All I wanted was to touch the sky.
It was bright blue today, and glorious. It made me happy just to look at it, and I wondered, was it cool and smooth like the silk in my mother’s favorite dress that slid across my fingers when I tried to grab it? Or was it soft, velvety and warm like the curtains that hung in my father's study? If I could just get high enough I was sure I could grasp it. After all, yesterday, as we stood on the ground and watched Legolas high above us on the parapets, my Father had said:
"I think, given half a chance, Legolas would reach for the very sky when he is up there amongst the clouds."
And if Legolas could do it, why couldn't I?
And, so, I decided I would try.
I thought it would be easy, climbing the walls. It looks so easy when Legolas does it. It seems like a thousand times at least that I have watched him scurry up them as if he could almost fly.
But when I tried, all I discovered was aching arms, scraped knees as my skin slid across the stone, and foot holds that were just so far apart they were almost non existent. It was not easy at all.
And now, I am stuck.
It was alright at the very first when I did not look down, when I kept my eyes on the stone in front of my face, but when I stopped for breath on a small ledge only about half way to where I actually wanted to be—and turned to admire how far I had come— the city spun dizzyingly beneath me, and suddenly all was terrifying.
I felt my heart thudding in my chest; my legs would not hold me up. I was sure if I took one step—just one more step— I would fall. And so I froze, back pressed hard against the stone.
I froze. . . And I wept.
It seems like hours before someone sees me.
Perhaps it has not been that long, but to me the minutes have crawled like the snails which emerge to wind their way across our footpaths after the rain. So I sit, numb and frightened, too terrified to cry out. It feels as if even the movement needed to produce my voice could tip me over the side.
The moment one of the people passing below calls out to me with a shout is one I will not forget. The wave of relief is overwhelming; I could drown in it. Now my Father is sure to come and he will make things right!
A crowd forms now, as I watch, all staring up at me, fear in their eyes. It does not make me any calmer. They shout aloud and call my name, give me instructions to move myself but I cannot. I just cannot do it.
Then, suddenly, Father is there, and I start to cry all over again.
My Father's voice is loud and important. It always makes you listen. It is deep and soft and exciting, all at the same time. I like to listen to the rumble of it when he speaks to my Mother and they think that I am sleeping. I am never afraid when Father is there—except for right now. It does not help me now. In fact, I begin to wonder if he will be angry with me. . . Perhaps I do not want to go down there?
"Do not move, Eldarion," he calls to me and his calm, clear voice has an edge of panic to it. He is never scared, not my father. He is the bravest man I know. The thought that even he is frightened adds to my growing panic.
And, just as that threatens to overwhelm me, Legolas appears.
From my place up in the heights I can see his golden head weaving through the crowds before my father does and just the sight of him helps me breathe again. He smiles when he sees me. I can tell. And he does not look afraid, not in the slightest.
He goes straight to my father, puts a hand on his shoulder and bends towards him. They stand there—light and dark— whispering, I think, about me probably, before Legolas claps my Father’s shoulder heartily and is off, striding towards my walls.
He climbs so fast it as if his feet have wings. He glides over the stones in all the places I struggled— it takes him no time at all— but when I lean over, fascinated at how easy it is for him, trying to work out how he does it, my Father's voice rings out:
"Eldarion! Stay still. Stay where you are!"
It is his 'obey me' voice. The one he uses when I am caught where I should not be, when I have not done my studies, when I break something. He must be angry with me after all. But I do as he says. I stay still. When Father tells you to do something in that voice, you do it.
Legolas is with me before I know it and I am so pleased to see him that I almost forget about my scraped knees and the tears that stain my face, almost, but not quite. I wipe them away with my sleeve. I do not want Legolas to see me crying like a baby! He hauls himself up easily on to the ledge I struggled so hard to reach and smiles, a smile as bright as the sun, before he sits beside me.
"It is good to see you, Young One." He puts his arm around my shoulder.
I do not like being called young. I do not like it at all because I am not. I am nearly ten! But it is not really so bad when Legolas does it. I know he has been alive for years. My Mother has explained it to me, that he is older, far older than my Father, although he does not look it. I guess he can call me young, because to him, I probably am.
"So.” He pulls me in towards him, and below me I see my father's shoulders slouch in relief. He was scared. He is as pleased as I am Legolas is here! "How is it you find yourself all the way up here?"
"I wanted to touch the sky."
It is out before I stop to think and once I have said it, suddenly it seems so silly. It is a childish idea and I am not a child any longer—at least, I do not want to be. Legolas will think me foolish when I want him to think me brave and sensible.
But he does not.
Instead he leans back against the wall, tilting his head to the sun.
"Oh you are right, Young One," he smiles. "It is glorious today, is it not? I wish I could touch it myself. What do you think it might feel like?"
It is exactly what I wondered to myself. Legolas always knows. He never mocks me, never laughs at my wild ideas; he always understands the strange things that grab my attention. He never tells me to straighten my clothes, sit still, or be more civilised.
"I do not know!" I am excited to tell him my ideas. "I could not decide if it was slippery like silk or soft like Father's curtains."
He wrinkles his nose then in concentration before he speaks.
"What if it is cool and soothing like the sea?"
I bite my lip and my stomach twists, only slightly, but the anxiety is there. My Mother and Father do not like it when Legolas talks of the sea. He does it often and I do not really understand why it upsets them, but it does. Sometimes they will whisper about it when he is not there, when he has left the room. They put their heads together, speak softly and both of them are unhappy.
And so I do not like it either. It is the only thing about Legolas which frightens me.
He spies my bloodied knees then and reaches out to wipe them clean with his hand.
"You have hurt yourself. How long did it take you to climb this high?"
"Longer than you!" I cry, for suddenly it seems so unfair. "I wish I could be an elf. If I were an elf then I could reach the sky! I want to be fast like you, and strong. It is not fair, Legolas. My Mother was an elf, why can I not be?"
It is something that has been bothering me for awhile. A secret wish.
"Eldarion." He brushes away the errant curls that fall across my face in the breeze. "Your Mother is still an elf, but you are a Man, and you will be a good Man when you have grown, as fast and as strong as your Father, which is very fast and strong indeed."
"But not as strong as you! It is not the same, Legolas. Why can I not be an elf?"
"Being an elf is not always a blessing, Young One."
"You can live forever!" That has always intrigued me. It seems so magical, to always be young. I wish that could be me.
But Legolas, when I say that, looks sad and mournful. Not at all how I imagine I would look if I were lucky enough to be immortal.
"That is the hardest part of all," he says, and he quickly changes the subject. I hate it when grown ups do that, when they think enough is enough. . . I had not finished talking yet!
"I think I should help you down now," Legolas is saying now, "before your Father starts throwing things at me."
And with that he takes my hand.
Legolas' hand in mine is smooth and cool, and oh so strong. I know he will not drop me; he will never let me fall. So I follow where he leads, and as we make our way back down—he in front of me, arms either side of me—the footholds I found so impossible to find before appear like magic below my searching feet. How does he do that? I wish I knew—I wish he would tell me.
My feet hit the ground before I am ready for it. We have climbed down so fast. Now it seems silly that I was so frightened. . . And all these people are looking at me. I wish I could hide.
And Father is here. He wraps his arms around me and I am safe. I can hide in the comfort of his arms.
"Thank you!" he says to Legolas. He sounds as if Legolas has saved the entire city, our people, a treasure full of gold, instead of just me, and it confuses me that he is so grateful for a little climb down the walls.
"Do not thank me. It is not needed." There is something wrong with Legolas. His voice is choked and strange somehow. He sounds odd.
Father holds me out then and kneels down to look me in the eye.
"Never do that again, Eldarion! Never. You must not climb upon those walls—do you understand me?" It is his commanding voice again, and yet it is softer, gentler than I am used to. I can breathe, for I do not think he is angry.
"What were you doing?" he asks. “What made you go up there in the first place?"
And so I tell him what I told Legolas.
"I wanted to touch the sky. If I were an elf I could do it. . . Like you said yesterday about Legolas. I want to be an Elf—not a Man."
There is a strange look on my Father's face then, one I do not understand, and he looks up, past me, to where Legolas stands behind me.
"I am sorry, Aragorn," Legolas says in that odd voice he is using. "Perhaps this is my fault? I did not mean for him to compare—"
But he stops mid sentence as if he has run out of words. I have upset him somehow—I do not know how, and I do not know how to make it better. I wish I did.
"Do not apologise to me." My father stands again, placing his hand firmly upon Legolas' shoulder. “Especially when you have just saved him for me. This is nothing, Legolas. Do not worry about it." But neither of them look happy and I am confused.
But I do not have time to think on it further. My father takes my hand and begins to lead me away, through the crowds that stare. His hand is large, so much bigger than mine. The skin is rough, not smooth as Legolas' was, and it is warm. It makes me feel better, just holding that hand, and I try to forget that awkwardness between my Father and Legolas that I do not understand.
He leads me away from prying eyes, not toward my Mother who I thought he would return me to, nor to my tutor. Instead he takes me to a tower I have never before been allowed to enter. Often I have pleaded to step through the door and climb those stairs and my Father has always before refused me. When I am older, he has always told me. Why does he bring me here today?
He says nothing for a long time as we climb the endless stairs. The stairwell is dark and musty. I find it slightly scary but I will not let him know that.Not today, when he has finally decided I am old enough to be here.
He never lets go my hand and I am glad.
"Why do you wish you were an elf, Eldarion?"
I am so used to the silence I jump when he speaks.
"Because they are faster than us and stronger. I want to be able to run through the trees like Legolas can, or ride a horse without a saddle, climb the walls and not be afraid. I want to be able to live forever, Father! I do not want to be just a boring Man."
"Living forever is not always as good as it seems," he says sadly.
"That is what Legolas said, Father!"
"I am sure he did," my Father says and he shakes his head.
We have arrived at the door at the end of the stairs, and he flings it open as if the wonders of the world are behind it. For a second I think they really might be. But it is just a room. A small, round one, with carpets, books, chairs, just like any other and it is cold. In the middle there is a stone—round, black, gleaming—it sits upon a pedestal and I am immediately fascinated. I think it must be magic, for it certainly looks like it.
Father walks right past it as if it is not there. To my disappointment, he takes me out onto the balcony instead. But I am only disappointed until I get there, because oh. . . We are up so high!
The people of the city are like ants beneath us as they scurry here and there, long lines of them meandering through the streets. I have never been this high before, never! Almost you could imagine there could be clouds up here.
"Oh, Father!" I exclaim. It is amazing, incredible, the best.
"When next you feel the need to touch the sky, Eldarion, tell me, and we will come here and see if we both can." He smiles and in that moment I am glad, so glad, he is my father, for he is special.
"It is perfect up here Father." I smile back.
He turns back towards the room, and that stone, leaving me basking in the marvelous height on my own.
"Shall we go for a ride tomorrow, Eldarion? Out onto the plains. You are the son of a Dunedain and I think perhaps it is time I taught you the secrets of the Rangers. What do you think?"
I know my Father used to be one of the Rangers of the North. Those exciting, mysterious, serious men who arrive sometimes with my Uncles and stay for a while before disappearing into the mists yet again. It is hard to imagine my majestic, yet ordinary, father ever being one of them. I know he was, though. I have always known it. My mother calls him a Ranger when she wants to tease him if she does not think he looks smart enough, and Legolas and Gimli always mention it. They go riding in the woods together occasionally—sometimes for days—and my Mother tells me it because Father needs to be Aragorn the Ranger sometimes and not always Elessar the King.
He has never before said he will teach me their secrets, though, and I am excited!
"Will Legolas come with us?" I ask, because there is nothing better than a ride with Father and Legolas. Legolas rides like a wild-man and sometimes he will let me sit upon the horse with him.
"Just you and I,” he says, placing a hand gently upon my head and softly ruffling my hair. "Only Rangers can know these secrets. They are not for Wood-elves. Perhaps I will teach you how to track a rabbit across the Pelennor."
"Oh yes!" He will teach me to track! For once I am not disappointed at Legolas' absence.
"What is the stone, Father?" I cannot help but ask as we walk past it towards the door. It grabs my attention and pulls me in. I want to touch it.
"You will not touch it, Eldarion." So serious is he at that moment, I cannot imagine I ever will. "It is not for your hands yet. One day, though, it will be yours. I will teach you of it later. But for now. . . You must promise me you will not touch it. I am trusting you with this."
It feels good that he thinks I am old enough to be trusted. And one day. . . one day it will be mine and he will let me know how to use it. I can hardly wait! It is a secret I had not even dreamed of. Today has been a good day after all.
He takes me to my mother then, and she holds me close and kisses my bruised knees. She calls me her little elfling, even though I know I am not one. She keeps me close and I do not mind tonight, although sometimes I do. Tonight I am happy to be with her. She makes me happy.
After tea she even lets me come to Father's study, while he and Legolas talk about whatever it is they speak of. I have been there occasionally with them. Usually I sit in front of the fire and amuse myself with my soldiers and if I am especially lucky Legolas will play battles with me. Tonight, though, my Mother takes me next to her and we sit in the biggest chair there. I curl up beside her and she strokes my hair.
I am safe.
I am almost asleep and yet almost awake at the same time and they talk over my head in a pleasant, reassuring hum.
"I am sorry, Aragorn." It is Legolas apologising again. He has been unusually quiet this evening and I do not know why he is so sorry until he continues.
"I would never have him wish to be me instead of who he is. I have not encouraged it."
"Peace, Legolas." My Father uses his softest, kindest voice. "I have been lax in teaching him his own heritage. I will get him to see what an amazing Man he can be."
"I have already told him he will be that." Legolas is still not happy and it makes me sad, just the thought of that.
"If he grows into a Man who aims for the sky and is determined to climb until he can get there, then I will be pleased." Even my Father does not mock my idea to touch the sky and I am surprised. "And you have already helped him do that. You have done nothing wrong, Legolas. You inspire him. What can be better?"
"I did not wish to hurt you."
"You have not hurt me!" My father is emphatic, and when he is emphatic you do not argue with him. Even Legolas does not argue with him then.
And so they talk, as my mother's hand strokes me to sleep. They talk, all three of them, voices rolling over each other into the night. My Father smokes his pipeweed, I can smell it. I love his smokey, earthy smell almost as much as I love the way my Mother smells of a summer’s night.
So Father smokes and Legolas complains as he always does when that happens, eventually taking himself outside and his voice floats across the room to me from the balcony as he sings a song. It is in the language of his home. The one his wild people in Ithilien speak when they come here. My mother joins in then, her voice chasing his through the melody. Together they sound beautiful—they have magic in their voices.
And there, protected by my Mother, my Father and Legolas. . .