Chapter 1 – The Accursed Thing
"Write a personal recount in which a person suffered for another's wrong-doing."
Legolas stared at the otherwise blank parchment, trying hard to think, but no ideas came forth. The water in the clock was dripping steadily away, and when it finally drained, he was to hand in his work. Drip, drip… He did not exactly have a lot of time.
He looked over to his left. Three rows away, Aragorn was already scribbling. Just how did that man write so fast? Just then, Aragorn turned and winked. Now, what was that supposed to mean?
Aragorn shrugged lightly, as though in answer to the question. Whenever the ranger had that glint in his eyes, it was an ill omen. Drip, drip… Aragorn turned back quickly to his work. He did not like that sound the least bit.
Sighing, Legolas forced himself to think, to recall events that had happened in his three millennia of life. Why did he have to write this? Would his tutor even look at it? He sighed. Perhaps he could use the incident of Elladan being grounded when Elrohir had decided that Glorfindel needed a bath (in terms of a barrel hanging above his bed). But he did not seem to have any intention to write on that. After all, the incident was already half-forgotten, and should remain that way. No one should ever anger a resurrected Balrog-slayer. So, what else was there?
His mind flitted between memories and fantasies now, and he laughed lightly, breaking the golden silence of the lesson pavilion. Some irritated elves turned and gave him an annoyed stare, clearly unhappy with his interruption of their flow of thought.
Doesn't everyone grow tense during an examination? he thought with wry amusement.
Shrugging, he paid little heed to them, for he had finally found something to write about, something no one would probably believe. Drip, drip… He did not like that sound. It was too insistent, too pressurizing.
His quill flew over the parchment. "Once upon a time…
It was another typical day out in the wild. There was the usual stuffy afternoon air, which the trees did not seem to relieve. There was an orc company coming their way. There was a fight. There was some remarkable swordplay. The orcs were decimated before they did any harm, and that was all. A typical day.
Aragorn walked through the carnage, checking the spoils, ensuring that all of the foul creatures were dealt with. It was then that his eye sighted in on a sword, elaborately carved with strange yet curious pagan motifs and runes. He picked up the surprising light blade, liking its feel instantly. He remembered how that orc captain had used this, and fought as though he was invincible. The captain had wielded the sword well, and at times, it had felt as though it was the sword wielding him instead.
The man slid his finger gently along the blade. There was no sign of any dents, and the blade still gleamed menacingly as though it had never been used. From its rusty-golden hilt all the way through the cold steel blade, and the sharp, elegant, this was indeed a sword like no other. Its weight and balance were impeccable and every inch forged to perfection. And there was some indescribable charm that it exerted on him, but he liked it, he enjoyed the feeling, and grew even fonder of the sword.
Legolas walked over to where the human was still examining his prize in awe. The human had been his companion since a week ago, when they had met in the midst of a battle against swarming orcs, and their comradeship was valuable and beneficial to both parties; it was the elf who had finally defeated the orc captain and this sword, but it was the human who had taken down the majority of the orcs.
"Powerful though it may be, you must never use it. Leave it with the dead," the elf said, a stern glare in his face.
The human shrugged and made as though to discard the knife in the fiery mound of orc bodies, but when the elf turned away, he hid the blade in his cloak. How could he pass up such a fine weapon? What did the elf know? Who was he to order him around? For all he knew, the elf might have plans to take the sword for his own and harm him. He had no right to tell him what to do!
More orcs again, and this time, they were fighting deep in the woods. Elf and human were still journeying together, and although they had no spoken of their destination, both guessed to other to be bound for Imladris like he was. The elf had moved away from him in the fight, and the man was almost glad for it. At least, he would no longer have to be constantly watched and have his every action scrutinised.
"Why do you stomp so hard?"
"Why can't you use your wrist; it's faster!"
"Why don't you ever aim before you shoot?"
The human felt that these could drive any sane man mad instantly. Thankfully, he had the patience of the Númenóreans to protect him from being driven to such an extent. It was thus, when he was not focussing on the battle that he was caught off-guard. A scimitar slashed his arm, and he let out an undignified yelp in surprise. How could that possibly happen!
Suddenly, he felt time slow down and all the noise fade into muffled sounds. Only one thought remained clear: he had a good weapon, that orc blade. Why should he fear to use it? If he did not do so, he would probably fall at the hands of the black sea of orcs.
With a clear mind, he pulled the knife out, discarding his sword onto the forest floor; he had no use for that now. He felt himself revitalised, strengthened as he manoeuvred the blade with a skill and might he had never known. It seemed to have a spirit of its own, and he was content to let the blade carry out its errand, watching in mounting ecstasy at the piling orc bodies. Another down at the bidding of the sword. He was doing very well indeed.
The he stopped abruptly. There were no more orcs to kill. The elf was dispatching the last one and looking around.
The human saw his chance. With unprecedented speed, he made it to the being's side and thrust the blade forward. Legolas' eyes widened. What was Aragorn doing? Why was he using this blade? The human's eyes were glazed, as though caught in some form of a trance. The recent days of fighting had over-worked Legolas' muscles, but he forced his fatigue away, bringing his weapons to parry the furious attacks.
Aragorn knew he was stabbing wildly, but he did not care. It was an orc attack that had killed his father and doomed his mother to spend her remaining years in grief and agony. But it was because of the elves, because of their inability to protect his father, that everything happened. Elladan and Elrohir had acknowledged their mistake, but others were responsible as well. The skirmish had been close enough to the Rivendell territory, but no help had come. Why had they refused to send aid? Did they truly wish the dúnedain dead?
Then he would not let them have their victory. He would exterminate every last one of them, starting with this one; all elves were the same. Somehow, it did not seem to make sense, even to him, but it felt right. Aragorn let the creature before him feel the full blunt of his rage, forcing each attack to be more deft, more deadly, more vicious than the previous.
Legolas found it increasingly difficult to ward off the attacks. Just what was that man thinking? Did he really mean to kill him? Probably so. Legolas suddenly slammed both daggers hard down on the sword, wrenching it from the human's white-knuckled grasp.
The human watched, spellbound as it sailed through the air, narrowly missed being embedded in a tree and landed on the ground with a clear clatter. Aragorn found himself close before the flashing, irate eyes of the elf, and involuntarily took a step backwards.
"Why did you take it?" the elf asked in a soft, highly measured tone, trying not to show his seething wrath.
"What I do is none of your concern!" the man shouted at him, retreating further back. The elf was blocking his way to the sword and he desperately hankered after it.
Legolas clamped a hand on his shoulder.
"You do not know what you've done, my friend," he said, still in that even tone.
Aragorn could take it no more, and let out an unrestrained outburst, "I take orders from no one, least of all you! I am sick and tired of you constantly telling me what to do and what not to do! I have my own life and I shall live as I please!"
The human had reached the endpoint of tolerance. He could no longer think if what he said would hurt the elf, and if he did, he would not be sorry for it.
Legolas shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry for what I have imposed upon you," he said with sincere regret.
Aragorn only gave him a stubborn look and stormed away.
"Ú-istach i nad cerich, mellon nîn," Legolas repeated into the aid, "you do not know what you do, my friend."
There was a strained silence once again as the two companions walked on. Legolas had personally ensured that the blade was burnt, and that the human would have no chance of retrieving it. Expectedly, Aragorn felt that the elf was being more bothersome by the day. That was a good blade; just why did the elf not only fail to see that but insist it was enchanted? Surely the elf would have to leave soon, and he could be alone and free to do what he desired; the first task being to locate the blade and hope it had not been destroyed beyond repair.
Legolas was now singing softly to himself, and Aragorn tried to force himself not to hear anything, tried to block the sound out. The song seemed to be eliciting thoughts and feelings that he did not want to face. It seemed to suggest that all he had clung onto was falsehood and deception. How could that be?
There was nothing worth singing about, he told himself, it is a terrible sound, and dreadfully annoying; too far beneath him to warrant his attention.
But the more he tried, the more the words penetrated his thoughts, infiltrated his mind, and soon, his resolve broke down.
The sky is blue, the forest fair
And sweet breaths filled the air
Then evil thoughts brew, and tempers flare,
For reasons no one ever seems to care.
Oh, get you back within the fold,
Where friendship dear grows never cold,
And walk not alone through paths untoldIn books of lore and tales of old…
Legolas smiled at how a simple song could contort Aragorn's face into so many shades and nuances of emotions; anger, sadness, apprehension… He let the song flow and trail slowly away.
"Goheno nin, Legolas," Aragorn's meek voice came softly through the rustling breeze, "forgive me."
"You have long been forgiven," Legolas replied, smiling warmly, "understand my friend, I mean you no harm."
Aragorn nodded numbly, unable to think of any other way to express his gratitude, his relief, his remorse, but there was no need to. Legolas' eyes told him he understood.
By now, they had reached an open field, and their moods were instantly lifted. Two pairs of eyes bore the same mischievous twinkle, that playful sparkle, and when they looked at each other, no needs were needed to confirm their thoughts. In unanimous unison, they took off running, chasing each other, taunting, teasing, revelling in the freedom of the unobstructed plain, the endless sky…
The wind blew in their faces, carrying their carefree laughter to the lands beyond. Nothing else seemed to matter in those instances as they frolicked like children who had just left a claustrophobic darkness.
"You are proving to be as hard to catch as you brothers!" Legolas was almost panting, although he would never admit it.
The man was surprisingly fast, and the many feints he made as he slipped past the elf were pushing him towards the brink of annoyance. How could a mere mortal delude him so! But his chuckles showed that he was far from anger.
"They are the best teachers anyone can get," Aragorn laughed between pants as he increased his speed even further, "no one can defeat the sons of Elrond when it comes to such mischief, no, not even the Dark Lord himself, much less the Prince of Mirkwood!"
Legolas could not stop the chortle that escaped him. For his lack of elven speed, Aragorn more than made up for it with more tricks up his sleeves. Legolas decided to surrender as graciously as he could. Although he was in no way weary – or at least he did not show it – he did not share his friend's boundless, inexhaustible fount of energy.
Flopping onto the cooling grass, he called after the human, "Let's end this here, my friend. It will not do for two tired beings to roam the wild."
Aragorn leapt over and sat beside him, inwardly glad for the respite, although he too would give no indication of it. The two friends allowed themselves a moment to gaze upon their surroundings, feeling the beauty of every blade of grass, every fluttering leaf.
It was a while later before Legolas finally spoke in a shaky voice, quivering with ill-controlled laughter, "Aragorn, do you realise what you've stepped on?"
The man's face instantly carried a worried look as he got up, trying to find out what had caused his friend such glee. The next second, a scowl emerged on his face, and he looked set to strangle the helplessly laughing elf.
"Actually, it's nothing, isn't it?" Legolas managed to gasp out between chuckles, "only a bit of manure!"
Aragorn responded with a dark look.
"Shouldn't you watch before you leap?" Legolas could not resist adding, "although it matters little to a ranger who enjoys rolling in mud!"
Aragorn's face only grew redder and more sinister, as he desperately tried to brush the dung off his boots on the pitiable grass growing near him.
"Well, at least you'll frighten the orcs, or what we'll encounter," Legolas had managed to sober himself up somewhat, but his eyes still contained that unhidden amusement. Aragorn was indeed a pleasure to watch.
The temptation to tread on the prone elf was growing stronger by the second, but before anything could be done, a deafening clap of thunder shook the Earth.
It was then that the duo saw thick heavy, grey-clad clouds hanging in the overcast sky. A bright flash of lightning lit up the dullness in an eerie blue light, before thunder came crashing down again. As though that all was not enough, a dark shadow passed through the land, effectively blotting out the sun.
Drip, drip… Heavy drops of rain pattered down.
Legolas shuddered. This was no mere storm. Aragorn seemed to have felt the malevolence present in the stale air as well. No gale would howl as though it carried the cries of all foul-creatures and the pleas of all slain souls. When they turned to face each other, the mirth was gone from their eyes, replaced by a deep sense of worry… and fear.
"Who has summoned me?" a loud voice resonated within the valley, echoing off the nearby mountains.
Both human and elf could only freeze as the cold breath touched them, seemingly turning them to stone fixed in a tableau.