A Sliver of Darkness by KyMahalei|
Summary: Legolas lets go of the darkness within.
Disclaimer: Not mine (sigh).
In all his years of battle, there was none to match the battle at the Black Gate. The Plain of Morannon had been steeped in dismal swirlings of despair, shrouded in fear and awash with a dark hunger that devoured hope and dismantled courage. Even the seasoned warriors had been sobered by the overwhelming sense that the Darkness would soon claim victory. When the moment came that the great gate fell and the minions scattered, the captains and their charges stood in stunned silence. For long minutes after the wind came and pulled the dregs of darkness from the land, the soldiers stood in awe. They had not fought with hope, but rather with determination; willing to sacrifice all and die with honor. Now both hope and life had been restored to them. It was hard to believe it was really so.
The stunned silence lasted long after the battle weary had pulled back to their camp and set about making a meal and tending the wounded. It lasted long after Arnor had set in a blaze of color in the west. It lasted late into the night, as the men gathered in quiet groups of one and two around small campfires, not ready to endorse their victory with the usual rousing songs and liberal drinking, but rather standing mute in the face of a victory that had been graced them against all odds by two Halflings from the Shire.
Aragorn welcomed the soft light of starshine that cast a healing glow upon the camp. He had been quiet himself, but also busy meeting with his captains, serving as healer and organizing the troops for the night. It was not until the stars had slid far along their course that it came to his attention that he had not seen Legolas since the turn of the battle. They had stood side by side to witness the falling of Sauron, so Aragorn did not fear for his friend’s safety, but as he reflected on the course of his day he realized that the elf had made himself quite scarce.
Sighing with weariness Aragorn navigated his way back to his tent. Almost before the tent flap had fallen shut he was stripped to the waist and was tugging at the heavy boots that had carried him through the day. Quickly he changed into lighter attire. Not bothering to pick up the discarded clothing, he set out to find his friend.
Legolas was not in his tent, and none of the sentries had seen the elf. The Plain of Dagorlad was flat and dusty. There were no trees or mounds for Legolas to seek out. Perplexed, Aragorn walked the perimeter of the camp. He had almost given up finding the elf when he caught a glint of gold shining in the starlight some distance from the clusters of tents. As he closed the distance between the two of them, Aragorn considered whether to interrupt his friend’s solitude. At first he thought that Legolas was simply seeking time alone to bring himself into balance after the battle, but as he drew near he saw that the Eldar was not standing in proud meditation, but huddled with knees drawn tight to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs.
If Legolas knew that Aragorn was beside him, he made no indication, but he did not startle when Aragorn knelt and embraced him in a firm hug.
“I am here, gwadarnin,” said Aragorn, and waited for Legolas to speak.
“I should have died,” said Legolas at last. His voice was rough with unshed tears.
“To a man we all should have died this day,” said Aragorn.
Legolas shrugged himself free and turned to look at Aragorn. “No, Estel. I mean I was never meant to live to see the end of this quest.”
Aragorn puzzled this thought for a moment. “I never knew the Wood Elves to have foresight,” he said, hoping to break the weight of the moment, “was this your own foreshadowing or from someone else?”
Legolas smiled a bit, then looked away. “Estel, I owe you an apology. I should never have come on this quest. If I have been a burden to you, forgive me, for I know I have not given you my best.”
“You are speaking in riddles, elf,” began Aragorn.
Legolas shook his head. “I was to be the eyes and the ears of the fellowship, remember? And yet I was often distracted with a burden on my own heart. I did not keep Boromir safe. Gandalf perished and you fell almost to your death.” he sighed, “I am sorry.”
“Truly without your guidance, bow and blades we would have all perished several times over,” protested Aragorn, “What is troubling you, Legolas?”
Legolas smiled ruefully and gazed into Aragorn’s eyes. “It is nothing, gwardarnin. I am fine.”
Aragorn laughed out loud at that, and resolved to sit for as long as it took for his friend to unburden his heart. He stretched out his long legs, leaned back on his elbows and gazed at the sky. He had almost fallen asleep when Legolas spoke again.
“I have been hoping that the Valar would grant me death, since it is what I deserve. I have broken my oath and the blood of my kin is on my hands.”
Aragorn rolled to sit facing his friend, fully alert. “Tell me about this, Legolas.”
The elf sighed and put his face into his hands. Without looking up, he said, “Estel, for the past millennia I have helped to lead my people in the fight against the Darkness. Long ago I swore to defer personal gain until we had secured safety for my people and their home. Until the spring before the Council of Elrond, keeping that oath had never been a problem. I broke my oath and so lost several of my men to death and others to the vile ministrations of the orcs.”
“Tell me more,” Aragorn urged.
“Our southern villages have slowly become too dangerous for elves to live in,” said Legolas looking at his friend, “That spring we moved the entire village of Tynwardin to stay in the Halls of Emyn Duir. The most trained warriors were assigned to the Southern patrols, but several of the younger warriors joined my patrol to begin training with me before our next rotation South.” Legolas paused and looked to the sky as if to organize his thoughts. “It was not just the warriors that came north. They brought their families and – their – ellith with them.”
Aragorn raised his eyebrows, “There is an elleth in this story? What is her name?”
“Her name is Dulinai,” replied Legolas, almost defensively, “and she is the most perplexing creature I have ever met. Estel, you know that at court I have often been the focus of – a lot of female attention. Many times I’ve felt like a piece of bait that the minnows swim to.” Legolas looked sideways at Aragorn, “You have no idea, mellonin.” Aragorn smiled sympathetically. “But Dulinai would have none of those games. She didn’t act coy with me. In fact, the day we met we got into a heated debate about the fletching of arrows. Fletching of arrows, Estel. From an elleth! It turned out that her father was the armsmaster in Tynwardin and had made it a point of pride to teach both of his children how to fletch and shoot. She fletches way too close to the shaft, but she tried to convince me that doing so would improve the speed of the shot. If that were not enough, she was bold enough to challenge me to a contest with the bow. I asked her if she knew who it was that she challenged, but she just laughed, more of a chuckle really, and said that she knew she was challenging someone who needed to be taken down a peg.”
“Did she win?” asked Aragorn. Legolas looked at Aragorn for a minute until he saw that he was being teased.
“Daro, N’uma! She did not. But I think she may have been right about fletching the arrows. I wanted to ask her about that later, but for some reason I found it hard to focus while we were talking. . . She is very pretty, Aragorn.”
“So far this is a good story, Legolas. What is the problem?”
Legolas bit his lower lip. “We had many small conversations in the weeks that followed. I knew that because of my oath I had to be careful not to think of her romantically. To be honest, it was very hard. She had a way of teasing me, then when I caught on she would laugh and catch her tongue between her teeth and look up at me from under lowered lashes. And she really listened to my words. I thought perhaps to call her friend would be enough.” Legolas sighed and Aragorn smiled. Legolas lapsed into silence.
“There is more?” said Aragorn after a time. Legolas turned and looked at him. All joy was gone from his face.
“Hear me out, Estel.” Legolas looked down before he continued, “At the Council of Elrond, you asked how it came to be that Gollum was taken by the Enemy. Did you ever consider how it is I that I was the one to bring news of Gollum’s escape?” Aragorn was silent. “I was the captain of the patrol charged with keeping him safe.
“I came to pity the creature that had lived in the Darkness for so long, but I was cautious. While I appreciated the sympathy my men had for the creature, I always made sure that he was well guarded. Weeks passed, and we came to know the wiles and brokenness of Gollum, more than I care to admit. I was loath to put too many guards on him, and yet he was both sneaky and deceitful. The night that he was taken, I had set the rotation as always, mixing at least one seasoned warrior with those less experienced. There was a feast that night, and I had taken extra care to let as many go to the celebration as safety would allow. In fact, I had written my name in as the experienced warrior, and I fully intended to take the shift. “ Legolas paused.
“I was on my way to duty when Dulinai stopped me in the hall. She looked as though she had just been running. Her cheeks were bright and she was still a little out of breath. The look she gave me – her eyes were sparkling and filled with such joy! I could feel my own heart pounding in response. I knew then that I needed to talk with her.”
Aragorn raised his eyebrows, asking a silent question, but Legolas looked away.
“Donalin, one of our new recruits joined me as I crossed the yard. He was an excellent archer, very eager to learn. He was from the south, the same village as Dulinai. When I asked him why he wasn’t at the feast, he told me that he knew so few in the community that he would not be missed. He asked me if there was anyone on Gollum’s watch who would like to go and offered to take their place.” Legolas stopped, and took a slow breath.
“Estel, I did then what I never should have done. I allowed personal desire to sway my decision and allowed Donalin to take my place.” Legolas shook his head, and pulled his knees to his chest again. “I never should have allowed the patrol to convene without an experienced warrior.”
When Legolas continued his voice was so quiet that Aragorn had to lean forward to hear it. “I found Dulinai and led her to a small garden, well away from the noise of the festivities. Ithil was full that night, and there was a fountain that caught the silver light. We talked and laughed for what seemed like only moments, or maybe it was hours. I think she knew what was on my heart.” Legolas paused, his eyes reflected a pain and vulnerability that Aragorn had never seen. “I asked her if she perhaps felt more for me than friendship. She looked at me, no she looked into my very soul. I could see her soul, too Estel. And there was hesitation. Something held her back. I tried to say something, but she touched my lips with her fingers. She caught her tongue between her teeth, but when she looked up at me it was with a faltering in her eyes. She said to me, “But what about Donalin?”
“At that same moment, I heard the alarm from the field where Gollum was. He had been perched in a lone tree for much of the day, and refused to come down at sunset. The patrol had stood fast around the base of the tree, and thought that all would be well, but a large group of orcs had swarmed across the field, attacking the patrol.
“Estel, that one night of all nights there was no experienced warrior to lead them. I had been on the roster. It was my job to lead that patrol. My oath bound duty to be there when the enemy struck. I was not there. My personal pleasure had displaced my sense of duty. I was foresworn, and elves died because of it!” Legolas drew in a shaking breath, then whispered, “and in the end, it was all for naught. Dulinai’s heart belongs to another.”
Legolas looked at Aragorn for a moment, and then continued. “When I got to the field there were no survivors. Three warriors were dead. The rest had been taken by the orcs. The first two bodies were elves that had been friends of mine for centuries. The third body was Donalin.”
Legolas rose to his feet and took two steps, as if to leave the conversation. He paused, and turned to face Aragorn.
“I am foresworn, Aragorn,” he said at last. “I betrayed my oath and put my own selfish desires before the welfare of my people. I deserve to die.”
He stood as a chastised youth, then. Feet apart and eyes downcast. Waiting for a word from Estel.
Silence stretched between them. Aragorn sighed and stood, looking first at Legolas and then at the stars. Carefully he considered his response to his friend. They were both seasoned warriors and knew well the importance of oath and duty. Certainly, Legolas had a point.
“If you are asking for judgement, Legolas, I can offer none, especially to the crowned prince of the woodland realm. But for a moment, let us consider the situation. It was your responsibility to write the roster every night, correct?”
“Yes,” replied Legolas, still looking down.
“Had you allowed your troops to stand in for one another before?”
“Occasionally, with good cause.”
“What constituted good cause?”
Legolas looked up then, unsure of where Aragorn was going with his questions. “Personal things, usually. Solodiel’s son was injured and I allowed him to find a substitute so that he could stay with him. Wynstron had a begetting celebration his father wanted him to attend.”
“And so you determined that talking to Dulinai constituted good cause?”
“Yes,” his eyes were downcast again.
Aragorn turned and thought for a moment. Then he asked, “You knew that there were guards on Gollum for a reason. You knew that there was enough of a risk to warrant at least one experienced warrior per shift. But you chose to ignore that caution in favor of excusing yourself. Is that correct?”
“Furthurmore, you failed to anticipate the unexpected, one of the basic mandates for any good military leader, correct?”
“And you allowed your people to come into harm’s way because of your decision.”
“Yes.” His voice was a whisper.
“Added to that, you deliberately chose to set personal comfort above the welfare of your people, and so you are foresworn.”
Legolas nodded miserably.
“And for this you deserve death? Tell me Thranduilion, did you expect your father to execute you? Or perhaps Dulinai would have you tried for murder in her own village. Perhaps she would condemn you for that. What did she say to you after Donalin died?”
“I did not speak with her again, but begged leave to travel at once to Imladris to tell Lord Elrond of the escape.”
“Sweet Eru, that was a crime in itself, Legolas! Why didn’t you go to her?”
“I was responsible for Donalin’s death, Aragorn. Why would she want to see me again?”
“So are you now a kinslayer, Legolas?”
Legolas looked at Aragorn in shocked disbelief, then he lowered his head and nodded.
“Ah, I see why you are so miserable, my friend. Next you will own planning the attack and striking the blow that took down your men.” He chuckled softly.
“This isn’t funny, Estel!”
“Oh, but it is not as grim as you make it, gwadarnin. You say you deserve death, but by whose hand?”
Legolas stood dumbly and then spoke “The Valar. I thought perhaps I was called on the quest to atone for my deeds with my life.”
Aragorn laughed again, a short, sharp laugh. “The Valar seldom choose the doom we desire. But you came on this quest thinking that they were going to strike you dead for your error in judgment?”
“I had hoped that they would.”
“It would have made things much easier for you, I think. You would be dead and have no excuse for shirking the responsibility of dealing with the mess you created.”
“Shirking my responsibility? Aragon, I do not shirk responsibility!”
“Think again, gwadarnin. You know as well as I do that you cannot predict all of the dark deeds of the Evil one. You also know that all captains, even captains with a millennium of experience, even you are going to make errors in judgment. Accepting the truth of this is hard, but it is part of any warrior’s life. Donalin’s death was tragic, but such is the way of war. We are trained to fight the Enemy and if our best falls short we must fight to accept our own limitations. No, Legolas, hiding behind a simple punishment will not do. You must own your shortcomings without condemnation. That is your responsibility. Do not hide from it.
“Furthermore,” said Aragorn, pausing to consider his next words, “You should also be thankful no, you should rejoice that after fighting the Darkness for so many years you have not become totally immune to the love an elleth has to offer! If you had I think Sauron himself would rejoice that you had lost your very heart to the Darkness. Now tell me the truth. Did you refuse to see Dulinai after Gollum’s escape because you were feeling guilty about Donalin’s death or because you were afraid that Dulinai would refuse your love?”
“Watch who you are talking to, mortal!” There was no humor in Legolas’ eyes. The accusation had hit too close to home.
Aragorn held his hands in front of him, as though to calm Legolas’ anger. “Only think on this, gwadarnin. The oath to defer personal gain until the Shadow was gone should never be construed that you should deny loving someone. Loving, laughing and singing – being with one another - these are the absolute essence of the Firstborn. Iluvatar would surely condemn any oath that would violate the essence of your very nature, Legolas. Fight, yes. Put aside material wealth and advancements for power, yes. Be diligent in doing all you can to train and lead your kin to fight the Darkness, absolutely. But don’t forgo your heart, mellonin, else the Dark One will have gained victory in the end.”
“Donalin died, Aragorn. He died for my foolishness,” said Legolas through clenched teeth.
Aragorn stepped closer to Legolas, but did not quite touch him. “He died because the Enemy attacked unexpectedly. Had you been there, he still might have died. You have no control over the denizens of the Dark Lord, Legolas, but you have a fundamental responsibility accept your limitations and to stay true to your heart.”
There was a long silence after that. The sounds from the camp had diminished altogether. There was only the quiet sighing of the wind as it blew across the dusty plain.
“What should I do, Estel?” Legolas whispered at last.
“Here, let this be your punishment, Legolas,” he said, pausing to gather his words, “Forgive yourself. Love, not perfection, needs to be your goal. Love for yourself,” he shrugged, “and perhaps love for another.”
Legolas sighed then and finally looked his friend in the eye. “For one so young, you are wise, penneth. But I think what you are saying is not easy.”
Aragorn laughed at that, “I have come to believe that real life is not for the fainthearted,” he said, “Forgiveness is more difficult perhaps that waiting for the Valar to strike you dead, but you should relish the challenge. Besides,” he added as an afterthought, “The names Donalin and Dulinai sound more like siblings than lovers to me.”
Aragorn left Legolas then, for the night was long gone and there was much waiting for him on the morrow. Just before he came to the first cluster of tents he turned and looked at his friend. Legolas stood silently, arms at his sides. His head was tilted back and in the starlight he looked relaxed and at peace. “Sidho, Legolas,” Aragon whispered to himself, “For the days of darkness are done.”
arnor – the sun
ithil – the moon
gwadarnin – my sworn brother
ellith, elleth – female elves/elf
penneth – young one
mellonin – my friend
daro – stop it!
n’uma - no