4. Legolas' Assignment
"Absolutely not!" cried Legolas. He was pacing so fiercely, the sparrow was in constant flight trying to keep up with him. "It is beyond all reason!"
The sparrow sighed. "Oh, I knew you'd be upset," she said. "I'm very sorry, but the Forces created the rules, not me. Your friends have dealt with Stories of their own, the Ring-bearer most of all. He will not think ill of you for doing what you must."
"I care not!" he retorted. "How can I justify abandoning them at such a time? I tell you it is madness!"
"It certainly would be if this were really Middle-earth," she said wryly. "Legolas, you know as well as I do that the events of this place rarely have anything to do with what goes on in your world. You won't even remember the Story after you're sent back."
She spoke the truth, but it was sorry comfort. Once more Legolas struggled to escape this loathsome task. "I have not the knowledge by which to do this! How would I know where to go or what to do? Or perhaps you would say I am doomed to grope in blind ignorance to the bitter end!"
"Of course not," said the Guide, and she began to show signs of impatience. "You've done this enough times to know the procedure, so stop pretending you don't. Once you complete a Chapter you will be allowed to move on to the next. The Guides will be along to give you instructions when you need them. The Story will end when the villain is defeated and the maiden set free. Do as you're told and you should be fine."
"And if I refuse? What then?" he replied hotly.
The sparrow drew back and shivered a little at the idea. "Now, see, that's dangerous thinking. There are some things you can get away with, but you don't want to get the Forces angry with you. They can be touchy, and sometimes if they really want you to do something they'll reach out and make you do it. Very unpleasant. I'd follow the rules if I were you."
There were no words that would counter her argument. Legolas turned his head away and would not look at her, though in truth he knew that the Guide was not to blame. To her credit, she did not allow herself to be offended. Though hers was often a thankless job, the ordeals of those she instructed were a far sight worse. In a placating gesture she alighted on Legolas' wrist and he begrudgingly allowed it.
"Listen, I understand your resentment, I really do," she said. "It's a challenge for anyone to endure the humiliation these Stories can bring, especially with the events that await you back home. But at least you may be assured that no lasting harm will come to you here! The weight of the Quest has been lifted from you, for a time. All you have to worry about is keeping the Forces happy until the Story is over. Surely that is within your power."
He sighed heavily but nodded. "Very well," he said. "I will do the best I can."
"That's all we ask of you," she said kindly.
At so sombre a moment, it was a cruel and petty irony that caused Enóreth to break into song from across the hollow. Legolas winced and even the sparrow flitted her wings and scowled (as much as a sparrow can scowl) in the maiden's direction. "Well, I suppose I had better go over there," she said. "We birds are supposed to find her songs enchanting, for some reason. Good luck with your Story, Legolas, and keep an eye out for the Guides!"
With that she flew away, leaving Legolas alone and in a difficult spot. It was laid on him to make a choice that was both foolish and exasperating, yet what else could be done? Resignedly he looked out over the camp. Boromir was keeping watch, the hobbits and Gimli had wandered off to their own amusements, and Gandalf had walked some distance away to express his anger in private. (Among the wizard's tirades Legolas heard something about "stupid tart" and "disgrace to the Istari," as well as a few other phrases that do not bear repeating.) That left only Aragorn to address the matter.
Aragorn was busy unloading the last of the gear from the pony. Legolas approached with dragging feet and requested a word with him.
"Of course, Legolas," Aragorn replied. He laid down the bundles and turned to face him. "What is on your mind?"
"Simply this," said Legolas, and hesitated. Such unspeakable absurdity.... But he pressed on. "I fear the threat of Enóreth's tale is too great to ignore. I know now what must be done."
Aragorn gazed at him and waited. Legolas took a steadying breath. "I have to leave the Fellowship for a time," he said. "Clearly I must journey with Enóreth and defeat the dark curse laid upon her."
If Aragorn was startled by the news, he did a good job of hiding it. "You have to ... leave," he said.
"Yes," replied Legolas.
"In the middle of the Quest."
"It looks that way."
Aragorn looked off to one side and scratched his chin as if he was trying very hard to work this out. "So the battle against Sauron, the destruction of the One Ring...."
Legolas could feel his face getting hot. He gritted his teeth. "I ... I am going to have to put it off until later."
"Aha," said Aragorn. "And afterwards, you'll just ... what, catch up with us or something?"
"I shall certainly try my hardest," the Elf said stiffly.
Aragorn mulled this over. Then he craned his neck to look at Enóreth as she warbled away, surrounded by birds and rabbits and a spotted fawn or two. He seemed dazed for a moment, then shook himself and resumed unloading the baggage. "I see," he said. "Well! Sounds perfectly logical to me. Good luck on your journey."
It was almost too much to bear. In spite of himself, Legolas said in a wheedling tone, "Of course, if you would rather I stay...."
"No, no!" Aragorn turned and clasped his shoulder. "Go with her, Legolas. She needs you." The words were grave enough. But there was a suspicious twinkle in Aragorn's eyes, and as Legolas walked away he could have sworn that he heard him chuckling.
The time had now come to for the journey to begin. But Legolas was not at all eager, and he looked about for some way to delay his departure. In a moment he saw Frodo sitting by himself at edge of the stream. Legolas decided to bid him farewell. Abandoning the hobbit to his Quest was unpardonable, but it would be pure insult to leave without explanation or apology.
Frodo seemed lost in thought. Legolas approached with care, not wanting to startle him. "Frodo," he said. "At Imladris I pledged my word to the Fellowship and to you. Now it troubles me greatly to go back on my promise."
"Oh, it's all right," said Frodo sorrowfully. "This burden is mine to bear after all. You cannot lighten it, though I appreciate your efforts. I bear you no ill will, my friend."
"If there were any other way..." said Legolas.
"Alas! there is none!" mourned Frodo. "At least I have the consolation of knowing you will protect her. She must not go alone, so fair, so brave!" Then he paused, glanced over his shoulder, and leaned close. "Is she really that bad?" he whispered.
Legolas understood: for the moment all pretence was dropped. Glad for the confidence, he sighed wearily and sat down beside Frodo. "It would seem so. She is singing again."
"Oh no!" said Frodo dismayed. "Is that what that noise is? My ears have been ringing for five minutes and I can't hear half as well as you!"
"I know," Legolas replied, and pressed his fingers against his brow where a persistent ache had developed. "I fear there are dark times ahead."
Frodo shook his head in pity. There was a brief silence; Enóreth's voice floated on the breeze. Legolas spoke again, hoping to drown out the sound. "I suppose from your sudden melancholy that you are in a Story as well?"
"Yes, actually," said Frodo, and he sounded considerably more cheerful than he had a moment ago. "We'll be lingering here for a while, and I'll be plagued with all manner of nightmares and ailments. Sam set himself up to cure me and thus took most of the work, the dear fellow. I really haven't much to do besides sleeping fitfully and toddling about looking vulnerable."
"Ailments?" asked Legolas with idle curiosity. "Do you fall ill by the power of the Ring?"
Frodo grinned: a rare occurrence. "No, I just fall ill. No particular reason. I honestly think they forget all about the Ring in this one. It isn't even bothering me right now." And he pulled the Ring from his pocket and twirled it on its chain as if it were nothing more than a trinket.
"An advantage to these Stories, I suppose," said Legolas.
"I suppose," Frodo replied, putting the Ring away. "It will get frightfully dull, though, lying down and getting spoon-fed all day long. And Strider has to spend hours hugging me too. It becomes ... awkward."
"It must indeed," said Legolas. There was another pause, longer this time.
"Oh, there will be bathing involved, did I mention that?" said Frodo. "I'd be glad to miss that if I were you."
Legolas did not answer.
"The sun is high," Frodo remarked after a time, gently.
There were no more reasons to postpone the journey, and Legolas knew it. With a heavy heart he looked to the glade where Enóreth was singing. Just at that moment she finished her song and the animals scattered far and wide, rejoicing to be free.
"I wish I could go back," he mumbled. (It was not the last time that he wished that!)
Frodo smiled at him. "I know, Legolas. I know."
Coming Up: Legolas has a really crappy day. Enóreth is, like, damn annoying and stuff.
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