Because It Was Real
Because It was Real
This story was inspired by the movie The Battle of Five Armies, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as well as Raymond Carver's short story "Everything Stuck to Him."
It's Yule, and the snow has been falling steadily for the past hour, dusting the city of Minas Tirith even more brilliantly white, like a giant cake—the kind that the boy always wanted to sneak tastes from if his nurse was not paying attention.
The boy sweeps his eyes across the cozy room until they land on his companion, one of his father's oldest friends, who had come to visit for the Yule celebration. His long blonde hair—still a fascination to the boy—hangs neatly down his back as he peers carefully out the window through the thick glass as if he had never before seen the eddying fall of snow.
The boy, however, is not to be put off by his friend's lack of attention. "Tell me a story," he pleads, with a careful tug on his friend's sleeve. The elf—yes, he is an elf, and a famous one at that, one that people still tell of in tales of adventure and battle—glances down, his eyes faintly amused.
"Tell me a story," the boy urges him again. "Tell me a story about my father."
The wind blows the snow against the window again, a swirl of white, and the elf's ageless eyes seem distant, even to the boy. "I could tell you a story," he concedes after a minute, "but it won't be one to your usual taste for gore and battle."
The boy nods his agreement and pulls his friend elf over to the settee, warmed by the crackle of the nearby fire on the hearth. The elf picks up his glass of mulled wine, his eyes still drawn to the soft fall of snow beyond the window. He smiles at the boy and begins…
...Legolas absently brushed another snowflake from his cheek as he slowed his horse from a gallop to a trot. Part of him still could not fathom what he had done, what he had chosen. He had left his home, his father, his inheritance, and now he wandered the wild North looking for a man, someone his father told him had the potential for greatness.
As if Legolas had needed a reason to leave. At least the journey proved a distraction, something for him to take his mind off of what had happened on Ravenshill.
He been riding for the past two weeks, and tomorrow would mark the beginning of Yule. The prince could not help but wonder if his people were preparing for the usual feast and celebration that took place every year in his father's halls. His father always had the halls decorated so beautifully, and the feast—flowing barrels of wine and roast meat!—Legolas' stomach growled just thinking about it. He wondered if…but no, he would not think of her.
This Yule would certainly prove much different. Legolas did not have much to celebrate, and he doubted he would for sometime. For the first time in his long years, the elf felt weary. Time stretched as far as the distant gray mountains before him and seemed just as impassable.
His eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of life and picked up a small smudge to the horizon. Kicking in his heels to urge his horse forward, Legolas leaned into the wind, relishing the bite of the cold air as his hair whipped across his face. He could make the dark spot out a little more clearly now; several low-lying tents sprawled across the hillside.
The elf did not get very far. A sentry, cloaked with a thick fur hood, intercepted him on the next ridge, where the ground became rocky-hard and fringed with low lying boulders.
"An elf!" he remarked, noting Legolas' light armor and long winter-grass blonde hair. "What business does an elf have in the north?"
"I search for the Dunedain," Legolas replied, keeping his voice low, but genial, "and a man named Strider."
"A man named Strider, you say." The man's eyes gleamed, and he stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Why don't you come with me?"
The camp was busier than Legolas had anticipated. Many of the men sat hunched around small campfires where smoke curled in thin spirals into the thick gray clouds hanging overhead.
"Hey, mister!" A boy, rail thin, peered up through scraggly dark locks at Legolas. "Can I help you with your horse?"
Legolas nodded his permission and slid gracefully off the large gray horse. "His name is Silma."
"He's a beauty and strong too, I'd wager," the boy said appreciatively and then his eyes widened as he looked over to Legolas. "You're an elf!" he exclaimed.
"That I am," Legolas said, shifting in his boots. It wasn't that he minded talking to the boy, but he had traveled for so long—he really just wanted to find the man called Strider. "I have come to talk to your chieftain." He smiled at the boy, who nodded eagerly, but was undeterred.
"Halbarad. He's our acting chief right now. I can take you to him," the boy started off in a jog toward the campfires, and Legolas followed quickly behind him, his long legs closing the distance between them easily.
Halbarad was a dark, strong man with fierce gray eyes and broad shoulders that spoke of many long years of countless campaigns, of unending vigilance. He studied Legolas and then gestured for him to sit down.
As soon as the elf took a seat on one of the fallen logs by the fire, the boy promptly plopped down beside him, grinning up at his companion as he did so.
Halbarad puffed slowly on his pipe and then met the elf's eyes. "I know your face," he said. "You are Thranduillion, as sure as the snow falls in the north. Your father has granted us aid in the past, allowed some of our men passage on his roads through the great wood."
Legolas leaned forward, gladdened by the warmth of the fire if not the memory of his father. "I am Legolas Thranduillion," he said with a small bow of his head, as was the tradition of his people. "I have become on behalf of my father, who desired that I meet the son of Arathorn and give him aid if needed."
The boy next to Legolas startled suddenly and then coughed. He pushed the hair from his eyes and then coughed again.
Legolas hesitated and then offered him his waterskin, but the boy waved it away. "It's just the smoke sometimes," the youth said and stole a glance at Halbarad. "Gets in my chest a little."
Halbarad met Legolas' eyes. "Arathorn has been dead these past eight years, Prince Legolas. He was hunted and killed, for there remain many who would not wish a king to return to Gondor." He took a long draw from his pipe and exhaled. "But that's too bleak of talk for now, right before the Yule and a time for remembrance. We don't have much, but we would welcome you to join us for our Yule feast and celebration."
The boy tugged Legolas' sleeve. "Yes, would you?" he asked, his eyes lighting up. He hopped from his seat and looked expectantly for the elf to join him. "He could share my tent, Halbarad," he offered, looking to the older man for permission.
Legolas inwardly groaned. He clearly had an admirer in the boy, for as soon as Halbarad assented, the child had taken his hand and began to lead him across camp. He stopped short in front of a lopsided tent and proudly pulled back the flap.
"Legolas, sir, " he said, his eyes darting to the elf's face. "You can have my cot, and I'll make do with the fur on the floor."
The cot was maybe long enough for the lad, but the elf's legs would have surely hung off. "Elves, don't need much rest," he told him, "although I appreciate the offer."
Appeased by his explanation, the boy plopped down on the cot and stretched out. "I have met other elves before," he proudly informed the prince. "Sometimes Lord Elrond's sons—you know who he is?—sometimes they join us. Halbarad says we might go there to Rivendell, sometime, some day."
Legolas decided to take a seat on the floor. "What do they call you?" he said, studying the slip of a boy before him, his muddy boots and travel-stained clothes, clearly mended carefully.
The boy looked down and picked at a patch on his pants. "Estel," he said quietly.
"Hope?" Legolas' voice betrayed his surprise. "That is an elvish word, young friend."
The boy beamed at him. "It's a nickname," he said and straightened up, fixing his eyes on the elf. "So why have you come?"
The elf prince held the young boy's gaze, warmed by the intensity he found there and the honesty. "I want to find this man named Strider, the son of Arathorn," Legolas said gently, "but I do not think your chief trusts me."
The boy propped himself up on his elbow and fixed his blue-gray eyes steadily on the elf. "Halbarad does not trust easily," the boy confided. "He doesn't think you told him the whole story of why you came."
Legolas sighed, frustration taking over, but the boy suddenly stood and rubbed his hands together. "I can hear the call to dinner!" he gestured to the outside. "Come on! You can sit with me at dinner."
The elf reminded himself to be patient. Hopefully, the Rangers would ask him to sit with the other men. As friendly as his young host was, Legolas wondered that his elven patience might be running short. The boy had chattered ceaselessly to him about his hopes for the Yule feast the entire walk over there.
Entering the tent quickly squashed the elf's hopes for adult conversation. There was a long table running through the middle of the tent, laden with roast venison and quail, fire-baked bread, pan-fried potatoes, and a large barrel of what Legolas supremely hoped might be wine. Unfortunately, all the men and the few women sat cross-legged around the perimeter of the tent in a carefree fashion, plates in their laps and sharing heavy mugs between them.
The boy Estel bounded up to the table, and one of the men pulled him into a quick hug. "Here now, young scamp! Have you been seeing to our guest?"
Estel spoke through a mouthful of bread. "Yes! This is Prince Legolas. He's here on behalf of his king. Halbard said I could show him around." His big gray eyes beamed at his elven friend, and Legolas found himself returning the smile.
"I am honored by your young charge's gracious attention," Legolas said to the Ranger, who in turn looked pleased by the elf's polite remark.
Across the room, Halbarad watched the pair with great interest, noting the way the elf accepted helpings of all the food the boy offered him onto his plate and then sat with him, clearly listening to whatever the child had to say.
"So why are you really here?" asked the boy in between bites. "Are you running away?"
Legolas frowned a little, his dark brows inching toward a single line. "Elven princes do not run away, Estel," he corrected the boy. "I am on a mission, that is all."
Estel shrugged, popped a potato wedge in his mouth. "Sometimes I wish I could run away." He lowered his voice. "Sometimes it's just hard, you know? Being me."
Legolas nodded as he delicately sliced his piece of roast. "I do understand...and maybe I was running away a little. Sometimes I find it hard too—being me."
Estel's eyes moved around the tent, from the food table to the other rangers and the few that had wives. One of the men had brought out his little fiddle, began to play a Yule tune. Some of the other men hummed, while some sang the words softly, their words and the melody rising over the howl of the wind and snow outside.
"Yule is for remembrance," Estel told his new friend. "The Rangers always pay tribute to fallen brothers…I always try to remember my father." His eyes stared stubbornly at his small hands, already callused from weapons' training, Legolas noted. The boy continued on, a fierce glint in his eyes like he was willing himself not to cry. He shook his head, continued: "But this year, I think would like to remember just this night."
"Why?" the elf's head snapped up from his plate, fixed his ageless eyes curiously upon the boy.
"Because I met you, Legolas Thranduillion—" he stumbled over his name a bit, "—and I have a feeling we're going to be great friends."
"How?" asked the elf, a bit teasingly. "How do you know we're going to be great friends, Estel?"
"Because I feel it right here," he pressed his hand to his heart. "Because it is real." The boy wiped his greasy hands on his tunic and then held it out to the elf. "My name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I'm the man, well, person, you're looking for."
And all the elf could do, stunned as he may have been, was to take the boy's hand in a firm handshake, not realizing that the friendship began at that humble Yule feast would one day rule the fate of many...
...The elf's voice trails away, his cheeks slightly flushed. He glances at the boy beside him, same dark, moppy hair, although a little neater than his father's, smiles and stands. "It's not much of a story, I admit," the elf tells the boy as he returns to the window overlooking the city.
"I liked it," the boy tells him. He joins the elf at the window, hesitates, and then slips his hand into his friend's much larger one. "I'm glad you came," the boy tells him softly. "Happy Yule, Legolas."
But the elf's eyes are already lost in another memory, as he watches the snow, still falling, a steady curtain of white.
- . - . - . - . - . - . - . - . - . -
And that's my token Battle of the Five Armies tribute story is more in line with the ending of Battle of Five Armies than actual book canon.
To all the Canon-police out there (because I've already had a few comments!): If you're wondering why Aragorn would be so young, well, he would be. Aragorn is only ten years old at the time of the Battle of Five Armies. He was born in 2931 TA, and the Battle of the Five Armies occurs in 2941. Book Canon suggests that Aragorn would be living in Rivendell, but PJ ignores this fact (and also Aragorn's correct age) in The Battle of Five Armies. Hey, I guess it's possible that he could be hanging out with the Rangers in the North.