The worst part of battle is the noise.
It surrounds me, the cries of dying men, the crack of bones breaking, the thud of sword against flesh. It penetrates the very being of my soul and I dream it for days—weeks—afterwards.
I am in the centre of the nightmare and my friends are the only thing that keeps me sane. I must stay near them, I must!
Gimli fights at my back as he promised he would. I can feel him there behind me, armour pressed against my tunic. The grunt he gives as he swings his axe soothes my soul for it means he is still with me. He swore to me before the Paths of the Dead that he would have my back wherever we went, that whoever came for me had to go through him. He keeps that promise still.
But we have been separated from Aragorn. Pulled apart by a wave of the enemy who isolated him from us despite our best efforts to stay in contact. I fight in desperation to reduce the ground between us but I make little progress and my blood runs cold. I cannot even see him now, dark head amongst the chaos. He has disappeared from view.
Where is he?
Where is he?
Panic at the thought of his tenuous hold on safety without us chokes me. It blocks out all rational thought. I must reach him!
And then it happens.
At first I think it is my own mind, warped by my fear for my friend, twisting the very world around me. The earth turns under my feet nearly throwing me to the ground. It is only my Elven reflexes that keep me upright. Then I hear Gimli's cry of alarm as he falls and I know. . . This is more than just me.
The earth churns and our enemy screams. A unified cry of horror that hurts my ears, piercing me with it shrillness. They scream and they run, disappearing before our eyes as the ground collapses into itself sending them tumbling into an empty pit, an abyss that opens up before us. The roar deafens me.
It is then the mountain erupts. Fire rains upon us, upon them—the fleeing dark. Tongues of red cascade across the ground, hot, hot fire that burns the landscape as it moves. It is worse than Smaug and I never thought there could be worse than that.
I can not comprehend what is happening. It is as if my mind thrashes through mud. None of this makes sense and I wonder again if I imagine it. If I have hit my head and this is an illusion, a dream while I am injured.
A hand falls on my shoulder, firm, strong, real, and I spin in shock.
It is Elrohir.
It is Elrohir and he is alight! His light so bright I think his fea will explode beyond him, and his face is transformed with joy, such utter joy. I have never seen him like this. I have barely even seen him smile. But now. . . Oh, he is so alive.
"They have done it, Legolas!" He cries, "We have done it. We have won! We have won, and Sauron is gone!"
"Gone?" His words swirl around me with a truth I cannot comprehend. "This is the end?"
"The end!" He exclaims, "And you and I have survived to see it."
It is then I remember Aragorn and I turn away, desperately searching the chaos, the dying men, the bloodied field to find him.
"I have lost Aragorn!" The words choke me as I speak them, "We were separated from him and I cannot see him. I cannot find him." He is nowhere I look, death is everywhere but he is nowhere.
"Relax," Elrohir, standing behind me clasps my head between his hands and turns it, gently, gently, in the direction I should be looking. "He is near, he is alive, can you see him now?"
It is a tender gesture, all care and compassion and it is lost to my notice amongst the anxiety that flays my soul. Then I see what he sees, Aragorn on his knees in the mud, on his knees but alive. The wave of relief is so intense I sway on my feet, then I am off. . . Running towards him, dropping to my knees also, in front of him.
"Aragorn—I lost you, I lost you." I touch his face, his hands, for there was a second, a dreadful second I had thought him gone from me. The grief was a vice around my heart.
"What is this?" He mumbles in reply, his weary face is as confused as I have been.
"We have done it." I say, clasping his hand between mine. "Frodo and Sam have done it, the ring is destroyed. Our fragile hope has conquered all!"
And he turns his head towards the mountain where it spews its angry fire.
"Frodo and Sam are in there then." His words sound numb to my ears and they drop like ice upon the light of my fea. I had not even spared the time to think that, but he is right. How can there be any hope for them?
Elladan is there then, in front of us, and Elrohir . . . and Gimli.
"On your feet little Brother," Elladan says, smiling, as he reaches down and hauls Aragorn to his feet beside him. "You have an army to lead here. You are a King!" And I clamber to stand too in the midst of the mud and gore.
They embrace, the brothers. They have waited a long time for this I tell myself—for Aragorn to come in to his own—and truly he has.
I have not heard the sea upon the battlefield. The intensity of Elrohir's light the night before burnt it to a crisp and locked it away behind impenetrable doors in my mind. It has been quiet, quiescent and soft. But now, as I stand beside my friends, all of us alive, and watch the world I know—have always known—seemingly destroy itself around us, bemused and uncomprehending, the doors open and the sea flows out.
It's roar drowns out the sounds of death that surround me. Suddenly I am awash with it. Spray in my face, waves push against me as I stand, and it sings to me. It whispers promises of better things, a different life, no fear, no death, no loss. It reminds me of those who wait on the other side.
"You have played your part, It is over now." it says, "Come with me, come and see them."
How I yearn to go.
The seafoam curls around my ankles, swirling, swirling, and I stagger as it pulls me in. A hand grasps my elbow and holds me steady as I stumble.
"Legolas? Are you well?"
Elrohir's voice echoes through the waves as if he is far, far away and not right beside me. The wind blows his hair, wet from spray so I cannot see his face and I try to reply but my voice is thick and indistinct.
"The sea,"I try to say, "The sea calls to me."
But the sea does not want me speaking with the bright warrior who vanquished it. It is angry with him and it attacks.
"Do not listen to him!" It cries, "He does not know those you have lost, not like we do!"
The crashing waves knock my feet out from under me.
Perhaps it is Elrohir who catches me as I fall.
I awake in the comfort of a tent, soft lamplight flickers upon the walls. It is night and the sea is quiet, smothered in what I now recognise as Elladan's handiwork. Soft Noldor footprints across my mind.
For a moment in time I wonder where I am, what night is this? Then it comes back to me.
"Not so fast, Elf!" A small hand shoots out to grip my sleeve as I sit. "Where do you think you are going?"
It is Gimli, of course it is Gimli.—who else would sit with me in the dark?
"What is going on?" I ask him, "What has happened? Let me go!"
"You are supposed to rest, Legolas. There is no need for you to be up and those are my orders, to keep you in one place."
"I am well!" I shrug off his hand in frustration, "I am well, Gimli."
"And that is why you scare the life out of us all collapsing on the battlefield? Because you are well?" He gives a grunt of dissatisfaction to show he does not believe a word of it.
"It was just the sea-longing, Gimli. It took me by surprise, I did not expect it and it is gone now." It is not gone of course, not at all. It lingers quietly in the back of my mind whispering it's temptations, but I can resist it now easily enough and see it for what it is.
But Gimli will have none of it.
"The sea-longing? I do not believe it to be that simple for a minute, Legolas. And that Elven lord who treated you agrees. Your reaction was not something he recognised. I have had him search every inch of you for injury. I know your predilection for hiding them." He folds his arms, blocking the way out of the tent and scowls at me.
"I am not hiding injury, Gimli!" I throw my arms out wide in frustration. I remember then a conversation we had exactly like this in Helms Deep. That ended with us piled on top of Aragorn most indelicately. I cannot help but laugh.
"This is not funny, Legolas!" Gimli almost stamps his foot like a child. "Have you lost your mind? Do I have to call Aragorn to keep you in line?"
"Aragorn?" The mention of his name brings to mind another picture, that of my friend dazed and confused as he knelt in the mud amongst the injured. "That is another thing, Gimli. I must see him."
"You cannot see him, Legolas. Not now, he is busy." He comes close then and grasps my hands in his. "He is with the hobbits, with Frodo and Sam. The Eagles have returned them to us."
"Frodo and Sam. . . " The words are barely more than a whisper on my breath. How could they have survived that?
"Do they live?" I ask the question but I cannot bear to hear the answer.
It is not Gimli who answers me. The tent flap has been thrown back and the silhouette of Elrohir fills the opening. He is tall and imposing, all Noldor lord tonight and I wonder—how did I ever think him remotely silvan last night?
"They live," he says, "Gandalf is with them, and Elladan, and I have been sent to ensure you are not wandering the campsite."
My recalcitrant soul flares at that for who does he think he is to try and control me? I resist it at the best of times and I will not have a Noldo restrain me so I move towards him as if to leave.
"I am not wandering anywhere, but if I wish to I will. I am going to see Aragorn." and I try to push past him but he grabs me and holds me fast.
"Do not be a fool. Aragorn is sleeping at any rate," He says triumphantly, "so you cannot see him. He, at least, is sensible and takes the rest he needs. I suggest you do the same."
I will not take orders from him.
"Do not think-" I drop my voice low and hiss at him in Sindarin so Gimli will not know what it is we say, "-Do not think whatever passsd between us last night means you have any place to command me. I will not let a Noldo place a chain about my neck!"
And he steps back, while his eye flash briefly with hurt.
"Why would you think I seek to chain you? Why would I wish to douse the flames of that fiery spirit? I want only to help you. You frightened me when you fell."
I am sure I did. I am frightened by that myself, the insistence of the sea, especially since Gimli says Elladan did not understand it, but I do not want Elrohir feeling fear for me. He should not care, it should not bother him. Where is his sneer of disdain?
And so I push back, raising my voice and slipping back into Westron so Gimli can hear it. I do not want anymore secret conversations with Elrohir. He is behaving oddly and I do not like it.
"I am hungry then. It is a long time since I last ate. Will you stop me even from getting sustenance?"
"Of course not!" Finally he snaps back and the unspoken anxiety that twists within me eases at the return of the Elrohir I am used to. "Do not speak to me as if I am completely without care. The dwarf can get you food and I will stay here while he does so."
"His name is Gimli! Address him as such." I want to argue with him and grasp the opportunity to lash out. If he will not treat me as I am used to then I will force him to.
But instead he just sighs and his shoulders slump.
"Gimli," he says quietly, "forgive me if you will. Can you fetch this obstinate creature food?"
But instead of his tone dripping in sarcasm and insult it is said with a strange mixture of affection and care and I step away for I do not recognise him.
I back towards my bed and admit defeat, for what choice do I have. I do not wish this to come to blows and it seems that is what will have to happen before he lets me out of here. I sit myself down as Gimli leaves me with a glare that tells me in no uncertain terms to behave myself, attempting to be as far away from this strange Elrohir as I can. It does not work for he sits next to me.
"Why do you fight so hard against those who would aid you?" He asks. "Why will you not accept help when you need it?"
"I do not need it!" I know I sound like a sulky child but I do not care.
"I think you do" he says quietly and he reaches out placing his hand over mine where it rests on the bed. I want to it pull away, but how can I without causing offence? . . . But then why do I care about hurting his feelings anyway?
He changes the subject then. Perhaps he at least has enough sense to know I will never agree with him.
"Elladan and I plan to go to the Dead Marshes tomorrow, before we depart this place, to pay homage to our people who lie here. Will you accompany us?"
"The Dead Marshes?" I say it in a gasp, before I can stop myself, "My grandfather may lie there."
I wish I could take the words back the instant I utter them and I brace myself for the disdainful comments mention of Oropher always gets from the Noldor.
They do not come. Instead he curls his fingers around my hand slowly, holding it tight. It is almost comforting.
"I know," his voice is serious. "That is why we thought you would wish to come. But perhaps, because you are. . . " he pauses and I can almost see him attempting to choose his words carefully. He has never taken care about how he has spoken to me before.
"Because you are not yourself at present, perhaps it may not be wise?"
"I am myself!" I cry, "Do you think I would let the sea prevent me from paying respects to my people?" I am as indignant as if the idea had been mine all along. It is him who is not himself, not me! He is instead this strange considerate Elrohir who makes me uncomfortable.
"Very well," he pats my hand gently, "you will come with us."
And to my relief then, Gimli is back bearing a plate of steaming food, giving me the chance to pull my hand away, to retreat from Elrohir. I eat as if I am starving although I am not hungry at all. It is but a shield I hide behind as I shut him out.
And so he goes, quietly, without a fuss. He leaves me in Gimli's care and I am glad.
He is not who he should be. We are not as we were.
I do not understand it and it makes me nervous.