1. Chapter 1 On the edges of Mordor by ziggy
2. Chapter 2 by ziggy
3. Chapter 3 by ziggy
4. Chapter 4 Memories by ziggy
5. Chapter 5 A conversation by ziggy
6. Chapter 6 Alliances by ziggy
7. Chapter 7 Dagorlad by ziggy
8. Chapter 8 The Elendil by ziggy
9. Chapter 9 News from Home by ziggy
10. Chapter 10 Dreams and Discoveries by ziggy
11. Chapter 11 The Coronation by ziggy
12. Chapter 12 The Reign of Aragorn II by ziggy
13. Chapter 13 Partings by ziggy
14. Chapter 14 The Silent Street by ziggy
15. Chapter 15 The Three Hunters by ziggy
16. Chapter 16 by ziggy
17. Chapter 17 Gimli the Finder by ziggy
18. Chapter 18 A lucky meeting by ziggy
19. Chapter 19 Pursuit by ziggy
20. Chapter 20 The House of the Dead by ziggy
Sons of Thunder II: Where the Shadows Lie.
Chapter 1: On the edges of Mordor
It was in the blessed time after the War had been won. The Fellowship basked in the peace of those blissful days: Aragorn had not yet come to the White City but remained camped on the Field of Cormallen. They met each evening to share supper and to tell their tales and every morning there was a small gift to be found for Sam and Frodo to remind them a living things. Legolas had taken this upon himself for each of the Fellowship had their part to play in the Hobbits’ recovery; this was his.
He threw open the flap of Aragorn’s huge tent: one of Aragorn’s many huge tents, he amended for it was not the tent where Aragorn was at this moment. This was the tent he was looking for though. It was where the King dined and at one end were chests full of gleaming silver cutlery and glass that sparkled in the sunlight. He grabbed a crystal goblet that was so fine, so delicately made it looked like it would shatter if anyone so much as raised it to their lips, and tossed it cheerfully into the air and caught it at the moment one of the stewards turned to look.
‘My lord, that is from the reign of Túrin the Second!’ protested the steward in horror. ‘It is crystal, made by the Dwarves of Erebor before the Dragon!’
Legolas balanced it upon the tip of one finger and flashed his most blinding smile. ‘It is for these,’ he said, opening his hand and showing the steward the slender buds of a few anemones. ‘They need water or they will die.’ He spun the goblet so it flashed and gleamed. ‘For the Hobbits.’
The nervous steward softened immediately and clicked his fingers towards a passing servant who was hurrying past with a basket of fresh loaves in one hand and a dish of fried mushrooms in the other. ‘When you have served second breakfast, please bring the crystal flower flute, the very fine one from Boromir the First’s reign.’ He turned to Legolas and smiled complicitly. ‘It is quite priceless but those flowers will look enchanting in it.’ He paused and then asked anxiously, ‘My lord Legolas, are you not expected at the King’s council?’
‘Oh, I do not suppose he needs my opinion in addition to everyone else’s,’ Legolas replied nonchalantly for he had seen Merry and Pippin had just entered the tent and were waving at him. ‘It is far better that I attend the hobbits for second breakfast.’
‘Good morning Legolas! Are you joining us? It’s just Merry and me otherwise and that is hardly worth all the effort they have made.’ Pippin waved an apple at Legolas and grinned. In one corner of the huge tent was a low table and bench. The table was laden with loaves of bread and honey and butter, cheese and eggs, bacon and mushrooms and jugs of water sparkling. The hobbits perched on a bench at the wide table, feet dangling and scooted up to make room for Legolas though he had to stretch his legs right out in order to fit at the table.
‘Apparently we are late for Aragorn’s council,’ he replied unconcerned, reaching over and snagging a slice of bread which he spread thickly with butter and then honey. ‘I am useless at councils anyway,’ he said and it seemed the hobbits felt the same way. Instead they ate eggs, bacon, mushrooms, cheese, fruit and the small delicious loaves that Legolas liked so much. Much later, he licked his fingers and gestured to the crystal goblet and flowers. ‘I am taking these for Sam,’ he said. ’And then at some point I suppose we had better go and let Aragorn tell us what he has decided.’
‘Do we have to?’ Pippin asked plaintively. ‘Gimli is already at the council and he’ll tell us all the important bits. Surely Aragorn can manage on his own?’
‘Yes, he has Gandalf, and Gimli, and all those advisors and officials and we only have you,’ Merry added grinning, and Legolas grinned back, widely.
‘To be honest, I already know what he is going to ask me and as you are not involved, I am sure you can stay and do more important things.’
‘What is he going to ask you then, Legolas?’ asked Pippin, reaching for a fourth rasher of bacon to go with his third piece of toast. He put it carefully alongside the third egg, hesitated and then took another egg and another sausage. Then added a large spoonful of mushrooms.
‘Well,’ Legolas began, his mouth full of bread and butter and honey. ‘Gandalf says we must ensure that the Nazgûl have left nothing in Minas Morgul that might later be used against us. We are going there to have a look around.’ Legolas said this as if it were no more than a stroll in the Shire with a picnic lunch.
‘You are going into Minas Morgul?’ Merry asked horrified. ‘Surely Sauron is defeated? Gone? There is nothing left.’
‘It sounds dangerous to me,’ Pippin said looking up at Legolas anxiously. ‘Legolas,’ he said a little hesitantly, ‘are you sure it should be you going? You know the Nazgûl seemed to have a special interest in hurting you.’
Legolas patted Pippin on the shoulder tenderly in the way that Pippin had frequently done to him during the quest. It was a kind gesture and he focused on that rather than remember the terrible night on the Mindolluin when the Nazgûl had attacked him. ‘Thank you Pip.’ He laughed lightly, shoving away that dark memory and deciding that sometimes it was better to leave things there and not bring them out into the light. ‘But I assure you they hated my father and both my brothers even more.’
‘Oh! You have brothers?’ Pip breathed. ‘I didn’t know.’ He looked crestfallen that he could have travelled for so long with Legolas and yet know so little about him.
‘I will tell you of them some day if you like, Pippin. They are both far more suited to almost anything than I am. They are very brave and very clever. But I am a better archer and much better looking. Also my middle brother is a lackwit.’ He grinned so Pippin would know that was not true for Thalos was more than a match for any, and suddenly Legolas felt a pang of loneliness; he remembered the news that had reached them a few nights ago, that Celeborn and Thranduil had fought a terrible battle under the trees and met only days before. He knew his father was alive but there had been no news of his brothers, or Galion. Or any of his friends.
Although some of his friends had already fallen.
Legolas’ hands stilled and he looked down, remembering Anglach; he squeezed his eyes shut trying to block out the last time he had seen his closest friend, the light hearted and playful Anglach, whose eyes had been gouged out and ears cut off by orcs when Smeagol was freed, done whilst he still lived and before they cut his throat. And there was too, the vision that Saruman had given him when they were in Orthanc- of a body hitched upon a lance, golden hair fluttering. Saruman had suggested it was Thranduil and while the Battle under the Trees had been won, that did not mean his father was safe, or that orcs had been entirely driven from the Wood. And Thranduil was not the only elf with golden hair; there was Laersul too.
Slowly he became aware of a warmth on his arm and looked down to see that Pippin was looking up at him with concern on one side and Merry on the other.
‘Is it the sea-longing?’ Merry asked and Legolas frowned.
‘No! No,’ he said more gently. ‘No indeed, that is…that is a joy to my heart although still a bewilderment… No. I was just a little homesick.’ He smiled slightly.
‘I get that too, don’t I, Merry?’ Pippin turned to Merry who nodded. ‘I miss the Shire. I miss Longbottom Leaf and ale and beer. I miss the white bread and butter and cheese and pickles and ham and eggs and bacon and tomatoes and …’
Grateful for such distraction, Legolas laughed and spread his hand out towards the considerable feast before them.
‘I know,’ said Pippin and he helped himself plentifully to the slices of ham and bread and cheese and pickles and butter. ‘But it just doesn’t taste the same,’ he said with his mouthful.
Suddenly a man dashed through the tent door, looking about in consternation. The hobbits and elf looked at him and when he saw them, he looked intensely relieved and sketched a hasty bow. ‘My lord,’ he said to Legolas, who almost twitched as if he wanted to shrug off the title that he did not care for. ‘Please will you come with me. His gracious majesty has asked that you attend him.’
Legolas sighed and rose to his feet. ‘So soon? Farewell then my friends. Think of me when the hour is long past noon and I am still listening to Aragorn’s many advisors and lords telling us again how glorious is the King, how he has single-handedly vanquished the forces of all darkness and evil, how the land is more fertile and the animals gone silly with breeding, how flowers blossom where his feet touch the grass.’ He laughed merrily and tossed the crystal goblet in his hand ignoring the smothered cries of the servants. ‘Tell the King I am coming. But I have something else to do first.’
Sam and Frodo were still asleep when he left the delicate flowers in the crystal goblet on the table beside them. Carefully placed so it would be the first thing Sam saw when he opened his eyes. And only then did he go to the council of the King Returned.
When he arrived at Aragorn’s council tent, the wing-helmed guards snapped to attention and stood aside to let him pass.
Aragorn was standing amongst his gathered lords, half bent over a map and his hair was in his eyes.
‘…we must search in Minas Morgul,’ he was saying as Legolas entered. ‘We need to be sure there are no secret enemy forces.’ The captains and the great men of Gondor were seated or standing around the long oak table upon which were spread huge maps of Gondor. All had the weary expressions of those who had been long in debate and discussion. Aragorn glanced up irritably at Legolas’ entrance and then softened when he saw it was his friend.
Gandalf raised an eyebrow and Gimli turned and hurrumped emphatically. Legolas flashed him a smile but his attention was all on Elrohir who sat at Aragorn’s side, a cane resting against one thigh, his beautiful face impassive but his eyes were smokey with lust the moment Legolas walked in. Legolas inclined his head to the gathered lords, grateful that Eomer was not there. Imrahil smiled warmly.
Legolas walked behind the gathered lords and captains and although they made as if to part for him so he could stand at the front of the long table and opposite Aragorn, he waved his hand carelessly in dismissal and indicated he would stand further back. In truth he wanted to gaze at Elrohir, to look his fill and to distract him if he could.
‘If indeed the forces of Sauron have been vanquished, there will be nothing there anyway.’ One of Gondor’s great lords spoke. He was a tall man with grey hair and leaned upon a cane much as Elrohir. But this was not through injury but through infirmity; Legolas remembered that Bard had done the same as he grew old. ‘Surely you do not wish to risk our remaining men to satisfy mere curiosity?’ the old man declared. There was a slight stirring amongst the gathering, one Legolas recognised from his father’s court; some would be anxious at the implied slight to the new King, others would agree.
‘Curiosity now may well mean greater security in the future,’ said Aragorn calmly. ‘We may catch any stragglers, any strays who might later attack our settlements. Or there may be some greater danger of which we do not yet know.’
‘We have already said much on this,’ Gandalf said impatiently. ‘Minas Morgul was the den of the Nazgûl. It must be searched and then razed.’
Legolas stifled a sigh and was already bored; he knew they would go to Minas Morgul as Gandalf desired and search the ruined city to make sure the Nazgûl had truly departed with Sauron. He wondered why they even bothered discussing it.
He watched the sun catch in raven-black hair instead of listening, stared in fascinated lust at the rounded tip of Elrohir’s ear and thought about running his finger along the edge. His sigh was louder this time and several men glanced his way although none said anything. Gimli nudged him and shot him a look.
‘Here is the road from Osgiliath,’ Aragorn stabbed his finger down onto the map. ‘And here,’ he ran his finger along the thick black line that marked the road, ‘is Minas Morgul. Can you not see, it is the most strategic point on the river, our mainstay….’
Legolas stopped listening again and drifted around the back of the gathered lords as if he were going to peer over Aragorn’s shoulder at the map, to get a better view.
It took him directly behind Elrohir’s chair, and when he leaned forwards slightly as if to look at the map, he let his breath drift over the back of Elrohir’s head, it lifted one or two strands of his long black-silk hair and Elrohir turned his head ever so slightly towards Legolas, standing close, too close, behind him. Elrohir’s lips turned upwards slightly and then he turned back to face all the generals and lords.
‘I wager we will be leaving at dawn,’ Legolas whispered so quietly against Elrohir’s ear, deliberately letting his breath caress it and was pleased at the shiver it brought. ‘Will you miss me?’
Elrohir shifted uncomfortably and Legolas smiled and let his hand surreptitiously trace the straight spine of his beloved who was trying so hard to concentrate.
‘...the bands that escaped the assault on the Morannon will have taken to the hills here...’ Aragorn was pointing to an outstretched map in the middle of the table. ‘And here too, in the Morgul Vale.’
‘I will be glad of some rest,’ Elrohir murmured below the hearing of Men, he turned his face slightly towards Legolas and smiled. ‘I find myself quite worn out’
Legolas raised an eyebrow. ‘Then I will find you well rested on my return,’ he whispered back. Aragorn glared at them for a moment, and Legolas flashed him a brilliant smile.
‘The Morgul Vale is where the Nazgûl dwelt,’ Aragorn repeated Gandalf’s earlier point. ‘It is an evil place and I need to know if it is quite vacated or if there is some evil lingering. Are all their winged beasts dead or do they have more kept in there?’
‘I will take a troop of riders to search the old city, my lord, if you wish?’ Imrahil said smoothly, as if he and Aragorn had not prearranged precisely this conversation to persuade the lords and captains of the necessity. ‘Twenty will suffice will it not, if it is merely to search the ruins and others search the hills, the Vale itself? Perhaps my lords Elladan and Elrohir will come. And perhaps you too, my lords?’ He bowed slightly to Gimli and then Legolas who grinned excitedly at Aragorn. ‘We will be sufficient.’
‘I am delighted to be of service, my lord,’ he said to Aragorn as Aragorn had intended him to. ‘And the dwarf will be very grumpy if he does not ride at my back….But my lord Elrohir should not go. He is not recovered.’
Elrohir began to protest but Aragorn spoke over him. ‘Certainly not. He cannot even stand for a council, let alone ride to Minas Morgul. No, he will stay here.’
‘I am more than capable…’ Elrohir tried to say but Legolas cut across him.
‘Good. That is settled. Gimli and I will go with Elladan and my lord, Imrahil. Will we not be enough, Gimli, to check out a few wee beasties?’ He laughed brightly and flashed another smile at Aragorn.
Elrohir began to rise to his feet, protesting, but Legolas was always stronger than he and firmly pushed him back into his chair.
‘Stay,’ he said lightly, humorously. ‘You will slow us down.’ But the smile he gave was soft with love although Elrohir did not return it. Nor did he meet his gaze.
Elrohir seethed. Legolas had dismissed him as easily as Aragorn, he thought, cursing under his breath. How dare they talk over him, deciding for him if he were strong enough to ride, to fight, to go with the company to Minas Morgul!
He leaned heavily on the ebony cane and limped over to the heavy wooden table that someone had thought it necessary to bring all this way and put into a tent for his comfort. One handed, he pulled the stopper from a cut glass decanter, equally unnecessary, and poured himself red wine into a crystal goblet. He looked around himself in contempt, feeling the familiar surge of fury swirl around him.
Not gone. No. The fury and self-contempt was still there.
Just because Angmar and Sauron have gone does not mean I am whole, he ground out at himself, hating himself. Hating his weakness.
A bright shadow fell across the doorway of the tent and suddenly Legolas was there, catching him by the elbow, steering him to the carved chair near the tent doorway.
‘You should not be on your feet! Here, let me.’
Elrohir shook him off and turned glaring at him. ‘I am not an invalid. Nor a fool!’
Legolas took a step back. His eyes were wide with astonishment. ‘I know. I just…’
‘You just treat me like one! You and Aragorn talking over me like I am some whining whelp still wet from its mother’s milk! How dare you speak for me!’
But Legolas was not easily intimidated either and he bristled right on back. ‘Then stop whining like one. You are injured.’
‘In my leg not in my head!’
‘And you cannot ride!’
‘You treat me like I cannot think for myself, cannot do anything myself.’
Legolas bit his lip and sighed, as if he had suddenly remembered what it was like himself, for he too was recently recovered and perhaps not entirely himself either.
‘I know.’ He held out a hand, soothingly, placatingly. ‘I am sorry. I only want to help, to look after you. Sit down please and let me do this for you.’
But Elrohir was too angry, and his leg hurt, throbbed wildly. ‘For the last time, stop treating me like I am an invalid.’
‘You are an invalid,’ Legolas pointed out reasonably. ‘But that does not make you a fool.’ He stood for a moment and then said, ‘I am sorry I talked over you.’
‘I am mildly wounded.’ Elrohir stumped heavily over to the chair, but no matter that he tried and was careful, he spilled wine over his hand and sleeve. ’Fuck! Manwë’s shit!’ He collapsed into the chair and threw the cane down so he could clasp his leg with his free hand.
Legolas stood over him, hands on his hips and his mouth a thin line of frustration. ‘You nearly died. You can hardly stand.’
‘And you are suffocating me.’ It burst out of Elrohir from the pain and anger.
Legolas breathed in suddenly, almost a gasp and Elrohir felt like clapping his hand over his mouth as if he might take back those words; he would drive Legolas away.
‘Then forgive me my concern.’ Legolas stepped away, hands spread and Elrohir’s heart dropped away as if he were falling from a great height. Of course. Legolas would leave now and with time and distance, he would wonder why in all of Arda he had taken up with one so soiled and corrupted as Elrohir.
The Wood-elf turned away, stepping back towards the tent entrance and stood for a moment looking out at the sunshine, the brightness of the sky, perhaps wishing he had never come in here in the first place, thought Elrohir. His own mouth was tight with pain for his injury jangled and pulled. He pressed his hand over the nerves higher up to try to subdue it.
Then Legolas sighed. ‘If I am suffocating you, do you wish me to leave you?’ He did not say if he would simply leave the tent now and come back later or if he meant forever. But Elrohir swallowed; he could not bear either and he knew he would have to swallow his pride as he had before. He would have to submit to Legolas. As he had promised….But it was hard.
‘No,’ he said slowly. ‘I just…I have been my own man for centuries, ridden the mountains and glens and fought. I have been hurt more times than I can remember…I…I find it hard to be nursemaided. Elladan does not do it and I do not want it from you. It diminishes me.’
Legolas turned back to Elrohir then and a smile was on his face. ‘I understand,’ he said and knelt before Elrohir, his lovely face turned up to him in wonder. ‘It’s just I have never felt this way before about anyone.’
Elrohir refused to think perhaps that this was a well-worn phrase for Legolas; he knew Legolas had had many lovers before Elrohir, and Elrohir had not. And he had never, ever told anyone he loved them, but he thought perhaps Legolas had.
‘Let us make an agreement then,’ Legolas said and smiled. He rested his hand upon Elrohir’s thigh. ‘If either of us is doing something hazardous,’ and here he flashed a quick glance up into Elrohir’s face as if to gauge his reaction, ‘our measure will be Gimli. If we would seek to prevent Gimli from doing whatever it is that one of us intends, then the other can remonstrate. But if we would not try to prevent Gimli, then we must be silent and endure.’ His smile became a grin then and Elrohir smiled back.
‘I can live with that; if Gimli said he was going to climb to the topmost branch of that oak, I would be able to stop him because as a dwarf, he would not be safe.’ Elrohir met his gaze now, the green-gold that stroked him, looked over him like a caress.
Legolas laughed softly. ‘And if Gimli said he was going to swim that mighty river or cross the Hithaeglir in Winter, I would stop him because he is too short and would be lost in a snow drift.’ His hand on Elrohir’s thigh pressed a little more, slid upwards. Their eyes met. ‘It will take us time, beloved.’
Elrohir reached out and stroked a finger over Legolas’s cheek, just because he could. He gazed at the Woodelf, a slight smile on his lips, disbelieving.
‘What?’ Legolas asked lightly, seeing the intensity of scrutiny in Elrohir’s gaze. ‘Do I have something on my face? In my hair? In my teeth?’
Elrohir dropped his hand. He looked away for a moment and then back to his beloved’s face. ‘No. I just cannot believe you could love me.’
Legolas made a sound that was part sad and part irritated. ‘How can you doubt it? You are Ravéyön.’ And though Elrohir cringed at the epesse, Legolas tightened his hold on Elrohir’s thigh slightly, but to reassure not to caress. ‘You saved me three times, from the Nazgûl no less. You defeated the Brethren gathered to take you into shadow. You are the Son of Thunder. How could I not fall helplessly at your feet?’ he said extravagantly and looked adoringly into Elrohir’s face. He leaned towards him, close and then pressed his mouth against Elrohir’s, kissed him deeply. When at last he pulled away, he murmured, ‘Never forget, Elrohir, my beloved, I am utterly yours. Every bit of me is yours. My heart and soul and body.’
Elrohir lifted his hand then to Legolas’ cheek and cupped it so Legolas turned his lovely face into his palm and kissed it. ‘I do not deserve you.
‘Was I won too lightly then?’ Legolas said laughing and pulled away.
Elrohir shook his head but in his heart, a little quaver of doubt seeded itself. Was Legolas too lightly won? Not by Elrohir for he had fought hard and the battle between them both had been long and at times, bitter. But Eomer had won him first. And that had, by all accounts, been a swift and brief courtship. Too lightly won? Perhaps. He did not speak of his concern though, but held it within.
‘I do not deserve you,’ he repeated instead, and he meant it with all his heart.
Later Legolas found Gimli with the hobbits. Frodo still was very pale but Sam was leaning against the trunk of an old alder and staring up into its leaves with an expression of wonder.
‘Mornin’ Legolas,’ he called as he saw the elf approach. He wore some of the wildflowers in his buttonhole and Legolas saw that Frodo wore some too. ‘Look, someone keeps leaving us wildflowers. The scent reminds me of home,’ Sam said with delight.
‘That’s lovely,’ Legolas interrupted Pippin and pressed a hand against the littlest hobbit’s shoulder. Pippin looked up at Legolas and shook his head slightly in exasperation.
‘Gimli and I are departing in an hour,’ Legolas said and threw himself down upon the grass beside them.
‘What? You can’t be!’ Frodo exclaimed and the other hobbits joined their voices to his. But Legolas held up his hand.
‘Peace friends. Not to home, but on a task for Aragorn. We are to join Elladan and Imrahil for a short ride. Only to Minas Morgul. To check it is uninhabited.’
‘Minas Morgul?’ Frodo said with a shudder. ‘That is an evil place. I would not wish to go back there for anything.’ Sam looked at him in concern and then staggered to his feet to tuck the blanket around Frodo’ knees more tightly. But Frodo seized his hand for a moment and stopped him and they shared a look that Legolas found struck him to the core.
‘Forgive me, my friends,’ Legolas said softly, penitently. ‘I am a clumsy fool.’
‘Please don’t go there, Legolas,’ Sam said quietly. ‘It is as Mister Frodo says, an awful place. There are guardians and they watch…their eyes follow you. It is where the Nazgûl are.’ His voice trembled ever so slightly and Legolas winced. He caught Gimli looking at him with his deep brown eyes and the dwarf shook his head ever so slightly.
‘And they don’t like you very much,’ Pippin could not help saying to Legolas as he had that morning. ‘I don’t think you or Gimli should go. We’ve only just got back together after all!’
Legolas looked chagrined. He had not thought that the hobbits would be upset and he would not do that for the world.
‘Aragorn has asked us,’ Gimli said, coming to his rescue.
‘And Gandalf is going,’ Legolas added reassuringly. But Pippin just looked cross at that although he did not say why.
‘The Nazgûl have gone, Pippin,’ Merry added. He shook Pippin’s arm slightly as if to get Pippin’s attention for the hobbit was still looking concerned and fixed upon Legolas.
‘That’s true enough.’ Gimli took his pipe out of his mouth and glared at it as if it were the pipe’s fault. ‘They were vanquished with Sauron’s downfall.’ He jabbed the end towards Legolas. ‘If that were not the case, d’you think I would be letting this one skip off to Minas Morgul like it was a picnic?’
Legolas would once have bristled at that, now he smiled.
‘They were servants of the Ring,’ Legolas said gently. He twirled a blade of grass between his fingers, looking at the leaf blade and wondering at it as he spoke. ‘They were bound to it. I am sure Gandalf will know if that is not the case.’
‘I am not so sure.’ Frodo’s voice was uncertain and he had still spoken so rarely since they were reunited that they all turned to listen. ‘They were able to exist before …. before he came back into the world.’ Frodo tried to swallow but it was as if his throat was dry though the day was mellow and balmy. But for a moment, Legolas knew Frodo did not see the grass or hear the river; he knew what Frodo saw for he had seen it himself. He too had been hunted by the Nazgûl, in the Wood near Dol Guldur and on the mountainside of the Mindolluin. Yet how much worse it must have been for Frodo.
Legolas hummed lightly under his breath. A Song of small streams babbling over stones and pooling in shady dells, of fields of barley ripening in the warm sun, of green woodlands full of birdsong…He listened for the hobbits’ song, and heard Pippin, Merry…Sam gently coming back. But Frodo’s song was not there. He was still locked in memory of the Ring, of Mordor and Legolas’ song almost faltered. But he hummed Pippin’s song instead and found Pippin humming along with him, his light and merry heart lifted Legolas too. Frodo’ face relaxed a little and though he did not smile, the lines at his mouth eased.
Gimli tutted and sucked again on his pipe, trying to light it.
‘Here,’ Sam said and took the pipe from Gimli. He lit it easily and puffed a few smoke rings. ‘Gandalf has been teaching me,’ he said a little bashfully. ‘When I’ve been sitting with Frodo.’
Legolas felt suddenly, inexplicably overwhelmed. Anything he might have endured paled beside what Sam and Frodo had been through; it humbled him completely. He bowed his head and twirled the blade of grass between his fingers so he had time to control the emotion that wanted to burst from his chest.
‘And Gandalf going with you,’ Merry added reassuringly.
‘Yes. I am.’
All faces turned up towards the blaze of white that gentled and spread a warmth amongst them.
‘Well,’ Frodo spoke but his voice was still unhappy. ‘That should be all right then.’ But Pippin looked away and would not quite meet Gandalf’s eyes.
Note: Reminder that in Through a Glass Darkly, Legolas and his companion, Rhawion are attacked by a Nazgûl and Rhawion is killed.
Nana means mum/ mother but you all know that already!
Beta: The very wonderful Anarithilen.
Thank you all for the deluge of reviews and comments, kudos, favourites, follows etc. I admit I was a bit overwhelmed and encouraged and flattered. Please do keep those reviews coming- I get very despondent if I think no one is interested.
Chapter 2: Into the Morgul Vale
They left for Minas Morgul soon after and though he tried not to show it for Elrohir’s sake, Legolas was in high spirits and wanting to do something, to move, to get out of the stifling inaction of the huge camp on Cormallen Field. Whilst it was good to sit amongst the Fellowship, hear their stories and to simply enjoy their companionship, his nerves were still strung from his own injury and his fingers twitched for action; it was too hard to sit for long and not do anything. He wondered indeed how they would all cope with peace. Gimli too was restless, even if this excursion was, as the dwarf had said, a picnic compared with their recent adventures. But he found that riding Arod with Gimli tucked safely at his back and Gandalf on one side, Elladan on the other, with Imrahil close by, he was looking forward to it.
It helped that Eomer was not there, for he knew the Man watched him still with yearning and hurt.
‘Where are you in your head that merits such a heavy sigh?’ a gruff voice broke in on his thoughts. ‘Too much in the past?’ Gimli continued.
Legolas felt the dwarf’s strong fingers seek his own and squeeze slightly. He canted his head back towards the dwarf, feeling a surge of affection for his steadfast friend. ‘Perhaps,’ he said.
‘Perhaps this adventure is too much for you?’ Gimli worried. ‘I knew you were not ready. I should have insisted that Aragorn send someone else.’ Legolas felt the dwarf move his hands back and worry at the ends of his beard.
‘I am perfectly able to ride a horse and keep an eye on one recalcitrant dwarf,’ Legolas said quickly with a smile and reached behind him to catch Gimli’s hand before he stuck the ends of his beard into his mouth. ‘Thank you Nana Gimli. And I have cleaned my teeth and brushed my hair, and I have washed my face, hands and feet this morning.’
Beside him, Imrahil leaned over slightly to Elladan and said quietly, ‘Is Nana a title of affection, like Elvellon?’
Elladan opened his mouth to explain but Gimli said quickly and rather loudly, ‘Many times have I had to explain, Prince Imrahil. It means Great Dwarf-lord who is fearsome and pinches little elves if they do not behave.’
Legolas laughed aloud and there was a dig in his ribs and he stifled a yelp for he was still sore and his ribs had not quite recovered from the battle.
‘I know where you hurt,’ the dwarf murmured at his back. ‘Think on it before you speak again or I shall make you yelp so hard that even Gandalf will think you should go back.’
Elladan smiled indulgently and glanced at Prince Imrahil, who returned Elladan’s smile. Legolas watched them both obliquely, thinking how close those two had become in the aftermath of battle. He wondered where that would end: Elladan was quite obviously smitten. But then he had not yet made his Choice, nor had Elrohir.
Legolas was silent. If Elladan chose the Way of Men, how would that affect Elrohir? Would it pull Elrohir towards that fate?
‘This is a grim place,’ Gimli muttered behind him.
It was indeed and Legolas pulled his attention back to the landscape before him. Ash from the eruption of Mount Doom floated like light snow in the air around them but it felt grimy and gritty on their skin and caught in the back of their throats. A thin layer covered the black rocks like dull grey frost.
Minas Morgul lay ahead, a broken, jagged city in the shadow of the mountains. Elrohir had told Legolas that it had once been a fair and radiant city that seemed filled with silver light, that bells rang with every hour and the valley had chimed and echoed with music and the long pennants streamed in the wind. But Legolas could not believe this dull and drear place had ever rung with anything other than the sound of war: of Orcs, the clank of machines of destruction and the hoarse cawing of the Nazgûls’ winged lizards. He shuddered in horror at the memory of reptilian skin, slick and silver in the rain.
But the Nazgûl are gone, he told himself firmly, knowing that he was not quite recovered from the Black Web that had sunk into his veins. His own Song lapped through him like the lake on its shores, or the Sea, knitting his bones, smoothing the knotted nerves and fragile senses. And Elrohir’s love cradled him like cupped hands.
At the entrance to the city, were two stone statues; gargoyles, winged and open mouthed and now limned with white ash, and as they approached the sentinels, Legolas had a sinister sense of being watched. Arod shied a little and pulled back.
Suddenly, a green light shot through the city, shimmering like a poisonous haze over it. Legolas could not help the gasp that escaped him; corpse light, like the ghosts of the Dead Marshes, washed over the walls of the abandoned city and shot into the air. Green spears of light pierced the dark and washed over the sky, dissipated into the grey ash.’ What is that?’ he cried, horror prickled his fingertips and down his spine.
‘What is what?’ Gimli demanded. ‘Did I catch you? I am sorry, Legolas. I did not mean…’
‘No! Did you not see it? That mist? It just…’
‘What?’ Elladan pulled up beside him.
‘Did you not see?’ Legolas turned in distress towards Gandalf. ‘That light, like the Summer Lights, but …poisonous.’ He stared at Gandalf who urged Shadowfax towards him, his blue eyes narrowed and looked ahead where Legolas pointed. ‘Gandalf, did you see…?’
‘There is nothing, Legolas,’ Elladan said soothingly. He pulled his black horse, Baraghur, up beside Arod. ‘Perhaps it is just the light and the atmosphere of this place.’ He looked up at the tall keep that rose from the centre of the city. ‘It feels full of malice and cruelty.’
Legolas stared up at the walls of the silent city. It felt watchful, but there was nothing and he thought perhaps the venom that remained a slick in his veins made him see things that were not, or that had been but were no more perhaps?
They clattered into the city; the men shuddered as they passed between the gargoyles, and every horse shied and surged quickly past as though the ugly stone statues were somehow sentient and might yet reach out to grab them as they passed and tear them in their gaping jaws and fangs.
Imrahil had been given the leadership of the troop by Aragorn. Now he turned his grey horse in a tight circle and gave his orders in a low voice, for the silent city felt like it merely waited for the Nazgûls’ return and the Men could not help but keep their voices hushed. ‘Elladan, will you take the North road and see what is down there? Make sure you flush out any orcs or enemies. Be on your guard.’
Elladan turned to beckon Legolas over but Gandalf stayed him. ‘I need Legolas with me, but you may have Gimli,’ he told Elladan. ‘I will take five Men with me to explore the Keep,’ he added, looking at Imrahil as if for permission but in truth, it was no such thing.
Legolas reached behind and clasped Gimli’s hand to ease him down. ‘Take good care of my dwarf-friend,’ he told Elladan, only half-mocking. ‘He is very pig-headed and wont to run straight into danger. You will have to restrain him as I do.’ Legolas smiled at Elladan as he spoke for the elf-lord was so like Elrohir that it gladdened Legolas’ heart. Elrohir. The very thought made his heart thump in his chest and his cock surge with delighted lust. He may have gripped Gimli too hard because he was sure he heard the dwarf squeak a little.
‘And I am glad for once that you are taking the easy road with Gandalf, guarding the horses no doubt!’ Gimli landed firmly on his own two feet and stamped, encouraging the blood to flow back into his numb feet for it was very cold in the city. ‘A suitable task for one of your strength and talent, Legolas.’ He grumbled under his breath about horses, fished about in his pocket and gave Arod an apple core he had been saving.
Arod crunched the apple as Legolas sild from his back while around them, the other Men were dismounting too and looking about the empty, silent city. Arod’s warm brown eyes watching the dwarf with interest and when there were no more apples, he dropped his nose to the ground and snuffled through the white ash to seek the weeds that grew through the broken and cracked paving. But there was no grass and the weeds were poisonous and stained yellow with sulphur.
‘Laindir, bring your troop and come with me and Avorn, set a guard for the horses. Saelion, take some men and spread out and check this immediate area for orcs and goblins. Kill anything you find unless it be a Man.’ Imrahil’s men began to split up as he directed, some gathering the horses and others looking towards the Men Imrahil named. Legolas looked towards Gandalf who stood looking up at the Keep.
‘Come, Legolas. I need your eyes and ears.’ The Wizard shucked up his white robes over one arm and rapped his staff on the ground as if testing how solid the earth was. ‘I want to know what is here, if anything.’ He was very still for a moment, his head turned towards the tall Keep that towered over them as if he were listening for something that no one else could hear.
Along the sides of the road that led into the Keep there were all sorts of detritus, broken wagons and several discarded battering rams. A siege engine lay on its side, the wood splintered and beneath it lay some grisly oxen type creature that had been pulling the siege engine when it toppled. Legolas tried not to look too closely for flies clustered over its eyes and mouth and crawled over its muzzle.
Gandalf did not pause and looked neither right nor left but strode purposefully into the keep. Legolas followed, his bow loosely strung and in his hand. The five Men directed to go with them strung out a little behind them as they entered the Keep.
The entrance was a huge archway that had been carelessly and clumsily enlarged it seemed; the stone had been hacked out but Legolas could just make out the outline in places of a stylised tree and above the entrance were the remains of seven delicately carved stars. Orcs had defaced them; he could see where they had hacked off the points leaving gouges from chisels in the centres.
Within, there was a rank stench of old blood and rotting meat. One of the Men gagged. Legolas could not blame him for the sickly, slightly sweet stink of carrion coated the back of his throat, like oil, and he covered his nose and mouth with his arm. Flies rose up in an angry buzz at their entrance, fiercely, thickly crowding them as they passed into the darkened keep.
‘This is an evil place,’ muttered one Man. ‘I would rather not go any further in if I had a choice.’
‘It seems we do not,’ another replied a little more brightly and he flashed a smile at Legolas as they passed into the gloom side by side.
The voices of Imrahil’s troop faded behind them and Legolas could no longer hear Gimli’s deep rumble. He suddenly felt unearthed, adrift for a moment like he was no longer corporeal and he threw out a hand to catch at the wall as they passed into the high hall. Above, a vaulted roof arced vertiginously above them into the darkness and before them was a deep, gaping pit. A stone causeway ran across the pit and into the darkened hall. He could not see where it led until
Gandalf lifted his staff and a soft glow illuminated the way that reminded Legolas of Moria.
Huge iron chains had been driven into the thick stone walls, too heavy for any Man or Elf to lift. Attached to the chains were iron collars. This was where the Nazgûl had kept their winged beasts. Heaped in piles in the pit was offal and carrion that seemed to move and shift but Legolas saw it was black flies that crawled thickly over the bloody gore. The air stank of old blood.
‘I cannot go on,’ said the Man who had already muttered his fear. His eyes were wide and panicked and Legolas could not blame him.
But the second Man gripped his arm and turned to look at him. ‘You have seen worse than this, Arduin. And survived. Come now. This is nothing but a stink and can survive that too.’
The Man called Arduin stared at his friend for a moment and then nodded. ‘Where you go, I go,’ he said softly and Legolas looked away, a slight smile curving his lips.
Gandalf’s footsteps rang on the stone causeway, echoed loudly in the cavernous halls. The glow from Gandalf’s staff was faint and Legolas was glad; he did not want to see what else was in this tower of old bones and bloody meat, for the smell was enough. He did not want to know what the fell beasts had been fed. He hoped, prayed that there would be no sound from the pits. He did not think he could bear that, and found that he had strung his bow without thinking and an arrow notched. It reminded him horribly of Phellanthir, that old abandoned city in Eregion where the Nazgûl had attacked Legolas and where Rhawion had lost his life.
Ahead, the stones seemed to glow dimly green and he was reminded of the green light he alone had seen as they approached Minas Morgul. But this was nothing more sinister than phosphorescence it seemed. At the end of the causeway was an arch and a flight of shallow stone steps led in a wide sweep upwards. Limestone, Legolas recognised as he set foot upon the steps. There was a sudden dislocated lurch in his mind for Thranduil’s stronghold was delved in limestone, and he could not help but imagine the caverns of his home devastated by Orcs and goblins; the green tree-light of the Wood twisted into this sickly phosphorescence that coated the walls of the ancient keep like the blood and offal coated the floor. Yellow smoke billowing through the Woods, a body impaled, hanging heavily from a lance…The world tilted and he threw out a hand to catch himself on the limestone wall. It was damp under his hand, like sweating skin.
He blinked and shook himself. That was the second time in as many minutes. Gandalf had paused on the stairs above and was looking back at him with concern. ‘What do you feel?’
‘I…’He shook his head. ‘Nothing. Just a fancy, nothing more. I thought…I was thinking of home.’
Gandalf nodded once, and his blue eyes gleamed eerily in the light of his staff. Then he turned and climbed upwards once more and the five Men and one Elf followed behind.
The stair case led upwards and suddenly opened onto a wide landing, and tall windows looked out across the valley. A wasteland stretched before them and what he had first thought were small hillocks were slag heaps and the ground was pitted with deep holes, pocked carelessly with open cast mines. The second Man who had comforted Arduin came and stood beside Legolas, looking down onto the abandoned machines, wooden scaffolding and chains, iron buckets, great spikes and drills littered about with no thought.
‘What do you think they did, those machines?’ he asked but Legolas did not know.
‘Gimli would know,’ he said. ‘And if he did not, he would work out their functions.’ Neither mentioned the cages that swung creaking from long poles or the bundled rags within. Far below he could see the horses and guards left by Imrahil. Arod was standing desolately amongst the ruins.
‘Two of you take this floor,’ Gandalf told them. ‘There is enough daylight that you can see if there is anything worth recovering. Anything that looks like it might be useful,’ he said cryptically. ‘Just tell me when I come back down. I will check if it is worth recovering.’
He beckoned to the three remaining Men. ‘You will take the next floor and Legolas and I will explore the upper floors,’ he said practically and the Men nodded and set off across the pale, worn stone.
Arches opened one after another, leading to different chambers on each floor and the wide stone staircase wound upwards, growing colder, and even more silent.
On the third floor, Gandalf sighed and looked out of the tall window before them. ‘There were docks over to the South and ships brought spices and silks from the East, wine and wheat from the West. All kings sent their embassies here and paid tribute to Isildur. It was the capital of Gondor in truth, Tower of the Moon and fairest. Its courts and garden seemed filled with moonlight. Minas Tirith was Minas Arnor, Tower of the Sun. That is all that remains of the curtain wall.’ He pointed to a crumbling line of stones. ‘There was great treasure here too. A palantir.’ he turned his bright blue eyes upon Legolas. ‘We need to see if it is still here, Legolas. It belongs to Aragorn and I would not have it fall into another’s hands.’
Cold brushed over Legolas’ scalp, his neck and his fingertips jangled.
He turned suddenly, peering into the darkness and shadows. Did the darkness ripple? Tremble slightly? There, a slither of scales over stone?
He felt a shudder of revulsion crawl down his spine and all the hairs on his neck spiked.
If it is the Nazgûl, it is only fear, he told himself. But Rhawion’s death still haunted him, still nibbled on the edges of his consciousness and he could not shake off the thought that there was a more horrible fate than death and the Dark God of Mandos.
Gandalf had disappeared into the gloom, the soft glow of his staff swallowed up in the darkness and for a moment, Legolas was on his own.
He stared into the darkness that gaped ahead of him, the arches that opened one after another suddenly seemed yawning mouths, filled with shadows that slid and coalesced in the weak light from Gandalf’s staff bobbing in and out of the archways as the Wizard drew further away. Legolas watched the light for a moment and then looked again into the darkness that softly crept back.
No, he told himself. It is merely dark. There is no tremor, no pricking of his thumbs.
A slide of something on the cold stone. A flutter in the freezing wind that fingered his cheek, stroked down his neck.
He stared wide-eyed into the dark. ‘Gandalf?’ he whispered.
But there was no sound. Not even a soft footfall. The light from Gandalf’s staff seemed very far away.
He found his knuckles clenched white on his bow and the arrow already drawn. His mouth was slightly open and he breathed quickly, feeling his muscles tensed, bunch under him.
A ripple across the darkness, it trembled like a thin black robe, fluttered like a bird’s wing…Legolas found his breath coming in short, quick gasps and the cold stole down his neck, his spine, fingered his nipples so they pebbled hard. He stepped back and found the edge of the stone window against the backs of his thighs.
‘Gandalf!’ he whispered, more urgently. ‘Gandalf!’
And suddenly there was the sound of footsteps, impatient, clipped, and first the light from his staff and then the Wizard himself appeared, his eyebrows drawn and his eyes piercing.
‘What is it?’ He blew softly upon his staff and the light burned more brightly, should have chased away the shadows but instead it merely illuminated a smaller hall and upon the walls were grisly tokens, skulls, and iron cages hung from the ceiling. Bones huddled within. And shadows lingered in the corners where the light did not reach.
Gandalf looked more closely at Legolas’ white face and his eyes softened. ‘Come child, I forget that you have not really recovered yet. Perhaps I should not have brought you here,’ he mumbled half to himself. ‘The feel of the Nazgûl lingers, it is true. And they touched you.’ He nodded to himself and looked again at Legolas. Then very slowly he reached out and touched Legolas on the cheek; instantly a warmth spread from the touch and spread through the elf’s veins and nerves and he felt the Song.
‘Fear was ever their greatest weapon,’ Gandalf said gently and then his face grew more serious. ‘But it was not their only weapon. I need to make sure that all they had has gone into the Dark with them.’
‘Forgive me,’ Legolas said, feeling foolish. ‘I let the sense of this place overwhelm me.’
Gandalf did not speak but nodded sagely and turned towards the sweep of the staircase, that curled slowly upwards like the coils of a serpent and as cold.
Legolas followed him up the next flight of wide stone steps and there, a high and graceful arch led into the dim-lit hall. Here the stone had once been carved and elegantly ornate but orcish hands had brutalised any loveliness that might once have been. The faces had been knocked off or chiselled in parodies of themselves, made ugly by gashes instead of mouth and the eyes had been clumsily hacked away. Yet the proportions of the chambers were elegant and one opened up one after another and another.
‘The top floor used to rotate,’ Gandalf said almost to himself as he looked around the empty and silent chambers.
From the walls, thin tattered banners still hung like the skeletal leaves of winter and long windows of shattered glass pitted the walls at equal distance, seven in total. Legolas could see that each opened onto a narrow iron balustrade that circled the whole tower. If he had dared step onto it, he could have walked the entire circle of the tower but in places the iron balustrade had pulled away from the stone walls and hung precariously. It could not have borne even an elf for long without tearing away from the wall and plunging far below.
There is no way out, he thought, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen. He put his hand on the stone to steady himself as he leaned out of the window to see the city below but now they were very high and looking up he saw that they had reached the top floor. Far, far below he could see Elladan’s troop. They clambered over fallen masonry and rocks, scurried about - too far away to hear if he cried out to them. Too far away to help.
He looked back towards the doorway in panic, and saw the reassuring glow from Gandalf’s staff. It seemed to glow more brightly as he looked and he felt that same warmth and soothing hope as before. His heartbeat slowed and his breathing settled.
There is nothing here, he told himself sternly. They are all gone into the Dark.
Between the arches, the stone and marble still finely sculpted and undamaged by orcs, Legolas could see a tall plinth in the centre of a room beyond. Something rested on the plinth, covered by a dark veil. Then Gandalf moved in front of the plinth and Legolas’ view was obscured so he turned and walked carefully between the dusty and cobwebbed arches, looking into the shadows and through the doorways in the dim half light that seemed more twilight than midday.
A light seemed to flash dimly from another chamber and he turned his head to look.
In a far-off corner, there was a faded and dim mirror. It was taller than Legolas himself, and wide. Its surface seemed tarnished but as he drew close, he saw that the surface was coated in something. Copper perhaps? A slightly greenish light reflected from it and the frame, he saw, was old bronze, etched in the stylised manner of Imladris. It was some elvish artefact then, he thought. He leaned towards it, catching his own reflection in the mirror for a moment.
There was a flash as the light glanced over the surface of the mirror. For a moment, it seemed a ghoulish face appeared briefly and then vanished, as if something had peered briefly through the mirror from the other side.
Legolas stumbled back with a cry. But when he stared again at the mirror, there was only his own face, the strange half-light made his skin pallid and ghostly. Like a ghoul. Like a wraith.
He stared into his own pale face that trembled in the mirror. Behind him, the shadows drew close and he turned suddenly. But there was nothing behind him.
He turned back. His face looked different; drawn and thin, his eyes bigger and his hair was flat against his skull…
I look ill, he thought. It is because I am still recovering…
Distant sparks flared in the depths of the mirror and again, he turned, startled and fear crept into his heart. But there was nothing there- behind him, the empty chambers were still and silent. Twilight lay heavily across the stone floors and he was suddenly aware that the light was going. He did not want to be here in the dark.
Nervously, he stepped away from the mirror and hurried back to where Gandalf was lifting a dark orb from the plinth. It was a Palantir. Legolas glanced at Gandalf as he stuffed it unceremoniously into a satchel slung at his side and tapped his staff on the stone floor.
‘Good! We have what we came for,’ Gandalf said briskly. ‘Now, let us leave this forsaken place.’
‘Did you know there is a mirror?’ Legolas asked, glancing over his shoulder as they walked back through the arches and came to the wide steps. ‘I do not know if it is important but I cannot think why a ghoul would keep such a thing when all else has been destroyed.’
Gandalf froze. He turned so slowly and with such an expression on his face that Legolas was afraid.
Legolas stopped. ‘Yes,’ he said slowly. ‘It was through there…’ He pointed away through the crumbled arches and old stone. ‘It is very ancient, but just a mirror.’ But even as he spoke, he remembered the way a ghoulish face had seemed to peer at him from the other side. ‘
Gandalf pulled back on Legolas’ arm as he made to show Gandalf. ‘No, just tell me.’
‘Through there,’ Legolas said, suddenly nervous. He watched Gandalf breathe deeply and his grip on his staff tightened. ‘Gandalf?’
‘Come,’ said Gandalf, suddenly brisk. ‘Let us leave this forsaken place.’ He pushed Legolas in front of him and went swiftly down the steps. ‘I’d like to be out of here before nightfall and so, I should imagine, do you.’
Legolas quickened his pace, trepidation crept over him until he was almost running down the steps as if they were pursued, and though Gandalf hurried, he did not run as Legolas did. Soon Legolas was a little way ahead of Gandalf and forced himself to pause to wait for the Wizard.
As soon as he stopped, a cold wind blew from behind, caught up in Legolas’ hair and he imagined it was like skeletal hands grasping at him. Suddenly he was back in that place, on the cold mountainside in the rain, with the Nazgûl pursuing him, running through the rain and thunder, the gleam of lightning on their swords as they surrounded him and pressed the cold, cold blades into his flesh.
His heart pounded as he dared not wait but almost burst onto the landing below and cast a quick glance behind him, past Gandalf, up the long wide stairs.
There was nothing.
The dim sunlight shone through the dust that hung in the air. Undisturbed. Still.
Gandalf descended the stair quickly but not hurried and looked at Legolas warily.
Not a sound came from above where the mirror stood in an empty chamber. No scrape of steel or whisper of a thin black shroud. There was only the wind and there was nothing more sinister than it was cold.
Legolas stared back up the staircase as it wound and coiled away into dim twilight and darkness.
‘Come, Thranduillion,’ Gandalf said briskly. ‘Legolas.’
Legolas turned back to Gandalf. He blinked slowly. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said with utmost relief. ‘Nothing.’
Gandalf paused for a moment, looking intently at Legolas. Then he smiled very gently. ‘Not now. They have gone into the Dark,’ the Wizard said quietly. He patted Legolas’ shoulder quite kindly. ‘There is nothing to fear now. But their presence fills this place still and it is no wonder you feel it.’
Legolas looked up into the Wizard’s face; a white light streamed from his brilliant raiment, long silver-white hair flowed around him and down his back, straight, very long, smooth, his face was not quite human, beyond beautiful, too ethereal. Not Gandalf. Ólorin. He had seen Gandalf as Ólorin before, but only in dreams or through the miasma of poison. Now he gazed up in wonder and felt like he had stepped out of time, out of place and light enveloped him. Legolas smiled and Ólorin smiled back; his eyes though were piercing blue and were utterly Gandalf. The apparition faded and there was Gandalf again.
Legolas felt the light recede and stood blinking and feeling foolish and loved and overwhelmed all at the same time.
‘The Nazgûl are no more,’ Gandalf said. ‘They have gone.’ He smiled. ‘Now. Let us leave this place.’
Next chapter almost done.
Chapter 3: The Artefact
Gimli had his small travelling hammer and chisel in his hand and was carving a piece of granite he had picked up whilst scrambling around the rocks after Elladan. Slowly the smooth shape emerged beneath his hand from the rough grit of the rock. Every now and again he glanced up towards the Keep, for Gandalf and Legolas’ small group were still within and the other Men had returned about an hour ago.
Ah, there they were. Gimli nodded to himself; two Men emerged, one clasping the other by the arm as if he leaned upon the other’s strength. Gimli let the hammer and chisel still and fixed his gaze upon the entrance of the Keep. The other three Men emerged then, struggling to carry something between them, a white cloak was cast over whatever it was. But no Wizard. And certainly no elf.
Gimli rose to his feet. He noticed Elladan had come to stand beside him as the five Men walked over the causeway that led from the Keep. The white-cloaked object they carried between them was at least the size of a tall man, Gimli noted, but there was no way of telling what it was.
And then Legolas emerged, and Gandalf.
Gimli breathed and settled back down on the crumbling wall, took out his hammer and chisel and went back to crafting the stone into what was hidden within. He kept one eye on the causeway and watched the five Men handle whatever it was with delicacy and concern. They carried it into the camp where they carefully set it upright and leaned it gently against the crumbling stone wall. Here they paused and talked together, one of them glancing over to Gandalf every now and again as if waiting for a sign, while the first two Men scrambled over the stone wall, although not in haste or fear. One stood upright on the top of the wall, looking beyond. Then he cupped his hand called to his companion, pointing at something.
Gandalf stood at a distance and watched as the two disappeared over the ruined wall to some place that could not be seen from the dwarf’s vantage point. Gimli saw that Legolas came to stand beside the Wizard, but even from here, Gimli could see the stiffness of Legolas’ stance, arms crossed over his chest and his bow clasped to his chest. Legolas bent his head towards Gandalf and murmured something and the Wizard nodded once and glanced towards the white-covered object.
Beside Gimli, Elladan took a step forward and was staring after the Men who stood in a small group around their burden, now resting against the wall. Elladan muttered something that Gimli could not hear. The dwarf did not ask either, for at that moment, Legolas turned his head and catching sight of Gimli, lifted his hand in greeting. Gimli nodded seriously in return and then bent his head to his carving. Now that he had seen his friend’s return, he was no longer concerned, in spite of Elladan’s presence, coiled and tense beside him.
Suddenly Elladan muttered something that sounded like a curse, and then quite abruptly, left Gimli’s side to stride down the broken road towards Gandalf, except he did not keep to the road but leapt swift and sure-footed over crumbled walls and piles of stones at the side of the road in his haste to reach Gandalf it seemed. As Elladan drew closer, Legolas turned towards him but Elladan barely glanced at Legolas, all his intent upon Gandalf. At first, Legolas merely watched but even where he was, Gimli heard Elladan hail Gandalf and his tone was accusing and hostile. At that, Legolas moved very slightly so that Elladan came to stand beside Legolas rather than Gandalf and the two had to speak across Legolas in low hurried voices. Legolas listened, his head tilted slightly to one side.
Gimli raised his head, the stone and tools lay still in his hands. He watched attentively now as Gandalf lay a cautioning hand on Elladan’s arm and spoke quietly. Elladan listened for a moment but after a moment, Legolas stepped back, eyes fixed upon the Wizard. But that was nothing compared with Elladan’s reaction. He pulled away from Gandalf in horror, like he’d been bitten, and from here, Gimli could see him remonstrating with the Wizard with increasing agitation and Gandalf responding in the short, clipped tones that meant he was very angry. At one point he even rapped his staff upon the stone road impatiently. Elladan threw a furious look at Gandalf and then stalked away. Leaping quickly from the causeway to the road and over the crumbling walls, he passed Gimli without a word. The dwarf looked back down at his carving appraisingly. And waited for Legolas.
He did not have to wait for long.
He was aware of the elf settling beside him, peering over his shoulder at the carving. ‘What is it that you carve?’ Legolas asked and Gimli shrugged for it was not clear yet what shape intended to emerge. ’
What was all that about?’ he asked nonchalantly in turn.
‘Elladan is angry with Gandalf for bringing an artefact out of the tower,’ Legolas said matter-of-factly. But there was something in his voice that only Gimli would detect; the slightest breathiness, a tremble in the firmness of his voice?
Gimli blew on the carving. Dust clouded in the wake of his breath. ‘That seems a little hasty.’
‘It is a mirror.’
Gimli frowned. ‘A mirror? So yon ghouls were a little vain you think?’ he wondered aloud.
But Legolas did not laugh. He was watching Elladan, who stood a little distance away, standing high up on a crumbled wall, looking back towards Gandalf.
‘There was a Palantir as well. Gandalf has that. He said he was taking it for Aragorn but he did not say the same of the mirror…He says that we must not leave artefacts lying around for anyone to find.’
‘Hmm.’ Gimli grunted. ‘That seems sensible.’
‘Elladan does not agree,’ Legolas said slowly. ’He asked Gandalf if the mirror was akin to the one in Phellanthir.’ There was a pause. ‘I did not see a mirror in Phellanthir.’
Gimli paused in his carving and looked up. ‘Phellanthir?’ The name itself conjured dreadful images; the Tower crashing down upon them, stones hurled after them as they fled, and the river surging and washing over the marshland in a tidal wave after the seizures of the earth at the tower’s fall. And Glorfindel emerging from the dust, half carrying Legolas, and Rhawion’s lifeless body in his arms. ‘I did not go into the Tower as you know,’ Gimli said. ‘And I am glad I did not. And I am glad too that I did not have to go in there either.’ He nodded his head towards the Keep. ‘And even gladder that you are out of there and here where I can keep an eye on you.’
Legolas smiled slightly. ‘Elladan seems to think this mirror is dangerous.’
‘A dangerous mirror?’ Gimli said practically. ‘Perhaps it is very unflattering, makes you look like a ghoul.’
Legolas looked at him sharply. He said nothing but his mouth was a thin line and Gimli found that unexpectedly disturbing.
‘I will groom Arod,’ Legolas said abruptly and Gimli frowned at the sudden change from confidential to practical, but he knew Legolas well enough now to not question him and let him go to the horse, which looked up in delight and blew in Legolas’ hair. Gimli glanced back down to the stone in his hand, thinking how Legolas had done the same after the fight with Elrohir all that time ago on the quay at Lindir. He flicked a quick glance up to where Legolas had begun brushing Arod in long, hard strokes that the silly beast loved and leaned into, his eyes half closed and lower lip slack. Legolas’ face was intent, closed.
Gimli sighed and weighed the chisel in his hand. It was too light really for stone. But only a travel tool and it had served him well. He thought about what Legolas had said; it seemed then that Elladan had seen a mirror in Phellanthir. But that did not mean anything really. He squinted along the line of the granite, gauging where to cut next, and carefully chipped away one flake of stone. He wondered why the Nazgûl had a looking glass in the first place and imagined the Nazgûl standing in front of it in the way folk did and wondering - is my shroud hanging right? Is black a good colour for me?
He amused himself in this way for a little while as he carved. Much more worrying however, Gimli thought as he gently teased out a sliver of stone to be the beginning of an eye, was the Palantir. Aragorn already had one of those and it had caused nothing but trouble. But they could not leave it lying around for anyone to find and it was better that Aragorn had it.
Now Imrahil’s Men were harnessing two horses to a cart they had salvaged and the mirror was being loaded into it. Legolas had ceased grooming Arod and straightened to watch them.
The dwarf blew on the stone and held it up to the light so he could see where to line his chisel next. He glanced over to where Elladan stood watching, his spine ramrod straight and bristling with unspent energy, thought Gimli.
Carefully, Gimli stowed his small hammer and chisel away in the loose heel of his boot where he kept such useful items and clipped the heel back into place. He folded the small piece of stone in a soft cloth and shoved it into a deep pocket. Then he brushed his hands off and stood beside Legolas, watching as the mirror was loaded onto the cart. One of the Men stood, holding the horses’ reins and two were carefully securing the mirror with leather straps and ropes.
‘Gandalf says that Elladan, Gandalf and I must ride on ahead and warn Aragorn of what we have found,’ Legolas said suddenly, He made an impatient gesture with his hand. ‘He is hiding something.’ Legolas looked over towards the Wizard as he spoke, his eyes distant. ‘Why does he cover the mirror with his cloak? And why must we ride on ahead? Not you, Gimli. Just Gandalf, Elladan and me. He has that Palantir but takes no such care with that.’
Gimli humphed and crossed his arms over his broad chest. ‘And what is Elladan’s problem with it? What about the other mirror in Phellanthir?’ he asked, narrowing his eyes and watching the son of Elrond.
Legolas’s mouth twisted a little and he cast his gaze downwards. ‘He accuses Gandalf of being reckless.’ Legolas shook his head. ‘I felt something up there, Gimli. I thought it was just the lingering sense of the Nazgûl…but now…hearing Elladan, I wonder if there is more.’
They stood side by side as the last ropes and straps tying the mirror onto the wagon were secured. Elladan stood beyond the edges of the troop of Men, watching. But his hand gripped the hilt of his sword and the other was jammed into his belt as if he needed to restrain himself. He fixed his gaze upon the Keep and did not look at the wagon where the mirror was.
Gimli pursed his lips and contemplated the sky. ‘I think I will trust Gandalf in this,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘He has been right about most things so far. Not all,’ he countered himself, ‘but most. I think I will ask him about what this mirror is and why he believes he cannot leave it or break it.’
‘He will not tell you,’ Legolas said slowly. Gimli glanced up at him.
Arod snuffed lightly in Gimli’s hair. Almost automatically, the dwarf searched his pockets. His blunt, clever fingers found a small piece of forgotten carrot in amongst the dust and cotton gathering in his deepest pocket. Absently he gave it to the horse who crunched contentedly.
Gimli stared ahead; clearly Legolas had already asked and met silence from the Wizard.
Phellanthir. The very name was unwelcome. Gimli remembered how distraught the elf had been over Rhawion’s death. None of them wanted a repeat of that and Gimli resolved to keep watch upon his friend.
Legolas shifted slightly beside him. ‘All Gandalf would say is that if the Nazgûl deemed it important enough to keep,’ he said quietly, ‘then it has some value to them and should not be left here for anyone else to find.’
‘Very well. But don’t look into it, Legolas,’ Gimli cautioned. ‘You never know. And I cannot imagine that all it does is make you look a bit ghoulish.’
At that, Legolas seemed to jerk slightly as if startled and he stepped away. ‘I am going to talk to Elladan,’ he said and Gimli roused himself.
‘Well I’m coming with you!’ he said.
Aragorn sighed and pulled a beautifully drawn map towards himself, pristine and crisp; it was newly delivered from one of the many lords of Gondor whose name he could not remember. Aragorn sat on an ornately carved chair at a desk that was heavy and decorative enough for a banqueting hall rather than a tent in the middle of the Field of Cormallen.
He had let the flap of the tent fall closed to give himself a little privacy because he found people kept looking in to see the King Returned and he had finally grown tired of it and felt a little over-exposed. But he supposed that this was what it was going to be like from now on.
‘The King does not wish to be disturbed my lord.’ His guards muted voices came from outside. Something else he was going to have to get used to; having guards.
‘He will wish to see me.’ Low and insistent. Irritated. Aragorn smiled; Elrohir of course.
‘I am sorry my lord. He has said no one.’ The guard’s voice was anxious and Aragorn wondered how long the Man could keep up his resistance in the face of Aragorn’s brother.
‘He will see me.’ The voice repeated, more loudly. More insistent. Definitely more irritated.
Aragorn smiled as the tent door flapped aside and Elrohir limped slowly in, still leaning on the cane that someone had quickly made for him, but he was not the only one who had needed such. The veins stood out on his hands where he clutched the cane so Aragorn, ever the healer, knew he was still in pain.
‘Here, let me…’ He hurried over to pull out a chair for Elrohir but the scowl and slight shake of his head stopped Aragorn. The King Returned sighed, exasperated that he was surrounded by stoical warriors who would not let him help.
‘Is there any news?’ Elrohir asked shortly.
Silently and only to himself, Aragorn admitted that he would not be allowed the assist his injured brother, and sat down. He watched while Elrohir stubbornly struggled one handed with the heavy chair that got caught on the thick and opulent rugs that had been spread lavishly over the grass so the King Returned had something warm to meet his toes first thing in the morning. Elrohir let out an expletive that, had Gimli been in the room, would have shocked the dwarf, not only that Elrohir was so fluent in Khuzdul but that his language was so colourful.
‘I asked for news,’ Elrohir barked, tugging irritably at the chair until it suddenly moved and he could collapse into it.
‘News?’ Aragorn quirked an eyebrow. ‘There is always news. What sort of news?’
‘You know what news,’ Elrohir snapped. He dropped the cane then and it fell with a thud onto the thick rugs. This time, instead of cursing, he exhaled quietly and let his head drop.
Aragorn was instantly at his side. ‘I wish you would let me help,’ he said softly, setting the cane near Elrohir’s trembling hand.
Elrohir sighed. ‘Forgive me,’ he murmured. ‘I have good days and bad days…The bad days are very bad.’
‘This is one,’ Aragorn said, less of a question than a statement.
Elrohir nodded. ‘It would help if I knew where they were, how they are,’ he said and Aragorn knew he meant Elladan of course, but also Legolas. Aragorn still marvelled that the two seemed to have found such deep and tender closeness; he was not yet ready to call it love because it was so new and Legolas was… well, he had not exactly been celibate during the quest for Aragorn knew of at least three lovers Legolas had had since he had turned up in imladris that rainy afternoon.
Aragorn poured water into a glass goblet for Elrohir and mused that in fact, Legolas had been quite happy to take every opportunity to be anything but celibate. And so Elrohir might be just one more notch on the Wood elf’s knife. Aragorn was unhappy about that. Elrohir was so vulnerable, wounded. If he was merely some plaything of Legolas’ to while away the time, it would hurt Elrohir beyond his capacity to heal. He sighed heavily and then looked up to find his brother’s grey eyes fixed upon him, a wry smile upon his full lips as if he heard every word of those thoughts.
‘I know what you think, Estel, but that is not how it is. I am neither so fragile nor is Legolas so fickle.’ He smiled and Aragorn, so used to the suppressed violence in Elrohir, marvelled at the softness in his eyes…and then he was afraid again, for he did not think Legolas so easily won, though he loved his mercurial friend and owed him his life many times over.
“Tell me any news,’ Elrohir said, more gently. His tall frame looked odd bent into a mannish chair, for Elrohir was over a head taller than any lord of Gondor. He looked cramped and uncomfortable and Aragorn made a note to commission a carpenter to make new chairs, higher tables, to accommodate his family. Friends too, he added mentally, thinking of Legolas, as tall as Elrohir but more wiry. And Gimli and the hobbits, for he would not give them chairs for a child. He mused to himself, unaware of Elrohir’s eyes upon him, and the slight smile on his lips as if he knew where Aragorn’s thoughts took him.
Upon the lavish inlaid and decorated table were a number of scrolls. One was uncurled and Aragorn reached out to it. It was neatly scribed in Gimli’s careful hand and meticulously detailed.
‘They have scoured Minas Morgul,’ Aragorn said. ‘Most of the Orcs and goblins have already abandoned it but there were some Men who resisted them. Gimli says they have taken the city though and it is now ours, though he complains I have not given them enough men to leave there or to hold it for long.’ He sighed. ‘I am loathe to send men out to Mordor when we have only just returned. It is a grim post and will wear upon their hearts.’
Elrohir grunted and shifted uncomfortably. ‘Send those who did not go to Mordor then. They are desperate to win acclaim and redeem their honour in the eyes of the city. It is a task not beyond them. Find a good commander though, one who will keep them strong.’ His hand clenched the arm of the chair and Aragorn saw how he gritted his teeth. ‘Even better, raze it to the ground so that no evil can return there.’
“I have a message too from Gandalf that asks for a smooth running wagon and some skilled men.’ He frowned, perplexed. ‘There may be some things that he has found that he would not leave there, or some treasures perhaps, plundered from Gondor.’
‘Of course,’ Elrohir said, leaning heavily upon the arms of the chair and shifting uncomfortably. ‘Minas Ithil was a beautiful city. Its spires reminded me of tales of Gondolin, and the bells used to ring through that valley, echo from the mountains. When the moon shone upon the walls, it was indeed white and silver. And there was great wealth too.’
His grey eyes were unfocused for a moment and Aragorn knew that he was remembering with elven clarity, every detail, every sound, the faces of those he met and knew well.
‘It is a place of great evil now,’ Elrohir said slowly. His face grew troubled then. ‘I wish Legolas had not gone, nor Elladan.’ He looked away. ‘They are not in danger, but I feel it is there nonetheless.’
I really should say as well that although he does not appear in these first chapters, Tindómion is Spiced Wine’s invention and I thank her for letting me use him.
* The memory of Phellanthir is from Through a Glass Darkly and this is as much a sequel to that fic as it is Sons of Thunder. In Glass, Glorfindel and Erestor find a mirror made by Celebrimbor. It is a Door to the Eternal Dark and when Glorfindel reaches it, a Balrog comes. Elladan is wounded by a morgul blade and he and Elrohir are trapped by the Nazgûl. In trying to bargain with Angmar for Elladan’s life, Elrohir allows Angmar to plunder his thoughts and memories- including those of finding his mother- and which Angmar corrupts, he also exacerbates Elrohir’s unacknowledged lust/desire for Legolas and gives him those violent images that plague him all through Sons of Thunder.
Warnings for this chapter: slash. Explicit.
Chapter 4: Memories
Elrohir dropped swabs and bandages on the bed, a bowl of hot water was on the floor. He let himself half sit half fall on to the edge of the bed and took a breath. His leg throbbed in pain. Carefully he unwound the soiled bandages and peered at the wound. It was healing. The skin was pink at the edges and shiny where it had grown anew. He sat on the edge of the bed, face contorted in pain, clutching at his wound and swabbing hot water over it. Clenching his teeth, he held the cloth over the wound, letting the water wash through, the heat burn away any bacteria.
He thought determinedly of Legolas while he scrubbed at the wound, punishing himself for his evil, purging himself of his wickedness. Four days since Legolas and Elladan had ridden out. Four days of unease and premonition. Of the deep sense of danger. He was ready to saddle Barakhir and ride to Minas Morgul himself to meet them in spite of the frequent messengers and Gimli’s cheerfully practical letters to Aragorn. There were none from Legolas.
Suddenly his longing for Legolas was so intense he almost heard the light dance of green-gold notes drift on the breeze and he looked up almost expecting that beloved voice full of softened consonants and long lilting vowels, singing irreverently, the gleam of lust and long green eyes that slid a gaze towards him full of suggestion and desire, generous mouth promising seduction…
There was a light scuff of boots outside his tent and suddenly the tent flap opened. Sunlight poured through and around a dim shape but he would know that tall, lean figure even in the Eternal Dark.
‘Are you really here? Not just conjured by my fevered imagination?” He lurched to his feet and then clutched the edge of the bed in agony. He could not stifle the cry that tore from his lips and instantly Legolas was at his side, kneeling beside him and carefully lowering him to the bed.
‘Please, Elrohir. Let Elladan or Aragorn attend you. Look at the pain you are in!’
‘I do not want you to see me like this,’ Elrohir ground between his teeth but he could not conceal it and blew out, raising his eyes upwards as he leaned back onto the bed and allowed Legolas to fuss. ‘And before you say it, I have let Aragorn attend me, as you say. I am not a fool to let a wound fester. It is just taking longer and needs more time…And I do not want to give it. I want to be healed!’ he said in exasperation.
Legolas smiled. ‘I know. I too have endured and even now, I am not fully recovered,’ he admitted with a wry smile. ‘I feel the…taint of the Black Web still and it lingers in my dreams.’ He looked up at Elrohir with an earnest eyes. ‘Neither of us are yet whole.’
Elrohir’s pain was forgotten and he looked at Legolas with anxious concern. ‘You still feel this?’ he asked. His voice was soft and he gazed at Legolas, looked his fill, his heart filled with adoration. ‘I would give you all my strength to make you whole!’ he said earnestly.’
Legolas shook his head and laughed softly. ‘Foolish Noldor,’ he said fondly and caressed Elrohir, stroked his hand over his long, night-silk hair, cupped his cheek and drew him close. Elrohir felt the crackle of his desire, his absolute love fill him, swell in his heart and chest until he thought he might burst.
He leaned towards Legolas and pressed his lips against Legolas’ mouth. The kiss was like a long drink of water in a desert, torrential rain in a parched land. Elrohir pulled Legolas towards him but his beloved did not fall onto the bed with him; instead he pulled back and looked at Elrohir sternly.
‘Those bandages, that wound first,’ he said firmly. ‘We will get you sorted first and then…’ He let his hand drift over Elrohir’s straining crotch with a wicked smile. ‘Then we will attend to other matters.’
Smiling, Elrohir conceded and leaned back on his elbows to watch. Legolas was looking at the wound with a critical eye and a faint grimace that made Elrohir want to cover it and hide from Legolas’ disgust. His hand twitched in reaction, going to cover it but Legolas tutted and pushed him away.
‘You think this is the worst I have seen? Is it painful? It should have thought it more healed by now but you keep overdoing it.’ He glanced up at Elrohir’s pensive face and grinned. ‘I will have to be gentle with you.’
Elrohir closed his eyes and sighed for he did not want gentleness. No. He wanted fire and passion and for Legolas to pound him. He felt himself stiffen even more and heard Legolas laugh a little. But then the dressing was against his wound and it stung. He leaned back on his elbows and watched Legolas’ quick hands that did not stop even when he could not help but gasp in pain. Legolas was swift and wound the bandage about him, frequently brushing his fingers over Elrohir’s straining, bursting cock as if by accident and a small smile played about his lips as he did so. He tied it off and then kneeling before Elrohir, rested his hands upon Elrohir’s thighs.
Elrohir’s erection strained, felt like it would burst if Legolas did not touch him. He was still leaning back on his elbows and his eyes met Legolas’, amorous.
‘You are being coy, my beloved,’ Legolas said playfully, and bit his lip as he stroked Elrohir’s bulging cock. Elrohir thought he would faint with desire. ‘Let me see if I can still seduce you,’ he said mischievously and reached up, his fingers stroking Elrohir’s ear so he fell helpless and swooning against the pillow.
Legolas crawled carefully upon the bed beside him, avoiding Elrohir’s leg. He pressed his long, lean body against Elrohir’s. ‘You are wearing entirely too many clothes,’ he said and with his teeth pulled loose the laces tying Elrohir’s tunic. Impatiently he tugged them apart and pulled the tunic over Elrohir’s head with a flourish. ‘Give yourself to me,’ he said, nuzzling Elrohir’s neck and with his hand, pulling loose the ties of his breeches.
Elrohir reached out and pulled Legolas towards him.
‘I have missed you. I love you,’ he declared earnestly and Legolas laughed lightly and flicked his cock so his nerves shocked like a lightning strike. ‘I love you, I love you,’ Elrohir cupped Legolas’ sweet and beautiful face and showered kisses upon him. Legolas laughed under them and dived beneath his arms, grasping his cock and balls with one strong, warm hand so that Elrohir arched and cried out.
‘I have missed this,’ Legolas grinned and knelt up, looking at Elrohir sprawled beneath him and completely undone. ‘I love to see you like this.’
Their love-making was quick and hard and burst upon Elrohir like a wave and when it was done, he was sweating and hot. His hair stuck to his face and chest and his skin marked by Legolas’ passion, and Legolas the same.
‘That’s better.’ Legolas rose to his feet, naked and glorious enough to make Elrohir’s heart burst and his cock surge again with appreciative lust. He watched Legolas pad to a travelling chest upon which stood a jug of wine and two empty glasses. He filled the glasses and turned back to Elrohir, lifted one glass to his lips and drank deeply, unappreciatively of the fineness of the red wine. ‘And now…’ He raised an eyebrow suggestively and ran his fingers over his own belly and already half-full cock, batted it cheerfully so it bobbed.
‘Beautiful, insatiable melethron,’ Elrohir murmured.
Legolas handed him a goblet but Elrohir put it in the small table beside the bed for he did not want wine to muddle his thoughts. He marvelled at how close they had become in so short a time and after such conflict between them, and then he thought about what Legolas had said but also what he had not said; I have missed this, he had said, and I love to see you like this.
He had not said he missed Elrohir. He had not said that he loved Elrohir. Though Elrohir had declared it, and cried it as he came.
But Elrohir would not ask like some needy maiden; he had already decided he had no call upon Legolas. In fact he was so deeply in his debt that should Legolas never return his heart and simply use him until he was bored and throw him away, Elrohir was determined he would not feel betrayed or used or misled, for he owed Legolas more than he could ever repay.
Outside the light had dimmed and twilight was upon them. A blackbird sang heartily somewhere outside, near the river perhaps
Legolas threw himself back onto the bed and leaned against the pillows, one elbow propping him up. His long, lean body was relaxed, his cock thickened and slack against his thigh where the ancient ink and wild colour wound and the dragon peered over his shoulder. Long winter-grass hair gleamed in the firelight, and Legolas’ eyes were dipped towards the goblet which he held against his lips now though he did not drink, lost in thought.
Elrohir watched him, watched the firelight stroke the long silk of his pale gold hair and decided he did not care if Legolas had not said he loved him; he showed it in other ways and called him beloved. That would have to be enough.
Legolas did not move, so deep in thought was he and they lay together in silence until Elrohir asked, ‘Did you find anything in Minas Morgul?’
Legolas sighed and glanced up, a strangely anxious expression in his eyes. Or was it accusing?
Elrohir blinked. ‘I am glad you are back safe,’ he said uncertainly, wondering what had changed Legolas’ mood so suddenly and what he was thinking that had plunged him into such silence. It made him more hesitant. ’Was the city empty?’
Legolas stared into the wine for a moment and then spoke, slowly. ‘It was empty in that it was abandoned. But…it did not feel empty.’ He suddenly put the wine down and pushed himself to his feet. ‘It is a haunted and evil place as you said. I wish never to go back there.’ Restlessly he paced to the tent door and then turned and strode back towards Elrohir, his eyes resolute. ‘But it is not Minas Morgul that bothers me,’ he said sombrely, looking down at Elrohir. ‘It is Phellanthir.’
Elrohir jerked back involuntarily. Phellanthir? The name itself sent a cold dread down his spine. He began to struggle to his feet but Legolas leaned down and grasped Elrohir by the arm.
‘Tell me,’ he insisted. ‘What happened in Phellanthir? I know you were there with Glorfindel.’
Elrohir bit his lip, remembering the moonlight shining on the mudflats that surrounded Phellanthir, Elladan’s rasping breath beside him and the horror that crept over him as he knelt on the wet mud before the Witchking, before Angmar.
Legolas was watching him, a knowing look in his long green eyes.
Elrohir steeled himself for it seemed he must bare his soul once more to Legolas to earn forgiveness. ‘Very well,’ he said heavily. ‘In Phellanthir, I did offer myself to Angmar, in return for Elladan. He was wounded by a morgul blade and I could not save him.’
‘You have a habit of sacrificing yourself.’ Legolas’ voice was dry. Amused even. ‘For you did that for me too, at least twice….’
Elrohir bowed his head for it was here that Angmar had plundered his thoughts, stoked the wicked and unholy lust Elrohir had for Legolas, the desire for his pain and anguish. He confessed, ’Angmar promised you to me if I gave him the Ring.’
Legolas waved his hand impatiently and tutted. ‘I know that,’ he said dismissively. ‘You told me. Several times in fact and each time it becomes more abject and more detailed. As if you wish to shock me at your vile and bloody fantasy…I know you have dreamed of me,’ Legolas said, almost irritated. ’And it has been of violence.’
His voice lowered and his gaze dipped to where his fingers pulled at a loose thread on the sleeve of his tunic. ‘But I too have done things I would rather not tell you; I have thought things that I cannot confess…’ A sigh escaped his lips. ‘I was in the company of the Ring for months and it whispered incessantly of things I should do, could do…’ He batted his hand like he would drive away unwanted thoughts. ‘I know how the Nazgûl work, Elrohir. I know what they would have shown you, tormented you with.’ He raised his head and looked Elrohir in his eyes, held his gaze with such tenderness and compassion, understanding. ‘You must release yourself from their clasp now. You must allow yourself to breathe again and stop this torment, this constant need for contrition.’ He cupped Elrohir’s face gently. ‘You have atoned. Over and over and now I want you free.’ He pressed a kiss to Elrohir’s mouth and pulled him close.
But Elrohir pulled away in shame and slid to the floor in misery only to feel Legolas on his knees beside him, his arms cradling him and murmurs of comfort and concern.
‘I am sorry, I am sorry. I did not mean to distress you, my beloved beloved Elrohir. Please do not be distressed…It..it is not Angmar, it is not what you dreamed of that torments me. I just need to know what happened to Rhawion.’ Legolas bent his head and rested it against Elrohir’s.
‘Rhawion? Rhawion?’ Elrohir turned his face towards Legolas, astonished. ‘What has happened to make you ask this now?’ Elrohir said, shaking his head. ‘Rhawion is dead. I know you feel somehow to blame but you are not. How could you have done more?’
Legolas rubbed one eye as if suddenly tired, and turned so he was no longer on his knees but sat on the ground with his back against the edge of the bed. ‘Glorfindel and Erestor went back to Phellanthir,’ he said. ‘They went back because they believed me when I said he…his feä was still there, trapped somehow in Phellanthir. You were there when they returned. I know that Elladan was wounded with a morgul blade…But there is more. I know there is.’
Elrohir sighed. This would do no one any good, he knew. Rhawion’s death, his absolute death, devoured by the Nazgûl, might be more that Legolas could bear and though he guessed that sometime he would have to tell Legolas all, he did not think he had the strength to do it now.
But Legolas had not finished. ‘It was something I overheard,’ he confessed. ‘In Minas Morgul we found a palantir… and an old mirror.’
Elrohir went cold. A mirror? He was very still and listened intently, but all the time, he was remembering more and more vividly the blast of heat, the roaring that deafened him, reverberating from the ruined hall, and Erestor, wild-eyed and half mad, seeing things in there that could not be true. Glorfindel, afraid.
Legolas continued, unaware. ’Gandalf had the mirror brought out of the tower by the Men who came with us, and he brought the Palantir himself,’ he said. ‘But when Elladan saw the mirror he was…disturbed, even angry perhaps. He shouted at Gandalf, asked him what he thought he was doing bringing that.’
Yes, thought Elrohir in cold horror. He would, for Elladan too had seen the Glass in Phellanthir bubbling red and fiery, and the surface moving, undulating.
Legolas paused for a moment as if thinking. ‘Gandalf said he could not leave it there for who knows what might find it and Elladan said that he was putting everyone at risk. That no one knows what the mirror might bring with it. He asked Gandalf if it was the same as the one in Phellanthir.’
Elrohir could not speak. The memory of it suddenly overwhelmed him:
…a crushing heat growing in the Hall. A sense of immense danger rang in his blood.
‘Get out!’ Erestor had shouted to Elladan, ‘Glorfindel! Get them out of here!’ but it was overwhelmed by the deafening roar from the Glass.
A huge bellow of rage thundered through the hall and it was from the Glass. Glorfindel was white-faced, his bright sword held before him. Erestor cried out in fear for the Nazgûl were close and there were shapes moving in the Glass, a furnace that raged and lit them all fiery red. The roar of the flames thundered through the hall and the surface of the mirror bulged like a bubble and stretched into a bowl of flame.
Splinters seemed to burn off the Glass and exploded into the air, the roaring bellow filled the hall and the heat was unbearable, a furnace. Erestor seized Glorfindel’s other arm and they dragged him away from the Glass.
Elrohir slammed against the huge doors and glanced alongside at Glorfindel, back against the doors too and breathing hard. Through the heavy bronze he could feel the searing heat, almost too much to bear. A terrible boom echoed within and a shudder ran through the doors. He could not see what Erestor or Elladan were doing but he heard them pulling something from the rubble.
‘What in all the Hells is that?’ Elrohir muttered.
‘That is a Balrog,’ Glorfindel answered grimly. ‘It has come for me.’
Again, there was a tremendous thunder and the doors were pushed hard, a crack of fiery red appeared between the doors.
‘Hold the doors!’ shouted Erestor. Elrohir turned and leaned his arms against the burning metal doors. Beside him Elladan and Glorfindel braced themselves and pushed back hard but though they strained and pushed with all their might, they could not close the crack. Something, some great pressure was forcing them open. Elrohir groaned with the effort. He felt his skin seared with heat but he did not dare pull away. The huge bronze doors creaked open a fraction more.
A hand gripped his arm and he looked up into Glorfindel’s noble face that was pale but resolved.
‘I cannot leave,’ Glorfindel was lit with the fiery glow that even now seeped beneath the doors, between the cracks in the roof and walls. ‘Go, all of you! You must leave now. This is my battle, not yours. Go.’’*
‘A mirror you say?’ Elrohir’s voice seemed to come from somewhere beyond himself, far away.
‘It was taller than me, and the width of three men perhaps. It was strange,’ Legolas mused. ‘It seemed to be coated in something, like a film of copper perhaps and the frame was very strange…’ His eyes were distant. ‘Yes- copper filmed the surface and…when I looked into it, I thought a ghoul looked out at me…but it must have been my own face.’ He frowned as if puzzled, a little distressed. ‘Tell me. Rhawion died in Phellanthir. Was it something to do with this Mirror that you say is also in Phellanthir?’
‘No.’ Elrohir shook his head and Legolas seemed to sag with relief. ‘This is nothing to do with Rhawion, Legolas. This is about Celebrimbor and his knowledge. He made the mirror and I think he made the one you found as well.’
He did not say that a Balrog had been contained in the Glass, by the Glass. He did not say that it had come for Glorfindel. He did not say that he feared what might by in the Glass from Minas Morgul.
Sorry everyone. :( You'll know what I mean when you get there.
The yellow smoke refers to a vision shown Legolas in Deeper than Breathing (or Songs of Rohan on some sites) where Saruman shows Legolas a vision of Mirkwood overrun by orcs and goblins, and an elf with golden hair hoisted upon a lance by the orcs- in the way that Celebrimbor was.
Guhnâlzirâmuzbad - Celebrimbor, Lord of the Glass Doors
Narvi: The greatest of the dwarf smiths of Moria. He made the doors of Moria with Celebrimbor. The two were great friends.
Chapter 5: A conversation
Legolas leaned on one elbow and watched Elrohir sleep. His beautiful face looked younger relaxed, all the cares and guilt and pain rubbed from his face. He looked more like Elladan, Legolas thought and then quashed the thought as disloyal, for Elrohir had his heart as completely as he had his body.
He wondered what would happen when he turned for home, for he needed to. He needed to be amongst the heart of the Wood, to hear the Song of the Wood, to feel the strong embrace of his father and Laersul, Thalos. To see Galion and …and to feel the absence of Anglach. To mourn his childhood friend, his chosen brother.
What would you think of me now, Anglach? he wondered. And where are you? He wondered if Anglach and Rhawion were in the same place? If he too would go there should he be slain? And all those of the Wood who lost their lives in the battle beneath the trees of his home.
He could not help but drift back to the dreadful images shown him by Saruman, in the shadow of Orthanc.
You should see Mirkwood… Ruined and burned.' The wizard's face had transformed into something ugly and inhuman, eyes narrowed and cruel, mouth curled in a sneer.
Legolas' heart squeezed. He blinked, as if trying to clear the stinging tears from his eyes and put his hand over his mouth as if yellow smoke filled his lungs, even now in the luxurious tent. A roaring was in his ears that was the sound of fire raging, of trees crashing...
….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 was braided and his grey eyes were wide with shock and pain. Ceredir!
Legolas fell to his knees but his hands drew through nothing but air…The yellow smoke billowed and flowed about him and Ceredir's blood bubbled in his throat, seeped from his mouth….though he could not touch him.
Through the yellow smoke, orcs poured 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 Legolas and pointed. He knew them, they were the foresters' children. They ran towards him desperately. One orc leapt forwards, grasped a child, and without pause cut its throat with horrible efficiency.
Then the smoke walls parted and a tall powerful warrior charged into the clearing, he raised his gleaming sword and struck down the orcs who ran from his fury. Legolas saw his hair was golden. It could have been Thranduil. It could have been Laersul. Legolas could not tell for the yellow smoke obscured his view.
There was a hiss and whine of arrows. The warrior, magnificent and deadly, wielded his sword and the light glanced off the blade, arrows falling away as he did so. He turned fiercely to face his foes but one stray arrow hissed past Legolas and pierced flesh, finding its mark. The warrior 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 where the arrow had struck.
The smoke shifted and swirled and Legolas' gaze was pulled back to the burning forest and the dying warrior. A spear flashed briefly and then, amongst the crowing, jeering orcs, it plunged down, a horrid sound of tearing flesh. There was a hoarse cry, and then another was ripped unwillingly from the throat of the warrior. The spear was hoisted up high and the weight made the orc bearing it stagger a little at first until others came around and steadied it.
Saruman's voice twisted around him, conjuring those terrible scenes. '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.'
…..Legolas twitched suddenly awake. His heart pounded in his chest as if he had been running and there was sweat upon his brow. Laersul? Was that Laersul he had seen? Or Thranduil?
He blinked. Beneath him, thick carpets lay over rushes that were cast upon the grass of the Field of Cormallen. He was here, in Ithilien. And beside him, Elrohir, Ráveyön, his beloved, slept.
Suddenly he wanted to be gone, running back into the trees, to the Wood. Home. Home and to see his father, walk into the hardness of his embrace, the boundless love. Tease Thalos, and hug Laersul for all his stalwart, kindly generosity.
He was on his feet and moving when Elrohir turned and murmured in his sleep.
He faltered, and turned his head towards the sleeping elf he loved. Firelight cast a warm glow and gleamed in Elrohir's hair. One hand cupped his own cheek and his eyelashes fluttered slightly as he dreamed.
Legolas paused. How could he leave now? Elrohir was vulnerable, he knew. He had felt the tremor of self-doubt in Elrohir's declaration of love, as if he did not believe that Legolas loved him. That he was so unloveable that he could not be forgiven.
Legolas sighed and went back to Elrohir, lay against him and smoothed a hand over his hair as his father did when Legolas was troubled. He closed his eyes and let his heart ache with homesickness, with the need to go home, to see that all was well. 'Home,' he whispered to Elrohir too softly to wake him, too softly for him to hear. 'I have to go home. I need to …Soon.' For he knew in truth he could not abandon Aragorn just yet. And there were the Hobbits too. And Gimli…whose path home ran with his and to whom he had made promises.
And there was Elrohir, who doubted himself so much and doubted anyone could love him even more.
But he could not shake off the images of the yellow smoke coiling about the trees of his home, or the terrible curdling moans of the elf hoisted upon a lance, and it reminded him bitterly of the Orc he had spared all those long months ago when he first had ridden out with Elrohir Ravéyön, Son of Thunder, and brought his attention, his wrath, his desire upon him.
Still restless he rose after a little while and ducked under the tent door and into the airy cold of the night. Above, the night sky wheeled slowly overhead and around him were the hushed voices of Men on watch. One Man, a little drunk, staggered past and slurred something at Legolas, raising an empty tankard to him as if in a toast. Legolas nodded at him and wove his way between the fires, making his way towards the river.
At the edge of the camp, a small group of sentries ringed one tent he had not noticed before. As he passed, looking curiously, one of the Men greeted Legolas by name and he nodded affably though he did not remember the Man. Oddly, the Man fell in step beside him though Legolas did not wish for company.
'Right glad I am to be back here instead of the Morgul Vale,' the Man said unaware of Legolas' wish to be rid of him.
Legolas turned and looked at him more closely. It was one of the two Men who had clung to each other as they entered the grim and ruined Keep of Minas Morgul. He searched his memory briefly. 'Arduin,' he said suddenly.
The Man smiled with surprised gladness.'You remember me?' he exclaimed. He seemed to feel this gave him permission to walk on with Legolas and Legolas turned his feet towards Aragorn's tent instead, thinking the Man would fall away once he realised where Legolas was headed.
'I have heard tell the Elves remember everything,' Arduin said, a little awed, but pleased nonetheless. He walked silently beside Legolas for a while and then he said, quite suddenly, 'I wish we had not brought back that looking glass. It is a strange and haunted thing.'
Legolas stopped. 'You have brought it with you?' he asked, feeling the same strange lingering sensation that he had felt when he found the glass; cold, dread.
'We have, my lord. Lord Mithrandir commanded it be brought to camp and shut away. Hidden from view. And…we have been told we must not speak of it to anyone. But since it is you, I thought…' He faltered, perhaps considering that Legolas might think he had broken a command.
Hidden from view?
'Where is it?' he asked, almost in contradiction. He wanted to know. And found himself slightly veering alongside the edge of Aragorn's tent, towards the river once more…to keep the Man with him.
Arduin shot him a quick, relieved glance. 'It is in the tent where you found me. We have to guard it day and night.' He shuffled his feet nervously and looked at his feet. 'I wish I did not have to.'
'It is the lingering sense of the Nazgûl,' Legolas said and he felt as if he were standing a long way back and watching himself from afar. 'Fear was their greatest weapon and it is no surprise that something so ancient and so long in their possession should have some …lingering sense of them.' He smiled gently and patted the young Man on the shoulder. 'I was afraid when first I came upon it. But I no longer feel so.' He walked on again, drawing Arduin with him. 'If you feel fear, in the dead of night when you are alone with it, call for me and I will come and stand you company.'
'You will?' The young Man's face was lit by such delight that Legolas hesitated; he hoped Arduin had not mistaken what he suggested. 'Yes. Of course. And I will bring my troublesome friend with me for the fug of pipeweed will drive away any ghouls or ghosties, as he would say.'
'Thank you my lord.' Arduin clasped his hands and giving a small bow, he took his leave of Legolas, returning back to the camp. He looked back over his shoulder a couple of times, and nodded each time that he met Legolas' gaze.
Legolas turned and looked at the long, sinuous darkness of the river. It slipped silently over the grey stones, stretched out a wide expanse of water. It led to the sea. He found himself staring into the blankness and dark, and his face reflected pale and watery…. He was reminded briefly of his own appearance in the glass; the strange half-light had made his skin pallid and ghostly. Like a ghoul. Like a wraith. As if something had peered briefly through the mirror from the other side.
Suddenly Legolas found that he needed Gimli, the earth-deep song, the rumble of his voice and the square, clever hands that could smooth steel like it was silk. He took a breath and realised he had been breathing only shallowly, as if to take a deeper breath might open up the bones of his ribs and expose his heart…
He stumbled back, and shook himself slightly as if to rid himself of a cobweb of dreams, sticky and clinging to his thoughts.
What he needed was company. A drunk dwarf and the smell of pipe-weed, the warmth of friendship. He almost ran from the river, its still darkness like the deep dark within the mirror.
He walked swiftly between the campfires, barely acknowledged the quiet guards as he passed and nodded briefly at the sentries outside Aragorn's tent and ducked his head, emerging into a warm cosy intimacy with a fire burning merrily, the smoke curled upward through a hole in the luxurious tent. Thick carpets were laid over sweet smelling rushes and heavy tapestries hung from the tent frame.
Aragorn sat in a low, comfortable chair pulled up before the fire, with an old, battered field-desk on his knees. Half a glass of wine was on a small table at his elbow and the Man had managed to pull the neck of his fine robe askew and shucked it up over his knees. His boots were muddy. '…so it is abandoned?' he was saying. He stopped and looked up when he saw Legolas.
Gimli sat opposite him in the other low, comfortable chair, boots off, square feet towards the fire.
'I knew you would find us eventually. When you got bored.' Gimli showed his teeth and wiggled his toes. His socks were well darned. The stitches were tiny and neat and barely seen; the same neat stitches darned Legolas' own socks. And found himself smiling. Suddenly he felt normal again, like he had been submerged and now was breathing the air.
Aragorn's face softened and warmed, and Legolas settled himself on the rich, thick rug, stretched his long legs out, remembering his father's study with its own two chairs settled before the fire and a large table nearby, covered in maps held down by anything Thranduil had to hand, glasses, candlesticks, plates of cold uneaten food. And how Galion would tut and fish about in the delicate porcelain bowl for the silver and mithril clips that Galion had had made especially…
He realised that Gimli was watching him with narrowed eye. 'I am tired,' he confessed. 'I keep drifting off. It's all right,' he added quickly seeing Aragorn's concern. 'It is not the Sea-Longing. Just reverie.'
'You need to sleep more,' Gimli observed wryly. Legolas stretched his long legs out and leaned back on his elbows, slid him a smile and quirked an eyebrow cheekily.
Aragorn put the field desk onto the floor beside him. 'I also am weary,' he agreed. 'Almost to the bone. After so long it seems strange to sleep in soft beds and have clean sheets.' He fished about in the pockets of his robes and shook his head in frustration.
Legolas grinned and reached up onto a small table beside him where a long pipe had been left. He handed it to Aragorn with a smile. 'Have they not made these fine robes to your particulars yet? You must tell them what you require, majesty,' he said with a gleam in his eye that was not in the least serious. 'My father has his tailor make pockets in several places in the lining- mainly for knives. But he has also been known to collect small stones of different colours, and leaves. And once, a toad.'
Aragorn gaped and Legolas grinned. 'Perhaps he turned someone into it,' Aragorn blurted out, clearly without thinking.
Legolas laughed. 'No indeed! It was long ago. Anglach put it there when he was small. He thought Adar had said something about a pet toad he had lost and Anglach wanted to comfort him….' He laughed softly; Anglach had adored Thranduil with an uncritical devotion unsurpassed. 'It turned out that he said something entirely different, but for a while it caused an uproar in the Council until Adar gave the toad to Thalos who just quietly took it away.'
Legolas stared into the flames.
'I cannot imagine Thranduil needing comfort from anyone…' Gimli's voice seemed almost disembodied. Which was not true, thought Legolas. His father would need comfort now if…if those visions wrought by Saruman were true…
A soft snort of laughter. Aragorn.
When Thranduil was told of Anglach's death, he had been devastated. He had been silent at first. Then he had slowly risen from his throne and without speaking, cut a swathe through all protests and grief and ridden out, a stream of warriors following behind him for none could catch him up, and smashed his way through the attacking orcs, leaving a bloody mess in his wake.
He was magnificent in his fury. Crushed in his grief.
He tore his gaze from the fire and looked up. 'Forgive me my friends, I am in the past…only in the past,' he reassured them softly.
'We were speaking of that which you found in Minas Morgul,' Gimli said gruffly, as he did when he was trying to cover his emotions. 'A looking glass. Elladan is upset with Gandalf.' He sucked on his pipe and blew out slowly, pleasurably. 'Did you find out any more from his brother?'
Legolas shook his head. 'Not much. Only that he thought this mirror is similar to one in Phellanthir…' He slowed. 'It is much to do with Celebrimbor. Elrohir thought he had made them both.'
'Celebrimbor!' Gimli leaned forwards with interest. 'Now that is interesting indeed. So that old looking glass is made by the master smith himself…I wonder why he wasted time on vanity…'
'And why the Nazgûl would think it worth saving,' Aragorn added.
'I do not think this Glass has any worth,' Legolas found himself saying, again, as if he were standing a long way away from himself and watching his mouth move, words form. 'It is old and faded. There is nothing special about it.'
The firelight flickered in Gimli's eyes and he seemed to scrutinise Legolas shrewdly. 'Nothing special you say? Celebrimbor's mark alone is of incomparable worth. I would like to have a look at it. See the workmanship, even it is only a vanity glass…' He glanced at Aragorn. 'I'd quite like a look at that Palantir as well whilst I'm about it. Now that Sauron is gone.'
Aragorn shifted uncomfortably and Gimli quirked an eyebrow. 'I'm guessing that's a no then.' The dwarf grinned affably but Aragorn looked away and Legolas picked at at his fingernail for someone had mended the sleeves to his tunic and the loose threads were tightly sewn.
It was only a moment of tension between them for they had been through too much to hold their peace. Both gave way and Legolas inclined his head.
'Aragorn, you are the King here and must command. Speak.'
Aragorn laughed gently at the irony of being commanded to speak first; his eyes were soft as he looked at both his friends. 'Gimli, if you wish to look at the Palantir, then you must. For Sauron is vanquished and has no hold upon it. But let me speak first to Gandalf so he can agree. If Gandalf says you may, then do so with my blessing. As for the looking glass, if nothing else, it is a work of great antiquity and the last work of Celebrimbor, except for the Three, and those will vanish soon, into the West.'
Gimli laughed and rubbed his hands. 'I will be the envy of Erebor and all the Kindred, masters and smiths,' he chuckled. 'To be the one to unlock the secrets of Guhnâlzirâmuzbad!'
Too late he pressed his lips together but Legolas had seized upon it. 'That is the name you give Celebrimbor?' he questioned amused. 'What does it mean?'
But when Gimli did not speak Legolas cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. 'I can work this out,' he said cheekily. 'Ziram is silver. No! Glass,' he cried in triumph. 'Yes. I remember. You spoke of the Dwimmerdale as …Keled-ziram.'
'Kheled-zâram,' Gimli corrected fussily. 'Very well, it means Lord of the Glass Doors.'
'Ah,' Aragorn said wisely. 'Of course. The Glass Doors. Now we have seen the doors of Moria, I can see why…'
'Khazad-dûm,'Gimli corrected prickly. He pulled his bushy eyebrows together and frowned at Aragorn. 'Glass,' he said, jabbing his pipe towards Aragorn a little crossly. 'Glass,' he said again, a little more gently for Aragorn was staring at him, confused. 'Do you think the Doors of Moria are made of glass?' he asked kindly now. Aragorn still looked bewildered.
'Those were made of stone, Aragorn,' Legolas reminded him. 'And mithril was used to draw the runes and welcome,' he added slowly as if Aragorn were a little stupid.
'I know that,' Aragorn responded crossly. He pressed his lips together. 'I am not completely stupid.' But Gimli simply looked kindly at the King Returned and Legolas snorted. Aragorn tutted at both of them.
'Really Aragorn. You are going to have to work harder if our people aren't going to completely take advantage of you! Those wily old lords have been dealing with Denethor for decades. You are going to have to sharpen up.'
Aragorn stared at each one in turn, lost for words.
'Lord of the Glass Doors?' Legolas prompted. Then he sighed showily as if Aragorn was supposed to know whatever the secret was about the glass doors. 'Really Aragorn! Obviously there is a mirror like this one in Phellanthir.'
'Obviously!' Aragorn bit back sarcastically. 'Of course.' He didn't want to admit it- but how was he supposed to have made the leap from finding Celebrimbor's mirror in Minas Morgul, to assuming there was one in Phellanthir? Oh. 'There had to be a reason why the Nazgûl were guarding Phellanthir,' he realised
'Yes,' Legolas smiled encouragingly. 'And this one must have been salvaged from when Sauron destroyed the cities of Eregion. But Narvi was a great smith of M…Khazad-dûm and great friends with Celebrimbor. They must have talked all the time about what they were doing, hence the name. It wouldn't surprise me if Narvi wasn't up to his hairy little neck in it!' he said.
Gimli looked pleased. 'So some of my teaching has rubbed off on you after all!' he declared. 'It just goes to show you never can tell what's going in one pointy little ear and out the other and what sticks!' He beamed at Legolas proudly. 'It's the Mirrors, Aragorn ,' he explained slowly and carefully as if Aragorn had trouble keeping up. 'Narvi knew what your man, Celebrimbor was making.'
'Obviously!' Aragorn rolled his eyes. 'They were great friends. So they made them in Khazad-dûm as well?'
'Yes!' Gimli looked absurdly pleased with both of them. 'There are tales of a Hall of Glass, where the seer could walk upon and through light. The spectrum was like a tangible thing, Narvi's writing tells of this. And Azaghâl writes of the many mirrors that lined the hall and the light stretched. He wrote as well of the copper used to construct the hall and that mithril was smelted down to make an ore so pure it changed the very nature of the observed. …It makes fascinating reading. I must lend to to you sometime.'
Aragorn leaned forwards, intrigued. 'Do you think the halls survived the Balrog? It would be a wonder to see,' he said suddenly interested. 'Or do you think the Balrog's heat would have melted the glass?'
'Oh I am sure the Balrog never came there,' said Gimli cheerfully and, Aragorn thought, unreasonably optimistic. 'It would be worth exploring and seeing what remains'
But Legolas was silent. He suddenly felt like he was standing on the very edge of darkness and staring beyond into the chasm of Night.
Note: For those of you anxious that Legolas has had no messages from home, there is one on its way but won’t arrive until the next chapter. He did receive news of home at the very end of Sons II. Celeborn had met with Thranduil under the eaves of Mirkwood so he knew at least his father was safe.
Also I have posted another chapter of Black Arrow - if you have been reading that, you’ll be getting some strong hints about the way things are panning out in Mirkwood - or they will be. Next couple of weeks are intense but I have the next chapter of Black Arrow almost done.
If you want to read about the chess game and how it led to a kiss, I have posted the short fic, Imrahil on Ao3 and ffnet as I realised I hadn’t. It’s been on Faerie for ages.
Also, apologies for the delay- just work.
Thank you as always to the very wonderful Anarithilen.
Also to the very many encouraging reviewers. Thank you.
Chapter 6: Alliances
Aragorn spread his hands over the map, which some valet or page or another had carefully unrolled and fixed on his desk with ornate and beautiful paperweights. He glanced at them, noting the craftsmanship and skimming his finger over the plotted marks that showed where was still fighting with the remnants of the Easterlings and Southrons: even now Aragorn’s army was engaged in skirmishes in the northern parts of Mordor. Indeed he had dispatched Legolas and Gimli to pursue a steady stream of Orc troops that were fleeing north, and Eomer led the skirmishes to the east into Mordor. All the Orcs were killed, but Men they took prisoner and these had been sent back with the wounded and were housed in smaller tents dotted around the camp.
Aragorn cast about for the scribbled notes he had made after each meeting with the captive leaders. He had greeted each of the chieftains with courtesy and having found a number of interpreters, been able to converse and parley with many of them. The sheaf of notes was piled on the corner of the desk and he shuffled through them, skimming the notes rapidly. He thought something had been said that niggled away in the back of his mind but he could not remember and could not find them now. There was a neater pile of scrolls, carefully arranged and tied with a red ribbon and sealed with his own mark that were neatly stacked on another table. These were the treaties he had made with the Easterling and Southron chieftains.
But not with all of them. One of the chiefs of the Easterlings, a Man called Kustîg, had refused to speak to Aragorn and had spat at his feet when he was brought before the new King. The interpreter had eventually been persuaded to translate that Kustîg believed that Aragorn should be killed for his crimes against the Dark God-King, Sauron, the Bringer of Gifts, Lord of Life. ‘Kustîg the Red says that the King will curse the day he set his hand against the Dark God,’ the translator had said, head bowed and trembling before Aragorn as if he expected to be struck down for speaking such words. Kustîg had gone on to say a lot more before he had been dragged out by Aragorn’s outraged guards. But he was not the only one who spoke such threats. Aragorn sighed and bowed his head. He did not know what to do with these intransigent Men.
‘You must keep trying,’ Gandalf had said kindly, patiently. ‘Do not give up. Peace is hard to build and war an easy stroke of a sword. You must hope for understanding. Hope for peace.’
And there were those amongst his newly formed Council who advised him that if Kustîg would not sue for peace, he could easily be displaced by another of the Men who would be more inclined to bow his head to Aragorn’s liege. They did not say how Aragorn should ‘displace’ Kustîg, and Aragorn did not want to think about that right now. It was one thing to kill a Man in battle. Another thing entirely to assassinate a political enemy in cold blood. And as his prisoner.
No. He could not do it. He would not. There must be another way, he decided.
Outside the air was warm and Spring was here; it felt like the earth was turning slowly to awaken and birds were singing in the trees near the river. Longingly, Aragorn looked through the open curtains that were doors to his tent, deep brocade and ornate. They were tied back with heavily embroidered silk rope. There was movement near the door and he saw the guards had changed. From his desk, he nodded courteously to the guard who had just come to stand at his door.
‘Good morning, Arvon,’ he said.
The Man nodded back. ‘Good morning, your majesty.’
Aragorn could not quite get used to that. He was uncomfortable too with the politicking and constant need for diplomacy, although he knew too that he was good at that. But he wished Gimli were here, and Legolas, to keep his feet on the ground. Even better, he wished he were with them, riding together, fighting the Orcs that had been sighted fleeing across the Dead Marshes.
With his finger, he traced the route that Gimli reported the Orcs were taking and which he had plotted on the map. On their way North, Aragorn thought. Perhaps making their way to the Misty Mountains? There had been a rather larger number than he had expected after Sauron’s defeat at the Morannon, but if they escaped now, they would have to pass through or near Mirkwood.
To his left were a pile of letters and messages on his desk. Amongst them were letters from Celeborn. A second messenger had arrived from the Lord of Lothlorien with more detailed news of the war elsewhere. In his letter to Aragorn he told how he had met with Thranduil’s forces under the eaves of Mirkwood and together they had ploughed their strength anew against Dol Guldur and driven back Sauron’s forces there so they fled into the forest. Thranduil had departed then in pursuit and Celeborn had returned to Lothlorien.
There were three other unopened letters; two from Celeborn for Elrohir and Elladan, and one from Thranduil for Legolas. There were also formal greetings of course, a hastily written note from the field of battle from Thranduil but he had not said much other than to congratulate Aragorn on his victory and hope that he would accept Legolas as representative at his coronation for Thranduil was still engaged in skirmishes, he said, but not full-scale battle by any means, in the north of the forest.
There are still skirmishes in Mirkwood, Aragorn thought carefully. And there were Orcs fleeing the Morannon to go North. He wondered if they were deliberately joining the battle in Mirkwood…But surely not? Surely there was no great design or mind behind the orcs now? Sauron was vanquished, gone and the Orcs were rootless and simply fleeing to wherever they might find refuge. There were skirmishes everywhere, he knew. For he had marked all reports on the map in front of him and they were scattered all over Middle Earth from the edges of Mordor to Imladris.
He tapped his finger on the dark green shading that denoted Mirkwood on the map and shook his head. No. This must be coincidence, he thought. The Orcs could be going to Gundabad, or to the Misty Mountains. Or even further.
He glanced back over his shoulder at the piles of letters and messages. The messages for Gimli and Legolas lay to one side but he did not think they would return until the evening or even the following day.
A blackbird sang loudly in the tree outside his tent and the grass crushed beneath the carpets and rugs smelled sweet and fresh. He pushed back his heavy carved chair suddenly and stood up. Arvon glanced in but said nothing and Aragorn grabbed his pipe and went out into the morning sun to find the Hobbits.
The Hobbits always sat outside Frodo’s tent to smoke a Between-Breakfast pipe, as Pippin called it. It was the last of the Longbottom Leaf that Sam was generously sharing with the rest of them. But whilst the other hobbits sprawled on the grass, Frodo sat in a deeply upholstered armchair that had been brought out for him. Even though it was not Man-size, he still looked swamped in, lost and diminished. But Merry refused to think of that and instead concentrated on the joy of having Frodo back at all. And Sam seemed somehow taller, nobler than Merry had ever realized; his gentle care of Frodo had become something else and Merry almost looked away for the sudden pang in his heart of what had happened to them.
‘Gimli will be sorry to have missed this,’ Pippin observed, unaware of Merry’s thoughts. He was wiggling his feet admiringly. Pippin was always a trifle vain about his feet, having been told from a young age that his feet were particularly fine. His toes he thought rather elegant and he had brushed the hair so it shone. Merry smirked at him knowingly and was about to make a comment when Pippin suddenly leapt to his feet and gave an exaggerated and sweeping bow. Frodo laughed.
‘Good morning, your majesty!’ Frodo cried and it was a joy to hear the pleasure in his voice.
It was Aragorn and all of them were delighted to see him for he had been stuck away with the Great and the Good, as Gimli called them. Merry scooted up and made room for Aragorn and the King settled on the grass between them happily, drawing out his pipe. He accepted Sam’s Longbottom Leaf with a pleased smile and filled his pipe.
Merry watched him as he lit it and leaned back with a contented smile, blowing a long stream of smoke between his lips but Merry noted the lines under his eyes and the tiredness in his face.
‘Look! Strider’s back!’ Pippin said and Aragorn smiled.
‘He has never been away,’ Merry said kindly because he thought Aragorn looked like he needed this.
‘Have Legolas and Gimli returned yet?’ Pippin asked.
Merry glanced at him quickly for Pippin was always anxious when any of the Fellowship were away and he had been especially protective of Legolas since that dreadful time on the Mindolluin, when the Nazgûl had pursued the elf and he had returned broken and empty. Although Pippin had had to tell Merry about the ordeal, for Merry himself had been a victim of the Black Breath and been almost unaware of what was happening. Merry watched Pippin carefully, for he worried about Pippin and Pippin and Gimli worried about Legolas, and Legolas watched Aragorn and Sam, and they all worried about Frodo.
‘They are on their way back,’ Aragorn said as he stretched out his ridiculously long legs and crossed his feet. He drew on his pipe and let a steady stream of thin smoke spiral upwards soothingly.
‘Good,’ Pippin said. ‘I don’t like it when any of us are away. We should have some time together before…Well. Before we go home I suppose.’ But though they all missed the Shire, Merry knew that none of them were in a rush now. Except for Sam perhaps, who was convinced that Rosie Cotton was in the arms of some young farmer from Bywater.
‘When will you return to the city?’ Frodo asked Aragorn quietly. The deep and comfortable armchair made him look smaller even though the colour was slowly returning to his cheeks and he was getting a slight roundness that hobbits should all have. But he was still too thin and his appetite woefully poor. ‘I wouldn’t mind a hot bath and a proper roof over my head.’ Frodo laughed softly. ‘It is no time at all since I thought just a taste of water would be enough to satisfy me forever but it seems I have quickly begun to take things for granted that only weeks ago I thought I would never see again.’
In the quiet moment that followed, Pippin reached out and patted Frodo’s hand and Merry puffed rather energetically on his pipe. But Frodo met Sam’s eyes and a smile of such tenderness passed between them that Merry felt overwhelmed and humbled and Aragorn looked away.
‘We were wondering how long we are going to stay here, Strider,’ said Sam after a moment.
‘Yes. Hot baths and proper beds all around, I’d say,’ Merry added more brightly, wanting this sadness to evaporate and get some cheer back in their hearts. He missed Eowyn in truth and was keen to see how she was getting on with Faramir.
‘Soon,’ Aragorn replied. ‘Imrahil has been writing to Faramir so the preparations are made. We will take the ships and sail down the Anduin to Osgiliath. Then ride back to Minas Tirith where I hope Faramir will come and meet me.’
‘Is there any doubt?’ Merry asked quickly, feeling a little surge of irritation at the suggestion that Faramir might refuse. He could not imagine the quiet, serious young Man he had left in the houses of Healing being anything but good and honourable…like Boromir had been at the end, he thought but did not speak.
‘I hope not,’ Aragorn replied. ‘But he is the Steward and Denethor’s son.’
Merry frowned and began to speak but Pippin interjected helpfully, ‘And Boromir’s brother.’
‘He is very different from Boromir,’ Merry said quickly. ‘And anyway, Boromir was affected by the Ring for such a long time. But he became himself again in the end.’ He remembered that terrible day when they had been assailed and Boromir lost his life defending him and Pippin, and they were carried off by the horrible Orcs and goblins.
‘Yes, he did,’ Pippin said rather loudly and then looked away because Frodo glanced at him quickly.
Merry pursed his lips anxiously, seeing the way the conversation had become difficult and uncomfortable but they had just wanted to enjoy Aragorn’s company. There was so much more to be said even now, he thought. So much to work out and untangle between all of them.
‘Faramir will be happy to have you as King, I am sure,’ he said reassuringly. ‘After all, you healed him from the Black Breath.’
‘That is true,’ Aragorn agreed. ‘But Denethor would never have accepted anyone else… and from the start, Boromir merely expressed what many of Gondor will be thinking: I have been raised by elves, lived amongst the Men of the North and though some may have heard of Thorongil, Denethor’s jealousy made sure my name did not linger for long in the minds of Gondor.’ He tapped down his pipe and relit it for it had gone out. ‘If Boromir had lived,’ he continued, ‘It would have been far easier. These great lords have only ever known a Steward, and would have followed Boromir’s lead. I do not know what hold Faramir has. I do not know what they think of a King that has lived all these long years amongst the elves, and his father and grandfather before that. To them, I am a foreigner. An interloper.’
‘But you have just led them to victory! You have defeated Sauron.’ Merry could not help himself from bursting out like Pippin would have done.
‘Frodo and Sam defeated Sauron,’ Aragorn declared proudly, looking at the two hobbits. ‘And I would take nothing from them. In truth had they failed, I would have led the army to certain destruction.’ He spread his hands wide and his grey eyes were serious. ‘The city would have been left open to Sauron’s forces…’ He held Merry’s gaze and then said more quietly, ‘There are some who say it every day around the camp if you choose to listen.’
Aragorn said it practically, and Merry knew it was true. Quietly behind their hands or closed doors, only a few but the quiet and discrete hobbits heard much that they were not intended to. And Merry knew that if Aragorn did not govern well and strongly, those few dissenters would become more. And he was still unknown to these Men who had followed Denethor and Boromir for all the years against Sauron.
‘In their minds,’ Aragorn continued reasonably, ‘I did not come to their aid until the very end when hope had come unlooked for and timely, from Rohan. There will be those who judged my arrival as too timely- they ask why I did not fight with them before, why did I leave it until the very end to join my people.’ He shrugged for he understood. ‘They have not heard of Strider, or Thorongil. They do not know that I have been at their side albeit under a different name. I need Faramir to accept me so that they will too…If they see Faramir as a worthy successor to Denethor, to Boromir.’ He glanced around at the serious, concerned faces of the hobbits. ‘It is what they say, and I cannot blame them.’
‘Then I choose not to listen,’ declared Sam stoutly. ‘We would never have even got to Rivendell if we hadn’t met you, Strider. The Ring would be Sauron’s by now if it weren’t for you and I for one will stand up and tell them that!’
And while Merry agreed with him, he agreed with Aragorn too that he and Faramir needed an alliance, that Aragorn had indeed called Faramir back from the Black Breath. But Merry had also seen how Faramir looked upon Eowyn. But Eowyn looked upon Aragorn with the same breathless hope. And Aragorn was to be wed to Arwen.
It didn’t look very easy at all to Merry.
Indeed at supper, Aragorn sat and listened, for the same conversation was being rehearsed again with the lords of Gondor. He was tired of worrying about it, thinking about it and just wanted it to be over. He toyed with a piece of meat, wiping it around his plate with his fork.
‘… the people must know, my lord, that you are among them and taking your rightful place.’ Lord Angbor had journeyed with him from the battle in Lebennin where Aragorn had appeared out of nowhere with the forgotten army of the Dead, and Angbor had bowed his head and pledged fealty to Aragorn. Loyal, honest, completely trustworthy. Aragorn had been pleased to include him in his new Council. Others, he was less pleased with but knew he had no choice if he was to rule. Lord Herion sat opposite, thin mouth and wary, mistrustful eyes. It was he who had spoken against going to Minas Morgul. He was one Aragorn had yet to convince. And there were others. He glanced down the long table where his lords were sitting, waited upon, eating from silver platters, wiping their mouths, drinking wine. He caught Elrohir’s gaze upon him, concerned, understanding and raised an eyebrow very slightly, knowing his brother would notice. Elrohir’s mouth curled, amused, and he lifted his glass. He noticed that Elladan sat lower down the table, next to Imrahil. It was surprising that Imrahil had been seated so far from the King and Aragorn wondered who had been able to manipulate the seating to ensure some were closer to him than others and so had his ear.
Suddenly Aragorn wanted nothing more than a camp fire and his brothers’ company. Or the Fellowship. Halbarad. Ah, Halbarad – if only he could have seen Aragorn now. But he only nodded at Angbor’s point and continued to wipe the meat around his plate.
‘But what of Faramir? He must be made to acknowledge the King first, humble himself…’ Forlong’s son, Aragorn could not remember his name, who had yet to be declared as his fallen father’s successor, was young and fervent. And ardently supportive of the King. Too headstrong, rash, he needed to be refined and moulded and then he would be a great ally, thought Aragorn, wondering if he was married yet and if not, could he be found a suitable wife…Then stopped himself. This was exactly what was going through the minds of every great House here; find the King a suitable wife, forge an alliance with the new King, have influence. The sooner Arwen arrived and put a stop to that the better.
‘Faramir will not humble himself!’ a voice further down the table raised in protest. He could not remember the name of this lord; dark hair, grey eyes. Typical Gondor stock.
‘Indeed not! Why should he? He is the son of the Steward and raised to govern. True, Denethor was completely mad by the end, but it was not always so.’
Aragorn stirred himself and looked about his council. He really did not know many of them and trusted fewer. It was old lord Herion who spoke last.
‘Remember it was Faramir who held Ithilien for all those years. He fought the Enemy far from the shelter of the city.’ Herion rapped his stick against the table leg grumpily. He had been one of Denethor’s right hand men. He was powerful, owned much of the land that had been despoiled by Sauron’s army but was fertile agricultural land that would be needed to feed the city. Aragorn knew he had to make an ally of Herion. He was of an old family with strong allegiances to other old families…All of whom would be hoping for an allegiance to the new King. A wedding to an elf would not make this any easier.
‘Lord Faramir will certainly not humble himself before me,’ Aragorn spoke with quiet authority. ‘And I will not require it. He has acquitted himself with very great honour and I intend to have him at my side to help me rule. He knows this city, this land. He loves it as I do. It is in his blood, as it is in mine. We share kindred.’ Aragorn looked challengingly around the table. Gandalf was seated quietly at the far end but his blue eyes were approving. ‘I will request that Faramir visit me before we go into the city and he will ride at my right hand. Indeed it is at his invitation that I will enter, and only then.’
There was a murmur of approval.
‘And how will Faramir be known once you are King?’ Herion challenged. His pale blue eyes were rheumy but there was no doubt in them now. He clutched the silver top of his cane. The veins of his hands were thick and blue, his skin translucent with age. But his hands still wielded a sword well and power even more accurately, heavily. Aragorn met the Man’s eyes but he did not smile; he must appear stronger than any other, fill them with confidence that here was their leader. Here was their King.
Aragorn paused. He had not considered Faramir’s title; it was an important point, he realized now it had been said. But his face betrayed nothing. ‘I think that is something for my steward and I to discuss, Lord Herion. Do you not think? But the title of Steward has long been an honourable one and I see no reason that it should not continue.’
The satisfaction on Herion’s face was reward enough and Aragorn glanced around to see that Elrohir had the slightest of smiles on his face but it was full of pride. He raised his glass and nodded at Aragorn.
‘Let us raise a toast to Faramir, guardian of Ithilien and Steward to the King!’
The words were echoed and Elrohir smiled appreciatively, catching Aragorn’s eye: Steward to the King- the emphasis firmly on the King’s authority.
Elladan had positioned himself discretely. He leaned nonchalantly against a tent post, one knee bent, resting his foot against the pole, arms folded over his chest.
‘You look like a heraldic device; elf sable upon an argent field,’ a voice murmured by his ear.
‘Hear anything useful?’ Imrahil shifted to stand in front of him now, so he had to slightly look up for the Man was almost as tall as he when Elladan stood upright. Imrahil held two glasses of wine, and held one out to Elladan. Their fingers touched briefly and Elladan felt a frisson of erotic desire fizzle through his fingers, his hands. He almost looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, but there were similar little knots of men gathered about, talking, their eyes cut this way and that to observe, to note, to judge. Who was talking to whom? Who was making a deal, and alliance? Who was closest to the new King?
‘Aragorn’s refusal to humiliate Faramir has been well received,’ said Imrahil in his smooth urbane voice, his attention all on Elladan. It brought the small hairs on his neck up, shivered pleasurably
‘Faramir is clearly well thought of, if weaker than his brother, the ill-fated Boromir.’ Elladan pulled a sour face for he had heard of the Man’s fall from grace, his attempt to wrest the Ring from Frodo and whilst the Fellowship were forgiving and defended him, Elladan could not.
‘Be wary of how you speak of my late nephew.’
Elladan glanced up to see a flash of anger in Imrahil’s sharp blue eyes. He looked away sheepishly and inclined his head, acknowledging the slight. ‘Forgive me. I suppose I only saw him when the Ring was pulling him. I did not know him at his best.’
Imrahil’s lips parted in a breath. He looked at Elladan more softly. ‘That is true and it grieves me more than I can speak that at the end of his life he was so corrupted. But you know, he was a great leader.’ He sighed and bent his head. The lamplight gleamed on his dark hair. ‘Had Aragorn arrived with Boromir, there would be none who questioned his right to rule. If Boromir had bent his knee to Aragorn, all would follow … Faramir is loved. But he is not Boromir.’ He swirled his wine in the glass and looked into its depths. ‘Faramir is gentler, better for peace, for conciliation. He would be a good choice for Steward in this new Age.’
Elladan felt unsophisticated, gauche for his unthinking remark. He stepped closer so his arm pressed against Imrahil’s, and he leaned towards the Man. Impulsively, he said, ‘May I come to you tonight?’
Imrahil inclined his head with a slight smile and to any onlooker, it was merely two great lords close to the King conferring, agreeing. Indeed there were many others who were; Herion stood nearby talking to one of his sons and Angbor laughed loudly at something Aragorn had said.
It was the first time Elladan had asked Imrahil for any more than a game of chess. And the only time they had shared anything more than a handshake was at Legolas’ contrivance. Elladan felt a tremor of lust and anxiety at the eager anticipation in Imrahil’s eyes and looked away quickly. He licked his lips suddenly gone dry at the thought of the Man, his strong, wiry body, older, not an Elf. The crinkles at the side of his eyes, the lines near his mouth that showed where he laughed.
‘I have maps of that area in my tent,’ Imrahil said a little more loudly so Herion and his son turned their heads slightly. ‘Let me show you, my lord. I think you will find what you are looking for amongst them.’ He drained his glass quickly, too quickly and threw a bright, mischievous glance at Elladan and then walked out. Elladan stood for a moment, astonished, alarmed and then followed him.
Imrahil had arrived before Elladan so that when Elladan stepped through the doorway of the pavilion, Imrahil had his back to Elladan and pouring wine. He had already thrown off his formal robes, cast them carelessly upon a wooden trunk, and stood in a thin shirt, breeches that were tight over his thighs, his buttocks, and long boots that were very fine. His black hair was cut shoulder-length and he had pulled it back now and tied it with a leather string as if for business. When Elladan stood in the doorway, Imrahil turned towards him, two goblets in his hands and his piercing blue eyes were bright.
‘I did not mistake your intention?’ he asked. But his eyes were calm, anticipating. And Elladan was nervous. He had never really desired another man until Legolas had kissed him aboard the Sea Song, never even thought about it…
No. That was not true.
He had had a crush on Erestor for years. Until Erestor had kindly, carefully rebuffed him, so gently that he never even realized, until he stopped dreaming of the older man’s strange amber eyes, his subtle gaze, his straight-backed stride…Erestor had always been his guardian. Always watched for him. When he was pushed away by his mother in that careless, kindly way, it was Erestor who was there…
He decided that there was something about Imrahil that reminded him of Erestor. Perhaps that was why he found the Man so attractive? He must be his ‘type’ he thought, and took the proffered wine, threw it down his throat quickly so it curled in his belly like warmth, like Erestor’s kindly arm thrown about his shoulder. But Elladan didn’t want kindness; a thrilling excitement fluttered in his belly, in his loins.
Imrahil took the empty goblet from him and their fingers brushed against each other. He smiled and then took Elladan’s hand in his, drew him into the pavilion and with his other hand, loosed the rope that held the tent flap open so it fell back and shut out the sun, shut out all sound. With one hand he quickly looped the rope over a hook in the frame so anyone trying to enter would have to struggle with the heaviness of the curtain, and a second curtain fell around them so they were enveloped in heavy silk and embroidered tapestries, the world shut out, sounds muffled.
‘Come here,’ said Imrahil and he led Elladan to the bed, covered in cushions and down-filled quilts. The Man smiled and sank down amongst the cushions. He toed his boots off and kicked them away, pulling his shirt loose from the waistband of his breeches. Reclining back amongst the silk cushions and pillows he held out his hand and Elladan took it, sank down with the Prince of Dol Amroth.
When Imrahil kissed him, he tasted the wine on his lips, smelt it on his breath, licked it from his mouth. It was different from kissing a woman, he thought. He liked a woman’s lips moist but found he liked the dryness of Imrahil.
When he pulled the leather tie from Imrahil’s hair, Imrahil’s hand were thrust into his own hair and his head pulled back. Imrahil looked deeply into his eyes, the blue of his own irises the colour, Elladan thought, of the sea on a clear day, a day when the sun shines upon it and it is smooth like blue silk. Imrahil smiled as if he read his thoughts and kissed him hard, pushing his tongue into Elladan’s mouth and plucking at the ties of his tunic, his shirt, tugging his own from his body and pressing hard against him.
Imrahil’s hard hands were already upon Elladan’s own flesh, kneading and stroking alternately, and his licking and sucking and biting and kissing merged into one rolling sensation after another and Elladan did not know where he ended and Imrahil started for their flesh, their skin, hair, lips, thighs pressed and rubbed against each other in a delicious ecstasy. He felt his cock bulging so hard he thought he might burst before it was time and quickly pinched the end to suppress the climactic ecstasy that threatened to tip him over.
‘Lie down,’ Imrahil murmured into his hair.
Elladan hesitated and then lay himself down on the bed, stretched out naked and looked up at Imrahil.
Imrahil tossed back the last of his wine while he looked admiringly, appreciatively at Elladan. ’You are the most beautiful man I have ever seen.’
Elladan didn’t quite know what to say; he was not used to thinking of himself like that. Healer, warrior, lore-master. But not beautiful. He lifted his hand and stroked back Imrahil’s hair wondering what he should say in return but he did not need to for Imrahil bore down upon him then and pressed his mouth against Elladan’s, pushed his tongue in so he thought he would faint and let his hands catch at Elladan’s balls, his cock, squeeze and twist and pump until he arched and lifted himself from the bed in anguished desire.
He knew words broke from his lips but did not know what they were for he was overcome and felt the churning in his balls. He cried out once but immediately Imrahil flipped him over and Elladan’s face was in the pillows, smelling of Imrahil, his faint perfume of spice and musk. Imrahil’s hands were slick with oil and he firmly kneaded Elladan’s flesh, slid his hands over his shoulders, his back, his thighs and then slid between the crease of his flesh, pressed at him.
‘You are tense, my beautiful warrior.’ Imrahil stilled his hand and leaned over Elladan’s back, breathed over his neck so a shiver went down his spine. His hands were gentler now, he pushed Elladan’s legs apart with his knee and stroked his balls from behind. A lovely thrill of desire shot through Elladan. ‘I will be gentle, I promise…but next time I will devour you.’
There was a slow push of oiled fingers first that Elladan baulked at and then gagged the cry that pushed from his mouth as a hot, blunt hardness pushing against his clenched muscles. He felt Imrahil pause and consider.
‘Do you wish me to stop?’ Imrahil leaned over him, gently brushed his hair back from his face so he could see how Elladan had pressed his face into the pillow like some virgin.
Elladan slowed his breathing and slowly let himself relax. He shook his head and Imrahil covered his fists, bunched and clenched into the silk sheets. He took Elladan’s fingers and slowly uncurled them, kissed them and stroked his hair, his shoulders, pushed between them and stroked a fingernail over his own cock. Sudden desire flooded him then and he twisted about to press his mouth against Imrahil’s, wound his arms about the Man’s neck and pulled him close. Imrahil gasped and pushed Elladan back down and then the blunt, hot hardness pressed further and his tender skin tore and stretched and burned. He cried out at the slow pain that suddenly changed into liquid pooling of desire. Oh but now his cry was astonished and wondrous and he pushed back, wanting the touch, the friction over that place. There it was again, and again, and he found himself shoving back as hard as Imrahil, grasping, clutching, panting so that all thoughts and words were driven from him. He pushed up onto his hands and knees to push himself back, impale himself on the column of hard muscle inside him. There was Imrahil’s hand clutching him around his waist and with an impatient cry, Elladan grabbed it and clamped it around his own full, hard cock, so hot, so needy, and pumped it with Imrahil’s hand, once, twice and he exploded in liquid, sticky climax.
He felt Imrahil jerk against him and then still, but his head was ringing and he blinked sweat from his eyes. A hand stroked down his flanks and he felt Imrahil slowly, very carefully withdraw. But even so, it hurt and he wished it did not.
Imrahil collapsed on the bed, laughing softly.
‘Well my warrior, that I have waited for ever since I first met you.’
Elladan rolled onto his back and turned his head to look at Imrahil. He had leaned over and swiped up a cloth from beside the bed and was wiping his hands, then his own thighs. He handed a clean one to Elladan and smiled, his teeth flashed in the twilight that was inside the tent.
When Elladan did not reply, Imrahil’s face became concerned, serious. ‘Do not regret this, Elladan. I know what this is.’
But Elladan was not thinking that. He was thinking instead that his heart was full and he loved this Man.
He reached out and cupped Imrahil’s cheek and leaned over for a slow, deep kiss. ‘I have no regret,’ he said.
Aragorn had noticed Imrahil and Elladan’s departure and glanced at Elrohir.
If Elrohir had not looked so concerned, he would not have felt anything other than pleased that his most important ally and his brother were getting on well. Lord Herion was still speaking and he could not just make an excuse and wander casually over to Elrohir to ask wherefore he was so concerned.
‘So the need is more pressing than we thought,’ Gandalf was saying and Aragorn tore his attention back to the discussion. ‘It is time, I think, to return to Minas Tirith. Send messengers to Faramir, Aragorn, telling him what you intend and asking him to make ready and then come and meet you.’
Aragorn nodded. ‘Very well. We will start to decamp in the morning. And besides,’ he added softly, ‘the hobbits wish for a hot bath and roof over their head. I will see it done.’
There was a murmur of agreement infused with wonder, for the Men of Gondor were not only getting used to their new King, but the idea that Halflings had made the journey into Mordor and it was they who had, in truth, defeated the Dark Lord.
‘The ships are already moored in the Anduin, your majesty,’ Angbor said. ‘We will start to embark in the morning.’
There was a murmur of agreement and Aragorn thought that at least they agreed on something. When he glanced over at Elrohir though, his brother was staring into nothing and his lips were parted, his grey eyes full of fear.
Happy Birthday Spiced Wine and Alpha- sorry this is late. And Happy Valentine to everyone else.
Thank you to everyone who pointed out that my spell check had automatically changed ERESTOR to erector in the last chapter. How embarrassing!! It was very intrusive.
Chapter 7: Dagorlad
Ahead of them black shapes scuttled against the yellow-brown grass, dried and scorched and drowned all at once, for this was Dagorlad and ahead were the Dead Marshes. The orcs, strung out like lines of marching ants, hoped to reach the marshes where the horses could not go and they could pick off the pursuing Men more easily than turn and fight a pitched battle. Legolas had hoped not to go there but he would not back away from pursuit of the shuffling orcs as they fled north. He felt Gimli hands stuck in his belt, clinging tightly and Arod’s muscles bunched and stretched as he charged amongst the Dunedain and Rohirrim.
Beside him Eomer’s chestnut stallion, Firefoot, galloped, his long tail lifted high and floating behind him. His master’s plume pulled at the same angle and the weak sunlight glinted on Eomer’s drawn sword. For the Orcs that Eomer had been hunting in the East of Mordor had turned north and fled through the gaping ruin of the Morannon and into Dagorlad where Legolas and Gimli hunted with the remains of Aragorn’s Dunedain.
Now Legolas was trapped under Eomer’s hurt and accusing gaze every time they paused or the orcs turned for a final desperate stand. But for now, they were fighting and that suited both of them.
‘Forth Eorlingas!’ Eomer’s cry and Arod, horse of Rohan lifted his tail and sped after Firefoot. Legolas reached behind him for arrows and shot over Eomer’s head towards the orcs. Black shapes fell ahead of them and then swiftly, they were among the orcs.
Legolas pulled Arod up momentarily for Gimli to slide down and then was off again, galloping in a wide circle with other archers around the orcs. Legolas leaned down and fired one arrow after another. Arrows whizzed into the pack of orcs and their panicked faces turned briefly towards the archers of Rohan before they returned fire. A horse stumbled ahead of Legolas and he felt a moment of fear for it was a bright chestnut and he thought it might have been Eomer’s Firefoot but at that same moment, Eomer’s voice carried over the noise away to the left. Legolas emptied his quiver sooner than the other archers and leapt from Arod into the fray, knives drawn and heart pounding with excitement. He saw the glint of Gimli’s axe in a sweep upwards, spattered in blood and strung with black gore.
A ululating cry broke from his own lips and he cast himself into the horde, whipping his knives over throats and faces so they split in a horrible grin that showed teeth and bone. Thick blood gushed and spattered over everything. He turned to smash the pommel of his knife into a face, ground it like jelly and with a cry of anguish, the orc fell onto its knees. He whirled about and kicked it hard in the gut so it fell and as it did, he slowed and drew his long white knife across its throat so its clumsy hands clutched at the red line that burbled from its throat.
Legolas reached down and shoved his fingers into the gap that had opened and groped for the long tubes and strings. He found them, and twisted. He tilted his head slightly as the orc’s eyes widened, its mouth opened and gasped, and fell at his feet.
He turned to catch Gimli’s eyes upon him.
Legolas strode past him, knives gleaming wet and still hungry. ‘For Anglach,’ he said briefly as he passed. Gimli watched him with no understanding but Legolas did not care. It was Anglach he saw before him; laughing, sweetly smiling as he delivered some barb that was only ever meant in affection.
Ahead of him an orc ran and he nodded to himself. This one would pay as well. Every orc he killed now was for Anglach. And Naurion whom he could not save from the Nazgûl when orcs attacked Smeagol’s guards and released the evil creature. He leapt in front of the orc; it was already wounded but its fierce, ugly face snarled when it saw Legolas and turned to face him. In one hand a crude iron sabre, in the other a round iron buckler spiked and sharp-edged.
He hefted his knives in each hand and then sprang at the orc. It met both knives with the iron sabre it clutched and then swung the buckler into Legolas’ shoulder. He leapt away but too late for the buckler caught his shoulder and hurled him off balance and Legolas thumped down onto the hard ground with the orc snarling and teeth bared above him. A mighty punch in his gut from the orc’s knee as it crunched down upon him, bellowing rage. Legolas swung with his knife but the Orc bashed his hand back and ground it against a stone. The small bones in Legolas’ hand cracked and he cried out in pain, the nerves froze and the knife flew from his hand.
‘You think you have won,’ it sneered. ‘But you should see Mirkwood. We have slain your brother and raped his woman.’
A flash of an image before him…yellow smoke, a body hoisted high, twitched and gave a low groan...
Cold fury flooded him. He bunched his muscles and gave a huge buck, unseating the Orc so it crashed sideways. Instantly he was on his feet and kicked the Orc in the chin so it flew backwards. Violence possessed him. Rage that he had never known. It was as if something inside him had unfrozen and kindled and now ran like fire in his veins, some revenge for the savagery done to Anglach, for the terrible threat and fear for Laersul.
He knocked the orc to the ground and jabbed his fingers in its eyes. Twisted and dug so it screamed and tore at his face. He crushed its arm with his knee and with one had digging into its eye sockets, with his free hand, he grasped its throat and squeezed with all his might. Red flooded his vision and he saw the Orc’s mouth open gasping. The jelly of its eyeballs slid beneath his fingers and he gouged it out, squeezed and the roar of blood in his ears drowned out the screaming of the orc, the shouting. He lifted his hand from the orc’s throat, his fingers still grasped about its windpipe and ripped, so that the tubes and strings of its throat came away in his hand and the burbling rattle of the orc finally stilled.
When he shoved himself to his feet, looking around wildly for the next orc, he saw only the shocked faces of the Rohirrim. Slowly, his breathing calmed and the roar of blood in his ears stopped pounding. He felt a heavy, square hand on his shoulder and turned his face, blinking and stunned, towards Gimli. The dwarf’s face was sober and kindly.
‘Stop now, Legolas. You have done enough.’
He looked down to see black fluid stained his fingernails and bits of jelly and skin flecked his tunic, his hands. There was a taste of iron on his lips.
‘They have killed Laersul,’ he said dully. ‘They have killed my brother.’ And Theliel…It was all true. Saruman had not lied.
Gimli wrote in his careful, neat hand. Pen scratched on the parchment. He was meticulous in his reports to Aragorn and detailed the route taken by the Orcs, how many had been killed and a brief description of any common features, such as the Eye or other insignia. These had a strange emblem on their coarse bucklers, a sign that resembled the Khazad cuneiform letter K, but it was strange and he had never seen it before.
I am also worried about Legolas, he added as a postscript. It seems an orc goaded him with more lies about Mirkwood, the Wood. It told Legolas his brother had been killed and Legolas has taken it to mean that those lies Saruman sent him all that time ago in Orthanc are true and that he saw what had been done to his brother. I beg you, Aragorn, send urgent messages to Thranduil that will belie these falsehoods and give him peace. The long war and the effect perhaps of his injury, the sea longing and other events have begun to take their toll upon him.
Gimli chewed the end of his pen and frowned. He was not the only one to witness Legolas’ violence against the orc; it was reminiscent of Elohim’s cruelty to the orc all those months ago when they searched the banks of the Bruinen and Elrohir had impaled the beast still alive, its cries of agony disturbing every one of them with the cruelty and inhumanity of the deed. And Legolas had ended it.
The same Legolas who had gouged the eyes of an orc and ripped out its throat, who looked about to reach into its chest and eat its heart for the wild savagery in the elf’s face, a savagery that Gimli had never seen before in the elf. Only in Orcs. And in Elrohir.
He sighed and looked down at the message but how could he put into words what he flet, what he had seen and now he dreaded? Perhaps now, with the Quest over and Sauron destroyed, Legolas thought to be revenged for his childhood friend that Gimli knew had been savagely slaughtered in order that Smeagol escaped? Perhaps the elf had just seen too much? Perhaps he was just war-weary. Gimli felt it himself, the Ring had worn them thin, their kindness even with each other by the end, exhausted, their tolerance and sense of justice long gone maybe in the depths of war. These are only orcs, Gimli told himself. These are not Men. As if that justified the savagery. There was the severed head of an orc stuck on a lance a way off. It had been put there by one of the Rohirrim.
Even so, Gimli was not the only one who was disturbed by Legolas’ violence. Eomer was here and kept glancing over towards Legolas, the concern and yearning clear. The firelight flickered over his face now and he flung a stick onto the fire and looked away.
Gimli harrumphed into his beard and chewed the end of pen again. It had frayed slightly and he shook the bitter taste from his mouth.
Apart from that, this particular band of orcs is scattered and headed north. But many have been killed or are lost in the marshes. Eomer has ordered us back, he wrote but he did not say that Legolas had looked at Eomer when he gave the order to decease pursuit as though he might kill the Rohan King. He did not say that Legolas had thrown down his knives in disgust at the Rohan King’s feet and all but spat at him, turning away in disgust to watch those orcs that escaped across the Dead Marshes. He had shouted something after them in his own language but Gimli could not recognize any of the words. But he was sure it was a curse.
Gimli however, was not the only one relieved to turn back and not brave the Marshes. Gimli glanced away towards the northern edge of the camp. He could see the elf’s outline lit dimly by stars, his face turned away towards the edge of the great forest that was just out of distance, out of reach. And he understood. For his own home lay that way and how easy would it be to call to Legolas and the pair of them mount Arod and just ride away, on and on until they came to the brown lands of Rhovanion and its rolling hills and grasslands. From there they would trek along the edge of the Great Wood and far north until they came to Sigin- zâram, the Long Lake…and there….
Gimli paused for a moment.
There they would part company.
Aye. There’s the rub, he thought. He was not quite ready for that. He was not quite ready to part company with the Hobbits, and Aragorn and Gandalf and the son of Thranduil. He smiled to himself. Indeed, he was not. And that meant putting this nonsense out of Legolas’ head and getting some dwarvish good sense in there instead.
He humphed, and scribbled another line, then blew on the ink and folded the parchment. He did not bother with wax or even string for he had written in Khuzdul, knowing that Aragon had quite a good understanding of runes, shocked though he was to begin with that a Man could read the secrets of the Khazad, but Gandalf could help with anything he did not know. And there was always Elrohir, whose knowledge of khuzdul and the khazadmêk, was both a comfort to him that there was someone else who understood, and a terror to Gimli that someone outside Erebor knew so much.
He pushed himself to his feet with grunt, for he was stiff as an elf’s neck and had a slight injury besides.
‘Do not stray too far, Master Gimli,’ Eomer looked up as he spoke. The firelight gilded his skin and hair so he looked made of copper and bronze. But his words were not really for Gimli, they both knew. For Legolas stood at the very edge of the firelight, straining forwards as if he might take flight and soar into the night sky and head unerringly for home.
Gimli nodded at Eomer. ‘My thanks for your concern. But I have my own and I know how to keep my head.’
Eomer shrugged and stared morosely into the fire. He had become quieter and more miserable the longer he was in Legolas’ company, Gimli thought as he picked his way between the other small fires that marked their camp. Arod snorted softly to him as he passed, and he fished about in his pocket, brought out the stump of a carrot and gave it to the horse, which took it gently. Its soft thick lips nibbled at his fingers delicately and he rubbed its forehead. ‘Great thick beast,’ he said fondly. He turned towards Legolas then and approached the elf slowly.
‘It is quiet now,’ he said by way of conversation. Legolas slid a look towards him but did not speak.
They stood together but Gimli did not feel it was companionable; it was like the beginning of the quest once more when he found the elf cold and aloof. It was as if he did not know him at all.
‘That orc…’ he began.
‘I know what you would say,’ Legolas interrupted immediately. ‘Do not.’
‘…lies,’ Gimli finished nonetheless. ‘As did Saruman. We found him out in Orthanc. He lied about everything.’ He remembered well standing at the foot of the tower of Orthanc, and Saruman coming to the narrow balcony to speak to the assembled Men. Like Gandalf he had seemed at first and yet unlike, but he met them courteously and as one aggrieved.
They had stood before Orthanc like vagabonds and thieves, for that is how they felt, every last man of them. Gimli though was stalwart and on his guard against 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.
‘Remember how Saruman told us that he was glad to see Gandalf hale? That he regretted the way they parted?' His voice had been resonant, mellow and compelling, Gimli remembered; the words he spoke had sunk into each of their consciousness, so they believed what he said, wanted to trust him. ‘He said to Theoden that he was bewitched by you, by the Lady. That the Shadow of the Wood might well be at Rohan’s door next,’ Gimli reminded Legolas. ‘Remember how he seemed? How reasonable he was, how he made it seem that we were the aggressors?’
‘If this is lies, how is it an Orc from Mordor says the same as an Orc in Rohan or a wizard in Orthanc?’ Legolas demanded. ‘If it is lies, why do they all say this?’
‘I said then and I say now,’ Gimli growled and he stamped first one foot, then the other in the iglishmêk, sign for unmoving though there were none who would recognize it for what it truly was. ‘The words of Saruman stand on their heads. Deceiver and Liar!’
Legolas’ eyes were fixed upon him, urgent and demanding but desperate for Legolas looked to him for his steadfastness
Gimli breathed in deeply.. ‘I do not believe any of them. Your father met with Lord Celeborn under the trees. You have a letter written in your father’s hand. He told you that he was well. He is alive.’
Legolas bowed his head and the deepest sigh came from his lips, as though misery was in his very soul. ‘It is not only my father for whom I fear…My brother, Laersul…He is very like…And they hate him as much as they hate my father. He leads our men…’
Gimli could say nothing. He shook his head slowly and merely caught Legolas’ hand in his own square, capable hands and squeezed. ‘It faces us all but that is no comfort.’ He wavered himself then for he had not been immune to the lies told either, for there was truth within the fabric of sorcery conjured by Saruman; the Mountain was beset. His people were under attack. Some would die.
He looked north and stood with Legolas under the cold bright stars that were in unfamiliar places but still shone on his own Mountain.
‘Shall we mount Arod and just head North, Legolas?’ he murmured. ‘For my people suffer too. And likely my own kin have died. Shall we abandon Aragorn and the Hobbits and head home?’
Legolas did not speak but his head was high and his shoulders tight and tense. He shifted forwards on the balls of his feet and for a moment seemed like he would just stretch out his arms and leapt into the air as if the wind could take him north. He was poised like this for a moment and then slowly, he took a breath, and lowered his head and the wired tension that had strung him left, his shoulders slumped, head bowed.
‘We will stay. You are right. Lies and more lies from the Deceiver.’ He turned to Gimli and his eyes were bright. ‘My rock, my steadfast friend.’ His hand was warm on Gimli’s shoulder. ‘Saruman wove those visions to unsettle us and revenge himself upon me. I have let him beguile me. But no longer. I will listen to you for your words and I will stay true to Aragorn as I have for all the journey. This I swear to you, Elvellon. Whatever, we will stay true to Aragorn.’ He did not smile and his words wound tightly about Gimli’s heart so he had to press his lips together to stop him from bursting with love. For he did love Legolas, his comrade and brother. He patted Legolas’ arm.
‘Then come back to camp. They are anxious for you, my dear friend.’
This time he returned and threw himself beside the campfire. Eomer glanced up briefly, he could not help himself. Gimli saw how his gaze flickered over Legolas and then tore away back to the fire. But Legolas sat directly opposite him and Eomer frowned, trying to keep his gaze fixed on the fire.
Legolas flicked a twig into the fire and flames sputtered and hissed into the darkness. His long eyes were green and clear. Gimli shook his head and rubbed a hand over his own eyes.
‘I am tired,’ he confessed. ‘Keeping your pointy-eared head on its shoulders is hard work.’
Legolas lifting his eyes to Gimli, found Eomer’s instead and paused there, meeting the young Man’s hurt and vulnerable gaze. The elf smiled tentatively and this time, despite himself, Eomer smiled back.
‘My axe took the heads of more orcs that you were even aware of!’ Gimli boasted loudly, knowing it was wanted, expected and seeing the thaw, took advantage and declared loudly, ‘My count was twenty-three to your thirteen.’
True to form, Legolas was completely distracted by the outrageous boast. ‘Thirteen?’ he exclaimed. ‘I have never heard it said of a dwarf that he had lost his ability to count! That many alone I took before ever even getting down from Arod!’
‘Exactly. So they count as Arod’s score and not yours. You cannot have those.’ Gimli made sure he looked properly affronted.
Before long, they were in full scale bicker and Gimli was delighted that Eomer was joining in and laughing.
By the time the fire had dwindled and only cinders glowed in amongst the ash, Eomer was relaxed and Legolas had shuffled closer to him. The two were talking quietly, but companionably and that dreadful hurt tension between them had eased, for now at least.
Tomorrow they returned to Cormallen, thought Gimli. They would be there by midday if they rose with the sun. He pulled his blanket and cloak over his shoulder and with a faint grin to himself, he lay his head on his pack as a hard pillow and immediately fell asleep.
Eomer smiled at Legolas, hearing the dwarf immediately begin to snore softly. He felt the heat from Legolas’ body close to him, the familiar flare of lust in his belly, the heat pooling in his groin. This was his last chance, he knew. By the afternoon they would be back with the King, and Legolas would have returned to Elrohir.
But Legolas seemed unaware, leaning back on one elbow and his long legs stretched out, crossed at the ankle. Firelight gleamed on his long, long hair like wintergrass on the plains and Eomer thought of those nights where he had stretched out similarly but his skin bare and gleaming in firelight, the wild colour over his shoulder and torso and curling about his lean hips, his strong thigh…Eomer closed his eyes for a moment, pressed his mouth closed to stop the words escaping.
‘Remember Helm’s Deep?’ he said helplessly.
Legolas lifted his long green eyes to Eomer, his full lips moved slightly, parted and for a moment he seemed about to speak but then he looked away again, his gaze slipping back to the fire. But his long fingers twitched.
‘How could I not?’ Legolas said at last.
Eomer held his breath; did he hear rightly? Legolas could not forget either? Hope broke in his chest and he leaned forwards remembering the breathless affirmation of life after that battle where hope seemed so lost and all believed they would die. The small dusty room, Legolas stretched out like he was now, firelight flickering over him.
The flames reflected in his eyes and he looked otherworldly, strange. As he had when Eomer first met the elf.
‘I told you,’ Legolas said quietly, but so factually. ‘I will never forget. You will live on in my memory long after and in all my days, I will keep that memory precious as it is to me.’
Eomer heart thumped in his chest. ‘Then…what does that mean?’ he asked with wild hope fluttering in his chest.
Opposite him, Legolas raised his head and met Eomer’s hopeful gaze. But his face was serious and his eyes were too kind to bear. ‘Ah, Eomer. You are the King. You must find yourself a wife, from a suitable House, have children. Heirs. Neither of us can give the other what he needs.’
‘And what do you need?’ Eomer could not help the bitterness in his voice.
Legolas’ face softened and he looked back into the fire. ‘I am cold,’ he said. ‘Elrohir is fire. He warms me.’
Eomer felt the bitterness in his heart then, and jealousy of Elrohir that he thought he had conquered. But it was still there; even though he knew what he had with Legolas was fleeting. The Elf had been honest with him, he knew and when he had said to Legolas on the edges of Rohan before they parted at the Paths of the Dead, It is what it is, that he understood, he had meant it. He had meant it then, but now, he wondered if his heart would ever recover.
Eomer struggled to his feet and moved away from the warmth of the fire, feeling the cold wind around his legs. He stumbled away from the fire and pulling his thick cloak about him, went over to his sentry who turned as if he had no idea what had passed.
‘Go and sleep,’ he told him. ‘I cannot and the one of us at least may rest.’
The Man nodded thankfully, stifling a yawn and stumbled off to join the huddled groups of Men and Eomer turned towards the East, wishing for dawn as he had at Helm’s Deep.
He turned his head briefly and saw the silhouette of Legolas against the fire. He was very still, head slightly bent and long legs still stretched out, leaning on one elbow. He was still there when the sun cracked a long line of daylight over the horizon.
Chapter 8: On board the Elendil
Back in Cormallen, plans were afoot for the King to return and claim the White City. Messengers had been travelling along the old road to Osgiliath and along the banks of the Anduin into Ithilen to the fields of Cormallen where Aragorn had settled to ensure Mordor was well and truly routed and Sauron's armies gone. Warm words had been exchanged between Faramir and Aragorn, reaffirming the trust that had been established when Aragorn had healed the young Man. Merry was particularly pleased and felt he had actually made an important contribution with his own carefully worded letter to Faramir extolling Aragorn’s virtues and his keenness to acknowledge Faramir and his importance to Gondor. Merry also sent a note to Eowyn, for he felt she had been overlooked in this and he wanted to make sure she was recovering. Her note, when it arrived however, was happy to hear that he was well but her words seemed tired to him, and a little forlorn so when the King decided that Gandalf and Imrahil should go ahead and prepare the city for Aragorn’s return, Merry begged passage with them and it was granted.
The King decreed that those still wounded would also go so they could be better cared for in the Houses of Healing; although there were healers in the camp, no field hospital could ever replace the resources and facilities of the city. Deemed one of that number, Elrohir had been told by Aragorn in no uncertain terms and in front of the King’s Council that he was to go also, and though he chafed at the direction he would not gainsay Aragorn in his new role or do anything that might undermine him.
So the first ship was readied. It was a large carak named The Elendil, with three masts and both fore and aft-castles. It was an impressive sight as she hoved alongside the pier at Cormallen which had been restored in these peaceful weeks. Great ropes were slung over the bollards and the ship was moored slowly against the pier. For a full day, first light until well past sunset, carts trundled up to the wide gangplank and the crew loaded the ship with as much cargo as she could carry, emptying the great pavilions of the heavy furniture, silver, glass and china. And then the pavilions themselves were taken down and loaded onto the ships. This took a full day before the passengers even embarked.
But at last The Elendil was ready. It was a bright April morning that saw the passengers embark. The hobbits stood on the quay to wave Merry off and nearby Aragorn stood with Gandalf and Elrohir. All was bustle and noise around them with sailors calling to one another, loading the last few bits of luggage and the final stores were carried on. There were crowds of Men clustered on the quay, either waiting to board or seeing their friends and comrades off. It had a festive air and was full of hope and excitement, for those who were left behind now expected to return home soon. Already other ships were being readied and the horses were being sent off on their way home by road with a few Men to guard and herd them back along the road to Osgiliath. It was expected that within the week, the field of Cormallen would be emptied and all returned to the city.
Elrohir leaned on his cane thinking how the ship seemed to strain at its ropes and the sails shiver like it was eager to be off. The passengers were boarding now; the wounded first. About twenty or more Men limped or were carried on. The gulls cried and mewled on the wind that shivered over the water.
‘There is Baelderon, ‘Aragorn said, nodding towards the Dúnadan. He was limping heavily and leaned upon a crutch, but that was not his true injury. Aragorn sighed and squinted against the sun. ’He is still lost in grief. The loss of Cordobad and Halbarad are heavy upon him.’
He turned his head to see that Elladan came walking towards them through the gathered crowd. Men parted for him as he approached for he was tall and his handsome face and ready smile had already won over the hearts of the Men of Gondor. He carried his sable cloak slung over his arm for the air was mild and the sun warmed them. At his hip was his white sword in its jeweled scabbard.
Elrohir frowned a little at the sight of the sword at Elladan’s hip for here in the well-guarded camp, they had felt safe enough to forbear arms; the orcs were dispersing and Sauron’s armies defeated.
‘Will you give him healing while you are aboard?’
It took a moment for Elrohir to realise that Aragorn still spoke of Baelderon and he nodded. ‘Of course.’ He looked at his foster brother’s anxious face, the lines around his grey eyes. ‘But you also grieve their loss,’ he said gently and rested his hand upon Aragorn’s shoulder. ‘You need some healing too. Will you not speak with Elladan whilst I am away?’
Elladan shifted his cloak on his arm. ‘I would but I am going with you,’ he said.
It should not have mattered. It should have delighted him, not wrenched his heart as it did. But Elrohir stared at him for a moment but Elladan had already turned his head towards the ship and there was Imrahil already aboard. The wind blew his brown hair back from his face and the sun was in his eyes. He shaded his eyes with his hand and his strong face broke into a smile at the sight of Elladan.
‘Are you to travel with us, my lord?’ he called to Elladan over the excited noise of the passengers boarding and the cries of the sailors and gulls. He came down the gangplank and clasped Elladan’s arm as he came aboard. Elrohir’s heart clenched at the joy in his brother’s eyes that was met with a smile from Imrahil that blazed across his handsome face.
At last the ship slid away from its moorings to catch the tide, it turned slightly and then lurched as it caught the waves and then surged ahead, slicing through the deep dark water of the Anduin as it flowed to the Sea.
Elrohir breathed in the cold air that was heavy with salt and spray, tasted it on his lips and felt it sting his skin. The wind was pounding up from the sea and fought against them. Though this was a river, the waves rolled and the ship swayed as the wind buffeted them, blew through the rigging and sails, bowling them along the water, whistling through the ratlines. Above him the white gulls skittered across a sky heavy with cloud. Elrohir stood on the deck, watching the crew as they scurried about the ship, clinging to the rigging or pulling on the stays to drop the sails, hauling the great canvas down to slow the ship before the storm caught them.
‘It is a bracing wind,’ a voice spoke beside him. Imrahil stood casually, for all the world as if it were a sunny day in a garden. His feet were slightly apart and he rocked easily with the plunge and rise of the ship, the wind tearing his brown shoulder length hair back from his lean, handsome face. He was obviously used to the sea, thought Elrohir. A sailor.
He did not reply but turned his face towards the south, hearing the great sough of the wind, the plunging waves.
‘I will be careful with you brother’s heart,’ Imrahil said suddenly, unexpectedly and Elrohir clenched his fists, not through anger but in pain and misery. ‘I understand what it means.’
‘You have no idea what it means!’ Elrohir glared at the Man, breathing hard, knuckles clenched over the top of the cane to stop himself from violence.
‘I begin to,’ Imrahil said with great gentleness and compassion. ‘I care deeply for Elladan. I do not wish to cause him pain.’
‘And yet you will,’ Elrohir said tightly. ‘He will not thank me for speaking my mind. I will remove myself so I do not offend any longer.’ He bowed stiffly. ‘I bid you goodnight.’
He turned and drove himself back below decks, wanting to escape before he spoke too much and broke the ever-thinning bond between himself and Elladan.
He paused before the door to the cabin he shared with Elladan, and hearing his brother within, the quiet sounds of his moving about, he stepped away. He could not bear to face Elladan right now, he would say things he would regret, push him away further and further.
He stumped his way deeper into the belly of the ship, found himself in the hold, thrust between the chests and wrapped possessions of those aboard and found a space where he could sit upon a wooden chest and drown in his own misery, his self-pity he told himself in anger and disgust. Selfishly begrudging his brother the same chance at happiness that he had, he told himself. Selfish. Mean-spirited. He should rejoice. But his heart ached with the misery; for in finding Legolas and knowing his own Choice, he had lost Elladan in his. They would be parted until the ending if the world. And suddenly he felt the greatest pity for his father, for he had also lost his twin, his foster-fathers both more loved than his own father ever was, his wife, his daughter. His son. His most beloved son for Elrond had always preferred Elladan, he told himself.
He sighed and drew his finger in the dust on the lid of the chest upon which he sat, faintly surprised at how dry and dusty it was. He supposed this was where cargo was stored and valuable as it was, the captain would ensure it was protected from the damp. It smelled of tar and salt. His cane rested against his thigh and around him were strange dim shapes. There was a heavy oak table and a number of wooden chairs that he recognised had been used in one of the King’s pavilions. Rolls of carpets and rugs leaned against the side of the hold and any number of wooden chests were stacked carefully together. And in the farthest end of the hold, pushed back and carefully swathed in sackcloth was a tall rectangular object. Taller than he and wider but thin. A glimpse of white peeked out where the sackcloth had come undone.
Elrohir became very still.
It was the Mirror, swathed by Gandalf’s white cloak, suffused with magic and suppressing the Mirror’s own power. And covered then with sackcloth to disguise it.
The Mirror from Minas Morgul was here. On this ship with him.
Gandalf must have brought it in secret, he thought in horror and he visualised the terrible scenes in Phellanthir; the glass bowled and stretched and filled with fire. The Balrog’s trumpeting bellow of rage, how it had moved and battered the thin film of the Mirror, and its thin surface bulged and undulated like the skin of water. Within, a great shape struggled and fought. Flames roared and blazed along its skin, and its great horns were blackened, wings of fire spread and filled the Glass. Its colossal fists were clenched and battered the Glass that bent and flexed like a skin and did not break.
He stared. Unable to move.
There was no fiery glow or red light seeping from the sackcloth. All was utterly silent and still. Yet the darkness pressed against him, and around the Mirror it was deeper. Not just the darkness of the hold but almost an absence of light and a deepening of the shadows. Did he see a trembling in the dark, like the ripple of wind over water?
He thought of the horror of Angmar as he challenged him on the flat, moonlit marshes of Phellanthir…
Angmar is gone, he reminded himself. They are all gone, into the Void where none can reach them. But he felt as if he were in soft, deep sand, slowed and heavy. His hand clutched the edge of the wooden chest as if it might stop him from drowning and his other arm hung heavily by his side.
Yes, more like deep water than sand, he thought dully. I feel like I am drowning and cannot lift my arms to save myself.
The air was ice-cold and the darkness seemed to intensify. His hand reached heavily for his sword but he had left Aícanaro in his cabin, carefully wrapped in oilskin to prevent the blade from rusting the salt air. Instead he gripped the ebony cane that he had rested against the chest when he sat down and froze, so he could hear a breath, the scuff of feet on wood…or the trail of thin black shrouds in the dust…
He barely breathed, barely moved.
And then suddenly the rattle of claws scratching over the wooden chests. He moved his head slightly. A rat scuttling through the hold. Nothing more.
The thin light from above cast long shadows that seemed to reach for him and Elrohir was reminded of the flat grey marshes of Phellanthir, how the cold, thin presence of the Wraiths had emerged slowly from the pouring rain. And the Witch King of Angmar had stood taller than any Man, utterly still, his iron crown spiked in the grey dusk.
Angmar had raised his mailed fist and opened it up, palm outwards towards Elrohir, inviting him to approach. The empty hood beneath the iron crown had tilted slightly to one side in a gesture that Elrohir found unbearable and he knew now it was a parody of Legolas.
You acquiesce, Angmar had sneered.
I do, Elrohir had replied desperately, for his brother’s life, for Elladan.
You acquiesce still.
Dread grew in the pit of his belly; his blood slowed and grew cold.
Did the darkness tremble around the edges of the Mirror? He thought something coiled around his ankle, felt the slide of something beneath his feet and forced himself to his feet in horror, shuddering but it felt like he was bound in heavy chains, or asleep and in a nightmare from which he could not awaken. He stumbled backwards away from the Mirror, crashing heavily into the carved oak table, the wooden chests piled up one upon another. He reached out to steady himself and his hands caught something bony, cold. He turned in terror and fear but it was just the back of one of the chairs. Stumbling and fearful he crashed his way out of the hold and slipped on the wet rungs of the ladder into the hold. Rain soaked his face, his hands and the slippery wood. He threw himself upwards, dreading a bony hand around his ankle, an iron blade in his ribs. He fled.
At last he clambered back onto deck where the rain poured and made everything soaked and slippery. A sailor bumped into him, blind in the rain and wind and Elrohir wanted to hug him so glad he was to be above in the clean, cold air. He leaned over the side of the ship, gasping in the salt, cold wind, the blinding rain.
The Mirror was below, wrapped and shrouded in magic and enchantment. Gandalf was aboard and had the keeping of it, he told himself. It was just his imagination and foolish self-pity that had lent the Mirror a power if did not have. After all, no Balrog had strained against the glass, no bellow or roar. There was nothing sinister about this Mirror. Nothing had happened, when Legolas had found it, or when Gandalf had brought it out of the tower. Nothing had happened in Cormallen so why would anything happen now?
No. He had imagined everything. Here in the cold air and wind and rain, standing amongst Men, he could shake his head at his own foolishness. It was the lingering of the Black Web still in his veins, he told himself.
At last he determined to join Elladan, apologise and seek to understand his brother. But Elladan’s narrow cot was empty and cold and Elrohir guessed where he had gone. So he lay himself down to sleep.
Above deck he could hear the shouts of the sailors and the plough of the ship through water, rising and falling. The ship’s boards creaked and metal clanked somewhere above. The ship was on its way, sliding through the deep water, dark under the sky and white gulls flew and scurried on the wind around the sails and mast. He fell asleep to the murmur of the waves and the rise and fall of the ship, like breathing.
Chapter 9: News from home.
Gimli clung tightly to Eomer as they cantered through the trees and over green meadows of Ithilien. It was green, Gimli thought grumpily, because it rained so much. Grey clouds bowled over the hills and rain poured over the Men and horses so their hides were sleek and the Men’s cloaks dripped and soaked through. Gimli was grateful at least that he was protected from the worst of it by huddling behind Eomer.
He glanced through the rain over to the edges of the company where Legolas rode, no cloak, face lifted up to the rain as if it were sunshine; but he did not sing as he would have done before, if only to irritate Gimli. No, his face was set and hard for he was angry that Eomer had chosen to return rather than pursue the remaining orcs into the Dead Marshes. Legolas was not the only one to drag his feet and cry out for longer pursuit; there were plenty of Rohirrim who had lost those they loved or seen things too dreadful to speak of on the little farmsteads and villages of Rohan. But Eomer was right of course, Gimli nodded to himself. They risked too much by pursuing the orcs and they could not do so on horseback. Added to that, Gimli did not think it would have done Legolas any good whatsoever in his fey state of mind, for the stories told of the dead men and elves in the pools of the marshes only alarmed the dwarf and he thought Legolas might well follow some will o’ the wisp and be lost. Especially after he had turned so savage and cold in the last skirmish.
In truth, Gimli had been a little frightened by the cold wrath and savagery he saw in Legolas. Not for himself but for his friend. If it had been Elrohir, no one would have thought anything of it. But it had been Legolas who had put the orc out of its misery all those months ago in Eriador when they had tracked the Nazgûl before the Fellowship had even been chosen. Gimli worried at the end of his beard.
No, he told himself. Best off going home, seeing Aragorn and letting Elrohir calm Legolas and get him back in the land of the living.
They plodded through the rain over a rise in the road and suddenly there below them was the camp of Cormallen.
Eomer pulled up and Gimli peered from behind a little irritably because it was harder to look round Eomer than Legolas; the Man was just bulkier and had more stuff on than Legolas ever wore; why he had to have armour and a cloak which dripped onto Gimli, AND a quiver, sword, shield, Gimli grumbled mentally and wondered why he hadn’t just stuck with Legolas.
He was shocked for a moment for the colourful pavilions were gone, and only a small collection of tents remained, and a few Men milled about between the tents. Where the herd of horses had been, there was nothing and the once lush grass had been churned into mud in the rain.
Legolas shaded his eyes with his long hand, his skin wet. ‘There are Pippin, and Sam…. They do not seem distressed.’
A cart seemed to have got stuck in the mud down there and several Men gathered round to help push it. They could hear them shouting to each other. And then it seemed the news of their arrival must have reached the camp for faces turned towards them and in spite of the weather, sudden excitement rippled through what was left of the camp.
‘There are many ships sailing downriver,’ Legolas told them and they turned their eyes to see a fleet of ships in the near distance as if they had not long left. They were making their way to Osgiliath, Gimli realised.
‘They are moving the camp,’ he said, mentally kicking himself for not working that out.
‘Then Aragorn must be returning to the city,’ Eomer said and urged Firefoot forwards.
The troop followed, their horses’ ears pricked and their heads up now they were home.
Most of the remaining Men gathered to greet the returning Éored and Dúnedain. Gimli waved to Pippin and Sam who were waiting excitedly.
Gimli slid from Firefoot’s back, Eomer lending him a hand and found himself ankle deep in mud but he cared not for it was uncomfortable riding behind the saddle bumping along like so much baggage. He squelched through the mud, happy nonetheless to be on his two feet on the earth and the good rock and stone beneath, and greeted the hobbits.
Pippin was sliding towards them and waving in excitement. ‘Gimli! Legolas!’ The rain had plastered his hair round his face.
Legolas slid from Arod’s back and patted him while the hobbits edged their way through the column of Rohirrim. Arod followed the last horse gloomily, head low and plodding, leaving Legolas and Gimli to greet Sam and Pippin.
‘Welcome back,’ cried Sam and Gimli was delighted to see how much better the little gardener looked. He had his Lorien cloak pulled close over his head and round his shoulders.
‘Have you had breakfast?’ Pippin asked immediately. ‘We are just on our way to elevenses.’ He ran a finger round his teeth. ‘We had some very nice bacon this morning. With eggs and mushrooms and tomatoes. They had those little loaves you like, Legolas.’
Gimli laughed. ‘Well now, master hobbits, I have certainly had First breakfast but not second, although I need to get out of these wet clothes and find Aragorn first and then will join you I think. What say you, Legolas?’
Legolas was looking away towards the river as if distracted.
Pippin gave the elf a worried look then and touched Legolas’ arm. ‘Legolas, before you go looking, Elrohir has gone with Merry back to Minas Tirith. He was sent with Gandalf and Merry to greet Faramir and make sure everything was ready for Aragorn’s return.’ He looked up anxiously at Legolas, who glanced down briefly and then silently turned his face west again.
Gimli gave him a quick look and said nothing but he grabbed at the ends of his beard and worried at them.
‘I knew he was no longer here,’ Legolas said and his voice was distant. ‘I could not hear him.’ But he did not say what he meant by that and Gimli decided that it meant that Legolas was perfectly well without Elrohir…Except it would have helped to have Elrohir adding his voice to Gimli’s that all Saruman dealt in was lies.
Rain ran off the sides of the pavilions and into the narrow paths between, making the mud slippery and deep in places. Gimli found himself clinging to Legolas as he slipped and slid after the hobbits. It was the not the first time that Gimli thought hobbits’ feet gave them an advantage over his sturdy boots but he would not admit that Legolas seemed to tread upon the mud and leave barely a mark and his boots had only a light scuff where Gimli’s were covered in soft, wet mud. It was not the first time either, that he had remarked that Legolas’ tunic seemed to repel the weather like nothing he had ever seen. It irritated him unreasonably.
‘Aragorn has had messages from the North,’ Sam said over his shoulder and Gimli grunted that he had heard. ‘There was news that the Shire has been unscathed, but that Rivendell was attacked.’
‘Rivendell?’ exclaimed Legolas in surprise as if he had awakened from a dream. ‘That is news indeed. I did not think Sauron would dare try his strength against Elrond unless he had the Ring itself.’
‘I suppose there was war everywhere,’ said Pippin sadly. ‘There were no dwarves among the messengers, I’m afraid, Gimli, or elves. But perhaps they brought letters from the Lonely Mountain and the Wood.’
Gimli’s heart raced at the news there were messengers from the North. No dwarves did not mean there were no messages. Legolas had straightened too and exchanged a glance with Gimli.
‘Any crumb of news will be welcome,’ Legolas said hopefully. ‘I hope that there are messages from my father and brothers.’ He looked a little forlorn then and Gimli crossed his fingers in an ancient prayer and hoped with all his heart that there was, and that it was good news for all of them.
‘Then we will go straight to Aragorn and wait to get dry and fed. My heart aches to hear from my kin,’ Gimli said.
But when they arrived at Aragorn’s tent, much smaller and less imposing than the great pavilion of before for that too had been packed up and sent to Minas Tirith, he was in council and would not be finished until a little later. But the equerry who spoke to them assured them that the King would finish early in order to greet them.
‘You may as well come to Second Breakfast then,’ Sam invited them and Pippin gave them a wide grin.
‘I am going to get dry first,’ said Gimli determinedly. He thought briefly about intruding upon Aragorn and demanding their letters but Aragorn was so new to his role and there would be those who pounced on every sign of weakness.
So, in a smaller tent than he had had before and was now back to sharing with Legolas, Gimli peeled off his sopping wet clothes, right down to his small clothes and dried himself in front of the small fire in the centre of the tent and watched the raindrops that came through the vent in the roof for smoke, sizzle on the logs. He shook his head. Really, Men did not seem able to make a fire that did not smoke, he thought. Sam and Pippin were to wait for them in the new dining tent. ‘Not as big as the old one but there’s more food and fewer people to feed,’ Pippin had announced happily.
Gimli pulled on a blessedly warm and dry undergarments and shirt, breeches and wondered if he should try bare feet like the hobbits.
‘Feet dry more quickly than boots.’ Legolas quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head towards Gimli’s own boots, thick with wet sludge as if he had read Gimli’s own thoughts. Gimli hummed but was pleased that Legolas seemed himself again. And he too felt more comfortable and at ease, and the dining tent was very close by. In fact, the advantage of a much smaller camp, thought Gimli, was that everything was close by.
‘What is that tent there?’ he asked Legolas as they dashed from theirs to the dining tent. It was very small and two sentries stood miserably in the soaking rain.
Legolas shook his head. ‘I am not sure. Perhaps there are still prisoners?’ He was quiet for a moment and then he said, almost with relief, ‘That Mirror is no longer here. I cannot feel it.’
Gimli glanced at him, a gnaw of fear in his bones. ‘You cannot feel it?’
Legolas shook his head. ‘No. It has gone.’
But before Gimli could ask if it felt like the Ring, they were at the entrance of the dining tent and Legolas ducked his head to go inside. But Gimli paused for a moment before he followed, pulling off his boots before he walked on the rushes and thick rugs.
Legolas was already sitting between the hobbits, his long legs stretched out and Pippin perched beside him, swinging his feet and talking excitedly. But though he seemed relaxed, Gimli thought Legolas looked pale and too still. He longs for news as do I, he thought.
‘You were going to tell me about your brothers, Legolas. We talked about them before the Battle.’ Pippin loaded a plate with bacon and eggs and mushrooms and fried potatoes for Gimli first and then Legolas.
‘I have two brothers,’ Legolas said with a small smile. ‘Laersul- who is taller than anyone here, and very strong. He is the leader of our troops. Our people love him.’ He paused. ‘As do I. When Laersul is with you, you feel that you can never come to harm.’
“That’s just how I feel about you, Legolas!’ exclaimed Pippin.
Legolas looked surprised and pleased and almost ducked his head as if faintly embarrassed. Gimli’s heart gave a fond squeeze of affection.
‘He has just found his beloved.’ Legolas smiled very slightly to himself at some memory. ‘He kept her waiting for so long before he realized what everyone else had known for…years.’ His voice caught them and Pippin looked up quickly. But Legolas swallowed and then continued with a forced brightness, ‘And Thalos is my other brother. He can spin silk from a spider with his words.’ He laughed softly. ‘He is the captain of the East Bite. I served under him when I first went to the South with Anglach… Thalos would always let us have our leave at the same time.’ Legolas looked down at his plate and after a moment, put his fork down. Then he asked brightly, too brightly thought Gimli, ‘Do you have brothers, Pippin? Or sisters?’
‘I do. I have three older sisters. Pearl, Pimpernel and Pervinca.’ Pippin chattered on.
‘Are they famous beauties?’ Gimli asked gallantly as always.
Sam looked uncomfortable and Pippin twitched a little.
‘Well…Folk come from miles around to visit...And if Pimpernel does have rather smaller feet than Pearl is, she is the kindest soul that ever lived.’ He glared at Sam as if daring him to speak.
‘That is true, Pip,’ Sam nodded. ‘And she can cook. She can bake the lightest cakes, iced with chocolate icing and walnuts, and her pastry melts in the mouth.’ Sam looked dreamily.
‘My lords?’ A Man greeted them courteously, a little awed, and bowed low. ‘The King asks that you join him. He has messages. From the North.’
Gimli looked up at Legolas. ‘At last! We will have news of our kin!’ He drained his tankard of ale and smacked his lips. ‘I have only news that my father is still hale and well, but I long for news of my kin and friends. They will have fought before the gates of the Mountain.’
Legolas was quiet though and Gimli knew that he saw the yellow smoke curling through the burning trees, screaming, the gurgling growl of Orcs and goblins.
They were escorted by the Man to a tent that was not as grand as before, but Legolas noted the two Gondorian soldiers standing to attention outside. It was a custom, he had observed, to stand guards outside the King’s tent even though he was surrounded by an army.
Aragorn immediately came to greet them, clasping their arms and asking after the hunt.
‘Well I have to credit Legolas with twelve,’ Gimli said loudly, standing with his feet apart before the stove that had replaced the cheerful fire. It was cold, unlit on this April morning but still Legolas knew how mortals seemed to feel the cold even on such as day as this.
‘Twelve!’ Legolas exclaimed but his heart was not in it. He simply wanted the letters. To put his heart at rest, he told himself. To hear that his father, Galion, both his brothers were safe.
Aragorn seemed to understand for he said, ‘I have had letters from both Dain and Thranduil.’
Legolas felt a little sigh escape. From his father. A letter in his own hand. It meant that he at least was safe. But Laersul?
‘Both realms have survived with losses on both parts I fear,’ Aragorn went on. He stood beside his desk where a small pile of letters was perched on the corner. ‘I do not know how heavy the losses I fear but Erebor is clear of Sauron’s armies. They fell when Sauron did- it seems the goblins did not have enough will to fight on once he was gone…In the Wood there skirmishes rather than battle. The Wood is burned, your father says.’ He looked at Legolas. ‘But he says it will recover.’
Aragorn picked up the small bundle of papers in his hand and he fidgeted with them awkwardly. Then held them out towards Legolas. ‘There are messages here. For you and Gimli…. Personal ones.’ He paused and then said, ‘With news of home.’
Legolas stared at him and then at the letters. Almost trembling, he reached out and took them. Two had the hard runes of the Khazâd which he gave straight to Gimli and one was fastened with a thin red ribbon and the seal of the Wood. He could hardly wait and unravelled the ribbon and pulled the fine white parchment open.
The writing was in father’s fine hand and even though Aragorn had told him his father was alive, seeing his writing made Legolas gasp in relief and he clutched the letter hard.
‘Legolas? What news?’ Aragorn leaned forward anxiously.
Legolas shook his head, tears blinded him and he glanced up at Aragorn in relief. ‘My father writes,’ he said. ‘I haven’t even read it yet! It means he lives.’
He wiped his eyes unashamed and looked down at the script.
‘My dearest Legolas,
I hope with all my heart this finds you well and that means that you will soon be coming home; I wish to hasten your return of course, but you will represent me at Aragorn’s coronation and I am proud that you will stand for the Wood in this new world. I know you will have acquit yourself well and that you have shown all the Peoples of the World your quality and the quality of the folk of the Wood.
Battle yet lingers here, skirmishes in the main for with Sauron gone, the Orcs seem to have lost their will. Even so, I will again lead our warriors out here in the north of the forest. Galion is here beside me and telling me what to write, so I am ignoring him.’
Legolas smiled, imagining the two of them, heads bent over this paper, Galion wittering in Thranduil’s ear until he became irritated and snapped at Galion. But Galion would ignore him and carry on and surely…he turned over the letter and there was Galion’s spidery script scribbled at the bottom.
He turned it back- he would read that later.
‘But I know you will want news of your brothers, my heart. ‘
Here, there was a small blot like Thranduil had rested his pen on the paper as if thinking how to write. Legolas’ heart speeded a little. Sudden doubt crept into him.
Yellow smoke…. a body hoisted high…
He breathed in sharply, belly churned with anxiety.
‘Thalos is safe, or at least he leads the last skirmishes in the South and I have heard no different.’
Thalos? If Thalos was leading then where was Laersul?
That yellow smoke…. golden hair like a pennant…Not Thranduil then…Not Thranduil…No.
Legolas stilled. His heart gave a dreadful jump.
‘…was injured in the assault upon Dol Guldur and had to be returned home. He has awoken now but has no memory of the attack. Galion says he has not been so grumpy since he was a small child and lost his mumakîl. But Laersul has never been grumpy.’
Legolas found himself weeping as he had not since a small child and Thranduil had shut himself away in his own grief and it was Laersul, strong, kind Laersul who had lifted Legolas and held him against his chest, murmuring softly and stroking his hair, singing to him until the beat of that indomitable heart had enveloped him, and the Song curled around him and held him safe in those strong arms.
Gimli was on his feet in consternation and Aragorn took two strides over to Legolas and gripped him by the arms. ‘Tell me!’ he insisted. ‘What news can bring you such desolation? Legolas! Speak to me!’
Legolas looked up at him through tear-filled smiles. ‘Saruman lied. They are all alive. They all live. It was a lie, Gimli. You told me that. How did you know? All this time I have lived with it….’ And suddenly he realised the immense pressure that had been building up inside him and it broke. He took a deep breath and tipped his head back so his hair streamed behind him and closed his eyes, glorying in the relief, his love for his home, his family. Elrohir. He could go to Elrohir now.
Later he read the whole letter once more. It was a long letter full of news. The Wood was still burning but the fires were under control and the Men of Dale and Esgaroth as well as some Dwarves from Erebor were helping get it under control. Thranduil wrote admiringly of the inventiveness of the dwarves who had constructed a device of iron and steel to pump water from the underground lakes to quench the flames nearest the stronghold. There was sad news too: amongst the dead was Lossar who had stood before a group of children and women to slow down the orcs and allow the group to escape. He was cut down before their eyes. And every child and every woman butchered. Miriel was amongst them.
Legolas could not read anymore for a moment. Lossar, with his slow, sensual smile and long dark hair. His quick wit. Miriel's softness and kindness; she and Lossar had used to listen for each other’s song, even when both of them twined about Legolas and the three of them had loved long and deeply. He knew that Lossar and Miriel would not be the only one he lost and about whom he cared.
Galion had added, Write to us soon, little one. We are desperate to know you are safe and your father is a bear with not knowing. Sadly, Alagos did not perish and is taking this message to Lothlorien where someone more suitable will bring the message on but come back to us. Ignore what your father says about staying any longer and come home. We miss you. I will make enough rabbit pie to keep you happy for months. And let us know soon that the rumours about you taking a dwarf to your bed are not true. That is too much even for you, Legolas. I hope so anyway. Anyone else I would scoff at but with you I never really know. Laersul says to stay safe; he had some sort of premonition but we hear you are well and so it was a lie.
Legolas kept the letter close and read it over and over. He wept for Miriel, sweet girl that she was, and for her always beloved Lossar. But Laersul was alive. And Thalos and his father and dear Galion. They were all safe.
Especially for Naledi, Cheekybeak and all those who pleaded for Laersul. Hope you are happy now so please review and tell me:)
Note: Reminder that in Through a Glass Darkly, Elladan had been wounded by a morgul blade and Elrohir offered himself to Angmar believing that he can bargain his own life and soul for Elladan’s. Angmar sows a spell into Elrohir’s soul that twists and distorts his sexuality, his memory of finding Celebrian in the dens of the orcs, and so he believed for centuries the lie that he had raped, or been about to rape his own mother, that he had ejaculated upon finding her. Legolas exposed the lie at the end of Sons of Thunder- but beliefs are not so easily unfixed and the mirror is aboard the ship.
Also, in Sons of Thunder, when Legolas was taken onto the Mindolluin by Elrohir to lure the Nazgul into believing that Merry is the hobbit with the Ring, Khamûl was defeated and his ring left on the mountainside. Elladan picked it up at first, and then cast it away.
Beta: the very wonderful Anarithilien.
Chapter 10: Dreams and Discoveries
It was a cloudy day on the Mindolluin. Bearas strode along the narrow goat track towards his snares, swinging the brace of conies he had already caught. Spring was late in the mountains and the air was still cold, a layer of snow gleamed in the sunlight on the mountain peak.
Ahead of him, the old goat track suddenly widened and Bearas stepped onto the old road that was no longer used by any but shepherds and goatherds, or hunters like himself. At his waist swung a brace of conies and from his hand dangled a partridge, although it had broken his snare in trying to escape and he carried the snare with him to repair. He did not linger for the sun was low in the sky and he did not wish to be caught out in the night on this cold, bare mountain.
Bending down to his last snare, he quickly pulled the noose from the rabbits’ neck, it flopped gently and his hands caressed the silky fur. He thought he would make a pair of gloves for his daughter now the cold was coming. But the rabbits were smaller and skinnier than he had hoped, enough for the pot though. And there was just enough of them to make a pair of gloves for his small daughter.
He wondered who else had been using the path for there were old tracks of horses, several and travelling at speed, hunting perhaps in these woods upon the knees of the mountains. Higher up, he had come across an old fire, the stones blackened and burned and not just from the campfire; it looked as though lightning had struck several places in the clearing and one of the trees must have caught fire for the ground was scorched in strange lines, almost forming the shape of a eye. But he had not tarried long in that place for the air smelt metallic and the hair on the back of his neck had prickled like some unseen danger lurked in the shadows.
These were strange times, thought Bearas, as he strode down the narrow goat track homewards. The news that the war was over had even reached his little cottage in the mountains although the city, Guthbrand had said, was in turmoil. Guthbrand had been returning to his mother’s old farm in the mountains and told them how he had fought in the war, and that the old steward, Denethor, was dead. Burned alive, Guthbrand said, while the Nazgûl attacked the city, an orc army with Easterlings and mumâkils at the gates. Even stranger, a Man claiming to be Isildur’s Heir had arrived at the head of Rohan’s army and with an army of ghosts in his wake to drive off Mordor’s forces. Bearas shook his head in amazement for the truth was that none in Gondor had thought to live out the winter and here they were in Spring with Mordor defeated.
So it was said.
He hopped over a fallen tree and his snare caught in the branches. He turned to untangle the trap and as he did, something flashed in the mud, caught in the fading sun. Leaving the snare still tangled in the twigs, Bearas leaned down, his fingers scrabbled in the dirt and touched cold metal. A ring.
Old gold, worn thin. A red gem, dull with mud dried over its smooth surface. He rubbed his thumb over the stone, it glowed. Like an eye.
He looked at the ring. It must have been dropped by a lord long ago, for it looked very very old. Very worn. The gold was thin. Bearas was poor. He had never seen real gold. Perhaps the gem was a ruby? Perhaps he could sell the ring?
He dropped it into his pocket and turned back along the goat path that led down to the old road. It seemed suddenly darker, twilight had fallen.
A grey shadow slunk between the grey trees. A wolf?
He hurried down the old road with its broken stones and moss covered statues long forgotten. Ahead, between the tall pines, were the distant white towers and spires of the city. The moon had risen early and gleamed upon the white stone so it shimmered eerily.
The wolf, if those shadows that had collected beneath the trees had been a wolf, had gone…But it seemed darker and the shadows reached like fingers groping.
Bearas felt afraid suddenly, his scalp tingled as the hair stiffened. He quickened his steps ad as he hurried through the silent forest, a perfect round shape pressed against his breast and he remembered the ring he had picked up out here in the wilds. Old gold set with a dull red jewel. He wondered about the old Gondorian lord who must have dropped it out here hunting. But in his mind, there was an image conjured...an iron fortress hidden amongst the black mountain in the cold north, strong, and old…‘Two of the brethren are with the Zigûrun...’ he said softly, though he did not know what he meant or where the words came from, and his hand crept over his breast. The iron fortress again in his mind, hidden amongst the black mountain in the cold north, strong, and old…
Bearas shook himself and trotted quickly along the road, suddenly wanting company, wanting the warmth of a fire and his little girl’s hand in his, his wife’s smile.
When he got home, his little Gerda was waiting, swinging on the gate. She stroked the rabbit fur and looked up at her father trustingly, adoringly. And later, when she slipped the old gold ring over her little finger, he laughed when it fell off.
Far away on the great Anduin, Elrohir awoke as if something had stirred him from disturbing dreams. The ship’s bell had just sounded for midnight and all was quiet.
He lay for a moment, listening. There was no gentle breathing next to him; he was alone in the cabin as he had expected and wondered if Elladan was above deck or with Imrahil. It did not matter much either way; Elladan had sought better company and Elrohir did not blame him. I am a bear, he told himself, grumpy and out of sorts. No wonder he shuns me. No wonder Legolas has fled and hunts instead with the Dunédain.
Eomer hunts too, a nasty little voice in his head spoke. He shook it off. Legolas would not do anything to encourage Eomer. Legolas would do nothing to hurt him, or hurt Eomer either, he reminded himself and leaned back on his narrow bed that was not long enough for someone as tall as he. He thought of Legolas in these quiet moments, reminded himself of his easy elegance and grace, his indulgence, his delight and unapologetic lust that had liberated Elrohir from his own repressed horror. He loved Legolas so much it almost hurt.
From his perfect elven memory he took out an image of Legolas like a rare jewel and contemplated it; Legolas asleep, his eyes closed and his face slightly flushed, lips parted. Hair like the pale bleached grass that grew amongst the dunes of Belfalas spread over the pillow. Pale gold in the oil lamp. His lips were sensuous and full, and his strong face sculpted, but not like marble- that was too cold, too hard. Elrohir’s chest felt like it would burst for love of him, and he found a smile upon his lips and a softness in his heart that had been so long absent in the long years of revenge and hate that he barely knew what to do with it.
Elrohir imagined, remembered brushing a finger lightly along the edge of Legolas’ collar-bone and stroking the palm of his hand over the lean muscled chest; an archer's shoulders, arms, chest, nothing soft or weak. There were the symbols of his house. Elrohir recalled tracing them with his finger. And there was his name in runes, Laeglas, and the elegant patterns of oak and ash and beech. In green and gold, the runes on his arms melted into the swirl of colour that was his warrior's history… there the sign of the battles he had fought at Dol Guldur, and there, the dragon to show that Legolas was one of the Danedh-Amlung for he had told Elrohir of the dragon and how he had braved the darkness of Erebor. Elrohir’s thoughts lingered on how the dragon swirled onto the shoulder and seemed to slither, to curl about Legolas’ strong, lean torso, his lean hips and thigh.
It made Elrohir ache with need, swell with desire and his blood was hot with lust.
He remembered again Legolas’ parted lips and the warm skin when he had touched the dragon, how he traced the swirl to his nipple and tightened his grip so Legolas whimpered and arched slightly. Legolas liked that, Elrohir thought. He liked the hard pinch of Elrohir’s fingers on his nipple.
Elrohir’s hand stroked himself, squeezed his fist around his own flesh. No quiet caress with Legolas or gentle touch but instead something wild, passionate, full of fire and aggression. He let himself slowly sink back onto the pillows and cushions piled up behind him and closed his eyes. His hands ghosted over himself and he thrummed at his own touch, panting he remembered again the sight his beloved Legolas spread below him…his own hand moved up and down, stroking his own bulging length.
He imagined leaning in and feeling Legolas' breath warm on his own lips, a trace of a kiss, a light stroke of his tongue against his warm, eager mouth…Elrohir licked his own lips, wanting to feel that warmth now. The first time he had ever felt Legolas’ mouth had been aboard the Sea Song and Legolas asleep under Elrohir’s lustful gaze. And when he felt the muted, drowsy response from the sleeping Woodelf, Elrohir had pressed his tongue against those parted lips…
Elrohir’s hand paused on his own flesh. That time he had shamed himself. He had taken advantage of Legolas’ unconsciousness. He had behaved abominably…Elrohir shook his head as if he could rid himself of the heat, the shame of it. He pushed deep into the pillows as if he were trying to escape and unwanted touch himself, as if something held him down hard and forced him to relive that moment when he had pushed his own hard, demanding sex against Legolas’ warm skin…when his fingers had pinched and teased the peaked nipples, palms flat against the lean chest and belly, moved lower until he had cupped Legolas in his own hand and squeezed through the suede breeches.
Then as Legolas' sex began to bulge, he had squeezed harder, painfully and although Legolas's length filled quickly, he had whimpered … Elrohir’s hand closed on himself and pumped, the pressure and churning in his balls a delectable, sinful secret.
He remembered how hungrily he had stared at the Elf spread before him, flushed cheeks, lips parted, eyelashes dark against his skin, long pale hair mussed and tangled, and the long, lean body …that dark desire that had raised its predatory head earlier now seized Elrohir as completely as it had before on that dreadful night on the Sea Song. Panting, pumping he remembered how he had suddenly dragged Legolas' hair into his fist and pulled his head back so his throat was exposed and Elrohir had pressed his hot mouth against the other Elf's throat, pushed open his lips to wrestle with his tongue.
Suddenly his hips thrust forwards and he exploded in sticky streams of white.
He stilled, listening to the sound of his own breath, hard and panting. There was a stickiness on his hand and the smell of his own semen. He blinked.
What had happened?
He had been fantasising about Legolas and somehow, at some point, it had turned to violence, when he had ripped the fabric of Legolas’ clothes whilst he slept, and what he did could not be called a kiss, more rapacious, more assault…
Horrified at himself, Elrohir pushed himself up and stared at the semen spent in his hand, felt the familiar acid of bile in his throat at the smell. Ever since he had smelt the orc’s semen on his own mother’s thighs.
He leaned forward and retched, felt bile fill his throat as it always had.
On a narrow shelf was a basin and jug of water for washing. He shook his head and leaned over the basin and filled it with cold water and splashed it on his face. His own reflection trembled and slowly stilled in the surface of the water and he stayed leaning over and staring at himself. Staring into his own eyes and hating himself. Hating the wickedness and darkness in his own heart that he enjoyed remembering a time when he had almost raped his own beloved Legolas. He was a loathsome disgrace. Unworthy. Unworthy!
He pushed himself from the small narrow cot and hurled the door open. The ship lurched as if it felt his disgust but it was just the wind and sea that plunged them from stern to bow and the ship rose and fell and the wind thrashed the water into stormy waves.
But it was not the sea, he reminded himself. It should not be so rough. It seemed almost that the elements themselves sought to rid Arda of him, that Air and Water had joined to throw the ship from the river.
He paused in front of the door of his cabin but he could not face the smell of his own self, the stink of his own semen spilled as he thought how he had almost raped Legolas. Almost raped his own mother, no matter what Legolas said. He was wrong. I am an evil, a blight upon the world, he told himself, hating himself. Hating the darkness in him.
And now, the cruel spell that had insidiously slunk into his heart, returned. Away from the green-gold love of Legolas, Angmar’s malice reasserted itself and Elrohir turned away, brooding on the beast he believed himself to be.
Legolas turned over in his sleep, restless and hot. He threw off the coverlet that had been cast over his bed and kicked it off his legs onto the floor. Something had awoken him but he could not say what. It had disturbed him whatever it was; something in the Song, like someone had strummed a finger over the strings of a harp.
He lay on his back staring up at the canvas roof, listening to the dwarf’s snores. It was more of a snuffle and he wondered if it was that which had awoken him. But Gimli’s presence was calming, never bothered him. Even in the early days of the Fellowship, even when they sniped and bickered, he had known at some deeper level of Song, that Gimli was earth and rock and good stone. It was the Ring that had made them fight each other, they both knew that now for as soon as they had entered Lothlorien, the Ring had muted, turned elsewhere and they had been able to find again the camaraderie they had had in Phellanthir and along the banks of the Bruinen.
So it was not Gimli that disturbed him, Legolas thought again.
He could see the stars through the open door of the tent, he had deliberately left it open to let the air in, the wind and stars. Moonlight pooled on the grass beyond, silvered the thin branches of the trees. There was barely a sound.
And yet his senses thrummed and he wanted to move. Something felt…not right. Like the notes in the Song had been pulled, distorted. It reminded him uncomfortably of when he had travelled with the Ring and it whispered and taunted, endlessly. Wearing him down with its insidious seduction.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and his feet touched the rushes on the floor, dug into them to find the grass beneath, the earth and soil. He listened.
There was the sound of Gimli, the deep sonorous Song like a bronze bell over water, in the deep heart of the mountain. It was the song of Erebor, he remembered. And there too he could discern his friends, the hobbits with the lightness of a melody dancing over the fields and brooks and little gardens and hills. Frodo. Changed. A darkness sat within him that spoiled him, an empty patch in his song like scorched rock and dry earth where nothing could grow…Legolas dwelled upon Frodo for a little while, running over his presence with his own awareness, pressing his own green-gold lightness into the cold dark places of Frodo’s heart. And when he felt the little hobbit’s breathing deepen and slow, he turned back to feeling his way through the night.
The Rohirrim were there too, the wind over the high plains…Eomer’s distinct notes, proud and windswept like the high steppe of his home.
No. It was none of these.
It was something unfamiliar. He stirred and rose to his feet, ducking beneath the tent flap to emerge outside in the cold night air. The stars were bright for the endless rain had washed away the last traces of ash and dust from the eruption of Mount Doom and the air was clear.
He leaned in and listened to the metallic chime of stars and the whisper of Spring across the land as small plants awoke and animals scurried about to feed their young.
It was none of these things…whatever it was was far away.
He wondered if Elrohir was awake and if he had yet landed at Osgiliath or was still aboard. A terrible loneliness surged through him then and he thought that this is what it would be like if Elrohir died…
Anglach had died.
He sank down onto the deep grass on the riverbank and drew his knees up, rested his chin on them.
He had not given himself space to grieve since the last night he had slept with Miriel, and Lossar; the three had started out together, leaving the feast that he could not enjoy, with Miriel leading them on. It was Legolas who had captured her, leaving Lossar somewhere in the glades beside the forest river, with the fires and music and dancing. It was by Miriel’s design to be alone with Legolas it seemed to him later for usually all three of them ended curled about each other, his legs twined with both Miriel and Lossar. But perhaps Miriel had sensed Legolas’ grief that night, and perhaps Lossar had decided to give them both time alone.
That night was their last before he had left for Imladris.
Now he knew that night had been his last ever with Miriel. For she was dead.
He remembered he had awoken, and slid away from Miriel’s soft, warm body as she slept and began to dress, his absence waking her. She had slid her hand in his and smiled. She had a lovely smile, he remembered now as he sat upon the riverbank in Ithilien.
The moment they had returned to the glade, Miriel had been greeted by a dozen young relatives. Smaller hands had taken hers and pulled her towards one of the bonfires that was now low enough for the older elflings to jump. Those must be the children she was trying to take to safety when she was killed, he thought. His fingers twisted in the long grass and he felt a sob struggling from somewhere deep inside him.
She had been whisked away on children’s laughter, and Legolas had slipped away also, back to the old oaks, to his own unadorned flet. During the feast he had made merry for his family, his father’s sake, but took no comfort in it, at least not while sober.
Now without the numbness of wine or the warmth of another body to comfort him and help him forget, he had slumped to the floor and bent his head as he did now, raked his fingers through his hair, and for the thousandth time, relived the moment of finding Anglach. The bloody mess where his eyes should be, the tattered rags of his ears.
His sobs had been silent and racking and his tears bitter. And now the sob burst from him, a single wrangled cry and though he did not weep, he pressed his face into his knee.
That night in the Wood, after he had left Miriel, and retreated to his own flet, he had grieved, longing for Anglach’s laughing, teasing, calling him goblin-prince until he had become conscious of an embrace, a familiar scent, a whisper. His cheek had pressed against a shoulder, the softness of long dark hair. At first he thought his brother, Thalos, had come. He had rubbed his sore eyes, opening them instead to Lossar who banished the darkness close around, and had regarded him with a depth of compassion that completely undid him then and undid him now.
He remembered how kind Lossar had been. “If only there were no last times, only firsts and forever.” Lossar had sighed and drew his friend close again, stroking his long hair, a glow of silver, down the length of his back until Legolas had wept against his shoulder.
Now Legolas knew his face was wet again and he pressed his face into his knee, hard against the bone. Miriel was dead. And Lossar with his slow, easy smile. His lovers. His friends. Both dead. Like Anglach.
A low cry wrung from him that seemed to come from deep within, from his belly. From the absolute grief that now, at last, he gave into. He sat alone of the banks of the Anduin in far Ithilien and wept for them all.
He did not know for how long he sat there, but a warm hand descended upon his shoulder. Heavy, square, skilled. Short blunt fingers found his and clasped his hand in so intimate a gesture he thought it should be Lossar. But it was not.
‘Aye, lad. You cry for your losses. Grieve for your old friend, Anglach was it? Tell me.’
So Gimli sat beside Legolas and listened to him tell of Anglach, of his teasing and silliness, of the time and time again that he had saved Legolas’ life and Legolas had saved his. How Lossar and Miriel had comforted him the days after Anglach's death and how he grieved for them all. In return, Gimli told him of his own folk and his own losses. And Legolas thought then that he had lost friends, and found friends. That he would live.
(Special scene for Paradis and Unnamed Element especially who were missing Elrohir - you’ll know when you get there!!, but I am sure others will like it too:) Thank you for all the nice reviews, anyone logged in I reply to and earthdragon who isn’t and so I don’t, thank you too.
As always, my thanks to the wonderful Anarithilien for her patience and time, and her creative genius!
Chapter 11: The Coronation
And so, in the next days, Aragorn departed Cormallen with all his retinue, boarded the great ships that sailed down the Anduin, and arrived in Osgiliath.
It was the first day of May. The King had been received by Faramir, the Steward and welcomed. Now they rode together, side by side and with the Ringbearers and Gandalf, they entered the city followed by Eomer, King of Rohan and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth. In the company that followed, victorious, weary, relieved, were the great captains and lords of Gondor’s host and amongst them, somewhere behind, were a dwarf and an elf.
The crowds cheered and waved and flowers were thrown in their path as the procession wound through the wide main streets and people crammed into the squares and hung over the balconies to wave and cheer.
High on the seventh level and in Steward’s Gardens that overlooked the city’s lower levels, Elrohir stood on the ramparts amongst the nobles and lords of Gondor too old to ride into battle, or who had waited in the city to defend it if all else failed. Up here was a vantage point from which the King’s procession could be viewed and so the court was crammed with people; an excited murmur rising from them and they pushed forwards to get their first glimpse of the new King. The scent of roses filled the air though it was still early and Elrohir thought that his mother would have liked this garden. For once, the memory of her did not fill him with guilt and pain but he did not wonder why.
Elrohir craned his neck, easily the tallest man there, but he could not see the pale wintergrass hair of the one he loved most, still too far away. Elrohir knew Legolas was there though. He could sense him like the scent of the sea on the wind.
Below were the crowds of people cheering, waving, throwing petals before the King, waving banners. Trumpets blared a fanfare as he processed through the streets, slowly winding his way up through the levels, as each of the seven gates was opened to Aragorn and the keys presented until he finally reached the Seventh Level upon which stood the palace of the Kings of old, that had become the Hall of the Stewards. Here Aragorn was to be crowned before all the city.
The crowd amongst which Elrohir stood was restless, excited for they had to await the King’s ascent to the citadel. Like a flock of raucous seagulls waiting to be fed, Elrohir thought in disgust and immediately knew it was unfair. It was that wound lingering, he thought, still restricting him and so slow to heal. A month had passed and he was still not hale. It was taking too long and he longed to be rid of it. But Elladan had said that the sticky tendrils of the Black Web still clung to his fëa and slowed his healing. Elladan had laughed unsympathetically at his impatience and reminded him that only months ago, (was it only months?) in order to distract the Nazgûl from the Ring’s departure south, Elrohir had ridden out to meet the Nazgûl on Amon Sûl with Glorfindel, leaving Elladan behind recovering from the morgul blade. And this was not unlike.
For a moment, he glimpsed Elladan far below at the one of the gates of the city, standing beside Imrahil and Faramir. And then as the gate opened and Aragorn surged into view, the crowds already cheering before he even appeared.
Elrohir felt himself reeling suddenly, overcome. The moment suddenly so immense for these people of Gondor who had waited and waited. But for him too, and his brother, father; at last, their long guardianship was at an end; no more Heirs of Isildur in Imladris. No more foster brothers…. It seemed for a moment that they all stood beside him like ghosts, watching the child of their children slowly enter the gates of Minas Tirith and pause to look about himself wonderingly. Arathorn. Arador. Argonui. All the way back to Aranarth, who had been a tall, gangling youth with arms and legs too long and then grown into one of the most accomplished warriors Elrohir had ever ridden with. He had loved Arathorn for his quiet kindness, and then Aragorn most of all.
It seemed to take forever for the King’s procession to wind its way through the streets of Minas Tirith. The nobles and great of Minas Tirith had drifted away a little, bored perhaps by the waiting and Elrohir took a vacated seat on a stone bench where he could still see and hear the King’s procession. He stretched out his injured leg and propped up his cane by his side. For a moment, he closed his eyes and let his own crimson power gentle and warm the inflamed and stretched sinews and muscles, smooth along the nerves and untangle the jangling knots of pain. The sun was warm in his skin, heated his hair. The noise of the crowds dimmed into insignificance and he leaned his head back, tipped his face up to the sun.
He became aware of a presence at his side and opened his eyes. A Man stood slightly behind and the side of him, looking out over the Pelennor Fields; one of the merchants to whom Elrohir had been introduced when he arrived to prepare the city for the king. Imrahil had counselled both Elrohir and Elladan to make alliances, for Aragorn’s sake and reluctantly Elrohir had complied in the few days he had been in the city; ensuring he was courteous to both merchants and lords, charming to the ladies and maids alike.
So now inclined his head in greeting and made room on the stone bench.
‘My lord,’ the Man said and swept his elegant and rich robes to one side so he could ease in alongside Elrohir. He leaned back slightly and tipped his face up towards the sun as Elrohir had done moments before.
Elrohir could not remember the Man’s name and frowned. He had been introduced once, spoken only that time but the Man had been the object of much speculation, not all of it kind.
‘I believe you too are recently come to the city,’ he said.
‘Indeed,’ replied the Man. ‘I had the greatest fortune. Only weeks ago, I found a seam of gold on my poor farmstead and brought a nugget here. It was fought over by two of the richest merchants in the city and so I found myself with money for the first time on my life. I have sold my land and come to the city. It has made my wife happy.’ He smiled, seemingly a little awed by his own sudden fortune that had plunged him into the circles of influence and power in the city. ‘It is chance that the King has brought peace and with it will come prosperity. Many will want gold. They hope to make gifts to the King and so buy his favour.’ There was a different air to the Man now, something worldly and knowing; as if he were not at all that humble peasant. It gave weight to the rumours that he was not as he seemed.
Indeed, the change made Elrohir uneasy. Like there was something hidden and waiting.
‘It must be a great day for you and your brother,’ the merchant continued politely. ‘I am told that you brought up our King from a child, taught him all he knows of war and statecraft. You must be proud.’
‘We are,’ Elrohir said, hearing how tightly his voice was wound and forcing himself to relax. ‘He had achieved everything he intended to. And I know he will be a good King to his people.’ Elrohir shifted uncomfortably for suddenly his leg began to throb. He winced as he stretched it out in front of him, feeling the crunch of the joint as it straightened. As he did so, he put his hand on the edge of the bench and by accident, brushed against the Man’s own fingers.
A jolt shot through Elrohir like he had been bitten.
He snatched his hand back and glanced down in shock. The Man wore an old ring but there was nothing untoward, and he was looking straight ahead as if unaware of Elrohir’s reaction.
At that moment, a page came running over, breathless. ‘Master Bearas,’ he panted. ‘Forgive me but you are wanted in the House.’
Elrohir glanced at the boy, red-faced and hot. It must be important indeed to pull the Man away from this. Bearas rose to his feet and gave a smooth bow to Elrohir.
‘Forgive me, my lord. It is my wife.’ Bearas looked excited, younger. ‘She is expecting our second child and I must go. I am hoping for a little boy.’ His face grew fond and doting. ‘I have a little girl, Gerda and she is so excited to have a little brother or sister. Our unexpected good fortune means that this time, we hope not to lose this one. We have had two still births before.’ He looked suddenly uncertain, and Elrohir saw again the Man again as he had been when he first sat. ‘Perhaps you will pray to the Valar for us?’
Elrohir smiled at him but did not reach out to clasp his hand as custom bade. He did not want to touch his hand again. ‘Go! And good fortune.’ He did not say he would pray for he could not, but he wished the Man and his little family well.
He frowned and leaned forward. Had he heard a whisper: Ravéyön? Was it just that he was here? And the sense of the Nazgûl lingered yet? Or perhaps it was that the Black Web did indeed linger as Elladan had said?
He shook himself. Perhaps. It was his overwrought imagination, the wound, sleeplessness. Missing Legolas like his heart had been cut out.
Turning back to the crowd, he saw that Aragorn’s procession was making very slow progress for the crowds pressed close and he had to keep stopping to address his people, children were passed up to him for blessing.
And then suddenly, Elrohir spotted a tall, blond elf amongst the Men below.
Simply clad and unprepossessing, in his moss green tunic and suede boots, with Gimli standing beside him like a boulder. They were there after all, behind Aragorn. Elrohir’s heart gave a great leap and he had to restrain himself from leaping down the steps from the citadel to throw open the gates to the seventh level himself. His heart thumped in his chest and he felt a surge of love. Devotion. He would fall to his knees before Legolas and adore him.
Then Legolas looked up as if he felt Elrohir’s attention. He was still too far away for Elrohir to see his face but suddenly, Elrohir was overwhelmed with the scent of the Woods, leaf mould and mist, spring, meadowgrass and hay, the forest stream tumbling over slate and granite, pooling in stillness beneath the moss and ferns. Elrohir could not wait any longer and pushed himself to his feet, still leaning on his cane but less heavily than in Cormallen, and found himself pressed close by the crowd of nobles and lords who awaited the return of the King of Gondor. Stifling his bad temper, he pushed his way between the crowd, smiling tightly and apologising as he eased his way back from the edge of the ramparts towards the palace.
At last he felt he could breathe. In the Tower Hall, the marble floors were cold and the sunlight, though it streamed through the great windows, did little to warm the empty halls. It was prepared for the King’s welcome with flowers and garlands but empty; his footsteps rang on the floor. He would make his way at least to the steps of the palace, he thought. At least he could greet Aragorn as if it were the King he was impatient to see.
Quickly he made his way through the empty palace. Everyone was outside - not a soul within. The statues of the Stewards lined the hall, giving way later to Kings. He paused before one, Ondoher, he read; there was nothing of Aragorn in the face of this one. He had been carved from stone and not well, hastily, as if to catch his likeness before he was forgotten. Calimehtar was next to him. But his likeness was better done, his face still and calm, his eyes raised and looking West. The stone seemed fluid, fluted into the folds of his robes. A slight smile played about his lips and now the resemblance struck Elrohir. That smile was Aragorn’s.
He glanced back down the rows of statues, they seemed like the march of time itself. And Elrohir was struck by the sense of time passing.
And then he heard the fanfares of trumpets announce the Return of the King and he hurried out into the crowded square with its lime trees just beginning to leaf, the pale stone warm in the sun. A slow roar was growing, gathering from the streets and heralding Aragorn’s procession from the circles of the city to its final, highest level for the people of Gondor had not remained behind in their levels as he passed but followed Aragorn as he climbed through the city and now there were thousands in his wake. On the crowded steps of the palace, Elrohir looked across to see the Lady Eowyn of Rohan, her white dress gleaming and her hair pale gold. She had more colour in her cheeks now and Elrohir hoped it was not because Aragorn approached. And then the roar became a loud cheering and shouting, fanfares trumpeted again and the bells rang out.
A magnificent black horse, so like the one that Elrohir had ridden to the Morannon, surged into the square; silver glinted in the sun from its ornate bridle and saddle and upon it was a lordly figure, tall and cloaked in red with dark hair and grey eyes. Aragorn.
Elrohir felt his throat catch and his eyes filled with tears; here was all they had striven for all those long years. Here was the Heir of Isildur restored. Aragorn Elessar. Estel.
Behind him was Imrahil, followed by Gandalf, Eomer, Elladan and then the hobbits and Gimli.
Elrohir searched for Legolas but could see nothing and sudden fear grabbed his heart. Surely nothing could have happened during the procession? Gimli did not look alarmed.
A breath ghosted over the back of his neck and he felt the sunlight had changed and instead of a city of stone, he thought he walked in the green-gold light of the woods in spring, beechen green and dappled.
A hand drifted across his waist and slipped away and he turned, yearning, for a glimpse of long blond hair like wintergrass, a blazing smile that ignited him, so he felt aflame with desire. Legolas slid between the straining people craning their necks to see their new King. He slipped between the shadows of the lime trees and then through the open gateway to the palace and its gardens. Through the stone arch, Elrohir followed, his feet like lead with the heaviness of his wound but his heart flying like the banners that flew now from the Tower of Ecthelion; the plain white standard of the Stewards and the black banner with the white tree and seven stars of Aragorn.
Elrohir stood in the empty Court of the Fountain where the White Tree of Gondor wasted. No one else was here for all were either in the square to greet Aragorn or standing in the Steward’s gardens that overlooked the circles of the city and watching the King’s procession.
No one else was there but Legolas.
Legolas waited breathlessly for Elrohir, impatiently. But he took so long! How was it that he did not run, take long strides, leap the low wall, spring over the flower beds and crush Legolas to him? He watched impatiently, and Elrohir emerged from the shaded gateway, limping and leaning on his cane. Immediately Legolas felt ashamed and anxious and a spear of longing pierced him with intensity, of pity and compassion for Elrohir’s pain and immense tenderness.
He could not wait for Elrohir to reach him though and took three strides across the courtyard, leapt the low hedge of lavender and scooted through the roses. He fell against Elrohir, lips crushing lips, hands all over Elrohir as if they could drink him in, like he wanted to with his mouth. Lust sizzled through him and he felt himself burgeon, fill, stiffen and he wanted to tear the clothes from Elrohir, to lay him down and fuck him senseless.
Beyond words now, or coherent thought, Legolas pulled at Elrohir, dragged him through the open door to the emptied Tower of Ecthelion and there, just inside the shaded door, he tore at his lover’s dark velvet surcoat with clumsy impatience, desperate for the feel of Elrohir’s skin, like he was deprived of air and water. At last his lips were on Elrohir’s shoulder, the smooth skin over muscle, the smell of him, clean like snow on the mountains, and that underlying musk that was always there.
He leaned in and sniffed at Elrohir’s skin, hard, inhaling him deeply. He heard Elrohir laugh and felt him shake his head.
‘What are you doing?’ Elrohir asked indulgently, a smile in his voice and Legolas closed his eyes and buried his nose, his mouth and face in Elrohir’s shoulder, smelling, touching feeling him, enveloping himself in all of Elrohir.
‘I am remembering you,’ he said. ‘Claiming you again.’
‘Come inside more,’ Elrohir murmured, pulling him into an ante-chamber that was barely hidden if someone should come but Legolas did not care. He wanted! Oh, how he wanted Elrohir. Like nothing he had ever felt before. If he could climb into his lover’s skin, he would.
He shed his own clothes barely noticing and pressed himself against his beloved Elrohir. Long black hair long slid through his fingers, over his hands like night-silk; it smelled of the air, of the frost, of snow on the mountains like Elrohir had been riding on the high Hithaeglir although he could not have been. Or the wind had been blowing through his hair that had come down off the mountains, which it might. He kissed Elrohir more gently now, not crushing, not clashing his teeth against him. But the sensation of kissing him, of feeling his skin was like home, such a strange sensation and he was still not used to it. Every fibre of him thrummed with the closeness and he pressed himself as close as he could, so their skin stuck in places and rubbed unbearably.
‘Take me, let me take you, I care not but for Manwë’s sake, fuck me now. Hard and quick. I cannot wait.’
Elrohir fucked him, standing up with Legolas pressed into the marble wall and his cock trapped between the wall and his belly as Elrohir shoved his cock bursting into Legolas and Elrohir twisted his hair around his fist and pulled his head back to lick and suck at his throat. Slowly at first and then frantically, he pumped into Legolas until both climaxed in huge rush of hot sticky semen and Elrohir pressed his face into Legolas’ neck and inhaled him as Legolas had earlier.
There was a blare of trumpets and a loud voice outside, announcing the King and Legolas looked back over his shoulder at Elrohir, gasping and laughing, and they pulled apart slowly, pleased with each other. It had taken no more than minutes and Legolas laughed softly.
‘Did you miss me?’ he murmured. Then he turned and pushed Elrohir’s hair out of his lovely face, noting the tension round the mouth, the slight squeeze around his eyes. ‘How is your leg?’
At that, as if he had forgotten until now, Elrohir collapsed against the wall, leaning his back against it. ‘Hurts like an orc is grinding the bone,’ he said. He sighed. ‘But it will be better now you are here.’ The smile he gave Legolas then took Legolas’ breath away for here was Elrohir Ravéyön, Son of Thunder, who had offered his life over and over for Legolas.
Overwhelmed, Legolas cupped Elrohir’s cheek and kissed him gently, deeply, then leaned his forehead against his beloved. ‘I will do anything you ask,’ he said. ‘Anything. I wish you to be well. What will it take?’
‘Nothing. You are here now. That is all I need.’
With a long look, Legolas looked about and saw a dainty lace cloth over a table. He grimaced and then used it to wipe himself clean, handed it to Elrohir. Then he reached down and scooped up Elrohir’s velvet surcoat and laughing, brushed it off and held it out for Elrohir to shrug into. He retrieved his own breeches and pulled them on, then drew over his head his own much repaired moss suede tunic. Wordlessly they brushed each other down and pulled up breeches, smoothed surcoats, tidied hair and then smiling, Elrohir slipped out into the crowd.
Legolas paused for a moment, listening. Then he took long strides out into the courtyard following Elrohir a little way after.
At last he emerged into the sunlight beneath the lime trees and amongst the crowd. Several of the people turned and looked at Legolas as he stood at the back and watched Aragorn ascend the steps to the Hall of the Stewards, which would now be the Palace of the King. When they saw who he was, the people stepped back for Legolas and nodded and smiled at him.
Soon he found himself on the edge of the procession once again and a dwarf turned his head and glared at Legolas. ‘Where’ve you been? You almost missed this.’ Gimli looked shrewdly at Legolas and then shook his head. He shoved the end s of his beard into his mouth and then realising, snatched them out again. ‘Well whatever it is you’ve been up to, don’t wander off again. I can’t always cover for you.’
Smiling, Legolas patted the dwarf on the head and followed him within to where Gandalf would crown Aragorn, King Elessar of Gondor.
Beta: The very wonderful Anarithilien.
Thanks as always to everyone still reviewing- Raider-K, firerosedreamer, Nako, Alanic, Nelyafinwe, Freddie and nimruzir. Thank you for the encouragement. It does feel like this fandom has slowed right down so every review counts.
Chapter 12. The Reign of Aragorn II
Aragorn leaned on the granite window sill and pensively looked out over the white city. The pale stone gleamed in the setting sun and the sky was a wash of pink and yellow. White clouds gathered benevolently over the farmlands of Gondor, promising a fertile rain that would turn the dry and barren battlefield of Pelennor to rich green. But instead of joy and excitement, Aragorn felt a horrible churning in his belly of nerves and dread. The burden of kingship was on his shoulders and he found himself overwhelmed. He longed for the day that Arwen was by his side; she was so capable, so good at organising. She would help him sort out what he needed to do….And more, he longed for the softness of her body, her curves that his hand rested upon, her waist, her hips, her breasts…He shook himself. That would do him no good at all.
Turning back to the heavy carved desk that was crammed with letters, messages and petitions, he walked heavily to the chair and pulled it out, sat down and stared at the papers in front of him.
He picked up one; a letter from a minor lord in the southern part of Gondor wanting to know if the King was going to pay for the repair to the roads from Minas Tirith to his small fiefdom. Aragorn put it down and picked up another; this was a petition from a widow whose husband, she said, had been killed under the king’s command and she was destitute. How would she pay for her children’s food? That was more easily solved he thought and put aside a small pouch of coins. But the next one was similar and the next. Soon he found himself pushing the petitions and coins to one side- this piecemeal giving out of alms was no solution.
He tried to remember what Erestor had told him that Maedhros had done to pay for everything; he could not have had great wealth when first they came from over the sea. He wondered if he could persuade Erestor to stay in the city and help him. After all, Elrond would leave now and pass West and Erestor would not go. It left him free…but to do what?
Erestor would be ideal to deal with the bickering politics of the lords of Gondor, and brokering treaties with Rohan and Dol Amroth, although he thought that would be the easiest part. But he had Khand and the Harad to deal with too, and the prisoner, Kustîg, he had brought because he did not know what else to do with him. Kustîg was presently housed in a rather lavish accommodation that was not quite a prison, but he wished only that the Khandian chief would simply accept the inevitable. Perhaps when Erestor arrived, he might introduce him. The thought brought a smile to Aragorn’s lips; Erestor would come with Arwen. And Elrond surely? Perhaps Galadriel and Celeborn too. He tapped his teeth with one of the letters; Haldir might also come with Galadriel, her most important captain. During their stay in Lothlorien, Legolas had spent time with Haldir. Though he did not know how they spent their time, Aragorn guessed it was not all in archery.
Until then there were all the big problems, like how was he going to feed everyone. How were they going to afford to rebuild Gondor without taxing the very lords and merchants he needed to be his allies…And breaking his foster-father’s heart. Yes. That too.
Suddenly it was overwhelming and he put his head in hands and groaned.
‘I have seen that face before, though some years ago I think.’
He turned to see Elladan standing in the doorway with a smile on his face. ‘I remember a boy struggling with work given him by Erestor. Your favourite was something like: discuss the impact of Cirdan’s government of Mithlond compared with that of Ost-in-Edhel in the Second Age. As scintillating as this, I think.’ He spread his hand towards the scrolls bundled and gathered up in the centre of the desk.
He opened the scroll and scanned it quickly. ‘This is a requisition for barley from Dol Amroth.’ He looked up. ‘Do you want to be dealing with this yourself? If not, who can do that for you?’
‘I do not want to be dealing with all of this myself,’ Aragorn said emphatically. ‘But I do want to know that there will be enough food for my people.’
‘You will need to have good people in charge of things for you and who report to you. A council. You know how to do this,’ he said reassuringly. ‘You have done this in the Angle. And you have seen Elrond’s council in Imladris.’ Elladan leaned down and said with a smile. ‘Faramir is your steward. He is one of those people who will be on your council. And he will know who else should be asked to help. It will be an honour for them.’
Elladan looked at the pile of widows’ letters and the scatter of coins. ’What are all of these?’ He picked one up and scanned it quickly, his face serious. ‘This is important,’ he said looking up at Aragorn. ‘How you treat the poor will determine your reign. But you could give this job to someone else, someone trustworthy. Make sure they have the money to help and then charge them to sort out housing and food for all these people who have suffered in the war.’
‘Yes, there are some good people who would serve the city well,’ said Aragorn slowly. Then he sighed. ‘But I do not know how I will pay for it all….I think I will have to tax everyone.’
‘That won’t go down well,’ Elladan laughed softly and pulled out the chair opposite Aragorn. ‘Well done. You have defeated the Dark Lord. Now all you have to do is rule!’
Aragorn laughed wryly despite himself. ‘I have a very good wine here somewhere,’ he said and rose to his feet. He snagged a pewter jug and goblets and with a nod, led Elladan out into a small courtyard filled with early roses and lavender that scented the evening air. There was an early jasmine somewhere too. ‘I think that Denethor had these gardens kept well,’ he said and seated himself upon a stone bench that had been set just in front of a warm stone wall so that one could easily lean back against it. He poured two goblets and handed one to Elladan who looked at it appreciatively.
‘The King Returned has expensive tastes,’ he observed with a smile. ‘Perhaps you should keep this for when peace has brought prosperity. The rich will not want to see you squander their taxes on fine wines and delicacies. Live frugally for a while. Tell others that we build. Tell them peace will bring them opportunities to trade with other realms, that the roads will open new markets.’ He drank appreciatively. Then he smiled at Aragorn and turned his face back towards the setting sun. He said nothing for a moment, closing his eyes to enjoy the warmth on his face. Then he said, ‘Aragorn, you know that soon Elrohir will be well enough to ride and then we will leave. Not you, not for long,’ he said quickly. ‘Arwen has left Imladris,’ he explained. ‘She is on her way here and Elrohir and I will go and meet her in Lothlorien and bring her here. It will not be long, Estel, and all your dreams will have come true.’
Aragorn did not ask how Elladan knew that Arwen had left Imladris; he just accepted it and felt his eyes fill and his belly clenched with a strange mixture of anxiety and devotion and love. Arwen would be here. She would be beside him, sitting with him in this very garden, walking at his side. In his bed.
‘And I think you will find that Arwen has some ideas about how to rule. She has always helped Elrond.’ Elladan smiled again, more kindly. ‘She will make quick work of this. And you have to admit that Faramir has done a very good job while they waited for your return.’ He indicated the Pelennor Fields. ‘The carrion has been disposed of, the city walls repaired as much as they could.’ He paused and drank wine. ‘He did as much as he could in preparation for what might well have become the final siege. He will be a good steward.’
Aragorn smiled. ‘You’re right.’ A weight seemed to lift from his shoulders then. And Arwen was coming. She would be here in weeks!
In his heart a great surge seemed to fight its way out, wanting him to shout for joy. But he did not. Instead his fingers found the Evenstar and stroked it.
Elladan was smiling at him. ‘It fills my heart that both my brothers have found love,’ he said.
Aragorn glanced at him. ‘And you?’ he asked curiously.
Elladan leaned his head back against the warm stone wall. ‘It is curious,’ he said contemplatively. ‘I did not think to find such joy in another man,’ he said. ‘But I find Imrahil’s company more than pleasant. And I find the prospect of being without his company and the warmth of his regard makes me feel lonely.’ He paused. ‘Whether it is love or no, I cannot tell you now. But perhaps in time, it may grow into that.’ He glanced at Aragorn. ‘I am not like Elrohir you know. I have not that immense and all consuming passion that cannot be controlled, and if it is not satisfied, he thinks he will die. That is not me. But when I find my heart, it will be as deep and as devoted. It will make my Choice for me. Of that there is no question.’
Aragorn put his hand over Elladan’s and squeezed slightly. It would kill Elrond, he thought, to lose both Arwen and Elladan, who was closest to him. And Elrohir? Where would it leave him if Elladan took the Way of Men?
Legolas lay against Elrohir’s chest, it had been a more leisurely love-making this time. His long legs were crossed at the ankle and he stared upwards at the ceiling, noting long cracks in the plaster that were the result of the Nazgûl’s bombing of the city with great rocks and slabs of stonework from the city walls. In spite of this, there was a slight smile on his lips and he sighed with contentment. Elrohir was very still. Legolas tilted his head slightly and leaned in to listen to Elrohir’s song, the sense of the high mountains where the wind blew and smelled of snow, and the eagles cried high above…It was a noble song, he thought pleasurably. Heroic. If a little lonely.
He wondered if Elrohir was still lonely, even though Legolas himself was here with him.
With kindly concern he tipped his head back to look into Elrohir’s eyes but Elrohir was gazing into space, his pupils blown wide and his mouth slack. A small niggle wormed its way into Legolas’ thoughts…What if he was not really significant in Elrohir’s life? What if this was just a fling?
But he shook himself free of such doubts and stroked Elrohir’s thigh instead. At last Elrohir looked down and rested his cheek upon the top of Legolas’ head and gave a deep sigh that seemed to come from his very soul.
‘I love you,’ Elrohir murmured and Legolas smiled and nestled into him.
‘Of course,’ he said smiling.
But he did not think of saying that he loved Elrohir, for it was so obvious; his song soared whenever he was with Elrohir. He could hear how his own melody wound about Elrohir’s, danced through the lovely harmonies, twined about the notes that were Elrohir’s. And so he did not see the hurt in Elrohir’s grey eyes and the way he almost flinched when Legolas pushed himself to his feet a moment later to pour wine.
‘Elladan says that Arwen has left Imladris and is making her way here,’ Elrohir said.
Legolas nodded. ‘Good,’ he said, lifting his goblet to his lips and drinking. He wiped his mouth with his hand. ‘Aragorn needs her very much! He is so love-sick it is almost funny.’ He smiled fondly. ‘He went on and on about her when we were in the Wilds. Kept singing the Lay of Beren and Luthien whenever he had the chance.’ He laughed softly and brought as goblet back to the bed, handing it to Elrohir. He looked at his beloved, his long hair was mussed and tangled from where Legolas had held him down, wrapping it round his fist to draw Elrohir’s head down over his cock, hold him there, and there were bruises on his shoulders where Legolas had bitten him in blind passion. Wincing slightly, he traced a finger over one that had broken the skin and looked sore. ‘Sorry,’ he said, grimacing.
Elrohir looked surprised. ‘Why are you sorry?’
Legolas prodded the mark. ‘I got carried away. Does it hurt?’
‘Does it hurt!’ Elrohir laughed. Properly. Loudly and it made Legolas’ heart jump and soar to hear him so free, so happy. ‘This from the man who had me begging him to stop, who had me almost suffocate with my face in that pillow while you pounded me so I can hardly walk!’
But he had to stop because Legolas was carried away by a wave of love and desire and kissed him hard, pushing his tongue into Elrohir’s mouth and pulling him so close, he wanted to be inside his skin, inside him.
‘Listen,’ Elrohir said at last, pulling his head back to look at Legolas. ‘We have to go and meet her.’
‘Who?’ Legolas pulled back, leaning on his elbows and gazing up at Elrohir. He was so beautiful, with his grey eyes and black hair. It was deep black, not just a very dark brown. But truly black. So it was almost blue when the light shone on it in a certain way.
‘Arwen and her retinue.,’ Elrohir said, stroking a hand . ‘Elladan and I must go and meet them,’ said Elrohir. He shuffled back a little so he could see Legolas’ face, almost as if he wanted to see his reaction.
‘Oh.’ Legolas understood now. He sat up, wrapped his arms around his long legs. ‘When do you leave?’ He tried to be generous. After all, this was a momentous time for Elrohir and his family; Arwen was making her Choice and would be forever lost to the Elves.
She would die a mortal death.
It wrenched his heart to think of it, for it reminded him too that his friends, Aragorn, the Hobbits, Gimli would also die one day and be forever lost to him.
‘It will only be a couple of weeks,’ Elrohir said. He leaned down to peer into Legolas’ face, concerned. ‘It will fly past and in no time, I will be back.’
Legolas looked up. ’Well that is not too bad,’ he said brightly, hoping to comfort Elrohir and not be needy. ‘We will have to make the most of the time we have together!’
Something suddenly occurred to him. ‘Who will be coming with Arwen?’
Elrohir paused. ‘Elrond of course. Perhaps Galadriel and my grandfather. I think some from Imladris and some from Lothlorien.’
Legolas chewed his lip. He wondered if Haldir would be amongst the group from Lothlorien. And Berensul might well accompany the group from Imladris. And Tindómion. He looked down at the coverlet. It was silk and linen and embroidered with flowers that Legolas recognised from when they rode across the Lebennin. He picked at a loose thread. That would be as well as Eomer.
‘Elrohir,’ he began hesitantly, knowing how fragile was their new-found love, wanting to be honest. ‘You are not the first I have loved.’ He caught Elrohir’s hand and when Elrohir looked away, tugged on it gently. ‘Please. But you are my first beloved. My only beloved.
But Elrohir looked away and squeezed Legolas’ hand. ‘Please. Do not speak of this now,’ he said. ‘I cannot think it. I cannot bear it.’
Legolas sighed. ‘We have to speak of it sometime,’ he said. He scooted over towards Elrohir and put his finger under his chin, bringing his face up so Elrohir had to meet his eyes. ‘I need to tell you, so that you do not think it is not you that I love.’
Elrohir pulled away slightly. ‘Please. It is enough that you love me. We do not have to speak of this.’
Legolas sighed and let him go.
Even now with Sauron’s army destroyed and the fields gradually restored, it was not yet a time of plenty and even the King’s table was sparse. Lords brought gifts to the table of dishes and food and the bonds, so recently forged under battle, were strengthened in these times of austerity. There was a jollity at his table and Aragorn, taking his brother’s advice, served a poorer wine than he had drunk in the garden with Elladan, and ate and drank with relish, for even this poor fare was better than the Fellowship had eaten in the quest.
Beside Aragorn, on his right hand, sat Faramir and on his left was Eomer. Eowyn sat between Legolas and Merry and they were attentive and concerned about her. But her cheeks were flushed and her eyes lively. She laughed often as the two entertained her. Gimli was opposite her and his courtesy unfailing.
‘Your sister seems much recovered,’ Aragorn commented to Eomer.
Eomer nodded, waving a chicken leg in Eowyn’s direction. ‘She is indeed. That Ringwraith had no chance against my little sister,’ he said proudly. ‘But it was you who brought her back, Aragorn, and for that I am grateful.’ He tore the meat of the chicken leg and spoke with his mouth full. ‘I for one would be glad to seal the alliance between our realms.’
At that, Faramir’s hand seemed to shake and a spatter of wine shot over the while linen cloth. ‘Forgive me my lord!’ he said, mortified. ‘I thought I was more recovered myself.’
‘Ah!’ Eomer turned his attention to Faramir now. ‘And you, my lord, showed great courage in fighting on alone in Osgiliath! That is worth a song. You should pay someone to write it.’
Faramir turned his gentler grey eyes towards Eomer. ‘And what would it tell, pray? That I was defeated and lost my men, that in returning, I drove my father to madness, that I was almost burned alive by him and had it not been for the Hobbit and Wizard, I would be dead? That would make a song.’ His voice was bitter.
‘No,’ Eomer said without a trace of regard for the other Man’s hurt. ‘I would make a song how you rode out to defend Osgiliath after it had been taken, how you faced the army of Sauron with only a hundred men to delay long enough for Aragorn to reach the city. How you fought the Witchking yourself and though he struck you down, you still made it back to warn the city of Sauron’s intent. I would tell how your poor father went mad indeed and tried to kill you in his agony and despair.’ His voice softened then. ‘But I would tell too, of how you treated my sister with kindness in her awakening from the dark that held her in its thrall.’ He swallowed the meat and picked up his goblet. ‘So she tells me anyway.’
‘Lord?’ A Rohirrim rider looked apologetically at Aragorn, and then leaned down to speak briefly with the King of Rohan.
Eomer turned to speak with him and Aragorn turned back to Faramir just in time to catch the look in Faramir’s eyes and realised that Faramir was looking past Eomer and to Eowyn, who was laughing at something Gimli had said to Legolas. Legolas quirked an eyebrow elegantly and then leaned towards Eowyn and poured her wine, whilst saying something that had Eowyn laughing and Gimli glaring at the elf.
‘It is good that you have been showing kindness to the Lady Eowyn,’ said Aragorn gently, speculatively. And yes, there was a faint blush on the younger man’s cheeks so that Aragorn was pleased. ‘She is a lady of exceptional courage and nobility,’ he continued, pouring wine into the man’s goblet and waving away the servant who hovered solicitously nearby.
‘Yes.’ Faramir’s eyes were cast downwards. ‘She is.’ It seemed that was all he could say and Aragorn took pity on Faramir and leaned towards him slightly.
‘Eowyn needs a husband who will be her equal, not her overlord. She needs to be allowed to breathe.’
Faramir’s grey eyes looked up into Aragorn’s, and a sudden hope flared in them.
‘I have heard that her heart is given, lord,’ he said hesitantly.
Aragorn sighed and looked into his goblet. ‘She is, was, in love with a dream,’ he said. ‘She thinks, thought she was in love with me but I am not the man she thought. I am already betrothed before I ever set eyes upon the White Lady of Rohan. I am not what she is looking for.’ He looked Faramir in the eye steadily and said, ‘But you are. And you have my blessing if you wish it.’
‘… contravening the laws.’ A low murmur away to Aragorn’s left just intruded momentarily on his awareness and he turned his head to see old lord… Ah. Aragorn sighed. He could not remember his name. The old man leaned towards another younger man, but Aragorn could not remember his name either. ’…cannot be allowed so close to the King whatever he is to him…’
‘You are already betrothed?’ Faramir drew Aragorn’s attention back. He sounded like he had been holding his breath, and was amazed. He let his head fall against the back of his chair. ‘That explains much for I could not believe you did not return her feelings.’
Aragorn blinked. Faramir had thought he returned Eowyn’s love; but of course he would. He smiled fondly. The young Man was clearly deeply in love and could not imagine how anyone could not feel the same about Eowyn as he felt himself. He gave his full attention back to his new Steward.
‘She told me you had said you were not for her,’ Faramir continued. ‘But I could not believe that when you returned, you would not claim her. For she is the fairest, loveliest woman. Her heart is great and noble and her deeds will be spoken of for ages hence.’ His eyes shone and he looked past Aragorn to where Eowyn was. She had flung back her head to laugh merrily at something Legolas said. The elf had one arm along the back of her chair and leaning in towards her, his eyes upon her.
For a moment, Faramir’s eyes darkened but Aragorn shook his head quickly. ‘Legolas is no threat to you. His heart is already given. When we passed through Rohan,’ Aragorn said, following Faramir’s gaze, ‘Legolas had been injured.’ He did not say that Legolas had been struck when trying to defend Boromir from orcs. ‘I asked Eomer to take Legolas with him to Meduseld to recover. Whilst he was there, Grima had both him and Eomer imprisoned and it was Eowyn who freed them…Legolas and Eowyn conspired to awaken Theoden from the spell cast upon him by Saruman.’ Aragorn swirled his wine in the goblet. ‘It is why Saruman hates Legolas so and will do him harm if he could. I for one am glad that Saruman is locked up and guarded by Treebeard and cannot escape. I think there is much bitterness in his heart and it will turn towards Mirkwood. If he ever escaped, it is there he will go.’ A moment of prescience struck Aragorn then and he felt himself sway…heard shouting as if it was far off, screaming and a smell of blood and choking smoke…yellow smoke.
But that was the vision that Saruman had sent Legolas in Orthanc. And the news from the Wood was that Thranduil had been victorious. He cast a quick look down the table towards Legolas and shook himself. There was no trouble in Mirkwood and he should not seek it.
Unaware of Aragorn’s concern, Faramir shook his head in wonder. ‘The tales that have come from these times seemed to bring legends and myth to life; the Tree-shepherds are real, elves walk in our lands, and the King is returned.’ He looked at Aragorn for a moment and then stood up suddenly and held up his goblet.
‘To the King!’ he declared loudly. ‘May his reign be prosperous and peaceful. May he live long.’
All the assembled nobles and lords and ladies quickly leapt or scrambled or staggered, depending on their ages or condition after so much wine, and raised their cups to Aragorn, cheering and shouting his name.
Aragorn felt faintly embarrassed and glanced along the table to his friends; Gimli had the patient and proud air of someone who was entirely responsible for Aragorn’s success, Frodo looked tired still but had a sweet smile on his face and Gandalf looked smug. Elladan nodded and raised his goblet in recognition of the conversation they had had earlier. But Elrohir had only eyes for Legolas, and Legolas glanced away from Eowyn briefly as if he felt the scorch of Elrohir’s gaze. When their eyes met, a smile passed between them, confiding, secret. A lovers’ smile.
But as Aragorn looked around the gathered nobles, he saw that he was not the only one who had seen the looks between Elrohir and Legolas. There were one or two others who had noticed and who were looking disapproving and the snatch of conversation he had overheard a moment ago came back to him. And the merchant, Bearas, was staring at Elrohir with a covetous expression in his face that made Aragorn’s blood run cold. It reminded him horribly of Saruman.
But a moment later, it had changed and Bearas leaned towards the lords who had been murmuring and said quietly,’ Tread softly my lords. You speak of those who were ready to lay down their lives for us. The lord Elrohir led the charge at the Morannon I hear and it was his heroism that saved many. And the Prince of Mirkwood killed more of the Nazgûl’s steeds than any and so saved a hundred lives or more. Is this not a little thing of which you speak? Is it not something you can overlook?’
The two nobles looked at Bearas and one opened his mouth as if to speak but changed his mind, a look, almost of fear passed over him and both fell silent.
Aragorn made sure he kept his gaze elsewhere whilst he eavesdropped. He had disliked the Man, Bearas, on meeting him; there was something he could not quite put his finger on but it made his hackles rise. But now he thought he was being unfair. Surely it was not simply that the Man was poor and had come into luck, so perhaps lacked the refined manners and poise of others? Was that it? thought Aragorn. He reflected that he had been brought up amongst the elves of Imladris, and valued grace and elegance. He was marrying Arwen Evenstar after all. But he decided he could like the Man for his unconscious defence of Aragorn’s brother and friend. He resolved then to make a point of putting aside his natural dislike and to listen to Bearas. Perhaps, since he was so recently come from the people, he would be an excellent choice for his council?
Ha- Naledi and Cheekybeak, you have a cameo appearance in revenge for your Imrahil-bashing! You love him. You want his babies.
BETA: ANARITHILIEN – whose kindness and generosity is unbounded!!
Chapter 13. Partings.
Legolas leaned against the wall, staring out of the open window. The sky was washed clean and that bright blue that comes after rain. A wind blew from the south and he could smell the sea, like a blue silk scarf on the wind. Gulls wheeled above crying and mewling. He felt that strange joy and elation that made him want to leap out of the window and run to the silver river in the distance, to plunge into its cold deeps. He had not yet seen the sea and its call pulled at his blood.
Instead he leaned a little further out of the window to catch the wind. it was not good for him, he knew, to be so inactive after all theses months of fighting and skulking and living in the wild. It made him tetchy and restless. He wanted to go to the sea. Legolas mused. There was nothing to keep him here. He could easily go with Imrahil when Elrohir left.
A little guilt crept in then; he and Elrohir had had a week together with nothing else to do but love each other. It had made him limbs warm and sated with sex, and his heart felt peaceful, like he had found something missing in his soul. He smiled and slid his hands through his hair. But at the same time, they had argued and rowed and shouted at each other, even come to blows once or twice in the sparring ring. But that was part of getting to know each other, he thought dismissing it. They were both warriors after all and the bruises had been nothing new to either of them. It was the pattern of a new relationship. And the making up had been quite delightful.
Behind him, Elrohir was throwing things quickly into saddlebags and stuffing other items into drawers and closing them quickly. He packed like he lived, like a whirlwind, thought Legolas fondly, for Elrohir was to leave with Elladan today. They were to ride with Eomer and his army, and Eowyn was to go with them. It bothered Legolas a little that Eomer might be hurt by Elrohir’s presence but he thought that Eomer had remembered the time they had together more fondly now and less painfully. Since they had fought together in Dagorlad, Eomer seemed to have accepted his place amongst Men as a King and therefore he had to find himself a wife he could love and have children with, who would make him happy as Legolas surely would not.
Legolas turned and watched Elrohir for a while, the stretch of his shirt over his broad swordsman’s shoulders, lean hips and waist. His long legs, long hair swinging as he bent and scooped clothes from the floor where he had cast them as he entered the room and just as quickly, entered Legolas.
Remembering, Legolas gave a wicked smile. Elrohir had held Legolas’ hands together and though Legolas could easily have wriggled free, he chose not to and allowed Elrohir the pretence of power. It had been arousing for both of them and Elrohir had been masterful and dominant.
Remembering, Legolas turned from the window and pushed himself away from the wall, his easy, loose stride reaching Elrohir within two steps, just in time to run his hands through his loose, unbraided hair and lick his lips. And then he was pressing Elrohir into the bed and pulling Elrohir’s shirt free from the waistband. Legolas shoved it up and licked Elrohir from the navel to his chest and hummed as he did so. When he got to Elrohir’s nipple, he looked up cheekily and grinned, then licked all the way down and lower this time, mouthing and nipping at the crotch of Elrohir’s breeches. ‘I love your smell,’ he murmured.
Elrohir sighed, already aroused and kissed him hard. At last he pulled away reluctantly. ’Let me pack, Legolas’ he said, smiling fondly. ‘I have to leave soon and you have distracted me enough today.’ He brushed his hand over Legolas’ hair and pushed himself to his feet.
‘Why don’t I come with you?’ Legolas asked for the umpteenth time. He lay on the bed with his hands behind his head and his long legs crossed. ‘You could tell your father that we are lovers at the same time,’ he added with a grin.
‘I will tell my father nothing.’ Elrohir stuffed a shirt into his bag vehemently and Legolas watched, a prickle of unease in his belly.
‘You will not tell your father about us?’ Legolas asked, uncertain and anxious. He wondered why Elrohir would not speak of him to Elrond. ‘Are you ashamed of being seen with a wild Woodelf?’ he said lightly, but he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat on the edge now
Elrohir laughed. ‘Am I ashamed of you? Never!’ he declared.
Legolas breathed. ‘Then what will you tell him?’ he asked again, quietly, insistent. A small niggle wormed its way through his doubt, and he remembered how the elves of Imladris viewed his own folk. More dangerous. Less wise. It had been said by others too. Pippin had blurted out that Gandalf had told Bilbo that once. But he did not think that Elrohir believed that, he told himself.
‘I will tell him nothing,’ Elrohir said, his voice irritated now. ‘I do not care what he thinks.’
Legolas stood up and went to look out of the window. He stood with his back straight and his long hair pulled over one shoulder. He did not understand why Elrohir would not tell his father of them unless this was not serious to Elrohir. When Aragorn had asked that they be discrete, for in Gondor there was still respect for the Laws which disapproved of the love between two men, Elrohir had been dismissive and annoyed and so this reticence to tell his father was unexpected and new to Legolas.
Elrohir was still shoving things into his pack. ’I do not wish everyone to know my business,’ he said carelessly, as if that were an explanation.
‘Your business?’ Legolas turned. ‘Your business? Is that all this is? You speak of our love as it were merely a.. ‘ He waved his hand inarticulately. ‘…something to be done.’
Elrohir shook his head, puzzled. ’I do not want everyone to know what we do!’
‘What we do? You make it sound so sordid.’ Legolas scooped up Elrohir’s tunic where he had flung it earlier and threw it at him.
Elrohir snatched it out of the air and stared at Legolas in surprise that it had become so heated, so suddenly. He did not speak.
‘Is that what you truly think?’ Legolas continued, his eyes simmering. ‘That this is just some little tumble that the Great Elrohir Elrondion had with some backwater Elf he met in the War, and never to be spoken of? Is that what this is to you?’ He hated the note of despair in his voice, of pleading.
‘No! No.’ Elrohir moved now and stood behind Legolas. He sighed. ‘No... You know I do not think that. You are the most glorious thing that has ever happened to me. Ever. How could you think that?’
‘Come,’ he said gently and brushed his fingers against Legolas’ arm, and just the touch alone made Legolas shiver. Elrohir saw it and stroked him again, leaned in and pressed himself against Legolas so he felt the stiffness against his thigh. Elrohir’s grey eyes were half closed in lust, heavy with desire. But Legolas shook himself and pulled away slightly.
‘Please, answer me first.’
‘No!’ Elrohir protested. ‘This is not just a tumble. How could you even think that?’ Elrohir pulled away himself then, stiff-backed and rigid . ‘Do you think so little of me?’
‘Then why do you not speak of me to your father?’
‘He already knows who you are,’ Elrohir said and now he sounded irritated. ‘I told you, I do not care what he thinks!’
‘He does not know what I am to you,’
Elrohir stepped away and looked at Legolas. Legolas lifted his hand to his own cheek, feeling stupid, insecure. Unlike him and he wondered why it mattered, for it had never mattered before. He looked down and let his shoulders drop. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said defeated. Annoyed with himself. ‘Tell him what you like. Don’t tell him. It isn’t important.’
Elrohir frowned. ‘It is important,’ he said suddenly. ‘What my father thinks is not important but you are my lover, my beloved. You are everything to me.’ He slid his arms around Legolas’ waist. ‘I love you. You are everything to me.’
Suddenly all the tension went from Legolas and he turned in the circle of Elrohir’s arms and lay his head upon Elrohir’s shoulder. He sighed. ‘I am being a fool. Like some love-sick maid swooning and sighing and demanding assurances,’ he said. ‘Forgive me.’
‘There is nothing to forgive,’ said Elrohir with a smile. He smelled Legolas hair, the scent of meadowgrass and sunshine on new-mown hay. ‘I love you. No one else matters.’
‘I love you too.’
Elrohir pulled him closer. ‘You do?’
Legolas blinked and looked at him puzzled. ‘Of course. Do you not feel how our songs entwine?’
Elrohir pulled a wry smile. ‘It is not as easy for me to see this as you…’ He leaned his cheek against Legolas’ head. ‘I need to hear the words,’ he murmured.
Legolas laughed and shook his head. ‘Listen to us!’ he declared. ‘I need you to tell me I matter enough for you to speak to your father about me and you need me to tell you I love you! Are we warriors who stood before the Black Gate and defied Sauron himself or a pair of love-sick maids mooning over our faithless swains?’
Elrohir’s shoulders dropped too and he grimaced at himself. ‘I do not feel like the warrior who stood before the Black Gates when I am with you,’ he said humbly. ‘I feel like the unworthy suitor who cannot quite believe he has even been allowed past the threshold, let alone steal a kiss.’
Legolas snorted. ‘You have to stop that,’ he said. ‘This adoration is not arousing.’
At that moment, a fist pounded on the door. ‘My lord! They await you in the square.’
They looked at each other. Then Elrohir lifted a hand to Legolas’ cheek. ‘We are no longer before the Morannon,’ he said. ‘We must be more discrete. For Aragorn’s sake.’
Legolas nodded. “Kiss me now, before you go. And let us not embarrass Aragorn by falling upon each other in public.’ He drew Elrohir into an embrace and clutched at his shoulders, pulling him close, wanting him closer than his own skin.
Laughing, Elrohir pulled away regretfully. ‘I must go. I hear them gathering in the square. Do you want me to appear flushed and undone with desire?’
‘Yes,’ said Legolas firmly. But he released Elrohir and watched him as he stopped to retrieve his pack, his sword.
As Elrohir buckled on his sword, Legolas stared. He knew now it was called Áicanaro. The black metal gleamed dully, like some strange alien metal not found on this earth. He did not want to listen to its song for it was unearthly and bloody. He did not want to touch it either.
Elrohir stood before him, sword at his hip, pack on his shoulder, cloaked and booted. His long black hair was caught up in a high tail that accentuated his cheekbones, his grey eyes full of passion. It was as if Legolas saw him again for the first time all those months ago when Elrohir strode past him in Imladris, out of the blazing sun and passed him, merely turning his head to look at Legolas as he passed, leaving Legolas almost swooning with desire. He laughed and flung his arms about his beloved.
‘Stay safe, my Ravéyön,’ he said softly naf ignored Elrohir’s slight shudder. ‘Do not fight orcs, slay dragons, argue with Elladan, dispute with Galadriel!’
Elrohir kissed him, smiling against his mouth and left.
They were to ride with the Rohirrim and Elrohir had decided he would do his best to be civil to Eomer for Aragorn’s sake. And Legolas’, for he had urged Elrohir to be generous with Eomer. ‘He has lost the Man who was father to him, his brother Theodred too. And now his sister will leave him too, to wed Faramir. He is newly King himself and unexpectedly. Be kind.’
So he had decided to try. For Legolas’ sake.
He glanced up to the palace and saw the gleam of pale gold of Legolas’ hair amongst the nobles assembled to watch their departure. Legolas stood with the hobbits who were standing upon a low wall so they could see. Nearby stood the merchant, Bearas. Elrohir had not spoken to him since they had stood together awaiting Aragorn’s arrival into the city, but Aragorn had elevated him to his court and council. All seemed to speak well of him, except Legolas who did not like him though the Woodelf could not say why when he was asked. Even now, he could see Legolas’ face tight and his dislike clear as Bearas made some light comment that had the hobbits laughing.
Eomer’s horse circled nervously and excited but his own Barakhir stood still, head flung up and nostril flaring. He could feel the muscles bunched and ready to fly at the merest suggestion and stroked his glossy black neck affectionately. And then Imrahil led his own grey horse from the stables and stood beside Elladan.
There was a loud cheering from the balconies above and Imrahil looked up to where two women waved and threw flowers at his feet. Their hands were stained with ink and their breath smelled of cheap spirits.
‘Blessings upon you, Prince Imrahil!’ they cried in voices only slightly slurred with drink.
Elrohir glanced up and Elladan gave a wry smile. ’You wonder at the fondness of those two harridans?’ he said. ‘These two were drunk and in the gutter. The Night Watch was about to put them in the stocks but Imrahil intervened. They are ignorant and unlettered.’ Elladan told Elrohir. He wrinkled up his nose and one of them now waved at him. ‘And they smell rather dreadful.’ He smiled at Imrahil fondly. ‘But it seems they have become quite fixated, following him around and touching his robes for luck.’
Elrohir watched Elladan carefully, the way he stood close to Imrahil but not touching, his fond gaze and lingering looks were obviously besotted. But Elrohir wondered if his heart were quite so easily won by fair words and fair visage. It was true that Imrahil was lordly and wise, but he was still a Man.
Elrohir did not want to think on that. It would break him to choose between Elladan and Legolas.
Imrahil mounted his horse and grimaced slightly for his bones clicked in his knees and Elrohir saw that in spite of his fair face, he was not a young Man. He was widowed and had children old enough to take the reins of government should he wish, Elrohir realised.
He glanced again at Elladan whose gaze was on Imrahil and Imrahil turned his head towards Elladan his gaze was soft and pleased. Elrohir could not help the squeeze of pain in his heart at the thought of Elladan making the same Choice as Arwen.
He was still standing unmounted beside Barakhir when Eomer lifted his hand and led the Eored from the city, with Eowyn at his side. Clattering hooves and the soft harrumph of horses as they passed finally roused Elrohir from his thoughts and he stepped carefully onto the mounting block, for his leg was better but not yet strong enough, and swung his good leg over Barakhir’s back. He gathered up the reins and settled into the saddle, turning to find Legolas again in the crowd.
At first, Legolas did not see him for he was staring at Bearas. The Man had his hand on Legolas’ arm and Legolas as looking down at his hand as if it were a snake.
‘Elrohir!’ called Elladan, and Elrohir was distracted for a moment and then when he looked back, he could not see Bearas and Legolas had turned back to the square and waved at Elrohir. So he thought no more about the strange incident and with a final look at his beloved, he turned Barakhir and followed Elladan through the White City, the cheering crowds who threw rose petals and ribbons in their path. The gates stood open, although they were rough and repaired, and first the Rohirrim passed through, then Dol Amroth and finally the Sons of Thunder.
Bearas watched the tall blond elf standing amongst the crowd gathered to watch the Men of Rohan leave the White City. He stood taller than any Man and many heads turned to look for he was very fair and graceful. There was a belief amongst the ordinary folk that he would bring plenty and good fortune to those he touched. It was nonsense of course, Bearas thought. More interesting was that which was between Legolas of the Woodland Realm and Elrohir, son of Elrond. And how he might use it.
He had already, he knew. Making sure that the King heard him defend the two against snide comments from two who should have been more careful.
The relationship between the two elves did not shock Bearas, for he had lived long in the mountains and there were stranger practices in the remote places of Gondor. It intrigued him in a way that confused and surprised him, for he held no superstition or prejudice, and yet…he reacted towards the son of Elrond in a way that Bearas himself could not understand. He was drawn to him like a magnet. Wanted to touch him. To draw him closer than skin. To absorb and be absorbed by him…to kneel before him and bare his throat and watch the darkness devour him…
Bearas passed a hand trembling over his eyes. Such strange thoughts came to him. Now and again it felt like he had emerged from a pool and looked about and saw where he was, who he was and did not recognise himself…And then he was pulled back down, submerged and could only look out like he was seeing through a glass and no one could hear him but he found his mouth moving and words came out that he did not control, that he would not have even thought when he lived in the mountains. And now the King himself not only knew who Bearas was, but had listened to his council. How did he even come to be here in the palace of the King of Gondor?
He leaned against the flat, warm stone wall, breathing hard and feeling how his heart beat, blood pumped. He felt like he was burning up. Looking down at his hands, he noted how they were worn with work but not with age; beneath the weathered skin, veins pumped. He turned then over so the palms faced upwards and stared at them as if they were not his.
When had he gained this knowledge of how Men thought, how to influence them? Where did he find this impulse to manipulate, to politic? To have power? It had never been in his thoughts before. He used to long for ease and comfort, to have enough to give his wife and daughter things. To make sure the babies did not die…
On his finger, the ring glowed softly. It warmed him, reassured him. Seemed almost to speak.
This good fortune has come to me, he found himself thinking. I have been lucky, that’s all. And this is just what I deserve. And I am bringing good to more people than just my own family. Look at the number of poor I have helped. Look at the widows and orphans who now have food and shelter because I have provided it, I have persuaded the King what to do.
You are doing good. The people have benefitted from you at the King’s side.
Yes. I am doing good. No matter that he was not quite at the King’s side.
Not yet perhaps…but soon. There is more you can do if you had more power.
If you knew where the Mirror was, you could bring others to help you…
Bearas did not know about this mirror but the benign voice was soothing and told him what he needed to do to bring riches and influence, so he listened and did what it bid him.
But it needed this mirror. And the mirror was in Minas Morgul so somehow he had to find a way of getting there.
He stroked the ring, feeling it warm his skin and the power leaked into the air, turned it faintly oily. Strange that Bearas himself felt it always, a constant, but no one else seemed aware unless he was actually using the ring to influence people. He did not dare to use it when the Elves or the Wizard were around, and faded into the background, assumed an air of diffidence and deference.
He found himself walking softly, through the crowd and away from the buzz and crush of the crowds and in the King’s rose garden. There were no guards and no one challenged him for none expected anyone to breach the King’s private garden. It was the King’s refuge and that was well known. This was a peaceful garden, a place of quiet in the heart of the teeming, crowded city, thought Bearas and found a stone bench amongst the roses, half hidden and discrete.
He had not intended but fortune was on his side, as it seemed always to be in these times. For not long after, he heard voices, quietly speaking and approaching. Now Bearas was on the King’s council but not yet, as he had already noted, quite in the King’s confidence and it would surely be considered an impertinence that he was sitting here in the rose garden. So he sat quietly and leaned against the warm stone wall at his back, half closed his eyes as if asleep, his fingers curled into a fist about the ring.
‘… stand down the guard or leave it as it is?’ It was Faramir’s voice. Bearas knew Faramir was over-sensitised to the feelings of others, he thought. Weak. Overly kind. It came from the cruelty with which his own father, Denethor, had shown him. This Bearas had learned from lesser nobles, anxious for Bearas’ patronage, both money and influence.
And now the other Man with whom Faramir spoke, sighed heavily. ‘In truth it is Gandalf should decide.’
Bearas froze. It was the King himself. He dared not be found skulking in the King’s garden; it was presumptuous and the King may decide he had overstepped his mark and dismiss him from the council almost before he had even taken up his position.
The King and Steward were strolling down a path that ran parallel to the one that Bearas had taken. With luck, it would not run into this one and the roses were dense enough now perhaps to hide him. He clenched his fingers into a fist around the ring on his finger, old gold, wrought about with spells and sorcery it crept out from between his fingers, turned the air oily and Bearas suddenly felt like he was looking out through glass, like he was not really there but watching from another place.
‘He does not say what it is, or what danger it brings but I think we must continue to guard it. Is it safe?’ the King continued.
Bearas felt the ring still, and grow in its alertness, listening. What is it that the Wizard wanted guarding? That was dangerous and secret?
‘I have it somewhere no one would think of looking,’ Faramir said but his voice did not sound pleased but…an edge of fear? Of something, anxiety?
‘I for one am puzzled as to why Gandalf ever brought it here,’ the King said. Now they drew alongside Bearas where he hid and he drew back still further.
‘Indeed. We do not question but perhaps it would have been better left where it was….’ Faramir’s voice faded as they moved further along the path. ‘But the guard is nervous there and I cannot blame them. Perhaps a different place?’
‘Perhaps a different guard?’ The King countered and they moved out of earshot. ‘One less afraid of ghosts?’
Bearas licked his dry lips. Now the danger had passed, he felt that sense of being behind glass slip away, like he had been allowed to step out from behind something. He let his head drop and looked at the ground. There had been some rain over the weeks but not much and the earth was dry and pale. Limestone, he thought. Like the mountains of his home and for a moment he wished to be back there, when life was harder but less complicated. Where he felt at least it was his own. But a stronger voice drowned out those doubts, was insistent, loud.
What is that is guarded and is dangerous, brought by the Wizard? Where has the Wizard been? Where would no one think to look and gives the Steward fear? Where Men fear ghosts?
Bearas felt a strange, fluttery excitement in his belly. Quietly he rose to his feet and almost as if something were thinking for him, he found himself propelled back out into the busy square, amongst the excited people of the city.
Where in the city would Faramir put something dangerous and secret? Where would make the guards nervous and anxious?
He looked across the city square and directly opposite him was the Rath Dínen, the Silent Street that led to the Houses of the Dead.
The air was heavy and the sky threatened rain. Storm, thought Legolas as he moved about in the upstairs of the house Aragorn had given the fellowship to which he had returned with Elrohir’s departure. The hobbits were sprawled in the garden, wreathed in pipe smoke and laughing together. Gandalf had not really been seen for days, having closeted himself away in the library muttering to himself about Nimloth and Isildur. Gimli was thoroughly enjoying bossing about the engineers and builders of the city and supervising the reconstruction of the gates, hands stuck in his belt and feet planted firmly apart.
But Legolas drifted like smoke, from one room to another, half listening to the various conversations. Not really part of one group, no longer the fixed point for Gimli …the Sea lingered in his thoughts and Elrohir was an emptiness in his heart.
There was one room left unoccupied in the house and Legolas found himself standing in the middle of the room with his meagre belongings on the iron bed. He looked down at the worn pack that he had brought with him from the Wood, crossing the Hithaeglir to Imladris and then the secret journey with the Ring. He suddenly felt tired. So much had happened since he had found Anglach’s torn and tortured body, limply hanging from the tree in which Smeagol had hidden.
Legolas drew a breath but found his hands shaking. He stared at them, and then clutched one in the other and hugged them to his chest. But a sense of panic bubbled in his belly and chest and he found himself taking wide panting gasps of air as if he were running.
A small, silver-framed mirror hung on the wall behind him and he turned to stare into it in shock. His face seemed to swim in the dim light, paler than usual, eyes wide and the pupils huge. I look ill, he thought. Faded. He was reminded for a moment of the elegant mirror they had found in Minas Morgul. He wondered briefly where it was.
In the strange storm light, shadows seemed to creep in from the open window as clouds chased across the sky and the curtain lifted slightly in the wind, as if something had peeked in at him. He turned suddenly but there was nothing. Just shadows. He turned back to the mirror. Was that just his own shadow standing just behind him, at his shoulder? He felt cold and his fingertips prickled.
He turned his head quickly. But it was still only shadows.
Shuddering, he strode quickly to the mirror hanging on the wall and lifted it down, carefully turned it over and leaned it, mirror side against the wall.
So many thanks to those still reading and apologies for the delay in posting this. I have come to a tricky bit and was not quite sure how it proceeds. But clarity now.
As always, my very fabulous Anarithilien beta’d this so thank you.
Chapter 14: The Silent Street
A man sat silently in the corner of the tavern, barely seen. A stranger to this hostelry. He sank back into the darkness. Shadows drew close to him as if listening. Suddenly the door opened and an unseasonal wind blasted through the door as it opened and shut quickly.
A young man was blown in, dead leaves followed him and rattled on the floorboards. Heads turned, voices raised in greeting. The young man wore the livery of the Tower Guard and he laughed and called to a woman as she passed him holding the big glass tankards, three in each fist.
Then the barman called him over and pushed a glass tankard towards him, muttered something and then nodded over towards the stranger. The young man turned to follow the barkeep’s direction. He lifted the tankard and raised it thanks to the stranger and then having taken a long draught, he pushed his way between the noisy drinkers and came to stand before the stranger.
‘What have I done to deserve this?’ he asked smiling. His pale blue eyes were sharp and quick, darting round the room.
‘Your name is Maltök?’ the stranger said rather than asked.
Maltök slid alongside him on the bench and leaned his elbows on the dirty table, marked with beer and stained with the rings of glasses left too long. ‘It is.’ He looked sideways at the stranger. ‘Is there something you want?’
‘It is a mere whim, nothing more,’ said the stranger. He leaned back and in the lamplight a red gemstone flashed briefly on the stranger’s finger and Maltök was captivated.
‘What do you want of me, lord?’ he said, eyes fixed upon the ring.
Bearas smiled. ‘I merely wish to see the tomb of the Steward Denethor. He was a great man and had no proper funeral. I wish to pay my respects. He did me some kindness when I was young.’
Maltök put his head on one side thoughtfully. ‘It can be done, lord. But it will be difficult and the way is forbidden to any. It is always guarded.’
Bearas slipped three fat gold coins towards the young man. ‘There are ways,’ he said. His eyes seemed so dark as to be almost black and Maltök’s lips parted in horror but he did not speak. ‘Find a way.’
For five days, Bearas sat watching from the window of his rich house on the sixth level. The windows had leaded glass and heavy curtains of wool embroidered with bears and roses, which he had taken as his heraldic device. He deliberately ignored the mispronunciation of his name by his enemies, those nobles he could not win or who were suspicious of a common man made rich by Fortune. In retaliation he placed more and more emphasis on the Bear in his name and slurred over the suffix. Lord Herion was one who ridiculed him but Bearas did not care. Revenge would come.
The ring was warm on his finger, gave him confidence, stretched itself in his mind like a long cat…or a serpent. He did not know which.
Now he watched as a messenger ran in the street below and knocked upon the heavy, wooden carved door of his rich merchant’s house. The messenger was scruffily dressed, not a liveried servant.
He saw the door open and the maidservant leaned out to speak to the boy, shortly and rather dismissively and the boy thrust a note into her hand before she could shut the door in his face. Bearas twitched the curtain aside and leaned out of the window, calling to the boy.
The boy looked up astonished, his cheeks flushed from running and his eyes bright. Hungry.
‘Here! You will have earned this,’ Bearas called and tossed down a copper coin to the lad. He watched the boy’s mean and narrow face split into a grin.
Bearas watched him coldly. ‘Do another errand and there is another coin in it for you.’
‘Name it, my lord.’
‘You know the lord Gimli of Erebor? Tell me where he is now that I may speak with him about some stone I wish to purchase on behalf of the King,’ Bearas lied easily.
‘I do know of him, milord. An’ I know he is at the Third Gate even now for he is watching the new Gates being put into position.’
Bearas smiled thinly. ‘Good. Here. For you troubles.’ He flipped a coin towards the boy. ‘Come to me again when he is finished that I may speak with him.’
‘Very well, milord.’
Behind him, a soft, nervous knock on the door. He did not turn but half listened to the girl, awkward and fumbling in his presence. He did not care.
‘My lord, a message arrived for you.’
‘Leave it there,’ he said, not turning from the window.
He heard the girl leave but still stared out of the window for a while. Only when she was gone did he turn and flip open the message.
It was from Maltök.
He had found it.
Suddenly his plans had changed. No longer did he need the dwarf-lord with his rock-solid head, nor the irritating elf that whatever Bearas did, looked down his supercilious nose at him. No. He did not need any of them now. He had found what he needed.
At supper he ignored his wife but the new baby cried incessantly, its thin wails piercing him and dragging his attention from his thoughts.
He speared slices of bloody meat from the platter. Blood pooled on his own plate, dribbled from the corner of his mouth.
The baby squalled loudly and nothing his wife could do would calm it.
‘If you do not want me to take that squalling infant and dash its brains out on the steps, you will take it from me, woman,’ he said coldly. She scooped it up and scurried away without looking at him.
He looked up and frowned. The child who had come with them from the mountains, Gerda he remembered, sat at the table staring at him. Her hair was gold, he thought. Like the ring. His finger stroked over it and comforted him.
‘Have you been good today, Gerda?’ he asked softly. And when she nodded hesitantly, he said, ‘You must learn to sew and sing and pray. You will make a good marriage soon. Connect us with a noble family. They will give me connections.’
She had looked down at her plate, half her dinner growing cold on the fine porcelain, but he did not care. She was a bit young still but it would not be long before she began her monthly flow and then she could be married for a rich dowry to some impoverished nobles who still had alliances with the King. Old blood, no money. He was new blood, new money.
Smiling, he turned the ring on his finger and swallowed the almost raw meat on his plate without tasting it. He was so hungry. He never seemed to be able to eat enough to satisfy his hunger.
He didn’t notice when Gerda left. He cared less that his wife did not reappear and devoured all the meat. Even then he called for more.
He found he could not bear to eat bread or fruit or any other food. He could not drink wine. He had not eaten enough but was aware that the servants were anxious and so he sent them away and waited instead for midnight. Then he threw a black cloak around his shoulders and slipped silently, like a shadow out of the house, like he had never been there.
It was a dark, moonless night but clear and the stars hard and bright on the stones of the empty city streets. The watch approached and he sank back into the shadows. The two men passed him, talking softly, and did not notice him at all although one of them shivered and pulled his cloak about his shoulders more tightly. It was cold and even in May, his breath turned to frost.
He stopped at last in a square that had been completely ruined and the dwarf had not reached with his plans to rebuild the city. Here the empty, abandoned houses were all in darkness, ruined by the bombardment by the Nazgûl’s fell beasts. The jagged outline of the crumbling houses seemed to tear at the sky. Not a soul was about. All was silent and still. Ahead of him, the Silent Street that led to the Tombs of the Kings.
He waited here for Maltök as instructed, letting his cloak fall about him, the hood pulled low over his face. It was strange, the sensation of being shrouded in the black cloak, almost like disappearing in the darkness of the night.
Nine for mortal men
He started and turned around.
The darkness seemed to intensify, shift and Bearas stepped back. For a moment his heart clenched with fear and sweat broke out on his forehead, lip and he felt the fine linen shirt cling to his back. A silent scream tried to force itself from his chest, clawing its way out like a trapped animal. Somehow he had become caught, ensnared, somehow he felt that he himself had been swallowed by something that inhabited him, and he was sunk deep into his own belly and looking up towards the light that he could no longer reach. That slow scream started in his throat but was strangled by a long shadow that reached into his mouth, forced itself down his throat and crushed his chest, his heart….
His blood was pumping through veins. He gazed at his own hand in wonder and flexed his fingers…fingers of flesh and blood and bone. Sinews stretched, Blood pumped. He breathed in cold air that burned his throat and lungs….ah. Skin. Sensation. Breath. Texture. Smell. He rubbed his fingertips together and felt the rough catch of his skin.
A slow pressure pressed down on him then, struggled with the man inside.
Help me! Help me!
He felt like he was in a nightmare and running through tunnels pursued by a beast of unimaginable horror. He stumbled and fell against the cold stone of the bridge that spanned the cleft in the rock. Leaning over the parapet he stared into the depths below, the plunge into the dark and thought he should throw himself from the bridge.
Gerda and Marinel, his wife, would be better off without him. They had money now. His fists curled about the stone rail and his knuckles clenched white with the strain. He leaned over the stone balustrade until he stood on tiptoe, barely touched the ground and thought about casting himself into the abyss below where the dark writhed and swirled.
You will die. And your soul be devoured.
He knew it was the Ring. It spoke to him. Its voice was metallic, insidious, resentful. It made him hate.
‘I am not like this!’ he cried but his voice was weak and lost in the darkness. ‘I am lost….Help me.’ But the words were snatched away by the wind.
Suddenly there were footsteps ringing on the cold hard stones. He turned, gasping, but a surge from the ring wrestled him back down so all he could do was claw, drowning in the darkness.
When Maltök appeared with another guardsman marching confidently up the Silent Street towards the square, Bearas had recovered. He stood in the shadows and watched as Maltök nodded to him and then jerked his head towards the other Tower Guard at his side. This new one wore a knowing smile plastered across his smug face. Bearas did not smile. His fingers stroked the ring’s smooth gold, caressed the red stone and felt warmth flood him. There was a red light behind his eyelids like he had closed his eyes and looked up into the sun.
He passed the new guard two gleaming coins, and ignored the greed in his eyes, the slap of his lips as he laughed and shoved them into his pocket. Bearas despised them both, would use them both. The new guard was called Tyrises. He stank of garlic and onions and beer.
‘You are not the only one who has asked to see Denethor’s tomb,’ Tyrises said. ‘There are many who feel he was not given proper regard.’ The Man smiled greedily.
But Bearas pushed down the dislike, the contempt and slipped his arm over Maltök’s shoulders companionably, let the ring warm Maltök, bring him close, make him feel honoured that this important and influential merchant should choose him, should show him such favour and familiarity. Bearas felt Maltök relax and smile and a thin sneer curled over Bearas’ lips. The ring slid its long black tentacles into Malök’s mouth, into his ears and nose, wrapped itself about his head and neck and chest and squeezed so he could no longer think but nodded along with everything Bearas suggested.
He followed the two men into the tombs of the Stewards. Once inside, the close dark was cold. In the gloom of the sputtering torchlight, shadows ran ahead of them as if excited, leading him on. They paused before the tomb of Denethor but he was not interested.
‘Show me what else is here,’ he said, knowing the two men were enslaved now, and their slack mouths, glazed eyes showed him he was powerful now. Invincible.
Maltök led him slowly through the cold House of the Dead, past the carved images of long dead stewards, their hands uplifted in blessing or approbation, he cared not which. Maltök paused before a narrow stone door and glanced at the guard, then pushed open the door.
Within was a small guard room. A fire flickered in a brazier and another man was seated on a low stool, warming his hands.
When Maltök entered he stood. ‘Right glad I am that you are back, Maltök,’ he said, rubbing his hands. Then he saw Bearas. ‘What is this? You cannot be here.’ His face changed to one of aggression and anger. His hand fell to his sword. ‘It is forbidden that anyone else should be here.’
But the other guard slid up behind him and before the guard knew anything, had drawn a heavy bludgeon and thumped him over the head. He collapsed slowly to the ground.
‘Where is it?’ Bearas asked, almost breathless. It was here, he could feel it. His nerves tingled and every hair on his body stood alert.
Maltök drew back a curtain and there in the corner, the shadows gathered like a shroud around the hessian-wrapped mirror. He could hardly keep his hands from trembling. Ripping the hessian from the mirror, he stood back. There was a white robe draped over its surface and he ground his teeth. The zigûrun. He had suffocated the Mirror’s power.
He leaned forwards in a fury and tore the white robe from the mirror, threw it to the floor and stared into its silvered surface.
Breathless. Blood thundered.
In the darkness a silvery glow swam and coalesced into a face. His face. It moved closer towards the surface and he breathed in wonder.
But the reflection moved when he did and it was still his face. Not enough.
No. It is not enough…
He turned his head to look back into the heavy darkness of the Tombs.
In the guardroom, he could see lamplight falling on the unconscious guard. Tyresis said something in a crude tone and Maltök laughed- but behind his eyes was a horror.
‘Bring him here.’
Bearas knew he spoke, felt his mouth form the words, saw their startled faces. But they obeyed. They had no choice.
He leaned over the inert body of the young guard and drew a knife that flashed briefly in the lamplight. A spurt of blood spattered over his hand, over the marble floor. Over the silvered surface of a mirror.
There was a flash of light, sparking deep inside the Mirror. And Bearas moved towards it, reached his hand out and touched the surface of the mirror. His fingers sank into it, and he pressed so his hand sank into it up to the wrist and he closed his eyes and then a cold, cold hard bony finger met his.
He opened his eyes in horror.
Faraway, two black horses galloped over the flat grasslands. Clouds gathered over the huge horizon, towering thunderheads and the wind from the East swept over the long grass so it rolled like a sea. Behind them the Eastfold, and the éored of Eomer and Eowyn were returning to Meduseld.
Elrohir did not regret leaving the Rohirrim. In spite of the civility both he and Eomer worked at, leaving them at the Entwash had been a relief for them both. Now it was but he and Elladan. As it had always been.
Suddenly something pulled at his blood. Like the moon pulled the tide and he hauled ungenerously on Barakhir’s mouth, turning him a tight circle which the black horse fought, stamping and tossing his head so the silver bit flashed in the dim stormlight. Elrohir turned his face back towards the south, towards Minas Tirith.
We are Nine….
Special thanks to Nash (glad you enjoyed the drabble), Naledi, Cheekybeak, Caunedhiel for the smashing and encouragin reviews and for not complaining once in the last chapter that there was no Legolas!! So lots of our favourite elf in this one:)
Chapter 15: The Three Hunters
Elrohir was still staring down the long road they had already travelled- the whisper echoing in his mind.
He was suddenly filled with dread and pulled Barahkir to a standstill, his long black mane pulled by the same wind that blew back Elrohir’s own high tail of raven-black hair.
We are Nine….
‘What are you doing?’ Elladan shouted, driving Baraghur in front of his brother. The two horses nipped at each other uncharacteristically. ‘Elrohir!’
Elrohir blinked slowly. Fear settled upon him now like carrion and gnawed at his gut. ‘I heard…I thought…’
‘What?’ Elladan quietened now, and smoothed Baraghur’s glossy neck. ‘Elrohir?’
But Elrohir stared back across the Eastfold, along the shining river towards Minas Tirith. His eyes were wide and the pupils blown wide.
Gently, Elladan leaned across and stroked his hand over Elrohir’s arm. ‘What is it? What do you feel?’
Elrohir turned his head towards Elladan slowly. He blinked once and shook his head. ‘I do not know…I thought…I heard…’ Barakhir snorted and tossed his head, skittered sideways so that Elrohir had to shift and hold the reins in one hand.
‘An echo of the Nazgûl…a whisper…’
Elladan eased Baghur close to Barakhir so both horses stilled, he soothed them with a spread of calm over the air, let it permeate so that it settled too upon Elrohir. He sighed.
‘They are gone,’ said Elladan. ‘We saw them. Angmar was vanquished upon the Pelennor Field, Khamûl and his brethren were sucked into the Void. How could you hear them? It is surely a lingering of the Black Web perchance?’
Elrohir looked down, turning inwards and saw how there was still a slick of darkness in his blood, though the threads had been incinerated. He shook his head slightly as if to rid himself of the cobweb of dreams.
Elladan reached over and pressed his warm hand upon Elrohir’s.
Mountains edged along the Eastfold, the Ered Nimrais behind them and the Hithaeglir ahead of them. Sunlight on the snow, frost in the air. Elrohir breathed in and let it cleanse him.
Elladan let out a shout of challenge and urged Baraghur onwards so his feet kicked up the turf. Barakhir snorted and pulled and Elrohir gave him his head. The Sons of Thunder charged through the Entwash, the sunlight sparkling through the splashing water as they cantered through the ford and surged up onto the dry banks and into the East Emmet towards Lothlorien and all that they had worked towards for so many years.
Legolas leaned over the parapet of the city walls, wind through his long, long hair, yearning towards the Sea. It had him. He had never understood when in Imladris, others had spoken of the Way West, for so few from his home travelled over the sea.
But the other yearning in his heart was for Elrohir, and whilst he did not sail, nor would Legolas. Elrohir grounded him. Only a week had Elrohir been gone and already he pined.
He laughed softly at the very notion of the passionate storm that was his lover as grounding him in Middle Earth.
He was looking for Gimli when the gulls had passed overhead, he remembered, and pushed away from the wall. With surprise he saw that it was already evening and over the Pelennor Fields, long shadows reached towards the city.
By now the Dwarf would be back in the house that Aragorn had given the Fellowship, he thought. It was a comfortable house of sufficient size for them all, with nice gardens and trees. Legolas wondered if Aragorn was lonely up in the palace of the Stewards on his own with his councillors and nobles, and those high ceilings and crowded council chambers. For it was not like his own father’s palace with its small chambers and homely kitchen, the apartments and pools and the river rushing through it. That was more like the woods than the Steward’s palace of pale stone and smooth marble floors.
As he dropped from the city walls into one of the quieter city squares, empty at this time before evening when most folk were eating, he saw a familiar figure sitting on some shallow steps beneath the city walls. It was one of the Men who had accompanied Legolas into Minas Morgul.
‘Arduin,’ he called softly. ‘Well met!’
Arduin looked up and there was such desolation in his eyes it made Legolas pause. He had seen that before. In the Wood. On the Pelennor Field.
When he saw it was Legolas, Arduin scrambled to his feet and bowed. But Legolas shook his head in refusal of such abeyance. ‘You do not need to bow to me, my friend,’ he said. ’We are comrades.’ Then he bent his head to look at the Man more closely and in concern. ‘What has happened?’
Arduin pressed his lips together for a moment and looked down, blinking hard. Legolas leaned forwards in concern. ‘It is Ioralas. You remember him? He came with us into Minas Morgul.’
Legolas nodded. Of course, that was the Man who had comforted Arduin when he had been scared of going into the ancient, haunted city. ‘Yes. I remember him of course.’
‘He has disappeared. Gone. And no one knows what has happened to him.’ Arduin’s voice splintered.
‘Legolas stepped towards him and reached out. ‘I am sorry. I …I would have come sooner had I known.’ He paused for he might not have come. After all, he did not really know either of these Men. Then a little thought began to niggle away at him. ‘What do you mean? He has disappeared? Does the King know?’
Arduin gave a strangled laugh. ‘No one cares, my lord.’
Legolas blinked. ‘Have you told the King?’
‘My lord, the King will not listen to me, a mere lowly guard in his army.’ Arduin glanced up suddenly. ‘Forgive me my lord. I did not mean to speak so…Please do not report me.’
Legolas leaned down to peer at the Man, concern in his eyes. ‘The King will not punish you for your concern for your friend.’ He folded himself so he sank down beside the Man on the low step. The limestone was warm from the day’s sun and a scent of early jasmine drifted from a garden nearby. ‘Come. Tell me what happened.’
‘He was supposed to have been on guard duty. In the Rath Dínen, my lord.’ Arduin glanced up at Legolas as if he were expected to know the significance of this but Legolas did not and he did not wish to interrupt the Man at this moment so he stored that away to find out later. ‘But he did not turn up. He left the barracks as usual but the sentry he was supposed to relieve said that he did not arrive. He has not been seen in any taverns, or any of his usual haunts. He has simply vanished.’
Arduin’s chin was in his hands and his eyes downcast as he spoke. But Legolas listened intently. ‘Has there been a search for him?’
‘Only I have searched, my lord.’ Arduin sighed heavily. ‘Oh there was a cursory look round by some of the Tower Guard, but they only found that his clothes have gone and his belongings. They say he has deserted.’
Legolas winced at this; if all his belongings had disappeared, it seemed likely that Ioralas had indeed deserted. Although why he would do so now was a mystery. He glanced at Arduin and steeled himself, then said gently, ‘Perhaps he has just gone home. Perhaps the War is finished and he just felt tired…It happens.’
‘But he would not leave his old mother. She lives in the lower circles and only has him. He would not abandon her.’ Arduin looked up at Legolas but his eyes were hopeless and despairing. ‘He would not have gone without telling me.’
Arduin’s mouth trembled and he looked down at his hands. ‘We have been friends since our first day, lord. And then we were in the siege, and then following the King and…’ His voice faltered and Legolas winced in empathy. It was not unlike his own story. ‘We thought we would die and Ioralas said he could not bear it if he did not speak…’
Legolas swallowed. He had realised of course, when they walked into the shadow and fear of Minas Morgul. It was the tenderness with which Ioralas had cajoled Arduin into the Tower. It was the concern he showed at Arduin’s fear.
‘But my lord…Legolas,’ Arduin corrected with a brief smile. ‘It is one thing to declare yourself to your beloved before the Gates of the Morannon,’ Arduin said in a low, anxious voice. ‘It is another thing altogether in the City where the Laws are strong.’
Legolas frowned. Aragorn had said the same thing: love between two men would not be understood by the old families, those who were traditional, who held power. It was why he and Elrohir had been discrete, Legolas reminded himself, forgetting that what was discrete for a Woodelf was not quite the same for everyone else. And Elrohir had raged at the constraint for some time before Legolas reminded him that they only did so for Aragorn.
‘You have not argued?’ he asked Arduin very gently. ‘Have things been strained or cool between you?’ he added, thinking of how he and Elrohir argued and fought and how easy it would be for either of them to throw everything into a satchel and gallop away, gallop home. He tugged at his sleeve. What if Elrohir did not come back?
‘No.’ Arduin sounded so utterly miserable that Legolas pushed away his own fears and put his hand on Arduin’s shoulder. He leaned in slightly, and half closed his eyes to listen.
Arduin’s shoulders slumped under Legolas’ hand, as if he gave up all pretence and allowed himself to show his fear and loss. ‘We were going to finish this tour of duty and then go and set up a farm somewhere, bring along his old mum. We were going to the Lebinnin. We had saved…’ Arduin’s voice broke. ‘He would not leave with never a word…Where would he go? Suppose he has fallen somewhere, or been attacked and is lying somewhere and no one knows…Suppose he is…’
Legolas leaned in and listened, letting the notes tease out on the wind, humming softly so there was a sense of the sunshine on the white limestone, rock flowers between the cracked pavement and gravelly soil, clear hard water, a smile, gentle hands tilling the soil….
Arduin gasped in surprise and stared at Legolas. Legolas noticed how bright blue were his eyes in his sun-weathered face. There were tears in his eyes but a different look now, not quite the despair of before.
‘I will see what I can find out,’ said Legolas, moved. ‘I cannot believe either that he would simply leave and not tell you.’ Legolas smiled kindly and Arduin’s face was suddenly transformed. Tears gleamed in his eyes.
‘Thank you my lord. Thank you!’ He grasped Legolas’ hands in his with deep gratitude. ‘No one will listen to a simple solider like me but they will listen to you, the Lord Legolas of the North, hero of the War and…’
Legolas laughed, slightly embarrassed and shaking his head interrupted. ‘I am naught but a simple solider too,’ he said. ‘But I do know Aragorn Elessar, King of Gondor and he has his uses.’ He smiled. ‘I will speak to him on your behalf.’
He left Arduin at the square before the barracks. Lime trees surrounded it and in the centre was a fountain. The fountain had been repaired and water splashed companionably into the smooth basin below. There he took to the roofs as it was much quicker and he found himself a little lost in all those narrow alleys and winding streets.
Soon he stood on the sloping pink tiled roof of the house that Aragorn had given the Fellowship. He could hear through the open window below, the sound of Gimli’s earth-rich voice and the hot tang of pipeweed drifted upwards. He found he quite liked the smell now; it meant fellowship to him now. The hobbits and Gimli, Aragorn. Gandalf even. He smiled to himself and thought himself fortunate indeed to have found such friends.
‘I suppose I could bring more dwarves to build your city.’ Gimli’s voice was contented, and Legolas knew he was leaning back in a low, well-padded chair, his belly comfortably full and a pipe of Longbottom Leaf smouldering quietly. And it meant Aragorn was there too.
In the garden below Legolas could hear the hobbits’ quiet chatter. Merry laughed loudly at something and Pippin’s voice raised in protest.
Legolas sat on the edge of the roof, dangling his long legs over the edge and leaned his elbows on his knees and his chin in his cupped hands and thought.
Ioralas was in the Rath Dinnen, he remembered, but he did not know what that was or why a guard was needed there. Perhaps it was somewhere on the city walls, he thought. But Aragorn would know and Aragorn was just …here.
He landed lightly on the window sill and stepped through the open window onto the pale oak floorboards.
There was a stifled curse, a crash and the sound of glass breaking, axe clattering on the wooden floor.
‘Legolas! By Durin’s Beard and Mahal's balls! One day I will have your head off before I see you!’
Legolas blinked. ‘What have I done to offend you, Gimli?’ he asked wide-eyed, wondering what on earth had startled the dwarf so badly. ‘What has happened?’
‘YOU have happened!’ Gimli shouted, scooping up the bits of glass and seizing a bit of lace that was on a table nearby. Gimli mopped up the spilt beer with the lace, cursing loudly.
Suddenly there was the sound of scampering feet and the hobbits burst through the door all at once, swords drawn and falling over themselves.
‘What is it?’ demanded Sam loudly, standing in front of the others and his eyes were defiant, fiery.
Legolas took a step back, holding up his hands appeasing. ‘I know nothing, Samwise. But please, put down the sword.’
Sam blinked as if he were coming out of a dream and stared at the sword in his hand. He took a deep breath and turned to Frodo who stood behind him. ‘I am sorry, Legolas. I…We…we thought Aragorn was being attacked.’
‘We heard a crash and then Gimli’s axe…’
‘And breaking glass…’
‘And Gimli swearing…’ said Merry and Pippin at the same time.
Aragorn had not moved, he had not even taken his pipe from his mouth. He was watching them all with a look of deep, wry amusement.
‘Legolas came through the window,’ he said, eyes fixed upon the hobbits. Then he glanced at Gimli. ‘He must have knocked over Gimli’s beer.’
‘I did no such thing!’ Legolas protested and Gimli grinned and Aragorn lifted an eyebrow.
‘But I thank you for your quick defence of me,’ Aragorn said over Legolas’ protests. ‘I feel very well protected knowing that I have such valiant guards.’ He rose to his feet and with a smile and bow, he ushered the hobbits out of the room, assuring them that he could manage Legolas and Gimli quite well but thank you.
Legolas was sitting in Aragorn’s chair when he turned back, his long legs crossed and Aragorn’s wine cup dangling from his hand. It was empty.
‘That’s what you get for taking the dwarf’s side over mine,’ Legolas said insouciantly and tossed the empty cup to Aragorn. ‘And don’t start thinking you’re King when you’re with us,’ he added just in case.
Gimli was still muttering so Legolas took the pieces of the broken glass from him gently and as he did so, looked into the dwarf’s earth-brown eyes and smiled. ‘Was ever a dwarf so loved, Belasen,’ he murmured.
Gimli scowled at him. ‘Was ever an elf more irritating?’
Legolas disposed of the broken beer glass, wrapping it carefully in the beer-soaked lace and placed it in the coal bucket. Aragorn shook his head as he did so but Legolas ignored him for he needed to ask Aragorn serious questions.
‘Aragorn, where is the Rath Dínen?’ he asked without further ado.
Aragorn frowned. His pipe had gone out. ‘It is the Silent Street that leads to the Hallows,’ he said, striking a flame and holding it to his pipe. He sucked on the stem to light the pipeweed. It flared suddenly, casting an orange glow on his face and then lit. He leaned back and looked at Legolas. ‘It is where the tombs of the Kings are. Why do you want to know that?’ he asked curiously.
Legolas was puzzled. ‘A Man has gone missing and he was supposed to be in this Rath Dínen.’
Aragorn looked up. ‘Missing?’
‘He was supposed to be on guard duty there,’ Legolas explained. ‘Why do you have a sentry in your tombs? Surely you do not fear desecration of Denethor’s tomb?’ he asked, for he could think of no reason why guards would be posted over dead men.
Aragorn twitched a little. Then he pressed his lips together as if thinking. ‘Well I suppose it does not hurt that you two know. It is that Mirror that Gandalf brought back from Minas Morgul,’ he said. ‘He wanted somewhere secret and safe for it. I suggested the vaults but he felt there were too many reasons for household staff to be in there especially with the coronation and then the wedding. No one has reason to go to the Rath Dínen and it is easy to guard the way.’ He fiddled with his pipe. ‘This man…did he abandon his post? I have thought it might be a frightening posting and asked that only the bravest be posted there.’
Legolas frowned. An uneasy feeling crept down his spine.
‘You set a Man to guard the Dead?’ Gimli shivered. ‘I will never forget the Dimholt and passing through the Mountain. Even a dwarf’s blood ran cold. How much more a poor Man!’
Aragorn tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair irritably. ‘He was not alone, Gimli. They were in pairs so anyone who disappeared must have done so after he was relieved.’
Legolas leapt to his feet. ‘Then I must speak with the Man he was on duty with. Surely he will know what has happened?’
‘Sit down, Legolas,’ Aragorn said patiently. ‘Do you think they will speak to you? Look at you. And elf, a hero of the War. The King’s companion.’ He smiled and pushed himself to his feet. ‘And besides, anyone worth speaking to will be in a tavern and you do not like taverns.’
‘Not true. I love taverns,’ Legolas lied quickly and then added, ‘Well if they will not speak to me, they will certainly not speak to Elessar, King of Many Names!’
‘No. But they will speak to Strider, who came with the King’s Men and is a nobody.’ Aragorn grinned and rose to his feet. Only then did Legolas see that he wore not his crimson robe, but the scruffy tunic and hose that he had worn in the Wild. Cleaned and mended it was true.
‘I cannot believe you have kept those,’ Legolas said wryly. ‘And I do not think Arwen will let you keep them.’
‘Actually she likes them,’ Aragorn said, a little shyly.
Gimli snorted. ‘You’ll not be thinking of going into any taverns on your own, laddie. I’ll be coming with you.’
‘Oh well that’s discrete!’ cried Legolas. ‘A Ranger and a dwarf. How inconspicuous. No one will ever guess! You may as well take the hobbits and Gandalf!’
At last Aragorn persuaded both that he should go alone and they could wait outside, Gimli hidden amongst the rubble and Legolas at the window in case there was trouble. And there was no question that all three felt a joy in the thrill of it, the frisson of danger.
‘The Three Hunters again.’ Aragorn smiled and the weight of kingship slipped from his shoulders for a while.
Sorry for the long delay in posting anything- I've had major surgery (planned) but it took weeks to get my concentration back and get anything written.
Summary of plot:
A mirror was brought from Minas Morgul by Gandalf and is hidden in the Silent Street of Minas Tirith where it has been found by one Bearas, who wears Khaműl's ring, vanquished by Elrohir during Sons of Thunder 1. A guard has been murdered and his blood splashed over the mirror. Now Legolas is drawn into the search for the missing guard.
Chapter 16: The missing guardsman
Aragorn slouched uncharacteristically. His hand cradled the small beer and his hood was pulled down over his eyes. He felt comfort in the well-worn disguise, all the cares of kingship slid from him and he was simply Strider once again. Two friends outside ready with swords should he need it. He listened to the talk, the friendly greetings, the banter.
This was the tavern most frequented by the soldiers of Minas Tirith and where Arduin and Ioralas most often visited. He could see a number of familiar faces from the Tower Guard but they would not recognise him, no jewels of office, no winged crown or rich robes. They would see what they expected to see.
He shifted so he could overhear a couple of guards’ conversation, but all they were doing was gossiping about their wives. Another small group played dice and a couple of women leaned over them.
‘Hey Longshanks!’ called one cheekily. She tossed her hair and pouted at him. He grinned at her and made a pretence of interest so she sashayed towards him, one hand on her hip. ‘I haven’t seen you here before,’ she murmured. ‘I’d have noticed.’
He smiled winningly and slipped a coin beneath the palm of her hand. ‘I am looking for an old friend I heard was in the city. We fought together.’
‘Aren’t you looking for anything else?’ the woman leaned against him, her body warm and soft. ‘I’ve got a friend who could join us.’ She jerked her head towards another woman, who leaned over a seated guardsman, laughing and the guard leaned back to get a better look at the breasts that strained against her tight bodice.
Aragorn backed away slightly. ‘Maybe later.’ He smiled warmly, giving her just enough hope. ‘My friend owes me some money and I am hoping he can pay me.’
As he thought, she lost a bit of interest. ‘His name is Ioralas,’ Aragon said. He put his hand on her arm, drawing her back. ‘When I have my money, I will come back.’
‘Ioralas? Tall, nice looking…’ She considered. ‘Gentle type.’
‘He is a guard in the Tower now I think. Haven’t seen him for a while. Good friends with Arduin.’
‘Ah. Well you’ve missed him,’ she said. ‘He’s up sticks and left so they say.’ The woman looked up at Aragorn and fluttered her eyelashes, pushed one hand through her hair. ‘I’ll give you one free,’ she said coyly.
Something small and hard hit Aragorn in the back of the head. A nut. He looked over his shoulder irritably to just catch a shadow in the window but he knew it was Legolas.
‘Let me find Ioralas and get my money and I’ll come back,’ he said. ‘Do you know where he went?’
‘I don’t. And if you’ve already talked to Arduin, I don’t think I can help you anymore for they were good mates.’ She looked about. ‘That man over there knows him. They never seemed very friendly but they always greeted each other. He’s a Tower guardsman too. His name is Maltök.’
Aragorn turned his head to see a man standing in the corner, shoulders slumped and looking down into his ale. He did not look up even when Aragorn settled next to him.
‘Evening friend, I am looking for Ioralas.’ Aragorn turned so the man had to look at him. His face was pale and there were shadows under his eyes.
‘Go away, I do not want to speak to you,’ he said and shuffled along the bar away from Aragorn.
‘I only want to find my old friend,’ Aragorn said, and sticking to his story, he added. ‘He owes me money but I know he will honour it. If he does not have it, I can wait.’ He made himself as unthreatening as possible. ‘I see you have Tower guard livery, friend,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you know another friend of mine? Arduin?’
But the man took his drink and moved away, settling himself on a bench in the corner. This time, Aragorn did not pursue him but draining his own tankard, he pulled his hood over his head and left.
Outside Legolas and Gimli almost pounced upon him in their eagerness.
‘I admit you have got a knack for skulking around,’ Legolas said grudgingly and Aragorn felt absurdly flattered.
“He told me nothing,’ Aragorn admitted. ‘Though I am sure he knows something. He was terrified of something.’
‘We can easily overpower him between us,’ Legolas said, looking at Gimli.
Gimli’s eyes glittered in the lamplight. ‘Legolas is right. He will talk to us. Just give me five minutes with him.’
‘I think perhaps we should arrest him and question him properly,’ Aragorn told the disappointed elf and dwarf. And he raised a hand to still their protests. ‘I am not going to question him at knife point and I am not having either of you intimidate any of my people into any false confessions.’ He looked at them both sternly. ‘We do this properly now.’ He pulled his hood up and glowered at them both until they agreed resentfully.
‘It is easy to find him,’ Aragon told them as the three pulled their Lorien cloaks about themselves and drew up their hoods so they faded into the grey shadows. ‘I will have him brought to me tomorrow. We will question him properly and promise him protection.’ He paused. ‘It is clear he was afraid of something. We need to know what that is.’
‘Let me question him, Aragorn.,’ said Legolas. ‘If you wish to do this without hurting him, I am good at that. Not as good as my father. Or Laersul. But I am quite good at giving them a hard stare.’
‘A hard stare?’ Gimli looked up at him in pity. ‘And that is going to make him tell you everything.’ He shook his head. ‘Aragorn. You need a dwarf to make a stone crack. I am subtle and patient. Give him to me for a day…’
‘A day! Ha! That is hardly an interrogation! What will you do, Nana Gimli? Tell him a story and tuck him in in the hope he might talk in his sleep?’
Gimli spluttered in outrage. ‘At least I will tell him a story to make his blood curdle in fear of the axes of the Khâzad, but you would tell long, long, long stories of blighted love and bore him into submission.’
Aragorn sighed and let them bicker. He walked ahead of them, leading them through the quiet, dark streets and thought of Arwen’s feet walking these very stones, hallowing the streets of his city with her beauty, her softness, her roundness in all the right places…
Aragorn blinked and licked his lips. ‘Well what?’
“Haven’t you been listening?’ Legolas said as irritated as Gimli.
Aragorn looked at Gimli, hoping for a clue but the dwarf had stopped too and was leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest.
Legolas gave an exaggerated sigh.
Aragorn decided that he was, after all, King and they needed to stop badgering him. And because thinking of Arwen had made him uncomfortable. ’Tonight I will sleep well because I will be thinking of Nana Gimli tucking me in and telling me a story,’ he said crossly.
’No, you won’t,’ Legolas said but his eyes gleamed, humoured by Gimli’s second outrage exclamation. ‘You are already dreaming of Arwen.’
It was the doughty Beregond who questioned Maltök about the disappearance of his fellow guard. ‘Again,’ as Beregond told Aragorn wearily for he had already done so.
’We have already asked Tyrises, who had to stay and do Ioralas’ duty because Ioralas did not show. No one has seen Ioralas since that evening. They covered for him, so Maltök says and Tyrises agrees.’ Beregond had shrugged and held out his hands in resignation. ‘My lord, I do not know what more I can do. Ioralas has gone. There is no sign of him.’
Behind Aragorn, one of his councillors moved into his view. Robes that susurrused quietly, the colours dark and scholarly. Serious. discrete. Like the man himself. But the fabric was very fine and the crest of bear and rose worked by a very fine embroideress.
‘My lord, perhaps you wish someone to fetch this other fellow, Tyrises?’ It was the merchant, Bearos, for his name had smoothly changed as his insignia denoted and no longer would the higher born snigger behind their hands. Indeed, no one seemed to even remember his previous name, or where he was from or when he had arrived or even how he had become so rich. In such a short time, he had become one of the trusted men of Faramir and close enough to the King to stand and listen to this insignificant mystery of a missing guardsman.
Now he pressed a goblet of wine into Beregond’s hand with quiet insistence. ‘This must be very troubling for you, good sir,’ he murmured to Beregond, who raised his eyes to the kindly face, nodding as if in a dream. ‘One of your own abandoned his post.’
‘It is indeed, master Bearos,’ said Beregond. ‘It is indeed.’
Aragorn found himself shaking his head at Bearos’ mild suggestion. ‘No. I think we are finished here,’ he said, thinking that his mouth did not feel like it belonged to him. ‘Let him go,’ he instructed Beregond. ‘Do not let him take another watch in the Rath Dírnen though,’ he said of Maltök. ‘Clearly it has addled his wits.’
‘I will see to him,’ Bearos said and kindly pressed a hand against Beregond’s shoulder. A ring flashed briefly in the light and Aragorn stared at it, frowned. But it was hard for a moment to sort through his thoughts and after a moment, he shook his head and agreed to all the suggestions that this investigation had gone as far as it could. Bearos was to arrange for Ioralas’ abandoned mother to have a pension, Beregond to tell Arduin that he must cease this futile complaint and Aragorn was left only to tell Legolas and Gimli that the investigation was finished.
And so that evening, unusually, Legolas and Gimli were summoned to the Palace and joined Aragorn in one of the large, rather uncomfortable council rooms.
Bearos had slipped away before the pair arrived. ‘My lord Legolas does not like me,’ he had said apologetically and though Aragorn had protested, he knew it was true. Legolas held himself more tightly on the few occasions that two had been in the same room, as if he could not bear to brush against the Man even accidentally though Aragorn knew Bearos had defended Legolas and Elrohir against those who had a more traditional view of the Laws. Legolas’ face was closed whenever Bearos had spoken a word of greeting, the elf’s responses so dismissive as to be almost rude. So Aragorn did not demur when his councillor slipped away.
The chairs were hard, high for a dwarf; not that Gimli would ever show it, thought Aragorn, realising too late that he could not go elsewhere now without Gimli realising and resenting it. The walls facing Aragorn were mirrored; Faramir had told him that Denethor put them in so that he could see those who might betray him even though he had turned way. Now Aragorn could see his own face and thought that he looked paler, anxious, and frowned at himself. Legolas sat stiffly on the upright chair and Gimli, feet dangling slightly and chin too close to the table and certainly unable to stroke his beard comfortably, narrowed his eyes knowingly.
Aragorn asked Beregond to repeat to Legolas what he had found and Legolas listened with tight politeness until Beregond, a good Man and true, was dismissed by Aragorn and his guards with him.
Aragorn sighed and said again, ‘Maltök knows nothing.’
Gimli puffed out his cheeks and glanced at Legolas, who glanced back and folded his arms over his chest. Gimli did likewise.
‘Both men of the Tower Guard, Tyrises and Cendir, who were on duty that night agree that Ioralas never appeared,’ Aragorn said, irritated by their apparent sceptism. ‘Cendir had some reason for wanting to leave early and it seems that Maltök had agreed to relieve Cendir earlier. But Ioralas never showed up to relieve Tyrises and so he stayed with Maltök until the next watch. It seems Tyrises was annoyed by Ioralas not turning up and reported it the next day. This is confirmed by Beregond. And that seems to be it. There is not a single item belonging to Ioralas left in his quarters. He has gone.’
‘I would believe nothing that Man, Maltök says.’ Legolas shook his head. ‘Maltök? That is an Easterling name, is it not?’ He narrowed his eyes.
But Aragorn pulled back, shaking his head. ‘I will not persecute a man for his name, Legolas. And I am surprised at you for doing so.’
‘It is not his name I mistrust. It is his manner, his…fear!’ Legolas said insistently. ‘If you had spoken with Arduin you would know that Ioralas has not abandoned everything.’ Legolas spoke with certainty. ‘They loved each other.’
‘No.’ Aragorn held Legolas’ gaze then. ‘It may be that Arduin loves Ioralas. You do not, in fact, know if those feelings were returned. Or if they were, whether Ioralas felt conflicted about them? If he was happy? He could have had feelings for someone else and gone with them. The evidence all says that he has certainly gone somewhere and suddenly.’ He looked down the table at his friends. ‘I fear we will never know the truth.’ He sighed. It gave him no pleasure. He had begun to think perhaps, that Legolas was somehow seeing a fear for himself and Elrohir in this sad little tale of abandonment. ‘It is finished, Legolas. I will not waste anymore time on this. And nor should you.’
Legolas rose with a stiff bow, and Gimli, who had been looking at first one, then the other, suddenly scrambled to his feet.
As Legolas turned he was reflected in the long mirrors on the walls and for a moment Aragorn thought he saw the elf’s reflection tremble and something seemed to step back into the shadows. He tore his gaze away and quickly looked behind him where the curtains fluttered in a sudden wind. As if someone had stepped back into the shadows.
It must have been the wind, he told himself. It must have run a cold hand down the heavy silk.
Legolas had no intention of obeying Aragorn’s command. So he ignored it much the way he felt Aragorn had ignored him. Though he knew Aragon had greater cares and troubles than he and so forgave him as easily as he always had.
And anyway, after the months in the wild, with the Nazgûl on their tail and danger on all sides, the peace of the gardens and warmth of the home they had with the fellowship did not really suit either Legolas or Gimli. But whilst Gimli was busy directing the engineering of the new gates, ordering the stone for the walls and so on, Legolas was bored.
Gimli strode beside him, stroking his beard and quiet whilst Legolas fretted.
‘I simply cannot believe that a Man’s life is worth so little in peace time that he can just disappear and no one question it!’ he exclaimed.
‘Ah Legolas. It is not the same with Men.’ Gimli pulled his sleeve and forced him to stop. ‘They multiply so quickly. And they live so briefly. One life is not the same to them as it is to us. No Khâzad would ever be allowed to just vanish either.’
Legolas sighed. ‘It is more than that, Gimli. It just feels…strange. There is something that is just beyond my sight. Just beyond my grasp…We are missing more than just one regretful lover.’
It was evening and there were still a few traders and market sellers in the square, packing their wares into carts. A dog picked over something that had been dropped on the cobbles and a woman threw a bucket of water over the pavement so it ran over the cobbled and into the channels between, rushed away into drains that had been sunk into the stone. Gimli nodded approvingly at the engineering.
Legolas stared at the disappearing water, unseeing. ‘I suppose I could call upon his mother.’
Gimli snorted. ‘Yes. The King’s elven companion just happens to drop in on his way home from the palace. If you intend to follow this further you will never find anything out blundering around without thinking it through.’ The dwarf wagged his short, thick finger at Legolas.
Legolas said suspiciously, ‘When have you solved mysteries and disappearances, oh great Huanrýn?’
Gimli looked smug. ‘I was known for it in the Blue Mountains. I was highly sought as a Finder.’ He followed Legolas down the narrow street that led to the house of the fellowship.
‘Finder of thimbles no doubt,’ Legolas muttered.
But Gimli ignored him and strode after him, hands clasped behind his back, head high and chin up. ‘It was in the winter of 3238,’ he began in his best declaiming voice and Legolas gave a heavy sigh. ‘There had been a cave-in in one of the Deeps and three dwarves lost. I was brought in after they had all but given up…’ Gimli’s voice took on a deeper cadence that signalled, in Legolas’ view, that this was going to be a long story with Gimli ending up as hero. In Legolas’ view it was not good for Gimli to reflect too much upon himself as hero, it made the dwarf reckless.
‘What about talking to the guard who left early,’ Legolas interrupted before Gimli really got started. ‘He may have seen something.’
‘Hm. Yes.’ Gimli nodded. ‘That is a good idea,’ he conceded, and stood aside for a woman and her small child to pass. The woman cast a shy glance at first Gimli and then Legolas. Her eyes lingered upon the elf’s fair face.
When they arrived at the house of the fellowship, it was silent within and the hobbits’ cloaks were gone.
‘They will be at the Castle Inn,’ Gimli observed for the nearby inn was a favourite with the hobbits and a good hostelry.
‘They will be dancing a jig and singing unsuitable songs,’ Legolas confirmed. ‘Pippin is a favourite of the patrons there.’ He grinned.
Gimli grunted and threw his cloak over a cloak-stand and sat on a bench to pull off his boots. Then he stood his boots up carefully in the corner and pulled on some soft indoor shoes that the hobbits had had made for all of them and which they called slippers. They were comfortable and Gimli wiggled his toes inside them.
Legolas was already in the garden and had swung up onto the lowest branch of a sturdy apple tree that was loaded with small, hard apples not yet come to ripeness.
Gimli cracked his knuckles and settled onto a wide wooden bench beneath the tree and reached into his jerkin pocket for his pipe. ‘You can go and see Ioralas’ mother in the morning,’ he said continuing his conversation. He filled his pipe, lit it and puffed. ‘Don’t raise her hopes but find out all you can about him, when did she last see him, what was his state of mind, any debts, any problems. Did she know about Arduin?’
‘Oh? And what will you be doing, oh Huanrýn?’ Legolas asked brightly. He suddenly hung down from the branch by his knees and his upside-down face grinned at Gimli. ‘You are going to help me!’
Gimli smiled and blew a plume of beautiful smoke at the elf. ‘I cannot leave you to blunder about on your own. But you will do as I say. I will find that guard who left early and I will interrogate him. He will speak to me. I have a way that makes ‘em talk. And the other thing…’ Gimli leaned back against the tree trunk and laced his fingers together over his belly. ‘We need to find out if those two guards, Maltök and the other one, have any debts or anything about them that might make them easily bribed. Or if they seem to have any more money than usual.’
Legolas had righted himself so he sat upon the branch but dangled his feet just above Gimli’s head. Gimli looked at them speculatively.
Huánryn- Sindarin for hunting hound- Legolas called Gimli this in the last chapter. I forgot to add a translation.
Chapter 17: Gimli the Finder
‘Gandalf has been squirrelled away in the libraries and vaults of this city for days,’ Pippin said with faint disgust. He sat on the bench at the long dining table and swung his feet. ‘What on earth he is doing down there I cannot think.’
Gimli had to agree. He had shared a smoke with Gandalf two days ago but seen nothing of the Wizard since. He wondered what Gandalf was looking for. But he and Legolas had other matters to attend. Today the two of them would investigate this missing guardsman. It was good for Legolas to have something to do, he thought for Gimli himself was enjoying engineering the city’s new defences.
Behind him and standing at the great range in the kitchen, Legolas was cooking Second Breakfast, and a great pan sizzled with sausages and bacon and another pan was ready for eggs. Taking six eggs, Legolas broke three in each hand at the same time and then rapidly broke another six the same way. Gimli rolled his eyes as Sam, who was helping Legolas, gasped in admiration.
Frodo was returning from the garden with handfuls of plums which he rinsed quickly in cold water and put in a bowl on the table. Sam carefully poured milk from the urn into an earthenware jug. Gimli watched him surreptitiously, for Sam’s hands sometimes shook a little still.
‘He brought some old scrolls back with him,’ volunteered Pippin, as Gimli filled the toast rack with thick slices of hot toast. There was a dish of freshly churned yellow butter and a jar of thick-cut marmalade. ‘I saw them under his arm when he came back yesterday evening,’ Pippin finished.
‘What are we talking about?’ asked Frodo, sitting beside Pippin. Merry sat opposite and helped himself to the toast.
‘Gandalf,’ supplied Pippin. ‘And what has he been looking for in the libraries.’
‘It’s probably maps,’ said Legolas. He threw a cloth over his shoulder whilst he shook the pan so it sizzled and spat. ‘Gandalf always wants maps when he comes to the Wood.’
‘Bilbo loves maps,’ Sam said, smiling as he set the earthenware milk jug upon the table.
‘I remember,’ Legolas said, ‘Bilbo sent my father a map of The Shire.’ He began piling the cooked sausages onto a plate and handed them to Merry. ‘My father was tremendously pleased with it. It hangs over his fireplace. And he sent one back to Bilbo, of the journey from Doriath. An original. Very precious.’
Merry and Pippin mouthed ‘Doriath?’ at each other, puzzled and shrugged. Instead tucking into the pile of sausages.
‘We should give Aragorn a map of The Shire as a wedding gift!’ Sam said suddenly and there was general applause and approval.
Gimli nodded approvingly and took the eggs from Legolas and put them on the table. It was a good idea, he thought and wondered if Aragorn would also like one of their own journey from Rivendell to Mordor and back.
He watched Legolas help first Sam, then Frodo and then himself to a hobbit size portion of bacon, eggs, sausages, fried potatoes, mushrooms and tomatoes. Pippin added another sausage to the mound of food on his plate and Legolas also added another sausage to his plate.
Over the almost empty plate of sausages, Pippin shot Legolas a challenging look to which the elf responded with narrowed eyes. Pippin now had four sausages on his plate and Legolas had five. Gimli regarded them both warily while Merry’s eyes danced with glee. Pippin picked up another sausage, holding it provocatively in front of him for a moment before he ate it as fast as he could.
‘No…’ Gimli began but it was useless. Legolas was now wolfing down as much food as he could fit into his mouth and Pippin sitting opposite, was trying to match him bite for bite.
‘Frodo, you must know what Gandalf is looking for?’ Merry said, slapping down a coin on the table next to Legolas.
‘This is so undignified,’ Gimli protested weakly but he matched Merry’s coin nonetheless but placed it beside Pippin who flashed him a grin. Legolas looked at him hurt and then redoubled his efforts, managing to chomp his way through sausage after sausage without a breath.
‘He is looking for information about Khand I think. Someone he once knew went that way,’ Frodo said laughing at Pippin who could not fit anything else in his mouth. Then he said with a mischievous grin that delighted Gimli, ‘Oh, and I think he may need your help, Legolas. It is to do with a tree.’
‘A tree?’ said Legolas with his mouth full but he had no choice but to pause for breath and swallow in order to answer Frodo. ‘Well. Trees I know.’
‘Well, you can’t do it today, Legolas,’ Gimli said quickly and deliberately put Legolas off his stride. Legolas looked up and so missed the last sausage and instead Pippin crammed into his mouth triumphantly.
The hobbit held up seven fingers and waggled them in victory.
Merry grinned. ‘Pippin won that one, Legolas.’
‘Face of an angel, manners of an Orc,’ muttered Gimli, not for the first time. ‘Has Elrohir ever seen you eat? Don’t answer that,’ he said quickly for the wicked gleam in the elf’s eyes.
Legolas bowed graciously to Pippin, and chewed more slowly now there was nothing to be gained. He swallowed. ’Gimli is right,’ he said at last. ‘I have to see someone about something.’
‘Someone about something?’ asked Merry curiously. ‘Well that sounds vague.’
‘Something for Aragorn,’ Gimli said quickly before Legolas could blab it all out and get the hobbits involved. Because they would want to ‘help’ and then Aragorn would not be pleased. Nor would Gandalf.
‘Then it must be important,’ insisted Merry.
‘Sort of,’ said Gimli quickly. And successfully evading the hobbits’ curiosity, he told himself, nodding approvingly.
‘Sort of important?’ It was Pippin now asking questions. His eyes bright and wide.
‘Yes. It’s something for Aragorn,’ Gimli said more firmly. He prodded Legolas. ‘Come on, Laddie. Finish that and come on. We haven’t got all day. We have fish to catch.’
‘Oh? You’re going fishing!’ cried Pippin happily. ‘I cannot think of a better way to spend a lovely day like this than fishing. I’ll get my hat.’
Legolas looked confused. ‘Fishing?’ he asked Gimli. ‘I thought we were invest …’
Gimli rolled his eyes. ‘Catching things,’ he said quickly. ‘Not really fishing. More like rat-catching.’
Merry narrowed his eyes at the dwarf. ‘I think Aragorn must have better qualified rat-catchers than you two.’ He fixed them with a knowing look. ‘What sort of rats? Furry ones or two-legged ones?’
Gimli had no intention of telling the hobbits anything so instead of answering Merry, he turned to Pippin. ‘ I am not actually fishing but I would like an introduction to your good friend, Beregond, Pippin, if I could impose upon you.’
‘Of course!’ cried Pippin, delighted for an excuse. ‘And if Aragorn comes looking, Merry can tell him that you and Legolas are rat-catching on his behalf.’
Gimli was appalled. ’If Aragorn comes, do not tell him we are rat-catching for him. He is very busy and will only worry.’
The hobbits exchanged quick, knowing smiles and Frodo said innocently, ‘Well Sam and I are going to visit Faramir. We have not seen him properly since we arrived in the city. But it does rather leave Merry at a loose end,’ he added with a glint of mischief.
‘Exactly,’ said Merry with a shrewd look. ‘And if you are going to see Beregond with Pippin, Gimli, I shall go with Legolas!’ He turned to Legolas. ‘Where are we going, Legolas?’
‘To see the mother of a friend, someone who was in Minas Morgul with us.’ He looked at Gimli with an amused smile on his lips. ‘I will tell you on the way.’
‘An excellent idea!’ exclaimed Frodo. ‘Perhaps Sam and I should come with you after all?’
In the end, Gimli managed to persuade a laughing Frodo that he should stick to his plans and not disappoint Faramir so at least it was only Pippin and Merry who were dragged into the adventure and not the Ringbearers. He tapped out an anxious little prayer to Mahal that Aragorn and Gandalf would not find out but he felt no answering peace in his heart.
Beregond was delighted to see Pippin and excited to meet Gimli, of whom he had heard so much. He welcomed them into his office, a small room in the Tower of the Guard, but comfortable and businesslike, with a desk covered in rosters and scrolls, reports, and four wooden chairs that were comfortably wide and the arms at just the right height. Against the walls in beautifully wrought iron racks were the banners of the Guard. The room smelled of leather and faintly of horses. Strangely homely.
‘Master Peregrine has told me many fine tales of your deeds, Master Gimli,’ said Beregond with a wide smile he could not keep off his face. ‘Bergil will be so chuffed that I have actually met you.’ He looked past Gimli for a moment. ‘I don’t suppose the lord Legolas is with you too? I heard you were inseparable and I will be the envy of all my neighbours if I have met him too.’
Pippin stifled a laugh and Gimli tried to be gracious and smoothed his beard. Patience of a mountain, he reminded himself. Patience of stone.
‘I promise I will bring him the next time I visit,’ he said generously.
So they sat in the wooden chairs and the sun fell through a wide window and warmed the air, and they talked for a while until Gimli skilfully manoeuvred the conversation around to the real reason for his visit.
‘It is strange,’ he said slowly as if it were merely occurring to him now, ‘that this guardsman seems to have disappeared with none any the wiser.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘We come through a war such as we have and still trouble happens.’ He offered his pouch of pipeweed to Beregond, who looked startled and shook his head. But Pippin was happy to dig in and soon both he and Gimli were wreathed in thin streams of smoke.
‘It is strange,’ Beregond agreed. ‘He was such a happy soul. And a very good soldier. Never missed a duty, never missed a call.’ He sighed. ‘But sometimes war, battle, is easy and it’s the peace that follows that is hard.’
Gimli looked down at the wooden floor of the man’s office. ‘Yes,’ he said slowly. ‘That is very true.’ He drew on his pipe. ‘You have long been besieged,’ he began.
He drew more from Beregond than he thought he would and Pippin’s company was significant for the hobbit would ask another question when Gimli paused and Beregond trusted Pippin for what they had shared in the battle for Minas Tirith.
By the time they left, they knew quite a lot about all three of the guards who had, or had not, been in the Silent Street that night. But more, they had permission from Beregond to speak to the fourth guard, Cendir, to whom no one had yet spoken.
Even more, Beregond sent a message summoning the Man although Beregond himself had to leave. He had duties that could not be delayed, but he extracted again a promise from Gimli to bring Legolas next time he came calling. Pippin went with Beregond and Gimli was thankful; he thought they would be in trouble enough when they were discovered without the hobbits being dragged into this even further.
The Man, Cendir, seemed at ease and an honest sort when he entered Beregond’s office. He was tall and strong with an open and honest face. He looked Gimli in the eye without seeming defiant or challenging.
‘I know Ioralas well, my lord,’ he said when asked. ‘And I confess I am as bemused as anyone that he did not attend his duty.’ He shrugged and spread his hands. ‘If anything, he was more dutiful. He did not like anything… untoward happening and would have reported anything he felt was not quite…right.’
Gimli did not lean forwards as he wanted to and wring the answers from the Man. Instead he merely tapped out his pipe and cleaned it. ‘Strange, as you say. With a character like that, to have just upped and left with never a by your leave.’
There was a pause which Gimli did not attempt to fill. Sure enough, Cendir pulled his ear uncomfortably and he seemed to turn inward as if fighting a great inner battle.
At last he said, ‘Do I have your word, my lord, that none of this shall be passed as coming from me?’
‘Aye,’ Gimli lit his pipe and puffed as if he had all the time in the world. ‘You have. None but you and me shall know what is spoke here today. The word of a dwarf is as stone; none shall speak it.’
Cendir took a breath and shifted forwards, he leaned towards Gimli. ‘My lord, please understand. There is nothing treacherous in this. But there is a certain…sense of obligation shall we say, amongst some of the older families, those who were loyal to the Steward and who served with him the many decades we have been under siege from Mordor.’ He paused as if remembering that Gimli was close the king but Gimli did not react. Instead he puffed on his pipe soberly. He had found that leaving long pauses and saying little encouraged people to say more than they intended…as now.
‘Hm,’ was all the dwarf said and Cendir breathed and then looked up and said, ’A few of the older ones have wanted to pay their respects to Denethor and there is no harm in it.’
Gimli leaned back satisfied. Legolas would be hopping mad that it had been Gimli who discovered this juicy bit of news. ’Well now,’ he said speculating. ‘I imagine that they fear the king will hold this against them and therefore they are prepared to pay handsomely to see the tomb of Denethor…’ His pipe had gone out whilst he gloated upon his find and he struck a match and held it to his pipe. ‘This has made some of the men rich?’ he asked shrewdly. ‘But Ioralas did not approve.’
‘Not rich. But those that do comply have made a little money from the Pilgrimage, my lord.’
‘Pilgrimage?’ He kept the alarm out of his voice with an effort but thought how Aragorn might be crowned but he was not yet truly King. And with an elven bride on the way rather than one of these noble families, or a Rohirrim princess, it might add to the legend but would not endear him to his nobility.
Cendir swallowed. ‘Yes, my lord. This is what they are calling these visits.’
Gimli nodded sagely, calmly. ‘I understand,’ he said quietly. ‘These men have served with Denethor, and his father before that. Many decades. This city,’ he said slowly and reached out to stroke the solid stone of the wall. ‘This city has withstood the siege of Sauron’s forces for long years. And the Stewards have served the people well.’ He nodded. ‘I understand why they would wish to respect Denethor.’
Cendir’s shoulders almost sagged with relief and Gimli thought it was not only the old families who thought perhaps, that Denethor should be given more respect.
‘Thank you, my lord. They say that you understand the minds of Men, and that you sing to the city’s stones so they will lift up and build themselves high and tall, and stand forever against our enemies.’
Gimli was startled. He stroked his beard. ‘Do they indeed?’ He laughed, faintly embarrassed but pleased nonetheless. ‘Well I cannot raise stone up on my own, but I do understand its ways, and its song.’ He paused for a moment and then prompted softly, ‘But Ioralas did not think this pilgrimage should be happening?’
Cendir seemed to have lost all fear now and shifted forwards confidingly. ‘No. He did not approve.’ Cendir sighed. ‘He did not say anything though and never threatened to give them away. He just didn’t like it.’ He paused, thinking for a long time. Gimli said nothing; just let him think. ‘When Ioralas disappeared, I questioned Maltök, and Tyrises. I confess I did wonder if he had threatened to give them up but they swear he did not speak of it.’ He paused and shook his head slightly. ‘It is so unlike Ioralas to not turn up, and if ever he is detained for any reason, he always makes a lengthy apology! He is known for it. I cannot believe he simply left without word. ’
Gimli chewed the end of his pipe and let a long, thin stream of smoke spiral up into the air. He thought for a moment and then said delicately, ‘And do you know his friend, Arduin?’
Cendir looked up and for a moment, his face was conflicted. ‘Yes,’ he said eventually. He glanced up at Gimli. ‘Such things are not spoken of.’
Gimli nodded kindly. ‘Yes. I have heard. And yet they happen in times of war when men think they are lost.’ He watched Cendir’s face carefully but he saw no trace of either sympathy or loathing. ‘ Do you think that Ioralas would have left without speaking to Arduin?’ he asked gently.
Cendir did not hesitate. ‘No. Those two were close. They might have left together but not apart.’
Gimli nodded. It was what he had needed. ‘Thank you my friend. None will know what you have said and none will know that you have spoken with me. Before you leave, tell me something of yourself. Are you from the city itself or beyond?’
Cendir was from Pelargir and Gimli extracted information from him about the soil and rocks as carefully as if he mined it. After a little while he nodded and smiled. ‘When you leave, anyone asks you what we spoke of, you can say in truth that I asked you about the nature of the soil and stone of your home. We need granite for building the walls, and finer marble and basalt for the palaces and great houses destroyed. Pelargir will provide some of that.’ He pressed a silver coin into the Man’s hand and nodded away his profuse thanks, thinking he needed to warn Aragorn of his people’s need. After Erebor, the people had wealth beyond their dreams for they had recovered their lost gold- but this was more like Azanulbizar, when finally they had defeated Azog but at such a cost in both lives and wealth that it took long to recover. The people of the city were poor, and some hungry, bereaved and lost the hands that had kept them fed. And there was an old loyalty to Boromir’s House that Gimli understood. Aragorn would need to tread softly here.
Pippin was waiting for him, sitting on the crumbled wall of the guard house and swinging his feet. Beregond had long gone. The hobbit was whistling tunelessly and waved when he saw Gimli and jumped down, sticking his hands into his pockets.
‘Hullo Gimli,’ he said and fell into step with the dwarf. ‘Have you finished your chat with Cendir then?’
‘I have indeed, thank you, Pippin. Your introduction was most helpful.’
‘So…Ioralas? What has happened and why are you looking for him? Is he your fish or your rat? Or is Cendir your fish-rat? And why is it important-ish for Aragorn but he mustn’t know you are rat-catching for him?’ Pippin looked up at Gimli with wide eyes but the gleam in them was far too like Legolas for Gimli’s liking. ‘You can tell me, Gimli. I am completely water-tight!’
‘Well I suppose it is to do with this missing guardsman that you asked Beregond about.’ Pippin stuck his hands in his pockets and sauntered along beside Gimli. ‘Although he told me that he does not think that this chap has just upped and left and is bothered by it more some days than others.’ Pippin cocked his head like an inquisitive robin, his eyes bright. ‘Why is that, do you think?’ But he went on without a pause. ‘He says they are all part of a special patrol that look after the Tombs of the Stewards and I suppose that means they are guarding Denethor’s tomb. Either against desecration or against what could be called, loyalists I suppose.’ He gave Gimli a look and said with barely feigned innocence, ‘I suppose I could always ask Aragorn to explain.’
Gimli found the ends of his beard were in his mouth and took them out quickly before anyone noticed the indignity. ‘Aragorn does not need to know,’ he said, hearing his own voice sound faint and anxious. Hardly the voice of a Master of Stone and Iron! ‘He is much too busy,’ he added. But the hobbit’s words struck a chord with Gimli and he realised that in fact, Pippin had indeed worked out the facts pretty well in a very short space of time. Perhaps now was the time to involve the hobbits after all.
‘Very well,’ he admitted. ‘You have it. There are those who make what they are calling a ‘pilgrimage’ to Denethor’s tomb and pay for it. Ioralas did not like this but does not seem to have made any official complaint.’
‘No,’ agreed Pippin. ‘Beregond has only just discovered this himself. And will put a stop to it now.’ Gimli glanced at the hobbit, secretly impressed. ‘The two, Maltök and Tyresis, have been moved off this duty now,’ Pippin continued, ‘and Tyresis made a big fuss, made a lot of threats to Beregond. Said he had friends in high places who could make Beregond’s position difficult. But since Beregond is going to leave for Ithilien with Faramir when he goes, Beregond is not in the least worried.’
Gimli walked slowly, thinking. ‘Who is this person that Tyresis knows in high places?’ he wondered aloud. ‘Or persons?’
‘It could be that those who have been to Denethor’s tomb are powerful,’ Pippin said as they turned into their own street. ‘There is that lord Heredir we met at the coronation. He was quite dismissive about Aragorn’s time spent as a Ranger. And he won’t be the only one. Merry says that Faramir is always being visited by old families who want to tell him how sorry they are that Denethor is dead.’
Gimli slowed almost to a stop. They had reached a wide square that was bustling with market stalls and housewives with wide baskets on their arms. There was a cheerful and optimistic air and minstrels were wandering about the market and taking coin for songs. This was the time of peace, thought Gimli. But a precious and fragile peace. The people had their King. They had peace. But that did not mean prosperity. Times were hard still and old families might wonder if their power, influence, or wealth was safe. ‘We need to tell Aragorn,’ he said at last.
‘Yes,’ said Pippin. ‘Or at least tell Faramir. He seems to always know exactly what to do. Now,’ Pippin said with a bright smile. ‘Aren’t you glad that Merry and I came along with you and Legolas. You would never have got all that without me, and Merry is completely the right person to have sent with Legolas. Although Sam would have been even better. He would have made the old lady a cup of tea and asked about her garden, got her talking and then she would have told him everything. But Merry is quite good too.’ I tell you what!’ he said brightly, ‘why don’t we drop in on them on the way home? See how they are getting on.’
‘No,’ Gimli said firmly, remembering what he had said to Legolas when he had the same idea and not for the first time, thought that Pippin and Legolas were, in fact, very alike. And not always in a good way. ‘I trust Legolas to have a chat with an old lady about her missing son. He has proved himself over and over on this quest.’
‘Yes! Against orcs and goblins. I would not want anyone else at my back,’ said Pippin. ‘But not to tackle a little old lady in a cottage with lace curtains and doilies and things. He doesn’t really understand tea cups and doilies.’
‘Um,’ said Gimli indecisively. ‘You might have a point.’
For the very lovely mcapps, LayneWolf, Paradis_artifiiels, samui_sakura, Anon, chasingbluefish. Thank you for keeping me going and writing such nice reviewsJ Hope the early weekend gift is as good as previous – this is a bit long I know but it needed to be. Next chapter half written so I am hoping to post that next weekend. We’ll get some Elrohir smut as well in the next chapter – not this one though, sadly.
Chapter 18: A Lucky Meeting.
Merry lengthened his strides so he did not have to trot alongside Legolas as they made their way to the fourth level where Arduin had told Legolas that Ioralas’ mother lived. The fourth level was a bustling, lively place for it was market day. They had to stand aside for the trundling carts filled with goods from Pelargir and Lebinnin, even goods that came up the coast from Khand and Far Harad for now that it was safe, the farmers and merchants came back to the city to trade.
The smells of the market mingled richly for there was fresh bread, and vegetables were piled up on the little stalls, although they were carrots, cabbages and turnips rather than soft fruits and salads. Merry stopped to stare at the strange spices from the far lands. A dark-skinned Man stood hopefully as Merry perused the glass jars filled with different coloured powders of amber, ginger and fine white powder and small black dried seeds. There were little sticks that smelled soft and sweet and strange star-shaped seed heads in earthenware bowls. But he shook his head when the Man approached.
‘Maybe later,’ he said. He heard Legolas laugh softly. ‘We should bring Sam here. He’d love it.’
‘Maybe tomorrow,’ Legolas agreed although Merry could hear his heart was not in it at all. But Merry enjoyed the bustle and vibrancy, the push of people and the rich smells of meat, ripe vegetables, fruit, and people. A dog scavenged happily in the gutter. Narrow alleyways wound away down through the levels, washing strung above from the iron wrought balconies, blowing in the fresh wind.
Merry was suddenly moved, for only weeks ago, this city had faced devastation, invasion from orcs and goblins and trolls that would have eaten their flesh and killed every living soul in the city.
Then he heard Legolas singing under his breath and felt his spirits lift. Perhaps it was the sun coming out because it seemed to Merry that the people around him softened and smiled too and nodded and murmured greetings to him, but he knew that Legolas’ singing could lift the spirits too for many times he had done so on the quest.
‘Where does she live?’ Merry asked Legolas as they pushed past two women haggling with the butcher over a skinny rabbit that hung amongst the partridges on his stall for the butcher’s stall was still poorly stocked for the farmlands of the Pelennor Fields still lay fallow in the devastation of war and the cattle slaughtered or driven off.
’Arduin did not say and I did not think to ask,’ said Legolas looking about himself. ‘Surely one of these folk will know,’ he said confidently. He looked about for a friendly face but Merry saw that many eyes were wide and either looked too awed or slipped away shyly when the elf’s clear gaze alit upon them. Legolas was simply too overwhelming for the ordinary folk, Merry realised, his tall elegance and grace, his sculpted and lovely face was just too intimidating. It would be up to Merry to resolve this.
‘Good thing you’ve got me, Legolas,’ he said cheerfully. A stall keeper, standing behind his stall packed with rolls of brightly coloured silks and satins, ribbons and braid, met Merry’s eye almost immediately.
‘Come along, Legolas,’ said Merry. ‘I will ask that trader over there.’
But even as he hurried towards the Man, an old woman almost bumped into him and dropped her basket right in front of him. They both bent down at the same time to retrieve the cabbage and turnips that rolled away and Legolas caught her basket agilely before she spilled everything else.
‘Oh, thank you sirs,’ she said gratefully and then stared, and ducked her head. ‘You must be the companions of the King, sirs,’ she said quickly and then paused. ‘We have all heard of you. And thank you for what you did for our city.’ She had sharp blue eyes, Merry noticed and her gaze darted hither and thither as if she were afraid.
‘It is no more than many of your own folk, mistress,’ said Legolas gallantly. ‘We are looking for someone. I served with a guardsman of the Tower, Ioralas,’ he said. A small space had cleared around the three of them, Merry noticed; he assumed it was to do with Legolas for the townsfolk stared at the tall elf with wonder in their faces, but they stared at Merry too and many of them bobbed their heads in greeting, awe turning to smiles.
‘Why are you looking for him, my lords?’ the woman asked in distress. ‘He is my son and been missing for some days.’
Merry shot a look at Legolas but the elf’s eyes were trained on the woman. He bowed courteously and said, ‘It is you we seek in truth, mistress. I wish to help you find him.’
’So isn’t it lucky that we bumped into you!’ Merry exclaimed and took her basket. ‘Literally.’
‘That you did, sir!’ the woman smiled. She glanced around quickly as if looking for someone and then took Merry’s arm as he proffered it. ‘Come, my lords. My home is this way. It is safer to talk there.’
Legolas carried her basket, which hardly had anything in it, Merry noted. Merry walked ahead, with the old woman leaning on his arm heavily. More heavily than he expected in truth. She was bent-backed, her hair bundled beneath a cap. She turned her head to check that Legolas too was following. They had to ease past a cart that stood outside the tavern as two men unloaded the barrels and carried them, grunting, into the tavern. A beery smell washed from the swinging open door of the tavern as they passed and the horse turned its head towards them curiously and Legolas stroked its soft nose as he passed.
The woman turned down another narrower alley, quieter and there was no washing strung across the balconies of this one. It seemed to have been damaged more by the siege for the roofs of some of the houses had caved in and there was still debris in the ally. One house was half demolished and its windows were all missing. A small, skinny cat watched them for a moment and then it meowed hopefully and came towards them, rubbed itself on Legolas’ boots. He stopped for a moment as if thinking, then stroked it and followed Merry. The cat watched as they walked through the alley and then sat carefully on the sun-warmed stone as if waiting.
They followed the old woman through a low stone arch into a small, rundown courtyard. Three houses faced each other with the archway on the fourth side. A couple of women were hanging washing up over low lines of ropes strung from one side of the courtyard to another. They glanced up at the newcomers but dropped their eyes quickly. Merry thought they had the look of the old woman about them and wondered if they were her sisters.
‘In here, good sirs,’ said Ioralas’ mother. ‘Forgive the squalor but ’tis all I can afford.’
Inside, the floors were bare stone and Merry noted that there was only a well-scrubbed table and three wooden chairs. Heavy pots stood on an iron range against one wall and it was dark, the windows dirty. ‘I have not had time to clear up from the War,’ she said faintly apologetic.
Merry pulled out a chair and swiped dust from it, holding the chair for the woman as she gathered her skirts and sat down. Legolas stood, arms crossed over his chest, and leaned beside the door as if he were poised to fly from the place at any moment. Merry noticed he had his bow strung. He did not speak and so it was up to Merry to lead the conversation.
Ioralas’ mother quickly confided in Merry; she was called Beirewen, she said and hailed from Ithilien once. She glanced about, ashamed of the humble lodgings. ‘We were saving for a farm,’ she said. ‘We were going to leave and buy a little place somewhere.’ She got to her feet and took down an earthenware jar from a high shelf and she opened it. ‘See, my lords,’ she said and showed them the open jar. Within gleamed coins, brass and silver. A few glints of gold. ‘There is enough here for us to buy a small place and some pigs, a couple of cows. Enough to get started.’
Her eyes filled with tears and she dabbed at them with the edge of her apron. ‘Ah, my lords. Forgive me. My sweet boy is lost, gone they say and I cannot believe he would go with never so much as a word. He would not have left me behind.’ She covered her face in her hands then and her shoulders shook.
Appalled, Merry looked at Legolas but the elf’s face was impassive. ‘Please, do not distress yourself, Mistress Beirewen,’ said Merry awkwardly. ‘Legolas has been making enquiries. He will find Ioralas for you.’
‘It is good of you my lords,’ the woman, Beirewen, sobbed. ‘But I do not believe you will find him. I think he is …d…dead.’
Merry could think of nothing to say; he was beginning to believe the same. There had been no sign of Ioralas and it was many days now since Arduin had told Legolas that Ioralas was missing.
I think of my poor sweet boy,’ she moaned. ‘He is lying somewhere in a ditch. Oh, I cannot bear it!’
She moaned again, and rocked herself from side to side.
At last Merry managed to comfort her and she ceased her weeping. ‘We will send word, Mistress Beirewen, when we have news.’ Merry patted her hand kindly.
‘I am leaving, my lords. I will not be here for I have no money and no means to pay for myself. I must throw myself upon the charity of my sister in Ithilien before I starve.’
Merry glanced at Legolas, but the elf made no move and Merry reached into his pocket and drew out two silver coins. ‘Please, take these. I hope we have news for you before you leave.’
Suddenly Legolas spoke, quietly. ‘Why do you think he is dead, mistress? Could he not have simply left without you?’
The old woman shot a look at Legolas. ‘He would not have just gone and left his poor old mother without word,’ she said.
‘And he would have told Arduin too, surely?’ Legolas asked. He tilted his head slightly as if listening for something that Merry could not hear.
The old woman closed her eyes briefly as if she smelt something unpleasant. ‘I do not know….I should not speak of this, lords…I admit, for a while…there was something between them.’ She swallowed and glanced at them to ascertain their shock and when she saw nothing, she continued, ‘but Ioralas, well he wanted t …to stop. He thought he might settle down, marry, have children. But Arduin would not give up.’
‘He pestered your son?’ Legolas asked softly and Merry glanced at him; this was not the Man that Legolas had described as they had left their house this morning. ‘How strange. I thought they were close.’ His voice was low, wondering and Merry frowned. Legolas must have got it wrong- but that was not like Legolas. ‘Well, I am sorry for it then,’ the elf said and smiled sadly. ‘Do you think we should still search for your son?’
She hesitated and then reached for Merry’s hand. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I would know what happened to him, that he had peace. And I would know who killed him.’
‘And where will we find you?’ Legolas asked softly. ‘How will we reach you if you are going to Ithilien?’
‘Leave a message in the tavern we passed. They will find me.’
Legolas inclined his head in agreement and there seemed little else to say.
When they left, it was dark for the weather had come in from the sea and heavy clouds bowled over the Pelennor Fields. The washer women had gone, their laundry with them. The street traders seemed to have packed away their stalls and goods for there was silence down the narrow alleyway towards the square and shadows clustered in the corners of the empty street.
Merry strode alongside Legolas thoughtfully. Just before they left the alleyway, Merry turned his head to look back. A yellow light shone from the dirty window of the old woman’s house. One candle, thought Merry. It was a moment before Merry realised that there were no other lights in any windows of any of the houses roundabout. These houses, this street, was quite deserted. Briefly a shadow passed between the window and the candle and Merry thought it must be Ioralas’ mother moving around her kitchen. And then the light was snuffed out.
‘I have to say, Legolas,’ Merry said. ‘I do not think that you were your usual charming self to Mistress Beirewen. It’s a good thing you brought me along.’
Legolas paused for a moment and then looked back the way they had come. ‘Do you not think it strange,’ he said quietly, ‘that we found her so easily? Or should I say, she found us…As if she had been waiting for us?’ He turned back towards the market square and its bustle, took long strides. ‘And did you notice how everything was unswept, grit on the floor, dust on the chairs as if no one had sat on them for a long time? And yet the table was scrubbed. The earthenware jar was clean. A window was cracked and you would think her son would have repaired it, even if he disappeared days ago, for that window had been broken a long time.’ He paused and then turned back to face the wide-eyed hobbit. ‘She wants us to think Ioralas is dead. And she wants us to look for him.’
Merry became aware that Legolas was walking more quickly, taking long strides so that Merry had to trot to keep up. It was unusual for the elf to be so oblivious to the hobbits and Merry reached up to pluck at his sleeve when suddenly Legolas ducked into a narrow alley and pulled Merry quickly after him. He shoved Merry into an empty doorway.
‘Hush,’ he said and Merry, used to the Wilds and doing whatever Legolas or Aragon said, immediately froze. They remained there for a little while and Merry was just about to sigh and shift and say ‘Well then,’ when a cloaked and shadowy figure skulked past the alley entrance. It turned its head towards them and Merry shrank back into the shadows. It paused for a moment, raising its head slightly as if sniffing the air and then, after a moment, passed on.
Merry was frozen where he stood. He felt the hair on his scalp prickle and barely breathed. Only when he felt Legolas’ warmth shift beside him did he move himself.
Merry turned his face towards Legolas. ‘What was that?’ he whispered in horror. ‘It reminded me of…’ But he did not want to say what it reminded him of. Nor did he need to for Legolas nodded.
‘Yes. Me too.’ The elf looked upwards. ‘Let us return to the Gate by a different route, Merry. I suddenly do not wish to be on these empty and ruined streets so far from our friends.’
‘Nor do I,’ Merry said.
Like a cat, Legolas leapt up and clambered onto the wall of a garden. He knelt on one knee and reached down to Merry, pulling him up quickly behind him. Balancing carefully, Merry edged along the narrow wall, trying hard not to look down into the courtyard below and Legolas pulled him up onto a narrow balcony first and then up onto a neighbouring roof and so on until they reached the city wall.
‘The Gates to the third level are just through the next square,’ said Legolas quietly. ‘And the second level is not far.’ He peered over a crumbling courtyard wall, then smiled. ‘We are safe here I think.’ He cupped his hands and gave Merry a leg-up over the wall and then leapt up beside him, letting Merry down the other side into a square that had a running fountain, water plashing softly beneath a wide, green plane tree.
A man was sitting in a chair smoking a pipe, a dog lying at his feet. He looked up in astonishment as first a hobbit and then an elf climbed over a wall and let themselves down into to the square. Merry nodded politely and the man nodded back. He did not move but watched as they brushed themselves off and walked lightly down the street and through a low stone arch that led to the Gate. There were people clustering about the gates and looking up at the sky anxiously for the sky was dark and stormy.
‘I am glad we are almost home, Legolas,’ said Merry. ‘I suddenly do not want to be out here after dark. And it is crowded enough here, don’t you think, Legolas, that one man, if man it was, cannot hurt us.’
‘Indeed. Let us not speak of it until we are safe and home, Merry.’
By now, the clouds had gathered heavily and low over the city and the sun had disappeared. Legolas looked up anxiously. ‘There is going to be a storm,’ he said.
Doors were closing hurriedly, stalls and shops slammed shut. Soon the streets were emptying and Legolas hurried Merry along. ‘Come along Merry, let us go as fast as we may,’ Legolas said anxiously. He glanced behind him. ‘Those clouds have a look of malevolence and cruel deeds are done in darkness.’ For Merry, it was like being in the Wild again, with Legolas behind him, looking back and ahead, hand on the knife at his belt and in the other, he carried his bow.
At last the house of the fellowship was before then and Merry could see a cheerful yellow light bobbing about inside and Sam’s voice calling out and Pippin’s answer.
‘Gimli and Pippin are home,’ Merry said with relief as the garden gate clanged shut behind them and Legolas threw open the door.
‘Good,’ said the elf. ‘Right. You tell Gimli what happened, Merry. Tell him I think Ioralas is dead and that someone wants us to find him. Tell him that he and Pippin and you must stay here so I know where you all are.’
Merry turned an astonished face up to Legolas. ‘But where are you going?’ Merry cried.
‘I’m going to find what has been following us, and why.’ Legolas’ face was determined and fierce.
‘At least let me come with you,’ Merry protested.
‘You cannot follow where I am going,’ Legolas said grimly and he clasped Merry’s shoulder. ‘You will only slow me down I fear, Merry.’
‘Oh, I don’t like the sound of that and I don’t think Gimli will either.’
‘I know he won’t,’ Legolas replied. ‘Which is why you, Merry, have to keep them all here. And tell Gandalf when you see him what has been happening.’
He gently shoved Merry inside the door and gave the hobbit a tight little smile. Then the elf ran his hands swiftly over his knives and before Merry could say anything else, he had leapt up onto the wall, then the balcony and ran lightly along the roof of the house next to them.
‘Legolas! Merry! Is that you?’ Frodo called and appeared in the doorway. His face was drawn and anxious and Merry immediately hurried over in concern. ‘I am glad to see you, Merry. A storm is coming and the best place to be is indoors by the fire with tea and toast. Where’s Legolas?’
‘Oh, he is probably going to sit outside in some tall dangerous tree singing to the wind,’ Gimli’s voice rumbled from inside the parlour.
Merry gulped. ‘Something like that.’
A small campfire flickered between the trees beside the Entwade. Thin birches and alders clustered along the narrow streams that fed into the river. Elladan sat and watched whilst Elrohir slept. The two black horses stood like basalt statues, one hoof resting and heads low for they had ridden long and rested now. Elladan threw a couple of sticks into the fire and listened to the sounds of the night.
Elrohir was still and silent. Sound asleep, thought Elladan. He sighed. So much had happened since last they travelled this way along the Entwash; then it had been to find Aragorn, and Halbarad rode with them.
Halbarad. Cold and dead. Like so many others Elladan had known. No awakening for them in in Námo’s halls. The fate of Men awaited Aragorn and Elladan grieved that every day brought that closer.
And now Arwen too was to make her Choice to take the Fate of Men and so walk with Aragorn in whatever land Death took Men’s souls.
And he, Elladan? What was his choice?
Always he had taken the Paths of the Eldar, lived as an elf and never thought more about it. But now his heart was enraptured by the gracious Prince Imrahil… Is it? he wondered. Do I truly love him as Arwen loves Aragorn? As Elrohir loves Legolas?
No. That was not in Elladan’s nature. He did not love like Elrohir, blazing with passion and desire and let none stand in his way, even Sauron. Elladan was quieter but it was no less deep. He wondered if what he felt for Imrahil was love, or merely desire, enjoyment. Infatuation?
Would Elrohir be alone on the last ship?
As if the mere thought had stirred him, Elrohir shifted and moved in his sleep. A quiet cry brought Elladan to his side and he pressed his hand over Elrohir’s eyes, letting his own calm blue peace sink through his hand and into his brother’s soul…
Peace, brother. All is well.
‘Elrohir?’ he said, feeling the tension in his brother’s shoulders, recognising the bunched muscles of a swordsman. He shook him gently first and then more firmly but Elrohir was deeply wrapped about in coils of darkness and dreams.
Elrohir struggled in memory but it sucked him back as if he had never escaped the inexorable pull of the Dark, as if the Nazgûl still rode the air somehow and hunted him, sought him still…
The wind buffeted and blasted him so his long black hair streamed behind him. Lightning skittered across the sky, ripped blinding flashes of silver and black in the clouds, lighting up the Nazgûl as they shot through the sky like flaming bolts. Their cold voices rose above the thunder that rolled and roared like some wild thing.
He felt them reach for him, wrapping their cold voices around him and he could no longer see Elladan, Legolas or Aragorn. They were beaten back...defeat was close. The Black Gates stood wide open and the hordes poured through…they could not defeat this army of hatred.
Already he felt a shift in the bodies piled behind and around him, the squelch of heavy iron shod feet stamping down on a Man behind him. Elrohir hurled himself round to face a huge Uruk from Mordor. Its narrow yellow eyes gleamed with a wildness and glee he had never encountered before this day, for he had not been at Helm’s Deep. It bared its yellow fangs and bellowed, and Elrohir suddenly felt there was nothing like a conscious reason behind that frightening visage. He slashed upwards blindly in sudden hatred and fear, overwhelmed by a memory of stifling tunnels and the grunting panting breath...In the moment he lost his footing and slipped, stumbled on a wooden buckler that had become slippery with blood and clots of flesh.
The Uruk brought its scimitar down and drove it hard against Elrohir’s blade, whipped it back swiftly and struck at his face. The heavy blade knocked against his helm, his head, bashed him about his chest, his cuirass, and his legs were swept from under him. He felt his own armour buckle and give and he was pressed back, weighed down by that will that crushed them all, poured its malevolence against them. The heavy curved blade struck Aícanaro away. Blood on his own hands was slippery and suddenly it seemed that Aícanaro slithered out of his grip and disappeared beneath him.
He threw himself after it, fingers grasped at the dark metal as it slid beneath the slithering, slippery bodies. He scrabbled at the bloody corpses beneath him, but Aícanaro slipped away from his desperate clawing grasp. A thunderous roar and hot stink in his face made him look up and his heart gave mighty lurch in his chest as he locked eyes with the Uruk. Desperately he scrabbled at nothing and suddenly his fingers bashed against a wooden edge, brought up a wooden buckler, thrust it in the Uruk’s grinning face, and as the Uruk lurched backwards, he staggered to his feet. But its heavy jagged blade locked and smashed against the wood, shattering it. He felt his arm give and the wood spilt. He seized one half in both hands and blocked and blocked but each time the Uruk drove deeper, thrust harder, its lips drew back in a snarling grin and its little yellow eyes glinted. A red tongue flicked out and licked its fangs and it raised the scimitar high over its head and drove down, hard, hard enough for the wood to splinter, hard enough to drive the blade into Elrohir’s shoulder, hard enough to drive him back down to his knees and he dropped the shield, leaning over, hands gripping the ground as he fought the dizzying whirl of the ground.
He wished he had not wasted all his long life in hatred and fear and self-loathing. He wished he could say he was sorry to Elladan. And to Legolas. Breathing hard, he waited for the world to stop spinning and he could feel, hear the Uruk’s heavy tread approach.
And suddenly it stopped. The Orcs around him suddenly rippled and seemed nervous, fell back...A way opened before him and he raised his dizzy head. A thin black shroud fluttered slightly and then he saw a mailed fist raised, a heavy broadsword clasped before it.
He swallowed. Gripped the wet soil, the earth. The Nazgûl seemed taller, darker, like it absorbed any light or warmth. Its cold shadow fell over him and his blood went cold. But he was Rávëyon, Elrohir Elrondion and he would be cowed by no rattling of old bones. So he told himself.
Elrohir lifted his own grey eyes wearily upwards. It seemed to Elrohir then the dust had whipped up into the shapes of huge leathery winged beasts that dropped out of the sky and landed with heavy thuds. Darkness gathered where they landed. One threw its flat reptilian head up and gave a dreadful hissing shriek and snapped at the arrows that flew towards it and peppered its thick impenetrable hide. One unfurled its great wings and from its shadow there emerged a tall figure. In its mailed fist was a huge broadsword the equal perhaps of Aícanaro. The air was full of terrible cries that chilled his blood. The Nazgûl emerged from the red clouds and fog.
Ash nazg durbatulûk,
In Elrohir’s dazed and pain-shattered mind, the battle receded, went elsewhere, perhaps to his left where a bright-haired Elf fought to reach him, twin blades flashing white and silver, slashing round and up. Perhaps the trolls had lumbered heavily, swifter than he thought possible, to where another fought, long black hair flying in the wind, struggling to reach him as the Nazgûl approached, circled him as wolves bring a stag at bay. He heard distantly, his name called and thought someone might be shouting to him...And then all else faded and there was only him and the darkness…
Ash nazg gimbatul
They converged upon him. No longer separate entities but one. The Brethren. Unassailable they strode through the trolls and orcs and men. Great swords they held before them, gleaming. Empty hoods dark. A dark chant of deep voices, felt in the blood and bone, not heard. Resonance and power surged through the air, crept around him and he knew this was the end...
Ash nazg thrakatulûk
Words of summoning conjured from the blood-soaked air. Black threads scattered on Elrohir’s skin, caught like spider webs, twined around him where he knelt weaponless, helpless.
... agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.
The words seemed to swirl and become darkness. Solidify. Black shrouds halted in a circle around him. Stood silent. Still. Waiting. And he could see beyond the veils now, could see their dim forms, the skeletons they were, the grinning empty eyes that burned, the hunger that devoured them. They were filled with a dreadful, gnawing hunger that they could not satisfy. Their lust and desire could not be assuaged. They were starving...
Ravéyön. Lord... of the Brethren.
Slowly, they advanced and they did not hesitate or slow their advance. It seemed ponderous but it was swift nonetheless and there were seven blades all poised before him.
A tear down his arm and warmth oozed from the cut. Another on his chest and a sword that came suddenly from his left only to be cut on his right cheek. Another piercing cut on his shoulder, his arm, his hand, a blade sliced down thigh. He remembered, distantly that he had seen this before…
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
The words drew together in darkness and a red rim of fire burned the edge of the dark. It grew, fed off the dark. A ring of Fire...that burned and heated his skin.
The world tilted sideways and all was red with blood. Pain flooded him. Like he had never known and darkness fell over him. Head bowed. He was aware, but could not comprehend, that his tunic was soaking wet. He felt the throb and pulse of his blood; he had never felt it as strongly as he did now...it seemed to pulse strongly, to beat loudly but more slowly...yes, perhaps that was it. It was louder, but weaker...Aícanaro was not in his hand.
Ash nazg gimbatul.
It seemed the words trembled in the air, a dreadful summoning, an incantation that would bring the Eye to the midst of the battle, as it had on the mountainside and he trembled for his mortal blood. Fire licked across his skin, across the darkness, white fire. Lightning split the darkness, thunderbolts struck the earth and the world seemed plunged in darkness, the lightning struck the hilltops, struck great craters in the earth, and like Orthanc fire it killed Orcs and Men.
The fire grew more intense and the Ring grew brighter and then it opened. The Eye. Opened upon him.... the Eye opened upon him and he felt his blood heat, burn, scald, boil and he gasped at the horror of it.
He felt the cold iron upon his finger. A crown forced upon his head. It closed around his brow, bearing down upon him. Closed in on him so he cried aloud and struggled to take it off.
Long, pleasurable. Each syllable lingered over like a lover, with pleasure. The cold seemed to burn on his skin like it had been branded...and it felt...right....
There was cold, cold pain and darkness and he thought the earth shuddered in horror but it might have been his own flesh as he was pierced. Somewhere he heard someone shouting, and he remembered a beloved voice telling him he would search everywhere...but his yôzâira could not follow this time.
He awoke with a start, trembling and sweat on his forehead, his upper lip and between his shoulder blades. Elladan’s anxious face leaned over him.
‘You dreamed,’ Elladan said and Elrohir sat up.
‘No. A memory that is all,’ said Elrohir quickly, to soothe his brother’s fears. ‘Not a dream. The Morannon.’
Elladan nodded and sat back on his heels. He pushed his long hair back and licked his lips. His face too was pale, as if he had lived through the memory with Elrohir. ’That will haunt you for some time to come I think.’
Elrohir struggled upright and threw back the blanket that had become wrapped tight around him. He did not answer, ashamed of what he had done, and what he had not done.
‘They are gone forever,’ Elladan said softly. ‘They cannot reach you where they have gone. The Nazgûl were sucked into the Eternal Dark with their Master when the One Ring was destroyed, were they not?’ Elladan asked reasonably and Elrohir nodded acquiescence
‘I know. And all their rings are vanquished too, I know. But still I feel their presence.’ He shuddered. ‘I feel it like a vice in my heart.’
Elladan grasped his shoulder and turned his grey eyes to his brother’s face then. ‘No, brother. It cannot be. We saw them fall. We saw the Tower crumble and the land open up to swallow them. How could they have survived Sauron’s fall?
Elrohir closed his eyes, his fingers touched the black metal of Aícanaro. ‘If now they are loosed, not even Sauron’s hand restrains them,’ he said
‘They are not,’ said Elladan assertively. He shook Elrohir slightly by the shoulder. ‘You are…confused. It is but memories and you are still perhaps a little sick?’ For the Black Web had left its sticky tendrils in his blood and lingered still. ‘When we reach the Golden Wood, we must ask Grandmother and Father to heal you. Do not fight me in this!’ he protested before Elrohir could speak. ‘You will do this to humour me and to please me. Eru knows, Elrohir, you owe me that at least.’
Chapter 19: Pursuit
Legolas slipped over a wall, climbed up into a cloistered balcony and from there swung himself lightly over the gutters, pulling himself up onto the roofs of the city. His Lorien cloak, flattened against him by the wind, concealed him even if the citizens of Minas Tirith were abroad with the threat of such a storm as was coming across the Pelennor Fields and chanced to look upwards. Clouds loured over the city and seemed to have brought nightfall early but he could not wait. He needed to be swift if he wished to spy upon the house where they had met Ioralas’ mother. It was too much of a coincidence that she had blundered into them in the market. And the two washer-women who had been hanging out washing in the courtyard had neither greeted the old woman nor seemed remotely surprised that she brought to her house a Hobbit and an Elf. More importantly, he wanted to see if the woman had any visitors, like the cloaked and shadowy figure that had followed Merry and him.
A great gale was blowing up from the sea, driving a storm pounding over the Pelennor Fields. Thunder rolled and great sheets of lightning flashed in the distance, illuminating the whole world it seemed in silver bursts. And in the city itself the rain came down hard, the harbinger of the storm to come.
Legolas ran through the rain and over the roofs so lightly that never a single inhabitant noticed or if they did, they merely stirred and thought themselves dreaming of running deer through beech woods of green-gold sunlight and water gushing over the grey granite rocks. In the days of Denethor, each of the city gates was guarded during the day and locked at night in case of siege or treachery, and the custom yet prevailed. Legolas did not wish to draw attention and so had no choice but to climb down to the lower level by way of roofs and the city walls. At least the walls are not dwarven-delved, he thought gratefully, remembering the glass-smooth walls of Erebor’s gates, Anglach standing above him, firing arrow after arrow into the swarming goblins and orcs below… Lossar had been there too. Briefly he pressed his head against the cold, limestone wall. Both dead. As cold as the rock and stone of this city of Men.
No. He would not go there. Not now. He shook his head, pressing his lips together and did not stop for long. He dared not for he would lose his quarry and more besides.
He leapt from the turreted walls of the fifth level wall to the rain-washed roofs of the fourth level below. There were plenty of taverns here, and market squares, stalls, seedy back alleys and illicit houses where men gambled and whored, even here in the White City. Not quite Aragorn’s yet.
From the windows of the tavern Legolas had passed earlier that day yellow light spilled onto the puddles and a shout of laughter came from within. A woman stood outside, oblivious to the rain and swaying slightly, swigging from a bottle but Legolas was no innocent; he had seen the same on the streets of Esgaroth and Dale and he did not pause but kept to the shadows and climbed quickly over the narrow iron-wrought balconies that crowded together and blocked out the sky.
Now the gale blew the storm crashing over the city like a giant bestriding the Mindolluin and flailing at the city walls with thunder, lightning, and rain. The wind howled, snatching at Legolas’ cloak and his hair and the rain whipped around him, stinging eyes and ears and skin.
He clambered over the wet slate roofs and skirted a huge black hole in the roof of one house where, during the war, a block of masonry had fallen through one floor after another after another, tearing down floors and walls and windows, and now the rain poured soddenly through the gaping hole and into the house below. Legolas clung to the chimney, buffeted by the wind and drenched by the rain, looking down into the empty courtyard of the house he had been led to by the woman purporting to be Ioralas’ mother. Now it was deserted, lashed by the storm and flooded with rainwater. Not a single light was to be seen except for the lightning that split over the houses, and stabbed down into the streets. He was too late. No one was there.
Cursing, he squinted against the rain and settled himself as well as he could anyway, just in case; his back was against the tall chimney and the wind howled around him. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and sat in the cold rain to watch the empty house though without real hope that anyone was coming. He wondered where the real mother of Ioralas was and thought perhaps she had already left the city. Or was she dead? He wondered where Arduin was and suddenly felt a surge of fear for the Man. I will check on him tomorrow, he decided.
For more than an hour, he watched through that wild storm, and in that time not another soul moved. Rain lashed down suddenly, even more heavily, as if the clouds had broken. He pulled the hood of his Lorien cloak further over his head, not for shelter from the rain, but to hide the gleam of his hair, his face. He wondered who the woman was and why she had pretended to be Ioralas’ mother. A puppet he decided, for surely she had no purpose but to tell him lies. But for whom was she working? The cloaked figure perhaps?
Suddenly everything was lit up by lightning. Through the torrential rain, he saw the black shapes of the ruined houses, roofs jagged and torn, the silvered cobbles and sliding shadows in the lightning. And then all was plunged again into darkness. It had grown late. Thunder crashed overhead almost immediately. In the empty street below nothing moved but the rain poured off the slate roofs, into the gutters and drainpipes and flooded the drains below so they were awash and puddled between the cobbles.
He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen and he held his breath. Another flash of lightning lit up the courtyard below and through the window of the house, he thought he saw a dark shape suddenly move within.
He was sure of it; something was down there, inside the house.
He leaned forwards, straining to see through the rain that hammered at him. Lightning suddenly thrust down into the courtyard and he saw it; a dreadful face stared up at him through the window with absolute hatred, white, haggard in the lightning. And then it was gone.
Legolas froze. That face. Surely it was not human? Horror lifted the hair on his scalp and he felt his heart pound in his chest. Dread flooded through him as it had all those times in the South of the Wood where he had fought the Nazgûl for so many long years. He ducked down behind the chimney, clung to the stack in the rain, heart pounding and every nerve of his body telling him to run.
But this is NOT the Nazgûl, he told himself in desperate rationality. I saw them fall, I saw them sucked into the chasm that opened before the Black Gate. I saw them pulled into the Dark and they cannot get out.
He breathed slowly and steadied his heartbeat. It is only fear, he told himself resolutely. It is lightning, catching on glass; moonlight reflecting on something within the house. Or it was the face of the Man who had followed Merry and him earlier? A Man, he reminded himself firmly. One who had bribed some old woman to lie to him and Merry.
He ducked through the hole torn into the roof and leapt into the attic, crouching under the rafters and shoved the door hard, almost falling through it when it opened suddenly. Half the stairs were missing and the huge block of masonry that had crashed through the roof and every floor, lay in the centre of the kitchen at the bottom of the house. Splinters of wood and shattered pottery lay on the cracked slate floor.
Something curled against his leg in the dark, pressed itself against his calf and he drew back in horror.
But then it purred and he saw it was the skinny little ginger cat he had seen earlier. ‘Hello little sister,’ he said softly and stroked its head. ‘You are not safe here I think. Find somewhere warm where you will be well fed.’
He left it sitting on the broken stair next to a child’s toy. The little cat watched forlornly as he left.
In the dark between lightning flashes he ran crouching along the outside wall of the courtyard and then ducked into a doorway. Squinting against the rain, he peered around the corner and through the window. But there was no movement. Wind rushed suddenly through the courtyard and rattled the glass in the window panes as if to alert anyone to Legolas’ presence and he crouched low. But inside the house it was silent and still. At last he breathed and straightened; it must have been lightning reflecting off something, he told himself again ruefully, or old tattered curtains drifting in the wind.
It was merely that he had been reminded of the Nazgûl so acutely, he thought, that it had triggered that dread in him. He had been wired and as tense as his own bowstring. That was all. Still he wanted to check that the house truly was empty or if the Man who had been following Merry and him, if it were indeed a Man, was within.
He waited in the shadows. Another flash of lightning stabbed into the city, flashed light over the puddled courtyard. Thunder crashed above him. But nothing else moved.
Even so, he was silent and stealthy as he let himself into the house, holding his breath as he eased the front door open, bow already strung and arrow notched. It was unlocked and opened easily.
He shut the door behind him, keeping out the rain and wind.
The kitchen was empty as he had thought; no ghoul, white faced and reaching for his soul, no wraith. The grit and small pebbles he had seen under the table remained undisturbed and the only thing that was different was the earthenware jar had gone. He was not really surprised at that.
It must have been lightning reflecting on the broken glass, he told himself again. He kept his arrow nocked nevertheless.
Suddenly the thunder crashed so loudly it sounded like the rafters had cracked and lightning seemed to split the house asunder so he was lit up where he stood inside the kitchen. Eyes wide he looked out of the dirty window at the sky. Rain lashed at the glass, ran in rivulets and pooled onto the windowsill.
Suddenly there was a face at the window. White and haggard. Mouth open. Jagged teeth. And then it was gone.
Legolas stumbled back. The chair behind him crashed over and he spun around, arrow nocked. On the back of his neck, his hair was stiff and his fingers tingled. He shuffled backwards towards another door leading to a staircase, his eyes wide and terrified and fixed upon the front door. The shadows seemed to slide towards him and the clouds broke suddenly, moonlight gleaming on the slate floor. Cracked lines seemed to snake towards him.
He turned and fled, slamming the door to the stairs shut behind him. Heart pounding, he leapt up the stairs three, four at a time and over to a narrow window. The glass had already been shattered and scrunched underfoot. Below him, in the courtyard was a cloaked shadow. It raised its head like a hunting hound and though this time Legolas could not see its face, he knew it looked straight at him.
His heart pounded in his chest and he heard his breath rip from his throat. No, he told himself. It cannot be. The Nazgûl were gone. This could not be a wraith so it must be flesh and blood. He sighted along his arrow and let fly. His aim was true, he swore but the figure seemed to melt into shadows and he heard the arrow hit stone. He let fly another arrow from his bow into the darkness. Suddenly the shadows coalesced into a cloaked figure and it fled from him.
The Nazgûl would not have fled, he told himself sternly though he wanted to run the other way. He shoved his bow back in his quiver and drawing his long white knives, he leapt from the narrow window, rolling to break his fall and onto his feet, he sprang over the cobbles after the figure.
Suddenly something whizzed through the air towards him and he jerked backwards. A knife shuddered in the timbered doorpost behind him. He glanced at it briefly, pulled it from the doorjamb, shoved it into his boot and turned and leapt after the cloaked figure. It seemed to slide across the darkened courtyard ahead of Legolas at a terrible, unnatural speed and dissolved into the shadows. He hurled himself after it, dashing through the rain, knives in his hands. Lightning blazed across the city, and rain lashed down, so his face was soaking wet and his hair was plastered flat against his skull.
He skidded around a corner and hurtled through an empty square where there was no cover and then up one alleyway and down another. Always, the cloaked and hooded figure was just disappearing, or somehow just glimpsed at the end of the alley through the rain and he could not catch up.
A long flight of stone steps wound about the city walls and he saw it half way up as he arrived at the bottom. Leaping three, four at a time, he pursued but it was already gone when he reached the top. He stopped, gasping for breath, straining around him unbelieving. No Man could outrun him.
Rain battered his eyelashes and he wiped his eyes and face, wicked it from his hair.
His shoulders dropped and he breathed. He had lost it.
He pulled back slightly and stood in the cover of an arched doorway and listened….
The rain first. It had been swept up by the wind from the sea and thrown over the city. He did not dwell on the salt in the rain, the sea’s pull on him like a tide…He listened more deeply to the stones of the city, deep rooted in the mountains; they had waited long for the feet of he who had returned, the blood of the Kings…He leaned forwards, tasting the air for a dissonance, for discord. And there, suddenly, it struck. A terrible shriek like nails down a board. Like the heart of a deer being torn from its breast. The Song was shattered. Like musical glass breaking. He clapped his hands over his ears and knew that this was no mere Man he pursued.
Thunder cracked suddenly, loudly overhead and he could not help but look upwards. And there, moving upwards like a bat climbing on its pinions, the figure was climbing the city walls. He could see it like a black blur against the white limestone. It moved with preternatural speed and agility. Faster than he could himself.
He swore roundly, thoroughly, and was glad that none was there to hear it.
What choice did he have but to follow? He slid his knives into their sheaths and began to climb, swiftly finding toeholds and handholds in the wet, pitted wall. He was aware that the buttresses sloped slightly inwards and that a little further on, the walls gave way to bare rock; above him were the great stone arches of the bridge that led from the sixth level to the House of the Dead. He was directly beneath the Rath Dínen and the figure was heading to the Silent Street.
Sheet lightning flared over the limestone walls, casting the shadows more deeply. Breathing hard, he glanced up briefly against the rain to see that the figure had gained the parapet and was looking down at him; its dark hood framed its white and haggard face, not like a Man’s but ghoulish, stretched somehow and its mouth was open, like it was screaming though no sound came. With a shock he was reminded of his own reflection in the mirror in Minas Morgul.
The figure disappeared for a moment and then suddenly reappeared. It raised its sleeve and a heavy stone struck the side of his head with shattering force. For a moment, he reeled and felt himself slip. The rock face was wet beneath his hands and boots. Another heavier rock hit him squarely on the shoulder this time and he dug his fingers into little cracks in the stone and pressed himself flat against the sheer rock face fighting dizziness. Then another and another stone hit him, each one heavier, bigger than the last and at last he felt a pain crunch in his shoulder and arm, and he lost the nerves in the fingers of his right hand. Glancing down, he saw how far he would fall and how sharp the rocks below. Without a doubt, he would be killed.
And then he saw something flutter in the buffeting wind. Tattered fabric. Red and white. A guardsman’s uniform. There, in the lightning, he saw a body caught in the scrub and thorns below the Rath Dínen.
He had found Ioralas.
It occurred to him that he was no longer being pelted with rocks and looked upwards, but the figure had gone. He listened, leaning his forehead against the stone and feeling for the dissonance in the Song. But there was nothing.
Whatever it was had gone.
He leaned against the wall, feeling the rain soak through his cloak, tunic. Although he had lost what he hunted, he was not sorry. Whatever it was, he admitted now, he did not want to meet it alone … And besides, below him lay the body of Ioralas.
He climbed slowly, painfully down to where Ioralas lay face-down and twisted in the thorns. One arm was stretched out and the other was trapped beneath him. It looked like an accident, Legolas thought. The rain had soaked the clothes of the young Man, and his hair was plastered slick over his back of his skull where a nasty cut showed pale and white for any blood must have been washed away by the rain. He must have hit his head in the fall.
Legolas sank to one knee for his shoulder was very painful and the side of his head was hurting. Gently he lifted the body and turned it over. But when he saw its face, he almost fell back. For it was white. Not just the paleness of a corpse. But absolutely stark white. Like it had been drained of all blood.
The Watch were quick to come to Legolas’ cry for help, and before long Men with ropes and lanterns were clambering carefully over the wet rocks beneath the bridge that was the Silent Street. A sheet wrapped the dead Man. Because they knew there had been a search for one of the Tower Guard, the Watch Constable despatched a message to Beregond, whom he knew well, and one to Faramir, who was their commander. The Constable, who was a good Man and kindly, had listened to Legolas, companion to the King, and in spite of his awe of this hero of the War, he recognised that the Elf was soaked to the skin, had been chasing about all night doing Illuvatar knows what, but certainly was in shock. There was blood all down one side of his face and his shoulder dipped as if he was hurt. The Constable recognised when a situation was beyond him and so he also sent a message to fetch one of the King’s Companions, preferably the Lord Gimli, so that someone more experienced was in charge of the situation. And by situation, he did not mean the body -- he had dealt with accidents before -- but the Elf.
Embarrassingly though, when the Constable turned from his Men to give these orders and back to the Lord Legolas, Hero of the Pelennor Fields, he saw that the Elf had gone. The Constable winced slightly, and then because he felt there would be trouble when it arrived, he berated his men who had not even noticed the Elf slip away. He sincerely hoped that the Lords Legolas and Gimli might meet each other half way for he did not really want to be in the middle.
Legolas had one more task yet before he could return to other members of the fellowship.
Quickly, he returned to the empty street and searched the abandoned houses. He did not fear that the figure had returned; it had gone and he felt no dissonance in the air or the Song. He managed to wash the blood from his face in the rain. At last he felt something curl about his lower leg, pressed against him and he reached down to scoop the little cat he had stroked earlier. ‘There you are little sister,’ he said softly. Curling the cat into the crook of his arm he tucked it away in his tunic where it purred happily.
When he returned to where he had found Ioralas’ body, Gandalf was there. The Wizard must have been summoned, Legolas thought, by the Watch Constable. Gandalf half turned at Legolas’ approach and inclined his head meaningfully to a spot behind Legolas.
But he did not need to turn his head to feel Gimli’s fury; the stone itself seemed to reverberate, like a bellow of outrage was rolling round the stone walls, through the cobbles themselves so Legolas thought he almost felt the rock beneath his feet tremble.
‘You blithering half-witted pointy-eared horse-lover!’ bellowed Gimli. ‘What in all of Mahal’s name do you think you are doing running around out here in the storm and chasing after Mahal knows what! And don’t tell me you were protecting us!’ Gimli roared as he strode up to Legolas and jabbed him hard in the chest. ‘You do me great wrong.’
Legolas bowed his head as if deeply penitent. ‘I know,’ he said softly, eyes gleaming. ‘I misjudged you, Elvellon.’
Gimli stared up at him, growing fury in his eyes. He brushed Legolas’ forehead with his fingers and held them up for emphasis; his fingertips were bloody. ‘Don’t laugh at me about this, Legolas,’ he said seriously. ‘Don’t. I told you. I will always be at your side. I have your back. But I cannot do that if you keep going off without telling me what you are doing.’
Legolas frowned. ‘What do you mean? When have I done that before?’
Gimli’s earth-brown eyes looked up at him with such serious regard, such betrayal that Legolas paused.
‘Oh,’ Legolas said, remembering. He winced. ’Yes… There was that one time.’
‘Yes,’ said Gimli sarcastically. ‘There was that one time.’ He planted himself firmly in front of Legolas. ‘That one time that you left with Elrohir to go and sacrifice yourself to the Nazgûl so that Sauron would think that Merry or Pippin had the Ring and so move his gaze here instead of Ithilien.’ The dwarf’s voice grew in the telling, resounding from the walls, rolling through stone so that Legolas thought he must awaken all the city. ‘Yes! That one time!’
Legolas bowed his head and this time it was not to hide his amusement. ‘Yes. That one time. But that was as necessary then as it is now. I had to come over the roofs to trap a shadow,’ he explained.
‘And have you trapped it?’ Gimli demanded. He looked about himself with exaggerated care. ‘I seem to have missed it. Oh- of course it is a shadow so perhaps I cannot see it!’
Legolas shifted uncomfortably. ‘That is true,’ he admitted sheepishly. ‘I lost it.’
Gimli threw up his hands as if in disbelief. ‘Oh! You lost it. Well perhaps if you had a dwarf at your side, you would have caught this shadow if there even was one.’
‘Gimli, listen. I know you are angry but I could not spare the time to return for you. I would have if I could,’ he lowered his voice and pulled Gimli to one side. ‘It was some ghoulish thing. It felt like the Nazgûl,’ he muttered, glancing at the Watch Constable.
Instantly Gandalf was at his side and listening while Legolas told both the Wizard and Dwarf what had happened.
‘But, as you can see,I could not catch it,’ he said in conclusion and gestured to where the men were bringing up the body from the rocks beneath the tall bridge. ‘ But I have found something else.’
Gimli sighed, all bluster and fury gone. ‘Aye. We are too late for him... But that might have been you, Legolas!’ He remembered how angry he was and glared at Legolas again. ‘If what you feared was indeed what you pursued, you are fortunate to even be here.’
Gandalf studied Legolas. ‘Are you sure it was a wraith? Did anyone else see it?’ he asked. ‘I do not see how it could be what you think it is when all were sucked into the Dark at Sauron’s fall.’
‘No. I do not think that at all.’ Legolas shook his head. ‘And for the very reasons you give. Yet I pursued it here and could not catch it.’
‘Some other thing then?’ said Gimli with a shudder. ‘Some other creature that was not tied to Sauron perhaps? There are more things in the deeps and dark places of the world than were just Sauron’s servants.’
Legolas gave the dwarf an oblique glance but as he opened his mouth to speak, the Watchmen brought the body down past them and instead Legolas asked Gandalf, ‘How long do you think he has lain there?’
Gandalf looked up at the high bridge above them. ‘I would think he fell the night he disappeared. He must have been killed outright.’
‘Where will you take him?’ Gimli asked the Constable.
‘The Houses of Healing first,’ the Constable said. ‘It is ironic is it not? But Beregond will want to see him and ascertain there was no foul play.’
‘No foul play?’ Gimli declared. ‘Well clearly there ….ouch. Legolas, what are you doing?’
‘Forgive me, Gimli,’ Legolas apologised with deep concern. ‘I must have stepped on your foot by mistake. How clumsy of me.’
The Constable gave them a knowing look and then bowed his head slightly to each of them. ‘I will tell Beregond that you found the body, my lord,’ he said to Legolas. ‘And I also understand the need for discretion.’ He smiled slightly. ‘I am sure that Beregond will be happy to share anything with you that he finds.’
‘Thank you,’ Legolas said.
Gimli stood close to Legolas and muttered, knowing full well that Legolas could hear every word, ‘Do not think for one single moment that you are off the hook. There is a lot more I wish to say about you going off on your own after some ghoulish shadow. And do not seek to distract me.’
‘I would not dream of it,’ said Legolas smoothly. ‘But first there is something else that needs taking care of.’ He reached into his tunic and drew out the small, skinny little cat and held it out to Gimli. ‘Just hold this a moment while I find it.’ He dropped the cat into Gimli’s hands and the dwarf had no choice but to catch it. It squirmed briefly, righting itself and then curled into the dwarf’s beard with an ecstatic purring that resonated through the dwarf’s whole being.
‘Pah! What is this wee beastie?’ Gimli spat angrily, carefully cradling the cat in the crook of his arm and against his chest so it would not get wet in the rain. ‘Are you bringing home flea-ridden pests now? It is not fit for anything, look at these ribs poking through like it’s a little toast-rack,’ he said gruffly and Legolas hid a smile.
‘Yes of course. Put it down, Gimli,’ the Elf said matter-of-factly. ‘It probably has fleas. We cannot have such a thing in the house and what will we do with it when we leave?’ He smiled indulgently because Gimli was not looking at him but gazing at the little cat with undisguised delight.
‘We can’t possibly take it with us. Even if there are lots of mice and rats in the Mountain for little ginger warriors like you,’ he crooned at the little cat which purred even more loudly and looked up at the dwarf. Its little face seemed to squeeze up into a smile.
Although Gimli was still cross with Legolas, he could not raise his voice for the little cat had curled up so trustingly in his arms that he could not bear to waken it. Its purr resonated through his own chest and the little beast seemed to vibrate with the force of its delight to be warm and safe.
‘I shall call you Azaghâl,’ he thought and as if the cat knew, it raised its head and looked at him with big green eyes and purred even more loudly. Legolas was insisting that Azaghâl’s basket be made of willow, which was the silliest thing Gimli had ever heard, but at least the Elf agreed it needed a wooden scratching post and the very finest poultry and fish from Pelargir.
‘Glaurung will need to be fed three times a day at first,’ Legolas was saying and Gimli wondered why on earth Legolas was talking about a long-dead dragon.
Gandalf humphed. ‘Take that cat back to the house, Legolas and feed it. Gimli, you are coming with me. There is something I need you to do. And you,’ he glared at Legolas from under his bristling eyebrows, ‘are not coming. Go and tell Merry and Pippin what has happened and get yourself cleaned up. We will join you soon.’
Legolas opened his mouth to protest but Gimli, rather smugly, held the cat towards him with a last tickle under its chin, and it latched onto the Elf with its claws and scrambled up onto his shoulder.
In spite of the good humour and levity with which he had engaged Legolas on the way back, Gimli was in fact deeply disturbed by what Legolas had said about this ghoulish shadow. And so he insisted on watching Legolas all the way to the door of the house and only turned back to Gandalf when he had seen that Merry had opened the door and all were safe.
‘Now,’ he said, eyes gleaming with interest. ‘What would you have me do?’
Gandalf breathed in and looked seriously at the dwarf. ‘I need you to come with me through the Rath Dínen to the Houses of the Dead.’
Next chapter: Gandalf and Gimli visit the Tombs of the Stewards. Elrohir arrives in Lothlorien.
Thank you to the very lovely Anarithilen as always.
Thanks to those who review or leave kudos etc. You encourage me.
Chapter 20. The Houses of the Dead.
The storm had abated and the city was left soaked but surviving the battering, like a ship at sea. In the darkest hours before dawn, Gimli leaned over the parapet of the Rath Dínen, the Silent Street, and looked down. The bridge was very high, and far below were the sharp rocks upon which Legolas had found Ioralas’ body. No wonder it killed the boy, Gimli thought sadly. He imagined how it must have been to fall all that way and crash heavily upon the rocks, crushing the breath from his body, bones snapping upon impact, limbs twisted…He wondered if Ioralas had died immediately or been left there in agony and died slowly, in pain. Alone….
And he was so white…not just corpse-white. But like he had been drained of his blood. And there had not been much blood on the rocks, Gimli thought, frowning. True, the rain had been very heavy, but enough to wash it all away? Legolas said that a ghoul had led him here. But if that were true, why did it want Legolas to discover the body and why now? And how it had escaped the Elf, disappearing into darkness above the Silent Street for Gimli could not imagine anything able to escape the Elf’s swift feet.
Gimli looked up at the craggy outcrop above him. It was steep and impossible to climb. But the rough rock face would have presented no problem to something that could so easily have climbed the tall smooth piers of the bridge, as Legolas had said it had. To his right was the city, the Tower of Ecthelion standing proudly at the summit, and to his left, the House of the Dead, the burial chambers of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor. But these were guarded and surely they would have seen the ghoul as it climbed over the parapet at least?
Gimli stroked his beard, wondering. Then he shrugged for he was not going to answer any questions standing here and staring into space.
Gandalf was already striding along the bridge, his white robes billowing behind him. Quickly, Gimli followed, for even if the Wizard lead him into the tombs of the Kings and Stewards, he was still with Gandalf and he did not think Legolas’ ghoul or the ghosts of dead Men, even the mad Denethor, held much fear for Gandalf.
He did not know if it was his imagination, but it seemed much colder once they had crossed the bridge. There was a small guardroom at the end of the bridge which led into the crypt. Two guardsmen came out and hailed them when they saw Gandalf and Gimli. One was Cendir, with whom Gimli had spoken before. The other was a handsome, younger Man but his eyes were anxious and he looked tired, like he had not slept for worry.
‘Good evening, Cendir!’ Gimli smiled and nodded at the other Man. ‘Have you seen anything of note during the night?’ he asked as casually as he could, thinking that had they seen this ghoul of Legolas’, they would be less settled and surely have roused the Tower guard.
‘It has been very quiet tonight up here, my lords,’ said Cendir. ‘But there has been some disturbance in the third or fourth level. We heard the Watch bell ring.’ He paused and then said, ‘My lords, I cannot think what brings you to this place unless it be that you search for some clue about Ioralas’ whereabouts.’ He glanced in concern at his companion, whose face had paled. ‘But I assure you, Beregond has been here already, when Maltök reported that Ioralas had not turned up for his duty. He found not a thing.’
Gandalf glanced at Gimli and sighed. The Wizard was very gentle when he spoke. ‘I am sorry, my friends. That is what you heard below…This very night Legolas found Ioralas’ body. I am afraid he is dead.’
The other Man took a step back with a terrible cry, hand over his mouth. ‘It cannot be! Dead?’ He sank onto the ground, head in his hands.
Cendir stood, shocked and grieved. ‘This is Arduin. He was…’
‘Yes,’ Gimli said quickly. ‘Yes. We understand.’ He gave a deep sigh and shook his head. ‘I am sorry you had to hear it like this, my friend.’ He put his strong, square hand upon Arduin’s shoulder and let the warmth of the forge sink into it. ‘I have no clever words to bring you comfort. But we have found him at least and he lies in the Houses of Healing until you can claim him.’
Arduin looked up, his face streaked with tears. ‘Forgive me, my lord. Forgive me. I just…’ He swallowed. ‘I suppose I knew. I just hoped…’ He rubbed his face. ‘Did he… did he suffer, do you think?’
Gimli paused for a moment and then spoke slowly, gently so the Man had time to absorb it. ‘He fell it seems. His body was upon the rocks, under the bridge.’ He did not speak of the whiteness of his corpse, nor the ghoul that Legolas had said had led him to this place.
Arduin gave a cry and stumbled to his feet, grasping the edge of the parapet and staring down into the chasm below. ‘No! He could not be…I looked…’ He turned back distraught.
‘Legolas found him when he was…at the foot of the bridge.’ Gimli took a step towards the parapet himself and looked over. All was darkness below and they could not even see the rocks upon which Ioralas had fallen. ‘It was not obvious. You could not have seen him from up here. There was a narrow gully. He had fallen into it. There was nothing you could have done, even had you known he was there. He would have died instantly.’ Gimli heard the words leave his lips. It was not the first time he had given such news. But it never came any easier.
‘Come, Arduin.’ Cendir slowly reached for Arduin and took him by the arm and guided him back to the little guardroom. ‘Thank you, my lords, for bringing us this news.’ He glanced up at the sky. ‘We will be relieved at dawn. I will take him to Beregond then.’
Gandalf nodded reassuringly. ‘That is well,’ he said kindly. ‘But we have not just come to give you this news. Lord Gimli and I have an important task for the King. We must inspect that which you guard.’
Cendir rose to his feet as if to accompany them but Gandalf pressed him back. ‘Look after your friend. We can find what we need.’
Cendir nodded and Gandalf turned. ‘Come along, Gimli. We have work to do.’ The Wizard strode towards the crypts of the Kings and Stewards.
Gimli keenly felt the cold in the pit of his belly. He looked up at the tall mausoleum of the stewards, its façade of marble and basalt, an austere and stark contrast of black and white. Gandalf leapt up the few shallow steps that led to a grand portico of white marble inlaid with gleaming obsidian and the huge bronze door that towered above them magnificently.
Slowly, ponderously, the door swung open.
Inside, the darkness was pushed back by the reddish glow of two torches that were stuck into bronze and copper sconces upon the walls. Darkness did not worry Gimli, who was used to being underground and he would have welcomed the chance had it not been that Gandalf led him into a tomb. The torchlight made their shadows enormous, and Gimli saw his own, a giant dwarf with an axe, looming into the darkness ahead of him.
He faltered. ‘Gandalf, will you tell me now what it is that we do? Is it Legolas’ ghoul we pursue?’
‘Legolas’ ghoul? Do you doubt him?’ Gandalf turned and looked at Gimli, a slight smile on his lips. But before Gimli could answer, he had already taken a torch from the nearest sconce. ‘No. We are not here for that.’
In the torchlight ahead was a long passageway that stretched into darkness, and along each wall were niches, smooth as eggshells; within each was a tomb upon which lay the bronze effigy of the steward whose bones lay within, eyes open as if aware of their passing, and a sword clasped in his bronze hands.
‘These are the Stewards,’ said Gandalf solemnly. ‘The Kings lie in their own crypt further in. Much grander.’
Gandalf paused for a moment before one. A sword was laid upon the tomb but no bronze effigy rested here. ‘Here is Denethor’s tomb.’ It was as if Denethor had laid his sword here but could not rest in peace, instead forever pacing these halls, like a madman.
Gimli pulled his beard and looked around himself, almost expecting to see a ghostly spectre walking down the passageways, flaming brand in hand. And then he saw there was a second empty tomb here. No sword was upon it but instead, a broken horn.
Gimli took a step back in shock. Boromir, whose body they had laid in a boat and sent over the Rauros Falls. The Horn of Gondor had come to Gondor’s shores, Gimli remembered Pippin had told them and it had pushed Denethor further into despair…Here it lay. All that remained of Boromir.
For a moment, Gimli stood before the empty niche and he wanted to bow his head, offer a prayer to Mahal for it seemed somehow shocking to think of both Boromir and Denethor’s violent ends, one in courage and the other a despair at the loss of the first. Gimli thought he might understand those Men who made a homage here; for Boromir had been their captain, their protector for many years and his father had ruled long and well before he despaired.
‘Aragorn must do right by both these Men,’ he heard himself say. ‘He must commission their likenesses and make public ceremony, giving Boromir his due.’
‘And he will,’ Gandalf said softly.
‘He died bravely in the end,’ Gimli said roughly for he did not trust himself to say more and he felt Gandalf ‘s hand on his shoulder and knew that the Wizard understood.
‘Come,’ said Gandalf. ‘Leave the dead to lie in peace.’
‘As long as they are in peace,’ said Gimli, following Gandalf. ‘Is this ghoul some restless soul, or demon of the dark?’ He found his voice lowering to a whisper
‘I do not know what the ghoul is,’ said Gandalf. ‘Not yet. And I have not brought you here to chase a ghoul that Legolas could not catch,’ he added grumpily. ‘You will remember that Legolas found a Mirror when we were in the tower at Minas Morgul?’
‘Of course.’ Gimli remembered how Legolas had been unsettled on his return; the tower was a haunted, dreadful place full of blood and fear. Gimli had been only too pleased to leave it.
‘I had it brought with us as you know. You cannot leave such artefacts lying around for anyone to find.’ Gandalf said reasonably, lifting the torch higher and striding down the cold smooth passageway.
‘So it must have some power then,’ Gimli said. ‘Like the Mirror of Galadriel perhaps?’ he added, following. He did not speak of the other mirror, the one in Phellanthir that Elrohir had told Legolas had been made by Guhnâlzirâmuzbad himself, whom the elves called Celebrimbor. Gimli felt a little frisson of excitement; perhaps this one too was made by Guhnâlzirâmuzbad and Gimli was going to get the chance to examine it himself! Well worth a trip through this gloomy place, he thought gleefully.
‘Yes, I believe it may have Power,’ Gandalf said. He strode quickly through the quiet dark, their shadows running on ahead of them, huge one moment and then lost in the dark. ‘I hid it in here. The dead have no fear,’ Gandalf continued. ‘They have no enemies or shadows to conjure from the Dark.’
Gimli stared at the back of Gandalf’s head, less excited than he had been. ‘Shadows to conjure from the Dark?’
Gandalf turned to face Gimli then. ‘I am trusting you with a great secret, Gimli.’ Gandalf looked at him with great seriousness. ‘None must know what the Mirror can do,’ he said emphatically. ‘If it fell into the wrong hands, it could wreak havoc and all that we have worked for will be undone.’ The Wizard’s eyes were troubled and distant now, looking inwards. ‘I do not know how, but in Phellanthir, that Mirror was a window to the Dark…’
‘Ah! That is what Elladan was angry about! He thought this one too held danger. He must know about the one in Phellanthir. Of course.’ The dwarf clicked his fingers at himself.
Gandalf looked serious. ‘This is not a game, Gimli! This is a dangerous artefact. You must understand.’ He rapped his staff on the ground as if Gimli was not paying attention. ‘Listen to me! I had a message from Glorfindel that I must come in haste to Phellanthir. And when I arrived, Glorfindel, and Erestor too, swore that within the Mirror, they had seen a Balrog. The very same that slew Glorfindel and was slain by him upon the Cristhorn.’
All Gimli’s excitement fled. Instead cold tiptoed over his skin, made his hair prickle. ‘That cannot be possible,’ he said quietly. ‘You mean it conjured an image of the Balrog in the glass? It reflected his memory, like some sort of… transmission of thought?’
Gandalf shook his head. ‘No. It is not as simple as that.’ He pressed his lips together and frowned for a moment, thinking. ‘I am trying to explain it to you. The Balrog did not simply appear as an illusion or a glimpse into the past. It was actually there. Contained, no, not contained by the Mirror. It could not break through. I believe that Glorfindel’s presence drew the Balrog to him. He was somehow, a magnet.’
Gimli tried to imagine it: Glorfindel standing looking into a mirror and a Balrog staring back.
Gandalf gave a small sigh. ‘Gimli, I need to make you understand. I am going to show you what happened. Do not be afraid. It is memory.
He placed his hand upon Gimli’s shoulder and turned him so that Gimli was facing the Wizard. He looked up into Gandalf’s piercing blue eyes and for a moment, he saw not the Wizard, but something, someone else; radiant, light shining through him, long silver-white hair and a face of such benevolence and stern kindliness he felt like weeping. And then that melted away and he was standing somewhere else….
At the top of the stairs was a long passage and the daylight faded into dimness but Gandalf could see great bronze doors thrown wide open and buckled as if an intense heat had melted them. He paused at the top of the stairs for he could feel that Power rippled across the entrance of the doors, almost tangible. Stepping towards the doors, he narrowed his eyes, letting himself slip from his flesh, muscle and bone, and though his bodily presence kept its shape and form to all who looked, Ólorin slipped from his corporeal case and slowly approached the doors. Like water, the darkness parted before and around him, and lights glimmered like rainbows and then split into the vertical lines of the helyanwë. He felt the resonance of Power, deep Power such as he had never felt this side of the Sea…
He peered into the dark and listened…
There was silence at first, and then a strange, deep note chimed far off in the darkness. It was a rare, rich chord of indescribable loveliness and Ólorin felt his own spirit tremble in response. It drifted in the empty silence like a ship’s bell. Lost. And the loneliness was overwhelming.
And then another sound, more strident and angry, a hollow roar that was disembodied, its parts flung as far and as wide as the strange, lost chord
There has been a battle, Ólorin thought. This distant, enraged bellow he knew was the Balrog, its rage resonated through the emptiness, as if it remembered how it had been vanquished. This was Ruinátoró, Glorfindel’s nemesis. Shadow and flame. Its bellow drifted further and quieter, dimming in the emptiness of the Void.
Then all was quiet. The lost note of silver-blue and fire faded and the Balrog’s furious bellow was silent.
Ólorin stilled himself, let Narya open and sift the particles and resonances that were deep below the sounds of the world…There was a stillness beneath, somewhere in the Dark. Distant and far. Something that waited. A crushing strength and heavy malice.
There was a subtle shift in the Dark, as if Something’s attention gradually came to rest upon a thin patch of grey light in the Dark here where there was no light, like a pool in the shadowed woods …Something slid its attention towards that patch of thin grey light. Grinding metal and steel and old, old, Power. Strong. Not diminished. Not truly vanquished or chained. But waiting…
Slowly, with immense care that he did not disturb the air in this place, nor alert the Presence that he, Ólorin, was here, he stepped back and slid into the old Man’s flesh and bone, felt the sinews stretch and the muscle bunch. Silently, leaving barely a ripple, he drew back and closed Narya, pulled her red Power towards him and shielded her from the subtle, shifting attention. It seemed to slip over him and did not catch on his dimmed and flesh-clad spirit, seeking instead perhaps that lost chord of silver-blue and fire. He felt the misery of its dispersal, and the Presence slipped its attention ravenously towards the drifting loveliness of the lost chord.
….He was outside the Óromarde of Celebrimbor. Glorfindel stood with Gandalf and Erestor, a strange elf stood with them with light armour and a sword clasped in his hand.
‘I dare not go back in.’ Glorfindel’s hand clasped the hilt of his sword as if it were an old friend. His voice did not tremble but that did not mean he was not afraid. ‘On the other side of the Glass is the Absolute Dark,’ he said quietly and Gandalf leaned in to listen for this was what he had feared. ‘I brought the Balrog,’ Glorfindel continued. ‘Somehow it knew I was here on this side and it assailed the Glass trying to break free, to reach me.’ He shook his head uncomprehending but Gandalf looked past him and into the gloom within where this Glass was. He gestured towards the buckled and twisted doors. ‘And clearly there is danger within these doors that we do not yet understand. If the Balrog was in there and merely the heat from its
presence wreak that destruction upon the doors of this place, then what else might be?’
What else indeed, thought Gandalf and he peered through the gloom into the darkness within and thought that now he knew.
Gimli almost stumbled as he came back to himself and was aware that he was staring up at Ólorin with his mouth open… No. Gandalf, he thought slowly, words trying to mould themselves around his thoughts that were too huge, too momentous.
I am just an Iron-Master, he thought slowly. I cannot comprehend this. The idea of the Mirror was beyond him, perhaps not even one of the Lords of Fire, the Rîgakha-mesh could comprehend what had been done here to create such an artefact. One that could open a door like this…
‘Yes…Yes…’ He drifted a while, wondering about the lost chord, the silver-blue note that was not of the Dark…
He became aware of Gandalf’s voice calling to him and a warmth on his shoulder that suffused his whole being. He looked up at Gandalf with more clarity now. ‘I begin to understand now, Gandalf. A door to the Dark perhaps?’
‘Yes. A door. Perhaps. You see why I could not allow Legolas near it.’
‘Yes. Yes, of course.’ His brightness will attract things in the darkness, the Nazgûl would be drawn to him like moths…he thought and knew he still shared Ólorin’s thoughts… Or bats.
There had been bats at the Battle of Erebor, he remembered. Huge, black clouds of them that had dropped upon the Khazâd and tore at the flesh with sharp fangs.
‘We cannot leave these Mirrors here for Men to discover and use without wisdom,’ Gandalf said softly. ‘When we all have gone, there will be no one left who remembers, and they might unleash the Dark upon themselves. I cannot leave it here.’
Gimli nodded slowly. Yes. Yes, I see. You cannot leave it. You cannot destroy it.
Gandalf smiled slightly. Come then, Gimli Aulësson indeed.
He turned and Gimli followed as if in a dream, as if floating with no physical awareness. The white robes susurrused around him like the foam on waves, and it seemed Ólorin was ahead of him, slipping in and out of mortal flesh and bones, that the spirit the old man’s body contained was growing too much for it, that it had to escape soon.
He thought he heard a scrape as if some dead warrior of bronze had turned his head and watched them pass with those empty eyes that had no iris, no pupil …
Gandalf pushed open the door to a small chamber. It was empty but for a brazier that was full of white ash and cold. There were rust-coloured marks on the marble floor like someone had spilt something but Gimli did not look closely. A chair stood nearby, as if someone had been sitting at the brazier trying to keep warm. Who would want to sit in here, thought Gimli distantly, still bemused and enchanted, with all those dead Stewards? But Gandalf seemed not at all interested in any of this. He took two strides to the back of the chamber and Gimli saw that something stood at the back in the shadows, swathed in white.
Gandalf stood to one side and his fingers caught at the edge of the white cloth and Gimli saw now that it was in fact, Gandalf’s own cloak. He blinked slowly; he had not even noticed that Gandalf was no longer wearing it.
Slowly the cloak slipped away and he saw a face staring back at him in the darkness, beard, dwarvish braids. His lips parted and he saw the face copied him.
Gimli stared for a moment. It was the Mirror. And his own face in the glass- he should have expected it.
Gandalf was poking around at the back of it. ‘Gimli come here please. Don’t stand there gawking at yourself.’
He stepped sideways quickly, and he peered at the mirror’s surface, expecting to see the fine layer of copper that Guhnâlzirâmuzbad was known to have been used, according the Azaghâl at least. And a mithril compound coating the copper. But there was nothing. Perhaps it has worn away with age, Gimli thought. He scraped a finger down the silvered glass surface and frowned. This looked like simple glass. Then he peered at the frame; it was made with some sort of copper compound, but Gimli thought it inferior stuff. His frown deepened. There were very few nicks or scratches upon it if it was of such a great age. He shook his head. If he did not know better, he would say it was new. Even if in bringing it from Minas Morgul, they had taken very very great care. He shook his head. This was no fine craftsmanship. This was nothing.
‘Gandalf…’ he said. ‘I think you have gone to a lot of trouble for nothing. The Nazgûl were simply vain after all!’ He laughed, remembering how he had imagined the Nazgûl admiring their black shrouds in the mirror, looking this way and that.
But the Wizard tore the white cloak from the mirror and hurled it on the floor. ‘You think I don’t know Power when I see it, Gimli Gloinsson! You must think me just some old conjurer who can only set off fireworks! Fool of a dwarf! This is not the Mirror we brought from Minas Morgul. This is a fake! The Mirror has been stolen!’
Legolas lay on the iron bed in the room he had been left rather than claimed. The little cat, Glaurung, lay on his feet and he dared not move for she slept so deeply. Now and again her little paws twitched and she whimpered. When she did that, he reached over and stroked a hand down her rough fur and hummed so she shifted and sighed and slept again, smiling a little cat smile. Her fur would smooth and soften once she had been fed properly and loved, he thought.
He had put his meagre belongings around the room; the mended tunic of moss green suede hung in the small wardrobe, and in a chest of drawers were the two linen shirts he had brought with him from the Wood so he had one clean one. His boots were curled under a chair like a leathery snake and his pack was slung over the chair. His knives were carefully laid on a small table beneath the window and his bow and quiver leaned against the same table. The small silver mirror remained turned over so its mirrored surface was against the wall. He still could not bear to look into it.
The ghoul that he had pursued across the city had been real, no imagined thing, he knew. The bruises on his shoulder and the cuts on his face were testament to that. There was too, the knife that he had pulled from the door jamb. That was very real. The device upon the hilt of the dagger puzzled him; it had the letters R, ND,R surmounted by three five-pointed stars.
He lay with his hands under his head, ankles crossed and stared up at the ceiling. The plaster was cracked, he noticed. Hardly surprising, he supposed, after the pounding the city had taken in the siege.
He wondered what Gandalf and Gimli were doing. There was no question that it was right he should not have gone with them and that he needed to rest after the rocks that had rained down upon him. His head had been pounding and he felt dizzy, and his shoulder was very painful. When he had told Merry what had happened, Merry had roused the other hobbits and they had busied themselves looking after Legolas, pouring him tea and feeding him toast and cakes while Sam bathed the blood from the cut above his eye. The salve Sam put on the cut had stung like hell but stopped the bleeding. Meanwhile Frodo had managed to extract him from Glaurung’s determined little claws and taken the skinny little cat into the kitchen. He fed her scraps of chicken, then scrambled an egg for the cat and finally given her a bowl of cream. All of which Glaurung had promptly sicked up over Gimli’s slippers. Secretly Legolas was delighted.
But it was morning now and neither Gimli nor Gandalf had yet returned. He fretted and picked at the threads of the counterpane. It was already a little threadbare in places and there was something satisfying about pulling the long threads free. He wondered what they had been doing. Below, he could hear Pippin banging pots around and making breakfast for it was his turn. Glaurung lifted her head and leapt from the bed, darting through the door. Her little feet pounded down the stairs, more heavily than one would expect.
Legolas didn’t feel like breakfast.
He felt sick. The ghoul that he had chased across the city had moved with uncanny speed, climbing up the bridge in a disjointed unnatural manner … He had seen that once before; in the South. He lay on the bed now, letting himself drift back into reveries, trying to capture exactly what the ghoul had reminded him of:
It had been one of the worst times he could remember, with his small patrol under fire and in retreat. They had been driven back to an old ruined guard tower and taken cover there from the hordes spilling out of Dol Guldûr in pursuit of them. The Elves knew the Nazgûl were amongst their attackers; they could hear the dreadful cold cries and the icy fear that pricked them and made their hands shake.
‘It is only fear!’ he kept shouting to his men. They said it to themselves, to each other.
He remembered how they had run up the stone steps of the old guard tower to get a vantage point to fire at the oncoming orcs. It was better to defend the tower and hope for rescue but there were too many even if the main company happened upon them and Legolas knew they were doomed.
Battle was raging around them and Lossar had just fallen, Galadhon pulling him out of the way of yet more arrows. In despair Legolas had looked out of the arrow loops to the North, hoping to see signs of Thalos’ main company. What he had seen instead made his skin crawl and stomach turn; a huge black bat was stalking towards him on its black pinions, crawling up the wall. It clawed its way towards him easily, but its face was that of an Elf. Almost. Ears delicate and pointed, mouth twitching and leering, pointed fangs dripped with dark red blood…. He had cried out in horror and stumbled back at first, thinking it must be Thuringwethil, Morgoth’s vampire. And in panic, he had fired arrow after arrow into the horrid thing and not one seemed to stop it for it kept on coming. Only the silver horns of Laersul’s company finding them at their last gasp had driven the thing off…
Now, as he lay on the narrow iron bed, he wondered if this ghoul was not the same…And Ioralas’ body had no blood left in it. The usual bruising where blood had pooled in a dead body was absent, and the skin was unnaturally white. Had Ioralas been killed by this ghoul? And would it kill again?
He swung his feet to the ground and quickly splashed his face and body with cold water and sniffed the scented soap. Like they had in Imladris. He pulled on one of his linen shirts and breeches, grabbed his boots and tucked them under one arm, scooped up his weapons and was already strapping on his quiver and harness, knives, bow, vambraces as he clattered down the stairs. Then he went back and grabbed the knife the ghoul had thrown and stuffed it into his quiver.
Pippin was just serving breakfast and the other hobbits were sitting at the table. They all looked up as he burst in.
‘Morning Legolas,’ said Pippin brightly. ‘Just in time. Glaurung, or Lobelia as Frodo is calling her, has just helped herself to the best of the bacon but there is plenty here. Come and sit down.’
Briefly he thought that they must sit at one long meal with brief interludes for pipeweed. ‘I have to see Aragorn,’ he said. ‘It is a matter of urgency.’
‘Legolas, we have already sent a message to Aragorn about Ioralas. You can sit and eat with us. Please.’ Frodo looked at him appealing. Legolas paused. He could never really ignore anything Frodo asked. ‘And then one of us will go with you,’ Frodo added as if that would make it even more attractive.
‘I do not think I should delay,’ he said.
Pippin put his head on one side and asked, ‘What is going on, Legolas? You found poor Ioralas’ body. Isn’t that an end to it? He fell off the bridge. Can you not just spare us a few minutes to tell us what is going on?’
Legolas gave in and sat between Frodo and Merry. He looked at Pippin as Pippin spooned bacon, eggs, mushrooms and fried potatoes onto a plate for him.
‘Finding Ioralas’ body is not the end of it at all,’ said Legolas grimly. ‘I do not believe he simply fell off that bridge. I think he was either pushed, or so frightened that he jumped.’ He ate as he talked and realised how hungry he was. It made him feel better, more real. He told them of the ghoul he had pursued across the city and which had eluded him.
‘If it can escape you, Legolas,’ said Pippin, ‘I do not think it can be human.’ He shivered as he spoke. ‘What you say makes me think of the Ringwraiths,’ he said and the other hobbits nodded in agreement.
‘I do not wish to frighten you, but be careful and stay together,’ said Legolas. ‘I am not convinced that the world is rid of Sauron’s evil.’
‘It would be strange if it were,’ said Frodo sadly. ‘But you must not go alone either, Legolas. Take Merry with you so you have someone. We will be sure to tell Gimli and Gandalf where you are and what you have told us.’
Legolas considered for a moment and then shook his head briefly. ‘It did throw a knife at me,’ he said thoughtfully and the hobbits exclaimed in shock. ‘No,’ he said, hushing their cries. ‘I think whatever it is, it wants me alive. It wanted me to find Ioralas,’ he realised. ‘It stopped throwing stones at me only when I saw the body.’ He frowned. ‘That makes no sense at all.’