My attention was caught by a young human riding across the field next to Arwen. She, of course, was well known to me, but this human was not. I perched in a tree and watched them race each other across the green grass. Arwen always won.
His face was flushed with laughter as she gently mocked him. His dark hair was neatly kempt in proper Elven fashion. He was dressed as an elf as well, but he was human. There could be no mistaking it in the cut of his features and the specks of beard on his cheeks. His smile lit the area with the brightness of sunlight.
Arwen waved to me and he blinked up into the tree branches. The shadows of the leaves falling across his face. His eyes were a beautiful shade of green like the leaves of the tree I was perched in. I waved back at them and slipped further into the wood so as not to further interrupt them. They could have been lovers, after all, out for a day of fun.
He was quite rude the first time I saw him. He hid in a tree and watched Arwen and myself riding. He stayed only long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his face and hair before he disappeared into the trees.
"His name is Legolas," Arwen informed me. "He's a prince. Like you are."
I had just turned 16 and didn't care for my ancestry or rank in the least. I just rolled my eyes are her. It was actually several years before we met again.
"So you're the new ranger they call 'Strider,'" a voice behind me stated.
"Yes. And you would be?" I replied in Elvish. He stepped closer until I felt his hair brush my shoulder.
"I am Legolas. And you are Aragorn, heir of Islidur and ward of Elrond," he whispered. His voice was as soft as a summer shower. Then, he was in front of me. His eyes twinkled mischieviously. "And I place myself in your care, Ranger Strider." He settled down by my fire and smiled at me.
My heart nearly clenched in terror. Why would he claim my protection? I haven't even been on the paths for a year yet.
I smiled as my statement set Strider's heart pounding. I could see in his eyes that he hoped I would laugh it off, turn it into a joke. I pulled my knees up and wrapped my arms around them, so that I could hide my smile behind my legs. I didn't mean to frighten him so completely. Honestly, I never thought a ward of Elrond's would be that frightened. But I tend to forget that humans are so mortal, so young. Even growing under Elrond's tutelage he was young.
He was more handsome than I remembered. His hair was dark and his eyes flashed his emotions and then hid them. Oh, he had so much promise. I took pity on his obvious discomfort. "I'll stay by you a while, if you don't mind. Consider it a partnership." I spoke in the common tongue out of courtesy.
He looked at me, then canted his head to the side and studied me. "That depends on how well you cook."
"I'm a miserable cook. I don't need to eat, so I rarely take the time to do so. But, I suppose I could be persauded to learn a little bit about it. I'm a much better songsmith."
"That will do. At least my nights won't be boring."
His innocent silver eyes blinked in surprise. I had caught him off guard. I needed some way to gain the upper hand for a moment. I couldn't let this princeling believe I was that easy to manipulate. But there was no question that I would let him ride with me. I was lonely. I hadn't been away from Rivendell for more than seven months and my teeth ached constantly from the yearning to go back there. But this was something I had to do. I had to prove myself that I could be Strider. I could be a ranger. That I wasn't poisoned by my bloodline's weakness.
But it would be nice to have company.
Especially Elven company. Legolas' features were more traditional than Arwen's. His hair was a light, moonlight blond. His face was fine bones and young. And there was some internal light that made me want to stay in his company.
"I'll admit that my bow is a good deal better than my wit for fights," he said good-naturedly, letting me win the little exchange. "Now, good Strider, tell me of your new life. Is it what you expected it to be?"
Strider's laughter was good to hear. I was afraid that he'd lost the humor that Arwen had talked on and on about. That woman could talk the ears off of, well, off of a Hobbit. They tell stories just as often as she does. And the tales she told me of her heart-brother were enough to hold my curiosity. I needed to know if it were true or if she was a love-blinded fool. Okay, well, Arwen isn't foolish like that, often. But I'd only seen Aragorn a handful of times, and I'd never spoken to him before. Part of me wonders if Arwen's ever spun tales of my "adventures." Not that I've had many, mind you. I rather like being a simple wood-elf. I'm not really looking forward to taking over my father's realm. Not that I will have to worry over it for at least another thousand years. No, I just get sent on boring administrative, diplomatic missions that let me wander around the forest for ages in between and torture unsuspecting humans into telling me stories.
"I don't think it is any different than I was led to believe. It's cold, wet, and miserable when it rains. It gets hot under the glare of the sun. Sometimes, it is best to travel by the light of the moon and then disappear into the corner of a smoky tavern and spend the night indoors. The occasional job is more than enough to take care of my needs. And if I get too disgusted Arwen will let me into the house with only minimal teasing. At least, that is was she promised me." He frowned absently.
"Don't believe her," I warned him. "She's downright evil when she starts teasing. And her memory is very long."
"I've noticed. There's something I have to ask you now, before I get to know you too well."
"Yes?" I leaned closer to listen.
"Why the Hell don't Elves have to shave?"
Legolas' laughter was like music. I'll never get used to the sweetness of Elven voices next to my own, or Gandalf's, or any of the others races I've met. My lips twitched up into a smile as he wiped the tears away from his eyes. "Because we are very special, child," the Elf told me in a chiding tone. "Arwen was right to warn me about you."
"She told me that you were dangerous and that I should avoid you at all costs."
"And therefore, you have invited me to your fire."
"I don't recall inviting you anywhere?"
"Then why not scare me off when you noticed me a league back?"
"You know when I noticed you?"
"Yes, of course, I didn't want to surprise you and get a knife through my throat. Being dead would be inconvenient." He actually looked surprised that I had asked. "You did notice didn't you?" He was suddenly unsure. "I didn't mean to frighten you. That wouldn't do at all. Arwen would destroy my mind. What's left of it at least."
"I noticed," I assured him. "Actually, I assumed that Arwen had sent you. She's been known to do things like that. She shows up at unexpected times."
"That's one of her greatest gifts." He shook his head and his hair slithered over his shoulder. He stretched out one leg. "You should eat that before it decides to come back to life," he said, pointing at my rabbit on a spit.
"Now that would be a good story."
His face lit up. "The Tale of the Immortal Rabbit."
I paused to think for a moment, then began my first tale of the evening. "Many years ago, in a land very similar to ours, though lost in the mists to us, there was a rabbit. At first glance, this rabbit was quite ordinary." As I continued to spin the glorious adventures of the most letcherous and adventurous rabbit ever concieved by man or elf, I had the pleasure of seeing Aragorn laugh himself to the edge of sickness. His face was a bright as a child's and his eyes gleamed with fire-light. I stopped before he choked on his dinner, but I thought my point well-made. He put his hand out to clasp mine.
"Will you travel the road with me for a while, Legolas?"
"That I will, son of man."
We quickly fell into a routine. He showed me new things he'd learned from another ranger he'd happened across. I attempted to help him with his bow-work. The man still has difficulty hitting his target, but at least I don't fear that he'll skewer me accidentally with an arrow any longer. We talked of history long past and hopes for the future. I tried to sound him out about Arwen and his chances for marriage, but he ignored my probing.
Legolas was my constant companion for about six months. Then, one night we were sitting by the fire and he was telling me another one of his outrageous stories when he froze like a field mouse might when confronted by a snake. His eyes closed. His chin fell to his chest. "I have to go, Aragorn," he said softly. My heart froze. I had to force myself to swallow.
"My father is calling me. There's something I have to do. Be safe, friend," he replied in Elvish. "I'd rather stay," he whispered. He stood suddenly and in a blur of movement leaned forward and kissed my forehead. "Stay safe, Strider. I'll find you again. If you need me, come to my home. You know the way." His luminous eyes were sad.
I reached out my hand. "Be safe, Legolas." I brushed my lips against his fingers. "I'll look for you." Then, he was gone. I closed my eyes and asked silently for the woods to look after him.
I didn't make it back to Strider's side when I thought I would. My father decided that I needed responsibility. He set me in charge of his guards for awhile. I thought I would go mad. I'm not like him. I don't like being trapped in one area for long periods of time. I like to wander. I like to fight as well. I admit that I'm tempermental, but someone in the family has to be.
As it was I found my ranger at Rivendell for one of his "vacations" to visit Arwen. I found him wandering the halls. I didn't say anything, just fell into step with him.
"How long are you planning to follow me around like a puppy?" he snapped at me.
"As long as it takes for you to decide to talk to me about whatever is bothering you."
"Don't do that."
"Be all knowing and smug. It's not like you."
"It isn't?" I blinked at him. His lips twitched. "I am all knowing," I teased lightly. "And I appear to be smug. But the reality is, I'm not plagued by man-eating rabbits in my brain."
He laughed reluctantly and ran a hand through his far too shaggy hair. "You have lost whatever wit you had when you left," he informed me.
He pulled me into an embrace. "I've missed you, you old sadistic storyteller."
"And I you, you pathetically shaggy excuse for a ranger," he returned my insult easily. I held him so tightly that I thought I would snap one of his ribs. His arms surrounded me as well and tightened in equal measure. "You have to tell me sometime. You know that, Aragorn," he said softly in my ear. His voice was a soft wind against my cheek. "You aren't speaking to Arwen? You've insulted Elrond? I know, he took you over his knee as if you were still a child and your pride is stained."
I laughed into his hair. "Fine, old friend. Come with me and we will talk." He followed me up to my room and perched on my balcony. I have always envied the Elves' agility. I wish I could do things like that without fearing that I'm going to go crashing down into the courtyard. The worst thing is the way I know they'd stand around my pathetic corpse and cluck about the poor mortal. Most of them, at least. For all of my foster father's care, I am still a human in their world. Legolas has never made me feel like that.
He was dressed as if he were still running around the woods with me. I raised a brow. "What is it?" he asked looking around suspiciously. "My hair's slipped and you don't have the nerve to tell me?"
"Idiot. Why do you insist on playing a jester?"
"Because you insist upon brooding. Jokes are the only way to get past your defenses. What is wrong, Strider?"
"I'm feeling my age, I think." He watched me with his eyes wide. "I lost a friend today. I got the word at a tavern in Bree. It hurts. The villagers look at all the rangers as if we're particularly dangerous wild animals. A man I've met on the road several times was killed by a group of cutpurses. They overwhelmed him. He barely had money enough to buy bread. He was more interested in learning to be one with nature and helping anyone who needed it than worldly goods. Why should he be the one to die when there were many people riding that night with more means than he."
"Strider, this man, would he have ridden to help one of those people, even if it meant his death?"
"Yes, but to die in battle is different then to be set upon."
He rolled his eyes at me and hopped down to come sit at the foot of my bed. "Is it possible, my friend, that there is more to the story than what you heard? Perhaps there was someone else being attacked and he rode to the rescue? This isn't what truly hangs on your heart anyway. So tell me what really worries you."
He shook his head numbly at me and I wanted to shake him. What could be so hard for him to say? To me of all people. We've shared so much. But I forced myself to think. I hadn't seen him in many years and the years are harder on mortals than they are on my kind. He looked so much more dignified than he did when I left his side. He'd grown older and suddenly I wondered if I was to be left behind with his youth. I rested my hand on his ankle. He slid down the headboard into the softness of the bed. His eyes closed. "I can't talk about this any longer, Legolas. Just let it rest."
"Of course. Shall I watch over you tonight?" I asked gently.
He nodded. He didn't bother to change or even remove his boots. I settled next to him on the bed, one hand on his shoulder, my knees drawn up to my chest, my knife in my hand, even though I knew I would never need it in Rivendell. That was the comfort I had to offer him. There is great strength in ritual. Even so small a thing as standing watch can be a powerful ritual for the mind. It can connect souls in trust. His breathing eased and the new lines on his face disappeared. The grief must have been eating at his soul. He needed to rest which is why I found him here. I wondered where Arwen was hiding. I wondered why she wasn't the one watching over him as he slept. I listened to the voices twinning in the night and smiled. There is always peace in the music of nature.
When I woke up, Legolas was practically in the same position he'd been in the night before. His hand was still on my shoulder. His knife was in his other hand and his eyes were scanning the room automatically. I reached up and patted his hand. "Thank you, old friend," I said softly.
His face lit up in a smile. "You are always welcome. If ever you need me, you will have me."
"You or your bow?" I teased.
He winked. "Now, that would be telling. Will you tell me your troubles, Ranger Strider?"
"No, Elf Legolas, I will not."
"Then I shall have to pry them out of you with every weapon at my disposal."
I cringed in mock horror. "No, not the rabbit!"
He stuck his tongue out at me. He bounced to his feet. "Come along then, Strider. We'd best get some food into you. Then, I will take you to the river and dunk you into it until you tell me the truth." He pulled at my arm until I sat up. He frowned at my hair. "You look like a rat that has been caught out in the rain. Do something about that hair of yours or I will." I can't help but smile at that. "Honestly, I don't see how Arwen ever thought you should be allowed out in public. Although the black cloth suits you," he rambled on. His voice soothed me like the brook. It has since the first night he sang for me. He is most definitely a better songsmith than a cook. It took me a minute to realize that he'd stopped talking and was watching me carefully. I had just taken off my shirt. He reached to touch the scar by my collarbone. "That was far too close for my liking," he informed me.
"There was nothing to be done about it. It is better that it hit me there than lower."
"True. It would be better if it had never drawn blood in the first place. You need a vest of mail."
"I need breakfast," I countered.
"Well, I won't let you go to the table looking like that. Run a comb through that hair of yours. Trim your *beard,* you overgrown dwarf."
I raised my brows at him. He looked blandly back at me. He settled onto the balcony again and stretched. "Hurry it up now, Aragorn."
I pulled a comb through my hair and grumbled something vaguely insulting about Elven vanity, but didn't get a rise out of him. He leaned back against the wall and stretched one leg out along the railing and let the other trail to the floor. He was flipping his knife idly. That was when I started to get worried. The gesture was far too casual. He was going to get me very badly and soon if the tiny smile at the edges of his lips was any indication. I actually couldn't wait. Payback is so much fun. We made it to the breakfast table without too much further taunting.
Arwen looked up at us with a smile. She cocked her head to the side. "I trust you found him without too much trouble, Legolas?"
"Why he was just waiting for me in the halls. It was very kind of him."
She sighed. "He never waits outside my door. One would think he doesn't care about me."
Strider glared at her. "I was walking in the halls, not lurking outside his door. I don't even know which one is his door actually."
"Still not taking lovers to your room, Legolas?" she taunted us both. Strider's jaw dropped and I smirked.
"Some things you'll never know." I kissed her cheek fondly and took the chair to one side of her, leaving Aragorn to take the other.
"Don't listen to him. I think he's got some problems." The human tapped the side of his head. "He can turn the most innocent creature into an evil monster and then tell me with a straight face that I should pity orcs."
"Well, they are ugly," Arwen said considering. "But I've never heard him create a monster."
"He can. He can keep you up nights with the stories he tells."
I ignored them and stood to greet Elrond as he arrived. "Sit down, child." He waved me to my seat. "I've never known you to be quite so formal, Legolas. Are you feeling quite well?"
"I am feeling much better now that I'm no longer leashed to the Guard."
"Oh, did someone finally arrest you for something?" Strider asked curiously.
I looked down my nose at him. "For your information, *ranger*, I was in charge of them. Maybe I should have had them out hunting you."
"If they're anything like you, I'd spot them a mile away."
I smiled dangerously at him. "Really?"
"No challenges at the table, children," Elrond snapped. I sighed and nibbled at breakfast. Elrond looked between the three of us. He sighed. "What trouble have you gotten yourselves into?" he asked wearily of Arwen and Aragorn.
I tried not to answer one way or the other. Elrond didn't need to be worried about my cares. Arwen started talking about some upcoming wedding or other which I tuned out. I saw Legolas trying hard not to lose the interested look on his face. Even Elrond was having trouble staying interested in her story. I nodded at the right places, I think. I was too busy thinking. The scar on my shoulder was aching in remembered pain. I couldn't seem to concentrate.
I lost my battle with my laughter when Arwen calmly asserted that she was going to change her hair color to green in the same voice that she'd started her gossiping with. I snickered at the bland smile on Elrond's face. Aragorn had missed it as well. He looked over at me oddly. Arwen couldn't hold her straight face and smiled. She dropped her eyes to the table. She had and still has and over-blown sense of decorum. Elrond looked at me oddly. "What on earth is wrong?"
"You weren't listening to me, were you, Father?"
"You were telling me about the wedding plans."
"Are you telling me you think green is a good color for her hair?" I asked aghast. It would be a travesty for her to destroy the darkness of her hair. It is such a rare color for an Elf.
"Green hair? What are you talking about?" Aragorn asked. He blinked in bewilderment, his green eyes wide like a child's. Arwen shook her head in dismay.
"I knew you ignored me, dear-heart, but I thought you would be a little less obvious about it."
I exchanged a bewildered look with Elrond. He didn't seem to be any help. And Legolas' eyes were dancing, so I knew I had to talk myself out of whatever hole I'd managed to dig for myself. Maybe if I looked pathetic enough Arwen would forget about it. I glanced at her. She was wearing one of those Elven smiles that makes me want to shake the wearer until I get a true response. If only I could catch her eyes, I thought in desperation. Legolas caught my eye again. He shook his head slightly, easing my worries. He managed to get us both out of the room gracefully as Elrond attempted to placate his daughter who was just having him on anyway.
Legolas led me out to the riverside and the small bench set there. "Sit down, Strider. Close your eyes and listen to the brook."
I did as he told me and felt something painfully tight loosen around my heart.
"Can you tell me what is wrong, my friend?"
"I never really believed it. No matter how often I've had close scrapes or come to blows with some scavenger, I never believed it. I've been living off the land. I've felt as close to it as I can without being one with it. I've been on my own. I've seen the best and worst that humanity has to offer. And I still didn't believe that I could die. If Elrond cannot die, how can I? If Arwen cannot die, how can I? Oh, Legolas, I don't understand why my thoughts circle so."
"You've been sheltered in Rivendell, young prince," he whispered sadly. "Here you needn't fear death. You can forget that you are human." His fingers settled on my shoulder and squeezed gently. "Oh, Strider, I didn't realize. Can you grieve for them? For all the ones that left you alone? For your family, for your friends? Can you forgive Elrond for taking you away from your place and bringing you here? Can you forgive yourself for not going to fight for your birthright? Can you forgive your ancestors for being human? These are heavy questions. And I wish I could tell you the answers." He pulled me to his shoulder and I listened to his heartbeat. My thoughts continued to swirl, but they slowed. "Don't try to control your thoughts, your emotions. Let them flow through you. The more you try to dam them, the more strongly they wish to pour forth, as a river blocked by wood. The pressure builds up until the water finds its way past the blockage."
"I shall be washed away, Legolas. There will be nothing left of me when the emotions overwhelm me."
"They will not destroy you. And you will be a stronger man for it." I turned into his embrace and let him hold me for a long time, until the pain faded and the thoughts eased. Until I let my fears go."
I held my Strider as close as I dared. Arwen looked in on us with a question in her eyes. I smiled at her and tightened my grip as Strider moved. She nodded and smiled back at me. I knew we would talk before I had to return to Mirkwood. But right then, all I cared about was the almost fragile man in my arms. He felt his sorrows so deeply, his fears so powerfully, that they did seem to overwhelm him for a moment, but he gradually came back to himself. He returned to being Strider and pulled slowly upright, running a hand through his hair. "Thank you," he whispered. "Legolas?"
"Will you sing for me? Like you did when we were in the woods?"
"Of course." I paused to gather my thoughts and listened to the river for a long moment. Then, I lifted my voice in song.
Legolas paused a moment and his eyes went very far away from me. He never seemed quite so Elven as in those moments. At other times, there was no difference between us. But in those still moments in the middle of the night or in the creation of a song, there is a light that shines forth from his eyes, that infuses his body with an unearthly glow. He is so far away from me at those times, even though I could reach out and touch him, that I know I could never reach him. With Elrond, with Arwen, with any of the others of Rivendell that I grew up with, I never see this part of them. I never see the joy of nature pouring forth from their skin. Arwen has pledged to be mortal to spend that time with me. Legolas would never give up his immortality, because then he couldn't protect me from myself. And for that, I will always love him, just as I love Arwen for her need to be with me.
The trees arched over us in a canopy of green. The light slanted down causing a shifting pattern of leaves. Legolas' voice lifted high and clear into the sunbeams and danced with the sprays of water. I have no need to translate Elven, it is as normal to me as the common tongue. He sang for me.
"In the vaults of night are our treasures known.
"In the darkness do we see true worth.
"In the deepest shadows we find the brightest jewels;
"Jewels that glitter and draw back to us the light.
"The moonlight plays over the water
"And makes it into a distorted glass.
"In the night we see our true heart,
"But we lose our face.
"But we do not fear the shadows,
"We love the moonlight,
"For without them we would never see
"The beauty and the light that makes us free."
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