It was cold and darkness pressed against his eyes, almost physical. He only knew it was day because the darkness thinned a little and he could see the grey, dismal stones of his cell, and beyond, the rows of empty cells. No one else was in this particular dungeon. Gríma was careful with this prisoner. He did not want others, in the King’s prison for mere crimes, to be corrupted by the lies his special prisoner might tell. He would not want tales of the Third Marshal of the Riddermark to be carried to the Outside. Grima may be in charge of the King, but Eomer knew that he was still in charge of the éoreds, their hearts at least, and many would scoff at Grima’s trumped up charges.
He sighed heavily and covered his head with his hands. He had thought that Legolas the Elf would help, but he had been useless. Worse than useless for it was his presence, riding behind Eomer, that had made the Rohirrim pause and choose not to speak out against Eomer’s own arrest. Quite how Legolas had remained free, he did not know. But Eomer was certain it would not be long. Gríma just needed a reason, he would not want any strangers witnessing what was going on in the Mark.
He shrugged his thin blanket closer and pulled his feet up onto the hard wooden planks that were supposed to be a bed. He shuddered. He had never liked rats.
He found himself thinking about Legolas...he was curious, he admitted. It seemed enchantment when the Three Hunters as they called themselves, somewhat fancifully he thought, had risen seemingly out of the Earth itself. And although it was Aragorn who spoke with Eomer, he had been intensely aware of the tall, cloaked stranger with a long elegant bow held loosely in his hand. He was much like the bow himself; taller than a Man, and lean, with the wide shoulders of an archer and though all three hunters wore cloaks of the same subtle hue, it seemed this stranger’s was more part of him.
And then, faster than the eye, he had strung his bow and aimed an arrow at Eomer’s heart for the lightest jest at the Dwarf’s expense... not only fast, but impossibly graceful, and when Aragorn told him to stand down, the strange archer had done so reluctantly, and his movements were fluid, silent. When he had pulled down his hood, Eomer was not the only one to catch a glimpse of the pointed ear, the thin braids, the impossible masculine beauty of that cold, impassive face...He would not have guessed the Elf carried an injury. Eomer stared down at his own hands, seeing instead the gleam of light the long sheet of pale hair that was like the wintergrass upon the wide open plains of the Riddermark, the gleam of those long, green eyes that had caught him staring...
...It helped to have something to think about.
Somewhere else, beyond the stone cell, beyond the heavy wooden door that sealed him in this tomb, was a distant sound…a scrape of iron. He looked up.
Many footsteps. The shuffle of booted feet and the clang of a sword...Then a thin shaft of light pierced the dark, swung around from a corner and then was followed by brighter light, several torches, and that hated voice.
Eomer snarled. Good. Something to be really angry about.
What this time?
Several heavily armed soldiers appeared, torchlight glinting off their drawn weapons. And between two of them, a heavy shape was slumped. They struggled with it for it was long...No, tall. It was a person they carried. He couldn’t help the faint relief that he would at least no longer be in here on his own.
Eomer's eyes got used to the dark. It was worse when there was light, thought Éomer, for it showed how far he had fallen and how dismal was this dreadful place. The torchlight caught on a gleam of gold hair and he was suddenly afraid. Surely it was not Eowyn they carried between them? Surely not even Gríma would bring her here? He gripped the bars; no, fool, he told himself with scorn. It was far taller than Eowyn, broader. A man. He breathed again. Safe. She was still safe….But whom did they bring?
Eomer leaned back against the dank wall – shutting out of his mind the discomfort and the horrible thoughts that crept in. He would not start any conversation with the Worm, for that was what he sought. Eomer knew he had become sport for the pale-eyed, pale skinned advisor who poisoned Theoden with his lies and deceit.
'My Lord Marshall,' Grima appeared behind the soldiers. He bowed mockingly, eyes looking up, anything but deferential; impertinent and knowing. 'I do apologise for disturbing your rest…' he sneered. 'We have brought another traitor to join you.' Keys jangled and the door of the next cell was thrown open and the still body was shoved carelessly through the door, fell heavily against the iron bars.
'Quick- ‘fore he wakes up and starts agin,' muttered one soldier. Another man hastily slammed the door so it clanged shut heavily. He fumbled clumsily with the keys and one of his fellows held a torch close so he could see and in the orange light Eomer saw with a gasp, that it was Legolas whom they had dumped on the floor of the cell. The Elf lay still for a moment and then, slowly, he moved one hand, lifted it to his head.
'He's waking- quick!' There was a fumbling scuffle between the soldier and then a clunk; the lock was fast and the soldiers, drawing a collective sigh, stepped back and lowered their weapons.
Weakly the Elf rolled onto his back, and one long hand covered his eyes. He was murmuring something, weakly, and Eomer could not hear his words, they sounded distant and confused.
‘My lord,’ the sergeant turned to Gríma now and bowed slightly. Eomer caught a flicker of revulsion on the sergeant’s face but Gríma did not see, his eyes were fixed upon his prisoner and Eomer had seen the same look in those pale eyes when he looked upon Eowyn, and he felt a tremor of fear for Legolas.
Grima did not look at the soldiers as he spoke, 'Leave me. All of you. I wish to converse with our special prisoners. But you, leave a torch...’ He looked about himself. ‘And leave guards on the door. But wait beyond the door.’
The waiting Men said nothing but the sergeant shifted uneasily and nodded at one of the Men who held out the flaring, sputtering torch. As the soldier gave over his torch to Grima, he shuddered as if the touch had somehow chilled him, and then he surreptitiously wiped his fingers on his tunic. That earned him a glare from the sergeant but Grima did not spare them a glance
‘Leave me,’ he said and the torchlight glowed upon his pale face, lit in the depths of his eyes. He turned slightly, all his focus on the Elf, and the hunger was sharper, feral and yellow.
The footsteps of the soldiers retreated and then there was only Gríma.
There was a soft murmur, Legolas was speaking words that Eomer did not understand, and pain trembled in his voice. The Elf had pushed himself up to his knees but his head was bent and his long hair fell forward, hiding his face.
'So, you awaken, Legolas...of the Woodland Realm, ' Grima spoke with bitter sarcasm and Eomer wondered why. It was Aragorn who had introduced him as this and he did not think the Elf or Man had lied to him. 'I am so sorry that we cannot lodge you better, as you are accustomed. And I can only apologise for the company.’ He held the torch up higher so he could see into the wretched prison and looked about in an exaggerated manner, narrowed his eyes at Eomer. ‘But I cannot have you looking, listening and sneaking about. I might almost say you were a spy… but never let it be said that I am not a fair man…. You will face interrogation and trial tomorrow and then, I am sure, we will…hear…everything.’
‘I am no spy.’ Legolas spoke quietly in his strange, lilting accent, with its elongated vowels and softened consonants. He put one hand on the thick iron bars of the cell and slowly pulled himself to his feet, and Eomer saw that his other hand was clasped against his side, his ribs for the soldiers had not been gentle and the Elf was already injured.
The Worm’s pale skin seemed to gleam slightly in the torchlight and Eomer realised it was sweat. ‘Oh? Yet you arrive here, at Meduseld, without presenting yourself.’ Grima licked his lips nervously, or lasciviously, Eomer was not sure which. ‘You travel in the Mark under some faint disguise, and in the company no less of that impostor, Isildur’s Heir!’ he laughed nastily. ‘And a Dwarf!’
Legolas said nothing, but Eomer, trained soldier that he was, saw the imperceptible tensing of the muscles, tightening of the limbs as if he readied himself for attack.
And sure enough, Grima drew himself up a little and his gaze sharpened, focused on the Elf. He seemed to draw himself up and together. Then he spoke again.
'Indeed, we will hear you…’
It seemed then to Eomer, that the air between them trembled and wavered in the torchlight, that the shadows drew more closely about them, and voice of Grima changed. It grew, quietly and powerfully, and coiled about the Elf so Eomer was no longer certain what he was seeing.
‘...and you will speak the truth.’
Slowly at first, it seemed the air thickened and there was a yellow tinge to it, like sulphur. It coalesced, drew together into a sinuous stream, coiled like thick yellow smoke about Legolas and he raised his head for a moment, his eyes were wide and panicked, nostrils flaring as if there was little air. He opened his mouth, gasping as if he could not breathe… Eomer tried to move, to help him, remonstrate but he found his own limbs frozen and he could not speak...stood helpless as Legolas moved his hands to his throat, his mouth open and panting, fell hard to his knees, choking.
Grima glided forwards, his eyes yellow in the torchlight, narrowed. He raised his hand slightly and suddenly the Elf fell forward as if released from some strangling hold, long hair hanging forwards over his face and breathing hard, sucking in great lungfuls of air.
'Do not mistake me, Legolas Thranduillion.' The voice was low, but to Eomer, frozen and powerless to move or speak, it seemed inexorable, thrumming the air around him, irresistible in its threat and promise. 'I know you. And I know your cause.'
Grima stared for a moment at the stricken Elf, lingered on the long veil of hair that gleamed golden, rich in the torchlight. He leaned forwards then, and Eomer thought then his eyes glittered with hunger. Lifting his hand, Grima reached through the iron bars as if to touch the Elf but then he faltered for a moment, and suddenly he turned away, his footsteps sounding sharply on the stone floor. The flickering torchlight cast his shadow so it loomed before him on the damp walls of the dungeon. Perhaps a trick of the light but it seemed to Eomer for a moment, that his shadow was something bigger,menacing, like a monstrous clawed hand. And then the clink of keys, a creak of a hinge and then the door slammed shut leaving his prisoners in the twilight half-darkness of the dungeon.
Eomer suddenly felt his limbs his own again. 'Legolas!' He clutched at the bars of his cell. 'Are you alright?'
Stupid question, he berated himself. Of course he isn't! He is in a cell. And tomorrow, they will torture him, and he will say anything they wish to make them stop.
Eomer had seen Grima's interrogation, not experienced it. There was no point in torturing Eomer. Grima already knew far, far more than Eomer. Eomer rubbed his face in consternation. It is Aragorn’s fault, he told himself. He was persuasive.
The wind had been blowing across the steppe and the skies were high and blue and ragged clouds streamed like pennants in the wind. Aragorn had taken him to one side...
‘Take Legolas with you,’ he had said. Eomer had been taken aback, glanced over his shoulder to where the Elf stood, tall and very still, only the wind lifted his long hair. ‘He can help you. He can remind Theoden of the old alliances, rouse him from this sickness...’ The Man had paused and looked away briefly at the Elf. ‘He has been injured too. He needs to rest but will not stop while we search for the Hobbits. He frets that we are too slow...’
It had been an arrow wound, Aragorn told him, but Eomer could see no sign that the Elf had any injury. His long strides when Aragorn called him over, showed no falter, no limp and his eyes were clear. Eomer found it hard to look at him. Cold, impossible, masculine beauty. He had never thought a man could be beautiful before. The Elf had slanted a knowing look at Aragorn and looked like he might argue but did not. Instead he had run his hand lightly over the neck an injured horse, Arod, whose rider had been slain and would suffer no Man’s touch since. Under Legolas’ hand, Arod had trembled but not flinched. The saddle girth had been cut in battle and the saddle was long gone, and a long scar showed on the horse’s flank. Legolas had quietly removed Arod’s bridle and stroked his long hand down over the scar. All the horses had stilled, ears pricked forward, as if listening intently though the Men could hear nothing.
When they mounted, The Elf had swung up onto Arod quietly, fluidly, showed no sign of injury so Eomer even doubted him until the evening and saw the bloody cloth he washed out in a stream. The Elf had said nothing, quiet and impassive; he asked for no help, accepted the food offered and offered in return some sort of elven cake, which none of the Rohirrim had taken. He sat with the éored, but seemed apart from them. Did not sleep but watched the fire’s shifting embers. Eomer had ignored him as he was ignored and thought it a mistake to bring him. The few words he spoke to Eomer had been courteous, brief. But Eomer found himself listening intently when the Elf spoke, his strange, fluid accent and Eomer was not alone in sleeping better that night than many a night on a softer bed.
When they rode back into Meduseld, Eomer had felt the shift, the change. It was quieter, fewer people about and he did not know the Men who guarded the Golden Hall. Eowyn had not been there. He had sent Legolas off with one of his Rohirrim warriors, also injured, to find a healer and that was the last he had seen the Elf. For Eomer had been arrested as soon as he set foot in the King’s hall.
And now, here they were. A pair of useless fools.
At least Legolas’ breathing seemed calmer now and he had fallen back to lean against the bars that separated them. Eomer shifted closer to where the Elf leaned...it seemed a little lighter there.
Slowly then, futile knowledge dawned on Eomer. Grima would kill Legolas. Publicly. Execute him as a spy or worse, with a confession tortured out of him about the dreadful plots made against the Rohirrim by the Witch of the Golden Wood, and others. It would seal Rohan in a pact with Saruman. For his White Hand was in this as surely as sunrise.
Eomer's foot dashed against his precious water bowl and sent it spilling across the filthy floor – wasted. He cursed and swore, falling back against the stone wall.
And if there were any hope or help to be had from the elven realms, Legolas’ death would ensure they would not lift a finger to help Rohan, or Gondor. No great Alliance of Elves and Men as in the last war, he thought. It would be Sauron's victory. He groaned and slammed his fist against the stone wall, scraping his knuckles.
He sank down onto the wooden boards that made do for a bed and put his head in his hands. He groaned again, tormenting himself with the possibilities. It was hopeless…
Slowly, he became aware of a sensation; his scalp prickled. He looked up to see Legolas watching him. Bright-eyed and curious. It was disconcerting. For some reason, Eomer felt decidedly foolish- like a child who is being indulged by its uncle who knows everything and is watching him struggle to open a very easy box…..He met the other's gaze with a glower of his own,
'You seem remarkably recovered,' he said rather irritably.
The Elf raised a quizzical eyebrow. Of course, thought Eomer. He would.
'I thought he had choked you,' he added. He felt annoyed now. He had been really scared Legolas was suffering and now it seemed that he was playing along all the time.
'He had,' said Legolas, matter of factly. He paused for a moment and tilted his head to one side so his long hair slid over his shoulder. Eomer found himself watching it and shook himself slightly. ‘That was most unpleasant...That Power is not his own I think.’
Eomer shook his head and then leaned down and set his empty water bowl straight. ‘No,’ he agreed. ‘I have never seen anything like that before...Sorcery.’
‘Yes. But he is no sorcerer.’ Legolas glanced up at Eomer and his eyes gleamed in the dim light. ‘It is a borrowed Power. I sensed nothing from him when I first met him.’
For the first time, Eomer thought about what must have happened to bring Legolas down here to join him. 'He must have arrested you as soon as he found out you were here,’ he surmised aloud. ‘What an opportunity for him to add to the fear folk already have. I should never have brought you with me!’ he said, suddenly angry with himself.
The Elf tilted his head thoughtfully and spoke as if he had not heard, or had not listened to Eomer’s self recrimination. 'I made a mistake. I underestimated my enemy, Grima of all people.' He sounded as disgusted with himself. 'And I got caught. He is right.’ He looked up and met Eomer’s astonished gaze. ‘I was spying, in the King's rooms no less, and Grima and his henchmen were waiting for me. I gave him everything he needs to make me into an enemy of Rohan.' He shook his head. 'Only a fool would have walked into that trap. Eowyn warned me.’
‘Eowyn! Where is she?’ Eomer leapt to his feet and gripped the bars. ‘Have you led her into danger? Has she been arrested? ‘
‘No, no. Calm yourself, Eomer of the Mark. She is safe.’
‘Safe!’ he laughed bitterly. ‘For now perhaps but soon...’ He did not say what would happen but Legolas seemed to know for he pulled himself to his feet and stood near Eomer. Eomer thought there was a scent of new grass, somewhere.
‘She has a heart of burnished steel,’ Legolas said softly and met Eomer’s gaze. ‘She helped me. Warned me I was a fool and told me to just kill Grima and be done.’ He laughed wryly, his eyes still fixed on Eomer, looking at him. Not exactly staring…but almost as if he were remembering every detail, examining him, looking into him, at the way his muscle and sinew and bone held together and made his shape, the way his mouth worked and the place of his heart and the way this would make him act, move, think, feel...love…
‘You are alike.’
Eomer looked away quickly. This was not the silent and taciturn Elf who had ridden with him across the high steppe. He shook himself, he needed to focus. What was going on? 'What is going on?' he said aloud. Beama- his mouth was working independently of his brain!
Legolas tilted his head to one side, still gazing at him in that disconcertingly intense way and suddenly he laughed. It was totally out of place, anachronistic, unexpected, and astonishingly, Eomer felt his heart surge. 'Lift up your head, Eomer of the Riddermark,' said the Elf, and he seemed somehow more real than the walls that had closed in on Eomer for too long. 'Not all is yet darkness and even then, Elves have good eyes in the dark.' Legolas came to the bars they shared and placed his long hand there, placed his palm carefully, as if noticing the iron grill for the first time. 'For oft is said it is darkest before dawn.’
His eyes glittered in the dark and Eomer felt his otherness and strangeness.
'Come, I have been in darker places than this and survived. We still live and out in the world, the horses of Rohan run and the grass grows green and strong, soon the stars, beloved of my people, will begin their song...Listen.'
Eomer wondered who was madder, the Elf for his strange words, or him for listening to it and feeling gladdened.
Legolas beckoned him over and Eomer could not help himself and drew closer, watching the other’s strong, beautiful face, sharp and fey.
'No. Listen,' said Legolas insistently.
He drew his fingers lightly down Eomer's face, left a trail of warmth, heat… Eomer closed his eyes briefly, and then stared into the face of the other. Then quickly looked away. The gaze was too hard, too direct, it hurt to look at that brightness, intensity that would strip him, pare him to the bone. A draft fingered its way into the dungeons. Nothing else.
'No….' A whisper of breath, now on his skin. 'Listen.'
Eomer frowned… and looked back up…He listened.
Silence… No, something else. Far away it seemed at first. Then stronger, a song, no words, just sounds that ran one into the other…An endless stream of notes that made him think of the great grass plains, horses running, the wind across the grass, cold and laced with frost from the mountains…
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He caught an elusive scent of moss and pine trees. When he looked up, he looked up into the strange eyes of the Elf … Eomer felt his soul lurch. He knew that sound. It was Legolas. He had brought the song, he was singing, humming it quietly, under his breath. He knew Eomer.
The Elf smiled, an eldritch smile. Eomer remembered what they said about Elves and wondered.
Legolas seemed to hear his thoughts and said, 'We all have our song. Even you, Eomer of the Mark. Even Grima, although he has forgotten his.' Then he sighed, and the sound was like the whisper of leaves in the wind.
'What are we going to do?' Eomer whispered, feeling like a frightened child whose older brother has just found him in the woods. Legolas smiled, and it was no longer fey. His eyes were steel and his jaw set.
'Now we will turn the tide. Now we will start to win.'