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Disclaimer: the characters and setting of Middle-earth are the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and are the property of his estate. I do not have permission to use them, and am making no monetary profit from this story. It was written for entertainment only.
Author's Notes: thanks once again to Lisette for her betaing of this chapter. Bowstrings and harpstrings, bowstrings and harpstrings…
Some of you complimented me on writing realistically from Legolas' POV without the use of sight. I appreciate that very much, for in truth I am finding it incredibly difficult to write from his POV. In fact, Lisette pointed out to me recently that Aragorn has had the lion's share of the chapters. So true! I find myself shying away from Legolas due to the difficulty of describing things through his "eyes". So I am grateful for the thumbs-up from my readers. And I will, before too much longer, have to resign myself to writing more from the elf's POV, so I'd better get used to it.
To See A World by Nightwing
Chapter Nineteen: Speak To Me
Thud. Aragorn started from his sleep, his eyes flying open in surprise. He turned his head, frowning, and stared at the window frame. For just a moment he lay quietly, straining his hearing and gathering what information he could before he moved. It was still black outside; no dim outline of lifting grey yet penetrated the heavy blanket that covered the unglazed opening. The birds had not begun their morning songs, but something - a muffled sound - had disturbed his rest, and he quickly rolled onto his left side and propped himself on his elbow, twitching the edge of the thick cloth aside to pushed open the wooden shutters and peer into the darkness.
Thud. Something hit the ground softly. The ranger twisted on his knees and looked out the other side of the window, gazing toward the barn. He squinted as he struggled with the darkness, then a soft glow came to his eyes and he fixed his eyes on it. In the window of the loft the dim outline of the elf appeared. He held something large and blocky in his hands, and he maneuvered this object through the window and let it fall to the earth. Thud. Legolas immediately followed, jumping from the opening and landing in a soundless crouch beside the three fallen objects.
Aragorn watched in bewilderment as the elf grasped two of the dark rectangles and began hauling them across the clearing, and he cast his memory back to last night as he pondered why his friend was dragging bales of straw about in the dark.
He had held out hope that Legolas' anger with him would cool once he had visited the horses with the boy, but that had been quickly dashed when the elf returned to the cottage as silent and furious as before. Shortly thereafter Alun had steered Tarnan out the door, stating that they had tarried overlong. The soldier had glanced warily at the smoldering elf, offered Aragorn a sickly, sympathetic smile, and beaten a hasty retreat, dragging the reluctant young Lord of Carbryddin behind him. Aragorn suddenly found himself alone, and he had unhappily steeled himself to face his friend's wrath.
The ranger knew he had pushed Legolas too far. But it had continued to sadden him to see the bow hanging unused on the door and the elf's skilled hands holding only cook-pots or his cat. When the boy begged for a demonstration from the elf, recognizing immediately the beauty and power of the bow suspended on the hook, the idea had struck Aragorn that this was the moment to force Legolas to confront his fear. He knew his friend could not be the archer he once had been, but was it true, as Legolas believed, that he could not use his bow at all? How could he know if he did not even try?
Directly after he spoke, volunteering Legolas for a demonstration, Aragorn had wanted to take back his words. Legolas had visibly paled, his stoic demeanor crumbling, and Aragorn immediately realized he had driven a knife into the most painful of the elf's numerous wounds. Before his blindness Legolas had been many things, but first and foremost he had been an archer, and he had spent his formative years honing and perfecting his natural talent until he had become perhaps the greatest archer to ever walk the forests and fields of Middle-earth. This skill had been a source of pride for the elf and a means of self-expression, and it had been cruelly ripped from him when he lost his eyesight.
But what was done was done. The boy had whooped with excitement, turning bright admiring eyes on the shocked elf, and it was too late to turn back after that. Aragorn had watched Legolas regain his composure, though it was obviously rage that drove the fear back, and coldly accept the challenge.
After their guests had departed, Aragorn had made an attempt to speak with Legolas, both to apologize and help find a way to avoid the archery demonstration, but the elf had turned his back on him. Making his way to the door, Legolas jerked the bow and quiver from their hooks and stalked out of the house. Several minutes later he had returned, asking in an icy tone for a jar of fat, an old rag and beeswax. He waited in stiff silence as Aragorn found the items and placed them into his hands, and Legolas had stalked out again, calling for Tithlam to follow him. After that he had not returned but retreated to the barn, and after night had fallen he had emerged from the barn and crossed the clearing to his tree, the cat a tiny shadow trotting at his heels. The ranger kept an eye on Legolas' activities, out of both concern and curiosity, and when the elf crossed the yard in the dark Aragorn had been ready to swear that his usual warm, golden luminescence flared with an angry color he had never seen before. Can he actually be glowing red? Valar, this is worse than I thought.
Silent and heavy-hearted, the ranger had eaten his dinner alone. The evening had not been entirely without cheer though, for Alun and the boy had brought several large packs, and Aragorn had happily gone through them after his lonely meal and been delighted with what he had found. Several changes of clothing for both himself and Legolas; leggings, thick and woven close for winter, shirts, a warm jacket and cloak for each of them, and two sets of sturdy, fur-lined leather boots. Another pack held gloves, hats, a supply of candles wrapped in paper, oil for the lamp, and a bundle of socks. Aragorn laughed aloud at this last discovery, for his own single set, repaired with straggling stitches again and again, had been increasingly difficult to find of late because of the peculiar habit of the elf's little cat.
Aragorn could not have been more grateful had he stumbled upon a treasure trove, for these were things that would get him and the elf through the cold months ahead. Their own clothing had been summer wear, for they had never intended to be caught so far from home in winter, and these had become threadbare, being the only garments they had. The rest of their clothing had been abandoned when they fled the orcs, and those that had belonged to the old healer Aragorn and Legolas were not able to make use of, for Gildwas had apparently been a small man and his things did not fit them.
The ranger had wanted to share this good news with the elf, and waited up for him long after night had fallen. But finally he had sighed unhappily and gone to bed, realizing that Legolas was not going to return. What the elf would do about the situation Aragorn had forced upon him he did not know, but perhaps tomorrow they would be able to talk about it and find a solution.
Aragorn shifted his position again as the elf passed the window, dragging two bales of straw behind him. As he came abreast of the house Legolas turned and started for the trees across the clearing. Once there he shoved one of the bales against a tree - the old oak tree, Aragorn realized - and lifted the other on top of it. Then he went back for the third bale, hauling it across the turf and heaving it onto the others. The elf produced a rope then, which had been slung over his shoulder, and began wrapping it around the bales. He was securing them to the tree, and Aragorn smiled as he realized what was happening.
Legolas was making a target.
The elf grasped the bales and drove his weight against them, ensuring that they remained steady and would not topple, and returned once more to the barn. He remained there for a brief time, and when he emerged once more the birds had begun chirping their first greetings to the new dawn. The sky was lightening, pale hues of grey and pink streaking the sky to the east, and Legolas held his bow and quiver in his hands. He set them down some thirty yards from the bales and went to them once more. He spent some time running his hands over the bales as if measuring them, and then he crouched beside the old oak, his fingers searching over the ground. He picked up a small broken branch. From it dangled numerous clusters of leaves, dried and brown. Legolas turned and drove the twig into the upper left corner of the stacked bales of straw. He stood motionless for a moment, his hands resting on the bales and his head tilted, and then walked back to the items he had placed on the ground. Sitting on the grass, he pulled his longbow into his lap and bent his head over it. For several long minutes the elf held it, his long fingers slowly tracing the graceful curves of the beautiful weapon, and then he suddenly set it aside. Legolas swept the cat into his arms as the rising sun spread its golden light over the clearing.
Aragorn turned away from the window and set about reviving the fire from the few glowing embers that remained from the night before. After the flames were leaping high in the hearth once more he looked outside. The elf had not moved, and so the ranger pulled his clothes on, including one of the new jackets, and opened the door. His breath sent a plume of smoky grey drifting into the sky. The morning was cold, but it did not match the chill that had settled on his heart when he observed his friend sitting silently, as if unable to take the next step. Aragorn felt miserable, and steeling himself to face Legolas' fury again, he stepped onto the frosted grass. The elf's head immediately came up and turned toward him. Gritting his teeth the ranger drew near, gazing at his friend's face and trying to gauge his anger and determine if it was as hot as it had been the night before.
He sensed that it was not, for the prince's features had softened, and the fire in his blue eyes had been replaced by sadness. Aragorn halted uneasily as Legolas turned away from him and bent over the cat again, his fingers stroking her soft fur. The ranger waited for a brief moment, but Legolas did not stir - and did not acknowledge him – and so, uninvited, Aragorn finally just sat down beside the silent elf.
"Legolas, speak to me."
"Why did you do it?" Legolas' soft voice drifted past the ranger on the breeze, quiet and filled with pain.
The weathered furrows in Aragorn's brow deepened, and he sighed. "I wish I knew how to answer that. There are many reasons, I suppose. I have long wanted to see you take up your bow, because I thought it would bring you pleasure to work with it again. I saw the boy's request as an opportunity to nudge you toward your weapons. I think you can do it Legolas. I truly do, but it was not my choice to make. It was yours, and I took it from you. I am sorry, mellon-nin."
"Would you care to tell me why you encourage me to use my longbow, but then almost in the same breath tell me not to ride that stallion?"
Aragorn shrugged. "You cannot fall off your bow."
The elf's teeth grated audibly as he jerked his head up and faced the ranger. "Or why you permit me to chop wood with the axe, but not to swing the scythe? One minute I am free to try things, and in the next you try to shackle me. You are driving me mad, Aragorn."
The ranger looked helplessly at his friend. "I know. I think I am driving myself mad as well. When I see your successes, I exult just as you do. It is a wondrous thing to see you run, or leap from the tree… and at those times I almost forget that you cannot see. But always your blindness is with us, and always it is on my mind. Legolas, the potential for disaster is high when you take risks. If you become injured, we cannot seek aide. Our supply of medicines runs low. Unknown enemies surround us. There is danger here, though I cannot see it any more than you can. I fear for you."
"I am not a child who needs looking after," the elf spat angrily. He turned, setting the cat aside and reaching for his longbow.
"No. But you are blind, and I… I do not know how to care for someone who is blind," the ranger said, his voice tense with frustration. "Especially a blind elf. I know I am inconsistent. I try to protect you one minute and wave you off on an adventure the next, worrying the entire time, just as I would were you a child. I do not know what I am doing, Legolas. I do not know how to care for you. And I seem to be making a shambles of it. I'm sorry."
Aragorn watched as Tithlam left Legolas and trotted toward the cottage. The little animal had undoubtedly had enough of the clashing waves of anger and impatience surging between her elf and his friend, and she hopped up onto the window ledge and vanished into the peace of the warm house.
With a sigh Legolas slowly leaned back until his body rested against the cold grass. He set the bow across his chest, gripping it with two white knuckled hands. Silently he released the pressure on the weapon, opening his fingers and letting them drift idly, tracing the patterns and curves in the fine wood. After several tense minutes the elf turned his head toward the man. "You have done nothing for which you must apologize. You do a fine job, Aragorn, and you speak the truth. I do need looking after. I do need your help. But I hate admitting it." He squeezed his eyes shut. "Dear Eru," he gasped, his voice choked with misery and anger. "How I hate it."
"I know, mellon-nin. I hate it, too. Tell me what to do."
"Stop deciding things for me, Aragorn. The choices are mine to make. If they truly alarm you, you may protest, and we will discuss. But the final say is mine. You must respect that."
Legolas stirred slightly, opening his eyes and shifting his head on the crackling grass. "Would it be easier to care for a blind mortal?" he inquired.
The ranger pondered the question in silence for a few moments, watching his friend's long fingers sweep over his bow with the same love and familiarity as a harper who gently caresses the strings of his instrument before making music. The elf's face was turned up toward the brilliant sky, eyes wide and unblinking in the bright sunlight like two small mirrors reflecting the great expanse of blue.
"In elf or man, blindness is a tragedy," Aragorn said slowly. "But it does seem particularly terrible to see it in an elf. It is… wrong, somehow, and it fills me with anger and sadness. And you frighten me, because I think you take more chances than a human would."
Legolas smiled. "I apologize for being so alarming." He paused, and his face became grave and reflective once more. "You said that you do not know how to take care of a blind person. And I do not know how to be blind. One minute I believe that I am coming to terms with it - starting to accept it - and the next I am overwhelmed with a nearly uncontrollable rage. Fear and despair still claw at me, especially at night, and they steal the very air from my lungs. I… I listen to the sound of your breath when you sleep, Aragorn. There are times when your breathing is the only thing that keeps me from drowning in the terror of it."
Aragorn stared at his friend, shaken by the elf's soft words. "Is it still so bad, Legolas?"
"Alas, I cannot help you more with your fear. I wish with all my heart I could, but I do not know what it is like to be blind. I can only imagine, and that is terrible enough. I'm sure it is only a fraction of what you truly are experiencing."
"I have wished at times that there was someone I could speak to about it," Legolas said quietly. "But I have no kindred spirits in this. There are no other blind elves. I am certain of that."
"You always have been one of a kind," the ranger said lightly, hoping to brighten his friend's mood, and was pleased when his remark elicited an amused, if derisive, snort from the elf. Aragorn's eyes remained fixed on the white fingers playing along the curved length of wood. "How does it feel to hold your bow?"
"Has it any fractures? Did it become too dry?"
"No. It appears none the worse for being neglected for such a long time. I rubbed the fat into it and waxed the string last night. It still bends well."
"What will you do now?"
The elf rose to his feet in one controlled, swift motion. As he had done a thousand times before, he placed the bow against the back of his leg and bent it, sliding the looped end of the string into the notch. His features were pale, but determined. "I will shoot."
Aragorn smiled, delighted. "What can I do to help?"
"I have only four arrows. If they go astray, as I expect they will, you must fetch them for me."
The ranger rolled his eyes. "Wonderful. I must seek green and brown fletched arrows in the pre-winter forest. Can we not dye them red first?"
"This was your idea, Aragorn."
"I suppose we can make arrow fetching my punishment then. I would prefer it to what you had originally planned." The ranger grinned, peering at the elf's unreadable face. "You have given that up, I hope?" he inquired. "Such an injury could have permanent consequences beyond changing the way I walk."
Legolas turned toward him with a smile, enjoying the joke. "If my plans for revenge result in an altered voice, I will certainly change them. I do not think I could bear listening to you screech all winter." He paused, raising his head and inhaling. "Speaking of winter… the air has changed."
"The snow will come this week," the ranger said with a nod, narrowing his grey eyes to scan the skies and the distant mountains far to the south, their highest points shrouded in white.
"How are our supplies?" the elf asked quietly, his brow furrowed. "Have we enough of what we need?"
"Our wood supply is good. I plan to haul a few more large pieces to the house, simply to have them close by, and we can cut them later as needed. We will have to keep the fire going at all times for warmth."
Aragorn frowned. "Not as plentiful. We have been concentrating on the firewood and the horse's needs. But I will set my snares in the woods again and start bringing in more meat. And we have Alun's promise of bread from the miller."
"We probably should not depend on that, in case aught goes amiss down in the city. And how are we to obtain the bread? Can Alun bring food to us once the snows come?"
"He indicated that he could. I had thought to ask him for a sack of flour. We could make our own bread here, rather than risking visits that might draw unwanted attention."
"Can you make bread?"
"No. But I have made little meal-cakes."
"I think it is not the same," the elf said in a dubious tone, shaking his blond head.
"How difficult can it be?" Aragorn laughed. "I have watched it being done in the kitchens of Imladris. A bit of flour, a bit of water, mix it up and bake it."
"Are there not other ingredients? Yeast?"
"Oh, yes. Yeast. Well, we can ask about all that when we next speak with Alun."
"Which will be tomorrow. He will bring the boy, and I will perform," the elf stated. He extended his left arm, holding the bow ready, and he pulled the string back halfway. Several times he did this, flexing and releasing the weapon.
"You do not have to do this, Legolas. We can give the boy some excuse…"
"No. The point of no return has been crossed," said Legolas as he reached for his quiver. He slung it across his back and buckled it around his torso. "Do you see the little twig I placed in the target?"
"Can you hear its leaves rattling in the breeze?"
"I can," the elf said with a grin. His fathomless sapphire eyes, sparkling like a child's, were suddenly alight with excitement. With a flurry of movements that were almost too fast for the ranger to follow he spun toward the target and whipped an arrow from the quiver. Nocking it to the string, Legolas pulled the powerful longbow back into its full arc. He paused briefly, his back straight and his boots planted wide and firm on the frosted grass, and he closed his eyes. And then, like a soft breath released into the wind after a holding, he let the arrow go.
To be continued…
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