I am not often nervous, not any more, now I am grown and have seen the world—although my father can still make my stomach churn with a single look—but today I am.
I am a jangle of nerves. I cannot sit still. It is hard at the best of times but today it is impossible. In truth I do not want to be here at all I have already begged Aragorn to let me avoid this.
“Can Erynion not do this? He is more even tempered, more reasonable than I”
“No he cannot! You are the Lord of Ithilien and so you must be there. It will be expected Legolas.”
It is odd to hear myself described as a Lord. I am a prince—yes, but not a ruler. A leader on patrol but not of my people. My Father is that; not me. I am not suited to it, we all know that . . . And yet here I am. Alone with our people in Gondor, and in charge.
As I stride down the corridors through Aragorn’s palace they all look at me. Some curious, some disapproving, some outright hostile. I hate it . . . The attention. Usually Gimli is with me and he laughs at them, but he is not here today, and so it only adds to my nerves. I try to ignore them but I fail.
When I reach the room Aragorn has directed me to I hesitate. The door is shut and I am late. Perhaps they start without me? Perhaps they will not even notice if I do not go in at all? It is tempting. But then I will have failed my people and I will not do that!
So with a deep breath I enter. I have no choice.
The room is full. It seems everyone of importance in Gondor is here. They crowd around a table, Aragorn at the top of it. Where do I sit?
There is an empty seat next to Aragorn But is that presumptuous of me to sit there? Does he keep it for another, some more important Man? I have no idea of their traditions. Instead I stand motionless, frozen with indecision and they all look. Every head turns my way and stares. It does not help.
Every head that is but Aragorn who leans across the table deep in discussion with a man across from him. He does not look up. No help from him then, to navigate the politics of this.
I am so relieved when Faramir, beside him, waves me over to a seat next to him. I had not even noticed it in my panic.
“I am pleased to see you.” He smiles, “Two of us to speak for Ithilien is better than one.”
It is gratifying but I do not think I will be doing much speaking today, still, with Faramir here it is not as bad. I like him. His brother told me I would and I do.
“Where have you been?” Aragorn hisses from the other side of him, his conversation finished. “We have been waiting for you. Did I not tell you time mattered today?”
“You did not state if it was Elven or Mannish time that mattered.” I say with a toss of my head. I will not let them know how anxious this place makes me.
“They are the same, Legolas! You know what be on time means.”
Still, frustrated as he is, he turns away from me before I can explain my last minute nerves—not that I was going to, but I might have.
They start their meeting then and it is tedious. Hours of discussion about things I neither know or care about. And I cannot understand them. They speak so fast. Some of these Lords have accents so thick as to be indecipherable to my ears. I catch perhaps half of what they say and it is snatched pieces only; broken, garbled and nonsensical.
I understand Aragorn though, and Faramir, and I know when conversation turns to Ithilien and our supplies. They speak of Emyn Arnen, but I do not hear mention of us and—although I did not want to—I must speak.
“What of the elves of Ithilien?” I ask Aragorn. “You have not spoken of us. If winters are hard we may need supplies from Gondor also, especially as we establish ourselves.”
But he only sighs.
“Not in Sindarin, Legolas. You must speak so everyone will understand you.”
He wishes me to speak Westron but I always speak to him in Sindarin, and Faramir, unless Gimli is there. It is so much easier. How will I get my message across if I must translate every word in my head before I speak it? Surely he can tell them what I say?
I know Westron—of course my father insisted I learn it—But I have never been fluent, not really, and during negotiations with the Lakemen we always took translators. Gimli is the only one I truly speak to solely in the common tongue and there is no pressure when I am talking to him. None of that nervous energy that makes the words fly right out of my mind.
Why must I speak so they understand me when no-one is translating for me?
Still there is obviously at least one Lord here who understands Sindarin.
“Can you not cast some kind of spell to create what you need?” He asks me with a sneer. “Use your magic to cause the plants to grow? Lure animals to their death? Why would you need supplies from us?”
I stare at Aragorn in bemusement. Surely I have heard this Man wrong and am not understanding correctly.
“Magic?” I ask Aragorn. “You would have us rely on magic?”
“No!” But he frowns at me as if I am the unreasonable one, before he turns back to the Lord. “If the elves require additional supplies we will be providing them of course, as we will to Emyn Arnen.”
And the room erupts in chaos.
The noise hurts my ears. It is a mess of shouted Westron, the majority of which I cannot decipher. But I hear enough.
These Lords do not want to support us. They believe we do not deserve it. They are short of supplies for their own people after the war. Why must they provide anything to the elves when we would likely ensorcel them given half a chance, they say. They are fools.
They have no appreciation for what we do to regenerate their lands and their forests. They do not care that we risk our lives clearing the enemy from their doorstep.
And Aragorn pacifies them. I am horrified.
“Do not worry,” Faramir whispers in my ear. Perhaps he sees the shock upon my face. “We will funnel support through Emyn Arnen if need be. There is prejudice here but it will not interfere with Gondor giving the elves the protection they are due. This is politics only.”
It does not reassure me.
“What if we come under attack?” I ask Aragorn. “Can I rely on you to send forces?”
There is a roar from others before he can answer me. Cries of protest that they might send their young men to die for the sake of elves.
And Aragorn glares at me.
“Be more careful what you say,” he hisses at me in Sindarin. “Do you want to start a riot?”
“No I want to ensure my people’s protection.” I reply, for truly I do. “And you are supposed to speak Westron, Aragorn.” For he told me that himself and now he ignores it.
But he rolls his eyes in frustration.
“I am done with your games today, Legolas. It is not funny.”
It was not meant to be funny.
And I am done with him, and his Lords.
I cannot get out of there quick enough when it is over. I can tell Aragorn wants to speak to me but oh no, I am not waiting around for that! I am off before he can grab me. Sometimes my Elven agility can be very handy.
I head for the gardens where there are trees to soothe my mood and soften the battered edges of my soul. That was truly hideous and totally unexpected. What have I done, bringing my people here? Should I take them home again? This is not what I want for them.
But when I reach the gardens I am not alone as I wanted to be. This day is fated to go ill for me.
It is Arwen who is there, and I should not complain because they are her gardens. But I do not know her well, in fact I have to admit to finding her somewhat intimidating. She is the Evenstar after all.
“Legolas!” She smiles when she sees me so I cannot avoid a conversation.
“Not so formal,” she cries, “I have told you before. Arwen, please.”
Still it seems wrong to me.
“Come sit with me,” she says patting the ground beside her. “What goes on with you? Your light buries itself behind a stormcloud today.”
And that’s another thing about Arwen, she is far too perceptive.
I drop to the ground beside her.
“I have just had the unfortunate experience of a meeting with the lords of Gondor.”
“Oh” She laughs then, “That would be enough to shutter anyone’s light!”
“The antagonism was . . . Surprising.” I tell her, “worrying even, towards us.”
She gives me a long look then.
“And you blame Estel for that.”
It is not a question. She knows it.
“Did you help yourself to that from my head?” I cry. That is the last thing I need, her strolling through my angry thoughts of Aragorn.
“Am I right? She said without a hint of apology and I give up.
“You know you are. At least Galadriel let me know when she was wandering about in my mind!”
“I am sorry,” finally Arwen shows a hint of shame. “You are right, I should not have done that. But I think you will find Grandmother only let you know when she wanted you to know.”
She smiles sweetly and I find I cannot stay angry with her. How does Aragorn cope with this?
“He pacified them,” I tell her. “ He did not argue our case.” I give her my own elven look then for something has just occurred to me, “Are you safe here?”
“Of course I am safe, Legolas.” She dismisses my worries with a wave but I will not have it. Her brothers have departed back to Imladris. I, and my people, are the only elves nearby to ensure her safety. She may have chosen mortality but she is still one of us. She is still Undómiel.
“They hate us.” I tell her. “They do not trust us and they do not understand us. I am not convinced of your safety after hearing those words in that meeting today.”
“I am safe.” She grasps my hand firmly. “Look, they have guards that follow my every move. I detest it but I am never alone.” I see them now, the guards who stand quietly, unobtrusively, at the edge of the garden. “Estel knows there some here who resent my background. Do not worry. I do not need the son of Thranduil to fight for me.”
“Well you have him anyway.” I say, “whether you want him or not.” And she smiles.
“Estel is coming” she tells me but she did not need to. I hear his song just a second after she speaks and I am not yet ready to see him. “Where are you going?” She grabs at my leg as I disappear up into the tree. “Legolas stay and speak to him!”
But even Undómiel can not convince me to do that.
I bury myself amongst the leaves. I can breathe better simply being here, and I hear Aragorn’s footsteps below me.
“Beloved,” There is the sound of a smile in his voice as he bends to kiss her.
“Legolas is above us.”
The first thing she does is to give me away. She does not wish him to launch into a tirade of my shortcomings I imagine. I can see him peer up at me but I know he cannot see me. Not unless I wish it. Arwen however is another story.
“Come down,” he commands me. “We need to talk, Legolas.”
But I am not in the mood to be commanded today, not by him, or any Man.
“Legolas said there was much ill-feeling against the elves today, he is uneasy. You will get no cooperation through shouting orders, Estel.” I am surprised she argues for me. I did not expect that.
“Legolas arrives late for a meeting everyone else was prompt for, he speaks to me in Sindarin as if to draw attention to my elvishness, to antagonise the Men who cannot understand it, if there was ill-feeling he is not without blame!”
He says that deliberately. He knows I can hear him. It is all I can do not to shout back at him with an angry reply but I am not speaking to him.
And Arwen sighs.
“Come down my little Silvan,” she calls to me, but not in the Sindarin we spoke with before, no; she uses my own tongue. That of my mother and my Silvan grandparents. The language closest to my heart. One I know well Aragorn can not understand. “Sulking does not suit you. Come down and speak to him. Explain what it is to be an elf amongst Men.”
“It may not suit me but I am good at it.” I answer. “I do not wish to talk.”
“Can you speak in something I can understand?” Aragorn’s bad temper cuts across us and I cannot resist it.
“Why should I,” I snap. “When others do not have to ensure I understand. Am I the only one to be left in the dark? The only one not deserving of a translation? Why should I not use Sindarin in your meetings? It did not bother your Lords that I understand less than half of what they say. It did not bother you.”
For a moment he is silent before he calls back.
“What do you mean you could not understand? You speak the common language, Legolas.”
“I am not fluent.” How can he not know this?
“You are. Do you forget I have heard you argue with Gimli often enough?”
“Gimli is different.” He knows even with Gimli I have misunderstandings. He knows this.
But he only sighs.
“Come down. This is ridiculous. We cannot talk like this.”
And I am about to refuse, to tell him I have no wish to talk to someone who will not even protect my people but Arwen speaks, interrupting me before I can chose my finest, most cutting, statement.
“Did you not hear him, Estel? He tells you he cannot understand. There is no point arguing how much or how little. You cannot force Legolas to be able to follow discussions, simply because you wish it.”
“But he obviously can!” I think he is not listening to her also.
“Not today,” she says firmly. “And something must be done to ensure next time, he does.”
“A translator, I suppose.” He sighs. “Faramir? Why did you not ask Faramir?” He calls up to me.
“Because you banned me from speaking Sindarin at all. And then you were speaking it! You did not even follow your own rules!”
“I did not ban you. It was not a rule. But it is better you and I do not speak it to the exclusion of others. It upsets them.”
“It upsets me not to be able to speak for my people when your people are busy tearing us apart!”
He does not answer me.
But what I do hear is the crunch of a clumsy mortal against the leaves. I feel the swaying of the tree as extra weight ascends into it. What is he doing? In the end I move down for it is too painful to listen to his terrible attempt at climbing.
“Thank goodness you came down,” he says when I find him. “This is too high for me!”
“Then why are you here? I would have come down on my own eventually.”
“Because,” he smiles his boyish grim, the one we do not see very often now, “we cannot let Arwen do all our talking for us.”
He is right there.
“I am sorry—” he says as he lowers himself slowly to sit upon the branch next to me, “—that the words of my people today hurt you. They are blind, foolish and prejudiced. Let us not let them come between us. Not all of them think that way, just the loudest.”
“You did not defend us.” That is what hurts most, not their words.
“I did. Just not in the way you wished. I did defend you. But I must be careful. I have arrived here, raised by elves, married to an elf, they resent that. Some of them even resent me. I must go softly, breaking down this wall of animosity. I must be careful which language I speak and the words I say. Your people will get all the protection they need. I promise.”
I do understand that. I understand how elven he must sometimes seem to them.
“I will not speak Sindarin again,” I say. “If that is what you need.”
“I do not understand why you had problems today, Legolas. You have travelled with the Fellowship, you have ridden with the Rohirrin. Why today could you not communicate?”
“They speak so fast. Their accents are so harsh, like nothing I have heard before . . . And I was nervous.” I have no choice but to admit that in the end. “When I am nervous the Westron vanishes from my mind.”
“I am not you, Aragorn.” Sometimes I think he has no idea of who I am at all. “I have not been trained for this . . Meetings with Lords, politics.”
“Your Father is a King!” He does not believe me.
“My father is a King who does not spend his days indulging in the nuances of politics as Elrond and the White Council did. He does not have meetings with his Lords such as you do. I have been trained to lead in the field, on patrol, in battle, but not amongst arguments and debate. This is new to me—all of this. I was late today because I did not want to enter that room. I did not know where to sit. I did not know when to speak. I was at sea in there, Aragorn.”
“I had no idea.” He sighs, but this time it is a sigh directed at himself, not me. “What a fool I am. If you need a translator, you have one. Faramir will be best politically but if he is not there, then me. I will explain the language difficulty and they will just have to accept it. I will go over protocol with you. If you had just told me this I could have made it easier.”
You did not ask, I want to tell him but that is not entirely fair.
“If you had told me of the antagonism you faced, Aragorn. The tightrope you must walk between Men and Elves, what you needed from me to improve that, I would have been able to make it easier for you also.” I reply instead, for I did not know him also, today.
“So we can agree you are both fools,” Arwen’s voice floats up to us from below, “who should talk more and assume less.”
I look across at Aragorn who smiles widely.
“Does she always do that? How do you live with it?” I ask him.
“Easily!” He laughs and swings a leg over the branch to drop down to the one below. “Will you come down and join us?” He hesitates then, “but if you need more time here, in the trees, then take it. I understand.”
And I realise he does know me. Today he did not, but most days, he knows the things that count. He knows what I need to keep my feet steadily on the road. He knows the things I love, he knows what drives me.
I ran to the trees to help me breathe, so I could think, to calm my soul, but it is not the trees which have calmed me today, it is him; his friendship. He climbed up—though he hates it—to meet me in my own place.
“I will come down, Aragorn. I have had time enough.” And I watch with amusement as he searches hopelessly for the next branch down which is there right in front of his eyes. “And anyway,” I laugh, “how will you get down without me?”
So we descend together as Arwen laughs below us at our antics. We are a team, he and I, and I must work to make sure it is always so. As time goes on he will know me more, but only if I let him.
And perhaps I will teach him to climb, I think to myself; For truly he is atrocious at it. How does he even survive?
He definitely needs a wood-elf in his life. He will get nowhere without one.
And that wood-elf will be me.