Chapter 1: Meduseld
It was cold and darkness pressed against his eyes, almost physical. He only knew it was day because the darkness thinned a little and he could see the grey, dismal stones of his cell, and beyond, the rows of empty cells. No one else was in this particular dungeon. Gríma was careful with this prisoner. He did not want others, in the King’s prison for mere crimes, to be corrupted by the lies his special prisoner might tell. He would not want tales of the Third Marshal of the Riddermark to be carried to the Outside. Grima may be in charge of the King, but Eomer knew that he was still in charge of the éoreds, their hearts at least, and many would scoff at Grima’s trumped up charges.
He sighed heavily and covered his head with his hands. He had thought that Legolas the Elf would help, but he had been useless. Worse than useless for it was his presence, riding behind Eomer, that had made the Rohirrim pause and choose not to speak out against Eomer’s own arrest. Quite how Legolas had remained free, he did not know. But Eomer was certain it would not be long. Gríma just needed a reason, he would not want any strangers witnessing what was going on in the Mark.
He shrugged his thin blanket closer and pulled his feet up onto the hard wooden planks that were supposed to be a bed. He shuddered. He had never liked rats.
He found himself thinking about Legolas...he was curious, he admitted. It seemed enchantment when the Three Hunters as they called themselves, somewhat fancifully he thought, had risen seemingly out of the Earth itself. And although it was Aragorn who spoke with Eomer, he had been intensely aware of the tall, cloaked stranger with a long elegant bow held loosely in his hand. He was much like the bow himself; taller than a Man, and lean, with the wide shoulders of an archer and though all three hunters wore cloaks of the same subtle hue, it seemed this stranger’s was more part of him.
And then, faster than the eye, he had strung his bow and aimed an arrow at Eomer’s heart for the lightest jest at the Dwarf’s expense... not only fast, but impossibly graceful, and when Aragorn told him to stand down, the strange archer had done so reluctantly, and his movements were fluid, silent. When he had pulled down his hood, Eomer was not the only one to catch a glimpse of the pointed ear, the thin braids, the impossible masculine beauty of that cold, impassive face...He would not have guessed the Elf carried an injury. Eomer stared down at his own hands, seeing instead the gleam of light the long sheet of pale hair that was like the wintergrass upon the wide open plains of the Riddermark, the gleam of those long, green eyes that had caught him staring...
...It helped to have something to think about.
Somewhere else, beyond the stone cell, beyond the heavy wooden door that sealed him in this tomb, was a distant sound…a scrape of iron. He looked up.
Many footsteps. The shuffle of booted feet and the clang of a sword...Then a thin shaft of light pierced the dark, swung around from a corner and then was followed by brighter light, several torches, and that hated voice.
Eomer snarled. Good. Something to be really angry about.
What this time?
Several heavily armed soldiers appeared, torchlight glinting off their drawn weapons. And between two of them, a heavy shape was slumped. They struggled with it for it was long...No, tall. It was a person they carried. He couldn’t help the faint relief that he would at least no longer be in here on his own.
Eomer's eyes got used to the dark. It was worse when there was light, thought Éomer, for it showed how far he had fallen and how dismal was this dreadful place. The torchlight caught on a gleam of gold hair and he was suddenly afraid. Surely it was not Eowyn they carried between them? Surely not even Gríma would bring her here? He gripped the bars; no, fool, he told himself with scorn. It was far taller than Eowyn, broader. A man. He breathed again. Safe. She was still safe….But whom did they bring?
Eomer leaned back against the dank wall – shutting out of his mind the discomfort and the horrible thoughts that crept in. He would not start any conversation with the Worm, for that was what he sought. Eomer knew he had become sport for the pale-eyed, pale skinned advisor who poisoned Theoden with his lies and deceit.
'My Lord Marshall,' Grima appeared behind the soldiers. He bowed mockingly, eyes looking up, anything but deferential; impertinent and knowing. 'I do apologise for disturbing your rest…' he sneered. 'We have brought another traitor to join you.' Keys jangled and the door of the next cell was thrown open and the still body was shoved carelessly through the door, fell heavily against the iron bars.
'Quick- ‘fore he wakes up and starts agin,' muttered one soldier. Another man hastily slammed the door so it clanged shut heavily. He fumbled clumsily with the keys and one of his fellows held a torch close so he could see and in the orange light Eomer saw with a gasp, that it was Legolas whom they had dumped on the floor of the cell. The Elf lay still for a moment and then, slowly, he moved one hand, lifted it to his head.
'He's waking- quick!' There was a fumbling scuffle between the soldier and then a clunk; the lock was fast and the soldiers, drawing a collective sigh, stepped back and lowered their weapons.
Weakly the Elf rolled onto his back, and one long hand covered his eyes. He was murmuring something, weakly, and Eomer could not hear his words, they sounded distant and confused.
‘My lord,’ the sergeant turned to Gríma now and bowed slightly. Eomer caught a flicker of revulsion on the sergeant’s face but Gríma did not see, his eyes were fixed upon his prisoner and Eomer had seen the same look in those pale eyes when he looked upon Eowyn, and he felt a tremor of fear for Legolas.
Grima did not look at the soldiers as he spoke, 'Leave me. All of you. I wish to converse with our special prisoners. But you, leave a torch...’ He looked about himself. ‘And leave guards on the door. But wait beyond the door.’
The waiting Men said nothing but the sergeant shifted uneasily and nodded at one of the Men who held out the flaring, sputtering torch. As the soldier gave over his torch to Grima, he shuddered as if the touch had somehow chilled him, and then he surreptitiously wiped his fingers on his tunic. That earned him a glare from the sergeant but Grima did not spare them a glance
‘Leave me,’ he said and the torchlight glowed upon his pale face, lit in the depths of his eyes. He turned slightly, all his focus on the Elf, and the hunger was sharper, feral and yellow.
The footsteps of the soldiers retreated and then there was only Gríma.
There was a soft murmur, Legolas was speaking words that Eomer did not understand, and pain trembled in his voice. The Elf had pushed himself up to his knees but his head was bent and his long hair fell forward, hiding his face.
'So, you awaken, Legolas...of the Woodland Realm, ' Grima spoke with bitter sarcasm and Eomer wondered why. It was Aragorn who had introduced him as this and he did not think the Elf or Man had lied to him. 'I am so sorry that we cannot lodge you better, as you are accustomed. And I can only apologise for the company.’ He held the torch up higher so he could see into the wretched prison and looked about in an exaggerated manner, narrowed his eyes at Eomer. ‘But I cannot have you looking, listening and sneaking about. I might almost say you were a spy… but never let it be said that I am not a fair man…. You will face interrogation and trial tomorrow and then, I am sure, we will…hear…everything.’
‘I am no spy.’ Legolas spoke quietly in his strange, lilting accent, with its elongated vowels and softened consonants. He put one hand on the thick iron bars of the cell and slowly pulled himself to his feet, and Eomer saw that his other hand was clasped against his side, his ribs for the soldiers had not been gentle and the Elf was already injured.
The Worm’s pale skin seemed to gleam slightly in the torchlight and Eomer realised it was sweat. ‘Oh? Yet you arrive here, at Meduseld, without presenting yourself.’ Grima licked his lips nervously, or lasciviously, Eomer was not sure which. ‘You travel in the Mark under some faint disguise, and in the company no less of that impostor, Isildur’s Heir!’ he laughed nastily. ‘And a Dwarf!’
Legolas said nothing, but Eomer, trained soldier that he was, saw the imperceptible tensing of the muscles, tightening of the limbs as if he readied himself for attack.
And sure enough, Grima drew himself up a little and his gaze sharpened, focused on the Elf. He seemed to draw himself up and together. Then he spoke again.
'Indeed, we will hear you…’
It seemed then to Eomer, that the air between them trembled and wavered in the torchlight, that the shadows drew more closely about them, and voice of Grima changed. It grew, quietly and powerfully, and coiled about the Elf so Eomer was no longer certain what he was seeing.
‘...and you will speak the truth.’
Slowly at first, it seemed the air thickened and there was a yellow tinge to it, like sulphur. It coalesced, drew together into a sinuous stream, coiled like thick yellow smoke about Legolas and he raised his head for a moment, his eyes were wide and panicked, nostrils flaring as if there was little air. He opened his mouth, gasping as if he could not breathe… Eomer tried to move, to help him, remonstrate but he found his own limbs frozen and he could not speak...stood helpless as Legolas moved his hands to his throat, his mouth open and panting, fell hard to his knees, choking.
Grima glided forwards, his eyes yellow in the torchlight, narrowed. He raised his hand slightly and suddenly the Elf fell forward as if released from some strangling hold, long hair hanging forwards over his face and breathing hard, sucking in great lungfuls of air.
'Do not mistake me, Legolas Thranduillion.' The voice was low, but to Eomer, frozen and powerless to move or speak, it seemed inexorable, thrumming the air around him, irresistible in its threat and promise. 'I know you. And I know your cause.'
Grima stared for a moment at the stricken Elf, lingered on the long veil of hair that gleamed golden, rich in the torchlight. He leaned forwards then, and Eomer thought then his eyes glittered with hunger. Lifting his hand, Grima reached through the iron bars as if to touch the Elf but then he faltered for a moment, and suddenly he turned away, his footsteps sounding sharply on the stone floor. The flickering torchlight cast his shadow so it loomed before him on the damp walls of the dungeon. Perhaps a trick of the light but it seemed to Eomer for a moment, that his shadow was something bigger,menacing, like a monstrous clawed hand. And then the clink of keys, a creak of a hinge and then the door slammed shut leaving his prisoners in the twilight half-darkness of the dungeon.
Eomer suddenly felt his limbs his own again. 'Legolas!' He clutched at the bars of his cell. 'Are you alright?'
Stupid question, he berated himself. Of course he isn't! He is in a cell. And tomorrow, they will torture him, and he will say anything they wish to make them stop.
Eomer had seen Grima's interrogation, not experienced it. There was no point in torturing Eomer. Grima already knew far, far more than Eomer. Eomer rubbed his face in consternation. It is Aragorn’s fault, he told himself. He was persuasive.
The wind had been blowing across the steppe and the skies were high and blue and ragged clouds streamed like pennants in the wind. Aragorn had taken him to one side...
‘Take Legolas with you,’ he had said. Eomer had been taken aback, glanced over his shoulder to where the Elf stood, tall and very still, only the wind lifted his long hair. ‘He can help you. He can remind Theoden of the old alliances, rouse him from this sickness...’ The Man had paused and looked away briefly at the Elf. ‘He has been injured too. He needs to rest but will not stop while we search for the Hobbits. He frets that we are too slow...’
It had been an arrow wound, Aragorn told him, but Eomer could see no sign that the Elf had any injury. His long strides when Aragorn called him over, showed no falter, no limp and his eyes were clear. Eomer found it hard to look at him. Cold, impossible, masculine beauty. He had never thought a man could be beautiful before. The Elf had slanted a knowing look at Aragorn and looked like he might argue but did not. Instead he had run his hand lightly over the neck an injured horse, Arod, whose rider had been slain and would suffer no Man’s touch since. Under Legolas’ hand, Arod had trembled but not flinched. The saddle girth had been cut in battle and the saddle was long gone, and a long scar showed on the horse’s flank. Legolas had quietly removed Arod’s bridle and stroked his long hand down over the scar. All the horses had stilled, ears pricked forward, as if listening intently though the Men could hear nothing.
When they mounted, The Elf had swung up onto Arod quietly, fluidly, showed no sign of injury so Eomer even doubted him until the evening and saw the bloody cloth he washed out in a stream. The Elf had said nothing, quiet and impassive; he asked for no help, accepted the food offered and offered in return some sort of elven cake, which none of the Rohirrim had taken. He sat with the éored, but seemed apart from them. Did not sleep but watched the fire’s shifting embers. Eomer had ignored him as he was ignored and thought it a mistake to bring him. The few words he spoke to Eomer had been courteous, brief. But Eomer found himself listening intently when the Elf spoke, his strange, fluid accent and Eomer was not alone in sleeping better that night than many a night on a softer bed.
When they rode back into Meduseld, Eomer had felt the shift, the change. It was quieter, fewer people about and he did not know the Men who guarded the Golden Hall. Eowyn had not been there. He had sent Legolas off with one of his Rohirrim warriors, also injured, to find a healer and that was the last he had seen the Elf. For Eomer had been arrested as soon as he set foot in the King’s hall.
And now, here they were. A pair of useless fools.
At least Legolas’ breathing seemed calmer now and he had fallen back to lean against the bars that separated them. Eomer shifted closer to where the Elf leaned...it seemed a little lighter there.
Slowly then, futile knowledge dawned on Eomer. Grima would kill Legolas. Publicly. Execute him as a spy or worse, with a confession tortured out of him about the dreadful plots made against the Rohirrim by the Witch of the Golden Wood, and others. It would seal Rohan in a pact with Saruman. For his White Hand was in this as surely as sunrise.
Eomer's foot dashed against his precious water bowl and sent it spilling across the filthy floor – wasted. He cursed and swore, falling back against the stone wall.
And if there were any hope or help to be had from the elven realms, Legolas’ death would ensure they would not lift a finger to help Rohan, or Gondor. No great Alliance of Elves and Men as in the last war, he thought. It would be Sauron's victory. He groaned and slammed his fist against the stone wall, scraping his knuckles.
He sank down onto the wooden boards that made do for a bed and put his head in his hands. He groaned again, tormenting himself with the possibilities. It was hopeless…
Slowly, he became aware of a sensation; his scalp prickled. He looked up to see Legolas watching him. Bright-eyed and curious. It was disconcerting. For some reason, Eomer felt decidedly foolish- like a child who is being indulged by its uncle who knows everything and is watching him struggle to open a very easy box…..He met the other's gaze with a glower of his own,
'You seem remarkably recovered,' he said rather irritably.
The Elf raised a quizzical eyebrow. Of course, thought Eomer. He would.
'I thought he had choked you,' he added. He felt annoyed now. He had been really scared Legolas was suffering and now it seemed that he was playing along all the time.
'He had,' said Legolas, matter of factly. He paused for a moment and tilted his head to one side so his long hair slid over his shoulder. Eomer found himself watching it and shook himself slightly. ‘That was most unpleasant...That Power is not his own I think.’
Eomer shook his head and then leaned down and set his empty water bowl straight. ‘No,’ he agreed. ‘I have never seen anything like that before...Sorcery.’
‘Yes. But he is no sorcerer.’ Legolas glanced up at Eomer and his eyes gleamed in the dim light. ‘It is a borrowed Power. I sensed nothing from him when I first met him.’
For the first time, Eomer thought about what must have happened to bring Legolas down here to join him. 'He must have arrested you as soon as he found out you were here,’ he surmised aloud. ‘What an opportunity for him to add to the fear folk already have. I should never have brought you with me!’ he said, suddenly angry with himself.
The Elf tilted his head thoughtfully and spoke as if he had not heard, or had not listened to Eomer’s self recrimination. 'I made a mistake. I underestimated my enemy, Grima of all people.' He sounded as disgusted with himself. 'And I got caught. He is right.’ He looked up and met Eomer’s astonished gaze. ‘I was spying, in the King's rooms no less, and Grima and his henchmen were waiting for me. I gave him everything he needs to make me into an enemy of Rohan.' He shook his head. 'Only a fool would have walked into that trap. Eowyn warned me.’
‘Eowyn! Where is she?’ Eomer leapt to his feet and gripped the bars. ‘Have you led her into danger? Has she been arrested? ‘
‘No, no. Calm yourself, Eomer of the Mark. She is safe.’
‘Safe!’ he laughed bitterly. ‘For now perhaps but soon...’ He did not say what would happen but Legolas seemed to know for he pulled himself to his feet and stood near Eomer. Eomer thought there was a scent of new grass, somewhere.
‘She has a heart of burnished steel,’ Legolas said softly and met Eomer’s gaze. ‘She helped me. Warned me I was a fool and told me to just kill Grima and be done.’ He laughed wryly, his eyes still fixed on Eomer, looking at him. Not exactly staring…but almost as if he were remembering every detail, examining him, looking into him, at the way his muscle and sinew and bone held together and made his shape, the way his mouth worked and the place of his heart and the way this would make him act, move, think, feel...love…
‘You are alike.’
Eomer looked away quickly. This was not the silent and taciturn Elf who had ridden with him across the high steppe. He shook himself, he needed to focus. What was going on? 'What is going on?' he said aloud. Beama- his mouth was working independently of his brain!
Legolas tilted his head to one side, still gazing at him in that disconcertingly intense way and suddenly he laughed. It was totally out of place, anachronistic, unexpected, and astonishingly, Eomer felt his heart surge. 'Lift up your head, Eomer of the Riddermark,' said the Elf, and he seemed somehow more real than the walls that had closed in on Eomer for too long. 'Not all is yet darkness and even then, Elves have good eyes in the dark.' Legolas came to the bars they shared and placed his long hand there, placed his palm carefully, as if noticing the iron grill for the first time. 'For oft is said it is darkest before dawn.’
His eyes glittered in the dark and Eomer felt his otherness and strangeness.
'Come, I have been in darker places than this and survived. We still live and out in the world, the horses of Rohan run and the grass grows green and strong, soon the stars, beloved of my people, will begin their song...Listen.'
Eomer wondered who was madder, the Elf for his strange words, or him for listening to it and feeling gladdened.
Legolas beckoned him over and Eomer could not help himself and drew closer, watching the other’s strong, beautiful face, sharp and fey.
'No. Listen,' said Legolas insistently.
He drew his fingers lightly down Eomer's face, left a trail of warmth, heat… Eomer closed his eyes briefly, and then stared into the face of the other. Then quickly looked away. The gaze was too hard, too direct, it hurt to look at that brightness, intensity that would strip him, pare him to the bone. A draft fingered its way into the dungeons. Nothing else.
'No….' A whisper of breath, now on his skin. 'Listen.'
Eomer frowned… and looked back up…He listened.
Silence… No, something else. Far away it seemed at first. Then stronger, a song, no words, just sounds that ran one into the other…An endless stream of notes that made him think of the great grass plains, horses running, the wind across the grass, cold and laced with frost from the mountains…
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He caught an elusive scent of moss and pine trees. When he looked up, he looked up into the strange eyes of the Elf … Eomer felt his soul lurch. He knew that sound. It was Legolas. He had brought the song, he was singing, humming it quietly, under his breath. He knew Eomer.
The Elf smiled, an eldritch smile. Eomer remembered what they said about Elves and wondered.
Legolas seemed to hear his thoughts and said, 'We all have our song. Even you, Eomer of the Mark. Even Grima, although he has forgotten his.' Then he sighed, and the sound was like the whisper of leaves in the wind.
'What are we going to do?' Eomer whispered, feeling like a frightened child whose older brother has just found him in the woods. Legolas smiled, and it was no longer fey. His eyes were steel and his jaw set.
'Now we will turn the tide. Now we will start to win.'
Chapter 2: In the cells
Songs of Rohan (formerly Deeper than Breathing)
Original beta'd by the truly remarkable Anrien/Ithilen/ Anarithilen but this updated, more adult (slashier!) version is unbeta’d. Any mistakes here are mine- let me know please.
Chapter 2: In the cells
Eomer slept that night. He thought it must be night because it was pitch black but he could see Legolas whenever he opened his eyes. He felt his limbs heavy with sleep and peace. His dreams were all long grass and huge empty skies. Horses' hooves drumming on the sun baked earth. When he awoke he stretched languorously. And smiled. It was like he had … well, he suddenly squashed that thought and almost blushed.
He opened his eyes sleepily and blinked in the greyish light that showed it was morning in the King’s dungeon. He could see Legolas standing near him, his tall shape leaning slightly forwards as if listening. His head was tilted to one side slightly and his eyes were fixed on the distant doorway to the dungeons. Eomer found himself staring at the broad shoulders, let his eyes trail down the hard athletic body to his lean hips, his long legs...He shook himself. It was the absence of any other company that made him like this, he told himself.
He did not turn when Eomer swung his legs to the damp floor. ‘I hope you slept well,’ the Man said with irony. Legolas did not reply, he did not even move his head.
‘I kept watch,’ he said quietly and Eomer could not help but feel it was a reproof.
‘There is little point in watching for anything in this forsaken hole,’ he snapped. ‘There is nothing we can do but wait.’
‘There are forces at work here beyond you or me,’ Legolas said mildly, still not turning. ‘Sorcery is a dangerous enemy. And the shadows in this place watch.’
A cold chill of horror crept down Eomer’s spine at his words. ‘What do you mean?’ he said, looking round.
‘Do you not feel it?’ This time Legolas turned his face towards Eomer and for a second, the mask slipped and he saw a tremor of fear in the Elf’s eyes, quickly suppressed. ‘I can hear them whispering. I see them slip from one corner to another, melting into each other. I hear their murmurings. Do you not feel their hate?’
Eomer gripped the cold iron bars to lodge him in this world, the physical, tangible world that he knew and had some control over. ‘You imagine it,’ he said with a bravado he did not feel. ‘Shadows are naught but absence of light. They are not alive.’
Legolas stared at him impassively. Then he turned away again and resumed his listening, and did not speak again for a long time. Back to the silent, taciturn stranger of the steppes, Eomer thought. And he realised he was disappointed, for there had seemed a warmth before.
It was hours later. Eomer had tried several times asking Legolas about his journey with Aragorn and the Dwarf. Eomer could not remember the Dwarf’s name and Legolas’ answers were cold and monosyllabic. In answer to the question why they were traveling through Rohan, Legolas simply said, ‘Our company was split.’ To the question, how he was injured, the Elf simply said, ‘We were attacked by Orcs.’
Eomer had given up when abruptly, Legolas said simply, 'They come.'
Eomer was on his feet in an instant; his hand automatically went to his hip for his sword and felt empty. Grasping the bars he watched as the thin shaft of daylight pierced the gloom and the shapes of his hated enemies emerged. Instantly his hatred flared and his muscles tensed.
'They will torture you,' he said to Legolas, anxiety bubbling in his stomach. 'You cannot resist. He will force you to say things that are not true and then he will kill you. Legolas.' He turned his anguished face towards the Elf. 'I am sorry. I am sorry I brought you here.'
Suddenly Legolas smiled and Eomer felt dazzled. He thought again how beautiful Legolas was, tall and lean and...and...He swallowed. What in Beama’s name was he thinking?
'Eomer, I will be taken to the King. That is what we need,' Legolas whispered. 'Do not fear. There is time enough for this to turn…Have faith. The Song changes.' And then, he reached out and drew his long fingers down Eomer’s face as he had in the night, and Eomer thought there were flowers somewhere, and he heard hoofbeats, horses running free on the high steppe beneath the high blue skies...but it must have just been the thud of his own heart. He wished he had tried harder to know Legolas in that short time but it was too late now.
‘I am sorry,’ he said again and felt a prickle in his eyes and blinked hard.
Lamplight warmed the cold cells and long shadows threw themselves against the walls and disappeared into the dark. Rough voices, voices not of riders or mere soldiers such as the Men who brought Legolas down here the day before, but of Grima's servants; bitter, mean-spirited men who would never have been warriors of the Mark, and who previously eked out an existence on the fringes of the kingdom, who had no place. But now had power.
They had obviously been bolstering each other with proud boasts of their prowess –for they approached the cells boldly and with loud voices, hard and rough, drawing swords and knives, cudgels and pikes. They were tense with the anticipation of violence, lustful with it, had heard of the Elf’s strength, his struggle with the soldiers the night before and fancied their chances against him. One swung the short heavy cudgel against his open palm as if imagining already how it would sound against the Elf’s flesh.
The guard turned the key in the lock and the lock clicked. Grima stood to one side, watching, his thin lips stretched in anticipation. Imperceptibly, the air seemed to shift slightly, like a shimmer of heat and was gone. But swords, cudgels wavered and stilled.
Within the cell's dark and narrow walls, Legolas stood. Alert, poised and muscles tense. Breathing relaxed and steady.
Eomer could see the Men ringed around the door of the cell, wanting to but yet fearing to go in. He looked at them, and picked out the nearest of Grima's henchmen to him, he thought that he could reach around and throttle the man, grab his weapon and…The door scraped open grudgingly. Nervously, the henchmen filtered in, swords, weapons, pike at the ready, a forest of steel pointed at the Elf. Grima stood outside, looking in and a few Men hoisted the flaming torches in sconces around the dungeon so the dank, wretched place was lit. In the centre of the dungeon was a space and the cells were placed around it so they lined this place of torture. A rack was in one corner and a brazier had been pushed out of the way. Hooks and chains hung from the ceiling.
'I have so looked forward to this,' Grima rubbed his thin hands together. 'You have no idea!' He bared his teeth. And Legolas bared his back.
'Please…do come this way.' With exaggerated courtesy, the councillor swept his hand before Legolas, indicating the door. Eomer waited, hands itching to grab the marked henchman and wrest his knife. But Legolas breathed slowly out and walked out of the cell. Eomer gaped. At least he had expected Legolas to put up a fight.
The henchmen fell nervously back, weapons brandished and crouched slightly. Grima simply smiled unpleasantly. 'I have here a confession from you.'
'Really.' Legolas seemed politely interested.
He stood before Grima so the councillor had to look up to him. Beside Legolas, Grima seemed even more cringing, crouching, obsequious and he rubbed his pale hands on his robe as if he was sweating.
'And to what am I confessing?' Legolas looked down at Grima, his face haughty and dismissive.
'Oh, you are a spy of the Witch,' Grima waved his hand nonchalantly, a faint leer on his pinched face. 'You seek to enthrall the King, to lead the men of Rohan into a foolish alliance with the Witch, and to lead them into a reckless charge against our ally, Saruman.'
Legolas held out his hand for the pen. 'Change but a few words, and I will sign this,' he said. 'For it is all true.'
Grima narrowed his eyes. 'It is true? Are you so brazen?'
The Elf shrugged. 'Why would I deny what is true? Take me before your King, charge me with whatever you intend to charge me with and let him decide.'
Grima paused to consider. Eomer could see that he might think this a useful demonstration of his power over Théoden, to bring the Elf before the King and have him publicly denounce him as a spy. It would beat the hope out Rohan. All would know then who was in charge. Eomer watched the Man carefully. Would he guess the catch? Although Eomer himself had no idea what Legolas thought he would gain by appearing before Theoden. But the Elf seemed determined that this was the way of escape for Rohan.
Grima was staring at Legolas...as if caught in the strange fey gaze, that Eomer knew would strip him to the bone, would see his shriveled heart and understood him. As he had gazed at Eomer and understood him. Grima opened his eyes wide for a moment, as if he remembered something, long ago, when he was young and believed he could be the Man he wanted to be. And suddenly he stepped back as if struck...and he lifted his hands before him as if warding off a blow.
'Stop! Stop him!' Grima raised his fist to strike the Elf but his wrist was caught by an iron grip. For a minute, everything seemed frozen. Grima cringed before the tall Elf, his upraised hand caught in Legolas’ strong grip and the Elf stood tall and his long hair swept down his back. His strong beautiful face was full of compassion and Grima cringed from that as much as the pain of his grip.
Suddenly pandemonium. A cudgel was brought heavily down on Legolas' arm, a punch in his stomach winded him. He turned like lightning and his foot flew out to catch one of the henchmen in his stomach. His fist jammed into another’s face and he whirled, striking first one, then another who stood behind him. A sword scraped from its sheath and suddenly there was cold steel against Eomer's neck. Legolas froze.
'Move but an inch and the Traitor dies,' Grima seemed to come alive, stepped forwards rubbing his wrist where Legolas had gripped him.
Instantly the Elf's hands dropped to his side and he stepped back from the men.
'Bind him, use those chains ….' And then Grima added in a low voice, 'strip him first.'
There was a pause and Legolas turned his head slightly to stare at Grima, his strange green eyes wide. Eomer cried out a useless warning and the knife pricked him. He felt a warm trickle ease down his neck.
The henchmen surged forwards suddenly brave, and their hands were all over him; one unbuckled the thick leather belt from around Legolas’ waist and another ripped the green suede surcoat from the Elf and threw it on the ground. They stilled for a moment and in the yellow light he stood, tall, impossibly beautiful and Grima licked his thin lips.
'And the shirt,' he instructed breathlessly. One man lurched forwards and the fine linen tore slightly and was pulled from the Elf's lean body.
Yellow lamplight bathed his warm skin beneath his long, pale gold hair and over one shoulder, down one arm, dense colour had been inked onto his skin and seemed to shimmer and move. Colour slid over his skin like it was a living thing, down one arm, over one shoulder and swirled around his breast, his nipple, coiled about him like a protection and slid down below the waistband of his breeches.
For a moment the henchmen fell back to stare at the alien beauty that was Legolas and whilst Eomer stared too, he also saw the bloody cloth bound around his waist where the arrow had pierced him in the battle where the company had been parted. The Man who held Eomer pulled him closer and he felt with horror, a nudge of something blunt and hard at his thigh.
'Chains…' whispered Grima hoarsely and as if mesmerized, two men dragged at two heavy chains from the hooks cemented into the wall. The chains fell with a heavy rattle and the Men let them pile like thick iron serpents for they were too heavy to catch. The Men grunted as they lifted the chains and hauled them towards the Elf. It took three of them to wrap the thick links around the Elf’s arms over and over, crossing his chest and around his waist. They looped the chain around his lean hips, and crossed them over his chest once more, straining to lift them and letting them fall onto Legolas’ shoulders with malicious pleasure. He did not bow. He did not utter a sound but endured.
Heavy, no man could bear them and still be erect, Eomer thought, how they must crush him.
But Legolas only wavered slightly and the Men, laughing and jeering now he could not hurt them, pushed him to his knees. He crashed down onto the stone floor and struggled to rise, but could not. They dragged the slack of the chains back to the hooks and hitched them there. He could not move. Eomer could see where the heavy chins sank into his flesh but his face was impassive, like cold stone and his eyes were green ice. The firelight from the torches flickered around the dungeon, limned everything with fire, flickered on the Elf’s skin and it seemed for a moment that inked colours on his skin writhed and coalesced into the shape of a dragon, and then was gone..
Eomer heard Grima swallow and gasp.
‘Secure our Third Marshall as well,’ he said and the Man who held him tight, with the knife still at his neck, gave a low chuckle.
‘Wonder he’s got in store for you, my lord.’ Eomer’s lip curled in disdain and would not look at the Man as he unwound rope from his waist and shoved Eomer against the bars of his cell. The Man let his hands drift over Eomer’s body as he tied his hands to the bars, deliberately pushed himself against Eomer as he did so. He heard another Man laugh complicitly and under his breath, so his assailant could just hear, swore that he would rip the Man’s genitals from his body with his own bare hands when he was free and stuff them in his mouth so he choked. The Man’s teeth gleamed and his eyes were hard and bright with lust.
'Now leave.' Grima said and the Man paused, then muttered in disappointment. He let his hand rest briefly on Eomer’s crotch and Eomer felt himself shrivel at the implied threat. But he fell back as Grima approached.
‘I said leave,’ Grima repeated and the Men fell back resentfully, glancing at their proud elven captive, and muttering between themselves but when Grima turned and glared at them, they ceased and one or two looked suddenly afraid.
'Wait outside,' he said as an afterthought, and then he looked at the Elf sharply. 'He may yet be trouble.'
The Worm stood close to Eomer, close enough that he could feel his hot breath, smell the rancid stink of his breath. The pale, rheumy eyes that stared at him Eomer had always thought of as weak. But he could see now that this weakness was but physical, and beneath that lay a malice that had power of its own, a viciousness and a lust for power. It was this that led Grima to seek out Eowyn, his wish to dominate her, to subdue her.. and it was this same lust that degraded the Elf who knelt still and silent in the dust of the prison.
'You may choose…’ Grima’s voice was almost caressing, low and intimate. ‘Look at him. Is he not...?’ Grima stopped, and licked his thin lips and swallowed. His breath was quick and he pulled a thin knife from his belt and let it lie lightly over Eomer’s throat, pushed slightly so Eomer had to turn his head towards Legolas, kneeling half naked, straining under the heaviness of the chains that coiled about him. ‘Choose. Either him…Or your sister.'
'My sister!' Eomer turned and as he did so, felt the long scratch of the blade against his skin and the pulse in his neck surged a little. 'If you ever touch my sister, I swear I will kill you.'
'You are in no position to threaten me,' sneered the Worm. Eomer clenched his fists, seeing the truth of it. 'So, choose. Him. Or her.'
Eomer chewed his lip and spat, 'Neither. Leave both.'
'If you say both, I will take that as meaning both.' Grima drew back his lips and Eomer saw the yellowed teeth were sharp, his tongue flickered over his thin lips and drew back into a grimace that Eomer thought was meant to be a threatening smile.
'You will do as you will anyway,' he snarled back,' And I will kill you anyway.' But Eomer felt a horrid rush of fear for the bright Elf who was slowly bowed by chains, but how could he say instead take my sister?
'Then I had better make it worth it, had I not?' Grima let the knife follow Eomer's pulse down his neck and stepped away suddenly. Eomer was aware Legolas had tensed, had glanced as far as he could over his shoulder to where Grima stood close to the cell bars, whispering to Eomer. Eomer saw the patterned swirls seem to dance over the Elf's skin as if they were not fixed but slid and undulated as his muscles bunched and strained against the heavy chains. Eomer felt his mouth open as he stared, aware that Grima too stood transfixed.
And then the Worm stepped closer to Legolas, reached out his hand to his hair and hovered there without touching. Eomer gripped the bars appalled with his bound hands, and watched Grima’s tongue flickered nervously over his thin lips and one finger stroked along the long silk of hair and let it sift and slide through his fingers.
The yellow lamplight shone through the gold and Grima shifted and paused in front of Legolas, the long strands still tangled in his fingers. He lifted his hand and stared, hunger in his eyes like the miser's hunger for gold. Suddenly plunging both hands into that bright hair, he buried his face in it with a groan.
Eomer saw how Legolas turned his head away from where the man's hips now came too close to his face, and he swayed and adjusted his stance, trying to keep upright beneath the loaded, heavy chins that kept him immobilized and still.
Steel glinted in the lamplight, Grima still clasped the knife in one hand. He brought that hand up to grasp the long hair and pulled Legolas' head back so he had no choice but to look up at the Worm.
'Not so proud now,' he hissed and pulled the Elf's head even more.
There was a low cry and Legolas arched his back trying to lessen the pain, and this made his chest graze against the man's thigh. Grima's mouth opened and lascivious pleasure and Eomer saw saliva dribble from one corner of his mouth and he leaned forward to press his lips against Legolas’.
Legolas struggled briefly and shook his head but Grima had such a grip on him. Eomer could hear the muffled protest as Grima forced his tongue into Legolas’ unwilling mouth. Eomer was horrified, thought he should turn away, but could not.
Suddenly Grima leapt away, screaming, holding his mouth and cursing.
'Never touch me again!' Legolas was shouting and he leaned forward and spat.
For a moment there was stillness as Grima brought his hand away from his mouth and the transfixed Eomer saw a wet gleam of red on his fingers.
Legolas had bitten Grima’s tongue.
Ah, and Eomer loved him for it but a terrible fear surged in his chest. He knew what Grima was capable of and Legolas was at his mercy.
And as he thought, Grima glared at Legolas, and still clutching his knife hand to his cheek, he suddenly drew his other hand back and hit Legolas hard across the face so the Elf’s head whipped round, long hair spilling round his shoulders. 'You forget where you are.' Grima leaned in and grabbed Legolas’ hair once again, dragging his head right back so he he had to arch still further. To Eomer it looked as though he were offering himself to Grima were it not for the vicious fist in his hair.
'I would rather die than let you touch me again,' Legolas could barely grind out the words, breath rasping in pain.
'No,' whispered Eomer but Grima had brought the shining blade around and in a terrible arc of silver catching in the lamplight, sliced the air and across the Elf. Eomer could not see what Grima had done but here was a hiss of breath and Legolas leaned forwards in pain.
'Think about that while you rot in here, all but forgotten.' Snatching up Legolas’ own discarded shirt, Grima wiped the blade clean and then balled up the shirt once more and threw it into the corner. 'There is only one who will not forget you…' And he leaned in and grasped Legolas' chin, forcing him to look upwards. 'Me. I have not finished with you.'
Striding through the dark as though he had not need of light, Grima went quickly to the heavy barred door and threw it open.
'You!' he cried to his henchmen, still lurking without. ' Get in here and throw the Elf in the cell with the other traitor. He can look after him.' There was a shuffling of feet and clash of blades. From the darkness, Grima's voice called out, disembodied and strangely eerie. 'See he doesn't die. He is no good to me dead. Not yet.'
Chapter 3: Éowyn
Chapter 3: Éowyn.
Eomer sat on the edge of his hard wooden bed and looked down at Legolas, who was deeply asleep.
Grima’s henchmen had been hard on the Elf. When Grima, furious and bleeding from the mouth, yelled for them, they had piled into the dungeon. Beneath the heavy chains Legolas was struggling to his feet, but they him shoved down to his knees and beat him mercilessly with cudgels and fists until he fell forward onto the hard stone floor. Even then, they had surrounded him, kicking and cursing him until Grima had stopped them. He did not want Legolas dead, only subdued. Punished. They had unwound the heavy chains because they could not lift the Elf otherwise, let the heavy chains pour onto the cold ground and then they dragged him, unresisting and thrown him down in the cell with Eomer so he could look after the injured Elf.
At least this time they had left one guttering torch, thought Eomer. The flames flickered and flared in a cold draft that came down the passage way from outside. But it was fresh air and he thought he could smell pine and moss and meadow grass...
Eomer pushed his hands through his hair and sighed. Legolas had fallen into a deep sleep from which he did not awaken. His skin had been bruised from the heavy chains, and there seemed to be so much blood. There was a deeper cut on his cheek from where a Man’s ring had struck him. It had frightened Eomer how cold he was, how deep his sleep. Eomer had only rudimentary knowledge of healing from the battlefield but he knew enough to stitch and bind a wound and one of the Men seemed to have heard Grima's orders at least that the Elf was to be kept alive, and thrown a small emergency pouch to him that all soldiers carried. He had done his best to repair the arrow wound, but it had been stitched before by someone who knew what he was doing, Eomer thought, looking at the tiny, careful sutures that had broken open with the beating. Legolas would have been better off remaining with Aragorn and the Dwarf. Eomer still could not remember his name.
He felt a slight tremor of fear starting in his gut. What if Legolas did not awake? He never really believed Legolas could rouse Theoden, but he found that suddenly he could not bear the idea of Legolas’ death. It seemed so wrong that he might die here, in this dismal place...He remembered what Legolas had said something about the shadows listening, and looked about himself nervously. Legolas had been injured, he reminded himself. Surely he had been taking some elven herb or drug that dulled the pain and perhaps, played on his over-wrought mind? But it felt colder, and a drip of water trickled down his neck. It had been easier when Legolas had been with him.
He looked at Legolas again. His long black lashes were dark against his pale cheek and the torchlight gilded his hair, which was so long as to be impractical, and so fine as to be almost feminine. But there was nothing feminine about Legolas. HIs beautiful face was strong, masculine and those inked spirals that curled about his nipple...Eomer had seen something similar on the arms of traders from the far South but nothing as delicate or beautiful as these. He wanted touch them for the colours seemed to move and shimmer and he thought they resolved into a shape...He found his hand touching the warm skin, like silk over hard muscle, like steel...yes, he thought, silk over steel...And blinked...
Deep green eyes watched him, deep like the forest, thought Eomer staring...like forest streams over mossy granite rocks and pools deep in the cool ferns....
Eomer found himself with his mouth open and heat in his face, his neck, back, his groin.
And then he became aware that his hand was still pressed on the Elf's chest, and beneath his hand the inked spirals seemed to pulse and whirl as if they slid and glided over the surface of the Elf's skin.
Eomer blinked slowly.
He looked down at his hand, aware of the heat. Suddenly embarrassed at being caught, he snatched his hand away. He sprang to his feet and strode towards the bars of the cage, and having nowhere to go, turned on his heel and paced the length of the small cell. He was aware of Legolas watching, and the curl of amusement on his lips.
‘You are pacing,’ the Elf observed finally and Eomer was relieved that he had spoken.
‘Yes,’ he said abruptly. And stopped. He felt a flurry of confusion and heat on his back between his shoulder blades. ‘I hoped at least you would have spoken to the King by now, but instead you are here with me,’ he found his mouth saying and flushed at his own abruptness.
'I am sorry, my friend.' Legolas said quietly and he looked down. 'I am afraid now that Grima will not bring me before the King. We will have to find another way...’ He did not finish the sentence and Eomer looked away, ashamed that he had spoken so sharply, ashamed that he had felt such an erotic arousal at the sight of Legolas asleep...He did not want to think about Legolas bound and chained, half-naked at the feet of the Worm
Unaware, Legolas smiled a little and glanced down at the dressing that Eomer had carefully applied to the arrow wound. He touched it lightly and grimaced. 'It is not bad, I think. Aragorn was fussing; it looks worse and has bled more than I thought.' He paused, looking downwards, inwards it seemed to Eomer for he was very still.
Then, as if to himself, he spoke. 'But it was right that I came here. Grima is more dangerous than we thought.’
Eomer almost laughed, but did not. It had frightened him too what he had seen, and the fact that Grima had sent away his henchmen suggested that Legolas had got off lightly and that more sorcery had been in Grima’s mind.
Legolas’ thoughts must have been running in the same direction for he suddenly looked up and Eomer was caught again in that sharp green gaze. He wanted to look away from its brightness, its intensity.
‘His Power has the taint of Saruman.’ Legolas closed his eyes briefly and paused and again, spoke quietly as though only he were present. ‘There is something in him that feels the same as the Orcs who attacked us at Rauros Falls. We need to have loosened it before Aragorn and Gimli arrive. I would not have the Heir of Isildur in such straits as these.'
Eomer stared. Ah, Gimli - that must be the Dwarf’s name. Strange and so different. The legends were come to life before him. Elves. Dwarves. The Heir of Isildur.
Legolas breathed a deep sigh. He looked up and pressed his hand to the bandaged wound and winced. 'We have still to reach the King. I am more worried than I was that Saruman's power is so strong.’
Eomer looked at him. 'And of yourself? Surely you fear Grima now?'
And then Legolas looked up at him with those strange green eyes that seemed to be all pupil in the darkness, 'Fear? No. What did he do?’ he asked looking down at the slight cut where Grima’s knife had slashed wildly, furiously at him but ironically it was the heavy chains that had protected him then. ‘I have had worse injuries sparring with my brothers.'
Eomer glanced away, a flush of shame at what he had witnessed, and a hot confusion at the memory of his own desire. 'I meant…'
'I know what you meant.' The Elf's voice was abrupt, silencing him. 'What did he do?' he asked tersely. 'He lifted my hair which is like your sister's, whom he cannot have. It is not I who am at risk, Eomer.'
But Eomer knew better. He did not think the other Man's interest was as simple. That kiss he had tried to give Legolas had been no mere pressing of lips, but an assault, the beginning of a rape. And if Legolas could not bear to speak of it, he could not blame him.
'So..we must try to see the King. I think if I can reach him…' Legolas was saying. He swung his feet to the stone floor and pushed himself up, running his hand lightly over his head and smoothing the braids.
Eomer stared, and permitted himself a small disbelieving snort. After all, they were in a cell, the Elf wounded, himself useless. No weapons. He shook his head with irritation at his own folly and said, 'And how do you intend to do that? You missed your chance!' he said more bitterly than he intended.
The Elf ran his hand over his hair again and Eomer tried not to stare at the way the torchlight stroked the Elf’s painted skin, at the way the colours swirled and moved over his muscles...
'Last time I was a fool,’ Legolas was saying as he pushed himself to his feet, and winced slightly as he straightened. ‘Grima was waiting for me and I thought him less than he is. After you were arrested I thought it best to do nothing until the night.' He seemed to realise he was still half clad and cast about for his shirt. 'Eowyn helped me find the King's chamber but when I entered to speak with him...' He paused, seeing the shirt balled up and flung in a corner, too far to reach. He sighed, resigned and then continued, 'Grima was waiting and of course, arrested an assassin from the Golden Wood; for why would anyone enter the King's chamber at night uninvited, unless it be to kill him?
‘I could not fight your men, having no desire to kill those who would be our allies later.' He shook his head at his own stupidity. 'I should have thought more carefully, I should have listened but I underestimated him. I assumed…my enemy was less than myself.' He stopped for a moment and a wry smile was on his face as if he spoke something that had been said to him often. Then he looked up at Eomer with the same wry smile. 'Grima has his claws so deeply in Rohan's flesh now. It was the King had me arrested.'
'You saw Théoden order my arrest too, why are you surprised?' Eomer said irritably. He felt riled, confused. Defeated.
Legolas admitted this with a shrug. He leaned against the bars of the cell and reached out towards his surcoat, which had been flung over the bars of the next cell. His fingers touched it and he pushed harder. With a grunt he snagged it and pulled it towards him.
'All is lost,' Eomer sat down heavily and put his head in his hands. 'I cannot bear it. Rohan will fall. Saruman will take everything and Grima…' He did not finish. Legolas ran his fingers lightly over the dressing Eomer had put over his wound and quickly touched the cuts on his body and face from the beating the henchmen had given him. Already the swelling over his eyes was purpling into a bruise. He pulled the surcoat closed and buckled his leather belt.
'Grima will not have your sister.' Legolas stepped towards the Man, stood close. He put his long finger beneath Eomer’s chin, raised his head. Eomer stared into the strange green eyes and found himself breathless. 'I need a little time to heal, and you? You need to rest.'
Eomer swallowed. 'Rest…? I cannot rest.'
'Not all is lost. Trust me.'
Eomer found it hard to believe that one who was here in a cell beneath Meduseld could offer any hope. Indeed, he had a strange, heavy feeling in his stomach, a dread at what would follow once Grima had recovered from having his tongue bitten so hard; Grima would take his revenge on the Elf, and Eomer would be forced to witness it and be helpless.
Eomer pushed the Elf's hand away before he clasped it and pressed his lips against the palm, and rose to his feet, pacing the narrow cell restlessly. It was Aragorn’s fault, he told himself again. Aragorn had suggested that if anyone could rouse the King, it was Legolas. How, Aragorn did not say but so kingly was the Heir of Isildur that Eomer trusted him when he spoke of the Gift of the Elves, the Gift of Song. So far, Eomer admitted, he had only succeeded in putting the Elf at Grima's mercy.
As if following the Man's thoughts, Legolas smiled gently.
'Rest,' he said and Eomer almost felt his limbs relax, as if his bones and blood obeyed the Elf, as if he had cast some subtle enchantment.
Legolas carefully lay down on his side, one edge of the hard wooden bed, leaving room for Eomer if he wished, and closed his eyes. His face relaxed.
He was going to have to lie alongside Legolas if he was going to get any sleep, Eomer realised. The thought of that forced closeness brought a flush to his cheeks and he wondered at himself for it was not that he was unused to closeness with men, he was a rider of the Mark and many a time he and his éored had slept close for warmth, and sometimes company. Perhaps it was that the Elf was both similar and different. Or perhaps it was that he had walked out of legends.
He still had to pinch himself. The Elf was taller than Eomer, and lighter, but somehow Eomer thought he was much, much stronger. The hard muscles under the inked and painted skin spoke of long years of fighting under the trees of Mirkwood, and the long fingers were not elegant and smooth; there were hard knots of skin where the bow was held, or knives, and the joints and muscles bunched. He was fair, that was true, but not like a woman.
No, definitely not like a woman. Eomer was not used to thinking of men as beautiful, or fair. He knew when one was pleasing to the eye– he even thought he was so himself, but Legolas was different. Perhaps all Elves are like this, he wondered. A slight movement caught him and he looked at Legolas’ face, his eyes had slid open and gazed at Eomer.
He blushed, but the Elf registered nothing and Eomer realised his eyes were glazed. He waved his hand in front of the Elf but nothing. He must sleep like this, he realised, and shivered. He watched to see if he blinked…and wondered how his eyes did not hurt.
It was much later when he felt a hand quietly on his shoulder. He leant into it and rubbed his cheek along the fingers. He felt a bulge of arousal from the contact and an image of fiery torchlight on naked, painted skin, a lean and muscled torso, long limbs and long hair, strange eyes….
'Wake up idiot, and stop that!'
He was startled awake. The Elf was standing over him with a knife gleaming in one hand, the other hand was on Eomer’s shoulder, shaking him awake.
'Where did you get that knife?' Eomer looked up groggily confused and aroused, and embarrassed.
'From him.' The Elf jerked his head towards a huddle on the ground just beyond the cell and threw the knife over to Eomer, who just caught it before it sliced his fingers open. He looked annoyed at the Elf, who ignored him. ‘He came to check on us...Grima sent him,’ Legolas told him with barely a grimace. ‘He came too close and...’ He shrugged insouciantly.
Eomer gaped and then saw the water bowl outside the cell, a slight dent in it.
'Come,’ Legolas squatted near the Man and reached beyond the cell to grope at the Man’s tunic. ‘You must help me pull him over here so I can get the key.'
'Let me do it, you are injured,' Eomer said, aware of the irony; Legolas had been beaten almost senseless. ‘Aragorn wanted you to rest,’ he added with a touch of humour. He squatted beside Legolas and was aware of his warmth, his closeness.
'As you saw, there was much blood but it was neither deep nor affected anything more than muscle,’ Legolas said, pausing for a moment and glancing down at the dressing over the arrow wound. It was already spotted with blood. He did not say if Aragorn had been right in thinking he needed rest. 'I was well attended and I heal quickly,' he said.
But he winced and hissed in pain as he reached through the bars and together they dragged the heavy body towards the cell. Eomer glanced at him but said nothing.
After some minutes rummaging through the bars at the unconscious Man's clothes, they found no keys, nothing of use. Eomer stood up and slammed his fist against the wall in frustration. He swore long and hard and Legolas stood by silent until he had finished. Eomer plonked himself down on the hard wooden bed and put his head in his hands.
‘It would have been better to have not knocked him unconscious,’ he snarled, knowing it was unfair but unable to bear his own disappointment.
Legolas said nothing but Eomer saw him stoop to fiddle with his boots for a moment and then he straightened. ‘Well, that may be. But the outer door will not be locked now.’
‘Much good will that do us!’ Eomer said irritably. The torch was guttering too and had almost burned out and Eomer suddenly did not want the dark and shadows back. He felt a rising panic.
There was a sudden glint of silver in the Elf’s hands and Eomer stared, astonished, at a long, white knife. It gleamed and gave off its own glow in the darkness.
'How long have you had that?' Outraged. 'Why did you not use it?'
"You want me to injure Men of Rohan?' Legolas said and went over to the door and fiddled the knife in the lock for a few minutes.
"No. Grima perhaps.'
Legolas said some words in a language Eomer did not understand. "I would have done so had I been able to reach it,' he said over his shoulder. ‘I was somewhat...restricted.’ More fiddling. And then there was a click.
'How long have you been able to do that?' Eomer demanded, even more outraged.
The Elf grinned impudently and threw open the cell gate. 'About five hundred years. Takes ages to master these fiddly little locks.'
'Do you mean to say that all this time…’ Eomer could barely speak for the fury that suddenly surged through his veins, ‘we could have escaped? '
Legolas shrugged and the gesture made Eomer’s fists clench. He struggled not to punch Legolas in the jaw. A slight smile tugged the Elf’s mouth as if he could hear Eomer trying not to grind his teeth.
'Well, let's get going shall we?' Eomer said with as much sarcasm as he could muster.
'Wait.’ Legolas pulled the unconscious Man into the cell and bound his hands with the Man’s own belt. Then he carefully wound a cloth around his mouth and pulled him up onto the bed. Eomer watched warily as Legolas pulled the blanket over him and tucked it in tightly all around.
'Snug enough yet?' Eomer asked bitingly.
Legolas gave him a blinding smile that made his mouth drop open.
'I don't want him getting away before I get back.’
He closed his mouth before he looked too stupid, and then realising, asked, 'Before we get back? Aren't we…?'
'No.' Legolas stood before him suddenly. And his body was warm and too close. 'You must stay and convince anyone who might come that this,’ he indicated the unconscious Man, ‘is me.'
'Where are you going?' Eomer demanded.
'I told you… I must go before the King.'
'Not without me you don't.' Eomer stood and faced the Elf.
Legolas watched him for a moment. His long green eyes that were as deep as the forest, were amused and Eomer suddenly felt very young, very silly. As if he stood before his elders and betters. As if he were a young child and an indulgent uncle watched him trying to open a very simple puzzle or box...And there was a sense of something other...he thought he heard the drumming of hooves under the wide blue skies of the steppe, and a frost-laden wind coming down from the mountains...
Eomer stared, his mouth slightly open. And suddenly it happened; a strong hand snaked around his neck and his head was pulled forward, mouth against mouth- hard, yielding, pulsing and his lips were being licked open, tongue thrust between his lips, filling his mouth. He felt a surge in his cock and desire spiked through him from balls to his belly. He sighed and melted into the arms that were waiting. And suddenly he was sitting on the pallet bed and there was a snick. One smug Elf on the other side of the bars and one aroused, overheated, confused Man on the other.
Legolas waved annoyingly and disappeared soundlessly into the gloom.
'No.' Eomer breathed. 'You can't.'
A flicker of light and a glow of yellow torchlight appeared on the walls near the door to the dungeon and silently approached. It was Legolas, returning with a new torch, the flames leaped and flared, banished the shadows. He tucked it into a sconce and smiled dazzlingly at Eomer. Eomer felt his mouth drop open again and wished he could stop doing that.
'I will be back soon. Now, keep him safe,' Legolas nodded at the slumbering guard and disappeared into the gloom.‘If they come, they will assume this is me. They will not think that I left you here. They will ask where the guard is.’
'No! Come back…. You can't leave me like this!'
'Keep yourself amused,' came back the cheerful reply and then there was scrape of the dungeon door opening and a soft clunk as it shut. Darkness surged silently back around the edges of the flickering torchlight and Eomer glared at it.
He could not believe Legolas had done this. Furiously he searched the unconscious guard and found a small, useless pocket knife. He jammed it into the lock and twiddled around, catching the blade on his fingers. Hissing, he brought his finger to his mouth and sucked on it. Damn him! His mouth still tingled from where Legolas had kissed him. Eomer pushed the knife into the hole of the lock again and twiddled. His lips felt slightly swollen with the depth, the hardness of that kiss. The tip of the knife caught on something, hidden deep inside the lock and twiddled a bit more. He twisted it and felt it slip out. Damn. His cock felt half swollen with desire and his hands wanted other things than this fiddly work. Again. Blade in, twiddle twiddle, catch – now carefully he just nicked against it…and it slipped again. He swore, it didn't help that he had…other distractions.
Legolas slipped silently along the empty passages of Meduseld. He glanced above and around him every now and again, remembering his bearings when he had been brought down here. They had thought him unconscious but he had been noting the way. He was more careful now though, for last time he had been caught. The moon was clear and bright and when he paused at a window cut deep into the granite walls, he looked up and listened to the stars’ metallic song, their deep chimes.
He stood, listening. There was the deep regular breathing of the many residents of the Great Hall. Some were in their own chambers and others in the Hall itself, slumped over tables or in corners, wrapped in their deep cloaks. There were very few sentries. Legolas was puzzled for a moment over this; in this time of war, he had thought there to be far more.
Like his own halls deep in the forest, far away.
For a moment he allowed himself to think, and to miss the deep green smell of pine and ash and oak and thorn, and deep leaf litter and moss in the rain. He wondered what his father was doing, and his brothers.
Then he retraced his steps from the previous night. It seemed like ages ago that he had followed Eowyn's directions and not faltered. Then he had not paused to listen...
Fool. He imagined the look on his father’s face, should he ever come to learn it, his brothers’ sidelong looks of sympathy, pity, amusement.
He peered around the corner of the passageway towards the King's chamber. Before, he had been foolish and unguarded. Grima had been ready for him and he had dared not spill blood or resist the Riders with whom he sought an alliance. He thought he had been betrayed, but did not know by whom. Only he and Eowyn had talked, none other had been present. He had wondered if she had bargained his freedom for her brother's, but he knew this was not her way. He alone was to blame, for simply assuming he could outwit Grima, and being too hasty to achieve his plan. He had been wrong, for it was not Grima alone. Saruman lurked in the Man's body somehow, possessed the King, held Rohan in his greedy claws.
This time, however, Grima, and Saruman, believed Legolas safely locked up and injured. He wondered how Grima had borrowed his power from Saruman and shuddered, he did not wish to dwell on the dark arts Saruman practised now – he had seen too much already.
There was one single guard outside the King's chamber, and Legolas stilled himself. It had been the same last time and he had been fooled into thinking there were none when they awaited him within the King’s chambers. He had assumed, and been careless, not listened carefully enough...or perhaps Saruman had cloaked the waiting guards?
Legolas paused uneasily. If that were so, Saruman would not easily let go of Théoden and for the first time, he really doubted his ability to do as Aragorn had asked him and rouse the King from his stupor. He wondered briefly if Aragorn even really knew what he asked of Legolas.
But at least he would not be so easily caught this time and this time, he listened. He stretched out his senses, listening, feeling…but there was only the one breath of the guard in the passageway, only the quiet squeak of his leather boots as he shifted slightly. He was alone. Nothing.
The guard shifted and stretched slightly. Then he walked slowly past the King’s door, sighing. He walked back again. Legolas did not move. He barely breathed, knew himself the signs of a sentry bored of his own company and inertia.
The guard shifted his sword in its sheath and looked down the corridor for a moment, then glanced back at the door. Legolas waited. As he thought, the guard seemed to have made up his mind then and walked purposefully off towards the end of the passage
Legolas eased himself from the shadows and stepped silently into the torchlight. Stealthily he moved towards the door of the chamber, breath held. He placed his hand on the door and leaned slightly forwards. He blinked slowly, as a cat and focused on the sounds that were deeper than the breathing of Men, below the sounds of the world, the Songs that twined and brushed against his awareness....
There…it was very faint and far away but he recognised it, similar but different from Eomer. He breathed in and listened to the distant stream of sound, the faint song of the King himself.
...there was the ringing echo of steel and stirrup, the squeak of leather and the whisper of long grass against the legs of horses, the high cloud and huge empty skies. There….the drumming of horses galloping riderless…. an endless stream of notes of the great grass plains, horses running, the wind across the grass…But it grew more distant, like it was lost in a mist, and slowly, it was dimmed by the other notes, another Song that now twined and separated – discordant and clanging metallic notes, like the beat of a hammer and flare of a furnace.
An image flashed - a great pit fill of ropes and pulleys, of iron and spikes and great piles of indistinct shapes. A hellish glow of fire and the smell of hot iron...terrible cries...
Legolas drew back suddenly.
Grima was there. He was awake and full of thoughts. And Saruman was within him somehow.
Legolas paused. He drew back and retraced his steps, thinking.
There was a sound then, from the passage down which the guard had disappeared, and the Elf slid out of view, moving like a shadow
In an alcove in the great hall, Legolas sank down. It was the best place to hide, in full view but half viewed. So he was a shadowed huddled shape, much like any other when the single sentry did his round. Legolas watched. And thought.
He felt a slight twinge of guilt that he had left Eomer in the dungeon, but in truth, it was the safest place for him. If Legolas were caught, he would not be greatly implicated. Legolas himself could expect no mercy...
He had agreed to go to Edoras because of Eomer. Certainly he had not agreed to go because he was wounded; in truth he had been irritated by Aragorn’s insistence that he needed rest. No, it was Eomer, who had spoken so passionately about Rohan, and Legolas felt a kinship, for Rohan was as beset as his own faraway home, falling inexorably beneath the yoke of Shadow. But slowly, Legolas himself had come to believe that his place was in Meduseld. The Song shifted and changed around him, striking great chords and the harmonies came together as they had not since Gandalf fell.
Sitting quietly in the shadows of the Golden Hall, he wondered if Aragorn and Gimli had found Merry and Pippin. Perhaps they were even now, bringing them here...He hoped with all his heart they had found the Hobbits well and alive. But he needed more time for he would not have them delivered to Saruman through his own failure. He would not see the Heir of Isildur delivered up so easily either and steeled himself. He would sacrifice everything he had to prevent his friends falling into the Saruman’s clutches...
Then he smiled to himself for Gimli had also decided to add his own feather’s worth* to Aragorn’s argument that Legolas should go to Edoras; the Dwarf had stood close to Legolas, axe still in his hand, and said proudly to Eomer that whilst Legolas had no diplomatic skill whatsoever, which was true Legolas acknowledged, he had a warrior’s honesty and that no King could underestimate that. Gimli had turned to Legolas then and told him that should they not reach the Hobbits in time, an army from Rohan would be better equipped to battle the Wizard than a Dwarf, Elf and Man standing outside and knocking on the door asking could they have their friends back please. The Dwarf had added loudly so the Rohirrim could hear, that although Elvish heads were hard enough to knock a dent in the Wizard's door, even they would not be enough to break it down. He had assured Eomer that in spite of his looks, Legolas was quite useful in tight spot.
'Unless he gets himself thrown into prison first,' Gimli had muttered darkly. Legolas grinned. Oh how the Dwarf would gloat if he knew. Of course, none of them had known just how deeply Grima was in the King's Counsel, or how deeply he had his claws in the flesh of the Riddermark.
When he had been caught by Grima in the King’s chamber, he had been unprepared for the Voice that came from Grima’s mouth, its power. And he could not defend himself against both the Voice and the soldiers so he had not resisted, allowed the Voice to coil itself about him, freezing his limbs and twisting itself round his throat, his chest, binding him...choking him. He knew he would not have been able to fight off the sorcery as well as the soldiers then. Perhaps his seeming capitulation was enough for Saruman to dismiss him as insignificant.
He needed to find out more about Grima, how had he become ensnared by Saruman? He did not know how far Saruman’s power extended or how he was suppressing Théoden. And there was one person who might know more about Grima...although she wished she did not.
He rose, and stretched himself slightly. Silently then, he left the hall and went down the opposite passage. Eowyn was there. At what risk to her though for helping him? He would have to be certain that her part in this remained undiscovered.
The door to her room was locked and barred from the inside. Sensible woman, he thought. He glanced up and down the passage way quickly and saw moonlight pool on the floor from a window in the passageway. It was narrow but wide enough for an Elf to climb out and balance on the sill high, high up in the smooth granite walls of Meduseld. He looked across to Eowyn’s window and measured the distance with an experienced eye. He did not look down. Eowyn’s casement window was thrown open wide and the sill was as wide as his foot. It was about ten feet from his own ledge. Easy, he thought, and leapt lightly into the air.
Eowyn slept but lightly these days. Hearing stealthy movement at her door, for no one could make no sound altogether trying to work a lock, she was instantly on her feet, eyes wide, heart hammering, her own breath seemed thunderous in her ears. Her limbs shook with the need to run, and the control it took to stop herself.
She had not slept in weeks, no, months it seemed. Not since Wormtongue had made so clear his intentions. She wrapped her gown closely, as if it could shield her. Fumbling, she lifted down her sword. It was lighter than a m Man's, and not intended for battle but it was sharp and light, still her hands shook. She stepped back, and back, breath short and heart still hammering. She watched as the handle bent and the slightest weight was put against the door. And then stopped. The handle bent slowly, silently back up and the weight left the door. There was no sound and she stood absolutely silent, absolutely still, waiting.
There was no sound of someone leaving. It had to be Grima. And he was still out there. Listening to her. Listening to her breathing. Listening to her heart hammering…Nothing… Still nothing…. Her arm ached with the weight of the sword but she would not give in.
Suddenly, a slight whoosh of air came from behind her and a quiet thud. She whirled about raising her sword and plunged it, crashing down on her assailant. A blur of shadow moved and she thrust again, her blood pounding in her ears.
Then with a deft twist, a strong hand seized her wrist and her sword fell from nerveless fingers. She opened her mouth to scream with all her breath and lungs but another hand closed over her mouth. She kicked with all her strength. She would not let the Worm have her!
'Listen Eowyn. Ow… It is Legolas. It is Legolas. Shhh. It is Legolas. Ow!' He pulled her towards him and in spite of her struggles, her bites and kicks, he held her close and smoothed her hair, whispering over and over, 'It is Legolas. Eowyn. No harm will come to you.' Until she heard him. Then she pushed him away furiously, glaring at him through the darkness of her room.
'What in Beama's name did you think you were doing, you fool? I could have skewered you! You scared me half to death!' she hissed.
He grinned at her impudently, lightly picked up her sword, running his finger along the blade, and said quietly, 'It is sharp I will give you, but I think you would not have skewered me with this.'
She glared at him. 'What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were supposed to be in a cell with my brother? Where is he? Did you leave him there to attack me in my own chambers?' she whispered angrily.
'One at a time.' He held up his hand, and then ignored all her questions completely, bent on his own will. In the moonlight that pooled on her chamber floor, he stood, poised and listening. He was very tall, and his shoulders were wide and her body remembered the feel of his hard, lean body against her where he held her. His hair was very long, far longer than any Man would wear and it was fine, thick...she wondered what it would feel like in her hands...wondered how it would feel to press her mouth against his full lips, to have that strength above her...Oh, she had been in the shadows too long!
The Elf seemed unaware of her thoughts. Silently he stood and then he lifted his hand slightly to the moon and said, 'See – it is past midnight.'
He moved towards her, eyes gleaming in the dimness. 'All in Meduseld sleeps, all but Grima. Why is that?' The darkness and shadows of her room seemed to cluster around him then. 'Does Grima guard the King? What does he do in the darkness of the night, when all others sleep? What does he do that others may not see?'
'I do not know,' she whispered.' I have tried to find out, but there is always a guard there, one of HIS men and they will let no one pass…No one.' She laughed bitterly. 'You should know that.'
He tilted his head slightly and his long, wheat-pale hair slid over one shoulder and she looked up into eyes stranger than any Man's, into his face, strong and beautiful. He smiled then and said ruefully, 'I have to try again.'
Eowyn shook her head. 'You are stubborn.' In her heart, she wanted to hold onto him, to cry out that he should not go, he would be in impossible danger but her warrior heart knew a kindred spirit and she knew he would go anyway. But last time he had refused to let her go with him, insisting that he go alone and try to reach Théoden. In spite of her protests, in spite of her telling him that there was more to Grima; he had listened but he had not understood and when she heard the rumours of his capture, that he was an assassin, a spy from the Witch of the Golden Wood, she had truly despaired. This time, she resolved, he would not go alone. This time, she would go too.
She drew herself up. 'There is only one way left,' she declared, fierce determination in her voice. 'We will kill him. I will lure him out and you will kill him.'
A flicker of something passed through his eyes and then was gone. She looked more closely and he flinched slightly. 'I do not know how much hold Saruman has,' he told her, turning away and looking out of the window, sighting along the granite wall. ' If we kill Grima, Saruman may know and attack immediately. We will not have time to muster the riders. No. We must keep him alive if we can…I will distract him,' he said hesitantly, 'and you will knock him out.'
'Better I distract him,’ she said quickly but he interrupted before she could finish.
‘No. I will go alone if you do not do as I say. He must not see you. If this fails, you must remain free.’
‘Better I distract him,’ she repeated insistently, ‘and you kill him.’
He did not respond at first. There was a strange look on his face, she thought then it was sadness but later, she thought perhaps it was something else...He looked at her. 'You would kill him then?' he asked.
'Yes! With my bare hands if I could!’ Eowyn's hands tightened. ‘We can kill him. It will be easy for you to do this. And then, we will be free.' She could hardly dare hope now. It would be easy if Grima was alone and unguarded as Legolas had said; he was never alone. An Elf could just slip in quietly and slit the Worm's throat.
'Yes!' She looked up, her face hopeful. 'You can do it! I have seen you move- you are like a shadow when you want to be, and strong.'
'No.' He cut her short. Legolas turned away from her. He seemed remote again, aloof. Ageless and ancient – she suddenly felt small and young, and angry that she was so insignificant that he had simply discounted her.
'No? What do you mean? It is easy for you!'
'I said no.' He stood at her window, looking out across the steppe that stretched far under the starlit, moonlit sky.
'Why not? What is the matter with you? We have the only chance we will ever get! There is no-one around!'
He turned back to her then and his hands flicked over his belt as if searching for something, checking for something that was not there.
‘I have told you, Eowyn,’ he said firmly, patiently and it made her blood boil. ‘To kill Grima will be to alert Saruman. Would you have all the hordes of Orthanc down on our heads before we are ready?’ He did not say before his friends were safe but she knew he thought it.
She picked up her skirts and whirled on him, hand thrown out towards him in scorn. 'Very well! If you have not the stomach for it, I will do it myself! I will cast myself in his path and then, when he draws me to him, I will plunge a dagger into his heart.'
He stepped close to her so she had to look up and his eyes were hard, ice, even in the darkness she could see they were green and he looked so strong. She almost took a step back but she would not be cowed even by his. 'Grima has killed many times. He is, however he looks, still a soldier,’ he said. ‘Have you killed a man before?'
She hesitated, looked away because she could not bear to meet his gaze any longer. 'I have not had cause before.' She blinked and steeled herself to look at him again. 'You are a man. You cannot understand what it is to be a woman, what it is to have…' Her voice hitched suddenly and she turned away.
There was a silence, she could not hear him breathe and wondered if he had gone. She turned slightly to catch the glint of his flaxen hair in the lamplight. He moved closer to her so she could feel the warmth of his body.
'You have never been…' she stumbled on, unable say it, speak the words. Her voice fell to a whisper and she found the words then, and one part of her mind was astonished that she could tell him. 'He comes to my chamber in the night. I can hear him breathing outside the door. His breath is hot and panting and I hear…a rustle of his robes… and a noise… I… I don't know what it is.'
A quick breath drawn and she glanced at the tall warrior. He stared into the middle distance, as if not seeing her at all and she took courage. 'I think he…pleasures himself,' she whispered in her shame.
Moonlight pooled on the stone floor of her chamber. Silence. The night sounds had stilled and it seemed that they alone were alive in the world. He was utterly still, utterly silent.
She thought by his silence that he understood and pressed on. 'He is a snake, and we will regret not killing him when we had the chance. He will strike us again when we are unready. Eomer would kill him for what he has already done! Will you let him continue?'
It was when he looked down that she guessed something, her astute woman’s senses noticed a subtle shift and she stepped close to him. She felt the warmth of his body and thought him so beautiful none would resist. ‘What did he do?’ she asked and he raised his eyes to meet hers she almost recoiled for there was a fury in them that was alien and strange. She wondered then if all that she had heard of the Elves was true.
'I am no assassin. I just a simple archer and a Wood Elf and not one of the Wise. I cannot see how it will all play out in the end.’ He looked down at the stone floor, and his thumb rubbed the ivory handle of the knife at his belt. She felt his resolve weaken, she knew there was something more. But he said, ‘Do not ask this of me. It will be the end for Rohan.’
He looked away, beyond the open window. 'They will come,’ he said. 'They will come if Grima has lost his power and there is no longer reason to hold off. Saruman knows you are without friend or ally. Minas Tirith is so beset that it cannot come to your aid, and the Elves cannot or will not aid you.' He turned back and gazed at Eowyn, his eyes glittered in the dark and she felt a cold dread. 'You have never seen anything like the army he is amassing. It will be terrible. The age of the Elves is over but the Age of Man will never begin.'
She felt cold.
Suddenly he swung himself up onto the window ledge and stood balanced on the narrow granite sill. He was poised to leap, she could not see where for the walls were high and there was only a window further along. Only then did she wonder how he had entered her room.
She gasped and reached out to him, clutched his tunic so he could not leap. ‘No! You will not leave me here...’ She could not bear it. 'I will do as you say,' she said desperately, looking up at him. ‘Only do not leave me here waiting here, like women are supposed to! Sitting here and sewing and sighing and waiting while my heart withers and spirit shrivels and grows tired. I will not have that fate! I will not be some chattel, some brood mare!’
She knew she looked up at him in desperation, and he paused, his eyes on hers. Her hand was white against the sueded texture of his tunic, and she felt the energy that pulsed through them both at that moment.
Slowly, he stepped down from the narrow ledge and considered her. For a moment he seemed drawn into himself, his eyes were cast down and she could see his dark lashes against his cheek. She thought she heard a sound far off, a sweep of great wings and an unearthly shriek, the scrape of a sword from its sheath and the graze of a terrible fear against her mind. She almost stepped back, almost lost her courage and begged him to spare her...but then the sounds of horror receded and there was instead a song of unbearable loveliness, and she thought of high blue skies of the open steppe, horses galloping wild over the long grass...
'That is not what I see for you Eowyn of the Mark,' said Legolas quietly and he drew his fingers down her face, lightly and the hairs on her neck stood on end.
No one had ever addressed her thus, as a warrior, a fellow worthy of the title and suddenly a blind trust flooded her heart, her belly and her soul. He knew her. He knew her heart.
‘I will do as you tell me,’ she swore and for some absurd reason she wanted to kneel before him, for his blessing.
As if he read her thoughts, he laughed softly. Gently, he reached out and cupped her cheek and for a moment, she thought he would kiss her. When he did not, she wished he had.
*feather’s worth- a Mirkwood term such as pennyworth. As an archer, Legolas would use terms that he was familiar with as a soldier. Other colloquilalisms are scattered throughout this fic.
Chapter 4: Grima
Chapter 4: Gríma
Grima. His shadow huge against the wall, distorted by the guttering candle. He watched the face of the old man before him, sleeping, dreaming troubled dreams.
'Yes, dream, old man,' he whispered. 'Dream dreadful dreams…See the might of Saruman...his army massed before you. Despair.' Intently he stared at the movement of the old man's eyes under his lids, brought his face close to the King's. ‘Despair and die. Your beloved horses and riders, your stupid nephew, too, too stupid for the role he was born to..Your stupid, stupid son,’ His breath touched the withered cheek, lifted the white hair. ‘Know that I killed him, Théoden. In your deepest dreams know that I killed him. And she …'
He swallowed, for She was the purest, the only thing that could now touch his cold heart.
He saw her in his mind, turning slightly, sunlight catching her hair, her eyes laughing. She had worn that white dress, as if to mock him with her purity. And her smile. She had smiled up at her brother and Grima felt a jealous pang sear him, for she would never look upon him with anything but scorn.
Then the Elf had taken her elegant hand, the Elf whose hair was gold like hers, precious, and his body hard where hers was soft…so different.
He could not have Eowyn, he knew she would die before she lost her honour to him..but a warrior has a different honour...Survive and kill was a warrior's litany, in spite of his curses...
Grima rubbed his knuckle, touching his swollen lip where the Elf had bitten him. Yes, he would pay. He thought of how he would have the Elf bound and stripped, and then lashed hard to within an inch of his life, the torchlight playing on that long gold hair so like Eowyn's… how he would subdue him, break him as he could not break her…But first, he had work to do to keep Rohan in thrall.
He picked up the goblet near him, and swirled the dark red liquid within. He stared into it for a moment, and then raised his other hand to lift the King's head. He pressed the goblet to Théoden’s lips, and the King murmured and shook his head weakly.
'No more, Grima. I will not….' He struggled to open his eyes, but as one asleep and dreaming, he could not fight it and the liquid seeped past his lips and he swallowed. Grima watched him for a moment, waiting for the poison, the drug to take hold... The candlelight touched his pale face and his limbs slacked, like he was empty.
There was a noise outside the door. Grima froze, stared at the door, breathless, one hand still under the King's head, the other grasping the goblet. No one could be there. The single sentry at the door had strict orders to leave him in peace unless called. He did not move.
Until he felt a slight chill and glanced around; the window was open. It must have blown open in the wind. Puzzled, he carefully rested Théoden's head down on the pillow, and placed the goblet on the table behind him. He went over to the window to pull it shut.
Outside the air was crisp with frost and the promise of the last snow before spring. He breathed it in before he realised and suddenly, there he was; as a boy standing in the long grass, hand wisping over the top of his little brother's head. 'Stand here long enough,' he was saying to his little brother, 'And the Mearas will come'. And he had hoped and hoped that they would, had hoped not to disappoint his small brother. But they would not come for him...
It was gone.
He stared. Where had that memory come from?
He turned back to the King unsettled and a pain he had thought long gone splintered in his chest.
White hair spilled over the pillow and the candlelight seemed to turn his skin gold. Grima remembered when he had first arrived at Meduseld, Théoden had been kind, fatherly to the orphaned boy, given him a place in the stables….
No, he would not remember. He forced the memories away.
It was the smell, the scent of clean air, fresh off the mountains, of pine and grass and woodsmoke that had made him forget himself, become distracted. Somewhere, there seemed to be music, he strained to catch it but it eluded him.
He picked up the goblet once more and settled himself to his task. But then found himself drifting once more…It was the sound of home…the sound of the wind whispering through tall grass and the forest stream plunging down from the cold mountains…but then there was Saruman, and his promises… of long golden hair wrapped in his own fist, a white throat bared to his lips, his kiss…his hunger.
Later, he realised that he had become aware of the Elf, rather than actually saw him. Strange green eyes caught his and they stared at each other. He was standing only feet away. Later, he recalled that the Elf had no weapon, rather there was a look of intense concentration on his lovely, noble face, as if listening hard to something deep, far below the sounds of the world. His hair was like hers, but his body was hard where hers was soft. Later, Grima thought he might almost be singing so quietly. Standing more than a couple of feet away, he was sure, and yet he felt he was breathing the Elf's breath, feeling his warmth...and he thought again of home, his little brother and his touching faith that Grima would bring the Mearas....
...when he felt the most awful thump on the back of his head. And toppled slowly to the floor.
That broke the spell.
'You took your time,' grumbled Eowyn, irritated. She carefully stepped around the shards of pottery that had once been a priceless vase from the time of Eorl the Young. She thought he would approve of it being used as a weapon against the enemy. She glanced at the tall eleven warrior who knelt beside the fallen Grima, a strange expression on his face. She who had to live on her wits and the vagaries of men, thought she saw a brief struggle on his face. His hand hovered over the fallen Grima as if torn between pity and contempt.
'We could kill him now,' she said , drawing his strange green eyes to her. 'I know you want to. You hate him just as much as I…' she realised. 'What has he done to you?'
Legolas sighed and straightened. She thought he was very tall, and his shoulders were broad, an archer, Eowyn had guessed the minute she set eyes on him. He pushed open the door to an antechamber and peered into the dark, slinging the coil of rope he had insisted they bring, over his shoulder.
'I have told you, Eowyn. Whatever our feelings about this…this...’ He hesitated and she thought again his feelings were confused.
‘Snake?’ she supplied helpfully.
He came back out of the antechamber and looked at her, then continued, a little less patiently than before, ‘... snake,’ he finally agreed with her, ‘we cannot risk alerting Saruman to our plan. We must keep Grima alive long enough for us to prepare for his assault when it comes. We have to do this carefully.’ He opened the door of a wardrobe and looked within, then came back out and stood looking around.
Eowyn lifted an eyebrow considering, she could easily finish Grima off now he was defenceless but Legolas looked at her sharply as if guessing her intent. ‘Eowyn. I have told you what the danger is. And it would not do for Grima to awaken and see you. If I should fail….'
'You will not fail,' she said impatiently.‘What are you looking for?’
'IF I should fail,' he repeated, just as firmly, and ignoring her question, 'I need you to be free. It will do none of us any good if you join Eomer and me in the cells.' He looked at her suddenly and she felt pierced, seen, utterly known. 'You will be in his power then. And there would be no escape for you. Or for me. I will not have a second chance at this and Saruman must not know you are involved in this.'
She bowed her head slightly because he was right and she felt foolish, she had shown her naivety and inexperience, and she did not want him to think badly of her. It suddenly mattered that she had his good opinion.
He looked thoughtfully at the unconscious man and then stooped and lifted him easily in his arms. Yes, she knew he would be strong, stronger than any in Meduseld, even Eomer would not have lifted such a burden so easily.
'He is lost to the darkness … a slave to his own lusts for power. He is...’ Legolas seemed to hesitate again, ‘worthless.' But in spite of his hard words, he lifted his hand to Grima's face, almost but did not touch his skin. Now that Grima's face was relaxed the bitter lines had vanished but there was still, between his eyes, a deep furrow of anxiety. Eowyn watched Legolas, for he looked suddenly bewildered as if a great conflict was in his heart and she wondered why, for she had a good guess at what might have happened in the dungeon to make him hate Wormtongue so, but she could not guess at what had softened him.
But even as she wondered, Legolas spoke, almost to himself and he looked down at the Man in his arms. ‘What led him to betray his people so completely?’ he murmured almost to himself. ‘What led him to become so immersed in darkness?’ He paused and looked down intently at Grima’s face, softened in sleep. The Elf’s voice was so quiet now she could barely hear. ‘...He wanted the Mearas to come...’
Eowyn looked at him startled...Why did he speak so softly of Wormtongue, as if he had sympathy for the fallen? And the Mearas would never come to such a one as Grima. She stepped away from Legolas then, warily. Perhaps he too had been infected by Grima, in the way that Theoden had been. She realised she did not really know anything about Legolas of the Woodland Realm. He could be a spy after all, an assassin in spite of what she said. He could be here to murder Theoden to stop Grima, put Eomer in his place and control him...Her fingers crept towards another priceless vase, the twin of the one she had smashed moments ago on Grima’s head.
Legolas looked up at her then, and she froze, fingers on the edge of the vase. Ah, how he looked at her! It was as if she were pierced by love, some deep understanding that hurt it knew so much, saw everything, understood.
He smiled so very gently and then, seeing where her hands were frozen on the edge of the vase, he quirked an eyebrow up at her in amusement. ‘Do you think you can?’
She found she could not speak but bowed her head in shame, chastened.
He was still smiling when he carried Grima to the antechamber and gently put Grima on the floor. 'We need to stop him from calling out, or speaking,' Legolas reminded her, handing her the coil of rope they had brought, and she nodded without meeting his amused gaze. ‘Can you tie him securely, keep watch. I need to awaken the King.’
'You go on, I will finish here,' she told him, with every intention of making it as uncomfortable as possible for Grima. She understood Legolas' reasons for not killing the man, but she saw no reason why his stay should be comfortable. So when he nodded and turned back to the King’s chamber, she stuffed a dirty old rag into Grima’s mouth to stop him from calling out and gave him a hefty kick as she closed the door on him.
When Eowyn returned she found Legolas kneeling at the King's side so close that their breath mingled. The Elf breathed deeply, watching and then matching the King breath for breath. Théoden was not deeply asleep, his lips moved but there was no sound.
'You dream darkly, my lord,' Legolas whispered, and he leaned in, close enough now, for the man to feel his warmth, his breath on his cheek. He laid his hands lightly on either side of the King's face, which was drawn and troubled as if in pain. Closing his strange green eyes in profound concentration, Legolas slowed his own breathing and Théoden became still.
Eowyn moved, hand outstretched as if to stop him. After all, elves were dangerous, and it was said that those of Mirkwood were even more dangerous. She knew nothing of him; the Witch of the Golden Wood could have sent him.
She drew a deep breath and stopped. These were not her thoughts, but the fears and superstitions of lesser folk. She would trust Legolas. So she watched and became transfixed by the stillness of them both while the candle burned low.
Grima slowly opened his eyes. He was bound and gagged. Furiously he wriggled and twisted. How had that Elf managed to do this? He had been suddenly aware of the Elf in the room, no knife or sword, just standing only feet away. Then nothing. Did he have some greater magic than Grima knew? He felt the Voice uncurl within him.
Fool! It told him scathingly. He is an Elf from a backwater kingdom, it sneered. He is nothing. You should have had him when you had the chance, laid him out and had him writhing before you, crying out and desperate.
But Grima paused. He had remembered something before Saruman, before the Voice…there had been...something...that wound its way down from the mountains, on the cold air from home… and he had glimpsed beyond, to the promise the Elf had offered – there was another way…even now, it was not too late. Perhaps even now, the Mearas would come? Even though he had threatened the Elf and so many Men had died...His heart unfroze a little and a pulse went through him. Perhaps even Eowyn would look upon him with something other than revulsion?
But the Voice was powerful and destructive. Pathetic little man, your power is borrowed only to serve my purpose. You have never achieved anything.
But look! Look at this! He tried to show the Voice his position, his power in Meduseld- who could have imagined that he…
He was cut off. Look again, fool – the Voice told him, and showed him the Tower, a black fang of stone against the twilight. Beyond, the Plain of Orthanc, and across the plain, hundreds, no, thousands and thousands of tiny fires, torches. And legion upon legion of orcs, they clamoured and bayed for the blood of Rohan.
Grima stared in absolute horror… What have I done?
And the Voice was a thin sneer. You are nothing. You are rightly named Worm. You have done nothing but give me a conduit for my power. A tool, nothing more. Now go and finish this.
He blinked. The ropes slid from his wrists and in a stupor, he pulled away the gag. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out, just a whisper from the Voice of Saruman. It eased between the cracks in the door and slid ahead. He followed, helpless now but to do its bidding, though in his heart, he glanced back to the mountains and deep forests of his home. Too late, too late. All is lost now. He saw the legions of orcs, stamping and howling. It is over, he thought.
The woman he desired was standing near the door, unaware of Grima sliding through into the room behind her. She stood transfixed, straight and still as a statue, elegant gown draped over her form, her golden hair gleamed in the candlelight, her skin pale. He reached out to touch her and she turned suddenly. Her hand flew to her mouth and she gasped. Too late she reached for the knife at her belt, his own hand caught her in a grip stronger than his own and he pulled her toward him. She fell against him and he felt her breasts against his chest. Lust surged through him almost painfully and he let his hips press against her for an instant and then turned to sneer at the Elf.
The Elf was kneeling at the King's side, lips almost touching, his eyes closed, breathing with the king. The air softly resonated with sound, like a pulse.
Eowyn felt herself caught and dragged against Grima's chest, belly, loins. He pressed her against him, crushed her arms so she could not move and she cried out.
Suddenly Legolas’ eyes snapped open and turned on Eowyn. Eyes blue, like the high blue sky above the Plains of Rohan. His gaze merely flickered over her with concern and then he blinked and they were hard emerald ice. She felt Grima's breath catch and he stiffened beneath that hard ice gaze but Grima opened his mouth and there was a terrible roaring sound, like the wind storming through the forest on the mountain side, like the roaring of the river in spate.
The King's eyes flickered open, he seemed to struggle and then shut tight in pain.
Eowyn felt the wind rush past her and Legolas was caught up in the storm, his hair streamed about him and he narrowed his eyes against the unnatural wind. A fell voice filled the air and she saw him gasp. He struggled against the force of the wind that tore around him, buffeting him. A glass was thrown from a stand and shattered, the curtains whipped and thrashed in the sudden wind, knocking over a small table and the casement window was thrown open. Legolas was shouting something Eowyn could not understand and the roaring of the wind was too loud. Her hair streamed across her eyes and she felt herself flattened by the wind against the body of the man who still had hold of her. She struggled and tried to push herself away. Legolas raised his hand against the wind, then suddenly he stooped, rose swiftly and something flew from his hand, skimmed her cheek lightly. The firelight caught it briefly and it gleamed silver and white.
Abruptly the wind dropped.
Grima looked down. A long white knife was deeply embedded in his chest. He realised there was intense pain, like nothing he had ever known, a tearing and burning in his lungs and a crimson stain spread across his chest. He watched the blood seep onto the white gown of the woman. He sank to his knees and she stood over him, eyes hard and bitter.
'I did all this…' he whispered, 'for you.'
She stared at him with contempt and left him to rush to her uncle's side. He could hear her murmuring to the wakening King and she stroked his forehead.
Grima blinked, the pain tore through him and his heart pumped blood from his body to soak the cloth that was held to his wound. He looked up into the anguished face of the Elf. He was saying something, Grima blinked. It was hard to concentrate now as the pain took hold of his consciousness, but he felt sorry for them, for the relentless hatred they would face now, and the terrible utter destruction Saruman would wreak. His lips moved once and he stared up at the Elf who had killed him.
Eowyn smiled as her uncle opened his eyes and looked in wonder upon her.
'I know your face,' he whispered.
She blinked tears away; she did not know what Legolas had done to awaken the King, if it was some kind of sorcery she did not care. Théoden's fingers sought hers and clutched her hand as if in fear of drowning. She was aware of Grima's rasping breaths and small moans of pain. But she had to waken Théoden and then gather together the captains.
'My lord,' she said hurriedly, still stroking Theoden's brow. 'You must awake. Rohan is in danger. We must summon the captains and make ready for war.'
He frowned bewildered and still dazed.' War? Rohan is at peace…' He sighed 'Gondor has made enemies it is true, but we are yet safe.’
'No. my lord.' She knew she sounded desperate. 'You have slept long and there are armies on the move, they advance on Edoras. We must summon our forces and be ready. Awake.'
'No, child.' He smiled benignly at her. 'These are but foolish dreams in the night. Sleep now. There is nothing to fear.' And he closed his eyes.
Eowyn became aware of a the silence behind her. Grima no longer gasped for breath. Legolas lifted his head then and met her eyes briefly, and she wondered -- for she saw utter relief in his eyes that was mirrored in her own, but a strange and intense sadness mingled. She wondered just what had gone on in those cold stone cells, and what had gone on here in the King’s chamber, what had Legolas seen in the Worm that he had not wished to cut the snake’s throat and pull out his heart. She looked down at her hand to see it was trembling.
She glance back at Legolas once more, he had bowed his head and slowly folded Grima's hands over his breast. He arranged Grima’s robes so they were dignified, and lastly, he drew his fingers over his eyelids and closed them.
Gradually, Eowyn became aware that Théoden was watching the Elf intently.
When Legolas lifted his head again he did not look at Eowyn, but allowed his gaze to slide past her to Théoden. He smiled gently then and he rose easily to his feet. He looked with piercing bright eyes at Théoden and spoke softly to him.
'Awaken now, my lord. It is time. Rohan needs you.'
Théoden's blue eyes widened and he drew a breath. 'You called me. You were there. You called to me through the smoke and the fear, my lord and I came.' He struggled to sit up, pushing aside the heavy rugs and blankets. He kept his gaze fixed on Legolas.
Legolas did not move, nor a flicker show on his face. 'Come, Théoden King. You are yourself again.'
Eowyn put her hands under the King to raise him, but still he stared at Legolas, unaware of the woman.
Then slowly, like he was awakening again, he blinked and looked around him. This time, he saw Eowyn. 'Eowyn? Where is your brother? What are you doing here? Ah.' He looked down again at her hand on his arm, supporting him as he rose, 'Always so capable.'
'My lord, summon the guards and the captains. We will be under attack.' Eowyn urged him, but he glanced at Legolas first. She stifled the desire to sigh irritably; why do men always look first to other men, she thought.
As though the King's awakening had roused him also, Legolas strode over to the door and threw it open, shouting loudly, 'Awake! The King commands you. Summon the captains to the Great Hall. Awake.'
There was a pause, and then sudden scurrying and muffled swearing as the men of Rohan were roused. Then gradually, the sound of doors opening and slamming shut, of footsteps rushing past and away, of hurried voices whispering, calling quietly to each other.
Eowyn helped her uncle from his bed slowly. He seemed cramped and bent over before, now he pushed himself upright slowly, bones creaking and sinews stretching. He grimaced.
'Too long have I slept, too long. My bones feel tight and weakened. This is not a good way for a Rider of the Mark.' His voice became stronger as he stretched himself tall. He held out his hand. 'Give me my sword. My fingers itch for the feel of it.'
Eowyn felt her heart surge with joy and she lifted the heavy broadsword from its hanging and handed it with both hands to the King.
'Ah.' He smiled and swept it lightly before him. 'That is what I have missed. Now. Where is Snowmane? I have need to feel the wind rushing past me, to hear the drumming of horses galloping and the ring of steel and stirrup, to see the high cloud and huge empty skies.'
He stared into the middle distance for a moment and murmured too quietly for any but Legolas to hear, 'I was lost in that dark place, and you found me. You found me.'
Legolas smiled and held the door. He bowed as the King walked past with Eowyn holding his arm. She flashed him a radiant smile and he stopped for a moment and looked after her.
There was some confusion in the Great Hall. All the captains were assembled and waiting tensely. This had been done before and resulted in Eomer's banishment, and the dispatch of Theodred's band to be slaughtered by orcs. The captains waited nervously, and Grima's men gathered in the shadows. They were anxious also. Grima had not warned them of this, although he was unpredictable, keeping them guessing and anxious to please him.
It was a shock to all of them when Théoden walked in unaided, tall and proud, his white hair streaming over his shoulder and his face clear, blue eyes piercing. The loyal captains with one voice sighed, a great weight lifted, and when Théoden addressed them, 'Riders of Rohan, Grima is dead.' A great cheer went up.
Eowyn glanced at Legolas, who stood in the shadows and she could not see his face.
Théoden heard then the reports from the captains, one by one they told him of the raids by orcs, of the terrible atrocities committed and of the gradual whittling away of the forces of Rohan. His face was grim as he looked and named those great warriors of Rohan who were no longer there and he cursed the memory of Grima Wormtongue, and of his own weakness for succumbing to him.
A small commotion at the great doors disturbed them. Hama, the grizzled, loyal doorkeeper rushed in. 'My lord, there are two strangers without. One is a Ranger from the North and the other a Dwarf from the far-off Lonely Mountain! They claim to be here as friends of the Mark and of Eomer.' A murmur went up and those who had been with Eomer when first they met the remnants of the Fellowship, whispered that the Heir of Isildur was without.
A Dwarf and a Man stood in the doorway, the Dwarf eyed the crowd warily.
Legolas muttered under his breath, 'About time too.'
The crowd stared- none had ever seen a Dwarf before. First an Elf and now a Dwarf in the halls of Meduseld - strange times indeed! He wore heavy chain mail and a round helmet on his head. His chestnut-russet beard was braided and his axe was heavy, bigger than one would expect. He held it by the haft in front of him, not threatening but ready. The Man with him stood watching. He was taller than most men and lighter than the Men of the Mark. His hair dark and his clothes undistinguished, but there was about him, an aura. He held himself as a warrior, and with balance and grace. The sword that hung at his hip had seen much use. Both wore grey cloaks that seemed to shimmer and the eye glanced off them strangely.
Théoden's voice broke the spell. 'Welcome you strangers. Ever has Rohan welcomed wanderers and given them shelter. Come,' he said, standing before his throne to receive them, 'speak your names and be welcome.'
The man then stood forth. 'My name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. This is Gimli Gloinsson of Erebor.'
'And you, Aragorn, you have a look of the Dunedain about you.'
Aragorn acknowledged this simply and modestly. 'We bring news of Gandalf,' he began.
In the shadows at the edge of the hall, Legolas felt his heart again shrink from the dreadfulness of Gandalf's death. He supposed that all should know of his fall into the Dark Pit, but it was still so hard to hear again. He wondered why Aragorn did not simply proclaim himself and bid all men follow him against Orthanc and Mordor. He stood tall, trying to see the hobbits – surely Gimli and Aragorn would not have abandoned them, unless they were already too late and the hobbits were in Orthanc? His heart cried out to think of those merry folk in such a dark place.
Then, guiltily, he remembered one other who was also in a dark place, and slipped away. Perhaps the Hobbits were safe outside the hall, awaiting Aragorn's summons once all was clear, he thought optimistically as he left the warmth of the halls and turned towards the dark dungeons of Meduseld.
'News of Gandalf? He returns?' Théoden asked. 'I have a memory,' and he spoke vaguely, and looked about him as if he had lost something, someone. 'He came and asked a boon. I granted him a horse and he took Shadowfax…the King of the Mearas… did I dream this?'
'No, my lord,' Eowyn stepped forward and took his hand. ' Grima did not wish for you to aid Gandalf, but ever has he come to us in time of our need, and you graciously granted him this boon.'
So Aragorn looked first upon Eowyn and thought her fair and cold, like the Moon. But she saw a King among men.
'Gandalf bid us give you this message if you will?' Aragorn continued.
Théoden inclined his head to give permission and seated himself once more.
'He bids you arise, Théoden King, and muster your riders. War is upon you and legions of Saruman follow in our wake. We arrive on the tide and must unite against our common foe.' Aragorn's voice rang out true and stern, and the Rohirrim could not help but feel their blood stir and their courage surge. He stepped forwards. 'He also bade me give you this as a token of our intent.' He handed the King a ring.
Gimli looked suddenly up at Aragorn for this was the same ring Aragorn had worn since leaving Rivendell, the Ring of Barahir.
Théoden took it and looked carefully. Then he glanced up at the Man who had come bearing the message. 'You are Aragorn you say…' He looked thoughtfully at the Ranger. 'A man I once knew had a ring much the same as this, Thorongil he was called. A good man who did much service to the Mark. Know you of him?'
Aragorn smiled modestly and inclined his head. Théoden looked sharply at him once more and then, suddenly tired and thinking all this could be resolved in the morning, waved his hand.
'Show our guests good quarters where they may rest. Tomorrow we muster the Riders.' A wave of approval went up from the gathered captains.
The Dwarf cleared his throat. 'Erm. I wonder if I might ask your lordship, a friend of ours was here. An Elf?'
Chapter 5: Éomer
Original beta'd by Anarithilien
Disclaimer: as usual
Chapter 5: Eomer.
Eomer languished. Yes, that was the word. He had no idea what was happening. Legolas had been gone forever it seemed and the unconscious guard had begun to stir. Eomer considered knocking him out with the water bowl again but he felt firstly, that it was not sufficiently heavy and secondly, he knew the man's name and he was not a bad man. He sighed. It would be fine unless another sentry came to relieve him. Then he would have a problem.
Speaking of problems, the elf lingered in his thoughts like a taste.
It had been too long.
Eomer paced the narrow cell. He knew exactly the number of steps it took to cover every inch of the cell, he knew how many stones there were in the walls and had calculated how many stones it had taken to build all five cells that made the lock-up of Meduseld. He had listed in his head every prisoner he had ever known to be locked up in here, and reviewed the justice system completely. Now he was picking the lock again.
When he heard the scrape of iron down the passageway as the door to the lock up opened, he swore and cast about for the water bowl. He quickly drew back the covers over the sleeping guard and checked he was still unconscious, then jumped onto the small pallet and threw the thin blanket over himself and lay still. It was his only chance. They would assume the guard had abandoned his post, to see a girl, to pass water, something. He himself would feign sleep and ignorance, and say that the elf had cast an enchantment over him. He closed his eyes tightly.
He lay absolutely still and listened. There were no footsteps. He slowed his breathing, slowed again, let his heart settle, tried to appear asleep. Still no footsteps.
And then a quiet snick. Warm breath on his cheek.
'Wake up sluggard!' Right by his ear, a voice spoke. 'You sleep while the world changes around you!' His heart leapt.
'Legolas!' He threw the blanket away and grabbed the elf. 'Thank everything that is good! I have been worried to death.'
The elf smiled, turning to lift the blanket from the still snoring guard, 'So I see.' He nodded, satisfied that the man would soon awaken. 'So worried, you were deeply asleep like a babe at its mother's breast.' He turned to face Eomer, a smile on his lips.
'I was pretending.' Eomer recoiled at the whine in his own voice, but still the elf smiled. He stood, arms folded across his chest, smiling irritatingly at Eomer.
'What has happened? Where is Grima?' the man demanded.
A strange expression flickered over the elf's strong, beautiful face then and Eomer remembered the horrible leer, the rapacious kiss. The elf crossed his arms over his chest and then, in a gesture that seemed to defy his defensive stance, he gave a smile that showed his white teeth and did not reach his eyes.
'He is dead,' he said simply and turned away to busy himself with the snoring guard, pulling the blanket up to the man's chin in a strangely tender gesture.
Eomer watching, thinking how tall Legolas was, how broad his shoulders and how lean and narrow his hips. He found himself watching the slide of his long blond hair, longer than any Man would wear, more like a woman’s. And the full sculpted lips were soft and warm...
Suddenly Eomer remembered the last time he had seen Legolas and the heat and embarrassment surged. 'You…when you left, you…' he spluttered incoherently.
Legolas simply raised an eyebrow, and his smile widened. 'I…what?' he offered helpfully.
But Eomer just blushed furiously. What could he say? Didn't he to just want to forget about it? Legolas tilted his head inquiringly and watched Eomer struggle.
'Well?' Eomer fumed.
Legolas paused, watched him with those strange green eyes. His head was still tilted slightly. 'Well?' he prompted.
Eomer exploded. 'No! Not back to that again!' and he leapt up and grasped Legolas' face in both hands and kissed him harshly, angrily, passionately, pushing his tongue between the elf's unresisting lips, pressing against his hard lean body…
Legolas did nothing, just stood, until Eomer pulled away, glaring at him.
'Now YOU know what its like!' Eomer told him.
Legolas grinned. 'Now I know what it's like,' he agreed easily. Too easily, thought Eomer, confounded.
Cheerfully the elf sat cross-legged on the edge of the bed, laughing. 'Do you wish to engage in such play when the world changes and Edoras rides to war?' His smile was mischievous and his eyes sought Eomer's.
Eomer stared, mouth open. He felt heat creep up his neck and into his face, burning with embarrassment and shame. What had he been thinking? He had lost his senses!
Hands in his lap, he quickly sat down against the stone wall on the other pallet. He shook his head, like a horse trying to get rid of a fly, trying to get rid of the thoughts and feelings that had rushed up to engulf him.
Legolas shrugged and stood up. 'Very well. It is no matter.'
No matter. No matter! Eomer felt pierced, hurt by the carelessness of those words, and insulted that his kiss was no matter. This tall, beautiful warrior had kissed him and he had kissed him in return, but it was no matter. And he was appalled at how easily he had responded to that kiss… and it was only a kiss… Eomer shook his head in confusion, unable to decide if he wanted to be kissed or if he wanted Legolas to want his kiss, or if he was outraged that he had been kissed in the first place or if he had wanted ot kissed in the first place or....He ground his teeth and thought it would probably not be the last time he felt so bewildered by Legolas.
Legolas was leaning over the sleeping guard and he took from his own tunic a set of large keys. Eomer recognised them as the outer door keys. Carefully, Legolas put the keys on the man’s belt, and then patted them. Eomer wondered why the elf thought it was important that the guard appeared at least to be guiltless of their escape.
‘I would not wish him to be punished for having been duped,’ Legolas said kindly and there was a strange expression on his face as he spoke, as if remembering something.
Then he flung open the door to the cell, gave Eomer an impudent and dazzling smile that left the man reeling, and led the way out.
Eomer followed the elf up out of the keep and into the main hall, where it all became even more confusing.
They emerged into the early hours of dawn and the night was already drawing back. From the Great Hall, there were loud murmurs and voices, indistinct to Eomer. There was some gathering taking place and he tensed.
‘Why are we going in there?’ he demanded of Legolas but the elf simply turned and looked at him with his bright, piercing eyes.
‘Trust me,’ he said. ‘All is well.’
Eomer thought he heard something then...like the drum of horses’ hooves on the dry earth, like the wind whispering through long grass...He shook his head and followed.
He heard a voice, clear and rich and so familiar it caused his heart to thump in his chest. Eomer quickened his steps until he had overtaken Legolas. He burst into the hall, causing a flurry of voices and hands reaching for weapons. Thrusting his way through the gathered Riders, he gazed at his King, standing tall and straight, on his own, with Eowyn half-turned toward him, her dress white and hair shining gold down her back.
‘My lord King!’ he cried and went down on one knee, head bowed. He felt tears prick his eyes and blinked hard before looking up. Theoden was standing looking past him, with an expression of deep wonder and gratitude on his noble face. His blue eyes were clear and bright as Eomer had not seen for many a month, since Grima had grown strong. Theoden raised his hand then, and he was still old for the veins were gnarled like tree roots in his hands but they did not shake and he was firm in his purpose. Someone placed his sword in his hand and his fingers gripped the hilt and suddenly there was uproar. Loud cheering lifted to the rafters and there was the sound of many swords clashing and some men lifted their horns to their lips and sounded their notes, like a call to arms.
In the clamour and excitement, Theoden stretched out his other hand and clasped Eomer’s. A rush of strength seemed to fill Eomer then and he stood and gripped Theoden’s arms in salute.
‘My King, how glad I am to see you well,’ he said with all his heart.
A hand clutched at his sleeve and he looked down to see his sister’s eyes shining with tears.
‘Eowyn!’ he cried, and caught her in his embrace then, pulling her slim straight body to this. He had been so afraid for her! She pulled back laughing and stroked his unruly hair back from his face and looked at him with concern.
‘You are so pale, brother, and tired.’
‘Prison does not agree with me,’ he said lightly and then remembering, looked about him for Legolas.
His gaze was caught instead a strange man standing to one side, hand on the hilt of his sword, and with him a dwarf. He felt an overwhelming rush of emotion, of gratitude and of delight.
The man smiled, and the dwarf nodded pleased, but then looked past him, as if searching for something.
Eomer opened his mouth to speak but Theoden stretched his hand out towards Eomer and caught his arm, pulled him away. 'Your arrival is well timed,' he said. 'We have much to discuss. Come with me now and let these good folk go to their rest.’
He took Eomer's arm, his grip warm and firm, and led him away into his private chambers, where servants were busy clearing up a stain of red wine, Eomer thought, that had spilt on the floor. Eowyn went with them.
Gimli looked about himself. The halls were reasonable, he supposed, but hardly worthy of their name, the Golden Hall. Fire bowls flared and roared and there were deep shadows in the corners and at the edges. Light flickered over the thick tapestries and the carved horses’ heads that lined the walls. On the floor rushes were strewn. It was...rustic, he decided. But charmingly so. He sniffed slightly and shifted, held his war axe in his two hands. Something in the shadows caught his deep eyes. For a moment of stillness he stared, and then a glint of gold and slight movement.
Gimli's shoulders dropped and he relaxed his grip.
'Come out you skulker in the shadows,’ he cried and strode forwards. ‘So! You have been feasting and sleeping in feather beds whilst Aragorn and I have been doing the real work!'
Aragorn turned quickly and Legolas stepped lightly from the shadows. Gimli reached out to him, relieved and pleased but not unaware of the strain on the elf’s face.
Legolas grasped first Aragorn, then Gimli, by the arm. 'It is good to see you too,' he said. He searched their faces intently, that piercing gaze that Gimli had hated when he first met Legolas. It used to unnerve him, make him feel stripped to the bone and vulnerable, like the elf could read his thoughts...until he had grown used to it, and until he had endured, no, experienced, enjoyed, basked in the gaze of the Lady of Light and Beauty and Wisdom and Power and...He found his fingers stroking the small pouch about his neck, so inadequate for the treasure it contained... Now he endured Legolas’ searching gaze however, knowing the elf was merely reassuring himself that he and Aragorn were well. And then Legolas looked beyond them as if expecting someone else....
'Where are Merry and Pippin?' Legolas asked again, glancing towards the doors of the Golden Hall. ‘Surely you have not left them outside?’
'No,' Aragorn said briefly. He began pulling off his gauntlets and shrugged out of his cloak, looping it over his arm and looking about himself. ‘They are not here.’
'What do you mean? Where are they?' Legolas asked sharply. ‘You did find them?'
Gimli winced; he did not expect that rawness and pain in Legolas' eyes.
Aragorn held up his hands appeasingly. 'All is well,’ he told Legolas. ‘They are in Fangorn Forest.’
'Fangorn! But Lord Celeborn…' Legolas began to protest and Gimli was not surprised.
'…has forgotten much that perhaps your own people remember,' said Aragorn. He clasped Legolas’ shoulder as if to reassure him but Legolas simply shrugged him off, appalled.
'They are with the Ents,' Gimli said soothingly. 'That is the secret of Fangorn Forest,’ he added, perhaps a little smugly. Gimli was not entirely sure what an Ent was but Gandalf had told them that Fangorn was some kind of walking tree, and that Merry and Pippin were with him, and that was good enough for Gimli.
'Ents? They are with Ents?’ Legolas said astonished. ‘And Merry and Pippin are safe and well...' The relief was evident on his face and then he added wistfully, I should so much like to meet an Ent.'
Of course, neither Aragorn nor Gimli had actually met an Ent and Gimli decided then that a dwarf’s subtle tact and diplomacy was needed before Aragorn found himself strung up by his thumbs. 'I think we need to tell Legolas the whole story, from when he left us,’ he said gently. His stomach rumbled at that moment and he could not ignore it. ‘But we must eat first.’
'Of course,’ Legolas said suddenly looking at them both apologetically. He looked about for a moment and then waved them towards and alcove where there was a board table laden with the remains of a supper not yet cleared away. ‘You must be hungry. And thirsty. Here.’
Good, thought Gimli, better to distract the elf with the idea of walking trees while he filled his stomach and Gimli had a chance to think how to break the news of Gandalf's return from teh dea to the elf gently. There was half a loaf of white bread and a yellow cheese that had a thick rind on it. But better was the grainy smell of ale. Gimli inhaled deeply and watched Legolas lift a heavy flagon of ale and pour liquid amber into two goblets. Then he reached for a jug of clear water and began to add water to the ale.
Gimli tutted disapprovingly. 'Here. Don't you ruin this stuff,' he grumbled. 'It is a long time since I tasted anything more than water or weak wine.'
He took the flagon from Legolas and pulled a tankard towards himself. But the flagon was heavier than he expected and he managed to slosh a good amount of ale over the table, the bench, on himself and his companions before Legolas took it from him with a smile, lifted it again with irritating ease and poured ale into the tankard so it foamed and frothed pleasingly.
He took a long, thirst quenching draught and then smacked his lips and wiped his mouth with his hand. ‘Ah, a river of gold,’ he sighed. Then he began again. 'Remember you had just gone off with your new horsy friends, we camped just beyond the forest. We were just settling down for the night when an old man approached. He just appeared.'
Legolas grew very still.
Aragorn glanced at Gimli, nodding, then continued the story, 'He did not speak although we challenged him, and offered him company. Suddenly, he just disappeared.'
Gimli glanced up at Legolas, noticing for the first time, his stillness and tension.
'Saruman,' the elf said contemptuously.
Aragorn nodded. 'That is what we thought. The horse disappeared.'
‘No great loss,’ Gimli muttered. Ponies were bad enough.
'Definitely Saruman,' said Legolas.
'Yes, we thought so too,' Gimli chipped in. He grabbed a loaf of bread and tore off a chunk. 'We didn't really see his face. Next morning, we went into the forest, following the hobbits' trail. And then,' Gimli brandished a knife and began cutting off a chunk of meat, 'we saw an old man again...’
'Wait. Were Merry and Pippin taken into Fangorn or did they go on their own?'
'Well, we found the orcs as Eomer described.' Aragorn explained. 'No bodies of hobbits, but a trail.' He paused and glanced at Legolas. The elf had closed his eyes and breathed deeply. 'We followed the trail into the forest.'
'And that's when we met the old man a second time,' declared Gimli. 'Only this time, he threw off his old cloak and he was all in white!' He paused dramatically, and looked expectantly at Legolas.
'Saruman,' Legolas hissed.
'No. Gandalf!' said the dwarf triumphantly.
Legolas stared at Gimli like he had suddenly sprouted another head. He slanted his eyes towards Aragorn first as if questioning the dwarf’s sanity. 'Gandalf?' he said, clearly unimpressed, and sounding positively dwarvish to Gimli.
'Gandalf,' Gimli repeated firmly. He could see the skepticism in those strange green eyes. It was hard for the elf, he had not been there.
Man, dwarf and elf looked at each other. Gimli bristled at the clear implication from Legolas that they had been completely fooled, and far too easily. Legolas glared back, clearly thinking they were fools for being so easily duped. Aragorn laughed at them both.
'Gandalf,' Aragorn said in agreement with Gimli, and waved the dwarf quiet. Gimli lifted one eyebrow and settled back to watch.
‘It is true. I could not believe it at first either.’ Aragorn said, quietly insistent. ‘He has been sent back to face Mordor. He is now Gandalf the White. He told us that Merry and Pippin are safe with Fangorn himself.’
'He's an actual Ent,’ Gimli added helpfully and when Aragorn glared at him, he raised his hands appeasingly and subsided.
‘Do you mean you did not actually see Merry or Pippin?’ Legolas’s voice was suddenly cold. ‘You just…believed this old man, this...wizard, who claimed to be Gandalf? Gandalf who we saw fall into Moria,' Legolas said aghast.
That they did not really know, and had not seen the hobbits, was rather difficult to explain and even Gimli had a moment of doubt. But Aragorn ploughed on faithfully and Legolas sat silently and listened, but his hand strayed often to the small oak leaf pendant he wore tucked away beneath his clothes.
Later, after Legolas had told them his story of Saruman's possession of Théoden, Gimli thought he understood a little more Legolas' reaction. Gimli was still finishing off the last of the ale, chewing the last crust of bread and picking strands of meat from his teeth. He looked at the elf thoughtfully. Legolas still had the same slightly stunned expression on his face, thought Gimli.
'How can you be certain it was not Saruman in disguise?' Legolas asked yet again.
Like a dog worrying a bone, thought the dwarf. He would not let it go but just kept coming back to the same topic. He had that closed-down inscrutable wood-elf face, thought Gimli. Indeed, he seemed almost critical. Gimli found a bit of meat tucked away in his molars and worried at it with his tongue.
'Because it was Gandalf.'
Aragorn was getting impatient as well, Gimli thought, wrapping his tongue around the lodged morsel and pushing at it. He was certainly saying things very slowly, to give the Legolas time to digest it. Gimli watched them absently; Aragorn carefully, slowly eating, speaking between mouthfuls, looking up, holding Legolas’ horrified gaze to convince him of the truth. Legolas standing stiff and straight, and now and again he walked away and back, restless, running his hand briefly over his braids, his knife, reaching lightly behind himself as if checking his weapons, which Gimli noticed were not there. Of course, Grima would have taken them from him, Gimli nodded to himself. And Legolas was saying things even more slowly, as if explaining something to someone very slow and very stupid. Aragorn was almost painfully ignoring it.
‘...So. You left searching for Merry and Pippin. Because this old man... A wizard. A white wizard. Like Saruman…told you they were safe?' Legolas asked for the umpteenth time. Now he was standing over Aragorn and Aragorn was deliberately looking straight ahead, and gulping his ale. Gimli quietly picked his teeth with his dagger.
'No,' Aragorn explained patiently and with emphasis. 'Gandalf met us and he told us they were safe.'
'But how did you know it was Gandalf?' the elf asked. Gimli shook his head slightly. He supposed it was very hard to believe if you were not there. After all, Saruman was of the same order as Gandalf, and might well look like him. All logic said Legolas was right, but he and Aragorn had seen Gandalf and they just knew.
Aragorn laid a gentle hand on Legolas' arm. 'I know this is hard, my friend. Please. Trust me.'
Legolas shook his hand off and closed his eyes tightly, as if he were trying to rid himself of a memory. He thought he heard Legolas say something then … but wasn't sure. But he turned away instead and was quiet. Perhaps he was, albeit reluctantly, accepting their assurances.
Gimli finally dislodged the stuck meat from his gum and chewed thoughtfully. He chased it down with another swig of very fine Rohan beer. He caught Aragorn's gaze briefly and cocked his head towards Legolas, frowning and shrugging. Aragorn lifted an eyebrow in response and thinned his lips. He didn't know what to say either.
And then Legolas sighed, turning away and drifting almost to the open door of the Hall. He looked anxiously though the door at the sky. Thin rags of cloud had turned red. His grey-green eyes seemed to glaze and he stared away to the East, forgetting them, forgetting the carved and gilded halls of Edoras. His gaze seemed turned inward to a memory. When he spoke, his voice seemed not his own, and his words chilled their hearts.
'What I have seen in the eyes of a dying man will steal your breath. I saw a Tower, a black fang of stone against the twilight. Beyond, the Plain of Orthanc, and across the plain, hundreds, no, thousands and thousands of tiny fires, torches. And legion upon legion of orcs, they clamour and bay for the blood of Rohan…' He squeezed his eyes shut, tightly against the images that tormented him. 'What have I done? What have I done?'
'Legolas!' Aragorn said sharply, he grasped the elf by the arm and pulled him to face him. 'Cease this. Come to yourself!' Legolas stared blankly at him for a moment, and then down at Gimli. He seemed far away and distant, then he blinked and his eyes focused a little. Gimli let go of the breath he realised he had been holding.
'I know what I have seen, Aragorn.' he said distantly. 'Saruman has an army such as we have never seen. They will come at us from the plains, but also from the mountains at our backs. There are too many. Without help, we will be surrounded. If we stay, we cannot get out.'
His words fell like a horrible echo. Gimli looked at Aragorn, determined that this time, the man would not ignore the elf as he had both in Moria and at Parth Galen.
'He's right you know. This is useless to defend.' He hoisted his axe over his shoulder. 'Best find some caves then.'
Later, Legolas watched the dwarf and man sleep. Their eyes closed but moving under their lids, like Eomer's. He wondered about their dreams and how they slept so deeply while there was so much danger.
Still, it was good to be amongst friends, he thought. He had missed the familiarity and the certainty of the dwarf at his back. He smiled at this – he would never have thought in his long life, to be so fond of a dwarf. But it was true that he found Gimli's company restful and it assuaged his longing for home. Gimli's feigned grumpiness disguised a true love of mischief. And it has been said by those who should have known better, more than once in Rivendell, that Mirkwood elves were 'more dangerous and less wise.' So it amused Legolas occasionally, during the rare quiet times on the journey with the Fellowship, to be provokingly, deliberately facetious and as skittish as possible, just to see the Ranger near the end of his considerable patience. Even better, to set Pippin up with some mischief that was bound to bring Gandalf's ire down on both of them. He had been surprised that Gimli quickly realised what he was doing, and later, after Lorien, he had joined in.
He had missed both dwarf and man immensely, for his was a loving and loyal heart. He gave the dwarf a harder prod in the ribs than was absolutely necessary to stop him snoring.
'Went off with my new horsy friends indeed!'
Gimli harrumphed in his sleep, turned over and carried on snoring obliviously. Aragorn did not stir; he knew when to take advantage of the short respite from danger.
He could not doubt the dwarf and man, they were not fools, but he could not accept their story. In spite of his attempt to be loyal to his friends, he could not shake the feeling that they had been beguiled to abandon the hobbits. He could not bear the thought that Merry and Pippin might be in danger. During their pursuit of the band of orcs that had killed Boromir and split the Fellowship, he had found it too hard to conceal his anxiety; he knew he had resented Aragorn and Gimli's need to rest and, for the first time since Moria, had ardently wished it had been elves on the journey with Frodo and Gandalf.
The fire still burned in the small grate they rested beside. He watched the flames. And he prayed to Elbereth to light the way in dark places for all hobbits
He let himself sink into reverie and a stillness, listening. The Song had changed again, he had known that for days… but he was not powerful enough, he knew, to trace the meaning of the change. There were those amongst the oldest ones of his home who could have told him what it meant. A sudden pang of loneliness stabbed him, intense longing for home. Again, he pulled his cloak around himself more tightly, needing the sense of elvishness and familiarity, of warmth.
Staring into the burning embers of the fire, his eyes going wide in reverie.
The pressure and the constant watching for danger had worn upon him, he knew. Then they had lost Gandalf. And then the terrible day they had been attacked and in that one afternoon, they had lost everyone. A wave of intense loss and failure overwhelmed him quite suddenly and he dropped his head onto his arms and hid his eyes.
The utter hopelessness in Grima's heart had seeped into his own when he cradled the dying man, and he had already been vulnerable, deep in Theoden’s song. The dull edge of Grima's own despair had fought with his disgust, the horrid taste of Grima on his own mouth, his tongue pushing…he wanted the taste taken away, the feeling of violation. And he felt the desperate sadness and waste of the life of the boy who had stood waiting, waiting forever, for the Mearas to come.
Suddenly, Legolas felt cold, and he opened his eyes, gazing into the fire. Remembering the warmth of a body pressed against his, a searching, speculative kiss … Eomer had the strength, the slow burning warmth of the sun…would warm the blood and bones of him…. the log shifted in the fire and sparks flew up. Flames burst from the fire and the glow reflected in the elf's eyes. Eowyn was fair and burned so brightly…but he knew from experience how men viewed their women's virtue.
Slowly, he stood, stretching his limbs and his resolve. He even went as far as the doorway, and looked down the empty corridors towards the royal chambers. A thin sliver of light showed him that Eowyn did not sleep, and he heard a faint movement to the right of her room. He guessed that was Eomer's. He could not be sure but he thought he heard a quiet cry.
Silently, he stood, and thought for a while. Then carefully, he stepped away into the shadows of the corridor, lightly. Listening intently, still wondering. He paused beyond the crack of light, between the two rooms. Then he quietly walked back up the corridor to the dying fire where slept his friends. Easing himself down between them, he saw Aragorn had cracked an eye open. He nodded a greeting and then looked away into the glowing embers of the fire. The man closed his eyes and sighed, then fell asleep.
Chapter 6: Gimli
Chapter 6: Gimli
In spite of their best intentions, that was the last chance any of them really had to talk with each other. Before midnight, Théoden called his marshals to him, and with them he summoned Aragorn. Since it seemed to be assumed that Legolas too was summoned, Gimli decided it was a mere oversight he was not invited, and not a slight against the honour of the dwarves. Having forgiven Théoden, Gimli was generous with his advice and wisdom, and when Théoden spoke of Helm's Deep, a fortress where his people fled in times of war, Gimli approved heartily and told the King so.
Although why they don't just live there the whole time..., Gimli muttered to himself and caught Legolas grinning at him as if he had read the dwarf’s mind. But the smile soon faded as Theoden and his marshals talked of the evacuation of the city. Gimli didn't like it either; they could be picked off one by one but there was no choice.
Finally, scouts were sent out at sunrise and Legolas insisted on joining them. Gimli watched the elf shrewdly but before he could add that two heads were better than one and an orc was always confused by having to work out who to shoot first, Legolas had spoken up and said as a single scout he would be faster and quieter going alone. It seemed that the King was utterly under his spell, and simply nodded and agreed with everything Legolas said, and when the elf finally left to join the scouts, his eyes followed Legolas as he left the hall.
The sun had just risen over the great empty grasslands, bright and clear, so it hurt the eyes of the men and the one dwarf who gazed out across Rohan from the Golden Hall.
Light caught and gleamed on the shining amour of a small party of scouting riders as they wheeled away across the plains. Gimli watched with eyes narrowed. The elf went with them and even now, he could pick out the one rider who did not catch the light, refusing even light amour and any spur or rein, preferring only his longbow and knives that he had reclaimed. Gimli knew that Legolas had asked to scout the fringes of Fangorn and as far as he could go in one day towards Orthanc. However, Gimli suspected Legolas was not only scouting for orcs but keeping up his search for the hobbits, and the dwarf wondered briefly if he and Aragorn should have insisted that Gandalf take them to the hobbits, if for no other reason than it would give Legolas some peace. He waved his hand at Aragorn, who even now, left to follow Théoden into the King's council chamber. They had to make plans for war. So did Gimli.
The furnace roared and burst and then settled as the dwarf went about his business. Other smiths watched his blunt clever hands as he twisted metal and seemed to bend it to his will with almost a breath. Their own hands seemed heavy beside his skill.
A knot of lanky, blond-haired boys, too young to be warriors, had gathered shyly at the wide open doors of the forges, staring at Gimli. They had never seen a dwarf. Few had been out of Edoras and now suddenly there was an elf and a dwarf in their midst. The dwarf lord was strong enough to blow a house down, they had heard, and the elf could vanish and appear at will amongst them, and all the maidens fell in love with him at first sight. But he had also killed the evil Grima and freed their King, so he could not be as bad as those wicked elves of the Golden Wood.
Gimli eyed them thoughtfully and although they glanced at each other nervously under his scrutiny, none shied way or fell back. He decided.
'You!’ He beckoned to the nearest. His voice seemed to carry further in the forge, though he had not raised it. 'You are now my apprentice. Here…'
The boy walked boldly into the heated air, the other smiths paused briefly to look up and smile or nod encouragingly to the youngster.
'D'you know how to make arrows? These will save the whole of Rohan, so it is important work, mind you. I want no slacking.'
The boy nodded. 'My father is a warrior,' he said quickly. 'Away with Erkenbrand.' He glanced out over the grasslands and waved his hand vaguely.
'Good,' said Gimli approvingly. 'Now... I will need four more apprentices and will show you how to make arrows good enough even for the elf!' An immediate flurry of voices and hands shot up. Gimli smiled into his beard. Yes- they would do. Eager and willing, and it would take their minds of the battle, and they would need to be ready. Best they get familiar with things now than on the battlefield.
He went on, arranging things and directing men and boys until he was as happy as he could be given the inferior skills of men. He wished for the umpteenth time he had but twenty dwarves instead of a hundred men. 'We wouldn't be here either,' he muttered to himself, looking darkly up at the wooden beams, thatch, and cob walls.
He had told Théoden in no uncertain terms that he would be making arrows rather than swords for they did not have the time to forge weapons strong enough to withstand the heavy steel of the orcs, although he would repair ands strengthen what they already had. Shamelessly he had plundered the treasury and sent his now utterly loyal apprentices to gather anything that could be remotely used as a weapon, pitchforks, and axes, even to remove swords from any tombs they could get into. And when he emerged from one particularly large earth barrow, old swords tucked under his arm and a fistful of spears, a shocked Eomer had challenged him. Gimli looked sharply at the man and said, 'Do you think they would not rise up and fight with you then? You think they would rather see all of Rohan fall than spare you their swords?'
Aragorn had smiled unashamedly along with him.
Eomer glowered. ‘I warn you, the King will not be happy about this!'
Gimli gave Eomer his best grin. ‘Then I will make sure that Legolas is with me when he does,’ he replied and grinned at Eomer because he was suddenly lost for words.
Gimli shifted the swords under his arm again and cheerfully returned to his smithing. He found the steady ring and beat of the forge soothing, the hiss of water as hot metal was cooled, and the strong voices of men who, if they did not have the skill of dwarves, at least had strong hearts. He felt happy. If only they were not waiting to be obliterated by Saruman's army, he thought cheerily.
In the heat and rhythm of the work, he found himself musing on Legolas. They had not really had time to talk. Not that they hadn't talked, they had; they had swapped news. Legolas had stopped questioning them about Gandalf, but still, when he looked at them, Gimli could see he was troubled.
But that was not what the dwarf meant by talking. He cast his mind back to the night he had arrived in Meduseld and Legolas had told them his story. There was something in the elf's eyes. He had gone into that strange prophesying trance as well, and that had unnerved both Gimli and Aragorn. Later, when both he and Aragorn had lit their pipes and drawn a satisfyingly deep lungful, they had both glanced at each other and exchanged what Pippin would call a Meaningful Look.
But still, Gimli thought as he brought his hammer down on steel, perhaps there was more to what the elf had said than what he actually said. He picked up the blade he had taken from the hand of some long dead King, the one that Eomer had got so upset about, Eortha or Eorl or someone...Firelight gleamed molten along the smooth, true blade and reflected in the dwarf's narrowed eyes. He thought he might give this one to Eomer once it was done. He cocked his head slightly and ran a hammer lightly up the blade so it rang...metal, steel blue, Guthwine is it? he said to the blade as he tilted it to check its balance. Perfect. He pulled a wiry copper hair from his head and lightly dragged it along the blade. Two hairs drifted to the ground and he nodded, pleased.
He took Guthwine to the anvil once more and bent over it. That business with waking up Théoden for example, he thought as he squinted down at the metal, Legolas had been very glib about that bit, skipping over the details but embellishing the part Eowyn played. Gimli knew that was to distract them from what was really bothering him. And although Legolas was eerily dwarvish in some ways, he did not really understand the legendary patience of the dwarves. Gimli raised his hammer once more and with the most delicate movement, smoothed a slight crease in the steel like it was linen.
Gimli worked all day and well into the night at the forge and the pile of weapons grew satisfyingly large. His lads had a huge stock now of arrows. Indeed, it was not that the weapons were short, but hands to wield them, he thought. He eyed one of the women who brought him an evening meal. She had strong capable hands and broad shoulders. She looked capable of easily wielding a pitchfork. He resolved to speak to Aragorn about his idea.
It did not go down well. Aragorn simply lifted an eyebrow, looking for all the world like Lord Elrond, Gimli thought. 'All these women are capable of stringing a bow and firing a shot, like any other. I do not understand men!' he protested. Dwarf women fought alongside the menfolk and wielded weapons as heavy as any man. 'I wager the womenfolk are just as keen to be useful!' he said defiantly.
Aragorn looked back towards the halls of the King. 'I would not bet against you,' he said. 'But Men are different. Orcs will see that they are women and target them… It is not the same as dwarves,' he added gently.
Gimli tried again. 'Legolas will agree with me I know. They have to rely on their wits in Mirkwood. How about if they only shot arrows? Or poured boiling oil? Ah – let's ask Eomer. He has a sensible head on his shoulders.' He waved to Eomer and stomped over.
Beyond hearing, Aragorn merely watched as Gimli made his suggestion. Eomer listened carefully and with a gradually increasing smile, until Gimli finished and he let out a huge guffaw. Gimli scowled and gesticulated. He pointed over at a woman, lugging washing back to her cottage, one child tugging at her dress, another child lifted onto her hip. Eomer glanced over and registered, but he slowly shook his head, speaking solemnly. He walked away, leaving Gimli standing, looking between the retreating man and the woman who, realising she was the subject of a discussion, had stopped to stare. Gimli paused for a moment and then tugging on his beard, approached the small family. A conversation ensued, and Aragorn watched the face of the Rohirrim woman go from smiles to interest and then thoughtfulness. Aragorn pulled out his pipe and settled down to watch as Gimli explained his plan, drawing in the earth and pointing.
Sunset. Gimli sat on a stone wall and waited for the elf. All the other scouts were back and had reported in, all but Legolas. Gimli found himself twisting the end of his beard braids and hastily sat on his hands, let his fingers patter out the sounds of the iglishmêk instead. He squinted into the setting sun and watched. He was hardly aware when a shadow fell across him and he looked up, seeing Eomer. 'Ah, horse-lord. You wait for a report from the scouts?'
Eomer fidgeted and seemed uncomfortable. But Gimli never held grudges so he looked up at the man. 'Sit,' he invited, and patted the wall beside him hospitably. 'I have forgiven your foolishness against both the Lady Galadriel and your own womenfolk,’ he said companionably and without waiting for a response, he crossed his arms and said, ‘I am waiting for my wayward friend. I have something I need to discuss.'
'Ah.' To Gimli’s surprise Eomer seemed even more disconcerted and sat down, then immediately stood up again.
Gimli waited patiently for a moment. 'And you?' he invited.
'As you say, my lord Gimli, I await the scouts’ return.'
Eomer shifted slightly under Gimli’s scrutiny.
‘I understood they had all returned except for Legolas,’ Gimli said, fixing his eye upon Eomer. 'Do you await him also?'
‘Yes. I am waiting for him. There is something...I need to discuss. I...’ Eomer shook his head as if a fly buzzed. ‘No, perhaps...’
Gimli glanced at the man in puzzlement. 'Do you have a message for him? Shall I ask him to report to you when he arrives? We do not both need to wait.' Gimli glanced sideways at the man again and pursed his lips for Eomer, who had seemed so decisive and certain on the plains of Rohan when firs the met, now seemed completely at a loss. Gimli quirked an eyebrow and decided for him. 'I will tell him you waited and I sent you to eat. He will find you later.'
Having dismissed the Third Marshal, Gimli took out his pipe and ignored him, filling the bowl with pipeweed and patting his pockets for his firestone. Eomer hesitated for a moment and then turned away, walking quickly up the steps to the hall. Gimli sat quietly, and thought.
He heard the horse approach rather than saw because night had well and truly fallen. The watch had signaled one rider and recognised Legolas before he arrived. Gimli was cold by this time and only the legendary patience of the dwarves, he had reminded himself, kept him from abandoning his post and returning to the hall, where a great fire roared and there was food and drink aplenty.
Legolas looked dusty and strained, thought Gimli, unusually so. The tired horse hung its head low. Gimli watched Legolas slide down from the horse and to rub its nose. He shook his head at the grooms who ran out to take the horse from him and led it himself into the spacious and comfortable stables. As he walked in, other horses put their heads over their doors and whickered softly, straining at their halters to look at him as he passed. Gimli smiled wryly and watched as Legolas took care of the horse.
At last Legolas shut the stable door and wiping his hands on his tunic, turned to the dwarf. He smiled 'Well?' Gimli feigned innocence for he had much to tell and was excited. Legolas laughed. 'You have been practically hopping from foot to foot. You look like nothing as much as Pippin bursting to tell me something.'
Well, that was true enough, thought Gimli, he had much to tell but first he had a message. 'Yon horse-master wanted you to see him,’ he said dismissively. ‘But he can wait until I have told you my idea...’
'Eomer?' Legolas interrupted, and then he laughed, a little breathlessly. 'You have become his messenger boy?'
'Certainly not!' Gimli crossed his arms and blew out indignantly. ‘He insisted and I am being helpful.’ But Legolas was still laughing and Gimli was so relieved at the sound, he had to let any irritation go. ‘It is good to hear you laugh again,’ he said suddenly and then, with genuine concern and all pretence gone, he said, 'What is wrong with you, Legolas? You are not yourself.'
Legolas looked away across the grasslands and beyond. He was touched by the dwarf's concern and answered honestly, and with sudden realisation of all that it meant. 'I am cold.'
Later, when the halls of Edoras were quiet, Aragorn sat beside Gimli and Legolas joined them. He threw a twig in the still burning fire in the small grate of the room they shared.
Gimli nodded towards Legolas. 'He is cold,' he said flatly.
Aragorn turned towards the elf. 'Cold?'
Legolas resolved to keep his mouth shut next time. There was silence, the dwarf pulled on his pipe and blew out a stream of blue smoke. 'Ah- this is inferior stuff but better than nothing.'
Aragorn chewed the end of his pipe in agreement. 'Caradhras was cold,' he observed after a while to the dwarf.
Gimli grunted. He belched quietly and blinked 'He doesn't mean cold, he means cold.' He squinted at the elf. 'Did you find the horse-lord?' Legolas looked away across the small room and to the door. He had heard booted feet pause outside the door, but they had scuffed together and now moved away.
'Yes, he was there when I made my report.' Legolas stared into the flames. Eomer had been there but he had not once looked Legolas’ way and he thought Gimli must have misunderstood; it was not Legolas he wanted to see, but is report he wished to hear. He felt a little pang of disappointment. But shook himself out of it.
'He seems alright after all,’ Gimli stretched out his strong, sturdy legs and leaned back on one elbow. ‘Though I have still to teach him manners and the right way to talk of the Lady.'
Legolas hid a smile. Gimli always softened his voice when he spoke of Galadriel, and he unconsciously stroked his hand over the leather above his heart.
'Still, he seems all right for a horse-lover,’ Gimli continued. He clenched his pipe between his teeth as he spoke. ‘His sister is fair enough. She looks fairly wrung out though – seems like she was just about holding it all together till you came along,' he added grudgingly.
Aragorn scratched his beard and caught Legolas' eye. He grinned.
'Pity you killed that Grimble Wormthingie before I got there,' Gimli continued gruffly,
Aragorn glanced over at the dwarf and the seemingly total change of subject, and then towards Legolas. He threw another small twig on the fire and grunted back. He and Gimli had got to understand each other well in the short time they had hunted orcs alone.
'I would have liked to introduce him to an axe.' Gimli added. Legolas pulled his cloak about him a little more tightly. 'Seems you did a good job though,' he continued.
Aragorn looked sideways at Legolas. 'Tell me of Grima Wormtongue.' he said softly.
Legolas did not respond at first. 'I think Eowyn or Eomer have more knowledge than I,' he replied.
Aragorn turned to him then. 'They did not kill him,' he said mildly.
Legolas let his head fall on his arms then and he sighed. He knew he should not have told Gimli anything. 'There is nothing to tell,' he said. 'He was a man, he was nobody. He wanted power. He succumbed.' Legolas picked at a thread in his shirt.
'You were caught. Did he not interrogate you?' Aragorn asked suddenly, concerned and Legolas felt his face flare.
'There is nothing to tell,' he repeated irritably. 'I was foolish for underestimating him and the hold Saruman had on Rohan. It is no one's fault but mine that I was caught. And no, I did not reveal anything about our quest!' Then he breathed. It was not Aragorn's fault. Nothing had really happened, but the taste of Grima's tongue in his mouth and the feel of his fingers tangled in his hair. A dead man. His skin crawled and he shuddered involuntarily but it was not missed by either of his companions.
'I never thought you would,' said Aragorn quietly and without rancour.
Defiantly Legolas met the man's gaze, but the compassion was too much for him and he threw his cloak off him and stood quickly. 'I will scout around I think.'
'Not much to scout round here, this place is swarming with guards and sentries,' observed the dwarf. 'Oh, and we are in a hall. The Golden Hall' he said slowly and with heavy sarcasm. Legolas ignored him, stepping over boots and cloaks dropped untidily on the floor, and did not pause as he left, shutting the door behind him, quickly and silently.
Aragorn caught Gimli's eye and lit his pipe again. The dwarf gave a satisfied little nod and narrowed his eyes as he watched the flames. 'You were right,' he told the man. 'We best keep an eye on him.'
Next chapter: Helm's Deep. Eomer can't stop staring!
Aglâbnâla - literally, the River of Words. The litany of the Khazad to Mahal. A bit like a rosary is to Roman Catholics. copyright: ziggy
iglishmêk -the telling of the Aglabnala. (ziggy)
Warning: AU. In the book, Eowyn and the women do not go to Helm's Deep as Théoden rides to shore up his beleaguered forces. You know the story. This is AU-ish.
Disclaimer: All Tolkien's. We are just playing.
Original betaed by lovely Anarithilen.
Chapter 7: Waiting.
The long ride to Helm's Deep had been a quiet one, apart from a few skirmishes that had merely whetted Gimli’s appetite. Legolas was withdrawn and restless and even though Gimli rode behind him, he could not get much out of the elf and knew better than to try very hard.
Helm's Deep was everything Gimli could have asked for, and more. He snorted approvingly when he saw the high wall looming out of the distance, visible a mile off.
When he was finally able to dismount from the wretched horse that Legolas kept telling him had a name, he looked up at the smooth, worked edifice. It was good stone and solid, he could feel the slow beat of the heart of the mountains...but there was something that niggled slightly and Legolas was pensive and silent as they walked through the gatehouse and into Helm’s Deep. The high curtain walls were intimidating, high and thick and strong, thought Gimli. ‘This is more to my liking,' he said appreciatively. 'Not dwarvish but it will do in a pinch.'
He left Legolas to fuss the wretched beast, and ran his hand carefully around the smooth curve of the curtain wall that towered high above him, searching for the chink that niggled at him, a weakness, a fissure, a crack...there was something. He explored it slowly, listening to the stone, running his hands over it like a man of Rohan would run his hand over the flank of a horse while behind him, the inhabitants of Edoras disgorged from their train and spilled over the outer bailey, trailing baggage and children and horses, making their way into the Deep itself. Gimli watched from the steps of the keep and picked out Aragorn gazing about himself at the walls. He spied Gimli and raised his hand.
Later he climbed the steps to the high wall of the Deep and found Legolas standing balanced on the edge of the battlements, gazing across the empty steppe. Quite alone, on the lip of the plunging wall, so steep a drop that it made the dwarf's heart jump. Gimli edged nervously towards him and leaned forwards to peek between the battlements. Fleeting vertigo made his head spin and he drew back quickly.
'I know what you do.'
Gimli raised his hand slightly as if to grasp at Legolas but he dared not disturb his balance. Legolas suddenly turned his intense green gaze upon him, and the dwarf felt a piercing, unbearable sadness. Suddenly overwhelmed he had to turn away.
'I am keeping an eye on you, my friend.' He decided there was no point in pretence. 'I wish you would come down from there.'
Legolas drew a deep sigh. Gimli glanced at him but the elf had turned back to stare into the distance. Dwarves, Gimli reminded himself, are endlessly patient.
After a few more seconds, Gimli decided that dwarves were also creatures of action and deeds. So he said, 'Legolas. Will you come down from there before I pull you down and we might both fall.'
To Gimli’s absolute relief, Legolas slowly stepped down from the wall and knelt in front of the dwarf. Had it been anyone else Gimli would have found it too close, he felt Legolas’ breath warm on his skin, and the fabric of his clothes almost touched Gimli’s tunic, and he looked intently into Gimli’s eyes. If it had been anyone else, Gimli would have wanted to look away but felt that if he did, he would have failed Legolas in some way. So he looked back into those strange deep-green eyes. He felt the sudden sense of falling, of vertigo, and saw that strange mix of ancient and innocent, an indefinable something that suddenly, he knew he could not bear to lose. Again he was overpowered by an intense sense of sadness and fear.
Legolas released him then and glanced away. He straightened and looked away again across the steppe.
'Aragorn is right, Gimli.'
Gimli put the end of his beard in his mouth and chewed anxiously, hoping he didn't look anxious. Where in all of Arda was this going? Then he grunted. It was a useful sound, non committal and neither yes nor no. It was, he thought, encouraging.
'Aragorn is right. You are right,' Legolas sounded defeated. His arms fell by his sides and he looked at the ground. 'I let them fall. I have failed my trust.'
'Who fell? When did I say that?’ Gimli scrambled around in his memory, surely he would not have said that? But there was a small niggle in the back of his mind. Perhaps, much earlier, before they became friends...? Appalled at such an admission, by such an idea, Gimli did this time grasp the elf's arm before he could rise and walk away. 'How have you failed? You have been the staunchest, you have never faltered, never questioned. You shot the creature on the eastern shore, you have killed...almost as many orcs as I…' He paused to watch for the slow smile. 'You brought Théoden back, broke Saruman's power over Rohan. Now we are here.'
'Now we are here.' The elf repeated. He looked out over the plains. 'We are here. War marches on our own lands.'
The elf looked down into the earnest brown eyes of his friend, and sighed. 'You are like the mountain, Gimli. You are constant, faithful.' He smiled gently. 'But we saw Gandalf fall in Moria. I cannot…' He bowed his head, 'I cannot bear to think of those merry hobbits…'
Gimli saw then that he could not bring himself to say it, that he still did not believe them, that somehow he blamed himself. 'You think still we were beguiled by Saruman.' The dwarf stated flatly. 'And that somehow this is your fault also? You have failed them and even now, they are in the black tower of Orthanc.' He shook his head slowly.
'Gimli. Please. Unless I see them myself, or I see Gandalf, I cannot be at peace. Please. Forgive me. Too much has happened and...I have seen what Grima has seen.'
Gimli sighed and placed his hand on his friend's should once more. 'I cannot say that my heart is at ease in this, Legolas. And I am troubled more than I can say by this business with Grima. Something happened that you do not wish to tell. But I do know that the hobbits are well and safe. And I do know that Gandalf is restored to us. I know that sooner or later, that will be revealed to you and my only wish is that we survive long enough for you to know the truth. That is as much as we can do now, is it not?'
He felt like saying much the same to Eowyn when he found her for she looked strung out, like she had walked upon a wire for too long. Gimli liked Eowyn. Her passion and vigour flashed and sparked, she was like molten metal, waiting for the smith to forge her into a bright keen blade. He laughed at himself, for she was the not only one.
Eowyn had quickly sorted those women capable of fighting and they found a grassy space on the western side of the inner keep that was considered easy to defend and above the drains so it was also easy to ignore. The woman Gimli had first approached sat above and kept watch while the women practised below. She smiled and nodded to him and he sat beside her for a moment before joining them. These women of Rohan were as fierce and true as any dwarf woman, Gimli thought fondly. They were already dear to him and he watched their secret practice with the indulgent eye of a father.
Later Legolas joined him and watched at first with a critical eye. Gimli knew he would not have to wait for long for Legolas. He could see the elf’s fingers twitch when they got their stance wrong and sure enough, he was soon amongst them. He was cool and detached with the women, who clearly were in awe of him and fluttered and blushed like girls when he stood behind them, reaching around to correct their posture, or to move their hands. He treated them exactly as he would young recruits in the forest, thought Gimli, seemingly unaware of the effect. It became a welcome distraction from the impending battle, from the seemingly endless waiting.
Gimli was on look out now and strolled casually along the lower ramparts. He had already spotted Eomer once and headed him off simply by walking purposefully towards him, swinging his great war axe. Eomer had almost scuttled off before they had reached him and Legolas, who had been with Gimli, had grimaced when he saw the man disappear so quickly without greeting. But by the end of the first day in the Deep, he was satisfied that they could at least shoot an arrow and not hit their own. By the end of the second day, they could wield a knife and shoot a target.
Aragorn pushed his hand through his hair. It was late in the afternoon of the second day after their arrival, almost evening and he was tired; he had to admit to defeat. Théoden was right about the strength of the Deep but he just felt there were weaknesses. He wanted the company of Gimli, to test the strength of the fortress, to feel for weaknesses, and he just wanted Legolas at his back right now.
'I have to check on the western side,' he told Eomer quietly, not interrupting Théoden, and bowing discretely, eased his way from the throng of marshals and counsellors and opened the door.
A welcoming rush of cold wind from the mountain whipped round him then. He quickly stepped outside and pushed the door closed, and went in search of his friends.
He admitted to being concerned about them both, for neither had been particularly communicative the evening before, and they had both avoided his gaze. Several times Gimli had opened his mouth to speak but been silenced with a look from Legolas. Aragorn simply drew on his pipe and waited for them to tell him whatever it was that was bothering them.
But when Legolas was not looking, Gimli had suddenly cuffed him round the ears and muttered, 'Watch your words around him! Heir of Isildur or no, or you will have the haft of a dwarven axe between your ears next time.' Aragorn had been more than a little perplexed.
Now, as he breathed in the cold mountain air, he saw Gimli, rooting around in the drain and covers of the Deeping Wall with Hama. He was chewing his beard braid, something Aragorn had only seen the dwarf do recently. Legolas he could not see, although he doubted the elf was far away. He approached the dwarf warily.
'These drains,' Gimli was worrying. 'They are a hole in the defence. No dwarf would make such a wall. All it needs is…' He looked up at Aragorn and scowled. 'Hama my friend, we need to get this shored up.' Gimli straightened and looked the man in the eye as Hama took his leave.
'Gimli,' Aragorn greeted him, keeping a slight distance between them. The dwarf nodded back grimly. 'Where is Legolas?'
Gimli nodded upwards. Aragorn followed his gaze and saw the elf then, standing on an impossible ledge high above them, not on the Deep’s wall but higher even, on the cliff face. 'Been up there since daybreak. Twitchy as a cat in a forge.'
The elf imperceptibly straightened. Aragorn watched as he raised his head a little higher, leaning forwards slightly as if to catch the wind. He tried to relax - Legolas was not going to attempt flight…but with tension in every line of his body, he looked like a bird poised. He breathed, and gave the dwarf a wry smile.
'He is not the only one.'
But the dwarf was not attending. He stared, first at Legolas; then he shaded his eyes from the lowering sun and looked up at the wall that loomed above them, eyes narrowed slightly.
'What can he see?' he muttered.
There was only the sound of hammering and grunting men as they hauled stone, lit fires to heat oil, fixed arrows. There was nothing else. The wind had died and no birds flew across the empty grey sky. It seemed that outside the Deep, there was no life. Everything waited, holding its breath. Eomer watched Legolas, poised on a high ledge, looking ready to spread his arms and take flight, hardly stirring, hardly seeming to breathe, the wind lifting his winter grass hair. It made the Men nervous. He felt the elf had been avoiding him, but in truth, it was the other way around. Eomer watched surreptitiously at first, and then, as the day faded away, and still he had not moved, he stared openly, as if starving.
He found himself climbing the steps to the high ramparts, needing to see. Aragorn was already ahead of him.
The moon had risen early, bright, and torn rags of cloud scudded across the sky though there did not seem to be a strong wind. Silent and still, the elf listened. No breeze or whisper from the faraway Anduin, no frost touched breeze from the Misty Mountains, nothing. Legolas listened, stretching out his awareness. Something felt wrong. Something had felt wrong for days, he corrected himself. No, this was something more. He felt the earth cringe … he felt the air shift away…
Suddenly he felt the need for the dwarf's solid presence, the sense of his feet planted firmly on the ground. He tore his gaze from the distant horizon and found the dwarf. He stood with Eomer and Aragorn on the battlements directly below him, all three scanning the plains anxiously. Legolas took a breath and leaped downwards, like a mountain goat scaling the heights, leaping from one rock to another with dizzying speed.
Gimli looked up, following Eomer's' open mouthed gasp. He narrowed his eyes, watching the man's open admiration.
'Now don't be fooled by that,' he grumbled, breaking the spell. 'He does that all the time. Showing off.' But his eyes belied the gruffness. Aragorn did not smile.
Swiftly Legolas came to stand with them, his eyes still scanning the horizon. Darkness crept towards the Deep, even though the moon sailed high and bright. Earendil flickered before the tide of cloud slowly obscured it and Legolas shuddered visibly and repeatedly. It unnerved the three with him.
'I do not like this,' Aragorn murmured.
Gimli looked up at Legolas, who seemed in a trance. His eyes were wide and stared at the moon and sky. Searching. 'The Eye moves…the Enemy is awake…He seeks…..' He caught his breath.
'Blood will be spilt this night,' he said, turning and looking straight into the dwarf's eyes. 'Blood will be spilt and they come.' He grasped Gimli's arms in a steel grip. 'They come.'
Curtain wall- high outer walls of a castle
Arrow slits or loopholes- from where archers could shoot in relative safety
Bailey- the green bit inside the castle behind the main wall, there was usually an outer bailey where things like the stables, kitchens etc were and an inner bailey where everyone could retreat in a siege.
Murder holes- where they poured boiling oil through holes in the gatehouse.
Chapter 8: Gandalf
Warning: AU. Story contains adult material, including m/m feelings but nothing explicit…oh, alright then. Next chapter Eomer.
Beta for the original is the inimitable Anarien. I have learned how to write from her.
Disclaimer: blah blah no money all Tolkien's. I'm playing with Legolas.
Chapter 8: Gandalf
Inevitably, a black line appeared on the horizon first, and grew thicker and darker as it approached. At first, there had been chaos and panic in the Deep, but the army of orcs had grown steadily closer and now, all Rohan could do was wait.
Gimli glanced upward to where his women archers were hidden. He had instructed them carefully, using his experience of the only real major battle he had seen, the Five Armies. He was surprised when Legolas revealed he had also been there. But the women had struggled to hide their terror and both the dwarf and elf knew they would quail before the horror that lay ahead.
'You will find the first time you do anything it is always…more difficult,' the elf had quirked an eyebrow and grinned at them knowingly. 'It is no different in battle. The first time you see the enemy, you will feel your stomach overturn and your heart halt in your breast. But that will pass.'
Gimli looked at his friend. All the doubt, the restlessness had gone. He stood taller than any, strong. With long pale hair lifted by the slight breeze, he seemed like a hero from a distant time, and with a slight shock, Gimli realised that he had no idea how old Legolas was, or which battles he had seen. For all he knew, the elf could have been at Dagorland.
Legolas had shifted to hold his bow, stringing it lightly. The women followed. 'The main thing is not to shoot too early. Remember those arrows cannot be recovered. Make every one count.' Gimli glanced at the anxious faces before him, thinking it would do no good anyway; if the men fell, they too would fall. 'And do not shoot the dwarf.' Legolas was grinning at them like fellow warriors. 'He might be useful.'
The small ripple of laughter broke the tension as Gimli was sure he intended. Faces relaxed a little for now. But Gimli hoped they had remembered the drill – with so many orcs it would be impossible not to kill. But they had to wait until they were close enough and Legolas had told them, only when the enemy were at the wall should they shoot. And to shoot over the heads of their own folk. Gimli and Legolas had agreed that this would be their only strategy – for they both knew that after the immediate offensive, all strategy was lost and battle was chaotic. Kill or be killed. And once the arrows were gone, run, he had instructed and looked pointedly at Eowyn. Defend those who could not defend themselves and in the last instance, do what was needful.
By nightfall, the black line was distinguishable. Huge Uruks and orcs lumbered towards the Deep. Trolls pulled enormous siege machines and began ponderously setting them up just beyond the range of arrow, beyond the dike that surrounded the wall.
Eomer now stood among the men and boys of Rohan upon the Deeping Wall, and was appalled at the sheer numbers just beyond their reach, the sheer unimaginable scale of Saruman's army. Their hate and the utter desire for destruction filled the air and suddenly he knew he could not hope to win this. They should have surrendered to Saruman, he thought in despair - at least to protect that which he loved, to avoid the utter destruction of all he cared for. The hordes and hordes came relentlessly on and he knew they had no hope. So instead, he focused on the sturdy, solid dwarf at his side, as well as the Heir of Isildur, a figure stepped out of legends to be here with him at the end. And on Aragorn's other side, was Legolas.
Eomer had avoided the elf since that last time in the cell. But he had not forgotten it. He felt the pressure on his lips still, but war was upon them and there was no more time. He wished he had made time, had taken his chance, for this day might be his last. Still, no good could come of that now, so instead he had made a point of finding Legolas, knowing he would stand with Aragorn and wishing to do so himself. He had nodded courteously to both the man and dwarf and then thrust his hand towards the elf, seizing his forearm in the way of his people. He had looked deeply into his eyes, tentative but still searching.
Legolas had looked back, and Eomer had felt strangely disorientated, as though he had tipped slightly from his horse but not fallen. There was no time to ask so instead he had gripped the strong archer's arm firmly and said, 'If I die this day, it will be by your side.'
The elf had closed his eyes briefly, as if it hurt, but then smiled, impossibly gentle. 'That would be to my honour, my lord.'
But there was no time for anymore for the dark edge of the orc army approached now, within plain mortal view. They had to hold their nerves and their hearts steady before the slowly approaching tide.
It was now past midnight. The sky was utterly dark and the stillness of the heavy air foreboded storm. Suddenly the clouds were seared by a blinding flash. Branched lightning smote down on the eastwards hills. For a startling moment, the watchers on the walls saw all the space between them and the dike lit with white light; it was crawling and boiling with black shapes, some squat and broad, some tall and grim, with high helms and sable shields. Hundreds and hundreds were pouring over the dike and through the breach. The dark tide flowed up to the walls from cliff to cliff. Thunder rolled in the valley. Rain came lashing down. (1)
It had begun.
Arrows swished overhead from both sides and Eomer glanced towards the archers where Legolas now stood. His hair gleamed in the rain and lightning, and arrows shot from his bow like a hailstorm. Boys scurried to and fro amongst the archers gleaning arrows with which they kept quivers full. Rain on Eomer's face, drenched his skin and hair slicked against his skull but his blood sang. Ladders had been thrown against the Deeping Wall and even now, orcs clambered over the broken battlements. Huge rocks launched from siege machines crumbled the stone below and now was his time. He was sick of waiting; it was the time for swords and blades. If this was to be their last stand, then so be it.
'Come!' said Aragorn, 'This is the hour when we draw swords together!'
Eomer swept his new-forged dwarvish sword from its sheath and raised it up high. Lightning caught the blade and it blazed silver. He looked at Aragorn and bared his teeth. Aragorn grinned back. There was the roar of orc voices and the swish of arrows overhead. Steel rang below as blades fought and men and orcs struggled.
'Guthwine!' cried Eomer, 'Guthwine for the Mark!'
'Anduril!' cried Aragorn, 'Anduril for the Dunedain!' (1)
They charged along the wall and leaped into the fray and lightning caught the gleam of both blades already black with blood and singing in battle. Arrows soared over Eomer's head, and their battle cry was joined by other voices fell and fair.
The arrows and oil served well. Indeed, Théoden was puzzled briefly in the heat of the battle, to know how so few archers were able to produce so many arrows and so many orcs slain, but he had little time for wonder for the sheer numbers overwhelmed them. His sword rang in the battle, for orcs had quickly scaled the heights and poured over the broken walls.
Hour upon hour, desperately, the slog of battle tired his bones. 'Would it were day,' he repeated to himself over and over.
When Théoden finally ordered the retreat into first the inner bailey, then finally the citadel itself, he would not hang his head. Even knowing that he would see the last of the Rohirrim fall and that his memory would be wiped from the land and all he held dear would be enslaved or slaughtered, he would not succumb to despair. He saw the man, Aragorn, and was saddened for him, that the Heir of Isildur should die without achieving his destiny. It was long since he had last seen Legolas who had brought him back out of that land of dream and nightmare, and he found that hard to bear. Of Eomer there was no news; he and the dwarf had last been seen just before the Orthanc fire destroyed the wall. He hoped Eomer had gathered together as many men as possible, and even now they were defending themselves in the caves below. But he had no time left.
He summoned Eowyn to the chamber and wondered that she was dirty and disheveled, with a long scratch running down one arm. She looked like his warriors, with that fey battle light in her eyes, but he drew her to him.
'It will end soon,' he told her, 'and you must lead our people from this place if you can. The mountains are full of caves and tunnels. You must find a place to hide and then, if all else fails, your heart must not…. Do not let our people be enslaved.' And they both wept.
The night bled away. The heavy cloud and rain did not abate, it seemed some devilry drove it against the Men of Rohan, for the wind drove the rain against their arrows and fanned the flames below. The world seemed on fire to Théoden as he looked out with Aragorn from the ruined walls.
Eomer was deep in slaughter, the crash of metal on metal, the din of shouting, grunting, swearing. Battle was loud, a hellish din, and confusing. Strategy only held for the first few hours if you were lucky, and this had been going on and on, through this endless night and into the long slogging hours before dawn when men were at their most tired.
The night was tinged with red now but these orcs did not fear or cringe in daylight- the battle fever overtook them and their yellow eyes glinted with madness and depravity. He hacked gracelessly, not caring how, just killing as many of the heavy, twisted abominations as he could. Just mindless repetition of cut and thrust, keeping wits about you and remembering to keep looking around you, above, behind, below. No way of knowing where your enemy might come from.
He caught sight of Legolas then. Surrounded by orcs that seemed bent on his destruction. The hate gleamed in their eyes more strongly, and they seemed to gather in that small space around the elf – and yet he held them back. All Eomer could see was a glint of pale hair in the lightning and the flash of the elf's blade, coming up black with blood and flashing down again. The elf whirled and struck again, this time, slicing through the face of an orc. It screamed and fell against its fellows. But as fast as he was, the orcs kept pressing forwards, their horrible voices loud in anticipation.
Eomer hacked his way towards Legolas, his sword plunged in deeply and he pulled it from the belly of an Uruk. The flesh sucked the blade, and the orc fell against him. He pushed it off with a grimace. He could see Legolas now hard pressed by some twisted creature, some half man half orc. Its scimitar raised and struck against the shining elven blade. It drew back, arm raised again, when suddenly the elf stopped. Just stopped dead, he turned around, eyes unseeing. The press of orcs around fell back slightly, drew back, ready for the final plunge. Eomer threw himself forwards, screaming his battle cry and for a moment, the gang of orcs shifted and turned towards him.
Then Eomer felt the air stir and the wind get up. It whipped Legolas' long pale hair around him, and he whirled around, searching the mountains, his eyes wide. The orc's scimitar flashed once and Eomer lunged forward, Guthwine held out desperately before him. The blades clashed tremendously and the juddering blow sent tremors up Eomer's arm, almost rattling his teeth. He plunged the sword deep into the orc's belly and shouted 'Watch yourself, Legolas.' He threw up his shield arm against the next blow and pulled his sword from the belly of the ugly, twisted thing, its mouth gaping and its eyes already glazed.
'Legolas!' Eomer seized the elf's arm and shook him.
'Did you hear it?' The elf's eyes were shining, incredulous. 'Like the sound of a great bell….the song has changed.' He grasped at Eomer's shield arm.
'All I can hear is the clamour for your blood!’ Eomer shouted appalled. ‘Awake from this dream or you will waken no more!'
Legolas shook his arm free and blocked a huge blade that seemed to come from nowhere.
Eomer swung upwards and blocked with his shield the second blow that came plunging down on them. He saw Legolas took a deep breath, flashed his blade and then blood spurted from an orc's pulsing neck. Then, at the top of his voice and with violent joy the elf burst into a snatch of some elvish battle song. The notes were fierce and thrilling.
Eomer had no idea what any of it meant- the words meant nothing to him, but the sound filled him with a glee, a battle lust and fervour that he had never felt before. It spoke to him of thundering hooves and fierce battle; of standing knee-deep in slaughter and reveling in the destruction, and of glorious charges, and violent, brutal killing, and smearing the blood of his enemies on his shield.
'Guthwine! Forth Eorlingas!' he shouted renewed. And a storm of voices joined him
'For the Mark! For the Mark!'
His eyes wide with the fever of battle, Eomer looked at the elf briefly before turning back to slash at the orcs surrounding them. Later, it frightened Eomer that the crazed lust for battle in the elf's eyes had been reflected in the eyes of orcs and that Legolas’ song made him merciless, and forget for a brief while, his own humanity.
Aragorn glanced quickly over his shoulder looking for Eomer, but the battle was too thick where he was and he could see only Rohirrim, some on horseback, some on foot, and orcs, struggling together. As he looked, an orc raised its scimitar above a small, slight warrior, gold hair glinted in the sudden sun. Aragorn gasped as swifter than speed, a knife flew past him and embedded itself in the orc's thick neck. Not quickly enough to stop the scimitar from falling, but it deflected easily off the youth's shield. He turned and saw Legolas standing nearby, hand raised from throwing the knife. He was staring at the youth and breathing hard.
Aragorn knew it had been Legolas singing that fierce battle song but he had not realised that this friend was so close by. Once, in Mirkwood, he had witnessed the wild ferocity and glee in the eyes of elven warriors as they devastated an orc camp without mercy. He who had been raised by Noldor, had believed then all the tales; more dangerous, less wise, and he thought that only Elrohir would understand that terrible joy in slaughter.
Aragorn turned his gaze back to the youth, who was now slashing heavily, tiredly at anything he could reach. Aragorn knew the lad would fall soon; he was too tired - unless he could get to the youth first. So he leapt towards him and pulled him away to a space between skirmishes. The mud was churned and slippery beneath them for it had rained all night and battle here had been fierce. The youth's face was familiar, though smudged with mud and there was a scratch down one pale cheek.
'Go back now,' he shouted above the din. 'You are tired. You will be injured and then die unless you retire. Come back when you have rested.'
The youth glared at him mutinously, 'You would have me abandon my people here and leave them to die?' Aragorn sighed. The pitch of the voice betrayed his youth – this was a mere boy.
Then another voice joined them. Legolas. He had a wild, fey look in his eye and there was blood on his shoulder that spread down his arm, but his voice was calm. 'You make mistakes when you are tired.' He told the youth. 'We will need you later, when you have rested a while.' He gestured at the battle 'No one is going anywhere just yet.' The youth suddenly collapsed slightly against his arm. 'We will need you to defend the children should they get through.' The elf added, sensing his small victory.
Then he pulled the youth towards him abruptly and lifted his chin towards him. Aragorn could not see the youth's face but Legolas suddenly looked furious, as though some suspicion had been confirmed, and he suddenly grasped the boy's arm. He pushed him away and Aragorn watched bemused as the elf marched the boy off, scolding him all the while and pushed him out of the edges of battle. Aragorn smiled as the youth took it into his silly head to argue with the elf. Aragorn knew he was wasting his breath, and as he thought, Legolas almost frog-marched the boy, pushing him in front of him, berating him as he went, until they disappeared he hoped into some safe place.
There was a brief pause in the immediate skirmishes around him and Aragorn took a moment to breathe and look about him, before plunging back into the fray.
Legolas watched Eowyn stumble out of harm's way and edge along the wall to safety, for as long as they held. He was breathing hard and furious with her for her recklessness, but he loved her for it too. When she had turned to face him and argue, he had scolded her as only one who has seen Thranduil at his most furious could, and reduced her to tears of fury and frustration and exhaustion. It was then that he had taken her arm and steered her roughly away from the Orcs and affray. He lost sight of the slender figure now and sighing, turned back.
He looked out over the battle to find Aragorn; the man had looked exhausted himself and Legolas worried that he might take some hurt. Now that Frodo and Sam were beyond his help, the quest had changed; it was now Legolas' duty to see Aragorn safely to Minas Tirith, and to fight at his side whilst he still had breath. It would be a distraction, he hoped, enough to let two small hobbits slip beneath the fiery gaze of the Eye.
Ahead of him, two Uruks attacked a Rohan warrior. He was beaten back and now slowly giving way. Legolas leaped towards him and swung his blade into one of the Uruks. It turned as he did, raising its own crude steel blade. Legolas was dimly aware of the terror in its eyes as it fell, and was briefly puzzled. He sensed a change, a rippling through the orc army, an unease and sudden panic. He could see nothing but the crush of orcs around him, some turning to hack at him in turn, or at another Rohan warrior. It was all too confusing, but he knew the Song had already changed, so he just kept on hacking and thrusting between armour into heavy flesh.
Spattered with blood and gore, grunting with effort now as his own body began to demand rest, he pushed himself onwards. It seemed too easy now, orcs giving way to him, pushing at each other almost to get away.
The elf was wary. Never underestimate orcs, he had learned; their hatred of the First Born overwhelmed them yet their lust did not always make them careless, sometimes they became more cunning. He would not fall into a trap, so he pulled himself back a little and stood breathing heavily to watch as the orcs seemed to try to scramble away from him. It was not he they were running from though. Dawn was breaking over the mountains and its first light crept over the blackened, charred land.
At that moment, sudden and terrible, from the tower above, the great horn of Helm rang out. (1) The echo of many horns rang across the battle field. Théoden was riding out.
'Helm! Helm is arisen and comes back to war. Helm for Théoden King!'
Again, the great horn rang out and its echoes rang around the valley and across the battle field. The battle cry was taken up with renewed vigour.
Then it was joined by another cry that Legolas did not recognise.
He looked up. There, from the mountains came loud battle cries and the clash of swords on shields. Hundreds of horns joined the great horn of Helm and a tall man with a red shield strode into the fray, slashing and stabbing any that were in his path. This must be Erkenbrand, thought Legolas. He was followed by a thousand warriors, all shouting and eager, fresh for battle.
Legolas turned and threw himself against a huge Uruk, its ugly mouth twisted into a sneer as the elf's blade plunged into its heart and his sword ripped through its belly. He realised there was less resistance, but more noise. It had changed. Orcs were not shouting their battle cry now. The shouting was more chaotic, more panicked. He felt a thrill run through him and suddenly a smell of lush green forests, leaves rotting in the rain, and his body thrummed with excitement. Orcs were running now, away, and then back, hither and thither. It seemed they were in disarray.
He became aware, slowly, of a deep, sonorous call, a song that wound its way slowly, slowly, like an ancient horn, through the ranks of fighting men and orcs, to the elf. He paused briefly in the slaughter, to listen. It made him feel young again, such as he had not felt since he set out with the children of the Fellowship, and his heart rejoiced at the vigour and depth of the voice, strong enough to drown out that other Voice that spoke of despair and destruction. Strong enough to wash him clean of the clinging touch of Grima, and all the evil of Orthanc. Legolas dodged a flailing arm and came face to face with a begrimed and weary Aragorn.
'What is happening?' he shouted. The man opened his mouth to answer but then turned to lunge at a black-armoured orc that raised his sword to clash against Anduril. Legolas sliced in between the neck and shoulder armour and the orc fell.
'Something has changed,' he shouted again to the Man 'Something strange is happening. It feels like...' He hesitated and then smiled slowly. ‘It feels like Gandalf.’
'Yes,' shouted the man and he waved towards the Mountains rising above them. 'He came...' Aragorn stopped to slice through the face of an approaching orc, 'over the mountains I think, or maybe from Fangorn.' Two Rohirrim came between them then and that was the last he saw of Aragorn for a while.
'Gandalf!' No longer unsure. The Song reverberated through every nerve and tingled in his fingertips. 'Gandalf!' he cried and again, he thrust into the mass of orcs, now struggling and fighting, not to kill, but to get away. But more, the dark edge of the army had changed and Legolas could see, could smell the green lushness of forests and glades. His blood sang in triumph for Arda would be victorious and he felt his bones and muscle and sinew sing out.
And then, almost suddenly, it all seemed over. The orcs had fled or lay dead or dying on the field. Quickly he despatched those not yet dead, emotionless. One Uruk, a dreadful wound pumping its black blood out and soaking the ground, yellow eyes slitted and watching him, bared its fanged teeth in a horrid grimace of pain.
'You think you have won, elf,' it panted, glancing down at the vambraces etched with Oropher's sigil. The Uruk sneered. 'You should see Mirkwood.' It gurgled as Legolas, not pausing, cut its throat.
He wiped his blade on the tunic of the beast and looked around. He would not think on what the beast had said.
The devastation was dreadful to behold. Already, carrion alit upon the corpses of orc, man and horse. Indiscriminate, black birds flocked, like black cinders in the sky. The battle had raged through the night and into the day, it was almost evening again. Small fires were lit over the battle field and he could hear the beginning of the sound of singing, a dirge, a lament for the fallen men of Rohan. He felt unutterably alone. Looking about, he saw other shapes, men, moving through the falling evening, stooping to pick up a sword or a token here or there, or longer, to cradle the injured or dead.
Battle fever seeped from his bones and he made his way towards the citadel. He stopped twice, once, to pull an injured man to his feet and help him to one of the fires, where the healers were setting up, and once, to hold a dying man while he gasped his last breath; he then closed his eyes. He felt the despair seep into his bones again but struggled against it. We won, he told himself, we live. He did not want to think who lived; he would not think on the Orc's last triumphant words about home, it was enough for now that Saruman had not won.
Wearily he made his way towards the mountain hold. It came to him then that he needed to know who survived. He needed to hold someone, to know he was alive, to know if what he felt was real. He was suddenly amongst the throng of Rohirrim, all making their way up to the Hornburg.
He gave his arm to a limping soldier, a rider whose horse had clearly been killed under him. The man turned his head away at first, and then when Legolas had seized his arm and drawn it over his shoulder, he had slumped slightly and whispered thanks. He left him at one of the many camp fires that had sprung up, to draw the survivors and to treat the injured.
Now he leaned over the high battlements of the Deeping Wall, needing to see everything, staring at the great gash made in its side by Orthanc Fire. He drew a breath, seeing again the fiery explosion, feeling the heat and the blast. He gazed beyond, to the scattered campfires dotting the battle field below, and then, he paused. Where he had expected to see the open steppe, there was forest. He leaned forwards, listening, stretching out his senses…He shaded his eyes with his long hand. 'Ah Elbereth. That was the change in the Song,' he whispered.
A forest of great trees. Silent. Utterly still. Impenetrable darkness beneath its eaves. Like a silent, frozen army their winter-bare branches tangled, roots buried in the battle-churned mud and grass. Woodelf that he was, Legolas Thranduillion stopped, amazed and lost in the resonant song that had caught him before, and now sang to his bones and blood, calling him to wander amongst their huge ancient boughs, to rest in their long limbs, and tangle leaves in his hair.
Other voices broke though his reverie. A breath escaped him like a long pent up sigh and he turned to see a tall, old man in white robes striding up the steps towards the citadel. With him, were Théoden, and Eomer, and Aragorn walked slightly behind.
'Gandalf.' A whisper but Gandalf spared him one brief glance, the blue eyes crinkling kindly. Then the wizard turned back to Théoden, bending to hear the King's words and nodding wisely.
Legolas' heart soared but he only sat heavily down on the ground and rested his head on his arms. Everything that needed to be was put right in that one instant. He knew it was not his time with Gandalf though, and sat instead, watching the wizard greet the Kings of Men who had returned victorious.
Gimli had already checked on his apprentice lads and been angry that some had not survived. But the four he had worked with most closely were all hale, though he saw the loss in their eyes and the bleeding away of innocence. It could not have been any other way. His archers were however, all unscathed and he rejoiced at the confident and assured way they now organised the caring for the injured. No longer warriors, they were wives and sisters and mothers again, and many grieved.
He hurried away from the scene, needing to find something bright in all that destruction. He searched for Legolas, and found him, grinning like an idiot and gazing like a child at the old wizard, who was clearly too busy to spare a thought for the likes of them, thought Gimli. But then the wizard glanced across at him and his face opened in a joyous laugh that seemed to make him brighter, bigger - not mortal at all but something Other, and Gimli laughed and Legolas joined him.
Now they were both idiots, he thought, but he didn't care, for the elf had laughed too and it was good that they were alive.
'So…?' Gimli puffed out his chest, ready for his victory. He had killed forty-two orcs, his best yet.
Legolas looked up. Gimli laughed to see the elation in the elf's eyes, brimming with childish glee. For a minute he thought Legolas would pull him into a bear hug and swing him round and round. But the absurd fancy passed as quickly as it had come, and Gimli was glad for it would be undignified.
'So?' Legolas said with schooled calm.
Gimli narrowed his eyes. The elf knew exactly what he was asking and he wasn't having any games.
'How many?' he demanded
'How many yourself first?'
'Forty two?' Legolas raised an eyebrow playfully.
'Forty-two,' repeated the dwarf calmly, patience of stone, he told himself and prepared to enjoy his victory. It did not matter to him that Legolas's arrows had been a hail of death to Saruman's army, and that Gimli himself had taken no small comfort from having the elf at his back, at least until they had left the Wall and leapt into the battle. Those did not count. It would be cheating. No, it was the ones you could look into their eyes and see the life dim, those were the ones that counted. Gimli had made this unilateral decision after the Fellowship’s first battle and he had seen the swiftness of the arrows fired. Never to be beaten by an elf, he alone had determined the rules and applied them with scrupulous fairness.
'Argh! Confound it Legolas. Come now, how many?'
'Less than you I think. I saw you, a bear wielding your axe and cutting through orcs like so much barley!' Generously Legolas said, 'You have bested me by one.' For he too knew the rules and after token argument, had accepted the gauntlet.
Gimli nodded in satisfaction.'And our plan was also a success,' he added, and Legolas laughed merrily – Gimli had almost forgotten the sound and he chuckled himself to hear it. It was good to be alive, he thought and realised he needed ale and red meat and food, warmth, comfort of others to remind himself that amongst all this death, they had survived.
Legolas' eyes had turned north-eastwards, homewards, and his smile faded.
'I know,' said Gimli softly, laying a hand on the elf's arm 'I worry for my folk too…but today, my friend. Let us enjoy a victory without rancour or grief.'
Gimli was right, thought Legolas, and he steeled himself against the Uruk's last words; only a fool would believe Mirkwood was yet unscathed. The Nazgul would have made Thranduil their first target, he was sure. They hated him beyond reason, hunted the woods for him relentlessly. So Legolas fortified himself with Gandalf's return and the certainty now that Merry and Pippin were safe… for Frodo and Sam were in the hands of the Valar. He smiled and offered up a quick prayer to Elbereth to give them good luck and the fortune to keep them safe. Then he followed Gimli into the citadel.
(1) Extracts from TTT Helm's Deep.
Next chapter: Eomer. What you've been waiting for!!
warning slash alert!
Beta for the original is the inimitable Anarien. I have posted two chapters here as they are quite short.
Disclaimer: blah blah no money all Tolkien's. I'm playing with Legolas.
Warning: AU -ish. Slash m/m
Chapter 9: Eomer and Legolas
Eowyn's face was dirty, smudged with blood that was not all hers and soot from Orthanc fire. There was a bloody scar on one flushed cheek that was not from remaining with Gimli’s women archers or tending the injured and she felt the pricking of tears in her eyes. She clenched her fists. I will not cry. I will not cry, she thought.
She made her way though the throngs of exhausted warriors, searching faces and smiling as she recognised those she knew. They reached out to her as she passed, their White Lady. But her most dear ones she knew were safe and she had fallen upon them with desperate relief. Both Théoden and Eomer were even now with Gandalf, who had returned unlooked for and although Aragorn had told the gathered Rohirrim at Edoras that Gandalf would bring help, few had believed it. Aragorn. Even now she saw in her mind's eye, his noble face, steady eyes and careful manner. But now she looked for another.
Then she saw the tall, slim figure of Legolas, and the shorter, muscled dwarf. 'Oh!' she gasped. 'You are both all right. I have been looking for you.' She laughed then. 'My brother and Lord Aragorn are within. And now you are here also.' She looked up at Legolas then, remembering how she had felt when he held her close, his hard, lean body pressed against hers, and said a little impudently. 'You are tired.' Her eyes sparkled with mischief, 'You make mistakes when you are tired.'
Legolas narrowed his eyes and for a moment, she thought he would scold her again as he had on the battlefield when he found her. But he sighed and smiled instead. Lifting his hand to the bloody scar on her cheek, he touched it lightly and she felt her heart leap in her breast when he did, for he was tall and strong and his beautiful smile bewitched her. She opened her eyes wide and a sudden sweetness washed over her then and she smelt meadow-grass and the frost coming down from the mountain. She was suddenly reminded that he was of the woods and wondered if he had something to do with the forest that edged the battle field and stood a silent vigil over the slain.
Legolas murmured something in his own tongue and she did not understand. With the sudden relief from the horror and the fear, her energy leaked away. She sobbed once and fell against the elf, who held her close and stroked her hair as he had done only days ago…was it only days? His hands were gentle, and he hummed a tune like an old lullaby, like horses galloping free across the high steppe beneath the rain-washed skies...
Gradually her tears faded and she realised the dwarf had quietly taken a seat on a boulder, ripped from the Wall by the blast that had left her deaf and ears ringing for hours. He had lit a pipe and watched her quietly, puffing rhythmically, and that too was soothing.
She gently pulled back a little, to see better the beautiful strong face above her. Parched, scorched by all she had seen, he was like rainfall, as he had been on that day which seemed so long ago when he had come to her in the night. He had not scorned her then. He had allowed her to go with him to release Théoden, and he had freed her from Wormtongue's horrid grasp.
'You are far from home,' she reached up tentatively and stroked away stray golden hairs that blew across his face. 'Are you lonely?' Her breasts pushed against him and she reached up and stroked her thumb across his full, sculpted lips. A bulge pressed against her hip and she smiled up at him. His lips were parted and his strange green eyes half closed, he closed his eyes slowly and he caught her hand in his, stopped her.
Then he opened his eyes and looked down at her. He still he held her hand in his and he did not step away. He swallowed and then said, as if it were an effort, 'Lonely? I have this dwarf that shadows my every move,'
Then he blinked and the spell was broken. He shook his head imperceptibly and stepped away from her so she no longer felt his warmth. 'He dogs my footsteps and will not let me fall.'
Gimli watched them shrewdly. He was quite sure Legolas had no dishonourable intentions toward the girl but Gimli had become fond of their warrior maid and the besotted look in her eyes made him wary. He had seen the spell Legolas cast over the unwary and when she reached up to stroke his mouth, Gimli removed his pipe from his mouth and knocked it out against the stone, loudly. He did not hear what Legolas said to her but watched as the elf gently but firmly untangled his fingers from hers. But he did not miss that Legolas stroked her palm as he released her, and although he gently moved away, it was with some reluctance. But in all honesty, how could the dwarf blame him; her burnished hair fell over her shoulders, her lips parted and her beautiful eyes gazed up at the elf as he stepped away.
Gimli harrumphed loudly enough to catch their attention and said gruffly, 'This is the fever of battle that makes folk act without foresight, without caution.'
He put his pipe back in his mouth and searched his pockets for pipeweed, then shook his head in irritation. 'No pipeweed for love nor money in this Aulë-forsaken place,' he muttered, almost loud enough for the girl to hear him. He determined to find Aragorn to see if he had had more luck.
He rose stiffly from the boulder and looked up at Eowyn.
'He needs a dwarf to keep him in order, lass.' Gimli took her hand firmly from Legolas and turned her away. 'These elves are very flighty you know.' He flashed his teeth at her, and put on the manners that had charmed an elven queen. 'Here today, gone tomorrow,' he confided.
As he turned her deliberately away from Legolas and walked her towards the Keep, he looked over his shoulder at the elf, and jabbed the stem of his pipe pointedly towards the elf's groin and mouthed a warning. Legolas looked away expressionlessly.
'Don't you be wasting your breath asking him if he wants for anything. And if he does, be sure not to give it to him! They live on air and in the trees, lass. They are not like us sensible mortal folk.' He ignored the muttered expletive in remarkably good Khuzdûl behind them and gave his attention back to Eowyn. 'Now what you need,' he said looking at her with his earth-brown eyes, 'is a good steady dwarf!'
Legolas laughed then too, and the dwarf knew he was not offended. He would know Gimli was right. She was young and vulnerable, ready to give her heart to any who she felt deserved it; she would confuse that lust for life and relief at surviving with love. And she yearned for love.
But just in case, Gimli resolved to have a firm talk with the elf once he had deposited the girl with someone reliable, and scruffy and unattractive, thought the dwarf, like Aragorn.
It was well into the evening but there was no feast. Instead the injured had been treated and the dead recovered and laid out in the lower halls. Eomer had spent time with the bereaved, and wept himself at the sight of those he knew and loved. Now, in the aftermath, he needed to make peace with the living.
That is what he told himself anyway.
Eomer sought the elf determinedly. He walked purposefully through the halls and passageways, opening doors and peering into alcoves. Eomer remembered the intimacy of the cell and the merry banter even when all seemed lost to him. He remembered the thrumming of his blood. He wanted that again. Just to be alive at the end of this dreadful slaughter, to remind himself that he had survived and so had those closest to him.
Briefly he peered in the hall, where Eowyn was talking with Aragorn. He paused to watch them and smiled. He could not be happier if his sister wed such a man. And that seemed likely now surely. What better alliance could there be for Rohan and Gondor to unite? It was politic but more than that, he wanted his sister to be happy.
He did not linger, feeling the unfinished business with Legolas drive him onwards. Where would an elf be? he wondered, exasperated. Stepping carefully between the rubble and the abandoned weaponry of orc and man alike, he searched the empty rooms and walls of Helm's Deep.
It was not just a case of wanting to thank the elf for his help, Eomer decided, he also wanted to end this…this…whatever it was between them. Remembering the blood on Legolas' shoulder he went towards the Healing Rooms. He peered about the quiet chambers, pungent with herbs and unguents, masking the blood and pus and dying.
Eomer felt he had searched everywhere, all over Helm's Deep...He suddenly had a thought. Ah! The caves of Aglarond. He had not yet searched in there. Perhaps elves liked caves. He had heard that the Elvenking of Mirkwood lived in caves. That was where Legolas came from, he remembered.
Making his way out of the door and into the light, the man intended to make his way along the Deeping Wall –or what was left of it. He decided he liked the elf, he liked his company, knew his prowess in battle- had been astounded even. Never had he seen weapons wielded with such precision and economy, seeking to slice not hack. Thoughtfully, he paused to look over the Wall, remembering how the orcs had gathered about his brightness, and how the elf had seemingly cut a swathe through the orc army to meet with Gandalf and Erkenbrand.
He had never really liked Erkenbrand, he mused, leaning his chin in his hand and resting his elbow on the crumbled rampart. The marshal had always seemed to him arrogant and insincere, but on this day he had never been more pleased to see someone in all his life. Except Gandalf. His coming was a revelation. And he had seen Legolas’ reaction when the wizard had arrived, the breathless relief, the parted lips and closed eyes. It had made Eomer stop to stare.
He realised his thoughts were circling round and round, and that gradually he was coming closer to what he really wanted to think about, what was really bothering him.
He thought again about the smile against his mouth and warm lips that closed over his, and the hand cupping the back of his head and bringing him close.
Before Eomer quite had time to really understand this, to digest it and to ponder any consequences, he found him.
Legolas sat cross legged on the thin crumbling ledge, with his chin resting on his arms and gazing into the far distance. His head was tilted slightly on one side as if listening.
Eomer coughed politely. He hoped the elf would turn … and wondered what he should say to him, then panicked a little as he realised he had no idea what to say, what to do... Should he apologise, for he had brought him into danger, had led him almost to Grima? Or thank him? Maybe congratulate him on their shared victory? Suddenly it seemed easier to let Legolas do the talking instead. So he coughed again, a little more loudly, and was annoyed at how nervous it made him sound.
Legolas was utterly still, his head turned away and gazing away across to the tree line. Almost, he seemed a carven image, had there not been the lightest breath of air to flutter his hair like a bright pennant.
Eomer stared. Then he shifted.
'My lord?' he began. And at that, Legolas slowly turned, his eyes focusing and sharpened. Then he moved his hands and stood, or rather, like a new leaf in sunlight, unfurled.
The elf slightly dipped his head and regarded the man intently. 'My lord? Are we become so formal after what we have shared?' He smiled and Eomer felt his mouth drop open.
What they had shared? Did he mean the kiss? He quickly closed his mouth, feeling foolish.
'Very well …. Legolas.' He licked his lips, Beama, he was nervous! Ridiculous, like some sweaty adolescent! It had been so much simpler before…well, before the battle, when he did not have time to think about it… He felt heat suffuse his neck and blurted out, 'I wanted to thank you.'
The elf did not shift his gaze, his face inscrutable and strangely impassive.
'To thank you,' Eomer blundered on, 'for what you have done…You know, awakening Théoden and er…' He pulled nervously at the neck of his jerkin, 'fighting alongside us…'
The elf continued to stand there, still and silent, but Eomer thought there was an upward twitch of his lips. He tried not to think about lips, warm lips on his mouth; he was really trying not to think about that.
Instead, he was suddenly more self conscious than he had ever been. He was aware of the bead of sweat on his upper lip, of the wave of hair that fell over his shoulder, of the coarseness of the material he wore next to his skin. The contrast to the elf, his utter stillness, his alien masculinity, his power and his total self control made Eomer feel utterly stupid. And then, suddenly, Legolas was very close, he felt the warmth of his skin and the breath on his cheek.
'You have nothing to thank me for, Eomer of the Mark,' Legolas said in a voice so quiet that only Eomer would hear. He smelt of … hay, thought the man with surprise, and leaves perhaps. And leather. And something else that was indefinable, strange. He leaned in a little more, as the elf said. 'I would do more for you if I can.'
It was an offer.
Eomer caught at his hand quickly, his blood pumping, surging. If he did not take it now, then when? So he grasped the back of the other's neck and pulled him towards him, feeling the elf smile against his mouth, like last time. But Eomer kissed him slowly this time, gently licking against his lips and pushing against his tongue.
'No, I should repay you,' he whispered in what he hoped was a seductive manner.
'What I had more in mind,' murmured Legolas, 'was riding with your Éored to Minas Tirith.'
And as usual, Eomer felt like the elf had pulled the floor away from under his feet. The offer was to ride with him, not…oh Beama, what a fool. He squirmed inwardly and pulled back. 'Ah. Forgive me, my lord, I…'
'Shhhh.' Legolas held a long finger to the man's lips. 'No more lords, or kings or titles…. Just you….And me.' The elf leaned in close, his hand on the other's shoulder.
Eomer held his breath.
Legolas’ eyes searched his intently and Eomer felt the gaze pierce him, keen as pain. It seemed endless.
Tentatively, he stared back, and saw things he had not realised before; straight dark brows drawn together in concentration, defined cheekbones and strong masculine jaw and mouth. He let his gaze travel down, strong shoulders, used to a heavier bow than he himself, everything about Legolas spoke of agile strength and power. He raised his eyes back up to Legolas’ face and saw the elf smiling; for a fleeting moment he imagined it almost predatory, but then saw again the strength and beauty of this warrior and a surge of lust throbbed low in his body and he heard himself moan.
He saw Legolas’ lips part and then he reached up and stroked Eomer’s face slowly, trailed his fingers down Eomer’s cheek and it felt...like a kiss.
Desire swept over him, and he grabbed Legolas and pulled him into a deep lustful kiss. His hands grasped the soft suede tunic, crushing it in his hand and he pulled him deeper. Nerves tingled with sensation. Long hair tangled in his fingers, muscles bunched under his hands, against his stomach and thigh; he thought Legolas would pull away and grasped him harder, he would not let go this time.
Instead, he was pushed back against the stone wall of the keep, and suddenly he was the one being kissed –deeply, passionately, another tongue filling his mouth and devouring him with need.
A raw heated passion coursed through him from that hot mouth on his. Long fingers expertly unclipped, unstrung and undid fastenings and suddenly his skin was bare to the night air and hands skimmed across his chest, paused briefly at his navel before plunging lower and cupping his sex. Eomer gasped and his eyes widened.
Legolas paused. He looked down at the man before him, spread against the wall, stripped to his waist, hair tumbling tangled and mussed, lips parted and eyes suddenly wide.
He had forgotten. In the man's exotic heavy muscle and flesh, the musk of arousal, he had simply forgotten…
This man was so young, and fated perhaps to be King one day. Men were not elves, not like elves. He looked at the soft curls that furred Eomer’s body.
Abruptly, Legolas stepped back. And sighed. He looked downwards for a moment and spread his hands in appeasement. 'I am sorry,' he said, looking away, 'I forgot myself…who I am...Who you are.'
Eomer opened his mouth outraged.
'I can NOT believe you are doing this AGAIN!' he roared.
Legolas took a step back.
'Every time. Every time…you do this,' the man panted. He shook his head, closing his eyes and clenching his fists. 'You entice me, and tease and tease. And...then walk off or …or... back off… and leave me in such need!' He took a step towards the elf, eyes blazing with passion and furious with his pent up frustration.
Legolas tilted his head slightly, astonished, enraptured by the passion of the man, his face flushed and eyes wide, chest heaving.
'If you were anyone else, I would…fight you!' Eomer said, struggling to control himself.
And then quite suddenly, he punched Legolas hard, as hard as he could, full in the face. And Legolas was so unprepared for the attack, he did not move, and there was a horrid wet smack. The elf's head whipped back and hair and blood spattered and flew everywhere. Legolas landed heavily on his back, and the man stood above him, breathing hard and fire in his eyes.
There was a moment of absolute stillness. Legolas lay there for a moment, stunned and aroused. Neither could quite believe what had happened.
Slowly Legolas sat up and moved his jaw gingerly. 'Well that hurt.' He felt his teeth with his tongue and spat out blood.
'Good,' said Eomer aggressively.
Legolas laughed wryly. 'I do not know how I deserved that,' he said, 'but you obviously think I did.'
He looked up at the furious Éomer, and found himself hard from it. He was not surprised by his reaction; he liked a soft woman and a hard man who would not hold back. He laughed again, a little breathlessly, and held up his hand. He saw how the man hesitated only briefly and then took it, pulling Legolas to his feet. But as soon as skin met skin, the fire leaped and burned once more and he wondered whether Eomer would punch him again or kiss him.
So he pulled Eomer hard against him this time, and wrapped his arms around him, straining to control the bunched muscles and sinews that he expected to fight him but did not. Instead, he found his mouth pressed against warm lips and copper hair against his face, Éomer smelt of worn leather, horses and the open air.
'I am not a child,' Eomer said before he kissed Legolas.
Legolas, breathless, pulled away slightly and dipped his head, ashamed. 'No. It is difficult. You are so young. And this is only what it is. No more. Is that enough?'
Eomer laughed and nodded. 'It is what it is and no more,' he said. ‘And no less either.’
Legolas wasted no more time talking and met the hungry lips, pressing against Eomer in a struggle of sleeves and breeches and buckles, his hands tugging and pulling until he had skin beneath his palms, realised with the still functioning and coherent part of his brain that his own warm skin was bared. He groped around on the wall against which he had shoved Eomer.
Surely there had been a door handle there somewhere?
And flipped it open, glancing over the man's head to see a dusty storeroom with sacks and...something. He gasped and suddenly wasn't at all interested in what else was in there because Eomer's hand had crept lower and suddenly grasped his balls in a firm, confident grip. He pushed the man inside and they fell panting onto a pile of empty sacks.
'Wait,' said Legolas and he dragged their clothes inside and with a quick glance around outside, he shut the door with a click.
He paused and looked.
Eomer lay, strong legs stretched out, where he had fallen, propped up on his elbows and staring ravenously at Legolas. His long copper hair fell in waves over his shoulder and the broad well muscled chest was covered in a light gold fur…Legolas threw himself on the sacks beside Eomer and reached towards him, stroking his pelt. So different. Heavier, stronger musk. Heavier flesh. Fine fur, not coarse as he thought it might have been. So alien to him. And the beard…he reached out and dragged his fingers through it, feeling the wiry textures and wanting to rub it against his skin. His erection jutted out but Eomer did not touch it, he was staring open-mouthed at Legolas himself.
Legolas felt suddenly, strangely self-conscious and glanced down at himself as Eomer reached for him even as he had reached for and stroked the man's difference. Eomer traced a finger across his breast, and Legolas realised he was staring at the yára-carmë* on his skin, the delicate, colourful swirls and abstracts that were the runes of protection and the emblems of his house, his battles, his story. Legolas caught his hand and pulled him closer instead for a hard, unyielding kiss, pushing his tongue into the man's mouth, smelling his scent and gripping his flesh.
'Don't waste time staring,' he muttered and pushed Eomer backwards on to the sacks, but he was not so far gone that he did not recognise the wince of discomfort and he groped behind him for his cloak and then shoving Eomer to one side, he spread his Lorien cloak over the rough hessian. He smiled for a moment, wondering what Galadriel would think of the use he put her gift to, and didn't care anyway. He tangled his fingers in the copper hair and pulled the man's head back, licking his throat all the way to his mouth and kissing him deeply, deeper, feeling the passion rise and lust take over. He rubbed himself against the man, feeling his cock throb and couldn't wait any longer. He leaned over Eomer and pressed his whole body against the lean, warmth, wanting to affirm he was alive, wanting life.
If you liked the extra scene, or this is the first time you have read this and you enjoyed it, it is really nice to let writers know.
yára-carmë - literal translation is ancient art. The woodelves, the silvans of Mirkwood commemorate battles and deeds with what we call tattoos. But that is a crude things beside the ancient art of the elves. There are other very practical reasons for the woodelves to identify themselves by permanently marking their skin, their limbs. And that is because they face battle with orcs every day - and you know what happens to elves if they are caught. Copyright ziggy but I’m always happy to share if you ask.
Chapter 10: Fangorn
I remember going off Aragorn for not returning Eowyn’s feelings when I first read LOTR. So she deserves some recognition...however, it is Eomer who gets the boy, or elf. Read Rohan’s Gold for the alternative version to this!
Beta: Anarithilen. If you are looking for something wonderful to read, check out Dark Forest on ffnet.
Disclaimers: All Tolkien's, we are only playing. Legolas did not sing bawdy songs about Gandalf etc.
Warning: AU m/m implied and referred to.
Chapter 10: Fangorn
Aragorn slid his sword into its sheath and cinched his belt as he strode through the small company preparing to ride with Théoden to Isengard. A tall Rohirrim warrior greeted him as he passed and he nodded back. Horses stood ready, Hasufel was already saddled and stood resting one hoof, eyes sleepily half-closed. Aragorn stroked the horse's velvet nose. He glanced around and saw that Gimli was gathering up his small pack and Eomer stood close to Legolas now, laughing and bright–eyed. Legolas was flushed slightly, and Eomer had in his hand one of the white knives Legolas carried and was tracing the engraving on the blade, his eyes fast on Legolas. Aragorn supposed that Eomer, having never met elves before, was interested in the weapons of Mirkwood elves.
Aragorn became aware that Gimli was standing at his side. He could feel his warmth against his arm. He glanced down.
'Good morning Gimli.'
The dwarf nodded. 'He is in fine spirits,' he observed, nodding towards Legolas.
Aragorn studied the elf. Legolas was animated and lively, his lips parted and his eyes merry. Aragorn smiled at the sight for it was good to have something else to focus on. His thoughts kept straying to the golden haired woman who stood on the steps to watch them depart. He felt again the warmth of her regard for him and he could not help but admire her for her courage and loyalty. He glanced down at the dwarf. Gimli's beard was looking a little frayed at the ends where he had been chewing it. Aragorn frowned; he had not noticed that habit before.
'Legolas is getting on well with Eomer,' he ventured wondering if Gimli was feeling left out by Legolas’ new friendship.
'Aye, it is good to see him laughing again after all this destruction and gloom,' Gimli answered. He looked at the Ranger shrewdly, 'And you, Aragorn? How do you fare now that your path is clear before you?'
Aragorn paused. Now that his path was clear, as Gimli said, his heart faltered as it had in the aftermath of Gandalf's fall in Moria. Gimli had not faltered however. He had never doubted, nor had Legolas. And there was Aragorn’s own promise to the dying Boromir. He felt the heat of the dwarf beside him and realised that their faith gave him the will to go on. Gandalf too was returned to them – but it was a huge task before him and he knew Denethor of old. It would not be an easy road- for here came the man to supplant him, bearing news of his beloved son's death. He sighed.
'I go now with Théoden as Gandalf bids, and then on to Gondor for she is beset by the Enemy. But I fear we are too few…' He looked around at the small company and then beyond to the men of Rohan who had survived the battle and were even now preparing to return to Meduseld. 'Even if Théoden comes to Minas Tirith with all those men he can muster, it will not be enough.'
'Your friends are with you Aragorn,’ Gimli said firmly, 'Whatever your path, ours is also.'
Aragorn could not speak for a minute. This unlooked for faith gave him a sudden surge of emotion, gratitude and confidence mixed. ‘Do you speak for Legolas also?' he was finally able to ask.
Gimli barely paused before he answered, 'Aye, I do. For he is steadfast as a dwarf, and his heart is as true.' The dwarf hefted his axe in one hand and glanced around. 'They are looking to move off, Aragorn. You must lead us out now. Let them know who you are.' He gave the man a gentle push and turned to look for his own mount.
Aragorn put his foot in the stirrup and swung himself astride Hasufel. He gathered up his reins, turned his head and rode way from Helm's Deep. As he passed the White Lady of Rohan, he raised his hand slightly and dipped his head. He could not help it for she stood tall and straight and proud, and he saw her quality.
Gimli watched Legolas swing himself lightly astride the horse he seemed now to have adopted. He stretched his hand up to the elf who grasped it and was swung up behind him onto the horse. Gimli drew in a breath as he always did…it was a long way down. He tried to relax as Legolas told him and let each muscle un-tense and smooth, but it did not really help when the horse abruptly surged forwards. He glanced over towards Eomer and wondered if he would be better off riding behind the man, but he also seemed full of fire and red meat after the great victory...and he had been obviously absent for part of the evening before, Gimli thought wryly. Many men, he knew, would have sought comfort after battle. Dwarves would not approve of such physical contact outside Binding, but he had learned to withold judgement on this long quest with Men and Hobbits and Elves.
Eomer turned and caught Gimli looking, but he grinned in a friendly enough fashion, and waved to Gimli, then rode towards them. Legolas’s horse suddenly shied slightly and Gimli lurched with it, grabbing at Legolas’ tunic but his long pale hair rippled in the wind and blew up in Gimli’s face so he sneezed and snorted.
‘You should tie this all in a braid, Legolas, or one day an Orc will grasp it and pull you down.’
Legolas glanced back over his shoulder and smiled. ‘It would have more purchse with one braid, and I can cut this if needs be.’
Eomer drew alongside them. 'Good day, Gimli Ironmaster,' he said, for many of the Rohirrim had begun calling Gimli this after he had worked the forges at Edoras with such skill. Sunlight caught Eomer's hair and the helm he wore. The long horsetail that streamed from the crest of his helmet blew across his face in the wind and his horse danced beneath him. Firesomething, Gimli recalled, although he had no interest in names of horses. Aragorn's horse, Eomer's horse, Legolas' horse. That was as much as he needed to know. It was a horse. Useful but still a horse.
'Good day to you Eomer,' he called. 'You ride with us to Isengard?'
'Indeed. I have much that I wish to say to the wizard Saruman.' He laughed cheerily, pulling his horse alongside them and facing Gimli. 'None of it good! And I wish to see for myself what destruction has been wreaked in my land,' he added more soberly. 'The last time I saw the Fords of the Isen I was sorely pressed and bearing news of Théodred's fall. It was a grim time for us all… and then it was that we met with you, Master Dwarf, and with you, Legolas.' He looked at Gimli and his companion warmly.
'Did you sleep well, my lord marshal?' Legolas suddenly asked. Gimli raised an eyebrow at his boldness, for surely Legolas had noticed his absence in the evening too, and when a deep blush suffused Eomer's cheeks, Gimli gave Legolas a slight pinch to let him know he should stop teasing the man.
But in spite of his blushes, Eomer smiled and answered, 'Aye, and you?'
'I,' Gimli interrupted cheerfully before Legolas started telling them how he found a blade of grass and spent the night singing to it, 'I slept like one of the Fathers themselves, for I had a bellyful of good ale and food. Good company and high spirits did me well too.'
Legolas turned his head slightly so he could see Gimli at his back, and smiled widely. 'I slept like I had run a league and back!'
Eomer laughed aloud and he filled his lungs with clean free mountain air.
Eomer looked up towards the Keep then and Gimli saw that he waved at Eowyn, who stood on the steps. She did not see him at first and then her lovely face smiled. Gimli thought of what Legolas had told them about her courage and her trial during Theoden’s enthrallment. He saw how Eomer softened as he looked upon her.
'I am glad to see my sister happy,’ said Eomer, ‘free from the horror that clutched at all our hearts. And thanks to you, ' he turned fondly to Legolas, 'we are all free of that. I think she is happy.’ He smiled softly, 'Her thoughts turn to love I think.'
Gimli gave a stifled gasp and dug Legolas in the ribs, hissing 'I warned you! Now you've done it.'
'Me? What have I done?' Legolas whispered back, wriggling ineffectively away from Gimli's prodding fingers. 'I suppose Gandalf's scurrilous comments about Mirkwood elves have been repeated endlessly in Erebor,' he snapped over his shoulder. He said Mirkwood with the same contemptuous tone he used for Mordor, or Sauron, or as he used to say dwarf.
Gimli found the end of his beard braids and started chewing. ‘You had better not have given her any false hopes!’ he muttered threateningly, knowing that Legolas could hear.
The elf cast a quick look over his shoulder and said irritably, 'She looks upon me like an older brother,’ then more brightly. ‘Or an uncle perhaps.’
'Uncle!' Gimli exclaimed loudly, and then quickly dropped his voice again to an angry whisper. 'She didn't look upon you like an uncle last night.'
Gimli realised he had started chewing his beard-braids again and hastily tucked the ends away into his belt. He was also aware of a clueless Eomer politely trying not to listen. He dug Legolas in the ribs again and nodded pointedly towards the marshal. Then he could not resist adding, 'No niece of mine ever looked like that at me.'
'I am not surprised,' said Legolas dryly.
Gimli huffed furiously, 'I'll have you know my nieces think I am very handsome!' he said sniffily, stroking his chestnut beard which was much admired by the womenfolk of Erebor.
Legolas smirked then, Gimli could not actually see him smirk as he was riding behind him, but he could just tell from the way the elf sat. The dwarf narrowed his eyes.
'Does that also make you Eomer's uncle,' Gimli retorted nastily, 'because if you are, well, that makes for an…' Just then Arod gave a snort, tossed his head and danced a little.
Gimli wobbled and clutched at Legolas' tunic. 'Oh, that's underhanded,' he complained. 'If it's going to be like that I will ride with someone else.'
'If anyone will have you,' bit back the elf but he sounded like he was enjoying this too much. Gimli opened his mouth to retort when Eomer coughed and he remembered they had company. He paused.
'If you are uncomfortable riding without a saddle. my lord Gimli, please, ride behind me if you wish,' said Eomer diplomatically for he had not been able to hear the subject of their muttered argument. 'I will ride beside Legolas so you will not be parted.' He could not hear what the murmured comment was from Legolas or the even quieter but venomous reply from Gimli. But the dwarf did not move, and the elf did not slow the horse to a stop.
Aragorn met Gandalf's blue eyes with a smile and tilted his chin towards where Legolas and Gimli argued. 'Shall we leave them behind do you think?'
'Tempting as it is, I think that Pippin and Merry might have something to say if we do,' said Gandalf. His hair shone white and his beard flowed over his robes. In his hand he carried his staff loosely.
He saw where Eowyn stood to watch as they rode away, her hair glinting in the sunlight. He felt her gaze on him and looked away. He did not want to think on her fair face, full of hope when she had taken leave of him. There had been a gleam of tears in her eyes and he had to fight the urge to lift his hand and touch them. He tried to focus on Arwen, but she was faraway, and Eowyn was beautiful and forlorn.
There was the sound of many horns blowing and the echo sounded round and round the fortress and the Coombe below. Théoden's banner was raised and the sunlight glinted off the many spears and helms of the company of riders who set forth to confront the fallen wizard, Saruman and to witness the destruction of the Wizard's vale.
The sky was a clean, washed blue and wisps of cloud were the only reminders of the dreadful storm of the day before, but as the small band moved across the battlefield, none could avoid the reminders of the terrible days and nights before.
Although the bodies had been gathered, and the valiant warriors slain on the field honoured, the land was scarred by the churning of hooves and iron-shod feet. Crude steel weapons, wrought in the fires of Orthanc lay scattered and half buried in the mud, or broken like some great beast had rampaged through. A tattered banner was trodden into the mud..
Aragorn scanned the tree line ahead. An eerie quiet surrounded them and they rode as if holding their breath The forest of them was an enigma that even Gandalf did not seem really able to explain. But it was enough for him that the trees they approached were on their side, and had disposed of the orcs in a way even a seasoned veteran Ranger did not want to think upon too deeply.
Under the dark eaves of the woods they passed and heavy boughs creaked and groaned overhead. No birds sang, no small creature scurried away. All was silent but for the sound of the trees.
Aragorn became aware that Legolas had slowly fallen behind to the back of the column. Aragorn looked over his shoulder at his friends and seeing the consternation on Gimli's face, and the distant, distracted look in Legolas's eyes, he turned Hasufel back to them and reined in alongside the elf and dwarf.
'Come,' he said quietly, 'we should not linger here. Even you, Legolas. Can you not feel the anger? It is not only orcs they hate.'
'The air is so heavy, like a storm.' The elf spoke in a hushed voice, 'Can you hear them, Aragorn? Can you hear their voices?'
Aragorn put his hand out to Gimli who had opened his mouth to protest, and stilled him. 'I cannot hear them as you can, but I know that even for you they are unquiet.' He ignored the dwarf's muffled comment and concentrated on Legolas. 'Come. We have at least a day's march ahead of us.'
'Aragorn… if you could hear them.' the elf said, and his eyes were distant and strange. 'Many an oak have I seen grow to ruinous old age, but never have I heard such voices as these.'
Gimli breathed a sigh of relief as the elf's horse trotted after Aragorn, but as they passed through, Legolas leaned slightly to the right, head tilted, listening. There was no breeze yet tendrils of his hair were gently lifted as though by unseen fingers. Gimli too felt a disturbance in the air, and it stroked along his cheek as if he were part of the elf.
It became darker and it seemed all sound was smothered. The air was hot and suffocating. The proud horses of Rohan snorted nervously and shook their heads, whilst the men sat still and were quiet and tense. The only sound was the jingle of bit and rein and the soft thud of hoofs on the turf. Gimli caught the eye of one of the riders of the company who turned and stared at them as they drew up. His face was anxious and strained. Another horse, a light bay, shied slightly.
Legolas’ horse fell in behind the bay horse and Gimli kept tight hold of the elf's tunic beneath his cloak. He stared straight ahead at the elf's back. But Gimli was a curious and intelligent dwarf, beloved of his people in the mountain and adventurous at heart. Try as he might, he could not quite keep his eyes from straying to the strange, brooding woods.
'Legolas?' Gimli whispered, hardly daring to speak, for he felt the tension in the elf's body and knew that he was listening. 'What do they sound like?'
Legolas did not speak straightaway, but was still. Then he glanced away and sighed, 'Ah, how can I find the words?' He paused and then quietly, almost murmuring, he said, 'How can I describe it to you? Imagine …a low deep sound, soft, wooden. Deep, deep beyond breathing...' The elf seemed half asleep and dreaming as he spoke, his head tilted slightly to one side. 'A low, deep sound, unutterably sweet, and it calls to you, calls you home to the woods where you were born. It is like the beat of your heart and the throb of your pulse…' He became very still, and slowly Gimli realised the horse had stopped too and its head was low, ears flickering towards the sound of the elf's voice. 'Ah... but they are grieving too…an old wound, old hurt, loss.'
Gimli gazed at the elf's back. He sat straight and tall, yet relaxed, his hands loose by his sides. His long pale hair swept down his back. The quiver and its knives were carved with scrolls and vines, leaves and runes. He had never noticed this before. So strange and different, yet what Legolas described felt familiar for that was how he felt when he listened to the earth and its sounds. In Khazad-dûm, he had heard in the deadly silence an absence, a great loss, the silencing of hammers and deep voices. He felt in the dead air the resonance and lost echoes. Perhaps this Song that Legolas heard was kin to the Great Secret of Khazad?
The elf was murmuring again now, 'I am sorry you cannot hear it for my poor words are but a shadow …' He paused, listening. Only he could hear the deep sound, like the wind sounding in mountains, or like the ocean breathing.
And then, the elf opened his eyes widened, looked back over his shoulder into the woods. He stared for a moment and Gimli swiveled on the horse to see what had startled him from his reverie so.
Legolas gasped and whispered, 'There are eyes! Eyes looking out from the shadows of the boughs! I have never seen such eyes before.' And he turned the horse back toward the shadow of the trees. Gimli clung to him in sudden panic.
'No! No!' he cried. 'Do as you please in your madness, but let me first get down from this horse!' He slid down from the horse and landed heavily. He looked up at the besotted elf gazing into the trees. 'I wish to see no eyes.' The dwarf said loudly.
Suddenly Gandalf was there. He raised his white staff and cried out in a voice that reached down into blood and bones, 'Stay Legolas Greenleaf! Do not go back into the wood, not yet! Now is not your time.'
Legolas seemed frozen. He leaned forwards as if straining to go into the wood. He closed his eyes and Gandalf reached him. He put his hand out and placed it gently on the elf's shoulder. Gimli heard his murmuring to the elf, and Legolas leaned in towards the wizard. Gimli frowned. He could not see Legolas’ face for he had turned away from them. Gandalf continued speaking to him, gently, carefully steadying him. Gandalf waited, looking at him intently. Legolas raised his head and said something back to Gandalf, looking ahead of him, resolute. Gandalf nodded once and then slowly withdrew his hand from the elf's shoulder. Legolas seemed steady then. He paused, bowing his head for a moment.
Gimli became aware of Aragorn who had dismounted and was now standing at his shoulder; his own horse cropped the grass nearby.
'What has happened?' he asked.
'Damn fool elf nearly went off into the woods- saw some eyes in there! Orcs or spiders. You'd think an elf from Mirkwood would know better.' But his tone belied the gruffness of his words and he watched anxiously.
'I know less of the folk of Mirkwood than I do of my own kin in Imladris,' said Aragorn. 'They are mercurial these Sylvans. Deadly and merry-hearted and utterly unpredictable.' He shook his head. Gimli did not answer straight away.
'So it was for me in Moria, was it not? Beside Balin's tomb,' Gimli spoke slowly. Realisation dawned and his irritation, born of fear, evaporated. He recalled the yearning for a lost past and sorrow for Balin. It had overwhelmed him as he stood amidst danger and ignoring his peril beside the tomb. It had been Legolas who grasped his shoulder and pulled him along after the Fellowship. Gimli sighed deeply. 'So it is for those of us of the Wood and Mountain. We feel deeply. We understand the Song of our hearts. He has his Song. I have mine and I could no sooner have walked out of Moria on my own than he can ignore his heart and walk out of here on his own.' Gimli dug his hands into his belt. 'I will be with him and bring him out safely, Aragorn. Fear not. We will still be with you.'
Aragorn touched Gimli's sleeve lightly. 'Then you will ride with him until we are out of the woods?' Gimli nodded and as Legolas and Gandalf drew close, he lifted his hand to the elf again who, almost in a dream, reached down and pulled him astride the horse as if nothing untoward had happened.
At that moment, there was a ringing sound, clear as notes from a horn but more musical and varied. There were answering calls from the other side of the rise, from the North. And then, from the trees strode three strange figures, as tall as and like young trees. They moved swiftly although their gait was like wading herons. Suddenly there was panic amongst the riders, swords clashed and scraped as they were drawn and horses wheeled about in panic.
'Stop!' Gandalf called,' You will not need your weapons! These are only herdsmen.' And it was as he said, for they strode quickly past the riders, sparing them not a glance and disappearing over the hill.*
Legolas raised his head and gazed in childlike wonder at the strange creatures as they strode past. He murmured a word that Gimli did not recognise. Gimli fingered his axe but did not dare move. Gandalf said they were no threat, but still he watched the elf. Who knew what he might do - run after them, call out, sing to them?
A strange nervousness settled over the company. First Legolas' sighting of the eyes in the wood and his attempt to ride into the shadow of the trees, and then the appearance of the even stranger creatures – all had utterly unnerved the riders. They clasped their weapons although they did not draw them as Gandalf bid, and the horses snorted and tossed their heads. Théoden looked about him in wonder and alighted on Gandalf. 'Gandalf? What herdsmen are these? What flocks? At least to you they are not so strange.'
Gandalf smiled sadly, 'No indeed, Théoden King. Is it so long since you listened to tales by the fireside? There are children in your lands who could pick out the answer to your question. These are Ents, O king, Ents out of Fangorn Forest which is called in your tongue, Entwood. You should be glad, for you are not without allies, even if you know them not.'
Théoden stared. 'Ents? I had thought them a children's tale, as you say. Strange times indeed. But then, much that I thought the stuff of legends yet walks among us…And that gladdens me indeed. For who would have thought the Heir of Isildur or the folk of wood and mountain would be here to aid us in our greatest need.'
Théoden glanced towards Legolas, who still stared after the Ents. 'Is it also not true that I should be sad, for however the fortune of war may go, much that is fair and wondrous might pass forever out of Middle Earth?'
Gandalf followed his gaze and paused. 'It may. The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured. Nor made as if it had not been. But to such days we are doomed. Let us go on now on the journey we have begun.'*
Théoden signaled the march forwards and the company set off once more. They settled into a steady canter for they wished to make their way quickly but spare the horses.
They followed the path of the Ents and Legolas found himself yearning to follow them, to speak with them. The song of the Wood had entwined about his heartstrings. In his childhood, long long years ago, he had heard tales of the Onodrim, and all Sylvans loved the stories of Fangorn and the Huorns. When Gimli had spoke of them and told him that Merry and Pippin were with the Ents, he had felt a trembling of excitement, like Spring. Now he had seen them for himself amidst all ruin and darkness he felt young again. His heart soared and he let himself feel the rhythm of Arod and his hooves pounding on the springy turf, above him the sky was high and blue. He felt in his blood and in his bones then, the song of Rohan, of the high blue sky and open steppe, and it felt powerful and elated. … And twined around it, deep voices, below sound, the call home of the Woods…like the beat of his heart and the throb of his pulse…He flung out his arms, let his head fall back and gazed up into the high blue sky, letting the wind blow through his hair and ignored Gimli’s stifled irritation with his hair. He closed his eyes and let Arod take over, quickening his pace as he felt Legolas’ own energy and elation.
Arod kicked up his heels and bucked for pure pleasure and Legolas laughed aloud. He felt Gimli clinging like a bur. He reached round and grasped the dwarf's hands reassuringly but let Arod have his head and they surged over the crest of the hill and swooped downwards towards the Isen. He glanced over to see Eomer close beside him and grinning with Woodelf mischief he burst into song. He sang loudly, his voice lifting on the wind.
Aragorn caught the change in the march. Hasufel danced a little and tossed his head. The bit jangled but Aragorn always rode lightly and it bothered him not at all. He looked to see what had changed and then caught the cheerful song. He smiled, glad that Legolas was back to himself.
During the long march from Rivendell, Legolas had often sung when the hobbits were tired or hungry.
Aragorn could just pick out the tune he now sang. It sounded like a Spring Song that was sung in praise of Yavanna, but he was puzzled, for the odd word that drifted back did not quite make sense to him. He patted Hasufel's neck and urged the horse to catch up with Legolas and Gimli, and Eomer who rode alongside them. The sun shone brightly and the sky was that clean blue that seemed washed after rain and the troop cantered lightly down towards the sparkling river.
As he drew closer, he heard the song more distinctly. Aragorn was sure he heard Eomer's name mentioned in there somewhere, but it must have been something else surely?
'Ai, Elbereth! Gerich tele velui!' the elf was singing cheerfully.
Aragorn winced. Gandalf had cocked an ear to the song and was looking pained. He recalled several songs that Legolas had sung during the long march from Rivendell. It was a very good thing Gimli or Boromir had not understood the Grey Tongue as they were most frequently the target for the elf's humour. But Frodo had laughed. Aragorn and Gandalf had both forgiven much because it had lifted the hobbit out of the brooding despair he sank into more and more.
'Cuno am, melethen, caro!' the elf sang even louder and this time, Gandalf turned in his saddle and stared hard at the elf.
'He had better not be singing about me this time,' growled the wizard.
Legolas smiled beatifically at him ignoring the withering look and hummed a few jaunty bars and then sang brightly, 'Garo sen enni.’ The tune struck the pace and the entire Rohirrim company marched briskly along at the rhythm of the song.
'What is the meaning of the words?' Eomer asked Aragorn as he drew alongside.
Aragorn winced slightly. 'He sings praise for the creation of Yavanna,' he said hopefully.
'Are you sure?' Gimli called above Legolas, who was humming the tune again as if it were a chorus. 'I think I have picked up enough Sindarin now to know some words and I thought he said…'
'Gimli, do you know what kind of trees those are?' Aragorn asked desperately, hoping to stop the dwarf.
'What kind of …?' Gimli asked astonished, at such a question, 'How do I know what…?'
Legolas, knowing exactly Aragorn's discomfort, laughed loudly and sang again
'Ai Elbereth gerich tele velui
Cuno am, melethen, caro!'
'You are in high spirits today my friend,' Aragorn commented dryly. Legolas blazed a smile at him so sweet that he shook his head and gave up. 'Your heart is glad and you now know Gandalf and the hobbits are safe.'
Legolas paused in his outrageous song. 'I never doubted it,' he lied brazenly, grinning widely. He heard the dwarf at his back splutter in outrage. 'I am an elf,' he said, even more irritatingly, cocking an eyebrow at the amused Ranger. 'I am in touch with the Song and knew Gandalf had not fallen but was lost to us for a while.'
The dwarf guffawed then, loudly and cheerfully. Aragorn smiled to see them both. Gandalf's return had given them all hope, unlooked for and beyond their expectation. It made all else seem possible, even Frodo's quest seemed not as hopeless.
Translation of the words above (courtesy of
By Elbereth! thou hast a lovely arse
Bend over my lovely do
Hold this for me…
The rest of this Mirkwood rendering of a sacred song is not printable on a family site and the Mirkwood elves have a lot to answer for. Any comments about the elvish translation, please note that Legolas is from the 'unlettered folk' of the woods and doesn't really give a damn. I however, have checked with a very reputable site which has a cheeky translation comment bank that is great for these sorts of things.
Chapter 11: The Fords of the Isen
Disclaimers – usual. All Tolkien's and we are only playing.
Warning: AU-ish and m/m
Again, thank you to Anarithilien for betaing this.
Chapter 11: The Fords of the Isen
Once they crossed the Isen, Gimli had managed to persuade Legolas to slow down and now the elf had soothed Gimli and made up for the reckless gallop down the hill and across the Ford.
'You were perfectly safe, Gimli. Arod is very sure footed,' he said calmly.
Gimli removed one hand from where he gripped the elf and tried to smooth down his beard and hair and to pull his round helm back to where it should be. He could not see the mischievous twitch of Legolas' mouth as Eomer caught up with them breathing hard and his horse, Firefoot blowing and snorting. Eomer let him have his head and they stood side by side, letting the horses crop the short grass.
Man and elf laughed together and met each other's eyes, much the way they had the night before in shared and mutual liking. Legolas let his gaze roam freely over the man, unabashed, although Eomer blushed a little under his gaze. Legolas saw and smiled but looked away, remembered the feel of the heavy muscle and furred skin, the rasp of a beard against his cheek and although he had muffled the man's ecstatic shout with a deep kiss, he recalled too, the softness that came after the hard unyielding coupling, for he had not held back and neither had the man.
Théoden's strong white horse, Snowmane, pulled up alongside them. The King's eyes sparkled and his face was flushed. 'Is this the way all elvish cavalry ride?' he exclaimed 'Pelting into the mouth of doom?'
Legolas looked at him and decided he could not know his people's sorrow so he inclined his head, 'Only with a dwarf at their backs insisting we ride faster,' he flashed a grin at Aragorn who joined them.
'A common occurrence?' asked Eomer. Legolas felt the dwarf prod him.
'No. And not likely to ever be again!' said the outraged dwarf. He struggled to slide down from Arod but it was too far really and Legolas had no intention of helping him dismount so he gave up.
'Will you ride together when you eventually go home?' Théoden asked, 'Your way lies together?'
'Yes, although the distances are far enough that Dain's folk and our folk do not share table very often,' Gimli said, and then with an air of innocence he added, 'although my own father was once the guest of the Elvenking.'
Legolas stiffened, tilted his head slightly. Once such words would have led almost to blows but it had long ago lost its heat and instead he sharpened his wit and tongue for sparring with the dwarf.
'Indeed,' Théoden sounded impressed. 'He must be a dwarf of renown to be so honoured.'
'He is indeed.' Gimli answered. He drew himself up. 'I believe my father would dearly like to give him the same level of hospitality should the King ever visit Erebor.'
Legolas drew a sharp breath and he felt the dwarf brace himself. 'Truly?' Legolas replied smoothly, not looking behind at his companion but at the king. 'I had heard he was not so courteous, and that he disported himself during his stay in a barrel of wine.'
'Ah.’ Théoden shot a look back at Gimli who was taking a deep breath in preparation for battle. Realising his naivety in allowing the sparring to have got even this far, Théoden deftly directed the conversation elsewhere, 'And is the Mountain as beautiful as I have heard tell? I had folk pass through, travellers, who told of the splendour of its halls and the richness of the dwarves who delved great halls.'
Gimli chose to be mollified and Legolas inclined his head slightly, acknowledging Théoden was King in this land and they were, after all, his guests.
But Gimli glared at the elf's back anyway. Softly he murmured 'Even as elves have a gift with song, dwarves have a gift with fire and stone. I am thinking fire and heat.'
Legolas broke then and laughed merrily. He reached for the dwarf's hand fastened to his tunic, as he had before.
At the gesture of friendship the dwarf softly laughed. 'Did you feel my gaze burn you then my friend?'
'No, I merely felt a warm glow,' replied Legolas.
Legolas burst into song. Not one of the long and rather sorrowful ballads his friend had heard in Rivendell, but a cheerful lilting tune. He knew the dwarf smiled and nodded along to the tune.
That night, as the company settled, Aragorn sat with Legolas and Gimli. The elf seemed lost in thought, the dwarf anxious and fidgety. Aragorn took out his knife and picked up a stick. His clever fingers whittled away at the wood, soothing and quieting his mind, he too was caught up in his thoughts.
At last it was Gimli who broke the silence and Aragorn was glad to have something else to think about. 'Those were Ents then?' he said to no one in particular.
Neither man nor elf responded.
'Big. Scary, Bit like trolls,' Gimli went on provocatively and Aragorn smiled to himself, waiting for Legolas to respond, but he did not. The elf stared thoughtfully into the fire.
'Glad they are on our side….' Gimli seemed content to let things lie as well, and stroked his beard thoughtfully. Aragorn blew away a bit of dust from the wood in his hand. He knew the dwarf hankered for a hot bath and oils to untangle the knots that had worked their way into his hair and beard. He had noticed that Gimli had increasingly fallen into that habit of chewing the ends when he was worried.
Gimli paused for a moment and then said, 'Wonder what happened to the orcs...Do you think they ate them or something?'
Legolas smiled. 'Gimli, you sound like Pippin.' He threw a twig onto the fire and it leapt and crackled.
'Ah –we will see Merry and Pippin soon I hope,' answered the dwarf. 'It will do us all good to have sight of each other for I doubt not they are also thinking of us. Gandalf had not seen us when he met up with the hobbits so they do not know if we yet live.'
Aragorn considered this for a moment but Legolas was suddenly alarmed and sat up.
'I had not thought! And they do not know of Boromir perhaps?' His fair face was troubled. 'That will be a grievous blow indeed. Pippin was fond of him.'
Aragorn's companions were quiet, each remembering the terrible blow that sundered the Fellowship and set them on this trail. Aragorn let his hands fall idle and he stared into the fire, replaying that dreadful moment when Boromir had fallen and Frodo and Sam departed. He had felt then a failure, and nothing had changed.
Then Legolas spoke with firm optimism. 'Gandalf's return is an omen and the Song has changed.’ He tilted his head on one side, considering the wizard who sat with Théoden a little distance away before the King's tent. 'I think he has still more surprises for us.'
Aragorn looked down at his hands and was not cheered. 'We will have need of everything he can muster,' he said grimly. It suddenly seemed overwhelming. Minas Tirith seemed impossible. Denethor was too strong and his jealous nature would never permit Aragorn a part in the City’s defence. Even Gandalf would not overcome this. He suddenly wished he could go home, back to Arwen, to lie his head against her and for her comfort.
Aragorn stared into the fire. It hurt him to think of all the obstacles, the expectations now and he grew quieter and more pensive. He was hardly aware of the looks his companions gave each other, nor did he notice when Legolas began singing very quietly under his breath at first, not a bawdy tavern song, but the Lay of Luthien. He chose the part where Luthien gave her love to the man who was her beloved. Aragorn sighed heavily, listening. Unconsciously his hand went to the token around his neck and it warmed his hand. He thought of Arwen and sank into slumber with thoughts of her to keep him company.
Gimli looked fondly at the sleeping man. 'He needs to rest.' He pulled a blanket over the long legs and tucked it under him.
The elf laughed softly. 'Will you tuck me in too, Nana?'
'Is Nana the elvish word for fearsome dwarf lord?' Gimli asked narrowing his eyes.
'Yes,' said Legolas, eyes gleaming in the firelight. 'Now sleep. I have need to watch the stars this night. I feel I have not seen them for a while.'
Gimli ignored him. 'He needs rest and so do you. We have a long journey still and the road to Gondor will not be easy.'
Eomer stood quietly watching the stars. He could not sleep although there was peace now in his heart where before there had only been rage and bitter regret. Saruman's army was vanquished and he now rode to see the result of their victory. He did not know what they would find but he trusted Gandalf.
And more than that…he closed his eyes sleepily. His limbs were rested and he was sated. He touched his mouth and smiled, remembering the stone storeroom at Helm's Deep he and Legolas had almost tumbled into that night before. He remembered the pile of sacks Legolas had thrown down in one corner and hurriedly spread his cloak. The elf had pushed him down, hands sweeping over the man's shoulders, his back and flanks like he was some prize and Eomer had not minded that fierce and uncompromising possession. And he had not minded that the elf had pounded into him until he felt the pressure in his own loins explode furiously and his cry was swallowed by the passionate mouth of the elf who held him in with such strength, such ardour.
The hard coupling between them had been followed by gentleness and quiet. Legolas had lit a small fire with dry tinder in the storeroom's tiny hearth and leaned back on one elbow watching him. In the firelight, his skin was warmed and flushed. Eomer had in turn explored the strangeness and masculinity that was the elven warrior, his hard muscles and silk hair, and the strange markings inked onto the elf's warm skin, on his arms and across one shoulder. Eomer had seen such things once on the forearms of a merchant from Harad, but not since or before. And those had been crude etchings compared with these delicate, colourful swirls and abstracts.
'What are these?' he had asked, finger tracing the green and gold ink runes on his wrists and thighs. The firelight flickered, casting golden light on both of them.
'These are the emblems of my house,' the elf had replied, tracing the oak leaf and runes. 'And these are remembrances and runes for protection. And marks showing what I have done in battle.' He had indicated the swirling patterns and curlicue flourishes on his upper arms and that on one side, spilled across his shoulder and onto his chest. The wild colours seemed to merge and blur, almost into one shape.
'You have the emblems of your house on both arms?' Eomer had followed a swirl with his finger and now followed it to the elf's nipple. He circled it slowly.
'And on your thighs?' Eomer had smiled and traced there also. 'Why is that?'
The elf had gone quiet, staring at the gold oak leaf, beneath which his father's sigil and his own were etched. 'I am no different in this from any other elf in Mirkwood,' he said. 'Orcs and spiders are not particular, nor tidy.' He smiled wryly. 'There has always been war in Mirkwood, for as long as I remember we have fought. But still I miss home, the tall beech trees and cool streams that run through the woods.' He had grasped Eomer's hand firmly and rested it on his lax sex.
But Eomer had not known what to say. Here he sat, with his hand laid lightly across an elf's lap, whose own home was far away. Yet he was here. With Eomer. And fighting Rohan's enemies.
Orcs and spiders are not particular, nor tidy. A horrible image had risen up in Eomer's mind. He was no innocent and had seen many a skirmish with orcs and Saruman's minions, but this war was new to Rohan. Villages had been razed to the ground and all that was left was a smoking ruin, but the dead were left intact. The idea that the elves needed to mark their body parts was suddenly unbearable. He had looked at the elf's strong, muscled limbs, his long legs elegantly draped over the pile of sacks, the light from the fire flickering over his skin, warming it to gold.
Eomer had a sudden memory of the battle at Helm's Deep.
Legolas. Surrounded by orcs that seemed bent on his destruction. The hate gleamed in their eyes more strongly, and they seemed to gather in that small space around the elf – and yet he held them back.
He had remembered then an old, old tale that orcs were elves once…. And the thought brought bile to his throat, even now.
He had felt the quiet settle upon them and slowly raised his eyes to Legolas, who regarded him, utterly still.
'Is it so hard to think?' the elf had said softly, holding his gaze. Eomer had stared, believing the elf must see his thoughts. The long green eyes were flecked with gold, deep green like the forest...alien, ancient and strange. But in the battle there had been a crazed lust for battle in the elf's eyes which had been reflected in the eyes of orcs.
He had scrambled back suddenly, away from the tall, naked elf-warrior who watched him closely, thoughtfully. The man had stopped within arm's reach, breathing hard.
'Is it so hard to think?' Legolas had asked again in that softly accented voice. Eomer had almost become so used to the elf he had stopped noticing the differences – but now, again, he saw the alieness in stark contrast. Eomer had stared, mouth open. The elf had not moved. He had lounged, naked, near the fire, his arms still draped where Eomer had been only seconds ago, his long legs crossed at the ankles. Firelight flickered over the wild abandon of colour tattooed on his skin.
'Are you afraid?' the elf had tilted his head suddenly to one side. Long pale hair had fallen across his chest and half obscured the wild colours that seemed then to merge into one figure, one shape. Legolas had swiftly leaned forward and grasped the man's neck firmly, pulling him close. 'You have nothing to fear from me.' He had looked intently into Eomer's wide eyes and smiled wolfishly. 'I am but a simple Woodelf. We are less dangerous and much, much more wise.' Then he had closed Eomer's mouth with his own, demanding and insistent.
Now, in the clear cold night near the Isen, Eomer stirred and his hand reached almost unconsciously to his thigh. It was too complicated for a simple horseman like him.
'I see you do not wish for company,' a voice smiled by his ear. He jumped, eyes wide and hand on his knife. The elf stood so close he could feel his heat through the soft tunic he wore.
'I wish you wouldn't sneak up on people like that,' muttered the man, but he grasped the fingers of the other and pulled him close. 'But since you are here, perhaps you might keep me company?' The elf smiled. Eomer could see the glow of firelight reflected in the darkness of his wide cats-eye pupils rimmed with thin green iris. Eomer caught his breath. Eomer felt he walked on the edge of danger and it had only made him hunger more.
'Hardly discrete my lord,' the elf whispered, and he was so close now his breath tickled Eomer's ear deliciously. 'If you make the noise you did last night, they would think a warg was attacking.'
Eomer grinned back, 'And the noise you made was like an orc army on the rampage.'
'I know not how you could hear anything, you had your head…'
'Hush,' Eomer interrupted, glancing round.
Legolas quirked an eyebrow and said mischievously, 'One would think you didn't want others to know how …'
'Ah yes!' Eomer interrupted again loudly. This time he gripped the elf's elbow and pulled him away out of the firelight. He seemed suddenly normal, the humour familiar and the sensation of otherness fled. Eomer kissed him deeply.
'You are insatiable,' laughed the elf. He tangled the fingers of one hand in Eomer's hair and the other hand grasped his tunic. 'Now, what would you have of me?' he asked in a way that was more a demand than request.
There was a cough behind them and Eomer jumped again. Legolas did not move away, his breath hot and quick and his fingers still entangled.
'Gandalf.' The elf did not look at the old wizard, his bright eyes still fastened on Eomer. 'Did you wish to join us?'
Eomer was quite scandalised and when the wizard advanced on them glaring he was more than a little scared.
'If you think to shock me, Legolas Greenleaf,' the wizard said threateningly, 'think again; you do not deal now with Noldo or Men. I promise you that I am not so easily swayed'
'We were discussing studs and what lines to choose should we cross an elven steed from Mirkwood with a Rohan steed.' Legolas still had his hand on Eomer's chest and although he had let go of his hair, he still looked lustfully into Eomer's eyes, and the man could not look away.
'Really,' Gandalf said dryly, 'I would have thought that a most unsatisfactory pairing. What kind of offspring would it produce?'
Legolas laughed. 'A good ride,' he said cheekily, watching Eomer blush.
Gandalf swept up his robes and threw them rather unceremoniously over one arm to get them out of his way. 'Have a care, Thranduillion. I do not think your father would approve a cross between such different mounts. And do you not have your own mounts at home?'
Eomer started at that and he unconsciously drew back. A flicker crossed Legolas eyes then and the strangeness that Eomer had almost become used to returned.
'You know well that is not my way, Mithrandir.' At that, Legolas turned and confronted Gandalf. 'And I am far from home. It is not my way, though the trees wither and the fire burns all the ground in the wood. But I am not there. I am with you.' He put his hand then on Gandalf's arm. 'I am still here. Isn't that what you wish to know?'
'For now at least…and it was only put on you to go as far as the mountains, I know.' Gandalf sighed, 'You have come further.' He turned and looked away into the East, where a dull red glow seemed to tinge the night sky. 'Come child, you and I must have words.' He put his hand on Legolas' shoulder affectionately. 'I have a message for you.'
Eomer felt confused; he had been dismissed. He walked away to give them their privacy. He was acutely aware of their presence however, and longed for Gandalf to leave. Like a moth to a flame he was, and he would have no regret.
He was aware of the cold air and the smell of night. Stars hard silver studs above him and the turf beneath his feet. Behind him, the wizard bent towards the elf and their voices were low. At one point, Gandalf seemed to recite a rhyme and after he had finished they did not speak. Then Legolas asked him something in a low urgent voice, though if Eomer did not know him better, he would almost say Legolas was afraid. Gandalf had paused before replying but Eomer was trying hard not to overhear and he only discerned a low concern in the wizard's voice. They moved away after that and took a seat beyond the camp.
Eomer only saw Legolas briefly then as he returned to his companions. But his heart clenched when the elf passed him with barely a glance. He dug his nails into his palms and sighed. Legolas had not lied – he had said to Eomer, This is only what it is and no more. And he, Eomer, had said it was enough. And so it must be.
Gimli was still sitting by the fire and watching Aragorn sleep quietly. In sleep, his face lost its cares and the worry, and the lines round his eyes and mouth eased. He looked younger, thought Gimli. The road before them was still far and at its end now was Boromir's father. Gimli was certain he would not give up his throne to this stranger easily. Oh, and then the small matter of Mordor's armies to take care of.
He became aware of the elf rather than heard him. It was a strange sensation but he was used to it now. He did not glance up but stared into the fire, musing.
Legolas sat near him and said nothing. His long fingers twitched and then found a twig that he began to strip of bark until the pale wood was bare. Gimli thought this strange but did not comment. Legolas threw the twig impatiently on the fire and breathed out. He picked at a loose thread in his cuff. Gimli cocked his head.
'You need to sleep too,' he told Legolas, who looked up and Gimli thought he looked unusually agitated. 'I will watch.'
'There are ten others who can watch this night,' replied Legolas sharply. 'Take some rest yourself.'
Gimli watched him carefully. Legolas shifted as if he could not get comfortable and his head was bowed over his sleeve and he pulled irritably at the loose thread until it came away. He said nothing but waited. Patience of stone, he reminded himself.
‘What has happened, Legolas?’ he said after a heartbeat. ‘You were watching the stars and that rests you.’
'I cannot rest now.' Legolas frowned. He sounded irritable and unlike himself. He leaned back on one elbow gazing up at the night sky that was now scattered with light stars. 'Rest… what does that mean?' he murmured to himself.
Gimli looked at him carefully.
'Rest. Sleep. Take some time…' Gimli said slowly, patiently. 'You need to recover. You have been in a battle and before that you were on your own confronting Saruman through Grima. And before that we were many months in the wild and hunted by orcs. Now we have a brief time for rest before we go on to Gondor.'
'Rest can also mean death, can it not?' asked the elf, his voice sounding strained. Gimli looked sharply at him but his face was turned away and the dwarf wondered what had happened.
'Where did you go just now?' he asked sharply. The elf said nothing but looked down at the new twig he was stripping. His actions were sharp and his elbow jabbed out as he moved. His brows were drawn together and Gimli thought how unhappy he looked.
'I have been scouting,' the answer was terse.
'Who did you speak to then?' the dwarf persisted
'Gandalf,' Legolas fidgeted and stood up restlessly. 'Are you set upon going all the way to Minas Tirith?' he asked abruptly.
Gimli looked up startled. 'Faithless is he who would abandon his friends now.'
Legolas laughed bitterly. 'Faithless say you?' He looked down and would not meet the dwarf's brown eyes.
'Surely you are not thinking of abandoning Aragorn when he is on the brink of his greatest task?' Gimli was astonished that Legolas would even think such a thing.
Legolas shook his head slowly. The firelight flickered in his eyes. 'No. I … I do not wish to…'
'You do not wish to? Well? Are you thinking on it? Legolas, Aragorn is counting on us.'
'I know this.' Legolas said quietly, almost too quietly. He passed his long hand over his eyes and his lips thinned.
Gimli's eyes narrowed. 'Are you well Legolas? Has that forest laid some enchantment upon you?'
'I... No…Well, yes but that is not it.'
'No well yes?' Gimli snorted, 'That is not very helpful. Why are you thinking these thoughts? We have come far. We are a Fellowship, are we not? The hobbits will join us soon and what will they think if you go gallivanting off? You are not thinking of going off into yon forest without me, are you?'
'No. That I will not do, Gimli. I will go to Isengard with you,' said Legolas. 'Do not fear that I will leave you now. I wish to see Merry and Pippin again and to hear their tale. It will be a wonder I think, if they have been with Ents. I wonder what we will find.'
'Well I hope it will not be another orc army. My axe is notched and dented and I need a proper forge to renew it. '
'And I only have arrows I have gleaned and those do not fly as true as I would wish' added the elf. He paced restlessly about the fire. 'I will go and scout,' he said. 'These men are valiant but their senses are not like ours Gimli.' The dwarf nodded and it was only when the elf had slipped away that he realised Legolas had not answered his question.
Thank you to wonderful reviewers who take the time to press that button – yes, just there, at the bottom, to say they have enjoyed reading this. Just a quick line is lovely to know who you are out there.
Well- hope that has given you something to think about. I like the idea that Mirkwood is aware of its rather bad press out there, (even amongst those who should know better, Gandalf!) and doesn't give a damn.
I have to add for those of you who are not sure, there is absolutely no evidence that Legolas has tattoos, all my lurid imagination I am afraid – but I think it makes sense that they would have markings to identify their bodies bearing in mind what the Prof does tell us about orcs and elves.
Next chapter: Saruman has something rather nasty in store for Legolas. He has not forgotten that Legolas messed up his plans for world domination!
Chapter 12: Pippin
The Fellowship is reunited at Isengard, and Legolas has some thinking to do.
Warning- angst and hobbit humour.
Chapter 12: Pippin.
Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In joy thou hast lived.
Beware of the Sea!
For if thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
Orthanc. The Citadel of Saruman, not only Mount Fang but the Cunning Mind. Long ago it had been considered a place of great beauty and learning. Great lords had dwelt there. The Wardens of Gondor and Wise men watched the stars. But Saruman had slowly shaped it for his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived. For all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, but only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dur, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival and laughed at flattery. Biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength. (The Two Towers)
The King of Rohan reined in his white horse and gazed at the destruction before him, astonished.
He had been here many times in the old days and wandered in the fair gardens within the Ring of Orthanc, amongst great trees. The kindly and wise Saruman had counselled him in friendship and guided him in the early days of his kingship, and then onwards. So he thought. Only now did he realise how fully Saruman had dug his claws into the flesh and soul of Rohan. And now those gardens and walks had vanished beneath a lake of water that was grey under the steel sky. Bits of wood and flotsam stuck out of the water, and a thin layer of scum gathered in places. Théoden had once seen a barge wrecked on the Isen long ago when the rain had lashed and storms had swept the plains. This is what he thought of now- a great wreck had come ashore and was washed up. He looked about him, aware that his men stared too. Gandalf though, was still and silent upon Shadowfax, his face grim and sorrowful.
'What has happened here?' Eomer asked.
'I think we shall find out,' replied Gandalf and he urged Shadowfax into the flood, his white robe a stark contrast to the grey sky above and the muddy water beneath.
Pippin had been dancing about as excited as any hobbit at Yule for, well, hours. Still he couldn't see them. The lake was still pooling about the storeroom they had found and Merry was wading through the deep water, testing the depth with a staff he had found in one of the many small rooms. Each room was a treasure trove and they had both squealed in delight when they stumbled across the barrel of pipeweed. Merry was using the staff to scoop up errant but useful items and also as a walking stick to help him balance on the now slippery and often loose stone flags that had been the road to Orthanc.
'Where are they?' Pip sighed for the umpteenth time. He plonked himself down on the pile of rubble they called the terrace and sank his chin in his hands.
'They'll be here soon Quickbeam said. And he's hasty for an Ent,' Merry said quickly before Pippin could protest. 'Make yourself useful, Pip. It'll go quicker that way… Pip?'
The other hobbit was not listening to Merry; he was straining to catch a faint whooshing of water and distant voices. A deep grumbling voice and a lighter lilting laugh.
Suddenly Pippin leapt to his feet. 'That's Legolas!' he cried.
The deeper rumbling sounded again. 'That's Gimli!'
'Got them… here... '
'Quickly where's the …' they fumbled about, snatching up pipes and puffing urgently to light them.
'Lay back, look nonchalant.'
'No, get some apples and chuck the cores at them. Quick, they're coming'
'You know Pip,' said Merry as his pipe lit and he leaned back on a conveniently comfortable wooden beam.
'I have missed the opportunity to poke fun at the big folk.' Merry puffed a long thin stream of smoke that he knew would drive Strider and Gimli at least to complete distraction.
'Yes. Me too. You always see me coming and the orcs were no fun.'
'No Pip. No fun at all…much too serious.'
It was Legolas who first felt a prickling in his nostrils. He gazed ahead. He knew that smell. It was the scent of Gandalf and Aragorn and Gimli…and Hobbits! Pipeweed. There! He espied two small figures slouched and at ease amongst the debris. And of course, empty plates and bottles strewn with carelessness.
He looked back over his shoulder at Gimli who had gone rigidly alert and was breathing in great gulps of air as if he had been drowning.
'Pipeweed!' he bellowed 'You rascals!'
Legolas shook his head. Laughter bubbled up from somewhere deep inside. Here at last were the hobbits. He held out his hand to Gimli who slid from the horse, hanging onto this friend's arm until his feet touched the ground. Gimli gave a great cry that seemed to reach from his heart and swept towards the hobbits, who were dancing about in glee. Legolas leapt elegantly from Arod and strode toward the small group. He wanted to sweep them all up in his arms and swing them about, but restrained himself as he had on meeting Gimli after battle. Here, amongst the ruin of Orthanc, far from home, he met with friends he had thought lost.
Later, Théoden and his riders had moved further into Orthanc with Gandalf, to inspect the damage and to meet with Treebeard. The hobbits fed their friends and each told their story. They took their ease for the first time since that dreadful night at Parth Galen.
Pippin knew that he and Merry were covertly watched by man, elf and dwarf carefully from the corner of each one's eye, assessing damage and injury. He grinned to himself and blew out a small cloud, enjoying the sweet smoke for it was contentment. The sound of his friends puffing gently and the quietness that settled over them was reward enough. Legolas had begun to sing quietly, almost below the level of sound and he realised with a pang how very very much he had missed this. He wondered where Frodo and Sam were and hoped they too had some comfort on the way.
The mists gradually blew away as Legolas had predicted and the stars slowly emerged. Strider was dozing, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Merry was snoring in time with Gimli, and Legolas leaned back against his pack, eyes open and gazing at the stars. Pippin watched the fire crackle and burn, listening to his friends' breathing and the quiet noises of the Rohirrim camp not far away. He thought of how far they had come, from the quiet hills and fields of the Shire, and in himself, how much he had seen and felt. He sighed, wondering if folks at home worried for him or if they had given him up as lost. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a low groan.
Pippin looked up. None of the others seemed to have heard anything, Gimli fast asleep and even Strider oblivious. He knew it was not Merry. He stood up and quietly moved towards his sleeping companions. He peered cautiously at Legolas.
The elf's eyes were glazed in sleep but suddenly, he murmured to himself and threw his arm over his eyes. Pippin frowned. He had never seen Legolas restless in sleep. The hobbit chewed his lower lip, uncertain if he should wake Legolas. He did not want to startle him; he had seen the elf startled and didn't much fancy his chances. So he drew back a little, deciding to watch over the elf. If he looked like he was having a nightmare, he would wake Gimli. Pleased with the solution, Pippin snuggled back down into the pile of blankets he and Merry had found in the stores, and pulled one up over his shoulders, carefully watching over the elf.
He had liked Legolas from the start. Instead of being aloof and rather distant as Pippin had expected, he had joined in Pippin's mischief readily and even popped some ideas into the hobbit's head now and again. And he used to sing songs about other members of the fellowship that annoyed Gandalf and even Strider sometimes – Pippin was lost in admiration for anyone who would dare to upset the wizard. Pippin himself only ever annoyed Gandalf by accident.
Legolas flinched suddenly in his sleep and shifted restlessly.
Pippin stirred a little, thinking perhaps he should wake Gimli. He glanced over at the dwarf and realised that he was already awake and watching the elf.
Legolas turned suddenly and started, looking straight into Gimli's eyes.
Gimli did not look away or look abashed at being caught so openly staring. He met the elf's gaze head on and did not flinch or stir. Pippin stared. Legolas blinked slowly and then let his eyes glaze again, but Pippin wasn't fooled. Nor was Gimli. That old trick he used to play pretending he slept when he was awake and watching or listening stopped working a long time ago. They knew when he really was asleep too. And Pippin knew as sure as eggs was eggs that this was one wide-awake elf.
'You can see I watch you still.' rumbled the dwarf, even though Legolas did not blink or stir. 'And you have not yet answered my question I'll have you know.' Pippin frowned, but Gimli sighed, a little sadly, Pippin thought. He bit his tongue to stop himself from saying anything; if they knew he was awake they would clam up and he would be none the wiser.
'I'll not make you talk,' Gimli said quietly, 'but I'll not go away either until you tell me to. And then you will have answered my question indeed.' He lay on his back then and closed his own eyes.
Pippin watched Legolas blink rapidly and his eyes gleamed in the firelight. Then the dwarf gave a deep sigh that seemed to rumble from deep in his belly and turned over. Legolas rolled over onto his back and gazed up at the stars once more. Pippin thought he had never seen Legolas look so unhappy.
They did not speak again and Gimli settled into sleep and his breathing became deeper and slower. Pippin was very still. The fire crackled gently and his companions settled into dreams.
Then the ranger shifted slightly on his blanket and pulled it up over his shoulder. So, Strider was awake too, thought Pippin. He tried to hold very still and closed his eyes so they would believe him asleep.
Eventually the Ranger spoke very quietly. 'He gave you the message then?'
Pippin heard Legolas sigh softly and then say, 'You knew?'
'I did. I am sorry it was not my place to tell you.'
There was a pause. 'Just after we met with him again in Fangorn, before we came to Edoras.'
'Did she send other messages?' Pippin held his breath. They spoke so quietly only a hobbit might hear the hushed voices.
'She sent a message of my kin… and of darkness.' Strider spoke softly, the words merging with the breeze but Pippin was chilled all the same.
'Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed to thee,
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.'
Legolas did not speak. Pippin opened his eyes a tiny slit so he could see his companions outlined by the firelight.
Legolas had tilted his head to look at Strider more clearly. 'Do you know what it means?'
'Gandalf seems to have an inkling. He says it will become clear in time.'
Legolas gave an unelvish snort. 'We say in Mirkwood, 'Go not to wizards for counsel for they will say both yea and nay. And go not to Mithrandir at all, for he will look at you and grunt. That is what my father says.' He looked down into the flames.
He did not see the startled amusement on Strider's face.
'To Gimli she gave him the title 'Lockbearer'.' Strider smiled. Pippin thought of Galadriel then. So she must have given them each a message.
Pippin quietly shifted so he could see them better sitting in the firelight. The darkness beyond their little circle of fire was absolute except for the hard bright stars. He lay as still as he could; neither Strider nor Legolas had noticed he was awake and listening. He breathed slowly, thinking about what he had just heard.
If the message Legolas had was anything like Strider's, Pippin was glad he had had no message; it seemed very gloomy with all this talk of the Dead watching the road to the Sea. He shuddered. He wondered if that was what was troubling Legolas – perhaps Galadriel had foreseen his death? Pippin felt a squeeze begin in his heart. Surely that could not be it? Surely Galadriel would not send such a message unless she wanted Legolas to go somewhere else or do something different? But the idea of their company splitting up again so soon after being together once more was almost too much for him and it was he this time who squeezed his eyes shut.
When he opened them again, Strider was still smiling. He threw a stick on the fire and regarded Legolas steadily.
'That is all?' Legolas asked. Although he kept his face very still, Pippin knew the elf well enough now to see the concern in his eyes.
'It was enough.' Strider said.
A silence settled between them.
After a while, Strider spoke again. 'What of her message to you, Legolas?' Legolas said nothing. Pippin wondered if he had fallen asleep again but his breathing was quick and shallow. 'She also warned you to beware, did she not? Do you march to your death?'
The elf turned his head towards Strider but Pippin could no longer see his face for the shadows of night had fallen across him. Strider's mouth pulled to one side in a slight grimace and he frowned.
'I cannot ask you this, Legolas. But I would have your company on this dark road, a while longer if you would grant it.'
Legolas seemed to turn his thoughts inward for a moment and then he said, 'I would follow you to the ends of the earth, Aragorn.' His voice was certain, all trace of doubt gone.
Strider seemed to relax a little then. His grey eyes were troubled but he met the elf's gaze steadily. 'Only to Minas Tirith, my friend. I would not want you to go where you might meet death. The gulls cry on the shores of Pelagir…we will not go there.'
Legolas moved and the firelight caught the gleam of his winter pale hair. His braids lay down his back against the soft green of his tunic. Leaning forwards he stared at the man intently. 'We have looked in the face of death since we first left Rivendell, Aragorn. Nothing has changed.'
'Nothing?' the Ranger looked up and Pippin saw the gleam of firelight in his eyes.
Legolas moved his head slightly and Pippin saw a quick smile. 'Only the dwarf has become less irritating.' He said a little more loudly. A quiet grumble came from Gimli's blanket then and Pippin knew that he was not the only eavesdropper.
Pippin closed his eyes. Their journey was not yet done though he longed for it to be so. He wanted it all to be finished with, and him and Merry safe at home in the Shire with Frodo and Sam. And he wanted Strider and Legolas and Gimli with them too where he could keep an eye on them, and Gandalf puffing away and Bilbo and...Perhaps they could all be in Rivendell… and Boromir was there...he closed his eyes…
Chapter 13: Saruman
As always, reviews and comments make it worth posting here. Please do feel free- it is always nice to know people are enjoying it
Disclaimer - not mine. Just messing about. No money made.
Warnings: AU although this story follows the timeline, this is elf-worship. Of course, you can read the rest in the real book.
Please note rating for violence and m/m, angst and extreme distress. This is going to hurt.
Chapter 13: Saruman
Next morning, Pippin had barely time to open his eyes before Strider had whipped off his blanket and thrown an apple at him. 'First breakfast,' the Ranger said. Pippin grinned and bit into the red skin. He gave Merry a prod; he was still fast asleep. Pippin took another bite from the apple and he watched Gandalf stride up the broken stone steps to where they had made their small camp.
Gandalf tapped the still sleeping Merry with his staff impatiently. 'Quickly now. Get up and you can begin tidying this mess away,' he said. He gave Merry another tap with his staff, a little more sharply this time. Merry groaned and turned over, pulling his blanket up around his ears. 'I go to meet Saruman,' said Gandalf, ignoring the hobbit's protests. 'I think only I and Théoden and… Aragorn, you should come. There is no need for everyone to traipse along,' he added gruffly.
Gimli bent over the fire, coaxing it into life as only a dwarf can. 'I will come too, Gandalf,' he said firmly, straightening up and looking Gandalf in the eye. 'And Legolas. For we alone represent our people here.' He folded his arms and stood with his feet square.
Pippin took another bite out of the apple and watched with great interest to see who would win. He bet on Gimli on this one. Nothing could budge the dwarf when he stood like that.
Pippin glanced over to where Legolas sat. He had his back to Pippin and was carefully checking arrows, sliding his finger along the shaft and then holding each one up, squinting along its length.
Gandalf lifted the hem of his white cloak up and scowled at the mud that edged it. 'I do not think…' he began.
'No need,' interrupted Gimli, hefting his axe across his strong body- a sure sign he wouldn't budge, Pippin thought to himself wisely. 'I have thought on it enough and it is right that Saruman's fall is witnessed by folk from both the Mountain and the Forest.'
Gandalf scowled at the dwarf but then he slid his gaze away towards Legolas who still sat mending arrows, as if oblivious to the discussion. Gandalf sighed. 'If you wish this, then let it be so.'
Pippin mentally awarded himself a large apple pie, and then added custard.
Gandalf raised his eyes to the black tower that rose up from the steam and mists that still lay in drifts across the vale. He squinted at the wreckage caused by the wrath of the Ents and shook his head slightly at some thought unknown to Pippin.
'Beware of Saruman,' said Gandalf suddenly solemn and Pippin paused, apple in hand. He looked up at the wizard, slightly awed by the sudden change. 'He will appear fair and just to you. Most especially, beware his voice.' Even Legolas stilled his hands and let the arrow in his hands rest against his thigh. 'His voice has a power in it to beguile, and many wiser heads than yours have been fooled by him.' The wizard continued, and tapped his white staff thoughtfully against his boot.
'Legolas?' The elf finally looked up at the wizard. Gandalf smiled gently, trying to soften his words. 'I am against your going. You have incurred the wrath of Saruman and I do not know how he will seek revenge, for revenge he will seek. But you have encountered his power, however diluted, through Grima Wormtongue and only you and I have known his venom…You were able to withstand him then, perhaps you can do so again.'
Legolas let his gaze drift away for a moment. 'I do not fear Saruman.' he said quietly. 'My heart is steady and resolved.'
Pippin looked down at the remains of the apple in his hand and suddenly, threw the core as hard as he could away from the group.
Gandalf watched, surprised. He stared at Pippin for a moment and then said slowly, 'Very well then. Legolas and Gimli shall be for the elves and dwarves. But you should all be on your guard. He will seek to destroy us if he can. Beware how he twists words. He will seem to tell truths, and yet it will not be the full truth.' He frowned at Pippin briefly and then he turned quickly and strode off, not waiting to see if they followed.
Pippin scrambled up and grabbed his cloak. Strider stopped him.
'This is no place for a hobbit.' he said. Pippin stopped and opened his mouth to speak but Merry turned slowly towards him.
'No.' Merry met Strider's concerned grey eyes resolutely, and said, 'Nor was Moria. And nor is Mordor.'
Legolas turned his head towards the hobbits and regarded them silently for a moment. Then he put his hand on Merry's shoulder. 'If Gimli insists that we go, then who shall be for the hobbits, Aragorn? You cannot deny them this?' Tilting his head slightly he regarded Aragorn kindly. 'You cannot protect us from everything, my friend.'
Pippin made a small sound of distress that made everyone else look at him. 'Apples and cheese?' he said miserably, hoping they did not question him more. He held up a handful of apples to them. He did not want to think about the resolution in Legolas' eyes. There was no point in Pippin saying anything now. Legolas was going to Minas Tirith with Aragorn whether he heard the gulls or not.
'Very well!' Strider held up his hands in surrender. 'Far be it for me to deny you anything, any of you.' He held Legolas' gaze briefly and then turned to scoop up his blanket, quickly rolling it up. Legolas turned to pick up his bow and quiver, fastening the straps and pulling them to make sure they were secure. He flashed a quick grin at Pippin but the hobbit could not smile back.
Pippin followed Legolas unhappily. He trailed his feet a little and kept his eyes on the elf's familiar sueded tunic and boots, his long pale hair sweeping down his back. Pippin sighed, and wondered if he should tell Merry. But Merry was already walking with Strider, talking quietly as they followed Gandalf. Pippin could not bring himself to speak in front of the man to whom Legolas had sworn he would follow to the ends of the earth, even if it meant his death.
Gimli strode beside Pippin, his axe held before him like he was going into battle.
Eomer tried not to meet the elf's gaze when they drew abreast of each other. He felt hurt from their last encounter, felt he had been dismissed, that he was unimportant and that Legolas was merely dallying with him. Eomer sighed- actually, he felt all the confusion and irritation he thought he had rid himself of. Legolas seemed hardly aware of him, his fingers tight on the bow he carried eyes straight ahead and fixed on Gandalf. Eomer fell back and walked with Gimli instead, and if Legolas wondered at this, he showed nothing, his face a beautiful imperturbable mask. Like stone, thought Eomer angrily. He grasped the hilt of his sword instead and gripped it until the pain cleared his head.
Ahead was the Black Tower of Orthanc and Saruman waited like a black spider within its smooth, obsidian walls.
Gandalf seemed to grow in power as they approached the Tower, his robes swirled and flowed about him, like liquid light. He stood before the door of Orthanc like some ancient King, his white hair stirred slightly by the lightest breeze. When he raised his white staff and commanded Saruman to appear, none would have dared resist. So it was that Saruman came to the narrow balcony about the door and looked down upon them. Like Gandalf and yet unlike he seemed, but he met them courteously and as one aggrieved.
Saruman's eyes wandered over the huddled crowd and they seemed a rabble even to themselves. Eomer's thoughts fled and he felt ashamed that he had thought of Saruman as a spider waiting in his lair. Instead, they stood here like vagabonds and thieves, for that is how they felt, every last man of them. He lifted his eyes up to the balcony where the tall stately man stood, leaning slightly on his staff, for he was old and perhaps frail. His face was gentle and his eyes mild, like a gentler Gandalf. Not at all what Eomer had expected. For a moment he wondered if they had made a mistake.
The old man cast his gaze about, and seeing Gandalf he looked relieved. He lifted his hand in greeting then. 'Gandalf, my old friend. Welcome. I am glad to see you hale for my heart told me that great misfortune had overtaken you. And I regretted the way we parted indeed. Forgive my haste.' His voice was resonant, mellow and full of sorrow for a friends' misunderstanding. He gazed at Gandalf with affection.
Surely, these two venerable wizards would wish to withdraw away from this common crowd and to talk together, thought Eomer. The Wise speaking to the Wise? He moved slightly to his right so he could better see the old man, and became aware that he had moved closer to Legolas, but if the elf noticed, he gave no sign. Eomer scolded himself for behaving like a love-sick maid, and focused instead on the two Wizards.
Saruman was speaking kindly and seemed glad to see Gandalf. This was not what Eomer had expected. 'I am sorry for I did not make my meaning plain. We misunderstood each other you and I. Come now old friend,' Saruman was saying, 'let us withdraw and discuss these weighty matters. You may bring Théoden King, for he and I are friends of old.' He extended his hand as if in friendship. But Gandalf did not move. Intractable he seemed to Eomer, his mouth set and determined and his fist clenched round his staff. The great sword at his belt caught a gleam of sunlight. He seemed an ancient King indeed, but one who came in war not peace.
Eomer wondered briefly if Gandalf had misunderstood. He felt Saruman, the old wizard who seemed now so benign and sorrowful, had perhaps been wrong but now seemed to want to mend the breach in their friendship. He felt himself gently lulled, soothed as the Wizard spoke.
'Always have I had friendship with Rohan. We need to have strong allies now in these dangerous times, and wise counsel such as I hope I have given for many, many years will now prove to have been all for your good.'
Saruman spoke with such gentle wisdom Eomer felt humbled, his fears unfounded and he wondered why he had felt such hatred. He glanced at Théoden, remembering how Rohan had prospered under the White Hand's guidance, how they had been safe from the Enemy because the wizard protected them…
A soft soporific daze washed over him like the brink of sleep yet his mind was sharply aware of the impressive black tower that pierced the clouds and mists that hung about Orthanc. This was the old wizard who had befriended Théoden, who had counselled him. He became aware, almost unconsciously, of a thought wavering in his dreamlike state… a realisation that he felt submerged, as if he were being pulled underwater but he didn't really mind…Everything was so still, so quiet. Only the gentle counsel and wisdom of centuries poured over them, like oil, soothing and quietening his fears…
And then distantly he thought he could hear a familiar sound, tugging at him, like someone trying to awaken him from a deep sleep. Far away it seemed at first. No words, just sounds that ran one into the other…an endless stream of notes that made him think of the great grass plains, horses running, wind across the spring grass…And the sharp scent of moss and pine trees, of cold frost that came down from the mountains… He frowned, remembering suddenly the pounding fear and noise of battle at Helm's Deep, the white hand on the shields of orcs, Grima's sharp face lit by torchlight in the dungeons of Edoras, fear for Eowyn…Legolas.
He gasped and was himself again.
He blinked and realised Legolas stood closer to him now. He could feel the heat from the elf's body through the leather and suede of his clothes. He found himself leaning inward, towards the elf. Legolas was tense, almost… stretched… standing his full height and his fist clenched around his bow. His eyes were closed slightly and he seemed to focus entirely on his own breathing… Until Eomer realised he was not, he was humming, singing low, so low he could barely make out the sounds, but the men around him were tense and strained as if listening for something they could not quite hear.
Saruman was leaning forwards, his white hair flowed over his shoulders and lay across his cloak. His voice was mellow and resonant, but his deep eyes, like a hawk's, swept over them, seeking. A spark of anger was lit deep within them though his voice poured over them, warm and reassuring. His hawkish gaze paused and he stared at Eomer, or so the warrior thought. The wizard's dark eyes seemed to kindle suddenly, and then abruptly he looked elsewhere and the fleeting impression was gone. Eomer could hear the words distinctly now, as he could not before, submerged as he had been in the deep resonance of Saruman's voice.
'Théoden, worthy son of the Mark,' Saruman was saying, 'why have you not come here before as you used to? It is long since you and I had counsel my friend, and you have been bewitched by others.'
Théoden opened his mouth to speak but he said nothing.
'I see those who would counsel you to war, Théoden, Thrice Renowned,' Saruman spoke again, and it seemed to the Men of Rohan that he spoke fair to the King and that Gandalf had never spoken so fair or so fittingly to their lord.* 'I see that you have been enchanted and are caught in the thrall of those sent by the Witch of the Golden Wood.'
The gathered men as one, entranced as if watching a snake, shifted slightly, an unsettled sigh broke from them. Even Eomer frowned, knowing it was but a suspicion, a rumour, a difference… he felt his limbs heavy once more and lulled into that place submerged, like sleep … you can never really tell... The King had not led them to war until the elf came and then Gandalf had always been a bringer of bad news...a question hung unvoiced. He shook his head trying to focus on that other sound, the quiet melody almost unheard, almost below the level of sound, that mirrored his own breath.
Eomer shifted. He gripped the elf's arm, aware of the muscle bunched under his fingers, but Legolas did not move, eyes still half closed.
'The Shadow of the Wood may well be at your door next, my friends.' Saruman continued. His voice rang with sincerity and truth, and for a moment Eomer wondered if Legolas were indeed sent by the Witch to destroy Rohan? Eomer let his hand fall from Legolas' arm. Isildur had ever been weak. Perhaps Gandalf had lied about Saruman? He felt himself sway slightly and then a warmth stole through him. He felt the tug of the song on his mind again; mountains, cold frost and pine, and he re-emerged.
Gandalf would not lie. His heart knew that was not true. Others stirred slightly.
'Who knows what sorcery this is? Yes, Gandalf and his elvish friends claim to be the authors of your victory, but why do they want you to destroy me, who has always been your friend?'
Saruman walked along the balcony and gazed down upon them. It seemed he was stately and wise, he had always been trusted by Rohan, always been a friend. Still Gandalf said nothing, but stood silent and still beside Eomer and Théoden. The breeze fluttered the hem of Gandalf's white robe.
'Is it yet too late, my friends?' Saruman asked. He leaned on his staff and the light behind him shone on his robes; they seemed to shimmer, like a rainbow. 'Despite the injuries done to me, in which the Men of Rohan have, alas! Had some part, still I would save you and deliver you from the ruin that inevitably draws nigh…Indeed, I alone can save you. I alone can offer you peace.'*
There was a movement from ahead, where Gandalf stood silently with the King. Eomer tore his eyes from Saruman's mesmerizing form and tried to focus on his King. Théoden had drawn himself up, proudly and seemed to struggle inwardly for a moment. Then he opened his mouth and spoke.
'We will have peace,' Théoden was saying, thickly as though his tongue struggled to speak. 'Yes, we will have peace when you and all your works have perished.* I fear your voice has lost its charm and I rise now from the blanket of lies you sought to suffocate me with. If not for Gandalf and his elvish friends I would still be YOUR thrall, still lost in the mists and in that strange land you sought to lose me in. If they were sent by the Witch of the Golden Wood, then I am glad and I owe my life! And had it not been so, we would have then perished beneath the yoke of your tyranny and your orcish armies'
As if Théoden himself had broken the spell, as one, the Men of Rohan shifted and blinked. Eomer saw the slow awakening in their eyes even as he had himself and his own Song seemed to soar, Rohan awoke, there seemed to be in their hearts the sound of the Mearas galloping hard over the high steppe under the wide blue sky...and the frost came down from the mountain and the horses galloped and plunged and tossed their heads...
Suddenly the wizard's eyes flashed and he raised his staff slowly. 'You fools! Then stay in your miserable kingdom and rot, for I have offered you the hand of friendship, the White Hand and you have spurned it.' His hard gaze settled briefly on Eomer himself. Eomer drew back, eyes wide. The wizard's eyes burned into him, black and deep as time. He felt the world tilt and then right itself but nothing was as it was before.
But it was not Eomer he searched for. Saruman leaned forwards, and listened; he knew what Legolas did.
Saruman's mouth opened and twisted in rage. 'You! Thranduillion!' He made the name an insult, wrapping his tongue around the syllables like he would spit it out.
Eomer turned towards Legolas, who now stood frozen, lips parted.
'Enjoy your triumph for it will not last.' The wizard's lips curled back into a horrid sneer. His yellow teeth were bared, and he hissed, 'You should see Mirkwood.'
Eomer felt the moment that Legolas' song broke.
Legolas slowly raised his eyes then to the Tower, his face pale as if he knew those words somehow, thought Eomer, and he thought again what Legolas had said about the orcs and spiders, and wondered how Legolas could bear being so far from his home.
Saruman leaned further forwards, feeding off the elf's pain. He seemed almost to grow and tower above them. The sky darkened and clouds seemed to have gathered without Eomer's realizing it. Saruman raised his staff and he surged with power. The air pulsed. Eomer tried to move, to push Legolas out the way. But he could not move. He frowned slowly, trying to raise his hand but it seemed not his own and would only slowly, slowly come up before his face. He could see Gimli too, scowling as he moved his axe ever so slightly. Surely the Wizard would strike, send fire and pain.
Instead, like a snake, the Voice uncoiled. Almost physical. A horror that raised the hairs on his neck and seemed to fill his nostrils with the rancid tang of death. The Voice twined around them, suffocating them with its hatred.
'Yes, you should see Mirkwood… Ruined and burned,' it hissed. The wizard's face was transformed into something ugly and inhuman, eyes narrowed and cruel, mouth curled in a sneer.
It seemed to Eomer that the clouds of mist and steam that hung about Orthanc, grew denser, coalesced and grew tinged with yellow. He thought he could hear distant screaming. He blinked, trying to clear the stinging tears from his eyes and put his hand over his mouth as smoke filled his lungs. He tried to look about him, but he could barely move. There was a roaring in his ears that he realised was fire raging, and then he realised he could hear the sound of trees crashing... he was in Mirkwood. Somehow he knew this was not real... but he still felt the smoke burn his throat and choke the breath from his lungs.
The air was yellow and sulphurous, and from the dense smoke, he could see figures running, a glint of steel flash, and his foot touched something warm. He looked down. An elven warrior stared up, eyes open and mouth gasping. His dark hair braided and his grey eyes were wide with shock and pain. He said something but Eomer could not hear, could not understand. He tried to bend down, to lift the warrior, to help him, but his limbs were leaden and he could not move. The yellow smoke billowed and flowed and he could see Legolas ahead of him, standing rigid and still. Why didn't he help?
Lying over this terrible destruction, the Wizard's Voice slithered onwards, coiling itself around Eomer.
'While you busied yourself brawling and rutting in the gutter with the brats of this petty king,' Saruman's Voice continued, like fingers trailing poison over his skin so it burned…. Eomer could almost hear his own voice cry out with passion and the panting laugh Legolas had given when they peaked…He felt like everyone there could see, hear, smell them … and Eomer felt suddenly disgusted with himself, and with Legolas for seducing him… 'Your people spill their blood in the woods of your home…'
Eomer saw through the yellow smoke orcs pouring through the trees, black silhouettes against the infernal backdrop of the burning forest. Their grotesque shapes leapt over flames and suddenly a group of screaming children appeared, running for their lives. One child saw Eomer and pointed. The others ran towards him desperately. One orc leapt forwards, grasped a child, and without pause cut its throat with horrible efficiency. The orc turned to Eomer and snarled, dropping the limp child and leaping towards Eomer, cutlass raised. Eomer could only close his eyes. From behind him, a warrior stepped now. The children had fled and Eomer realised he himself could not be seen- it was the elven warrior the children and orcs saw. This is a dream, he told himself, only a dream... it is not real… Saruman is doing this…
The smoke cleared suddenly for a brief moment and Eomer saw Legolas standing frozen, the light from the inferno gilding his hair and flames reflected in his wide green eyes. He was silent, his mouth open in horror at what they all saw.
The Voice grew stronger now and the images of the forest burning became even clearer. The yellow smoke coalesced into an almost tangible form, it coiled and twisted about the still form of the elf, it wound up his legs and body, and gathered above his head threatening to engulf him. Legolas' eyes were wide open in shock and fear, his lips parted and then the yellow smoke poured into him, and grew denser, stronger, filling the glade with a stench of death, of burning meat. There was the unmistakable sound of a terrified horse screaming somewhere not far away.
Light from the fires caught a glint of steel, made it bloody and red. Eomer turned. Orcs dragged an elven woman between the burning trees, her blue dress ripped open at her breast. Legolas gasped, breathless, suffocating; the Voice like yellow sulphurous smoke smothered and engulfed him. Above it all, Eomer could hear his heartbeat, his own breath, heavy, lustful and panting as if it were amplified around the watching, horrified men.
Suddenly the smoke seemed to draw back a little; it seemed to swirl and move, thickening in a wall around the woman as she struggled against the leering, mocking orc that held her. It drew up its cutlass and plunged it into her belly, grinning as she twisted in agony and gasped.
Then the smoke walls parted and a tall powerful warrior in shining armour charged into the clearing, he raised his gleaming sword and struck down the orcs who ran from his fury. When he turned Eomer saw his hair was golden, his strong face proud, angry, beautiful. Legolas? No, not Legolas. But even as the Elvenking – for Eomer knew it was he-surveyed the ruin of his forest, the Voice spoke again and there was a hiss and whine of arrows. Thranduil, magnificent and deadly, wielded his sword and the light glanced off the blade, arrows falling away as he did so. He turned, his face fierce, to his foes but one stray arrow hissed past Eomer and pierced flesh, finding its mark. The King stumbled and slowly, unbelieving, looked down. His sword fell heavily to the ground and he sank to his knees, raising his hands to his chest. A slow red stain seeped out between his armour and his neck, spreading over his chest. He raised his eyes and looked straight at Eomer, agony and despair on his face. His lips moved briefly and then suddenly, orcs swarmed over him.
Saruman's voice was suffused with pleasure, 'Yes, while you rutted and wenched, your father, the King, was slain.'
Eomer saw Legolas stagger, his hand clutched to his heart.
But Saruman's voice twisted onwards, slithered and slid over them, Eomer shuddered as the images formed in the smoke and mists before him. There was a hoarse cry as the image took shape and he saw the full horror.
'His still breathing body impaled and mounted upon a pole.' The smoke shifted and swirled and Eomer's gaze was pulled back to the burning forest and the dying king. A spear flashed briefly and then plunged down, a horrid sound of tearing flesh and another strangled cry was ripped unwillingly from the throat of Thranduil. The spear was hoisted up high and the weight made the orc bearing it stagger a little at first until others came round and steadied it.
'Your brothers are slain or taken. And you know what fate awaits those taken in Mirkwood by Dol Guldur.' Orcs gibbered and mocked, shrieking around the bloody banner with its horrid trophy.
'Mirkwood… bereft of its sons, bereft of its king…its standard broken, trodden into the mud. Oh, you should see what they have done in Mirkwood. You have abandoned her and now orcs rape the children of your dead warriors.'
Eomer became aware of another voice then, a purer voice chanting, light pushing away the yellow smoke, clearing the sky so it seemed he could look up and see the spire of Orthanc above him…A figure clothed in shining white, a staff raised above its head and clearing the smoke and fog away… This is not real, he told himself. This is some spell.
Legolas gasped and fell to his knees, chest heaving for air. Suddenly Eomer was released from his watching stupor and sank beside the elf. He put his arms around his shoulders. 'Be strong, my heart' he said. Legolas turned to face him, his eyes wide and stunned.
Saruman's Voice lashed out its revenge. 'Oh, now you have seen Mirkwood, seen your dying King, your father. And yet … You… Are… Here?'
Suddenly light poured through the smoke and the sky burst through briefly. The mists and clouds turned whiter and the screams and cries of battle faded…
They were in Orthanc. Mirkwood burned, but it was far away.
Gandalf stood nearby. He looked shaken, suddenly exhausted and Eomer thought of the pure voice that had pierced through the yellow smoke. Gandalf leaned on his white staff, looking suddenly very old. When he looked up it seemed he too had suffered some great loss for there was a very great sorrow in his eyes.
Saruman too had fallen back, his hand shook on his staff and he clutched the railing, his gnarled hand like a talon. He pushed himself upright and seemed to gather himself then. For a moment he looked gleeful and triumphant.
Legolas still stared at Eomer, his hands clenched around the man's arms and Eomer suddenly realised it hurt. He loosened the elf's grip and shook him slightly where they knelt together. They stared in each other's eyes, and Eomer saw the loss and vulnerability in the strange green eyes he had seen in both passion and now in despair. Eomer's heart was stricken and he whispered, desperate for this elf to believe him, to believe in him, 'It is not real. It is Saruman's tricks… it is not real.'
Saruman gathered his sullied white robes in one hand and cast his free hand out towards Legolas.
'Why are you here, Legolas Thranduillion?' he sneered, lingering over the last word, 'Have you not heeded Galadriel's warning?' The voice lowered dangerously. 'You would follow him, the weak blood of Isildur, even to your death?'
Eomer's head shot up. Legolas was staring at the wizard, eyes bright with pain. 'Why did she send you this warning if not to turn you from your path? Do you not hear the cry of your Woods? It burns…It… burns. Nothing is left, only ash. No one is left, only bones. And yet…You… Are…Here.'
A sigh went up from waiting knot of men. Eomer glanced at Legolas. His hands were on his knees and his head bowed. He breathed quickly, still sucking in great gulps of breath. Then Legolas lifted his head and let it fall back like he would howl, but he made no sound. Only he opened his eyes and gazed skywards.
'The words of this wizard are poison, dripped into the ears of those who would listen.' It was Gimli who spoke, his voice like gravel to those who heard it after Saruman's fluid and comforting tones. Gimli spoke loudly, grinding out the words. But Gimli was like the mountain, solid, unyielding, steadfast.
'The words of Saruman stand on their heads,' the dwarf was growling, gripping the handle of his axe. 'In the language of Orthanc help means ruin and saving means slaying, that is plain.* Why then would we believe what you tell our friend here about the forest?' he demanded. 'And, more to the point, how would you know unless you had something to do with it?' He planted his feet squarely apart and thwacked the haft of his axe against his open hand. His strong deep voice rumbled through the crowd, breaking the mesmerising hold like rocks 'How could you know unless you had some part in this destruction?'
'Peace!' said Saruman, but they could detect the glitter in his eyes then, 'I do not yet speak to you Gimli son of Gloin. Far away is your home and small concerns are the troubles of this land or the forest.'*
'Not true,' interrupted the dwarf once again. 'This is my friend. These,' and he threw his hand out to encompass all those who stood there, 'these are my friends and I would know, Saruman the Deceiver.'
Saruman suddenly stooped low over the railing and hissed at the name of the Dark Lord, 'You dare….' He raised his staff. Gandalf stirred from where he still leant heavily on his own white staff. But Saruman did not yet strike.
'Saruman the Deceiver!' repeated Gimli defiantly. 'What part have YOU played in this war? HOW do you know that Mirkwood has fallen, for I do not believe you!'
'Fools!' spat the wizard. 'You know nothing of the high arts! You know nothing! You think this old conjurer is a wizard?' He pointed at Gandalf. 'He uses his arts to make coloured lights and smoke rings! How that does offend the higher powers! How do I know? I have this!' He swept from under his cloak a strange globe. Its black impenetrable surface seemed to draw all eyes to it, to suck in the light and hold their gaze. 'This is how I know.'
Suddenly Gandalf stepped forth. He gathered himself and pointed his staff at Saruman. 'You, Saruman, have said quite enough!' he said sternly. 'I will not allow you to deceive any more. You have become a fool, and yet pitiable. You might still have turned from folly and evil and been of service. But you choose to stay and gnaw at old plots. Stay then, but I warn you, you will not easily come out again. Not unless the dark hand from the east stretch out and take you. Saruman!' he cried and his voice grew in power and authority. 'Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the council.'*
He raised his voice and spoke in a clear cold voice. 'Saruman, your staff is broken!' There was a crack and the staff split asunder in Saruman's hands and the head of it fell at Gandalf's feet.* With a cry Saruman fell back and as he did so, the strange black globe surged with light and as if he had been scalded; it almost jumped from his hands and rolled onto the floor. Saruman sprang after it, grasping but too late. The globe rolled along the floor and slipped between the railings. It plummeted below onto the black stone steps and the step rang and cracked under the impetus. The stair cracked and splintered in a shower of sparks but the globe was unharmed. It rolled on down the steps, a globe of crystal, dark but glowing with a heart of fire. It landed with a soft splash in the water that lapped about the foot of the tower. The water gave a slow greenish glow.
Suddenly Pippin darted out from beside Eomer and although he quickly put his hand out to stop the hobbit, his reflexes were slow and leaden and too late. The hobbit stooped and pulled the globe from the water.
'Here, my lad, I think I will take that.' Gandalf was saying and he leaned down to Pippin and scooped it up, hiding it from view beneath his white robes.' I will take care of this. It does not belong to Saruman now but another.' He glanced at Aragorn.
'It is the end,' said Gandalf. He sounded tired and he drew his cloak about him, 'Let us go.' He walked slowly to where Legolas stood with Eomer, his eyes downcast and shoulders slumped. The wizard looked drawn, his skin almost grey with exhaustion. He glanced at Eomer and smiled slightly. 'I think we will take him from here. Thank you, Eomer.'
Eomer found himself quietly but kindly pushed out of the way. Gandalf lay his hand on Legolas' wet cheek and with immense tenderness, lifted his face to look into his eyes. 'Come now, Legolas. You and I must talk.' He gently took the elf's arm.
Gimli was beside him, and he looked up at Eomer with deep eyes full of concern. 'It's alright lad, we'll take care of him.' He took Legolas' arm on one side and Aragorn stood with him. Aragorn did not look at anyone.
Legolas shook his head and pulled away from them. He spread out his hands in a gesture that seemed both of stilling them and defeat. He turned towards Eomer but looked away, avoiding his gaze. He said simply, 'I am sorry.' He looked quickly at the man and then away, as if he could not bear the sympathy.
And then Gimli pulled on Legolas' arm and with utmost tenderness, guided him away. The elf followed as if stunned.
Eomer stood bereft, watching them depart. He had no more part to play in this – he had been a distraction. It was as Legolas had said, 'It is what it is and no more'. And it had been enough, he had thought. But for the second time, he found it was not.
The yellow smoke image is a small tribute, to Ithilien's fabulous story, The Hunting Trip, which –if you are fairly new to Fanfic you may not have read. It's one of the best Legolas stories on ffnet- and I urge you to go and read it. Ithilien writes under the name Anarithilien now and it's thanks to her, as always for making this better and the punctuation not as irritating as it might have been!
Chapter 14: The Palantir
Chapter 14: The Palantir
They had ridden quickly out of Orthanc. Gimli had immediately got up behind Legolas and wrapped his arms protectively around him. The elf had simply done what he was told and that alone was cause to worry. The Fellowship rode in a tight band, both hobbits taking it in turns to watch over Strider and Gandalf, for Gimli had Legolas and the other two were also shaken.
The road passed slowly, winding down the valley. Now further, now nearer, the Isen flowed on its stony bed. Night came down from the mountains. All the mists were gone. A chill wind blew. The moon, now waxing round, filled the eastern sky with a pale cold sheen. The wide plains opened before them. *
After many hours riding hard across the empty plains, Théoden called a halt in a heather covered glen, the soft purple giving them relief from the cold horror of Orthanc. Tall oaks clustered at the foot of the hills and bright green fronds of new growth peered from the dead bracken. Spring crept out from the frosts of winter. Somewhere nearby, there was the sound of a mountain stream hurrying on its way to the wide Anduin. Pippin hoped Legolas might notice the green ferns and the purple heather and take some relief from it but he seemed withdrawn into himself. When the horse he and Gimli shared, Arod, butted its nose into him, he barely noticed, stroking it absently.
Horses stood with tails swishing, heads low and noses together whilst their riders pitched the King's tent and others set up camp. On the fringes of this, the Fellowship moved quietly around making their own small camp. They busied themselves with the small chores. Gimli coaxed a fire from dry bracken and kindling and Merry unpacked the little provision taken from the store room at Orthanc just before they left. No one really looked at each other, and especially not at Legolas. He stood apart, arms crossed over his chest holding his bow. Pippin thought he looked like he was hugging himself.
When the sun had gone and the camp fire crackled, Gandalf appeared, striding quickly up from the King's tent to the Fellowship's little circle. He spared one swift glance at the silent elf, who was now restlessly pacing the perimeter of the small camp. The wizard twitched his nose.
'Here, give me some of the South Farthing, Merry. I need smoke.'
He settled comfortably between Aragorn and Gimli and stuffed the bowl of his pipe chock full of weed, tapped it down impatiently and struck a flame. He puffed quietly until it lit and then sighed, leaned back and gazed into the flames.
Pippin stole first one look at the wizard, then, as Gandalf seemed absorbed in his pipe and the red glowing firelight, he stared more openly. Gandalf had made Saruman yield, he had stopped the awful visions of Mirkwood burning, he had broken Saruman's staff. Suddenly the homely old wizard Pippin was travelling with seemed dreadful and powerful. He had kept the black stone globe and knew what it could do.
Pippin remembered the sudden warmth he had felt when he picked up the globe. Merry said that Gandalf told him it was a Seeing Stone, a palantir, and he wondered if that was how Saruman knew what had happened in Mirkwood…he wondered if Gandalf would look in it to see where Frodo was, and suddenly he felt a tremendous pang of loneliness. It seemed such a long time ago that they had been parted, and the hurt was like a raw cut that he couldn't help rubbing. He thought Legolas might understand and glanced over at the elf who had stopped pacing and now stood, silent and still, peering North and Eastwards as if listening for something he could no longer hear.
'Have I grown a second head Peregrine Took?' Pippin suddenly realised Gandalf was now watching him.
Pippin shook his head hurriedly, 'No... Just... well'
'Spit it out'
'Well...I was just wondering what that Palantir can do,' Pippin blurted out. 'I wondered if we could see Frodo perhaps…?' he finished, hanging his head. He dug into the earth with his nail, not wanting to meet the bright blue eyes of the Wizard.
Pippin did not see the sudden pain flicker across Gandalf's face and the softening of his eyes. 'Ah. Well, it is unlikely. These stones were used by the ancient Kings of Numenor to speak across far distances, one to another. I do not know if it can cast its gaze elsewhere.'
'But you could try?' Pippin asked hopefully.
Gandalf shook his head regretfully, 'No, Pippin. I will not try. I would not wish to reveal myself to the Enemy. Now,' he pulled his hat over his eyes abruptly, 'be quiet and let me think.'
'But what about Legolas?' Pippin blurted on. 'Can't you let him look? To see if what Saruman said was true?' Legolas had turned briefly towards them, the firelight sharpening his features, his green eyes glittered.
Gandalf met the elf's gaze steadily and it was Legolas who looked away first. Gandalf winced; the shame in the elf's eyes seemed more than he could bear.
'Enough, Pippin. Quietly now.' Gandalf patted the hobbit's shoulder kindly, but Pippin looked away and Merry too, would not look up. Gimli was pretending to busy himself with the fire but he had pulled his hood over his head and his eyes were in shadow.
Sitting with his back against a hawthorn tree and his long legs stretched out, Aragorn watched his companions with steady concern. Legolas had moved further away from the fire and stood silently, staring out over the steppe. A stray breeze stroked its fingers through his winter grass hair. Aragorn stirred suddenly and leaned forwards. He reached for a long stick near the camp fire and prodded the kindling irritably so it caught and flared into life.
The sudden movement at the edge of the fire seemed to stir them all out of their reverie. Abruptly, Gandalf stood, dusting down his white robes and for a minute, grumbled about the practicality of grey rather than white. Pippin smiled in spite of himself.
Gandalf glanced up at the darkening sky 'I must return to Théoden and decide which way we will take. I cannot think that Saruman has finished with us.'
'Even though his venom has been drawn?' Gimli looked up, the firelight catching glints of gold in his chestnut beard. 'It is well that Treebeard has agreed to keep him safe,' he continued approvingly. He lifted his head and regarded Gandalf warmly, 'He will be locked up that tower for centuries.'
'If Sauron does not come for him first,' added Aragorn. Gandalf looked thoughtfully at the Ranger but did not reply. Aragorn studied the silent wizard. 'Do you think there is some other fate that awaits him?'
Gandalf shook his head slowly, 'I cannot tell for sure… but he is not finished.' He glanced over towards Legolas. 'We have between us ruined everything for him… I fear he will have his revenge. What he showed us could be what has passed, what is now… or what is yet to come…' he sighed. 'I do not know which of those is worst.'
'If it hasn't happened yet, then why can't we send a message to Legolas' father warning him?' Pippin said suddenly relieved.
Gandalf turned to him and Pippin saw such a look of compassion in his eyes that it caught his breath. 'And what good will that do, Peregrine Took? Do you think Thranduil is not already at war? What can we do?' The wizard's shoulders seemed to slump then, and he passed his hand over his eyes. 'I am weary, else I should have more hope. No, I fear that even should we ride for Mirkwood instead of Gondor, we could do little to change the outcome… No, our best hope is still with Frodo and Sam.'
As he made his way between the men of Rohan towards the king's tent, Gandalf seemed old. Suddenly the weight of years seemed to be on his shoulders and he leaned on his staff as he walked.
'Pip, give me a hand with this.' Merry's voice startled him from his reverie and he quickly scuttled towards his cousin as he dumped an armful of kindling near the fire.
'We won't need more than that I don't think,' Gimli was saying, eyeing the bundle. 'We will not wish to keep it burning through the night.'
Pippin stepped over Merry's blanket and discarded packs, as he did so, Legolas stepped out of his way. Pippin stole a shy glance at the elf, but Legolas turned his head slightly and looked away.
Pippin found himself standing near the fire and glanced down at the round shape left beneath the wizard's blanket. Warmth seemed to emanate from it, and he felt mesmerised. Without realising it, he found himself at the place Gandalf had been settled, his foot against the globe beneath the blanket. He stared down, eyes wide.
Abruptly, he felt Merry nudge him and guiltily looked up at his cousin. Merry was watching him with knowing concern. He gave Pippin a look and then tipped his head towards Legolas. Pippin looked blank and Merry frowned at him, nodding towards Legolas again. 'He can hear you, stupid' he muttered. 'How would you feel if it was the Shire they were talking about?'
Pippin scrunched his face up in remorse, all thoughts of the palantir gone. 'I never think,' he mourned. 'I wish I did but I don't. It just all sort of slips out somehow.' He cast his gaze down and twisted one foot into the dust. 'I thought it was a good idea.'
Merry relented. 'Legolas knows you don't mean anything. He knows you are just concerned. We're his friends aren't we?'
Pip brightened. 'Of course we are! We should cheer him up! You know I am good at that.' In fact, he already had a plan. Gandalf might not approve but Pippin was quite sure he would be helping Legolas, whom he liked, and if he was honest, it would help his own peace of mind. He had only to wait until dark.
'Yes. Yes you are Pip. You have a think about that but don't do anything without me'
'Of course not, Merry.' But Pippin hugged his idea to himself. Merry would try to stop him if he knew. Merry was being very sensible and Pippin was feeling Tookish and brave. And the Palantir fascinated him. He could not stop thinking about it, its warm smooth surface and the strange fire lit within. There was something about it that called to Pippin as even the Ring had not…..
Legolas closed his eyes against the hurt that buried itself in his heart. He knew the Fellowship had closed around him, seeking to protect him, but it was too late for that. Pippin's question about the Palantir had given him a moment's hope, but the steady look in Gandalf's eyes had dashed that. He knew Gandalf was right- he could not risk revealing himself to the Enemy too soon. He hugged the Lorien bow hugged to his chest, but it was all useless. As was he.
'Mirkwood… bereft of its sons, bereft of its king…its standard broken, trodden into the mud' He could see again the bloody trophy hoisted up and hear the hoarse cry of agony. Like a knife it twisted and wrenched. He passed his hand over his eyes.
Surely he would know? The bond between child and parents broken, surely he would know? He searched his heart, for a thread come loose, for a sense of loss but there was nothing. Perhaps those were lies they told about the bond between child and parent? His fierce loving father, his proud warrior brothers with their Woodelf mischief and laughter… how could they all be gone…all of them?
Again and again, he saw the tall spear raised and plunged down, jostled as if it met resistance, then hoisted high on the shoulders of the jeering orcs. Heard again and again that hoarse cry…
'Orcs rape the children of your dead warriors and yet you are here?' Saruman's voice gently questioning, saddened, seeking to understand. He heard again, laid over the burning of the forest and the wizard's voice, and he had almost heard over it, the murmuring and quiet cry of passion from Eomer.
'...brawling and rutting in the gutter with the brats of this petty king while your people spill their blood in the woods of your home…' The voice uncoiled, this time in his breast and wound its way around his resolve.
He hid his face in his hands. He felt hot with shame that he had indeed rutted like a beast while his warriors died. He had tangled his fingers in the soft fur and yielding flesh of the warrior of Rohan, while his friends, his brothers were slaughtered. And he had not spared a thought.
'You should see what we did in Mirkwood.'
Both Saruman and the Uruk at Helm's Deep had uttered those words. How could Legolas have ignored that? He saw again and again, his elven memory fresh and untainted by time, the dreadful wound in the Uruk, pumping its black blood out and soaking the ground, yellow eyes slitted and watching him, it had bared its fanged teeth in a horrid grimace of pain. 'You think you have won, elf,' he remembered again its panting breath. And now, both Saruman's and the Uruk's voices merged into one grating, gleeful triumphant cry: 'You should see Mirkwood.' He should have listened, he told himself again, and again. He should have galloped away North and East with never a backward glance.
He heard the screams, saw the woman die, the child's throat slit, the still breathing body hoisted…
Legolas stood up and paced restlessly at the edge of the small camp. His fingers clenched into fists and he let the bow fall from his grasp. It clattered against a granite rock but he strode out of the camp and into the darkness, away from the firelight.
A sentry on guard stood suddenly erect and put his hand out to stop him, but when the man saw it was Legolas, his hand fell back by his side.
The soft night air cooled Legolas' skin but his shame did not abate. He strode out of the camp to where the tall oaks grew and the leaves unfurled their new green. The sounds of camp grew quieter and finally he could escape from the concerned gaze of his friends, of the curious and horrified stares of men, and Gandalf's knowledge of what he had done. Quickly, he seized the lower branch of a tall oak and swung himself up and up, through the branches to the highest and stood, clasping the trunk and staring north and east while tears soaked his face.
A colder breeze from the North stroked his cheek and he leaned into it like a lover's hand. He yearned for the woods of his home then, standing bereft in that tall oak far south. He searched, stretching out his senses, listening to the Song…. He heard the night sounds of the Rohirrim, and the strange unearthly voices of now distant Fangorn. He stretched out his senses to touch the earth's deep song and the blended songs of star and forest. The voices of his friends murmured in the background like a stream.
He wanted to be home…He wanted his strong, vibrant father to stride down the steps of the stronghold and envelop him in a hug scolding him, and for his brothers to clap him on the shoulder and tease him about the dwarf… He wanted his friends, who would grasp his arm and pull him out to drink far into the night and to dance in the dawn, and for the soft maidens to turn and smile and slip their hands in his.
Instead, the insidious Voice wormed its way into the memories, the glades he wandered in, it slid between himself and those he loved and destroyed everything. 'Have you not heeded Galadriel's warning? … Do you not hear the cry of your Woods? It burns…It… burns. Nothing is left, only ash. No one is left, only bones. And yet…. You… Are…Here.'
He strained to hear the song of his home, for the subtle moss and green sounds, for the shadows etched against the leafy sunlight that filtered through the dense canopy. But there was only silence. And he wondered when it had happened that he had stopped listening for it, the call of home...
His face was wet, the stars blurred and shimmering. Absolute loss clutched his heart and tore its way through him. His father, not his king, but his loving fiercely proud father… he could not think on what Saruman had said. Could not bear it for he thought his heart might break if it were true. And his brothers…it could not be true. Surely he would feel something? Some great shattering of his fea?
It made Galadriel's warning irrelevant now. He had sworn to follow Aragorn anyway, to the very ends of the Earth
In the darkness the elf squeezed his eyes shut. He did not fear death and he did not fear the Dead. He feared the farewells, the parting of ways with those he might never, ever meet again, not until the ending of the world. But now, what was there left to return to?
Whatever Saruman's intention, Legolas Thranduillion was now resolved.
He wiped his face on his sleeve and blinked, settling his face into the stoic Woodelf mask. He took a breath of the cold north breeze and then descended.
He found Eomer standing outside the King's tent.
For a moment he watched unobserved. Hair thicker and coarser than his own, waved down the broad back. He remembered the strong muscles beneath the fabric and chain mail, the heavy flesh, exotic scent … and then the cries of passion overlying the dreadful scene of his father's death, and he curled up inside.
Eomer did not deserve his approbation though. The passion had been mutual. He did not want Eomer to feel the shame that he did. It was not his home that burned while he had … Eomer had been nothing but honourable.
He reached out to Eomer's shoulder and the man turned. His eyes widened and lips parted slightly.
'Shhh' Legolas did not smile and Eomer followed him without question.
Eomer had been carefully avoiding the Fellowship. He had been sunk in thoughts of the elf and when Legolas reached for him, it was as though his own thoughts had conjured him up out of the mist.
He had been feeling superfluous, for the dwarf and ranger had scooped Legolas up after Gandalf had released them from the dreadful vision and he had not spoken to him since… He had watched the elf from a distance as they rode from Orthanc, his bright hair blowing back in the wind, his face impassive. Eomer had tried not to stare but could not help it. Legolas was the son of the Elvenking. Oh Beama's bollocks- he had thought, chewing his lip. He had thought Legolas was a scout or elven warrior, some companion of Aragorn, but not that…he winced. His head had spun and he had sat down quickly as the realisation sunk in. But even then, if the elven king was dead… did that make Legolas king? He had buried his head in his hands but could not, in truth, really regret one second of their passion and friendship.
Only after Legolas had explained the runes inked onto his skin had Eomer given time to think about what this was costing Legolas to fight their war, when war marched upon his own lands so thoroughly; he knew that the great forest and the elves there were the bulk stalwart against the enemy in the north and east, buffering the lands of Rhovanion and guarding the northern passes of the Misty Mountains. If they had fallen so completely as Saruman said, then Gimli would also wish to depart for his own lands too must fall. It was all falling apart, after victory had been theirs all too briefly. Aragorn must leave for Gondor and Eomer had determined to go with him… unless… unless he was asked to go North with another…
So it was a strange shock when he felt a hand lightly touch his shoulder. He turned to see Legolas standing behind him with such loss in his eyes that Eomer's heart tightened. Without a word the elf turned and Eomer followed without question but a strange excitement and dread for what he might do, what he might say in this state of utter despair.
They had slipped out of the camp to a stand of blackthorn trees, a light foam of blossom drifted across their bare branches. Here Legolas had stared at the man and with a gentleness Eomer had not experienced before, the man was unclothed and kissed. Hands slid over his shoulders, feeling the bunched muscles beneath the skin, stroked him and caressed him with a compassion that had him undone. The elf took his face in his hands with impossible tenderness and kissed him, and they lay together on the grass beneath the blackthorn blossom and stars. The elf had said nothing but Eomer felt deep in his heart then that the world had righted itself. He was forgiven, he was innocent. He had no part in the elf's pain. He had given and received. He was loved.
'I would follow you…' he began to say but the elf put his finger on his lips and kissed him again instead. Sliding his hands gently to cup the man's face, to stroke down his neck, his chest, his belly and lower, stoking the fire of passion, the warmth of flesh against flesh in the cold uncertainty that they now faced. It was a quiet passion, no cries or murmurings, for neither of them could bear that. And once Eomer thought he felt tears on the elf's face but when he reached up, he found his hand caught and held tightly, clasped like lovers clasp each other's hands and he let himself believe, for a moment, it would last beyond this brief time. And afterwards, when Legolas held him, he imagined it was so much more than this snatching at meagre comfort they offered each other, even knowing it was not true, even knowing the danger to his heart. There was a moment when Legolas lifted his hand and gently drew his fingers down Eomer's face and said something softly in his own tongue, and when Eomer asked him what he meant, the elf smiled sadly and said, 'The gift of Men is a blessing I had not understood until I walked amongst mortals. You are like the forest river that rushes on and past, and to the Sea… and I like the stone in the water, remain. '
Eomer thought how lonely he must be.
Aragorn leaned on one elbow, throwing small twigs into the fire and listening to Merry tell again how many orcs he had killed, and Pippin arguing that Merry had been too scared and that Pippin had really done all the work of raising the Ents. It had been some time since Legolas had turned and left the camp in such distress and night had fallen, so when they saw him returning some hours later, they stopped talking and watched him anxiously. He did not meet their gaze. The elf glanced at where Gimli had carefully stowed the Lorien bow he had let fall and then let his gaze linger on the axe that stood next to it.
Aragorn waited patiently. Elves would not be rushed and woodelves had their own way. He drew on his pipe and savoured the hot tang in his throat and lungs. Stillness settled about them for a moment.
'I saved you some stew,' Merry held out a bowl to Legolas, a little nervously.
Legolas nodded slightly as he took it. His companions tried not to appear to be watching, but they did. Although Legolas ate everything and hungrily, Aragorn felt he knew Legolas well enough now to see he did not taste the food but ate because he needed it.
When he finished, Legolas went to stand to clean the bowl but Pippin held out his hand. 'Here, I'll do that,' he said. Legolas paused and then looked up at first Pippin, then at each one of them. His face crumpled slightly and he looked away.
'Thank you,' he said quietly.
Night settled around them and there was only the soft sound of horses snuffling each other. In the distance a hunting owl swooped and the only other sound was the quiet breath of the sentries. Small campfires had been allowed to die. Gandalf had returned to them and now slept even though Gimli snored loudly enough to keep the whole camp awake as far as Pippin was concerned. The hobbit turned over restlessly. He was glad to be back with the Fellowship, for it was almost the Fellowship, apart from Frodo and Sam. He sighed and rolled so he lay on his back looking up at the stars.
Stars here were brighter than in the Shire and unfamiliar. He understood that they comforted Legolas although Pippin couldn't hear them as Legolas said he could. How could you hear stars? Pippin had asked the elf to explain once and he had said they sounded cold, bright, metallic… It was obvious really. But he said they each sounded different. Pippin looked up wondering what each one sounded like. There was a slightly blue one... perhaps that sounded tinny… and that one...chimed like a bell perhaps?
He thought about Legolas –when he had come back from wherever he had run off, Pippin thought he looked a bit as if he had been crying, but he couldn't have... Legolas was really old and an elf. Pippin was sure elves did not cry, even elves like Legolas who seemed to be very merry one moment and then very sad another. He supposed it was living such a long time you must have lots of time to think about things.
Legolas was moving silently about their camp, Pippin could not see what he did but was aware of movement. And he knew Aragorn was still awake because he could smell the pipeweed.
Aragorn shifted to make room for Legolas. Pippin wondered if he should call Legolas 'Your Majesty' now but Legolas did not seem the type to ever want to be addressed as anything but Legolas… it was strange to think his father was a king...
'You should rest my friend,' Pippin heard Aragorn say quietly. Legolas gave a low bitter laugh.
'Aye, perhaps I should for I shall not rest again in my home. I no longer have a home if what Saruman says is true'
Pippin cringed. He had smelt the burning trees and even worse, the smell of burning meat and had known it was people and horses in the flames. Pippin had tried to block out the sound of screaming but he still heard those awful cries in his head. Then the dreadful sight of the elf who had been speared and hoisted up high above the gibbering triumphant orcs… he shook his head. He didn't think he would ever get rid of that memory.
Pippin was not entirely sure he understood why Saruman had been so angry with Legolas – surely it was Gandalf who caused all the trouble... saved us, corrected the hobbit quickly, thinking how easily he had fallen into old habits again given half a chance.
Pippin tried to imagine what that must be like for Legolas and found himself thinking about Tooks lying dead, or the Shire being so devastated, he shuddered. He would not think it. He would think about Legolas instead… His gaze fell on Gandalf, his white robes pulled up around him and he had thrown his arm over the strange black globe. Pippin stared… remembering again the warmth that had suffused his hand, and the feeling of compulsion… Gandalf had said it was a seeing stone… he remembered again his idea and allowed his eyes to almost close but watched Gandalf through half closed eyes and beneath his lashes. He only had to wait.
Aragorn thought he saw Pippin stir restlessly and open his eyes several times. Gandalf lay still, his arm around the palantir. Aragorn mused on the strange black globe. This was one of the Seeing Stones of Arnor, he suspected. He had caught Gandalf's speculative look and thought he knew what was in his old friend's mind.
The air grew colder.
Stars sharp and bright dusted the sky. Cold air drifted around the camp and lay frost across the grass. For a moment Aragorn could see the elf clearly, his eyes downcast and shoulders slightly slumped. In his own chest, a knot tightened and he frowned. It was his fault Legolas stayed.
He had wrung the promise from him and that knowledge burned. Inwardly cringing at his own need, Aragorn put his pipe away and pulled his cloak about himself against the cold. He stood and walked to the edge of the camp where Legolas had stationed himself, looking out into the huge empty night. The elf stood silent and still, listening. He did not stir as Aragorn joined him.
Aragorn spoke quietly 'I will understand if you turn, if you walk paths other than mine.'
Legolas turned slowly to the Ranger as if awakening from a dream. The dark night shrouded the Ranger like a cloak and the stars crowned him. Legolas suddenly caught a tremor in the air. He leaned towards it slightly, listening. There was the sound of the wind in a banner fluttering. Steady heartbeat, horses as steady in their hearts as their riders, and amongst them, something else…a flutter of excitement in the pit of his stomach and he thought he heard an eagle cry high, far above pristine snow. It seemed his destiny approached.
'Someone approaches…' he said quietly. And then, he was caught by another feeling, this time the weight of malevolence heavy in the air. Like a thunderstorm approaching, the air tasted metallic, pressure built in his ears. He recognised this. It felt like the south of the forest, like Dol Guldur…
'The enemy moves…' he said, half closing his eyes. Aragorn tensed. 'His Eye moves... it searches…' Suddenly the elf's eyes snapped wide open. 'He is here!' he hissed whirling to face the camp. Aragorn drew his sword and the sharp metal ring awoke Gandalf. Even as the wizard cried aloud his discovery of the theft, there came loud cry.
'Pippin!' shouted Merry, throwing off his blanket. Gimli was already standing, his hair bristled but bending to pick up his axe.
Legolas had already leapt over the fire and disappeared into the darkness at the edge of the camp. 'Pippin!' he cried.
The hobbit lay as if in a fit, rigid mouth stretched open, petrified. Gandalf swooped over him, throwing back his wide sleeves to feel the hobbit's forehead. 'Peregrine Took' his voice like a bell, a single note sounding, calling the hobbit back. Pippin's eyes fluttered and then cleared. He looked at Gandalf.
'Gandalf! I am s..sorry' he gasped.
Chapter 15: The Sons of Elrond
Chapter 15: The Sons of Elrond
Legolas stood silent and still, peering up into the clouds and listening for something that he could not name. He was restless in the way he had been when they were in Moria… every nerve stretched and his fingertips prickled. He felt the same metallic taste and thunder in his ears that he had when near Dol Guldur- and it was getting more intense. He had thought that it was Pippin looking in the palantir, but even now with the dark globe swathed once more, the pressure grew. He could hardly breathe.
He glanced across to Gandalf who was preparing to leave. He was shoving his pipe and blanket into the small bag that was all he carried as luggage and hurrying Merry to gather together his and Pippin's things. Aragorn was steadily handing things to Gandalf and they spoke of the journey. Gandalf was leaving now, taking Pippin with him to Minas Tirith, while Théoden was to return to Helm's Deep and from there on to the muster he had called.
Legolas turned back to the East... he could see a faint glow in the sky, far away over the mountains and that was Mordor. He knew Helm's Deep had been a mere precursor to the terrible assault planned by the Enemy. He thought of his woodland home and his heart twisted. Closing his eyes briefly, he pushed away thoughts of home. It would do no good now. If they were dead, they were already dead- he could do no more. If they yet lived, he sent a prayer to Elbereth to light a way for them in the darkness of the shadow.
Suddenly the metal taste flooded his mouth like blood. He heard the sound of huge wings far off but drawing closer, and his first thought was Smaug. But it couldn't be. Similar but unformed, without the cunning of a dragon, huge, reptilian but this mind was almost absent... instead, another…
Legolas gasped in recognition.
He whirled about, stringing his bow and plucking an arrow from his quiver.
'Gandalf!' he hissed, 'Nazgul!'
'Wha…?' began Merry but the elf's hand was already clamped over his mouth and stifled the rest.
'Silence. Be still!' commanded Gandalf and though his voice was hushed all the men fell silent.
Legolas looked up, Merry frozen against him. The stars suddenly faded and then sailed out again. He heard the soughing of great leathery wings and the wind rushed past. Again he was reminded of Smaug but he knew this was the same as the winged creature of Sauron he had brought down on the eastern shore. An unearthly screech ripped the night apart and he buried his head against Merry's. Nazgul. They had been found.
Several of the riders cried out, and crouched, holding their arms above their heads as if to ward off a blow from above. A blind fear and a deadly cold fell on them.* The horses stamped and whinnied in fear.
Legolas could feel it searching for them… it was aware of him and he felt the sharp edge of its malice and lust shear against his mind.
He stood upright against the stars and bent his long bow. The Nazgul circled and swooped back. Legolas fixed upon the huge shadow that blotted out the stars, and sighted along the arrow. He pulled back the string as far as he could, muscles smooth and gliding. He felt time coalesce into this one moment and he breathed out, flicking his fingers open and let it fly. The arrow screamed past, a silver bolt into the sky. A wailing shriek pierced the night and then trailed off. The company stood frozen, blood chilled and eyes wide, staring into the darkness after the creature.
Then there was a mighty crash somewhere over the Isen and distantly, wailing came again but further away. It was the wounded beast that wailed but who knew whether the Nazgul stayed with its fallen mount or hunted alone.
'What in all of Arda was that?' Eomer came to stand beside Legolas, who was still staring, leaning forward, searching for sound or sign that evil was yet abroad
'That was the Nazgul,' said Gandalf urgently. 'They have been mounted once more I see, and this time, not mortal horses but winged creatures. That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend, and not the first one you have brought down. So says Aragorn.' He clapped Legolas on the shoulder and smiled.
'I think you have bought us a little time but we must use it wisely.' He continued, 'That Nazgul was, I suspect, for Saruman not for Pippin. Not yet anyway. Even Sauron has not had time to respond to what he has now seen in the palantir. No, I think Sauron wants to know what Saruman has been up to- and that Nazgul was sent to find out - he does not trust Saruman. Now he has seen a Hobbit in the palantir...' The Wizard put his hand on Pippin's shoulder and steered him towards Shadowfax. ‘He will think that Saruman has found a Hobbit’
The horrible wailing came again, far across the Isen. It trailed like a long leash of sound up into the night. The men stopped and looked as one across the river, frozen in horror, their hair slightly on end.
Only Gandalf seemed oblivious. Instead the Wizard leaped effortlessly up over Shadowfax's back. The great horse snorted and tossed his head restlessly, feeling his rider's urgency. 'Sauron will expect the Nazgul to return with that Hobbit… when he does not, he will suspect Saruman of even more treachery. He will want revenge. It will not be long before he sends others. And this time, he may spare more than one Nazgul.' He looked down at his companions with a strange look in his eyes, and then held out his arms for Pippin. 'I almost pity Saruman. He was once very great and did many noble deeds over the Sea. Alas, his curiosity and scholarliness led him where he should not have gone.'
Aragorn helped Pippin up onto Shadowfax.
'Aragorn.' Gandalf said, 'You have no time to lose. Make haste. I will meet you again in Minas Tirith. Farewell.'
He held the gaze of each of the, Aragorn, Gimli, Merry and then Legolas, to whom he gave a gentle smile. 'Oft it looks darkest just before dawn,' he said. And then the horse surged forwards and was away, galloping over the slight rise and disappearing into the night.
None of wanted to wait for dawn to ride. Théoden had given the order to march and so Eomer threw his saddle across Firefoot's glossy back and reached under the horse to pull the girth tight. He pulled at the straps to check that they were secure and put his hand of the hilt of his sword instinctively checking all was in place. He glanced about at the hushed men and then up at the night sky that was filled with stars. Finally he placed his helm upon his head and turned to lead Firefoot to the head of the column; that was when he saw Legolas.
In the darkness, the elf was still, a tall silent shadow against the huge night. He leaned forwards slightly, listening. Every now and again another bloodcurdling wail from the other side of the Isen pierced the absolute silence. Every time it sounded, every man froze and looked up.
One long unearthly howl went up into the night, from across the Isen, a long thin wail trailing across the silence and suddenly cut short. The men stopped where they were, looked up. No one moved or spoke. For many minutes they waited but there was no further sound.
Eomer looked towards Legolas again. He stood, every sense alert and strained. Like an arrow held but not released. He led Firefoot towards him but the elf did not stir, nor cast a backward look over his shoulder.
'We are leaving,' Eomer said quietly, resisting the urge to put a hand on Legolas’ shoulder- he felt somehow that was neither his place nor wise for he was strung tight as his own bow. He looked out into the night, but could see nothing except the thin line of the river gleaming silver in the moonlight, and a dark blur of trees at the water's edge. 'What do you hear?' he asked curiously.
'I hear the sound of Shadowfax far over the plains now, galloping faster than the wind. Gandalf urges him on.' Legolas spoke as if in a trance. 'There is a cloud gathering above Minas Tirith. I hear far away, the sound of many horses, steady hearts. A banner flutters. I can no longer hear the creature. It is dead.' He paused and then turned to look at Eomer. 'I hear the sound of the Isen rushing on to the Sea.' Eomer was caught by the deep, intent, green eyes. The elf placed his hand fleetingly over Eomer's heart. 'I hear your heartbeat.' He smiled an eldritch smile that held the man utterly.
Eomer went to put his hand over Legolas' but Legolas smiled again and shook his head, darting his eyes towards where the men gathered. 'Gandalf knowing is another matter entirely but you will be their King one day,' he said. 'I have given them enough to talk about.'
Eomer started speak, he wanted to say he did not care, but Legolas looked beyond him and a gruff voice came from the dark. 'I think I will ride with you, horse-lord, the better to acquaint you with the virtues of the Lady of the Golden Wood.' Eomer turned. Gimli strode towards them, thumbs jammed into his belt. He regarded them with bright eyes gleaming in the darkness. 'Yon beastie has stopped its yowling then? Good. Made my hair stand on end.'
At the dwarf’s approach, Eomer almost leaped away from Legolas as if he had been stung, and put on a stern face. 'I was just saying – a good shot,' he muttered.
Gimli squinted at him. 'Were you now?' He turned to Legolas who grinned at him mischievously. 'It still only counts as one,' muttered the Dwarf. 'Well, two I suppose since you did shoot down the other on the eastern shore.'
Legolas bowed graciously and Gimli returned the bow with equal graciousness, but Eomer did not miss the gleam in Gimli's eyes as he straightened. Nor did Legolas and he gave a feral grin that made Eomer take a step towards the Elf and want to run his hands over the hard sleek body. Instead he took a breath and turned back towards the waiting men.
Aragorn looped the reins over Hasufel's head. Gandalf had gone with Pippin and he remained here with the remaining members of the company. He felt the burden of choice and sighed.
Merry looked up at him. 'Pippin always lands on his feet that one,' he said hopefully. 'I just hope he can look after himself without me there to watch over him.'
Aragorn looked down. 'We are a Fellowship still,' he said solemnly, 'even though two of our company are far from us, and two more ride into war. We four remain. And we must keep faith with each other,' he said.
Merry looked up at him quizzically. 'You're beginning to sound like Gandalf or Legolas. Now we can't have that. I'll look out for you and you look out for me, and we'll both look out for those two.' He nodded towards Legolas and Gimli. Gimli was looking up at where Eomer sat astride his horse. He reached up his hand and to Aragorn's surprise the dwarf swung up behind Eomer.
'Indeed we will.' Aragorn laughed softly.
'So, four of the company still remain,' said Aragorn. 'We will ride on together but we shall not go alone as I thought. The king is now determined to set out at once. Since the coming of winged shadow, he desires to return to the hills under cover of night.'*
'And then whither?' asked Legolas, coming to stand beside him. He stroked Hasufel's long muzzle and the horse whickered softly.
'I do not know,' answered Aragorn slowly, full of doubt and weighing his words carefully, hoping he could still avoid the road to the sea that Galadriel spoke of, hoping to keep them all safe. He felt overwhelmed by the weight of expectation... to be the King? To claim Arwen? To claim Gondor? Could he challenge the might of the Dark Lord? He felt faint with it… and then he felt a steady hand on his shoulder.
'We are with you, Aragorn.' He looked up into the green eyes of Legolas. In the moonlight, he saw his own face reflected strangely. As if the Elf held up a glass to him, he saw a man crowned with stars and noble as in the ancient kings of Numenor. Aragorn gasped when he realised he saw himself. Legolas smiled gently. 'We are with you, Aragorn. I have given you my word, I will follow you wherever you may lead us.'
Aragorn looked at his friend in wonder. He felt the warmth of their friendship and the elf's tender regard for him dissolve his fear and doubt. He clasped Legolas' arm firmly and tears sprang into his eyes.
They rode swiftly through the night, crossing the fords of the Isen. Gimli rode behind Eomer and Legolas rode alongside. Often their knees bumped as the two horses pushed against each other. Gimli raised an indulgent eyebrow – every time, Legolas grazed Eomer's knee, the man jumped. Did he think Legolas was going to grab him? Honestly, these men were a jumpy lot.
Gimli grasped the muscled torso and squeezed curiously. Made like Dwarves these Rohirrim… he stared at the strong back and the muscled thighs in front of him. He was no fool and a seasoned veteran of many a mountain skirmish, and of long months prospecting with only a few other Dwarves for company. He was not inclined to take comfort himself, but he was no stranger to the muffled sounds of passion… he looked speculatively at the man in front of him.
Then he caught a flash of teeth in the moonlight and a grin. He realised Legolas had been observing him and seen him squeeze the man. Surely he did not think…? That he himself felt…? Alarmed, he threw his most scorching look at Legolas warning him, hoping that the Elf's farsight could see or even better, feel the searing heat from his gaze.
Legolas laughed again and it jolted through Gimli. He had forgotten how glad a sound that was. Legolas still turned away when any looked upon him with pity so Gimli ignored the loss in the Elf's eyes and took every moment of joy that he could. And if that meant Eomer, or even Aragorn giving him comfort… for that matter Théoden still looked at the Elf with something akin to adoration…Whoever it was, as long as it eased his friend's heart, then the Dwarf wished him well.
The night wore on and they rode hard. Legolas felt Eomer's eyes upon him and his fingers remembered the man's skin and the soft down of his body. His lips tasted the salt and sweat. He lifted his hand to his face and breathed in the scent of the man and smiled. He turned back to look over his shoulder and sought Eomer's eyes and Gimli tight behind him. But his gaze slid off the man's rapt gaze to beyond, the way they had come, and he put his hand on Arod's neck, stopping him. There was a tremor in the air... He had heard it before but it was nearer, much nearer. Soon.
'Something comes…' He closed his eyes, trying to sift through the sounds of the Rohirrim, the sounds of bits jangling and hoof beats mixed with others… He leaned towards it slightly, listening. There was the sound of the wind in a banner fluttering. Steady heartbeat, horses as steady in their hearts as their riders…the beat like a war drum...and something else, something elusive that for a moment made his heart flutter, as if his destiny approached.
Just then more substantial, he heard a horse galloping. An outrider, one of their own, Legolas caught the notes of the song they all shared but he did not pause to savour it as he might have. He searched for Aragorn and found him at the front of the column. Others had heard the hoof beats now and the whole column paused, wheeling round to gather about their King.
From the darkness a rider approached. Swords ripped from their sheaths and bows were strung.
A rider suddenly emerged from the dark.
'My lord' he said to Théoden, wheeling his horse, which was blowing hard and snorting. It shook its head and foam scattered from its mouth. 'There are horsemen behind us. I thought I heard them as we crossed the Isen but now I am sure.'
At once, the company halted and gathered about the king. Eomer leapt from his horse and stood at the head of the company, sword raised.
The sinking moon was obscured by a great sailing cloud but suddenly it rode clear again. Legolas heard the approaching horsemen, the steady hoof beats measured against the steady heartbeat of both horses and men. He caught a whisper of a different song amongst them, it puzzled him, like the cry of a hunting eagle on the high mountains. He listened for it again but it was lost amongst the pounding hooves. And then quite suddenly, dark shapes came swiftly on the path from the fords. The moonlight glinted here and there on the points of spears. The number of pursuers could not be told but they seemed no fewer than the King's escort.
Legolas did not dismount, nor did he draw his bow or knives. These were no orcs, nor servants of the Enemy... He could not guess at their purpose but there was a familiarity about them.
When they were some fifty paces off, Eomer cried in loud voice, 'Halt! Halt! Who rides in Rohan?'
The pursuers brought their horses to a sudden standstill. A silence followed and then in the moonlight, a horseman could be seen to dismount. He was tall, a dark standing shadow. He held his hand up, palm outwards in gesture of peace.*
The horseman squinted in the darkness, trying to discern the company. He addressed Eomer since he was the one who had greeted him.
'Rohan? That is a glad word. We seek Aragorn, son of Arathorn.'
Legolas opened his eyes wide. And then shook his head - of course, that was what had been familiar about the men. They had notes of Aragorn's song twined about their hearts. They were kin. That was why he had felt no apprehension. It was familiar and well worn, like a path homewards…
Aragorn had dismounted and clasped the man, exchanging words, but Legolas edged Arod forwards. His gaze moved over the grim faced men, their cloaks identical and pinned only with a star, their expressions grim. He could see their kinship to Aragorn, these lost men of Numenor.
There was someone else, not Dúnedain … he saw two others on great black horses with silver bits and harness. These two riders were taller than the Dúnedain, their faces were familiar for they favoured their father greatly. Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond. Legolas stared unabashed, as is the way of Mirkwood Elves, for they had great renown as warriors and he felt a sudden thrill that he would ride with such men as these. Black hair and grey eyes, they were so similar that Legolas did not think he could tell them apart, clad alike in bright mail beneath cloaks of silver-grey. Long swords hung at their sides and they had shields with corresponding devices strapped to their saddles.
They barely registered Legolas.
Their eyes fixed on the two men who embraced. When Aragorn raised his head and met their gaze his face lit first and then dimmed. When Aragorn released Halbarad he next approached the two warriors. He reached up a hand to each of them and they leaned down and clasped him. They did not smile but one leaned down and exchanged words too quiet that even Legolas could not hear, nor did he seek to. The other surveyed the troop of Rohirrim. His eyes alighted briefly on Legolas and he stared for a moment and then was drawn back to his brother who had straightened and now spoke quietly.
'Who are these riders?' asked Gimli, he had dismounted from Eomer's horse when the strangers approached. Now he swung his axe and stretched. He looked up at Legolas.
'I think these are the sons of Elrond. They are known as great warriors amongst my people. They are mighty slayers of orcs and goblins in the mountains. The orcs call them the Sons of Thunder.' He could not hide the excited admiration in his voice. Gimli smiled.
'These men that are kin to Aragorn, they too seem mighty fighters. I am glad they are with us. Look at them, stern and grim. I like that. Makes me feel better.' He grunted as Legolas pulled him up to sit behind him. Gimli wriggled to get comfortable. 'I hate to say this but it is much easier without a saddle. The edge of it was digging into my crotch the whole time.' Legolas laughed easily.
Gimli looked across at the troop of grim silent men from the North and the two Elf lords. 'Can Elrond spare them then? Perhaps war does not march upon Rivendell as it marches on our own lands, Legolas?'
'No,' a wry smile played on his lips, 'It does not march upon Imladris as it marches upon ours. Elrond has powers that my lord does not… did not'
Gimli tightened his hold on Legolas, almost as if to stop him from falling. Indeed, thought Legolas, that has been the theme of our discourse of late, mine and Gimli's and Aragorn's. We seek to stop each other from falling and yet, perhaps we cannot.
Instead he said, 'The Dúnedain and the Sons of Elrond! They will be known to the Enemy. It will dismay him to know they ride with the Heir of Isildur.'
'It will dismay him more to know that the Son of Gloin rides with them too!' replied the dwarf. Legolas laughed aloud and Gimli smiled. ‘ He may even have heard of you since you are my companion,’ he added provocatively.
Eomer turned at the sound and watched them for a moment.
'I wonder why they have come. Do you think Gandalf sent for them?' Gimli pushed the handle of his axe into his belt and grasped the Elf's waist.
'No. Galadriel.' Legolas let Gimli settle behind him before clucking his tongue to Arod. The horse's ears flickered and he moved off. 'Do you not remember the message from Galadriel to Aragorn?' Legolas half turned towards Gimli, looking down.
'Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed to thee,
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.'
Gimli was silent then, giving them both time to think. The Dúnedain had come, the Grey Company- there was no avoiding it now. He felt Gimli sigh heavily and he said nothing.
He heard Gimli say quietly, 'Just give me an axe and few orcs to swing at,' he muttered, 'and I'll be happy. All this thinking just makes me tired.'
'You sound like Pippin.'
'I feel like Pippin.' But Legolas also noted that Gimli sounded unbearably weary.
Legolas felt Gimli let his head drop against the elf's back, sleep finally overtaking him. Legolas did not stir and Gimli sighed deeply. 'Forgive me this intrusion, Legolas, but I am weary and must sleep. Dwarves are made for sprinting as you know.'
'As I know.' Legolas said quietly. Arod flicked his ears towards the Elf's voice.
'What do the kin of Aragorn say?' asked Gimli sleepily.
'I do not know. I am not listening.'
'You aren't listening?' Legolas felt the Dwarf come awake, 'Why not?'
He shifted to turn and look at the Dwarf wrapped around his back. He gave Gimli a steady look. 'That would be eavesdropping.' He turned back to look ahead once more. 'And it is rare that the eavesdropper hears anything good. Especially of himself,' he added.
'What is the point of riding with an elf if he won't eavesdrop?' Gimli prodded Legolas in the ribs. 'Eavesdrop. Now.'
Legolas smiled at the imperious tone, glad that Gimli was more like himself. 'I do not think they have anymore news from our homes than we do,' he replied, and he too felt suddenly weary. 'If they did, Aragorn would have told us by now.'
Gimli paused to think for a moment and then he said, 'Have I told you yet about the caves of Helm's Deep yet? They call them caves but…'
'Yes, you have.' Legolas interrupted, remembering the several occasions that Gimli had regaled him about the wonders of the caverns of Aglarond.
Gimli ignored him, as he had ignored him before. '…these are not caves, they are treasures beyond anything you can imagine…'
'You have told me several times in fact…'
Gimli's voice grew stronger and he felt more real against the elf's back, more solid. 'The towers of men are as nothing beside the glories I have seen…'
'You have also told Gandalf…'
'Underground lakes that have not been seen by any other living thing, dwarf, elf or Man…'
'And Aragorn. And Eomer… In fact I think that is why Gandalf left so suddenly...'
'Water unmoved for millennia…'
Gimli's voice rumbled against his back, and it felt comforting. He talked of the caverns deep beneath the earth and made them sound beautiful, spoke of the earth's sculptures, of water that had not been disturbed for time uncounted… Legolas felt himself soothed and let himself fall into the rhythm of Arod. He would not think more on the words of Galadriel, either to him or to Aragorn. Let his feet take him where they would. He remembered a song Bilbo had composed on the return from the Lonely Mountain after the Battle of the Five Armies. He half listened to Gimli and tried to think of the words…
‘...The Road goes ever on and on....and I will follow if I can… pursuing it with eager feet..? No…The road goes ever on and on…?’
They rode through the night. Stars wheeled above. Legolas tasted the frost of early spring. He lifted his head to catch the faraway scent of pine and snow that came on the drifts of air from the mountains. He tilted his head slightly, closing his eyes and listening to the thin silver song of stars fading into dawn. The jingle of harness and armour mingled with steady hoof beats and heartbeat of the Dúnedain and Rohirrim. He listened to the deep earth notes of the Dwarf snuggled into his back and felt the stirring of another's attention.
He opened his eyes to see one of the sons of Elrond riding close by and regarding him thoughtfully.
His dark brows and grey eyes held Legolas. There was incipient power in that gaze, even as Elrond. Black hair held in the same braids as the father's, looser than any woodelf would deem practical. The great black stallion tossed his head and played with the bit in his mouth. There was a calm power in this warrior, thought Legolas, like the blue dusk. 'You hear the Song?' the warrior asked him.
'Yes,' Legolas answered. 'Do you not?' he wondered aloud before he thought, astonished that an elf might not hear the Song as he did. But the warrior did not seem offended, rather he withdrew his gaze from Legolas and looked upwards at the stars instead.
'I hear the song of my forebears,' he said. He looked speculatively at Legolas. ‘It is strong for you? I have heard the silvans are closer than the Noldor.’
Curiosity prickled Legolas and he wondered what it must be like to have the weight of such history. It was so different from what he knew, what he was. Legolas looked up at the Mariner curiously. Surely the Sons of Elrond did not truly believe their ancestor sailed the sea of night? He wanted to ask but before he could frame a question of one he had so long admired and heard tales of his errantry, the warrior quite suddenly surged forwards and cantered along the line towards the front where his own brother had wheeled his great stallion and waited.
Legolas watched him go. The other twin let his gaze settle briefly on Legolas, his face impassive as stone. His black horse shook its long mane and pawed the ground impatiently but the elf warrior sat still and silent his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Moonlight seemed to catch in the runes upon his breastplate and upon the sheath of the sword and for a moment, he seemed outside time itself. Legolas licked his lips nervously for the other did not look away and he felt a prickle of discomfort. The other black horse cantered up and joined him and only then did the warrior take his eyes from Legolas and leaned his head slightly towards his brother. The Sons of Elrond spoke briefly for a moment and then both cast their gaze back towards Legolas and they did not smile.
Aragorn realised that Helm's Deep was suddenly before them and the last stars faded in the sunrise.
Long notes of many horns rang out to welcome the King as they approached the Deep. Riding three or four abreast over the narrow bridge, Aragorn was aware of Arod just ahead of him and saw that Legolas had reached back and gripped Gimli's arms to steady him. Suddenly the two great black horses of his brothers shoved up on either side of Aragorn, dragging his attention away from his friends. Like a tide they swept Aragorn onwards and into the stone fortress. There was shouting, and the sound of horns echoed off the stone walls to announce the arrival of the King. All was colour and movement. The banner of the King of Rohan was hoisted above the battlements and the sun caught glints of silver off the many spears and shields.
Aragorn heard Théoden order that food and drink be provided in the keep and ask that Merry, when he was rested, wait upon him and tell him of the Shire. Legolas and Gimli fussed round the hobbit but Aragorn held himself slightly apart now, and instead he took the Dúnedain into a part of the keep that was away from the other living quarters, saying he wished to take counsel with his kin and gather news from the North.
There was a small courtyard flanked by three towers on the North, West and South and to the East, the thin high wall looked out over the steppe and away to the East. Aragorn led the Dúnedain to this courtyard and they settled in one of the tower rooms there.
Aragorn took another small chamber to himself in one of the towers nearby. He wanted some time to think and to speak with his kin and to hear news of Arwen. He needed it like a thirsty man. It had been so long that he had seen her, held her, breathed her scent…but the message from Arwen had come from Halbarad, not from her brothers; it was Halbarad who had brought Arwen's gift and he who held it still until such time as Aragorn could unfurl the banner and declare himself.
As he busied himself about unpacking the few things he had brought, he thought again on Elrond's words years earlier…he had been called to Elrond's chamber and there the Lord of Imladris had spoke to him long into the night, telling him again of his ancestry, of tales of Numenor, and of the fall of Isildur. Aragorn had wondered at the time whether Elrond spoke for his, Aragorn's benefit, or for his own. And then he had gazed off into the middle distance, his eyes glazed in foresight and his voice hushed…
'... A great doom awaits you, either to rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil, or to fall into darkness with all that is left of your kin…"
Carefully Aragorn placed a worn satchel on a battered table in the corner. Gandalf had given it to him before he left. His fingers lingered over the spherical bulge against the old leather and he felt a slow pulse of warmth. He found it hard to resist it. It was cold in the stone room. There were recent ashes in the grate and there were old sacks piled in one corner. He crouched by the hearth to set a small fire burning in the grate and then sat, leaning his cheek against his hand, staring at the flames as they caught. He missed Gandalf now the most and wished for his counsel.
The door behind him opened and a long shadow fell across the room. He did not turn. Then another shadow entered and the door closed. Aragorn felt his fate close in on him. Ahead of him stretched the Paths of the Dead, the road to the Sea...
He knew it was Elladan who unpinned his silver-grey cloak and cast it carelessly over the wooden table that stood in the centre of the room and Elrohir who took up his station by the window, looking out. Elladan threw himself into one of the three low chairs clustered near the hearth and stretched out his long legs. Steepling his fingers, he looked at the man before him.
'You are deep in your thoughts,' said Elladan, looking intently at Aragorn still crouched at the edge of the firelight. He looked questioningly at the flames that caught and flickered and then glanced quickly around the small room. It was like many other rooms in the Hornburg- sparsely furnished and only a couple of tin candlesticks for ornament. There was no sense of comfort or richness but none of the three occupants cared for that now. All their intent was on war.
Aragorn did not stir. 'I was thinking that you came quickly and with speed,' he answered. 'Was it Galadriel who summoned you?'
'We had word in Imladris that you needed your kin so we set out to take word to the Dúnedain, then we followed you here.' Elladan shrugged. 'We came upon your tracks on the Plains of Orthanc. We guessed you were close,' he said. 'There was one moment that we thought we were too late. Nazgul flew over us and swooped low. It disappeared into the night and we heard it howling. We thought it had found you…or some unlucky traveller.'
'We tracked it when it fell,' continued Elrohir and without turning from the window, he pulled his gloves off each hand and threw them to join his brother's silver-grey cloak. ‘That was a lucky shot from one of your men.’ He threw open the thick casement window. Cool air rushed in.
'We could not leave it unchallenged but there was no Nazgul to whet my appetite for battle, though I cannot in truth say I was unhappy it had gone.' Elladan added. 'We put the creature out of its misery.’ It had shuffled away from them when they approached, holding one huge leathery wing up, flapping desperately with the other trailing. It had swung its blunt head snarling and gnashing its venomous teeth. But it was too wounded and blind with pain to realise that two elven warriors approached and Elrohir had easily ended its miserable, deformed life.
'Not luck but mighty skill,’ Aragorn said. ‘Legolas shot it down.' He eased himself into the chair opposite Elladan with reluctance, for he knew that Elrond would have sent counsel and he did not want to hear it. Galadriel’s had been a harbinger and his brothers’ would no more cheerful. The Dead watch the Path that leads to the Sea. He knew what that meant, so instead he said, ‘That is the second time he has done so.’
Elladan lifted his gaze and regarded his twin thoughtfully, Elrohir did not turn. He watched something out of the window, his gaze hard and intent. Elladan let his eyes fall back to Aragorn. 'He has been a good friend to you,' he observed lightly.
'Both he and Gimli have been my stalwart companions,' Aragorn heard the defensiveness in his own voice and wondered at it. He glanced at Elrohir, still standing with his back to them, for he had ever sought Elrohir’s approval even now, he wanted him to understand. But he could see from the tension in his brother’s posture that he did not like or approve of the friendship, and he felt a thrill of annoyance at his own need to justify it. 'They have followed me wherever I went. They could have turned back at any time, but chose not to abandon me.'
'No one has suggested anything different, Estel,' said Elladan gently from where he sat opposite.
Elrohir stirred slightly and slid a sideways glance at his twin. 'That matters naught for now,' he said dismissively. 'We have to speak of the road ahead.'
Aragorn began to shake his head; he had refused to speak of it with Elrohir on the open road and he had not changed his mind. But Elrohir stepped away from the window now and advanced upon Aragorn. 'Even if you do not wish it, my father bid me remind you; the days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.'*
Aragorn leaned back in the chair, hands gripping the arm rests. 'No. It will be a dark day indeed before I tread that path.'*
'It is already a dark day, brother.’ Elrohir stood above him and when Aragorn looked up, firelight cast a glow upon his noble, strong face, and long shadows seemed to crown him. ‘Sauron masses his armies and war is upon us.'
Aragorn looked down and sighed heavily. How could he make them understand? He had promised Gimli that they would not go near the Sea.
Elrohir dropped into the third low chair now and stretched out his long legs.
'You have need of haste, Aragorn,’ Elladan leaned forwards and said emphatically. ‘You must listen to the counsel of our father. What choice do you have?'
Aragorn glanced at the satchel Gandalf had given him before he left. He remembered the feel of warmth when he had touched it and the power that had pulsed in his fingertips. Perhaps there was a way to find out…
Elrohir followed his glance and tilted his head to one side.
'What do you have in there, little brother?' Elrohir narrowed his grey eyes.
Aragorn looked away. 'A palantir. Saruman had it and gave it up.'
'Ah. Not willingly I think.' Elrohir rose and walked towards the table on which it lay.
Aragorn felt an unreasonable surge of resentment overpower him when he saw Elrohir scoop up the satchel and pause, looking down at the bag. He had already half risen before he realised that Elladan too had moved and was standing carefully between them.
Elrohir stared at them both. He held the leather satchel carefully. 'It calls to me. Does it you?'
Aragorn became aware of the small movements in his hands, the clenching of his fist. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.
Softly, Elrohir kept hold of Aragorn’s gaze. 'Power that sings to my Noldo blood, that sings of craft and subtle, secret craft at that...’
He walked slowly towards Aragorn and stopped in front of him. Softly, almost singing, he said
'Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones...’ He looked deeply into Aragorn’s troubled eyes and smiled. ‘And one white tree'
Elrohir stood so close his breath was warm on Aragorn's cheek and their breath mingled. 'It is yours by birthright. I will not take that from you, you need not fear.' He lifted his hand and gently stroked a hair from Aragorn's brow. 'You are coming into your own, Estel.' He smiled tenderly, and Aragorn remembered how the warrior before him had taught him, had helped the child who had swung a sword too heavy for him. 'You will wrest this stone from the Enemy. You must do that now. See where his armies mass and where we should now go.' He held out the heavy bag to Aragorn.
Aragorn put his hand on the leather skin of the satchel. He felt a pulse. It warmed to him. It knew him. It called to him as the Ring had, but subtly different. It was made by the Men of Numenor, perhaps even Fëanor himself, but it was not made by Sauron, it was not his.
Elrohir looked at him intently. 'And then I tell you, you will remember the Paths of the Dead…' he said softly.
Aragorn paused, his hand already lifting the satchel from Elrohir. He looked away.
'I... I cannot.'
Aragorn felt the heat from Elrohir's strong, powerful body, the warm breath on his face.
With tenderness Elrohir asked as he had when Aragorn was a child, 'What do you fear?'
Aragorn turned away. He glanced out of the open window. It was mid morning and all was quiet, most of the King's troop were resting and the garrison were busy preparing for the muster. The walls were empty apart from one lone sentry. Legolas. He stood on the thin ledge high above the Deeping Combe, gazing out over the empty plains as the sun rose higher in the morning sky and touched the cold stone to gold. Wind blew through his winter grass hair and flattened the grey Lorien cloak around his body.
Aragorn faltered. 'Because it is the road to the Sea,' he said softly.
Elrohir moved to stand beside him and followed his gaze into the sunlit morning. He too saw the elf standing on an impossibly narrow ledge with the breeze lifting his hair.
'I cannot ask him,' Aragorn whispered, as much to himself as to his brothers. He could not ask Legolas to sacrifice himself, and he had sworn to follow Aragorn to the ends of the earth if need be.
'He is not important,' Elrohir said quietly and sternly.
Aragorn stared at him.
'You are.' The tall peredhel lord caught Aragorn's gaze and held it with his own grey intensity. 'You will be King, Aragorn.'
‘I cannot ask him this!’ he cried but Elrohir caught him by his arm and stilled him.
‘Then do not.’
The words were cold and hard. But a warmth pulsed beneath his fingers and spread up his arms. He felt an inexorable pull at his consciousness. The Palantir. He needed to look into it. He knew it would answer his questions and perhaps there was another way.
Elladan watched Aragorn leave the stone tower room, still clutching the old leather satchel, and step into the cold morning air. Someone called out, ‘Aragorn!’ and the Mirkwood elf leaped down from the thin ledge and walked towards Aragorn, concern on his face. Shadows clustered in the dimmed courtyard but where the elf strode towards Aragorn, a shaft of sunlight caught him and glinted on his wheat-pale hair.
Aragorn held up a hand to stop him and shook his head. Wearily he rubbed his fingers through his dishevelled hair. They were all begrimed from the ride and there were lines of exhaustion under Aragorn’s eyes. Elladan watched as Aragorn spoke to the elf and shook his head. Then Aragorn, clutching the leather satchel to his chest, hurried away to where the Dunedain were housed. He would go to Halbarad, Elladan knew.
Elladan felt a crimson swirling energy and glanced down to see Elrohir’s hand clenched tightly on the hilt of his dark sword. Both the Sons of Elrond stood looking out now across the suddenly sunlit courtyard.
The Mirkwood elf stood staring after Aragorn. The wind lifted his hair for a moment and then he turned, head bowed, and drifted back into the shadows and had Elladan not known he was there, he would never have distinguished the elf in his grey cloak from the shifting grey shadows.
Later, Aragorn had emerged. He had crossed the small empty courtyard to the third tower in the square, that was empty, closely followed by Halbarad as Elladan knew he would. The brown weathered satchel had still been clutched to Aragorn’s chest as he climbed the narrow stairs to a high chamber.
The Mirkwood elf did not approach this time, simply stood in the shadows watching as did the Sons of Elrond.
Once Aragorn had closed the door, the elf turned away and stood facing the East wind coming off the steppe. It had drawn its cold fingers through his long hair, pale as wheat, and Elladan watched for a moment. He remained still. Elrohir beside him seemed coiled tight, clenched.
As if he realised, Elrohir suddenly blinked, and breathed in and relaxed his hand and as he did, the Mirkwood elf walked away, along the narrow, crumbling edge of the wall which even for Elladan seemed thin and insubstantial in the morning light.
Abruptly Elrohir left the small stone room, pulled his cloak about him in the chill spring morning air and followed him.
Aragorn ascended the narrow stone steps that wound through the mountain to a high chamber. A narrow slit in the rock let in a long cool sliver of north light and he looked about. There was a simple wooden table and one stool. Other than that, the room was bare.
'This will do,' he said briefly. Halbarad nodded, throwing down a grey cloak and some blankets. 'I am glad you came with me, old friend,' said Aragorn softly, and he reached out to clasp the forearm of the man who had accompanied him near all his journeys. Halbarad had stood with him in many a skirmish, and who had always been his friend. He could not bear the scrutiny of his brothers now, they pushed at him too hard and still he resisted those who had been his mentors for all of his long life. He could not face the thought of that dark road that led to the Sea and was watched by the Dead.
'No longer doubt who you are, Aragorn.' Halbarad interrupted his thoughts. 'You are the King and you have the right to this.’
Aragorn settled on the low stool and placed the swathed globe on the table before him. He clenched his fists and set his jaw.
'I am for you, Sauron Lord of the Darkness, Lord of the Rings.' And so saying, he swept the cloak from the obsidian globe and pierced it with his deep stare. Instantly, flame and darkness swirled and filled the globe with fire. He grasped the surface between his hands and called out, 'I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur. I come to reclaim what is mine!'
In the depths of the palantir, Aragorn saw it then, an Eye, rimmed with fire, searching, always searching, not for him, for the one precious he had lost… Then a voice in his mind spoke and it was like being burned, a searing terrible voice that sliced open his thoughts and laid them bare.
‘…so, you have returned…What news? Has the grey one departed and left you alone…Has he drawn your teeth and destroyed your armies that you promised me… I have sent a messenger… This is not for you… You will give him over…’
Aragorn fought himself, fought to hold onto the idea that this was not real- it was not real but only in his head; his hands were not burning, his hair was not on fire and his skin not shrivelled and blackened in the suffocating heat.
Aragorn wrestled his mind clear for a brief moment and in that pause, he said
‘This is mine. And I will have it back from you.’
Flames ignited all around him and he felt the skin on his hands sear and burn…
It was many hours later that Halbarad prised his hands off the dull surface of the palantir again. He wrapped the cloak around his friend with tenderness and raised a cup to his lips. 'Drink this. Miruvor. It is all I have left but you must drink it.'
Aragorn did not protest. His skin was tinged with grey and his shoulder slumped heavily. His head bowed. He had seen the terrible armies massing on the borders of Gondor, but more, he had seen the black Corsair ships sailing along the coast. Alone and unwarned, Pelargir would fall under their cruel desire and that he had no other choice now; the days were short indeed and he had need of haste and allies, as Elrond had foreseen. Aragorn would take the Paths of the Dead, the road to the Sea.
The daylight was filtering in through the high narrow slit, it lay in a single thin ray across the grey stone. He watched the dust float in the sunlight and felt the warmth on his skin. He closed his eyes and dropped his head into the fold of his arms while Halbarad cast his own cloak over him and pulled the stool close. Distantly he felt a hand smooth over his pensive brow and as he began to drift asleep, he heard the hum of an old melody.
* TTT and RoTK
Chapter 16: The Choice
Chapter 16: The Choice
Gimli slumped on a hard wooden bench with his head on his arms. An empty mug was overturned next to him, and a plate with a half eaten loaf and a gnawed bone beside it. Snores and grunts punctuated the hush that lay in the hall. Two Rohirrim warriors half lay in similar positions around the table, and one snored gently on the floor nearby. Gimli snuffled and murmured in his sleep.
He dreamed he was in the marble halls of Erebor...
...Gold and mithril runes swirled up thin marble columns. The high roof arced above a throng of dwarves, silent and watchful… Gimli stood at the foot of the throne, which was empty. But on the empty seat lay the crown of Thorin. Gimli stared. Behind the throne stood his father, but hazy and insubstantial… and then a hiss and a low guttural voice spoke. But though he could not really hear the words, he knew they were full of threat…Gimli was turning to face the danger, his hairs on end, when he heard a clear voice and light seemed to slowly edge away the shadows...Warmth travelled from his shoulder, and spread through his strong limbs. The scent of pine and moss and woods filled his lungs...
'Gimli! Awake now! It is a dream!’ Gimli awoke with a start to see Legolas bending over him, hand on his shoulder.
'You were dreaming, my friend. I think it was not peaceful?' The elf straightened and a flicker of relief crossed his face.
'No, it was not.' Gimli passed a hand over his eyes and tried to focus. He felt numb, the dream still lingered like a smell and he was grateful that Legolas did not pester him and allowed him that moment. 'I dreamed they had returned with their demands that Dain help them find It…but Dain's throne was empty…'
Legolas breathed in sharply. 'It is as you said, Gimli, war marches upon our own lands and even if we could wish for some of our own people, I do not think any would come...'
Gimli swallowed. His throat was dry and Legolas' words were bitter, but true nonetheless. He felt thunder in his head and closed his eyes again, letting his head sink back to rest on his arms once more. It was worse, the room spun in a dizzying speed, not round and round but over and over like he was somersaulting. The dream had unnerved him, indeed, upset him. He did not want to think of the chill in his bones and his blood. He cracked open one eye and peered up at the elf.
Legolas was watching him with that unnerving intensity he had. He grunted as much to himself as to Legolas and shook his head slowly. Then wished he hadn't, for the dream had been evil but it was nothing compared with the thunderous headache that had come from drinking too much Rohirrim ale the night before. It had seemed only courteous at the time. Now though, he wished he had not.
'Are you sick?'
Gimli moaned, a long, deep, heartfelt moan that came from his belly and rumbled through his lungs and chest. His hands cradled his head tenderly and he squeezed his eyes shut.
'You are sick. I will fetch someone.' He heard the scrape of the bench being pushed back. Quickly he reached out and grabbed the elf's arm.
'No! No…healers or nurses ...or anyone,’ he rasped. His throat was scratchy and dry; he could barely recognise his own voice. 'I am not sick… Just a little…under the weather,' he said, hoping the elf would not guess that the real reason for his less than usual cheer was in the number of upturned mugs strewn across the table in front of him. ‘I expect it is that dream has unsettled me. Go and wake Merry,’ he suggested, hoping Legolas would just go away and he could go back to sleep. Not to dream. Just to be unconscious.
There was a pause and he knew the elf was probably appraising the state of Gimli's slumbering companions; it was not long before Legolas had deduced correctly the cause of Gimli's discomfort.
Amusement replaced concern in Legolas' voice. 'You are not ailing then?' he asked pertly.
'Very well, Legolas. I am awake. I am fine. I am in your hands. What do you want?' he said, resisting the urge to clutch his head. Instead he pushed himself upright with his strong forearms and shot Legolas an almost venomous look.
Legolas had seated himself opposite Gimli and regarded him with bright, curious eyes.
'I do not want anything,' Legolas said. Gimli glared at him. But Legolas continued with unrelenting brightness, 'Merry is not yet awake. He slept like a drunken dwarf all night and I am glad you did not disturb him with your carousing… It was fine carousing was it not?' Legolas picked up an upturned mug and set it right, quirking an eyebrow at Gimli. 'Do you have a sore head?' he asked, genuinely interested.
Gimli was mildly indignant. 'Dwarves do not get drunk, unlike wood elves,' he declared, taking his cue from Legolas. How could he resist the bait when it was so politely offered?
'Perfectly true. Dwarves do not get drunk.' Legolas picked up several platters nearby, stacking them loudly and irritatingly. 'And therefore, you have no dizziness or army of little dwarves tapping and chiseling away in your skull this morning?' he asked brightly. Gimli glanced briefly at Legolas. 'We will feast you well when you visit the Woodland Realm on our way home.' Legolas scraped food from one plate onto another and clashed the knives together. His voice was bright but Gimli knew him well, could hear the slight falter at the word home. And his own dream lingered yet.
Just then a finger of cold brushed Gimli's cheek; the door to the hall opened and closed again. Legolas glanced up and his face changed subtly. To Gimli, who knew him well, he looked suddenly vulnerable and he turned to see who had entered.
A tall shadow stood in the doorway. One of the sons of Elrond.
The warrior stood still and regarded them silently, the thin morning light that streamed through the narrow window caught in his silver-grey cloak, long black hair was braided much more loosely than Gimli had grown used to. Elrond's son neither smiled nor raised his hand in greeting and Gimli stared back for a moment, wondering at the strange reserve. He glanced at Legolas, his face was impassive too and Gimli thought they were like two dogs, warily regarding each other. Gimli however, shrugged and took the initiative; he nodded courteously and stood. ‘Welcome my lord, do you seek one of us?’ he asked.
However, the warrior merely inclined his head briefly, barely enough to acknowledge Gimli. ‘No, Gimli Gloinsson, I do not. Though my family is at your service.’ Then he turned to go back out of the door he had just come through.
It was such a strange combination, thought Gimli, of knowledge of his own race and brusque dismissal that he turned to Legolas in astonishment. 'They are taciturn these sons of Elrond.’
Legolas looked after the warrior uncertainly. 'They are Noldor,' he replied as if that explained everything.
Gimli snorted and stole a sly look at Legolas. The elf had pulled a green thread from the cuff of his shirt and was picking at another. It had become a nervous habit with him and Gimli wanted to put his hand out to stop him but did not. 'Is there bad blood between you?' he asked, curious that a child of Elrond would be so dismissive of a kindred elf. And Legolas himself, adrift amongst mortals, would he not seek the company of his own? Surely he did not prefer the company of a dwarf to elves? Even though said dwarf was full of magnificence, he admitted to himself with great honesty.
Legolas was shaking his head in response to Gimli's question. 'Not that I know. Elrond is revered by all our folk as wise and noble. My lord King has cordial relations with the Lord of Imladris,' he answered, and Gimli was pleased at the steadiness of Legolas' voice as he spoke of his father. But there was a disappointment that Legolas could not hide from Gimli, that the Sons of Elrond spoke so low of him and regarded him so poorly.
Legolas glanced down at his sleeve and said quietly, ‘I think in Imladris, perhaps they do not see our worth. Nor the struggle we make against the Shadow, for ever have they been protected and the folk of the woods not.’
Gimli felt a surge of shame for the woodelves were not spoken of well in his own mountain halls either, and the struggle of the woodelves felt to be of their own making. He fidgeted uncomfortably with his beard but resisted sticking the ends of his beard braids in his mouth for that was undignified.
Legolas slid a look at Gimli and there was a dangerous gleam in his deep green eyes then. 'They think us wild, untutored, unlettered and savage.'
Gimli would have blushed once to hear his own thoughts echo in the elf's words but he grinned instead. He squinted an astute eye at Legolas. ‘Perhaps you do not object strongly enough to that view?’ he guessed. ‘Perhaps you even exaggerate the wild savagery for the benefit of guests?’ he wondered, and was rewarded by a wry smile.
'Well, I will look forward to showing your folk how a dwarf celebrates!’ Gimli chuckled richly - even though his head did hurt, but only a little. ‘They will look tame compared with me!’ And then he had to clutch his head because the tiny dwarves that Legolas had conjured with his words did start hammering again and he had to sit very still until the world stopped turning.
He squinted at the number of cups in front of him and winced. There were rather a lot. The Rohirrim had wanted to toast the Dwarf's metalwork and skill, again, hailing him as Ironmaster and the elf as Longshot. He recalled now that Legolas had found that terribly amusing, but Gimli had seen that Merry had fallen asleep where he leaned against the elf and Legolas, noticing, had gently quietened his jests and stilled his movements. Gimli had no further recollection other than he had enjoyed himself immensely.
'Merry is still abed?' he asked.
'Sleeping still.' Legolas smiled. 'He was so very tired.'
'He was indeed tired,’ said Gimli. He held his head for a moment and then resumed his careful check of the remainder of the Company. ‘And Aragorn?' Gimli had not seen Aragorn at the revelry and glanced quizzically at Legolas. Ah, there it was. The subtle shift, moving his gaze slightly, almost imperceptible. It was strange that once he thought Legolas inscrutable. He wondered why mention of Aragorn had unsettled Legolas.
'He is with Halbarad,' Legolas answered.
Gimli raised his eyebrow gently and waited. He knew he could wait… In fact it was good to have the silence. Dwarves have the patience of stone. A blackbird sang outside in the morning and nearby, a sleeping Rohirrim rider snuffled and settled back into his dreams.
But Legolas simply sat there, and did not elaborate even in response to Gimli's obviously patient waiting.
Gimli scowled and tugged his beard but that hurt his head so he stopped and said crossly, 'He is with Halbarad doing what?' And because Dwarves were also creatures of action, he added irritably, 'And yes, we can assume they are talking so don't say talking.'
Legolas closed his mouth and for a moment, he looked amused. Then it faded and he looked serious and concerned. 'He had the Palantir with him.'
Gimli felt a cold dread in his stomach. There was only one reason for Aragorn to take the Palantir with him anywhere; he intended to use it. And even Gandalf had refused to look into it. 'He had what?' he snapped, 'Why did you not go with him? Why did you not stop him?' Even as he spoke he winced – Legolas could not have stopped Aragorn unless he forcibly took the stone from him.
'I tried. He would not be turned.' Hurt flitted almost imperceptibly across the elf's face and he turned away slightly.
Gimli pulled his beard braids and slowly shook his head and then wished he had not. 'Ach- I know. You could not have stopped him once his mind was set.' He paused, hardly daring to think; Frodo and Sam toiling alone across that desolate waste, the heat and smoke and drought of Mordor. The Great Eye searching for them…His own stout heart trembled at the thought and, not for the first time, he wondered at the wisdom of their quest. 'I hope he knows what he is doing. If Gandalf is right and Sauron has control of the stone, then …' He did not elaborate, Legolas would be thinking the same.
Gimli scratched his head, feeling his hair and wishing for a bath, for a comb and clean clothes. He needed to clear his head.
'Gandalf gave the Palantir to Aragorn. He said it was truly Aragorn's.’ But there was a trace of uncertainty in Legolas' voice too. 'He would not risk Frodo.’ He paused and looked at Gimli. At last he spoke, echoing Gimli's own thoughts. 'I think he will try to wrest the stone from the Enemy…He will try to see what is planned for Minas Tirith.' His voice faltered slightly. 'He may look further afield...' Gimli did not ask what Legolas hoped; he too hoped that if Aragorn could wrest the Palantir from Sauron, he would turn his gaze North and East and see for himself if devastation had been wrought in Mirkwood and beyond. For Gimli remembered his dream briefly but it was slipping away and he could only remember the sensation of loss and anxiety.
Legolas had unravelled the green thread and was now pulling it so the edge of the sleeve was frayed. Gimli, suddenly concerned, reached out to stay Legolas' hand. He caught the long fingers and cradled them gently in his own strong, square hand.
Gimli followed Legolas into the early morning light, squinting. They went to waken Merry for breakfast would soon be served and the hobbit would be annoyed to miss that, and for Gimli to freshen up. They walked together across the deserted courtyard to the room they had been given for sleeping. Gimli had not seen it yet but Legolas had assured him it was the same they had used when last in Helm's Deep, and that both his and Gimli's packs were still there where they had left them to ride to Orthanc.
The sun had risen now and warmed the grey stone of the Keep. Most of the Rohirrim were slowly awakening. Horses whinnied and stamped as boys brought their feed, and the garrison at Helm's Deep were slowly assembling to start repairing the stone walls where the orcs had rampaged. Gimli found it strange to recall his feelings when they stood on the battlements looking out over the immense and seemingly invincible army of Saruman. Now the sun shone and Spring was in the air. Small white flowers grew between the rocks and a blackbird sang.
Within, Merry still slept deeply in the narrow bed that had been Legolas’ when they were here last. Legolas' cloak had been slung over the back of a chair, which had been drawn up near the bed and his bow had been laid carefully nearby. Blankets had been tucked neatly around the hobbit so that only the top of his curly head could be seen, his clothes folded carefully and placed on the other chair. There were clean clothes too, found in some store room. Legolas seemed to be able to find everything; Gimli thought it was an innate elvish ability to locate whatever he needed or a surprisingly detailed knowledge of storerooms.
Legolas leaned over the sleeping hobbit and Gimli caught the expression on his face - a concerned protectiveness and sadness mixed. But so fleeting it was, that it was gone before Gimli really had time to register it. The elf put his hand on Merry’s shoulder and shook him gently awake.
Merry blinked and groaned and Legolas turned to Gimli and gave him one of his blinding smiles that meant the same irritating smugness with which he had awoken the Company on many a morning on the long march from Rivendell. well, Gimli supposed, at least it meant he was himself again and has put all this heartache behind him.
'Wake up Master Sluggard,’ Legolas was saying far too cheerfully. ‘The sun is high. Come and look at this place while you may.'
'Pippin, go away. I am still asleep.' Merry murmured irritably.
Gimli leaned over the hobbit. 'Come, Merry, I want to show you where I beat the elf at orc-killing.'
Legolas gave a clear bright laugh. 'By one single orc! And what about the Fell Beasts?' Merry cracked open one eye and realising who it was who stood there, tried to turn over.
Gimli grinned widely at Legolas and said loudly, 'A Fell Beast does not count as an orc.' The hobbit groaned and plumped his pillow over his ears but even that could not drown out their voices.
'No, it should count as at least two for BOTH were ridden by Nazgul.' Legolas shot back, feigning outrage.
'You have only shot one of the creatures since we began our contest.'
‘Even one Nazgul must surely count as more than one Orc!’
Eventually Merry could no longer bear it and sat up, blinking and yawning. Gimli sat on the chair where Legolas had spent the night.
'Come, Merry, it is long since others stirred,’ Legolas turned to Merry. ‘There is time to show you this fortress and Gimli can tell you how I had to stop orcs from taking off his head with his own axe.' Legolas stretched his long legs out on the bed and put his hands behind his head, in no obvious haste to move despite his words.
Merry yawned again. Gimli thought that he probably missed Pippin and resolved he would take care that Merry would not miss him for long. Merry arose reluctantly and splashed cold water on his face. Rubbing a cloth over his eyes and round his neck, he asked, 'Where is Strider?'
Gimli looked at Legolas, who hesitated briefly, and then said, 'In a high chamber of the Burg.' He pursed his lips as if remembering something confusing or unpleasant. 'I cannot tell you if he has either rested or slept last night. He said that he must take some thought, and only his kinsman, Halbarad, went with him; but some dark doubt or care sits upon him.'* Legolas swung himself off the bed and stood up quickly, restlessly, thought Gimli and he wondered if Merry would guess the elf knew something and was keeping it from him.
But Merry seemed to not notice anything and after a little while he indicated his readiness to join the world again, and they went out into the Spring morning.
They walked slowly back towards the hall where Gimli had been resting only a little while ago. This was where all food was served and they expected to find the rest of the garrison. There was a steady stream of men going to and from the halls, and others tended the horses. Many of the Rohirrim warriors greeted them as they passed and they fell in with a small group who were going to the hall.
As they entered, Gimli was struck by the difference between the Rohirrim and the Dúnedain. Their Rohirrim companions were loud and cheerful, and they joined the rest of the garrison at their meal. Many were dishevelled, all eating and drinking with relish, making plans, talking loudly about the Muster. One rider was on his feet, loudly boasting of how many orcs he had single handily killed, and there was good-natured laughter and teasing. The Dúnedain, on the other hand, sat together, quiet and focused, keeping only to themselves.
'They are a strange company, these newcomers,' said Gimli to Merry as they walked past the silent group of Men. 'Stout men and lordly they are, and the Riders of Rohan look almost as boys beside them,' he added in a whisper, leaning slightly towards the Hobbit. 'For they are grim men, worn like the weathered rock for the most part, even as Aragorn himself; and they are silent.'* He pushed Merry towards an empty space on a bench. ‘I like that,’ he added remembering the pounding in his head that he had awoken to and shot a glare at Legolas.
At the top table, Théoden was already seated and with him, Eomer and one of the sons of Elrond. Gimli did not know if it was the same one as earlier, for they were so alike. He was not sure of their names anyway, Ellahir? Elrodan? He wondered why they were all called El something. Legolas pulled out the bench for Merry and Gimli, but Gimli was not really paying attention to what he did. He had half an eye on the Dúnedain and half an eye on the son of Elrond. He had not missed the appraising glances directed towards Legolas in particular and he was as suspicious and as curious as were they. Aragorn may trust these Half-Elven Sons of Elrond with his life, but Gimli did not know them and until he had seen them in battle, he was reserving his judgement.
So he missed the moment when Théoden beckoned to Merry and Legolas. Legolas nudged Merry and nodded towards the King, who beckoned once more, clearly indicating he also wished Legolas to join them so Gimli was mildly shocked and secretly pleased when Legolas ignored the summons and pulled plates and bread towards Gimli. Gimli selected a slice of venison and slopped it onto his plate. Then he reached for the bread and tore himself off a chunk in the dwarvish way. Legolas had already heaped food onto his own plate. Gimli poured beer into mugs for both himself and Legolas.
'Oh Varda, do they only have this Dragon's piss?' Legolas muttered, eyeing the foaming mug disapprovingly. 'I suppose the water is not drinkable.'
'No, there is only Dragon's piss,' Gimli allowed the brew to foam lustrously over the top of Legolas' mug and spill over the sides and onto the elf's fingers. 'So,' he said, mouthful of meat and bread, 'you prefer the company of this Khazad to more illustrious company?'
'I fear what mischief you will get up to without an elf to keep you in check,' replied Legolas gloomily, lifting the mug and making a face. 'And Merry needs to do this on his own,' he added, gulping it quickly in case he actually had to taste it.
Gimli cast him a sideways glance, waited until Legolas had a mouthful, and then said innocently, 'Oh? It has nothing to do with the mooncalf eyes young Eomer is making at you?' He smirked. Legolas choked and was now spluttering and glaring at him. Gimli raised his mug and toasted his own success, laughing. 'Come now Legolas? We are friends. I am not going to say anything… Anyway, you have quite a reputation now amongst the Rohirrim. Many a poor boy has cast lovesick eyes at you- and many a maid too.' Gimli laughed loudly and raised his mug to his friend and drank deeply. Legolas was right- it was Dragon's piss – he wondered how he could have drunk so much the night before. The stuff in Meduseld was much superior. He opened his mouth to agree with Legolas but the elf was distracted then. Gimli turned to follow Legolas' gaze.
At the King's table, Merry was standing before Théoden and speaking. Candles had been lit in spite of the daylight, for the hall was dim and the candlelight glowed on knives and pewter goblets. The King's white hair gleamed over his crimson cloak and he leaned towards the Hobbit, a benign smile on his face. There was a scrape of steel and Merry withdrew his elven knife, the gift of Galadriel and laid it before Theoden.
'What is he doing?' Gimli half stood before Legolas pulled him back down.
Théoden lifted the knife and looked at it admiringly, and speaking to Merry. Gimli could not hear what he said but Legolas listened with concentration.
Legolas paused and then said grimly, 'He is pledging himself to Théoden.'
Gimli was appalled, and pulled away from the elf's restraining hand. He turned furiously to Legolas, 'Then he wishes to serve him when he goes to Minas Tirith? He should not go to war. It is too much. He has not seen battle. Not properly. We must stop him.'
Legolas laid a gentle hand on Gimli's arm. 'What then? You would have him come with us?'
Gimli stared, uncomprehending.
Legolas sighed and looked into the Dwarf's eyes. 'Remember the message to Aragorn from Galadriel?
'Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed to thee;
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.'
Legolas drew his mouth in a thin line and explained, 'Aragorn has been joined by his kin, the Dúnedain. Now he must take the path appointed to him. And the Dead watch that road.' Gimli stared but Legolas continued, relentless. 'We will take the Paths of the Dead, Gimli. It is why Aragorn has gone to look into the Palantir,' he said. And Gimli knew in his heart that Legolas was right. Still he wished the elf to stop, to not say what was coming.
He struggled briefly to pull away from his friend but he was held fast. Legolas caught him, held him, made him look at him as he said, 'It is a prophesy, Gimli. And although Aragorn may wish it otherwise, and you and I wish it otherwise, this is our path now.'
Gimli stared at him. 'What are you saying, Legolas?' He felt a leaden weight settle in his chest. He had convinced himself that Galadriel's warning was no more than a test Legolas had to pass, that they could simply join the Muster of Rohan and take the road to Minas Tirith, never nearing the Sea or the blasted gulls. Now with the certainty that Aragorn's path led that way, he felt again a tightness of breath. He could not bear the thought that Legolas would go too…
Legolas continued ruthlessly. 'When Aragorn returns, he will fulfill the prophesy. He will take the Paths of the Dead and we will follow him as we have sworn.' Legolas was watching Gimli closely. He paused and then said more gently, 'Would you have Merry ride then with us? No, better that he rides with Théoden and Eomer. Théoden will keep him safe as we cannot.'
'And you, Legolas? What of you?' cried Gimli angrily, unaware of how loudly he had raised his voice and that concerned glances were cast in their direction. All he knew was that his chest felt tight with the fear that hunched there.
Gimli felt the elf's hand catch his this time. Not for the first time, it struck Gimli how much more alike they were than different. 'Her warning does not necessarily mean death,' Legolas said gently.
Gimli could not speak for the fear now rising up and choking him.
'It can mean many things.' Legolas continued. Gimli forced himself to look into the elf's eyes, he was reminded as always of deep forest streams running over granite and slate. Legolas sighed and said gently, 'I am sworn to follow him, Gimli. As are you. I could not bear to leave him now, when fear and doubt assail him.'
'He has his kin, his brothers,' Gimli banged his fist on the table and then suddenly, noticed the sudden quiet immediately around them. But he could not stop. 'He does not need you too.'
Legolas looked hurt and then resolved. His stare hardened slightly and his own voice rose. 'Would you have me foresworn? I will not abandon him, even as you said.'
His own words thrown back at him hit Gimli and the hurt that had choked him burst forth. He stood up, pushing himself away from the table. 'You will not follow him, Legolas!' he cried, 'You will ride with Théoden and Merry instead, if I have to hogtie you myself.'
Abruptly, he realised that the rest of the table had fallen into silence and looked at him. With a cry, he stepped away from the table and walked quickly from the room.
Eomer had turned, as did many others, at the dwarf's outrage. Merry had stood up from where he had knelt at Théoden's feet, his face turned towards his two friends and full of concern. He started to walk towards Legolas but stopped uncertainly.
Eomer frowned, as puzzled by Gimli's uncharacteristic outburst as Merry. Gimli wanted Legolas to ride with Théoden? Surely there was no question that they would ride to the Muster and then on to Minas Tirith together? Who did Gimli think Legolas would follow instead? It was surely Aragorn of whom he spoke, but why would their paths be different? He did not know he wrestled with the same question that had caused Gimli such distress. Looking down the long table that was lined with his warriors eating and talking now in muted voices, Eomer’s eyes rested on Legolas, where he still sat.
Legolas had not risen, not stood to go after the dwarf. Instead he turned back and calmly cut the bread on his platter, carved himself meat carefully and poured himself beer from the jug. This he drank steadily and having drained one mug, poured another and drained that too. Gradually the men began their conversations again, although it was muted and not a few glances were spared for the silent elf.
Turmoil was within Eomer's breast though he did not show it. Instead he turned to the son of Elrond, the elf lord beside him and as calmly as Legolas, he poured wine from the jug into his goblet, for this was the King's table. The lord nodded his thanks and although he did not drink immediately, he seemed gracious. Eomer wondered briefly what he thought Gimli had spoken of and wished he could ask but it would be most discourteous to both his guest and to Legolas.
'It seems these two unlikely friends have fallen out.'
It was the elf lord who spoke. He glanced at him quickly to make sure he was not imagining it and saw the grey eyes regard him coolly but expectant. Elladan, Eomer remembered he had introduced himself to the King before he was seated next to Eomer.
'It will not be for long,' Eomer said with certainty. He glanced at Merry who now watched Legolas but as if he were not sure whether to approach the elf or not. 'They are as close as brothers.'
Elladan said nothing. He twirled a sharp white knife between his fingers, watching the light play on the etchings of the blade. 'He says he will follow Aragorn,’ he said quietly. 'Will he change his mind if you ask it? Will he follow you instead?'
Eomer was taken by surprise. It echoed again what Gimli had said and he frowned as he turned to the warrior. 'Our paths lie together, surely?' he said. ‘The Rohirrim will ride to Minas Tirith’s aid.’
Elladan looked up then and Eomer was struck by how unlike Legolas he was, although they were both elves. His muscular frame was that of a swordsman, muscle and bone heavier like a Man but the same grace and steely strength as Legolas was in his movements. His grey eyes though, were haunted by shadows and the weight of his gaze was heavy. Where Legolas was alien and strange and fey, this warrior was serious, more like Aragorn than Legolas… Eomer felt a strange disquiet for Legolas then. He did not like the questions or the sense that Legolas was in some way being judged, and found wanting. ‘And if the roads are different?’
'He is sworn to follow Aragorn,' Eomer replied shortly. 'Why should he follow me?' He could not help asking that bitter question and it seemed to him that everyone knew somehow they were traveling different paths but him.
The elf-lord looked down at the knife and twirled it so it spun and danced between his fingers. 'Even to his own death?' he asked.
Eomer's breath caught. 'What do you mean?'
'Ah.' Elladan gave him a swift appraising glance and then quickly looked back at the knife as it twirled and gleamed in his long fingers. 'He has not told you then? But why would he?'
'Told me what?'
Merry was listening now, Eomer felt him shift and fidget beside him.
'He had a warning from the Lady Galadriel.' The elf lord’s blade flashed silver, gold, silver, mesmerising. 'Shall I speak it?' His voice was low, almost speaking to himself alone and then he spoke, his voice took on a different note, deeper, quieter so Eomer had to lean towards him to hear the words, 'Legolas Greenleaf…' He seemed to linger over the name, 'Long under tree, in joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea! For if thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, thy heart will then rest in the forest no more….'
Eomer's heart seemed to stop. He could face battle and the prospect of losing loved ones in battle, but to go needlessly to one's death- that was not the way of Men, certainly not the way of the Rohirrim. And he could not believe that Legolas, with all that he was, would squander his own life so needlessly, simply because he thought Aragorn would feel better! He swallowed a gasp and turned to face the elf lord, who was no longer watching the play of light on his blade, but watching Eomer himself with that same intensity he had seen in Legolas.
'I wonder that he did not tell you himself,' murmured Elladan, lowering his grey eyes once more.
Eomer took a breath and clenched his fists under the table. When he spoke, his voice sounded stronger than he felt. 'Whatever it is you think he should have told me, he owes me nothing and Rohan owes him everything. Without Legolas, Théoden would still perhaps be in thrall to Saruman and instead of sitting here exchanging news, you would be picking our bones from the orcs.'
The elf flicked a crumb of bread from his fingers fastidiously. A smile played about his lips and he said almost teasingly, 'Aragorn said you were close.'
Eomer felt heat rise on his skin. Aragorn? What had he said to this strange elf? What had Legolas told him? Blushing furiously Eomer decided that he trusted Legolas, and he was not some trophy. Raising his chin and looking the elf in the eye he said, 'We are friends, and I am proud that he is my friend. If we are close it does not mean I am his keeper.' He forced himself to stare at his companion. After all, he was surely used to an elven stare by now? When the dark elf met his eyes, he did not shy away but blazed defiance.
Elladan smiled more warmly, Eomer thought. 'My apologies, Eomer of the Mark. I do not wish to insult you or Legolas.' Inclining his head slightly to the man, he waited for Eomer to acknowledge his apology and then said, 'I do not know this Legolas of Mirkwood, although I hear Aragorn speak well of him. And my concern is with him. It is imperative to my family that Aragorn becomes all that he is destined to be.'
Eomer became aware of the hobbit, Merry, sitting near and listening, mouth open. Now he spoke up, and he sounded furious, like he was clenching his fists, thought Eomer.
'Well, I do know this Legolas of Mirkwood,' said Merry, echoing the elf lord's own words with defiance. 'And he is the best of friends. He stood with us when many would have fled, when Nazgul pursued us and wargs attacked and hunted us, he was in the mines of Moria when we were attacked by cave trolls and orcs and the Balrog.' He paused for a moment and Eomer felt ashamed of ever finding Merry amusing. 'And when Orcs had taken Pippin and me, Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn- they never gave up! And his being there stopped at least one hobbit from turning tail and running with all his might back to the Shire.'
Merry stared angrily at the tall elf lord, sitting beside Eomer. The candlelight glinted off Elladan's raven black hair and he was smiling gently. He seemed unoffended by either Eomer's or Merry's words, Eomer realised. He seemed intrigued and more heartened than anything.
Merry however, was oblivious and he continued regardless. 'I do not think Legolas will thank either of you for deciding what he does.' He gave Eomer a furious glance as well as the elf lord. 'He can be very stubborn. And I should warn you that he can probably hear you although he does not eavesdrop. He says you never hear anything good about yourself. But he can probably hear you without trying very hard.'
Eomer glanced guiltily down the tables towards Legolas ... but he had already gone.
Legolas found Gimli, sitting where he thought he would, in the crude forge that was the nearest thing Gimli had to home. It was small and rudimentary, only any good really for mending broken swords and spears and shoeing horses. But it smelt good to Gimli and the heat and noise of hammers and the hiss of hot metal in water comforted him as the woods did Legolas.
When he first approached him, Gimli pulled away and so Legolas sat silently nearby, waiting. He did not have to wait long; he never did with Gimli.
'I cannot let you do this,' Gimli suddenly burst out, 'so do not ask this of me.'
Legolas did not speak but tilted his head slightly on one side, listening intently. Gimli felt his own heart pounding in his chest like a great hammer and bellows. 'You cannot go, Legolas. We…I… still need you.' The words had burst from him and now freed, hung between them like cinders, like fireflies.
Slowly, slowly, the pounding of his hammering heart calmed and became the rhythmic breath of the bellows. It soothed him, as did the steady glow of fire, of slow molten steel running through stone channels, the brightness of it beautiful in the darkness, the close heat from the Earth warming the mountain, and the bones, granite and slate, basalt rock worn smooth… He realised Legolas had not moved and his bright green eyes watched Gimli gain awareness of himself once more.
'To others here,' Gimli began slowly, seeking the words of his heart, 'your loss will be sad. You have been a friend, an ally. You have helped us to victory here… But to me, it is more. A dwarf's heart is not given lightly. I do not mean love that I have for a wife, Legolas,' he said quickly, 'but you are my friend. And for a dwarf, that is very important.'
Legolas sighed, 'For an elf too, Elvellon. But I do not see Death for me just yet. Not Death of the hroa, the body. Perhaps a different kind of death.’ He did not look at Gimli but stared at the molten steel running through the stone channels. ‘She did not say death anyway, she said I would rest no more under the trees of my home. And that could mean that Mirkwood, as others call it,' he could not, even now, resist the curl of his lip, 'is no more.' He sighed and bowed his head so his long pale hair hung over his face. 'We are both a long way from home.’
His fingers started to pick at his sleeve again and this time, Gimli reached out and stopped him. Legolas raised his face to find the earth-brown eyes on him, full of compassion and understanding. ‘You do not have to go with us, Legolas. You can return home. I for one do not believe the stubbornest folk in all of Middle-Earth have been defeated. But you can leave now with all your honour intact.’ And he meant it.
'I do not know, Gimli.’ Legolas shook his head slowly and he looked so unhappy Gimli felt a strange urge to hug him, but that would never do. ‘We have to keep going and do what we say we will without ever counting the cost. Otherwise how would we ever know we have lived. In Lothlorien I thought time had slowed and slowed and it is like a stone in a river. It never changes. In Mirkwood we live by the seasons and watch the Forest change and trees die and there is new growth. But I am too much with mortals now and have learned to count the seconds of life, how you live like a flame burning. And how you burn!’ He looked up at Gimli then and smiling fondly, he said quietly, decisively, 'When Aragorn leaves, Elvellon, we will go with him. You will ride at my back and I will trust that your axe will not take off my head.'
Gimli looked away, he could not bear either the hope or sorrow in his friend's eyes. He swallowed a gasp and then said, 'It was a good plan of Théoden's. We will ride home together, my friend, when this war is over. Your woodelves can test a dwarf's mettle, if they can stomach it!' he said with a tight smile.
'Aye!’ Legolas leaned forwards and gazed earnestly into Gimli's eyes. ‘And I will visit Aglarond with you that you may teach this woodelf that there is beauty under the earth.'
Gimli would not deny him for the Crown of Durin. 'And I will visit Fangorn with you that you may teach me the forest's Song.' Gimli felt the long hand close around his and warmth flooded him. He smiled. 'You have to understand now, Legolas,' he said earnestly, desperately perhaps. 'To be friends with a Khazad is to never break your word.' He held the elf's forest green gaze with his own. 'Now you have given me your word, not even through death can you break it.'
Legolas leaned forwards a little, staring at Gimli so intensely that Gimli had to resist the urge to pull away. Then he felt a strange vibration, like a low sound, deeper than anything he could possibly hear. He felt intensely aware of himself, the love of the strong bones of the earth, the feel of granite and slate, of silver molten and bright, and gold malleable under his clever hands, of the deep song of the mountains…He was overcome with an emotion he had never felt before…of being utterly known. For a moment, he was moved beyond speech. Then he said with immense solemnity and quietness, 'Know this, Legolas. You are my friend and I could not bear to visit those caves again without you.'
Eomer stood on the Deeping Wall, gazing across the empty steppe. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows. In his bones and blood he felt cold.
As Elladan had predicted, Aragorn had returned some hours earlier and broken the news to Théoden that he would not ride to the Muster, but had chosen to ride the Paths of the Dead. Eomer had not been the only one shocked at how exhausted Aragorn had looked, his skin had been tinged with grey and he had looked haunted, grim. He had called Legolas and Gimli to him to talk. And now, in the courtyards and stables below, the Dúnedain were preparing to leave. Eomer could hear them from where he stood, but not see them.
There was none of the loud excitement or gusts of laughter that accompanied Eomer's own Eored when they set out. These Men were quiet, unhurried; a scrape of iron on stone, a horse whickering softly, the clink of metal, quiet voices speaking a language Eomer did not understand but that sounded familiar.
Eomer wished not to be found, for a moment of peace so he could think, could bind up in his heart the memories of sun on winter grass hair, of a figure standing high on the cliffs above poised as if for flight, of a few hours in a stone storeroom, with a fire of dry tinder in the tiny hearth and leaning back on one elbow watching him, his elf warrior, long hair sweeping over one shoulder and the firelight glowing on his skin.
Small white flowers grew in the crevices of stone now that it was Spring. He leaned on the wall and stared out across the steppe, long grass waved in the breeze, for miles and miles. High blue sky above, hot sun overhead and in the distance, far away, he almost imagined he could hear the wild horses running, long manes streaming in the wind, long grass brushing their sides…
He dug his hands into his belt and sighed.
Almost, below his awareness was a note, a lingering drift of pine trees and frost from the mountains. Warmth at his elbow made him turn, and suddenly Legolas stood next to him. Eomer shifted slightly and turned to look at the elf. That long pale hair was blown back from his face and those tight braids revealed the point of his ear. Eomer still felt a slight shock when he saw that. The cheekbones and full lips, the straight nose made his face strong as well as beautiful, nothing pretty or soft. Eomer looked back over his shoulder at the camp.
'You are going with him?' he said, and he could not help the bitter note in his voice.
Legolas did not reply.
'You will ...' Eomer swallowed. What right did he have to ask anything? 'You will walk the paths of the dead from which no Man has returned.
'I am not a Man'
'No. You are not... But even so I fear for you.' Eomer's hands tightened on the edge of the wall. 'The warning…if you hear the cry of gulls, you will die'
'That is not what she said.'
'That is what she meant.'
'That is one meaning.'
Eomer swallowed and then, determined, he spoke the words of his heart. 'I would follow you. I would follow you to the ends of the earth…to Mirkwood, to Gondor, to Valinor itself…if you would have me.'
Legolas turned and stared at him, this man of Rohan, of the steppes and the high blue sky. He smelt of horses and sunlight on the new grass of Spring. His earnest young face turned up towards him. And he was suddenly lost in the anxious, vulnerable brown eyes. Legolas knew Eomer was afraid now that he would be rejected having declared himself and the elf knew enough to understand how much it cost him to lay himself open like this, to open his heart and be vulnerable.
Legolas smiled gently and lifted his hand to the man's face. He stroked his cheek, feeling the rough fur and warm skin beneath. Exotic musk and the sensuous mouth beckoned him. He wanted to press his lips against the other's, to fill his mouth with his tongue and to sink himself into that heavy sensuous flesh…. He breathed deeply and instead, he whispered 'I will not forget you. Ever. You will live in my memory like a waking dream and I will not forget. Not for all the days of my life.'
He looked away across the steppe, his hand still on the Man's cheek, still rubbing his thumb across the rough fur, seeing in his perfect memory the first time he had set eyes upon the Third Marshall – the small band of riders, still bloody from the battle with orcs, and this young Man's fire and courage. His gaze drifted out of focus and somewhere in the middle distance he saw many years away…
'You will be King one day. A King of Men. You will marry some bright lady and father children...' He could almost hear the shouting of blond haired children at play, and see the benevolent aging face… 'You will be one of Rohan's greatest Kings. The Sea…the Sea will always be close…' he murmured, almost without hearing his own voice.
Eomer leaned his cheek into the caress and closed his eyes, filling his own memory with the scent of moss and woods and hay. He wanted to brand his own memory with the image of the elf, tall, impossibly beautiful, alien and strange. He breathed in deeply and when he opened his eyes he saw the elf's own green eyes wide and gazing at him, the cat-pupil huge and dark, he could see his own reflection there, his hair mussed and eyes bright, his lips parted...
'Will we see each other again?' he asked.
Legolas tilted his head. He seemed lost in a moment that was not this one, but elsewhere.
'When we next meet everything will have changed,' he said softly. 'Namarië.' He brought his hand back down and regarded the other intently. Eomer felt a sudden sense of dislocation- like he had back in the cell in Meduseld when he first truly encountered the elf. He wanted it to start all over. He wanted the frustration and the promise that it held. He wanted Legolas to wait….
But instead, Legolas turned and walked away through the silent grey stones.
Eomer could not hear his footfalls although he knew the elf drew further away. He stood there a long time, and watched the band of Dúnedain ride out from the Deep. He watched the only rider with bright gold hair streaming behind him, and the smaller figure clinging to his back. He gazed after them, long after they had vanished from sight, unseeing as the day faded and the sky was sprinkled with early stars.
Eomer breathed deeply, the scent of Spring grass was on the air. He picked a long gold hair from his suede tunic. It was paler than his own and recognising its owner, he carefully lifted it and wrapped it round his hand. Remembering there was a velvet pouch unused in his room, he thought how he would place it there, how he would keep it with him forever, like a memory or a song trailing on the wind.
Next: Sons of Thunder!!