To Live Another Day
Shredded cloth flapped morosely in the gentle wind. Blood stained the broken splinters of wood, the remnants of what had once been a village. A town full of people, of laughter and hope.
Gray eyes slowly lifted themselves toward the heaven, toward the endless stretches of gray clouds. There was no sun today.
A lucent haze formed in the stormy orbs. The man stared, open-mouthed, and slowly raised his arms toward the sky. The tired, feeble arms, so young and alone. Blood dripped from between his fingers.
Quite footsteps could be heard from behind. The sun.
The man closed his eyes, his arms extended toward the heaven, inconspicuous breaths escaping his lips shallowly. The last breath of life had left the bodies littering the ground so long ago. And he stood here, alone, alive. And looking toward the heaven with nothing to say.
The wind caressed unruly brown hair across his face, whispering comfort along the way. But perhaps the wind held no words of comfort for the child of man. Perhaps the comfort came from the quiet footfalls behind him. The footfalls that had the ability to be silent but chose to be heard. The steps that reminded him that he had comfort by his side, a shadow standing behind him, arrows flying before him. All despite his sins.
And he had nothing to say.
He cleared his throat. A croak of a voice was the only thing that could be wrenched from his thickened throat. The man squeezed his eyes, and clenched his fists. The fingers trembled toward the gray skies, the silent face of heaven that watched with grim indifference.
"What am I, Legolas?"
The winds blew harder.
He stood alone beneath the sad clouds, a feeble human rooted upon the earth, swaying like a frail willow. Where was his place beneath the heavens? Where could he go, and with whom? Who could stay by his side and escape death? Who could stand behind him, whisper comfort in his ear, without meeting death's iron grip head on? Was he a curse?
What am I...?
A potential king. A descendent of a traitor. Heir of Isildur, son of Arathorn. Mortal child of Imladris, ward of Elrond. Estel.
A jagged laughter escaped his throat. Hope. Hope that brought death to all who knew him. Hope that failed to kindle its fire. Hope – which was a curse.
"What am I?"
The voice broke into countless jagged pieces. Soiled fingers suddenly lost their ferocity; the curled fists uncurled, and the gesture of supplication became helpless, lost. The man slowly opened his eyes again. The gray skies. They were too bright. Much too bright. A tear slid down his cheek.
"What am I that I must bring death to all who are kind to me?"
Strider. Aragorn. Estel. Many more. Many more useless, meaningless names, the countless masks that feebly attempted to conceal the dark truth that lay within.
The soft footfalls came near. "Why do you question what you are?" A gentle voice, a light caress. At the feathery touch of those ringing tones, newfound tears threatened to spill forth. The man clenched his teeth.
The soft voice continued, standing an arm's length behind him. "You are a human child. Aside from that, I do not know what you are. No one does. Even you do not know." The footsteps came nearer again, and a gentle flutter of gold swept out into the man's line of vision when the wind suddenly attacked them from behind. Clear blue eyes stared toward the same direction as the man.
Unmoving, the man watched the sweeps of gold fly in the wind toward the sky. So different from his own. So bright, as bright as the sun. As light as the wind. As gentle as trickling waters. So different.
He brought his eyes down and swept his gaze around himself. At the bloody carnage around them. The battered bodies, crudely pierced and broken. The expressions of terror, of grief. The youngsters, who clung to their mothers and fathers, who breathed their last without knowing why. He closed his eyes. His body swayed unsteadily.
"Who am I...Legolas...?"
If not what, then who? Captain, king, ranger – the countless identities that meant nothing, showed nothing. Who?
Was it all worth it?
"Under those stormy eyes I see a lost soul," came the quiet reply, "who is afraid but not enough to forget valor, confused but not enough to forsake love, and hardened but not enough to conceal tears."
No reason to live, no identity to defend. No existence that was allowed to show itself. Was he really alive under the grimy skin? Under the unruly hair, did his head actually throb with pain? Did his heart beat in his ribcage?
Perhaps he was no one. Perhaps he did not exist. Perhaps the closest thing to an existence he had was the perpetual maelstrom of emotions that the elf saw. Perhaps that was the only thing that mattered.
There was no logic to that.
But then again, perhaps this world had no logic. Why else would a self-exiled man of no name be hunted down to the ends of the earth? Why else would the fair being of the woods wipe blood from his knives every day? Why else would he be standing here, alive, among the dead? The dead, who would never know whom they had hosted, whom they had welcomed to their death.
Perhaps it was the illogic of the elf that kept him singing. Kept him living.
The man lowered his head. Shutting his eyes tight, he felt new warm tears stream down his soiled skin. His hands hung limply at his sides, trembling. If only the tears could wash away the blood. If only shouts of anguish could erase the guilt. If only laments could bring back life.
He turned abruptly and, keeping his head bowed, began to shift diligently through the bodies, preparing a burial. His friend joined in readily. Together they worked in silence, digging and cleaning, burying and praying. The sky remained impassively gray. Time gave no regard to the two lone figures hunched under the clouds; the world watched on silently.
At last, the man straightened his back, and raised his eyes toward the clouds once more. Black smoke began to rise to the sky. Smell of blood began to mingle with smoke; drenched wood collapsed under the licking flames. The wind blew gently through their hair.
The elf remained where he was, distant and watching. Ever watching. Ever silent. Would this silent shadow also leave his side one day? Would the curse take him too? The man closed his eyes. And after all this, would it have been worth it after all? What was the answer? Where was the answer to these questions? Where were they headed that could at last settle it all?
He whispered a last departing prayer. A hand slowly reached toward his belt. A crowing of a raven cleaved the gray stormy sky.
"Legolas," he called slowly, his voice hoarse and dry. He was tired. So tired. "Who am I?"
Give me a reason. Give me an identity. Tell me that I exist. Tell me that I don't exist. Perhaps I can wither under the sun, be swept away by the winds. Perhaps I can stand here and close my eyes, and shed all of my names, and disappear. And there will be but a shadow of what once existed under a guise of many shadows. And I shall be free.
Steady footsteps approached. Gentle hands rested themselves on top of the man's weary shoulders, and turned him around. Blankly the man stared, mutely into the inexpressibly deep stormy sea of emotions that tumbled in those quiet eyes. The sorrow, the love, the joy, the anger, the hope – the soulful eyes widened toward him, a silent plea. Searching into the hollow abyss of the man's fading soul. The hand lingered on his shoulder, gripping him gently.
"You are my friend," he said quietly. He tilted his head. A sorrowful whisper swept out of his lips, a soft sighing wind. "Is that not enough?"
The wind blew around them in a tender embrace.
The clouds were shifting. Sun would be restored to the plains. And among the sounds of the wind, a dagger fell from tensed fingers and hit the ground.
The man bowed his head. It was enough.