They are talking about me.
I know I should not listen, Gimli, no doubt, thinks they are far enough away I cannot hear and Aragorn will assume I mind my manners and turn my ears away, as I usually do, when Mortals forget themselves.
Not today though, today I am curious. To make myself feel better about my misdemeanour I try to justify it. It is me they discuss after all. Why should I not know what it is they say? Anyway talking is not a very accurate description of what they do. Shouting or raging would be closer to the point.
Gimli is angry, so very, very angry and he has already poured it out upon me with no result. Now he turns on Aragorn to control me. In his mind Aragorn has become responsible for it all.
In truth he is responsible for none of it.
"You must stop this lunacy Aragorn!" Gimli's words float across the trees towards me.
"I hold no authority over Legolas, Gimli."
"No authority? Are you not the leader here?"
"I do not force him to stay nor could I if I wished to." Aragorn pleads to Gimli's reason but reason has left him for Aragorn has chosen to take the Paths of the Dead and it leads us towards the sea. The sea, where apparently my death awaits me.
"Do you not care? You throw him aside like rubbish....as you have done both of us since you got your hands on that cursed stone and THEY arrived."
The "they" Gimli refers to is, of course, Aragorn's brothers, the great Sons of Elrond. I feel the eyes of one of them boring into my back at this very moment. I do not know which it is, they are both equally fierce. He disapproves of me, whoever it is who looks. He blames me for this disturbance and the upset it is causing his brother. I ignore him.
"Of course I care! How can I not, Gimli? But I cannot change this." Aragorn sounds anguished and it tears at my heart.
"You choose not to because you wish him to remain. It is selfish Aragorn!"
"I wish him to live." Aragorns voice drops low, weighed down with audible grief.
"Stop this!" The Noldor leans across and hisses in my ear. "Stop it now."
I agree with him, it needs to stop and I am the one to do it yet I wait, just a little longer. It would not do to let him think I will jump at his say so. I am Thranduil's son and Oropher's grandson. I do not take orders from the Noldor.
"Then do not take him to the sea!" Gimli is still arguing.
"I have no choice Gimli. It is the only way.....My people-"
"-are more important than one small woodelf, that is it isn't it Aragorn. You think he is dispensable. You are perfectly happy to sacrifice him."
That is enough. I will listen to no more. I jump to my feet and stroll off into the trees. I will not look back at the disapproving faces of the Elrondionath though. I will not.
I hesitate in the trees just before I reach them. Should I come upon them unawares and shock them into silence? They will not hear my approach. Or should I give warning?
I decide on the warning, I am in a generous mood today, and so I pick up a stone from the forest floor. It is round and smooth and cool in my hand. It has stories to tell me and briefly I am distracted into listening until the harsh words of my friends draw me away. It is a shame, I would have liked to have heard its tales of those who have passed here before, instead I throw it into the air and watch as it spins in an arc and drops with a thud to the ground.
They both hear its fall and instantly their shouting stops. It is such a relief.
They did not expect to see me though I think.
Aragorn's face pales as I step into the clearing.
"You heard us," He says flatly.
"How could I not?"
"You could have looked the other way, it is bad manners Legolas, to eavesdrop."
"I was not eavesdropping," I say, "It is not my fault if you choose to broadcast your differences to the world. I would like you to cease now please. I have heard enough about my death today."
He winces at that and I instantly regret it. I did not come here to make this even worse for him.
"Then do not be so foolish as to walk into it,"Gimli snaps at me. "You do not have to do this. Tell him Aragorn!"
Aragorn's shoulders slump in defeat.
"Go home, Legolas. You are not needed here."
I know what he does, he attempts to goad me into leaving by denting my pride. He needs to try harder, I am not so easy to manipulate.
I need say no more than that.
"So be it," he sighs and turns away from us both.
"And so you just give up that easily Aragorn?" Gimli will not let it go. He is unable to accept this. It is ironic, I think, for I would not have guessed when we started this journey he would ever argue so hard for my survival.
"The Lady sent you a warning you foolish creature. She wished you to heed it."
"She sent me a message and I have listened. It changes nothing."
"Why do you throw your life away so carelessly?"
This is not the first time I have heard this. We have had this argument over and over and I am tired of hearing it. I am on edge, my decision has not been an easy one and he is making it even harder. Does he think I am happy about this? Does he think I wish to die? Can he not try to help instead of hinder me? It is the last straw and I lose my temper.
"What do you know about the importance of life to an elf? If I am so foolish perhaps you could stay away from me then you will not have to watch me fall. I should not have expected a dwarf to understand!"
It has been many months since I have spoken to him in such a tone and it hurts him. I see that hurt as clear as day written over his face before he turns and walks away. I am ashamed, I am better than this and he is my friend.
"That was cruel," Aragorn says behind me.
"He cares for you, he is only trying to protect you."
"I am sick of this and I do not need more from you. This is not easy."
"Then go," he says, "Go, I do not hold you here."
I look at him then and see just how tired he is, he looks weary, beaten, burdened and one of those burdens is me. I wonder, do I do the right thing? Is it best after all for him if I leave?
"What do you want?" I ask. "Is it better if I leave? Tell me honestly for if you do not truly want me here.....if I am just another burden you could well do without then I will consider changing my mind."
"You heard me, It is as I told Gimli......I want you to live."
Despite myself I laugh,
"Returning to my home is no guarantee of my safety. It is no sanctuary. I could still die there as I could here tonight......Aragorn, we all could. This message from Galadriel does not change that. It does not mean I will be safe anywhere but here."
"I do not want your blood on my hands," he says softly. "I do not want that and Gimli will never forgive it........I will never forgive it...... but I can not imagine doing this without you. You give me strength."
"Your brothers give you strength," I say, "I am merely an annoyance."
He gives me a hard look.
"Do you think the same as Gimli? Do you think I have put you aside and neglected you since they have been here?"
I do not want to make him feel worse but he sees the truth anyway before I speak.
"I am sorry Legolas, I did not realise. There is just so much....."
"It does not matter." It does matter, it has mattered but he does not need to hear that from me.
But he disagrees, "It does, I have hurt you." He runs his hands through his hair in frustration.
"Perhaps I should just order you not to follow us as Gimli says."
I smile at that.
"Order me if you like, it does not mean I will obey. I answer to my Elvenlord not to any King of Man."
"I am not a King," he says.
"But you WILL be one......and I will see it done."
"And what would your Elvenlord say Legolas? What would your Father say if he were here? Would he order you not to follow me?"
I have to think on that carefully for it is important after all. I answer to my father in all things.
He would rage at me I think, call me foolish as Gimli has done. Remind me the affairs of Men are not for us to involve ourselves in. As much as he does not trust Galadriel, cousin of the kinslayers he says she is, he would listen to her message and wish me to heed it. He would order me home........but in the end.......he would know he did that not for our people, not because my place was there, but for himself. He would not want to lose me but he would, I think, let me go.
"He would let me make my own mind up I think," I say eventually and Aragorn sighs.
"I have no hope to change your mind do I?"
If he had thought to use my father to dissuade me he does not know him. My father is not at all what the outside world paints him as.
I have made up my mind. I have asked Aragorn and he cannot say he wishes me to go. He wishes me to live, but not to go, so I will stay and perhaps I will live anyway. Galadriel speaks in riddles and all is not always as it seems.
"Will you accompany me back to the campsite?" I say with a smile, for I think the both of us have had enough of this conversation today. "Your brothers do not appreciate me, They look at me as if they are planning to have woodelf for dinner. As my father always reminds me Elrond was raised by the Kinslayers. Perhaps they have inherited some of their proclivities?"
"Kinslayers Legolas, not Kineaters!" Aragorn laughs and I am pleased, long has it been since I have heard his laughter. He throws his arm across my shoulders.
"You need not worry, they merely think you strange."
"Strange?" I am not sure if I shouldn't be offended at that.
"I am not strange!"
"No Legolas," He says with a smile as we walk towards camp, "Of course you are not strange at all."
In the dark of night when I return from my watch I see Gimli huddled by the fire, it is obvious he has not slept and Gimli loves his sleep. We have not spoken since I threw those words of hurt at him. He has kept himself apart from me as I told him I wished.
I do not wish it now. I must apologise to him, I realise and that will not be easy. Apologising is not something I am good at, especially to a dwarf.
Still I am nothing if not brave and determined and so I stand before him.
"Forgive me my words earlier Gimli. I did not mean them."
He looks away, he will not look me in the eye.
"I thought you wished me to stay away from you Legolas, if so why are you here?"
"That was not true," I say. "If I do this, if I am to die, I would have you with me."
"Then don't!" He pleads, "There is no need for this. Go back, I will go with you."
"You do not mean that. You can no more abandon Aragorn than I."
He drops his head,
"You are right Legolas. I cannot abandon him."
I sit beside him,
"I may not die Gimli."
"But it is likely."
"If you think on it, it is likely we all will."
"Is that supposed to cheer me?" He complains but through his beard I think I see the faintest glimmer of a smile.
"What can I say?" I grin, "I am a natural!"
"Ah Legolas, this is breaking my heart. I do not want to lose you. Can you not think more on this? For my sake."
"I have thought on it more than I want," I say, "There is nothing more to think about. I have made my choice, do not blame Aragorn. He has no more ability to change my mind than you do."
We fall into silence then and I find my mind wandering to the trees and the stars. What he thinks of I do not know....the stones perhaps? The earth beneath his feet. He is strong and solid, he holds me up and I do not enjoy being at odds with him.
"Then I will just have to watch your back," he says eventually and takes me by surprise.
"If you are so set on this foolishness and I cannot dissuade you I will simply have to prevent it. The Lady Galadriel has not counted on the strength of Gimli, son of Gloin."
I cannot help but smile at him for what would I do without him.
"I am serious Legolas. None will get to you through me."
And I wonder what have I done to earn this? Why do I deserve friends such as these? This strong, steady dwarf and Aragorn, who will soon be King. Why has Legolas of the wood recieved this gift?
If Galadriel is right and tomorrow is to be the last of my life I will not regret losing it in defence of them.
I would choose nothing else, it is no sacrifice.
I am blessed.
Reading it again I think this story probably owes quite a bit to Ziggy's Sons of Thinder which was the first story I ever read which portrayed Aragorn's treatment of his friends on the way to Minas Tirith the way I saw him......more than slightly neglectful.