- Mind’s Eye -
Aragorn shifted Legolas in his arms. He didn’t care what they said, the elf wasn’t dead. He wasn’t!
He couldn’t be.
There was no outward appearance of what had happened to the elf, no reason for him to be dead. There was no wound. Not even a bruise. How could he be dead?
He isn’t! Aragorn reminded himself sharply. He knew the truth he just had to prove it to Legolas, and everyone else.
And yourself. That small tiny voice of reason echoed in the back of his mind.
He didn’t remember how this had happened. He couldn’t recall the memory of how they had gotten to this place. He only knew he had to keep on going. How he knew even that much he wasn’t sure.
And so the ranger kept walking, one foot in front of the other continuously keeping up a steady soft stream of conversation to the unhearing body in his arms. Taking a moment to catch his breath, Aragorn laid his cheek on Legolas’ head. He was cradling the elf much like he would have a wounded child. His body was so light. It shouldn’t have been but it was.
Too many things weren’t as they should have been. Everything seemed off kilter somehow but they still existed around him. None of it made any sense.
“Don’t leave me not now. Not like this. You promised and you have never failed me on a promise. Please...” His entreaty was barely a whisper.
He had heard that Death lived near this mountain range, though he could not remember the name of the granite hills that towered over him. If Legolas couldn’t come back then he would go to him. There was no reason to remain here alone without his friend. He knew if he could find Death he could right all that was wrong.
But how did he know that? With a shake of his head he simply continued on. There was no reason wasting time trying to rationalize, reason seemed to have fled this place anyway.
He couldn’t remember any more how long he’d been walking. The lapses in his memory were troubling but perhaps they were due in part to the darkness that clung to the sides of the valley he was walking through. It seeped into his bones and left a chill in his soul. Shuddering from the cold that invaded his thoughts he tightened his hold on the elf in his arms and walked on.
The House of Death was a mere shanty. The wooden exterior of the building was rotted and decaying. A foul breeze blew through the gorge where it was located. Somewhere nearby there had to be a bog, Aragorn thought distractedly as he stepped onto the gravel pathway that led to the tiny house. This couldn’t be the right place.
Suddenly the darkness swirled around him, coalescing, seeming to draw every shadow from the shade and ridges of the clefts to a central point in front of the house. The wind picked up, blowing faster and tighter until it formed a dark column between himself and the doorway.
Aragorn staggered back a step, nearly loosing his balance. He buried his face in Legolas’ hair as the wind threw small bits of rock and debris about them.
In moments the fury subsided but the vision before him was more terrifying than before. There standing in the doorway was the WitchKing of Angmar. Aragorn would have recognized the apparition anywhere. The wraith had kidnapped Legolas several years ago and tried unsuccessfully to enslave the elf. He wouldn’t get a second chance – Aragorn vowed silently to himself.
Subconsciously he moved to shield Legolas from the dark space beneath the cowl where the eyes should have been.
A soft evil laugh met the human’s actions.
“He is already mine. You need not shield him from me,” a bodiless voice spoke. The sound of the words came from without and within. Aragorn looked around him slowly. The voice was not that of a wraith it was something older, ancient and surer of itself than any wraith he had ever encountered. “Come closer. You were looking for me were you not?”
The words echoed oddly off the walls around him and Aragorn found himself complying without his own consent to the creature’s wishes.
“What is it you want of me?” Again the words resounded within and without. The pressure from the question squeezed his chest and made his head spin. It was hard to think in the presence of whatever stood in front of him. “Speak,” the apparition summoned.
The command ripped through his mind and Aragorn found his senses clearing momentarily.
“I have come looking for Death. I want my friend back.” The steadiness in the man’s voice did not match with the erratic beating of his heart.
“And so you are.” The figure walked closer and Aragorn gasped for breath. It felt as though he was suffocating.
“No one demands from Death. Death makes his own rules. All are humbled before the one who alone holds the keys to the door you wish to pass through.” The wraith-like being walked toward its’ two visitors. Passing in front of Aragorn it brushed softly against the man’s shoulder as it moved in a circle around them. The temperature seemed to drop and the contact with the shadowed creature brought a soft cry of pain to Aragorn’s lips. “If you wish to pass there are things that I require. First, you must cut your hair and that of the elf’s.” Death continued. It laughed softly once more as it moved back in front of the human.
Cut his hair? The request seemed odd but the cowled creature waited patiently for obedience.
“All are humbled. None retain their glory,” the dark words answered his wondering. “It is the way of death.”
“Will you let me pass to find Legolas if I do so?” Aragorn stalled.
“Yes,” came the soft response.
Gently lowering Legolas to the ground the human rested his friend against a large boulder. Kneeling next to the elf with his back to the wraith Aragorn retrieved his hunting knife. Quickly and effortlessly he sliced through his own hair dropping the cut pieces to the ground before he could stop to think it through. Turning to Legolas, Aragorn hesitated.
“Forgive me my friend. If it is the only way...” he quietly begged for forgiveness. Taking Legolas’ hair reverently in his hand Aragorn cut the golden tresses shoulder length. But instead of dropping the shorn hair to the ground the ranger deftly braided the long pieces of hair into one large braid and laid them in Legolas’ lap.
Pulling the elf’s body back into his arms he stood wearily to his feet and faced the black apparition once more.
“I’ve done what you asked. Now may I pass?”
“There is one more thing I require of you,” the wraith pressed. He was having fun toying with this human.
Aragorn was tiring swiftly. It was hard to endure the presence of death long.
“What? Please just let me pass,” the man begged quietly. He shifted Legolas in his arms and held onto the elf tighter.
“Recite for me in the dark tongue for it has been many ages since I have heard that beautiful speech,” Death requested in its’ hypnotic voice.
What the apparition asked was nearly beyond the man. He did not know the black tongue and he had been strictly forbidden by his father to ever do such a thing. It was not allowed in Imladris. Before he could protest the words were in head. He heard them echoing painfully in his mind.
He started to speak them and the compulsion came not of his own will but outside him. The first syllable was on his tongue when the world seemed to stop.
The air compressed around them and one word rang through the vale.
Aragorn couldn’t speak and couldn’t move. The dark speech was wiped out of his mind and he watched in amazement as the wraith was blown aside away from the doorway by a powerful blast. The creature was thrown to the ground a good hundred yards from where he stood.
The air around them rushed out of the valley and was replaced by a sweet clear breeze. A soft glow bathed the gorge in warm light and peace seemed to settle over the man. Aragorn was released from his stupor and turned to look in the direction of the person who was walking towards him.
The being was clothed as if in light. It was one of the Valar, Aragorn was positive.
The ranger dropped to his knees heavily, still bearing his precious burden. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the vision before him. Behind them he heard the wraith muttering and moving about as it gained its feet once more.
“Let them pass,” the Valar ordered. His voice was deep and full and calming.
The small, humpbacked, shriveled-up frame of an old man shuffled into view. Death was no more than the empty frail shell of a human. He was not the imposing, frightening visage that haunted Aragorn only moments ago – he was simply a small sniveling black shadow.
“I wasn’t going to harm him. I was only having fun. You know I hardly get any visitors anymore now that you all have gone and ruined everything,” Death whined cryptically. “Oh go on with you then. You may pass.” The pathetic guardian consented. He shooed Aragorn towards the door of the house and rolled his dark eyes in mock frustration at the frown the Valar laid on him.
A warm hand on Aragorn’s arm stopped him and he gazed up into the eyes of the Valar. For the briefest instant he was fearful. Should he be allowed to stare into a face so fair and other worldly? But the thought was fleeting and he calmed immediately when he noted the kindness in the eyes that watched him.
“Your friend is already there. You do not need to take him with you,” The Valar said simply.
Aragorn frowned and glanced down at Legolas’ body. Shaking his head slowly he kept his gaze riveted to the top of the elf’s head. Legolas was his friend, his brother. Sometimes it seemed the elf was the other half of his life. In some ways that was truer than he wanted to admit. His stability wasn’t based where it should be just yet. He relied on the elf more than he had realized, for more than he had realized until this moment. He couldn’t let him go and he couldn’t go on without him.
“Oh let him take him in. It’s the reason he’s here. Let him learn and learn he will,” Death countered. Turning to Aragorn the black frumpled form addressed the human. “Go. It can’t hurt anything to take him with you. But remember what the Valar said because it’s true.”
With that Aragorn was suddenly alone before the old house. He stood for a moment dumbfounded. Had he simply imagined it all or had it happened?
“Go child. Find what you seek,” The soft voice of the Valar prompted him.
Stumbling forward Aragorn walked onto the porch of the shanty. The boards creaked and groaned with the pressure of every step but they held.
When he passed over the threshold he was plunged into darkness. Turning around he noted that the door behind him was no longer there. He reached out tentatively with his left hand as best he could while still holding Legolas. His fingers brushed a cold rough rock wall.
Standing completely still for a few moments Aragorn realized his eyes were adjusting to a low level of light. The glow wasn’t from Legolas. The elf was dark and cold in his arms now. It seemed the walls of the tunnel gave off a soft sheen. There was no sound in the cavern. Even the soft footfalls as he walked seemed to be swallowed up in the darkness. The air was dank and cold but not musty or foul like he had expected.
He seemed to be in a small room with one passageway leading off and down to the right. Swallowing his fears Aragorn began walking. Reason told him there must be a way out at the end somewhere.
The farther he went, the darker it became. With a start the man realized that the passageway was rapidly narrowing as well. He shifted Legolas more tightly against his chest and moved on squeezing them both through the tight places and scraping himself up in doing so.
Finally he could go no further carrying Legolas. Moving back up the passage a pace he found a wider gap in the corridor and set Legolas down on the gravelly floor. With a sigh he sat down next to his friend overwhelmed with grief and despair. He couldn’t go any further with the elf. He didn’t want to go on alone. There was no way in his mind he could walk away and leave Legolas behind. He knew deep in his heart that what the Valar and Death had told him was true. He just didn’t know how to continue.
How long he sat on the ground holding Legolas’ body, he did not know. Time had ceased to be and in a manner of speaking so had he. The thought occurred to him that it wouldn’t be so bad to simply sit here next to Legolas and just wait for his own death to come. A few moments later his will to live won out. He had come here to find Legolas, the Valar had told him Legolas was here, he had to trust that he hadn’t been lied to.
Kneeling next to his friend he pressed his forehead to Legolas’ temple.
“I will find the way out my friend and I will come back for you. I promise not to leave you here in this place. I just have to find our way out. Wait for me. Promise me you’ll wait,” he whispered softly. Kissing the top of Legolas’ head Aragorn stood and eased back down the tight passage.
He found that he had to turn sideways to fit through the small crack in the rocks that the narrow path had become. Stretching out he flattened against the rock wall and reached out with his right hand trying to feel for anyway to get through, any leverage he could find.
He was startled as someone else’s hand slid along his, grabbed his wrist and pulled him through. How he had fit through that tiny space he couldn’t fathom and who it was that had pulled him into a tight embrace he didn’t know. It was so light where he stood that he couldn’t see and he tensed in the circle of the strong arms that held him fast.
Pulling back he was amazed and relieved to find that he was staring into Legolas’ eyes.
With a start Aragorn gasped and sat up. The warm breezes of northern Harad stirred the long grasses that they slept in providing a soft soothing sound. The fire in the fire pit had died hours ago and the moon shown down upon the sleeping pair of friends.
Aragorn glanced around them trying to remember where he was. Wasn’t he just in the Grey Havens with Legolas only moments ago?
Aragorn turned around and reached behind him. Legolas slept at Aragorn’s back like just like they had been for the past week as they made their way out of Harad.
That was it. That was where they were. Memory slammed into his dream colliding with reality and finally releasing him to his surroundings. He and Legolas were in northern Harad heading home before the first snows closed the high passes into Imladris. He and Legolas had been living with the Haradrim for months now. They had teamed up with the tribal family that had adopted Aragorn and had freed the enslaved peoples.
Legolas had come for him. And Legolas had found him almost at the expense of his own life. That was the deep seated fear that had set off Aragorn’s nightmare – the loss of his friend.
The elf’s back was to the man. Hesitantly he reached out and touched Legolas’ shoulder. A soft blue glow emanated from the sleeping prince and Aragorn sighed in relief when he felt Legolas breathing slowly and deeply.
The soft touch woke the elf and he turned over slowly, blinking to clear his vision.
“What is it?” Legolas asked softly. He noted with a start that there were tear tracks on the man’s face. “What’s wrong Estel?”
Aragorn hadn’t even noticed that he had been crying. He swiped awkwardly at his cheeks trying to hide the fact that he’d just had a nightmare and nothing more. The feelings and emotions were so real he hadn’t been able to recover from them quite yet.
The man glanced out across the plains that lay to the west. They had camped just under the edge of the wooded canopy that bracketed the grassy hills.
Sitting up Legolas brushed the hair out of his face and leaned in closer towards his friend.
Aragorn’s breathing hitched slightly as he tried to calm himself. Gently Legolas pulled the man against him and quietly held him.
“I’m alright,” Aragorn whispered, finally finding his voice. “It was just a dream, I think.”
Legolas pulled back slowly and stared hard into the silver eyes that watched him so closely.
“You are sure?”
A nod was all the response he received.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Legolas pressed. He had been more than a bit worried that Aragorn might start to remember more of his time with Seobryn. The elf was very aware of just how poorly his friend had been treated in the traders company. “Was it Rhuddryn or Seobryn?”
“No, not him. It’s just that...well you were...and...,” Aragorn stopped talking and took a deep breath. He glanced down at the grass he was absently rolling between his fingers. “You died and I was trying to find you,” He whispered softly.
Gently Legolas touched Aragorn’s cheek, causing the man to glance back up at him.
“I’m not dead. I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere,” Legolas reassured. “It was only a dream.”
Nodding again Aragorn dropped his gaze. “It was just so real,” He murmured softly.
With a sigh Legolas lay back down in the soft grasses and pulled Aragorn down with him. Facing the human he pillowed his head on his arm and watched the man.
“I’ve had dreams like that, in the past. Not recently. They are difficult to deal with and wake from,” the elf admitted softly. “But in the end they were still only dreams. Nothing more.”
Aragorn didn’t speak he just nodded, his eyes fixed on his friends.
“You aren’t going to go back to sleep are you?” Legolas asked with a small smile. He knew that look on the man’s face. He’d seen it before, the lingering effects of fear that the mind couldn’t quite shake off or get over so easily.
“I’ll sleep,” Aragorn answered. “In a while.” He was laying on his side his hand propping up his head.
With a soft laugh Legolas pulled them man’s arm down forcing Aragorn to lie flat. Scooting a bit closer, the elf lay his head down on the man’s arm and tossed the edges of his blanket across Aragorn’s shoulder.
“There,” he laughed softly. “I’m not going anywhere. I promise you. Now will you sleep? Forget your dream; we can talk about it more in the morning when the light chases away all the terrors of the night. You’re safe. But if you don’t sleep I’ll probably be wanting to kill you myself half way through the day. Tomorrow we pass out of Harad and I’d like to make good travel time throughout the day. We can’t do that if you are tired and dragging.”
The elf’s fingers brushed the man’s eyes gently, causing Aragorn to close his eyes. He laughed at the prince’s soft jibes and finally relented with a deep sigh.
“Just be here in the morning and don’t turn that light of yours out,” Aragorn whispered. His gentle teasing about the elven glow made the elf giggle.
“You and your night lights,” Legolas retorted before settling down. “Good night Estel.”
“‘Nite Legolas,” Aragorn answered sleepily. He reached out with his right hand and gently touched the elf’s shoulder; content that his friend was indeed alive and well he let the contact soothe him back into peaceful slumber.
Tomorrow Legolas would make him tell the whole dream he was sure of it, and they would laugh and talk about it on the way home. Opening one eye a mere slit he checked to make sure the elf next to him was still glowing softly.
“Sleep,” Legolas growled quietly. His response elicited a soft laugh.
But to Aragorn it was just proof that tonight things were right once more and he could rest.