Chapter 36: Forgiveness
21st-22nd March 3019.
This is the second day of the march from the cross-roads when they are ambushed. 'A strong force of Orcs and Easterlings attempted to take their leading companies in an ambush...But the Captains of the West were well warned by their scouts, skilled men from Henneth-Anun led by Mablung and so the ambush was itself trapped. For horsemen went wide about westward and came up on the flank of the enemy and from behind, and they were destroyed or driven east into the hills.' -- ROTK
There should have been bright sunshine high in the sky when he awoke. He knew that the same way as all Elves knew it was day or night. But the sky was dark and clouds were heavy as they had been for what seemed like an age now. He was sore. His shoulder had that pain that was both dull and sharp and every time the wagon bounced over a stone or rut in the road, he winced. His head throbbed too - but it felt so much better than the last time he awoke that he knew it would not be long before he could leave the wagon and join the Host as he should.
Elrohir looked across the wagon at the barrels and chests of supplies that lined the inside and he felt almost shoved in there along with all the other baggage. Useless. An encumbrance and a liability. For wasn't that what he was now? The Nazgul scented his weakness as easily as a hound scents a fox. He had been unable to resist them and they had used Legolas to reach him, to tempt him into evil.
He would have covered his face with his hands if it didn't hurt so damned much! His arm was tightly bound against his chest anyway and he could not move it. He let his head fall back onto the pillow and closed his eyes against the throb of pain and shifted to try to get more comfortable with his shoulder bound as it was. He thought he would never sleep in the trundling, bouncing wagon...
Elrohir half-awoke later that day, jostled to consciousness by the lurching of the wagon as well as shouting. There were voices passing by his wagon and he knew them in his half-dreaming state. He heard the thudding of a cantering horse's hooves and the voices drew closer, alongside for a while, before they passed slowly out of earshot.
'We cut them off, my lord!' a clear voice spoke. It sounded elated, breathless as if the speaker had been running. Hoofbeats danced beneath the voice as if his horse were as exhilarated as the speaker. Dimly he recognized the speaker, and his heart stirred. 'It was as you said! We went wide about westward and came up on their flank to spring a trap on the ambush itself!'
Aragorn's voice spoke then, but softly, and Elrohir could not hear his reply.
Another voice rumbled, like the Earth. 'Aye. And it was as well we had my axe at your side, for otherwise that Orc would have had your pretty ears on a plate.' There was a merry laugh for all the world as if it were nothing more than a hunting trip. Elrohir felt his heart pound and he struggled up from sleep, limbs too heavy, tongue too thick in his mouth to call out.
'Orcs and Men,' came Legolas' voice again. Closer. Quieter now. He had drawn alongside. 'It does my heart no good to fight Men, Aragorn. Orcs I can kill, I can fight...but Men...'
'It is hard, I know. But they fight for Sauron, Legolas, and they will destroy everything we hold dear. They have no love for Elves you know...' The voices faded.
'No. Nor for your Dunedain folk either, I deem.'
The voices faded from his half-dreaming state and he barely registered when Elladan flung aside the wagon flap and peered in at him, gazed at him with troubled grey eyes before he was called away by another voice.
He had no idea how much time had passed when next he awoke, but this time his thoughts were clearer and he gauged the half gloom of the wagon. It must be sunset. He shifted uncomfortably and at the same time the wagon lurched and he was thrown back onto his shoulder. Almost he cried out as it jarred his shoulder and bounced his head against the pallet bed. Better to be riding his sure-footed Barakhir than this, he thought, one armed or not. Gritting his teeth he rolled to the other side and swung his feet onto the wagon floor. He sat for a moment to let his head settle. A set of clothes were folded neatly on a nearby trunk, and on top, sheathed in its scabbard, was Aícanaro.
He stared. He had never expected to see the blade again and his hand immediately reached to the smooth hilt, feeling how it fit in his palm like it had been made for him. For Aícanaro had not been forged for him but had waited for him, waited for centuries in that dusty vault, and Elrohir had not felt for a moment that he was robbing the warrior who had wielded Aícanaro before. He of all would know that the sword would not sleep and Aícanaro called to his Noldor blood, even as had the Palantir. He lifted the dark bladed sword now and tested his shoulder by pulling Aícanaro part way from his sheath. The sword sang its low, thrumming note. It wanted to taste blood. Wait, Elrohir smiled grimly. Wait and you will have the iron taste, the black wetness of it on your tongue. You will drink deep of the old power, dark power that you crave. He felt its pleasure and carefully slid the sword back into its sheath and placed it on a nearby chest. Soon they would meet the old Enemy once more in battle. They had been reminded of Aícanaro's power now when they thought it long vanquished and they would quail in their hearts at the very thought of it. He felt impatient himself, ready to be quit of this lurching, trundling wagon.
He reached over and snagged the clean linen shirt that had been left folded neatly on a chest nearby. He had been left in his breeches, for which he was thankful. But he remembered wiping his face with the sleeve of his shirt on the ramparts and there had been a sticky wetness. He realised now it had been blood. He struggled with the shirt for a moment and succeeded in getting one arm in the sleeve and pulling it part way over his head. But he had to stop, defeated; he could not pull it over his bandaged and bound shoulder. His arm, bound across his chest, could not move without undoing the bandage. He recognised the particular tightness with which he was bound as Aragorn's work and he sighed. Aragorn had treated him, not Elladan then. He remembered Elladan holding him before he slid into darkness, but he did not think his twin would want anything more to do with him. He would never forget the moment Elladan realised just what Elrohir's terrible crime had been...
How can I forgive you?' Elladan had shoved Elrohir hard in the chest, pushing him away while hot tears spilled down his face.
'No. Do not forgive me.' Elrohir had torn at his own hair and moaned. 'I cannot forgive myself. Tell me what to do?' He had grasped at Elladan's tunic and stared at him with wild, desperate eyes. 'I will kill myself if you wish it! I will throw myself into battle! I will storm the gates themselves if it will undo what I have done!'
Elladan had stood staring at him. And then he had covered his face with his hands, unable to bear it any longer. 'Get out!' he had cried. 'Get out before I kill you myself!'
'What do you do?' a voice asked from outside, and as if conjured by his own thoughts, he saw that Elladan peered into the wagon from the pulled back drape. Elladan's own black steed, Baraghur followed, tail swishing and shaking his head. 'Get back into that cot,' Elladan said curtly.
Elrohir said nothing but he bowed his head. He did not want to face his brother. The words hung between them from the last time they spoke.
But Elladan did not leave. He walked behind the wagon and Elrohir could not meet his gaze.
'You are not ready,' said Elladan more softly than Elrohir expected. 'You have a head wound. You fell off a high wall. You dislocated your shoulder. Rest.'
Elrohir held the shirt in his free hand, looking down. 'It does not matter.'
Elladan said nothing for a moment. He kept walking steadily behind the wagon while Elrohir considered. It was awkward. This was his brother, his best friend, who knew everything...now at least, and who could not forgive him.
The wagon lurched and he suddenly fell forwards, throwing out his good arm to stop himself falling. Instantly Elladan was there, leaping up into the wagon, pulling him upright, and Elrohir pulled away crying aloud. 'No! Let me feel it! I deserve so much more than this. I deserve to suffer!'
Elrohir tensed, waiting for Elladan to agree, to shove him away, to scorch him with his contempt and hatred. But instead, Elladan remained still, standing above him and holding him steady. They swayed with the movement of the wagon and Elrohir found himself leaning against his brother.
Then, with unutterable gentleness, Elladan said quietly, 'Brother.' And in that one word was a world of forgiveness. A world of grief. Elrohir felt himself dissolve and clung to Elladan, pressing his face against him.
'Hush,' Elladan tentatively let his hand rest on Elrohir's head, almost reluctant.
'I know you cannot forgive me,' Elrohir said painfully, his fists clenched in his brother's cloak. 'I cannot forgive myself. I am not worth it.'
And then Elrohir felt Elladan breathe in deeply, and his hand stroked over Elrohir's head. 'Hush,' he said again. He felt Elladan still himself... felt the soft tide of Elladan's calm and peace lap at his own crimson swirling energy and turmoil. It suffused his own agitation, like a cooling breeze and he in turn became calm, still.
'No...I cannot forgive you just yet, Brother.' Elladan spoke softly, and there was such sorrow in his voice. 'Please... give me time.' He paused and Elrohir pressed his face harder against his beautiful, beloved brother who had such generosity that he could even want to forgive Elrohir. Elladan took a deep breath. 'I have wronged you.' Elrohir looked up aghast, but Elladan did not pause. He did not look Elrohir in the eye either. 'For years I have not known to speak...But now I know I should have...I cannot forgive you, brother, not yet. But there is someone who has.'
Elrohir tensed. Elbereth! Whom had he told? Surely Elladan would not have confided in Aragorn? It was not for him to forgive, no trespass against Aragorn...And Elrond could not know...There was only one other who might know what had happened and she had sailed long, long years ago.
Elladan's hand paused on Elrohir's head and he felt it tighten slightly in grief. 'She...'
No! Not that! Elrohir reached up swiftly and put a finger on his brother's lips.
'Mother...' Elladan began, but stopped at Elrohir's distress.
'No. No...Do not speak!' It could not be. She could not have known...It was the one thing he clung to, the one sliver of hope for himself that she had not known that he stood by...
He fell against Elladan miserably. This was somehow worse than that dreadful confession in Minas Tirith. The realisation that yes, she did know, that she realised it was her beloved son who had stood there... but more...that she knew and forgave him... If ever Elladan had wanted to destroy his brother, he could not have found a more effective way than this: to tell him their mother forgave him when he could not forgive himself.
But Elladan drew another breath and pushed on, telling him all. 'She told me I must bear you, to forgive you, for you could not forgive yourself. I did not understand what she meant until now. And since you told me... told me what you did, I have thought about nothing else. But last night, with the prospect of losing you, as you clung to life by a thread, I knew I could bear you as she asked. I cannot forgive you yet, my brother... but I will. Give me time.' Elladan bent over Elrohir's head and held him close.
Elrohir felt his heart would burst with love for Elladan, and with hopelessness for himself. How did he deserve such love? Ah, he did not.
He grasped his brother's tunic, his cheeks felt wet. 'No. Do not. You cannot forgive me. I do not deserve it. Give me penance as I asked you before. Give me some task.' But he felt Elladan's arms creeping round him and he was pulled closer still.
'Oh my brother! All these years you have carried this dreadful secret. We have all ignored your fury and anger when we should have been healing you.' He heard Elladan sigh as if his heart would burst. 'Our father is the greatest healer Arda has ever known. But he is so locked in his own pain that he ignores your fury and bloodlust, shuts it out, simply explains it as revenge. And I, I who should know your soul as I know my own, never once have I questioned what you do, the weeks you ride alone or with men other than the Dunedain. I know what you do on those journeys alone, and the darkness that returns with you. But never once have I questioned the damage it does to your own soul.'
Neither of them noticed that the wagon had halted or the sound of the harness being unbuckled. Between them nothing else stood. They were outside time almost, and now they were beyond words. Elrohir felt his brother sink into his own deep inner peace and healing.
Then he said to Elrohir, no longer as a brother, nor as a son, but as a healer, in a low voice that would not be overheard even by another Elf, 'Tell me what happened. Tell me once again ...We were in the tunnels...'
And he found it hard, harder than anything he had ever done before, but he relived it again. The suffocating stench, the cries, the grunts of the Orc as he shoved into their mother... and he had stood by, dark Aícanaro in hand, lust drenching him as he watched and then cut the Orc's throat. He pulled back her head thinking her some half-orc and saw her blue eyes filled with tears and the thin hand clawing for the blade...and he wondered now if she recognised him then, what had she intended with that blade? Had she thought to cut her own throat or her son's before he could commit that ultimate sin? He could not bear either.
Later, Elladan smoothed his brother's hair and wiped his tears like he was a child. 'You did not rape our mother, Elrohir. You could have, should have ended her suffering sooner.' He took a breath like it was hard to speak. 'But you did not rape her. You have the baur-ûr in your blood... your mannish blood.' He hesitated when he spoke those forbidden words; the baur-ür so reviled in Imladris; the hot fire in the veins of need and lust, so loathed for its resonance, its reminder to the Noldor of the Oath, and the intemperate violence of Feanor and his sons, their slaughtering rampage and terrible lusts...Elrohir hung his head. It was true. And yet his gentle brother felt no such lusts or violent needs. It was just him who had that shameful desire.
And did he imagine that Elladan tightened his hold on him then, as if he were afraid that Elrohir would slip away, between his fingers, or vanish when his head was turned away?
'The fire-lust in your body afflicts Men in battle sometimes. But you fight it?' It was a question but Elladan did not pause, as if he were frightened to know the answer. 'There was that time, one winter...' Elladan's voice dropped even lower. 'You rode in from the Wilds alone. You had been gone for so long I thought you lost, that I should search for you. When you returned you had strange wounds on your body and you would not speak of it...'
Elrohir remembered. It had been a cold winter and he had run with men who were almost wolfsheads, outlaws. 'I was lost in a way,' he whispered in his shame. 'But you would not have found me...I rode with men who are not the Dunedain. I wanted to punish...all of creation. For...for what had been done to...her.'
At the whiplash response, Elrohir cringed and hung his head. No. He was not forgiven. He was not being honest either.
'You wanted to punish yourself, for your unnatural lusts,' Elladan cried, hand tight on Elrohir's shoulder. 'For your guilt, for your crime, for your ...' he stopped, breathing hard.
'No. Not true,' he agreed with Elladan. He squeezed his eyes shut and welcomed the pain of Elladan's fingers digging into his shoulder. 'That is what I told everyone, myself...you, father...I wanted to die. I wanted to be killed, to purge myself of guilt, of the unnatural lusts. You have never felt the baur-ûr. It is so...unclean!'
'Those wounds...they were from no battle.' The fire of accusation was gone from Elladan's voice now, replaced by fear.
'Did you invite such wounds? Did you seek to purge yourself of the baur-ûr?'
Elrohir could not speak. How could Elladan read his soul so easily after all these years of binding his secrets close and closer until he could no longer speak them, see them, even in the secret chambers of his heart?
'You cannot purge yourself of it, brother.' Elladan pulled his chin up so he had to look at him and there was such love and tender understanding in that look. 'It is in your mannish blood,' he repeated emphatically. 'And that you must embrace and therefore understand it, so that you do not lose yourself in it.'
Elrohir felt his brother slide his hands down to cup his face and pull his head to his shoulder. Elladan embraced him, pulled him close as he had not done for many, many years.
'I realised last night I could have lost the brother that I love more than breath itself,' Elladan murmured. 'And I find myself believing that I could have lost you until the breaking of the world, knowing for all my immortality that I kept in my heart our mother's words. That she forgave you and I did not tell you. That I did not know to tell you. How is it that we no longer know each other's heart?'
He shook his head and pressed his cheek against Elrohir's head. 'I could not bear it, brother. My fear is that you will seek escape from your guilt through the Gift of Men. Swear you will not leave me as Elros left our father.'
Elrohir felt the dampness on his face but he could not swear. The words he tried to form would not come.
The Host did not bother to set up camp and few tents were erected. Instead the small campfires sprang up again and Aragorn watched Elladan move Elrohir gently out of the wagon so he could sit with them under the night sky. He scrutinised Elladan as he gently settled their brother at the campfire. It was such a change from the previous day when they could barely look at each other and tension between them was like thin glass that might shatter at any moment. He was glad that had gone, but Elladan looked wrung out, stretched, and Aragorn felt the calm blue peace trembling like the wind on a pool.
Aragorn stretched out his long legs and leaned back on one elbow, watching the flames, a wary eye on his companions. He was glad he could settle back into Strider, for he had been Elessar the King Returned all day and he felt tired. The strain of expectation wore him down and he felt too the call of the Palantir. His eyes strayed to the satchel he had placed as if carelessly, close enough to touch should he wish it. But though his fingers twitched, he would not touch it, aware of elven eyes upon him. Aragorn threw a twig on the fire and then spooned up the broth that every man in the army ate. It was tastier than he expected. When he had finished he let the spoon clatter into the bowl and a man darted out, from nowhere it seemed, to retrieve it.
The man bowed low. 'Is there aught else I can bring you my lord?'
'No. Thank you. I have enough.' He nodded, smiling but really rather startled. The man seemed to melt away then. It had been like this since Pelennor. Everywhere men wished to be near him, leaping to do his bidding, watching him with wide-eyed amazement, or sometimes a calculating cynicism, for there were those who believed as Boromir had once. Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king. He wished Boromir were here now, not for the first time, for the Steward's son was used to kingship even if he never would have been one. These men followed had Boromir, had always done. And his sword would be welcome.
'Doubts, little brother?' He looked up to see both sets of grey eyes upon him. He smiled and threw the twig he had been shredding into the flames.
'Too late for that,' he answered. He took out his pipe and pouch, rubbing the pipeweed between his fingers. Not much left, but it would not matter one way or the other now. And he sought one addiction to fight the urge to pull the obsidian globe towards him and reach into the flames within, to search for Frodo...he pushed away those thoughts for Gandalf had warned them to even think on It would be to court disaster.
Instead he lit his pipe and regarded his brothers quietly. Last night Gandalf had led a thought-scattered Legolas down from the old town after another terrifying encounter with the Nazgul. Elladan had followed with men carrying an unconscious Elrohir back to their tents and Aragorn had bound Elrohir's shoulder while Elladan hovered anxiously, cleaning the head wound and fretting. It was this, Aragorn believed, which had healed the rift between the brothers and he had never before had reason to be thankful to the Nazgul, but it had been a blessing in its way, and a warning only not a disaster. Since then, Aragorn had given an order that no one was to be on guard on their own or in a group fewer than four. Legolas had recovered more quickly than before, attended by Gandalf, and everyone was thankful for it. It was strange that the Nazgul had chosen to attack the Elves. And stranger still that two who seemed to dislike each other so should be up there together.
He puffed on his pipe and stared thoughtfully into the flames again. It must have been that both felt the Nazgul, and perhaps drawn by their unease, arrived at the same place. He imagined how annoyed they would have each been at the other's presence, the scathing remarks they might have made, cut short by the advent of the Nazgul. But both were warriors enough to put that to one side, he thought to himself. Indeed he hoped that since Legolas had in fact saved Elrohir, that they could now put aside their differences and come to some accord. It would be well for all of them. For Legolas had put aside his prejudice with Gimli, he could do the same for Elrohir surely?
He flicked his gaze to Elrohir, who sat quiet and brooding. He blinked slowly, and so Aragorn thought he must still be a little dazed. Elladan sat in silence too, his spoon rested in the bowl of uneaten broth as if he had forgotten it was there. Aragorn nudged him with his foot, and when Elladan looked at him he nodded at the bowl. 'Eat it, it is good,' he said. 'If you do not want it I know a Hobbit who will oblige.'
Elladan shook himself slightly and picked up his spoon and ate, but distractedly as though he did not really know what he did. Aragorn sighed and carefully blew a smoke ring. It hovered above him for a moment and dissipated in the cold air.
A tall figure obscured the light for a second and Aragorn looked up. The light flared behind the figure, made him a shadow limned in fire...it was a fleeting impression, quickly gone when the Elf sat down beside Aragorn, between him and his brothers. Quietly Legolas stretched out his long legs, crossed casually at the ankle and leaned back on one elbow. The firelight cast a glow upon the faces of the brethren opposite Aragorn and he frowned. Elrohir looked up briefly and a flicker of such hunger passed his eyes that Aragorn stared. Surely that was not it? Elrohir was renowned for his chastity, and for scorning matters of the heart, and bed. Did he desire Legolas? He had not known Elrohir ever to be interested in anyone, maid or man. He had always been so resolved to revenge their mother's torment it seemed he had no room left in his heart for softer pursuits.
Aragorn glanced sideways at the Woodelf who was stretched langorously beside him, seeming for all the world as if he had been there all along. Still he said nothing but Aragorn knew him well enough now after all those months in the wilds, to see that every line of him fairly thrummed with tension. Was that the way of it then?
Aragorn pulled on his pipe and let out a long stream of thin smoke into the air. He looked back into the flames once again and pondered, thinking back to that fight at Linhir and the resentment in Elrohir every time Legolas appeared or was mentioned. It made more sense now, for the Noldor's Laws and Customs* did not speak well of love between two men. Unlike the Silvans who accepted anything, Aragorn thought, puffing quietly. More dangerous and less wise indeed. He became aware of the silence that stretched between all four of them, each sunk in his own thoughts. He watched Legolas surreptitiously. But Elrohir would not look up now and Legolas merely sat quietly by.
'You seemed not much troubled by any injury today,' he observed to Legolas.
The Elf glanced at him, amusement gleamed in his green eyes. 'The Dwarf was on his own two feet before the foe and I did not have him whinging at my neck. I have bested him again.' He laughed, a clear, merry laugh and it seemed to Aragorn that at the sound, Elrohir seemed to settle more deeply into his own gloom.
'It was but a feint,' said Aragorn, flicking his gaze at Elrohir and then back to Legolas, whose smooth face seemed unruffled and unconcerned. 'And its chief purpose, I deem, was rather to draw us on by a false guess of our Enemy's weakness than to do us much hurt, yet.' **
'Or even to test to see if yet you have tried the Ring...' Legolas said softly for even though they spoke in the Grey Tongue amongst themselves, one could not know if there were spies amongst them.
No one said anything then and Aragorn quietly observed the tension between the three elves stretch taut though to anyone else it would seem these strong, powerful warriors were entirely at ease. The fire crackled companionably and he puffed again on his pipe, sending smoke into the cold air above them, watching it separate into long, thin streams, to circle and entwine about each other, to merge into one again and dissipate in the darkness. He noticed Legolas rub his fingertips together and glance up into the sky once or twice so he knew the Nazgul watched even now sending fear into the hearts of the Men.
When the Elf rubbed his hand over his heart though, Elrohir moved. He shifted to his knees and leaned over, awkwardly for his shoulder and arm were bound, and placed his free hand over the dreadful bloodless wound. He did not speak but closed his eyes slightly and Aragorn knew he bathed Legolas in his crimson healing warmth. Legolas' head bowed and he dipped his gaze to Elrohir's hand, seeming unsurprised, accepting the sudden intrusion. The firelight gilded his hair and cast the shadows of his lashes on his smooth cheek.
Aragorn caught the look on Elrohir's face, and was startled for he had never seen such tenderness. It was fleeting and Elrohir turned away, back to the fire as if nothing had happened, but Legolas lifted his gaze and stared.
Aragorn pretended his pipe had gone out and busied himself with striking a light and held it again to the bowl, puffing mercilessly until it alit once more. He tried not to grin. And he tried not to worry for Elrohir, whose heart had never been given. When he glanced at Elladan, he saw a reflection of his own concern in the grey eyes, but he dropped his gaze back to the fire, feeling he had intruded on some private moment.
After a while, Legolas rose to his feet, no trace of stiffness or hurt from the events of the night before. 'I bid you a good night, Aragorn. I will be on watch, should you need me, by the fall of rocks. At least until midnight, and then I will sleep near the supply wagons. That is where Pippin and Gimli have decided I am safest.' There was an ironic tone to the last. Aragorn looked up, amused in his turn although he did not show it.
'Very well, Legolas.' he said wryly. 'It is helpful to know where my friends are.'
Legolas gave him one of those alarmingly dazzling smiles then and Aragorn quirked an eyebrow. It was not for him, he knew now and slid a sidelong glance to Elrohir. He was not disappointed; Elrohir stared after the Elf as if he could burn up the darkness. Aragorn chewed the end of his pipe thoughtfully and resolved then that he must ask Gimli what was going on. There was no point in asking Pippin; he never had any idea what was happening. And Gandalf wouldn't tell even if he knew. No, the dwarf was the best person to speak to.
It was some time later, probably some time after midnight, Aragorn thought smugly to himself, that Elrohir rose to his feet, stiffly. He had been thoughtful and brooding all night but even more so once Legolas had left them, seeming to sink deeply into thought. Now as he stood, he winced and settled his arm into the sling Elladan had insisted upon. 'I will ride tomorrow,' he told them. His gait was stiff and showed that he was still bruised, but he moved his arm experimentally. 'It will be more comfortable than that wagon.'
Aragorn glanced at Elladan but his brother made no sign. Both knew that Elrohir was skilled enough to not take a risk and stubborn enough to refuse their advice should they give it.
''Or I will walk,' he continued. He looked down on them both and his grey eyes were opaque and forbidding. 'I am going to check on Barakhir,' he said unnecessarily and turned away, steering a clear path between the small groups of men, and both his brothers watched him critically.
'How long has that been going on?' he asked Elladan.
Elladan glanced up at Aragorn. He sighed and looked back into the fire. Flames reflected in his eyes and Aragorn thought briefly of the flames of Oroduin. 'I do not know if he goes to his salvation or doom, but either way I fear he will take the Gift of Men.'
And although it was not the answer Aragorn had expected, he did not speak again but turned instead to watch Elrohir disappear between the campfires.
Even after he had stood watch near the stand of rocks, Legolas still felt warmth from where Elrohir had reached out to him and he brushed his fingers over the place Elrohir had touched. Ah, I am worse than a lovesick maid! he grinned to himself. Well, it was for Elrohir to make the next move now.
It had been a quiet watch. Although he had felt the Nazgul circling above, they had made no move upon him either in his mind or his body. He could not suppress a shudder for he felt the stroke of their malice, and he was not the only one, for the sentries he watched with had shuddered too and looked upwards.
'You feel it too, my lord?' asked one man. His pale skin and grey eyes marked him as one of the Dunedain but Legolas did not recognise him. Then he recalled what Aragorn had told him earlier, that many of the Rangers of Gondor had descended from the men who had lived in Ithilien before it was overrun. He felt a wave of sadness, for the land had been fair.
He spoke softly. 'Yes. They have been following us since the ambush, such as it was.' He tightened his quiver about his chest as if it could ward away the sense of dread. 'Evil taints the land here as it does in my homeland and the very earth itself groans under its defilement. It must grieve you as much as I to see your homeland so befouled by the Enemy.'
'Aye. Though the King has returned and we have kept faith. We will stand when all others have fallen,' the man said and his companions agreed quietly. 'It does our hearts good to know that the Fair Folk stand with us also. Does not war march upon your own land, my lord?'
Legolas looked away North and smelled rain on the wind. 'Aye, it does,' he said softer even than the men. He hoped the rain fell in the forest too, and that if there were flames, it would quench them. 'But my folk have fought the Shadow for many ages of Men. And now we too will stand firm with the King and the good people of Ithilien. For we also hope our lands to be restored.'
The stars had wheeled in the sky above but none in the Host could see their cold bright fire for the heavy clouds rolled from the Mountains and hung low. An occasional flash of lightning stabbed from the mountains now and then, and a low rumble of thunder followed. Midnight passed and other Men came to relieve Legolas' companions of their watch.
Quickly he made his way back to the supply wagons where Pippin and Gimli slept. Their huddled shapes comforted him but Gimli was not snoring so Legolas prodded him with his toe. The Dwarf rolled onto his back, his mouth falling open slightly, and there came the gentle snuffling that signaled his move into deeper slumber.
Pippin seemed to snuggle in more deeply to his blanket, pulling it up over his ears and making a little contented sound.
Picking up a piece of wood that was too good, too fine for firewood, Legolas took out his long knife from his boot. He began whittling, humming an old lullaby his father used to sing him in faraway Greenwood, while Gimli's snores settled to a low, deep rumble, like a song of the earth.
It was much the same as in the early days of the Fellowship, he thought wistfully, blowing shavings away from the wood. Never did he think he would be nostalgic for such a time of danger and dread. But the Sea had not rushed through his veins then, and there had been companionable times, and Boromir had been alive. And Frodo and Sam safe with them...or safer than they were now, he thought sadly.
Quickly he pushed away those thoughts. The Nazgul were still circling above, casting their nets wide to snag on thoughts of the One. Although they had not joined the skirmish earlier, he had seen them far up, wheeling overhead and spying. He felt a shudder run through him at the thought of Them, and felt his hands shake a little. The Nazgul were indeed terrible. More terrible than he had ever dreamed. They would hunt him down and devour him.
He put down the knife and piece of wood, clasping one hand in the other to stop the trembling. Gritting his teeth he resisted the urge to put his hand over his heart, over the cold and dreadful wound, reminding himself that Pippin had never quailed or faltered, even when he was terrified. Neither should he, he told himself sternly; think of something else...It seemed that warmth seemed to steal through him then, a remnant from Elrohir's touch, like a caress. And in truth, there was only one thing he wanted to think about, and that was Elrohir.
He had not been able to keep away earlier, for he felt Elrohir's presence nearby. There was still a nervous excitement in his belly and groin and the image of Elrohir in ecstasy made him hard. Why did Elrohir resist him so resolutely, he wondered, and would not yield? He dwelt on the image of Elrohir, head thrown back, hand fisted in his own long pale hair and forcing Legolas' mouth over him...He drew a deep breath. Never had he felt so aroused. And he felt aroused now merely thinking about it. But he could not steal off on his own now after Aragorn's decree, although he could slide beneath his blankets, he supposed. He hoped instead that Elrohir would come to him. After all, the invitation had been clear enough that even Aragorn had heard it!
Shaking his head at his own obviousness and fancy, he picked up the knife and wood once again and carefully carved. A curved beak emerged from the wood, a proud hooked head, hooked feet, a weapon indeed...
He rubbed his eyes with the back of his wrist. Rarely had he felt such desire as he felt for the son of Elrond. And rarely did he pursue such unwilling prey. This felt different. He carved the bird's keen sharp eye and thought he should colour it grey, like the granite crags, or the changeable Sea. It was not as though he had never been in love before, he mused, blowing away fine wood dust. It was not as though he did not know the feelings of elation and despair that hit in almost stunning regularity, for he was still counted young among his folk, and, as he had been told so frequently by his father and teasing older brothers, falling in love was a habit of the young. No, he thought. This was ...different. He looked critically at the emerging head and the still crudely cut wings. Holding the wood at a different angle, he began to cut away what would become the outstretched talons.
Elrohir had been as much a distraction to him as he to Elrohir, he thought. He had not understood that before. On the SeaSong, it had simply been as it always was with him; he felt desire. He pursued. His prize either gave in, or not, and he went elsewhere. But this time it had become too complicated. And he had been careless too of Eomer, and that was unlike Legolas. He shook his head at himself once again. He had made assumptions about the young Man that were based on Elvish experience. Fool. He wondered how many more times he would have cause to call himself fool before all this was done.
The eagle was emerging as if it fought its way out of the wood, beak agape, eyes fierce and talons now outstretched. He looked at it critically and thought of the cry it should make, fierce and cold and high up in the lonely mountains. He changed the angle in which he held the knife so the very tip dug into the wood now and he narrowed his eyes.
As he carved, his mind drifted to the night after the Battle of the Pelennor. He recognised now that Elrohir had been poised on the brink of more than desire in Aragorn's tent. Perhaps it was even love. Real love, not simply infatuation. And that was why he had been so violent the next day. Legolas remembered that now. In the first hours of his memory's return, he had been horrified at that scene that played again - of Elrohir's violence against him, the arm across his throat and the violence of his words. Whore, Elrohir had said and there was spittle on his own cheek where he had turned away in shame.
He whittled for a moment stuck on that thought, recalling the detail of the line of laundry that hung in tatters from the tall tenements above and around them, the narrow balconies, and the upturned cart. Elladan had been there too and tried to stop Elrohir. He had not been able to breathe... Even now he shrank away at the humiliation of it, the way Elrohir had offered him to Elladan. But now he wondered if he deserved the approbation, if not the violence. He had been as careless of Elrohir as he had of Eomer that night, impetuous and thoughtless, with no regard for the consequence...
And now he found he did not want to move beyond that memory, for he drew close to the memories that disturbed him the most. He did not want to think about them, for it was after this that Elrohir had led him into the mountains, like a sacrifice, at Gandalf's behest.
But up there, he shook his head and frowned, squinted at the eagle, blew the dust from it once again...Up there, it had become confused...
For a moment he stared at the wings that began to emerge and he put down the wooden carving. It was too much like the wings of the Nazgul's steed as it slithered over the soaked ground after him, gleaming wet in the rain. Its black rider had been striding down the slopes between the wet and dripping pine trees, darkness clinging like shadows, and Legolas' own breath had struggled, he had been gasping with terror...but the tall black figures had closed around him, their terrible blades raised, and flames like serpents had streamed, coiled, rushed across the slopes towards him...trapped him in their flare...he had caught light and...the flames...
No. His mind shied away from that, but there were faint wisps of memories, images that flung themselves at him, rushed up in his mind's eye.
Legolas put his head in his hands but they burned now. The Eye was worse. Lingering at the edges of his consciousness, It was burned on his eyelids. It had flayed his skin from his bones, It burned so his blood had boiled in his veins and melted his flesh...He had screamed and screamed. But then, on the edge of the fire where he burned, there strode a radiant crimson figure that was not fire, was tall, furious. In his fist he bore a tongue of cool darkness that quenched the fire and devoured, as if famished, the cruel sorcery around him. The crimson swirling radiance fought the Nazgul for him...for him! Rávëyon.
He heard a quiet cry and realised it was himself. Quickly he stifled it and dug his nails into the palms of his trembling hands to remind himself what was real. This is real, he told himself. Here. You are with Gimli. And Pippin. You are still alive. But he needed to feel something, to remind him there were other sensations than burning and fire and agony. His skin still felt flayed, burned.
It was Elrohir who had brought him down from the mountainside, the radiant shadow with the dark blade, the crimson swirl of his power, his fea. And he had called Legolas "Beloved." Ah, how strong and noble was his visage, how like a god. He had been a warrior for millennia, had won such renown that the Orcs of the Mountains called him the Son of Thunder, and they trembled when they heard his name. He was of such lineage that his ancestors surely must grace the Halls of the Valar themselves.
The Woodelf archer sighed and drew his knees up. He leaned his head on his arms, looking at the half emerged eagle. Three times now Elrohir had saved him. The first time had been in Minas Tirith; the second time on the Mountain; and now he had at least sought to rescue him from where he had thrown himself to escape the Nazgul. True, this time Legolas had ended up saving Elrohir, but Legolas had put them both in danger in the first place. Fool, fool, fool. He knew better than to distract either himself or another on the field. And he had been nearly punished for it, but escaped again.
The fire burned low and he lifted his head enough to throw another few twigs on it, for the night was cold in spite of the low cloud. It was past midnight. On a whim, he picked up the half carved eagle and looked at it; he was not craftsman enough for such a task. He threw it into the fire. Immediately flames leaped and the eagle shifted, seemed to be half-alive and to writhe in the flames as it caught. Its hooked beak agape seemed to him to be screaming as he had when caught in the flame of the Eye. Suddenly his hand darted out and he pulled the eagle from the flames. It burned his hand and he dropped the carving amongst the ashes, and the wood glowed redly, crimson and orange and gold sparks dropped from it, turning black and dying as they hit the ground...
A slight sound behind him told him another stood nearby. He felt the hair on that side of him stand on end, and his skin felt the stroke of a gaze.
Turning slightly, he saw Elrohir settle down beside him. The Peredhel leaned forwards, his smooth raven-black hair fell over his shoulders. Carefully he picked up the carving and turned it lightly in his hands. 'An eagle?' he asked quietly, his voice was rich and dark and to Legolas, it felt like a caress.
'Yes.' Legolas wanted nothing so much as to press his mouth onto the full lips and press his skin to Elrohir's, to feel something other than the flayed soreness of the Eye on his skin, the burning of his flesh. He could barely speak so he said nothing, just waited, feeling the lust in his groin, swelling and straining against his breeches, pushing out all thoughts of anything but Elrohir. He pulled his hair over his shoulder and wrapped it unconsciously around his fist, remembering Elrohir in his ecstasy, long raven hair swirling about his strong stern face, the arrogance brought to softness, tenderness... And he caught Elrohir staring at him with such hunger as he felt himself. He wanted to lean in, take a kiss, slide his hands through that long silk hair, let it cool him.
Elrohir shifted slightly before he could and spoke. 'I wish to thank you. You deflected the Nazgul. It would have killed me.'
Legolas looked down at the half carved eagle resting lightly in Elrohir's hands and paused. This was a warrior of millennia, of renown, the Son of Elrond, Rávëyon. No simple infatuation or distraction from battle. Legolas felt suddenly out of his depth, beyond himself.
'No! Please...' Quickly Legolas held up a hand to stop Elrohir. 'No. I wish to apologise to you. I...distracted you when you did not wish it.' He glanced at Elrohir, hoping not to see contempt, or worse, amusement. Flames caught in the grey eyes that had seen so much more than he, reflected off the raven hair, glowed on his skin.
Elrohir waved his hand dismissively. 'You saved me.' He reached out and took Legolas' hand in his and Legolas caught his breath.
Elrohir paused and glanced over at the sleeping dwarf and hobbit.
Legolas found his voice enough to say quietly, 'Do not fear. They will not understand us. Gimli understands Quenya but his knowledge of the Grey Tongue is not as good, and Pippin knows but a few words.' He did not say these were all words which Pippin had begged Legolas to teach him and none of which would he utter in Aragorn or Gandalf's hearing. In the presence of such a warrior, he felt young and foolish enough as it was.
Elrohir smiled slightly and, still holding his hand, he looked at Legolas properly. 'I called you my beloved in the Houses of Healing.' Elrohir looked away and carefully, he let Legolas' hand fall. 'But I have given this much thought this evening. And until this is over, I do not think we can be more than comrades.'
Something cracked in Legolas and he felt overwhelmed. He bowed his head for he knew this part too well.
Elrohir took a breath and seeing Legolas' head bowed, he said softly, 'Let me explain. It is not that I do not want you.'
Although Legolas said nothing, trying not to let it hurt, he could not help it. He needed to know he was alive, needed to feel something other than the pain and fear. He wanted Elrohir, needed him.
Elrohir bent his own head a little to catch Legolas' eye. 'But they can reach you through me,' he continued with resolve. 'And they can reach me by using you. We must take away this weapon from them. Neither of us should be vulnerable now.'
Elrohir spoke so reasonably. But Legolas felt his song in his blood. His body thrummed with the other Elf's nearness, he felt his skin tingle and desire swelled him. He heard the bitterness in his own voice when he said, 'We are vulnerable anyway. Resisting each other will not change that.' And seeking to soften it, to change Elrohir's mind before he changed his heart too, he clasped the other's hand again. Elrohir began to pull away but Legolas caught him and held him, pressed his lips against Elrohir's palm as he had before. 'Tell me you do not think about me. Tell me you don't want me right now.'
He watched as Elrohir's eyes came up to meet his and he felt the pulse in the hand he clasped throb and leap. 'Do not be afraid of me, Elrohir,' he said softly, hating the desperation in his voice, and lifted his other hand to push away a stray hair. 'Tell me you do not think about me when you should not. Tell me you are not distracted when I am near you.' He let his fingers brush Elrohir's rounded ear and stared with fascination, forgetting everything else in the moment. He wanted to lick it and caress him, but instead he let his fingers follow the curve of it down to Elrohir's smooth cheek, and then he brushed the lips that parted in a soft gasp of desire. He smiled. 'How will resisting me change that? How will it stop Them from doing anything?'
Elrohir blinked and seemed to breathe as if he had forgotten how for a moment. 'I do not want to be vulnerable,' he said firmly with an honesty he had not managed before.
'To love is to be vulnerable.' Legolas leaned towards him. But he did not kiss him. He was just close enough that to an onlooker he might seem to whisper, but he let his breath caress the other's skin and Elrohir's eyelids fluttered for a moment. Legolas stroked the inside of Elrohir's palm with his thumb in wonder at this experienced, battle hard warrior. 'I cannot promise you I will never hurt you,' he said honestly, leaning in again even more closely this time. 'But I promise you, we will forget everything else for a while.' Now he let his hand draw through the long black silk of his hair and felt Elrohir shudder. 'They cannot invade our thoughts if we guard each other. At least let us comfort each other in this last stand before Mordor.'
'I cannot think with you near me. I do not trust myself with you,' said Elrohir and he caught Legolas' hand as it slid through his hair, stopped him. Although his full lips parted in desire, there was stern resolve in his eyes. 'You are all I can think about and I must stop this. My place is beside Aragorn right now, for his time is upon him and he needs me there. He needs us all. He trusts us to stand with him and I would not fail him now.'
Abruptly Legolas stopped. Aragorn's name had acted like a bucket of cold water and he laughed wryly. 'I would not want to fail in my trust,'*** he said and could not keep the slightest bitterness from his voice.
Then he shook his head and sighed in resignation. That comment was unworthy of him. This was not him. He sought to slake his lust now, to drive the thoughts of the Eye from his mind with Elrohir. No. That would merely be using him and he had been wrong before, careless, rushing in to satisfy his desire with no thought for what might be. Was he not trying to make amends himself?
Sensing his compliance, Elrohir leaned closer to Legolas than he had himself and lightly touched his cheek. 'After the battle,' he said again with iron resolve. 'I promise you. Beloved. I am sworn now to protect you whatever the cost to myself. And if this is the price, then so be it.'
'Then you had better look after your own skin so it can press against mine the minute battle is over.' Legolas drew back and laughed lightly, but there was an edge in his voice and he knew he looked abjectly disappointed. He could not, did not bother to hide it. 'And if I think it goes against us, I will simply have to seek you out so the Orcs have something else to look upon apart from our steel weapons should it go ill!' He released Elrohir and leaned back.
Elrohir smiled and Legolas realised he had seen him smile but once before, when he awoke in the Houses of Healing and he called him Beloved. It softened him and he looked younger, a glimpse perhaps of the Elf he was before his journey of revenge had taken him on the errantry for which he was renowned. Legolas felt a softness in his limbs and a flutter in his stomach that he had not felt for many years and he laughed at himself and his foolish heart.
'You will have to be satisfied with that, my Legolas.' For a moment, Legolas thought Elrohir was going to kiss him there in view of any who happened to be looking. But instead, Elrohir rose, a little stiffly, to his feet and pulled his cloak about himself. He looked down upon Legolas and there was tenderness in the grey eyes, but also strength and determination. Legolas sighed in understanding. He felt their songs twine around each other and knew that somehow, somehow, if they became separate that his own green-gold threads would become unravelled.
After Elrohir left, he drew a loose thread from his sleeve and looked at it without seeing it.
Pippin grinned beneath his blanket. He had no idea what they were saying but it was enough for him to hear the hushed voices, the tenderness. He almost squealed gleefully to himself with delight. He wished he could tell Merry. He would be so annoyed that Pippin had worked it all out before he had. It wouldn't be the same telling Gimli. Gimli would just start chewing his beard and looking harassed. It is funny, Pippin told himself as if he would tell Merry were he here, they had no idea Legolas was such a passionate soul when they began on the Quest. Until he started singing those songs to irritate Gandalf they had thought him rather aloof. The Hobbit stifled a yawn and felt his eyelids grow heavy, sleepy.
baur-ûr: Fire of need/desire
* Laws and Customs of the Elves- Tolkien's own reference to the role of sex and marriage. As most of his works were based on the Noldor, I think it is reasonable to assume that other realms and races would have different views- especially the Avari and Green elves.
** ROTK- Aragorn says this about the ambush - see reference at the start of the chapter.
*** Aragorn asks this at the Council of Elrond - how have they come to fail of their trust. In the prequel to this story, Legolas refers to it several times. It irks him since they were set upon by orcs and the guards slain or taken.
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.