Ch. 6 Conversations
Elladan and Elrohir visited with Legolas the day after his surgery. They stood by the side of the bed, observing their friend's pale countenance and the raised covers that lay over his injured leg; the Mirkwood elf's lower leg was fixed within a wooden frame. The three chatted a bit, awkwardly making sick room conversation, then Elladan began to move about the room fiddling with small objects and frowning. Legolas quickly tired of his restlessness and asked what was wrong. "Out with it. What are you keeping inside with such difficulty, Elladan?"
"You were not conscious when we found you." The Mirkwood prince nodded. "So we would like to tell you what we saw."
Elrohir took up the tale. "We came around some rocks and saw you strapped to a litter. We could not see what drew it. Do you know why?"
"No. No one has spoken with me much about yesterday. When Lord Elrond came to examine me this morning he was rather…stern…and your healers seem to have become quite reserved since last I stayed in the healing rooms."
"Some of the reason for that could be that most here are quite fond of Estel." Legolas frowned but before he could speak Elrohir continued. "We could not see what drew the litter because our little brother was on his hands and knees with the thing strapped to his back. We had been tracking the two of you, and we could not figure out why there were such odd prints with blood in them."
Legolas became even paler than the surgery and fading had left him. He whispered, horrified, "What!"
Elladan nodded grimly. "You heard him. We figure that once over the cliff he dragged you 9 miles. First on his feet, and when he could no longer do that, on his hands and knees. A human. A fifteen year-old human. That was after he somehow got you up the cliff, of course."
Elrohir continued, "That part of the plateau is very rough and stony. We saw the bones in his knees, Legolas. His hands looked like the ground meat we put in the Solstice pies. We are telling you this because we want you to understand something." One twin sat down on each side of the bed. They leaned in toward the prince's face and said with deadly seriousness, "You will not fade. Estel did something beyond anything we have heard of so that you would live. If you should be so lacking in grace and gratitude and love for such a one as our brother that you fade anyway, we will go to the Halls and bring you forth. Not with tears and pleadings of love and friendship, as he would, but dragging you by the hair! We will throw you at his feet."
Legolas sank back against his pillows before the glacial grey eyes. He could not maintain eye contact with his accusers and dropped his gaze. His pale cheeks were now stained with color and he was silent a long time. At last he whispered his response. "Lord Elrond told me little of what I have done to Estel. I am deeply shamed. I fought him so hard. I was so sure that there could be nothing for me. That life would not be worth living. I did nothing to help him. He said I was arrogant; it is true. I have much to answer for. Be assured: I will not fade." He gave a tiny smile; a mere twitch at the corners of his mouth. "It appears to be very difficult to fade in Imladris." He sobered again. "He has called me his qwador but I wonder if he will feel differently now, now that I have been the cause of his misery." The elf swallowed hard and forced out with great difficulty, "I left him alone. He needed me and I left him alone. When he spoke to me I could hear despair and grief and loneliness; yet I did nothing. I kept myself from him deliberately. I was the noble, fading elf!" He gave a sudden, choking sob. "I left a child alone to move a mountain. A child whom I have stated, time and again, that I love!"
The twins sat back slightly, and the dangerous glint in their eyes was replaced with relief. Elrohir took one of the prince's hands. "You understand, then. We were afraid you were bent on fading and would not listen to us. We could not let you do that to Estel. Or to us, Legolas. Our brother is not the only one who would grieve if you left Middle Earth. We also wanted to be sure you understood what Estel has done."
"I will never forget." He thought a bit and then said, "I cannot go to him and he cannot come to me. I must speak with him; will you take me to him?"
"Tomorrow will be soon enough. Ada will skin us if we move you so soon after surgery. We will tell Estel you are asking about him, though."
Legolas found no rest that night. He thought through those parts of the journey he could remember. He recalled soft sobbing in the night and pain-filled gasping as bloody hands pulled him up the cliff. He remembered a boy who took care that he might not have to wear soaked clothing even as Estel fell repeatedly into frigid water fully clothed. He heard a whisper that cut like a knife: 'Were I even peredhil, I would have the strength to save you.'
The next day Elladan and Elrohir carried Legolas on a stretcher to Estel's room and placed the prince next to his friend. They teased the two bedridden ones a bit, made sure both patients were as comfortable as it was possible for them to be, and then left to stand outside and guard the door. There would be no interruptions for this conversation.
When he first came into the room, Legolas had glanced at the thick bandages on Estel's hands and the large lumps under the blanket where his knees were, and then looked away. But when the twins left he leaned forward from his cot and began to touch the boy. His hands shook as he laid his fingers lightly on bruised cheeks and split lip; black eyes and cut forehead; knees, hands, shoulders, and feet. He laid his fingers long moments on each hurt, as with eyes closed he imagined Estel's pain. He took a painful inventory, setting in memory forever the wounds taken to preserve his life.
Estel watched uncertainly. "Legolas? What—"
"Hush, Estel. I am not finished." The elf continued until he ended with the boy's feet. Then he looked up. "I thank you for my life. I did not know how foolish and selfish I was being, but I do now. I promise you I will not fade."
Estel clasped one of the elf's hands between his clumsy white mitts and cried, "Thank you, gwador nin, thank you! I was so frightened that I would lose you."
"I will continue to thank you for what you have done, but there is something else you must hear and understand at once."
"You are not going to cut yourself again?" Estel asked in some trepidation.
"What? No! No. Listen. Do you know why I am still here, Estel?"
"Because you were not hurt as badly as you thought?" (Estel could be forgiven for a fair amount of 'I told you so!' in his voice.)
"No. I am here because you are Estel and because you are a man. A single-minded, froward man. I am going to say something you will not like, but it is true. Your brothers, whom I have known for hundreds of years, would not have fought as you did, once I told them I was going to fade." Estel started to object but Legolas stopped him. "No, listen to me. They would have, how did you put it? Sat by me like 'beautiful, sad, drooping lilies'. Even your Adar, if I had truly been houghed, would have let me go. He would have tried to dissuade me, but he would have let me go eventually. An elf understands these things, but you do not. And your heart is stronger and more fierce in battle against what you believe to be wrong than Glorfindel facing a Nazgul. Hear me, Estel: I am alive this day because you are Estel. Because you would not give up. Because your spirit burns with a candescent flame and I do not believe there is any power on Arda that can quench it. It will take you where you must go, even if Morgoth himself bars the way. If you were an elf, I would be dead by now" He paused and then repeated, his eyes firmly fixed on Estel's, "If you were an elf I would be dead. Do you understand me?"
Estel looked deep into blue eyes and saw truth. "I think I have found the answer to a question that has troubled me." He smiled warmly and pressed again the hand caught between his bandages. "And who else but you to help me find it? Thank you."
Estel saw that guilt and sorrow remained in the eyes of his friend. "Please smile for me, gwador nin. You did what your people do, Legolas. I cannot blame you for that. Well, I can, but I should not. We also had bad luck. If we had been found quickly by one of the search parties, most of this," he gestured down his body, "would not have happened."
Legolas tried to smile but it was a poor effort and within moments his eyes had fallen away from Estel's. "You are too generous, Estel. You should not forgive me so easily. I…you must not call me 'brother'. I no longer deserve to be called so."
Estel sighed and tried to lift his friend's chin but the clumsy bandages made it easy for the elf to pull away. "Legolas, what do you think a brother is? Do you think Elladan, Elrohir, and I have never hurt each other? Hurt each other deeply? Legolas, look at me!" At that Legolas did look up, for a new note had entered his friend's voice. The elf saw strength, love, and, for the first time, equality. At this moment, the elf would not lead his young human companion; the dynamic between them had shifted. Legolas saw their future, one in which each would bring strength to the other's weaknesses. He stared, spellbound, at Aragorn—not Estel. He nearly missed the words spoken so earnestly.
"You are the brother of my heart but we will hurt each other from time to time. You are elf-kind and I am human. Until now, I did not realize that that would matter. Well, we have just seen that sometimes it will. But most of the time it will not, or only in ways that make us each better than we would be alone. Now smile, gwador nin, or I will think you still want to leave me."
Legolas looked again at a pleading Estel and shook his head as though to clear it. The man was gone and only the boy remained. But Legolas knew what he had seen. He did smile warmly then, and Estel was content.
Over the next week, Estel had so many visitors that Elrond had to impose limits so that he might rest. Most brought a small gift: the games, books, and sweetmeats normally given to those long a-bed. But they also brought something else. Over the years, Estel had seen many things when his family looked at him: love, sympathy, mirth, exasperation, fear, and anger. To that list was added respect. The eyes of the most august members of the household looked on him with the respect one noble individual gives to an equal. Estel was as frightened by this as pleased.
Glorfindel came one morning with a book and sat down by the bed. He did not speak for a long time, though he smiled at his young friend. Estel sighed. Living with elves was not easy! At long last, when the boy was about to ask if Erestor had had him stuffed, Glorfindel spoke.
"You know of Ecthelion, who was my Legolas, if you will."
Estel nodded. The warrior spoke rarely of those days. But one day Estel had found him weeping in a thicket far from the house, and his healer's instincts combined with affectionate persistence had coaxed the tale of the Lord of the Fountain from his tutor.(1)
"You know then, though few do, how I hate the praise and the fawning over 'the Balrog Slayer.' The true hero of that day has but few ballads that are never sung. His name is forgotten. But not by me. Never by me. He has always been the standard of nobility against which I measure myself and others. I would be proud beyond measure to introduce to him my friend Estel, whose courage is great in the defense of those he loves. Illuvitar grant that I may one day have the chance so to do."
Estel whispered, "Thank you. I pray I never give you cause you to regret that desire."
The golden-haired Eldar touched his eyes with his fingers and then cleared his throat. "I cannot stay here all day, so if you want a game of chess we had better begin."
Estel nodded enthusiastically. Erestor had spent the afternoon the day before teaching him such moves as "The Scarlet Death," "The Annihilator," and "Orc Surprise." He pointed to where the board had been stored and the two passed a very pleasant hour.
After two weeks Estel began to plan a prank of epic proportions. It was very uncomfortable being the new "heroic" Estel and the sooner he was back to being in someone's black books the better! Unfortunately his plans were somewhat hindered as he still could not leave his bed on his own. His feet were being very stubborn about healing and his hands and knees had already undergone one operation. At least he did not have to stay in his room; he was carried wherever he wanted to go once he was rested and the fear of infection had faded. Erestor said he looked like a young potentate with a herd of peculiar mumakil as everyone vied to be his steed of the moment.
Legolas had been returned to his own quarters since his convalescence would be lengthy and the healing rooms were small and austere. As soon as he could leave his own room, Estel spent as much time as possible with the elf. He was not entirely comfortable there since half the time Legolas would not meet his eyes. But Estel was afraid to take his eyes off Legolas for long since the elf still looked peaked and depressed. Unfortunately for Legolas, who just wanted to be alone, the guest rooms of an elven prince are spacious and well-appointed. Since Estel was usually there, the rest of the family soon made it their temporary headquarters in the evenings.
One night Elrond sat on the lounge provided for Estel and teased him about being behind in "ructions, rumpus-raising, and revolutions."
Erestor chuckled, "Do not worry, Elrond, all this enforced good behavior will break soon, I have no doubt!"
"Elrohir and I are helping him with a – um – special project," assured Elladan.
Glorfindel asked hastily, "Elrond, have you any messages for Earendil? I am in the mood for an impossible quest that will take me away from here for an Age or two!"
"Glorfindel, I thought you liked me again!" laughed Estel.
"I said no such thing! I merely said I would introduce you to an old friend!"
Legolas remained silent as the banter ranged back and forth. He still felt guilty whenever he looked at Estel and his family. The boy had a ruthless plan to bring things back to normal between them, but the elf was not yet quite strong enough to survive it. So in the meantime, Estel tried to draw Legolas into the conversation in a kind and sensitive manner.
"Ada, I think you would be very interested to hear some of the words I learned from Legolas when he was enjoying his sight-seeing trip up the cliff!"
Elrond had risen and moved across the room to fetch a goblet of wine from a small table loaded with food and drink, but at this he turned. "I would, would I?"
"Estel! What are you – please, Estel!" Legolas looked ready to run out of the room, injury or no.
"Tell us!" demanded the twins.
"Well, first he said something about my ancestry that I do not think could possibly be true and certainly did not reflect well upon you, Ada! Then he suggested that I engage in activities that I am sure elves do not normally participate in, and are physically impossible besides!"
Legolas blushed as scarlet as an elf could become. He stuttered an explanation.
"E –Elrond, y-you see, th-the litter was s-s-swinging and – and banging –"
The elf lord bent the full power of his eyebrows upon the hapless prince who quailed back into his pillows. Then Elrond burst out laughing. Everyone else except Legolas joined in and laughed until they either had the hiccups or their sides hurt too much to continue.
Elrond choked out, "It is a good thing he was not taking me up that cliff, or, Elbereth preserve us, Glorfindel!"
Legolas looked at Estel with narrowed eyes. Suddenly his mouth turned up at the corners. "Speaking of things people have said, lord Elrond, you might be interested in something your son said to me."
Estel quickly ran his mind back over their conversations while on their 'trip home.' He did not remember saying anything…
"You have my attention, Legolas. Continue, please."
"It was during a rant about my fading. Let me see….oh, yes! He said that, not being an elf, he would not be writing poetry about how 'utterly, utterly lovely' I looked as I died. What on Arda have you been reading, Estel?"
All eyes turned on the young man. Estel decided the only thing to do was to play the 'poor, brave human boy still exhausted from his injuries and heroic efforts'. He instantly looked pathetic (it was a gift). It did not work this time.
The twins smiled evilly at each other. "We know how to get it out of him!" They pounced—gently—on their little brother and began to tickle him.
"That will not work—I am too (giggle) old to be (snort, giggle) tickled!"
"Are you indeed? Elrohir! The Tickle of Doom!"
"Aye, fearless leader!"
Estel shrieked with laughter, pausing whenever he could to beg, gasping, for mercy. Legolas laughed too, for the first time since he had looked over that cursed rock pile. He laughed until tears ran down his cheeks. Elrond looked over at him and nodded to himself. All would be well, given time. Then he strode across the room to rescue his youngest.
End of "Buried: Ascension"
A/N (1) I wrote that paragraph quickly, just wanting to put in some Estel-Glorfindel interaction. But after it was written and for days afterward the thought kept niggling at me: "So what actually happened when Estel found Glorfindel?" It wouldn't leave me alone and finally I wrote "He Was a Bra' Gallant" to answer that question. Writing is really weird; I used to think that authors were in charge, not their characters!
And of course Legolas recovers without a limp! What do you take me for?