Never Cold in Your Shadow
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It was cool this time of day. Winter neared and the air held the
faintest chill. Aragorn’s boot-heels tapped the cliff face in a
soft, steady rhythm. The elf lying in the grass next to him
seemed not to notice or mind.
This was Aragorn’s favorite place in all of Mirkwood. The small
shale and quartz mountain rose meters above the tree line; at its
highest point, a flat, grass-topped knoll fell gently back into the
forest behind them at a gradual slope. Here, one could nearly
view the breadth and width of the great forest and remember why it had
been called Greenwood the Great before it became Mirkwood.
Situated at the northern-most point of the forests, it was here that
Aragorn often retreated to when he needed a break from the busy life of
the Mirkwood Palace.
It was a place he had discovered years ago on his first visit to
Mirkwood. Back then, he had come here to escape the casual
disapproval or mockery of Legolas’ friends. The years that
stretched between those long-gone days and the present had changed many
things. Aragorn was no longer an unwelcome guest in Mirkwood and
most of the elves had accepted him readily. The palace, however,
had not changed and was still as busy as ever. The constant
activity was very different from the quiet peace of Rivendell and
occasionally Aragorn still found the urge for some time to himself.
Legolas seemed generally unaffected by the active ebb and flow of his
father’s court. He functioned as one used to its intricacies and
quirks. Even so, Aragorn did not envy his friend the position
that he held in Mirkwood as the king’s son. It was obvious that
the prince preferred the rigors of the sparring fields to the
diplomacies of the council chambers, although he tried to navigate
both. Ever and anon the elf too would escape the palace walls and
seek out one of his favorite refuges.
Today the two friends had met here on the knoll by accident, both
surprised to discover each other’s private retreat was also their
own. Yet it was a happy chance that brought them together and
Aragorn was not sorry to have had his solitude interrupted. After
everything they had shared over the years, they did not need to fill
the space between them with words and a comfortable silence hung over
them for a long time.
Rolling over on his side after a while, Legolas glanced at the
man. Aragorn’s eyes were closed. His head was tipped
slightly back as the winds brushed the hair away from his face. A
smile barely touched the edges of his lips as the ranger enjoyed the
warmth of the afternoon sun.
A small grunt from the man served as answer.
“You let me win that sparring match this morning, didn’t you?” the elf
pressed softly. “You could have had me twice. Did you think
I wouldn’t realize what you were doing?”
The ranger fought the smile that threatened to break across his
face. He failed miserably. Casting a sidelong glance at the
elf watching him he gave up and let the smile form in full.
“Your woods have eyes and ears, my friend,” he answered softly.
When the elf didn’t respond right away, the human resumed his vigil,
his boot-heels tapping out a rhythm only he could understand.
Their match had been in supposed privacy, but Legolas had known that
some of the warriors from his contingent followed them
nonetheless. Discreetly, the other elves had hidden in the
branches of the surrounding trees and watched as their captain and
prince practiced fighting techniques with his human friend.
Legolas hadn’t thought that Aragorn had known.
“Why do you do that?” Legolas sat up and watched the human
closely. He wasn’t curious only about the match today; the
question went much deeper. For a long time he had noticed that
Aragorn tended to hold back, to fade quietly to the outer edges.
The ranger often withheld his true strength and abilities, allowing
others to take the honors and the applause. The elf wasn’t sure
if it was a habit the human had picked up from living with elves so
many years his senior or simply a trait the ranger didn’t even know he
exhibited. From time to time his friend’s hesitancy to claim the
accolades that were his rightful due bothered the elf.
Now, secluded from anyone else, Legolas had the perfect opportunity to discuss the topic with the ranger.
Aragorn glanced sidelong at his friend once more. The steady
rhythmic tapping stopped and he simply stared at the elf, trying to
decide exactly how to answer. Stalling for time he countered with
a question of his own.
“Why do I do what?”
“Why do you do things like allowing me to win when you know others are
watching? Why do you deny your strength and abilities unless we
are alone or with your family? Why does it take something drastic
for the world to see who the real Aragorn truly is?” Legolas continued
his questioning. “It’s not the only time I have witnessed your
reticence in such matters. I have watched you with the
rangers. You are their leader, Aragorn, but you constantly allow
the other men acclaim for things that are your due. I have seen
you fade quietly to the background thinking no one is noticing when you
should be in the middle of the festivities. You may think you’re invisible, mellon-nín, but I notice.”
When the elf sat up and moved next to the human, Aragorn glanced back
over the woods below them. The winds caught his hair, blowing it
out of his eyes and Legolas could see for the briefest instant the
world-weariness that they carried.
“You are more than you let on. You should let others get to know you as you have let me,” Legolas whispered quietly.
Gently shaking his head, the ranger fixed his silver eyes on the
elf. “No one knows me like you do other than my family,” Aragorn
responded equally softly. “And I like it that way. You are
royalty, Legolas, and everyone knows it. You bear it proudly and
so you should. You can.
I cannot. My lineage is hidden and to the knowledge of the world
it is all but erased. No one can know who I really am...”
Aragorn’s voice trailed off as he continued. He thought through
his next words carefully and the elf let him have the time. “Not
“Legolas, I knew your troops were watching. It was not as
important for me to win as it was for them to see you win.” The
truth was that Aragorn would not have humiliated Legolas in front of
his warriors by making him lose to a human, but he would never say such
a thing. Doubtlessly, Legolas could ascertain all of that on his
own, but their friendship was such that he knew the prince would not
take offense at his actions.
Legolas smiled faintly. “I would that you did not lessen yourself to save my pride, mellon-nín.
You know that is not necessary. I am not as fragile as all
that. Too often I feel you choose to stand in my shadow. I
would see you take your rightful place and not allow yourself to be
thought a lesser person.”
“I know you’re not, that wasn’t what I meant... Legolas, those that
care about me know the truth,” the ranger replied. “The rest will
just have to wait. I am content to be where I am. It is not
cold here in your shadow, my friend; I rather enjoy it. When I
work with the Dúnedain, I am constantly thrust into a position
of authority, and it is a position I do not want just yet. I set
down the title of Captain when I left Gondor. The rangers are my
kin. They look to me to lead them and I do, but I prefer to work
on the fringes. I have seen what it does to the hearts of men
when they seek acclaim. It corrupts and twists an honest desire
to do good. I would not offer myself to that temptation. I
enjoy the prospect of going unseen and protecting the innocent when the
victim does not even know he is in need. It is the purpose of the
rangers and it is my
purpose. I realize to some it may appear weakness but I think
not. It may be my heritage to be king someday as Lord Elrond
tells me, but today is not that day. Today and tomorrow and next
week, I will just be Estel, adopted son of Lord Elrond, brother to
Elladan and Elrohir, friend of the prince of Mirkwood and leader of the
Aragorn spoke true, but part of him had always wondered if he had not
developed his reticence to be in the forefront as a protection for his
heart as well. Perhaps it was a defense from the fears that
haunted the edges of his thoughts when he delved into his past, or even
as a first response to deflect those who might be overtly curious about
the orphaned son whose father was an elven lord. He wasn’t sure
he would ever know, since the heart had ways of its own and they were
often inscrutable. But he did know one thing – he was comfortable
with himself and he hoped his friend was as well.
Legolas nodded slowly. He could understand what his friend meant,
although he still felt the human thought too little of himself.
He gave his head a fond shake. “I would have you no other
way. Yet whether you like it or not, you are more than
that. As I believe I almost heard you admit, we are both of us royalty, my friend.”
Aragorn chuckled. “True, but you have grown up with the weight of
a kingdom on your shoulders. You know the people you may be lord
over someday. They would willingly and gladly accept you.
If or when my time comes, I must unite a broken and ravaged people and
pull them together as one. Should that time come, I trust I will
be strong enough to do so, Ilúvatar willing, although I do not
see it coming lightly or easily. But I am not unhappy to just be
me for now or forever if that is my lot. That
is why I do not have to beat you in sparring even though I know I
could. The fact that I know I can, and that you know I can is
enough.” Aragorn stopped speaking and shifted slightly facing his
friend more fully.
“I think you have learned too well how to fade into your
surroundings. The ranger in you takes over more often than you
think,” Legolas answered with a rueful grin.
Aragorn gave the elf a gentle shove. “As does your lack of
self-preservation and diplomacy,” he taunted. “Did you really
tell Lord Amelgaen that he could put his...”
“Do not! Do NOT repeat that story again!” Legolas shoved the
human back playfully, silencing him. “It was not my fault.
He completely misunderstood what I said and did not allow me to
With a chuckle and a sigh the human gazed back out over Mirkwood,
letting his eyes rest languidly on the beauty of the green
expanse. “We are who we are, my friend. Life shapes us and
sometimes we do not fit the mold that those around us think we should,
or wish we would have. It doesn’t bother me what others think of
me, Legolas. I may appear to be less than those I have grown up
with but I know in my heart we are equals. Is that not enough?”
Legolas’ upbringing had been so radically and drastically different
than the human’s who sat next to him that it took the elf a moment to
answer. He had always known they were different from the moment
he had met the young man, but today the differences stood out even more
starkly. Legolas was
royalty and no one doubted it or questioned his right. Aragorn
was as well, but his fate was hidden and veiled, and he had learned to
a certain extent to live his life that way, protecting his strengths
and using his weaknesses to cloak his true identity. There were
some things that the ranger had that Legolas envied: brothers, a father
who openly displayed affection, a lifestyle where he could come and go
at will unhampered by servants or warrior contingents, and the ability
to blend so perfectly into his surroundings that even his very presence
was sometimes unnoticeable. Yet there were also portions of the
man’s life that he was glad did not mark him: mortality, a darkened
heritage, secrets that weighed deeply on his soul, and ultimately the
survival or downfall of the entire human race.
Legolas realized that Aragorn was speaking again and he quickly focused
on the man once more, listening intently while the ranger explained
“Let me be who I really am when I am with you. It has always been
a relief to me that we are equals and neither of us must strive to be
someone they are not in the other’s presence. So often I am
pushed and pressed to be what I am not, or to do what does not suit
me. My words are measured for the ears that they fall on.
My attire must be presentable to the people I am serving that day, or
who have come to the Last Homely House for whatever business.
Every move I make or decision I hand down is watched by someone and
judged on the merit or value of it, and the weight of it grows old
quickly. I find myself wanting to go to ground and keep low until
my presence is once more forgotten and yet I find that I cannot live
that way either. The pressure of meeting other’s expectations is
tiring. With you I do not feel that way and I do not resent it
that some think you are my better. In fact I enjoy it. You
are my friend and when you receive your due it gives me great joy,”
Aragorn spoke quietly. He tracked the flight of an eagle as he
was speaking, his fingers idly twirling a long blade of grass.
“Well, my friend,” Legolas replied, garnering the man’s undivided attention. “When it comes time for you to receive your due, let it be that I am there by your side. For I would see all men recognize you for who you really are.”
With a brilliant smile, the ranger nodded his agreement. “I
wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, I think I shall need a
few friendly faces there with me.”
Calmly, as though they had merely been discussing the weather, the
ranger let his gaze fall once more to the woods below them. His
boot-heels returned to gently tapping out their odd rhythm.
“Thank you,” Aragorn whispered softly as Legolas settled in next to
him. The elf’s soft boots made no sound against the cliff face.
“For being my friend and letting me be me,” the man answered simply.
Legolas just nodded as he watched the sun start its descent on the far
side of the forest. The light from the lowering orb painted the
trees with brilliant highlights of red and yellow as the two friends
sat side by side, simply content to be with each other away from the
stresses of life for the time being.
It seems everyone knows who I should be
everyone knows, but no one agrees
When I run, let me run, if I fall, it’s my right
Respect my solitude if I fade from sight
I’ll be your hero if you need me to be
but even heroes need friends who accept me for me.
I’ll carry the standard, fight the good fight
Hold back the shadows, make way for the light
But when I lay my sword down will you still be by my side?
Can you stand the darkness when I want to hide?
When I fall behind, walk before me and know:
I’m here by my choice; it’s never cold in your shadow.
Stories > Series
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