had been several long and silent weeks that Aragorn and Legolas had
been wandering in the wilds, and they had traveled a fair distance in
that time. Little had been said between the two exiles, there was not
much to say. Each was lost in his own thoughts.
They had crossed the wastelands the day they had been banished from Mirkwood. Legolas had stayed awake that first night, silently keeping vigil over the fair woods that had been his home for millennia, committing the layout to memory, watching as the moonlight brushed the tree tops in its pale, shadowy covering. Aragorn had found him the next morning in the same place he had left the elf the night before. The dew had bejeweled the forest below them, painting it with the colors of the rising dawn. When the ranger had gently touched the elf, Legolas had started, not having noticed the man’s approach. Aragorn was sure he had seen tears in the elf’s eyes but when the prince looked back at him, he could not say if it hadn’t just been the morning light.
Together they left the realm of Mirkwood and made their way south, with the craggy, weatherworn face of the Misty Mountains looming cold and silent on their right. Traveling up into the foothills, they were now not far from the Dimrill Dale and the eastern side of the vast, dwarven realm of Moria and far away from both Mirkwood and Rivendell.
Aragorn wondered how his adopted father and brothers were. He missed them and he longed to see them again. He was concerned about what they had been told and how they had reacted to it. Would his father reject him as Legolas’ had? What did they think of him now?
King Thranduil had told them both that he would send messengers to all the elven territories and inform them of the banishment of the ranger and Legolas. He wondered if that news had reached Elladan and Elrohir by now. He almost smiled as he thought of their first reactions. He could hear Elladan saying that he had known it would only be a matter of time. He half hoped they would seek him out. He couldn’t imagine being cut off from them forever and he still hadn’t accepted the reality of his situation.
Glancing over at Legolas, seated across the fire from him, he wondered how the elf was faring. The prince had barely spoken. He had simply followed the ranger away from his home and after that first morning, to Aragorn’s knowledge, he had never looked back. The man knew the elf’s heart must be breaking, if it felt anything like the crushing sadness that gripped his own, and he wondered how an immortal being could even begin to live with such a sentence.
With a sigh, Aragorn opened his pack and grabbed a handful of nuts and berries. He ate the meager breakfast and offered his companion some. Legolas shifted his gaze to the man and simply shook his head. The gloom that clung to the elf like the mists, which were even now burning off in the morning light, bothered the human. He had never seen the prince like this and he didn’t know how to break through to him.
"You need to eat."
Legolas literally jumped at the sound of the ranger’s voice.
"I’m not hungry. Thank you." The elf turned back to watching the small glade they were encamped above.
Aragorn shrugged and pulled more of the mix he had collected from his pack. He followed the prince’s gaze and let his eyes rest on the peaceful meadow. His thoughts were wandering idly when he felt someone watching him.
Looking back across the fire he met Legolas’ grey-blue eyes. Out of habit he raised a handful of nuts and berries towards the elf and cocked his head to the side in question. His companion gave a slight nod and he scooped up his pack and moved around the fire to sit next to the tall, quiet elf.
The ranger pushed the edges of the pack back revealing his cache of nuts and berries and set the food down between them with a smile.
He ate quietly; content to sit by the fire until the earth warmed to the rising sun. In moments he could feel the elf’s eyes watching him again.
"What?" he asked around a mouthful of berries.
The elf rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly.
After a few moments Legolas looked at him again appraising him out of the corner of his eyes. "We need to go hunting."
"All right!" Aragorn was more than ready to do something different for a change, anything to get his mind off of the predicament they were in.
"You need to eat." Legolas watched as the man’s demeanor changed.
"I am eating."
"You need meat." He gazed back out into the woods knowing the response his next statement would garner. "You are still growing."
If his heart hadn’t been so heavy, Legolas would have started laughing as the man choked on the bite of food he had taken.
"I can’t believe you said that!" Aragorn swallowed hard and caught his breath, glaring fiercely at the elven prince.
Legolas simply shrugged and looked back out at the woods.
"Well...well what about you?" Aragorn stammered throwing the words at his friend more harshly than he had intended. "Oh, I suppose a diet of nuts and berries is good for an elf?"
"Aragorn," Legolas turned towards his friend, "You need to eat."
"I am." He held up the food he had scavenged. "Aren’t you hungry?"
"I could eat."
"Really?" The Ranger sounded truly surprised. It had been the first time he been able to draw the elf out since they had left Mirkwood.
"Really." Legolas raised his eyebrow and stared hard at the man.
Aragorn snickered lightly realizing he had in fact asked the same question twice.
Something about the young man always brought out the humor and the fun in the elf and try as he might he couldn’t repress the smile that tugged at his lips as he watched the human smiling at him. Legolas gave the ranger a playful shove, tipping him off balance as he gracefully stood and unslung his bow.
"Come on human", the elf smiled down at the man, "let’s go find something to hunt."
With a huge grin, Aragorn gained his feet and followed the silent-footed elf deeper into the wooded areas. It was good to see glimpses of the old Legolas back; he missed the cheerful elf. He had decided he would do whatever it took to raise the prince’s spirit.
As they walked stealthily through the forest, Legolas began to quietly teach the ranger about the foliage and creatures that inhabited the area. There was much that the ranger still did not know.
He pointed out a dark leafy foliage. The plant resembled a fern curled in on itself, the boughs covered with fine soft hairy protrusions. Aragorn moved closer to the plant and reached out to touch it.
Legolas grabbed his wrist, pulling him back and whispered in his ear, "Its poisonous. The dwarves in Moria have been known to crush the leaves and dip their blades in its poison. They call it Kilwandea. It only grows here."
The elf froze as the sound of a twig breaking underfoot caught his hearing. Slowly he looked over his shoulder in the direction of the noise.
Soft snuffling sounds and the tentative crunch of footfalls gave way the presence of an intruder.
Aragorn turned quietly and followed Legolas as the elf crept back to the edge of the meadow they had just crossed. A small stream ran through its low point and it was there that they spotted the source of the sound: a large buck stood at the riverside. He tested the wind with his nose, smelling the air for hints of any other animals in the vicinity. Satisfied he was safe, the huge deer lowered his head and drank from the cool stream.
The ranger looked at Legolas and the elf simply nodded, encouraging the human to make the kill.
Aragorn raised his bow, notched an arrow and let the projectile fly. The arrow went wide, missing the buck by a foot. The motion startled the deer and it leapt for the underbrush, but not before Legolas had fired his own arrow. The shaft flew straight and true, piercing the animal between its ribs and rupturing its heart. It fell to the forest floor and did not rise.
Aragorn sighed in frustration at his miss and glanced at Legolas.
The elf was frowning at him, "Who taught you to use a bow?"
"My brother, Elrohir." Aragorn had to think about it for a moment before he answered.
"Well that explains a lot." The prince muttered and shook his head in disgust, walking off towards the downed animal.
"What does that mean!"
"You shoot like a female."
"WHAT!" Aragorn turned towards his friend and yelled at the retreating elf.
Legolas stopped mid-step and looked back at the ranger, repeating himself, "I said you shoot like a female. Which is only to be expected, you learned from Rivendell elves and not Mirkwood elves."
Aragorn rolled his eyes, "Of all the arrogant, egotistical, bull-head things I have ever heard come out of your mouth that has got to top them all off!"
"I did not mean to offend you. Everyone knows that my people…," Legolas stopped himself and shook his head remembering he had no people, "Everyone knows that the elves of Mirkwood are great hunters, renowned for their bow skills. That was all I meant." He pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back and strung it, "Here, watch." Notching the arrow and pulling the string back he explained, "Do it like this." The elf grew completely still for the fraction of a second, almost becoming a part of the inanimate objects that surrounded him as his entire concentration was consumed, focused on his target. His world narrowed as his vision sighted in, slowly his index finger released the bowstring and his arrow flew from the bow, deftly beheading a small pine that stood a hundred yards across the meadow. Smiling as though he had done the simplest thing in the world he turned to Strider and stepped back, "You try it."
Aragorn stepped up next to the elf. Reaching over his shoulder he grabbed an arrow shaft, notched the projectile, sighted a tree and released the arrow; which flew wildly past the small pine and ricocheted off a nearby rock, shattering the tip.
"I told you, just like a Noldo elf!"
The ranger threw down his bow and lunged at the elf prince who was mercilessly laughing at the human.
Legolas took a step back thoroughly enjoying the challenge and raised his hands palm outward. "Stop!", he yelled at the advancing man. Pointing to the bow on the ground he spoke evenly and with authority that came from living a thousand years his companion’s senior, "Pick it up."
To his surprise Aragorn stopped his forward motion and obeyed the simple command.
"Now notch it."
The ranger pulled another arrow from his quiver and, without a word, notched the shaft.
"Draw it." Legolas’ voice had dropped slightly and he nodded at his friend. When Aragorn had complied he stopped the man again, "Now freeze!"
The ranger stood absolutely still, watching the elf with a wide concentrating stare. The intensity of the man and the way he had perfectly, if stiffly, obeyed his every command caused the elf to start helplessly laughing again.
"Legolas!" Aragorn dropped the bow to his side and stared at the elf in complete frustration.
Trying to get himself under control, Legolas walked over and placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, barely controlling the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth.
"I am truly sorry. It was just so funny. Like teaching the young ones."
The glare on the ranger’s face did nothing to help the elf control his mirth and he broke out laughing again. Aragorn tried hard to affect an air of disgust and impatience, but it had been a very long time since Legolas had laughed or smiled and his joy was contagious. The ranger rolled his eyes and started laughing. "So would you like to teach this young one to not shoot like a female or shall we just stand here all day!"
Legolas clapped the human on the back and straightened up, wiping his eyes on his tunic and breathing deeply in an attempt to get himself under control. When he could finally speak again he smiled at Aragorn and said, "Forgive me. Let us try again."
Aragorn shook his head, unable to hide his own smile. "Thank you."
He reset his bow and stopped at the point Legolas had asked him to before.
"There." The elf moved behind the man and placed his hands on the ranger’s shoulder, "That is what is wrong." Gently but firmly he pulled Aragorn’s right shoulder back until his shoulders formed a straight line. The elf placed his hand between the man’s shoulderblades and pressed Aragorn’s right elbow down until his arm was straight, perpendicular to his body. Leaning forward, Legolas sighted along Aragorn’s arm. With his face so close to the Dùnadan’s he spoke softly, instructing the man to site in on the pine across the way.
Aragorn cocked his head down slightly, leaning into the bowstring. With his fingers the elf tipped the man’s head back up. Aragorn rolled his eyes and tried again, moving his entire body as though he and the bow were one, until the broad head of the arrow just covered the tip of the pine.
"Breathe in." Legolas whispered in his ear.
Aragorn breathed in deeply, the tip of the arrow readjusted, offset by the slight motion of his body.
"Breath out and do not move."
Again the human obeyed, releasing his breath until his lungs were empty. His body grew completely still and his hands stopped trembling. Legolas leaned forward once more. siting along the length of the arrow shaft. Seeing the tip of the arrow on the pine, he gently readjusted Aragorn’s stance until the arrow head was just above the pine itself and whispered his command once more, "The path of an arrow arcs, my friend, always remember that. Now, release."
Aragorn’s index finger moved slightly and the arrow shot from the bow and struck its target true.
Aragorn turned in surprise.
"See, it is easy." Legolas smiled at him, his eyes twinkling with merriment.
The human didn’t respond right away, looking from the elf to the tree, "Can I try it again?"
"Just like teaching the young ones." The elf sighed, looking innocently at the man, before breaking into laughter. Aragorn shoved the elf away from him with his elbow, pushing his friend out of his reach.
"Yes!" Legolas finally answered him, "Let us try it again."