Author's Note: This story was written for Prompt #5 "Lack" on the Aragorn Angst yahoo group.
There was nothing but darkness around him, darkness and stone - and silence. There were sounds from time to time, but they were harsh and strange, perhaps echoes from somewhere in the distance. Apart from that, only their own breathing and the tapping of their boots on the stone could be heard. Now, there was only breathing and sometimes snoring. The silence was oppressive, and it seemed to him much louder than the soft sounds of life behind him.
He tried to pierce the darkness with his eyes, but all he could see were shadows. There was more here than just darkness. Something was hiding in the shadows, something evil that was watching, waiting, lurking. He shivered. He would have given anything now to see something green and growing, to feel earth beneath his feet and listen to the wind. The thoughts did not comfort him, but only filled him with despair. What he yearned for was out of his reach. The rock and the darkness seemed to close in on him, suffocating him.
He awoke in the middle of the night, or what they had decided to call night, as the days were as dark as the nights in this place. Aragorn sat up slowly, not sure what had woken him. Something was amiss. His gaze fell on Sam, who was sound asleep not far from him, and he frowned. Suddenly he was sure that it was much later than it should be. He should be on watch now, and Sam should have been the one to wake him. He looked up. The staff of the wizard leaned against the wall where Gandalf had left it, providing enough light to see part of the room and all the members of the fellowship. All but one were asleep.
Legolas was standing, motionless, at the outer edge of the circle of light, staring into the darkness, his back towards his companions. It was obvious that he had not woken Sam for his watch at all, nor had he intended to wake Aragorn. The ranger watched his friend for a long moment, noticing that the elf's muscles were tensed, and the bow ready at his side, as if waiting for an arrow and a foe to put it into. In spite of his tense posture, Legolas did not move at all, standing between darkness and light like a grey statue.
Something about this worried Aragorn, and even if the elf had appeared completely normal he would still not have liked the thought that his friend had not slept at all. It was not the first time. In fact, Aragorn was not sure that Legolas had slept even once since they had entered the underground realm of Moria. They had not talked for quite some time now, and Aragorn was not about to let this opportunity slip.
He rose quietly and made his way over to his friend, careful not to disturb the sleepers. All of them needed all the rest they could get. He cast a short glance at Frodo, whose features were even more drawn than those of the rest of them by now. Then he looked back at the elf in front of him. Legolas had not stirred, though Aragorn was sure that he had heard him and had probably even known the exact moment when he had awoken. The gold and green colours of the elf seemed strangely dulled by the dim light. Aragorn stepped to his friend's side, looking out into the darkness himself.
"What do you see?" he asked.
"Darkness and shadows," Legolas answered softly, without hesitation.
Aragorn, who had not been sure if he could expect an answer, turned slightly to look at his friend. The elf's eyes glittered in the darkness. They were wide, and there was something strange in them, which had also resonated in his voice. The ranger's worry grew.
"Legolas? What is it?"
A silent sigh fled the elf's lips, and this time he turned his head, though he seemed to do it reluctantly. "Do not worry for me, Aragorn," he said. "Nothing ails me but this place."
"That I do not believe," Aragorn replied quietly. He put one hand on Legolas' shoulder, noticing once more the tense muscles under his fingers. "This is not the first time I've been in a cave with you, my friend."
He felt a slight shiver run through the elf's body.
"This place is worse than all other dark places we have been in before," Legolas said softly.
"Aye," Aragorn agreed.
There was amazement in Legolas' eyes. "So you feel it, too?" he asked.
"Tell me what you feel and I will be able to tell you if we feel the same."
Legolas turned away once more, looking out into the darkness as if searching for something. Aragorn followed his gaze and wondered if the bright elven eyes were able to see more than his own human ones did. He could only see shadows and vague outlines of more shadows. Staring into the dark, silent nothingness made him feel lost and alone, as if they were the last living beings left on Middle-earth, beleaguered by darkness.
He suppressed a shiver of his own. He did not know how Legolas could bear to stand here for hours, alone with the darkness. On his own watches, Aragorn preferred to stay inside the circle of light. Legolas was silent for a long time.
"The darkness here is not merely the absence of light," he said finally. "Sometimes I believe I feel a presence out there, a presence which is alive... and evil."
Aragorn nodded slowly. "Come," he said, lightly taking hold of the elf's arm, "let us go back into the light. It is easier to speak of such things when the shadows are not listening."
Legolas did not resist and allowed Aragorn to lead him back into the small circle of light. They sat down side by side against the wall, keeping some distance from the others to avoid disturbing their slumber.
"When I was here for the first time," Aragorn began, "I already had a feeling that not all living beings had fled this place, and I am not talking about dwarves. Something dark still lives here, deep down in the shadows, where even the greediest dwarf does not dare venture anymore. I do not know whether it is sleeping, or merely waiting, but I do not desire to learn more about it."
He picked a small stone up from the ground and turned it in his fingers, lost in deep thought. "Whatever it is, I do not believe it cares much for idle trespassers. But it might care for an opponent that matches its strength, or for a burden borne by one whose courage far outweighs his strength or skill."
He sighed. "I hesitated to speak of this before for, though I did not wish to return to this place until this day, I was not sure if my imagination and the darkness of this place had deceived me. But I have never had cause to doubt your senses, my friend. Yes, I feel it, too, and stronger than it was the first time I set foot in these caves."
"I, too, was not sure if I could trust my senses," Legolas confessed with a smile. "This place is strange to me and the rock has no voice I can hear or understand. Also, I was not sure if the evil I felt was the one we brought with us, or one that waited for us. Frodo's sleep was restless these last nights."
"I know," Aragorn answered. The two friends looked at each other, feeling both relieved and worried now that they had shared their fears.
"Is it too much to hope that we are both mistaken?" Legolas asked, with a hint of humour in his voice.
Aragorn shrugged. "This Quest has already been called a fool's hope," he said, "but I find that I would rather be a fool twice than lose my hope once."
"Then let us hope and be twice the fools for it if the worst comes to pass."
Aragorn nodded and smiled at his friend. He noticed that the elf looked calmer now and not as tense as before. "What about you?" he asked. "Will you take some rest now?"
Legolas' features hardened slightly, and he looked down at the bow in his lap, refusing to meet Aragorn's gaze. "There will be no rest for me as long as we are in this place," he said quietly. "The darkness haunts even my waking dreams. All around me is dead and silent, and even the air is stale and old. Though there is much space around us, I feel as if the walls were pressing down on me. I feel as if I am locked in a tomb."
Aragorn did not miss the hint of despair in the elf's voice.
Legolas looked up to the ceiling, where he knew the sky should have been. "I long for the sun and the song of the stars and the wind and the trees," he went on. "If only I could hear the sound of running water or see something that is green and alive."
He sighed and bowed his head. "I am sorry," he said.
"What for?" Aragorn asked, surprised.
"I did not want to burden you with my worries. I fear I will not be of much use in this place."
Aragorn's tone of voice was enough to make the elf raise his head and meet the man's gaze. "Never apologize to me for what you are or for telling me how you feel. Do you think a dwarf would feel more comfortable in Mirkwood? I would have you no other way. I am only sorry that the path we had to choose pains you so. You are of much use to all of us, always. I never want you to suffer in silence again, not when I am with you."
Aragorn paused. Legolas stayed silent, and the human was not sure whether the elf accepted his words or not. He knew how difficult it was for a warrior to feel helpless in the face of any foe.
"Will you allow me to help?" he asked gently.
"I thank you, Aragorn, but there is nothing you can do. If you have not found a way to dig a hole through these walls so I can breathe again."
Aragorn smiled at his friend. "I think there may be an easier way," he said.
Legolas looked at him curiously. "Your help is always welcome, that you know," he said finally.
Aragorn leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, as if he needed to delve deeply into his memory. Then he began to sing. He sang softly to ensure that the song would deepen the sleep of his companions, and not rouse them from it. It was a song he had learned from Arwen, and it praised the beauty of Lothlórien and its mighty Mallorn trees through the seasons.
Only moments later he was sure that he had made the right choice. There was no way to better capture the attention of a wood-elf and distract him from his dark surroundings than to sing about the most beautiful forest that was still left in Middle-earth. Legolas' eyes were alive with fascination, and there was a light in them which Aragorn had not seen there since they had entered the vast darkness of Khazad-dûm.
Smiling to himself, Aragorn sang on. When he looked at his friend the next time, Legolas' eyes were glazed over in elven sleep, and his head had sunk against the wall. The expression on his face was peaceful, and there was a small smile upon his lips. It was obvious that he was not haunted by the darkness of Moria this time, and Aragorn was quite sure that the elf was walking under the great Mallorn trees right now. Legolas had been so exhausted by now that it had not needed more to make him finally succumb to sleep.
Aragorn rose quietly and fetched a blanket. He gently took the bow from Legolas' lap and spread the blanket over his legs instead, though he knew that the elf did not really need the warmth. Then Aragorn settled back comfortably and started singing again. For the rest of the night watch he either sang or hummed, guarding his elven friend and his other companions against any dark dreams that might want to intrude upon their peaceful slumber.
- The End -
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.