Velvet. The curtains that hung
gracefully bunched along the far wall were made of deep, verdant
velvet. He hadn’t noticed that before. Come to think of it he didn’t
know why there were curtains there in the first place when there was no
window... Aragorn dropped his eyes back to his hands, his weary,
wondering mind pacing in small, disturbed circles about him; seeking to
latch onto something, anything other than his current situation.
Minutes were beginning to seem like years. Eternities. The young ranger sighed and closed his eyes. He opened them again quickly a moment later, realizing his mistake.
Every time he closed his eyes Aragorn could see Sarcaulien in his mind’s eye. The way the elf had dropped slowly to the forest floor holding the shaft of the arrow that protruded from his chest in both hands. His wide startled eyes, and the confusion as he realized for the briefest of seconds that he was, in fact, dying. And then he was gone. His life was over. An immortal had perished. The anguish on the faces of the elves around him had been even more heartbreaking. Rarely if ever had any of them seen one of their own die. For an immortal, death was never thought of as an eventuality, rather it was a rarity, an oddity, an accident.
That was what it was.
But no one save Legolas had believed him. Aragorn swallowed hard as the emotions from the day before threatened to overwhelm him yet again. He knew he hadn’t killed Sar. The warrior was a friend of Legolas and, although it was true he had never felt comfortable with the elf, he never in his darkest moments had thought of killing him. He didn’t even really know how it had happened. And now he sat guarded by two tall, armed warriors, awaiting judgment in King Thranduil’s hall.
His mind raced back over the events of the last two days. He couldn’t have stopped his thoughts even if he had tried or wanted to; he had been forced to go over them again and again. They haunted him in his sleep and denied him rest.
He was on his way
home, it was time to go. He had put it off for so long now, but Aragorn
had decided that today would be the day he headed back out into the
wilderlands. Legolas was sad to see him leave but he had known it was
inevitable. As they entered the courtyards that day, a hunting part was
assembling getting ready to head out. The warriors called to the elven
prince and his companion urging them to join them, the hunt would be
good, they didn’t know what they were missing.
"What do you think?" Legolas turned to the ranger. "Would you like to go out one more time before you leave?"
Aragorn smiled. He had come to truly enjoy the elf prince’s company and, in all honesty, he hated to leave Mirkwood and his friend. On an impulse he had complied and so the two of them had joined the hunt.
Aragorn shook his
head sadly. He remembered the way Legolas’ eyes had lit up when he had
asked him to stay for one more day, one more hunt. The words echoed
like whispers in his mind. He shivered from more than just the cold. It
was inhumanly silent in the large anteroom of Thranduil’s meeting hall.
No one spoke, they all waited. If only he had said no.
It was a typical
spring day: the kind that starts out cold and ends up warm. Tracking
had been easy that morning because the dew made the ground soft and
pliable; the hoof prints of the deer were easy to follow as the hunting
party picked up their trail and tracked the game through the forests.
Within hours they had made the small herd of animals. Three young bucks and an older stag shared a guarded meadow watching over the does that grazed under the canopy of trees.
They had agreed to split the hunting party in half and encircle the deer, cutting off their escape and sealing them in. Legolas had Sarcaulien lead around to the far side of the meadow. Aragorn had remained with the prince and the elves that had chosen to keep to the west side of the glen. As they approached the shallow, Aragorn found himself between Legolas and an elf named Morifwen. He had taken a liking to the warrior immediately and had even spent a little time with him. As he notched his arrow he thought back to the day Morifwen had taught him how to fletch the projectiles, allowing the human to use his supplies and feathers, and the patience the elf had with him when he had learned so slowly at first. It had given him great joy to be accepted by the others after such a rough start.
At a silent command the elves had released their arrows and felled the unsuspecting animals. A shout went up from the warriors as they allowed the living deer to flee the glenn. They only killed what they needed and they would have plenty now for a time.
And at that point it had all gone bad.
Legolas and the elves with him had run out into the meadow. But Sarcaulien and his warriors did not. And the shouts of joy turned to alarm. Aragorn had followed the others to the far side of the grassy bowl leaving their prey behind as the elves shouted for help. When he gained the edge of the meadow, he had seen Sarcaulien. The elf looked just fine at first glance.
But then Aragorn had seen the arrow.
Spreading across the warrior’s tunic was a deep crimson stain. An arrow was embedded in his chest and he held the shaft in his hands. His gaze lifted from the protrusion and he locked eyes with Legolas and then with Aragorn. The prince ran forward and caught the elf as he slowly fell to the forest floor. But the arrow had been true and had pierced the elven heart, stopping it forever.
A sob broke from
Aragorn as the memories washed over him.
He could still see Legolas’ face when the prince had turned to him. His eyes wide and full of tears, his hands trembled, stained with the blood of his friend.
The rest of the day had been a nightmare, a blur.
Morifwen had jumped forward and pulled the arrow from Sarcaulien, inspecting the weapon. He had turned towards the human and accused Aragorn of killing the warrior. Legolas had come to his friend’s defense, but the sorrow of losing their companion overrode the warriors' sensibility and they had quickly seized the human. His quiver was taken away from him and the arrow fletchings were compared. The arrow that had killed Sarcaulien was of the same fletching as the ones that Aragorn carried. The human had denied it and Legolas had tried to shout them down.
It was circumstantial, it was an accident, it couldn’t have been Aragorn...
He remembered them taking him back to the palace. They had bound him and brought him before the King. Legolas was furious and had forced the warriors to release the human; he hadn’t been proven guilty.
Aragorn had been put under house arrest at that time, as much for his own protection as to keep him from leaving Mirkwood so he could stand trial.
He had seen Legolas only once during that long day. The elf had visited him that night. The palace was quiet and the elves had retired for the night, but sleep denied itself to Aragorn. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Sarcaulien’s gaze fall on him, he saw Legolas turn tearfully towards him, he felt the fear in his heart as he was surrounded by a race that suddenly and passionately despised him again.
Legolas had found the human leaning against the balustrade on the balcony of the room the man had been sequestered in.
The ranger had jumped at the sound of his name, his thoughts so loud and tortured, he hadn’t heard his friend enter.
Words tumbled out brokenly from the man as he backed away from the elf, "Oh Legolas, I didn’t do it. You have to believe me. I had no problem with Sar. It wasn’t my arrow. I know it wasn’t. Please believe me."
The elf nimbly caught the man as he backed away, grabbing the ranger by his arms and stopping the tearful tirade.
"He can’t be dead." Aragorn whispered, his eyes bright with tears as he implored his friend to tell him it had all been a bad dream.
Legolas looked down and swallowed hard, his own emotions were too near the surface for him to deal with the human’s. "I know you didn’t do it." When the ranger tried to speak, the elf pressed him down into a nearby chair. "I know it, Strider. I was next to you. I saw your arrow: it felled the stag. I went to retrieve it afterwards but it was gone. There is proof somewhere and some one knows of it. I don’t know how this happened but I will see your name cleared."
Aragorn looked out over the castle forests. It had all been too much, the entire day. And now to find out that there was proof it wasn’t his fault, but that proof was missing and perhaps intentionally. He was shaking his head slowly as the thoughts jumbled through his mind, unfocused and brutal.
He was brought back to the present by a soft touch to his arm. When he looked back, Legolas was kneeling before him and speaking quietly.
"What?" the word came out soft and choked as he asked the elf to repeat himself.
Legolas smiled gently; it was now that the ranger truly looked like the child he was. "It will be alright. I have already spoken with my father."
Aragorn was trembling slightly from the shock of everything.
"Now listen to me." The elf needed the ranger’s attention and he needed the human to snap out of it. "I must tell you what will happen tomorrow. Do you understand?"
When the man nodded, he continued. "Tomorrow there will be a formal hearing. It is a formality only. While you have been kept here this day, all sides of the argument have been presented and all parties have been questioned."
Aragorn’s heart nearly stopped and he caught his breath; they had tried him in absentia and he hadn’t been given a chance to defend himself. The fear must have shown on his face for Legolas immediately stopped and reassured the man.
"No, Aragorn, it is well." The elf placed his hand behind the man’s head holding the ranger’s attention to himself. "I spoke on your behalf. My word carries more weight than any in the party, more than your own. I was standing next to you. I saw your arrow. I gave my defense of you."
The man was shaking his head but the elf continued. "Yes. My father has already ruled."
The young ranger went totally still. Legolas feared he had even stopped breathing, so he quickly continued, "The evidence is circumstantial. You will not be held accountable for Sar’s death. However he was killed, it was an accident and not premeditated on any part."
Aragorn had in fact been holding his breath as Legolas spoke. The relief smoothed lines of fear that had been etched in his face, worry that knit his brow and the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that had kept him up this late into the night.
A soft knock at the door interrupted the elf prince and he rose as a warrior walked out onto the balcony. "My lord?" The guard let the question hang in the air. The prince’s time was up.
"I will be out shortly, leave us." He stared hard at the warrior until the elf nodded and turned to go.
Legolas turned back to the ranger as Aragorn stood, glancing between the elf prince and the warrior that had just exited his room.
"Do not worry Aragorn. We will figure this out. There is much more that I must tell you, but I am out of time." He looked back over his shoulder at the door to the room. It had been left slightly ajar by the warrior, an oversight that was not lost on the prince and he lowered his voice. "Tomorrow you will be brought to trial. It is a formality only. My father will ask you if you have anything to say in your behalf. Tell him no."
When Aragorn started to argue he stepped closer to the human and grabbed his shoulder, his voice lowering so only the ranger could hear him. "Do not argue with me. Trust me Aragorn. Tell my father no. Tell him you are innocent and you wish to subject yourself to his mercy." Legolas' eyes implored the young human to trust him with the information and he continued once the man had nodded his compliance. "They will want you to argue your case so they can trip you up, turning your words on you and attempting to show probable guilt. By asking my father for justice alone, he will be forced to find you not guilty. The arrow that killed Sar is also missing. Morifwen claims he turned it over, but it is not in the armory anywhere. There is something else afoot here. Do as I say and we will take the next step together after that."
"My lord." The voice of the elven warrior could be heard from the doorway.
Legolas stepped away from Aragorn and moved towards the door, but the ranger stopped him. "Thank you."
The elf prince nodded.
"I am so sorry," Aragorn whispered, shaking his head helplessly.
"It is well, Strider. Sar was a friend, but his heart was not always good and any elf will tell you that. Tomorrow things will work out, trust me, and you will see." Legolas smiled slightly at the weary man.
"I do." Aragorn answered. He smiled back when the elf raised an eyebrow in question. "I do trust you."
Legolas’ smile grew bigger and he nodded in understanding, taking leave of the human.