13. Freedom for the Taking
Legolas awoke to wonder why there was so much light. There was no light in Orthanc but from the fires. Then he realized the air lacked the oppressive heat of the Pit. Startled, he sat up, and the sight of Wellinghall brought back the events of the previous day. His ride in the palm of the Ent was a blur, save for the glorious sun high overhead. Now the sun was low in the east and the forest was filled with songs of waking, though he did not feel as though he had slept since Fangorn had left him. Although his aches and pains had eased somewhat after long draughts of the waters of the Entwash, his weariness lingered. But he thought perhaps he at last looked worse than he felt, for his tattered leggings and leather boots, the only garments left to him, still bore stains of blood and grit. Dirt, dried blood, and the ash that had surrounded him in Orthanc covered his skin. Even his hair hung in filthy clumps, coated in the same grime, the braids having long ago undone. As a constant and despicable reminder, the cuffs that had held Legolas to the wall in the Pit still bound his wrists, and the skin beneath was raw and bloody. Despite the Entwash waters, his back still ached with bruises, and he felt the pull of cuts yet healing. He no longer limped so markedly, as his broken ankle and arrow wound had begun to heal, but his hands still throbbed, particularly the right with its mangled fingers. And though he had drunk deeply of the Ent's waters, he still hungered for food and thirsted for more water.
The elf stretched cautiously, looking about him. After his time in the Pits of Isengard, he had almost forgotten the peace of the forest. He sat on the stone slab that had served as his bed, watching and listening to the green forest full of life. With the shrieks and screams of Orcs still echoing in his mind, he closed his eyes and breathed in the air, the sounds, and the song of the forest. He nearly wept for what his senses had not taken in for - how long? He could not guess how much time had passed, for he had often removed his mind from his surroundings in a vain attempt to escape the torment.
A crackling of dried leaves disturbed his nascent sense of peace and sent his heart into his throat. Too light to be the steps of an Ent, too quiet for an Orc, he wondered who else shared this forest with Fangorn. It was too quiet even for a man, he thought, and his curiosity was aroused as well as his wariness. His thoughts went briefly to his bow as he felt his lack of a weapon, and he mourned the loss of the precious gift of Galadriel. But there had been greater losses on this journey, and surely there were more to come.
The taste of freedom was too fresh, and he could not so quickly shed the constant guardedness in which he had recently lived. Quite aware that he was barely able to defend himself, with no weapon and little strength, he looked swiftly about for a safer position or sheltering nook, but there was only his stone bed and more rock behind him. He would then put the slab between him and what approached. Sliding himself down the six feet to the ground, he leaned heavily on the slab and fixed his eyes in the direction of the sound, waiting anxiously for a revelation.
He saw the white robe before he saw any face, and he gasped in realization. Of all paths for his fate to follow, it had been the same as Saruman's! He stepped back and looked about him. Where was he to go? Saruman approached the clearing this moment. His anger flared and he vowed he would not return to Isengard, not with Saruman. He turned then to face the wizard.
His knees nearly buckled beneath him and his breath left him entirely when he saw the face above the white garments. He could not draw his eyes away from the visage of his old friend, but in a moment his mind caught up with him, and he saw the deception. The wizard slowed as he entered the clearing but said nothing. Legolas narrowed his eyes. "Stand back! I know who you truly are. I will not return to Isengard, Saruman." He spat out the name with venom.
The wizard halted his approach, and narrowing his eyes, looked over Legolas thoroughly.
"Show your true face!" Legolas said, hating the desperation that crept into his voice. "You use the face of a friend I cannot recover. You do not deceive me!"
"Why would I wish to deceive you?" the wizard said calmly.
Too calmly, Legolas thought. His manner did not strike him as that of Saruman, from what he had learned of the traitorous wizard. He hesitated, but his despair would not allow him to relinquish his disbelief. "You cannot be Gandalf!"
The wizard's ample eyebrows rose. "Gandalf." He drew out the name, as if feeling it for the first time on his tongue. "Yes, that was what they called me. Gandalf the Grey. I am Gandalf the White."
Legolas was angered by the absurd statement. "You think I do not see your lie? Gandalf fell before my eyes! He is lost to us. You cannot deceive me. Show your face!" he demanded with all the force he could muster. As he spoke, his heart grieved anew for his lost friend, and his loathing for Saruman grew greater for his choice at trickery.
The wizard smiled sadly. "This is the only face I have to show you."
Noting that the wizard did not draw near and that he appeared to be alone, Legolas's tension eased somewhat. Perhaps Saruman had another purpose and did not seek to return him to Isengard. If the wizard would not stop Legolas, then he would go into the forest and search for food. Eventually, he might regain the strength and the courage to return to the Tower and learn what had become of his friends. Breathing a bit easier, the elf rounded the end of the slab, no longer using the stone as protection. "You have no power over me. And I will not be prisoner again. I take my leave of you." He would soon begin his search, at the very least for Gimli. He could not risk that the dwarf remained in Orthanc. And what of the others? "What have you done with Aragorn?" Legolas dared not hope Saruman had brought the man with him, but he would know whether his friend yet lived.
"Aragorn?" The wizard looked thoughtful for a long moment. "Aragorn! Yes, the Dúnadan." His eyes flew open wide. "Legolas of Mirkwood. Yes." He looked satisfied though somber now, as if all were now right, if not well. "Yes, you did witness my fall in Moria, and since then I have traveled far, but I am now returned." He sighed. "My dear friend, what has befallen you?"
Legolas stared at the wizard, his desire to believe his eyes warring with a stubborn refusal to fall prey to the ruse. Looking askance at him, he asked, "You know where Aragorn is this moment?"
"I do not. With the mention of the man's name my memory has been set in order. I know of him and how important he is to the future of Middle-earth. He lives still?"
Legolas ignored his questions. Despite his determination to not succumb to this illusion, his eyes insisted he looked upon his friend Mithrandir, Gandalf, as the others called him - Gandalf the White now, if he was to be believed. "If you are indeed Gandalf," he said slowly, "then recite all the names by which you have known Aragorn."
The wizard laughed. "All of his names? I think we do not have the luxury of so much time. Legolas," he said, leaning on his staff, while Legolas noted it differed from both Saruman's and the one Gandalf had once used, "I am Gandalf, who fell in Moria, in battle with the Balrog, and left the completion our Quest to the remainder of the Company." He shook his head. "I fear it has gone ill for the Fellowship."
Suspending his disbelief for a moment, Legolas responded quietly. "It has. It has gone ill for all of us." Gandalf-Saruman looked upon him sadly and kindly, and Legolas shook his head, as if to free himself of the wizard's spell. "You are a trickster and will take up no more of my time. Orcs will fill the woods soon, fleeing the flood set upon them by Fangorn and his fellow Ents. Your Isengard is destroyed, Saruman. Mayhap I must return there, though I am loath to do so, for I must learn the fate of my friends."
"Is that where you have spent your recent days? Saruman kept you prisoner in his Tower?"
"Yes," Legolas said coolly, pleased to tell Saruman of his escape. "The Ent Fangorn freed me and brought me here. But I will linger no longer; I must find the remains of the Company."
"Yes, the Company - who remains?" the wizard asked slowly.
Oddly, Legolas thought he sounded reluctant to hear the answer. Still, the elf hesitated, unsure of giving Saruman information he would not have him know. "Should you not know the answer to that question, Saruman, better than I?"
The wizard widened his eyes in alarm. "He captured all of you, then? Oh dear." He paused for a moment. "I do not know the fate of our friends, Legolas. I beg you tell what you know, for I would know something of them."
His manner was so wholly unlike Saruman, as he seemed to nearly plead for an answer, that Legolas's disbelief began to crumble. Grudgingly, the elf answered. "I have not seen them for some number of days, how many I truly do not know. But last we were together, just arrived in the Tower of Orthanc, Gimli, Aragorn, Merry and Pippin lived." He was aware that he spoke to the wizard now as though he were truly Gandalf. His heart longed for it to be true, but he would not hope for such. Too much anguish and misery had passed.
The wizard's eyes widened and he seemed to force out his next words, his face screwed up with what appeared to be fear. "And Frodo and Sam? Boromir?"
Heartened by the emotion in the wizard's face, his disbelief continued to falter. But he would be faithful to Frodo and Sam. He said in a hard voice, "I will say that Boromir died on the banks of the Anduin by the hand of your beasts. But never shall I reveal the location of the hobbits! If that is the goal for your pretense you shall fail!"
The wizard sighed heavily and nodded. "True to the end are you, Legolas of Mirkwood. They are the only important ones. More important even than I. But you speak of them as though they live, and I shall be satisfied with that, even as I mourn for the loss of the good Captain of Gondor."
Legolas looked at the wizard with confusion. His heart begged to accept this apparition as truly his friend and his strength to withstand the deception failed him. "Mithrandir," he said quietly, "if it be you, prove yourself, I beg. I would be overjoyed with such a gift. Joy has been rare of late."
Gandalf frowned. "Prove myself? Hmph!" He stomped his staff on the ground. "Once upon a time, Mithrandir's word was accepted with respect and swiftly so. Prove myself! I did not fight fire and ice to be questioned by such a child as you! I tire of your questions, Legolas. Enough! We have a man, a dwarf, and a pair of hobbits to find while danger grows in Edoras. Time runs short!"
Legolas looked with wide eyes as if seeing the wizard for the first time. "Mithrandir!" he muttered. "It - it is truly you!" He tried to speak, but no more words would come, and he was left panting and speechless. Suddenly weak, he sagged heavily against the stone slab and eased himself to his knees. "You have returned and at the height of need. Mayhap the Valar have not forgotten us!"
Only now did Gandalf approach Legolas and lay his hand gently on Legolas's bare and bruised shoulder. "No, Legolas, the Valar have not forgotten us. They bade me return, in fact, to finish my task." He gently pulled Legolas to his feet and the elf grasped his arm tightly.
"Forgive me, Mithrandir. These past days have taken me past hope, past faith. I had - nothing left."
Gandalf looked at him closely. "Saruman spared you nothing, I see. You are not fit for an hour's march, much less a search of any sort."
"But I must. I do not even know if they live, Mithrandir!" The words roused the fear that lay in his heart, and Legolas's anxiety grew. "I dread the thought of returning to the Tower, but I cannot leave them to their torment if perchance they remain!"
Gandalf frowned but nodded. "We shall make a search, I assure you. You say an Ent brought you here?"
"The Ent Fangorn freed me from Orthanc, just as the Orcs had found me. He left others of his kind to continue their work on Isengard." Legolas could not hold back half a smile at the memory of the destruction they had begun.
"Apparently the Ents decided that Saruman's work was finished. They are destroying Saruman's defiled Isengard. I only wish Saruman was there to witness it," he said bitterly.
"So, Saruman has left Isengard." Gandalf nodded. "Well, I think we first ought to find you some food. When an elf looks hungry, the situation is serious, indeed. When have you last eaten?"
"I have not had food since..." Legolas frowned. "I cannot remember. Certainly not since arriving in Orthanc, and I cannot say how long I was imprisoned there, nor did I eat while we marched there." Legolas tried to recall what came before, but all was a vague jumble of flame, pain, and Orcs.
"You are nearly starved. Even an elf must eat! I suppose Fangorn has shared his waters with you? That is good, for they are healing as well as nourishing. And when did you arrive in Fangorn?"
"Sometime past midday yesterday, if I have slept only one night. Upon arriving, I partook of the water of Wellinghall then slept till this morning! The waters are truly a wonder, for I am already improved."
"That is what I feared, for you still look as if many Orcs had far too much time with you."
"Aye, they did." Legolas closed his eyes, then looked into the forest to keep the memories of his imprisonment from crowding his mind.
"Forgive me, we need not speak of it. You are free, and you shall remain free. We will search for the others, as soon as you are able. But not before. I will go now and return shortly with food for a hungry elf."
With that, Gandalf was off into the wood. As Legolas watched the wizard's back fade into the dimness of the forest, his shock overcame him suddenly. It began in his belly and grew, and he was soon laughing aloud. He sat on the grass of Wellinghall and laughed until tears streamed down his face, leaving pale streaks on his grimy face.
"Halt, by orders of the King. Halt, trespassers!"
The weary travelers stood under the bright sun, watching the Rohirrim approach. They had spied the three horsemen in the distance and hoped they might at least assure them that they walked in the proper direction. They had not expected a greeting such as they now received.
The horses surrounded them, standing far above their heads. Warriors sat upon them silently, staring at the two as if they had changed from stone to flesh before them. One of them dismounted, removing his helm to reveal long fair braids. Like his fellow warriors, a shield hung from his back; his skirt of mail rustled as he approached them.
The tall man looked at them closely, then focused on Gimli. "You appear as a dwarf to my eyes, though I have never laid eyes upon one. So, I ask, what business has a dwarf walking across Rohan with a child?" he said sternly, yet there was caution in his voice.
Before Gimli could respond, Merry spoke. "Child? Gimli, they think me a child - of a Man!"
"Hush, Merry!" The dwarf turned back to the leader. "My friend here, if I may, is not a child of Men. He is a hobbit, a full-grown hobbit, mind you. You might know his kind as halflings."
The men about them frowned, looking to one another. "Hobbits?" the captain said, carefully sounding the word. "You do not mean holbytlan? Those folk of legends?" His voice took on a note of astonishment, then promptly lost it. "I assure you this is not a time for jests." He sternly stepped over to Merry, peering at him closely.
"No one here jests, sir, I assure you," Merry said to his inspection. "Look! Surely no Men have such feet as this! These are hobbit feet!" Merry raised one hairy foot out of the tall grass for all the Rohirrim to see. "See? Hobbits."
The Rohan warrior brought his gaze down to Merry's feet, while Merry wondered if Men had any hair on their feet at all, that he might still think him a child of Men. The man's expression changed then from suspicion to wonder as he looked upon him again. He said something in his own language, repeating the word holbytla. One of his men behind him responded in what sounded like disbelief. He nodded to them then turned to stare at Merry and Gimli.
"Out of legend walk a holbytla and a dwarf who appears to have seen better days. But now I must advise you that you wander in the land of Rohan where no strangers may walk without permission from the king."
"Yes!" Merry said, unable to wait any longer. "We've come a long way to speak to your king. We have urgent news!"
"Merry! I will tell them, if you please."
The man scowled at Gimli. "Do you not trust your friend to state your purpose? Or do you not trust him to speak the right words?" The man looked down at Merry with sharp eyes. "The holbytla will speak."
Merry's stomach fluttered suddenly under the man's gaze. He wished to correct him as to what to call him, but he feared angering the warrior. Besides, the word he used for hobbits was unusually familiar sounding, and so, oddly comforting.
"What is your name? And what is your business here?"
"Eh, I'm Meriadoc Brandybuck, or Merry to my friends, of Brandy Hall in the Shire. And this is Gimli, son of Gloín. We've come - We've a message-" he faltered, suddenly unsure where to start. He knew he must not reveal Aragorn's heritage, and he was sure they wouldn't like any mention of Saruman. He looked at Gimli desperately.
"Go ahead, Merry. Tell him where we have been and what befell us. Then tell him what we have learned."
Merry took a breath and began his story. "Right. We've come from Isengard, sir-"
"Isengard?" A look of suspicion returned to the men's faces.
"Yes, Isengard, as prisoners, sir. You see, my cousin Pippin and I, we were captured by Orcs on the banks of the Anduin. While Orcs marched us across Rohan, our friends, Gimli here one of them, tracked us. They never gave up, for they were going to free us, no matter the danger." Merry was dismayed to find his throat tightening and sighed to clear his mind. "But they were injured and captured by the Orcs as well. We were all taken to Isengard then for Saruman to decide our fate." Merry closed his eyes, hating to return to those memories.
"Saruman!" cried the leader of the Rohirrim. "Saruman has claimed the western lands of Rohan, and closed the Gap to us. He would have all of Rohan as his if we did not fight for it."
"You are right on that account! Pippin, my cousin, overheard as Saruman made his hideous plans when he was forced to be his servant. He made us work if we did not wish to be tortured. Some of us were tortured all along." Merry looked at Gimli as he thought of those they'd left behind.
The man looked at Gimli for a moment, taking in his appearance and the shackles still about his wrists. "And these others that sought to free you?"
Merry lowered his head, dreading to speak of them. "They remain in Orthanc. Since I was made a servant, too, I could move around. And so I was able to find our escape and take Gimli with me. But... we had to leave behind the others - my cousin, a man, and an elf."
"A man and an elf? Strange friends you have, Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire," the tall man said, struggling over the strange name. He paused. "But loyal friends indeed, if they suffered so for you."
Merry's eyes welled with tears despite his efforts, knowing these friends suffered still. He nodded, trying to regain his control.
"Yes, we did," Gimli added quietly, "and we would do it again. These hobbits are dear to us."
The Rohirric captain turned to the dwarf. "These others, the second holbytla and those who would travel all of Rohan for their friends, you left these loyal friends at Isengard?"
Gimli jumped in with a retort. "By no choice of our own! We could not free them in time on our own. We are in need of aid to free them."
The captain's eyes narrowed in suspicion once more and he took a step toward them. "I see! You seek to bring others to Isengard, undoubtedly never to return, to serve your Master or perish. Likely, you had no doubts in accepting him as your Master. I see your trickery now!"
"No!" Merry cried, and the rest came out in a rush. "You do not understand. We did not have time to free our friends because we needed to come to Rohan and warn you. Saruman plans an attack upon Edoras. He has gathered hundreds upon hundreds of Orcs and they march to Edoras even now. He aims to speak to the king and put forth a plan to face Sauron, but it's all trickery and lies! Three days past they began preparations, and we knew we had to escape to warn the king of Rohan. That's why we had to leave our friends. We don't even know if they'll be alive by the time we can return for them-" Merry stopped, struggling to squash the sob in his throat. Gimli patted him on the back and he buried his face in his friend's shoulder.
The stern captain was silent. After what seemed a long time, he spoke to his men, and the hobbit and dwarf listened without understanding. Finally, he turned to them. "Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire, and Gimli son of Gloín, I am Ealward, and my men and I shall take to you to Edoras to inform our king as you ask. Do not expect answers there. But we will decide then what to make of your words."
The other two warriors pulled each of them upon their horses to ride behind them. They were about to begin the journey to Edoras when Gimli cried out.
"What have you there? You," Gimli pointed with no attempt at courtesy, "where did you get that weapon? By Durin's beard, that does not belong to you!"
The man looked at Gimli with a frown, disgruntled by his gruff accusation, then behind him to where the dwarf pointed. Merry's heart leapt as he saw what the captain's horse carried among his rider's belongings: a long, elegantly carved bow. "This bow was found discarded in the grass many leagues from here. The quiver and a traveling pack lay not far away, along with a sword made with great care. But none are weapons of Dwarves."
"Why would they be?" Gimli said, a strange smile growing on his bruised face. "They are the weapons of an elf and a man! My friends have used them in many a battle. The elf would be grateful to you for the rest of his immortal life if he could hold that bow once more, for it was a gift from the Lady of Lothlórien, and it is dear to him, as is that sword to the Man to whom it belongs."
The captain Ealward narrowed his eyes at Gimli, then looked at the bow. "The Lady of the Golden Wood? What business does this elf have with that sorceress?"
Gimli narrowed his eyes. "I would have a care with the words you use for what is beyond your understanding."
Ealward looked surprised at Gimli's reaction. Merry could only think him lucky that Gimli was in no condition to proffer threats. "And you have more understanding of the Lady of the Wood?"
"Aye, though none could likely understand her fully. I do know she has more beauty than your eyes could likely bear to witness and grace to match. I will not hear her maligned."
The rider looked at Gimli with a strange expression. "Very well, then. Mayhap you will share with me later your knowledge of the Lady of the Wood. For we only know that the wood is bewitched and none who pass through return unchanged, if they return at all." He looked on Gimli for a moment longer, then he turned his horse. "We return to Meduseld!"
Gandalf turned the rabbit roasting on a spit over a small fire. Treebeard had been kind enough to indicate wood acceptable for burning. The mundane activities of hunting and cooking were rather soothing, despite Gandalf's growing sense of urgency. They were needed in Rohan, in Edoras he knew now, but they would go nowhere before Legolas regained his vitality.
And Legolas had much to regain. After bathing in the Entwash, he had fallen asleep beside the fire, curled into himself. Frequently startled awake by noises of the forest, Gandalf mulled over the length of his stay in Orthanc and the depth of his torture that he could become so unaccustomed to the wood.
Thankfully, Fangorn had been generous with his revitalizing waters. After perhaps a day of hearty eating and additional draughts from the Entwash, Legolas might have the strength for the arduous travel ahead. For Gandalf's instincts demanded they travel to Edoras, not Isengard. Legolas had had no choice but to accept this change of plan. Gandalf hoped the elf trusted that he would remain true to his word and return to Isengard as soon as they were able.
Now Gandalf attended to what wounds needed care. The wizard was only mildly concerned for the many superficial wounds adorning Legolas's torso and arms that had begun healing with the first ent-draughts. The elf seemed accustomed to the limp he bore, and so it was likely an old wound for which Gandalf could do little. A swelling on Legolas's side restricted his movements and breathing, hinting at more broken bones to which he could not tend. He hoped something could be done for Legolas's hands, however. The fingers of the right hand were puffy, red, and bent at odd angles. He held the hand in a cupped fashion close to his body, and used only the back of the hand if he had the need of it. Without the use of his hand, Legolas would be greatly impaired - and possibly never wield a bow again. For that reason alone, Gandalf would do what he could, but what that was, he did not yet know.
"Legolas," he called gently. "The meat is cooked." The elf's eyes blinked as he woke. He looked around him sharply, until he saw Gandalf and Wellinghall behind them and relaxed. Gandalf briefly wondered how long the horrors of Orthanc would haunt him. "You're safe, Legolas, we are in Fangorn Forest, remember?" Legolas nodded as he rose, shaking sleep from him. His eyes landed on the food immediately and widened greedily. "I am fortunate you are not a hobbit," he said with a grin. "I would be hunting the entire day!"
Legolas remained somber, tearing his eyes from the food to look at Gandalf. "The last sight I had of a hobbit was in Orthanc, as we were brought before Saruman," he said quietly. "They soon led me away to wherever they had already taken Gimli. I felt Pippin's eyes upon me, but I could not look at him." He sighed. "I wonder if he yet lives."
Gandalf mutely handed Legolas a piece of meat, having nothing he could say. As Legolas tore into the food, eating with his less damaged hand, Gandalf asked himself whether a day's rest and care would be enough to ready the elf for riding. "You say you do not know how long you were in Orthanc?"
Legolas shook his head as he chewed. "No, but I do know we marched for four days before arriving in Isengard."
"And you were not fed then, either?" Legolas shook his head. "Water?" Gandalf asked, his astonishment growing for the perseverance of Elves.
As Legolas ate, Gandalf pondered the circumstances of that single dosage of water. It did not matter. He was now safe with food and water - the waters of the Entwash, no less.
Legolas finished his meat and laid down by the fire to enjoy some blackberries Gandalf had gathered. "Legolas," he said slowly, reluctant to disturb the elf, "could you tell me something, if you are so inclined?" He waited until he had Legolas's full attention. "I wonder if there is nothing to be done for your hand. Would you tell me, did they break it?"
Legolas's eyes grew dark, and he looked away. Turning on his back, he chewed silently until he had finished the fruit. Sitting up then, he drew his right hand out before him.
"One of the uruk leaders," he began quietly, looking at his hand rather than Gandalf, "who was present when we were captured..." Legolas's expression grew distant as the memories returned. "He remembered that I used the bow," he said in a whisper. "He decided I would use the bow no more."
The tale of cruelty aroused Gandalf's ire. "So this was done because you were an archer?"
Legolas nodded. "Yes, I was - it was."
Gandalf closed his eyes briefly. "And the fingers were broken?"
He looked at Gandalf. "Yes. They simply broke my fingers." He looked away. "Over and over."
Gandalf's eyebrows rose. "Over-?" he sighed deeply and tried to set aside his disgust to think of how to heal such brutality. "Can you move them at all?"
Legolas shook his head vigorously. "Not without great pain."
Gandalf frowned. "Eh, may I have a look?" he asked, holding out his hand. Legolas gave him a questioning look, then slowly extended his own. The fingers had been broken in many places. Splinting them would be excruciating. He sighed to banish his disappointment. "I fear the most I can do at the moment is to wrap the hand to prevent it from being bumped. I might manage to find something to do that."
Having reviewed all of Legolas's injuries, it seemed his most challenging problem now lay before him as he held Legolas's hand.
Legolas still wore the manacles with which he was restrained in Orthanc. Gandalf cared not to know in what fashion. The question was how to remove them. He would not allow Legolas to continue with such a wretched reminder of his imprisonment attached to his body. But how?
The manacles were of iron, leaving few options for breaking them. When Legolas realized he was examining the cuffs, he attempted to take back his hand. But Gandalf held fast to his arm. "Do you wish to wear these into eternity?" Legolas did not answer. "There must be a way to remove them. I need only a closer look..." He trailed off as he peered at the pin that had been inserted to close it shut and discovered another hindrance. The pieces of iron that made up the pin closure had melted together. "How did they melt the iron? Your hand is not burned...." But upon turning his wrist, Gandalf detected burn marks on the skin beneath the metal. Clearly the iron had gotten hot enough to melt the fastenings while Legolas wore the cuffs.
"They dropped small pieces of melted iron onto it, so that it became as one with the metal beneath. I felt as if my arm would melt as well. It is now essentially one piece of metal."
Gandalf nodded then in understanding. "All right then. I know how we will remove these. The difficulty will be in protecting you. Bear with me a while longer."
Legolas looked at Gandalf intensely but said nothing, and Gandalf hoped the elf's reticence would last only as long as his injuries. He longed for the return of the Legolas he had known.
He removed his cloak and slid an edge of the cloth between a cuff and Legolas's skin. As Legolas looked on silently, he explained, "I believe the only way to accomplish this is to fight fire with fire." Legolas looked up sharply. "Do not be alarmed. I attempt now to protect your arm. And I will not use fire that blinds here. With the control I wield over the fire under my power, I believe I can release you without harm. At least that is my hope. Perhaps we should attempt this beside the Entwash? In case we are in need of cold water." Legolas's eyes were wide but determined.
As they rose, they heard heavy steps behind them and much rustling among the trees. "Treebeard, perhaps. Let us wait then."
After some moments, Treebeard appeared in the clearing. "Ah, you have not left. You have decided to not be hasty after all."
"Precisely," Gandalf said with a smile. "Legolas must regain his strength, and one cannot be hasty about such things."
"You are doing a fine job, Gandalf. He is brighter already."
"I feel better," Legolas added, "and I must offer my gratitude for the waters of the Entwash. They have done much for me."
"It is my pleasure to provide them, as it is my pleasure to have an elf among my trees again."
"Indeed, I thank you, Fangorn, for all you have done for me. Far more than providing water, as much of a blessing as that was, you brought me where I could be safe and rest. But no words can express my gratitude for your arrival at Isengard at the very moment I needed your protective branches to escape the Orcs. Without your presence, I would be no more."
"Hoom! What fine words, young elf! I accept your gratitude, and I am thankful as well that I was able to provide your escape from the dreadful Orcs. If I had not been so recently awakened, I could not have helped you in the least."
"Awakened?" Legolas asked.
"You awoke recently?" Gandalf asked. "For how long did you slumber? What disturbed your sleep?"
"One never knows for how long one has slept, and we give it little thought. For then you are awake! We do sleep for longer seasons in this age, for there are few who come to our Forest to speak with us. And that is precisely what awoke me. A greeting came to me in my sleep and I awoke to see who spoke to an Ent. The creature ran through the trees as I pondered who might be in the Forest and if any but Elves knew how to speak to Ents." Treebeard's voice deepened. "Then I saw the Orcs and I lost my interest in finding the one who greeted me. I fear I was a bit hasty, for I never learned more of the creature, whether it was Elf or another."
Legolas broke out in a burst of laughter that soothed Gandalf's heart. "Dear Fangorn, I was the very creature who offered you such a greeting!" He sobered and his voice dropped to a whisper. "I attempted to escape from the Orcs as they marched us across the plains. I had climbed the trees and thought to travel faster than the Orcs. As I scaled the tree, apparently you, it occurred to me how long it had been since I had been among trees, and I indulged myself in leaving a greeting. I could do no more, for I needed to continue running."
"Hoom-hoom! So the creature was you! That is quite perfect indeed. I am doubly glad that you awoke me!"
Gandalf looked at Legolas, noting his change in mood with Treebeard's arrival. "It seems you provided for your own escape, only not the one you attempted." He hesitated. "Eh, I mean no offense, Legolas, but how is it that you were unable to run faster than Orcs among the trees? Frankly, I find it rather hard to imagine."
"I agree with you, Gandalf, and so no offense taken. But I was severely hampered by these." Legolas held up an arm. "They had already cuffed me, albeit in different cuffs, and the cuffs were locked together. I had little mobility, and it also hampered my balance. Thus, I was slowed far more than I expected. Once I was shot with an arrow, the escape attempt was over."
Gandalf nodded grimly. "I imagine so. And I am quite sure their punishment was brutal." He shook his head as he understood the scope of all that had befallen them.
Legolas lifted his leg. "It is how I received this." The swelling of the ankle was plain still, though what injury caused it was not. Gandalf knew enough, and Legolas said no more of it. In fact, perhaps he needed a change in the conversation, as he asked Treebeard, "Have the other Ents finished their work at Isengard?"
"Yes, my friend, they have. And they found no one in the Tower, so I am certain your friends have not been left there. Quickbeam and the others are as weary of Orcs as I am, however, and they now follow the Orcs' trail. It was quite clear the direction in which they had gone."
"Well, I must say," Gandalf said, "The Ents are rather inspired. I dare say the world shall look differently when they are finished."
Treebeard hoom-hoomed a few words in Entish. "Will you remain here tomorrow?"
"No, I think not. Tomorrow, if all goes well, we will travel."
"Then I bid you farewell. I do hope you return to Fangorn, especially my young elf friend."
"I will, Fangorn. That is a promise."
"Come, Legolas, we have work to do." Gandalf urged him to continue to the river, and saw the light go out of his eyes.
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.