Summary: Legolas loses the most precious gift he had ever received.
Disclaimer: None of the characters and places mentioned belongs to me.
Note: This was written for the December 2009 Teitho Challenge, "Giving Gifts, Receiving Gifts". It won second place. Thanks to everyone who voted!
Sword and Bow
"It was raining."
The soft words made Gimli jump up and whirl around in shock. Legolas was still facing away from him, his golden hair waving joyously in the wind like a proud banner. However, even though Gimli could not see his friend's face, he knew that there was anything but joy there.
Legolas did not move and did not turn around. For a moment the dwarf wondered if he had indeed spoken. The elf had not uttered a single word in hours, and Gimli feared than he would never hear him speak again. And yet, the melodious voice shattered the silence one more time.
"When he first came to Greenwood. It was raining."
Gimli closed his eyes, fighting his own pain. His heart hurt greatly, and yet he knew that Legolas's sorrow must be even stronger. "When was that?" He asked softly. The elf did not reply. "When did he first come to your home?"
Legolas was silent. The only sound around them was the soft whisper of the waves, crashing against the wooden ship. Those waves were not violent, nor were they angry. Strong they were, and yet gentle, not fighting the ship, but instead guiding it forward, towards its natural destination. The elven ship was headed to where it had always been meant to sail, and yet the single elf, who now stood clutching the wooden railing and gazing at the vast sea, seemed anything but at home. The sea had been calling him incessantly for so long and now… now that he was ready to answer, he could hear the call no longer.
"He was very young then," said Legolas suddenly and Gimli startled once again. He had lost hope that his friend would ever answer. "A mere child of twenty springs."
Twenty? Gimli shuddered. And it was raining? Legolas remembered what the weather was like a hundred and ninety years ago?
"The rain seemed to fit the turmoil in his soul," the elf continued, and Gimli was pleased that his friend was at last speaking without prompting. "He had just learned of his heritage. Even worse – he had recently met Arwen for the first time."
Legolas grew silent once again, and Gimli waited patiently. The elf had been distant and detached since they had boarded the ship, and the dwarf had patiently stood aside, not wishing to intrude into his friend's pain. He could wait a few more hours. He could wait for days, even years if need be. He could wait for as long as Legolas needed.
Yet, there was no need to wait as the elf was speaking once again. "He did not know me so well at the time, for I rarely had the chance to leave my home and travel to Imladris. And yet, it was to me that he first came before he traveled to join the Rangers. It was to me that he told everything. His heart was filled with so much doubts then, and he was hopeful, and yet so afraid, so confused, so lost. We talked all evening… or rather he talked and I listened. It was," a soft sigh escaped his lips. "It was the first time he called me 'mellon'."
Gimli reached out a hand to clasp his friend's forearm, but then changed his mind and pulled it back. Legolas was speaking more to himself than to anyone else, and his eyes were still turned towards the sea. He was lost inside his own world. No, he did not need to be brought back to the present.
"He was so lost in our talk, that he did not notice what was happening around him." This time Legolas's voice was coloured with a hint of amusement. "Yet, on the next morning he noticed. He noticed the decorations, the richly laden tables, the dancers. That is when he first knew that Greenwood was celebrating."
"Celebrating?" Gimli repeated thoughtfully, for a moment forgetting that he had decided not to interfere in the tale. "Celebrating what?"
Fortunately, the interruption did not make Legolas grow silent once again as he had feared. "The prince's begetting day," he replied. "Aragorn was dismayed to find this out. He was unaware of the upcoming festivities and had brought me no gift. He felt selfish for coming only to share his burdens and receive understanding when on this day I was supposed to be the one receiving, and he – the one giving."
"He had no way of knowing this," Gimli said in disbelief. "And even if he did, his burdens were of great weight and importance, and he needed to share them."
A mirthless snort escaped Legolas's lips. "Try telling him this." He fell silent, realizing that neither Gimli nor he would be able to tell Aragorn anything. Ever again. His voice grew quiet. "And yet, he did give me a gift at the end. He gave me the greatest gift of all."
"What was it?" Gimli asked, his heart filled with curiosity. "What did he give you?"
Legolas did not reply. Instead, his hand sought a pocket of his inner tunic, and his fingers curled around a small piece of wood.
-:- one hundred and ninety years earlier -:-
"Estel, please, do not concern yourself over this matter. I have told you already – your presence here is a gift enough."
"This might have been so if I had traveled here to honour your celebration," the young man said sadly. "Instead, I came to burden you with my fears. I came here seeking your help. In what way can that be considered a gift?"
"You have other problems on your mind now, my friend, and they are of greater importance. You are welcome to be my guest at the festivities tonight whether you bring a gift or not. But remember, Estel," the elf added with a gentle smile, "not all gifts are palpable."
Aragorn nodded slowly. He did not look convinced, but did not argue. Legolas clasped the man's shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Come now, Estel. I have to go and oversee one of the border patrols. We must be ready to leave in half an hour. If everything is well, we shall have plenty of time to return before the celebrations start."
The man slowly shook his head. "Legolas I – I am not coming."
The elf frowned. Why did Estel refuse to come with him? The boy he had known for years was always eager to learn from his elders. Had the new knowledge changed him more than Legolas had thought at first? The prince sighed. He did not wish to press the young man. "As you wish," he said. "But there will be a while before I return. What will you do in my absence? Some of our warriors are going hunting; they are leaving in an hour I believe. I could ask them to let you join them if you wish."
Aragorn shook his head. "Thank you, but I will stay here until you return."
Now Legolas was worried. Apparently this new burden was heavier than he had thought. "Estel, is everything well? I can stay here with you. I could find someone else to go instead of me."
This time the man smiled. "I am well, Legolas, there is no need to worry about me, I assure you. It is just that, well, there is something that I need to do. And I need to be alone."
Estel's words did little to dissuade his worry. "Do you wish to talk to me, my friend? I tell you once again – I can stay."
Aragorn clasped the elf's shoulder and looked him in the eyes. "Legolas, I told you – there is no reason to worry. Please, you must believe me. I need to stay alone. I have no need of company today."
"If you say so," Legolas muttered doubtfully. "I will be back by sunset. If you need anything, go to my father. I shall talk to him before I leave."
"Thank you," the man said softly. "I will see you upon your return."
Legolas dismounted swiftly and noticed distractedly the two young elves who approached him to take care of his mare. He briefly nodded his thanks and let his long legs quickly carry him to the guest quarters. The elf raised his hand to knock on the door, but just then it suddenly opened. His young friend stood there, looking at him with a slight smile on his lips.
"Legolas I – I made something for you while you were away," Aragorn said quickly and his smile disappeared. The man looked down and shifted uncomfortably. He had worked on this long and hard and was very proud of his creation, and yet, now he was afraid that it was not good enough for the elven prince. "It is a gift – my gift for your begetting day. And it is also my gift for you to thank you for giving me what I needed yesterday."
"I have given you nothing, my friend. I merely listened to you."
Aragorn shook his head. "You gave me your friendship, Legolas. This is what I needed the most, and for that I thank you. And I wanted to give you mine in return." He looked away, feeling suddenly embarrassed at his open display of emotion, but then realized that he was missing something. "Ah yes… the present." He rummaged hastily through his pockets. "I forgot." Estel looked up in time to see Legolas's gentle smile and cleared his throat to hide his growing uneasiness. "Here it is. It is nothing special, I am afraid, and it is not as beautiful as I wanted to it be, but-"
Legolas gasped. The young man had handed him a piece of carved wood, depicting a sword crossed with a bow. It was by no means masterfully made. Aragorn had little skill in wood carving even by human standards, and his work could not be compared to that of an elven artisan. And yet, it was obvious that the little piece was done with a lot of effort and care.
"It is supposed to be a sword and a bow," the man clarified quickly, as if afraid that his work was so bad that the elf could not recognize what it was. "This is us. Together we are strong, unbreakable. If we fight together, side by side, nothing can stand in our way." He sighed, misunderstanding the elf's silence. "It is foolish, I know…"
But then Legolas raised his face, and to the man's surprise, his eyes were shining with moisture. "Estel, this… this is beautiful." No word of gratitude escaped his lips. Instead, he pulled the man into a warm embrace.
-:- one hundred and ninety years later -:-
His hand was clutching the little piece of wood so hard, as if he wanted his flesh and the old carving to become one whole. The little gift was still the same, the same as it had been nearly two hundred years ago. And yet, it was not. For now it had lost its meaning.
It was the still the same – a sword and a bow – crossed, strong, unbreakable. The bow was still here. But the sword… the sword was gone. Would the bow be strong without the sword? Would it be unbreakable? Would it be able to face and fight whatever came in its way?
"Legolas?" The dwarf's voice was growing worried. "What gift did he give you?"
For the first time after they had boarded the ship, Legolas turned around. His fair face was wet, and when he finally spoke, his voice was softer than the whisper of the wind.
Gimli felt his own heart constrict painfully at the simple word. "Aragorn gave you his friendship. It is a great gift indeed," he finally said.
"And yet, he took it back at the end," Legolas said, and Gimli wondered briefly if it was anger that he detected in his friend's voice.
"He did not take back the gift given to you," said the dwarf gently. "Aragorn was mortal. Sooner or later he had to accept Ilúvatar's Gift to Men. It was his destiny."
"The Gift of Men?" Legolas's voice was laden with bitterness. "And when Ilúvatar decided to give Men this… this Gift, I wonder if in his infinite wisdom he ever considered that he would one day take my own gift away."
Gimli grasped his hand. "Legolas, please, do not speak such words! You do not mean this. You know well what the Gift is about – Men grow weary of Arda and are thus granted the blessing to seek peace beyond the circles of this world."
"He was not weary of this world, Gimli!" The elf protested. "He could have stayed longer!"
The dwarf was sadly shaking his head. "And this is where you are wrong, Legolas. Aragorn was ready to leave. It is you, my friend, who were not ready to let him go." Gimli looked up and a lump formed in his throat. Legolas's eyes were shining with tears, and he looked so lost, so uncomprehending. He took his friend's hands in his. "Ilúvatar was right, my friend. Men do grow weary of Middle-earth and want to leave it one day. What he never considered was that his Firstborn Children would never grow weary of their mortal friends. Yet, when those friends leave, the Elves would still be bound to the circles of this world and would be unable to follow. And this will break their hearts."
Legolas fell to his knees, now openly sobbing. "Why?" He barely managed to choke. "Why?"
Gimli was unsure if his friend was speaking to him, to the Valar, to Eru himself, or to no one in particular. Yet, he squeezed Legolas's hands more firmly. "You have not lost everything as you might believe, my friend," he said softly. "Aragorn gave you a great gift and I can see that you have treasured it throughout the years. Yet, he had not taken it back. It is still with you."
The elf looked up, pain and confusion written all over his fair features. Gimli smiled sadly. "The memories of him still live in you," he said. "The memories of joys and sorrows, of hardships and sacrifice, of victory and loss – they are still with you, and they will stay. As long as you carry him here," Gimli gently touched the elf's heart, "he will never leave you. And those memories will keep you strong. Whenever you are faced with darkness and despair, you will remember the smiles you shared and they will give you the strength to go on. This is the gift that he gave you, Legolas, and no one can take that away from you."
By the time Gimli had finished speaking, Legolas's vision was so clouded with tears that he could no longer see his friend. His own sobs deafened him, and he could barely hear the soft words. And yet, blind and deaf as he was, he had not lost his sense of touch.
His hand slipped inside his pocked, finding a small wooden carving. His fingers first found the bow, slender, yet strong. They slipped along its length and soon found that it was not alone. There was a sword attached to it. The two were crossed. Strong. Unbreakable.
And then he knew that Gimli was right. The sword would never leave the bow. No matter if one was in this world, and one in a world unknown, they were still together. Still strong. Still unbreakable. And they would face everything that came in their way.
No one had taken his gift away. And no one ever could.
-:- The End -:-
Thank you for reading! Comments are greatly appreciated!