Aragorn nodded uneasily to the
guard who was stationed in the hall. The tall elf made no attempt to
halt the young ranger and since he neither seemed to be keeping anyone
in or out of the prince’s room, Aragorn was doubtful of his purpose.
Indeed, the guard himself was hardly more certain of his assignment,
but one did not question orders that came directly from the King.
The young man’s emotions churned as he hesitated outside the door to Legolas’ chambers. He had waited as long as he could, but soon they would be calling Legolas back for his hearing and he had to talk to him before that. And yet now that he was here... what could he say? What could he possibly say to his friend... how could he ever make up for this?
Steeling himself to the fact that he had no answers, Aragorn pushed open the door and slowly entered the room. For a moment the chamber looked empty, until his searching gaze found Legolas outside the window, sitting perched on the broad sill with one knee drawn up to his chest and the other leg dangling down over the three-story drop below.
The elf was singing softly to himself, but Aragorn did not have time to catch the words, for Legolas heard his approach and stopped.
Aragorn poked his head out the window and cast a skeptical look down at the ground, far below them. "Don’t you think there are safer places to take your ease?"
"Perhaps," Legolas said lightly, in no particular hurry to move, although he turned slightly inward towards his friend. "But I have loved this spot since childhood. The day is fair and from here I can see so much of my home... and who can say when each look may be the last? You must take the moments when you find them, son of Arathorn, and not question fate."
Aragorn tried in vain to swallow the huge lump that swelled in his throat at Legolas’ words. This was his fault, this was all his fault...
"Legolas this isn’t fair! They-they can’t really... your father wouldn’t..."
"Banish me?" Legolas caught the young ranger’s eyes, supplying the word his friend seemed unable to find.
Aragorn nodded miserably.
Legolas sighed. "My father is a king and will do as kings must," he said quietly. "Not even a prince is above the law, Strider." It was true that Legolas had hoped his father would send for him, or come to speak to him... but as time drew on it became apparent that Thranduil did not intend to see his son until the official hearing. Whatever decision the king was going to make, he was making it alone; there was nothing Legolas could do about that.
A darting flutter of scarlet caught the elf’s keen eye and he pointed towards the tree on their left. "Look, a red-tail. They are rare in these parts..."
"Damn it all, Legolas, this is serious!" Aragorn exploded at his own guilt and pent-up emotions. He may have lived all his life with elves, but right now he felt as if he would never understand them and he certainly did not understand this situation now.
Legolas swung around quickly, dropping his feet inside the window once more and fixing his friend with a steady glare. "You don’t think I know that?"
The prince rose to his feet and looked away. "What would you have me do, Aragorn? Rail against what I myself caused? Nay, I have more honor than that."
Frustrated and upset, Aragorn balled his fists in anger at his own helplessness. He couldn’t even find the words to say what was inside him, he wasn’t sure he even knew. At last he dropped down onto a corner of the table behind him and gripped the edge.
"You’re angry with me," Legolas observed calmly, with the damnable ability that elves had of seeing right through another being. Of course at this moment Aragorn was hardly being subtle about his feelings.
Aragorn bit his lip but did not deny it. He knew Legolas was looking at him but he couldn’t meet his friend’s eye.
"Why?" Legolas asked softly, and to Aragorn’s surprise there was a hint of sorrow in the question. "It seems I have disappointed everyone else, what have I done to you?" the elf’s quiet voice nearly broke Aragorn’s heart. The last thing he wanted to do was further hurt his friend, but right now he was so mixed up inside he didn’t know what to do or what to say. Guilt was burning a hot hole inside of him and he could not hold it in.
"You didn’t tell me!" Aragorn accused, anguish tingeing his words. "You didn’t tell me this would happen! You didn’t tell me that even if we found the truth, you would still suffer for helping me!"
"Would it have made a difference?" Legolas shook his head, trying in vain to get his friend to look at him, but Aragorn’s feelings of self-condemnation were too strong for that.
"It should have!" Aragorn bit back the tremor that wanted to creep into his voice, folding his arms across his chest and pulling inward as if he could hold inside of him the growing storm that was tearing him apart. "Why, Legolas? Why did you do this? Why did you leave me in this terrible debt to you that I can never pay? You could be exiled, you could be stuck with an immortal lifetime of never seeing your home, your family or your people again... and why? Just to save my stupid pride? To clear my name? Stars, Legolas, how can I live with that?!" Embarrassing tears that Aragorn did not mean to shed slid down his cheek and the young ranger roughly scrubbed them away with the back of his hand.
"I could have left, I could have let it go, and everything would be all right... I mean what was it all for?" Aragorn shook his head, unable to believe he could have been that selfish, even unwittingly. "Why didn’t you tell me what was at stake? Why would you sacrifice so much? Just for my good name?" His voice choked and he was unable to continue.
Legolas took his friend’s shoulders and pushed him back a little, forcing Aragorn to look up into his face. "No, Aragorn, not for your name, nor for the sake of your pride, or even for the pursuit of justice," he said quietly, fixing the young human with an earnest, intent stare. "But for our friendship. I chose to stand by you because you are my friend, Strider, and I would not see you die before your time. It was my decision, not yours, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Fault yourself not for that because it is my choice and my right."
Aragorn shook his head wordlessly, his gaze searching deep into the eyes of his friend. "My life isn’t worth this," he rasped quietly.
To the young ranger’s surprise, Legolas actually smiled. Releasing Aragorn, the elf stepped back with a wry shake of his head. "You humans, always ready to put a price on anything, thinking you know so much..." the words were spoken fondly. "Do not sell yourself so cheaply, heir of Isildur, for although prophecy is not my gift, I foresee that you will yet have an important role to play at some point in time. Besides," Legolas leaned close, smiling somewhat sadly at his friend. "Were you no one, were you a serf off the streets, still, you are my friend and that is of ultimate value to me."
There was a knock at the door. "Prince Legolas? Your Highness? It is time."
Legolas pulled back with a small sigh, closing his eyes for a moment before letting them drift open again. "They have come," he said simply, turning towards the door.
"Legolas, wait!" Aragorn caught his friend’s arm. Time seemed to be slipping away from them too fast and he could not let the prince leave with angry words behind them. "Legolas, please, I’m sorry... I-I’m so sorry! About everything..."
Legolas shook his head gently and caught hold of Aragorn’s hand, squeezing it tightly. "I am not," he said firmly. "No matter what happens today, I will always count you my friend."
Aragorn could not speak around the lump in his throat.
The knock on the door was repeated more insistently. "Your Highness?"
Legolas rolled his eyes. "Come, I think we had better go before they break down the door. That would be a rather undignified thing, don’t you think?"
Hesitating in the doorway, the elf cast one last, long look out the window of his chambers and silently prayed that this would not be the last time he was allowed to take in the sweeping vistas and shady glens of the forest he loved. Nor the last time he was allowed to call it home.
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