22. A Nightmare Within
Footsteps. Steady. Echoing down the hall. Growing louder and louder. People were coming.
Aragorn opened his eyes. He leaned up from the wall of the cell and peered into the darkness, not believing his ears. For days they had been shunned from attention aside from the guards assigned to stand post in the dungeon and the occasional servants bringing their meals. Wary excitement sliced through the blanket of sleep, and he rose.
Haldir turned to him. He had hardly noticed the tall Elf standing beside the jail door in the poor light. "Something is horribly wrong," the Lórien archer breathed quietly, meeting his gaze. Long arms were folded over his chest. Calmly he looked again out into the darkened hall. "A shadow has fallen over Minas Tirith."
Confusion tickled Aragorn as he stepped closer, coming to rest beside the Elf. The snoring of the Hobbits seemed unbearably loud, but even it could not drown out the steady strike of feet upon stone. The ranger held his breath, unable to worry or concentrate on anything but that sound. Waiting and hoping that it would not suddenly disappear. For days he had done nothing but that: wait and hope. Was it possible that it was over?
The torchlight flickered furiously. Behind the Hobbits were sleepily stirring, and Gimli shushed them. Aragorn gripped the cold bars, forcing a bit of patience to calm his racing heart and burning breath. He could not now lose his composure.
Footsteps. Louder. So close now.
A flash of white. A staff clanking. The shadows parted.
Aragorn gasped. Could it be? Surely it seemed impossible!
"Gandalf!" cried Pippin.
The old wizards calm face broke into a great smile, and Aragorn felt weak in the knees. If not for the same wise eyes and ancient aura of compassion and confidence, the ranger might have doubted the truth, for the great being before him had undergone a massive transformation. Grey had become white. The mass of tangled salt and pepper hair had become lighter than snow, and it shone brightly in the darkness. Aragorn recognized the pale robe and iron staff that bore the markings of Orthanc. They were the signs of the leader of the Istar order. Gandalf had become the White.
Though this alone was massively astounding, it could not shadow the shear shock at seeing his fallen companion again among them. A thousand questions raced through his mind, but he could pay none their due, for a strange stupor of paralyzing surprise and relief had claimed him. He stood, watching numbly, as one of the guards jabbed a key into the lock. With a twist and a clank, they were free.
Haldir pushed open the door just in time to avoid being run over as Merry and Pippin charged by him with pounding glee. They launched themselves at Gandalf, and the wizard gave a hearty laugh, his face open and warm, as he engulfed them in his seemingly giant embrace. The two Hobbits were talking rapidly, babbling in high tones about how very happy they were to see Gandalf, wondering how the wizard had survived, ecstatically regaling the entire tale since Amon Hen in the space of a few minutes. Gandalf smiled and patted each upon their shoulders, speaking in hushed tones. Whatever he said clearly calmed Merry since he hushed his feverish questions and declarations and pinched Pippin when his cousin did not quiet his own.
Gandalf rose to his full height as Aragorn and Haldir stepped outside the prison cell. Though they were of equal stature, Aragorn had always found the old wizard to be an imposing and intimidating force. "Much has happened, Aragorn," the Istar stated simply. There was a hint of sadness in the warm voice, and that subtle intimation spoke volumes of the loss the Fellowship had endured.
The ranger could not cast aside his curiosity. "Gandalf, how did you-"
The warm smile. "That, my dear friend, is a tale best left for another time. There is much to do."
There came a grumble behind him, and Aragorn turned. Gimli shuffled forward, his dark eyes glowing in the yellow torchlight. "It much warms my heart to see you well, Gandalf!" he declared. Yet in his tone there was also the hidden voice of grief. Aragorn understood it well, for it pierced his own heart with a pain suddenly acute and unbearable. This was a piece of the Fellowship, once lost and now returned. Still there was much that was gone forever.
The wizard appraised the Dwarf with jovial eyes. "Aye, Master Dwarf. It has been too long." Unspoken guilt pinched his regretful voice. His eyes twinkled brightly then. "Haldir of Lórien."
The tall, lithe Elf bowed slightly. "Mithrandir."
The great wizard turned as they assembled outside the cell. "I had hoped the Lady of the Golden Wood would aid the Fellowship where I could not. Her wisdom is powerful indeed to send such a mighty warrior."
The Elf took the compliment as he did most things. He merely nodded, without smile or blush, and held his gaze calmly. Aragorn found his tranquility particularly infuriating at that instance, envious of the archers cool composure when the ranger himself was drowning in wave after wave of pounding emotion.
He voiced the first question that came to mind. "How did you convince the Steward of my innocence?" he asked incredulously as the wizard turned and began to walk down the darkened hall that had for days seemed the impossible freedom. Aragorn leapt to catch up.
"I must give credit where credit is due. It is none of my own doing." Gandalf drew to a stop at the end of the hall. There it widened to a darkened chamber, clearly the mess hall for the soldiers of Minas Tirith. He gestured to a man standing among the company of guards. Aragorn regarded him with quick but inquisitive eyes. At first the stranger remained just that, for his face seemed young and unfamiliar. He bore a light beard that hid a strong jaw and thin lips. His eyes glowed with an intensity that struck him oddly, though. Upon closer inspection, he began to place the powerful gaze and highbrow. When he did, confusion and a bit of amazement overcame him.
The young man spoke first. "I am Faramir, son of Denethor, brother to Boromir." His voice held much that Aragorn could not unravel. It seemed clenched, tight with fury and grief. The ranger stood erect before the lord, watching as the yellow light licked across his face. "My father is dead."
For a moment, Aragorn doubted he had heard correctly. The utter finality of the words and the cold glimmer of Faramirs eyes dismissed the silly hope that somehow the truth was a falsehood. "Dead?" he stammered, idly surprised at the weakness in his own voice.
A hand fell upon his shoulder, and he turned quickly. Gandalf squeezed him briefly as he stepped between the ranger and the lord. Faramir watched the wizard with suspicious yet yearning eyes, as if hoping Gandalf might somehow restore a faith tarnished. Aragorn found himself praying that the wizard might.
"A great crime has been done to Gondor this black eve. This powerful nation has lost a ruler both wise and noble. A son has lost a father. Middle Earth has lost a valuable ally." His voice dropped gently. "Yet from the ashes of deceit rises the truth. We cannot stand divided when the black forces of Sauron wage their war upon us."
Faramir released a long breath. It seemed to shake the very room. Aragorn watched him intently and began to understand the pressure upon the young mans shoulders. The weight of an ailing nation had abruptly come to him. "This I know, Gandalf, though it was not your words that convinced me." The young man looked up and met Aragorns gaze. The ranger blinked, trying hard to decipher the expression in the others eyes, and finding himself only reminded of Boromir. "Whatever wrong he did you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, he has amended."
Aragorn felt uncertain. "You have seen him?" he asked quietly.
Faramir offered no apology or comfort. "I have," he stated coldly. "He was a man driven by guilt. I know that now." Their gazes locked, each analyzing the other for truth, for understanding. "I have set you free because the Last Alliance cannot falter. I alone have not the power to ensure its strength. The great army of horrid Orcs pushes west from Mordor. They will be upon us shortly, and we need the aid of the Firstborn. For this reason, I will step down." His sword exited his sheath with a clear ring. "I respectfully submit myself to your command." With that, Faramir lowered himself to one knee, lifting his sword with both hands as an offering to his king.
Aragorn stared in shock for a moment, the scene before him painfully reminiscent of the day upon Helms Deep when the repentant Boromir had done the same. A chilly guilt rattled his resolve, and he drifted in the sharp memory for a moment. Then there came a loud chime of metal sliding against metal. He pulled from his reverie.
The legion of soldiers within the chamber knelt, following their lords lead. Bowing to their commander. Giving their swords and their lives to their leader. The blood of Númenor restored!
Aragorn released a shuddering breath, his eyes traveling the darkened room in disbelief. In that instance, he could only stare. His birthright lingered before him, open and endless in its possibility. He had often wondered what this moment might be like upon starless evenings in Rivendell or eventless hunts in Mirkwood. The selfish exile shattered. He had expected himself to perhaps feel lost, frightened, or perhaps resigned. Yet here it had come, and he knew the reality of the promise. It was glorious, as warm as the sun. His heart pulsed in euphoria. He was king!
And yet he did not understand. He could not accept this wonderful gift without knowing the reason behind its offering. "Why?" he whispered. It was all he could manage, so taken aback by the happening.
Faramir looked up. The hard glint of his eyes had melted into a sad glimmer. "Boromir bade me to trust you. I will do as my brother asks. He he has never before led me astray." The young man again lowered his gaze. "He loved Gondor above all, Aragorn. In this, he and my father were most alike. Thus, I do not give this to you lightly." The guilt became nearly unbearable. "Despite his crimes, my brother is a great man." Faramir sighed gently. "I will do him proud, for I doubt I will ever see him again."
The knowledge was powerful indeed. Aragorn bit the inside of his cheek. Inside him a wound began to close. The fire of his anger waned just a bit in the cooling water of Faramirs words. He had been quick to judge out of worry and fury. It was not a mistake that he might ever admit or even amend. Hasty words and ignorant actions left scars not always visible but never forgettable.
Boromir wounded him horribly. He had wounded them all. Aragorn never imagined himself forgiving that. Yet he was not so cold-hearted to ruin the sacred bond of trust and respect between brothers. He only clasped the other upon the shoulder. Earnestly he spoke. "I will not fail you." Faramir met his gaze. "And I will not forget him."
It was a vow laden with strength and resolution. Aragorn stood still, watching Faramir intently. When the young lord nodded his consent, the ranger closed his eyes briefly. The wound was at least beginning to heal.
There came a cry behind them. Men scrambled and a hushed gasp went through the crowd. Aragorn felt Haldir tense, and the Elf narrowed his dark eyes dangerously. The ranger returned his gaze forward and saw Faramir rise. To the lords rear, the soldiers parted and through them approached guards garbed in sodden clothing. Rainwater dripped to growing puddles at their feet. Their haggard faces glowed with proud triumph.
They pulled forward a prisoner. A sodden black cloak clung to pasty skin that glistened wetly. Though the small, hunched man sought to hide his face, the guards would not permit it and shoved him forward most unceremoniously. Black, beady eyes lodged in sockets too large frightfully looked up. Then the little man cringed yet again.
Aragorn recognized him immediately. When he did, he began to understand what had happened this late night in Gondor, and the realization burned anger into him.
"My Lord," one of the soldiers gasped, somewhat winded, "we found him. He had made it to the stables, but one of the hands thought him suspicious and would not saddle him a horse. When he attempted to steal one, the boy held him at bay with a dagger until we arrived."
"See that the lad is commended," Faramir ordered coolly. In the young mans eyes burned a violent rage Aragorn had not often seen. To the quivering man he turned, and the ranger saw powerful fingers tighten about the hilt of his blade. "Who sent you?" he growled. Wormtongue only cringed, attempting somehow to withdraw protectively into himself. With the bright torches held about him, there were no shadows to conceal his treachery.
Faramir had lost his patience. "Who sent you, demon?!" he bellowed. The sword flashed up, glowing in the golden illumination like a spark of lightning. It came to rest dangerously before Wormtongues dark eyes. "Do not test my patience, lest you will know the wrath of this blade!"
The man yelped. "It was Saruman who directed me to Denethors court. Yet it was not for him that I killed the Steward!"
Faramirs eyes flashed murderously. Aragorn could see that the young man was quickly abandoning his control. The ranger then intervened. "Why then, you snake? To what end did his death serve? Clearly you sought to imprison me to destroy the Last Alliance!" Aragorn shook his head in frustrated confusion. "Slaying Denethor surely did not aid that goal!"
Wormtongue gave a snicker. The tone was tinged with a cold insanity. "Silly children! Do you think that I would stand idly by and allow Saruman to gain such power? Turning man upon Elf only furthered his goals! Mine were something a bit different."
Aragorn glanced at Gandalf, but the wizards face was cool and impassive. "You seek not the One," the ancient wizard declared softly. His sad voice seemed more a rumble.
"Ha!" laughed Wormtongue. "The One Ring, the lesser Ring, is beyond us all now! The Elf prince made sure of that!" Aragorn flinched. He ground his teeth. "None can change the course of its fate! Foolish wizard! The Wise sees only what he wishes to see!" Wormtongues eyes gleamed in madness. The vile sickness of greed! "There are Rings of Power yet in Middle Earth. The Dark Lord will again bind all the free peoples in darkness! With another Ring I shall stand unscathed!"
"You fool!" roared Gandalf. His glare was vicious in disgust and anger. "It is through those Rings that the Deceiver exerts his power! You would be the instrument of his wrath!"
Wormtongue only laughed, obviously forsaking the truth in his madness. His reality had obviously been twisted beyond any comprehension. "The Last Alliance will flounder. The Firstborn will perish! The Rings shall come free from their bearers!" The small man cackled with searing evil. Aragorn felt his insides shake in rage at Wormtongues duplicity. "The last king! Ha! You are too late! It is all in vain!" He hissed almost delightfully. "Had the old Steward kept his peace, he would have never discovered my intentions. The words of a son perhaps outweigh all other advices."
Faramir shook in rage. "You animal!"
But Wormtongue only rambled more, his tone now sad and calm. Regretful. "Murder of a man in self-defense is pardonable. But the murder of a lord? What allots such higher worth? I have been but an advisor, a teller of truths and a worker of knowledge. To others I have given a life of groveling! Yet in this plot I was my own lord. For that, the old Steward sought me punished. His penance I have indeed escaped. Yours I suspect I will now endure." The dark eyes appeared watery. "The end is near. It is near because I have made it so! Do not ever forget that it was I who changed the course of Middle Earth!"
It became too much for Faramir. With a cry of absolute fury and sorrow, the young man raised his sword. Aragorn grimaced inwardly as it the blade screamed across and sliced Wormtongues deceitful head from his shoulders with a splash of dark blood. There was a squishy thud and those beady, black eyes disappeared into the shadows.
The room was silent then save for Faramirs heavy breathing. He stood taut, licked by the yellow light of the torches, erect in ire. Aragorn lowered his distant eyes. The truth burned within him, and he ached for the death of Denethor. To lose such a great man over such a trifle greed! He cursed Saruman and Wormtongue. The black workings of the Ring! Would they never be free of them?
"Another Ring of Power " came a murmur from behind him. He turned, his thoughts fading slowly.
Haldir raised his head. Clouded eyes that glowed in the torchlight suddenly became wide. A frantic look crawled into the stoic gaze. "He meant Nenya, the Ladys Ring! He intended to attack Lothlórien!"
A hushed gasp went through the group. Aragorn stiffened and his mind rushed. It made horrible sense. Why Wormtongue had questioned Haldir about his appearance in Rohan. The demons last foul claims. He had surmised Galadriels power from Haldirs timely arrival and sought to obtain the Ring of Power for himself. With the great and dangerous battle nearly upon them, the Elves of the Golden Wood would be distracted. If the Last Alliance shattered, they might become defenseless. Panic pulsed in his heart. Ai, for the great Golden Wood! He thought of Arwen, for her kin were among those living in the beautiful ancient trees beside the Nimrodel. He loathed her despair at their loss.
"Can he do that?" asked Merry incredulously.
"Surely he would have already settled plans for an attack," murmured Gimli angrily.
"The Lady and Lord would protect it!" Pippin shouted. His voice was unwittingly wistful.
Faramir suddenly spoke. "Perhaps not," he declared quietly. He wiped his bloody blade upon the sodden cloak covering Wormtongues body. Then he slid the sword back into its sheath and turned. He met Aragorns gaze firmly. "A legion of Elves marches to Minas Tirith," he stated simply.
Confused, Aragorn asked, "Of what colors?"
"Mirkwood, I believe," Faramir responded. The young man lowered his gaze almost sheepishly. "I regret I do not know more. Reports indicate they will reach the city on the morrow."
Preposterous thoughts pounded through Aragorns muddled mind. His guilt demanded that they have his attention. Could King Thranduil have sent his forces south to search for his son? Surely the prejudiced accusations of Astaldogald could not be the message of his father! He grew fearful of what might happen. Fearful of finding words to say. It seemed silly and insignificant compared to the dangers approaching, but he could not dismiss these feelings of dread and anxiety!
"One must ride to Lórien." Haldirs tight voice pulled him to the present. The Elf looked to the ranger. Aragorn saw a rare mix of fright and anger swirl in the archers eyes. He had never beheld Haldir so utterly torn. "We must somehow warn them!"
"One must," Gimli grumbled in disgust. The Dwarf shook his head darkly. "Go, crazy Elf!"
Silence. Haldir narrowed his eyes. "I will not," commented the Elf softly. "Those are not my orders."
Aragorn opened his mouth to speak, but an enraged Gimli beat him to the words. His angry tone echoed through the dark chamber. "Fool! Would you see your homeland ravaged by men?" Haldir stood stiffly, but he lowered his stoic gaze in shame. Gimli released the archer from his fiery gaze and grunted harshly. "Well, if you will not go to them, then I shall!"
Aragorn was nearly taken aback. The thought of separation from Gimli seemed foreign and unreal. Impossible. He had never pictured these final moments in the fight against evil without the rough but endearing Dwarf at his side. Gimli was such a constant companion. Below his gruff exterior, he had a heart bigger than any and a might just as great. Aragorn could not fathom continuing this horrid battle without him!
In those brief minutes of shocked stupor, the thought became something more, something disheartening. Losing Gimli, he sadly realized, was perhaps the final step. Just as shattering a nightmare was the thought of standing now without Legolas cool words and steadfast devotion. To that sad fact he had become acclimated. It seemed a sad thing to think, but there was undeniable truth in it. This battle between men and the dark, between Gondor and Mordor it was his to fight. The weight of a kingdom had come to his shoulders and his alone. It was the burden of his blood, of Isildurs tarnished legacy. Perhaps he was not meant to bear it in the company of friends. A truer test if any!
The argument had continued in his silence. "Im not going to stand here and let Lórien be destroyed!" roared Merry. For one so small, he held a great voice of conviction. "Were coming too, right, Pip?"
The smaller Hobbit seemed a bit unsure. His inquisitive eyes glanced to Gandalf and then to Aragorn, as if seeking permission. Aragorn swallowed his desperation. "Go, my friends. Lórien needs you more than I."
Haldir resolutely shook his head. "I cannot."
It was enough to rid Gimli of his restraint. The Dwarf huffed angrily, his face bright red. "Stupid Elf! Have you no love? Can you be so cold and heartless?" Haldirs long face grew taut and pale. "I know you feel such things as remorse and worry! Yet you choose to hide behind a stoic mask!" Gimli shook his head in disgust. "You are an infallible warrior, Haldir of Lórien, but your vulnerability is plain to all who know you. You simply do not allow yourself to feel!" Haldir flinched. "That makes you weaker than anyone."
The Elf could stand the lecture no longer. "Quiet your rough tongue, son of Glóin! You know little and speak far too much!" he snapped.
"I know enough," Gimli retorted, "and I understand far better than you think. I once thought all Elves to be haughty, contemptuous creatures. Never would I allow myself to trust them, for my father suffered and was humiliated at the hands of the King of Mirkwood. I would rather die than see the fate of Middle Earth fall into the hands of an Elf!" The Dwarfs eyes then cooled, and he lowered his voice. "Alas, such were the thoughts of an ignorant creature! And it was the Lady Galadriel, in all her beauty and wisdom, who taught me to see them for their folly! Through her simple ways I could trust Legolas and he could trust me. Trust becomes fellowship. Fellowship becomes brotherhood." Aragorn released a slow breath as Gimli paused. The Dwarfs words warmed his heart in ways he had not expected. Haldir stood stiffly, but his face was beginning to soften. "I owe her much. She calmed the fires of my heart. Thus, I can let no harm come to her."
"It is not so simple, Dwarf! As much as it pains me to say, Lórien is inconsequential in the coming battle!" Haldir answered. The tone of his voice betrayed his insecurity. "The defining fight will occur here! This is where I will be needed!"
The frustrated anger was quick to return. "You damnable Elf! How can you feel loyalty to a man when you feel none for your own kin?!"
Haldirs cold expression shattered in anger. Aragorn stepped forward, quick to intervene before the Elf and the Dwarf hurtled more than scathing words at one another. "Please," he said quietly. Then he turned calm eyes to Haldir. "Go, Haldir, I beg of you. You have completed your task. I will not allow the Last Alliance to fail."
The Elf dropped his tone and stepped closer to the ranger. "Aragorn," he began. It was the first time that the Lórien archer had ever addressed him so informally. "You know as well as I that one warrior can make the difference between defeat and triumph."
"Surely," answered Aragorn, "but that is more true of Lórien than here. You know as well as I that your people are few. If Thranduil has sent his army to Gondor, Mirkwood cannot protect Lórien. They need your quick eye and steady hand."
Haldir seemed to linger in uncertainty for a few minutes. Aragorn could not truthfully blame him. Although to Gimli it seemed an obvious decision, Haldir was a creature of pride and discipline. It was not so difficult to understand his reasoning. By aiding Aragorn in these pivotal hours, he believed he would better accomplish the Ladys goals. Still, though Aragorn had come to value Haldirs skills greatly, it would put rangers mind at ease to know such a powerful fighter was attending to Lórien. It would not do him well to be concerned over the Golden Wood when there was more than enough in Gondor to worry him.
Then the Elfs face collapsed into what Aragorn believed to be weary defeat. "You are right, son of Arathorn. Forgive me my lapse of logic," he said softly.
"Nay, Haldir," Aragorn answered, "there is nothing to forgive. You have been a most able guide these weeks past, and I thank you. I would much value your aid now, but the cost is great. Losing the Golden Wood is not a price I think any are willing to pay."
Haldir met his gaze, his keen eyes clouded in private thought. Then they regained their clear precision and serious confidence. "Right, then. Will Lord Faramir return our mounts and weapons?" he asked, looking behind Aragorn to the young man.
The lord looked distant for a moment, lost in sorrowful thought. Then he shook his head as if to clear it and answered quickly, "Surely. But I must suggest that you wait out the night here in Minas Tirith. A fearsome storm ravages the land, and travel will surely be treacherous." He regarded them apologetically.
Gimli watched Haldir as the Elf quickly pondered the matter. "I would rather not wait," he said finally. "Yet if you think it wise, Lord Faramir, I will not doubt that course. It would be folly to endanger our horses and ourselves on dangerous roads."
Aragorn was surprised at Haldirs submission. Perhaps the Lórien Elf was indeed learning to trust and struggling to reach a compromise between whom he was and what he needed to do. He had come to value their companionship, the ranger realized, and he did not want to make this journey in solitude. A spot of light in these dark times! Trust becomes fellowship. Fellowship becomes brotherhood. Such camaraderie could not be broken.
Gandalfs deep voice tore him from his thoughts. "I suggest rest, friends. There is little more we can do this night, and our hearts are weary. A time of great peril threatens, and we must take reprieve when available." The old wizard regarded Aragorn with sympathetic eyes. "Tomorrow will see much."
The ranger quickly realized the truth in his old comrades words. His own body felt leaden with stiff exhaustion, and all that had occurred had muddled his mind. "Of course, Gandalf," he agreed. Tomorrow will see too much.
Aragorns exhaustion became consuming. His mind fled to a strange plane of weary apathy. He felt detached from his body as he moved through the world. There were people moving, speaking, but his senses could not penetrate the haze. Blankly his eyes settled on the corpse of Wormtongue. The shadows had nearly swallowed the traitors form. At Faramirs orders, one of the soldiers grabbed the little mans legs and lugged the cadaver from the room. The thick, red blood seemed to stain the stone as it trailed into the blackness.
He closed his eyes and swallowed. He
doubted very much he would find rest that night.
Horrible pain. Terrible anguish. A shadow blacker than night. Deeper than death. Coldness seeped into him, filling him when the heat of his blood splattered from his body. Laughing. Sneering. Screaming. His own voice, ripped and worn from torment. Swollen with tears that he had not the strength to cry. Forever screaming.
He was there again, trapped in the belly of Orthanc. He was theirs again. The Uruk-hai were laughing as they flogged him. They sneered as they touched him. How they enjoyed defiling an Elf! How vile these creatures! The rage grew within him with every blow, with every roar of pleasure at his torture. He imagined himself brutally killing each of his tormentors. The thought brought him sick satisfaction.
A nightmare within a nightmare. Sleep came, but he did not want it. He never wanted it again. The White! The damned twisted purity! Black eyes narrowed with sadistic malice. Long, ancient fingers threading through his dreams, prodding at his mind. Would there ever be peace? Would he ever escape?
"Never, dear Legolas. You are mine."
I will not give you the pleasure of seeing me broken!
"Your future, dear Legolas. Chained to the night."
He was sinking into the shadow. There was no air to breathe, and he was suffocating. He struggled, fighting with every ounce of his ravaged being, but he could not find his way to the light. Despair stabbed at his hope. Perhaps there was no light. Perhaps there never had been. The thought terrified him, sending chills through his body like bolts of lightning. Somebody please help me
"Drown, dear Legolas. Wilt. No one will help you."
Stop it, please! Hurt me no longer!
"Neither Elf nor prince, dear Legolas. A coward in the shadows, yearning for death. They have a beautiful prisoner in you, dear Legolas. Come, let them take you!"
He did not have the courage to counter the wretched voice. He did not have the strength to fight the truth any longer.
The world was red with blood. His blood. Boromirs blood. Aragorns blood. And they were all laughing. Such a horrible sound! It pierced his mind and pounded in his heart, sending agony coursing over his body. He clasped his hands over his ears, as if that simple action might protect him. Tears fled his eyes in a flood of misery. The shadow pummeled him with bloody cruelty. They laughed and guffawed and giggled. A sob choked from his throat.
"Pathetic, little one. You are hardly worthy of being Fathers son!"
He cringed. So many voices. So many taunts and jeers. Laughing. Sneering. Stop it! he cried, but his voice was lost in the cacophony. He was bleeding. He was hurting. Was there no salvation? Was there no hope? So many voices! It became so loud, so demeaning and decimating, that it consumed him. He screamed, wishing to hear himself in the din, struggling to hold to some piece of himself. But the blood was so thick, and the voices were so loud. He was swept away.
"Weep, then! Spill your weakness!"
"I shall enjoy watching you suffer."
"I pity you, son of Thranduil, for you are but a child."
"The black shadow of corruption will cling to you always!"
"Stupid, stupid Elf."
"A child of the leaves, shunned and despised!"
"Scream for me, Elfling!"
"I smell his fear."
"Are you angry, dear Legolas?"
He was furious. His heart pulsed in an agonized rush of hatred. He loathed and despised them for what they had done to him, for reducing him to a prisoner of the dark. More than that, he detested himself. Purity twisted! The stain of evil upon him always! How could he have been so weak?
Yet he could do nothing but cry. He never did anything but cry. "Weep, then. Spill your weakness! You truly are pathetic, Legolas."
"You are nothing but a child."
"Neither Elf nor prince."
"A coward in the darkness."
"A wretch, yearning for death."
And he was. The voices stopped. The blood disappeared. Now there was a void, a dark place where the light had never entered. Where the light would never find him. This was his own prison, and he collapsed into it. Defeat seemed suddenly the warmest embrace. A comforting emptiness. His battered body collapsed. His traumatized mind fell. His devastated soul withered. And he calmly hated himself. Yearning for death. The tears were warm upon his lips and he smiled. A small insane grin.
"Now you cry for the one that betrayed you."
Yes. I cry for myself.
"I should have ended your misery when there was the chance."
You should have, he thought. But there
is still time. Aye, there is much time yet.
Legolas gasped and sat up quickly. The void was all around him, swallowing him hungrily, and he thought for a moment he had not torn from that disgusting dream at all. His weak eyes were slow to adjust to the deep black, and he laid in its embrace quivering, praying that these shadows would take form, that the substance of reality would ward away the irrational fear. Finally he began to see. Light flashed, illuminating ghoulish fingers scraping the black overhead. Tree limbs. Cold ground beneath him. He felt grass in his hands and rocks poking into his thighs. Rain splattered on his nose, and he looked up. The tree wept fat droplets, shedding water after a massive deluge.
Memory slowly returned to Legolas, though it was slow to become cohesive in his jumbled mind. A great storm had pounded their trail, and Aratadarion had insisted they stop. They sought shelter from the tempest in this copse of trees west of the Anduin. Legolas had not wanted to waste a moment in rest, but found his body would not allow his continuing. He had simply been too weary to make any sort argument. The moment they had stopped, with the storm violently pounding the sky with blast after blast of lightning, he had promptly fallen asleep. How he despised this new weakness!
Thunder grumbled grouchily in the distance. His racing heart slowed its terrified beat. He buried his face in his hands. His cheeks burned against his sweaty fingers. The ridicule was all too fresh in his tortured mind, and he shuddered, releasing a short sob of despair. It had seemed so horribly real that he could not help but remember the pain and humiliation. As he wavered, his thoughts became pessimistic and troubled. What was the meaning of such a nightmare? Again he closed his eyes and sank into the mire. He saw his face, staring back at him from that murky puddle. His eyes, devoid of light. This wretched curse! Perhaps Astaldogald had been right. The words of his older brother had not meant much to him before. He had simply dismissed the demeaning insults as statements spoken in fury. Yet they were not without truth. He had brought disgrace to his fathers House. He had been made a wretch, a creature without light or pride. Neither Elf nor prince.
He shuddered again. "I should have ended your misery when there was the chance." He was beginning to believe it, and that frightened him more than any trial or torture he had endured. Would it not be better to simply fade away? To disappear and remove the ugly stain he had become upon his fathers legacy? To release himself from the torment of his shame? The thought was alluring. He felt he might be sick. Imagine that! An Elf yearning to die! But a part of him could not let the thought go. I am no Elf. I am nothing.
A hand came to grasp his shoulder, and he cried out in shock, stiffening and jerking away. Lightning battered the sky, and he glanced behind him.
Aratadarion slowly retracted his grasp. The Elf princes eyes were wide in confusion and fear. "I I apologize. I did not mean to startle you." Legolas felt his body shake in relief and horror at once. His brothers expression betrayed his true fright. Neither of them was accustomed to Legolas frail mortal body and senses.
The thought soured his mood more, and Legolas tucked his knees to his chest and looked away. He felt water and sweat cling to his scalp, sticky in his hair. Wind bucked against the tree, shaking water from the leaves. The tiny, cold drops that struck him were the only connection he had with the great spirit. Desperately he wished for more, for the trees spirit to again touch his own. But he felt nothing but a cold, bleak emptiness, and he ground his teeth together. His rage was forever growing.
"Your dreams disturb you, brother," declared Aratadarion quietly.
For a moment there was but the thunder and the wind and the soft splatter of the rain. He could not find it within himself to answer. He simply did not know how.
The hand came again to grasp his shoulder. The fingers felt strong and warm, and Legolas bit his lip to suppress another shudder, for the intuitive and intangible connection he had always held with his brothers was starkly missing. Its absence hurt anew each time he noticed it. "Tell me, if you wish." The tone was soft and offering. "I will think no less of you."
Legolas resolve wavered. The dam he had constructed around his despair was cracking. He suddenly longed to speak, to divulge the horror of his pain. He closed his eyes. "Forgive me," he whispered. The numbness was coming back to him. He did not want to simply succumb to it, but its safety and security was too enticing. "It is wrong of me to think of myself in these times."
Aratadarion sighed gently. "Speak, Legolas. Let us bear your pain together." When the younger brother still remained silent, Aratadarion tightened his grasp. "Do not suffer in silence," he implored.
Legolas closed his eyes. His fears spilled from his lips. "This curse torments me I feel it inside. The black roots go deep into my heart." He bowed his head sadly. "I fear it will never release me." The last of his words were a terrified whisper. "I fear Astaldogald is right." A mortal life of misery. Inevitable death. I want no part of it!
Aratadarion did not respond. Anger amplified Legolas despair. His brothers hesitation only signified the truth in his worries.
There was more, so much more, to his agony, but Legolas lost the will to speak of it. Instead he wrapped himself in frustrated rage. He thought he heard the vile voices in the wind and the patter of the rain, taunting him, chasing him. How he wished to be done with it all!
He stood suddenly. Pain had become so common that he had all but sensitized to it, and he barely felt the discomfort in his feet as he rose. "Let us continue." His tone was cold and lifeless. He felt Aratadarion stand beside him, but he did not turn to him. He narrowed his eyes. "The storm has abated."
"You need rest, Legolas," his brother softly reminded him.
"Nay," retorted Legolas sharply, "I need peace, and I shall not find that in sleep!" He clenched his fists and looked to sky helplessly. Tears burned in his eyes, but he stubbornly held them back. "Saruman tortures me still with nightmares, and I cannot fight myself." A great shudder claimed him as the memories threatened once more. He pivoted then and regarded Aratadarion. The lithe Elfs face was bright in the flashes of pale lightning. His eyes glistened. "Please, let us press on. I worry for Aragorn. I must end this."
Aratadarion watched him, and Legolas prayed his face was placid. For a moment they were still, uncomfortable in the silence, one seeking to hide and the other to help. Then Aratadarion nodded silently.
Moments later they were walking. A light drizzle blew over the land, and Legolas pulled his cloak tighter around his worn body. He felt his will fade and his strength wane. The nightmare was still too fresh, prodding at the edge of his attention. But he concentrated on his steps, on the cool wind and rain.
Tomorrow they would reach Minas Tirith. He would fulfill the last of his promises.
Yearning for death.
He shuddered. He swore to himself that
he would not again rest until he did what he had sworn. Only then would he sleep. Deep
The night was thick and heavy upon Mordor, but Frodo lay awake, troubled by strange dreams and demented thoughts. The land was far from silent. Mount Doom grumbled and groaned in the distance, often rattling the rock crevice in which they had that night made their camp. Shadowfax was restless as well, pawing the ground and snorting every so often. Sam was snoring quite loudly for one so small. A distant howl pierced the quiet once in a while. Yet these things he did not hear.
The call of the One Ring, so vociferous and alluring in its song, filled his heart. He tensely listened, struggling to concentrate on some other sound. He watched the sky with passionate attention, fighting to ignore that which he heard. Still this he could not do. It seemed as though that sick call had permeated every fiber of his being, spilling its putrid affection into his mind and poisoning his soul. He clenched and unclenched his fists and ground his teeth. He could not calm himself enough to lapse into dream. He could not ignore the Rings beckoning sufficiently to find peace. Like a sad addict, he sank into fits of longing, chastised himself into dismissing such thoughts, and then again relenting to their comfort. This sordid cycle had claimed him for hours, and he felt his pure heart and noble intentions waning. He hated himself for this weakness, but he was drawn to the Rings power. Its corruption had seeped into his soul. All day he had watched Sam with a predators eyes, envious of his friends possession. Once or twice thoughts of asking the Hobbit to return the silly trinket seemed the only course of action, but he had always managed to dismiss them. In the still night, when Sam innocently slept, it was so much harder to fight his desires.
Such strange dreams! He awoke from them ignorant of their substance but well aware of their meaning. The stench of the Rings seduction clung to them, but Frodo could not find it within himself to brush them aside. It terrified him that he could so easily believe in their stupendous yet attractive lies. The Ring seemed to have a power all its own. Its presence was tangible and potent, and when he closed his eyes he imagined it reaching out silky fingers to grasp him. The same wretched questions ran through his mind. He was tired of facing them and frightened that he had grown less and less sure of their answers as the night wore. Why shouldnt I take it? Why? What harm would come of it? I only wish to hold it. I wouldnt wear it I would not!
The small creature pressed a hand to his forehead. His palm was cold and clammy with sweat. He was saturated with this driving desire, and he shook, as though keeping control of it was a physically trying endeavor. How did you do this, dear Bilbo? he wondered drearily, wishing his beloved uncle was there to advise him. How did you fight this horrible nightmare for so long? I cannot bear it!
He was so very tired. The road had been long, and battling this sudden infatuation with the One Ring had depleted his stamina. He had had no idea finding the Ring again would have such an effect on him. He idly considered that separation from it had borne into him the need to have it, that existence without it had implicitly taught his heart to value its voice. He had once been disgusted by its power. He had once been fearful of those that desired it. How he wished he could feel as such again!
Frodo whimpered softly into the night. The thick clouds overhead hid the moon; its mournful, sympathetic face was nowhere to be found. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to hold true to his resolve. He could not fight Mordor and himself at once! He would need all his strength to finish this forsaken quest. He needed to sleep, and it must be a respite free of disturbing dreams. He must live unfettered by this insane desire! It pulsed in his heart, breathed with his lungs, crowded his mind and laced every thought with surreptitious longing. The temptation was simply too great. If only he could escape it just long enough to sleep. If only he could elude it or somehow placate it Just for a bit. Surely no harm will come it! Surely!
The weary Hobbit shuddered and collapsed under the strain of his desire. He opened his eyes. His body moved of its own accord. He rolled to his side and peered into the shadows. Sam was sleeping soundly beside him, his head pillowed on his pack and his cloak drawn up over his body. Frodo regarded his friend hesitantly a moment, waiting to see if Sam had roused at all from his movements. The small creature only snored louder. A twisted grin broke Frodos face.
Gently and slowly, Frodo pulled the garment from Sams form. The Ring was in Sams left breast pocket, covered by his outer coat. Frodo peeled that back as well. The longing was so loud as it pounded in his head. The Ring was screaming ancient words, begging him to free it. His small hand picked its way into his friends clothing. Greed glinted in Frodos wide eyes and the world faded. There was only the Ring. The power enveloped him like the warmth of the sun. His fingertips brushed the band.
The dream shattered and the world crashed into him with a rush of panic and fear. The Ring lost its hold in the moment, and he yanked free his hand. He skittered backward, falling hard to his bottom. His body shook violently.
He could not look Sam in the eyes. He imagined his friends face, his innocence tarnished by betrayal and confusion. The concern he felt radiating from the loyal companion turned his stomach. "What are you doing?"
He could not find the words to begin to explain. Tears filled his eyes, burning violently, and he thought his heart might simply break. Given his shame and horror, he almost hoped it would. The implication of what he had nearly done was terrifying.
He could only breathe and wait for Sam to pass his judgment. An endless moment prolonged his torment as Sam watched him. He kept his eyes lowered. His racing heart hurt in his chest. Then Sam swallowed loudly and uncomfortably. "Shall we move on, Mister Frodo? Its nearly dawn, that it is."
Frodo could not believe what he had heard. Would Sam brush this aside? How could his friend be so blind? Some part of him cried for help, for relief, for judgment, but a larger piece of him quaked in consuming relief. He shuddered involuntarily and then nodded. Sam looked upon him a moment more before turning to ready his things. His pale face was twisted.
Trust betrayed. Lies festering. Masks and façades where there was once truth. These were markings of a dark future!
Yet Frodo only helped his friend stand upon his broken leg with shaking hands and a bleeding soul. The desire surged again unbidden. He wanted to scream his helpless frustration. He no longer knew himself. A stranger in his body was directing his hands and feet. He was trapped.
Shadowfax was eager to get under way. The night was so very black, but the horse sensed the fears and tensions and led them forward.
It would not be dawn for hours.
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.