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A gentle breeze caressed the cattails, combing the ruins. They seemed so fragile in their way, bending gently, yet they never seemed to break.

Not so with Laketown. This was a broken place. Here and there burnt timbers that had once supported a dock still stood, gaping like a tot's first teeth, or the last remnants of one of the fine townhouses that the rich merchants had built in the days of their pride. All along the shore, where Elladan and Aragorn stood and for some distance around the lake, the trees had been reduced to naked trunks or (more often) deadwood. The loss of fine trees clawed at Elladan's heart and he longed to stand beside them, lay his hand on their bark so they would know that another shared their pain.

But for the moment that would have to wait. Elladan's eyes were fixed on his foster-brother. When the messenger had reached Rivendell inviting them to a celebration marking the tenth year since Dale's founding, it had been Elrohir who had suggested bringing Aragorn along. He had thought to give him a taste of the breadth of Middle-earth, show him the varied lands which would undoubtedly send their own representatives so their names might become more than names on a map to him.

Yet to Elladan's mind, the true purpose of this journey was Laketown more than Dale. For all that Aragorn had seen battle and was not unfamiliar with death, Elladan knew that he had lived a remarkably sheltered life thus far. He knew history as legend but had not yet learned the bitter truth that even in victory a land could be deeply scarred. Looking now over at his brother, he saw a stoic sadness, an awareness of the loss without being overcome by it. That was well.

"Why did they not rebuild?" Aragorn asked him. "Or at least take down the wreckage?"

"I believe they did, in their own way," Elladan said. He motioned to the far side of the lake, where smoke crept from the foothills toward the sky. "Bard the Bowman had a rightful claim to the dwarves' treasure as dragon-slayer but no people to rebuild his kingdom, and for the folk of Laketown the situation was just the reverse. It was what their merchants, in the days of their peace, would have named synergy."

Aragorn laughed at that, though he did not take his eyes off the ruins of Laketown. "Still," he said after a moment, "I would at least have removed the wreckage. All those people who made a life on the lake, to say nothing of those who died on it... they deserve a better memorial than that."

Elladan thought that a curious position. "So tell me, my lord – what would you do of your own ruins, had you a thousand strong backs at your command? As of course you do."

Aragorn blushed. Once the first rush of betrayal had passed, Aragorn had quite liked the idea that his father had been the woodsman and warrior who so often featured into Elladan's and Elrohir's adventure-stories. That he was chieftain of a people he hardly knew, much less the fated king of them and other folk besides, was a harder truth to accept. Still, truth – all truth – was important, and Elladan would not let Aragorn hide from it.

"A simpler question perhaps," Elladan said. "What of Weathertop? If you had the men to see to it and a guarantee of their safety while they worked, what would you do with that place?"

"I would not leave it as it is," Aragorn said almost immediately. "I know. If we rebuilt it, that would but draw Sauron's attention and tell him where to hunt for us. But still, it has always rubbed me wrong, to see weeds growing among our proud masonry. I would tear it down and cart off the stone."

"You would have it be forgotten?" Elladan asked him.

"I would not be remembered for my failure," Aragorn said. Tapping the ring that marked his birthright, he added, "I have better relics to mark our true worth, and if our strengths must be hidden for now, I would not display our failures for all to see."

Elladan frowned. "With Weathertop that would be impractical. Her stone runs deep; it would take an army of dwarves and a year of hard labor to thoroughly uproot it. And there is something to be said for endurance, here and there."

Aragorn looked at him curiously, then back out to the ruined town laid out before him. "You would call this endurance?"

"We are standing here," Elladan answered. "The spot is still marked after the men of Laketown faced down a dragon. That is no small feat. And do not imagine that Weathertop was always so secure as it is now. I am sure that Angmar did its best to wipe out every trace of a Dúnedain stronghold – yet there it stands, a beacon to a greater past and a brighter future in the wilds of Eriador."

Aragorn nodded to himself. "A fair point, and well taken. It still bothers me, though, to see it as it is. I know rebuilding it would be foolhardy, yet the hiding wears on me."

"'Tis a heavy burden, I know," Elladan said. Giving Aragorn's shoulders a filial squeeze, he guided him back toward their horses. "I do think, though, that you're up for it."

He did not quite dare to say how heavy that burden was, for he had seen too many of Elendil's line worn down by that reality. Tomorrow – all the tomorrows doomed to come – would teach Aragorn that lesson soon enough. For now, the inns of Dale called to them.