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The Sun In His Hands
A tale of Middle-earth set in the waning years of the Reign of Elessar Telcontar, Aragorn the Second
His eyesight was no longer what it had been, but then, for some things it did not need to be.
"Legolas, please come away from there. The landscape has not changed since the War; you cannot see it from here."
"You sound so certain."
Aragorn, King of Gondor, known to his people as Elessar, smiled faintly and stared down at the game board before him. He was coming down the final lap of a particularly tricky game of Capture the Queen over which he and his Elven companion had laboured for most of this damp day, and he was confident he would win.
"I am certain of not many things in this life," he murmured now, "but the view out my own window, that I know rather well."
"Ah, but how well do you know my vision?" the Elf asked archly, turning from that view with eyes that were steeped in pain, though he strove to make his voice light and merry. Aragorn chuckled.
"Having depended on it for my very life's safety for so many years, I think I know it well enough to state you cannot see the ocean from here."
"Only that?" Legolas murmured, one long-fingered pale hand ghosting over the royal shoulder as he passed, lighter than the breath of air that stirs a thin curtain. Aragorn felt it as a blow, though a welcome one. He was no longer young, and no longer had a young man's control over sensation or reaction. He did not have to look up to know the Elf had seen the shudder run through his form.
"What do you see closer to, Legolas?" the King asked quietly, striving and succeeding at making it sound like the most commonplace of questions. He heard the woodland prince regain his seat across the gaming table, frowned slightly as he suspected Legolas made more noise these days just so that Aragorn could hear him.
"I see a Queen in check," came the puckish answer. "In less than three moves."
Aragorn looked up into bright blue eyes brimming with mischief. "Three moves. You young idiot. There is nothing of the kind."
Legolas tilted his head slightly and raised one slender dark eyebrow. The supple mouth rose on one side in a faint smirk; as he spoke his next words, a forefinger poked at pieces on the game board before him.
"Knight in jeopardy. You're probably planning to try and rescue him with your Wizard. Wizard under attack; moving him will expose the junior pawn that is protecting your King. Castle to protect the King, lose the pawn; miss the fact that the Elves of Mirkwood have been steadily moving up through the trees, and your Queen is in check from no less than three separate directions."
Aragorn cocked an eyebrow right back at him, though his was bushy and white with age. Everything the Elf said was entirely true, right up to his suppositions on what his opponent might be considering for interim moves. The King gave a disobliging snort.
"There are no trees in Capture the Queen."
"There do not have to be," Legolas riposted with a faint grin. "Present or not present, the Elves are sneaking up through them nevertheless."
"The Elves are very sneaky and think themselves clever, doubtless," Aragorn grumbled, moving his Castle just for the sake of moving something. Legolas just looked amused. "In any case, I was not referring to the game."
"I see a friend acting very much younger than his weight of years," the Elf murmured, considering the situation before him and moving his own Wizard so that Aragorn's Knight was indeed in trouble. "And not in a manner that necessarily amuses."
"What in the name of Oromë did you do that for?" the Man demanded, staring. He raised his gaze and was caught in the summer lightning of Legolas's very blue eyes. "That--did not make sense."
"You are whining, Estel," Legolas pointed out, interlacing his long fingers and making them a platform onto which he could rest his chin. He smiled with friendly patronization. "Do we need a nap?"
"No, we need what is apparently impossible to obtain: a straight answer from an Elf." Aragorn mimicked his companion's position and batted his eyelashes on purpose, just because he could. "I did ask you what you were looking at, and you have yet to actually tell me."
Legolas smiled faintly and gave a very Elvish shrug. He never exactly looked away from the King; rather, his gaze lengthened and went through Aragorn, as if he were not there. Or conversely, as if he were terribly, terribly present, and for pain the Elf needed to look somehow elsewhere.
Both, of course, were true, given Legolas's state of mind...
"In point of fact, you asked me what I see closer to," he felt constrained to remind. Aragorn threw up his hands in mock despair.
"See what I mean? Ask an Elf a simple question! Just ask! And see how many answers you get!"
Legolas's supple mouth twisted briefly into a grimace; his brow creased with pain, and this time he did look quite away. "Ah well then, your mistake would be in assuming it was a simple question, nín mellon ."
Aragorn felt the change in his friend the way he felt alterations in the weather these days: viscerally, through his very being, as if his arthritic joints were reacting to an incoming storm. By the time he narrowed his eyes at the Elf, gone was the expression he was sure he had seen--but the sensation was still present like a ghost in the Paths of the Dead. Heedless of the game pieces between them like squadrons of intervening years, Aragorn reached across and took Legolas by one deceptively slender wrist, squeezing gently to get his wandering attention. Pawns and wizards and castles went every which way across the parquet battlefield. "Legolas--look at me."
The Elf stared down at the disrupted board and gave a smirk of pure mischief which almost hid the fact that his eyes were alive with pain. "What a silly way to prevent losing a game, Estel!" he chided gently, using his free hand to re-set the pieces in their starting arrangements. "I would have thought you past such nonsense--oh, at least a hundred years ago!"
Aragorn raised one eyebrow. "I did not do it for that reason. You had clearly already won."
"Then why else?" Legolas challenged, pausing with one hand poised over the figure of his King. The living monarch across the table raised his other hand and cupped both protectively about the Elven wrist he still held.
"That is the second time you have named me Estel in the last five minutes," he murmured, watching as Legolas gasped faintly in pain and closed his eyes. The Elf gave a quiet, twisted chuckle.
"What an Elvish answer. Positively Avari, in fact."
"Yes. As is yours." Aragorn mercifully released him, but the Elf did not move; he sat there, frozen in time, a bright spark caught in amber immortality. The chin dipped slightly; the most minute tilt to the head, and Legolas bit his lower lip in consternation.
"Ordinarily I am not this transparent," he whispered. "At least--I hope that is the case."
"Ordinarily," Aragorn allowed, nodding once.
A soft, bemused laugh that twisted into a breath of pain: "Would Gimli not be surprised at me!"
"Delighted, more belike, as it would give him fodder for banter."
Legolas took in another breath, as if it hurt him to do so. He rose gingerly to his feet--he for whom every move was usually poetry--and made his way the few short steps to the balcony. Aragorn marked that, apparently all unwitting, the Elf moved to precisely the same spot and adopted exactly the same stance as he had held some moments past. It seemed odd somehow that such a thing would be so.
"Ordinarily," the King murmured, finishing the task of re-aligning the game pieces, "I would continue this tentative discussion of ours with some sort of commonplace conversational nicety: a question to guide you along to further disclosure. I might, for instance, ask you: my dear friend, just exactly how long have you been suffering so?" It seemed as he glanced sidelong that the broad, powerfully slender shoulders twitched briefly. "But then, I do not believe I need ask that particular question."
"No, I daresay not." The melodic tones blended with the soft afternoon breeze and became one with it, barely voiced, barely heard. Aragorn closed his eyes against a guilty stab of pain.
"I might then choose another question," he said sadly. "I might then ask why you have suffered so."
The fair head, drooping on that long, slender neck like a precious lily heavy with dew, came up slowly, but Legolas did not turn.
"That," he said flatly, "would be a rather ridiculous question." The voice and the manner of delivery reminded Aragorn of Legolas's regal, ancient father, the fierce, fell, and frighteningly beautiful King Thranduil Oropherion, now well into his eighth millennium of life in Ennor. Hearing such power from the lips of the Elf-Lord's youngest child, not even a full six hundred years gone in life himself, was stunning; but Aragorn was accustomed to such declarations and such tones. Too, he had his reasons for asking.
"It is the very ridiculousness of the question that will keep me from asking it," the King of Men now murmured, his lips giving the faintest twitch of amusement. Legolas's only answer was an elegant snort. A silence stretched between them like a tabby cat, lithe and lean and long, though more tense than the comfortable silences that had yawned between them in the years they had been friends. Not for the first time it was Aragorn who had more patience for it, though the Valar knew he was far less well practiced at such calm than was the tightly coiled Elven spring hovering at the brink behind him. Had the circumstances been other than what they were, Aragorn might have scrupled to be amused.
"You asked me what I see closer to," the Sindarin prince said at last. His voice was edgy and thin, still musical, but more like wet fingertips on the rim of a crystal goblet than the brightly mellow concerto of hautbois and viols the Man usually heard when his friend spoke. "Knowing you as I do I refuse to believe you play at some lover's game, attempting to trick me into telling you how well I cherish you."
"Blessed Elbereth, you are in a fell mood this day," Aragorn breathed, pain backlighting the simple phrase even as he tried to give it the lightness of humour. "I must search out some kind of hedge-witch to work on the weather--your spirit is as damp as a marsh with all this rain and chill!"
The Elf was beside him in less time than it took to involuntarily blink, and far more silently. Down on one knee beside him, Legolas looked up at the familiar, beloved face; one arm snaked behind Aragorn to lay across the carved back of the chair just at his shoulders, while the other came up, hesitant as young love, to not-quite touch his cheek, mapping every line the years had limned there.
"I see all your decades like toy soldiers marching across a shelf," Legolas said, his voice almost a humming growl of effort to keep steady. "And I hate it that something so precious can be measured out in such little drams--like miruvor in the House of Healing, one small teaspoon at a time. Decades! My people measure time in greater swaths--if we bothered to make clocks like Gimli's folk do the hands would not move for centuries, so slow do we pace, so long do our memories go! And yet--and yet--"
His face contorted with agony; Legolas turned his face away, willing himself not to release the tears that built up within him. But all his effort flew out the window when Aragorn touched him. Mirroring the Elf's position he lay his right arm over Legolas's left, reached over and placed his free hand on the slender, green-clad shoulder. The prince uttered one choked sob and tried to twist away, but Aragorn took him by the chin, made him look up. The blue eyes were swimming with tears like a tempest at the heart of the Sundering Sea, changing colour as the wetness shifted: now grey, now silver, now azure, and always awash with loss expected.
"My clock runs to the insistence of a faster pace, I know," the King whispered, regret colouring the words, love roughening the edges of his deep voice. "And I am sorry for that; I never meant to cause either of you such pain."
"You do us both wrong to name it so," Legolas ground out, but he did not--could not--pull away from the hand that both comforted and burned. "Do you think either Arwen or myself so blind--so foolish!--that we did not know from the moment you were born what it would mean to love you, even as a friend? Do you think I am such a dunce that I cannot tell what my own future brings? You gone to the silence of the House of Kings; Arwen likely as cold as death herself in a matter of hours or days beyond that--and then I must watch Gimli sink down to the grave as well like a stone in the sea!"
It was not usual to hear such a torrent of speech from the Elf. Legolas by custom portioned out his words with great care, whether for good or ill; he could be as bright and cheery as any of his kindred, and yet as it seemed through those of Eldar descent there ran a deep current of melancholy, he could also parcel out sadness or words intended to cut, and all with a fell and learned hand. Generally speaking, he was a quiet creature with as many bends and twists in his speech as a decorative knot on the scabbard of a Rohan sword. At this sudden deluge of emotion and pain Aragorn could only stare, stricken. Hating the sorrow and agony in those blue eyes, he leaned forward with intent to avoid them as well as soothe, and touched his lips to those of the Elf, gently at first, giving comfort.
Legolas let out a pent breath of pain and sobbed once into Aragorn's mouth; then with desperation he entwined his arms about the King's neck and returned the kiss with a terrible fervency that left them both breathless. Then he dropped to both knees and hid his face against Aragorn's thigh, his shoulders quivering as he strove with the violent extreme of emotion.
"Forgive me," he breathed, and never was agony of soul more musical than the voice of Legolas. "I never meant to speak of these things. I have watched the years crawl over you, robbing your eyes of their brightness, your hair of its darkness, your limbs of their strength--and I meant to say nothing, nothing, do you hear me? I wanted only that you should look into my eyes and see yourself reflected back a hundred years to your youth, strong and powerful! And ai Valar, how I wanted that for Arwen as well! But because of my own weakness I have failed you both! Forgive me–ai! Forgive..."
The words trailed off. There was no more sound, but Aragorn did not pretend this was the last coin of his friend's agony. Legolas's inner turmoil was all the worse for its silence as he strove with it, his entire being caught up in the struggle to regain and hold his dignity and outer calm. The King wrapped his arms about the Elf then, bending down to rest one lined cheek against the silken brightness of the other's hair, giving him the strength that just for this moment he did not possess, from arms he feared no longer had such strength to give. But there is strength and then there is strength, and for the moment it was enough.
"Beloved idiot," Aragorn whispered then in the Sindarin tongue of his childhood, closing his eyes and smiling dimly to contemplate those golden years of joy and wonder. "Did you think for one moment, all these years, that I did not know? Did you believe that because you never spoke the words aloud to me, I would not merely look at you and understand? Doubtless you thought yourself clever to make the vow only to Arwen, but I have spent more years with you recently than she has, and I will make the brazen declaration that I know you far better than she does. Yea, and Gimli knows as well, being no want-wit himself."
Legolas remained where he was, motionless and silent save for a single noise that issued forth--whether sob or chuckle Aragorn could not have been certain--and then it was as if he had become a statue. The King brought up one roughly elegant hand and, as gently as if he touched an infant, ran that hand over the golden fall of hair that spilled across his lap. The merest shudder ran through the grieving Elf; another might not have marked its passing at all, but Aragorn was not that other. At length he wondered if his friend had fallen into Elvish reverie, while outside the gentle rain that had fallen steadily all day began ever so slightly to turn to a true storm as night began to fall over the capital.
"Do you dream, melethron-nín?" the king murmured eventually, allowing his hand to come to rest atop the bowed head.
"Perhaps," Legolas sighed wearily, exhaustion colouring the words. "But if I do, I do in waking. I feel as if the last decade has been nothing but a waking dream."
"A good one, I hope."
For love of him, the Elf did not speak the thought that came to him then; he simply raised his slender shoulders in something approximating a shrug.
"I would not change a moment of it," he said instead, with complete honesty. He raised his eyes, dry at last, to those of the King. "Except--possibly to make it longer."
Aragorn smiled. "As would I."
Legolas managed the faintest of smiles--a pale shadow of that with which he usually graced this best beloved of friends, but enough at the moment--and sighed gently.
"Tell me again," he pleaded as he levered himself to his feet. At Aragorn's interrogative look, the Elf elaborated: "Tell me what the spiritual writers of your people say concerning the fate of Men when their souls and bodies part. It seemed to me, if I am remembering it aright, there were parallels to Mandos--something of hope that there is indeed life beyond life."
He did not need reminding, of course, for Legolas knew those writings well--had studied them in great and anxious depth, seeking answers to the well of encompassing pain that ebbed and flowed within his being like the very Sea that called to him daily. But it was exactly the right thing to say, for there was a spark in Aragorn's weary eyes that had not been there before--a chance to give something back to his beloved friend, perhaps. An opportunity to assuage and comfort--to give it and to receive it from the words of belief that had governed the lives of the Númenórean greats since time immemorial... perhaps the very same words that had comforted Elros, brother of Elrond, who had chosen to follow the Way of Men and thus had accepted Ilúvatar's Gift to the Second-Born...
And as Aragorn began to speak, his marvelous voice took on the cadence of one reciting some great epic work of poetry, a saga of ages gone by when Men knew a greatness they had not known in the Age before--a greatness Aragorn himself had brought back to them. Listening, Legolas sat back in his previously abandoned chair and cupped the figure of the little King of the game board between his pale, long-fingered hands, protecting it, cherishing it. He closed his eyes and drifted, smiling faintly as the words rolled around him gentle as waves, now rising, now falling.
Thy heart will then rest in the forest no more...
The prophecy of Galadriel echoed through the sound of Aragorn's voice, persistent as the call of a sea bird, wheeling and dipping through his consciousness as it wove itself into the fabric of his being again and again, as it had every day since the great ships had borne Aragorn's host up the Anduin, away from the beckoning ocean. The cry of the gull on the shore...
On the shore, in his ears, in his heart, through his soul. The cry of the gull had wrenched him in half, then tore each half asunder into tiny little fragments, scattering his being helplessly to the winds as Varda had scattered the stars into the vault of heaven. Legolas closed his eyes, blessing and cursing the long memory of the Elves in the same breath, for he could remember every second, every iota, every nuance of the experience as powerfully as if the then were happening now.
"...and just as the Valar have promised to the Firstborn, so shall it be for the Followers," Aragorn murmured, coming to the end of his recitation. His voice sounded very close; Legolas opened his eyes languidly to stare at a clasp of the King's over-robe, right about at the midpoint of his belly, for he stood in front of the Elf's chair not even a breath away. The callused hands came up to frame Legolas's face, tipping his head back slightly so he could look up; with chaste tenderness Aragorn bent to kiss the smooth pale forehead on a face that had not changed a bit, not the veriest fragment, in all the years he had known it, loved it, marveled upon it. "Even in death do we live, nor are we sundered from the Song of Ilúvatar, for we simply go on to the next coda. I know we will meet again, son of Thranduil, in a better place than this. A place where age does not intrude and the sea does not beckon."
Legolas gave him a fractured smile, managed an impressive amount of control. "I am glad to know that," he breathed. "It gives me much hope."
"If it gives you in comfort a tenth of what I hope it gives, it might be enough to silence the gulls that scream in your heart," the King said, one thumb stroking gently across a high cheekbone. "How Arwen and I have become worthy of such love I know not--but by Elbereth, I thank the Valar every day of my years for whatever it is that makes us so, and pray that you do not have cause to regret the greatness of your own soul."
"I do not," Legolas said, briefly closing his eyes to nuzzle the caressing hand; then he stood in Aragorn's embrace and wound tensile arms about the mortal King. "Nor will I ever."
"Even if I live forever?" Aragorn teased. Legolas smiled, shattering the jest with his sincerity.
"Think you we will have a chance to prove our boasts?"
"We can but try."
The wind was battering the windows now, spending itself with great force against the leaded panes of diamond-shaped crystal. It had grown quite dark; in the corridor beyond the chamber of the King they could hear servants moving about, illuminating torches to brighten the hallways of the residence. Night had come to Minas Tirith, and with it the storms of summer.
"It will be a filthy night," Legolas commented. Aragorn smiled, and the winter in his brow retreated like melting snow.
"You are the sun for me," he said, and for all the lack of volume there was great power in the utterance.
"You hold Anor in your hands and bring its warmth, its light to me. An uir."
"An uir," Legolas agreed, nodding gently.
They stood and watched until the storm lashed itself to calmness once more; eventually the clouds parted to show a midsummer moon, nearly full, riding the skies like a swan-ship under full sail. They spoke of this and that, the inconsequentials upon which life is based, until a servant came to call them to dinner. And ever, always, the sea danced in the eyes of the Elf, calling to him, commanding his tears to add to the great salt depths, while the sea-birds swept through his being and cried out their mournful songs.
Thy heart will then rest in the forest no more...
Only a little while, then forever, Legolas thought to himself as they made their way through the corridors. You are a prince of the Greenwood and the son of Thranduil; surely this is not beyond you!
You can do this. If necessary, for always.
The voice of Aragorn called him back to the present. Legolas gazed with some surprise upon the private dining chamber, at the table where waited the Queen, Arwen, the Evenstar of her people, and the lovely son and daughters she had borne to the Man who was her Doom and her beloved. Bright eyes, knowing eyes watched him as they entered; enthusiastic greetings for Aragorn, more reserved ones for Legolas, who though no less beloved, was clearly not in a celebratory mood this stormy night. And eventually, as he knew it would, the cries of the gulls retreated for a time beyond the sound of fire crackling in the hearth and the civilized murmurs of dinnertime conversation, punctuated by clinking crystal and the sound of knife on plate, spoon in bowl.
He felt Arwen's knowing eyes upon him and Legolas smiled for her, bravely, eyes glowing with the love that made all this possible.
An uir, those eyes told her, and she nodded.
An uir, nín gwador...
End Note: The game of "Capture the Queen"--a chess derivative played in Gondor--is used with permission of Irena, who makes passing reference to it in her marvelously dark tale, "For the Good of Gondor."
The title of this story comes from an exquisite song by Judy Collins, which I first heard years ago on her album "Colors of the Day". They reminded me of Galadriel and her mirror back when I first heard them; but in retrospect they minded me more of the Telerin Elves, for whom the Calling of the Sea was both a great gift and a devastating agony.
That Legolas Thranduilion was able to resist that Call from the time of the Ring's Destruction all the way to the end of Aragorn's life and the passing of Arwen speaks of a great and encompassing love. I hope no one who reads this tale feels that such a love has been in any way lessened by how I have treated it here.
Remember to send me a note if you want the lyrics to the song. Which I did not write, and never claimed I did. wry smile