Legolas walked cautiously and a bit reluctantly behind Éowyn as they silently entered Meduseld. He tried to reign in his fury at Gandalf for revealing so much to this woman who was little more than a stranger. Then his eyes fell upon her hair and that distraction did more to calm his anger than all his efforts. He took a moment to wonder that any other than an elf could have such locks. Perhaps his time with this woman would not be so ill-spent after all. They then turned a corner in the corridor, and the ache in his ankle reminded him that she was delivering him to the infirmary. He cared little for infirmaries, even at home in the Greenwood among Elves. What might he find in an infirmary of Men?
As they continued through dim passageways, Legolas pondered whether Gandalf had desired to rid himself of the burden Legolas posed, for it was an otherwise useless act on the wizard's part to send him here. The Men's healers could do nothing for him regardless of their skill - except feed him. After their meal that morning, Gandalf and Legolas had eaten only lightly, but the meal had awoken a great hunger in the elf. He felt as if he were a hobbit.
But he could do nothing to aid Gandalf, as the wizard went in search of the Enemy's servant. Legolas had not the strength to give aid in that fight. And loath though he was to admit it, the terror that paralyzed Men at a Ringwraith's approach seemed to touch him now. He despised this fear that froze him to his core, threatening to immobilize him with panic. Gandalf had reasoned it was a result of his proximity to the darkness in recent days. Legolas shuddered as the shrieks and punches and slashes of the Orcs came back to him. Then the Orcs' paws were upon him, and then their teeth... Proximity to the darkness indeed. The sounds and sensations of the Pit echoed within him, and with them came the panic and the fear he had felt in those last hours. The Shadow fed on such consuming horror. It was no wonder it reached him.
Gandalf's instincts on the need to travel directly to Meduseld had held true, judging from how foul matters had turned in Edoras. Weak and useless as he was, Legolas had left it to Gandalf to set things right; then he would hold the wizard to his word. For though the Ents had reported no one at Isengard, his friends remained unfound and as yet unsearched for. But he would not abandon his friends entirely. His betrayal had been enough. Never would Legolas forget his choice when poised on Fangorn's branches and offered the opportunity to return for them. If the Ents spoke truly and his friends did not lay lifeless somewhere in the Tower, the truth was they likely had already left when he had made his regrettable decision, but that point was moot. He had turned from his friends in what might have been their time of uttermost need.
Entering the infirmary, Éowyn led him into a large room with several beds and a solitary window that looked out onto the night. A hallway led perhaps to rooms with additional beds. Two healers tended to several patients and tried to calm their terror of the Shadow. The familiar urge to flee the infirmary came over Legolas, compounding the dark need for flight that hovered on the edges of his mind.
"Please come in." Legolas had not realized he had stopped at the doorway. He walked in slowly, arms wrapped around his bare torso, as Éowyn lit several candles beside an empty bed, seemingly unmoved by the Shadow. The only sign she felt its presence was an occasional glance to the window. Legolas marveled at the strength of will this woman possessed, for the Shadow had grown heavier upon him since he had entered Meduseld. "Please take a seat on the bed there."
The bed creaked as Legolas did as he was bid, willing himself not to look out the window as well. Instead, he watched as Éowyn rummaged through the usual accessories of an infirmary that filled the shelves lining the room: bottles, boxes, and containers of herbs, oils, and elixirs. Only then did he understand that Éowyn was to tend to his hurts herself. Clearly there was more to this woman than what had first drawn his notice.
Éowyn slowly approached with a heavily laden tray. She smiled. "Do not be startled by the great deal of supplies. I am simply uncertain as to what I shall need." She spoke slowly, as if uncertain whether he would understand. He realized he had not spoken in her presence. Perhaps she thought him unfamiliar with the Common tongue.
"It is true, my Lady," Legolas said, attempting to return her smile, "I have many wounds, but I am not mortally wounded." He hoped to relieve her anxiety. He was possibly the first elf she had ever seen. And likely she harbored great suspicions of him, according to Gandalf. How to put her at ease?
"I am the healer here," she said tersely with a sharply raised eyebrow. "I will determine the severity of your wounds."
Or perhaps she needed no comforting. Her stern demeanor reminded Legolas of other healers he had encountered in infirmaries. They forever insisted on treating him when he knew he was in no need of treatment. At the moment, he was not in perfect health, but Fangorn's waters and Gandalf's care had assured that his body would eventually heal - though too late to be of aid to Gandalf, who needed him now, he thought bitterly. With that thought, the dark disquiet he battled threatened to unnerve him once more.
"Legolas? I asked when did you last eat?"
"Oh, eh, forgive me, Lady." Legolas forced himself to concentrate on the Lady Éowyn's words. The constant weight on his mind seemed to leave him distracted, unable to hold a thought. Did this woman feel none of it? "I was... When I last ate? This morning, Gandalf made a meal of a rabbit," Legolas said quietly. "We ate little on the ride today."
Éowyn narrowed her eyes. "And before that?"
Legolas sighed, feeling little patience for the many questions he knew he must answer. He suddenly longed for sleep, despite his hunger. The press of the Shadow seemed to weigh him down, and he felt his weariness keenly. Taking a deep breath, he determined to weather this burden at least as well as this woman appeared to. And yet he had no answers for her; at least none that would satisfy her. "I do not know. I - I am uncertain how long I was a prisoner." When Éowyn frowned he forced himself to admit, "I seem to have lost track of time while in the hands of the Orcs."
Éowyn's eyes widened, but she quickly recovered. "Were you given any water?"
"I drank much of Fangorn's waters from the Entwash this morning and yesterday. But before that, I cannot tell you when I last partook of water." These failings of his mind shamed him as intolerable weaknesses. And as with his useless broken hand, they robbed him of the luxury of denial or forgetfulness.
The Shadow pressed down.
"Fangorn - Treebeard in the Common Tongue, I am told - is the chief of the Ents." When Éowyn's frown deepened, Legolas decided to forgo an explanation of tree herders. "The waters of the River Entwash are ancient and revitalizing. They have done much to repair my body. I looked far worse two days ago, I assure you," he finished, hoping for an end to her questioning.
Éowyn's eyes widened again. "You have healed since you escaped?" She looked at his wounds, clearly wondering at his state before he drank from the Entwash. Or perhaps she contemplated if such a thing were possible.
"Yes." He watched as she looked him over closely, resenting the scrutiny. "You should know, Lady, Elves heal more quickly than Men. Many of my wounds under ordinary circumstances would have healed by now."
Éowyn was silent for a moment as she took this in. "What are ordinary circumstances?"
Surprised by the query, Legolas hesitated in his answer. He had met few females of Men before, and none were as this woman. She took his words in stride. Not even the power of the Shadow seemed to hold sway over her. Legolas looked about the infirmary. It seemed smaller than when he had entered. He shifted uneasily on the bed. "Eh, if I had partaken of food and water, I would have healed. Without nourishment, my body has been unable to heal as it should." He looked at each patient in a bed. How could Gandalf leave him here, in an infirmary of Men? He felt a surge of anger. This woman knew nothing of Elves - what could she do for him? Was this Gandalf's way of ridding himself of him? Beside him, the candles seemed to dim.
The Shadow pressed heavier.
"So you say once you eat again, you will heal in your customary fashion once more?" Legolas nodded, not trusting that his voice would not betray his sudden ire. "And what is customary? How fast should these wounds heal? Would all of them heal?"
Irritation building, Legolas was taken aback by the questions. He had never been asked such things. Would this woman never run out of questions? He wondered then where was the suspicion of which Gandalf had warned him, and this proved a distraction from his anger. If it were commonplace for most of the Rohirrim, then this woman was out of the ordinary, for she seemed only to want to know more. Some of the glow of the candles returned; Éowyn's hair flashed in the light, and he wondered if her husband saw its beauty.
Reigning in his impatience, he managed an answer. "Most wounds would heal within a fortnight, many sooner, others might need more time."
Éowyn looked at him closely, not at his wounds, but searching his eyes for something he could not fathom. Struck by her grey eyes, he found himself wishing to learn what lay behind them and wondered if elvish blood might run through her veins after all. To his surprise, he did not see the darkness of the Shadow in her eyes. What he saw was steel.
And then Legolas gasped, jerking as a cold fist grasped his heart and throat. His anger surged, but it was washed over by a sudden staggering fear. A fear of what, he knew not. But he knew he had never before felt such dread.
Even Éowyn looked upwards with a start. She stared at Legolas until she dared to speak. "The Shadow?" she whispered.
The cold spread from his heart through his limbs, and to speak was a great effort. "Aye. It grows stronger." Legolas's concern for Gandalf grew tenfold. Had Gandalf failed? Could Gandalf fail?
Legolas's esteem of the lady before him grew as well as she steeled herself against the attack. "We must fortify ourselves and go on the best we are able." Witnessing her strength, Legolas felt some warmth return to him. "As regards your healing, I feel what you need more than any of what I have to offer is food and water. If you are hungry?"
Legolas was forced to reply honestly, as he attempted to brace himself as well. "I fear I am, Lady. Rather hungry." He was unsure whether to be dismayed to reveal another weakness, or to be relieved that it appeared she would not try to inflict any of her healing arts upon him.
"Please wait here then. I shall return shortly. You may make yourself comfortable. Lie down if you like."
The fear evaporated as quickly as it had come, and, having already dissolved his anger, he was left with a restlessness he could scarcely contain. He walked to the window, but even the stars could not soothe him, and soon his weariness drove him back to his bed. Meanwhile, a part of his mind managed to question how suddenly and acutely his anger had arisen and then left him. He thought back to when his anger had first stirred. His thoughts had been on Gandalf, and why he had left him as he went off to fight the Nazgûl. ...The Shadow? Could the Shadow arouse such emotions? He shivered as he thought of himself at the mercy of the darkness.
Legolas lay back in bed in one of his least favorite sort of places, and trained his mind on fending off the encroaching Shadow. Now giving it his full attention, he felt the weight about him like a wet blanket. It seemed to gather round him, pulling tighter until he felt smothered. He did not know if he could not abide this much longer. Legolas shivered and closed his eyes, trusting in Gandalf to free him from this oppressive darkness, and in the Lady Éowyn to fulfill her promise of food.
Gandalf stepped into the Golden Hall of Meduseld, where all was dark but a sconce at the far end, guttering in some movement of air.
Saruman stood before the throne, silhouetted by the torch. Turning to Gandalf, he noted his staff at once, and the wayward wizard's eyes faltered for the smallest of moments.
Saruman's attention had been to the side of the hall, in the deep shadows, where hovered a Shadow of substance. The cloaked Servant of Sauron turned to Gandalf, and after a moment of silence, released the cold hiss of a cornered animal. "You are an intruder here."
Gandalf waited calmly. In time, the Nazgûl took a step, then two, but not directly towards Gandalf. He kept his distance as he seemed to size up the newcomer. Gandalf turned in time with the creature to avoid turning his back to either the Nazgûl or Saruman, whom he trusted nearly equally. The wraith continued to walk the length of the Hall and only paused when he was directly left of Gandalf.
"Gandalf the Grey," Saruman said evenly, stepping off the dais and slowly advancing towards him. Gandalf reluctantly drew his attention from the wraith. For a brief moment, Saruman looked warily at the Nazgûl. Then he turned to Gandalf and was sure of himself once more. "It seems your followers have underestimated you. You do not appear quite as dead as they believed. What brings you to Rohan?"
The Nazgûl began to move again. Though the wizard's eyes were on Saruman, all other senses were trained on the wraith as he allowed it to pass behind him. As it rounded his opposite side, Gandalf slowly turned so that he once again had the Nazgûl in his peripheral view.
Gandalf's mouth tightened grimly as the other wizard approached. "I might ask you the same question, Saruman. Considering our last conversation and news that has reached me of late regarding of Isengard, that you have come to Rohan is of great interest to me. That you appear to have dealings with one of the Nine is of even greater interest."
"Of interest to you? What interest have you with Rohan? You seem to show a great deal of concern for these people. Ever you come, only to leave once more, claiming business elsewhere. Perhaps you have greater designs for all of Middle-earth, of which Rohan is only a part?"
The Ringwraith continued stalking his circle round Gandalf, now making his way up the right side of the Hall.
"Is that perhaps your aim, Saruman? You have been overcome with greed, which has brought you to do business with a Nazgûl. It is but a step from dealings with Sauron himself." Gandalf stopped when he saw the knowing look in the corrupt wizard's eye. "I see."
"It is quite easy for you to stride proudly into Edoras," Saruman said with a stomp of his staff, "question our plans, and decide who is just and who is unjust. But you stand alone. I stand before the throne of Rohan with the support of the king and his people. And - I have the support of the heir to the throne of Gondor."
The wraith's head snapped suddenly to Saruman. With no expression from which to discern the creature's thoughts, Gandalf could only use his instincts. And they told him the comment was unexpected. Had Saruman inadvertently revealed plans unknown to the Nazgûl? Plans in contradiction with those he had shared with the wraith? That would mean betrayal. Now Gandalf understood Saruman better. He never meant to follow through with whatever schemes he had made with the Enemy. How did he make an agreement with a Nazgûl - or Sauron - and expect not to see it through? Saruman was walking a fine line, indeed. Gandalf thought of the wariness in Saruman's eye. Perhaps the appearance of this wraith had been unexpected as well. Had Sauron sensed his potential betrayal? Sauron would not take duplicity kindly.
Gandalf returned his thoughts to the words Saruman had spoken and looked for the truth among the wizard's lies. For Gandalf needed no instincts to know Aragorn would never support such designs of which he suspected Saruman, but what did Saruman gain by claiming the man's loyalty? A better question might be: whom was he trying to deceive? "You stand before the throne of Rohan and treat with one of the Nine Servants of Sauron. You do so with the support of the king?"
"I do so for the good of Rohan," Saruman said confidently. "You would do well to work on their behalf for once, rather than always to your own ends. If you joined me in my efforts, we would accomplish much for these people, indeed for the world of Men. For this pact will save more than Rohan. All of Gondor and Middle-earth shall benefit."
Gandalf cocked a brow. "Gondor, is it? You seek now to save Middle-earth? And you turn to Sauron to do so?"
"If you have sufficient wisdom and power, you can treat with whomever need demands."
"And what do you need from Sauron, Saruman?"
Saruman only glared at Gandalf and kept his thoughts to himself.
There was another hiss from the shadows. "You have no business here."
Gandalf turned to the creature, but not before seeing Saruman's glare turn to a scowl. "Oh, but I do," he said sharply, wondering how far the wraith would push his threats.
"Saruman will fulfill his bargain with the Lord Sauron."
"And what bargain might that be?"
"Deliver the son of Arathorn."
Gandalf raised an eyebrow at the Nazgûl, then at Saruman. So that was the prize for which this creature crossed the Anduin and entered Meduseld. What would be Saruman's price? Would Saruman hand over the hope of all Men?
Saruman scowl deepened, his words laced with contempt. "Do not feign the naiveté you use so deftly with those who would call you friend. I am not so easily deceived. You have considered treating with Sauron yourself. It is in fact inevitable."
Ire sparked in Gandalf's heart when he heard no denial of the Nazgûl's claim. "You plan to pass off Aragorn to Sauron? You claim his fealty while you plan his betrayal! This is how you treat with Sauron?"
While Saruman offered no rejection of Gandalf's accusations, Gandalf sensed reluctance in Saruman for this arrangement with Sauron. Saruman had thought to continue with his own plans and set aside the pact with Sauron. This wraith that had come to collect on the agreement - mayhap unexpectedly - was merely a complication. Saruman's eyes were already on a greater prize.
"The agreement was made," the wraith rasped. "It shall be seen through." He slowly stepped forward, the threat clear.
Gandalf looked at the wraith. So he would not back down. What drove him here with such urgency? Did he doubt Saruman would honor the agreement? Had Sauron doubted Saruman and sent him? Gandalf suppressed a sigh. He cared not for the answers. He had had enough of talk.
"I beg to differ." He faced the Nazgûl and drew Glamdring from its scabbard with a ring of steel.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gandalf saw movement and knew Saruman made to leave, now that his attention was drawn away. He thought to hold back Saruman with a portion of his own power but would rather his attentions were on the Nazgûl. Gandalf allowed Saruman to go where he would. He would find the wizard easily enough.
The Ringwraith let out a screech that rang out through the night, and through Gandalf's ears, as the creature drew his own sword, glowing faintly in the dark. Glamdring glowed brighter, reflecting Gandalf's inner strength and power. Gandalf knew the creature could see that inner light and would know the extent of his power more fully than even Saruman did. Even so, the Nazgûl apparently judged himself an equal match for the wizard-returned. Beneath the wraith's dark mantle was visible a glimpse of the ghost-like image his body had left behind an age ago. Gandalf felt the power of the Nazgûl, but it was more of a semblance of power, a pretense supported by Sauron. Without the Dark Lord, the wraith would fade to naught.
The creature took a step forward, then another. Only then did Gandalf advance, eager to rid them all of one of the Nine, and swiftly brought up his sword to block the wraith's first strike. The swords met in a blaze of fire.
As the wraith's pale blade fell upon Gandalf once more, Glamdring blocked the blow with a sharp clang. Another strike came from the side. But Gandalf's eyes were swifter. He twisted and easily blocked it, his sword vibrating in his hands. Perhaps the wraith thought to outwit the wizard, and Gandalf's ire stirred as the wraith feinted and brought a strike unexpected from the left. Gandalf's hands were as swift as his eyes and he met strike after strike, sharp and hard. Refusing to give the creature an inch, he dug his heels into the unyielding stone beneath him. One strike rapidly followed another as their swords sang with the sound of battle.
The Nazgûl gave another screech that went through Gandalf's body. He wished it would not do that. In what seemed a second attack, the wraith brought down a rain of blows with speed beyond the ability of most creatures. Now Gandalf was forced back. Though he met each sword strike with one of his own, he relinquished one step, then two. Indignant over the loss, he would not allow this wraith to gain the upper hand. On the third lost step, Gandalf let out a roar and pushed the Nazgûl from him with his sword. Regaining some ground, Gandalf brought to his hands all of the power within him.
Glamdring glowed brighter as Gandalf moved faster. Matching the Nazgûl's speed strike for strike, their swords blurred in the dim light, and Gandalf's anger grew for this creature's audacity. As he thought of Saruman, of Aragorn, and the others the wizard had imprisoned, his fury ignited.
In the end, one of the Nine was no match for Gandalf the White. When one lucky strike slashed through his sleeve and drew blood, Gandalf's patience was spent. He turned on the wraith with speed few had seen from him. With each strike of Glamdring, now glowing enough to illuminate the entire hall, he pushed the Nazgûl back until he was up against the wall. Gandalf took the advantage and pinned the wraith to the wall with his sword, claiming his victory. If any had witnessed the battle, none would mistake Gandalf for an old man again.
The Nazgûl cornered, Gandalf plunged his sword through what was once its heart and ended its existence. Releasing a final screech, the Nazgûl collapsed into a pile a black cloth, its sword falling uselessly to the ground beside it with a final clang.
Gandalf stepped back and took a breath. Though satisfied, he would enjoy no revelry for this victory as long Saruman yet remained. The Nazgûl might have been a Servant of Sauron, but the confrontation with Saruman he knew must come perhaps daunted Gandalf more. To lay low one he had once held in such high esteem brought him great grief and nearly caused him to despair.
As Gandalf stepped away from the Ringwraith's remains, the shadow of terror that had hung like a damp rag over Edoras dissipated, freeing all who had been imprisoned in its grasp.
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.