved to sit on Aragorn's left side; he took up the man's left hand in his right. With his free hand he patted the empty spot beside him. "Sit here, Legolas," he commanded. Legolas sat down and Celeborn took Legolas' right hand in his left.
"There is a bond between you that may not be severed," he intoned. "Not even Death -- when it comes -- will truly separate you. For men may die and elves may live on, but Love exists forever -- in Middle-earth and in all the lands seen and unseen of this world. I bid you clasp hands before myself and this man and swear your love, one to the other."
Then he dropped their hands and rose, turning to stand beside Boromir as two witnesses to what was to come.
Aragorn and Legolas clasped hands -- right to left and left to right -- and sat facing each other. "I swear my undying love for you," Legolas said, staring into Aragorn's eyes.
"And I swear my love to you," Aragorn answered, smiling. A single tear traced down his cheek.
"Your secret will be safe, hidden here in Lothlorien," Celeborn said. "We will watch over your babe -- we will tend and nurture her while she grows. If you should both fall in the battles that await you, she will be raised to know and remember you. But I believe you will return one day. On that day you may decide where she will be raised in future. Do you agree?"
Elf and man sat, hands still clasped, both nodding in consent.
"I am glad that I have lived to witness such a thing," Boromir declared. "I'll be hard pressed to keep your secret, I wager. But I, too, give you my word."
"One day," Aragorn replied, "we will tell our Fellowship this tale. And share this good fortune with all the world. And," he added, "I will tell my beloved Arwen. I believe she will understand. If not, I'll have Boromir explain how Love is a garden."
"Love has surely bloomed this day," Legolas said. The two men fell into one another's arms, hugging. Their mouths sought one another and they began kissing, again and again.
"I think it's time for us to depart," Boromir said, facing Celeborn with a wide grin splitting his face. "These two will be wanting to make up for many a lost night of passion."
Celeborn bent his head in agreement. "Let us hope their passion may not give us yet another reason for concern," he remarked, pointedly.
"You jest!" Boromir exclaimed, laughing. "I did not know that elves could jest."
Celeborn smiled. "One could not live so long a life without a sense of humor," he replied.
"Perhaps we should find a pot of ale and toast this union. What say you?" Boromir asked.
"I say that this is the best suggestion I've heard in many a day."
With one last glance at the embracing lovers, the two turned and departed.