13. A Promise Kept
Legolas growled deep inside his throat. The sound was low and unnatural to his ears. Weeks prior he would have thought doing such a thing unbecoming of an Elf, much less an Elf prince. But he had changed much in the crushing grip of the darkness. He would not pretend that his ragged appearance did not disturb him. The mud, dirt, and blood stained into his skin and his tangled hair disgusted him. His clothes were tatters that clung like scraps of rags to his thinning body. He would not deny the pain he felt. The many wounds inflicted upon him made movement a trying torture. But he had reached the point beyond caring. The blows inflicted by the cruelty of his captors hurt less when he used his anger as a shield. This was the greatest difference he felt in himself, and though it scared him, he did not know how to fight it. He was not even sure he wanted to, for this rage and panic that was budding inside his heart where his calm, stoic peace once resided was his only weapon against the shadow. He would not fade quietly. They would not so easily take him to his doom.
The reason for his rage this day was much the same as it had been for the last few. And, on this gray, cold morning, he was again rewarded for his impudence. The Uruk-hais hard fist rammed into his face, sending Legolas to the soft floor of the forest. The Elf wheezed for a moment, blood gushing from his nose, before the ugly Orc reached down and yanked him by the rope around his neck upwards. As the tough cord tightened, its dry threads bit into the soft flesh of his neck with a painful burn.
Stupid Elf, came a guttural hiss. The Uruk-hais eyes were glowing with sadistic malice. Legolas glared back with equal hate. Since leaving Isengard, his anger and pain had morphed into a frustrated murderous fury. He longed often to repay these brutes in kind for all the vile things to which they had subjected him. But he was always kept at a disadvantage. They trussed him so tightly that never would his hands come free. Underneath his fear and disgust, it gave the Elf prince some small bit of satisfaction that they feared him enough to keep him bound and leashed like an animal.
He did not show them his panic or his terror. Thus, when the first blows landed, he did not cry out. He lay as still as he could when the beast pummeled him with powerful kicks and brutal fists, forcing himself to relax. Though it was agonizing, he knew it was necessary. Fighting back or trying to protect himself resulted in more injury. He had learned quickly that the Orcs lost interest in doling out his punishment when he acted a limp doll instead of a furious combatant. They reveled in his struggles. If that he did not give to them, they would abandon their harassment of him. What they did not realize was the less they injured him, the stronger he would be the following morning to again attempt to flee. Foolish creatures.
Legolas closed his eyes, keeping a grimace from his face, as the heel of the Orcs massive foot crashed into his exposed belly, bruising the skin and crushing his innards. The Elf prince this time could not stifle a cry. The blow left him gasping, his body shaking in waves of tumultuous pain, and for a moment all he could do was breathe.
Enough. Legolas was slow to regain his senses. He loathed the sight that came to him when he did.
Sarumans placid face yielded so much implicit malice, his eyes veritably glimmering with hot sadism. Legolas swallowed the bile burning the back of his throat and forced himself to focus, though the shock from the last strike was slow to recede. He could not afford to falter before Saruman. For the pride of his father, he could not!
The wizard gave a cold, amused chuckle. Another escape attempt, Legolas? Surely by now you must realize it is folly. Sarumans voice sang a sick tale of twisted lust and untold corruption. You will never be free of my grasp, dear Elf.
The Elf narrowed his eyes but said nothing. The words had cut through his resolve, and though his anger was driving, his heart wavered. It had been a boon to him to again be among the trees, to breath the revitalizing cool air of the forest, to feel the soft warmth of the sun ease his aching hurts. Departing the rank dungeon of Isengard had heartened him in that at least. Feeling the caress of the wind again had brought him hope enough to fight them, and he had. His old wounds had begun to mend with the return of his strength. Only a dozen or so Uruk-hai had the wizard brought with him on his journey, leaving the rest to contend with the force of Rohan. Wormtongue, that pasty little man that had betrayed Aragorns location in Rohan, had been sent to Gondor on Sarumans orders. He was to, by whatever means necessary, prevent the would-be heir to the throne of men from assuming his position and rallying the legions of Gondor against Sauron. Saruman had surmised Aragorn would try to do such from the rangers new allegiance with Rohan. The Elf prince feared for Aragorn; though Wormtongue appeared a weakling, he was empowered by evil and sly with his words. At least this intimated that Saruman was not so powerful as to be beyond fear, and that his dear friend had come at last to proudly assume his birthright.
Even with the diminished company, Legolas knew he was in no condition to best so many without a weapon and bound as such. His ribs, though healing, were still a hindrance to his breathing. He had regained some use of his left hand, but still he could not get enough strength into his swollen fingers to grip anything. Each new injury he sustained as well reversed any progress he had made in salvaging his might. Hobbled and bound, he had only managed to pull away from his captors when their attentions were directed elsewhere. Always he was quickly apprehended and beaten for it. At best all he had been able to do was retard the inevitable march of Saruman east.
Legolas felt tears of frustration and fear coming to his eyes. He indeed knew it was foolish. Even so, he could not allow himself to be dragged to his death without struggling. That was not how he had been taught to live. His father, though arrogant and easily swayed by drink, had instructed each of his sons in the weight of their heritage. Never would he end his defiance. It was what drove him to fight, even though he knew the endeavor to be fruitless and detrimental. If Saruman stole his pride, truly he would be broken.
So he blinked back his tears and stifled his hopeless sob. Anything to slow you, he snapped coolly in bold anger.
He did not regret his words, though they were met with harsh brutality. The Uruk-hai holding the rope about his neck yanked it most viciously, and Legolas was bodily lifted from the cool forest floor. The knot tightened, choking him. His lungs began to burn and he gagged. He vaguely felt warm blood seep from the burns upon his neck. With his hands tied tightly behind his back, there was no way to defend himself. The Orc laughed as he rammed his fist again into the Elfs stomach. Legolas scream died as the air rushed from his lungs.
After he was dropped. Legolas gasped as he struck the ground, the impact jostling bruises and bones. Above the ringing in his ears he heard laughing. Then the cold tones of the wizard. Silly child. Why do you seek to destroy yourself? asked Saruman. Do you take pleasure in your own pain?
Wetness blurred Legolas vision as he sucked in breath after breath, trying to fill his blazing lungs. I will not give you the satisfaction, he gasped, wincing as he struggled to sit up, of seeing me broken, Saruman.
The Istars pleased grin chilled Legolas. You act as though you can deny me such. Little Elf. You truly are a silly creature, Legolas Greenleaf! Tell me, how might I punish you now for your resistance? Though it much amuses me to see a small, pitiful being such as yourself struggle against his fate, you have caused me much delay. You might think yourself wise, little Elf, but you are but a foolish child, and I see all things. Legolas thundering heart held still a moment. He felt the color drain from his face. You are biding your time. You do not fight my Uruk-hai when they beat you to lessen injury. Undoubtedly you are conserving your strength to truly make your escape. Legolas felt his soul shake. For days this had been his thought. Being so easily disarmed of it chilled him. Truly Sarumans sick logic was deadly! The wizard cruelly scrutinized him. I see now from your fair paling cheeks that I am indeed right. Your face betrays much, Legolas. A mature Elf would never wear his emotions so plainly. I laugh at the sight of your fear! Indeed, he did.
Anger coursed through Legolas, and he felt his composure flutter. Again the murderous rage piqued. Sarumans belittling of him hurt in some ways more than the bruises and blood. How he wished he could remove that nasty, sadistic, smug grin from the wizards long, pale face! Days ago he had begun to wonder why Saruman had not killed him. It made little sense to Legolas, and he had had a great deal of time to ponder the bleak prospect. Surely he was of no use to the wizard now. Saruman had deduced what had become of the Ring. Though Legolas prayed he had done nothing to aid in the wizards disastrous conclusions, he still felt horrible and guilty that he had failed in protecting Sam and Frodo. Yet Saruman had learned what he had wished, and certainly knowing which of the Hobbits in particular carried the hateful Ring was trivial. Why then did he keep his prisoner alive? As Legolas had considered it, two reasons came to him. Saruman had made many assumptions in his reasoning. Though Legolas knew them to be true, the old wizard was not stupid. He would not leave himself without a failsafe. Killing Legolas would mean destroying the last known link with the One Ring. That was likely a risk Saruman would not take. This seemed a trifle concern to Legolas, for though he revealed nothing of his painful defeat, he knew Saruman had discovered the truth. The latter motive disturbed the Elf prince greatly. Here again was the sick obsession in Sarumans eyes, the hungry lust to intimidate and destroy. He needed no great intelligence to see that his suffering gave the wizard great delight and gratification. As base as it might be, the wizard would not have his entertainment perish. Legolas hated him for reducing him to mere object to use and abuse!
You are mad, Saruman, hissed the Elf prince. His tone was seething in burning resentment and spite. It is you who is the fool if you think that Sauron will share his power. There are no allies in greed. There is no loyalty in evil. Find his Ring if you wish. I am sure he will kindly repay you in betrayal!
The harsh truths did not go unheeded. Legolas felt euphoric as he detected the smallest hints of fear and worry in the wizard. In a flash they were gone. Saruman glared upon the Elf, black ire in his eyes. Insolent child! Stay your stupid tongue! The brilliant blue eyes of the young prince locked upon the black gaze of the wizard, and in this they warred. Then the Istar grinned slowly and crookedly. I tire of you, Legolas. Your continual defiance disgusts me.
The Elfs face hardened. Then kill me. I will not submit to you, Saruman. You do not have the power to force me down! The statement hurt, but he pushed it from his mouth. In truth he was terrified that he would face darker things come their arrival into Mordor. They were nearly upon the Anduin. There was not much time left. He doubted he would have the strength to face the black of Minas Morgul.
Saruman shook his head. My dear Legolas, I grow weary of your infernal nobility. Your purity is repulsive. Your fair beauty is insulting. Your Elven blood gives you much strength, but I will see it turn cold and dead. Legolas stiffened. I will see you humiliated for your contempt! Do you seek to test me, fair prince? You have wasted much of my time with your fleet steps and agile mind. So now I shall rid you of your means to defy. The wizards white expression was cold and placid. We march on, and you keep pace with us. But you walk now unprotected and without the benefit of your shoes. This is my retribution. After the rocks and ruts have torn your light feet to pieces, let us see how you will escape me.
Cold terror washed over the Elf. Legolas heart boomed painfully in his chest as the Uruk-hai around him smiled malevolently. With his hands bound and the rope about his neck taut, he could do nothing besides wriggle as the massive, stinking Orcs came upon him. No! The one holding the rope slammed his huge, meaty paw around Legolas pale throat, holding him to the ground with a crushing grip. The Elf could barely breathe, and panic and instinct directed his battered body in its struggle. His hands were crushed behind him by his own weight.
As the other Uruk-hai shredded at his light boots, the one restraining him smiled. The grotesque, cracked lips pulled tight to reveal rotted, yellow teeth. Blackness bordered the world for Legolas, hungrily devouring the scene, and his body was burning. He kicked vainly. Vaguely he felt his toes strike something firm and heard a squeal. The small victory was lost to him, for more Uruk-hai were quick to join their comrades in traumatizing their prisoner.
A fist slammed into his temple, and he could not see any longer. He could not breathe. A rough claw raked through his ragged hair, pulling and ripping. Another scraped down the skin of his breast. Stupid, stupid Elf, came a quiet snarl. It was the last thing he heard before he crashed into blackness.
Before the mark of two days passed Sarumans legion arrived at the Anduin. They were far south of the Falls of Rauros, where the great stone statures of mighty kings guarded the watery entrance to Gondor with vigilant eyes that never slept. Here they could not protect him. These forests were darker, rockier, and Legolas knew his time was nearly gone. Across the dark river was the black eastern shore, the trees bent and sick. Their song was a pained one of terror and corruption. It mirrored his own heart. Once they crossed the Anduin into Minas Morgul, there would be no hope for him.
Still, he could do nothing to stop it. He had hoped that the massive expanse of the water might pose a problem for the Orcs and their master. As they reached the shore, though, that futile and silly wish died. The Uruk-hai assigned to guard him that day held his arm tightly as Saruman stepped to the bank. On light feet the Istar floated, his white robes shimmering in the midday sun like wisps of clouds. Legolas watched silently and in stupefaction as the great wizard stepped lightly upon the calm waters of the river. He walked on the water, but its liquid being supported him as easily as stone, and not wetness came to his white robes. The light from above streamed down about the wizard like ethereal streams of energy, and Saruman lifted his black staff slightly. An incredible thing happened then, and Legolas for once could forget his toil as he marveled at the sight before him. Saruman breathed out quiet words in a tongue foreign to the Elf prince, and the Istar abruptly then raised his staff to the sky. Below him water became ice with a gust of freezing wind that hurt the skin. It drew up into a ridge of clear solid, forming a sturdy plateau beneath Sarumans robes that extended from shore to shore. The cold, violent gale disappeared.
The wizard turned then to face his company. A small smug, satisfied smile twisted his thin lips. Legolas spirits tumbled as the Uruk-hai growled and grunted in appreciation of their master. Without further delay, they crossed the river.
The road turned south, their path hugging the eastern bank of the mighty Anduin as it rushed. This place was quiet and dark. Old trees nearly strangled by thick, snaking veins were the sole inhabitants of the deep forest. Without the chatter of bird or squirrel, their agonized song was clear and paining. It brought chills to Legolas heart. These words reminded him of those that surrounded Dol Goldur. Many times in the past, he and his brothers had led war parties to the southern border of their kingdom in chase of Orcs or other ghoul. There as well the forest was as such, as though the ancient fortress of Sauron, though mostly dilapidated and deserted, had poisoned the soil and air through which trees fed and breathed. It was a sad thing, truly, and it hurt Legolas anew with every visit. Evil suffocated good, much like the strong vines so intent upon squeezing the life from the forest.
Their keening plea for release only added to his depression. Each step was absolute torture. This land was rough and uneven, and these trees did not shed leaves to comfortably soften the forest floor. The rough ground cut at his soft skin, leaving blisters and bleeding welts, and he could barely put any weight upon his feet. He knew vaguely that stones and dirt were infecting the cuts. He limped and staggered, and the Uruk-hai were not kind to his plight. They dragged him forward and struck him when he resisted. True to Sarumans orders, he was made to keep pace. A cruel punishment indeed!
Another day passed before Legolas collapsed. Saruman at once appeared both pleased and disgusted at the Elfs fall, and ordered a camp made that night. They were now very close to the black fortress, and the wind screamed of evil. The black woods, crooked and contaminated, sang a weak lament without respite to their kindred spirit, but Legolas was beaten. His strength was fleeting and his heart was heavy with the burden of his destiny. He would never escape. He would never again know the beauty of his forests or see pride in his fathers eyes. He would no longer quarrel with Astaldogald or sing with Aratadarion. Gimlis gruff friendship was lost to him, and the cheer of his Hobbit companions was gone. Never would he hear Arwens laughter or know Aragorns confidence. This was his fate. He was bound to darkness.
His body ached and his soul shriveled. The evil here was so strong, so powerful, that he felt dirty breathing the air and sick resting upon the ground. He mourned these trees for the eternity they had had to endure in the putrid wake of Minas Morgul. In this dark forest, no light penetrated, and he was prisoner to the night. At least, for the moment, his captors were ignoring him. They had left him propped against a trunk. His hands had been tied in front of him now so that he might feed himself. The stale, sour bread and the cup of water rested upon the ground untouched.
The Elf closed his eyes and swallowed the sob trapped in his throat. Hopelessly he waited for a dawn he knew would not come.
A black night had come to Mordor. Sam looked up to the sky, but there were no stars. The moon was hidden behind dark, bulky clouds, and its light could not find its way through. It seemed to him a dark omen. A few times since the sun had set had he noticed a midnight blotch that appeared darker than the surrounding clouds travel the sky. At first he thought it to be a trick of his eyes or a fault of his exhausted mind. Yet with each reoccurrence he doubted more that it was simply a figment of his imagination.
He watched now, standing atop a rocky projection, narrowing his eyes and straining his senses. So engrossed was he in his examination of the clouds that Gandalfs question startled him. What is it, Samwise?
Sam jerked in surprise and turned suddenly. He flushed with embarrassment. Nothing, Mister Gandalf, sir. I thought I saw something big flying overhead, but surely I must be daft with weariness, for there is nothing there now!
The old, kind wizard regarded the Hobbit with knowing eyes. Sam found his gaze at once easing and disconcerting. You imagine nothing, Sam, spoke Gandalf, his deep voice quiet and somber with importance. He stepped closer and laid a comforting hand upon the Hobbits small shoulder. That is no mere shadow you see traversing the clouds.
Sam blanched. The words held worried gravity and Gandalfs fingers were almost painfully tight upon him. What is it? he asked in a hushed, frightened tone.
Gandalfs old face grew taut and concerned. The Witch King, declared the wizard in a voice hardly louder than a whisper. The Lord Angmar, the liege of the Nazgûl. The old man shook his head in disapproval. He is hunting here, I believe. On his great, winged mount of black, hunting and roaming between Barad-Dûr and Minas Morgul.
Hunting? repeated Sam in a strangled murmur. He felt himself shivering, but he could not find the strength to stop the instinctive shaking of his body. He remembered the Nazgûl clearly enough. They had pursued the Hobbits relentlessly after leaving the Shire. Like a nightmare, they rode on black horses, draped in cloaks of midnight, and shrieked into the air like ghouls. Until they had come to the Prancing Pony at Bree and met Strider, the four Hobbits had not known fully the extent of the evil that trailed them. They were once men, Aragorn had explained to them. Great kings of men. Then Sauron the Deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question and one by one theyve fallen into darkness. Now they are slaves to his will. They are the Nazgûl, Ringwraiths, neither living nor dead. At all times they feel the presence of the Ring, drawn to the power of the One. They will never stop hunting you!
It was true! Sam remembered the disgusted terror he felt at hearing the rangers words, but it was little compared to what came to him as they continued their journey to Rivendell. Those nine riders had pursued them relentlessly, shrouded in the dark of night. They had wounded Frodo, nearly sucking him into their sick service with their poisoned blade. They were heartless, mindless, driven to insanity by desire for the Ring. Demons wreathed in the most crazed of quests. Sam had thought the Nazgûl lost or slain, for at Rivendell, where the nine walkers had been formed to face the nine riders, the demons had ceased their torment and seemingly disappeared. Clearly it had been childish folly to think such! Oh, by Elbereth, to be quarry of theirs once more!
We are in a fix of sorts here, young Gamgee. I had feared this could happen, Gandalf declared almost absently. Sam looked to him slowly, stunned that the strange figure he had happened to notice could yield so much peril.
Oh, what can we do, Gandalf? asked the Hobbit meekly. If this searching beast was the lord of the Nazgûl, surely it was more powerful and treacherous than any of its underlings! Its too dangerous to face!
Gandalf afforded him a small, amused smile. Sam took reassurance in it and felt his terrified heart slow. You forget, Sam, that I am dangerous as well. I am no mere conjurer of cheap tricks. I am Gandalf the White. A small grin crept to Sams ashen face. Yet I think a confrontation would be best avoided. Let us continue stealthily, and perhaps we may elude it.
The wizard then turned and continued to walk, lifting his smooth rod and using it to maintain his balance upon the precarious rocks. Sam swallowed heavily, unnerved still by the demon that flew overhead. His hand mindlessly came to rest over the Ring, pressing its scolding heat to the flesh of his sternum. Keep your peace, he implored, you little devil! Then he followed Gandalf.
The night grew darker and deeper as they moved. A few hours passed, but it was hard to tell the passage of time without moon or stars to indicate it. Sam trudged silently behind Gandalf, but his senses were directed elsewhere. He glanced to the sky often, searching the clouds for the strange apparition he knew now to be a threat. His ears he strained, but Mordor was eerie and quiet. The stillness prickled his gooseflesh and riled his nerves. This wretched place! How he longed to be rid of it! Everything here was rank, dark, and dangerous. The spirit of evil seemed to permeate every rock, every pore of the land, and its caress was appalling. The closer they marched to Mount Doom, the heavier the weight of the One Ring became. It was pulling him down, dragging his soul into the darkness, and he was growing weary of the fight. He had never counted himself as strong or as wise as Frodo; he often thought he would fall into the swirling abyss of fire that the Ring threatened. He wondered readily if it, in the end, would defeat him. What twist of fate had placed him in a role not meant to be his? What change of events had dumped upon his weak shoulders a burden that he did not think he could carry? The appearance of this Witch King stirred Sams skepticism. He felt his hopes darkly dwindle.
So caught in his thoughts was he that he had failed to pay attention to his footing, and on a gentle incline he stepped upon unsettled and loose rocks. The jerk of the fall immediately ripped away his reverie, and his arms pin wheeled as with a crunch the stones below his feet gave way with his weight and his balance tipped. Sam howled in surprise as the world lurched and he slipped backwards down the hill. His body struck the ground and sharp pain flooded through him. He rolled down in a daze, rocks and stones jabbing at his flesh, his stomach heaving and his lungs clenching. Over the rush of the blood in his ears he could hear naught. Forever he seemed to tumble before he struck the bottom. Once there, in a daze he lingered.
Quite a few moments passed before Sam regained his senses enough to hear Gandalf calling to him. The wizard stood atop the outcrop, his white robes glowing in the meager light, his staff held aloft. More distressing still was the shriek that made Gandalfs worried voice all but inaudible. The piercing scream filled the night, high-pitched and ear shattering. Sam sat up in panic, forgetting the pain of his battered limbs. His fingers quickly and frantically came up to his neck and felt about his shirt, but they touched nothing. The Ring must have come free from his neck during the fall! For a moment, this terrible thought failed to elicit any response from his body, fear and shock paralyzing him. Then again came that dreadful howl, and Sam sprung into action.
It was so dark! In the shadow, the glint of the Ring was hidden, and he searched with shaking hands the ground, inquisitive fingers pressing through the hot dirt in desperation. Where was it?! Sams panic consumed him, and hot tears flooded from his eyes.
He heard Gandalfs cry then. There was a burst of light ahead that spread like lightning over the area, and Sam averted his eyes at its brightness. Another wicked screech shattered the quiet, and Sam winced. As the light rapidly faded, a gold glint caught his eyes. The Ring!
Frenzied the Hobbit leapt towards the glimmer as it disappeared from his sight. What he sought lay beneath a narrow ledge, the opening the Ring had precariously rolled through hardly a few inches above the ground. He could barely squeeze his sweaty hand through the narrow space. Sam grunted in panic as he blindly strained his fingers, his eyes blankly scanning the shadows ahead. He cursed himself for his small digits and chubby fist! He would never be able to reach the Ring!
Ahead came the beating of great wings, and Sam screamed. Atop the outcropping was the Witch King. It rode upon a massive stallion of midnight that pawed and clawed at the ground in rage, flapping wings of dark feathers that seemed as mighty as the horses muscular legs. The Nazgûl was draped in blackness, but its long, pale blade it held aloft, lifting it to the sky. Bloody eyes that glowed red centered upon Sams paralyzed form. With a howl, it charged down the hill. It was coming to claim its Masters possession!
Sam could not wonder about the whereabouts of Gandalf; the wizards safety did not cross his mind. He spoke not, traumatized and terrified, and reached even further in painful panic. His heart stopped beating and he could barely find the strength to breathe. Hot sweat dripped down his face. The tips of his fingers brushed upon only cold rock and grimy dirt. The thunder of hoof beats was excruciatingly loud, and the demon was nearly upon him. He would never find it!
Just before the Witch King could strike with its vile blade, Sams fingers contacted the metal chain of the necklace. Euphoria and panic combined to form a dizzying relief, and the Hobbit grabbed what he had found. He wretched his arm free, lifting the Ring into the night air, and dove to his side. His clumsy, sweaty fingers nearly dropped the trinket, but only the silver chain tumbled into the shadows. The Ring he clenched in his palm tighter than he had ever before held anything.
The Witch King howled, and its mount reared. Sam scrambled back, his body shaking in absolute terror, his feet scraping against the ground as he struggled to put distance between the enemy and himself. The horse snorted and cried, its massive paws smashing the rocks into dust as again they descended with a heavy thud. The wicked sword turned in the gauntlet of the demon. Each finger was tipped by more a knife than a nail.
Petrified, Sam clutched the Ring to his breast and skittered back further. Chilling panic washed over him as his back struck something hard and unforgiving. A rock. He was trapped.
Hobbit hissed the demon. Its breath was a blast of scalding air. The Witch King dismounted its beast with a loud clank of metal and the swish of its cloak of night. Sam watched in shock as the hooked boots of the Nazgûl stepped closer.
The rush of blood in Sams ears was deafening. Stay back! he pleaded in a hoarse voice. The Ring burned in his palm, and the urge to simply drop it and run was a seductive call. He could not, he knew. He could not abandon the Ring to the hands of evil! He could not! Stay away from me!
The white sword descended with the sound of sliced air. Sam screamed shrilly and scrambled forward as the blade sliced clear through the boulder behind him, reducing rock into dust with one mighty swing. The small creature crawled frantically, feeling a rain of sharp shards descend upon him.
The Witch King would not be deterred. Its fierce silence was more disturbing than its howl as it rounded on him, the pale blade cleaving the air in a long, lighted arc, and Sam sobbed in hopeless fear. There was nothing he could do. He would die here!
A soft caress filled his mind then, warding away the desperation and depression, and he listened to it willingly. It spoke in no language that he could decipher, but the words were a cool balm, soft and soothing. It promised safety, and his panic began to abate. A little thing. A precious thing. It would help him. He escaped in it.
Vaguely he heard a cry. No, Samwise! A part of his mind that had not succumbed to the Rings easing tale moved and cried of logic. Gandalf was alive. Gandalf was shouting to him. Do not wear the Ring!
But it was too late. In his daze he innocently slipped the burning Ring onto his finger.
The world melted in an explosion of light. The brightest of white that would have put the noon sun to shame bled around him, but it was a bizarre thing, for the illumination was tinged with the darkest of shadows, and suddenly he could see with astounding clarity. There was a great rush of wind yet no sound. Sam felt the air whip around him, raking hot fingers through his hair, and he looked up. In this place burned by white, he felt heavy and slow. Yet he clambered to his feet. His eyes were wide in fear and dismay. The Lord Angmar, once shrouded in the darkest of colors, now was a king. His sallow face was eyeless and shriveled, and his emaciated skin seemed dry and ancient. A great mane of white, stringy hair fell from beneath a pale crown. It was truly a grotesque sight, and Sam screamed. However, his voice made no sound, and he staggered back as the bony hand of the Nazgûl reached towards him. Was this the twilight illusion of the Ring that Frodo had seen? Was this the strange dimension of truth it bestowed upon its bearer?
Sam mindlessly watched, unable to make sense of what he saw. His mind was overloaded, and it simply ceased to try to understand. Behind the Nazgûl came a streak of red light and a dark figure approached in billowing robes waving about a staff. The piercing cry of the king never came to his ears, though he saw the jaw open in fury. It turned, the pale blade blending into the streaking white, as it faced whatever behind it that had troubled it. Sam gasped then as the Witch King battled, its blinding white body burning into his eyes and scarring his heart. He should have thought to run. Instead he stood transfixed and fearful as ahead there was another great burst of red and orange. This was different than what had deterred the demon before him. This was monstrous and perilous.
It was all around him, and he could not escape. The fires of its lidless gaze consumed him, peering into him, uncovering his heart and his mind. Its glare was brutal and decimating, and Sam cowered before it. A great black pupil at its center seemed fathomless, betraying the evil of the observer. Ai, he had been found! The fires licked at his skin and he dropped to his knees, curling himself into a tight, protective ball with his hands over his head, as its peering and unrelenting stare knew every fiber of his being. In this vacuum came the horrible, deep chanting. Over and over again the words spilled from everywhere, filling his mind and driving him mad.
Take it off, his mind ordered. His fingers weakly wrapped around the Ring. It tortured him. Take it off!
With a cry, he ripped the accursed thing from his finger. In a breath it was all gone. The fire faded, and the twilight disappeared. The gale of the wind abandoned its blustery torment. Disoriented, Sam felt his stomach twist in dry heaves, and he gagged. His whole being shook and quivered with what had just violated him. Such intense evil A winded sob cracked from his throat, and he wept, damning himself for relenting to the Rings song!
A hand gripped his shoulder and he looked up in fear, his heart jumping into his dry throat painfully. He immediately worried it was the Witch King, and crushing relief beleaguered him when he met Gandalfs worried gaze. Stand! commanded the wizard in a frantic, hushed voice. He was dirty and winded. We must fly! It will not be long before it returns! Fly!
Sam was weakly hauled to his feet. Gandalfs old, large, warm hand grasped his own and yanked his numb body into a run. The wizards white robes filled his vision, but he felt he could not see. A great pit of guilt, terror, and shame sucked down his heart, and Sam lowered his head and cried. He could feel it now. The Ring held tight in his other palm was singing to Mordor, calling to it, as though it had suddenly found itself to be traveling through its home. It was beckoning the black watchers of this land to find it. Undoubtedly the dark spirit of Mordor was returning the twisted melody. The Ring and the evil soul had again found each other, and it was his fault.
Time lost meaning as they ran, and Sam wept piteously. He had failed. He could not undo this! As the wizard and the Hobbit flew across the dead lands of the Dark Lord Sauron, the black night suffocated Sam, and he drowned in his grief. Alas, he was weak indeed! Fate have mercy upon him! He had tried so hard! He could not erase the sight of that fiery watcher from his memory!
The Eye had seen him, and it as well would never forget.
Something was horribly wrong.
The trees were screaming a warning, but Legolas could not understand what they were trying to tell him. Their forlorn song had twisted into a terrified melody of danger that ripped the dozing, exhausted Elf from restless sleep. A keening wail of impending peril filled his heart with dread. Their alert was strong enough to jostle the disoriented prince into attempting to stand, but his brutalized feet painfully reminded him that they would not support his weight, and he slumped, defeated and frightened. He could do nothing, he realized, but sit and listen.
Legolas wide eyes darted all around the camp of the Uruk-hai. The beasts were paying him no heed. Though the night was still deep and dark, he could make out the forms of his captors standing among the trees ahead. They seemed engrossed in a matter obscure and hidden from the Elf. Legolas released a slow, painful breath and tried once more to rise. He did not know the nature of this danger that the trees were belting out to him, but he was sure he needed to flee. The air hung still with unsaid and unnatural threat, and it hurt to Elf to breathe it as he grunted quietly. His leg muscles cramped uncooperatively. He cursed himself for his failing endurance and Saruman for his blasted penance! He could not stand, much less run with his feet as such. Panicked, Legolas raised his bound hands up to his mouth and, using his teeth as an anchor upon one of the loops, pulled at the ropes. They were securely fastened; tugging at them did nothing. He had doubted it would, but he could not simply allow himself to be the victim of whatever darkness about which the forest now cried!
His movements had drawn the interest of the Uruk-hai, and Legolas dropped his hands. Chilling desperation stilled his racing heart as their yellow eyes ate at his fear hungrily. He had to get away. The warning rose to a scream in his mind. He had to now!
Aggravated tears burned his eyes as once more he tried to stand. The effort beaded sweat upon his temples and he could not stifle his groan of agony as he carefully yet rapidly tried to put his weight upon his torn feet. The trunk behind him was sympathetic to his plight, providing support to his quivering body, but it did little good. The Uruk-hai laughed heartily at his feeble endeavor and neared him. Legolas tried to take a step but hot pain shot up his calf and knee, and he staggered and fell.
A fist wrapped into his hair as he lay gasping on the ground and hauled him up. There was chatter in Dark Speech and a hearty roar of euphoria. Legolas squeezed his eyes shut as the trees cry stabbed into his heart. The Orc pitched him forward carelessly, and the young prince stumbled, skidding across the hard forest floor before collapsing once more. For a moment he remained still, gasping for breath, clawing at his composure and his resolve. Then he was made to look skyward.
Saruman smiled broadly. It seems, he said evenly, his voice betraying no small amount of satisfaction, that the Halfing to which you delivered the Ring has made the error of wearing it. In his hand the wizard held a peculiar glass orb that swirled of dark blues and purples. It rested innocently upon the white palm, long, elegant fingers clasping it tenderly. Do look, dear Legolas. See the fate of the one you burdened in the palantir, for it knows all things that the Eye sees. See how futile your defiance has become.
He did not want to gaze into the orb, but he found he could not resist. His wide eyes were drawn to its swirling, lulling colors despite his deep desire to avert them and his fear. The tempest of deep hues shattered, burned away by angry flames, and Legolas winced. The Eye of Sauron laughed maliciously as it receded, exposing to him the huddled form of Sam, buffeted and weathered by an unusual gale, quivering in the sight of the great evil power. The Elf stopped breathing. The Hobbits tiny hands were covering his head. The bright Ring he bore upon one finger. Dear Sam Clearly Sam had never found Frodo at Amon Hen that day so many weeks ago. The brave, little fellow had obviously taken upon himself a quest meant for greater creatures! What grave tiding had befallen Sam to force him to wear the One Ring? What horrible fate had Legolas pushed upon him? Terror and anger clenched every muscle of his body, and he watched numbly as the vision faded, leaving the glass stone once again as dark and forbidding as night. Shocked, he looked up to the wizard. You vile monster he hissed.
Saruman laughed outright. Child! The Eye has found the Ring! I told you it would, did I not? I warned you that it was inevitable, unstoppable! This black destiny you have brought upon yourself! The demented Istars tone was twisted to almost a high pitch in pure, jovial elation.
Legolas lowered his eyes. Whatever strength and courage had driven him now faded quickly and without regard to his present predicament, leaving him reduced to shuddering in defeat. A tear escaped and streaked down his dirtied cheek as he bit into his quivering lower lip. It could not be! Surely it could not! Elbereth, protect Sam where I have failed!
The trees strained their voices, but the warning came to numb ears. In the black sea of suffering and depression that now become the Elfs heart, no light entered. He was lost in the dark waves, gone in the murk of his misery. Everything he had endured Everything Sam had undergone Wasted! Oh, his angry heart screamed shrilly in fury where his lips would not!
The silent moment did not last long. Sarumans hand found its way to the Elfs chin, lifting Legolas ashen face. My beautiful Elf, he said quietly. In his voice was unspeakable danger, and the trees hollered into the empty night. Legolas jerked, but the nails tightened upon his jaw, holding him immobile. Behind him the Uruk-hais rough grips upon his shoulders and hair kept him kneeling. Panic slowly crawled into the pit of Legolas stomach. His pulse raced. He could not break free! Saruman smiled cruelly. Do you remember what I swore to you the day you became mine?
Legolas grunted, tears filling his eyes and collecting in a stinging pool. He could hardly breathe. Terror shook him to his very core, and he wriggled vainly. When it become clear he would not answer, Saruman grinned again, arrogant and unfazed. I told you then, he reminded, his tone, though soft, sounding low and vicious, that I would rid you of your purity and see the strength of your sick Elf blood fail you. I promised that I would reduce you to nothing but a coward in the darkness, yearning for death. I vowed to make you neither prince nor Elf. Legolas bit into his tongue until the warm bitterness of his blood trickled into his mouth. Saruman was calm as he handed the orb to a nearby, leering Orc. Gently his other hand pressed to the quivering Elfs cheek. I believe it is time I kept my word. A parting gift, if you will.
The forest shrieked. Before the terrified Legolas could even think to struggle, the wizards grip turned hard, the long fingers cutting into the flesh of his face. He could not look away as Sarumans black eyes locked unto his own and dug inside him. The wizard was chanting, lowly and quietly, and the words were rough and rotten. The serene gaze crackled with power, and Legolas choked on his sobbing breath as the strangest of sensations came to him through the grip upon him. At first it was merely uncomfortable, crawling over his body with a sick caress of augmenting evil. When it reached his chest, it turned into a consuming fire that burned and ripped. Shear agony coursed over him, and he was helpless in its grasp. Something inside him was dying, crushed by the darkness. He could feel it wither, and it hurt and frightened him like nothing had ever before. The part of his mind still clinging to his sanity ordered his limp body to move, to do anything to prevent this. No! Fight! But he was helpless. The pain turned the world violent and white. Sarumans eyes would not release him, and the wizard glowed bloodily in the bleached surroundings. He felt his mind crack, his sight shift, and his heart was raggedly sundered.
The Elf screamed.
The savage deed was done. The trees were weeping.
A quiet moment then passed. Saruman released Legolas. The wizard wobbled a bit, apparently drained and winded from his exertions. He opened his mouth to speak, perhaps to taunt further or gloat his victory, but closed it slowly, for the words would fall to deaf ears. His prisoner had mercifully passed out at his feet.
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.