10. Chapter 10:Fangorn
For Curiouswombat, Oshun, Vectis, Arduenna and Lamiel, Lalaeth. Thank you for taking the time to write and review and huge thanks to Anarithilien for the sensitive and clever betaing. And also for Mienipies, Corday, Shiro-Kuro, Kimsa-Ki-Lurria, Vanimeldre-Melindel and Jaye- hope you're still out there!
I had intended the last chapter to be the last, but there was lots of encouragement to keep going and this plot bunny really really was cute so instead of shooting it, thought Saruman needed a pop at Legolas instead!
Disclaimers: All Tolkien's, we are only playing. Legolas did not sing bawdy songs about Gandalf etc.
Warning: AU m/m implied and referred to.
Chapter 10: Fangorn
Aragorn slid his sword into its sheath and cinched his belt as he strode through the small company preparing to ride with Théoden to Isengard. A tall Rohirrim warrior greeted him as he passed and he nodded a greeting. Horses stood ready, Hasufel was already saddled and stood resting one hoof, eyes sleepily half-closed. Aragorn stroked the horse's velvet nose. He glanced around and saw that Gimli was gathering up his small pack and Eomer stood close to Legolas now, laughing and bright–eyed.
Legolas was flushed slightly, and Eomer had his hand on one of the white knives Legolas carried and was tracing the engraving on the blade, his eyes fast on Legolas. Aragorn supposed that Eomer, having never met elves before, was interested in the weapons of Mirkwood elves.
Aragorn became aware that Gimli was standing at his side. He could feel his warmth against his arm. He glanced down.
'Good morning Gimli,' Aragorn greeted his companion.
The dwarf nodded. 'He is in fine spirits,' he observed, nodding towards Legolas.
Aragorn studied the elf. Legolas was animated and lively, his lips parted and his eyes merry. He smiled at the sight for it was good to have something else to focus on. His thoughts kept straying to the golden haired woman who stood on the steps to watch them depart. He felt again the warmth of her regard for him and he could not help but admire her for her courage and loyalty. He glanced down at the dwarf. Gimli's beard was looking a little frayed at the ends where he had been chewing it. Aragorn frowned; he had not noticed that habit before.
'He is getting on well with Eomer,' he ventured, looking back at the elf. 'It is good to see them laughing.' he added.
'Aye, that it is, after all this destruction and gloom, it is good to see him recovered,' Gimli answered. He looked at the Ranger shrewdly, 'And you, Aragorn? How do you fare now that your path is clear before you?'
Aragorn paused. Now that it was clear, as Gimli said, his heart faltered as it had in the aftermath of Gandalf's fall in Moria. He remembered the moment when he had lost his faith in himself; Legolas had not faltered however. He had never doubted, nor had Gimli. And there was his promise to the dying Boromir. He felt the heat of the dwarf beside him and realised that their faith gave him the will to go on. Gandalf too was returned to them – but it was a huge task before him and he knew Denethor of old. It would not be an easy road- for here came the man to supplant him bearing news of his beloved son's death.
He sighed. 'I go now to Gondor for she is beset by the Enemy. But I fear we are too few…' He looked around at the small company and then beyond to the men of Rohan who had survived the battle and were even now preparing to return to Meduseld. 'Even if Théoden comes to Minas Tirith with all those men he can muster, it will not be enough.'
'Your friends are with you Aragorn,' Gimli said firmly, 'Whatever your path, ours is also.'
Aragorn could not speak for a minute. 'Do you speak for Legolas also?' he was finally able to ask. This unlooked for faith gave him a sudden surge of emotion, gratitude and confidence mixed.
Gimli barely paused before he answered, 'Aye, I think I do. For he is steadfast as a dwarf, and his heart is as true.' The dwarf hefted his axe in one hand and glanced around. 'They are looking to move off Aragorn. You must lead us out now. Let them know who you are.' He gave the man a gentle push and turned to look for his own mount.
Aragorn put his foot in the stirrup and swung himself astride Hasufel. He gathered up his reins, turned his head and rode way from Helm's Deep.
As he passed the White Lady of Rohan, he raised his hand slightly and dipped his head. He could not help it for she stood tall and straight and proud, and he saw her quality.
Gimli watched Legolas swing himself lightly astride Arod and was now looking down at him and smiling. He stretched his hand up to the elf who grasped it and was swung up behind him onto the horse. Gimli drew in a breath as he always did…it was a long way down. He tried to relax as Legolas told him and let each muscle untense and smooth, but it did not really help when the horse surged forwards. He glanced over towards Eomer and wondered if he would be better off riding behind the man, but he also seemed full of fire and red meat after the great victory.
He grinned and waved to Gimli, then cantered towards them. 'Good day, Gimli Ironmaster,' he shouted, for many of the Rohirrim had begun calling Gimli this after he had worked the forges at Edoras with such skill.
Sunlight caught Eomer's hair and the helm he wore. The long horsetail that streamed from the crest of his helmet blew across his face in the wind and his horse danced beneath him. Firesomething, Gimli recalled, although he had no interest in names of horses. Aragorn's horse, Eomer's horse, Legolas' horse. That was as much as he needed to know. It was a horse. Useful but still a horse.
'Good day to you Eomer,' he called. 'You ride with us to Isengard?'
'Indeed. I have much that I wish to say to the wizard Saruman.' He laughed cheerily, pulling his horse alongside them and facing Gimli. 'None of it good! And I wish to see for myself what destruction has been wreaked in my land,' he added more soberly. 'The last time I saw the Fords of the Isen I was sorely pressed and bearing news of Theodred's fall. It was a grim time for us all… and then it was that we met with you, Master Dwarf, and with you, Legolas.' He looked at Gimli's companion.
'Did you sleep well, my lord marshal?' Gimli asked.
The dwarf frowned for a deep blush suffused Eomer's cheeks but the man smiled and answered 'Aye, and you?'
'Indeed,' Gimli said cheerfully, 'I slept like one of the Fathers themselves, for I had a bellyful of good ale and food. Good company and high spirits did me well too.'
Legolas grinned at him widely. 'I slept like I had run a league and back!'
Eomer laughed aloud and he filled his lungs with clean free mountain air. Eomer looked up towards the Keep and waved his hand to Eowyn, who stood on the steps. She did not see him at first and then smiled. 'I am glad to see my sister happy, free from the horror that clutched at all our hearts. And thanks to you, ' he turned fondly to Legolas, 'we are all free of that. I think she is happy,' he smiled softly, 'Her thoughts turn to love I think.'
Gimli gave a stifled gasp and dug Legolas in the ribs, hissing 'I warned you! Now you've done it.'
'Me? What have I done?' Legolas whispered back, wriggling away from Gimli's prodding fingers. 'I suppose Gandalf's scurrilous comments about Mirkwood elves have been repeated endlessly in Erebor' he snapped. He said Mirkwood with the same contemptuous tone he used for Mordor, or Sauron, or as he used to say dwarf.
Gimli found the end of his beard braids and started chewing.
The elf cast a quick look over his shoulder and said brightly 'She looks upon me like an older brother, or an uncle perhaps'.
'Uncle!' Gimli exclaimed, and then realising he had become loud, dropped his voice again to an angry whisper. 'She didn't look upon you like an uncle last night.' Gimli realised he had started chewing his beard-braids and hastily tucked the ends away into his belt. He was also aware of a clueless Eomer politely trying not to listen. He dug Legolas in the ribs again and nodded pointedly towards the marshal. Then he could not resist adding 'No niece of mine ever looked like that at me.'
'I am not surprised.' said Legolas dryly.
Gimli huffed furiously, 'I'll have you know my nieces think I am very handsome' he said sniffily, stroking his chestnut beard which was much admired by the womenfolk of Erebor.
Legolas smirked then, Gimli could not actually see him smirk as he was riding behind him, but he could just tell from the way the elf sat.
The dwarf narrowed his eyes. 'Does that also make you Eomer's uncle' Gimli retorted nastily 'because if you are, well, that makes for an…'
Just then Arod gave a snort, tossed his head and danced a little. Gimli wobbled and clutched at Legolas' tunic.
'Oh, that's underhanded,' he complained. 'If it's going to be like that I will ride with someone else.'
'If anyone will have you,' bit back the elf nastily.
Gimli opened his mouth to retort when Eomer coughed and he remembered they had company. He paused.
'If you are uncomfortable riding without a saddle Master Dwarf, please, ride behind me if you wish.' said Eomer diplomatically; he had not been able to hear the subject of their muttered argument. 'I will ride beside Legolas so you will not be parted.' He could not hear what the murmured comment was from Legolas or the even quieter but venomous reply from Gimli. But the dwarf did not move, and the elf did not slow the horse to a stop.
Aragorn met Gandalf's blue eyes with a smile and tilted his chin towards where Legolas and Gimli argued. 'Shall we leave them behind do you think?'
'Tempting as it is, I think that Pippin and Merry might have something to say if we do,' said Gandalf. His hair shone white and his beard flowed over his robes. In his hand he carried his staff loosely.
Eowyn stood to watch as they rode away, her hair glinting in the sunlight, her eyes on Aragorn. He felt her gaze on him and looked away. He did not want to think on her fair face, full of hope when she had taken leave of him. There had been a gleam of tears in her eyes and he had to fight the urge to lift his hand and touch them. He tried to focus on Arwen, but she was faraway, and Eowyn was beautiful and forlorn.
There was the sound of many horns blowing and the echo sounded round and round the fortress and the Coombe below. Théoden's banner was raised and the sunlight glinted off the many spears and helms of the company of riders who set forth to confront the fallen wizard, Saruman and to witness the destruction of the Wizard's vale.
Aragorn scanned the tree line ahead. All talk had ceased and the small company lapsed into silence. The forest was an enigma that even Gandalf did not seem really able to explain. But it was enough for him that the trees were on their side, and had disposed of the orcs in a way even a seasoned veteran Ranger did not want to think upon too deeply.
The sky was a clean, washed blue and wisps of cloud were the only reminders of the dreadful storm of the day before, but as the small band moved across the battlefield, none could avoid the reminders of the terrible days and nights before. Although the bodies had been gathered, and the valiant warriors slain on the field honoured, the land was scarred by the churning of hooves and iron-shod feet. Crude steel weapons, wrought in the fires of Orthanc lay scattered and half buried in the mud, or broken like some great beast had rampaged through. A tattered banner was trodden into the mud.
An eerie quiet surrounded them and they rode as if holding their breath. Under the dark eaves of the woods they passed and heavy boughs creaked and groaned overhead. No birds sang, no small creature scurried away. All was silent but for the sound of the trees.
Aragorn became aware that Legolas had slowly fallen behind to the back of the column. Aragorn looked over his shoulder at his friends and seeing the consternation on Gimli's face, and the distant, distracted look in Legolas's eyes he turned Hasufel back to them and reined in alongside the elf and dwarf.
'Come,' he said quietly, 'we should not linger here. Even you, Legolas. Can you not feel the anger? It is not only orcs they hate.'
'The air is so heavy, like a storm.' The elf spoke in a hushed voice, 'Can you hear them, Aragorn? Can you hear their voices?'
Aragorn put his hand out to Gimli who had opened his mouth to protest, and stilled him. 'I cannot hear them as you can, but I know that even for you they are unquiet.' He ignored the dwarf's muffled comment and concentrated on Legolas. 'Come. We have at least a day's march ahead of us.'
'Aragorn… if you could hear them.' the elf said, and his eyes were distant and strange. 'Many an oak have I seen grow to ruinous old age, but never have I heard such voices as these.'
Gimli breathed a sigh of relief as the elf's horse trotted after Aragorn, but as they passed through, Legolas leaned slightly to the right, head tilted, listening. There was no breeze yet tendrils of his hair were gently lifted as though by unseen fingers. Gimli too felt a disturbance in the air, and it stroked along his cheek as if he were part of the elf.
It became darker and it seemed all sound was smothered. The air was hot and suffocating. The proud horses of Rohan snorted nervously and shook their heads, whilst the men sat still and were quiet and tense. The only sound was the jingle of bit and rein and the soft thud of hoofs on the turf. Gimli caught the eye of one of the riders of the company who turned and stared at them as they drew up. His face was anxious and strained. Another horse, a light bay, shied slightly.
Arod fell in behind the bay horse and Gimli kept tight hold of the elf's tunic beneath his cloak. He stared straight ahead at the elf's back. But Gimli was a curious and intelligent dwarf, beloved of his people in the mountain and adventurous at heart. Try as he might, he could not quite keep his eyes from straying to the strange, brooding woods.
'Legolas?' Gimli whispered, hardly daring to speak, for he felt the tension in the elf's body and knew that he was listening. 'What do they sound like?'
Legolas did not speak straightaway, but was still. Then he glanced away and sighed, 'Ah, how can I find the words?' He paused and then quietly, almost murmuring, he said 'How can I describe it to you?' The elf continued dreamily. 'Imagine …a low deep sound, soft, wooden. Deep, deep beyond breathing,' the elf seemed half asleep as he spoke, his head cocked slightly to one side. 'A low, deep sound, unutterably sweet, and it calls to you, calls you home to the woods where you were born. It is like the beat of your heart and the throb of your pulse…' he became very still and slowly Gimli realised the horse had stopped too and its head was low, ears flickering towards the sound of the elf's voice.
'Ah... but they are grieving too… an old wound, old hurt, loss.' Gimli gazed at the elf's back. He sat straight and tall, yet relaxed, his hands loose by his sides. His long pale hair swept down his back. The quiver and its knives were carved with scrolls and vines, leaves and runes. He had never noticed this before. So strange and different, yet what Legolas described felt familiar for that was how he felt when he listened to the earth and its sounds. In Khazad-dûm, he had heard in the deadly silence an absence, a great loss, the silencing of hammers and deep voices. He felt in the dead air the resonance and lost echoes. Perhaps this Song that Legolas heard was kin to the Great Secret of Khazad?
The elf was murmuring again now, 'I am sorry you cannot hear it for my poor words are but a shadow …' he paused, listening. Only he could hear the deep sound, like the wind sounding in mountains, or like the ocean breathing.
And then, the elf opened his eyes wide. He stared for a moment and Gimli swivelled on the horse to see what had started him from his reverie so. Legolas gasped and whispered 'There are eyes! Eyes looking out from the shadows of the boughs! I have never seen such eyes before.' And he turned the horse back toward the shadow of the trees.
Gimli clung to him in sudden panic. 'No! No!' he cried. 'Do as you please in your madness, but let me first get down from this horse!' He slid down from the horse and landed heavily. He looked up at the besotted elf gazing into the trees. 'I wish to see no eyes!' the dwarf said loudly.
Suddenly Gandalf was there. He raised his white staff and cried out in a voice that reached down into blood and bones, 'Stay Legolas Greenleaf! Do not go back into the wood, not yet! Now is not your time.'
Legolas seemed frozen. He leaned forwards as if straining to go into the wood. He closed his eyes and Gandalf reached him. He put his hand out and placed it gently on the elf's shoulder.
Gimli heard his murmuring to the elf, and Legolas leaned in towards the wizard. Gimli frowned. He could not see the elf's face for he had turned away from them. The wizard continued speaking to him, gently, carefully steadying him.
Gandalf waited, looking at him intently. Legolas raised his head and said something back to Gandalf, looking ahead of him, resolute. Gandalf nodded once and then slowly withdrew his hand from the elf's shoulder. Legolas seemed steady then. He paused, bowing his head for a moment.
Gimli became aware of Aragorn who had dismounted and was now standing at his shoulder; his own horse cropped the grass nearby.
'What has happened?' he asked.
'Damn fool elf nearly went off into the woods- saw some eyes in there! Orcs or spiders. You'd think an elf from Mirkwood would know better.' But his tone belied the gruffness of his words and he watched anxiously.
'I know less of the folk of Mirkwood than I do of my own kin in Imladris,' said Aragorn. 'They are mercurial these Sylvans. Deadly and merry-hearted and utterly unpredictable.' He shook his head.
Gimli did not answer straight away. 'So it was for me in Moria, was it not? Beside Balin's tomb,' Gimli spoke slowly. Realisation dawned and his irritation, born of fear, evaporated. He recalled the yearning for a lost past and sorrow for Balin. It had overwhelmed him as he stood amidst danger and ignoring his peril beside the tomb. It had been Legolas who grasped his shoulder and pulled him along after the Fellowship.
Gimli sighed deeply. 'So it is for those of us of the Wood and Mountain. We feel deeply. We understand the Song of our hearts. He has his Song. I have mine and I could no sooner have walked out of Moria on my own than he can ignore his heart and walk out of here on his own.' Gimli dug his hands into his belt. 'I will be with him and bring him out safely Aragorn. Fear not. We will still be with you.'
Aragorn touched Gimli's sleeve lightly. 'Then you will ride with him until we are out of the woods?'
Gimli nodded and as Legolas and Gandalf drew close, he lifted his hand to the elf again who, almost in a dream, reached down and pulled him astride the horse as if nothing untoward had happened.
At that moment, there was a ringing sound, clear as notes from a horn but more musical and varied. There were answering calls from the other side of the rise, from the North. And then, from the trees strode three strange figures, as tall as and like young trees. They moved swiftly although their gait was like wading herons.
Suddenly there was panic amongst the riders, swords clashed and scraped as they were drawn and horses wheeled about in panic.
'Stop!' Gandalf called,' You will not need your weapons! These are only herdsmen.'
And it was as he said, for they strode quickly past the riders, sparing them not a glance and disappearing over the hill.*
Legolas raised his head and gazed in childlike wonder at the strange creatures as they strode past. He murmured a word that Gimli did not recognise. Gimli fingered his axe but did not dare move. Gandalf said they were no threat, but still he watched the elf. Who knew what he might do - run after them, call out, sing to them?
A strange nervousness settled over the company. First Legolas' sighting of the eyes in the wood and his attempt to ride into the shadow of the trees, and then the appearance of the even stranger creatures – all had utterly unnerved the riders. They clasped their weapons although they did not draw them as Gandalf bid, and the horses snorted and tossed their heads.
Théoden looked about him in wonder and alighted on Gandalf. 'Gandalf? What herdsmen are these? What flocks? At least to you they are not so strange.'
Gandalf smiled sadly, 'No indeed, Théoden King. Is it so long since you listened to tales by the fireside? There are children in your lands who could pick out the answer to your question. These are Ents, O king, Ents out of Fangorn Forest which is called in your tongue, Entwood. You should be glad, for you are not without allies, even if you know them not.'
Théoden stared. 'Ents? I had thought them a children's tale, as you say. Strange times indeed. But then, much that I thought the stuff of legends yet walks among us…And that gladdens me indeed. For who would have thought the Heir of Isildur or the folk of wood and mountain would be here to aid us in our greatest need.'
Théoden glanced towards Legolas, who still stared after the Ents. 'Is it also not true that I should be sad, for however the fortune of war may go, much that is fair and wondrous might pass forever out of Middle Earth?'
Gandalf followed his gaze and paused. 'It may. The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured. Nor made as if it had not been. But to such days we are doomed. Let us go on now on the journey we have begun.'
Théoden signalled the march forwards and the company set off once more. They settled into a steady canter for they wished to make their way quickly but spare the horses.
They followed the path of the Ents and Legolas found himself yearning to follow them, to speak with them. The song of the wood had entwined about his heartstrings. In his childhood, long long years ago, he had heard tales of the Onodrim, and all Sylvans loved the stories of Fangorn and the Huorns. Now he had seen them for himself amidst all ruin and darkness he felt young again.
His heart soared and he let himself feel the rhythm of Arod and his hooves pounding on the springy turf, above him the sky was high and blue. He felt in his blood and in his bones then the song of the riders, of the high blue sky and open steppe, together with the song of the wood, and it felt powerful and elated. … And twined around it, deep voices, below sound, the call home of the woods…like the beat of his heart and the throb of his pulse…He flung out his arms, let his head fall back and gazed up into the high blue sky, letting the wind blow his hair blow back. He closed his eyes and let Arod take over, quickening his pace as he felt the elf's energy and elation.
Arod kicked up his heels and bucked for pure pleasure and Legolas laughed aloud. He felt Gimli clinging like a bur. He reached round and grasped the dwarf's hands reassuringly but let Arod have his head and they surged over the crest of the hill and swooped downwards towards the Isen. He glanced over to see Eomer close beside him and grinning with woodelf mischief he burst into song.
Legolas sang, his voice lifting on the wind and Aragorn caught the change in the march. Hasufel danced a little and tossed his head. The bit jangled but Aragorn always rode lightly and it bothered him not at all. He looked to see what had changed and then caught the cheerful song. He smiled, glad that Legolas was back to himself.
During the long march from Rivendell, Legolas had often sung when the hobbits were tired or hungry. Aragorn could just pick out the tune he now sang. It sounded like a Spring Song that was sung in praise of Yavanna, but he was puzzled, for the odd word that drifted back did not quite make sense to him. He patted Hasufel's neck and urged him to catch up with Legolas and Gimli, and Eomer who rode alongside them.
The sun shone brightly and the sky was that clean blue that seemed washed after rain and the troop cantered lightly down towards the sparkling river. As he drew closer, he heard the song more distinctly. Aragorn was sure he heard Eomer's name mentioned in there somewhere, but it must have been something else surely?
Gerich tele velui!' the elf was singing cheerfully.
Aragorn winced. Gandalf had cocked an ear to the song and was looking pained. He recalled several songs that Legolas had sung during the long march from Rivendell. It was a very good thing Gimli or Boromir had not understood the Grey Tongue as they were most frequently the target for the elf's humour. But Frodo had laughed. Aragorn and Gandalf had both forgiven much because it had lifted the hobbit out of the brooding despair he sank into more and more.
'Cuno am, melethen, caro!' the elf sang even louder and this time.
Gandalf turned in his saddle and stared hard at the elf. 'He had better not be singing about me,' growled the wizard.
Legolas smiled beatifically at him ignoring the withering look.
'Garo sen enni,' sang the elf brightly.
The tune struck the pace and the entire Rohirrim company marched briskly along at the rhythm of the song.
'What is the meaning of the words?' Eomer asked Aragorn as he drew alongside.
Aragorn winced slightly. 'He sings praise for the creation of Yavanna,' he said hopefully.
'Are you sure?' Gimli called across, hearing them, 'I think I have picked up enough Sindarin now to know some words and I thought he said…'
'Gimli, do you know what kind of trees those are?' Aragorn asked desperately, hoping to stop the dwarf.
'What kind of …?' Gimli asked astonished, 'How do I know what….?'
Legolas, knowing exactly Aragorn's discomfort, laughed loudly and sang again,
'Ai Elbereth !
gerich tele velui,
Cuno am, melethen, caro!'
'You are in high spirits today my friend,' Aragorn commented dryly.
Legolas blazed a smile at him so sweet that he shook his head and gave up. 'Your heart is glad and you now know Gandalf and the hobbits are safe.'
Legolas paused in his outrageous song. 'I never doubted it,' he lied brazenly, grinning widely. He heard the dwarf at his back splutter in outrage. 'I am an elf,' he said, even more irritatingly, cocking an eyebrow at the amused Ranger. 'I am in touch with the Song and knew Gandalf had not fallen but was lost to us for a while.'
The dwarf guffawed then, loudly and cheerfully.
Aragorn smiled to see them both. Gandalf's return had given them all hope, unlooked for and beyond their expectation. It made all else seem possible, even Frodo's quest seemed not as hopeless.
(By Elbereth! thou hast a lovely arseBend over my lovely doHold this for me…) the rest of this Mirkwood rendering of a sacred song is not printable on a family site and the Mirkwood elves have a lot to answer for. Any comments about the elvish translation, please note that Legolas is from an 'unlettered folk' of the woods and doesn't really give a damn. I however, checked with the Ansereg site which has a cheeky translation comment bank that is great for these sorts of things.
* TTT – but you guessed that.
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.