32. At Last an Absolution
The door creaked open, the sound low and slow, almost hesitant. Legolas drew in a shaking breath to calm himself, but it was no use. The sobs threatened him, the tears burning and stinging in his eyes, and he nearly collapsed to the floor. It was taking all of his strength to stand now, and he was too weary in mind and body to do much else but lean tiredly into the wall.
He did not want to look behind him. He knew who it was; the presence was powerful and knowing. Light, tentative footfalls. The sound of shuffling feet. The tears coursed down his face, and he angrily wiped them away. How dare they come now? How dare they presume to see him after Gandalf had slashed his final hopes of recovery? The darkness within choked him with rage and grief. Somehow he found his voice. "Tell them to leave,"he hissed, his red eyes narrowed.
A hand fell upon his shoulder and he flinched instinctively. He imagined the hurt on Arwens beautiful face, the pain and grief in her eyes. Some part of him that was not smothered by the curse and despair throbbed at the thought of distressing her, but he felt terribly defensive. Self-preservation destroyed his concern. "I do not want to see them!"
"Legolas,"a deep, familiar voice said. Legolas stiffened and leaned harder into the wall. The illumination from the window beside him was so very bright, and it hurt his eyes. It bled light into everything; there was no place to hide. The stone of the wall felt cool and comforting to his forehead, and he pressed his palms against it. If only he could just slip into it, into its concealing shadows and fade away from this world He did not have the strength to face the undeniable truth.
Upon seeing Gandalf, he had been overcome with the strongest hope he had had since falling into Sarumans grasp. In the rush of what had happened, he had not known that Gandalf had ascended to become the White, the most powerful of all Istari. His heart had leapt at the sight of the ancient wizard, and he had shrugged off Arwens restraining holds to stand and greet Mithrandir himself. In the last few days he had begun to feel better, well enough at least to stand and walk a bit. Lord Elrond and Arwen permitted him no strenuous activity, and though his pride shriveled at their restrictions, he knew them to be right. He fully felt the physical effects of the vile curse now. He wound burned and ached hideously. He struggled to simply walk correctly. So easily would he become queasy at the sight and smell of food. His head often and inexplicably grew filled with a pounding agony so strong that he heard a phantom shrill ringing. Before wounds such as these would not have hindered him for so long. Now he found his body aching, constantly weak, and uncoordinated in movement. His limbs were heavy and disjointed, and at times the simple act of standing became such a trying ordeal that he felt utterly disgusted by his sweat and fatigue. He knew Lord Elrond kept much from him, for even though he was now deprived of heightened senses, the sadness and worry was clear enough in the Half-Elfs normally calm gaze. He could sense the powerful healers helplessness as though it was a tangible force. Still, the smallest bit of his heart had somehow retained faith throughout his ordeal, and he made a silent vow to himself that he would not abandon all hope until the last chances were gone.
It appeared that now such finality had come. He had been warm with optimism for the first time in what seemed to be forever when Gandalf had entered his room. When the wizards eyes betrayed his shock and doubt, Legolas had begun to worry. Gandalf laid his weathered fingertips against Legolas face much the same way Saruman had before defiling him, and he had nearly screamed in traumatic memory. It had taken all his will to control the terror, to keep himself tethered to reality, for the painful scene was horridly vivid and he thought himself back at the instance when he had been turned mortal. Yet Gandalfs presence within him had been warm and comforting as he probed Legolas spirit for the source of his affliction. Nothing could have prepared him for the crushing disappointment.
He knew it now in his bones. It had become his existence, this grim truth.
Gandalf could not help him. No one could.
The hot tears spilled down his face and he angrily scrubbed his eyes, rubbing the soft skin until it was red and raw. How he hated this weakness! How he hated this all! "Legolas, please "Arwen breathed.
"I have no wish to see them,"snapped Legolas, shrugging away from her grasp. His emotions were such a muddled mess, and the pain was clouding his mind. He did want to see Aragorn, his dearest friend, in this his darkest moment. He wanted the comfort and security of his companions steadfast strength and understanding. However, the vengeful pain would allow him no such release. He did this to you, hissed the contemptuous voice of the shadow. He left you to this fate! Would you now embrace him? Astaldogalds demeaning words filled his mind, ringing in his ears, and he moaned for their strength. "Now you cry for the one that betrayed you. Was he truly so weak, so confused? His brothers death was something he had not previously spent much time contemplating, for then there had still been some amount of hope, no matter how miniscule. But now there was nothing but shadow, and he was beginning to concede for the first time in his life that Astaldogald might have been right. Ai, Astaldogald
He could not think this. He should not. It would be the final admission of defeat to blame Aragorn for his suffering. In doing so, he would abandon his heart, his self, for it was his brotherly love for Aragorn that had given him strength. It would make wrong the very basis of all for which he had fought. There was a great war within him, two sides torn by love and hate, by loss and pain. One demanded that he turn around and accept his friend, that he accept the truth for what it was and live what he had left of his life without regret. The other denied all recognition and wallowed in the misery, desperate to defeat the cold reality with hot anger. Legolas moaned through clenched teeth, the sound low and desperate, and pressed his palms to his temples as if the turmoil of his mind caused him physical duress. He just wished to understand what he felt again!
There was silence then, the beating of his thoughts mercifully ceasing. He stood, his tear-stained eyes blearily gazing out the open window. His head throbbed and he winced at the brightness. It was a beautiful day outside, the air crisp and sweet with the aroma of falling leaves. Sunlight fell over everything, bringing the beauty of Rivendell to life with an ethereal glow. It only hurt Legolas eyes. He felt unworthy to behold such majesty. These trees, once so much companions to his soul, were silent. In his gaze they leaned away from him, as if repulsed by the stink of the shadow that clung to his body. He whimpered in absolute despair.
They were all watching him. He felt their eyes, their stares, their shock. It seemed a powerful force ramming against him, beating him into the wall, and he sagged, leaning against the windowsill. Their concern. Their grief. The anger within surged once more, and his voice was seething. "I neither want nor need your pity,"he hissed.
"I do not come offering it, my friend,"Aragorn responded. "There is naught worth my pity."
"You lie, Aragorn!"cried Legolas in fury. He turned then, as if to reveal himself plainly and cast truth to his words. He met Aragorns gaze, and for the first time since Amon Hen, the two friends stood and stared at each other. The others were still, silent, watching expectantly for some sign of the familiar camaraderie they had all come to associate with the two to reappear. Would Aragorn now apologize and find repentance? Would Legolas now forgive and find peace? Could this wound close, this pain heal, this rift between them disappear in understanding?
Legolas narrowed his gaze. He felt it radiating from Aragorn, as though the ranger was straining to say all he wished to without speaking a single word. Long had he learned to read his dear friend, and it was clear from the turmoil in the stormy grey eyes that Aragorn badly suffered a great guilt and shame. Legolas heart shook at the sight of Aragorns anguish, but again he was too pained to easily accept the others voiceless plea. "I cried for your help, Aragorn,"he hissed in Elvish. "Upon those shores, they beat me! Had you come, I would have been saved!"
"You know the matter was not so simple,"Aragorn hissed. "I had a duty, the same duty you so many times in the past encouraged me to accept. You cannot now fault me for finally embracing what you so plainly believed to be my destiny!"
Legolas snapped, "I had a duty as well, Aragorn. A duty to protect you. Do you not remember this? It was a foolish promise made in a ludicrous moment of brotherhood. We bound ourselves together in this promise. I have paid a dire price for trusting you, son of Arathorn, and even still I kept my oath to you. I even forsook my brothers for your sake! And you You killed Astaldogald!"
"He would have murdered you, Legolas, in cold blood!"Aragorn retorted. The fact obviously harmed the ranger greatly, but his pride would not allow him to simply succumb to the guilt. "I have not forgotten our vow. It has plagued me with shame and guilt since Amon Hen. Every step of this terrible journey I have known its pressing insistences. I ignored your warnings on the shores of the Anduin, do you not remember?"
"Of course I remember,"hissed Legolas. "My trust in you has always been the strongest bond of faith and brotherhood. I must have been foolish to expect the same from you. I would not forget this betrayal!"
"I did not betray you! Do not turn upon me rage meant for another!"
Fire burned in Legolas eyes. The fury turned his heart into a racing thunder. "Boromir made more of an attempt to help me than you did, you who calls yourself my brother. He died a valiant and noble death, and I will not have you besmirch that!"
Aragorn shook his head in sad confusion. The scathing comment had clearly left him reeling. Finally he spoke. "It was not for lack of want that I did not come to you. Believe me this, I so desperately yearned to find you! This guilt has been a black murk poisoning my very soul. Do not make light of what I endured, Legolas! Abandoning my promise to you was no easy task!"
Legolas laughed. The sound was twisted and cruel. "Do you suppose that keeping my promise to you was any less terrible a duty? Do you expect me to forgive you this?"He shook his head, his body quivering in emotion. Aragorn was white, his face a haunted picture of pain and remorse. "Clearly you do, for you have come here to seek my acceptance. You will not find it, do you hear?! You offer me naught but pity! Poor Legolas! Poor, dear Legolas! An Elf no longer, but a wretch in the shadows! What say you, son of Arathorn? Have you anything aside from your stupid pity?!"
Anger flashed in Aragorns eyes and his sympathetic, teary gaze became a glare. "You speak harshly, son of Thranduil,"he said, adopting a tone of formality. "For one so abhorrent of pity, you readily award it to yourself."
Rage colored Legolas face unnaturally. "How dare you?!"A sobbing cough painfully pushed its way up his throat, but he swallowed it. "How can you presume to judge me?!"Aragorn flinched. "You left me to his tortures And now I am nothing! And I yearned for but one thing, Aragorn. One thing! And this you denied me!"He sensed Arwen stiffen. Her head was bowed, tears streaming from her eyes. Vaguely he recalled through his haze of pain and anger a soft conversation he had overhead between Lord Elrond and his daughter. It had clearly not been meant for his ears, and he had lain in bed, pretending to be asleep, as Arwen had expressed her fears to her father over this very fight that was now taking place. He had been somewhat resentful of their smothering concerns, but now he knew them to be it well founded. She had softly explained how Aragorn had appeared in the healers quarters in Minas Tirith carrying Legolas battered form, of their attempts to heal him, of what Legolas himself had whispered in a moment of lucidity. He remembered little of the event. It was a blur of agony, terror, and sorrow, but he did recall what he had asked of Arwen and Aragorn. Neither had granted him it. The anger was fresh and powerful. "I wanted naught else but to be spared the pain of this existence-"
"It is not so painful, Legolas,"declared Aragorn in a rushed, reassuring tone. The ranger shook his head helplessly. "You live yet, and there is great value in that! There is always a chance!"
"Nay, there is no chance! Gandalf said as much! Yet you would have me struggle with this this curse till the end of my now numbered days! I had resigned myself to death, Aragorn. After Boromir was killed, I settled all my spirit upon the one task he asked of me with his last, dying breath: to protect you. In doing such, I was releasing myself from this terrible shadow around me. I was ready to leave this world."He shook his head, the words coming faster and faster. His friend regarded him with wide eyes, clearly muddled and shocked. The ranger looked to his lover with an imploring glare, the grey orbs glistening with fears of betrayal. Arwen refused to meet Aragorns gaze.
Legolas lowered his tone. The heat of the argument made the melody of Sindarin sound utterly vulgar. "I asked you. I begged you not to help me. Yet you forced life back into my heart and body, and in doing so, gave me hope. That hope has now been cruelly ripped away, and I have lost my chance for peace! Tell me, Aragorn, where is the worth in this existence?"
"There is worth, Legolas, even if you choose not to see it."
"It is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of fact! Look upon me! Look and tell me what you see!"he roared. Aragorn faltered then and dropped his gaze. Legolas wondered how strangely he must have appeared. His long blonde hair, now at least clean, he wore in the same, simple tail Aratadarion had fashioned so many days back. The braids he traditionally wore as a symbol of his strength and pride as an Elven warrior were absent. He was terribly thin, having lost quite a bit of substance during his captivity and subsequent struggles. He seemed a ghost, his skin so pale and his body weak with the weight of recovery and depression. He knew he looked nothing like he once had. The vigor had left his dull eyes, the glow of his kind departing him as though his body was no longer a fit vessel for it. He was dark with this curse, dark and disgusting. Aragorn obviously thought as much, for he could not conjure forth the strength to even so much as look upon the shade his friend had become.
Legolas felt his anger dissipate in grief as he realized the implications of the torturously long and silent moment. "Yes,"he whispered, his ashen lips hardly moving. He raised his shaking hands before his eyes, placing all his weight upon the wall behind him. The hands seemed to be not his own, thin and bruised. Though it an eternity had passed since he had finally cut himself free of his bonds, he could still vaguely observe the red marks the ropes and chains had left upon his wrists. His knuckles were still scraped and bruised, and he clenched his fists. There was no strength in the grasp, and his arms quivered in the strain, his left still weak from the healing fracture. He watched in a pained and paralyzed state, wondering foolishly where the calm strength he had once had in his hands had gone. Would he ever again be able to wield a bow as he had? Thousands of years of practice and experience, honing talent into deadly precision it was all gone.
For some reason, this seemingly insignificant fact became paramount to his dilemma. The tears came unbidden, and he lowered his head, ashamed of them and of his display. The tangled web of emotions and memories grew more a mess. He felt as though he was riding tumultuous waves of the sea; at one moment he was angry, hotly furious at his plight, and in the next he was utterly decimated and destroyed. "Elbereth "he moaned, hiding his face in his hands. "There is nothing to see now!"
He buried himself in the anguish, letting go in its rushing currents, and for a moment he felt nothing but the hot tears flooding from eyes squeezed shut. Then a hand grasped his shoulder. The contact was repulsive. He recoiled instinctively, shrugging away and hastily stepping forward in escape. This motion was too abrupt for his healing body, and a piercing pain shot like a bolt of lightning from his weakened foot and up his leg, settling in his lower chest where he still nursed bruised ribs. It was enough to spill him to the floor, and his knee buckled, sending him down.
He slipped in and out of a nightmare. They were all around him, their faces dark and shrouded. Irrationally, he grew frightened, recalling terrible sights of the Uruk-hai crowding hungrily around him and leering at the thought of hurting him. But the holds upon him were not painful or restraining. They were merely seeking to assist him. His weakness only disgusted him more. When did an Elf prince ever require the aid of others to simply stand? "Leave me be,"he choked out, batting them away, struggling to be free of them. "I do not need help!"
But he did. He wanted it terribly, so strongly his soul shook as it yearned for relief. In the swirling tempest of emotion, he could not parse reality from memory or dream, and his body ached terribly. Though his mind spoke differently, his heart reached out for some source of solace. For the very same hope he once sought to abandon.
Aragorn draped an arm over Legolas shuddering shoulders and pulled his distraught friend to his chest. Legolas collapsed into the mans embrace. He wept piteously, shirking all thought of decorum or appearance, and let his pain flee him on each shivering, deep sob. It was the first time in what seemed to be forever that he had cried so freely. When his mother had died, he had found a quiet place in Mirkwoods dark forests. He had climbed to the top of the tallest tree and sobbed his misery and grief, embraced by the leaves and limbs. He had found no support in his family. The shock and rage left his father unapproachable. Vardaithil had thrown himself entirely into his princely duties, ignoring the wound and leaving it to fester in sorrow and hatred. Aratadarion and Astaldogald found in each other a peace and understanding that they selfishly did not share with their youngest sibling. So Legolas had gone to the ancient trees, finding love and understanding in them. When it came to matters concerning his kin, he had always borne his pain in solitude.
Still, he was glad then for Aragorns presence, content now to pour forth his anguish in the comfort of his dear friend. He had kept it inside him for so long, this horror and wrath and heartache, and it had poisoned him. There had been no one to understand him. Now he was with Aragorn again, his closest friend, a partner to his soul. Now he could release his hurt.
He did not know how long he cried. The tears streamed down his face in a great river of cleansing. He felt a cool hand rest upon the crown of his head. "Let this go, Legolas,"said Arwen as she knelt beside her friend and her beloved. He opened his eyes enough to see her, finding repose in his weeping. She smiled tenderly, her own pale cheeks glistening with tears. Her gaze was peaceful, open and offering. "No amount of distance or danger can sever the ties between us. Are these not the same words you spoke to me before my fathers council? Believe in them now. I beg you!"
He dropped his gaze in shame, his sobs dying slowly. He pulled himself away from Aragorns kneeling form with great strain, willing his weary body into motion. He pressed his back to the wall and looked down. The pattern of stone in the floor blurred as tears filled his eyes. "I am nothing now,"he moaned. "Turn away your gaze! I wish you not the pain of seeing me reduced to such!"
"Nay,"said Aragorn in a whisper, grasping Legolas hand between in his own. The grip was warm and calloused. The ranger looked to him, his eyes bright with hope. "You are you, and that alone is great evidence of the strength you still possess. It means you did not lose yourself to Sarumans shadow. Know this and take back what he stole. You may have lost the light of your kind, but you did not sacrifice your heart to him. He did not make you a monster. He did not turn you less than what you are, what you were, what you always have been."Aragorn grasped his shoulder. Legolas found he could not look from his friends eyes. "You are Legolas, son of Thranduil, grandson of the great and powerful Oropher that laid the foundations of a mighty and worthy people. You are Legolas, one of the Nine Walkers, an Elf of amazing speed and prowess in battle, a creature of beautiful heart and song, of ageless wisdom. You are my dearest friend."The ranger shook his head, tears glowing in his eyes. "These things are the truth, and for all his power he could not change them! Do you see his lies? You are brother to my heart, and it pained me so terribly to think of the torture you endured on my behalf. I wished that I were in your place so many times, but fate sought a different road for me. Please do not think I abandoned you. It drives a knife into my heart, and I cannot bear the pain. I see your suffering, and it tortures me. Please, Legolas. I love you too much to bear your hatred. Please. Please!"
Though he thought it impossible, some part of him began to heal. He closed his eyes and let Aragorns pulsing affection soothe his aching body and heart. Arwens cool, gentle hand wiped away his tears. "You have much to mourn, and much over which to be angry. Yet do not dismay. We are still your friends, and we will continue to love you no matter where fate takes you. As long as there is heart, there is hope."
Legolas took her hand from the side of his face and squeezed it. How very much she sounded like Aratadarion with those words!
He peered over Aragorns shoulder, and the man turned at the sound of the meek call. Behind them stood Frodo and Sam, the latter of which leaning quite heavily against the foot of the large bed in the chamber. Both were pale, obviously surprised, disturbed, and confused by the exchange Legolas and Aragorn had carried on in Elvish. Legolas found his heart quaking in relief at seeing the Hobbits. In the heat of his anger, he had not noticed their presence.
Sam swallowed, tears rolling down his cheeks. "Mister Legolas, sir,"he said again, his face scrunched in sorrow and hurt. It was clear from the innocent glaze in his eyes that he did not understand the situation completely, knowing only that a great torture had been done to Legolas and that it was dire enough to cause such strife between close friends. The Hobbit stood in the silence, his mouth hanging open as if he wanted to say something but was unable to find the appropriate words. Then he stumbled forth and buried himself in Legolas arms.
Sam was sobbing uncontrollably. "Please dont hate me, Mister Legolas!"he cried, his voice muffled by Legolas tunic. His head was nuzzled into the archers shoulder. Legolas awkwardly embraced him, weakened from the strain of his emotions and confused over Sams words. "I didnt want to leave you there! Had I known, sir Please dont hate me! This happened to you because of me, I know it! You must despise the very sight of me "
Legolas shook his head, a strange sort of calm coming over him. "I do not hate you, Sam,"he assured the other softly, rubbing the Hobbits gasping back. "I would never hate you. Do not be absurd."
The stout creature pulled himself away from Legolas chest, sniffling. "Then you musnt give up, you see. You promised me that you would never give up, and for the longest time it was enough for me to just believe in that. I knew you were strong, so I forced myself not to doubt. Dont give up now!"
Legolas closed his eyes and remembered. It seemed an eternity past since he spoke those words to Sam. At the time, he had simply said them to force upon Sam the resolution to leave him behind. He had had no idea the Hobbit would carry his vow so dear to his heart. He released a slow breath. Perhaps he had done something to help Sam. Perhaps he had not simply sent the Halfling to painful toil in Mordor. It heartened him to know that it was his own endurance that had given Sam strength enough to face the dark of Sauron and defeat it. Perhaps it had not all been in vain, this great sacrifice he had made. Perhaps
He dared to hope.
Frodo stepped closer, his wide blue eyes full of gleaming tears. Then he knelt on Legolas other side. The small creature laid a shaking hand against Legolas cheek, as if he was searching for substance to convince himself that indeed the archer lived. Then Frodo smiled. "Im so glad to see you alive!"he announced. He too embraced Legolas, resting his chin on the others shoulder, his eyes squeezed shut against the power of his relief. "Thats all that matters to me Im so very happy!"He laughed. It was a wonderful sound.
Sam sniffled again and grinned. "It was worth it, wasnt it, Mister Legolas? We won, and now there will be peace. Doesnt that make it worth it?"
His mind was not sure of what to say to the question, but his heart was quick to answer. "Yes, Sam,"he whispered, finding his voice weak and lost in emotion. His spirit swelled then, and he felt warm. Sam still regarded him as an Elf, the same awe and respect that the Hobbit had always before displayed still evident in his gaze. All had not been lost. "Yes, it was."
Sam laughed too. It eased Legolas to hear joy again in the others voice. "Praise be, Legolas, sir! I know you can overcome this. I know you will find a way. Well help you! Youre so much stronger than this. We couldnt have come this far only to give up in the end!"
Tears filled Legolas eyes once more. He sighed softly to compose himself. Sams faith in him was a powerful balm to his brutalized soul. He felt the tiniest bit of hope find its way into his heart, and he was eager to grab it and hold the precious gift tightly. He would not again lose it to the shadow tormenting him! It would be a difficult ordeal to overcome his pain, but he knew that he could if he tried hard enough. He could accept this life, this fate, and at least find peace.
Legolas held tight to the two Hobbits, listening to them laugh and chatter. Aragorn watched, tentatively smiling, and then ruffled Sams hair affectionately. "Good, old Sam!"said the ranger. "You are quite a bit wiser than you let on, my friend."Sam flushed with pride at the compliment. "Now let us get Legolas back to bed; he appears a bit fatigued."
The archer shook his head, seeing Aragorns old protectiveness surface again. It reminded him of many times in the past when he had been wounded or weary. His friend always placed his welfare above the rangers own, and though it often irritated Legolas, at the moment it was he inspirited by it. But he gave no argument, for the words were all too true, and he was dizzy and tired. Sam and Frodo reluctantly released him and backed away. Aragorn helped him stand slowly for his body heavy and pained. He could not keep the wince from his face. Aragorn steadied him as he wavered, the rangers eyes concerned and saddened at the sight. But Legolas composed himself, submitting to the fact that he needed their aid despite his pride. He was led to the bed.
At the door stood Gandalf and Lord Elrond, the latter of which stepped closer to him. "This was a little too much too fast, young son of Thranduil. You must be mindful of your wounds,"reprimanded the Half-Elf. He settled his hand on Legolas brow to search for signs of fever, and the archer was too weary to put up much of a fight. "Obviously your assurances this morn that you were well enough to be up and about were a bit premature on your part. You must not forget that you are not as resilient as you once were."The comment was not meant to hurt but merely offer gentle advice.
Legolas did not answer, his sudden exhaustion leaving his mind lethargic. He was settled into the bed, and for once he simply allowed his friends to care for him. Blankets were placed over him. He was offered a glass of water, which he quickly drank. It tasted sweet, for he knew Arwen had laced it with medicine to help him sleep. It was the same concoction she had forced him to take every day in hopes that he might lapse into a healing slumber deep enough to stop the nightmares from reaching him. Then she kissed his cheek. His eyelids slipped shut.
There was a rustle of activity around him. A flood of distant voices filled his ears, and he heard the words but was comfortable enough not to make sense of them.
"Come now, Master Gamgee, and let me have a look at your leg. It will do you no good to continue to walk on it."
"Will he be alright, Lord Elrond?"
"I believe he will be now."
A deep laugh. It was Gandalf. "Do not worry, Frodo. Legolas is endowed with strong blood from a line of wood-Elves both ancient and strong. He will not fall. He need only learn to love himself again, and his path will become clear to him."
There was silence for a moment, and Legolas slipped into a quiet oblivion. There was no pain or fear, only a formless peace. A hand grasped his and a familiar presence leaned over him. "I have missed you so much, my friend,"came a hushed voice. Another pair of lips pressed to his forehead. "I swear to you, never again will I leave you in the darkness!"
For the first time in a long while, he
fell asleep unafraid.
This truly is a beautiful place, thought Frodo, and not for the first time did he feel his heart swell with joy at beholding the city around him. He stood on Lord Elronds ornate veranda, leaning against the cool and smooth stone of the railing and watching the Elven city glow all around him. The sun was high and bright with the afternoon, casting rays of gold down unto the ancient buildings. The air smelled sweet and clean, and breathing it somehow rejuvenated him. He had thought that the stench of Mordor would forever be ingrained into him, its poisonous fumes and fetid aromas staining his perceptions forever. Yet the gentle caress of the cool breeze in Rivendell washed away the dirt and grime, and he was content to simply breathe and watch the leaves drift lazily to the waters sweeping by so far below in the ravine. The heart of the Elves was here, he decided, and it was their tender care and radiance that brought life to all who entered their city.
It was quiet now, the birds and the rush of the water down the falls singing a soft melody of nature. Lord Elrond was still tending to Sams injuries, and though Frodo had loathed leaving his friend behind, Sam had insisted he be free of his worry. So the Hobbit had placed his dearest friend in the competent hands of the master healer and had found his way alone to the palatial terrace of the manor. Aragorn had stolen a few quiet moments with the Lady Arwen, and though this solitude was something to which Frodo had grown unaccustomed, he did not seek out his ranger friend. Aragorn had suffered enough this day. It would have been utterly rude and thoughtless of Frodo to deprive him of the solace he sorely needed.
His mind was numb with all that had happened, and much of it he still found distressing enough to make pondering the matter completely unappealing. Thus he decided that he would simply feel and not think for however long time let him. The aura of life, power, and love that this place exuded was warm to his heart, and he let it sweep over him and rid him of his anxieties momentarily. Everything had happened so quickly that it had left him bedazzled and helpless to make right of it. He forgot his frustration, though, and closed his eyes. It would do no good to linger on things beyond his control or understanding. He could only trust that Legolas and Aragorn would find their way.
Much to his surprise, Gandalfs encouraging words during their journey to Rivendell had led to some sort of relief. Though his shame was still present within him, its deafening cries had disappeared and he had begun to let go of his hate. He would not let it poison him. He would not let it defeat him. There is a reason for everything, he thought, his eyes distant and unfocussed. I have faith in that. This was a moment for serenity, for reconciliation. He would not taint it with irrational guilt. Whats done is done. For better or worse, it happened as it has. A small smile came to his lips. How far he had come! Pride surged up within him, the strongest sense of it he had had in a long time. Thinking of what he had accomplished filled him a light brighter and hotter than the sun, and he could scarcely breathe as he recounted the path he had walked. Leaving the Shire. Bravely facing the darkest of the Dark Lords demons. Forming a Fellowship, a band of brothers bound in fate and duty. Escaping the dark of Moria. Losing Gandalf and Legolas. Finding the strength to follow Sam into the black and forbidding lands. Destroying the Ring. He had truly done all that! It seemed an amazing feat for a creature so small and insignificant. He had never dreamed he would ever do such a thing. Life had seemed to be confined to the security of Hobbiton. He recalled Bilbos words and smiled wider. "Its a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you dont keep your feet, theres no knowing where you might be swept off to.
"I had heard you arrived a few hours ago, but I knew youd be taken with the Prince of Mirkwoods predicament so I didnt bother to interrupt you. Poor thing!"
Frodo turned around quickly, startled from his reverie. His eyes widened. "Bilbo!"he gasped.
The old Hobbit laughed and embraced his nephew warmly. "Welcome back, my boy,"Bilbo gasped, squeezing Frodo tightly despite his frail appearance. For his own part, Frodo swallowed the lump in his throat and basked in the comfort of his uncles presence. They remained as such for quite a few minutes, the world disappearing around them in their renewed bond of family.
Bilbo pulled away and smiled. "It is so good to see you well! When Lord Elrond and his daughter departed for the other Elvish kingdom, I feared for the worst. It seems that my worries were misplaced."He laid a weathered hand against Frodos cheek, his skin feeling leathery and worn. "I should have had more faith in you, Frodo! You are a Baggins, after all, and we Bagginses are very reliable creatures!"
Frodo laughed. "If you say so, Bilbo. You make it sound as though I had no help! It was hardly the case, you must know."
The two walked to a bench. Leaves fell to the smooth stone from the nearby trees, drifting to the ground in a gentle rain. Bilbo had aged greatly, Frodo sadly realized, in the months since he had last seen his uncle. The old Hobbit was quite decrepit, shuffling his feet as he walked, and a bit hunched. His hair had thinned considerably, leaving a puff of curly, white locks upon his head. His face was greatly lined with age, but his eyes were deep with pride and contentment. "Ah, well, its just as well to say so, I suppose. But I doubted any of the others tossed that blasted Ring into the fiery furnace of Mount Doom!"
Frodo smiled uncomfortably, feeling wretched as he received his uncles seemingly undue praise. Bilbo was astute though, and noticed the pain flash across Frodos gaze. The elderly Hobbit patted his nephews hand where it rested upon his knee. "Glad your adventure is over, Frodo?"
Frodo smiled in spite of himself, tracing to the ornate designed carved into the polished marble with his eyes absently. He sighed tiredly but without grief. "I guess I am, Uncle Bilbo. It it wasnt "
"Anything you expected,"Bilbo finished for him. Frodo looked up, surprised at his uncles words and intuition. Bilbo afforded him a knowing gaze and nodded, his eyes regretful and dark with experience. Frodo was surprised at this reaction. Bilbo had often spoken of his own journey through Mirkwood on Gandalfs behest so many years prior with an ounce of excitement in his voice. With much begrudging he had regaled the tale to his nephew and his friends, and though he complained greatly about the terrible conditions and tireless traveling, there had always been the remnants of something that Frodo, until now, had never understood. "Very few things in life are, my boy. Very few things. You cant operate very efficiently on expectations because fate has a strange way of turning everything you thought was certain against you, and changing the impossible to reality. Such is the way of things, I think."The old creature sighed, sagging slightly. "You will regret that it started. You will regret that it ended. You will regret things you did and things you didnt. But we grow richer in experience, Frodo. And that is a worthy reward for the troubles we undergo."
Bilbo lifted his eyes and narrowed them, meeting his nephews affectionate gaze. "Ah, well then! Enough of this talk. I assume you have a grand story to tell, and I would very much like to hear it."The old Hobbit smiled ruefully. "Perhaps I shall add your tale to mine. Would you care for that, Frodo? There and Back Again: A Tale of Two Bagginses Trials in the World Beyond Their Home! What a grand title!"he said wistfully.
"Indeed,"came a rumbling voice to their left. Gandalf stood at the arched stone entrance to the terrace, leaning upon his great staff. He smiled widely and knowingly. "I suffice it to say that it is so grand, it is almost as long as the book itself,"he jested.
Bilbo huffed. "Oh, come off it, Gandalf. No need to be jealous of our legacy!"he retorted, though the harsh words were hardly scathing at all as they were laced with joke and good nature.
The great wizard ambled closer. "It is good to see you again, Bilbo,"he said, embracing the Hobbit. Bilbo almost disappeared in the Istars gallant white robes.
"You as well, Gandalf. Your change in attire suits you well!"declared Bilbo as he detangled himself from Gandalfs large arms. "And I must thank you for helping Frodo. You have obviously been as good a friend to him as you have always been to me."
Gandalf nodded as the old Hobbit gingerly resettled himself on the bench. "It was no trouble at all. He did quite well for himself."
"Yes, he did! Im very proud, I must tell you!"
"As am I."
Frodo blushed once more with their compliments. Though he felt it was undeserved, he reveled in the praise. Then he sobered. "How is Legolas, Gandalf?"The wizard had obviously just come from the archers room where Frodo had parted company with him not too long ago.
The wizard pressed his hand to his brow. "He sleeps still, Frodo."He sighed softly, but his face was not distressed. Frodos own expression turned downcast. "He will come to terms with his loss. That will be the first step of his recovery."
"It is a sad and terrible thing, Gandalf,"declared Bilbo. He obviously found the fact of it quite repugnant. "I daresay I remember that young Elf from his fathers court. He was quite the bright one, with eyes wide and inquisitive. Its a true shame such a fate befell him."
They were silent a moment, as if in mournful respect. Even the breeze did not have the gall to shatter the quiet with its rustling whisper. Then it became too unbearable, and Bilbo broke its hold upon them. "Well, tell me of your travels! Ive been so busy with my book, you see, that I havent sought much company."
Gandalf glanced at Frodo. Mirth glowed
in the wizards gaze, and then he launched into a tale, deciding that the story of
the Fellowships journey through the Mines of Moria was innocent and exciting
enough. As the wizard spoke, Frodos mind drifted. It was a story of the
past, but he thought of the future. He knew there would be time to rest, to
recuperate, to repent and rejoice. At last he had found an absolution.
Evening came to Rivendell, and Legolas still slept. Lord Elrond had seen to him a few times that afternoon, but had nothing to report other than he appeared to be resting comfortably. It was enough to calm Aragorns riled nerves to know that his friend had finally seemed to find some semblance of peace. In a quiet, private moment, Arwen had revealed to him the nature of Legolas degeneration since arriving in Rivendell. He had tried to remain impassive and steadfast during her horrid tale of their friends nightmares and delirium, but he had been unable to remain so strong. She had told him of their friends wish to die, begging his forgiveness for denying him the truth. The thought left Aragorn confused and upset. When the tears of her release dampened the breast of his tunic, he had closed his eyes and whispered words of encouragement and thanks to her for caring for Legolas, forgetting whatever anger he had felt at her omission. He knew this whole venture had been a trying ordeal for her, and he admired her strength and beauty more then than he had ever before.
Sometime earlier there had been quite the pleasant surprise. A ruckus from the stables had called the attention of Elladan and Elrohir from their dinner, and Aragorn had thought little of their sudden disappearances at the time, his mind distracted and his heart heavy with Legolas predicament. Not long after there came a familiar, indignant, and gruff voice down the great hall of Elronds House. Aragorn had remained still, sitting at the dining table beside Frodo and Sam, listening intently and wondering whether or not to trust his tired senses. Sure enough, though, Gimli came stomping down the corridor in an animated argument with the Elf Lord Glorfindel, who he had encountered in the woods beyond Rivendell. Merry and Pippin, dirtied but otherwise elated, had followed, guided by Elladan and Elrohir. The ranger smiled now in the memory, seeing Gimlis red face and hearing his booming voice. To the Dwarfs his piercing glare, the powerful Glorfindel had merely raised an eyebrow in irritation. It was quite an amusing sight. "Aragorn, this haughty Elf says Legolas still lives but will not take me to him! Is this true? You fool Elf!
Though Aragorn had been gladdened to see the Dwarf and to discover that the majestic Golden Wood had been saved, explaining to Gimli the nature of Legolas condition had been no easy task. The Dwarf had simply not understood, though whether his confusion was borne from true ignorance or pained denial Aragorn could not be certain. Repeatedly he had explained to the stout warrior that there was nothing anyone could do, that even the powers of Lord Elrond and Gandalf were not strong enough to undo the damage done to Legolas by the curse, but Gimli had chosen not to listen. It was his love for Legolas that would not allow him to simply accept this truth. Aragorn sympathized; to suddenly know Legolas was alive and then see the substance of that life it was terrible indeed. But the Dwarf had finally quieted his harsh arguments, submitting to the cold reality of the situation. He had wanted to see Legolas, but Lord Elrond had intervened, explaining that the fallen archer needed rest above all. Gimli, Merry, and Pippin had been none too happy with this, but they were too dismayed and tired to argue.
Now they all sat outside, resting under the light of the stars. Perhaps it was a coincidence, Aragorn mused, that they had chosen this night to rest together on the very same terrace where Elrond had held his council months past. On this night, the strange quirk of fate seemed to be something more, something profound and touching, and each of them seemed to sense it. Frodo and Sam sat together, Sams broken leg covered in a blanket and braced properly. Frodos eyes were distant but unburdened. Merry and Pippin rested on either side of the two. They had been ecstatic during their reunion with their friends, thrilled with the amazing feat the Sam and Frodo had accomplished. A little while back, while the sun had still been setting, they had excitedly told their tale, missing no small detail of the battle for Lothlórien. Aragorn had listened with meager attention, his mind drifting in his exhaustion to the pains of the day and worries of the future. He sat beside Gimli, puffing on his pipe. Gandalfs eyes were glazed in thought that was mysterious and forbidden to all. In the silence that had descended, the mist obscuring their pain had dissipated, and the absence of the Boromir and Legolas became distracting and terrible.
The night was crisp and cold, though the smoke from their pipes was pungent and warming enough. The chill of autumn was not long off, and Aragorn almost welcomed it. Some things had remained constant despite the great change that had come to Middle Earth these last months, and fall would follow summer as surely as day did night. He felt weary then, knowing he had come so very far since the last instance he had sat in this beautiful spot. Much had been lost. Much had been won. Powerful in the air that night was a strange shade of sorts, a sensation that was not entirely explainable or tangible but meaningful to each. It was the spirit of their brotherhood. It was a hungry ghost, searching for some sort of pardon. It was the betrayal and fear and sorrow that still clung to them like shadows. Quite some time had passed since they had last spoken, the emptiness at once companionable and awkward. Each shared the same thought, the same pain. Each searched for a final forgiveness.
The stars twinkled above. They shed soft light, the sky bright with so many spirits and souls. Aragorn watched them intently, imploring them for answers to his questions. He felt so much was yet undecided, and the wait to know the course of things was too frustrating for his fatigued heart. The tension disturbed him. He yearned to simply rest and enjoy this time he had now in the company of his family. Duty would soon call him back to Gondor, and he supposed it was folly to yearn for things that could never be his again. Memories of foolery and games with Elladan and Elrohir, of long talks with Elrond, of moonlit walks with Arwen, flitted across his mind. These were things that he could not have back, and though it saddened him, it did not vex him. The change was inevitable, and there was no use in angering oneself over things one had no power to alter.
Yet he wondered. He wondered at the path created by Boromirs duplicity. He was amazed at the way things had righted himself; it was more than obvious that somehow the traitorous man had regained Legolas confidence and affection. He marveled at the strength of his Hobbit companions. Who would have thought that beings so small could have so drastically shaped the course of their world? He pondered the change in Gimli and the love for the Firstborn that had enigmatically found its way into his gruff, Dwarven heart. He thought of Gandalf, of his dear friends seeming metamorphosis into the most powerful and wise of all Istari without shedding any of his compassion. Were these things meant to be? Was there another path, a road not taken where Boromir had remained true to himself? Where Legolas had not fallen at Amon Hen? Could fate have somehow restored all to what it should be?
Time passed slowly. Finally there was an answer.
"I shall never understand the need of mortals to wreath themselves in such putrid smoke,"quipped a soft voice from the entrance to the terrace.
Aragorns heart leapt in joy as he stood quickly and turned.
Legolas stood beneath the stone archway. In the pale light, his eyes glowed meagerly, but they were without the haunting and terrible nightmare of before. He leaned heavily into Elladan, the Elfs arm wrapped about the archers waist. Arwen stood on his other side, her face bright and happy, as she held his arm. A warm blanket was draped over the injured Legolas shoulders.
"Legolas! Legolas!"cried Pippin. "See, I told you, Master Gimli! I told you Boromir would find him!"Merry laughed jovially as the two leapt to their feet and thundered over to their friend. Legolas winced but made no move to dissuade them from their grasps as the two Hobbits grabbed him. They began to chatter loudly, professing how glad they were that he was alive and well, how overjoyed they were to see him again. Legolas laid his hand upon each of their heads in turn, not well enough to lower himself to embrace them.
Gimli smiled broadly. "Master Elf,"he said, standing before Legolas.
Legolas nodded, his eyes glistening. "Master Dwarf,"he responded in an equal tone.
It seemed a bit awkward, but not because of prejudice or anger. Gimli was not a creature that easily showed his emotions. The Dwarf grasped the archers arm, and Legolas returned the gesture. "Ai, how much this relieves me! I fear I shall never forgive myself for leaving you "
"Nay, Gimli, do not despair,"said Legolas, shaking his head at the Dwarfs words. "Let us not think of it, for it is far behind us now. It is not your fault."
Aragorn shook his head in a small gesture, amazed at the change in his friend. The wrathful hate, the shame and despair, seemed to have fled him, leaving the old Legolas fighting to regain his place. It truly had been a healing sleep!
Gimli lowered his gaze in shame, his eyes dark with hurt and guilt. He too suffered the same pain that assailed Aragorn. The ranger did not doubt that the Dwarf knew he as well would never be rid of it. Amending a mistake did not erase its happening. "I am so sorry, my friend,"whispered the Dwarf on a rushed breath. "I am so sorry that this terrible thing happened to you!"
Legolas looked away, and for a moment Aragorn saw the pain return to his eyes. His battle against this curse would not easily be won. The archer released a slow, shaking sigh to compose himself, and then returned his gaze to his companions. "Think not of it. I do not wish to dwell now, for the pain is still too near. Do not assume guilt. It hurts me more to see your grief."
Gimli nodded, and though the statement was full of forgiveness, it was clear that it did not completely absolve. Still, it was satisfying enough for the moment.
Elladan helped Legolas sit then, carefully lowering the weakened archer to one of the chairs upon the terrace. Arwen settled the blanket across her charge securely, assuring herself that he was well guarded against the chill of the night. It would do him no good to catch ill once more. Then she handed him a cup of steaming broth that smelled pungent and medicinal. Legolas scowled at her momentarily, but she would not be dissuaded. Her hand rested comfortingly on his shoulder a moment as she watched him sip the medicine. Then she turned, her gown swishing about her lithe form as she did. Briefly she held Aragorns gaze, and he did not miss the relief shining in her vibrant blue eyes. They held a radiance of peace and life again, and Aragorn felt his heart rush with powerful love for her.
Then the two Elves were gone, leaving the Fellowship. For the longest time, no one had the courage to speak. The sense of what was lost felt smothering, clenching each heart in a vice too strong to break. Finally, Gandalf said, "Welcome back to us, Prince of Mirkwood. You were sorely missed."
Legolas nodded, and Aragorn watched the emotions dance in his eyes. The breeze swept by, pulling a few locks of blonde hair from the binding at the base of Legolas neck. The archer shuddered.
"Well!"said Pippin. He veritably beamed. "Weve come back to where we started. Isnt that a strange thing?"
Gimli grunted, his eyes distant. "Not so strange, Master Peregrin. Fate works in many ways to right things once broken."
"Here, here,"said Sam. He looked to Frodo, smiling reassuringly. "Look at all we did! Its quite the accomplishment!"
The silence was pushed aside. They chattered then, for there were many stories to tell, many things to share. Merry and Pippin were animated in their joy, speaking and laughing loudly as they went on in their antics, eliciting laughs from those present. As all good conversations do, this one wandered from topic to topic. According to Gandalf, it seemed Lord Elrond, at the behest of his children, was planning a grand celebration to mark this momentous victory for the free peoples of Middle Earth. This was enough to send the Hobbits into another flurry of inane palaver over what food might be present and what people they might yet meet.
Aragorn found himself watching Legolas mostly, staring at his friend when the archers attention was diverted in hopes of gauging his vitality. Legolas was withdrawn, though it seemed more from overwhelming weariness and relief than pain. The curse still was upon him, that much was evident. Yet he was vastly improved from his earlier state, and Aragorn knew that was encouraging. Perhaps Gandalf had been right. Legolas might yet find a way to free himself.
Gimli had invited Legolas to join him in traveling someday. Often during their journey they had argued over the merits of their respective homelands. The Dwarf reasoned that the archer might enjoy seeing the glory of the great Dwarven caves of Gimlis people. Legolas seemed a bit hesitant initially, but then he regained himself and agreed. His ascension clearly greatly satisfied Gimli, though the stout warrior tried hard to mask it. Then he launched into some tale of Dwarven might, his rolling, deep voice filling the evening.
Among them, though, was still that spirit. It was quiet, peaceful, watching and protecting. It was a steadfast guardian, a silent sentinel. Aragorn glanced about. He thought he felt something strange and surreal. He could not place it, but inexplicably he imagined he heard Boromirs voice. For the first time since Amon Hen did he remember his comrade without disdain. He breathed deeply, concentrating on the fleeting sensation. He remembered Boromirs pride and strength, his devotion to his cause. "If this is the will of the Council, then Gondor shall see it done. He had not lied. He had not failed.
Aragorn let the world came back to him. The others were talking quite loudly, debating some trivial matter as they had so many times in the past over a campfire in Hollin or meager supper in Moria. Yet it was not this that directed Aragorns attention.
A gentle breeze touched his cheek, and he looked to his dearest friend. For the briefest moment, he believed he saw Boromir standing behind Legolas, his hand resting firmly upon the archers shoulder, his eyes wet with sadness and joy at once, his face strong and hopeful. It was as though he was offering this final act of repentence, assuring that now all would be right again. He had fulfilled his promised. Aragorn blinked, and he was gone.
Legolas was watching the starry sky. Clear tears slipped silently down his face. Then he did something Aragorn feared he might never do again.
To be continued
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.