Disclaimer: Tolkien owns it all.
A/N: Written for the teitho challenge.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" the elder elf asked the younger, uncertainty in his voice."I am sure," the younger answered without a doubt, as calm as water on a windless day."You need not do this. There are others." The elder elf searched the younger elf with his eyes, looking for a hidden hesitation.
He found none.
Both elves stood beside each other in silence for a while until the elder sighed.
"Your father will kill me for this."
The younger one shook his head. "It was my choice. I want this. If my father searches to kill someone it is me he needs."
The elder one shook his head "Somehow I doubt Thranduil would see it that way."
"My father has nothing to do with this, Elrond. It is my choice. I want it done."
The dark-haired elf sighed and shook his head. "If this is really what you want..."
Legolas nodded. "It is." There was no trace of doubt.
"Very well." The elflord spoke. "Take off your shirt."
The elf moved slowly, without his natural grace, always at the back of the fellowship.
He used the excuse of guarding their backs, but to Aragorn it was almost as if it were his own back he was protecting most. The elf moved his shoulders carefully as if he didn't want the fabric of his clothes to touch his skin, always carrying his share of the load in his arms, not in the backpack they gave him.
And he stared into the distance quite a lot.
"Legolas" the ranger spoke softly. "We need to talk."
Though the elf had appeared to be on guard, he did not react to Aragorn's words, nor did he seem to notice Aragorn's presence until the man placed a hand on the elf's shoulders.
Then the ranger noticed the pain in the elf's eyes. He knew he had been right in suspecting the elf was hurt. His healer-instinct had not lied to him.
"Take off you shirt."
"Your father has seen to these wounds before we left," the elf spoke softly. "He allowed me to come. You need not worry."
Aragorn looked at the elf with doubt in his eyes.
"Take off your shirt." He spoke again while he watched the anger in the elf-eyes grow. "I want to have a look."
The ranger wished he had spent more time with Legolas before they had left Rivendell. He had heard the elven-prince was a gentle person and a strong warrior, but so far the two of them had only met on formal occasions where the blond elf had always behaved like the prince he was.
Dignified, Distant, Royal.
"There is nothing to see!"
How very unlike the Legolas that stood before him now.
"Listen" Aragorn commanded the stubborn elf. "It is not out of pity that I want to see your wounds, it is not even out of compassion. My father promised me an archer on his journey and if that archer is unable to shoot because he is injured I need to know, so I can take his place. Now Take Off Your Shirt."
The anger visible in the eyes off the prince rose to a point where Aragorn could almost see the flames.
"As an archer I will shoot if needed, wounds or no wounds."
If the situation had not been so serious Aragorn would have laughed at how proud the elf sounded. Pride like that was something he had not expected from the serious elf-prince he had seen before.
But he would not let the prince distract him.
"And as a healer, I will heal if needed. Whether the patient rejects me or not. Now, take off your shirt or I will do it for you. "
The flames in Legolas' eyes rose to a level Aragorn could almost feel their heat, but the ranger did not back down.
Then, very slowly, the elf removed his shirt. The look in his eyes showed that he was not obeying the ranger, but challenging him. The moment Aragorn could see the wounds he understood why and gasped for air.
Silence reigned for a few minutes as the elf waited for the ranger's reaction but the ranger had not yet found words to speak.
Legolas' back was not just bruised, or whipped like Aragorn would have expected. The wounds on the elf's back were deeper than that, as if somebody had cut out pieces of skin in a strange pattern.
It was as if Legolas' blood and skin had been used in a strange ritual Aragorn wanted to know nothing about.
"Who?" he asked when he finally found his voice, resisting the urge to follow the bloody patterns with his finger. "Who did this to you?"
The ranger stared at the strange pattern one more time, as Legolas carefully placed his shirt back over his shoulders.
The elf gave him a small smile Aragorn did not understand.
"It was your father."
"My father?" Aragorn asked, not believing a word of it. Though the ranger had more fathers than most, he knew for a fact that none of them would do something like this to the elven-prince. After all, one of the two fathers Aragorn had was a celebrated elven healer, that would not even let a patient stay awake if it hurt him and the other one was simply too dead to be able to.
"Your father," Legolas repeated with unnerving calm. "Lord Elrond."
Though he spoke words Aragorn could not believe it was clear the elf was telling the truth.
The ranger could not even begin to see the reason behind it.
The elf shared another one of his sad smiles.
"Because I asked him to, of course." No matter what Aragorn tried, these were the last words the elf spoke that night.
The following day the ranger searched his brain for one example of his father ever going against his healer's instinct to do a patient's wish, and yet he found none.
There were plenty of examples of the opposite: cases where Lord Elrond had drugged his patients to sleep while they really wished to stay awake.
Lord Elrond of Imladris was a healer that healed even if his patient did not wish to be, and the thought of the wounds on Legolas' back… He would break his head just to find the reason behind it.
There was a soft brush of leaves beside him and Legolas dropped down beside the ranger.
"Can't you sleep?" the elf asked, as if he did not know his wounds were the reason Aragorn was still awake.
"I have much to think about." The ranger answered grumpily, though the elf seemed not to notice.
"You are not the only one," the prince mumbled softly and they sat together in silence for a while, each buried in his own thoughts.
It was Aragorn who finally broke it, as his curiosity had won over his pride.
"The wounds… on your back, the pattern … what does it mean?"
"They mean nothing." The elf answered. "They 're are just wounds that soon will be scars. And when they fade there will be nothing left. Nothing at all. As for the pattern…" The elf voice faded and silence reigned.
"Have you ever been to Mirkwood?" The elf suddenly asked the ranger, his eyes directed at the humans face for the first time in the conversation.
"Than you have seen its darkness. You have seen the spiders, the orcs, the way that sunlight hardy ever touches the ground…" Legolas looked away again, staring into the distance as his home was hidden there.
"Our people fight so hard to keep it at bay." He whispered. "I don't know if you know this, but all that stay in Mirkwood are fighters. The healers, the musicians, every man, every woman, every child. Every baby is born with the same destiny, the same path in life; it will fight until it dies. Children born in Mirkwood learn only one thing in school: the fastest way to kill an opponent. They learn to wield the knife before they learn how to write."
The pain in the heart of the elf was visible when he was telling his story, his eyes looked over the rivers, over the mountains, straight to his home.
"There is but one exception: The royal family. I learned to write, I studied history before I learned the way of the swords, while my people fought my battles for me. I learned the manners of the elven court while they gave their lives, and willingly so for one reason. I was marked."
Legolas nodded softly to himself while continuing. "There is a ritual in Mirkwood, performed for every single child of the king where it is marked as a royal, where it gains the right to study. A pattern is drawn in inerasable ink at the back of every prince or princess. A sign reminding others of the rights of a prince, and the prince of his duties.
I asked your father to remove mine."
The ranger shook his head. Though he could understand why somebody would fear the responsibility of being a royal, he could not understand this. He had seen Legolas as a prince.
The elf was born for it.
The elf now shared his saddest of smiles, a smile that broke the ranger's heart.
"Because the people of Mirkwood are fighters. They have not studied history, they know not of rings of power, or mounts of doom. They fight a losing battle every day, without rings, without magic, without hope. And the only thing they ask of their royals is to fight with them, to lead them on in spite of everything, to stand besides them until the last elf is downed."
Legolas sighed. "But how can I do that now? Now that I have learned that there is hope after all, that there is a chance still that we will win and darkness shall fall. Now that I have discovered that we need not all die?
How can I keep our backs against the wall now I know there is a way out?"
The elf was shivering, his eyes full of tears he did not allow himself to shed.
Aragorn placed his arm around him.
"I could not fight beside them any longer, for I have gained hope," the prince whispered softly.
"I believe in this mission. I believe that Fordo will toss that ring into mount doom, and that Sauron's reign will end. I believe that there is no better way to serve my people than to go with you now, and see it done. I have to do this, because I love my people. But because I love my people, I cannot to as they wish."
"As Legolas Prince of Mirkwood I could have lead them to a glorious death, as Legolas of the woodland realm I have a change to save their lives. I love my people, and so I chose the last."
" But…" The ranger protested one last time. Legolas was born to be a prince, and he was fitted for it, one of the best leaders of middle earth. Yet he had thrown it all aside for this mission as if he was being punished for having hope.
It was not fair.
"But… Won't you regret it?"
The elf broke into a smile again, but this time it was not sad like the others, but a true smile, brighter than the sun.
"What? Going on this journey with you?"
No, I will not regret it.
Whatever each of us has to give up of make this journey, to be the fellowship of the ring, I believe it is worth it." His hand brushed lightly over the green leaf of a young three.
"Hope is worth it."