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.