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16
Self-blame

For Kaylee, her sister, and Baylor for their birthdays. Beta by RiverOtter.


~~~

Self-blame


Lindir greeted the golden-haired son of Thranduil of Mirkwood as Legolas’s party entered Elrond’s house. “You and your fellows are most welcome, Thranduilion,” he said with a profound bow. “I grieve that Elrond himself cannot be here at the door to greet you more in keeping with your station, but you will find yours is but one of several parties newly come to the Last Homely House, and we have had to offer aid to one who suffered a deadly wound as well as many who have been harried by the Enemy’s creatures of many kinds as they approached the valley. And such news as has already been shared has proved dire, filling all with foreboding.”

The younger Elf sighed as he accepted the greeting offered. “And I fear I bring more of the same,” he admitted. “Although,” he added, “it may prove that this is but a brief respite to our journey, for the one I must meet with is Mithrandir rather than Lord Elrond. It is to the Wizard my errand must be explained.”

“Then you are in luck,” Lindir said, “for he is here now, although he sits at this moment at the bedside of the Master’s wounded patient. All have been in terror for what might befall this one in the end, considering the nature of the wound as well as how long ago it was suffered. Only this morning was the shard of the weapon used removed from the victim’s shoulder. But this was the second time that the wound has been probed, and the skin had begun to knit again. We hope that tomorrow he will rouse—he has remained unconscious the entire time he has been within these walls, and Gandalf feels himself responsible for the injury this, his friend, has taken.

“I suspect that your news can keep a day or two until the Master’s patient begins to demonstrate he recovers. I doubt not that all will be too distracted to give proper attention to your message before they are assured he will live and prosper once more.”

The Mirkwood Elf nodded his acceptance of this intelligence, and found himself glad that he would not be called upon to tell what had happened in his father’s realm immediately. He felt suddenly tired, and he would rejoice for the chance to bathe, eat, and rest before he must admit the failure of his people in the charge laid on them by the Grey Wizard. He laid his hand on Lindir’s shoulder to halt the musician’s intent to lead his party to the guest wing. “One thing more—we are being followed shortly by still others, both Men from Esgaroth and Dale and Dwarves from Erebor. Be so advised.”

“I will let the Lady Arwen know that the chambers for Dwarves will be needed. Thank you. Now, if all of you will come this way….”

*******


Legolas felt far more hopeful when early the next morning he began to inquire as to where he might find the Wizard. “He will need to know that the creature is fled,” he murmured to himself after receiving word that Gandalf was to be found in the nearest room within the healing wing, attending on his wounded friend. “I hope that the wounded one is not the Dúnadan,” he continued as he went past a section containing a series of rooms in which Men tended to be housed. “I would grieve deeply should Lord Aragorn’s life have been placed in danger.”

He was therefore much relieved to see Aragorn son of Arathorn standing outside a room, speaking to three—were there indeed three of the Periannath here? He stopped in amazement, his mouth falling open in his surprise. Only one Perian had he seen in yéni, the one who had accompanied Thorin Oakenshield to the Lonely Mountain, and who had given his adar that magnificent emerald necklace that Thranduil was so proud of after the Battle of Five Armies.

The Man, the Elf noted, appeared to be recovering from great travail, his face still worn. Yet his voice was calm and full of authority. “Yes, I agree with Master Elrond he will most likely awaken today, and perhaps within a couple of hours. But none of us will do him any good hanging over his bed until his eyes open. All of you require rest, as does Bilbo as well. The old fellow has barely left his side since we arrived, you know. Sam, I rely on you to get Bilbo to his rooms and make certain he lies down. He’s weaving just sitting there in a chair! And then, once he is asleep, you are to return to the chamber given you and do the same. Now,” he said, allowing the others no time to argue, “that is what you are to do. Go, get something to eat and get some rest yourselves. Gandalf can watch over him.”

“And what about you?” asked the stoutest of the three.

Aragorn gave a tired laugh. “Do you think I have not received similar orders? A wise individual knows when to accept orders when they are for the best for everyone. Now, off with you!”

The two smaller figures nodded reluctantly and headed off toward the main section to the place, perhaps to visit the dining hall or the kitchens, while the remaining Perian turned to enter the room, Aragorn patting his shoulder as he went through the doorway. The door closed quietly after him.

Legolas spoke. “You are well, mellon nín?”

Aragorn turned, a look of surprise followed by one of pleasure on his face. “You have just arrived, have you? They had not told me!”

“Late yesterday afternoon. And there are Periannath here in Imladris?”

The Man smiled. “Yes—five, actually. One has lived here for seventeen years, while the others only arrived a few days past—with me.”

The Elf thought on this for the moment. “Then the one who is injured is a Perian as well, and was, I assume, wounded under your watch.”

Aragorn’s face grew grave. “Yes, although I have been assured I must not blame myself. There are forces now in movement beyond the control of Man, Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, or Wizard, you will find.”

“And Mithrandir is within, by the side of the one who was so sorely hurt?”

“Yes. You have news for him?”

“I do—grave news indeed.”

“Is it news that cannot wait?”

Legolas considered. “There is nothing that can be done about it,” he answered carefully. “Or not immediately.”

The Dúnadan gave a brief nod. “Then perhaps it would be best to keep it for the council to be held, I believe, tomorrow. We all worry for the recovery of Frodo, you see, and if I have felt responsible for him being wounded, Gandalf feels trebly so, for it was he who charged Frodo to bring his burden here to Rivendell, and he who failed to meet him and his companions in Bree as was intended. Right now Gandalf watches over Frodo as he lies in healing sleep, and it would not do to add to his burdens at the moment, I deem, particularly if what you would say to Gandalf would possibly be distressing to Frodo as well. He may be asleep, but even an unconscious mind might take in uncomfortable words and twist them into evil images that could impede recovery.”

The Elf indicated his understanding.

At that moment the door opened again, and the Perian Aragorn had named Sam came forth, leading another of his kind after him. “You heard Master Elrond and Mr. Gandalf and Strider here, Mr. Bilbo—we’re all to rest that we not be too anxious when Mr. Frodo wakes up again. Now, I’m charged to see you to your own rooms afore I go off to mine. Tell you what—you can give me that cup o’ tea as you wanted t’give me earlier as I refused then, see?”

The smaller, older Perian growled, “But I feel so guilty, knowing that if I’d not left that for him to deal with he’d not have been so wounded! Oh, all right, Samwise Gamgee. Although I never thought I would see the day I was taking orders from the gardener!” He nodded up at Aragorn. “And if I’m to rest, you’d best do so as well, lad. You’ve been as attentive as the rest of us, and with less sleep!”

He caught sight of Legolas at that moment, and stopped, his attention arrested. “My word,” he whispered. “You’re here! All the way from Mirkwood! And do you still like honeycakes, my Prince? If so, I will see to it some are sent to your rooms with my compliments, as I remember I took one or two from your plate on occasion. Welcome, welcome to Rivendell, and I so hope to see more of you before you must away again!” With that he suffered himself to be led away by his companion, his face alight. “And that,” he confided, “is one of the Princes of Mirkwood, Sam my lad! Who would expect to see him here in Master Elrond’s house?”

Legolas watched after the two Periain, much surprised. “Is that,” he asked the Man, “the one who accompanied Thorin Oakenshield so long ago?”

The Man nodded, his smile doting. “Oh, yes, Bilbo Baggins, late of Bag End in the Shire. I see he recognizes you!” He sighed, watching after the old fellow. “Ah, but I do need to do as he says and find my own bed again. I was up much of the night. Some of my own people arrived two hours after sundown, and two of them were in quite a bad way.”

“Beset by enemies?”

Aragorn’s voice was grim as he answered, “Suffering from the Black Breath. Oh, yes, my friend, the Nazgûl have been here in the north, and hounded us from Bree to here.”

Legolas could barely find words to say in his astonishment and dismay. “They—they are here? In Eriador? Whatever for? For these are accounted empty lands! What could they possibly be seeking here in Eriador?”

The Man checked to see that the door was firmly shut and spoke in a tight voice. “What indeed? That will be revealed in council, and as I said, most likely tomorrow. Know this—they bore with them Morgul blades, and it was with one of those that they wounded the Hobbit over whom Gandalf watches. And another was used on one of my Men who was on guard at the Sarn Ford—Faradir was forced to give him the mercy stroke, as they found they could not bring him here in time.”

The Elf closed his eyes and shook his head in grief. “Alas! For indeed dire news appears to abound in this house!”

Aragorn gave a stiff nod. “Yea, so it appears. But you will find that hope is also to be found. It may appear slight, but it is there, and to be sought after the more surely. Go in and speak with Gandalf, but do not speak words of evil or despair around Frodo, I beg of you. Adar Elrond managed to remove the shard of that curst blade and to turn the spell that Frodo not become a wraith, but it was far too near a thing in the end. He should awaken within a few hours, but at this time needs to hear only words of cheer to further counter the evil that almost took him. I hope to see you again soon, although it might not be until tomorrow.”

The two clasped one another’s wrists, and Aragorn son of Arathorn departed toward the wing where his quarters were maintained. Legolas watched after the Man before finally turning to the door himself and rapping on it softly, then opening it and entering.

The room was large and well appointed. Centered between the windows on one side and the door to a balcony on the other was a great bed crafted from what appeared to be elm wood, with a depiction of Estë, Lady of Healing, upon the headboard, her face turned down to watch over the sleeping patient who lay beneath the fair blankets and her hands held out in blessing.

As for that patient….

“It is a child?” he found himself asking aloud.

“No more than are you as one of the One’s Children,” came the answer, and he looked up to meet the eyes of the Grey Wizard, who sat in one of the chairs beside the bed, turning his unlit pipe between his hands. After a moment he continued, “Although Frodo here fully embodies the child-like grace common to many—but, I admit, not all—Hobbits. Nay, he has fifty years behind him, and should be considered to be of much the same age as the Dúnadan. Or you.”

As one of Thranduil’s children Legolas knew the story of Aragorn son of Arathorn well enough, the history of both his lineage and the hopeless love he knew for Elrond’s daughter, and the possible destiny that might be his should all come together rightly.

“Until the Battle of Five Armies I knew not that any Periannath yet lingered in Middle Earth. It is many yéni since any have been seen in the valley of the Anduin.”

“But that does not mean all died in the times of drought and wildfires,” Gandalf commented, setting the pipe down on the table to one side of his chair. “No, instead they emigrated to Eriador and established themselves here, west of the Misty Mountains. Most live now in the Breelands and west of there, in the Shire.”

Legolas returned his fascinated gaze to the still form lying in the bed. Certainly the sheer size of the bed made the creature appear that much the smaller, proportioned as the bed was for the forms of wounded Elves or stricken Men. This Perian—Hobbit—barely seemed to make an impression on the mattress or pillow. The face was well formed, the nose aquiline, the hair as dark as that of the Dúnadan, but the skin paler, even taking into consideration the time he had suffered from his wound. There were bandages wrapped about his left shoulder and breast beneath the white nightshirt he wore, and the glimpse of a woven chain that somehow appeared to have been wrought for an Elf, Man, or Dwarf rather than for one so small.

The lips were pale, but conveyed sensitivity. Brows were delicate and finely arched. And he was very thin, far thinner than his companions.

“He still strikes me as one who is very young and vulnerable,” the Elf commented softly.

Mithrandir sighed, reaching for the mug that sat on the table near his pipe. “I know. Perhaps that is merely a matter of him being a Hobbit. But he is far stronger than he looks—he must be, to have fought the effects of a Morgul wound as he did for over two weeks!” He sipped at his drink, staring thoughtfully at the Hobbit. Finally he set the mug back on the table. “Most Hobbits tend to appear vulnerable, you will find, and most Big Folk, as they call us, find themselves doing the best they can to protect them, even when they don’t really need any protection at all. It appears to be a talent granted their race, this ability to bring out a protective streak from others as it so often happens.

“But Frodo here, somehow he inspires others to care deeply for him beyond the norm even for Hobbits. You’d best be on your guard—Aragorn has already sworn fealty to him.”

“What?” Legolas could not imagine the Dúnadan doing such a thing for one who looked such a child.

Gandalf smiled, his eyes still searching this Frodo’s face. “Oh, yes, Aragorn swore to protect Frodo by his life or death, there in Bree. You’ve not seen Frodo awake and in his full dignity as yet. As noble a young lord as you’ll ever hope to encounter. He managed to capture my heart and loyalty some decades back. And you will find he will do the same to you before you even realize it. As for his companions or Bilbo—they would do anything for him! He draws out the loyalty and native nobility of others. And he thinks deeply.

“And I suggested he come here with his burden to lay it before Elrond and seek his advice. I laid the journey upon him, and then wasn’t there to protect him as he needed when the Nazgûl made their attack.”

“Aragorn has already admitted to me that he’s been told he did all he could to protect him.”

“Yes, I know. But he still feels responsible for Frodo being wounded, as do I. We all feel as if we should have done more and spared him this. And at the same time I’m told he blames himself for his own foolishness when he is bearing a burden of such great magnitude that he cannot ever be expected to fully fight its influence!”

At last the Wizard looked up again to meet Legolas’s gaze. “But I must assume you had news to give me before the council that will most likely be called tomorrow morning?”

Legolas took a deep breath as he considered what he had to tell of Gollum’s escape as well as what he’d already been warned of the possible inadvisability of speaking such ill news within the hearing of the wounded Perian, conscious or not. No, he decided, the Wizard already was too heavily burdened with feelings of guilt due to his inability to help protect this Hobbit, and there was, after all, nothing that could be done to rectify the matter at this time. He would not add to that burden by sharing the news now—it would indeed keep until the morrow. So, he merely said, “We will discuss it then, Mithrandir. But I, too feel guilty at the moment for not having been able to keep a proper guard on someone I’d promised to watch over.”

Gandalf gave him a swift, searching glance, and then gave a single nod of acceptance. “Then I will learn what you would say then. But I would advise you, also, not to blame yourself overmuch. None of us is able to foresee all that is ill that will happen to us or those we would watch over.”

Legolas gave a wry smile and withdrew, returning back to his quarters to discuss the matter with those who’d come with him from Mirkwood. And as the day progressed he found himself more than once marveling at the thought that Aragorn Arathornion had vowed himself to a Perian!

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