14. chapter 14: The Palantir
Chapter 14: The Palantir
They had ridden quickly out of Orthanc. Gimli had immediately got up behind Legolas and wrapped his arms protectively around him. The elf had simply done what he was told and that alone was cause to worry. The Fellowship rode in a tight band, both hobbits taking it in turns to watch over Strider and Gandalf, for Gimli had Legolas and the other two were also shaken.
The road passed slowly, winding down the valley. Now further, now nearer, the Isen flowed on its stony bed. Night came down from the mountains. All the mists were gone. A chill wind blew. The moon, now waxing round, filled the eastern sky with a pale cold sheen. The wide plains opened before them. *
After many hours riding hard across the empty plains, Théoden called a halt in a heather covered glen, the soft purple giving them relief from the cold horror of Orthanc. Tall oaks clustered at the foot of the hills and bright green fronds of new growth peered from the dead bracken. Spring crept out from the frosts of winter. Somewhere nearby, there was the sound of a mountain stream hurrying on its way to the wide Anduin. Pippin hoped Legolas might notice the green ferns and the purple heather and take some relief from it but he seemed withdrawn into himself. When the horse he and Gimli shared, Arod, butted its nose into him, he barely noticed, stroking it absently.
Horses stood with tails swishing, heads low and noses together whilst their riders pitched the King's tent and others set up camp. On the fringes of this, the Fellowship moved quietly around making their own small camp. They busied themselves with the small chores. Gimli coaxed a fire from dry bracken and kindling and Merry unpacked the little provision taken from the store room at Orthanc just before they left. No one really looked at each other, and especially not at Legolas. He stood apart, arms crossed over his chest holding his bow. Pippin thought he looked like he was hugging himself.
When the sun had gone and the camp fire crackled, Gandalf appeared, striding quickly up from the King's tent to the Fellowship's little circle. He spared one swift glance at the silent elf, who was now restlessly pacing the perimeter of the small camp. The wizard twitched his nose.
'Here, give me some of the South Farthing, Merry. I need smoke as I have not for many a year.'
He settled comfortably between Aragorn and Gimli and stuffed the bowl of his pipe chock full of weed, tapped it down impatiently and struck a flame. He puffed quietly until it lit and then sighed, leaned back and gazed into the flames.
Pippin stole first one look at the wizard, then, as Gandalf seemed absorbed in his pipe and the red glowing firelight, he stared more openly. Gandalf had made Saruman yield, he had stopped the awful visions of Mirkwood burning, he had broken Saruman's staff. Suddenly the homely old wizard Pippin was travelling with seemed dreadful and powerful. He had kept the black stone globe and knew what it could do.
Pippin remembered the sudden warmth he had felt when he picked up the globe. Merry said that Gandalf told him it was a Seeing Stone, a palantir, and he wondered if that was how Saruman knew what had happened in Mirkwood…he wondered if Gandalf would look in it to see where Frodo was, and suddenly he felt a tremendous pang of loneliness. It seemed such a long time ago that they had been parted, and the hurt was like a raw cut that he couldn't help rubbing. He thought Legolas might understand and glanced over at the elf who had stopped pacing and now stood, silent and still, peering North and Eastwards as if listening for something he could no longer hear.
'Have I grown a second head Peregrine Took?' Pippin suddenly realised Gandalf was now watching him.
Pippin shook his head hurriedly, 'No... Just... well'
'Spit it out'
'Well...I was just wondering what that Palantir can do,' Pippin blurted out. 'I wondered if we could see Frodo perhaps…?' he finished, hanging his head. He dug into the earth with his nail, not wanting to meet the bright blue eyes of the Wizard.
Pippin did not see the sudden pain flicker across Gandalf's face and the softening of his eyes. 'Ah. Well, it is unlikely. These stones were used by the ancient Kings of Numenor to speak across far distances, one to another. I do not know if it can cast its gaze elsewhere.'
'But you could try?' Pippin asked hopefully.
Gandalf shook his head regretfully, 'No, Pippin. I will not try. I would not wish to reveal myself to the Enemy. Now,' he pulled his hat over his eyes abruptly, 'be quiet and let me think.'
'But what about Legolas?' Pippin blurted on. 'Can't you let him look? To see if what Saruman said was true?' Legolas had turned briefly towards them, the firelight sharpening his features, his green eyes glittered.
Gandalf met the elf's gaze steadily and it was Legolas who looked away first. Gandalf winced; the shame in the elf's eyes seemed more than he could bear.
'Enough, Pippin. Quietly now.' Gandalf patted the hobbit's shoulder kindly, but Pippin looked away and Merry too, would not look up. Gimli was pretending to busy himself with the fire but he had pulled his hood over his head and his eyes were in shadow.
Sitting with his back against a hawthorn tree and his long legs stretched out, Aragorn watched his companions with steady concern. Legolas had moved further away from the fire and stood silently, staring out over the steppe. A stray breeze stroked its fingers through his winter grass hair. Aragorn stirred suddenly and leaned forwards. He reached for a long stick near the camp fire and prodded the kindling irritably so it caught and flared into life.
The sudden movement at the edge of the fire seemed to stir them all out of their reverie. Abruptly, Gandalf stood, dusting down his white robes and for a minute, grumbled about the practicality of grey rather than white. Pippin smiled in spite of himself.
Gandalf glanced up at the darkening sky 'I must return to Théoden and decide which way we will take. I cannot think that Saruman has finished with us.'
'Even though his venom has been drawn?' Gimli looked up, the firelight catching glints of gold in his chestnut beard. 'It is well that Treebeard has agreed to keep him safe,' he continued approvingly. He lifted his head and regarded Gandalf warmly, 'He will be locked up that tower for centuries.'
'If Sauron does not come for him first,' added Aragorn. Gandalf looked thoughtfully at the Ranger but did not reply. Aragorn studied the silent wizard. 'Do you think there is some other fate that awaits him?'
Gandalf shook his head slowly, 'I cannot tell for sure… but he is not finished.' He glanced over towards Legolas. 'We have between us ruined everything for him… I fear he will have his revenge. What he showed us could be what has passed, what is now… or what is yet to come…' he sighed. 'I do not know which of those is worst.'
'If it hasn't happened yet, then why can't we send a message to Legolas' father warning him?' Pippin said suddenly relieved.
Gandalf turned to him and Pippin saw such a look of compassion in his eyes that it caught his breath. 'And what good will that do, Peregrine Took? Do you think Thranduil is not already at war? What can we do?' The wizard's shoulders seemed to slump then, and he passed his hand over his eyes. 'I am weary, else I should have more hope. No, I fear that even should we ride for Mirkwood instead of Gondor, we could do little to change the outcome… No, our best hope is still with Frodo and Sam.' As he made his way between the men of Rohan towards the king's tent, Gandalf seemed old. Suddenly the weight of years seemed to be on his shoulders and he leaned on his staff as he walked.
'Pip, give me a hand with this.' Merry's voice startled him from his reverie and he quickly scuttled towards his cousin as he dumped an armful of kindling near the fire.
'We won't need more than that I don't think,' Gimli was saying, eyeing the bundle. 'We will not wish to keep it burning through the night.'
Pippin stepped over Merry's blanket and discarded packs, as he did so, Legolas stepped out of his way. Pippin stole a shy glance at the elf, but Legolas turned his head slightly and looked away.
Pippin found himself standing near the fire and glanced down at the round shape left beneath the wizard's blanket. Warmth seemed to emanate from it, and he felt mesmerised. Without realising it, he found himself at the place Gandalf had been settled, his foot against the globe beneath the blanket. He stared down, eyes wide.
Abruptly, he felt Merry nudge him and guiltily looked up at his cousin. Merry was watching him with knowing concern. He gave Pippin a look and then tipped his head towards Legolas. Pippin looked blank and Merry frowned at him, nodding towards Legolas again. 'He can hear you, stupid' he muttered. 'How would you feel if it was the Shire they were talking about?'
Pippin scrunched his face up in remorse, all thoughts of the palantir gone. 'I never think,' he mourned. 'I wish I did but I don't. It just all sort of slips out somehow.' He cast his gaze down and twisted one foot into the dust. 'I thought it was a good idea.'
Merry relented. 'Legolas knows you don't mean anything. He knows you are just concerned. We're his friends aren't we?'
Pip brightened. 'Of course we are! We should cheer him up! You know I am good at that.' In fact, he already had a plan. Gandalf might not approve but Pippin was quite sure he would be helping Legolas, whom he liked, and if he was honest, it would help his own peace of mind. He had only to wait until dark.
'Yes. Yes you are Pip. You have a think about that but don't do anything without me'
'Of course not, Merry.' But Pippin hugged his idea to himself. Merry would try to stop him if he knew. Merry was being very sensible and Pippin was feeling Tookish and brave. And the Palantir fascinated him. He could not stop thinking about it, its warm smooth surface and the strange fire lit within. There was something about it that called to Pippin as even the Ring had not…..
Legolas closed his eyes against the hurt that buried itself in his heart. He knew the Fellowship had closed around him, seeking to protect him, but it was too late for that. Pippin's question about the Palantir had given him a moment's hope, but the steady look in Gandalf's eyes had dashed that. He knew Gandalf was right- he could not risk revealing himself to the Enemy too soon. He hugged the Lorien bow hugged to his chest, but it was all useless. As was he.
'Mirkwood… bereft of its sons, bereft of its king…its standard broken, trodden into the mud' He could see again the bloody trophy hoisted up and hear the hoarse cry of agony. Like a knife it twisted and wrenched. He passed his hand over his eyes.
Surely he would know?
The bond between child and parents broken, surely he would know? He searched his heart, for a thread come loose, for a sense of loss but there was nothing. Perhaps those were lies they told about the bond between child and parent? His fierce loving father, his proud warrior brothers with their Woodelf mischief and laughter… how could they all be gone… all of them?
Again and again, he saw the tall spear raised and plunged down, jostled as if it met resistance, then hoisted high on the shoulders of the jeering orcs. Heard again and again that hoarse cry…
'Orcs rape the children of your dead warriors and yet you are here?' Saruman's voice gently questioning, saddened, seeking to understand. He heard again, laid over the burning of the forest and the wizard's voice, the murmuring and quiet cry of passion from Eomer.
'...brawling and rutting in the gutter with the brats of this petty king while your people spill their blood in the woods of your home…' The voice uncoiled, this time in his breast and wound its way around his resolve.
He hid his face in his hands. He felt hot with shame that he had indeed rutted like a beast while his warriors died. He had tangled his fingers in the soft fur and yielding flesh of the warrior of Rohan, while his friends, his brothers were slaughtered. And he had not spared a thought.
'You should see what we did in Mirkwood.' Both Saruman and the Uruk at Helm's Deep had uttered those words. How could Legolas have ignored that? He saw again and again, his elven memory fresh and untainted by time, the dreadful wound in the Uruk, pumping its black blood out and soaking the ground, yellow eyes slitted and watching him, it had bared its fanged teeth in a horrid grimace of pain. 'You think you have won, elf,' he remembered again its panting breath. And now, both Saruman's and the Uruk's voices merged into one grating, gleeful triumphant cry: 'You should see Mirkwood.' He should have listened, he told himself again, and again. He should have galloped away North and East with never a backward glance.
He heard the screams, saw the woman die, the child's throat slit, the still breathing body hoisted…
Legolas stood up and paced restlessly at the edge of the small camp. His fingers clenched into fists and he let the bow fall from his grasp. It clattered against a granite rock but he strode out of the camp and into the darkness, away from the firelight.
A sentry on guard stood suddenly erect and put his hand out to stop him, but when he saw who it was his hand fell back by his side.
The soft night air cooled Legolas' skin but his shame did not abate. He strode out of the camp to where the tall oaks grew and the leaves unfurled their new green. The sounds of camp grew quieter and finally he could escape from the concerned gaze of his friends, of the curious and horrified stares of men and Gandalf's knowledge of what he had done. Quickly, he seized the lower branch of a tall oak and swung himself up and up, through the branches to the highest and stood, clasping the trunk and staring north and east while tears soaked his face.
A colder breeze from the North stroked his cheek and he leaned into it like a lover's hand. He yearned for the woods of his home then, standing bereft in that tall oak far south. He searched, stretching out his senses, listening to the Song…. He heard the night sounds of the Rohirrim, and the strange unearthly voices of now distant Fangorn. He stretched out his senses to touch the earth's deep song and the blended songs of star and forest. The voices of his friends murmured in the background like a stream.
He wanted to be home…He wanted his strong, vibrant father to stride down the steps of the stronghold and envelop him in a hug scolding him, and for his brothers to clap him on the shoulder and tease him about the dwarf… He wanted his friends, who would grasp his arm and pull him out to drink far into the night and to dance in the dawn, and for the soft maidens to turn and smile and slip their hands in his.
Instead, the insidious Voice wormed its way into the memories, the glades he wandered in, it slid between himself and those he loved and destroyed everything. 'Have you not heeded Galadriel's warning? … Do you not hear the cry of your Woods? It burns…It… burns. Nothing is left, only ash. No one is left, only bones. And yet…. You… Are…Here.'
He strained to hear the song of his home, for the subtle moss and green sounds, for the shadows etched against the leafy sunlight that filtered through the dense canopy. But there was only silence. And he wondered when it had happened that he had stopped listening for it, the call of home...
His face was wet, the stars blurred and shimmering. Absolute loss clutched his heart and tore its way through him. His father, not his king, but his loving fiercely proud father… he could not think on what Saruman had said. Could not bear it for he thought his heart might break if it were true. And his brothers…it could not be true. Surely he would feel something? Some great shattering of his fea?
It made Galadriel's warning irrelevant now. He had sworn to follow Aragorn anyway, to the very ends of the Earth.
In the darkness the elf squeezed his eyes shut. He did not fear death and he did not fear the Dead. He feared the farewells, the parting of ways with those he might never, ever meet again, not until the ending of the world. But now, what was there left to return to?
Whatever Saruman's intention, Legolas Thranduillion was now resolved.
He wiped his face on his sleeve and blinked, settling his face into the stoic Woodelf mask. He took a breath of the cold north breeze and then descended.
He found Eomer standing outside the King's tent.
For a moment he watched unobserved. Hair thicker and coarser than his own waved down the broad back. He remembered the strong muscles beneath the fabric and chain mail, the heavy flesh, exotic scent … and then the cries of passion overlying the dreadful scene of his father's death, and he curled up inside.
Eomer did not deserve his approbation though. The passion had been mutual. He did not want Eomer to feel the shame that he did. It was not his home that burned while he had … Eomer had been nothing but honourable.
He reached out to Eomer's shoulder and the man turned. His eyes widened and lips parted slightly.
'Shhh' Legolas did not smile and Eomer followed him without question.
Eomer had been carefully avoiding the Fellowship. He had been sunk in thoughts of the elf and when Legolas reached for him, it was as though his own thoughts had conjured him up out of the mist.
He had been feeling superfluous for the dwarf and ranger had scooped Legolas up after Gandalf had released them from the dreadful vision and he had not spoken to him since… He had watched the elf from a distance as they rode from Orthanc, his bright hair blowing back in the wind, his face impassive. Eomer had tried not to stare but could not help it. Legolas was the son of the Elvenking. Oh Beama's bollocks- he had thought, chewing his lip. He had thought Legolas was a scout or elven warrior, some companion of Aragorn, but not that… he winced. His head had spun and he had sat down quickly as the realisation sunk in. But even then, if the elven king was dead… did that make Legolas king? He had buried his head in his hands but could not, in truth, really regret one second of their passion and friendship.
Only after Legolas had explained the runes inked onto his skin had Eomer to think about what this was costing Legolas to fight their war, when war marched upon his own lands so thoroughly; he knew that the great forest and the elves there were the bulk stalwart against the enemy in the north and east, buffering the lands of Rhovanion and guarding the northern passes of the Misty Mountains. If they had fallen so completely as Saruman said, then Gimli would also wish to depart for his own lands too must fall. It was all falling apart, after victory had been theirs all too briefly. Aragorn must leave for Gondor and Eomer had determined to go with him… unless… unless he was asked to go North with another…
So it was a strange shock when he felt a hand lightly touch his shoulder. He turned to see Legolas standing behind him with such loss in his eyes that Eomer's heart tightened. Without a word the elf turned and Eomer followed without question but a strange excitement and dread for what he might do, what he might say in this state of utter despair.
They had slipped out of the camp to a stand of blackthorn trees, a light foam of blossom drifted across their bare branches. Here Legolas had stared at the man and with a gentleness he had not experienced before, the man was unclothed and kissed. Hands slid over his shoulders, feeling the bunched muscles beneath the skin, stroked him and caressed him with a compassion that had him undone. The elf took his face in his hands with impossible tenderness and kissed him, and they lay together on the grass beneath the blackthorn blossom and stars. The elf had said nothing but Eomer felt deep in his heart then that the world had righted itself. He was forgiven, he was innocent. He had no part in the elf's pain. He had given and received. He was loved.
'I would follow you…' he began to say but the elf put his finger on his lips and kissed him again instead.
Aragorn leaned on one elbow, throwing small twigs into the fire and listening to Merry tell again how many orcs he had killed, and Pippin arguing that Merry had been too scared and that Pippin had really done all the work of raising the Ents. It had been some time since Legolas had turned and left the camp in such distress and night had fallen, so when they saw him returning some hours later, they stopped talking and watched him anxiously. He did not meet their gaze. The elf glanced at where Gimli had carefully stowed the Lorien bow he had let fall and then let his gaze linger on the axe that stood next to it.
Aragorn waited patiently. Elves would not be rushed and woodelves had their own way. He drew on his pipe and savoured the hot tang in his throat and lungs. Stillness settled about them for a moment.
'I saved you some stew,' Merry held out a bowl to Legolas, a little nervously.
Legolas nodded slightly as he took it. His companions tried not to appear to be watching, but they did. Although Legolas ate everything and hungrily, Aragorn felt he knew Legolas well enough now to see he did not taste the food but ate because he needed it.
When he finished, Legolas went to stand to clean the bowl but Pippin held out his hand. 'Here, I'll do that,' he said. Legolas paused and then looked up at first Pippin, then at each one of them. His face crumpled slightly and he looked away.
'Thank you,' he said quietly.
Night settled around them and there was only the soft sound of horses snuffling each other. In the distance a hunting owl swooped and the only other sound was the quiet breath of the sentries. Small campfires had been allowed to die. Gandalf had returned to them and now slept even though Gimli snored loudly enough to keep the whole camp awake as far as Pippin was concerned. The hobbit turned over restlessly. He was glad to be back with the Fellowship, for it was almost the Fellowship, apart from Frodo and Sam. He sighed and rolled so he lay on his back looking up at the stars.
Stars here were brighter than in the Shire and unfamiliar. He understood that they comforted Legolas although Pippin couldn't hear them as Legolas said he could. How could you hear stars? Pippin had asked the elf to explain once and he had said they sounded cold, bright, metallic… obvious really. But he said they each sounded different. Pippin looked up wondering what each one sounded like. There was a slightly blue one... perhaps that sounded tinny… and that one...chimed like a bell perhaps?
He thought about Legolas –when he had come back from wherever he had run off, Pippin thought he looked a bit as if he had been crying, but he couldn't have... Legolas was really old and an elf. Pippin was sure elves did not cry, even elves like Legolas who seemed to be very merry one moment and then very sad another. He supposed it was living such a long time you must have lots of time to think about things.
Legolas was moving silently about their camp, Pippin could not see what he did but was aware of movement. And he knew Aragorn was still awake because he could smell the pipeweed.
Aragorn shifted to make room for Legolas. Pippin wondered if he should call Legolas 'Your Majesty' now but Legolas did not seem the type to ever want to be addressed as anything but Legolas… it was strange to think his father was a king...
'You should rest my friend,' Pippin heard Aragorn say quietly. Legolas gave a low bitter laugh.
'Aye, perhaps I should for I shall not rest again in my home. I no longer have a home if what Saruman says is true'
Pippin cringed. He had smelt the burning trees and even worse, the smell of burning meat and had known it was people and horses in the flames. Pippin had tried to block out the sound of screaming but he still heard those awful cries in his head – and that strange panting over the top of it- he was not so naïve that he could not recognise what that was, but all the same he had been confused. Then the dreadful sight of the elf who had been speared and hoisted up high above the gibbering triumphant orcs… he shook his head. He didn't think he would ever get rid of that memory.
Pippin was not entirely sure he understood why Saruman had been so angry with Legolas – surely it was Gandalf who caused all the trouble... saved us, corrected the hobbit quickly, thinking how easily he had fallen into old habits again given half a chance.
Pippin tried to imagine what that must be like for Legolas and found himself thinking about Tooks lying dead, or the Shire being so devastated, he shuddered. He would not think it. He would think about Legolas instead… His gaze fell on Gandalf, his white robes pulled up around him and he had thrown his arm over the strange black globe. Pippin stared… remembering again the warmth that had suffused his hand, and the feeling of compulsion… Gandalf had said it was a seeing stone… he remembered again his idea and allowed his eyes to almost close but watched Gandalf through half closed eyes and beneath his lashes. He only had to wait.
Aragorn thought he saw Pippin stir restlessly and open his eyes several times. Gandalf lay still, his arm around the palantir. Aragorn mused on the strange black globe. This was one of the Seeing Stones of Arnor, he suspected. He had caught Gandalf's speculative look and thought he knew what was in his old friend's mind.
The air grew colder.
Stars sharp and bright dusted the sky. Cold air drifted around the camp and lay frost across the grass. For a moment Aragorn could see the elf clearly, his eyes downcast and shoulders slightly slumped. In his own chest, a knot tightened and he frowned. It was his fault Legolas stayed. He had wrung the promise from him and that knowledge burned. Inwardly cringing at his own need, Aragorn put his pipe away and pulled his cloak about himself against the cold. He stood and walked to the edge of the camp where Legolas had stationed himself, looking out into the huge empty night. The elf stood silent and still, listening. He did not stir as Aragorn joined him.
Aragorn spoke quietly 'I will understand if you turn, if you walk paths other than mine.'
Legolas turned slowly to the Ranger as if awakening from a dream. The dark night shrouded the Ranger like a cloak and the stars crowned him. Legolas suddenly caught a tremor in the air. He leaned towards it slightly, listening. There was the sound of the wind in a banner fluttering. Steady heartbeat, horses as steady in their hearts as their riders, and amongst them, something else…
'Someone approaches…' he said quietly. And then, he was caught by another feeling, this time the weight of malevolence heavy in the air. Like a thunderstorm approaching, the air tasted metallic, pressure built in his ears. He recognised this. It felt like the south of the forest, like Dol Guldur…
'The enemy moves…' he said, half closing his strange eyes. Aragorn tensed. 'His Eye moves... it searches…' Suddenly the elf's eyes snapped wide open. 'He is here!' he hissed whirling to face the camp. Aragorn drew his sword and the sharp metal ring awoke Gandalf. Even as the wizard cried aloud his discovery of the theft, there came loud cry.
'Pippin!' shouted Merry, throwing off his blanket. Gimli was already standing, his hair bristled but bending to pick up his axe.
Legolas had already leapt over the fire and disappeared into the darkness at the edge of the camp. 'Pippin!' he cried.
The hobbit lay as if in a fit, rigid mouth stretched open, petrified. Gandalf swooped over him, throwing back his wide sleeves to feel the hobbit's forehead. 'Peregrine Took' his voice like a bell, a single note sounding, calling the hobbit back. Pippin's eyes fluttered and then cleared. He looked at Gandalf.
'Gandalf! I am s..sorry' he gasped.
As always, thanks to Anarithilien and to those of you who have reviewed and written such kind comments.
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.