9. The Veiled Soul
After a time, crisp, cold water touched his feet and he strayed uncaring into the flowing stream, imagining that he might leave the sorrow and worry behind him, that he might wash them away as grains of sand to the churning waters. The ripples touched his ankles, rose about his knees and swirled about his waist, their caress sending slight shivers through his otherwise unfeeling body. The light of the moon touched his face like a loving hand; the water cleansed him and offered to him comfort, but he remained unaware. He stood still and silent, half-immersed in the chill current and his grief was absolute, though he stubbornly refused to add his tears to the endless running river; he would not allow himself that indulgence.
Only the Anduin's voice interrupted that noiseless, intimate hour. He listened with patience to the breathing of the world to try and calm his fretting mind, but found that it all now seemed strange to him; he listened as one who was lost outside the rhyme and rhythm of nature, straining to catch the music he knew to be woven into the very fabric of existence and finding instead only discord and confusion. Frustration gripped him. Sense and substance he left behind when he stepped into the weightless water, but he found not the escape he sought, only an emptiness more profound than he had ever known. No matter how strongly he willed it, the pain would not be swept away; it clung to him all the more tightly there beneath the dark sky.
It would be better, he thought despondently, if I could climb.
He longed for high branches and rustling leaves, yearned to stretch from the earth and to fling himself upwards, to find freedom and taste the air, to be cradled by the living trees, sharing with them life for life, to be able to breathe, just to think. He craved his forest, his home, and though he knew it to be an shameful, idle whim he was tempted, so tempted to plunge through the water and leave, to face the wilderness and danger and guilt to simply be away from this place.
He gazed across the river to the Eastern shore and his eyes followed the flat, barren land far into the distance. There was nothing here which was green and growing. Places too have their own natures, their particular qualities, and over time, events leave their traces and the land retains that memory, impressing the feeling upon those who would journey there. What evil this country had seen lingered still and the torment and the destruction that had stripped it of life and beauty could still be felt in the fire-blasted stones and heard upon the calling wind which swept across the scarred fields. It told a tale of loss and anguish which mixed and melded with the rushing, chiding whisper of the timeless river, and snatches of the lament for what had once been a thriving, fertile ground now hushed in the elf's ears. All about him the world sought relief and seemed devoid of life and almost it seemed as desolate as the elf's own heart. Even in his dreams he could no longer find the solace he so dearly desired. When he closed his eyes, he was caught within the dark walls of guilt and doubt built high and insurmountable in his mind, twisting mazes which captured his thoughts and led them continually back to the center of his misery, to the image of the cruel flash of steel of the knife in his own hand which had so swiftly and so surely severed him from the Fellowship.
He lifted his face to the sky, but the vastness of the vaulted stars above o'erwhelmed him; he felt not their presence now, only their absence. Their indifferent light was cold and it sent a chill through him far more tangible than that of the icy water in which he stood. The stars hung frozen in their firmament, countless steely pinpricks of light marring the black surface, and they appeared to him lifeless and fixed and distant.
Or perhaps it is I who have moved so far away from them, he thought sadly, and he closed his eyes.
The elves were fading. The changing of time had been so much more evident amongst the Galadhrim than his own people. In Lorien, the dead leaves were strewn upon the paths and there would be no more summers. The elves of the Golden Wood were in mourning; the light was disappearing and that which was fairest would soon pass away. Even as he had rejoiced in wandering the paths beneath the mallorns and in the company of his kindred, he could hear the sorrow in their voices, could see it in their eyes.
And he knew it would come upon him as well.
As Lothlorien would fade and bow to its winter, so would Mirkwood in time. It would happen. It must, and this knowledge had haunted his quiet moments since they had left the Golden Wood, where the Lady had given him to know that the peaceful denial he had enjoyed beneath the sheltering trees of the great Greenwood would never be his again; the days of sunlight and happiness he had known in his woodland home would vanish. She had sought to help him see beyond, but he had closed his heart and his mind to her and could not listen. He had not heeded her words to him and did not wish to dwell upon them.
To venture forth, to face peril unmatched and perhaps never return was a risk which had not caused Legolas to hesitate when he left his father's kingdom, nor when he left Rivendell; he was a warrior and could accept this with an unquestioning courage. Yet to continue this quest with the knowledge that whatever might befall, all he did love here upon Middle- earth was not his to keep, that he must leave it behind? He had known this, of course, but never had it meant so much before. Never so very much. No longer did it seem such a distant worry to him now when failure hung like a tattered shroud upon his shoulders; as a mortal child coming to terms with death for the first time, so was Thranduil's son overwhelmed by his limitations and the inevitability of fate this night.
He was not yet ready to mourn for Middle-earth, nor to leave it. He thought that to the Galadhrim he must have appeared foolish in this regard, bound as he had become to the humans and halflings and the dwarf with whom he now travelled, but he did not like the sadness and resolve he saw in his kinsmen's eyes and it disturbed him. There was so much yet to hold him here to the forests and the vales and he did not think he could abandon it all without tearing his heart in twain and he could not understand why it would not be so for them as well. His sun was setting ere he had begun to bask in its light; to be taken from all of this and to face the inexorable twilight of the elves was more than he could bear this lonely night.
"Memory is not what the heart desires," Gimli had said. "That is only a mirror, be it clear as Keled-zaram." Legolas had not answered him then for he could offer no contention and no comfort for the dwarf's loss that would not have been a lie.
What then shall be left for me, my Lady? Countless memories of what has been, what will never be again, forever as clear as Keled-zaram and as cold.
He supposed it was fitting that the friendship he had formed with Gimli out of defiance and denial of the elvish apathy he had found in Lorien was now the touchstone of his faith. The dwarf had seemed to find hope in the Golden Wood, a hope Legolas could not find himself, though he had tried. Through Gimli's eyes, Legolas could see the beauty that Lorien still held and almost he could believe in the strength of the elves again. He shared with the dwarf his naive passion and delight, and the elf had done his utmost to close his eyes to the subtle wilting of the enchantment that encased Lorien and held back the darkness which threatened it. He wanted so badly to fall under the spell of the Galadhrim as Gimli had, but Legolas could see through the magic and knew deep inside that it could not last. Beneath the sun, all things must wear to an end.
Fair are we are in comparison to the men, to the dwarves, to the hobbit children. Taller, swifter, stronger, yes, possessing higher gifts, perhaps, but not to be revered, he thought. We are a separate race; that is all. And a dying one. The spirit which filled the elven lords of old is dead. Ecthelion of the Fountain, Fingon the Valiant, Ereinion the Radiant Star, Beleg Cuthalion... their like would be seen no more upon Middle-earth. There were none now left to honor their memories with great deeds.
Faded... faded and fallen. A mocking shadow I am of their brilliance, wrapping myself in borrowed glory. I am unworthy.
As Galadriel had tested the hearts of each member of the Fellowship, so was Legolas son of Thranduil shown the shining gold band upon his slender finger. The vision had abhorred him, and yet the temptation was there. What would he have given to utterly destroy the Enemy? What would he have sacrificed to ensure the undimished presence of the Firstborn race upon Middle-earth? To an elf who had lived all his days under the vapours and clouds and storms of the threat of Sauron, it was a tempation indeed to use the Dark Lord's power against him and bring about a summer for the elves that Legolas had never and would never see. He had proudly refused, of course, but then his heart had been shielded then by the false faith he had built around it. He wondered now what his answer would be.
Nay, he did not wish for that! By the Valar, he did not. The thought of the Ring so easily tainting his words and his actions sent a shudder through the elf and he thrust the notion from him. Never again. Already too much had been sacrificed as a result of his weakness. A flash, a recollection of shadow and hell-fire flickered through his mind, etched forever upon his ceaseless memory. His fear had conquered him then and he had faltered and quit his weapon as Mithrandir fought and fell; he had quailed before the Enemy and a companion had lost his life. This night he had raised his weapon and another life would have been forfeit had others been less vigilant. Never again.
Ah, Gimli, if I could but undo what has been done, my friend, I would, no matter the cost. With more ease could I recall an arrow in flight. With more ease could I reclaim Mithrandir from the darkness which took him.
Faded indeed are the elves, he thought, if I am what is left. Our age has passed and the darkness has grown mightier; perhaps it would be best for all if we were to depart from the world. Your sorrow lies in forgetting what is dear to you, Frodo Baggins; the elves dread to be forgotten, but so shall it come to pass.
"Elbereth, avo awartho nin," he whispered.
Legolas took one last breath of the still air, then turned to the shore... and he realized that he still bore with him Sam's cooking pot. He stared down at it, bemused.
He was struck by the absurdity of it all, and it coaxed from him a grudging smile. He flushed at his foolishness. At the foolishness of his thoughts. He had been standing in the running stream railing against fate, feeling sorry for himself, seeking salvation and searching his soul as he held the simple object in his hands.
He absently turned the pot over and examined it, running light fingers over the soldered metal, touching the burnished wooden handle and the small rivets placed there with intricate care by some halfling craftsman in their small village near the sea. Legolas spun it and flicked its side with his fingernail and it rang with a hollow brass *ping*.
Sam's cookware: the hobbit's pride and joy. And there, carved near the base in neat script was 'property of Samwise Gamgee', a polite but stern warning to any with a mind to make off with it. Legolas laughed. He clutched the treasured item in his arms; he ignored the pull of the cut upon his cheek and the stiffness of his jaw and his gentle laughter filled the empty silence.
He dipped the kettle into the stream and raised it full, then swirled it with a flourish.
The moonlight poured into it and the sky was reflected upon the dark water within, wavering and shimmering on the surface. Legolas looked down as the water settled and tilted his hand to pour it back into the stream. He paused and his brow furrowed lightly and he gazed at the mirrored stars shining warm and bright, the myriad of glimmering shards flickering with a blue-white radiance in the small vessel. As it did the enormity of the heavens above him, the humble object in his hands channelled his lofty worries, brought them rushing down into a manageable perspective and guided them into focus.
His laughter cleared his mind and resolve strengthened his heart.
With a powerful sweep of his arm, he swung the kettle upward and set free a shower of starry water arching high into the air. The silver droplets hung for an instant, catching the moon's glow and filling the air with a dazzling silver sheen. Their light danced before his eyes and then they rained down upon him and pattered upon his skin and the river's surface with a sound like a mithril shirt being shaken.
So let the stars fall and the constant heavens shatter before I betray their trust again! Legolas vowed. Let the sun set! There were battles to be fought, a quest to see through, and a disagreeable dwarf to whom he owed much in the way of atonement. He was here when they needed him there. He thought of Frodo, of the hobbit's careworn face and he cursed himself for adding to the halfling's burden. We shall prevail and come what may for my people, the day shall dawn again and bring with it hope to those whose fate it is to walk these lands. Far better to fade and be forgotten than to fail in this and leave none behind who might remember.
He made his way to the eyot's bank, sand clinging to his wet shoes and water dripping from his sodden clothing. He tucked Sam's cooking pot beneath his arm and shook himself, wrung out his cloak. He glanced up. And he became very still.
No less than a few dozen paces from him, crouched upon the ground and watching him with pale, staring eyes, was the creature.
Frodo lay motionless, listening to Sam snoring beside him in restful sleep. The fire had burned low in its bed of sand and the warm molten light of the embers glowed a deep red in the darkness, providing little light, serving only to accentuate the blackness outside their small ring of comfort. The others were asleep as well, cast about him in various positions of repose, but Frodo found he could not join them. His eyes were heavy, his body weary, his mind muzzy, but each time he began to drop off, his leg, his arm, his back would twinge and shake him from the beginnings of slumber and he would be awake once more and staring into the fire. In lieu of dreams, his thoughts roiled about inside his head, countless worries and misgivings which o'erleapt one another and vied for dominance at the forefront of his mind.
Frodo rolled over and squinched his eyes closed, hoping to find rest out of sheer determination, but of course the harder he tried, the more elusive sleep became. He tossed and turned until he realized he was only going to wake Sam or strangle himself in his blankets, so finally, exasperated, he threw off his tangled covers and sat up.
Gimli cast a look at him from where he sat watching over them upon Boromir's rock. He nodded, but they did not speak. Frodo scratched his neck and stretched, and he glanced around hopefully at the peaceful faces of his exhausted companions, but Legolas had still not come back to them. The hobbit pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin upon his hands. Gimli sighed and shifted uncomfortably on his seat on the hard stone, and both of them stared out into the darkness and waited for the elf to return.
Legolas did not move. Gollum sat hunched before him, watching him steadily and the elf gazed back curiously. There was more to dreaming of this night than reality as it was, and beyond the initial shock of realizing he had company there beneath the moonlight, he took the confrontation in stride. There was no fear in the creature's eyes, but then, why should there be? The elf had brought with him neither bow nor knife. He was alone, dripping wet and caught at unawares weilding naught but a hobbit's cooking pot; Legolas did not have about him the most imposing air he might have wished. However, with or without a weapon an elf is not a foe to take lightly, Legolas thought indignantly, and he wondered at the creature's boldness.
Legolas came cautiously forward, the hour and his mood rendering him reckless. He glared at Gollum; and strode nearer still. Gollum did not stir. Legolas approached it with deliberate, graceful steps until he was a mere few feet from the creature, then he settled upon the sand and tucked his legs beneath him. The elf placed Sam's kettle beside him and he calmly sat there, his lips pursed thoughfully and his fingers tented beneath his chin. He ignored the clamminess of his raiment clinging to his wet skin and the sand which did cling to him and he looked at Gollum. Keen eyes met keen eyes in the dark.
The elf studied the thing who had eluded them all this distance, who had dogged their trail for so many leagues. It seemed such an unimpressive creature. Gollum was thin and dark as a shadow stretched long in the light of waning day. Gaunt it was from lack of food and the hardship of its journey, though Legolas doubted that any amount of nourishment would banish the hungriness of it. Its ribs protruded from its scrawny chest and its lean flanks heaved heavily in and out as it breathed with a quiet, sighing wheeze. Its bony hands feverishly kneaded the sand upon which it crouched, the only indication that Gollum might be uneasy in the elf's presence. Gollum did not take its pale eyes from Legolas's face, nor did it make any move to flee or attack; it merely watched. The oddness of the creature's behaviour unnerved Legolas somewhat, but the elf's inquisitiveness was now piqued and he would have it satisfied.
Gollum shifted a little to ease cramping muscles in its legs and it craned its long neck. The straggled, dank hair spilled from its forehead over its spare shoulders and framed a face that was wasted and worn and looked like thin parchment drawn across bones as delicate as a bird's. Legolas narrowed his eyes and gazed closer at the thing. It seemed old and tired to the elf, a creature to inspire pity rather than wariness. Almost Legolas imagined he saw desperation in its face. And pain.
No doubt a reflection of his own mind, the elf chided himself. And still....
Unsettled, Legolas lowered his hands to his lap and he tilted his head slightly. And the realization struck him. There was a change; this was not the same creature filled with malice and madness which he had surprised on the outskirts of Lorien. Nay... the fevered green glint was gone from its eyes and it seemed shrunken somehow, no longer the black, sneaking thing which had scrabbled through the dirt and shadow and stalked their movements. Legolas could see it more clearly now, nay, he tried to see it more clearly now than he had in the forest. Gollum's visage was sharp and forlorn and it seemed to Legolas that there was an awareness there now, a disturbing awareness that spoke of long, lonely years, awful torment and regret beyond redemption. Legolas drew in a long, deep breath and gazed in wonderment at the strange companion who shared the darkness with him that night and he knew that this was not Gollum here with him. And Legolas knew what it was that had drawn him so near, and what it was that he sought, and compassion overwhelmed the elf.
"An utterly miserable creature you are," Legolas said softly, breaking the fragile silence. "We are not so different, Master Smeagol."
If Smeagol heard him or understood him, he showed no sign. Like a huge black lizard he dug into the gravel with splayed toes and blinked with heavy-lidded eyes at the comprehending face of the elf who sat before him.
Gimli let the muscles in his wrist relax, his grip loosen and he watched disinterested as the sand trickled from his knotted fist, tiny flecks of quartz and time slipping from his fingers. He brushed the remnants from his hands and leaned his head back, trying to ease the tension in his back. He longed for the taste of smoke. He rose. As silently as he was able, he stalked around the perimeter of their small camp to their baggage and picked through his belongings for several moments ere he remembered that his pipe would not be there. He had left it behind in Moria, cast aside carelessly somewhere along their treacherous journey through the black place. It would sit there in some dark corner laced with dust and cobwebs with the spirits of Balin and Ori and the others to molder and decay there until the end of time, he thought dismally.
Nonsensical, bleak notions bred from silence and idleness. He cursed his errant mind and allowed his imagination no further quarter. And still he irritably craved smoke.
The dwarf paced quietly past Frodo and the hobbit watched him stop and stand with his back to the the fire. Gimli folded his arms and lowered his head as if deep in thought. Or deep in worry. Then, as if coming to some decision, he moved again and wandered back to where he had been sitting and gingerly lifted his cloak from the rock.
"Gimli?" Frodo whispered. Aragorn stirred in his sleep nearby, but did not wake. Gimli glanced back at the hobbit and placed a finger to his lips. The dwarf circled once more and came back to kneel at Frodo's side.
"You should find rest, Frodo. The morning shall come all too soon," the dwarf murmured.
"I should like to, but I don't think it likely," Frodo answered, and he stifled a yawn with the back of his hand.
Gimli nodded and he looked away for a moment, his dark eyes distant. He turned back to Frodo and sighed. "If you are willing, I would ask you to keep watch for a short while."
"You are going after him?" Frodo asked.
"Aye. He has been gone too long. I know there is most likely no need and he would return in his own time, but... I cannot leave it like this." Gimli shook his head and he looked at the hobbit with troubled eyes. "Frodo, I know what you must think of me, but I swear to you I...."
"I will keep watch," Frodo said softly. "Don't be long coming back."
Gimli grunted assentingly and clapped a firm hand upon Frodo's arm. He stood, hurled his cloak over his shoulders and made to retrieve his axe from his belongings. He stopped and stroked his beard pensively, then he left his axe where it lay and swiftly trudged away.
Elbereth, avo awartho nin: (Elbereth, do not forsake me.)
(ME: This is the quote from Sam in "The Two Towers" which dances through my mind as I write these chapters: "Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway. And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he's the hero or the villain?"
Is there much difference between the two? A most interesting conversation, a reconciliation of sorts, and many more chapters to come. After all, I'm only on their fourth day down the Anduin! Um... is there a word limit on these fanfictions? Hmm....)
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.