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Land of Light and Shadows: 15. Weathering the Storm
A few lone torches in wall sconces flickered and sputtered, casting meager light into a wide cavern with a high, arching roof. Gathered together on once side of the cave, an assortment of horses grazed on the small rations that had been brought by the men for emergencies such as this. The men also ate, though it seemed they were not as content as were the horses, who, having drunk their fill of water for the first time since entering Harad, were happy as hobbits. A few were even sleeping, their heads down and their ears twitching in dreams of grassy fields and fresh food. Aragorn sighed as he watched them. There were times when he wished he could be as carefree. He was born to leadership and had been trained as a captain of men in the event that the crown of Gondor should ever come to him, but that did not mean he could not occasionally envy the benefits of following rather than leading. The ability to place unquestioning trust in another and to obey their orders with the knowledge that they would accept the consequences for your actions was sometimes a great blessing.
Behind him, Aragorn heard Eomer stir restlessly and he bit back a sigh of frustration. Most of the Rohirrim were ill at ease. Used to the open fields and rolling plains of the Mark, they were not accustomed to the confines of a cave. Even those hailing from Edoras, Helm’s Deep, and Dunharrow evinced signs of claustrophobia. Much like the elves, the Rohirrim needed open space. They needed to feel the wind. They needed to have the ability to spring onto the back of a horse and gallop for miles. But confined in this cave, even though it was a rather spacious cavern, some of the Rohirrim were growing antsy.
"Aragorn? Faensul and I are going back up to Legolas."
Aragorn blinked, not having heard Gimli’s approach, and nodded absently. "It is probably for the best. I would go myself as I promised, but I fear I may be delayed here." He glanced over his shoulder at Eomer and Arhelm, who were speaking with hushed voices, and grimaced. They kept looking toward the Haradrim and their eyes seemed to be forever drawn to Garat and Dashnir in particular.
Gimli followed Aragorn’s glance and grunted. "Perhaps you should remain down here until it is time to leave. I would not have a fight break out unless I am around to take part in it."
The king of Gondor smiled and shook his head. "If it seems we will come to blows, I shall send for you. I know there is a certain neck that you believe is destined for the blade of your axe."
"And my axe is ever restless until it finds that neck, which is why I will now take my leave and seek Legolas," the dwarf answered. "Were I to remain here, I fear I would begin something that would earn your censure. Tolo, Faensul," Gimli called, looking for the elven horse. From the other side of the cave, Faensul snorted at the command but he reluctantly began trotting toward Gimli.
"When did you learn Sindarin?" Aragorn asked.
"You and Legolas both," Gimli sighed. "I am neither deaf nor dumb, Aragorn, and am perfectly capable of learning another language. Do I not know the tongue of the dwarves as well as Westron? And do I not know a bit of the Gondorrim’s speech as well as the language of Rohan? Why, then, is it so difficult to believe that I have also been able to learn a bit of Sindarin?"
"I meant no offense," Aragorn said, holding up his hands to placate the dwarf. "I find it strange, though, that a dwarf should speak the tongue of the elves."
"Legolas knows some of the dwarf tongue. Is that so strange?"
"You are both strange," the king answered with a smile.
Gimli muttered something less than complimentary as Faensul arrived at his side. "May I leave the two of you alone without fear that you shall be at one another’s throats?" the dwarf asked, nodding in Eomer’s direction.
Aragorn arched an eyebrow and fixed the dwarf with a stern gaze. "We are both kings, Gimli, and you would do well to remember that. Gondor and Rohan have long been allies, and it will take more than a shadow to sunder our lands or our friendship."
Not the least bit intimidated by Aragorn’s forceful and indignant words, Gimli shrugged and nodded. "I shall return when the storm blows itself out," the dwarf said. "Until then, Aragorn." And with that, Gimli motioned to Faensul and walked away, entering the tunnel that had led them down to the spring of water and vanishing swiftly into its darkness. Faensul hesitated a moment before following but after a minute or so of nervous prancing, he eventually overcame whatever compunctions he had and disappeared after the dwarf.
Left alone for the moment, Aragorn swept his eyes over the gathered company, noting the positions of the various players and attempting to judge their intentions and motives based on their placement within the cavern. It should have been an easy enough task for Aragorn’s mind as he had done it many times before, but he still felt puzzled and mired by shadow. The Haradrim had stationed themselves next to the tunnel leading to the outside world, and that could mean one of many things, or perhaps a combination of options. Aragorn simply couldn’t tell! The most obvious conclusion was that they were suspicious and hoped to flee the presence of the foreigners whom they escorted. But it could also be that they were simply uneasy underground since they were so accustomed to life in the open desert. Or perhaps they planned some trickery and wished to be the first out of the cave. Maybe it was simple coincidence. Maybe it was a political play to make Rohan and Gondor feel hemmed in and trapped. Maybe they simply sought to avoid feeling hemmed in and trapped themselves. Perhaps they thought to honor Rohan and Gondor by giving them a place nearest the water. Or perhaps they sought to separate Gondor and Rohan from the few guards who had lingered in the tunnel as well as the elf and dwarf who were now near the entrance.
Aragorn rubbed his temples and resisted the urge to moan in frustration. His mind usually came up with many different explanations, but then he would reason it down to the three or four most likely options and his intuition and instinct would validate one of them. But he seemed incapable of reason at the moment. He couldn’t analyze. He could only produce ideas and theories, and production was worthless without a filter to manage the flow of possibilities.
"Valar," he swore softly. I know that I am shadowed and that this shadow veils my thoughts, but what good is knowing this when I can do naught about it?! Aragorn sighed, shook his head, and then decided to see what Eomer was doing. At the very least, he could discover what it was that Eomer and Arhelm seemed to be planning. Or perhaps the better word is "plotting."
Glancing once more around the cave as though to fix everyone’s position firmly in his mind, Aragorn turned and strode toward the Rohan’s king and its second-in-command. "Are your men settled?" Aragorn asked as he neared them.
"As well as can be expected," Eomer replied, and Aragorn could not help but hear the underlying tone of suspicion that came from the younger king. Eomer nodded a dismissal at Arhelm and the other man moved away, giving the two kings a measure of privacy. "These caves are not to the liking of the Rohirrim," Eomer continued, refusing to meet Aragorn’s eyes, "but I suspect you have already discerned that."
"These caves are to no one’s liking, saving perhaps Gimli," Aragorn said, ignoring the latter half of Eomer’s statement that had been spoken with bitter derision. How was it that he had not noticed Eomer’s descent into this mood? It should have been impossible for him to miss a development of this magnitude, yet he had not seen it until Legolas and Gimli pointed it out to him. "I suspect we will have to remain here for the remainder of the night as well as the day. Think you that the horses will be able to endure?"
"The horses of Rohan are able to endure any hardship," Eomer said evenly. "As for your own mounts, I know naught." He seemed about to go on, but then he stopped, frowned, and something deep within his blue eyes clicked. With a shake of his head, he looked searchingly at Aragorn and then an expression of horror took his face. "Aragorn I…I know not what came over me. I apologize for my words and—"
"If I allow you to apologize, then you must allow me to apologize for my ignorance and my indecision," Aragorn sighed, turning to study the Haradrim. "Something has been done to us, Eomer, but we know not what that something may be. I should be able to see it. By Elbereth, the pieces are all here but I am unable to fit them together!"
"Arhelm and I were discussing the possibility that we might quietly eliminate Dashnir and Garat," Eomer confessed, joining Aragorn in his study of the delegates. "Perhaps then this darkness would cease to affect us."
"No," Aragorn whispered, latching on to this rare ounce of certainty and praying fervently for more. "No, as much as we despise him and as much as he is a threat to us, Dashnir at least must continue to live. We believe he was the one to afflict Legolas, and as such, he is the only one we know of with any chance of curing the elf." Aragorn stopped and frowned, his eyes becoming thoughtful. "Eomer, does the darkness seem lighter to you?"
The horse-lord glanced at the flickering torches. "I see no change in the flames."
"No, the darkness over your mind. Does it seem…less oppressive? Easier to overcome?"
Eomer thought about that for a moment, seeming to delve deep within himself. For long minutes, he said nothing and stared at the wall sconces with unseeing eyes. At length he nodded, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet and contemplative. "You are right, Aragorn. It is less oppressive. Perhaps our knowledge of this shadow gives us the means to fight it."
"Nay, I think not," the king of Gondor disagreed. "And it occurs to me now that this shadow is not constant but changes depending on…" Aragorn trailed off and ran through his latest theory one more time. It was perhaps a sign of his lingering indecision, but he did not want to put forth this idea unless he was absolutely certain of its plausibility.
"Proximity to Legolas makes the shadow stronger."
Eomer blinked. "You are certain?"
"I fear I am incapable of certainty on this or anything else at the moment," Aragorn sighed. "But it makes sense. I am able to control my own fears during the night’s ride and even make progress of sorts in deciphering our opponent’s plans and motives, but the moment Legolas steps into the tent for a discussion, it feels as though my mind shuts down. And just now, how is it you have suddenly changed and are now better able to recognize your own shadow? Legolas is not present. It is the same for me. It is Legolas’s shadow that contributes to our own. I know not if his shadow is the direct cause, but it is certainly a factor."
"But how could that be? You make it sound like a disease capable of spreading its contagion."
"To Legolas, this could easily be likened unto a disease," Aragorn said, his mind now beginning to click rapidly. "And in a way, it is contagious. It also explains why Gimli is unaffected. Men are not bound to Ilúvatar as are elves and dwarves. We have but a faint link, and it is that faint link that grants us our powers, perceptions, and individual talents. Shorn of this link, we begin devolving, losing what gifts we have been given. Legolas has been cut from Ilúvatar’s song and the shadow over him must be strong enough to also shadow us. But it would not shadow Gimli for the dwarf has his own unique connection. And that would also tell us what kind of ú-glîr that Legolas is under." Things were falling into place now and Aragorn could barely contain his excitement. "He was not removed from the song. The song still exists for him, but he can no longer hear it. He is merely blocked. It is a simpler form of the spell, one that Celeborn might be able to undo with proper study."
"Aragorn, I rejoice for this insight and it seems to me that your mind and wisdom are returning, but I have still a question. How does this help us now? For we must move against those who would seek to thwart us, and ere long, we will be back in Legolas’s presence and once again our fears and shortcomings shall haunt us. What then, Aragorn? What is our next move?"
It was a good question and Aragorn knew it. What he didn’t know was how to answer it. "I still believe we should wait," he said at length, turning to watch the Haradrim. "Whatever their plans, they will wish to make an impression on the other tribes of Harad. Their peculiar form of anarchy is based upon respect and fear, and if one tribe were to successfully act against the combined forces of Rohan and Gondor, its word would become law in the desert."
"And so they will wait until the Gathering itself to act," Eomer concluded. "Which gives us time to further investigate their plans and so foil them. For if we cannot be conquered, do not we further our own influence and power?"
"We do," Aragorn confirmed. "But there is still great danger in this, for as we wait, their plans progress and they are able to muster what forces they need and take what steps are required. We must be vigilant, Eomer. More so than we have been."
"Both Rohan and Gondor have much experience in vigilance, for we have all the long years of Sauron behind us," Eomer said, his eyes glinting with memory.
"This is far different, I fear," Aragorn sighed. "Sauron moved in darkness and shadow, yet for all his cover, he was not a subtle enemy. His was a war of outright fear and confrontation. He had no need to hide the works of his hand for he had built his power base over long years of treachery and was secure in his fortress of Barad-dûr. The Haradrim are different. No one tribe has all power, and if works of subterfuge and betrayal are discovered, there is no impenetrable land of Mordor where that tribe may take refuge. As such, their work is far more subtle, and they excel in stealth and covert assassination. In this land, we face a different enemy, Eomer. And we must become as subtle and as calculating as they."
Eomer grimaced slightly and his eyes went to his bandaged left forearm. "I fear, Aragorn, that I have already failed that test."
"We know not if you failed for we know not what happened," Aragorn answered.
"Even so, this does not speak to my benefit and it would appear that they have the advantage."
"For now, perhaps," the king of Gondor allowed. "But did not Sauron have the advantage for many years? And did not we prevail in the end?"
"After much hardship and much loss," Eomer pointed out.
"Such is life," Aragorn shrugged. "Without hardship and loss, we would know nothing of joy and gratitude. But these thoughts are unlike you, Eomer! Throw off your dark countenance and hearken to the voices of your forefathers. Ever have the Rohirrim laughed in the face of adversity, and with that laughter that have ridden to victory and renown. We have need of your boldness, my friend, just as we have need of my caution. Together we are a balance, and so long as the scales are right, none can prevail against us."
Eomer sighed, shook his head, and laughed quietly. "Is not this a change? You are encouraging me to boldness while I press for caution and planning. Great powers have been at work for this to come to pass."
Aragorn laughed in return and clapped the other on the back. "Then come. We shall speak with the authors of these great powers and show them our own abilities. Let us find Dashnir and Garat and engage them in conversation. They may have much to tell us, and now that the shadow is weaker, we may be better able to hear their words." Aragorn then began moving toward the Haradrim, feeling Eomer fall into step beside him, but as his eyes swept those gathered he felt his breath catch in his throat and he stopped abruptly.
Eomer continued on a few paces before realizing that Aragorn was no longer with him, and he turned back with curious eyes. "Is aught wrong?"
Aragorn’s eyes swept the delegates and he swore quietly. For all his talk of wariness and watchfulness, it seemed a shadow still loomed over them, for they had yet again failed in their task. "Garat is no longer with the others," Aragorn whispered.
Eomer cursed and turned his own eyes to the delegation, the muscles in his jaw tightening as he studied them. "It could be innocent coincidence," he murmured. "Perhaps he but seeks fresh air and solitude for thought."
"Nay," Aragorn said firmly, his instincts now coming into play and blaring warnings through his mind. "Nay, this is no innocent coincidence. He plans something and we must find him ere he can carry out his intentions. Hurry!"
* * * *
Legolas sighed quietly and leaned back against the jagged lava rock of the cave wall, wrapping his arms around his chest and allowing the façade of elven invulnerability to drop from him. He’d been making some progress in adjusting to this new state of diminished senses, but the looming walls of the cave seemed to be tearing him apart all over again. It was like a physical manifestation of ú-glîr that slowly closed upon him with the intention of smothering him under a blanket of darkness. At least when he visited the Glittering Caves, he could hear the whisper of sky and field through the large windows that Gimli had cut in the sides of the caves. It was less oppressive that way and spoke volumes on Gimli’s attempt to make the elf feel more comfortable whenever he visited. But now, despite the fact that the cave’s entrance was within sight, the sound of the outside world was lost and the prince might just as well have been locked within the bowels of the earth. Sundered from song, Legolas could not hear the quiet murmurs of the wind or the breathy whispers of trees. Gone were the sighs of green grasses, replaced by a silence so powerful and so overwhelming that the elf was sorely tempted to scream in order to fill the void. A fear of enclosed spaces and ultimate silence gripped the prince and he hugged himself tighter, pressing closer against the wall so as to put distance between himself and the other wall. Legolas had not felt this panicked since the fateful journey through Moria with the Fellowship, and the dark memory of that trip did very little for helping him deal with his current situation.
Calm, he told himself firmly, forcing a deep breath into his lungs and exhaling slowly. The outside world is not far and I have friends further down in the cave. They have dealt with this silence all their lives, and if they can endure it, then so can I. Legolas took another deep breath, closed his eyes, and tried to let his fears drain away. He enjoyed a moment or two of success but he was still quite agitated, and even as he took yet another calming breath, his fears began to creep back into his soul. I must turn my mind to other things, he realized with a sudden feeling of urgent desperation. Else I shall drive myself mad!
Opening his eyes in the hopes that he might find something of interest to occupy his wayward mind, he looked to the tunnel’s entrance where sand swept and swirled just beyond the rocks. The sight was actually quite fascinating, and Legolas began trying to pick out individual granules of sand so as to track their progress as they were carried by the winds that blasted the outside world. Had he the use of elven sight, he might have been able to do this, but that gift was gone and instead he beheld a blur of motion, swift and terrible as it attacked the desert and scored the land. Sight was impossible through this wall of sand, and he wondered if elven sight might be able to pierce the swirling dust that drew a veil over all. But he quickly stopped that line of thought. There was no use dwelling on what he did not have. Such thinking only made the feelings of inadequacy and helplessness worse, and those were things he did not need right now. With Eomer on the edge of a nervous breakdown and Aragorn crippled by self-doubt, Legolas could ill afford to add to their problems by sinking into a mire of despair and loathing. But that was exactly where he was heading, and it seemed that nothing in this forsaken desert could stop him!
A gentle snort behind the elf caused him to turn, startled, and he smiled as Faensul cautiously approached, lowering his head to butt Legolas gently in the shoulder. Raising a hand and stroking the stallion behind his ears, Legolas sighed and rested his forehead against his horse's cheek. Faensul whickered quietly, nuzzling the elf's neck and seeming to offer his silent support. Legolas's smile broadened and he lifted his head, gratitude shining in his eyes. "Gwennig, meldirn. Gwennig an duludh."
Faensul snorted at this but made no other answer as he stood completely still and imparted comfort to Legolas through his presence alone. Legolas continued to rub the stallion’s neck and he rested his head against the horse’s delicate face, whispering quiet words of gratitude and losing himself in the smell of horse and the feel of silky white hair against his cheek. Here was hope. Here was a distraction from the oppressive darkness as well as a link to the world of the elves. Together they stood, completely silent and intent only on one another’s company, together creating a barrier that might protect Legolas from the encroaching shadows. For a small eternity, all was right with the world. Then their moment was interrupted by a gruff but not unwelcome voice.
"If you were so desperate for companionship, you might have sought me out. As it is, I am rather insulted by the fact that you elect to stand with a horse rather than with a friend who is at least able to offer intelligent words."
Faensul sniffed indignantly and snapped his tail while Legolas stifled a laugh as he lifted his head and turned toward dwarf. "Come, elvellon, if you are truly insulted, then why did you send Faensul before you when you came to search for me? You have been here nearly as long as he has, or so my diminished senses gather. Perhaps it is you who seek out companionship but fear to interrupt superior minds as they commune."
"Superior minds?" Gimli was spluttering indignantly and the elf once more had to fight back the urge to laugh.
"Peace, Gimli," Legolas said, smiling at the dwarf's expression of anger. "You know I speak in jest and that I consider you to be equal to Faensul so far as intelligence and companionship goes."
Faensul seemed to take as much offense at that as did Gimli, and Legolas could not forbear laughing this time as two outraged expressions were turned on him. "You are making far more enemies than friends, Master Elf," Gimli warned, stalking over and leaning against the wall next to his companion. "Be thankful that I am a patient dwarf, for you walk a dangerous line. Here."
Legolas suddenly found himself holding a full skin of water and he sent the dwarf a brief look of gratitude. "Thank you, Gimli. I was going to go myself, but…"
"It was nothing," the dwarf said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I advise you to finish that skin and take in all the water you are able. I shall refill our stocks ere we leave. According to Aragorn, there are no restrictions on the springs within these rock outcroppings and we may drink our fill. That horse of yours has already taken him at his word and I wonder that he can still walk for all the water that now sits in that bloated belly of his."
"He has carried us far with poor rations," Legolas said in defense of Faensul. "Does he not deserve to indulge himself when such indulgence is allowed?"
"Were I to ask you the same question of hobbits, your answer would be swift and resounding in the negative," Gimli shot back. "And this horse is very much like our friends the hobbits. Given the chance, they shall eat and drink until the larders are dry and they themselves are too round to fit through a doorway. I suspect that is why most of the doors in Hobbiton are circular. It is needed after large parties and banquets, of which there seem to be at least two a day!"
Legolas laughed again, and at his laugh, some of the cave’s darkness seemed to vanish. "And you believe Faensul to be no better than the hobbits?"
"No better and perhaps a bit worse," Gimli answered, ignoring Faensul’s indignant snort. "But you, my friend, do not indulge enough. Have I not just gifted you with a full skin of water? You have taken none of it!"
The elf smiled and dutifully took a drink of water. "Was that to your satisfaction?"
Gimli scowled. "You have not finished it."
"You have been around Aragorn too long. I will finish it ere sunrise, Gimli, I give you my word."
The dwarf muttered something disparaging about the word of certain elves and Legolas’s smile grew as he took another drink of water and rubbed his free hand along Faensul’s neck. A companionable silence fell between them as Gimli began watching the flying sand at the entrance of the cave and Legolas lost himself to the rhythmic stroking of Faensul’s back, something the horse approved of greatly as he whickered to encourage the elf. There was something soothing about the repetitive motion and with the horse on one side and Gimli on the other, Legolas felt his fears of the cave dwindle even more and fade until they were a mere flicker in the back of his mind, hardly worthy of notice. Back and forth, back and forth went his hand. Almost it seemed a rocking motion, like waves lulling a ship in calm waters. And even under ú-glîr, I still long for the sea, Legolas sighed with a shake of his head.
He passed his hand over the stallion’s back several more times, his mind following various tracks of thought, and then he started as Faensul suddenly moved, snorting and jerking his head. Pulled from his contemplation of swirling sand, Gimli looked over with an annoyed expression. "What bothers that horse now?"
"Someone comes," Legolas murmured, moving away from the wall and soothing Faensul with a quiet word. The elf could not yet hear footsteps, but he trusted Faensul’s senses implicitly. And more than that, his own instincts and sense of foreboding seemed to be acting up, though their warnings were vague and cloudy due to ú-glir. But despite the uncertainty, Legolas could tell that something dark was brewing and that evil deeds were planned. "Stay alert," he hissed by way of warning to Gimli. Passing a hand over the dagger in his belt to reassure himself of its comforting presence, Legolas deliberately turned his back on the dark cavern and faced the outside world, listening intently for the sounds that had already alerted Faensul.
Recognizing the elf’s strategy, Gimli frowned but nevertheless stepped away from the wall and joined Legolas. "You do realize that your senses may not be up to this," he whispered.
"That is why Faensul is with us."
"You place far too much trust in that horse. I am of the opinion that he is at least half-mule."
Legolas snorted, unable to hold back his laughter, and his mirth grew when Faensul stomped one hoof indignantly and neighed. But he sobered quickly and touched the haft of his knife once more. "My faith is not solely placed with Faensul," he said, his voice so soft that Gimli stepped closer in order to hear. "I also have great faith in you."
Gimli grunted but said nothing as Faensul suddenly snapped his tail and tossed his head, coal black eyes riveting themselves on the dark cavern behind elf and dwarf. Legolas closed his eyes and strained his hearing to the utmost, striving to learn who walked behind him. The swish of robes indicated he was Haradrim and the rub of the fabric was heavy, eliminating Dashnir who dressed in lighter cloth. Running through the list of delegates, Legolas decided that Garat would be a reasonable suspect. Of the others, only Fastahn seemed to have gotten over his superstitions regarding Legolas but he would have no reason to seek the elf out. Confident now in his guess, Legolas stepped back a bit and cleared his throat.
"Good evening to you, Garat."
There was a moment of silence and then a man’s cough sounded in the darkness. "Good evening to you, honored one."
Legolas smiled, congratulated himself with a small mental celebration, and then turned to watch the desert warrior as he shifted uncomfortably. "Do you seek company or merely the sight and smell of the world beyond the caves?" the elf asked, keeping his voice conversational but also adding an undercurrent of warning. Beside him, Gimli also turned and the dwarf moved to the side, putting distance between himself and the elf as though he expected to cover him in the event of an attack. Their language of battle was unmistakable and Garat smiled slightly, though his smile was grim.
"Perhaps I come for both," he said, moving forward quietly in a way that cried out to Legolas’s instincts. He was planning something, that much was obvious. The trick now was to discover what that plan was before it was put into motion. "Your company is strange, though," Garat continued. "In this land, we know little of elves and dwarves. Does my presence offend you? For you seem ill at ease."
"Then you do indeed know little of elves and dwarves," Legolas said. "We may seem ill at ease but rest assured that we are perfectly confident in what we do."
Garat’s smile widened as he caught the double meaning in that phrase and he inclined his head. "You would do well in the desert, should you ever choose to live here. You adjust to its ways quickly. Come, Legolas, let us have quiet words together. Perhaps you, Gimli, would be more comfortable deeper inside the caves."
"Nay, I find that I am quite comfortable here," the dwarf replied easily, but the flash of his eyes could not be missed.
"Then perhaps I could ask Legolas to accompany me for a bit, for I would speak somewhat with him in private."
"What my ears can hear, that also can Gimli’s ears hear," Legolas answered, folding his arms loosely across his chest and taking comfort in the presence of the bow across his back. "There are no secrets between us. Speak and be done."
Something dark blazed through Garat’s eyes, but it was quickly hidden and he regained his composure with a swiftness that might have been elven. "Your friendship is admirable but surely you grow tired of one another’s company. I would relieve you for a time, Gimli."
"If Legolas wished for other company, I very much doubt that he would come to you."
Garat tensed at this and Legolas narrowed his eyes as he watched the man. His elven sight might be gone, but his observational abilities and knack for catching the fine details of a situation were still quite sharp. Garat’s right hand was inching toward the flap of his outer robe where his curved sword was concealed, and Legolas felt his body tense in response to this. Forcing himself to relax slightly lest he provoke Garat to action, the elf cocked his head to the side and took a step back. "Do you truly desire to speak only with me?" Legolas asked, ignoring Gimli’s sudden look of protest. "If we travel to the entrance of this cave then we shall be out of earshot of the dwarf, for the sounds of the desert winds shall cover the sounds of our voices. Will this be more to your liking?"
The delegate from Warra hesitated and then slowly nodded. "I suppose I will accept your offer."
"Watch Faensul, Gimli, if you would," Legolas said, his voice firm and his eyes steady. Now was not the time for dwarven diplomacy, though Legolas longed to participate in a version of it himself. Now was a time for discovering the purpose behind Garat’s visit while minimizing risks and casualties. If his plans could be uncovered ere they were enacted, they could be nipped in the bud. Gesturing for Garat to precede him, Legolas threw a confident look at Gimli who rolled his eyes in response and shook his head adamantly. The elf shrugged, turned away, and followed Garat to the mouth of the cave.
"You are a danger to your king," the man began, getting straight to the point.
Legolas blinked, uncertain as to what his response should be. "Which king is that, for I serve actually several kings."
"The two kings within the cave system," Garat said, a hint of irritation creeping into his voice. "You are a danger to them. I give you a choice. Leave now or force me to eliminate you as a threat."
For a long moment, Legolas said nothing and opted to watch Garat while the man squirmed beneath the power of an elven gaze. "And if I choose the third option?" he finally asked.
"I did not give you a third option."
"The third option was to remain with King Elessar and King Eomer despite your threats and warnings."
"Trust me in this, elf. That was not an option, nor will it become one."
The shadow! Elbereth, it has affected Garat as well! With this realization came a shiver of fear that steadily worked its way down Legolas’s back. When Garat did attack, there would be nothing to hold him back and the time for a parley would be officially and permanently over. How did we not see this?! Legolas demanded of himself. How could we not anticipate its effect upon our enemies? "Garat, perhaps we should rejoin the others and speak of this," Legolas said, his senses on the alert for even the slightest movement that would herald an imminent attack from the Warra delegate. "It seems to me that you fear a threat where there is none to be feared."
"Do not patronize me, elf!" Garat sneered. "I will have no more of your talk unless it is to give me your decision. And if you have not the ability, I shall make this decision for you."
"You know not what you do," Legolas tried again, moving his hand near to his own knife which still hung his side. He began edging toward Garat, for if he closed enough distance, the man would be unable to effectively wield his sword and by necessity any action would devolve into knife against knife rather than rapier against knife. And in a knife fight, Legolas was one of the best even among the elves.
"I know exactly what I do, and I see now that it should have been done long before we even reached the desert. You and that bearded creature are abominations! You should never have been allowed to step foot into Harad and I cannot allow you to live!"
"Gimli does not represent a threat to you, Garat, nor do I," Legolas said, keeping his voice low and soothing. What is it that Garat wants? Upon what do his fears prey? For that shall be the essence of the shadow upon him.
"Who are you to tell me what is and is not a threat!?"
Legolas winced, all too aware that he had struck a nerve, but he was unable to formulate a response because Garat chose that moment to lunge. His sword rang as it was drawn, Gimli’s shouts and Faensul’s whinnies could be heard behind him, but Legolas’s mind had already sprang into gear. Spinning inside Garat’s guard ere the man could clear the sword of its scabbard, Legolas dealt him a fierce blow on the elbow and the sword went flying, landing harmlessly at Gimli’s feet even as the dwarf charged toward them.
But Garat wasn’t quite done yet. His right arm was now bent at an odd angle and it was obvious that Legolas had broken bone, but Garat’s left hand suddenly flashed forward with a knife. So quick was the movement that Legolas’s diminished reflexes were barely able to compensate and he felt the edge of the knife catch in his tunic, though it did not touch skin.
"Garat!" Legolas cried, even as he swept his long, silver-hafted knife out and parried the next blow. "Garat, cease this madness! You know not what you do!"
"None talk to me in such a way!" Garat snapped. "Not you, not that creature who rides behind you, and not Dashnir!" Saying this, Garat lunged again, slipping beneath the elf’s guard and Legolas’s body reacted automatically, muscle memory coming into play after centuries upon centuries of practice beneath the watchful eyes of perfectionist mentors. Jerking sideways and into a crouch, Garat’s knife whistled past one delicately-tipped ear at the same time that Legolas moved forward and slammed his body into Garat, intending to knock the man flat and buy himself time to backtrack and hopefully enlist the aid of others in restraining Garat.
But Legolas did not factor in his new limitations and found himself flying with the man, both of them sprawling past a charging Gimli, who was forced to leap to the side in an effort to avoid them. Legolas hit the ground hard, and he could not quite stifle a grunt as his shoulder and side scraped along a jagged rock wall. His forward progress was brought to an abrupt halt when his head slammed into a rock outcropping, and blackness tinged the edges of his vision. He was dimly aware that Garat was quickly regaining his feet and that Faensul was bearing down upon all of them, his flashing black eyes speaking of murderous intentions. Gimli was hurrying over as well, but Garat was by far the closest one, and with a last heroic effort, he lunged at the elf with a brandished knife and a cry of war.
With his mind suddenly feeling sluggish, it was Legolas’s automatic reflexes that once again saved him. Even as Garat attacked, Legolas rolled and swept his knife up in a high arc and at the crest of his arc, he stabbed. The elven blade bit deeply into Garat’s stomach and a spray of blood caught Legolas in the face ere he could roll clear. With an expression of complete and utter surprise as well as a good deal of shock, Garat clutched at his stomach where the knife was now lodged, hit the floor on his knees and froze for a moment, and then collapsed.
For perhaps the first time since Garat’s initial attack, Legolas realized his name was being called. Gimli was now at his side, unceremoniously dragging him away from Garat’s body, and Faensul was tossing his head restlessly with his large eyes following the elf’s every movement. A sudden commotion filled the tunnel, and not to be outdone by a horse and a dwarf, Aragorn suddenly appeared before Legolas, his questioning, concerned gaze one that could not be settled by an elven shrug, though Legolas tried. Then Eomer’s face joined the scene, there was another stirring of voices, and it seemed as though the entire company—Rohirrim, Gondorrim, Haradrim, and all—attempted to crowd into the tunnel.
"Legolas, what has happened here?!"
Aragorn can be very demanding when he wishes to be, Legolas mused absently as darkness continued to swim before his eyes. His head lolled to the side and he felt his body shifted about until his head became cradled by a broad shoulder. A thick beard tickled the side of Legolas’s face and he wondered what it would be like to grow such a thing. Surely it would disrupt a warrior’s balance with its cumbersome weight.
"Legolas! Legolas, look at me!"
There was Aragorn again. Knowing that the king would bother him until he answered, Legolas attempted to rouse himself from whatever stupor had come upon him, but a great lethargy now prevented his movements and the darkness over his vision was growing. Other voices were now assaulting his ears, and it seemed that the world was dissolving into a confused jumble of angry, demanding words. Darkness swept through him, he felt himself being shifted yet again by Gimli, and the dwarf’s face was the last one he saw before he could weather the storm no more and fell into a deep, consuming shadow.
Gwennig, meldirn. Gwennig an duludh—I thank you, my friend. I thank you for your help. (The Sindarin word for help also implies support and loyalty.)
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