6. White Wings
Warnings: AU. m/m. Violent and erotic. Lots and lots of angst.
Chapter 6: White Wings
'Thus we crossed over Gilrain, driving the allies of Mordor in rout before us; and then we rested a while. But soon Aragorn arose, saying: "Lo! already Minas Tirith is assailed. I fear that it will fall ere we come to its aid." So we mounted again before the night had passed and went on with all the speed our horses could endure over the plains of Lebennin.'
Legolas, The Last Debate, ROTK
Aragorn waited restlessly for Halbarad to give his order to ride, and the last man was not mounted before he dug his heels into his horse's sides and charged ahead. Behind him, the Shadow Host surged silently forwards, edging him on, urging him to ride faster and faster until he streamed ahead, his horse blowing and snorting with the effort. Their litany crept upon him, gnawed at the edges of his mind…We have forgotten the beat of blood in our veins … the pulse of flesh…
The Grey Company rode in silence. Hard. Aragorn barely spoke to any of them, apart from quick terse orders and a driving need to ride fast and furiously across the plains to Pelargir. The quiet Dúnedain seemed even more subdued, focused as they neared their destiny. Dust rose up in clouds beneath their pounding hooves across the plains of Lebennin, and merged with the shadows and drifts of spectral banners lifting gently in a barely felt wind.
…We have lived in darkness, in utter silence, stillness. Forgotten the throb of blood, the feel of flesh, the snap of sinew, hunger and thirst… Steel rusts, crumbles, light fades, darkness only…
The Dead followed, barely restrained, and the edge of their lust for vengeance and release sheared his thoughts.
'Ahead. Look.' Elladan called across to Aragorn and raised his hand, pointing to a distant line. There was a whine of an arrow. Aragorn glanced towards Legolas who peered after the arrow he had just released and was already reaching for a second. The Rohan horse did not falter in its stride and the Elf released the second arrow to shoot away into the grey distance. Aragorn could not even see his targets.
Aragorn glanced across at Elladan who rode beside him, sable cloak swept out behind him and his dark hair streamed in the wind. Elladan stared ahead, intent on some distant point on the horizon, his great black warhorse charged ahead tirelessly, and shook his long black mane, champing at the silver bit in his mouth.
He was even more aware of his other brother who rode at his right. After a terse and emotional exchange with Elladan, Aragorn had acquiesced to his brother's plea and not confronted Elrohir. But the words hung unsaid between them and Elrohir's deep eyes avoided his whenever he looked his way.
Another arrow flew unerringly over the distance beneath the darkened skies and something ahead, a distant blur, fell. Aragorn saw Legolas at the edges of the Company, Gimli clung to him loyally, but the Elf stared intently ahead. He had a cut beneath his eye and Aragorn tried not notice that the bruise on his cheekbone matched the ring his brother wore on his forefinger. It was Gimli who looked Aragorn's way and smiled reassuringly. His beard was swept back in the wind and Aragorn wondered briefly what Gimli would look like without a beard.
Aragorn's horse suddenly shied and he saw the dead body of a Man, bloody cutlass in his outstretched hand, a green fletched arrow sticking out of his chest. Then he passed another and as Legolas passed, he stooped and wrenched the arrows from the bodies with scarcely a glance.
Whispers again at the edges of Aragorn's mind and the Shadow Host seemed to surge around them once more, like a grey tide. He focused again, for he had realised that if his attention wandered in the least, they would catch hold of him and take him where they would… it was hard to resist them for their purpose was his, but they would have ridden him like a hag until he dropped and he had mortal men to lead also. He reined them in, held them back, hard, strongly forcing them to obey him. Faster, faster, they muttered and whispered and it seemed the horses could hear them for their hooves flew over the plains as if winged. Not for us the dawn, not for us the new day…the voices whispered and merged and drifted… we know only the earth, beneath the earth, the darkness and twilight…
Aragorn looked up briefly, feeling their pain and delight in the huge open sky, the long grass and the distant plains, the jingle of the bit and clang of stirrup for these shadows were kin to the Men of Rohan. I have needed to feel the wind rushing past me, to hear the drumming of horses galloping and the ring of steel and stirrup, to see the high cloud and huge empty skies…
Aragorn felt Roheryn's pace quicken and the Grey Company seemed to gallop even faster, the shadows at their heels. He listened although he resisted their insistent call.
There was a slight cry to his far left, from the edges of the company where Legolas and Gimli rode. He looked along the line of Men and saw the Dwarf pulling at Legolas' arm. The Elf had closed his eyes and was leaning slightly to the side, into the wind as if listening. Aragorn wondered if he too, could hear the strange lament of the Dead. Almost he asked but there was still a strained tension between them that he could not quite break yet. Elladan seemed distant as well and his horse suddenly veered towards Legolas when he seemed to awaken and come back to himself.
Elladan too was aware of Legolas, although he would look at neither Elladan himself, nor his twin. Gimli stuck like a burr to the Elf and glowered furiously at anyone who dared look in their direction. Elladan felt a strange flush of disappointment for he had enjoyed the company of both the Elf and Dwarf and had looked forward to knowing them better.
It was the sudden breeze that lifted a lock of bright gold hair and caught in his own that drew his attention. It ran its siren fingers across his skin and the sounds nudged the edge of his thoughts… the call of the Sea. It lingered briefly and then was gone. But Elladan saw Legolas lean into the wind, eyes closed, lips parted, and for a moment he was utterly lost. When the breeze had died, his eyelids fluttered open and he looked about him as if he had missed something, but it was gone. Elladan knew Legolas did not know what it was he heard, did not know his heart was unprotected and vulnerable to the call of the Sea. Elladan remembered Galadriel's warning and thought then he understood the choice she had given the Mirkwood Elf. And he grieved. For he dared not leave Elrohir untended, and he dared not show Legolas favour for fear of his brother's wrath. He did not fear his brother. But he feared that he might lose him completely to the darkness in his soul.
It was dark then, grey wastes in the blackness before them. Over the wide land, trampling unheeded the grass and flowers, they hunted their foes through a night and a day until they came at last at the bitter end to the Great River at last.*
Even from a distance, they could hear the ponderous din of war; the shouting, the ring of steel upon steel, the screaming. They heard the roar of flames and Aragorn felt the press of the Shadow Host around them. They rushed forward at the sound of War, their murmuring like the wind in the grass but he held them back. Suddenly they crested the hill and the battle was spread out below.
The Great River Anduin gleamed black-silver, like mercury below them. Its wide expanse of water seemed endless, great enough to be mistaken for the Sea itself. Upon it, a great war fleet rode the waves, fifty or so great black ships and countless smaller vessels. Black sails furled and from the sides of each ship there came a burst of fire.
He heard the Dwarf's muttered gasp, 'Orthanc fire. How…?' and heard Legolas swear under his breath.
'Saruman.' Gimli spat. 'His reach is long indeed.' He grasped his axe tightly, 'We should have killed him when we had the chance.'
Some of the smaller vessels were on fire and small black dots leaped from the boats into the Anduin. But there was no time to stop and wonder for all along the banks of the river, along the stone jetties and in the town, flames burst and flared, and small knots of black shapes struggled – Men and Orcs, Corsairs, Haradrim and the good Men of Gondor fought. Those they had vanquished at Linhir had galloped or sailed ahead to escape the King of the Dead, and now they shouted alarm to their warriors below and pointed away, up the hills to where Aragorn had halted and held in check the Shadow Host.
There was almost a pause in the fighting as the Men and Orcs below looked up at the ridge where the vanquished attackers of Linhir pointed. The wind tugged on the great banner that Halbarad held and the White Tree unfurled and gleamed with a light that did not come from sun or moon or stars. But the Men and Orcs below cried out in terror and wonder.
Aragorn was aware of the whispering in his mind, of the steadily growing roar that was the battle cry of the Shadow Host. He breathed in deeply and fought with them to hold them back until he was ready- he wanted to wait until they were almost upon their foes and then release the great tidal flood of terror they brought with them. He held Roheryn back and the great horse pranced and threw up his head, a thunderous whinny sounded and the horse's body shivered in anticipation. Aragorn felt the answer in his own blood and bone, thrumming with the prospect of battle. Now was his time. Now was his hour. The Heir of Isildur and Elendil had come forth to slay the foes of Gondor and to avenge the death of Boromir.
In a great voice he called, 'Now come! By the Black Stone I call you!' *
And suddenly the Shadow Host came up, the hairs on his neck, his arms and back stood on end and he felt a tingling in his scalp. They pushed at him, pushed him to release them into the battle below. Faint cries and dim horns blew, and then a murmur of countless far voices sounded. It was like the echo of some forgotten battle. Pale swords were drawn, but they needed not the bite of sword for they no longer needed any weapon but fear. None would withstand them.*As they gathered on the hill, a grey shadow beneath the bruised purple clouds, the battle below seemed to pause and Men and Orcs looked up.
Aragorn's eyes widened. He had not realised how deadly, how powerful was the fear the Dead wielded. The whispering in his mind became a roar, it grew, louder and louder until it was like a terrible storm. Then suddenly, he could hold them no longer and he let go. The Shadow Host poured like a great wave over the hills and crashed into the hordes below. Aragorn watched aghast as men turned and fled, seeming to drown in the sea of fear that overcame them, their mouths open, screaming, scrambling desperately to escape. The Shadow Host swept across the water and were upon the ships like wolves so the sailors, in their madness, leaped from the ships, drowning in their desperate scramble. On the shore, men fled the battle, friend and foe alike. Only the Orcs did not flee for they did not fear the Dead.
Aragorn saw some ships sailing gallantly to the rescue of drowning men and recognised the freed ships from Linhir. They had steeled their hearts and although dread filled them, they knew the Shadow Host was under Aragorn's command and would not harm them, for he had marked them as his.
Aragorn's horse stamped and tossed his head restlessly. 'Yes. Then let us join the fray,' he whispered and he raised his hand to his own company and they readied to charge. 'Elendil!' he cried and charged.
Roheryn, his horse, surged forwards, leaping over the fallen and slain, and charged into the thick of it where Orcs wrestled and fought with those men valiant enough to remain. He swept Anduril around and black blood spattered his tunic. And again he rounded hearing the roaring of the wind, the clang of steel, and a screaming that would not stop. He lunged and struck another Orc, and Roheryn turned swiftly, striking out with his own hooves, for he was a battle horse. Aragorn rode onwards, recklessly, driving all before him.
He lost sight of his brothers in the battle, and saw briefly, Legolas firing arrow after arrow, decimating the Orc hordes. He heard Gimli's cry 'Barak Khazad!' and then he was caught up in his own fight. He was at the edges of the river now where the fighting was at it thickest and he dismounted and sent Roheryn off for he was more vulnerable on horseback now than on foot. Men had fled in fear and terror, and Orcs had followed to kill. He was pushed into the back of a huge brute of an Orc which grunted and flung out its arm to ward him off. Aragorn swung his sword and sliced through the arm, the Orc squealed and howled and lashed at him, he felt the serrated edge of its sabre rip his skin. The Orc turned and its eyes glazed as a green-fletched arrow pierced its chest.
Aragorn did not pause but swung at the next one, it stepped back and crouched in a defensive stance that he recognised with a sickening shock as that which he had seen Legolas do countless times. The Orc leered and licked its lips. There was red blood on its mouth. Steel clanged against steel and Aragorn felt its unnatural strength, elven-strong, it forced him back so he kicked his booted foot upwards and it collapsed in agony. Anduril sliced into its wicked heart and he pulled it out, the ruined flesh sucking at the blade like it did not want to let go. He grimaced and leaped over the dead Orc. He caught sight of Elrohir then, his long midnight-black hair swirled around his shoulders and the silver blade flashed in the unnatural half light.
Elrohir was deep in slaughter, his blood thrummed and sang with the killing. Beneath him his sable horse plunged and he rode on deeper into the killing field. His heart burst with a terrible delight and glee in the blood that coated his hands, his arms, his sword. He slashed and burned and slashed and killed and killed. The crash of metal on metal, the din of shouting, grunting, swearing, invigorated him. Battle fever overtook him and if the yellow eyes of the Orcs he killed glinted with madness and depravity, it was reflected in his own. He killed with an eye above, below, behind and to the sides- a blow could come from anywhere in the midst of such a battle. He did not care. He did not care. He wanted this. Mindless killing. Rage for his mother. Rage against the abominations. Rage against himself for he could not save her. For they took her. They took her. And he could never rest. Never rest. Never find release. He could smell himself on her thighs. He could see her fear of him. He wanted… to hurt everyone… He wanted to hurt him. He wanted…
From his horse, he caught sight of Legolas then. Orcs seemed drawn like moths to the bright flame of his knives, for all his arrows were gone. The hate gleamed in their eyes more strongly, and they gnashed their teeth and surged forwards and then back as he swung in an arc around them. There was a fierce, bloodcurdling battle cry from the Mirkwood Elf, 'Alagos gwann! Noro pin thoer!' and Elrohir almost stopped at the sight of him; head thrown back, long hair glinting gold, that swept about him. His eyes were hard and glittering in the bloodlust that sang in Elrohir's own blood and bones. And despite all he could not help but admire the beautiful, terrible rage that hurtled Legolas into the Orcs, hacking and killing, slashing and then falling back only to lure them on, enticing them into stupid lunges that ended with their death. The flash of the Elf's blade, coming up black with blood and flashing down again was mesmerising. Legolas whirled and slashed, black blood spurted up in a fountain and coated an Orc's face. There were fewer of them now and they had fallen back, waiting, watching their deadly foe.
Elrohir stared for a moment, the power and strength of that athletic body, the strong muscles that slid and swelled and pulsed, his blades thrusting, piercing flesh and muscle and bone… Then Elrohir urged his black horse forwards, his sword plunged in deeply and he pulled it from the belly of a Southron warrior. The flesh sucked the blade, and the man's eyes glazed and dimmed. He pushed the body away and stuck his sword into the back of an Orc.
He suddenly realised the gang of Orcs that watched Legolas had pressed a little closer. He could no longer see the flash of his blade go down and up, slick with blood. He strained to see the Elf.
Legolas suddenly leapt forwards, turning and stabbing, slashing. Another Orc fell, howling and gibbering, clutching its face. But when Legolas fell back, it was more slowly, as if he was suddenly tired. Or distracted, thought Elrohir. Then distantly, a scent, like silk lying on the breeze, of salt and black rocks shining from the tide… Elrohir himself stopped for the briefest moment as the Song surged around him… He stared as Legolas turned, eyes wide and searching. The wind from the sea stirred his hair.
Legolas suddenly gasped and froze, eyes wide. His hands slowly fell to his sides. His knives dropped to the bloody ground and his head tipped back.
No! Elrohir spurred his charger towards Legolas. Galadriel's warning echoed in his ears.
Legolas had dropped to his knees, long winter grass hair streaming back in the sudden wind up the river from the west, a crimson stain spreading slowly across his chest. Legolas' lips parted and he took a deep, shuddering breath that seemed more like a sob.
No. NO! Elrohir lunged forwards again, his blade clashing against steel, fighting his way through the battle towards the fallen Elf.
And then, quite suddenly Elrohir heard them, the sharp keening on the wind, saw the white wings catch in the brief sunlight that broke through. Elrohir's own heart soared and plummeted at their call and at the touch of cold salt spray on his lips. And he knew then that the Silvan Elf had heard the cry of the gull on the shore.
And as if they knew, the Orcs stilled. They stared hungrily at Legolas and he did not rise. One Uruk raised a curved scimitar already gleaming with blood and stalked towards the kneeling Elf. His sharpened teeth were bared in a demonic grin. He raised the curved blade high and slashed down.
Gimli had kept close to Legolas, ever mindful of his distraction during the pell-mell ride to Pelargir, and having to constantly awaken him. Although it was not really wakening him, he had seemed to drift, ever towards the westerly horizon, leaning into the wind it seemed. In fact it was so much so that Gimli had threatened to get off and walk. Legolas had only turned slightly and looked down at him as if barely understanding what he had said. When they had paused at the top of the ridge to look down on the river, Legolas had gasped and sworn under his breath. He had thought the River was perhaps the Sea. Gimli had decided then that he would stick next to the Elf and guard his back. He knew it would be no good trying to keep him out of the battle.
Gimli had seen Legolas pause, seen the startled look in his eyes and knew then the danger to his friend. They had been forced apart by the gang of Orcs intent on Legolas. Now though, the Dwarf raised his Great War axe and gave a mighty cry, ''Barak Khazad!' He barrelled through the wall of Orcs, barging them apart and hurling himself in front of the stricken Elf. His mighty axe clanged against the curved bloody scimitar. He pulled it back and sliced the air in front of him with his mighty axe. The Orc fell back slightly but did not move far, it merely circled and jeered.
The Orc, its face disfigured and contorted, snarled and closed in. It had a dwarvish mail shirt and Gimli bared his teeth at it in hatred, his blood thundering.
'You make a pretty pair,' snarled the Orc. 'We will have both of your skins for…' But an arc of black blood spurted from the place where its head was and Gimli looked up.
A dark elven warrior stared down at him from his huge black horse, prancing and skittering. The warrior did not even blink. One of the sons of Elrond, thought Gimli. In the nick of time, he thought as well, but a dwarf was never going to admit that even to a Half-Elf.
'That one was mine,' he shouted furiously. The warrior showed his teeth in a feral grin.
'Well have that one instead!' he shouted back at Gimli. The Dwarf grunted and swept his axe behind him, taking off a surprised Orc's head.
He thrust his axe out and with both hands on the haft, he swung around. The Orcs fell back but suddenly met with a swifter and bloodier end as the son of Elrond thrust his sword into their tarnished armour and ruined flesh. He struck again and again until the Orcs feared more for their lives than their bloodlust for a fallen Elf.
Gimli did not watch. As soon as the Orcs were dispatched or fled he cast off his round helm and stood before Legolas who had sunk to his knees on the wet and bloody ground. A crimson stain spread across his chest. His green-grey eyes were transfixed on the sky above him and the Dwarf seized him by the shoulders and cradled him.
'Legolas! Legolas! You cannot be hurt! ' His hand came away wet with blood. When he pulled the Elf forwards, he saw a slender arrow shaft sticking out of his back, near the shoulder.
A sudden break in the clouds shot silver through grey and there was a single sound. Gimli looked up. A seagull wheeled and cried on the wind. He stared at Legolas, whose face was turned upwards to the white wings, lips parted and eyes gazed, the flash of white reflected in the Elf's dark eyes. Gimli cried out. It broke his heart.
He shook his head and moaned. 'No. No. It cannot be….she told you… she told us… why did I let you come…' He saw the Elf stare up at the sky, at the treacherous white bird that wheeled and mewed on the wind. There was inexpressible joy in his eyes and Gimli could hardly bear it.
'Legolas! Legolas! Do not look at them, do not listen!' He tried to hold his hands over the Elf's ears to stop him from hearing but he knew it was too late.
Legolas drew a sigh that seemed to well from somewhere deep deep within and he spoke. 'Ah, Gimli... You cannot imagine…' The words came from afar as if the Elf spoke from his sleep.
Gimli gave a wordless cry and pulled Legolas to his chest tightly. He wondered how he could bear the loss.
'Give him to me,' a voice spoke low and close. The great black horse stood near him, its hoof stamped and there was blood on its foreleg. The Elf warrior sat astride the war horse, his raven black hair tangled in the wind, his sable cloak swirled around him and blood, crimson and black, gleamed wetly on his sword. It seemed to sing with blood. His eyes were fierce and sunk in slaughter and Gimli stared at this vision from the First Age.
'Give him to me.' It was a command this time, low and deep and spoke to his bones and blood.
Gimli stared first up at the Elf warrior. The horse tossed its head and the silver bit jangled. Then Gimli looked down at Legolas. The Elf's head was tipped back, his long hair swept around him, the crimson stain spread over his chest. His cheeks were flushed and his breaths came in short shallow gasps, but he seemed unaware, gazing in rapture at the wheeling gulls. The Dwarf's shoulders slumped slightly and he knew that he had no choice. To stay would be to invite death. Legolas needed to be removed from battle and his wound treated. Otherwise he would bleed to death. Gimli was no healer and no fool. He glared up at the elven warrior.
'Tell your brother not to come near him,' growled the Dwarf. The son of Elrond suddenly looked at him. 'You cannot understand the love I bear him,' he said quietly. 'You cannot understand what he has done to earn the trust and devotion of this Khazad. You only need to know that he has. '
Defeated, he gently pulled Legolas upright and held him.
Gimli pushed Legolas towards the waiting arms of the other Elf who leaned down and put his arms beneath Legolas' shoulders, grasping him easily and pulled him onto the great black war horse. Legolas' head rolled back against the broad chest and their long hair tangled, gold and black.
* ROTK, The Last Debate
Alagos gwann! Noro pin thoer! - (Bring the) Storm of the Dead. Flee o abominations.
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.