To The End of Night
3. Interlude: Tracks
There. It is done.
Pieces of debris - rock, fragments of wood and rusted, broken pieces of what once could have been axe or spear heads - spread out on the ground before Legolas. One experimental step - a combination of crunching and echoing sounds rang out, faint but audible to his ears, even from a distance. Heavy Orcish steps will ring louder. He withdrew back to the smaller corridor and repeated the process there. After artfully arranging one more splintered beem, barring the way in part, he turned back, passed below the narrow gateway, and entered the room the Fellowship occupied.
He walked in silence, stepping lightly, leaving the pebbles and stones beneath his feet undisturbed. Half way through the chamber, Legolas stopped and looked down. The deep, measured rhythm of Bormir's breaths stood in stark contrast with Frodo's fast, labored breathing. The young hobbit clutched something in a fisted hand that rested against his cheek; his eyes moved wildly behind closed, pale eyelids. Moved to pity, Legolas knelt before Frodo and placed a hand against his brow, furrowed, even in sleep. A few whispered words - Valar, give him peace - and the hobbit's breath slowed, the lines of pain smoothing out. Frodo mumbled in his sleep and rolled over, facing the wall.
With a sad smile, Legolas rose and continued on his way, to the northern guard post. The hobbits needed their rest, and Aragorn would be there, taking the last watch of the night. Mithrandir alone awoke. He gave the elf a small nod and stood to take his watch, in the eastern passage. Legolas continued ahead, and as he drew nearer, more and more of the Man's expression and body posture became visible in the dim light. Legolas allowed some of his tension, his alertness, to drain away at the sight.
No unseen enemy would assault them yet.
The Dúnedan sat some feet away, wrapped in a well-made, but simple cloak, his long legs stretched out before him in a casual pose. Small puffs of smoke emerged from Aragorn's long-stemmed pipe at random intervals, and he looked to be deep in thought.
Whatever little humor Legolas had left in him after the Fellowship's dreary trek across the mines, awoke at the sight. "Is this how Men safeguard their sleeping companions?" he asked, mock-serious, stepping forward to clasp Aragorn on the shoulder. The Man did not flinch, or show any sign of surprise, nor did he expect him to. Appearances can be deceiving. "An orc would have had your head."
The Ranger's lips curled in a smile around the pipe in answer. He expelled a thin stream of smoke from his mouth. "I am indeed fortunate, then, that you are not one." Another stream of smoke traveled through the air in a slow arch and tickled at the elf's nostrils. "Though, that speck of mud on your cheek, and the dirt on your hands could lead me to conclude otherwise."
Infuriating Man. Keeping his face straight proved difficult. "Is that so?" Legolas asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "Mock if you will, but some have toiled so that you may rest here, undisturbed." With a quick glance to the darkness ahead, he added, "And the smell from that pipe will attract any orc within a mile of here." The thought spoken out loud sobered him; his hand brushed across the hilt of his knife and settled there.
Aragorn's gaze fell on him. "You are not the only one who toiled this night, Legolas." He shook his head and gave a quiet laugh. "There are no orc signs to the north, as far as a mile ahead."
He has scouted the area. Of course. Legolas knew better than to ask if the Ranger had left any tracks the orcs could follow. But... "And if they have sent a patrol this way since you scouted the trail?" he asked. Aragorn's lips stretched into a cryptic smile, the skin around his eyes wrinkling at the action - the Man had left something out.
"When Orcs sprout wings and fly, then we will have reason to fear," Aragorn said. "A mile from here, the path crumbles and falls into a ravine, wide and deep. There is no way around or over it, and there are no side passages for orcs to crawl out of in the road that leads there, just one long hallway." He took another puff from his pipe and released the smoke. "No danger will come from there," he pointed north, "and if the enemy comes at us from the east," a glance Legolas' way, "I suspect we will have ample warning."
Legolas met the Man's eyes - they twinkled with mirth - and wiped at the speck of dirt on his cheek. The sleeve came back stained, a dark pattern on the green cloth. "We will have warning, yes," he said. "And Mithrandir watches the entrance. No orc will slip past him."
"Agreed!" Aragorn replied. "So we may rest here a while yet. Gandalf will rouse the others and have us back up down the trail soon enough." He gestured to the floor. "Come, friend. Sit beside me, and let us share a moment's peace before our paths divide." The light tone faded from his voice.
Legolas slid down on to the floor, next to Aragorn. We all have different paths to thread. "Do you still mean not to accompany the Ring-bearer when his path turns to Mordor?" he asked. "To go with Boromir to Minas Tirith instead, and wage war on the Enemy from there?" He waited for the answer, leaning back against the wall.
Aragorn nodded, though his eyes betrayed some measure of doubt in his course. "It is where my fate lies. To this end was the Sword-that-was-broken reforged." He stared into the darkness, quiet for a while, before continuing, "The people of Gondor have need of me, Legolas. The time has come. When the sword of Elendil returns to Minas Tirith, their resolve will be strengthened." A hand came to rest on the hilt of Andúril. "It is Gondor that I am bound for now, be it glory or doom that awaits me there." The indecision disappeared from his eyes, and a warm smile brightened his features. "The Tower of Ecthelion is a sight to behold, my friend."
Legolas returned the smile and clasped the Man's shoulder. "Though I have never laid eyes on the walls of the White City, I believe it readily." He let the smile on his lips die. "But I am unsure of the welcome you will receive there."
A long silence followed his words.
"Will not the Steward of Gondor begrudge the presence of a rival?" Legolas asked. "Those of his line have long been kings to Gondor, in all but in name. I do not imagine he will relinquish such power without protest."
Aragorn cast a quick glance at the sleeping figure of Boromir. "Denethor..." he said. "I remember him well. A proud man, shrewd and wise in matters of state. His pride is well founded, I will grant it. The blood of Númenor has not yet grown thin in those of his line, but runs strongly still." With visible effort, he tore his gaze from the Steward's son. "Denethor begrudged me his father's favor, at the time when I served as a captain of Gondor, under the name of Thorongil."
At length, the Man nodded. "Many years have passed since those days, but Denethor will no doubt recognize me when next we meet."
"And there will be conflict between you," Legolas stated.
"Perhaps," the Ranger conceded. "Ecthelion thought highly of me, and Denethor grew to dislike me because of it." Aragorn hesitated. "And there were... other matters..." He stopped there, a look of determination settling on his face. "I would serve Gondor in this time of need, even as a common soldier if I have to. I have no need of a title, or of reverence, to defend the land of my forefathers against those who would seek its ruin. As long as the Steward puts my abilities to good use against the Enemy, I will be satisfied."
Aragorn's hand lifted from the sword hilt and came to rest on his thigh. Long fingers unclenched and relaxed. "There will be time to talk of succession rights, and to squabble over who is more deserving of the throne, later, when Sauron is no more." Eyes drifted closed, then opened. "And if we fail to defeat the Enemy, claims of lordship will mater little."
Legolas sighed, his mood darkening. "Very well, Eagle of the Star. I can not sway you, if your course is so set." A touch on the Man's arm. "But my heart tells me Frodo will have need of us before his task is done." His voice dropped to a whisper. "It is a heavy burden he bears, Aragorn. He will crumble beneath the weight of it, if he attempts to brave the perils of Mordor alone."
"He is not alone," the Man retorted. "Gandalf will guide him through that nest of vipers far better then I ever could. But let us speak of it no longer. First, let us leave these forsaken tunnels and breathe free air again. Once we are under the open sky, we will see where my destiny lies."
"As you wish," Legolas conceded. Out of these tunnels... Eyes drifted closed, but, behind his eyelids, an image formed, the golden hue of the mallorn-trees. Lothl?rien. Grassy slopes spread out before him, blossoming Elanor and Niphredil... radiant life, unchanging. Nimrodel flowed in the distance, the clear sound of water rang in his ears. "Lothl?rien."
"Gandalf will seek Galadriel's council there, no doubt," Aragorn said.
Legolas had said the last thought out loud. He let his eyes open - the vibrant image crumbled, replaced by Moria's grey shades, and the dripping of deep water. How much time had passed?
Aragorn continued, "We would do well to rest there a while, refresh our supplies..." He emptied the content of the pipe onto a rough cloth, held the ends of it and tied them together, tightly, with a leather string. "Lift our spirits." The make-shift pouch ended up in the Ranger's pack. "I grow tired of this constant guard."
"As do I." Legolas straightened and pushed away from the wall. "But the Shadow can strike anywhere, even in the haven of Cerin Amroth. Dispatches from Celeborn had reached Eryn Galen, last year, and continued to come until I had set out for Imladris." No outline of him remained on the ground when he rose.
"Elrond spoke of it as well." Aragorn rose to a crouching position, shouldering his pack. "Elves disappearing from Lothl?rien...And not only scouts patroling the borders. Some disappeared from sight just outside of Cerin Amroth. Elrond had recieved the first news close to a year ago from an old friend, a historian. His daughter, barely grown, is among the missing." He shook his head. "Elladan said that he had prayed for her quick death. It does not bode well that the orcs could get so deep into Elvish land." His foot traced the ground where he sat, erasing the imprint in the dust. The Man started towards the chamber.
"No, it does not," Legolas said, trailing behind him. He looked back just before they reached the gateway - debris, fragments of stone, wood and rusted metal. Same as before they arrived.
The mines looked undisturbed.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.