1. The Pond of the Dark
In the evening, when the sun began to ease below the crowns of the trees, there came into view a narrow stripe of silty shore in the lee of a meander, and they cut in towards it, tangling the Anduin's ribbon with their oars. They dragged the boats into the shadow of a stubby coxcomb of rock, and made camp in a gully beyond a low rise, where a disturbance in the earth had caused the ground to fall away beneath a series of great trees.
By the time they set watch -- Gimli, at first -- the forest was the cindery grey of deep dusk, and the hollow of the camp was sunk entirely in darkness. Just over the rise, Aragorn crouched in a patch of mossed ground between trees to bury the bones of what had been their meat. The damp earth pushed deep beneath his fingernails, and when he stood and struck his palms together, the dirt clung, feathery, to his skin. He rubbed his hands briskly on the corner of his cloak.
Returning to the place in the gully he had spread his bedroll, he found he could squint and detect the mitigation of the darkness within that was Legolas. The hollowed earth there was a trap for leaves, though the mugginess of the air did not allow them to become brittly dry. His footfall rustled dully. Legolas did not greet him.
Aragorn sat with his elbows on his knees as his eyes adjusted to the dark of the hollow, and the felled sapling of Legolas's body became distinct in texture between cloak, tunic and leggings. The last of the dusk insects hummed.
Aragorn thought of coming sometimes at Rivendell upon an elf gazing into the Loudwater, betrayed as living flesh only by a brightness of eye and a lift of hair in the breeze. A young man splashing in the shallows, casting rocks across a smooth sheet of current, even diving from a heavy, overhanging branch into the olive-green dark of the deepest channel and emerging choking from the glinting surface, would solicit no further betrayal.
Their companions were strewn across the gentle ground, quiet as loose-wrapped baggage. Aragorn whispered at last to Legolas, "Have I offended you, my friend?"
"Why should you say that?" Legolas replied, getting to his elbow.
Aragorn pressed the heel of his hand into an insect bite.
"I am curious," Legolas said mildly, "of the answer."
"Never mind," Aragorn said. "Fear not, I shall sleep over here, with a rock in my back."
"I would not answer such a speech," Legolas replied, "but that you are yourself, and sleep often on the ground in the wild. So I say, you will do better so soon as you decide to." He lay back along the incline of the earth beneath the overhang.
Soon he was almost preternaturally still, and turned no more toward Aragorn.
In Lorien Aragorn had said, "If you wonder that one whose flame was lit before time was born can find his end so readily, then we are as one."
But Legolas had merely said, "Come into the mist."
And he had said, "You are free, then?" His voice was softened with something like exertion.
"In so far as this," Aragorn had replied.
It was the blue-black of the night's dark, and only a few stars filtered their way through the forest's canopy. For no reason Aragorn could determine, the warm syrup of sleep in his veins had thinned, and he had drifted awake.
For a long time he lay still, sifting the stars from the canopy above. The hobbits, four in a row, snuffled. He listened for Legolas's breathing, for some shift in the elf's repose, but heard nothing.
He shifted toward Legolas, across the few feet of ground between them. Legolas's pale face and hair were dark grey against the black of his cloak's hood and the ground beneath.
Propped on his elbow, Aragorn lay very still for a moment. At last he could hear the gentle intake and expulsion of Legolas's breath. He reached for and found, in the dark, Legolas's shoulder. It was tunic he touched, for the cloak had fallen aside.
He reached for where he thought the curve of Legolas's jaw should be, but found instead the soft, elastic skin of the throat. It jumped slightly under his hand.
Aragorn took his hand away quickly. Legolas's head lifted a fraction, his body shifting in the cloak. "What is it?" Legolas asked softly.
"It is nothing," Aragorn said.
Legolas's head sank down into his hood again, with the faintest rustle.
A bird in the tree above trilled low.
Legolas said, "Clearly, it is not nothing."
Aragorn moved the elbow that held his weight, to ease his stiffening shoulder. "Perhaps I have decided to do better," he said.
Legolas stirred again and got to his own elbow, his shoulder listing up, a fish from the pond of the dark. "Have you, indeed?" he said.
Aragorn reached for Legolas's jaw, and this time found it. He leaned forward and let his breath gust on Legolas's face. The elf was as still as the tree root a pace behind him.
Aragorn leaned further forward. "Are you too sore?" he said into Legolas's ear.
Legolas replied, "I would feign say I am too sensible." But he did not struggle when Aragorn slipped an arm around and rolled atop him, pushing him onto his back.
Aragorn found the elf's cheekbone and traced it with the back of a knuckle. Aragorn said, "Is there ill in it that there was not in Lorien?"
"Perhaps," Legolas said.
"Perhaps," Aragorn echoed. The back of his knuckle trailed down Legolas's throat. "Will you speak of it, this ill?"
Legolas did not reply.
Aragorn kissed Legolas, his tongue darting inside, quick as a minnow.
Their mouths parted, and Aragorn said softly, "I do not like to say it, but sometimes you are wont to speak nonsense." He kissed Legolas again.
Fingers lingering at the brooch fastening Legolas's cloak around the throat, Aragorn said, "May I open this?"
"If you will," Legolas replied.
"If I will," Aragorn said, "is no answer at all." He felt his way to passing the brooch's leaf motif back through the anchoring silver loop. "But I will, nonetheless."
He fastened the brooch again on one side, and laid the neck of the cloak open. "And this, too, I fancy," he said, finding and unhooking the first fastening of Legolas's tunic.
He kissed Legolas, and the elf's tongue lay quiet between his bottom teeth as an oyster in its shell.
"Enough," Aragorn said. "I will not lie with a creature of stone."
"I am no creature of stone," Legolas said. "Your misapprehension is precisely the matter."
"So live," Aragorn said.
"Not here," Legolas said. "I shall go to Gimli and tell him I shall take the watch. Follow me down the gully presently."
Afterwards, when they returned, quiet, to the camp, it seemed Legolas would leave again to take watch. But Aragorn fumbled for his arm in the dark, and found first a wrist, tender beneath the lacings of a vambrace, and then an elbow, soiled damp from chafing into the earth some moments before.
Legolas remained crouched on one knee, and allowed the capture. Two-handed, Aragorn held on to him.
"You must tell me," Aragorn said, "what is the matter."
"The world is ending," Legolas said. "Everything is the matter."
"For you and I," Aragorn said. "You know what I ask."
"Yes," Legolas said.
And then Legolas said, not ungently, "We have dallied, and it is in the nature of dalliance..."
"Abstractions," Aragorn said, "are not of the matter."
It seemed for a moment that Legolas would try to free his arm. "Did I not know better, I would think you knew nothing of elves," he said. There was no heat in his tone.
"That is a shot fired wide," Aragorn said.
"Let the condition of the target tell the tale," Legolas replied.
"We spoke of sustenance," Aragorn said. "What kind of sustenance is eaten with such parsimony?"
"I know the answer," Legolas said. He loosened Aragorn's hands and laid them back upon the man's chest. "But you have no ears to hear."
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.