My Aragon Stories
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Land of Light and Shadows: 10. Hope in Understanding
Imrahil paced silently along the parapets of Dol Amroth, listening to the sounds of waves crashing against the shore and feeling the southern wind brush against his face as it rose from the sea to carry its scent inland. The guards said nothing as he walked by their stations, for the prince was frequently a nocturnal creature and often prowled Dol Amroth when all else lay quiet and still. He used such times for thinking and pondering, and rumors circulated among his men that in the dead of night, Prince Imrahil could sometimes dream elven dreams and speak with Arda as the Eldar did.
Of course, these rumors were but the imaginings of men who did not understand such things, and as such they had little factual substance to them. Imrahil was not an elf nor was he even half-elven. He was a man and as mortal as the guards and soldiers who served beneath him. He could no more sing the song of Ilúvatar than he could fly, and elven dreams were far beyond his reach. And yet, there was still something different about him. In his blood ran a hint of elven awareness that would occasionally manifest itself in his steely gray eyes or his penchant for foresight. The heritage of Nimrodel lay upon him, and it was no great wonder that rumors spread among his subordinates that their prince had the gifts and talents of an elf.
And perhaps it was this distant elven relationship that caused him to wander the night when the stars shone brightly upon Middle Earth. There was a solace and a comfort in their presence, and under their twinkling light the sea came to life. Rolling waves with crests of sparkling diamonds leaped along the shoreline, and further out, the sky itself was reflected in the vastness of the ocean. Infinity was doubled, and at times it seemed to Imrahil that he heard a song weaving together all that he saw. He would often pause to simply listen to this elusive melody. It was nothing he could ever imitate and it was not something he was entirely sure existed, but during the late hours of the evening, it would tease his sharp hearing and whisper of greater things that lay beyond the sea and behind the sunset.
But on this night, Imrahil was not listening for music nor would he be receptive to its calming influence. Instead, he was hard at work in attempting to unravel a dark mystery. He had fallen asleep in the late evening just ere sunset, and another ominous dream had come to him. But this time, the images within the nightmare were stark and vivid. He had clearly seen riders in the desert, masked by flying scarves and robes as a protection against blowing sand. He had seen an ancient city of red stone and crumbling walls with many tents and many men encircling it. He had seen smoke and shadow, and beyond the veil of darkness, he had seen a raging fire consume a withering white tree. Then had come shouts carried by the desert wind. Imrahil could not make out the words, but he knew the voices. Aragorn, Eomer, Legolas, Gimli, Arhelm, Imhran…they had all been there. And throughout the dream there had been the sound of horses driven madly and without care. Onward they rushed until by the end of the nightmare their coming was as the roaring of the surf. And as they raced, the darkness vanished, leaving only a sea of sand in its wake.
Imrahil sighed and paused to lean against the protective wall of the parapets. He had learned early in his career to give heed to his dreams, but how was he to do that when he knew not what the dreams meant? It was obvious enough that something dark stirred within Harad, but what was he to do about it? How was he to act? Should he take an armed escort and follow Aragorn and Eomer? Should he send reinforcements to Gondor or Pelargir?
Imrahil identified the speaker even as he turned to face him. He had actually heard the man’s approach, but he had hoped vainly that an answer to his questions might come to him before his mind was called away from contemplation. Unfortunately, answers were still as scarce as elves, or so the old saying went, and Imrahil resigned himself to the fact that his dream was not going to be explained in the immediate future.
"What have you to report, healer?"
"I thought you would wish to know, sire, that Mohart regained consciousness again, but he was awake only for a short time. Still, I think this is progress. His body is cleansing itself of the potion, and that is welcome news."
"Indeed it is," Imrahil murmured softly. Mohart had fallen rather heavily beneath the power of the slafe weed, a plant that grew along the southern border of Rohan and was renowned for its ability to send even the most troubled of sleepers into a peaceful dream world. In small doses, it was harmless enough, but a potent infusion of its extract was capable of knocking the hardiest warrior off his feet for at least three days while producing side effects of nausea and headache. Unfortunately, a few men were more susceptible to the plant than were other men, and it appeared that Mohart was among those unfortunate few.
"He should be conscious again by morning, sire," the healer continued. "I think his body is finally ridding itself of the medicine."
"I wish to know the moment he begins to stir," Imrahil said, turning away and fixing his gaze once more on the ocean. "I will take no chance that he might slip back into unconsciousness until I am given a chance to speak with him."
"It shall be as you command, my prince," the healer promised.
Prince Imrahil nodded. "Good. I wish you a peaceful rest, then. Dismissed."
The healer sketched a quick bow and left the prince. Imrahil listened to his fading footsteps and then sighed, bringing his head down to rest against his outstretched forearms. He would be wise to seek rest, as well, but to do so was to invite the unsettling dream. Yet if I am to do anything in the prevention of that nightmare’s fulfillment, I must sleep, Imrahil thought grimly. He could go longer without sleep than many men could, a gift of his distant elven ancestry, but he was not as the Eldar. If he did not rest this night, he would pay for it later.
Sighing again, Imrahil pushed off the wall, deciding to hearken to the voice of prudence. Dream or no dream, he needed to sleep so as to better help his king and his country. It was his duty and responsibility. And if the dream did come again, perhaps it would come with further details that might aid in its interpretation. Wishful thinking, maybe, but seven years ago, the fall of Mordor and the return of the king had also seemed like wishful thinking.
And I must understand this dream, the prince thought, still trying to convince himself that laying down to rest was a desirable thing. Pacing here has done me no good, and so I must confront this mystery at its source. Only in understanding shall I find my answers, and I feel that these answers must come quickly. Darkness and shadows walk in the desert this night.
As if to confirm this, the wind that blew in from the sea suddenly chilled, and shivers raced down Imrahil’s spine. Shuddering slightly, the prince whispered a silent prayer to the Valar and hoped that the premonitions haunting his nightmares were also plaguing Aragorn. The king might know what to make of this. As for himself, Imrahil felt completely lost.
* * * *
Faensul raced through the desert, eating away at the distance with long, easy strides. Upon his back and seemingly ignorant of the soothing gallop, Legolas listened to a world of silence and slowly sank into a pit of despair. The song of Ilúvatar had vanished, and he felt its absence with a painful yearning that threatened to dwarf even his perpetual longing for the sea.
"Tell me, Gimli, what think you of Bron’s death?" the elf asked, desperate to make some kind of significant noise that would fill the silence around him.
"You have already asked me that," the dwarf said, his voice quiet and thoughtful.
"I have?" Legolas tried to remember that part of the conversation, but he could not. Looking back now, he realized he had been uncharacteristically talkative for most of the ride, and it was quite possible he had asked many things in a mindless effort to simply make use of his voice. "Then tell me again," he finally said. "I fear I have forgotten."
That should have been an invitation to open up a round of friendly banter with Gimli, but the dwarf did not immediately answer. At length, he finally spoke, but it was not to tease the elf concerning his forgetfulness. Instead, it was to comply with the prince’s request, and Legolas immediately wondered what was going through the mind of the dwarf. How much did he suspect?
"I think that Dashnir had reasons for killing Bron other than to silence the voice of a traitor," Gimli answered, his voice still too quiet for the elf’s comfort. "From what I have observed of him, he is a man who craves information. Bron’s words might have revealed much, but Dashnir would not hear them. This means he probably already knew the truth of the matter and that something in that truth was a danger to him. I think Dashnir had something to do with the raid."
"Your thoughts match my own," Legolas said, hurrying to fill the silent void before it could fully manifest itself again. He knew his actions would only fuel the suspicions already building in his friend, but he could do nothing else. He could not bear oppressive stillness that fell every time he ceased to speak. Even the dull thudding of hooves around him could not mask the absence of sound in the surrounding desert. "Did Aragorn or Eomer tell you any more of their confrontation with Bron?"
"You heard as much as I did for you were standing with me when they spoke to us," Gimli answered. "But perhaps you were not listening then. It seems, Master Elf, that you are saying many things tonight, but that you are not truly listening."
"Why do you say that?" Legolas asked, trying to come up with a way to divert the dwarf. Unfortunately, what the dwarf said was true. After their tent had been dismantled, Legolas had summoned his elven mental guards and locked down his emotions as best as he was able. He thought he’d done a fairly convincing job of creating the illusion that all was well, but apparently he had not fooled his friend.
"Aragorn, for one thing," the dwarf answered the elf. "He pressed you hard this evening ere we left Lake Supt, and yet you answered him with a curtness that surprised me. I have rarely heard you use such a tone of voice, Legolas, and it seems to me that you labor under a distressing problem. You told Aragorn as much early this morning. I was hesitant to believe what I heard, but your actions this night are convincing me."
Legolas blinked, trying to remember exactly what he had told Aragorn in that short period between the time he’d woken from unconsciousness and the time he’d fallen into ill dreams. "We spoke in Sindarin," he finally said. "How can you know what I told Aragorn?"
"My friend, I credit you with having a measure of intelligence. Kindly return me the same favor," Gimli chided. "Think you that elves alone are skilled in languages? You forget that I am frequent visitor in Ithilien, and I have picked up much of your speech. When you and Aragorn converse in Sindarin, it is no longer as secret as you might wish it to be. I do not know all that you say, but I am usually able to gain a general understanding."
"I cannot see where this conversation is headed," Legolas lied, knowing all too well where the conversation was headed. "Shall we turn our thoughts to other matters?"
"No, we shall not. I have waited long enough and have given you every opportunity to explain yourself, but my patience is wearing thin and your behavior is foolishness. We shall stay on this subject until you and I come to a mutual understanding." Gimli’s tone was bordering on condescending, and Legolas felt a flash of anger race through him at the same time he realized how futile it would be to divert his friend. Tenacious to a fault, when a dwarf latched on to an idea or a project, it was nearly impossible to turn his attention elsewhere. And in matters of loyalty and friendship, Gimli possessed this tenacity to an unusual degree.
"And what is it that you would have us understand?" Legolas sighed, conceding the round and surrendering to the dwarf’s whims for the moment. But he would make the dwarf pay later for that foolishness remark.
"I would have us both understand my responsibilities as your friend," Gimli said. "You would know all there is to know of me, yet in your mind, I cannot become concerned if something affects your welfare."
"I do not desire—"
"Yes, I know you do not desire my pity, and I would not offer it if I thought there was some way I could be of aid to you. But without sufficient information, I lend you what I am able, and if I cannot give you my assistance, at the very least, I will give you my pity." The dwarf stopped as though expecting Legolas to say something, but Legolas chose to remain quiet this time, focusing his mind on the rhythmic pounding of Faensul’s hooves beneath them as the horse effortlessly flew across the desert sand. Even the void of sound was better than encouraging his friend’s interrogation. But after a moment, the silence seemed to become awkward for the dwarf, and Gimli sighed and continued. "When you woke this morning after the battle, you asked to look outside. We all wondered at that, but in your typical fashion, you would not say what troubled you. Then Aragorn spoke to you in Sindarin and you replied in the same tongue. Now, I do not profess to be a scholar in the elvish languages, but I gathered some information from that brief dialogue. Would you like to repeat it for me, or shall I repeat it for you?"
"You are the one who would have us come to an understanding," Legolas said. At least one good thing was coming of this conversation. It was curing the elf of his need to babble constantly. "If it is so important to you, then I feel you should repeat it."
Gimli chuckled, and Legolas had the rather disconcerting impression that the dwarf had been expecting an answer like that. "Obstinate to a fault. Very well, then. But I expect no censure from you concerning my interpretation of Sindarin, for I do this at your bidding."
Gimli ignored him and continued on. "When you spoke to Aragorn, you first said something about cenedn. That means my sight. I should know as I hear it enough in Ithilien. Your subjects find it quite amusing that I cannot spot them in the trees when they follow me. The next words were familiar for the same reason. U-cenidh translates to I cannot see. I also hear that with regularity."
"I shall have to speak with my kinsmen about this," Legolas murmured.
"Do not trouble yourself," Gimli said. "It has actually become something of a game for some of them, and I would not begrudge an elf a chance at fun, seeing as they have only trees and one another for company."
"And what exactly do you mean by that?" Legolas demanded, hoping to keep the conversation focused on their usual banter.
"If you cannot decipher it for yourself, I fear you are beyond my help," Gimli said. "But we stray. Or rather, you seek to lead us astray, but I fear that you have met your match this night, Legolas. Let us return to our original topic. As you continued to speak with Aragorn, I heard cened again, so more about sight, and then you said firiath. I am not altogether certain about this word, but I believe it means mortal. Do I err?"
"Firiath refers to mortals as a collective group," Legolas admitted reluctantly.
"Good. The rest of the conversation was lost to me, but based on what I did understand and what I have seen from you tonight, I think I can draw a few simple conclusions. Would you like to hear them?"
"Am I given a choice?"
"No. I submit the idea that something happened to you between the time you fell and the time you woke. And whatever happened, it took away your elven sight. You cannot see our next destination. You cannot see the hawks that hover beyond range of mortal eyes. You cannot see Haradhur. You cannot look behind us and see Pelargir or Anduin. And along with elven sight, I believe that some of your elven hearing has also vanished. You should have heard me this evening when I woke you. You should have heard Faensul when he came to greet you. And you should be hearing whatever it is that you hear when the surrounding world speaks to you, but I do not believe you can. I think that is why you have been so vocal during the ride. You seek to fill a silence to which you are unaccustomed. Now, my friend, how far away from the mark do I shoot?"
For a long time, Legolas said nothing, pondering the dwarf’s words and marveling at how easy it was for Gimli to see through his efforts at deception. At length, the elf sighed, knowing he would have to give some kind of an answer soon. "You should have been an archer," he finally said. "Your arrows have found their mark."
It was now Legolas’s turn to wait for Gimli to respond, and he wondered what the dwarf would say. It was painfully obvious that he’d known very well what ailed the elf and did not seek confirmation but, as he put it, an understanding. He wanted Legolas to trust him. The irony lay in the fact that Legolas did trust him. The elf trusted Gimli with his life. But as the prince continued to think about it, he realized that this trust failed to extend to one very important thing. He would not—could not—trust Gimli with his problems. Why this should be was something he did not entirely understand. He was loathe to burden others with things he saw as his own, but when such burdens had to be shared, why this reluctance to share them with Gimli?
"Thank you, my friend," Gimli said quietly, breaking the elf’s train of thought. "And now do you understand? I refuse to ride blindly behind you or stand ignorant at your side. I am not merely your companion but also your friend, yet how can I claim that friendship when I take no thought for your welfare? In truth, how can you claim friendship with me when you take no thought for my concern?"
"I did not wish to burden you unnecessarily. And were our places exchanged, I think you would harbor similar feelings," Legolas answered.
"Perhaps," Gimli allowed. "But I also know that you would weary my ears with questions until you had uncovered the root of my troubles. You would not see a problem of mine as an unnecessary burden, nor do I see a problem of yours as such. Can you understand that?"
"I can, Gimli," the elf answered, understanding but not necessarily liking what was understood. He sighed and shook his head. "And I thank you for your concern as well as your words of wisdom."
"You are fortunate I am here to gift you with such words, for I fear you would never find wisdom on your own," the dwarf answered.
"I thought you credited me with a measure of intelligence," Legolas returned with a slight smile, feeling that perhaps all was not quite lost.
"My tongue must have slipped at the time," Gimli retorted. "But now that we have come to an understanding, let us turn to the problem itself. Sight and hearing have been reduced, but as they were only reduced and not taken from you, I do not think it was the blow to your head. Do you have any insight into this matter, Master Elf?"
"I am not certain, but I believe I have one plausible idea," Legolas said. He winced at just how tentative he sounded, but in truth, he was grasping at shadows and might very well be wrong. "Elves and dwarves are not as men, for while we are bound to Ilúvatar’s song, men act independently of it. This is both a blessing and a curse, for as the song winds to a close, our peoples fade. But being bound to the song gives us abilities and perceptions that men do not share. Elven sight and elven hearing are gifts of the song that enable us to reach out over far distances and hear what happens in other areas where the song is sung."
"And what should happen to an elf who was somehow cut off from this song?" Gimli asked.
"You are shrewd as ever, my friend," Legolas sighed. "I was not yet born, but histories from the First and Second Ages speak of sorcerers among men who learned dangerous arts. They learned to separate a being from the power of Ilúvatar, and these men employed this power against other men, dwarves, and ultimately against the elves. Among my people, the act was known as ú-glîr, or the taking away of the song. I know not how it affected the other Races, but if I rightly recall what I was taught, an elf who is separated from Ilúvatar’s melody loses the ability to commune with the other inhabitants of Arda. The elf hears silence where once there were voices and becomes as a man in many respects, sundered from the power of the song and forced to live with diminished abilities."
"What of immortality?" Gimli asked, suddenly fearful. "What of that? Is that, too, gone?"
"No one really knows," Legolas admitted with a casual shrug that belied his own fears. "Most elves who were separated did not learn to adjust and were killed in battle or through simple mishap. Others were rejoined to the song. For myself, I do not believe immortality is affected, for that is a gift not entirely of the song but also of the greater will of the Ilúvatar that goes beyond his song. And should an elf be sundered from that all-encompassing will, then I do not believe such an elf could live more than an hour or so without dying from the shock."
"If you seek to comfort me with this information, you have failed," Gimli informed his friend.
"How shall I comfort you when I have failed to comfort myself?"
"You could at least make the attempt. But answer me this question, if you can. Who would know how to cast such a spell in this age? And why should they seek to cast it upon you?"
"I know not," Legolas whispered, glancing around at the company. "I did not think such an art survived beyond the fall of Sauron. Indeed, I did not think it even survived the ending of the Second Age. Among my people it is related as a thing of the past, and for the elves, a thing of the past is something that happened very long ago and shall not come again. It seems impossible that men would have this ability, but recent events say otherwise." The elf trailed off, deep in thought, and eventually sighed. "You have told me that Dashnir and Garat were present when I fell. It may have been one of them, as unlikely as that might seem. On the other hand, the break in my memory might be the point where I fell beneath ú-glîr, and in that case, it would have been one of the raiders. As for the purpose, I can think of naught save to deprive our company of forewarning should an enemy attack, for I will not be able to see them coming from afar."
"And in that, we would lost a strategic advantage, so it would seem their aims are military," Gimli mused. "That would fit with both Garat and with the horse raiders. We are still left with a mystery. Well, since we cannot solve this puzzle, let us turn our minds to another. How do we undo what has been done?"
"We are not certain of what has been done," Legolas cautioned, "and until we are, I would not take action. There are different forms of this sorcery, and depending upon which one has been used, the method of undoing it changes. And even for the simplest forms of ú-glîr, I fear there are none here who possess the knowledge to remove it save the one who laid it upon me."
"Then I suppose we had better ensure that you make necessary adjustments," Gimli said, falling back to practical matters as was typical of a dwarf. "I would not see you injure yourself in battle or mishap because you could not accustom yourself to limited vision and hearing. When we stop this morning, you will borrow Eomer’s shield, and you and I will spar. We will see what has become of your elven reflexes and what must be changed to account for what you have lost."
"I cannot alter overnight what hundreds of years have trained me to do," Legolas protested.
"You can and you will," Gimli said firmly, "or you will be forced to answer to me and also to the complaints of your body, for I will not hold back."
"No, I suppose you will not," Legolas said, and a smile crept over his face. "My thanks, Gimli. I have not trusted you as I should, and I see now that this was foolishness on my part."
"You are welcome, my friend," and the dwarf loosened his grasp from the elf’s tunic to reach up and clap his friend on the shoulder. "Elven senses or no, we shall stand together, and in the face of our combined might, all enemies must fall."
Comforted by Gimli’s forceful words, Legolas nodded and reached up to grasp the dwarf’s hand. "Together as always, elvellon," he said. "And may the Valar’s swift wrath come upon any who seek to drive us apart."
Ú-glîr—A word I made up by taking a common negating prefix and combining it with the Sindarin word for song. Basically, "without song" or "the absence of song."
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