Disclaimer see Chapter One.
Author's Notes: Here is the second and last chapter. All questions about how and why the arrow ended up where it did, and whether Aragorn will be able to help Legolas, will be answered now. :) It seems Legolas has many advocates who firmly believe in his skills and his innocence. Well, we'll see… ;-)
Lauren Hedgehog and Arodiel, thank you very much for your reviews! Anyone else should have a review reply by now. I hope all you reviewers and readers out there will enjoy the second chapter, too:)
Chapter Two: Despair
"When it hurts to look back, and you're scared to look ahead,
you can look beside you and your best friend will be there."
Legolas had no aim in mind when he left the camp and the battleground behind him. He just walked on, oblivious to everything around him, ignoring even the trees and their whispering voices until his way was blocked by the bank of a small river. Legolas stopped on the sandy shore, one of his feet already submerged in the water. The elf did not care. Moonlight danced and glittered on the small waves, and Legolas watched it for a while. All around him was strangely silent. There was no wind tonight, and apart from a light gurgling the river made no sound.
If he had been in another mood, the elf would have valued the magic of this place, but as it was he did not really notice anything around him, nor see anything else but a deadly arrow and eyes that were clouded by terrible grief. Suddenly the night air seemed cold to him and he shivered. Slowly he raised his hands and the bow he held in them, looking at the weapon as if he had never seen it before. He had picked the bow up and taken it with him, though he did not even know why.
The curved wood felt familiar under his hands and the bow did not look any different than it had before. His fingers automatically traced the intricate design that had been carved into the bow a long, long time ago. The bow had been his trusted weapon for a longer time than he cared to remember, but Legolas knew he would never be able to look at it the same way again. How could he have erred like that? How could something like that have happened?
Legolas had never had reason to doubt his abilities, but he had also never been careless. His abilities had been steadily honed and improved over the years. He never shot an arrow when there was the slightest doubt, the slightest danger that it could go amiss. He would never willingly risk a friend's life. A mistake like that could not have happened to him – and yet it had. He closed his eyes at the thought that it could as well have been Aragorn who had fallen under his arrow. The thought was unbearable.
Legolas could not help playing and replaying the shot over and over again in his mind. There was nearly no time between firing an arrow and its hitting the target, so if he made sure that no one he did not want to hit was near the intended flight path or moving towards it, nothing should be able to go wrong. The orc had been barely moving, presenting a perfect target, while Gûrel had been busy avoiding the attack of another orc, which had quickly brought him out of the way. The arrow should have flown true.
The elf pressed his lips together in frustration, tightening his grip on the bow as if he wanted to break it. He was not able to see any mistake, anything that could have gone wrong, and yet the arrow had hit Gûrel and killed him. He could not understand how the orc had been able to escape the arrow, and how Gûrel could suddenly have been in the wrong place. It was impossible… if he had not made an error in judgement that he was not able to see.
Legolas had been an archer for so long that it was a part of his identity by now. Gûrel's death had shaken him deeply, questioning not only his abilities, but also who and what he was. Whatever might have caused it, he had killed an elf today. It made him nothing less than a kinslayer. His hands began to shake and he lowered his bow as the frustration gave way to crushing waves of despair that brought him to his knees.
Only now was he able to fully realize what he had done, what he was guilty of. Gûrel was dead, and Niras would either die of grief or would have to sail to the Undying Lands without his brother, and all because of him. He had destroyed a life and a family today. Even if he was not a murderer, someone had died by his hands and nothing could change that.
He just sat there for a long time, staring at the bow in his hands. He felt as if something inside of him had died, too, leaving an empty hull behind. He did not know any longer who he was or what his place in this world was supposed to be from now on. There had never been a doubt in his mind that he would stand by Aragorn's side, sharing his fight until the end, but how much use would he be if his arrows were as likely to strike friend as foe? How could anyone be able to trust him again? How could he ever trust himself again?
What use was a warrior who could not wield his weapon without endangering his friends? He could still fight with his knives, but he would always remain an archer in heart and skill. And even if he never touched a bow again in his life, could there not be another error in judgement on his part that would cost another life? He raised his head and looked out over the dark water in front of him. The wood of the bow had warmed under his hands, as if it was a living thing.
Suddenly Legolas could not bear the feel or the sight of the once-trusted weapon any longer. It would forever be a mute reminder of a terrible moment and deed that had changed his life irreversibly. He considered breaking the bow, but knew he could not bring himself to do it. Watching the swirling water, he realized that the river was all he needed to take care of the problem. He did not trust his legs to carry him, so he simply straightened a bit and raised his arm to hurl the bow into the river in front of him.
At the same moment a strong hand closed around his wrist, stopping his movement abruptly. "I would not do that, if I were you," a familiar voice said quietly from behind him.
Legolas sighed inaudibly, not really too surprised about Aragorn's presence. The only thing that had surprised him was that his friend had allowed him to leave at all. But then, there had been Niras who needed to be watched and taken care of. Again, Legolas felt the sting of guilt and a growing pain in his chest. He had not been able to look at Niras and bear his grief any longer. A slight tug at the bow in his hand brought him back to the present.
The elf hesitated for a moment, but then he let the weapon go. If Aragorn wanted to have it, then he could keep it. "How is Niras?" he asked softly.
Legolas heard Aragorn move and sit down at his side, but could not bring himself to look at his friend. He felt too ashamed. How the ranger could still believe in his innocence was beyond him, when all the proof anyone needed lay in the camp behind them, dead. One of Legolas' hands started playing nervously with some blades of grass, but when he became aware of it he stopped the movement immediately, balling his hand into a fist. He could feel Aragorn's gaze boring into him, scrutinizing him.
"Better," the ranger answered finally. "I think with Elrond's help he will be able to survive long enough to reach the Grey Havens."
Legolas simply nodded, not trusting his voice enough to speak. He looked at the silvery moonlight on the water in front of him and tried to find solace in its beauty and the fact that some things never changed, but all he could think about were the things that had changed, and irreversibly so. Gûrel was dead, Niras would die of grief or sail, and he himself did not know how to live on with the heavy burden of guilt on his heart.
"Legolas?" Aragorn's voice sounded worried, and the elf felt a hand touch his arm. "It was not your fault."
The words were enough to break through the dark mood that Legolas had sunk into. He raised his head and stared at his friend, unveiled pain in his eyes. "How can you still say that?" he asked, his voice rough. "Gûrel is dead, and it was my arrow that killed him. If you do not believe in an invisible orc archer who shoots elven arrows, there is no one else to blame!"
Legolas regretted his outburst in almost the same moment he heard himself say the words, but he also knew that Aragorn had to accept the truth sometime. The friend the man had relied upon for so long had failed in a terrible way. Legolas was sure that their friendship could never be the same after today. Aragorn could simply not afford to trust him with his life any longer, the way he had done before.
The elf knew that his despair showed clearly in his eyes, and that the man would see it, but in that moment he was beyond caring. He had already lost all there was to lose. Before he could turn away again, he felt Aragorn's hands on his shoulders and the piercing grey eyes of the man caught his gaze and held it.
"There is someone else to blame," the ranger said emphatically. "You did not kill Gûrel. He moved into the path of the arrow."
There was confusion in Legolas' eyes. "But… he was moving away from the arrow!"
"It was no error in judgement on your part," Aragorn said decisively, forestalling any attempt of the elf to heap more blame on himself. "He moved into the arrow's path intentionally."
Legolas stared at the man disbelievingly, struck speechless for a moment. "He was an elf, Aragorn," he protested then. "He would never do anything like that. He would not even contemplate it! I value your attempt to prove my innocence, but-"
"I would never say anything like that if I was not sure of it," Aragorn interrupted him gently. "Legolas, just listen to me and let me explain, will you?"
Legolas looked at him hesitatingly, but then he nodded, his trust in his friend overcoming the absurdity of the man's words. Aragorn released the elf's shoulders and leaned back slightly.
"As I told you before, I know you, Legolas," the man began. "I do not think you are even able to make an error like that out of negligence. You would do anything not to endanger a friend or ally - I have watched you often enough to know that."
Legolas looked down at the sand and some blades of grass in front of him, not sure if he could bear the warmth and the conviction in the ranger's words right now.
Aragorn watched him closely. He knew he had come at just the right moment. His friend had been about to break under the terrible weight he had taken upon himself. Legolas' bow had become nearly a part of himself over the years, and to see the elf about to destroy it had alarmed Aragorn and told him all that he needed to know about his friend's state. He wished Legolas would stop avoiding his gaze, but he knew he could not help that now.
"Niras was closest to Gûrel when he was hit by the arrow, so there was the small chance that he had seen something neither of us had," Aragorn continued. "I could only hope that he would finally come out of his grief and be able and willing to talk to me. Some time ago he came to his senses again, and when he realized that you were gone, and why, he was not only willing to speak to me, he insisted on it."
With an inward smile Aragorn noticed that Legolas' eyes had been drawn back to his face, perhaps without even realizing it, and that the elf was listening intently.
"Niras did not see what happened, but it turned out that he did not need to." Aragorn thought of Niras' broken voice when he recounted the tragedy to him that had become the two brothers' life, and took a deep breath. "You were right with everything you told me. They were indeed on their way to the Grey Havens. Some years ago, Gûrel had fallen into the hands of a marauding horde of orcs with his entire family. He was the only one alive when Niras finally found them."
Legolas bowed his head. "There was a deep pain in their eyes," he said softly, and Aragorn knew that the elf was speaking about a pain that was at least partly familiar to him.
"Gûrel survived," the ranger continued his sad tale quietly, "but he had seen his wife and his two children die and had been tortured for a long time. Niras said Gûrel was never the same again afterwards. He also told me that the two of them were the last of their family who still lingered in Middle-earth. Their mother had sailed after their father had fallen in a battle. As Niras noticed that Gûrel did not recover as he should and was constantly plagued by fears and nightmares and grief, he decided that the only way to save his brother and to save himself from having to live through his brother's death was to sail."
For a moment they both stayed silent, the thoughts of each resting on the sad fates of the two brothers. Legolas gaze was thoughtful, and Aragorn realized with relief that his friend's eyes were clearer and a bit calmer now that his attention had been drawn away from his own problems for a while.
"That does not yet explain why Gûrel would want to… end his life," Legolas finally broke the silence between them. He was clearly still wrestling with the thought that an elf would be willing to even consider such a death, as each life was sacred to the elves. "We were winning the fight. He could have lived on and sailed."
Hearing the renewed doubt in Legolas' voice, Aragorn rued that he had not immediately told all there was to say. "Niras said his brother did not think clearly. Since his captivity Gûrel was terrified of the possibility of falling into the hands of orcs again, and Niras is convinced that all his brother saw was that he was surrounded by orcs. He believes that his bother preferred to die rather than have the past repeat itself."
He looked directly into Legolas' eyes. "Niras saw the arrow fly. He confirmed that it would not have posed a danger for either of them, so he did not even look to see where it struck. He also saw fear in Gûrel's eyes and knew that his brother was close to losing control."
Aragorn leaned forward and put a comforting hand on Legolas' knee. "It was not your fault," he repeated slowly. "None of it."
Legolas stayed silent for a long moment, searching his friend's eyes. Then, finally, he relaxed slightly. "I see," he said softly.
Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief. "Good," he answered. "You made me doubt for a moment whether I would be able to hammer the truth into that stubborn head of yours."
There was the hint of a smile around Legolas' lips, and he covered Aragorn's hand with one of his own. "Thank you," he said in the same soft voice as before. "Thank you for believing in me."
Aragorn could see that his friend was still badly shaken, but he was glad to see that the darkness and the despair were gone from the elf's eyes. Legolas would recover from this blow, as hard as it had been. When the ranger had first heard Niras' account, he had been angry at Gûrel for doing that to his friend, without even thinking about the consequences for Legolas. But after hearing the entire tale, all he had been able to feel was sadness and compassion and regret at the tragedy of it all.
"The real tragedy is that his death was completely needless," Legolas spoke up as if reading the ranger's thoughts, and there was a deep sadness in his voice. "If Gûrel had not… acted like he did, he would still be alive now."
"I know," Aragorn said simply.
For a while they just sat there together, listening to the soft gurgling sounds of the river and watching the moonlight, each dealing with his own turbulent emotions. Finally Aragorn looked at his friend again. "How do you feel now?" he asked quietly.
Legolas hesitated for a moment. "I do not know," he then answered truthfully.
Aragorn understood that the elf would need more time to answer that question, as much as he wished that it was different. "It is about time to return to the camp," he said.
"Niras?" Legolas asked.
"He is asleep, but I do not want to leave him alone for too long. Will you come back with me?"
Legolas looked at the sky and the river, as if not sure how to answer that question. Aragorn did not press him, knowing very well how difficult it would be for Legolas to face Gûrel's body and Niras again. Finally Legolas turned to him and nodded. "Perhaps I can be of help," he said simply.
Aragorn eyed him for a moment, once more marvelling at his friend's strength and compassion. Legolas not only held nothing against Gûrel, but he was already thinking about helping Niras in his grief, while he had been close to breaking down under his own supposed guilt only a short time ago. "I have no doubt about it," Aragorn answered with a smile.
He rose and offered his friend a hand, which the elf accepted. Spotting the bow that lay still on the ground, Aragorn picked it up. He looked down at the beautifully-crafted weapon for a moment, then he offered it to his friend. "You might want this back," he said softly.
Legolas stood frozen for a while, staring at the bow with renewed pain in his eyes. Then he extended his hand and accepted the weapon. "I will keep it," he said, "but I will never use it again. No arrow shall be fired from this bow from now on. It has been tainted with elven blood."
He looked up, meeting Aragorn's eyes. "I did not kill Gûrel, but it was still my arrow that pierced his heart, and it was my hand that he used to cause his death. I do not think I will ever be able to forget that."
Aragorn put a hand on his friend's shoulder, offering silent comfort. At that moment he wished nothing more than to be able to turn back time and prevent Gûrel's death and all the grief and guilt it had caused.
"Just remember that you do not have to carry that burden alone," he said.
- The End -
Note: I know that normally no elf would consider acting like Gûrel did, but I assumed even an elf has a breaking point, and for Gûrel the possibility of falling into the hands of orcs again was more than he could bear.
For those of you waiting for updates: next week I will post an update to "Facets of Friendship", and after that I'll post more of my little Estel stories. :)
I hope to see you again,