2. Chapter 2
Late next afternoon we set out with Théoden and his men. Gandalf led us on a road between the trees of the strange wood and I could feel the wrath around us, as palpable as the throb of a drum. Gimli, riding again with me, felt it too and was much afraid of the odd trees. I wished to explore, to learn the secrets they spoke to each other but Gimli turned the conversation to the Glittering Caves of Aglarond. He spoke so eloquently of the wonders beneath the mountain that I agreed, should we have the fortune, to travel with him one day. I would take him through Fangorn and he would show me the glory of the caves.
At last we rode from beneath the shelter of the wood and I looked back, reluctant to leave the trees behind. As I did, I saw strange eyes within the cavernous gloom, peering out to watch our departure. I turned to go back, but Gandalf stayed me. It was not my time, he said. Yet even as I watched, tall creatures walked forth from the trees and sounded their voices like trumpets over the land. They were joined by more of their kind and we all looked on in amazement. "Ents!" I whispered, awestruck. Gandalf told Théoden that his eyes were seeing what, until now, legends only had described. Shepherds of the forest Gandalf called them, and I marveled to hear their ringing voices and watch them stride into the trees on long, branchlike legs. If only my Elven-Lord could see this sight, I thought, even his ancient eyes would be much amazed.
We rode until midnight but the mortal king must stop to rest and so we halted, looking upon the rising haze from the Wizard's Vale as the vaporous plumes spiraled upward in the moonlight. Our company made camp and the others rested but I watched the curls of steam or smoke rise from the Vale, wondering what it might portend. A strange, creeping darkness edged up the dry river, heading our way. I felt vibration as from afar, but within moments the watchmen were raising he alarm. Gandalf told the men not to draw weapons for the danger would pass us by. I held my breath as the rustling and groaning from the towers of shadow rising on either side of the river filled my ears, though even my eyes could not penetrate its blackness. I felt not danger but rather a searing wildness, like the violence of nature given free rein by a controlling higher power. Though the men were afraid, I could feel the threat within the mysterious shadow posed none to our company.
The men would sleep no more that night but just as I lay down to rest, the sound of rushing water startled me and the dry river bed came alive as water from some unknown source splashed over the rocks; a final enigma in a night fraught with mystery.
At dawn a heavy fog hung over the land as we rode slowly into the Wizard's Vale. The land was desolate and unkempt, with brambles and tangled brown grasses covering the untilled fields. The groves of trees were cut, the stumps twisted and dead. The air was thick with smoke and steam, diminishing my vision and making the dread in my heart kindle anew. All at once a massive pillar loomed before us, a carven white hand pointing north atop it. The mist drew close around me, unbearable, and if not for Gimli shifting in the saddle the vision might have taken me again.
Gandalf rode past this pillar and we followed, the mist cloaking the way ahead. Wide pools of water began to appear beside the road as though the land had been recently flooded. We continued on until Gandalf halted before the gates. The massive doors lay in ruin; the roof of the tunnel through the black rock had been ripped away and, ahead, lay the black tower of Orthanc with its windows like many eyes. I shuddered.
My attention was pulled from the tower by the sound of a familiar, piping voice. Merry! And Pippin too! Sitting upon the rubble beside the gates. The young hobbit spoke to the Rohan king with gracious tongue and I could not but smile to see them appearing so natural and unharmed. Hobbits were hardy creatures indeed. Gandalf asked after Treebeard. Merry relayed the message that he had gone to the north on some labor but that he desired to speak with Gandalf.
Gandalf and the Rohirrim left Aragorn, Gimli, and I to catch up on news from our small friends. My heart lightened as we took our ease, along with some welcome meat and drink. Then, as the mortals smoked I lay gazing up at Anor and the pale blue sky, my spirit for a moment lifted, a song upon my lips. It was soothing to be near Aragorn with no danger about, listening to the small conversation, my mind drifting to pleasant thoughts upon the smoke of their pipes.
Aragorn asked for the story and Merry and Pippin told their tale, as startling and wondrous as I could never have imagined. The Ents had laid waste to Isengard in their terrible wrath and Saruman had fled to his tower, where he remained with the Rohir advisor, Wormtongue. I sneered in distaste at the hated name.
Pippin finished his tale and we entered the tunnel and proceeded to stand before the dark tower. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and a tendril of dread snaked up my spine. There was power here, as dark as the dungeons of Dol Guldur but diminished, like a shadow of a black boled tree. Darkness stirred within me, seeking, searching, and I turned my attention quickly to the surrounding area to distract myself. Gandalf and the Rohirrim were returning. I called to the others for us to go meet them.
Gandalf was grave as he talked of confronting Saruman. Aragorn, Théoden, and Éomer were to accompany him and I was relieved to be left to sit with Merry and Pippin at the bottom of the stair. But Gimli would have none of it. We, as representatives of our kinsmen, must come as well. I cursed my friend at that moment for I did not wish to hear the voice of the traitor Wizard.
We mounted the steps behind Gandalf and presently we heard the voice of Saruman speak from the balcony high above. We looked up to see him standing at the balcony rail, in a hooded cloak and holding a black staff. The shifting colors of his cloak hurt my eyes and I looked away. His voice was seductive, his words twining through my thoughts like ivy creeping over stone. The thing within me answered with a seething rage that tore at me as though trying to break from my body. I grasped the wall behind me for support. Gimli answered Saruman then, his words blunt and bold. For a moment the spell faltered and Saruman's ire was plain to see in his dark, glittering eyes. He recovered quickly and spoke again to the Rohan King. Théoden was falling under his spell, staring dumbstruck, but at the last he managed to free his will. Gandalf took up the parley, promising to allow Saruman to leave his tower and go, even unto Mordor if he wished. Yet the old Wizard's pride held and he hurled insults at Gandalf, who shattered his staff with a ringing command.
An object hurled from the window barely missed Gandalf as it bounced down the stair. Smooth as polished marble it was and it glowed with a heart of fire. I gasped as it struck the step beside me and I saw the flames within. A murderous rage shot through me, my hands balling into fists. My eyes fell upon Aragorn and a frightening vision took me: Aragorn beneath the blade of my knife, his throat bared to my stroke, his eyes pleading for mercy I would laugh to deny. The vision passed, leaving me weak and sick at heart. I would sooner plunge my knife into my own breast as think of harming Aragorn.
We departed from Saruman's sight and I hastened to the bottom of the stair, breathing heavily. Shaken, I watched Pippin retrieve the thing Wormtongue had thrown. Gandalf took the stone from the reluctant hobbit and concealed it within the folds of his cloak. I was glad for I feared to look upon it. Gandalf's sharp gaze caught me and I gave him a small nod to let him know I still held.
Satisfied, Gandalf led the company through the gates and there we met Treebeard. When he turned his measured gaze upon me, my earlier wrath and fear fell away and I was again an Elf of the forest, jubilant to meet the fascinating Ent and talk with him of journeying to Fangorn with Gimli one day.
Again we rode and made our camp. My dozing mind was veiled in darkness and frightening shadows shaped into fell beasts before my eyes. Wolves barred our way and brambles tore at our clothing, hindering our movements. I came awake with a start. Had I heard a cry? The camp was astir, men running toward where Gandalf knelt beside a stricken hobbit. Pippin! The stone lay covered upon the ground and I turned away. I could not bear to look upon the scene.
Pippin had looked into the stone and been caught by the Dark Lord, questioned and tormented by him. Fortunately he had taken no damage from the encounter. I was relieved to hear this; the poor fellow had been through so much already. But I was frightened as well. Sauron thought Pippin was in the tower of Orthanc and was eager to retrieve him. If he knew I was on the quest, would he be able to reach into my mind as well? Would he even need the stone?
Gandalf seemed to think it a lucky chance that Pippin had looked into the palantir, but the hobbit's pale face beneath his curly hair belied this suggestion. After Pippin had been taken back to his bed, Aragorn took charge of the seeing stone.
"Be wary," Gandalf told him.
"When have I been hasty or unwary, who have waited and prepared for so many long years," said Aragorn. He turned and looked at me and, though I tried to remain composed, I yet trembled before him and averted my eyes. Had he noticed my plight upon Orthanc's stair? Did he think me a traitor too?
"We have a small time of doubt before the Enemy realizes his error," Gandalf said, "time we must use. To Helm's Deep!"
The camp was in motion, everyone scrambling to gather their gear and get to their horses, when suddenly the moon went black. Cold and fear gripped me and my hands flew to cover my eyes as the Nazgûl wheeled overhead, flying away to the north. I knew not how much longer my spirit could withstand the darkness that fed upon and nurtured it.
In a haze of near hopelessness I watched as Gandalf, with Pippin in tow, rode away to Minas Tirith upon Shadowfax.
"Whither shall we go now?" I asked, forcing myself to focus on the present and put the Ringwraith from my thoughts.
The Rohirrim will assemble in Edoras, but I must take a different road," Aragorn replied. "And any who will go with me."
"I will go!" I cried, with more zeal than I felt.
"And I!" cried Gimli.
Upon the road, word came that horsemen followed hard behind and we turned to challenge them. Éomer shouted for them to identify themselves and they answered that they were Rangers from the North, seeking Aragorn.
Aragorn's face lit with joy to see Halbarad, a Dúnadan companion, along with a company of Rangers and the sons of Elrond. They said they had been summoned and Gimli and I wondered over that.
"It must have been the Lady," I told Gimli, for had not Gandalf mentioned her words of the Grey Company from the North.
"Would that we had wished for some of our own kinsfolk, Legolas," Gimli said wistfully.
A shadow fell upon my heart. "They have no need to join us in war," I said, "for already it marches upon their lands."
Gandalf's words returned to me, 'You may return to your home and fight with your own people. If Sauron is destroyed, the distance might be enough to spare you.' But it was not for myself my thoughts were troubled, but for my father and my people.
We were called to board, but Gimli and I followed Aragorn and his kinsmen while Merry went to eat at the king's table. We talked of many things, of perils and chances, and Elrohir spoke of Elrond's message to Aragorn, of the Paths of the Dead. Yet as we talked, my thoughts were ever upon the seeing stone that Aragorn had taken into his charge. What would happen should he use it to reveal himself to Sauron? Could the Dark Lord gain access to me through him?
At last Aragorn went to speak to Éomer of the muster of the Rohirrim. It would be three days before any could ride to Gondor. I could see in Aragorn's eyes that his decision was made in that instant. He must take the road to the Dimholt. We went into the Hornburg to take our meal and Aragorn told us of his struggle with the palantir. He had revealed himself to the Dark Lord and his strength was sorely tested, but he had prevailed. My fear that Aragorn's thoughts might reveal me to Sauron proved unwarranted. I was much comforted and at the same time grateful for the example of Aragorn's unwavering strength which I carried as my banner in moments of doubt.
Aragorn told us of his decision and, though I had guessed it rightly, yet was Gimli reluctant to take this road. Still, he would follow Aragorn and so would I. We left the Hornburg, went out to meet the Grey Company, and were soon riding swiftly over the plain. By the next midday we had passed Edoras and that evening came to Dunharrow. There we met again the shieldmaiden of Rohan with her pale hair and eyes. She begged Aragorn to let her ride with our Company, but he refused. She was much displeased. I felt pity for her yearning to do great deeds of valor and renown yet have to stay behind to safeguard her people. Ever it is thus with nobility that we must look to the needs of others before our own.
Her desire was not only for battle, but for Aragorn as well. I could see it in her eyes when she looked at him, the way her manner changed when she was near him. Were my feelings for him as obvious? I thought of the pretty elf maids who had vied for my attentions through the years, though I'd had no desire to return them. I hoped I had never made them feel dismissed like this Rohan maid, just as I hoped never to feel Aragorn's rebuff. Perhaps Sauron's curse had taken from me the ability to bond with another. It made me wretched to think on it.
Sleep was increasingly difficult for me, and with our path laid out now before us, with another battle looming, I sat while the others slept and looked at the stars flickering above. I sent a silent plea to the Powers that my courage and strength not fail me in the trials to come, for the sake of my comrades and my people.
Upon the grey dawn we entered unto the Dimholt and there, under the gloom of black trees whose voices spoke of great hardships and terrors, we came to a hollow where a great stone stood in our path. Arod would not pass, nor would the horses of the Company. At last I placed my hands over his eyes and sang of green grass and cool water until he would suffer himself to be led.
Within the mountain we followed Aragorn, who walked ahead with a torch, and ever as we halted we heard the sound of many dread, whispered voices speaking strange words we could not understand. Aragorn held his torch high and shouted into the darkness, commanding the Dead to follow to the Stone of Erech, where their oath to Isildur was made ere it was broken.
We passed through the mountain and rode swiftly, with the Dead following. Gimli gripped me tightly and I could feel him tremble against my back. I looked around and could see the shapes of men and horses, banners and spears.
"The Dead ride behind," said Elladan. "They have been summoned."
At the Stone of Erech, Aragorn blew upon a silver trumpet and called upon the Dead to fight and fulfill their oath. A voice answered him, as from afar, and pledged him its allegiance, the voice of their king. Halbarad unfurled the banner and upon the next morn we rode into the storm of Mordor, beneath the evernight of a starless sky.
We rode to Pelargir, and there came upon the ships of Umbar. Here it was I heard upon the Anduin for the first time in my long life the cry of gulls wheeling overhead. The war shrunk from my thoughts until there was nothing but the song of the sea beguiling my heart to its eternal rhythm, until not even the darkness within me could withstand the power and majesty of its song.
Fifty great ships of Umbar there were, and many smaller vessels also, when Aragorn called upon the Dead to fulfill their oath. They swept through the fleet, driving the mariners and warriors before them like leaves before an autumn wind. The men fled in fear, throwing themselves overboard in their haste to escape. I looked upon Aragorn with new eyes as Andúril opened a path through our foes. What might he have done with the power of the Ring? What a great and terrible Lord he would have been. I both loved and feared him in that moment, now knowing why Sauron was bent on the destruction of Isildur's heir.
The wailing and clanking chains of the slaves rose to terrible pitch ere the ghostly army had done their work. Aragorn and the men of the Company went upon the ships and freed the captives then, offering them comfort and cutting them from their chains. My heart went out to these broken men, their plight stirring unpleasant feelings within me but no clear memories.
Aragorn released the Dead from their oath and they vanished like mist in the dawn. We were joined then by a great number of men from Lebennin and the Ethir, while Angbor the Fearless of Lamedon came with many horsemen. Aragorn chose the largest of the ships as his own and we sailed up the river with Aragorn's standard unfurled. At first it appeared our efforts might bring us too late to the battle, but a wind from the sea sprang up and bore us swiftly to Harlond. The battle raged on through the day and into the next until Sauron's forces were overcome.
The Steward Denethor was dead and his surviving son Faramir lay near death in the Houses of Healing. The Rohan King had met his fate upon the fields of the Pelennor and Éomer was now King of his people. Aragorn made his camp outside the city and entered only to treat the sick, who were ill of a strange, deadly malady the healers had not seen before. Athelas he used, and the power of the green gem given him by the Lady. Merry, the Lady Éowyn, and Faramir were healed and awoke from their troubled dreams. Aragorn and the sons of Elrond worked far into the night within the healing house and the city. At the last Aragorn departed to his tent to take what sleep he could in the uneasy calm before the coming storm.
Early the next morning, Gimli and I met with Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, and he took us to the Houses of Healing. As we walked through the city of stone I lamented the lack of growing things and birdsong. Already in my mind I could see the beauty my people could bring to this city. . . trees here, flowering shrubs there, and fountains with the cheerful song of water to liven the listless stone.
We came unto Merry and, despite the early hour, Pippin was at his side. They petitioned us to tell our tale and I told them of our dangers and trials. While we thus took council with our small friends, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the Captains of the West made their own council. Thus was it decided that the force of the armies must come before the Black Gate to challenge Sauron. My moment was drawing near and the dismay Gimli must have felt upon the Paths of the Dead was now laid like a weight of iron upon my heart.
I went forth to speak with Aragorn in his tent outside the gates of Minas Tirith. Slow were my steps but this doom, which had been long in coming, could no longer be delayed. He received me graciously and I sat with him, not speaking for long moments as I collected my thoughts. He waited and did not press me.
"Long ago, or so it now seems, you saw me stumble upon the plains of Rohan," I said at last.
"Yes, you told me your quiver strap had come loose," he replied, "I knew you spoke false."
"As I feared," I said glumly. "Do you then know, as do Gandalf and Elrond, of the blight within me?"
Aragorn's grey eyes were veiled in sorrow. "I know only that Elrond counseled me to be watchful of you. I have observed you as we traveled, seen times when fear gripped you, when your eyes were far away as though looking upon a different world. My heart has been troubled for you, my friend."
"Ai, there were many times I wanted to tell you, Aragorn, but I did not want to trouble you or have you think me unfit to continue. Forgive me my folly. Gandalf tells me I have a false memory from my past, of an encounter with a wolf, but that I was actually a captive of Sauron. I do not know what it means, nor does Gandalf, but he and Elrond wanted me to join the quest, to allow whatever plan the Dark Lord has set in motion to play itself out through me. Just as our foray to Mordor will focus Sauron's attention away from Frodo, so shall my presence aid that cause, but in what way I cannot tell."
"And you wish not to go?" Aragorn asked, the relief in his eyes apparent. "I would ask no more of you beyond the service you have given thus far. You have fought bravely and followed loyally. Your keen sight and hearing have informed us of happenings afar and saved us from peril. I could not have asked more from Glorfindel or the sons of Elrond."
"You misunderstand, Aragorn. What I have done I have done out of love for you and my people. I wish to see our quest together to the end, to take part in this final battle. What I ask is not your leave to abandon this charge, but to be allowed to follow you to the end, even should it mean my death."
Aragorn's eyes glittered with admiration and devotion. "I cannot ask this of you. . ." he began.
"No, you will not. Only your leave to go do I ask - and one thing more."
"Whatever is in my power to give you, I shall," Aragorn said, "for such is my love and esteem for you."
"Then I will hold you to your word as Captain and King," I said solemnly. "If whatever Sauron has planted within me blooms in the darkness of Mordor, and I should lose my will or my wits, I beseech you to kill me or order my death."
Aragorn's face went ashen at my words so that I almost could not bear to look upon him, but I held his gaze as he spoke.
"What you ask is more than I can bear, should I outlive all my kinsmen. This I cannot do. You must remain here and help safeguard the city, and not come before the Black Gate."
I smiled thinly and laid my hand on his. "I am not a shieldmaiden to be denied my place at your side out of duty to my people. I am a Prince of the Great Wood whose folk fight Sauron's forces even now beneath beech and oak, and you are a King, a man of honor, and have given your word."
"What you ask of me is grievous indeed, Legolas," Aragorn said, "that my first act as king should be the death of a friend as beloved to me as Gondor. I gave you my word in haste but to it I shall hold, though it pains me greatly."
"As I knew you must," I said. "My hope is that when the darkness comes upon me, Frodo has reached his mark and that his aim is true. Or if his is not, that yours shall be."
"If Frodo fails, I will not fail you, my friend," Aragorn vowed gravely. His grey eyes glistened and I swallowed with difficulty.
Aragorn rose then, as did I. We embraced and I felt the rigidity of his body against mine. Even though his bearing would not allow him to show it openly, I sensed his feelings for me were deeper than mere compassion. But while I was averse to causing him anguish, I yet knew that, having once given his word, he would not waver from his pledge.
In two days we made ready to ride. Gimli and I were in the vangard along with Aragorn, his Rangers, Gandalf, and the sons of Elrond. My will was as steel as we set out, seven thousand strong, riding east to Mordor. We passed through Osgiliath and the ruins of Old Gondor and onto the Cross Roads. Aragorn set trumpets and heralds to announce our arrival but the call went unchallenged. We left a force at the there to meet any warriors that might come from the Morgul Pass, diminishing our number. The vanguard continued on, scouts riding ahead and trumpets proclaiming the return of the King but still no answer was made.
On our second day's march from the Cross Roads a strong force of orcs and Easterlings attempted an ambush, but they were soon routed. The men had begun to despair and this small victory did little to cheer them. From that point onward the Nazgûl began following us, flying so high above that only my eyes could perceive them. I wondered that they did not descend in order to drive the men before them in fear, but Sauron could afford patience I supposed.
Then came an end to the living lands, and so great was the desolation that some of our force, daunted, were unable to force themselves to go on. Aragorn took pity on them and gave them leave to go, asking only that they try to retake Cair Andros and hold it until the end, for Gondor and Rohan. Some of the men left to do his bidding but others, moved by his words, overcame their foreboding and stayed.
I felt the fear and horror that lay upon this land as keenly as the men, but rather than despair I was invigorated as from a draught of the Entwash. I would have set Arod to a Shadowfax pace in my haste had not Gimli's talk of hewing orcs brought me back, again and again, to our cause and lent me strength.
We made our final camp and I moved away from the others, looking into the darkness of the East. I tried to cast my mind to agreeable thoughts, but instead a suspicious wariness stole over me. I looked at the tents and fires and imagined the men, watchful and afraid. The hope of the West rested with such as they? The thought brought a scornful sneer to my lips. Weak and fearful, they followed a man whose lust for power would doom them all. Why was I in such a company? Were not the Elves greater than any race in Middle Earth? And now we must fade and go into the West so these "might-have-beens", as Gimli had named them, could seek lesser glory?
Contempt stirred in me and cunning thoughts rose. I had played the game well, pretending to be an ally so I could plan the moment of their destruction. Now my hour was drawing near. . .
Wolves howled, things half seen stalked the perimeter of the camp and I smiled slyly. I had much to think on this night.
The next morn brought us at last before the Black Gate and I saw at once the folly of Men to think they could take so great a force as Sauron possessed with this ragtag host. Aragorn arrayed his soldiers like child's toys before the gate and sent up a great cacophony of horns such that my ears ached to hear it. Wisely, Sauron made no sign. What need had he to fear?
We rode up to the gate, Gandalf the chief herald, and he bade Sauron come forth so that justice might be done upon him, Men's justice. My hand grasped the hilt of my knife. One strike and the would-be king and usurper would fall. But no, the Dark Lord had a delightful surprise before the hammer stroke. My fingers relaxed as a door within the Black Gate opened and Sauron's lieutenant rode forth.
The Mouth of Sauron he called himself, but little was I impressed. I recognized his cruelty and knew it to be less than my own. He showed us Sam's sword, an elven cloak, and Frodo's shirt of Mithril mail. Pippin reacted with horror and Gandalf silenced him. Typical of the old fool to try to control a situation over which he had no power, I thought. But Gandalf seized the items from the startled man, threw his offer of terms back in his face, and Sauron's lackey fled back to the safety of his master. The Dark Lord would have fared better with an Elf as his emissary. I laughed to myself and shook my head.
Drums rolled, fires leapt, and from the opening gates swarmed Sauron's armies. Orcs and Trolls thronged from the rocks about us, and came up from behind. We were surrounded! Gandalf stood with Aragorn, Gimli and I. Imrahil, Elrohir, Elladan, and the Dúnedain faced the gate. We maneuvered into circles, our backs to each other, our weapons facing outward. Then out of the gathering gloom the Nazgûl flew and our doom was ensured.
We fought, I not the least, for I had no wish to die from an orc arrow or troll club until my task was complete. Aragorn stood upon a hill, his banner flying in the sere winds, his eyes gleaming like stars. Hatred erupted within me as oil poured upon a flame. A path opened before me through the orcs, who ceased to harry me as I sprang forward. My knife was in my hand, glinting in the light of the blood red sun, as I took Aragorn down. I was atop him, pinning his arms to his sides with my knees. I wrenched his head back by the hair, baring his throat. The astonishment in his eyes was a joy to behold, but even as I raised my knife, a sudden hesitation gripped me as though some other force controlled my hand.
A cry went up from the embattled men "The Eagles are coming!" It barely registered in my consciousness for the blade was at last upon Aragorn's throat. . . The blow was struck! My eyes rolled back, and in that instant all was darkness. . .
Black were the dungeons of Dol Guldur, and none who entered therein escaped alive or unchanged. I would never know how I got there, but I was set to stoking fires, day and night, no rest, no sleep, and a whip at my back, a blow or kick whenever I faltered. My labor was long and my mind wore away slowly, the repetitive, endless task sapping my will until not even despair could penetrate the faer-ravaging exhaustion. And when I was too depleted to think, to feel, I was taken in shackles down a long hall. Water seeped from the walls and no torch or light penetrated the darkness, but the screams could be heard ere my captors brought me to the door at its end.
Inside the room was a scene I was certain had not been witnessed since Maedhros had suffered the evils of Angband. Elves were strung from the ceiling, bound to racks of wood, chained to walls. Their bodies were twisted, rent, mutilated, as orcs worked upon them with implements of iron. I cried out and closed my eyes to horrors I would never be fully able to erase from my soul.
"Behold the fruits of your labors, Master Elf," a voice said behind me. I turned to see a tall figure robed in black. No feature of face or form could be seen except for two glowing yellow eyes - the eyes of a wolf.
"How can this be?" I stammered, my voice barely audible from my chapped lips.
"The fires you have been stoking have been put to good use, as you can see. Your labor has birthed from our forges these devices and many more as well. The creatures I seek to create here are beyond your poor imagining but perhaps one day you will meet them in another place and they will know you as their sire.
He laughed then, a sound at once harsh and beautiful, like the music of iron and silver bells rung together. Overcome with terror I tried to bolt but hands seized me, fingernails like claws tore deep gashes in my bare chest.
"Not so fast, my dainty. Your torment is only begun, and shall last as long as my power lasts, and longer if I can devise it. His nails pierced my scalp and blood poured into my eyes.
"No!" I cried, "Adar!"
"Ah, so your grandsire was Oropher. A weak spirit in a fool's body; and your father is scarcely wiser. Let me see what I can do with you. . ."
I blinked eyes stuck closed as from long disuse and tried to move a tongue that seemed too big for my mouth. Aragorn stood over me, his face grim, a knife in his hand. I was stripped to the waist, bound to a cot. There was a slight weight over my heart. Aragorn looked into my eyes and I looked into his. I remembered what I had done and nodded, unflinching, accepting. I blinked once. He raised the knife.
He cut my bonds, wrists and ankles, then sat down beside me, ordering me to lie still. I felt a throb of warmth above my heart and Aragorn lifted the Elessar and showed it to me before placing it around his neck. I lowered my arms stiffly and flexed my legs. Long moments passed in silence before either of us spoke.
"What I have done carries a sentence of death," I said.
"That is for the King to decide," Aragorn answered, "and his decision is for leniency. Your actions were Sauron's last gambit, not your own. If ever his power was such that he could control you, he would use you to kill me."
"A last hope for him as Frodo was the hope for us."
"Frodo succumbed to the Ring at the end," Aragorn said.
"Then how. . ."
"The creature Gollum. His greed drove him to madness. He gained the Ring but, in his joy, overstepped the chasm and plummeted to his death, taking the Ring with him. "
"Then his escape was not without advantage," I said thoughtfully. "My people were tormented by our failure to fulfill our charge."
"Yet without him Frodo and Sam would not have completed the quest. Our victory was, in the end, truly a narrow thing. We never know whence our paths my lead us."
Neither of us spoke for a time.
"I did not feel it, the change, not until the last," I said.
Aragorn looked pained. "And I did not perceive it in you, nor did Gandalf suspect, nor Elrohir or Elladan. None of us saw."
"It is as Gandalf said, Sauron could not be defeated by armies or the strength of our wills."
"Yet you fought him within you, perhaps the greatest battle of all. I saw your hand falter. I saw the opposition in your eyes."
"I would not have won that battle, I fear." I lowered my eyes. "Who struck me?"
"Gandalf, right after he spied the Eagles. He witnessed you take me down. How he got to us in time I do not know."
"I wish to see him," I said.
"He is with Frodo now. I have been working with you, and Elrohir has helped as well. You spoke of much torment, but I believe the evil Sauron planted in you died with him."
"I feel different now, lighter than I have felt since. . ." I trailed off. "So Frodo is alive?"
"Yes, and Sam. They went through many trials but they live, and Gandalf is tending them."
"I am glad for them, for it would have been an insupportable thing if their trials had brought them to death."
I sat up and Aragorn offered me water. I accepted the cup and drank, looking at him over the rim.
"The Fellowship has come through the war unscathed, except for poor Boromir. Alas, that he did not live to see Gondor restored," Aragorn said pensively.
"Yes, alas for Boromir," I said. I fell into thoughtful silence. His fate might well have been my own had circumstances been otherwise.
"But the darkness has passed and a new day has dawned. I am glad you are here to greet it with me, my friend," Aragorn said warmly. "Frodo and Sam are to be honored tonight with a feast, or such as we can pull together in haste upon a field of victory."
Gandalf came into the tent. "The hobbits are asking for you," he told Aragorn.
Aragorn looked at me. "With your leave?" he said with an apologetic smile.
I nodded and returned the smile, this time with genuine affection.
Gandalf examined me and proclaimed me sound. He could detect no blight or shadow within me. I told him of my torment in Dol Guldur and he said I must let what memories remained go and think on it no more. I recognized the wisdom in his words, but knew it would take much time.
"After you rescued me and returned me to my home, things were different," I told him. "Did my father know?"
"He knew as much as I did," Gandalf said.
"Everything changed when I left the healers. He would no longer allow me to patrol or, indeed, leave the Greenwood at all. He never told me why," I said sadly.
"What might he have said? He did not know how your captivity had affected you or what Sauron did. He feared for your safety and your life."
"Then why did he allow me to go to Elrond's council?"
"Because I told him it was the only way you could be truly healed. He wept with joy and pity when I told him, so that I could not bring myself to tell him the danger," Gandalf admitted.
"When next we meet, I think things will be much changed between us," I said hopefully.
"You have come into your own, Legolas Greenleaf. He will be most proud," Gandalf smiled.
He left and I remained in the tent for a time before getting up and putting on my tunic. I wandered the camp, spoke to Gimli, and listened to the stories of the men and songs of the minstrels. Everything I heard and saw was as with new eyes. I tasted the air, scented the growing things in the fields, felt the pulse of Middle Earth beneath my feet, all as though for the first time.
That evening, we feasted and I smiled to see Frodo looking uncomfortable in his kingly raiment, a circlet upon his head. Sam sat by his side, and Merry and Pippin close by, catching up on their adventures with the lightheartedness of their race.
When evening turned to night, I went again to Aragorn's tent. I entered to see him sitting in his chair dressed in his Dúnadan clothing, smoking his pipe, looking like the man I had met when he was a brash young Ranger.
I sat and took the wine he offered me, smiling at him like a well-fed Hobbit.
"What are you thinking?" he asked with a grin.
"I was thinking of when I first met you, how bold and sure you were for one so young, 'A man worthy of the crown he will be one day,' I said to myself. Now you are King, yet despite your trials and hardships you are to me still the young man who came to my father's halls on an errand for Gandalf, and whom I loved then and ever shall."
"I feel much older, I fear, but that is a concern for another day."
We talked for a long while, about Frodo, about my curse, about the war. Eventually the conversation turned to what we must do now. Aragorn must go to the city and take up his birthright as King, and Gimli and I would help rebuild the city before we set off on our travels. I told him of my plans for Ithilien and Gondor. I would bring Elves and growing things, and gardens would spring up where only bare stone and untended fields had been before. I became so excited and animated with the telling that Aragorn's eyes lit with enthusiasm as well.
Suddenly an impulse took me and I leaned over and kissed his lips. Startled, he stopped speaking and stared at me in wonder.
"Why did you do that?" he asked.
"I have always wanted to, and now that the shadow has passed I felt it would not be unwelcome. Was I mistaken?"
"I have ever desired that you might," he answered, "especially since we have been traveling together. Many nights have I longed to lie with you, to touch you and feel your touch."
"It could not have happened before," I said sorrowfully. "I would have been unable to return your affection. But now I feel my attraction to you has quite overwhelmed my reason."
"Reason be hanged," Aragorn said, seizing me by the shoulders and kissing me forcefully.
I tensed at first, unsure, when Aragorn gripped me but his ardor was so palpable I quickly grew excited, feelings stirring within me such as I had never experienced before. My hands rose to grip Aragorn's forearms for support, the sinewy muscles pliant beneath my fingertips. I felt Aragorn's breath, soft against my cheek, his tongue warm and alive slipped past my lips, and a soft moan escaped me.
Aragorn pulled me into an embrace, breaking the kiss to graze warmly upon my throat. We rose as one, pressing our bodies together, and I found myself sliding a hand beneath Aragorn's tunic, stroking the Anor-kissed skin of his torso. I felt Aragorn's breath catch and discovered I liked the feeling of making him gasp. I moved my hand up, brushing a nipple, and Aragorn sighed against my neck, making me shiver.
"Estel," I whispered reverently.
"Greenleaf," Aragorn replied, and I trembled with unexpected lust at the raw passion in his tone.
He was patient with me, coaxing my body to ever higher tiers of pleasure with each touch of his fingers or lips, and I did my best to make him feel the same as I. Then we revealed our bodies one to the other, and heat rushed through me at the flush of desire I saw rise beneath his tanned flesh. The pillar of his manhood stood proud, glistening like the snowcapped spire of Mindolluin in the candlelight. The cot was too narrow, so we lay upon a pallet of wolf pelt on the ground of the pavilion. His eyes were like the first grey light before dawn, gentle and trusting as he lay beneath me, his neck bared to my stroke. But this time it was my tongue that struck the blow, caressing him from ears to shoulders, drinking in the soft moans that sighed from his throat. With only such preparation as he would allow, I entered him, and he opened to me with just enough resistance to make my taking of him sheer ecstasy. Slowly, tenderly, we moved together, the harmony of our lovemaking filling the tent, until we were driven like leaves before the wind of rapture that swept us to our release.
We lay together contentedly until Aragorn fell at last into slumber. I got up carefully, so as not to disturb him, and covered him with a blanket, watching him fondly for a long time before I dressed and went out into the night. Gimli was on his way to see Frodo and I joined him. We met Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf sitting under the trees talking of matters of great import and none. There we told the hobbits of all that had happened since the breaking of our Fellowship.
Near dawn the party dispersed, the mortals and Gandalf going to their beds, but the soft breeze blew and the scent of spring was on its breath. To walk these fair woods would be rest enough for me, rest enough for a hundred years. To walk and think and plan and dream of the dawn of a new day. Aragorn was King, the song of the Anduin was in my heart, and here, above all shadows, at journey's end, I was free!
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.