~ The Fruits Of The Soul ~
~ The dry wind blew, and the long grasses bowed before it, and Rhovannion rolled, vast and placid into the south.
Thranduil slid from the saddle, heart slamming hard as a hammer against his ribs. A king and warrior both, he could assess situations in an eyeblink, and was not unmanned by turmoil. He would never have survived the battles on Dagorlad or in Mordor had he been prone to panic, but however brutal, those had been events he could comprehend. He clutched the horse's thick mane; the coarse hairs under his hand helped him to moor the drifting boat of his sanity, and red Carangel nudged him concernedly. Taking deep breaths against the shivers racking him, Thranduil leaned against the horse's shoulder. Summer breathed over him. Crickets buzzed like an invitation to sleep, and far away and high above an eagle called. After a while, the king lifted his head, forced himself to relive what he had seen without succumbing to the turmoil of his emotions.
But what are emotions but the fruit of the soul? And what soul does not bear that fruit, but one dead to life itself?
Think! he ordered himself harshly, as if reprimanding a subaltern.
But the plain-grasses undulated, shimmering...
...And pale hair swirled away from a young face turning in shock...
Every moment, from first to last, had seemed to last an Age, thus each was pressed into Thranduil's memory like a seal into soft wax. Closing his eyes, he heard again the wrangle of wolves, felt terror shriek white through his blood, not terror for himself, but for another whom he must protect. Then the preternatural mist enveloped him in absolute and uncanny silence, and when he could see, Carangel's legs were whipping through grass, striking thin highland soil. A mountain pass loured, black sentinel rocks with stark heights beyond, and before them, a vicious battle-tangle of Men and giant Fell-wolves. But Thranduil could still see the grassland of Rhovannion. It was as if two pictures had been painted on separate lengths of translucent silk, and one hung in front of the other, disorienting the eyes. And here, in this impossible world, time ran like resin, was as silent.
A massive black horse reared and plunged, muscles bunching, long teeth closed on a wolf's ruff and tossed the beast aside. Behind it, in the midst of a closing circle of the beasts, Legolas stood, holding a child with a froth of celandine hair. His free hand clasped a Mortal youth's.
Emotional pain is a merciless creature. It sinks through the skin of the soul, penetrating it so pervasively, that long after one believes it absorbed into the layers of one's life, it reemerges, bright and sharp as a killing dagger. Time does not blunt its blade, not for the Elves with their necessary curse of memory. One is helpless before its bite and Thranduil, for all his words or lack of them since Legolas' banishment, had never forgotten his youngest son. The last days had torn open a wound, and the fruits of his soul tumbled forth splitting, over-ripe, acid, potent as wine.
And Legolas saw him. There was fear and a strange determination in the bones of his face, the blue eyes, Elvýr's eyes, that cool Northern blue, in Elvýr's face. Somewhere within the king's mind-storm, flashed the thought that he had deliberately blinded himself to the similarity between Legolas and Elvýr. But Thranduil's memory had always seen Elvýr monstrously pregnant, insane with agony.
Then noiselessly, four other riders poured out of the mist, and the king recognized them instantly, shock impacting upon shock: Celeirdúr, Bainalph, Glorfindel, and the russet-haired Fëanorion, Tindómion. Thranduil had the briefest moment to note that they looked as astounded as he felt, before outrage bleached his mind. He loosed the bow, but what or whom he aimed at he did not know. The action was instinctive, as was his discarding bow for blade and hurling Carangel into a charge at the wolves. He saw Glorfindel's stallion settle back on its haunches then leap forward. A sword caught the odd twin glare of the suns. Three wolves swung, gape-jawed towards the new threat ears flat, pelts slapped against their lean bodies as if buffeted by a blast of wind. The stallion's hooves smashed one aside contemptuously, and Glorfindel's sword flashed down, drawing blood on the upward swing that reversed and sank again to take the other wolf. The rest of the creatures, claws scrabbling soundlessly, wildly, scattered in panic toward the mountains.
Men, suddenly released from combat, staggered and gathered themselves, all so slowly. A tall, ebony-haired Golodh, sword still raised, stared at the riders. Thranduil had never seen him before, but he knew whom it must be. The man's face was the very image of his ill-gotten son, and those extraordinarily luminous eyes quashed any doubt. Another Golodh all in black, spun as in deep water, toward them, sabres shedding streams of wolf-blood. This one Thranduil did recognize from the ashen heat of Mordor.
Thoughts like the falling leaves of years. And no time.
Legolas stood, face frozen, as Glorfindel's stallion bore down on him in silent thunder. Thranduil could see the lazy surge and flow of glittering golden hair, how Glorfindel leaned in the saddle to sweep Legolas up and away. The king was a length behind no more, converging on the white horse to force it aside. But Glorfindel reached – and his hand passed through Legolas' body as if it were vapour. Legolas' hair swept out in a banner of winter-gold, and Thranduil was certain Glorfindel's hand had brushed it, that it had slid through his fingers. In that honey-idle pour of arrested time, Legolas whirled to stare after Glorfindel, and Thranduil saw his lips part. His profile was Elvýr's. Across his head, a pair of gold-green eyes flashed like a summer stream. A wickedly lush mouth formed his name.
Carangel's long strides carried the king past Legolas, the horse executing a perfect flying change mid-gallop and swerving left toward Bainalph or Glorfindel, or both. A big grey horse came between them pounding hard, Celeirdúr crouched low over its neck. His head turned to Thranduil, one hand outstretched and the king glared into his son's eyes, his unspoken command to Carangel urging him across the grey's path, forcing Celeirdúr to draw rein or collide. Bainalph's agile mare had already slowed, turning neat as a cat back toward Legolas. Thranduil felt Carangel's muscles compact as he too slowed, going back on his hocks and wheeling.
The mare and the red clashed and reared. A thread of scent coiled about the king as the long milky braid of Bainalph's hair arced and whipped and fell. The long-lashed eyes sparked with a thousand flecks of gold, challenging. The horses came down together, and then Celeirdúr's grey ramped down before them, a wall of angry muscle barring their way. Beyond him Thranduil saw Legolas, gilded hair rippling out like a silk cloak, and through it the plain-grasses shimmered into the distance, performing their perpetual obeisance to the winds.
The sky snapped blue and white over the world. Rhovannion sighed, dreaming summer dreams.
A sound forced itself from Thranduil's soul; a feral cry of rage, of pain unendurable. He dropped to his knees and Legolas' hair blew through his mind. His own was a whit darker, as was Celeirdúr's, old gold, Elvýr's and Legolas' were lighter, winter sun. But the child held to Legolas' breast owned the same locks as Glorfindel. It was legend, that hair. There was nothing like it save in the forges where gold was melted to liquid. The child.
Rhovadhros was already slowing under his rider's command. Tindómion came alongside, seeing Glorfindel's hand still extended to catch at something that was not there. That gold head whipped around, then his eyes slammed into Tindómion's, who held their desperation with his own. Their breaths came harsh and quick.
“I know not.” Glorfindel's words came strained to snapping point, answering the unvoiced question. Tindómion's heart seemed to be falling inside him, and it screamed as it fell.
Vanimórë! The demand, the plea was as involuntary as a spray of arterial blood from a deep wound. Tindómion pressed one hand to his breast, choking.
I do not know! The response was instant, sharp but almost preoccupied. He is unharmed, Legolas. Yes, and thy father too.
Tindómion's world became a furnace of pain and a terrible, unexpected love. Maglor's face was in the flames, set stern and fierce as he fought gloriously, beautifully, in a haze of blood. It turned toward him as if Tindómion had called his name. Silver eyes locked on silver.
He was kneeling. The grass smelled of sleep. Glorfindel's hands were on his shoulders.
“I know.” Glorfindel's voice was cramped. “You saw them all?”
“Yes.” Tindómion realized that Glorfindel needed ratification, to know that what had happened had been witnessed by some-one else.
My father. My father. Vanimórë, why didst thou not tell me?
Matters were complicated enough. And I think they have just become even more complex. We must talk, but not now.
“No,” Glorfindel said aloud. The word tremoured, and there was a pause. The second came shaped by hard control. “Now. I felt him. I almost touched him!”
I have dead and wounded men, Vanimórë snapped. I have to get them away from the mountains, down onto the Rhûnan plains. I do not think the wolves will return, but they may. But do not ask me what happened, for I truly do not know.
He was speaking to both of them. Tindómion said, still looking at Glorfindel: “The Valar?”
There was a pause, then: I do not think so.
“How would you know?” Glorfindel asked, but without heat.
I do not, but I know one who does. And that, too, I will have to explain. But now, I must get my men down to the plains.
“Legolas and my son?”
They were not harmed by the wolves. He is shocked. Hells, we all are.
Vanimórë ended decisively, pulling his mind away. As warriors and commanders, both the Noldor knew that his attention must now be on the injured, and the transportation of the dead.
The wind flurried over them, chased into the west.
“Why?” Tindómion whispered. He had never imagined that if he found his father, it would feel like this. He had been prepared for hate, not this incomprehensible, wrathful love.
Glorfindel touched his face. The Fëanorion thought that he was seeing his friend bared to the quick, all the layers that he had constructed scoured away. A flicker of light caught his eyes, something dancing in the breeze, and he glanced aside. A single strand of hair fluttered from Glorfindel's upraised hand, but it was not his own, with that loose, thick wave to it, nor did it shine with Tindómion's ruddy glints. This was very long, rain-straight and fair. Glorfindel, following the direction of his gaze, made as if to flick it away impatiently, then stiffened.
The hair was looped about the base of one finger like a slender gold ring. Very carefully, moving his body to shield it from the wind, Glorfindel drew it free, held it. The light ran like water along the length.
Reality out of unreality.
Celeirdúr and Bainalph drew rein together, the horses stamping and snorting. They looked at one another to affirm that both had seen what they had seen, then turned to scan the land. Celeirdúr dismounted, cursed breathlessly, and unhooked the wine-skin, drinking, then handing it wordlessly to Bainalph. His eyes were very wide, slate blue in the sunlight. Bainalph dropped to the grass and took a long swallow of wine. It was fire and fruit on his tongue, real, reassuring.
He said, light and high, because his breath was caught in his chest. “Was that real?”
Celeirdúr shook his head, spread one hand. “What did you see?” he asked.
Bainalph frowned. “Everything you did, I would think.” He bent, lifted Hirilel's foreleg, examining her hoof. There had been no sound, but he had seen the ground under the mare's hooves as she ran, grudging soil over the permanence of rock. He straightened, held out his hand. Tiny flat slivers of stone lay on his palm.
“Shale.” Celeirdúr took a piece between his fingers. The brittle solidity of it, the edges pressing into his flesh, seemed to loosen something inside him.
“Shale,” Bainalph agreed. Yes, it was real. We were there, and not there. Or rather, we were almost there.
“But why? How?”
“How can I know?”
Celeirdúr began to say something and then froze.
“My father.” His lips barely moved. “My father must be searching for me. Us.”
“Yes.” Bainalph felt his mouth curve into a humorless smile. He had not believed Thranduil would follow them, though he was certainly intelligent enough to guess they were together, and what their destination must be.
Perhaps I should not have tempted him that night. But this is at least a reaction. His shell is broken open like a river clam's, and I do not think he will ever be able to close it again.
“Did you see what Glorfindel was trying to do?”
“Yes.” Bainalph had experienced a great many things in his life, but nothing he could even begin to compare to the events just passed. “To see, but not to hear, nor touch...Why? Do you think Glorfindel...?”
“If Glorfindel had such power, would he not have used it in the war?”
“Yes, he probably would.” Bainalph closed his eyes. Glorfindel. It was the first time he had seen the fabled Golodh. Celeirdúr's pithy description of him, Like the noonday Sun, had been apt. All that and far more. He would have overwhelmed Legolas with all that powerful gilded glory, and taken him effortlessly.
“If it has happened once, perhaps it will happen again,” he said, controlling his anger, the helplessness that in intimate situations he found so exciting. “Come. Your father is not that far behind us.”
“He must be crazed!” Celeirdúr exploded, clearly glad to be able to release some of the emotions that seethed within him. “To leave the realm at such a time, and alone!
Bainalph settled himself in the saddle, gathered up the reins.
“Are you concerned? Thranduil is not likely to meet anything more dangerous than he in Rhovannion. Unless...Who were the others? The two Golodhrim so alike, and the other, all in black.” Running the threads through his mind, he traced them to their probable origin, and answered his own question.
“Tindómion Maglorion; that autumn hair, and his father? Maglor?” The thought was stunning, sent a rill of hate through the blood of ruined Doriath. “And Sauron's son.”
Celeirdúr's grey passed him, already at a ground-eating gallop. Bainalph looked back once, then followed, drawing abreast.
“Why did you ride across me?” he wondered.
“I wanted to stop my father.” Celeirdúr did not look at him. “I did not know what he might do, if he touched Legolas.”
Bainalph said nothing, but he thought: What would you have done, Thranduil, had you succeeded where Glorfindel failed?
The king had threatened to kill Legolas, it was alleged, and there had indeed been fulminous hate in those steel-blue eyes as he stared at Bainalph.
But it was directed at me, not, I think, at Legolas.
Through the moil of confusion, he permitted himself a cautious smile.
I think he tried to reach Legolas. I think he could not help himself.
“Legolas.” Maglor reached the prince. “Legolas?” He drew back his hand, which was bloody. “Come. Shemar, thou also.” He heard his voice waver, caught it back into his throat.
He looked like me.
Legolas was feeling his hair with one hand, his expression distracted. Shemar stared at him, then glanced back at the pillars of rock. All around them men were moving, helping their fellows, examining injuries, wiping blood from their swords. Tanout came down from his horse lightly, winced as the movement jarred a wound, and met Maglor's eyes. They began to usher the Elf and the youth away from the slaughter.
He looked like me. And he knew me.
There was a wave building beyond his memory. Maglor could feel it, rising, gathering force, looming over him like a tower, a black tower dewed with red lights, wreathed in smoke...
Vanimórë said calmly: We will speak in a moment.
Maglor kept walking, a hand on Legolas back.
Hair with Maedhros' red in it. My face. My father's face.
Yes. And thou wilt remember.
Strangeness in the tone, an underlying anger.
Legolas paused suddenly, looking down at the body of a huge crow-coloured wolf. A pale arrow protruded from one eye. Hesitantly, Legolas leaned to touch the fetching.
“The grey goose feather.” Something caught in his throat, half-way between a laugh and a sob. His fingers closed around the blood-smeared wood, slipped. Maglor clasped his wrist.
“It is a Greenwood arrow!” Legolas struggled to pull it clear. “I have to...!”
“I will get it.”
Legolas laid one hand over Gîl's face, but did not look away as Maglor snapped the arrow-shaft in half, cleaning it on the wolf's fur, concentrating on the task because he had to. He could not afford to think, indeed he hardly could think at all. Nothing made sense. All he could see in his mind was the face, the face of...
Legolas took the broken arrow, pressed the feathers to his face. He closed his eyes. Tears spread in a gleaming fan under the long lashes.
“Come,” Maglor said gently.
Tanout lit a fire, helping Jobur to lie down beside it. Men went to the river, set pans of water and wine to heat, removed armor and clothes to tend wounds. Maglor knelt before Legolas with a cup of wine, and Legolas sipped, coughed, drank again. Gîl, curly head against his breast, watched with wide, wise eyes, silent.
“Glorfindel touched me,” he whispered. “Did you...see him, all of them?”
“I thought...for a moment, he was going to ride away with us.” He searched Maglor's face. “And then my father turned...Have you ever known anything like this?”
“No.” Maglor put a hand to his head, holding back the wave.
The wave. The sea. Legolas eyes are blue as the sea in winter. The sea...
A touch on his back, movement as Vanimórë crouched between them. He was stripped to the waist, droplets of water misting his flesh as if he had sluiced the blood from his body in haste. Maglor concentrated on the tattoos that swept aggressively over the hard sinews, precise as if cut with a dagger's point. As Vanimórë swiveled toward Legolas, the scrollwork of harsh curves vanished into the pour of his hair. Maglor fought against the temptation to draw it aside, feel the steely strength of certainty that rested in every sinew.
“I need to speak with Glorfindel,” Vanimórë murmured, smoothing Legolas' cheek. “In a moment. We must see to the wounded, and then carry the dead, and put them in the earth of the plains, but we cannot stay here long. Thou canst ride?”
Legolas nodded jerkily. Vanimórë moved to Tanout and Jobur, speaking in Haradhic, then addressed Shemar in lilting Easterling. The youth glanced up at him, shy, then down again. Tanout laid a hand on his arm. Vanimórë smiled, embracing them all with one flashing gleam, then came to kneel between Maglor and Legolas. He gestured for them to drink a little more wine, and drained a cup himself, then reached out and took their hands.
“Maglor,” he said. “Whatever memories come to thee – and they will – I cannot have thee overborne, not now. I know thy strength. Thou must master thyself. There will be time for regret and anguish, but I need thee to control it. Legolas needs thee.”
Who does he think he is speaking to? But there was pressure on Maglor's chest, weighing deep into his soul. He stared into the vivid purple eyes that held his intently as a burning-glass, and said, stiffly: “I hear thee.”
Vanimórë inclined his head.
“Legolas,” he said. “I believe the answer to what happened lies with thee.”
Legolas looked startled, almost afraid. “Me?”
“How?” Maglor asked, holding rather tightly to Vanimórë's hand to stave off the memory-wave. Its undertow was already dragging at him, clawing away the ground so recently regathered under his feet.
“I asked Dana. She saw it of course, sensed it. She is damnably evasive, but she said it was not her doing. I think Legolas is at the center of it.” He looked from one to the other. “I knew Glorfindel, and the one who rode with him.” The pressure on Maglor's hand increased, anchoring him against the sea-surge. The sea....it roared, crashing and gnawing at the base of a cliff. Maglor's mind scrubbed charcoal smudges of smoke through bright, briny air.
Vanimórë held him as the undertow threw its sinewy arms about his legs.
He is immensely strong. As my father was. Maglor fought to keep his balance, concentrating on that satiny voice. He realized what Vanimórë was doing: trying to make the impossible prosaic, lay a soothing balm over the rawness of shock.
“The others, Legolas,” Vanimórë said. “Who were they? I might guess, but canst thou name them?”
Legolas' face shook in a wind-ruffle of unnameable emotions. He looked down at the broken-off arrow.
“My...father. My elder brother, Celeirdúr. And...Bainalph, Prince of Alphgarth. But I only saw him once. I did not even speak to him!” His voice rose in bewilderment.
“The faerboth,” Maglor suddenly found the word that had eluded him, saw Vanimórë's elegant brows lift.
Maglor's cheeks felt hot in the chill wind. Vanimórë simply waited. Legolas bent his head, a sheet of pale hair hiding his features and his own probable blush.
“There are other connections of the mind and fëa, but that which Legolas experienced, that we all felt, is called Faerboth, yes.”
“Thou didst think it was Gîl, whom Glorfindel was bound to,” Vanimórë said to Legolas. “No doubt he is, but thee, also. And the others must be looking for thee.”
“He would have taken me away...” Legolas cradled his son in both arms, and the child lay tranquilly against his breast, his eyes, Glorfindel's profoundly blue eyes, watching Maglor. “And my father despises me. He would never look for me!”
“Didst thou mark their faces, all of them?” Vanimórë asked. “I did. They were trying to reach thee, Legolas.”
“Yes,” Maglor agreed. “I marked that too.”
It had been so strange to see Glorfindel, as if he had ridden out of the blood-buried Ages unchanged. But no, he had changed; it had been there for a heartbeat in his eyes, before fear and resolve vanquished it, something harder, darker. It had not been there in Vinyamar, the last time Maglor had seen him to speak to. He remembered the high gardens over the sea. The sea roared over him, no longer blue; storm-lashed grey.
Like her eyes.
Mereth Aderthad. Vinyamar. The Havens of Sirion.
Vanimórë's grip on his hand closed like a vise.
“I saw thy father in Mordor, Legolas,” he said. “I know Glorfindel and his companion, a little, but not thy brother nor that milk-haired beauty. I am not the center of the web.”
“I did not know the...” Legolas faltered, winter-sea eyes on Maglor. “The other Golodh.”
A gull screamed across Maglor's mind. A star blazed in daylight, flying into the west, carrying his burden of dreadful hope. His doom.
She smelled of blood and broken flowers.
This was not a memory unearthed from beneath power or madness, but an act Maglor had willed himself to forget. In the lightless void between rage at Elwing's escape with the Silmaril, and despair at the consequences he had raped. After, the woman had looked at him with such unfathomable compassion that he could not endure it. He had not known her then, (Or did I refuse to recognize her?) had known nothing but anguish, and anguish had, in the end, harried him to the brink of madness. But it was the rape that had driven him over the edge, so assiduously hidden, festering in his soul.
The revelation came with a drench of cold sweat. He had assumed her dead, one more death tallied to many, but not the same, that killing, not the same. Rape was the slow destruction of a soul. But she had lived. She. Fanari Penlodiel. (Give her a name, thou knowest it.) as Legolas had been raped, and had lived for his son.
The bones in his hand ground together. He hissed, eyes flashing open.
I will not be so crass as to ask thee if thou art sorry, and I know thou hast paid, but I would like to hear penitence.
Maglor saw, beyond Vanimórë's stern face, Legolas apprehension.
“How does one make recompense for such an act?” He heard his voice come dim and hoarse. “Legolas. I raped a woman, long ago.” (And is that why I was so outraged at Glorfindel's rape of Legolas?) His free hand made a gesture. “War. Madness. Excuses. Words Glorfindel would use. The one with him was my son.”
Legolas said nothing, but seemed to draw back and into himself. His brows crooked, and he looked down at Gîl's curls.
“I thank thee for thine honesty,” Vanimórë said courteously. “I am going to speak to Glorfindel now.” He released his crushing grip. Maglor rose and extended his hand to Legolas. Gîl's little gold head lifted on its flower-stem neck, and he smiled, all trust.
“Will you tell me what he says?” Legolas asked in a small voice, coming to his feet.
“Of course, my dear.” Vanimórë smiled. “Try to eat, and tend to Gîl. There will be more time later, down on the plains. We will rest there tonight.”
Maglor watched his face, saw ineffable love there, tenderness rooted and blossoming in a granite will, where nothing should have been able to grow.
“Nothing happens without reason, Legolas,” he said gently. “I have to believe it, and thou must come to believe it, also.”