A Different Path.
I have been a leader amongst my people for many years but I have never been responsible for a group as difficult to control as this.
In truth, the wizard leads us—not me—but he defers to me when I wish he would not and, the hobbits especially, look to me for guidance.
And Boromir judges. Always watching, always finding me lacking.
But worst of them all are the dwarf and the elf. We are but days out of Imladris and they are driving me insane with their bickering. I cannot control them.
Why oh why did Elrond not send my brothers instead of this wild wood-elf? At least I could have relied upon them to conduct themselves with decorum, no matter what aggravation they were faced with.
And so at the end of a long day, instead of resting in calmness to restore ourselves, we are listening to the entire history of the wrongs elves have done dwarves and dwarves have done elves for the third time today.
"Do you ever sit still?" The dwarf spits at Legolas as he brushes past him. Legolas is always in motion and I agree it can be tiresome but did Gimli have to put so much venom into his request?
"Are you ever silent?" Legolas replies with equal aggression and after a day of jibes and arguments it is just too much. My own temper snaps.
"Legolas!" I call out to him across the clearing in Sindarin. "Cease this childishness. We are all sick of it!"
The look he gives me is one of white hot anger. He stares long and hard before spinning on his heels and stalking away.
"I go to scout." His words are cutting, and he throws them over his shoulder at me like darts as he walks away.
And the clearing descends into silence but it is far from restful. The hobbits watch me with wide eyes—far too late I remember Frodo can understand Sindarin well.
"You will get nowhere with him using that tone." Gandalf leans over and murmurs in my ear. "Try listening to him, Aragorn. Shouting orders will achieve nothing with a Son of Thranduil."
"You listen to him." I mutter, but all I get is a raised eyebrow from the wizard in reply and I somehow end up feeling as if I have just been severely disciplined.
"What did you say to him?" It is Boromir, at my side, intensely curious. He does not understand Legolas at all but I can hardly judge him for that when at the moment I obviously do not understand the wood-elf well myself.
"I reminded him he should behave like the prince he is," I sigh, "and not a spoilt child."
And Boromir's eyes open wide.
"He is a prince?"
What is the problem with me today? Having just disciplined Legolas in public now I spill his secrets as well? Why am I such a fool? It seems I can do nothing right when it comes to him and it frustrates me.
"His father is the Elvenking." There is no point hiding it now. "In Mirkwood....the Greenwood, as Legolas calls it."
And Boromir stares after Legolas in wonder. He obviously finds this difficult to imagine.
When Legolas returns he is a thundercloud. He has caught some hares and he throws them aggressively beside the fire before retreating, miserably to the edges of our circle where he sits and glowers, saying nothing, and pointedly avoiding my eyes.
It is going to be a long night with this elven whirlwind of animosity amongst us. Even the ceaseless bickering was preferable to this. The darkness of his mood spreads across us all.
I sigh heavily as I watch him. I cannot help myself and beside me Gandalf mutters,
"Talk to him!"
"Well that will hardly end well," I wave my hand towards the crouched form of Legolas to indicate the wall of resentment I would face, but the wizard simply gives a huff of dissatisfaction .
"You will not get far on this quest if you allow one small silvan to defeat you, Aragorn." I am trapped between a rock and a hard place, Legolas' anger and the Wizards disapproval . . . Faced with that Legolas actually seems the better option.
He does not look up when I finally stand and approach him.
"Walk with me," I say with a nod of my head towards the forest which surrounds us.
"Is that a request, or an order?" He snaps back. He is going to make this as difficult as he can. That much is very, very obvious.
"Take it however you wish." I do not wait for him to follow me and a large part of me does not think that he will. He surprises me—although follow is not really the word to describe what he does—as he pushes past me aggressively to stride ahead. Even his walk is angry; head down, hands clenched, not so much as a look in my direction until we are clear of the others earshot and then he turns on me, wild eyes blazing.
"Do not speak to me like that in front of others again!"
His Sindarin is heavily accented but I can understand him clearly……all too clearly.
He is right, of course. It was clumsy and I have erred here. Even those who could not understand my words could hear my tone. I am just about to tell him that and attempt to make amends but then he oversteps the mark. He pushes me too far.
"Did Elrond teach you nothing of leadership? Why am I surprised at that when he was too afraid to claim it himself!"
I am tried, frustrated, completely fed up and I will not let him disparage my foster father so unfairly. As foolish as it is I retaliate in kind.
"And did Thranduil not teach you how to behave in polite society? At least if my brothers were with us I would not have to drag them aside to discipline them like spoilt children, no matter what aggravation they faced."
They are foolish in the extreme. . . my words. I have seen in Imladris how badly Legolas reacts to criticism of his father and grandfather. I should know better and I pay the price.
For a moment I think he will strike me.
He is in front of me in an instant, eyes flashing with anger, so close, so full of rage I feel the smallest flash of fear.
"What would you know of Thranduil, Human?" His lip curls in disdain as he spits the words at me in fury.
And I wonder how I have found myself here? How have I managed to handle this so badly? I am not Boromir who has grown up away from elves viewing them with suspicion and distrust, I am Estel. Raised by Elrond Half-elven, I understand them, I speak their language, I know them. But I now realise I do not know Legolas. I do not understand him, and I am doing an astonishingly bad job of communicating with him. This is not at all how I imagined this conversation going.
I must find another path because the one we are on will only lead us to blows and that will help no one. I have to try something else. . . He is not as any I have met in Imladris. He is his own self and one quite alien to me.
"Forgive me," Raising my hands in supplication I step back, if only to get out of his reach. "You are right . . . I should not have spoken to you as I did, in front of others. All I am talented at is making mistakes it seems, at the moment."
I am used to elves who are the masters of calm and control. Who sweep their way slowly through the days . . . For they have a lot of them to fill. Who always do as expected and seldom change. Legolas is none of those things and so he confuses me. It seems he will always do what I least expect as he flits from mood to mood with little warning, and he does so now.
I expected retaliation, more anger, snide commentary on my leadership since I have just invited it. Instead his hands drop to his side and his anger, so aggressive before, bleeds away before my eyes so I am bemused and wrong footed yet again. He retreats, leaning back against the tree behind him as if it is the only thing to hold him upright and as I watch, he slides down, the bark scraping against his skin through his thin tunic until he sits upon the ground head buried in his arms.
Then I am left standing awkwardly looking down at him wondering just what I should do next, and what I said to cause this sudden deflation? My head spins, the silence deafens and I have no idea what to say.
"Every morning," his voice makes me jump when he speaks, "Every morning I tell myself I will not react to his jibes and yet every day I do. I cannot stop letting him get under my skin as much as I tell myself to ignore it." He raises his head then to finally look up at me. "My father would tear strips off me if he knew. He would tell me to rise above it . . . But I just cannot! No wonder you wish for your brothers here instead of me."
"I do not!"
"You said it." He looks downcast and I have to stop and think . . . Did I actually say that? Suddenly he looks so young, miserable and forlorn. Far from the wild, aggressive creature who so nearlyattacked me before.
"I said—" I choose my words carefully, anxious not to accidentally offend once again. "They would be easier for me to lead as it is obvious I am doing a very bad job of leading you . . . As you most kindly pointed out." I smile as I say the last—tentatively—hoping to show I mean it as a dig at myself, not a criticism. "Still, they would also spend a great deal of their time critiquing my every move, and lecturing me every evening how I could improve upon the day which you do not and I am grateful for that at least."
I am uncomfortable standing over him, so I sit. I have no choice and at least then we are more equal. I am beginning to wonder if trying to lead him at all has been my mistake. Perhaps if we are on the level things will go more smoothly?
Silently he picks up a stick and prods the ground with it, rather aggressively which makes me nervous. Have I not seen the last of his anger then? But he ceases this just as suddenly dropping his head, once again, onto his knees. A small huddled ball of unhappiness.
"I am homesick." His words are muffled as they float up to me. "I have never been this far from home, for this long, with no-one . . . " his words trail off and I realise just how young he is. Oh I know he has lived many, many, years longer than myself. But by the measure of his people he is still young yet, an immortal among mortals, isolated and alone. I am filled with a sudden rush of sympathy but do not know how to show it. I do not think he will accept so much as a pat on the shoulder from me. He holds himself apart from the rest of us, I have noticed, and I do not know how to breach that.
"I did not think this would be so hard,” he ends. "Your brother told you I would be uncontrollable and I prove him right. I am ashamed of that. This is not me. It is not my people. I would not have you think of us as the Noldor do for we are more than that. You see—" he looks up at me with a flitting glance and then away. "You are right to call me childish but that does not make it hurt less. I am like an elfling away from it's mother crying in the night . . . Pathetic."
And I have missed this. I should have known. I should have thought of it. I have assumed he would be as my widely travelled, independent, older brothers are. Who run with the Dunedain for long periods of time away from Imladris and show no sign of missing home. But he is not. His home is far more deeply entangled with his heart, and his experience of travel far less.
"I am sorry you heard that conversation between Elladan and I," I say, for it seems a safe place to start. "I am ashamed of that and I know he is also." But Legolas only shrugs.
"That does not make it less true, and I have made it a self-fulfilling prophecy allowing the dwarf to rile me so. But he digs at my home and my family and I miss them. It is like an ache in the depths of my soul."
"If you had only spoken of this to me . . . Or Gandalf—"
But he cuts me off aggressively.
"Hardly! I am a warrior. I do not go running to others for help like an infant. And I have spoken to Mithrander."
So that is why the wizard bade me to listen to him.
He pushes himself up from the forest floor then, landing on his feet in one smooth movement, so full of grace. Whenever he moves you cannot help but watch him.
"I do not blame you, wishing for the Sons of Elrond rather than the wild Sprite you have been landed with . . . No—" he holds out a hand to silence my protests before I even begin to speak them. "I know how others see me. I know I struggle to hold my mind still and focused in the here and now. I have been called far worse by my own people—even my father sometimes wonders what to do with me!"
He extends a hand to pull me to my feet for I am graceless and clumsy in comparison, a tangle of arms and legs as I clamber upwards. I am used to this though. This is something that is the same. My brothers—every elf in Imladris—make me look uncoordinated in the extreme. It no longer bothers me, although it once did.
"Your brothers are the best of us." Legolas continues when I stand. "Our finest warriors. Everyone says so. I am just a pale copy of them.—literally!" He waves strands of his pale gold hair at me, mocking his Sindar colouring. "How could you not wish for their company?"
"I miss them because they are familiar," I am uncomfortable with the ease at which he mocks himself. "Because I know what they think and when they think it. Not because they are any better warriors than you."
But he simply laughs, a different Legolas from when we left the fellowship. The storm clouds have dissipated and the sun at the centre of him shines through.
And I have no idea what I have done—or not done—to cause it.
"Good luck attempting to know what I am thinking!" He smiles. "Many have tried and they all have failed."
"I thought I knew elves. I grew up amongst them, I have known them all my life. I have never met an elf I did not understand . . .Until you." I try to explain my gaucheness, my bumbling attempts at communication for I have assumed he was like all others and he is not.
"You know the Noldor and I am not one." He turns back to me all seriousness when he has just been light and joyful. "I promise to try harder to ignore the dwarf—although I am not sure I will succeed—if you promise to leave the discipline until we are alone. I do not take well to it, in case you had not noticed."
"I can promise that." I will certainly try. I do not wish to be on the wrong end of that temper again.
I watch him as we meander back down the path. He glides his fingers across the leaves as he passes them, always in contact with the trees. I have seen him doing this often in the days since we left Imladris and not known why. Today, I think I will ask him.
"What is it you do . . . With the trees?"
He looks up, started for he has been deep in thought.
"Listening. They speak to me. It reminds me of home and steadies my soul. They are not same as my own trees, but they are pleased to see me all the same."
I have heard the Noldor joke and laugh about Silvans talking to the trees but I never thought it could be true.
Legolas looks up at them with a yearning plain upon his face and suddenly I know what I should do.
"Do you wish to spend some time with them? Why not go now and run? We are safe here."
"What?" He looks almost horrified at the suggestion when I thought he would be pleased. "And have the dwarf mock me?"
"What does it matter what he says if you are not there to hear it. I have your back with Gimli. Go!"
I do not have to say it twice for he is gone before I can blink. So fast he is but a blur and then he vanishes. I can see no trace of him as I peer after him into the foliage, until his face drops down some way in front of me, bright and joyous.
"Thank you!" He cries. . . And then he is off, high on the branches above me and I walk the rest of the way back alone.
The smell of a rich rabbit stew greets me on my arrival. Gimli has been putting those hares Legolas bought us to good use in my absence and I realise I am starving.
"Where is the elf?" He asks as he hands me a platter, and his voice is full of recrimination before I have even begun to explain.
"He runs off steam in the trees," I say, "so perhaps it will be easier for him to stay still as you wish him to when he returns."
"Fickle creature," he grumbles. "Can he concentrate on nothing?"
I drop my voice low. Legolas is not here with his elven hearing and the hobbits and Boromir will not hear me.
"He is homesick, Gimli. He is young, far from home and surrounded by those who do not know him. I hoped you might understand that. Give him the chance to relax amongst his trees when he can take it."
I am suddenly angry at his lack of understanding, his quickness to criticise, which is —perhaps—unfair as I have so recently been there myself.
When Legolas returns he is calm, his face open and alight. The run has done him good, and he smiles as he enters the clearing and sees us. I take that as a good sign. That is, he smiles until Gimli speaks.
"Did you find what you wanted in the trees, elf?" His voice is gruff and still accusatory and Legolas hesitates, he battles with himself, I can tell.
"Yes." In the end he answers simply, and I hope Gimli will let it rest. If he does not he will destroy all the good the trees have done Legolas.
The dwarf holds out a plate of hot steaming meat then, which Legolas takes, eyes wide with surprise. He did not expect that. It seems he is not the only one who can be unpredictable.
"I am glad." Gimli says quietly, "I hope it did you good." And he turns away abruptly, leaving Legolas standing, open-mouthed, in the centre of the clearing. The sight is quite amusing.
And I smile to myself, because Gimli has heard me . . . For tonight at least.
Legolas sits himself down beside the youngest of us, Pippin. I cannot hear what it is they talk of but Pippin, as I watch, is animated and laughing. What a skill Legolas has to put these young ones at ease when our journey is grim.
He pulls out a blade and begins to carve something intricate from a piece of wood he has bought back from the woods. The hobbit watches his every move in wonder as a shape emerges like magic almost from nothing, then Merry is there too, the two of them hanging off each and every word while Legolas smiles, eyes dancing and tells nonsense stories of the Greenwood.
Even Frodo is laughing.
My brothers could not do this. Strong and honourable as they are they could not walk into our camp and put these little ones at ease as Legolas does now. They could teach them to fight, they could guard them admirably but they would struggle to sit beside them and dispel their fears.
"Legolas!" I call out to him across the glade—I do not care if Frodo can understand my Sindarin this time—and Legolas looks up startled. I can see written across his face that he wonders what he has done now.
"You are no pale copy of my brothers." I call. "You are a jewel of your own making and I would have it no other way!"
There is a heartbeat of silence as his surprise shows on his face, then it is gone, replaced by the most brilliant of grins.
"I am glad you finally appreciate me then, Mortal" His laughter is a balm upon all our souls, even those here who do not understand what it is we say. "Perhaps if I wait long enough one day even the dwarf will love me!"
And so he makes me laugh also. He talks such nonsense . . .
For who could ever imagine that?