Warnings: Implied character death. Actually, you decide if it is a character death story or not.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of the Lord of the Rings and I make no money with this story. So, actually, it would be very nice if you could refrain from sueing me. Thank you.
Summery: Estel comes to Mirkwood while travelling with the rangers and Legolas wants to show his friend something very special.
A/N: This was written for the Teitho Contest "Happiness/Unhappiness". I decided to write a Happiness story. As there is not much known about Legolas´ mother, this story represents my own view. Oh, and this story is non-slash, of course.
Sunlight filtered through the treetops, its golden shimmer sprinkling the green leaves and its warmth engulfing the cold ground. Patches of a friendly blue could be seen wavering in and out of sight between the branches that swayed slightly in the soft breeze. The small and tender leaves that were sheltered by the older and bigger ones peeked up shyly to enfold and grow in the first sunshine of the spring.
Spring had come early this year, the bright rays of the sun melting the cold winter's snow and warming the earth, waking the animals and the plants that had cowered before the harshness of the last season. Songs could be heard in the air and as the trees shook their branches and leaves in joy over the fresh and bright day, the earth itself rejoiced. The hearts of all living beings were lifted by the sight and sound of the waking world.
Even the two beings, as unlike as they were, an elf and a young human, could both feel the joy and happiness that surrounded them. For hours they had walked through the forest of Mirkwood, talking and laughing and happy that they could spent time together. Time that belonged only to them, to the two friends that had been forced apart for such a long time.
Two years ago Estel had joined the rangers of the north and it had been nearly as long since they had last seen each other, talked to each other, laughed together and enjoyed the peace and comfortable silence that lingered between them when they walked side by side.
They both had not felt this complete for a long while. So safe. The security that only a very good friend could give one, a friend that would always be there to support and respect. Unasked for and unconditionally.
And especially in this dark times.
Legolas´ heart had stopped beating for a second when he had heard the news from his father. For a fleeting moment he had just stood before his ada´s tall form, his thoughts racing, his stomach flipping. Then, his face had changed like the moon giving way to the sun and such a wide smile had graced his fair features that he had thought his father must believe him gone mad. But it had not mattered. Not in that moment, not ever.
His friend was coming to Mirkwood.
Only a few days before, a messenger had come to the King's halls, announcing that a group of rangers requested to enter the forest. And with this messenger had come a personal note from a young ranger called Strider that asked for the King's permission to come to the palace and stay a few days to visit with the Prince. Legolas had been more than happy, he had been as exited as a small bird that first left its nest.
And now, only a few days later, the two friends were walking through the green and lively forest of Mirkwood, relishing in the comfort that they gave each other, both of them feeling relieved of a heavy burden.
Strider, or Estel as he was still called by his family and friends, felt relieved because on this day, this special day, he was Estel, and not Strider, ranger of the North. He had been able to shed the new responsibilities that he now carried and become the carefree and happy youngster that he had been and deep inside would ever be.
And Legolas, he felt relived because his friend still lived. That was all it needed for his heart to beat in joy. Estel was alive and well, unharmed and his spirit still untainted by the evil and malice that had spread over the world like a blanket of darkness and death.
The wind was playing with this long golden hair, the grass was soft under his feet and his spirit was light and soaring with joy. Aye, this day was a good day. And it would become even better once they reached their destination.
When his young friend had woken this morning, or better, had been woken by a grinning elven prince even before the sun had peeked over the horizon, he had not known what would await him. And Legolas had made sure that it would stay that way. At least, until they got there. After all, he was going to do something that meant much for the elf.
The prince wanted to make this day special for his friend, a memory that would be vivid in the man's mind as long as he walked this big world alone and without the elf by his side.
As the day neared its completion and the sky directly overhead of the two friends began to darken, while in the distance it was still of a bright blue with streaks of orange and red, they set up camp under the stars, their fire shining red in the approaching night, the sparks dancing in the slight wind and the branches of the dark trees towering over them, their treetops black in the dark sky.
It had been a long day, but the two friends had no thought for sleeping, there was still so much they wanted to share, so much they wanted to tell the other. So they sat near the warming light, talking and laughing, feeling comfortable in the presence of the other and only when the horizon showed a misty grey did they lay down for a few hours of rest.
Legolas, listening to his young friend's even breathing and the crackling of the dying fire, had one last thought before he, too, was welcomed into the realm of elven sleep. Tomorrow they would reach their destination. Tomorrow, Estel would learn why he was here, with him, and what it meant for the elf to take the man to this very place.
The next morning dawned misty and cold, the early morning birds spreading their wings and singing to welcome the new day. Soon, the warming rays of the sun's golden light melted the mist and the day grew into one of the most wonderful days the spring had seen this very year.
The two friends had risen with the sun, sharing a quick breakfast and then, after cleaning their camp side, they were on their way again, deeper into the forest of Mirkwood and with every step they took they came closer to their destination. Or rather, Legolas knew that they would reach it before the evening and Estel, as he still had no idea as to where they were going, felt the excitement grow inside of him, but refrained from asking his friend. Legolas would have a good reason for this and who was Estel as to question him?
The day passed by as had the last, the two friends talking and joking, catching up with each other and both feeling as good as they had not done in a long time. Actually, not since they had parted ways such a long time ago.
When the shadows grew larger and the air colder, the sun slowly sinking to the far away horizon, Legolas stopped in his tracks, his eyes looking distant and his stance tense. He took a deep breath. He knew they were near. Just a few more moments, just beyond that couple of trees and then, then they would be there. Finally. Often had he wandered here, but never had he taken someone with him to this place. This spot on Middle-Earth that belonged to him alone. And that would soon belong to him and Estel. His brother.
The elf more felt than saw the concerned gaze of the man linger upon him. Smiling inwardly and taking another deep breath, he blinked and nodded slightly. If he had had any doubts as to whether he was doing the right thing, they were gone now. Standing here with his friend, so near and yet so far away from their destination, felt just right. Aye, it was right.
Sending the man a quick smile, he nodded once more and then they started forwards once more, Legolas a step before his friend and Estel following. Together they walked past huge trees, old and tall, as if they would guard the place for eternity and beyond.
With the sinking sun before them and the forest all around them, they climbed a small hill that was full of buzzing insects, all striving for the rest of the light before the warming sun would finally rest and the dark night would reign.
Reaching the top of the small hill, Legolas stopped. A smile, one of heartfelt pleasure brightened his face, his stance relaxed and his gaze directed at that which lay before him. Estel stepped up to him, his cloak moving slightly in the wind.
They needed no words. They just watched. And the sight that met their eyes was breathtaking in its beauty and refreshing in its pureness.
Before them lay a valley full of trees, older than those that grew in the rest of Mirkwood, their trunks dark from age, vines and ivy circling the branches, the green leaves radiating in the fading sunlight. Patches of red, golden and a pure orange painted the ground and the plants, a small river glittering in the sunny rays, its water clear and flowing in a bed full of white stones that shone like diamonds.
As the sun sunk deeper the colours changed, giving way to deeper shades of red and slowly, blackness settled over the valley as the sun disappeared and the full moon rose in the night sky, waking the first stars which would keep their vigil over the earth.
Where darkness and night made the forest eerie and the trees grew cautious and silent, the blackness that settled over the valley was of another kind. The moon reflected in the water of the river, the stars blinked and twinkled from above as if to greet the trees, and the plants in the valley seemed to wake up from a slumber. If anything, the night made the scene before them more beautiful than it had been before.
For long moments neither Legolas nor Estel said a word, both lost in their own thoughts but both feeling the same. It was a feeling of peacefulness. As if nothing bad could ever happen in the world.
With the bright light of the full moon on their features, Legolas finally spoke, his voice soft and his eyes still taking in the valley before him: "This valley does exist since the creation of arda and it will still exist when we have long left the circles of this earth.
I have brought you here because I wanted you to see it. To see it the way I see it. I know I have never told you about my mother, Estel, but I think it is time for you to know."
Legolas paused, his voice slightly cracking, but his eyes were bright and when he continued, a small reminiscing smile graced his lips.
"When I was still young, a mere elfling, my mother and I visited Lothlorien. One our way back we stopped here, right here, at this valley. We watched the sunset, my mother and I and she hold me close and when the night came we greeted the moon, looking up to the stars and feeling their light on us.
Long we sat under the moon and the stars, exactly were we stand now, Estel. The ground was full of flowers, little blue flowers that gazed at the stars and the moon long after the sun was gone. Lothamarth, my mother called them. She said they would weep at the passing of the day until some time into the night. But then they would accept the night and the new beginning it brought, and with the new morning, the flowers would rise again to start this circle anew.
That night I fell asleep in her arms, her voice soothing me and the scent of the flowers floating around us."
It seemed that Legolas was relieving a very fond memory, his eyes sparkling and his gaze on the full moon and the valley as he spoke. Estel watched him intently. Never had his friend spoken of his mother, it was a part of his life that was buried deep in the elf, as it was too painful for him to remember. The more astounded and equally honoured did the man feel as his friend continued.
"You know Estel, before I fell asleep, she whispered in my ear that this was our special place, our little secret garden of peace and rest. A place to that we should return if our lives became to much to bear. I visit it often, Estel. In my dreams and thoughts. It always brings peace to me. It calms me. Brings me hope.
Every time I think about my mother I smell those flowers. They only grow here, at no other place have I seen them, neither have I read or heard about them. The scent makes me feel home. I wish I could take it with me wherever I go."
A sad smile now flittered over his face and his eyes held unshed tears.
"The next day, when we returned home to the palace, our party was attacked by orcs and my mother was killed. Sometimes I think, if we had not stopped here, but travelled on for but a few hours more, maybe she had not died. But still, I would not miss this night that we have spent here. It is the most treasured memory that I have. It drives out the dark memories of her last moments and all I see when I think about her is this last night, this very special moment together.
And that is why we are here today, my friend. I want you to remember this place and this night after we part again. If know your life will be dangerous and you will face many foes and evil will be your companion for as long as you live.
But I want you to remember this place, this night, this feeling, wherever you are and wherever you go. I want you to know that I will always be at your side, my brother. Whatever happens and no matter how hopeless it may be in your life, remember this valley and let the light enter your heart. In the darkest night, let the moon guide you home, Estel. Follow the stars and you will find your way.
I have said this valley gives me hope, but since I know you, you give me hope too, my friend. Hope for this world, for a better future, for light and life, for friendship and that which is it worth to die for.
In a few days you will leave Mirkwood and travel with the rangers to places unknown to me. The future is unwritten and only the Valar know when we will meet again. Or if.
Remember this place, Estel, when all hope seems lost.
This I give to you, my friend."
Tears escaped Estel´s eyes. He just could not hold them back. His throat felt too tight to speak and so he only nodded, his hand on the elf's shoulder. Their eyes met and both smiled. They needed no words to understand each other.
For long moments they stood there in the night, the stars twinkling and the moon shining down on them, the peacefulness of the scene wrapping itself around their hearts. They felt as if they had travelled down a long road and had finally arrived.
When the morning sun woke the earth, the two friends still sat on the small hill, overlooking the valley that lay peaceful and pure before them, neither of them yet willing to rise and leave.
They had not spoken much throughout the night, but there had been no need to.
Legolas´ heart felt lifted, as if a burden had been lifted from it and it gladdened his spirit that he had shown his friend this place, his secret hiding place, his refuge in a world full of storms. Peace filled his heart, because he knew Estel, wherever he would go, would always take this memory with him.
And Estel, he felt honoured that his friend had shared this intimate memory with him, that he had trusted him enough to take him to this place and to open his heart to him. He knew he would never forget this night, as long as his mortal life would last. Never. He would take this memory into the afterlife and beyond, for all eternity.
Too soon the moon vanished, the stars fading in the sunny light of Anor, taking with them the scent of the blue flowers. Like a dream that grew dimmer with waking, the valley changed before their eyes.
It was time to go.
They packed their things and after another longing gaze at the scene before them, they turned and began their long way back to the royal palace of Mirkwood. Legolas returning to his duties as a Prince of an elven realm and Estel returning to become Strider once more, who would leave with the rest of the rangers in a few days.
They walked throughout the day, silence reigning between them for most of the time. But it was not an uncomfortable silence, but a silence that was welcomed. A homely peace.
Night came cold and dark, the forest black and shadows lingering between the trees and hiding in the thick underbrush. Clouds were hiding the moon from their view and neither could they see any stars. The wind howled and sent shivers down their backs. The forest was eerie.
For their own protection and to warm their cold hands and faces, they light a small fire, the red glow throwing flickering shadows over their faces, the sparks flying high into the air and melting into the darkness of the night.
Neither of them was very hungry, but as they had not slept the last night and the night before had been equally short, they soon spread out their bed rolls, laid down and talked quietly. The friendly banter of the last days was gone, but the tales they now shared were equally welcomed, speaking of true friendship and brotherhood.
When Estel unsuccessfully tried to suppress his yawns, Legolas threw him an amused smile and with a friendly "Sleep Estel" he took his bow and readied for his watch. It took only moments until the young man was deep asleep.
The attack had come swiftly, Legolas had not sensed the danger before it had been too late. They had rushed them from all sides, their evil eyes glinting in the darkness, their growls menacing and their fangs sharp.
His alarmed yell had sounded over the little clearing where they had stopped for the night, his bow thrown to the ground, useless in this fight, as the predators already where to near. With fear in his heart the elf had unsheathed his twin knives, handles shining white in the black night.
Only with the help of his elven reflexes did he escape the first attack, his blades slashing through fur and skin, leaving death in their wake and making the wolf that had sprung at him howl with pain.
A second wolf attacked him, then a third, then another and another, each one of the beasts more fierce than the one before. All the prince could do was retreat and fight. But his heart was not in the fight. Neither was his mind. As another wolf lunged at him, he slashed out, his blade cutting deep into the animals side, making the beast drop to the ground. But once more, Legolas was forced to retreat.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a shadow in his back. He ducked, turned, slashed, and another wolf fell dead to his feet.
Gripping his twin knives tighter, the elf resumed his fight, wanting desperately to end it. Because, he was not sure. Not sure if his warning call had come too late for his friend. Too late for Estel to survive this night.
And indeed, the yell had come late. When the alarmed voice of his friend had reached the man's ears, he had instinctively reached for his sword that had rested beside him, but, it had been too late.
With a menacing growl a wolf had attacked him, pinning the human to the ground and clawing at the tender flesh. The blanket that Estel had used to ward off the chill of the night, now served to hold the sharp claws away, but the man's unprotected sword arm, the arm that had reached for the weapon, was soon covered in bloody scratches as Estel tried to hold the beast's deathly fangs at bay.
Desperately, he held the limb before his throat, not willing to expose it. Growling and snarling, the beast blecked its fangs and when the strong jaws clenched around the hand and wrist, Estel could not help but cry out in pain.
He tried to jerk his arm away, to loosen the grip of the animal, but his efforts only served to drive the sharp teeth deeper into his skin and when the wolf shook its shaggy head, the man could hear his wrist crack. Pain shot through him, mingled with fear.
With his right hand held in the fangs of the wolf, Estel could not reach for his sword. The blood that flowed freely down his arm and trickled onto his throat and chest, it coloured his tunic in a deep crimson red, almost like the sinking sun on a warm summers day.
As the huge wolf, the fur as dark as the night itself, the eyes of a vicious orange, tightened his hold onto the arm, the already fragile bone snapped, the sickening sound reaching Estel´s ears a second sooner than the nauseating pain that burst through his veins.
Gasping, he reached to his waist with his free hand, grabbed the dagger he wore and with a fluid motion born out of pain and fear, he brought the weapon home in the side of the animal. A deep howl escaped the beast, the crunching jaws biting down harder, and as the dagger again found its mark, the wolf clenched its jaws, captured in the throws of his own death.
The heavy weight of the dead animal fell on his chest, the sharp claws releasing his tender skin and the hot breath of the beast, that had only moments prior engulfed him, was gone. But the fierce hold on his arm and wrist was not.
With his free hand that still held the dagger, Estel tried to pry open the jaws, to pull his hand free of the white and deadly teeth that were still buried inside his flesh and bone. The blood that had before only coloured the lower part of his sleeve, had by now spread over most of his tunic, wetting the whole sleeve from hand to elbow.
Estel could hear the fight around him, the growls of the wolves, the yelps of pain when Legolas´ own weapons found their target. Another growl reached his ears, nearer than the rest, closer.
Turning his head, the ranger´s eyes found the source of the menacing sound. And all he could do before the blanket of unconsciousness was laid over him, was to pray to the Valar that they would spare his friend the same fate that awaited him in this dark night.
The last wolf had fallen without a sound, its paws buried deep into the earth instead of the initiated target, Legolas´ chest, but its fangs already tainted in a deep crimson red, blood that did not belong to the animal, although the beast had never reached the prince. But the elf´s twin knives had not paused, their master not rested until all foes had been slain and victory had come.
Feeling the heat of battle slowly release him, Legolas sheathed his knives and let his eyes travel over the clearing. Dead wolf carcases lay everywhere, their huge shapes dark in the night.
Silence had settled over the scene, no sound reached his sensitive ears. Fear crawled over his spine on icy spiders legs and he felt as if an iron hand would crush his heart.
Where was he? Where was Estel?
Slowly, so as if he was not ready yet to see it, his eyes wandered to the place where he had last seen his friend. Where he had last spoken to the one person that meant so much to him, where he had bade him to find sleep, because he would be there to watch over him.
His eyes saw it, but his mind did not understand what his eyes told him. This just could not be. No, not here. Not now, not ever.
With feet too slow for him but faster than he wished, with arms that felt as heavy as lead and a mind that was number than he had ever felt, Legolas walked the few steps to the place that held his friend.
His hands reached out and lifted the dead wolf off of the man´s chest, his eyes sought out the pale face. A pale face that was made even paler by the red streaks of blood that coloured it. Blood, that did not belong to a wolf.
Knees that were to weak too support his weight landed on the ground, a hand that shook like a young leaf in a storm touched the man´s neck to search for a pulse under all the blood. Despite all the blood.
Trembling fingers travelled to the ranger´s cheek, resting there, unable to break the contact. He could not lose him.
His fingers had found a pulse, fast and weak, too weak perhaps for a mortal with wounds such as this.
"Estel?" he whispered, his voice would not allow more. The blond hair that had escaped the finely braids hung down the sides of his face, his hand still at the man´s cheek. The breath that the elf took was shallow and hitched, his eyes unmoving, fixed on his friend.
A flutter. A small movement of the head, then another flutter of the eyelids and then the ranger opened his grey eyes and when their gazed locked, a weak smile crossed the human´s tired face: "I knew the Valar would grant me this."
"Grant you what, Estel?" He suppressed a shudder. Estel´s voice was so weak, already so far away although his friend was still with him. Still here, still warm and alive. Tears wanted to escape his eyes, but he fought them. Not yet.
"My last wish." Despite the situation the smile had not left the lips and it grew even wider as the man saw his friend´s uncomprehensing face. "You will understand it, Legolas. Someday."
Nodding, Legolas reached for his pack. He needed bandages, and herbs and water to clean the wounds, to wash away all the blood that tainted his friend. So much blood.
"Its alright, Legolas." It was weak, barely a whisper on the wind. The elf did not want to hear it, he wanted to ignore it. But he could not. He would never ignore his friend.
"Its alright, Legolas."
"I can´t Estel. Not…not again."
The tears that he had fought burned in his eyes, making them brighter than they were, but still, they did not fall.
"You won´t. I promise." The human´s hand reached out and laid itself on the elf´s arm, squeezing it gently. It was a promise, or a farewell. Legolas could not tell. All he could do was nod and then, his breath still shallow, unwrap the bandages and begin to bind the deepest cuts and foremost, the man´s wrist that was still bleeding freely.
With every moment that flew by, the face grew paler, the red stains bigger and the night shorter. With the last bandage came the cold, the ranger trembling slightly. Legolas seated himself behind his friend, the man´s body resting against his chest, the elven cloak spread over the human´s body to keep him warm.
Neither spoke, neither moved. There was nothing that could be done, nothing that would change anything. Only the morning could tell their fate. And both knew it.
Tightening his fragile hold onto the wounded ranger, Legolas felt guilt rise in him. It was his fault. Only his doing. He had brought his young friend to this place, to this spot on Middle Earth that had seen too much spilled blood already.
He had been too late, too unobservant. Had he been stronger, quicker, this mortal soul in his arms would not have to fight for its life.
As the night pressed on a realisation that had nagged at the back of his mind became to a clear fact. This place, his place of peace and solitude, would take from him another loved person. First, his mother. And now, the best friend that he had on arda.
His shoulders shook in suppressed sobs. How could the Valar be so cruel to him, what had he done to deserve this? What had Estel done?
"Legolas?" Weaker already, faint and distant, but alive still. Maybe there was no need to mourn yet. Morning was not far away.
"I would not miss having been here. Having seen the valley and its beauty. I think I will visit it often, in my dreams."
The prince swallowed. Estel seemed to know his every thought. Like a feather in the wind the guilt that had weighted on his heart lifted, leaving room for other emotions, other feelings….memories.
Aye, he would visit it too. He had more reason to than he had had before.
The hours passed, the archer holding his friend, silent and waiting. Morning was not far. There was still hope. If Estel would make it until the morning light touched the sky, painting it golden and pink, then hope would prevail.
The horizon was still dark as a whisper reached the archer´s ears.
"Can you smell them?"
"Smell what, mellon nin?"
Later, only a short time later, when the golden orb of the sun painted the sky in the most beautiful colours that arda had ever seen, a blond haired elf sat on the forest ground, holding his still friend in his strong arms, his face wet from the tears he had shed, his eyes as blue as a winter lake directed at the sky, his body welcoming the morning, and a knowing smile gracing his lips.
Lothamarth: Flower of the impending fate; words taken from: Jim Allan, An introduction to elvish, Bath 1978, but made up by myself. At least, I have found this word nowhere else.