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Chapter 7: "Friendship is Always Enough"
Legolas could feel the dog's hot breath on his neck now and briefly wondered when the beast was going to bite. It could kill him in an instant if it bit at the right place, and he suspected that Edwin was unwilling to play any more games and would aim at a swift end.
And then, unexpected and unannounced, a strange melody filled the wide room. It was calm and soothing, taking away the cares and the anger and bringing new life and hope. The elf glanced at their captor – the man seemed as perplexed as they were.
What was most peculiar about the music was not the melody itself, but the instrument it was played on. It was a string instrument, that was for sure, but it sounded different from anything any Gondorian bard would use. And then it brought memories back to Legolas, images and sounds from a far away land he had once visited together with Aragorn.
Musicians playing on little, pear-shaped string instruments. Dancers in bright colours, enchanting him with their fluid movements. Arms covered with intricate bracelets which jingled merrily at every move, in tact with the music.
Harad. Yet, Legolas had never heard anyone play this instrument outside of the desert land. He did not know that the strange instrument could be found anywhere in Gondor, or that any musician would have the skill to use it.
As soon as the music appeared, something strange happened. The dogs stopped in their tracks, their faces, previously twisted in fierce rage, relaxed, and the growls were replaced by friendly whines. They all lay down, placing their heads on the ground between their front legs, looking at the prisoners with large, gentle eyes.
Edwin had sensed the change in his minions, and was now crying orders on the top of his lungs. But none of the dogs seemed to listen. They were trained so that the melody was the ultimate order, and no words could undo it. And the music was telling them to be calm.
Suddenly Edwin stopped shouting and took a deep breath. And then he started whistling. It was a melody deep and beautiful, and yet filled with darkness and rage.
The dogs seemed to hesitate, but the music from the instrument was stronger. Faramir and Legolas exchanged a glance, and then they both knew what to do. Man and elf started whistling, their voices mingling with the music from the unknown instrument. The dogs lay back down.
Then the door opened with a crash, and the last person Legolas had expected to see walked in. Eldarion. Except for a bloodied bandage around his leg, the boy seemed unscratched. But he was not alone.
Even though the King seemed barely able to stand up, he was walking forward unsupported. In his arms he held the instrument from Legolas's memories, and his fingers were deftly commanding the strings to produce the beautiful sounds. The elf held his breath and sagged to the floor, weak with relief. Aragorn looked at him and for a brief, torturous moment, Legolas had the illusion that their eyes locked. It was only his imagination, he reminded himself harshly, but the spark of hope that had flared through his heart at that instant hurt more than what he was prepared for.
"Eldarion, unbind Faramir and Legolas." Despite his weakened state, the King's voice was strong and filled with authority. "Legolas, please use your ropes to bind Edwin. Edwin, I would advise you against doing anything rash. We have your daughter."
The elf had to suppress a chuckle. He knew very well that Aragorn would never hurt the girl to force their former captor to submit, but it was very well that Edwin was unaware of that. That man could have never imagined how different he and the King were.
The child swiftly followed his father's orders, and once Edwin was bound, the King spoke again, never pausing in playing the music.
"I have caused you great pain and I understand your desire for revenge," Aragorn said. "If you had taken your hatred on me, I would have forgiven you. But you wanted to hurt my son. You wanted to hurt my friends. That I cannot forgive."
"Worse!" Eldarion cried and Aragorn looked at him in surprise. "You got Floppy involved!"
"You heard my son," the King said seriously although there was a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. "You got Floppy involved, and he is very dear to the Prince. And that is something he cannot forgive either."
"Where is my daughter?" Edwin cried. "What have you done to her?"
For the first time, there was true disgust in Aragorn's gaze. "Who do you think I am, Edwin?" he asked angrily. "I am not you and you will do well to accept this at last! Moriel is unhurt and will face a fair trial at the City, together with you. " His voice turned softer. "My friends, please join me outside."
Eldarion ran forward, as if eager to leave the room as soon as possible and apparently forgetting that his father needed assistance to follow. The man was not experienced to being blind and it was unlikely that he would remember how many steps to take in which direction to reach the door. This was why Legolas quickly walked to him and grasped his upper arm, carefully guiding him forward. "This way, my friend," he said softly.
Aragorn threw him a surprised glance and frowned, as if wondering what the elf meant. And then, understanding lit his features and a broad smile spread across his face. And much to Legolas's horror, he started to laugh.
The elf stared, overtaken by a peculiar mixture of shock, confusion, worry, irritation and joy. His friend's laughter was like music to his ears and he was glad that the man was still able to find mirth, but he could see nothing amusing and was starting to doubt the man's sanity. They walked out of the room, and Aragorn closed the door shut behind him, finally putting the string instrument down, but still chuckling softly.
"Could you please tell me what is so funny?" Legolas said somewhat stiffly.
Aragorn did his best to stop laughing. "I am sorry, Legolas, I really am. It is just that – well – I believe I forgot to mention that I can see perfectly well."
The elf gasped and his eyes widened. "You what?"
"I can see," Aragorn said, finally regaining control over his laughter. "I can see just as well as I could before we came here."
A cry of joy left the elf's throat and he wrapped his arms around the human, but released him quickly at the hiss of pain. His face was beaming. "How did this happen, Estel?" he asked. "How could you regain your sight? And so quickly?"
The King chuckled once again. "I did not regain my sight."
Legolas frowned in confusion and the light in his eyes quickly diminished. Had Aragorn not just told them that he could see?
"He did not regain his sight," Faramir spoke from behind them, unable to hide the pure delight in his voice. "He never lost it."
"See, Legolas?" said the King, winking at his Steward. "I have always told you that we, humans, are more quick-witted than elves. It must be because you have ages to understand what is happening, and you like to take your time."
Legolas glared dangerously and slapped the man lightly on the back of his head, mindful of his injuries. "You are fortunate that you are wounded, human. Will you be kind enough to enlighten the slow-witted elf about what happened?"
"I am not sure myself," Aragorn admitted. "But what I know is that when Edwin took me to the fireplace, I believed my son was dead. My eyes were filled with tears, and I believe it were those tears that saved me. The water took the heat from the iron and spared my eyes." The man shuddered slightly at the memory. "I could feel the heat burning at my face, my eyelashes, my skin. I could feel my tears evaporate and I knew that I did not have much time left before the heat had consumed my eyes. And so I cried out and pretended that it had happened already."
"You could have given us some sign-" said Legolas, but then he paused, and his brow furrowed, memories flashing in his mind. "Wait... All this time you were pretending that you could not see, and your eyes would not focus on anything, even before the girl arrived. Edwin could not notice that. He could not see you. You were not pretending for him. You were pretending for us as well!"
"I am really sorry, my friend, but it was necessary," Aragorn said apologetically. "I needed you to play along, and I needed you to be convincing. And you are a terrible liar, Legolas; you would have given me away. I did try to give you a sign at the end; I tried to look you in the eyes, but I could not make it clear enough without causing suspicion."
"Necessary!" Legolas could not believe his ears. "And have you any idea what you did to Faramir and me? Have you any idea what thoughts passed through our heads while we believed that you would never be able to see again? Your current injuries will seem nothing to you once I am done with you!" In spite of his angry words, his hands were gentle when he reached forward to support the injured man. Aragorn could stand on his feet no longer, and the elf eased him to the ground.
"And once you are done with him, Legolas, could you leave him to me? My desire for vengeance is no less than yours," said Faramir, but his voice was way too cheerful and relieved to sound threatening.
Aragorn laughed. "With friends like you two, I have no need of enemies!" His voice turned serious. "I am sorry for what I did to you. I truly am. My heart was breaking when I was listening to your screams, but I knew that we had to go through this if we were to leave this place alive. Forgive me."
"I forgive you, sire," Faramir said. "But I beg you, never do this to us again! My poor heart can take no more. I can swear my grey hairs are much more than they were yesterday!"
The King nodded in gratitude, accepting the forgiveness. Then his eyes turned to the elf. "Legolas?"
The elf slid to the floor, burying his face in his hands. He was silent for a while, and when he spoke, his voice was unsteady. "I thought that you could never see again! I thought that you were left alone in the darkness, unable to find the way home!" He raised his head and his voice hardened. "And you dare seek forgiveness?"
"I know, Legolas," the man said softly and grasped his shoulder. "I saw what pain I have caused you, and I can never forgive myself. But I believe that your heart is nobler than mine, and you can find the strength to forgive where I cannot."
The elf sighed in exasperation. "How can I forgive you, Estel," he said, "when I have never been angry with you?" He grasped the man's shoulder back and Aragorn smiled. "But tell me something," Legolas continued. "Where did you find that instrument and how do you know how to play it? And how did you know what melody to play?"
The man looked down at the instrument lovingly and pulled a string, which produced a soft note. "I have never been good at playing music," he began. "As a child in Imladris, I tried to learn how to play the flute and the harp, but I was always much worse than any elf, and was quickly discouraged. But during my time in Harad, I spent a lot of my travels with Jibran, a good man who became my companion for many adventures. He loved to play the oud – this is what this instrument is called – and he taught me how to play it too. He was a patient teacher, and I soon learned the art.
"When news of the dog attack arrived at the palace, Baranir, one of Eldarion's friends who had been with him during the assault, told us that he had heard music before the dogs appeared. Then I thought that perhaps the dogs were trained to obey certain melodies, and I thought that it would be wise to take a musical instrument with me. There is a wide variety of instruments in the City, but I could not play any of them.
"Fortunately, at the moment we have a guest from Harad in Minas Tirith, Lord Ghasaan, with whom I have met many times and whom I deeply respect. He knows that I admire the culture of the desert land, and arrived with an entourage of dancers and musicians for my entertainment. Before I left after Eldarion, I went to briefly meet him and ask him to borrow one of the ouds of his people.
"Still, I did not know what melody would calm the dogs, and could not learn it until I had heard it. I did not hear it until the dogs had attacked and nearly killed me. Then Edwin played it to calm them down, and I made an effort to memorize it, but did not have the chance to play it until much later. When he left me in the forest, he gave me back my pack, and the oud was inside. There I met Eldarion, who had escaped successfully. He had also heard the melody once, and we both tried to reproduce it. I practiced for some time before we were both satisfied, but at the end I played it well enough."
"Now everything makes sense," said Legolas.
"No, not everything," Aragorn said. "There is one thing that I still cannot understand." His gaze moved from the elf to his Steward, and then back. "What are the two of you doing here?"
Legolas stood up and assisted the man to his feet. "What kind of a question is that? Saving you, of course!"
Aragorn chuckled again, and Faramir and Legolas exchanged a glance. "What is so amusing this time?" the elf asked, trying to sound annoyed, and yet unable to hide his joy at seeing his friend so quickly putting the unpleasant experience behind.
"Forgive me, my friends," the King said, still smiling, "but I was somehow under the impression thatit was I who saved you."
Eldarion cleared his throat. "Aren't you forgetting something, ada?"
"Ah, yes. I meant to say, it is Eldarion and I who saved you. So your coming here served no purpose except for creating more work for me and my son."
"Fine," Legolas murmured darkly, suppressing a smile. "And I suppose half-carrying you because you can barely stand on your feel counts for nothing? But tell me, oh mighty saviour, how are we going to walk past the dogs?"
"Easily," Aragorn replied.
The elf raised an eyebrow. "And would you care to elaborate on that?"
"The same way that Eldarion did when he escaped," said the King.
The elf and the Steward exchanged another glance. "I take back my words," Faramir murmured grumpily. "When I said that I wished Mithrandir was here. Now I can see that our good King is doing wonderfully in fulfilling his role."
Aragorn smiled again. "Thank you for the compliment, but there is no need. You will not wonder over this riddle for much longer. We are almost there."
The Steward opened the door and they were outside, surrounded by dozens of black dogs. Legolas tensed, but Eldarion gave out a cry of delight and ran towards one of the dogs. The elf tired to reach out and stop him, but it was too late.
Several dogs ran towards the boy, but instead of growling, they were barking happily and waving their tails. The child knelt done and scratched one of the animals behinds the ears. Then he looked back at his father, smiling.
"There is no malice in these dogs," Aragorn said. "They have been trained to fight for Edwin, but they would not attack unless given a command."
"What are we going to do with them?" asked Faramir.
"I believed the City can use some additional hunting hounds. These dogs have been trained to attack men, but they would not do it without a command, and perhaps it is possible to unlearn this habit. I will leave them to my dog trainers and see what they can do with them."
The little group walked down the forest path, leaving Edwin's home behind. Their progress was slow as Aragorn could no longer walk unsupported and was tiring quickly. "Perhaps one of us should hurry forward and find help?" Faramir offered, as they had once again stopped to rest.
Legolas was only half-listening. His ears were trained on a sound in the distance, approaching fast. "Someone is coming!" he hissed urgently. "Horses!"
And indeed horses and their riders were approaching swiftly, but the elf relaxed when he recognized the uniforms of the royal guard.
"Eradan!" The King addressed their leader. "What are you doing here? The Queen said she would give me three days."
"She did," said the man, smiling apologetically. "But then the Queen changed her mind." He looked over his lord worriedly. "And I am glad that she did."
"I am glad too," said Faramir suddenly. "Eradan, we need four of your men to take care of the villain and his daughter and bring them to the dungeons. The rest of us will ride to Minas Tirith immediately! Prepare a stretcher for the King!"
Aragorn threw him a shocked glance. "Faramir, you do not expect me to be carried to the City!"
The younger man looked sternly at his lord. "And you cannot expect to ride by yourself in this condition," he stated. "You will be carried on a stretcher, and this is my final word!"
The King glared at him sharply, and Faramir paled. "Forgive me, sire, I know that I am but a Steward and have no right to give you orders, but-"
Aragorn's gaze softened. "You are much more than a Steward, Faramir. I will gladly follow your orders, my friend." With these words, he turned around and allowed his guards to help him forward. Faramir stood there, gazing open-mouthed after his King.
The Steward was sitting in a stuffed chair, staring lazily at the low table in front of him. There was a bowl of fruit, but he could not decide if he was hungry or not.
Among the apples, peaches and oranges, there was some strange fruit that he had never seen before. It was round, pink-red, and there were little pointed green leaves on the fruit itself. A slender hand reached forward and grabbed it.
"What is this?" Legolas asked, examining it curiously. He broke it open. Inside the fruit was white with little black dots.
"I have no idea," Faramir admitted. "This is the first time that I see it."
The elf took a bite. "Mmm, it is good. Do you want to try it?" He handed the man one of the halves.
Faramir tried the fruit and was pleasantly surprised. It was creamy, sweet and delicate.
"It is a fruit from Harad," a voice from behind him said, and he turned around in surprise. He had not heard the Queen approaching. "Estel loved it during his time there and is working to arrange it being regularly imported here. Our guests brought some samples to prove that they can bring the fruit here before it is spoiled." She smiled. "Thank you for destroying the sample, Legolas."
"It seems fruits are not the only thing that the King enjoyed during his stay in Harad," Faramir said, graciously trying to divert the attention away from the elf, who had turned a dark shade of pink. "And for that I am grateful."
"As am I," said Legolas, before turning to the Queen. "Arwen, may we see him?"
She sighed. "If it was for me to decide, he should be resting and recovering. Unfortunately, he specifically said that he wishes to see both of you today."
The man and elf were on their feet before she had finished speaking. They walked quickly to the King's bedchamber, knocked and entered, after hearing a soft reply.
"Legolas, Faramir," the King greeted them, smiling broadly. He was half-sitting, half-lying on the bed, his back supported by large pillows. His features were relaxed and the light had returned to his eyes, but he still looked very pale. "I wish to speak to you. Please, take a seat." He gestured at two chairs by his bed.
Suddenly the door flew open without warning and Eldarion stormed inside, followed by Elboron. Faramir frowned and was about to rebuke his son for disturbing the king, but Eldarion spoke before he could.
"Ada, ada, look who has come to see you!" The little prince produced a little stuffed rabbit.
Aragorn winked at his friends. "Ah! Floppy!" he said in delight. "It is wonderful to see you, my dear friend. Has my son been good to you?" He took the rabbit and moved him closer to his ear. Then he moved the toy's head up and down, as if it was speaking. The King's smile was replaced by a frown. "What? Is that so? I will see what I can do about this." He looked sternly at his son. "Eldarion, Floppy here is telling me that you have not given him a single carrot since your return."
The two boys gasped in unison. "I forgot!" Eldarion breathed.
"Does this mean that he will now run away and go to Rohan?" Elboron asked in horror.
"Perhaps it is not too late to repair this wrong," said Faramir. "Quickly! To the kitchen!"
Eldarion and Elboron did not need a second reminder and rushed out of the room at once. Their fathers exchanged an amused glance. "You wished to speak to us, sire," Faramir said.
The King turned serious at once. "Yes, yes I do. I would like to thank you both."
"Thanks us?" Legolas whispered in disbelief. "What is there to thank for?"
"For saving me," Aragorn said softly, holding his friends' gazes.
Faramir gasped in surprise, and the elf stood up from his chair, staring down angrily. "Did you call us here to mock us, Aragorn? Yes, we know, you have said it already – we came to save you, but failed and you were the one to save us instead. Do you need to remind us this? Do you think we had forgotten that we were unable to help you when you were in need? It had never stopped haunting me."
The King looked startled and quickly shook his head. "No, Legolas, that is not what I meant. I was being serious."
Legolas sat down slowly, and it was his turn to be confused. "What did you mean then?"
"Do you think that I would have survived those horrors if I was alone?" Aragorn asked, and his voice was laden with emotion. "Do you think I would have survived this man telling me that my son was dead? Do you think I would have fought for my life? When Edwin told me that Eldarion was dead, I thought I had lost everything. My world was crashing down on me, but you two were there to give me hope."
The elf stood up from his chair and sat on the bed instead, grasping the man's hand in his own and squeezing it tightly. Aragorn continued. "I would have never found the strength to fight if not for you. I would have never tried to deceive Edwin. I would have waited for my eyes to be burnt, and he would have left me in the forest, truly blind, where I would have slowly died. But you were there! And I fought for you. I managed to do everything that I did for you, because I wanted to save you, and in saving you I saved myself."
A single tear slid down Legolas's cheek and Faramir smiled as he watched the man and the elf. Long had he observed the friendship between the two and admired it. As for himself, he had felt nothing but deep love and respect for his King ever since the day he had called him back from the shadows. Sometimes he wondered if his lord returned his friendship, but the truth was, it mattered little. No matter what, Aragorn would always have his loyalty and devotion.
And then, suddenly, Faramir noticed that Legolas was grasping only one of the King's hands. Aragorn's other hand was free and… and stretched towards him. Faramir looked at it hesitantly and then raised his face, meeting his lord's eyes. Aragorn smiled at him and nodded slightly. Faramir grasped the King's hand and squeezed it lightly. The pressure was returned. And then the Steward knew that he had to wonder no longer.
"I wish to thank you both," Aragorn said fervently. "I would not be here now if not for you. Thank you."
"We did little, my Lord," Faramir said sadly. "We could not help you. All we could offer you in this dark hour was friendship, and it was not enough."
Aragorn's eyes met his Steward's and he held the man's gaze for a moment before speaking. "Oh, but it was enough, Faramir," he said seriously. "Friendship is always enough."
-:- The End -:-
Aragorn's supposed blindness:
The method of blinding someone by holding a red-hot piece of metal in front of his eyes is called abacination. After such a procedure, the eyes can outwardly seem to be intact, and it is possible to deceive someone that you are able to see (or, as we saw, vice versa).
Is the trick with the tears possible? I tried to do some research on this, but was unable to find anything useful. However, what happens to Aragorn in this story is also described in a book, Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne. He is known for always basing his books on solid science, and I decided to trust him. This is the explanation that he gives at the end of the book:
"The tears, which his pride in vain endeavored to subdue, welling up from his heart, gathered under his eyelids, and volatilizing on the cornea, had saved his sight. The vapor formed by his tears interposing between the glowing saber and his eyeballs, had been sufficient to annihilate the action of the heat. A similar effect is produced, when a workman smelter, after dipping his hand in vapor, can with impunity hold it over a stream of melted iron." – "Chapter XV: Conclusion". Michael Strogoff. Jules Verne
Sounds perfectly sensible, and I was unable to find any evidence to the contrary, so I decided to accept it. Why did this not happen to Edwin then? Surely he must have cried about his child too. I do not know, but I would assume that this is a rare phenomenon, and requires some luck. Besides, perhaps Edwin's tormentors held the hot iron for a longer time in front of his eyes because he did not have Aragorn's idea to pretend that his eyes had been burnt already before it had happened. And since Edwin is blind, it was easier for Aragorn to deceive him.
Thanks for reading! Reviews are greatly appreciated!