"From the notes of the old healer, two years ago: More unrest in the city. I am happy to be here, alone with my beloved garden and the quiet of these woods. But the unrest down below reaches me even here, for the poor folk bring disquieting news when they visit. A clenched fist seems to rise above the citizens, and they are helpless to escape the shadow it casts. The folk of the hills hide themselves deeper in the wild lest they be caught in the net. And I, simple healer that I am, counsel all who come to me to resist those who have manipulated the Lord of the city. Cadean is a good man, but never was he firm of purpose. He is easily swayed by the ill winds that blow. But the boy! Such a lad has not been seen in many a year in these parts. His son will be the leader Lord Cadean never could be. And he loves me. A joy it is to have such a friend. He quite restores my sense of purpose."
"A different entry, dated one year ago in late autumn: The city mourns. The Lady has died after great suffering of more than two weeks duration. It seems nothing could be done, though I myself had not been permitted to see her. I went down when I heard of her illness, but found myself barred from the great home. It was with terrible sadness that I turned away, for I think I might have been of help. But those close to Cadean know I oppose them, and Malcovan, the self-styled wizard and healer, would not permit me to pass, even to save her life. How distressing it must have been for her to be treated by him, for she disliked him greatly. The lord, ruler of the city, will become weaker than ever without the moral strength of his wife, and will wither into a mere shadow of what he once had been. And what now comes of Tarnan? His mother permitted his visits to me, and encouraged them, but now I fear I shall see him no more. Wicked days will come hard on the heels of this tragedy."
"And this, written in early spring of this year, just six months ago: I stand above the city and watch the army drill. Alun tells me, on the rare occasions that he is able to slip away to meet me, that the sorcerer Malcovan and his right hand, the foreign captain of the troops, decide all things now. Their word is law. Lord Cadean sits in the high chair at the head of the table, as he always did, but says little and does less. In all things he defers to these two charlatans, and the black clouds gather and thicken, even on the sunniest day. My heart is heavy. The strong people resist, but all their actions are furtive and guarded as they struggle to find a way to overcome the evil that has come to their fair city. They dare not revolt openly when they are so few in number. The folk in the hills run and hide, not yet able to muster their courage to fight. But fight they must, for they will be hunted down and pressed into service, for it seems the army trains for a reason, and will march next year wherever. What the foreign captain intends I do not know."
With a sigh and a soft rustle of paper, Aragorn ended his narrative. "And that, my friend, is all I can find among the old man's papers to shed a small beam of light on this matter. The rest of these notes pertain only to his healing practice… records of visitors and treatments."
Legolas nodded quietly, his brow furrowed as he pondered the words the ranger had read aloud to him. His dinner was eaten, consisting of some of the provisions Alun had left them, and though he welcomed the fresh eggs and the good wine, the elf had not been able to truly enjoy his meal. The food had come to their hands surrounded by a fog of confusing circumstances and distressing emotions, and the pleasant taste of it was buried under the distant threat of danger.
He sought the cat, as he always did when he felt uneasy, and she was close by, padding softly to him and jumping up when he chirped and patted his lap. He ran his fingers through her warm fur as she arched her back against his hands, purring softly. "Would it not be a fine thing to be a small cat in a cozy cottage when the world makes no sense?" he murmured.
"Their world is a less complicated one than ours." Aragorn had risen, and his voice now came from a corner of the cottage. "I sometimes feel men could do worse than watch the way cats live their lives. They care not for riches and personal gain. A full belly, a warm fire, a bit of mischief and good companionship are enough to fill their hearts."
"As it should be for any of us," the elf sighed. "What are you doing over there?"
"Looking for my socks. She takes them."
"Your cat," Aragorn responded. The ranger was moving a heavy object. It scraped noisily over the floor.
"What?" the bewildered elf exclaimed.
"She steals my socks. I have seen her do it. Here they are, behind the water jugs. All dusty now, too."
"Aragorn, why would Tithlam steal your socks? I cannot fathom what the appeal would be."
"Nor can I, but she steals them nevertheless." Aragorn returned to the table and resumed his seat. Legolas heard him pulling his socks on.
"Are you cold?" he asked.
"Yes. I want something on my feet. Soon we should get to work on those rabbit pelts. I will make slippers and gloves. We'll need them."
Legolas nodded, turning his face toward the south, where he knew the silent and distant Grey Mountains loomed as a great barrier between himself and his homeland. He imagined the icy currents that crept through narrow rocky passes, and freezing winds that scoured the peaks and drove the breath from the body with its savagery. When he spoke again, his voice was low and troubled. "When Alun was speaking to us this afternoon, I had a wild thought for a moment that we should try to make for the mountains tomorrow. Just start out, and try to avoid all of this… but I know the snows have already begun to fill the passes. We would not be able to get through. And the air will change here ere long, and then winter will be upon us. We cannot leave, and so tomorrow we should start on the meadow and get the grasses cut for the horse."
Aragorn was silent, but the heaviness of his worry was easily felt by the elf. A cold wash of fear flowed over him at the ranger's silence. Legolas narrowed his eyes and he set the cat down. "I will not hide in this house, Aragorn. I know what Alun said, and I appreciate his warning, but this situation is absurd. We will stay away from the people in the city, but I will not be kept prisoner within these walls." He shuddered. "The darkness before my eyes binds me in so many ways, Aragorn. I will submit to no other confinement. Do not ask it of me. Please, do not."
The elf felt a hand rest on his shoulder. "I would sooner try to cage an eagle, Legolas. And I remember well enough what happened the last time I tried to keep you inside. But we must respect Alun's warning. Whatever is happening down in the city does not bode well for us, though I fail to understand why. We cannot hide inside this cottage, Legolas, but we must be cautious from this point on. We stay together when we do our work. And do not go to the pond without me."
"In other words, you want me where you can see me," Legolas said with a grimace of irritation.
The elf sighed, unhappy that just when his efforts toward independence were beginning to please him, he would be forced to rein in his activities. But he knew the soldier's words were valid. And in the matter of his blindness, he had to acknowledge, though it pained him, that he was dependent as never before upon his friend. He was dependent for his very life. "Make the same promise to me, Aragorn. I cannot lose you," he said softly.
"And you will not. We stay together in all things."
"Except when I go to the privy, my friend. I'll handle that little chore on my own," the elf stated with a grin. "And if you think to follow me there I will see that you regret it."
Aragorn laughed, and Legolas heard the pouring of more wine into his cup. "I'll try to keep a proper balance, Elf. I have no desire to watch your every move to that extent."
"Thank you. As for you, as long as you sing and I can hear you, I'll not worry when you step out of the house to attend to those small but vital necessities."
"Sing?" The ranger sounded horrified. "While I'm…? No. No, no, no. The people in the city force us to take precautions and change our activities to some extent, but we must draw the line somewhere."
"I agree completely," Legolas chuckled, but then he sobered once more. The events of the day were far too serious to brush completely aside with a few jokes. He found his cup and drank from it. Setting it down on the table once more, he took care to slide it away from the edge so that it would not fall if he accidentally brushed his hand against it. "We do not have enough information to make any sense of what is happening in the city, Aragorn. I am more than willing to stay out of their way, and leave this place when spring comes. But the words of the boy trouble me. The things he said about us… about the people over the mountains, and his belief that I was a spy…" Legolas broke off with a shake of his head. "I am curious as to why the leaders of the city would say such things about elves."
"Ignorance, probably. But it does seem odd to me as well that they seem to be so focused on a group of people whom they have probably never even met," Aragorn said. "I wonder what they have heard of elves that would garner such a reaction? I could see fear in Alun's eyes, when he first set them on you. And the boy was amazed. Legolas, I must tell you…" the ranger paused, and he appeared reluctant to continue.
Legolas smiled softly, wanting to spare Aragorn his discomfort. "That Alun knows I am blind?"
"Yes. How did you know?" Aragorn asked.
"Something he said in the orchard, about my eyes holding no deceit. He is one who meets the gaze of others directly, I am certain of it, and I did not feel confident enough to attempt to hide my affliction from him. What about the boy?"
"I think he does not know. He was dealing with the shock of his friend's death, and before that he was just busy gaping at his first elf. As was Alun in the beginning."
"I fear the boy may be quite excited to tell his people all about the two strangers from over the mountains."
"As am I, but Alun said that he would say nothing. The boy may have been told that we are his enemies, but he obviously holds no love or respect for those who have taught him. He will not tell them of us. As for him telling his friends, we can only pray that he does not. I'm sure Alun will speak with him and ask for his silence."
"You read in the healer's journals that the child lost his mother only last year. And now the old man, his friend, is dead," Legolas remarked with sadness. "He is experiencing losses that would be hard for anyone, but especially so for a young child."
"And he appears to be growing up in a less that ideal atmosphere, where ignorance and prejudice shadow his world."
Legolas sighed. "Ignorance is a wicked thing. Many think it is an innocent failing, but it is in truth the root of distrust and hostility. All that is needed is the start of communication, and the blossom of understanding will begin to open. But that first step toward communication is often the hardest to take."
Aragorn laughed softly. "Spoken like the son of a king, and one used to the long talks at the negotiating table, Legolas."
Legolas nodded. "I like it. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about one's neighbors, though the proceedings can be rather dull and risk becoming bogged down in tedious details and petty grievances. The intimate one-on-one meetings in an informal setting satisfy me most. I have had many talks with Bain of Dale over the dying embers of a campfire, and we have come to fruitful understandings in this way. He is a good man and wise, as was his father."
"I would like to meet him some day."
"I will introduce you to him. Once we return and I take up my duties once more…" Legolas stopped abruptly.
Aragorn remained silent, and Legolas reached for his cup again, but he did not lift it to his lips. He only turned it absently, feeling the smooth glaze of the drinking vessel cool against his fingertips as his thoughts wandered again to his home and his uncertain future. He struggled not to dwell overmuch on the concerns such thoughts carried with them, but it was not possible to entirely push them aside. Spring would come, and he and Aragorn would go home, and… and after that he could envision nothing. Loneliness and long days of idle lingering were the only things that came to him clearly when he pondered the life waiting for him on the other side of the mountains, and it filled him with fear. The endless worry and doubt gnawed relentlessly at his spirit as he quietly exhaled and removed his fingers from his wine cup.
A hand suddenly grasped his own and squeezed hard, and he lifted his bowed head with a start. "Your future is not empty, Legolas," the ranger's voice came to him, strongly and with conviction. "I will not permit it to be so, and neither will you. You will not wander without purpose."
"Then why am I blind, Aragorn?" the elf whispered. "I feel as if I am waiting, waiting interminably… drifting aimlessly in the dark. But for what? What purpose?"
The man cleared his throat as he shifted in his chair. "I do not know. The reason for your blindness, if there can be a reason at all, also torments me. But in our many adventures together there have been two undeniable truths that I have learned, and one of them is this: when fate forces your hand, go with it. You must find whatever truth you can in the darkness."
"The seeking is not so easy," the elf murmured. He swallowed hard on the lump of anguish that rose in his throat. "I am lost, Aragorn. I do not know which way to turn."
"Nor do I, but you have already begun to walk the path laid before you, and you do not walk it alone."
"And what is the other truth you have learned?" Legolas asked, his sightless eyes seeking the floor beneath his feet.
Aragorn's hand tightened again on his own. "That Legolas of Mirkwood has never wanted for courage. Not this afternoon, when he was ready to burst through the door and fight whoever might seek to harm me, and not in the mornings, when he rises from his bed and faces another day in a dark world. But right now, I think an old oak tree is waiting for a wood-elf to climb it."
Legolas raised his head and smiled. Grateful for Aragorn's constant presence and encouragement, he reached with his arms and embraced his mortal friend. "It is, and I will go to it now. Thank you, Aragorn. Thank you for everything."First > Previous > Next