17. Chapter 17: Olorin's Plan
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just mucking about. No money etc
Chapter 17: The Plan
Pale light gleamed through the thin canvas and for a moment, Legolas wondered where he was. He was lying naked on the cold ground, but wrapped in a sumptuous fur coverlet and there was gentle snoring nearby. Fuzzily he remembered he had actually stolen the fur from amongst the many luxurious furs in Aragorn's tent. He didn't think Aragorn would begrudge him, there had been so many. That had been in the chilly grey morning when he had steered a stunned Eomer towards his own camp and to sleep, and then Legolas himself had wandered for a while, searching unsuccessfully for Elrohir.
He rubbed his hands over his eyes, feeling the heaviness of his limbs as if he had been drugged. He remembered too that he had a fresh bandage wrapped across his chest by Elrohir…He thought about that for a moment and realised that he had a pleasant bulge at his groin. He recalled a touch that reached down into his muscles and bone, that made his heart tremble with desire.
He smiled to himself and felt a surge of emotion in his belly and another kind of surge altogether in his groin. Elrohir's Song echoed in his mind, the high place of the mountains where eagles cried and the snow never melted…And while his thoughts remembered this, his body remembered the deep, deep desire that had shaken him to his bones, like nothing he had ever felt before. It made his blood sing like the excitement of battle. His feä rejoiced in it, his sinews and muscles and skin longed for Elrohir's skin against his, his body pressed against him. Legolas half-closed his eyes, and let his hands drift over his chest, belly, thighs as his muscles and flesh remembered the press of Elrohir's hard body against his, the crush of his mouth, the clash of teeth and tongues and lips…how Elrohir's tongue had filled his mouth, pushing deep. And his own desire had been overwhelming…
Drawing a deep breath, he tried to clear his mind but he could only see the half-closed eyes of the dark Elf, his noble, strong-boned face, his lips parted in lust and passion…and Legolas wanted to see him sprawled naked on the fur, head thrown back in ecstasy, long hair splayed out behind him and arching his strong, muscular body…
Legolas ached, the bulge of his desire insistent and he put his hand over his arousal. But the ache was strongest in his heart.
He had not found Elrohir last night. But he had not searched hard, thinking that when he had explained to Elrohir that he and Eomer had been recent lovers, albeit briefly, Elrohir would understand that Legolas could not have ignored Eomer, could not have let the Man leave with his feelings torn and bruised. Eomer was so young, bereaved. And to stumble across Elrohir and Legolas as he had…
Legolas sighed and licked his dry lips. He had assumed that Elrohir himself had found himself in a similar situation at least once in his long life, for he must have had many lovers… maybe he still did. A strange, little sensation niggled Legolas at the thought of Elrohir's previous lovers. It was unfamiliar for he was not a jealous soul and his relationships were light and free, but he recognised it nonetheless.
Ai, Elbereth, he scolded himself. He was like some lovesick youth. Hadn't that same frustration led him to go up to the city in the first place? He felt himself tense with frustration, and wriggled his feet and ignored his insistent cock.
He shook his head and stretched his arms, feeling his sinews tighten and the pull of healing tissues, muscles mending and skin sealing along the thin scar. He focused inward and told them to mend more quickly, thought along the nerves and soothed them. Unlike before, when he had tried to do the same, telling them to mend, he had encountered only a stubborn resistance. This time he felt them respond, soothe and stretch pleasurably with healing… with a lingering sense of Elrohir's touch.
He smiled and touched his fingers lightly to his lips, feeling them swollen and tender with Elrohir's desperate desire. He would find Elrohir, explain and then woo him, take his time. It had rushed out of control last night and when Eomer had blundered in it had all gone so horribly wrong…
Stealthily Legolas unwrapped himself from the fur. His filthy shirt and breeches were flung on the floor and his boots were shoved into the corner of the tent. And then he saw a clean shirt had been folded neatly beside him on top of a clean tunic, a homely brown of woven cloth, it was true, but it was clean and not spattered with Orc blood. There were breeches too, of a dark brown and some serviceable boots. Even better, a basin and a ewer of cold, clean water stood nearby, and a small cake of soap. He smiled and silently thanked their unknown benefactor…Aragorn, he guessed, and smiled more widely. It was not enough but it would do for now, he thought and gratefully he soaped himself thoroughly and then sloshed water carefully around in the basin, careful to leave plenty for Gimli.
He glanced across at the sleeping Dwarf, lying happily on his back, axe leaning against the cot and his helm perched crookedly on the bed-knob, exactly as he had left him last night… So much had happened in so few hours. And then the Elf began a low, tuneless, irritating whistle that was really the hiss of air through his teeth.
The Dwarf twitched slightly, and snored. Legolas carried on whistling as he soaped his armpits and groin, he slapped himself playfully and with a grin, decided he was going to behave himself. 'You,' he directed his words downwards, 'are going to stay firmly inside my breeches for a bit. There is too much to lose now and you have been barely discrete.' He looked ruefully at it's bulging state and waggled it a bit. 'Yes. I know it's hard but you are just going to have to get used to it.'
He lifted the edge of the thin linen cloth that bound his chest and stared. It had almost healed. He touched his hand to his cheek and felt the bruise no longer hurt, knowing it was Elrohir who had healed him. Again. The arrow wound he had received at Pelargir had all but gone. It had been this thin scar that Elrohir had given him that refused to heal… and now it had. How strange…
He remembered the previous night in parts, some of it only dimly, some of it with vivid clarity. He rubbed his chest to erase the memory of that cold spear of ice that drove down into his flesh...but there was only a thin scar, a torn and bloody bandage. And he remembered standing outside in the cold night, staring stupidly at his wet hand… he had forgotten what his hand looked like…He had been so cold…
He shook himself, reminding himself that Gimli slept behind him. Foolishness, he scolded himself. The Nazgul is gone. It is gone and you are still alive. Rejoice!
He sloshed a wave of cold water over his face and paused, leaning on his hands, head bowed over the basin, watching the droplets fall back into the bowl from his long hair, nose, eyelashes.
It had been Elrohir who had saved him. And then taken him to Gandalf. And Elrohir who had dragged him away from Gandalf, pulling him along the cold streets, swearing furiously. Legolas remembered being mildly impressed with the range and vocabulary of the curses, and that it had been Gandalf that he was cursing so roundly.
Suddenly a loud snore came from behind him and the rumbling of an awakening Dwarf.
The Dwarf 's eyes were still closed and although his nose twitched, a sure sign that he was indeed awakening, he was still half-asleep. Legolas grinned mischievously and began to whistle again as he had before.
Gimli snored peaceably and only when a particularly loud one rumbled through his nose and chest and he stopped breathing for a second, did he wake up with a start. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. He had been dreaming…a strange dream. He had been galloping in a desert, a mass of colour and light and shadows. In his mind was a glimmer of heat, hot blue above and hot white below… liquid red gleamed on a curved blade and he did not know what it was but that he delighted in it. Crimson richness swirled around him in the hot wind but he had forgotten what it was… Now there was only black, not rich, but thin, like a shroud… he had forgotten...
Gimli shuddered for the dream had made him think of the Nazgul and he did not wish that. The less he thought of them the better.
It was then he realised it was not his snoring that had awoken him but a quiet but insistent tuneless whistling. Almost a hiss of breath through clenched teeth. It put his nerves on edge. He knew it could only be Legolas.
The tuneless hissing grew a little louder and then quite suddenly, Gimli got an eyeful of cold wet cloth, smack in the face.
'Come Master Sluggard,' came that irritatingly bright voice, 'It is almost noon and you still snore like a dozen Wargs after a Dwarf has been sharpening his axe on their teeth. Get up and come greet the day.'
Gimli removed the wet clout from his face and peered up into the bright green eyes of his comrade.'It is not noon, you foolish Elf,' he complained. 'It is quiet and no one is about but you. What you mean is you are bored.'
He grunted and threw the clout back at the Elf who caught it and laughed loudly. Gimli knew what would happen next so he gripped his blanket tightly and when, as anticipated, the Elf grabbed the edge and tried to flick it off him, he hung on grimly, swearing in Khuzdul and invoking a rich variety of plagues and curses to be heaped upon the Elf's head should he try any of his usual tricks.
'It is like living in a box of frogs,' he complained. He had slept deeply, like a stone, and had only really dreamed in the waking moments. Legolas, he thought, looked like he had slept well too, for his eyes were bright and he looked more relaxed than he had for many days, weeks even… He looked more closely at the Elf. In fact, mused Gimli, he was almost too bright, feverishly bright. He rubbed his eyes sleepily and groaned, for every muscle ached from the long, long battle.
'Here. There is warm water to wash in, and clean clothes.' The Elf moved away from the basin of water and dried himself on what looked like some luxurious fur. Gimli opened his eyes wider. Where had he found such a thing? Then the Elf's words penetrated.
'Clean clothes?' Gimli looked around and spied a pile of neatly folded garments. He wondered if there would be oils for his hair and beard but thought he was expecting too much. ' Where did they come from?' Gimli swung his feet out from the bed and sat on the edge of the narrow cot for a moment.
'I think from Aragorn,' said Legolas cheerfully and he folded his long limbs beneath him whilst Gimli rose and carefully splashed water on his face.
'Gah! You said warm!' he spluttered. 'This is almost frozen.'
'Warm-ish I said I think,' Legolas said brightly, running his fingers through his long hair and untangling it briefly.
'You did not.' Gimli discretely washed his private parts, turning his back to Legolas so he could not see.
'Ah. I forgot I was with a much less hardy race. I do apologise.'
Gimli muttered to himself and glared at the grinning Elf sitting cross-legged on Gimli's bed. He looked like some outsized grasshopper with his crossed legs and pointed ears, overly cheerful and annoying with a loud and irritating call.
Gimli did not feel as clean as he would have liked but anything was better than he had been and he was determined to find some good place to bathe and comb and oil his beard and hair. But clean clothes were mighty welcome and he did not wish to wear his mail shirt at all times. It needed care too, as did his axe. He thought these things to himself as he moved about their tent, pulling on the clean shirt and tunic, fastening a wide belt, and then he sat next to Legolas to pull on some new-ish boots. Gimli paused.
'These are not from a dead Man?' He looked at the Elf cautiously.
Legolas looked suddenly strange and alien. He looked steadily at the Dwarf and said, 'Would it matter if they were or would it matter only if you knew?'
Gimli hesitated. 'Only if I knew,' he decided.
'They do not belong to a dead Man,' declared the Elf firmly. And as Gimli breathed out in relief he added, 'They are yours now.' He unfolded his overly long legs and rose swiftly, then disappeared outside before Gimli could speak.
Gimli ground his teeth and chewed his beard and counted to ten and then another ten, and then he recited the Tables of Minerals. He got to the fortieth rule of mithril before he could draw a breath and followed Legolas outside.
The day was bright and clear. Rain had washed the sky clean of the polluting smoke and Nazgul, Gimli thought to himself. But then he looked East and saw the huge massing of low cloud again hanging over the dark mountains. Men were stirring around them and the sounds of a camp in the early morning surrounded him. Quiet voices calling greetings, the thin clash of pots somewhere and a few Men - early risers- moved about. He looked around but could not see Legolas at first. But then he heard loud whinnies and stamping hoofs beyond the cluster of tents. He moved between the tents towards the sound, treading carefully through the thick mud.
A small herd of horses were being driven along the muddy lanes between the tents. And Legolas was almost dancing before them. The horse in the lead was prancing about and shaking its head, sliding a little on the slippery mud and snorting, spitting, as Gimli saw it, great streamers of saliva and snot towards the Elf who simply laughed delightedly. The other horses nosed closer, pushing and nipping at each other to reach the Elf.
'Gimli! Look! It is Arod!' called the Elf over his shoulder and reaching his arms around the beast's neck. 'The horses have arrived.'
'Oh good,' muttered Gimli. But in spite of himself he was strangely pleased to see the small horse that was so fiery and restive and loyal. Why Legolas said the damn thing was like a Dwarf though, he did not know.
After what Gimli thought was an unnecessary amount of time petting and stroking and scratching its ears and tender murmurings of what a good horse he was, Legolas finally detached himself from Arod and let the animal go to find food and water. Which is just what we should do, thought Gimli.
'We will go to Aragorn's tent and see if he is there. Other folk might be there too. We can ask for news,' Legolas said and Gimli thought he detected a strange excitement in the Elf, but he could not think why.
Aragorn was sitting at a small desk and writing orders to be taken to various commanders of the army, to the various posts in the kingdom. The tent flaps were suddenly pushed aside and he tensed, his hand going straight to Anduril. But the two who entered barely paused in their loud bickering on the differences between a horse and a dwarf.
'Put that thing away, Aragorn,' said Legolas loudly, wobbling the end of the Blade-that-was-Broken with a disapproving and critical look. He sighted along the blade with a sniff of disapproval. Gimli looked at it even more critically, testing the edge with his thumb and shaking his head slowly.
'You really should get yourself a decent blade, Aragorn, blades that have been broken never really temper properly. I could get you a really good axe…' he offered.
Aragorn pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed in slowly and out. The Elf and Dwarf, without so much as a by your leave, pulled up a couple of chairs and seated themselves at the folding table that had been set up in the middle of the tent and was laden with new bread, yellow butter and cheese, bunches of deep red grapes and apples. There was a platter of slices of cold roasted meats and a flagon of weak beer. The Dwarf tucked in with relish and Legolas sat beside him and piled a plate with food. Neither took much notice of Aragorn after that, busy picking at each other's irritating habits and weaknesses.
After Aragorn had heard for the fourth time how Dwarves had small hard heads which it would take a dragon to break and Gimli had taken extra offence at the reference to his people's sad history with dragons and Legolas had said they were just careless to leave so much treasure lying around and they were bound to attract the attention of dragons, Aragorn thought he had had enough.
'I am calling a council of all the leaders this morning,' he said looking at them both.
Legolas regarded him with slight boredom and Gimli did not even glance up from his plate.
'It is honourable to show your wealth, ' Gimli continued proudly, as though Aragorn had not even spoken.
Legolas immediately looked away from Aragorn and back at the Dwarf. 'It is stupid to show your wealth to a dragon,' he said.
Aragorn interrupted again, 'I thought you might like to join the council,' he said. 'Your wisdom will be welcome.'
Legolas snorted then like a horse and Gimli grinned widely.
'Of course we will not come to your council, Aragorn,' said the Dwarf. Aragorn thought he had misheard him and opened his mouth to correct him but the Elf jumped in first.
'Preposterous flattery, Aragorn. Firstly - we are not commanders of anyone but ourselves,' Legolas said, taking a huge bite of bread and then meat and then speaking loudly and with his mouth full. '…And a horse is like a Dwarf in more ways than I can count,' he went on, continuing his earlier conversation with Gimli. And then he turned back to Aragorn and spoke even more loudly over Gimli's protests, 'And secondly I am hopeless at councils. My father banished me from councils, said I was the most hopeless advisor, with bad manners, and too reckless for my own good!' He grinned widely, beautifully. Only Legolas could grin with a mouthful of food and still look beautiful, thought Aragorn irritably… except Arwen…
'Then why did he send you to Imladris for the council?' Aragorn asked and was surprised at the petulance in his own voice.
'Oh! He would have been horrified to know there was going to be a council and I was the only one there to represent him!' Legolas waved a chicken leg at Aragorn. 'If you recall, we didn't know there would be a council. That only happened by chance. He would rather have sent his horse to Elrond's Council than me!' He looked pointedly at the Dwarf, then took a large bite from the chicken leg, barely chewing this time.
'And look how we ended up!' added the Dwarf with a significant nod. 'My father, Gloin, is going to be furious with me when he hears who are my friends… not you of course, Aragorn. I think he likes you,' Gimli added charitably. Legolas laughed and threw the chicken bone down and reached for the wedge of cheese with greasy fingers.
Aragorn looked at them in exasperation. He watched Legolas devour the wedge of cheese and tear off bread, swiping it across the butter without even using a knife and caught Gimli's amused look for a moment.
'Face like an angel, manners of an Orc!' the Dwarf muttered.
Legolas simply grinned and added, 'Secondly, we are are going to look for Merry and Pippin and Eowyn.'
'You've already had secondly,' said Gimli smugly, finishing off the bread and meat and wiping crumbs delicately from his mouth.
Legolas waved his correction away with his elegant hand. 'What could our council possibly add?' he appealed to Gimli. Gimli shrugged and shook his head.
'On this one single occasion, you may be right,' conceded the Dwarf graciously, and they returned to the subject of Dwarves and horses.
Aragorn sighed and turned back to his letters. He had not really wanted their council, just their company. He suddenly felt the weight of expectation in his shoulders and it bowed him down. What if he was wrong? What if he failed? He had barely slept, so many folk had brought their kin to him for healing and he had laboured most of the night and only slipped away in the grey dawn. Gandalf had walked with him and told him to call a council, that he would meet him later - he had something to do first.
And Aragorn had watched as the Wizard had casually taken clothes and boots from a guardroom store. 'For our scruffy friends,' he had said, but in the blue eyes there had been a sadness as well as a twinkle. Aragorn's pen scratched again at the paper, remembering.
He was aware of movement behind him and felt warmth against his back and Legolas was there. His strong hand squeezed Aragorn's shoulders then and the same green light suffused the air around him whenever the Elf was close.
'Have faith in yourself, Aragorn. You no longer need us but we are with you anyway. '
Aragorn felt a great rush of gratitude for his two dear friends and he wondered what on earth he would do when they finally left and went home.
'You know we will simply do whatever you do anyway.' the Elf added light-heartedly.
'Aye,' the Dwarf rumbled, 'go on some foolhardy quest, nine rather disparate companions against the might of Mordor, fight Saruman's monstrous army, walk the Paths of the Dead, face Sauron's fearsome lot with a mere handful of aid, face ridiculous odds… what are we waiting for?'
Gimli stood up, wiped his mouth and carefully brushed the crumbs from his tunic and combed his clever square fingers through his beard. Aragorn noticed as though seeing him for the first time, he did not wear his mail shirt or helm and although he still had his axe, the small armoury that was the Dwarf's customary personal arsenal was not with him. His long, wiry hair was braided and hung down his back. Then he noticed the bright earth-brown eyes regarded him with amusement.
'I am going to take care of my weapons and shirt,' the Dwarf told him as though reading his mind. 'And Legolas is going to take care of his weapon too I suspect,' he added and Aragorn caught a mischievous gleam in Gimli's eye and smiled. He and Gimli understood each other well, for on the plains of Rohan when they had searched for the Hobbits together and instead found Gandalf they had had many a conversation that circled around their companions who were gone or lost to them.*
When they had gone, Aragorn felt oddly refreshed, as though in their company he had rediscovered his purpose and resolve. He laughed to himself quietly, revived by the strangely comforting bickering that seemed so normal in these extraordinary times.
It was not much later that Gandalf arrived.
Aragorn was aware of a gleam of white, pure and shining out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned it was Gandalf. True it was now Gandalf the White, but the blue eyes that were at once so bright and piercing were also twinkling and kindly. But with the foresight of his ancestors, Aragorn felt some terrible foreboding, some dreadful doom had entered with the Wizard and he suddenly dreaded what he might say.
Gandalf paused in the entrance to the tent to look upon the Man who was the salvation of Men. Aragorn bent over the desk for all the world like the boy he had seen many times, poring over some dusty text, laboriously copying the Tengwar script and determined to master it all before sunset. Even now, Gandalf expected to see his tongue peek from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated… and here, in no time at all, was the Man who would be King.
Gandalf sighed. Mortal lives were so fleeting and he found it so hard to take when they were gone. Indeed, he could see in Legolas the same terror of losing those he cherished, and Gandalf knew that he alone would understand once all this was over and the time of the Elves was truly over. A deep sorrow seized him for a moment and deepened even more when he thought of his task now and what he proposed to do. And as he expected, Aragorn did not like it either.
'No.' Aragorn said straightaway.'There is nothing you can say to persuade me that sending Legolas out as bait for a Nazgul is anything but sending him to his death. Even if he survives long enough to convince the Nazgul that it is Pippin who has the Ring, it is not worth the sacrifice.'
Gandalf sighed and lifted his eyebrows. 'It will take very little to convince the Nazgul that Legolas has in fact seen the Ring here in Minas Tirith. He only has to visualise Merry, or indeed Pippin for that matter. And then visualise the Ring.' Gandalf continued doggedly. 'It is the only way to convince Sauron to stop looking in Ithilien. Or in Mordor itself, for I fervently hope that Frodo has got as far as Mordor by now…' He paused and his eyes unfocused for a moment. Then shaking himself slightly he went back to Aragorn more aggressively. He was running out of time. 'You have a better idea?'
The man thinned his lips and began to pull on his boots. 'Give me time.'
'We do not have time.' Olórin felt the truth of this even as he stood there in the mortal body, this corporeal form. He felt it in his blood and in his bones.
Aragorn rubbed his hands over his eyes, he looked tired. Creases around his eyes were deep and there were dark shadows.
'We must draw the Eye away from Frodo.' Gandalf spoke even more earnestly now. 'Even if we assault the gates of Mordor itself, he will keep searching and that is where he will spend his resources.' Gandalf stood up, and swept his white robes aside impatiently. 'It matters nothing to him to lose this battle or another if he regains the Ring… we will be helpless.'
"And yet Isildur defeated him when he had the Ring.' Aragorn looked up at him defiantly.
This is ridiculous, Gandalf thought to himself and he wished he had gone first to Legolas and asked him directly for he knew the Elf would say yes. But he had felt it was the right thing to speak first to Aragorn about this. He was the King in all but name now.
Instead he explained impatiently, "But we did not really defeat him-- he fled his corporeal form only. Unless we defeat him completely this time, destroy the Ring, he will return… again and again.' Gandalf looked the Man steadily in the eye, catching the flicker of defiance, the desperate attempt to save his friend. He steeled himself and said crossly, 'How many times would you fight Dagorland, Aragorn?'
Aragorn recoiled and turned away then. But Gandalf could see he recognised the truth of it then. At all costs…all costs, the Ring must be destroyed. And they had to distract Sauron now, when his Eye looked to Ithilien and Frodo. They had to find a way to draw the Enemy towards Minas Tirith instead. The quest had always depended on secrecy and stealth. Now more than ever they needed to give Frodo, and Sam he hoped, a small space to creep into Mordor.
'Aragorn, why do you think there were but four Nazgul to fight yesterday? Where do you think the other five are, even as we speak?' Gandalf asked irritably because he liked his own plan no better than Aragorn. But there was no other way. 'The Nazgul rake the lands between Osgiliath, Mordor and Ithilien. They have seen the Ring there!' He bit the angry words before he spoke them. He drew a breath and then, more calmly said, 'Unless we can convince Sauron that the Ring is not on its way to his front door, Frodo will be caught. And we will have lost everything.'
Aragorn stood up restlessly, and leaned his palms flat on the small desk that had been placed in his tent. He had his back to Gandalf and his head was bowed but the wizard knew that this was the only way…or the least worst way. Aragorn paused and then said, 'There is another way.'
'Do tell.' Gandalf was not trying to be sarcastic but this was not something he wanted and it was telling on him. His already frayed temper was rapidly becoming irascible.
Aragorn drew a breath. 'Pippin. '
Gandalf gasped. 'You would not send Pippin out to seek the Nazgul?'
'No! Of course not,' Aragorn said quickly. 'No. But I could show Sauron Pippin through the palantir.' He paused to allow Gandalf to think on it but Gandalf already had. He had wrestled with this for hours and he knew he could only wait until the Man realised this way was the only way. And even then, it was fraught with problems and pitfalls.
'You believe you have the strength to lie to Sauron?' he asked gruffly. 'And what will you show him that will convince him to look for the Ring here instead? You will only show him a Hobbit and that he has already heard or seen in Merry's defeat of the Lord of the Nazgul.'
Aragorn paused. He looked out of the open tent flap and beyond into the sunshine. Grey sky showed and darker clouds scuffed along. Gandalf watched him wrestle with the idea, watched him consider.
'Do you plan to simply let Sauron see Pippin in your own mind?' he demanded.
'Yes…' the Man paused and sighed. 'No. He will have to see that I have Pippin here or he will not believe it. Pippin will have to look into the Palantir.'
Gandalf put his hand on Aragorn's shoulder and turned him to face him. 'To expose Pippin to the Eye …in the Palantir, risks his giving everything away. We are already running out of time.'
'Pippin did not tell him anything last time…' Aragorn searched Gandalf's eyes, desperate, pleading. But Gandalf could not relent.
'Sauron was not expecting him last time. He did not understand the significance. Do you think he would not burn Pippin to a crisp if he thought Pippin had the Ring?' And suddenly Gandalf stepped back and sighed.
Aragorn picked at a scab that had formed on his knuckles. He looked utterly miserable and Gandalf felt little better.
He said, more gently, 'Legolas is at least a warrior and has faced the Nazgul plenty of times of Mirkwood. And he was not killed last night… it spared him. '
It was Aragorn's turn to be furious. 'It was disturbed!' he cried. 'And your idea that he can slip into cuivëar when the Nazgul probes his mind again is tantamount to murder!'
Then, as Gandalf knew he would, the yet uncrowned King of Gondor sighed. He turned away and looked down at the dispatches he had been writing and fingered the quill. 'I cannot…' He sat heavily on the wooden chair and pressed his hands over his eyes. 'I have already wronged him by bringing him here. I led him to cuivëar. In this we are sending him to his death.'
Head bowed, Gandalf tried to think, as he had for hours and hours since the Elf had left him. He had tried to see what the future held should they tread this path but all he could see, hear was that since he had resolved on this plan, the notes of the Great Song, the symphonies that wound and spiralled, had come back into harmony. And he knew… he knew in his bones, that this was right.
'Legolas is an Elf…' Even to himself, Gandalf thought he sounded weak. 'He alone can withstand the Nazgul. And he will go into cuivëar…when… when it becomes unbearable.'
'And then he will be killed or taken... ' There was such anguish in the Man's voice. He pushed himself to his feet and almost threw himself at Gandalf's feet, kneeling before him, grey eyes raised earnestly to Gandalf's. 'Do we have to do anything? If we just ride out and meet him, as we planned, will it not be enough?' His hands clutched the white robe. 'I cannot do this, Gandalf. I cannot send him into such danger. He will die.'
'Is that not what you are doing anyway?' the Wizard asked gently. 'When we ride to the Black Gates, our tiny army facing the might of Mordor, do we not to expect to be riding to our death?'
'It is not the same! In battle, you kill, maybe die, maybe live…This is sending him to his certain death, or capture and torture.'
Ah, Gandalf sighed. This was indeed the hardest bit. 'If the Nazgul kills him, there is nothing we can do anyway. If it captures him and takes him to Minas Morgul, by the time they have broken him, it will be too late anyway… But I will not let that happen. I have thought of that too…' Gandalf squeezed his eyes closed for a minute. 'I will send someone with him…An archer,' he said. 'He will not be taken.'
Aragorn looked up aghast. 'You mean an assassin,' he said bluntly.
Gandalf winced but he would not shy away from the truth. 'Yes. You would not wish him to be taken. Legolas himself has done this for elves in Mirkwood. They have a name for it… '
'I know!' Aragorn pushed away from Gandalf, leaped to his feet, almost shouting. He pushed his hand through his hair and looked at the Wizard appalled. 'You ask me to command murder. Of my friend. He has followed me…' The Man choked on sudden tears.
Gandalf suddenly felt very old. 'Is that not what I have already done in sending off Frodo and Sam into Mordor? This is the only chance we have to buy Frodo time, Aragorn. Do you think I would even think of this otherwise?' He felt his own voice crack. 'Do you not think my heart will break?'
'I cannot.. I cannot do this, I cannot send Legolas to his death. Either the Nazgul will kill him or this… assassin will kill him.' Voice laced with disgust, Aragorn hid his face in his hands. 'Who will you send with him? Gimli will go, though it will be the end for them both,' he said tonelessly. And Gandalf knew how much pain the Man was in, but a king makes such sacrifices. Had he not already?
'No. It will have to be an archer…A good one.' Gandalf swallowed. 'An axe is not a clean kill and it may be… the shot… or shots,' he added carefully, 'have some distance to go.'
'Then it will be Elladan, or Elrohir if not,' said Aragorn horrified at himself for even speaking it. For a moment, he looked very young, very vulnerable as he stared at the Wizard for a moment and then bowed his head.
Gandalf felt small joy in his victory. It would be a little time they bought with Legolas' death, a matter of days perhaps, maybe a week. 'An archer will have time to escape himself on a fast horse. If it is one of your brothers you think we should send, he will survive.'
Patting Aragorn's shoulder gently he continued, almost to himself, 'No one else must know of the Ring. If anyone else should encounter the Nazgul, they will not be able to withstand the assault. And Sauron will know everything.'
'How will we tell Legolas?' Aragorn moaned quietly, his head still in his hands. 'I have already taken everything from him. He has lost his home, he should have been there to defend it. You saw what Saruman showed us… I cannot get it out of my head… And then the gulls… I never even thought about him, what it would mean. I knew there were gulls here and I never even thought… I cannot ask it of him. You must. I cannot live with his doing this for me.''
Gandalf laid a firm hand on the Man's shoulder. 'I will ask him. You need not be the one. And he will say yes if I ask it.'
Aragorn groaned aloud and it was from the bottom of his soul.
Breathing a deep sigh, Gandalf straightened and gazed away into the middle distance, blasphemously cursing the Valar who had sent him. For a few days, a week, Sauron and the Nazgul would throw all their might at Gondor, believing that the Ring was here in Minas Tirith. He did not tell Aragorn the last thing he had seen in Legolas' mind before Elrohir had stopped him… a gleam in the corner of the Nazgul's mind. But that gleam was unmistakable to one who knew. Frodo's mithril shirt. It had been there in the Nazgul's mind but the Nazgul did not know its significance. Sauron had it. That meant either Frodo was dead or had been captured or had abandoned the shirt.
* At the start of Deeper Than Breathing, my first story, Legolas has joined Eomer and goes to Edoras instead of continuing the hunt for the Hobbits. Aragorn and Gimli hunt for the Hobbits alone.
I am away on holiday for a bit now so no updates for a bit. Sorry, but I hope you enjoyed the light relief and then the revelation of Gandalf's plan. But I will be thinking the next chapters through so not all play I promise.
I am also posting Deeper on the 'Lord of the Rings fanfiction' site, with added spice if you want to check it out. Up to Ch 3.
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.