17. Reunions and Returns
Legolas tensed when Éowyn entered the infirmary some time before dawn. After eating his fill, he had pondered the lifting of the Shadow he had felt keenly in the night, and wondered how Gandalf fared. Relieved to have the burden lifted from his mind, he found his thoughts drifting to the lady who had raised his curiosity, dozing as he awaited her return.
Once she sat beside his bed and prepared her supplies, he wished he had not been so eager. It seemed he would not be spared her therapeutic efforts after all, but he made one last attempt. "There are not many wounds that truly need tending, Lady Éowyn," he said, looking down at his torso and longing for a tunic. He looked up suddenly when he heard the startling sound of Éowyn's soft laughter. The clear, light tinkle soothed frayed senses within him, but for what could she be laughing? He frowned and decided it was rather inappropriate. "I have said nothing humorous."
Éowyn finally suppressed her laughter and had the good grace to look abashed. "Forgive me, Legolas. I am truly sorry. I do not demean your injuries in any way, truly. It is only that..." She had to pause as her mouth quirked again. "After so many legends have passed on to us of the unfathomable nature of Elves, you sit here in my infirmary and behave as any of the warriors who come through here. Perhaps they bleed from three places, but they insist they are in need of no aid from the infirmary. They are quite ready to return to their homes, or worse yet, to the battlefield!" Éowyn laughed again, but then became somber. "You have been held prisoner by Orcs for uncounted days, and yet you sit here and tell me that your wounds need no tending." Her expression dared him to contradict her. Legolas had no wish to do such a thing. But he was curious to know the result were the Lady Éowyn contradicted - by someone else, naturally.
But did he really wish to learn what Men considered healing? He sighed. If only he were strong and hale, he would have stood beside Gandalf as the wizard faced the Ringwraith. "It is only that most of my wounds will heal, now that I am able to eat. And I thank you for the meal; it was most appreciated," he said quietly.
Éowyn cocked an eyebrow. "You are most welcome, but food alone will not heal all your wounds, unless you have kept something from me on the healing of Elves. Will your broken bones heal themselves?"
Legolas looked down to his hand. He was forced to ask. "How - what is the customary manner - in which you heal broken bones?"
Éowyn looked at him keenly for a long time. "Have you been treated in an infirmary before?" Legolas nodded. "An infirmary of Men?"
Legolas realized the shrewdness of this woman, who had deftly struck at his source of unease. "No," he said with some force.
Éowyn only nodded. Finally she said stiffly, "Perhaps we seem uncivilized to you. Perhaps what we do makes no sense. But I am here to heal you, Legolas. If there is something I must do differently, then you need merely tell me."
Legolas looked at her mutely, surprised by her forthrightness, and nodded.
"Then I shall begin." She lit more candles and began to bathe the many injuries that covered Legolas's torso and arms. All the while, he tolerated the attention, sitting stiff with discomfort from the tenderness of the wounds, the bareness of his body, and the proximity of this peculiar woman. After too long and too many bandages, she also rebound his ankle and his wrists, where Gandalf had created a makeshift dressing after freeing him of his cuffs. The removal had not been as terrible as he had anticipated, and to be free of the cuffs was still a joy.
Then she began to examine his fingers. They were swollen and purple, bent in various unnatural positions. Éowyn sighed. "How many days have passed since you received this injury?"
Legolas frowned. The moments were lost in the jumble of pain that was his imprisonment. He shivered and shook his head. "I apologize, but I cannot say."
"Might you suppose one day? Two? Three? More?"
"I have been free from Orthanc for two days. So I can say it was more than that." He thought a bit more. "It did not happen on the last day, I think."
"At least three days, then. Would the bones have begun to heal?" Legolas frowned again in thought, then slowly nodded, sensing that Éowyn's expression did not bode well for him. "I must examine your fingers more closely, with my fingers. It will not feel comfortable, I fear. I apologize."
Legolas nodded, sighed deeply, and closed his eyes. He could not see Éowyn look at him in curiosity before she began her prodding of his broken bones. He gasped as she began, and he breathed deeply, trying to concentrate his mind on the Forest of Fangorn, where he had recently found his peace again.
"I apologize. If there is another way you know..."
Legolas shook his head, but tried to remain in Fangorn. While in Orthanc, he had trained his mind on his homeland forest. After a time, it no longer removed his mind from his torment. Now, when he thought of the Greenwood, he found he was reminded of Orthanc. Would he never find peace in his homeland again?
Éowyn was quiet after she finished probing the broken fingers. "The bones have begun to set," she said quietly. "There is only one way we know to straighten the bones once more. Perhaps you know another way that is ...less painful."
Legolas opened his eyes and looked at his misshapen fingers. As they were, he would never wield a bow again. He had lost Galadriel's bow to the Orcs. He could not lose his archery skill to them as well. He might never excel with the bow as he once did. But he would not give the Orcs his bow hand. He looked at Éowyn. "There is only one way we know to straighten these bones as well. You must do it." He tried to sound sure of himself, and prayed she did not take the tremor in his voice as fear.
"Are you certain?" Éowyn looked distraught. Perhaps she had hoped for superior elven healing.
"I am an archer. It is why the Orcs broke my fingers. As thus, I shall never wield a bow again. It is what they desired. I will not give them that."
Éowyn's eyes widened, but then a light came into her eyes, fierce and cold. "No, we must not give them that. I pray this will not be as terrible as what you have lately endured."
Fascinated by the change in her, Legolas thought he could imagine a sword in Éowyn's hand while she faced a spawn of Mordor. He suddenly had more confidence in her leechcraft and relaxed as she held his hand. Legolas looked at her. "It will not."
After time and pain he could not measure, Legolas heard a voice. "Your fingers are straight. They will heal properly. You shall wield a bow again, Legolas."
He gasped. Who was this? Such a voice did not belong in Orthanc. Nor did the softness he felt beneath him. Where was he? What was the meaning behind the woman's words? Were they the reason his fingers throbbed? His fingers... He gasped again as memory flooded back to him. He lay on a bed... He turned suddenly to the voice, opening his eyes. Shockingly, he found himself a hand's width from Lady Éowyn's face. He nearly laughed. "You are not an Orc!"
She gasped, pulling back, and looked at him with confusion. "No, I am not an Orc," she said slowly.
Legolas breathed heavily as if he had just escaped Orthanc once more. He looked about him. "This is the infirmary at Edoras."
"Yes," Éowyn said with a frown.
Legolas looked back at Éowyn and saw her bewilderment. "Forgive me, Lady Éowyn, I thought - I thought I was in Orthanc once more."
Éowyn looked at him, her eyes widening, and to his surprise, her eyes glistened with tears. "I regret to have returned you to your nightmare. I attempted to be gentle, but the task required more, I fear."
Slowly, he sat up and stared at his hand. Wrapped in thin linen and splinted, he could feel the heat and throbbing beneath. "You shall wield a bow again," she repeated as he continued to look at his fingers. He hoped his face showed his gratitude, for he could not imagine how to express it.
"How is the pain? I can make a tea that will dull the ache and help you sleep-"
"No, please! I will only return to those nightmares. I only wish to rest. Unless you have athelas in your stores?"
"Athelas? We know not that medicine." Legolas nodded and closed his eyes as a great weariness came over him. He would not sleep. He began to pull back his blanket.
Éowyn stayed him with a hand. "Where do you believe you are going?" The scolding tone of her voice nearly sent Legolas back to his childhood.
"I merely wish to walk to the window. Is that permitted?" He raised his brow in a mockery of her habit.
"You will do no such thing. Not just yet. Besides, I have not yet completed my inspection of your injuries. You must remove your leggings so that I may treat the wounds you surely received to your legs."
Legolas looked at her incredulously and clutched his blanket with his free hand. "I will do no such thing. I know not what your husband feels for you disrobing strange men, but Elves do not remove their clothes before a lady. It is poor enough to not have a tunic. But my leggings remain on my body. Not the entire army of Rohan could remove them."
Éowyn looked at him, several emotions passing through her eyes. "Well, I shall have to inform the storytellers that they were quite wrong about Elves in many respects. I must admit, I never expected you to be so ... modest," she said with a smirk that sparked Legolas's indignation. "You are so much like men, in certain respects, I can hardly note a difference.
"As for your assumptions," she continued, her voice sharp, "I have no husband to decide what I am permitted to do. As for our thoughts on disrobing in the infirmary, it is assumed the healers must observe the body. It is not considered improper here. As for your stubbornness, if it equals that of some of the men who have come through here, then I will not fight you, for I do not need to win that fight. Let your wounds fester. When they trouble you sufficiently, you will strip off those leggings gladly. But you should also know that my own stubbornness is accepted as the match for any man in Edoras. I said you shall not get out of bed, and so you shall not. Do not test me in this." Her tone suddenly softened. "Besides, another meal is ready for you. I thought you might be hungry again. I only have to call the cook's girl and she will bring it."
At the mention of food, Legolas was drawn out of his shock at Éowyn's lecture. He would ponder her words while he ate. Perhaps he would ponder the woman as well. But he would remain in bed if it meant food. By the stars, he had become a hobbit. He nodded to the Lady.
"Very well. If I find you out of bed on my return, the food will return to the kitchen. Am I clear?"
Legolas's jaw dropped. What kind of woman was this to even conceive of such cruelty? "I understand."
He ate heartily, hardly tasting the food. He knew, in fact, he would not have enjoyed the meal otherwise, but he would rid himself of this consuming hunger. Éowyn had made certain he also had a supply of water and he drank deeply.
Once the threat of food removal was moot, he indeed walked slowly to the window and enjoyed the simple view of the stars for what was left of the night.
Aragorn saw and felt Gandalf's discerning eyes rake over him quickly from across the Golden Hall and noticed the wizard's smile harden a bit. "Well met, Aragorn. I am certain yours is a worthy tale, and I long to hear it."
"Indeed, it is, and I long to tell you," Aragorn replied.
"I am quite certain," Théoden broke in, "that Aragorn's tale of his journey to Edoras is impressive, but I seem to remember that Orcs from Mordor march to Rohan as we stand here. We ought to first discuss battle strategy. The time for long tales will come soon enough."
"Of course, lord," Gandalf replied.
"But more important," Théoden continued from his throne, "you have labored long and hard all this night, Gandalf, and Lord Aragorn has not taken rest as well. Now the sun forewarns of a new day. I suggest we close the night and begin the day with a meal. Thus fortified, we can speak long on all things of war."
"Sound reasoning, Lord Théoden. I agree wholeheartedly," Gandalf said. "My friend here appears in need of more than one meal." Aragorn smiled ruefully, regretting that his appearance told so much of the tale of his hard journey.
As Théoden directed a guard to call for a meal to be prepared, the door to the Hall of Meduseld opened and Aragorn turned to see Hama walk in, then stop short as he saw the king. "My lord, I did not expect to find you here at this hour. I thought to alert a guard that I wished an audience as soon as you had risen. There are two new prisoners I wish to bring to your attention."
"Prisoners? I heard nothing of new prisoners," Lord Théoden said with a scowl. "Well, I have already risen. You may as well bring them now."
"Eh, yes, my lord," Hama said hesitantly. His eyes narrowed and he took a few steps more to the king.
The king smiled. "Yes, Hama, I am your king once more."
A hesitant smile broke out on his face as he struggled to understand. Then he smiled broadly. "I shall return shortly, my lord."
Théoden sighed and looked at Gandalf. "I suppose you shall hear your tales now. The meal shall have to wait for a short time. And likewise must talk of battle wait. It is early - the sun has not yet risen."
Aragorn understood the king's concern. The sky was beginning to brighten with the approach of dawn. With that light came Mordor.
"The sun shall begin stealing what time we have soon enough," Gandalf said. "Once you have seen to the prisoners, we might have our meal and our discussion at the same time. Then will we address how to meet Sauron's Orcs, and decide whether we wait for them to meet us here in Edoras, or go out to greet them in the fields of Anórien. Without Saruman's army of uruk-hai to fight them, strategy will be critical. We must also consider the role Saruman was crafting for Gondor and how we might respond. They may be in more need of aid than we." Théoden nodded his agreement, deep in thought.
Instead of two, three came through the door to the Golden Hall behind the doorwarden. Pippin followed closely behind his cousin and Gimli. Perhaps Pippin wished not to leave his cousin's side, now that they had been reunited. The three surveyed the scene in an instant, and the hobbits promptly forgot they stood before a king.
"Gandalf? Gandalf!" said Merry, then Pippin. "It is Gandalf!" Merry ran the length of the Hall to him and hugged him fiercely. Aragorn was briefly amazed at how easily the hobbits accepted the return of the wizard.
Gimli was not far behind the hobbits. "I never thought to see you again, my good wizard." Gandalf let out a boisterous laugh as the three members of the Company surrounded him.
"How? When? How?" Pippin said in a rush. "Actually, I don't truly care for the answers. Only that you're here - you are really here?"
Gandalf nodded. "Yes, Pippin, I am. It warms my heart to see you all. Remember, Gimli, we never know who or what we are going to see around the next bend. Are you the prisoners of whom Hama speaks?"
"They are. Now come. We must approach the king," Hama said to the two.
"My lord," the doorwarden said upon reaching the throne, "these two arrived last night, they say with news for Rohan. It was Grima who judged they should be imprisoned. I thought rather that you might wish to hear their tale and decide for yourself their fate."
"And the other?" Théoden said with a frown.
"That is the cousin of the holbytla. He was brought with Saruman, as was Aragorn." Aragorn looked at Pippin, who hung back with Gandalf. He had missed that smile on the hobbit's face.
King Théoden sat back on his throne and looked at the two for a long time. "What cause did Grima claim for their imprisonment?"
"They were found in Rohan without permission, my lord, and so were trespassers. But I believe he did so to keep them from you."
Théoden looked at Hama thoughtfully. "You have already been called wise once today. Mayhap for the second time are you deemed wise, and before the rising of the sun. I will hear their tale."
Merry and Gimli stepped forward to stand before the king. Merry spoke immediately. "I would like to apologize for trespassing, sir."
Théoden looked intently at Merry. "What is your name?"
"I am Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire, lord. And if I may, we call ourselves hobbits, sir."
"They are holbytlan, my lord," Hama offered.
"Yes, yes, I see," Théoden grumbled. "But they prefer to be called hobbits, and hobbits they are, then."
Gimli spoke up. "I am Gimli, son of Gloín, lord, from the Lonely Mountain. I was imprisoned with my friend Merry by Saruman in Isengard before being imprisoned here by Grima."
"Isengard? You were imprisoned by Saruman as well? It seems Saruman has had far greater schemes than we knew." Aragorn wondered how much of their tale Gandalf knew. He had not had time to share all of Saruman's plots and so the fates of the others were likely unknown to him. But then, he was Gandalf.
Gandalf turned to the king. "Lord Théoden, these stout people are some of the characters of this tale you have had to piece together belatedly. They are part of a Company that set out from Rivendell on a Quest given to them by Elrond himself."
"Indeed," Théoden began. "You are an impressive group, and I see you at the end of many pains. You were certainly more formidable as you stood before Elrond, and I have no doubt in his choices of you for this Quest.
"But trespassing is against our laws. Such a decree seems to have been necessary in this dangerous time." So the two were in fact guilty, then. Aragorn worried over what the king would decide for them. "But I would know what news it is you have for Rohan that you would come from Isengard on foot to bring it."
Merry and Gimli look downcast. Aragorn ached to know the whole of their tale. While in the jail below, they had not been forthcoming with great detail of their ordeal and journey. Or rather, they had shared much of the story to a point, then had grown silent. "We had planned to warn you of Saruman's plans," Gimli said, regret roughening his voice. "But we were too late."
King Théoden nodded and was silent. At length, he spoke again. "Yes, you were late. We learned for ourselves of Saruman's treachery, and we have seen to him. Regarding the law against trespassing, it is also true that it was of Grima's making, not my own." The king went silent again for what seemed long. "You came onto Rohan's lands without permission - but for honorable purposes. I see no reason to continue your imprisonment."
As Aragorn released a breath he had not known he held, there was a collective sigh as the others did the same. "We thank you for your mercy, lord," Gimli said.
Théoden nodded in acknowledgement. "You have traveled far from your homelands. I must say, all hobbits must live in the Shire and nowhere else, for none here knew of your people save from children's tales."
"Well, tell all your children that we are certainly no tale. We are true and alive."
Pippin, having clung to Gandalf while Lord Théoden made his decision, now drew away from the wizard's side to return to Aragorn. He grasped the man by his arms, forcing him to bend down to the hobbit. "Are you well now?" It seemed Pippin had not relinquished his role as his caretaker. "Was there a Black Rider?"
"Gandalf has rid us of the Ringwraith. For myself, I improve every moment. All about me seems clearer," he said quietly, as the king continued to speak with Merry and Gimli.
With a knowing smile, Pippin went on to test him. "You know where we are, then?"
Aragorn smiled at the hobbit and was grateful for his attentions. "We are in Edoras, in the Hall of Meduseld. I have spoken with Théoden and Gandalf on Saruman's deceptions and now the king discusses Merry and Gimli's imprisonment. I have had to explain myself to the king. I believe I did a passable job." Aragorn smiled at Pippin, but felt the eye of Gandalf on him.
"Have you told them all of Saruman's plans for Rohan? The Orcs that are coming to Edoras? And the Orcs from Mordor coming - coming for you?"
He sobered as he thought of the Orcs' mission, and the Nazgûl's likely reason for coming to Edoras. But then he looked at Pippin and his heart lightened a small bit. "It seems that Gandalf has taken care of it, Pippin. I believe, in fact, that he already knew all of it. Gandalf has changed, as you will learn, but in some ways, Gandalf is still Gandalf."
Once Lord Théoden had finished speaking with Merry and Gimli, they turned again to Gandalf, Aragorn, and Pippin, while Hama remained to speak more with the king. When Gandalf assured them that Saruman was no longer a threat, Pippin looked immeasurably relieved to hear the news. Aragorn briefly worried over the cost to Pippin for his time serving the errant wizard.
While Pippin interrogated his two small friends further, the Ranger saw Gandalf's attention focus on Gimli - on his wrists. Gimli still wore the shackles the Orcs had used to imprison him. Made of iron from the looks of them, Aragorn knew not how they would remove them. Gandalf's interest puzzled him. Suddenly the wizard's expression changed to one of surprise, as if he had suddenly remembered something. Did he know how to remove the cuffs? Aragorn hoped so, for Gimli's sake.
Gandalf turned to the king. "Lord Théoden, pardon the interruption, may I request that you call for the Lady Éowyn?" Gandalf stepped closer to the king to speak with him once more, with an urgency that puzzled Aragorn.
"Had the Nazgûl already departed when you arrived, Aragorn?" Gimli asked quietly, unable to wait until Gandalf finished his conversation with the king. "For we sensed its leaving as we ascended from the jail."
"Yes, it had, but not in the way you might think." Aragorn gestured behind him, revealing the black robes left behind by the Ringwraith. In their distraction, they never saw Gandalf meet Lady Éowyn at the door and speak with her for a few moments.
On his return to the four of them, Gandalf said, "It is a wonder to see you all here. The Valar are indeed wise."
"Yes, we are nearly all here," Gimli said quietly. Then his eyes lit up and he looked at Merry. "Come, Merry. There is one thing we must do. Gandalf, would it be possible to approach the king once more?"
"Yes, yes, of course," Gandalf responded, his brows furrowed in a question, but he simply led them to Lord Théoden.
Gandalf returned a moment later to the line of pillars to which Aragorn had withdrawn with Pippin. When Gandalf rested a hand on Aragorn's shoulder, the touch was a balm to his mind and body. "Your mind is clear, I take it?"
"It is ...clearer than it has been for many days. My will is my own again. But much that Saruman clouded for me remains in a fog. Pippin has been informing me of the events of past days, but some I hear as if for the first time. Those days may be lost to me."
Gandalf scowled. "How did Saruman cloud your mind?"
Aragorn was momentarily chilled to remember. He could only whisper, "I believe Saruman obtained a Seeing Stone, a palantír, Gandalf. He put my hands onto the Stone again and again." He closed his eyes with the memory. "It wearied me beyond telling. Then his voice..." Aragorn sighed and gave up his attempt at describing his torment.
Gandalf frowned deeply. "I want to see this Stone. But I begin to understand. I do not know if I can restore all that you have lost. But mayhap this shall help." Gandalf then brushed his hand across Aragorn's brow.
Aragorn was still. The caress of Gandalf's hand was a waterfall as refreshing as Nimrodel's waters. He breathed deeply and felt strong for the first time in days. Opening his eyes, he smiled and felt at last to be the man he once was. The Ranger had returned.
Gandalf smiled. "Better."
Aragorn nodded. "Not all memories have returned, but you have dispersed the fog," he breathed deeply. "I can see my way again."
"Thank you, Gandalf!" said a voice from below. Pippin looked up at the wizard, brimming with gratitude. "I tried to keep him abreast of all that had occurred lately, but I couldn't make him remember, not like you could. I couldn't make him Strider again!" Pippin beamed at Aragorn for a moment, then sobered. "Don't worry about giving him back all of his memories. I've told him, there are some things you just don't wish to remember."
Aragorn grinned. "To be a hobbit." He crouched down and put his hands on Pippin's shoulders. The young hobbit's smile was as soothing to his heart as Gandalf's touch had been to his spirit. "I cannot thank you enough, Peregrin Took, for all that you have done for me. You tended to my arrow wound, which would have killed me. And you did your best to keep me from madness in a place of only madness. I have you to thank for my very life. I shall never forget it."
But as Aragorn spoke, the smile slipped from Pippin's face, and Aragorn saw the guilt that still plagued the hobbit.
"There is no need to thank me, Strider," Pippin said somberly. "Perhaps now I have repaid the debt I owed you, though I shall never feel I have done enough to make up for what I did." Pippin's head hung low, his voice small. Peregrin Took, though much changed by his ordeal, was still Pippin.
Aragorn opened his mouth, then closed it and eyed Pippin. He had already said what he could to rid Pippin of his notion of debt. He took his hands from the hobbit's shoulders. "Pippin, do you mean to say that all the tending you did for me was only as payment for the debt you feel you owe me?" Pippin looked up at him, confusion mingling with the misery in his eyes. "So had you not owed me that debt, you would have left my wound to fester and kill me? You would have left me to Saruman's nightmares and madness?" Aragorn cocked his head in question.
Pippin opened and closed his mouth. Then the words burst from him. "If I had owed you nothing, Saruman would have never known who you were!"
Aragorn sighed and bowed his head. "I arrived at Isengard with that wound. It was not your doing. And we have discussed my thoughts on Saruman's discovery of my identity. I hold to what I said that day. He would have learned my true name eventually. But he would have been much angrier with me had he felt I had tried to keep the knowledge from him. And I would have paid dearly for his anger." Pippin looked up at Aragorn, apparently unconvinced and still miserable. Aragorn sighed. "Pippin, I said there was nothing for which to forgive you, but if you have need of it, you already have my forgiveness. Now, you must forgive yourself."
Pippin's eyes welled as the final straw was laid. Before he could protest, Aragorn gathered Pippin in his arms and Pippin grasped him for all his worth as his tears flowed.
In a few moments, Théoden spoke again. "A meal awaits us, so that we may break the fast of this long night. And there remains much to discuss of battle. But I first ask that you all approach the throne." They drew near to where Théoden stood, one of his guards close by. Gimli and Merry stood beside him, each wearing oddly excited expressions. The king looked to each of them, appearing far stronger than when Aragorn had first entered the Hall. "Warriors have few needs on such missions so vital as a Quest appointed by Elrond. But every warrior must have his weapon. Upon your capture by the Orcs, all of your weapons were taken from you by the beasts, were they not? They would be missed dearly by each of you, I am certain."
"Indeed, lord," Aragorn answered quietly, his hand moving to the pommel of his sword. "In truth, even during the torments I have suffered of late, I cannot say I had not given thought to my lost weapon. It is an heirloom of my house, and they are fewer for our recent trials. The Sword Andúril cannot be replaced, and it has proved its worth once more in what it has done for me."
"I am pleased it aided in restoring you. It happens that your sword was not all that was discovered on the fields of Rohan. With it was a traveling pack filled with rather interesting items." Aragorn's eyes widened as the guard brought forth his old pack. He had forgotten the bag, though not what had once been within. What had been left after the Orcs' had ransacked it, he dared not think.
The king drew out of the pack two small daggers, one a match for the other, amazingly still in their scabbards. Any more he had to say was cut off by the cries of Merry and Pippin.
"My knife!" they said as one.
"I thought we might quickly learn to whom these belonged." Smiling, he handed the hobbits their daggers.
"Gimli, they found our knives!" Merry said, looking at his weapon in wonder. Pippin had already strapped his on.
Aragorn smiled. He should have realized the Orcs would want nothing of these knives of old. They had been bound with spells by the Men of Westernesse, and the Orcs would spurn them, as they had his and Legolas's weapons.
Pippin asked, "Was not Gimli's axe among the weapons?"
Théoden looked to Gimli without the smile he had borne for the hobbits. "I fear no axe was found."
"You will not find it," the dwarf said darkly. "The Orcs took the axe for their own. I have no wish to hold that weapon after it has been used by an Orc."
Lord Théoden nodded solemnly, then reached into the pack once more. Aragorn noted that Gimli, Merry, and Pippin looked on with equal curiosity. This was not part of the scheme Gimli and Merry had plotted with Théoden, he decided. Then all consideration halted when he saw what the king held in his hand.
"My ring," he whispered. "The Ring of Barahir." He looked upon it in awe. More ancient than all they held, it had been created by the Elves, and so an Orc could not bear its touch. "It is the heirloom of which I had spoken as lost." Aragorn's throat tightened unwillingly, and he quickly reached for the ring and returned it to his finger. "I cannot thank you enough, Lord Théoden."
"I am not finished!" Théoden said gruffly, then smiled. "There is one other item the scouts found on the fields of Rohan." The king nodded to the guard, who went obediently to the side door. Aragorn hardly dared to hope for what would be brought out next. And indeed, the guard walked in with Legolas's bow and handed it to Gandalf.
The five reunited friends fell silent.
Gimli said in a strangled voice, "He held that bow more dear than anything I know. Would that I could return it to him. I wish to hold it for him if he cannot."
Merry put a hand on his shoulder and then turned to Gandalf, face twisted in misery. "When we made our escape, we could not go back for Legolas. We had to leave him..." He trailed off, unable to continue.
Gimli finished for him, his voice rough and forceful. "We left him hanging in chains in the depths of Orthanc, days ago. I swore I would return for him and I shall." Aragorn shuddered to hear what they had not shared earlier. It was clear at last why they had not gone on with their tale.
Gandalf rested the bow on its end. "Perhaps you yet shall be granted your wish." He turned to the rear of the hall and nodded, and a guard opened the door behind them.
"Legolas," Éowyn said, as she entered the infirmary and the elf scurried back to his bed. "Yes, do jump into bed before I arrive. I shall never know you were out of bed again." She sighed, sounding weary before a smile found its way onto her lips. Legolas briefly regretted that he was such a difficult patient. "Gandalf would like to see you."
Legolas nodded. After sensing the departure of the Enemy, he had thought Gandalf might come to the Infirmary to free him. "Has he spoken with the king?"
"Gandalf has done much in recent hours," she said, her smile growing more cryptic, and she gestured to the doorway.
Legolas rose from the bed, eager to leave. He had already considered sneaking out, but had stopped at the thought of Lady Éowyn's wrath. He tugged on his borrowed tunic. It felt odd and was too small for him, but he was grateful for it just the same. As he moved to the door, the woman stopped him.
"Here." She began wrapping a cloth around his neck and arm.
"What is this?"
"This will rest your hand while you are standing. Else, while the fingers are so swollen, the blood will not flow properly. It will become uncomfortable."
He stared at the contraption into which she had tied him. His protest was halted by the easing of the pressure that had already grown in his fingers. Reluctantly, he accepted the sling. Éowyn led him to the king's Hall through corridors wan in the morning's light.
The woman slowed before the doors to the Hall. She peered at Legolas curiously, then looked him over as if judging his appearance. She tugged on a sleeve, but it was simply too short. His leggings just reached his ankles, but at least they were without holes. Apparently deeming him acceptable, she wore a strange hint of a smile as the doors opened.
The hall was dim, but Legolas clearly saw a group of people at the opposite end of the hall. They turned to him as one and his breath caught in his throat.
"Legolas!" The hobbits ran for him, and after a moment of shock that froze him still, Legolas grabbed the hobbits and hugged them both with his free arm.
As they grabbed at Legolas, he winced though he laughed as well. "Merry! Pippin! What a wonder to see you! I knew not if you lived or what fate Saruman had left for you," he said in a voice he was dismayed to hear so rough. "It is a joy to know you are well and whole and together."
"Actually, we weren't together until a few hours ago," Merry said, concern mixing with the joy in his eyes, "but that's a very long story. You'd best have a seat and a drink were we to begin it." Legolas smiled, overjoyed to hear hobbits speaking of food and drink.
Aragorn approached with a smile on his face. "It seems the Valar have seen fit to bring us all to Edoras." He threw a knowing a glance to Gandalf.
"When did you arrive, Legolas?" Merry asked. "How?"
"I arrived with Gandalf last night, many hours after sunset. How that came to be is another long tale."
"I assure you all," Gandalf interjected, "I did not keep his presence from you deliberately. I fear I was a bit preoccupied with a Ringwraith and a corrupt wizard."
Legolas's brow darkened as he scrutinized Gandalf and his words. "Do you mean to say Saruman is here in Edoras?" he said sharply.
"He is. Our encounter concluded ...as it must."
Legolas was surprised to hear the note of regret in Gandalf's voice. The elf's brow furrowed, but he had no interest in deciphering the wizard's words. "You have seen to them both, then?"
"Yes, yes. Théoden has imprisoned Saruman. He will keep for the moment. The Nazgûl is no more." Legolas thought it peculiar to imprison a wizard, but for now trusted Gandalf's judgment. There was clearly more to the story. As the hobbits barraged Legolas with more questions, he kept an ear on Gandalf's conversation with Éowyn. "He is greatly improved since I left him in your capable hands. I was right to trust you."
"I am pleased you think so. At times I felt I could do little for him but cover him in bandages." As he clutched his torso surreptitiously, she added, "I told him that rib was broken, but he would not allow me to wrap it!"
"You have wrapped my entire body in gauze," Legolas answered, turning from the hobbits. "I beg you leave some part for me to see my skin!"
Éowyn looked at Gandalf with an impatient look. "He may have survived the torment of Orcs, but he will not live much longer if he must remain in the infirmary."
Gandalf grinned. "I would expect nothing less. Had he been compliant and obedient, I would have feared the elf was near death." Legolas shot Gandalf a scowl, but the wizard avoided his eyes. "And if I may ask, where did you find a tunic and leggings that would fit an elf?"
She smiled. "My brother was gracious enough to lend them. His raiment does quite fine, I think, for his is rather tall. Now, after clothing, feeding, and tending to Legolas's wounds as best as I am able, I fear I can do nothing more for him."
"You may bring me food, Lady Éowyn," the elf interrupted again with a smile. "As you have done. I told you, food is all I truly need to heal."
Pippin looked to Merry. "He has become a hobbit." Legolas laughed, and it seemed an age had passed since he had last felt such joy.
"It is a wonder to know you are alive and well, nearly well, that is," Merry added.
"I am nearly well, Merry. I am most greatly improved by seeing all of you." And with that he rose to greet his taller friends.
Gimli and Aragorn approached him more cautiously than the hobbits. Their critical eyes raked over Legolas, and he knew his many wounds, his pallor, and gaunt appearance would not go unnoticed. But, unbeknownst to Legolas, the deepest wound was plain to see for those who looked in his haunted eyes.
Gimli stood, mouth opening then closing, hands fiddling with his beard nervously, a strange expression on his face. Legolas was curious, for he had never seen the dwarf in such a state. Nevertheless, relief flooded him at the sight of his friend. "Bless the Valar, you survived." But Gimli remained silent, and something in his nervousness stayed Legolas's feet, for he could not go to him.
Aragorn stepped into the awkwardness. "My friend, my heart is greatly eased to know you live, though it is pained to see proof of all that you suffered." Legolas regretted that so many bandages were so easily visible. "But you have improved, I hear, under the Lady Éowyn's care." Legolas's expression softened and Aragorn smiled. "I only hope you did not drive her from her role as healer forever."
Now Legolas grinned. "I did my best." He did not look at Éowyn, but thought he might pay for the comment later.
Aragorn took a step closer and touched a hand to Legolas's loose hair, a smile quirking at his lips. "And what is this? No braids?"
Legolas's grey eyes grew dark. He raised his right hand, displaying his splinted his fingers. "I cannot braid my hair," he said flatly. "I am simply satisfied my hair is clean." Aragorn nodded silently, looking abashed.
Whispering beside him irked Legolas, but he turned to see Merry and Gimli smiling, clearly scheming. Then Gandalf smiled and nodded to a guard, who went to the king sitting at his throne. Legolas frowned.
"Come, Legolas, ought you not pay your respects to the king?" Gandalf said.
"Of course, Gandalf." Legolas walked as smoothly as he was able, under the eye of all, the length of the hall to the throne.
"Greetings, King Théoden of Rohan," he said with a low bow. "I apologize for tarrying to the throne. Truly, I am honored by this audience, and by the hospitality of the Rohirrim, as well as the care your healers have shown. The Rohirrim are a fine people."
The King smiled. "I thank you for your noble words. No harm done in your tarrying. Such a reunion of friends is a rare sight. It warms the heart. I was informed there was an elf in our midst, but I fear that is all I know of you."
"Forgive me, lord. I am Legolas Greenleaf, of the realm of Greenwood the Great, known to many as Mirkwood, ruled by King Thranduil."
"Like your friends, you have traveled far from home."
"Yes, we all have."
"I am pleased to say I - we - have something for you, as I understand it." He glanced at Gimli, who with Gandalf had come to stand beside the king. Aragorn, the hobbits, and Éowyn stood quietly behind Legolas, who turned to Gimli.
Gimli grinned mischievously then sobered suddenly as he stepped forward, clearing his throat and grasping his hands. "Legolas," he began, with great weight in the name. He was silent a moment before starting again. "Some losses are unrecoverable, and some are returned as gifts." With that, the guard turned from the throne holding what Legolas had never dreamed of seeing again.
Legolas stood as still as stone. As the guard passed the bow to Gandalf, Legolas's eyes followed the weapon, growing wider as it neared. When he did not take it from Gandalf, Gimli prompted, "It is yours, Legolas, and it is real, you have my word."
Legolas's left hand drew out slowly to grasp the bow. He then freed his right hand from the sling to run his splinted fingers along the weapon. His mouth hung open as he peered at the bow, inspecting every inch and every rune. "My bow," he whispered. "I thought it lost." He caressed it reverently and felt a part of himself no healer could touch begin to heal.
"It is truly by chance that this weapon has returned to you," Merry said. "While Gimli and I made our way to Edoras, we came across scouts returning from far across the land of Rohan. Actually, they came across us, and it was good, for without them, I don't know if we would have made it here at all. But as they were about to return to Edoras with us on their horses' backs as new baggage, Gimli spied the bow poking out from one of the scout's packs. There is no bow such as this, I know you'll agree, and as soon as Gimli saw it, he questioned the scout. The man said he found the weapon in a field, where there seemed to have been a scuffle, leagues and leagues away. Aragorn's sword was close by. They must have lain just where you had been captured all this time. And to think, those who found them were the very scouts of Rohan who would return them to Edoras where you would soon arrive!" Merry finished with a smile.
"And bless the Valar for it! This gift brings me more joy than I can express, Meriadoc Brandybuck. But I will say I feel still more joy to see you."
Gimli came forth then, playing nervously with his beard again. Then he looked up at Legolas intensely, clearing his throat. "I am more gratified and gladdened than you can ever know," he said quietly, "to see you here in Edoras, free of the Orcs. But, I - I must beg your forgiveness." At his words, Merry came to his side and laid a hand on his shoulder. Gimli looked at Merry, something passed between them unfathomable even to Legolas. The elf's senses prickled. Gimli continued. "Merry found me in Orthanc, by chance loose from my chains after they had given me water, and so we were able to find our way out of the Tower, climbing up a vent, of all things!" His left hand gripped tightly around his bow, Legolas was motionless, unable to take his eyes from Gimli as he spoke, his face suddenly taut, heedless of the rising tension in the room. "Once we knew we had found a passage that might lead out, we began to go back to retrieve you, but Saruman had come down to the Pits. He was speaking to the Orcs. We could not return! We had to go on-" Gimli swallowed, "- without you. I - I pray that one day you can forgive me for that." Gimli looked up then, eyes pleading.
Legolas listened to Gimli's words, but found himself drawn back to the Tower, envisioning their escape. With his broken hand, Legolas could not have climbed out of the vent. It was possible that by that time, he was also too weak, he had to admit. How Gimli had accomplished the same he knew not - perhaps dwarves were indeed the superior race. But Legolas had been chained to a wall. There had been no way to free him without losing their chance at freedom. Nevertheless, however long he mused over it, he could not shake the sense of having been left behind. Though he had prayed for Gimli's freedom and well being, once out of his chains and making his own escape, he had longed for his friend's presence, if only for the comfort he might provide. Legolas's feeling of abandonment had nothing to do with his reason or wits. His heart longed for assurance that his friends would have done anything to free him. Without explanation he could fathom, Gimli's words were not enough.
Legolas had not realized Gimli had finished speaking, and silence filled the room. His expression did not change, his posture moved not a hair. All seemed to wait for his response. Only, he had none. A long silence followed, in which was heard only Gimli's shuffling.
Finally, Legolas managed, "I understand," but he was unable to put any sincerity into the words.
Gimli stood before him, eyes clasped shut, denied the forgiveness he sought. Merry's hand grasped one friend's shoulder as the hobbit looked bewildered at the other. Legolas tried to find within him what Gimli asked of him, but he found nothing.
"Legolas, you should return to the infirmary to rest," Éowyn said suddenly. Legolas had forgotten her presence, but was suddenly glad for it. "You have been out of bed quite long enough. And I will see about having another meal brought for you."
Still ill at ease, Legolas felt himself began to relax as he looked at her. He nodded. "I am yet weary." He turned from his friends, clutching his recovered bow, and left the Golden Hall with Lady Éowyn.