Mirkwood, year 3017 of the Third Age
My eyes rest upon your face wide-open;
and they hold you gently, letting you go
when something in the dark begins to move.
Rainer Maria Rilke, To Say Before Going to Sleep
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
He is leaving.
Any day, any moment the guest chair reserved for him in my father's hall will be empty, the surrounding Mirkwood will be quiet and the trees will not tell where he has gone. He always stays only for a short while, merely to go away again and to leave behind traces that I alone will see: a dark strand of hair under a tree where he slept, an overturned stone beside the brook that runs through the woods, a sprinkling of ash carried on the sole of his boot from a fire grown cold long ago.
He stirs in his sleep, a muscle below his eyebrow twitches, and he breathes a sigh into the cool night air. He is so tangible, so real, flesh and skin and garment, strong will under thin layers of sleep. Yet to my eyes he is like a ghost or a delusion, gone already.
My time on Middle-earth may be drawing to an end, but his was never more than an inaudible whisper in the ear of the eternal.
The knot of the night is unravelling into the morning. He lies beside the dying fire as I keep watch. His sleep is restless and wary, like my senses that filter noises, scents, movements. We are far enough from the borders of my father's realm to be in danger, should anything unexpected come our way. No matter how skilled wanderers of the wild, an Elf and a mortal are a poor match for any enemy that might have the advantage of surprise or superior numbers on their side.
I look at his face, his coarse, strong features that seem marked by some unspoken sorrow. His hair falls in dark tangles and a small vein pulses on his neck. A strange feeling of belonging flickers in my chest, but before I can catch it and look it in the eye, it hides from me.
What is in the beginning, when nothing has yet been said or done?
Is there an empty path that looks just like any other, yet is the only possible one? Is there a fate one can mould for oneself, or will stronger hands somewhere twine a fine thread of life into a larger tapestry? Is there a foreseen moment that has always existed, when blind stars collide and something upon earth is irrevocably changed -- or is all but a coincidence, whim, lapse?
When he first came to Mirkwood years ago in search of the creature Gollum, I hardly noticed him. One day he was there, the next day he was gone, and I forgot. Or did not, because nothing is ever really forgotten, only buried under piles of lush, moist leaves and drops of water and songs and scents of starry nights. He was but another ranger, passing by on his endless journeys through the landscape that had become the image of his life -- the cave that sheltered him from a storm, the river that cleansed the stains of battle off him, the barren plain that exposed him to any eyes that might be watching, friendly or hostile. He was no longer young but worn out by the strains of the road, another human whose life-span would come to an end when he had hardly learned how to speak and walk.
But I was reminded. He kept coming back. Sometimes alone, sometimes with Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim. The name of Elrond of Imladris was mentioned, and once even the Lady of the Golden Wood, who was hardly more than a tale from times long gone; it was said he was on the errands of the Wise. Estel was the Elvish name he wore like a cloak when he wished to remain unknown. He moved silently and skilfully like an Elf, he knew of woods and winds and earth. But he was no Elf. His name was Aragorn, and he was of Isildur's blood lineage. In his footsteps a stalk of grass fell upon another, small twigs were broken, leaves rustled in an unending whisper that rumoured of what was to come. I began to see in his comings and goings a faint outline, hardly visible patterns that were running towards a larger story.
And somehow, I became a part of that story. Once, twice, again I found myself keeping him company on his journeys through the darker parts of the forest, in Rhovanion, in the vales of the Great River. Not really knowing why he had chosen me or I him, somewhere along the way we grew towards each other, felt our way through the unknown and found a friendship.
Like a spider may patiently and imperceptibly spin glimmering fabrics amongst tree branches, years have woven a net of translucent strings between us. Delicate, yet firm and demanding strings that grow when you have lost track of the time you have spent with someone: tilt your head in a certain way and I know immediately where your mind is set today, move your hand and I look before I know I am looking, stir to take a step and I already follow.
Words are caught in that web until they grow dimmer, fewer, more fragile. Until the meaning of them starts to sink into oblivion.
Aragorn is awake. He sits up and gathers himself closer to the hot ashes where the fire has faded away. We are surrounded by the mystical twilight that wraps the world before every break of dawn and after every sunset, the blue and grey haze that floats in the air, the moment of transition when it is not yet day or night, and the universe seems to stand still.
Even before he speaks, I know he will be gone when the daylight breaks again into the forest.
His voice is low but firm.
"Legolas. When I pass through these woods again, it will only be to deliver Gollum for your father's guards to keep. I shall not linger."
"Why not take me with you?" I keep my voice steady, my face a mask of serenity. "Ours has been a good companionship in the past, even outside my father's realm."
His eyes reveal nothing, but his answer is folded in worry.
"Such dangers may lay ahead as I have not known before. I might have to go to the very confines of Mordor. And at my return a path awaits me I have long feared to walk."
I am feeling frustrated because I know so little of what he talks about.
"If dangers be fiercer, the better to take me with you! Two pairs of eyes are more alert, and two pairs of hands fight more forcefully, if perils should come our way."
The corners of his mouth tighten slightly and there is a tinge of impatience in his tone when he replies to me.
"Legolas, I must face this task alone. There are roads you can walk with me, but on some paths you cannot follow. No one can. And war is upon us. I am needed elsewhere."
A fluid realisation enters me.
"I may not see you again, then?"
"I know not." He looks at me thoughtfully, and this time I believe I see a glint of something new, unfamiliar in his gaze. "I see ahead of me but darkness, a grey fog which obscures all, leaving me to grope my way through."
He remains silent for a moment before continuing.
"Imladris awaits. My foster father knows the time is near, and he shall soon summon the peoples of Middle-earth to attend his Council. I wish to see you there, my friend, unless it is meant to be otherwise."
On impulse I embrace him. I think he is surprised, but does not push me away -- quite the opposite. He holds me for a long time, his body firmly pressed against mine, his warmth radiating into me. When we finally part, he looks at me gravely. My voice is steadier than I am feeling inside as I speak.
"I shall walk and fight by your side just as willingly as I have accompanied you in times of peace, should ever the day come you need me."
His hand is still on my shoulder, and a smile brightens his weary face.
"Hannon le, Legolas. Gwadoren," he whispers in my own tongue. Thank you, Legolas. My brother.
He leans in to place a kiss on my both cheeks, an earnest, affectionate kiss -- and then, on my lips. It is a continuation of the same gesture of friendship, intended as nothing but a confirmation of the bond that has grown between us. But instead of moving away his lips stay there, touching mine, frozen in time. Sooner than I know my hand has crept on the back of his head, and I am breathing into his mouth. I cannot tell which one of us falters first, but I realise this is no longer a brotherly kiss, but a hungry, desirous exchange I am unwilling to break free of.
The strings between us are delicate, yet firm and demanding: run your fingers through my hair and sparks will rain along my spine, make a sound of pleading and I will kiss you deeper, resist but a little and I will burn to press you tighter to this yearning forced inside the crumbling walls of my body.
Aragorn tears himself away from me, and his face is confused and vulnerable like I have not seen it before. I know what we have violated. A silence surrounds Evenstar of Imladris in our conversations, but I have long known of their promise to each other, of the choice they once made under the unchanging night skies. Of what should reach beyond the fates of two peoples separated from each other, beyond life and death.
We are both speechless.
He is the first to move, to break the ice that has frozen us in confusion. In silence he collects his blanket and his few carryings from the ground, drawing the hood of his cloak deep over his head so I cannot see his face. The glow of his touch still throbs in me quick and merciless and will not calm down, will not be still. Aragorn throws his pack on his shoulder. His whole body is turned towards the East, towards Mordor, towards the darkness that spreads from there like drops of blood in water. I see the steam of his breath in the morning air as he speaks to me one last time.
"Nothing has changed, Aragorn."
But even as I speak, a wind rises and sweeps over all living things on the ground, bending them, shaking them, changing the way they grow, and nothing will ever be the same again. Without looking back he walks away, taking with him the world as I have known it.
I let him go.
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.