The rain fell hard and cold. It came a in a dreary, steady drizzle, soaking into the ground, dripping from leaf and branch, blowing on a chilly breeze. The sky overhead was dark with twilight and heavy gray clouds, the storm releasing its icy tears without relent. The air was tight and damp, unforgiving to the skin and lungs. The night was but a few hours off, but there would be no release from the sour weather. The ominous overcast above promised only more rain.
Arwen bit into her lower lip, struggling hard not to shiver. The wetness clung to her, seeping through her clothes to coat her skin in a cold, uncomfortable sheen. The spray from the ride splattered in her eyes and filled her hair beneath her hood. Yet she did nothing but press on, glancing momentarily at her charge. Legolas hood had fallen away from his face, exposing his vulnerable skin to the driving needles of the icy deluge. She reached down and pulled the cloth back over his head to protect him, and dropped her hand to his brow. He still burned with a horrible fever. She tenderly cupped his cheek to lift his limp head against her shoulder, and looked forward.
It had been nearly two days since they had raced from Gondor. They had traveled tirelessly and silently, charging northwest towards the gap of Rohan. Until now they had not stopped once, riding straight through the night at an unnatural pace. Glorfindel had not tried to convince her to rest then, knowing that Legolas life depended upon their speed. She had been glad for his silent submission, and dawn had come without incident. As the day wore, though, she had grown increasingly weary. Her mind slowed with exhaustion and panic, and her form ached mercilessly from the strain of travel. As much as she wished to deny, her mortal body was placing great limits upon her physically. She did not possess the endurance she once had, and she was ever forgetful of that. Thus, when Glorfindel suggested not long ago that they stop and rest the night, she had put up only a feeble argument. Her protector was right; she could do Legolas no good if she herself was exhausted and ill. The weather was malevolent, and their road had turned to a treacherous path of mud and uncertain land. Stopping, though she disliked the idea greatly, was the best course of action.
Glorfindel reined in Asfaloth ahead. She peered through the rain, watching as he turned the great white horse around in the mud. It splattered beneath the animals hooves in a spray. She slow Hasufels run to a trot and came to stand beside him. The Elf Lord raised his hand and pointed ahead and to the left. The woods were thick and the shadows great, but Arwen immediately detected what her companion thought was of interest. There was a dense copse of fir trees ahead, the sort that provided some protection against the rain. Perhaps there would be a patch of land dry enough to build to a fire The thought made her shiver in anticipation. Heat to warm her hands and dry her clothes! She chastised herself for such wanton thoughts as she prodded Hasufel into following Asfaloth.
Glorfindel dismounted his horse when they reached the wooded area. He took the reins of the animal and drew Gwemegil, the silvery sword glistening as he tentatively entered between the trees. Arwen watched him silently, holding her breath, praying that the Elf Lord would deem this place safe enough. Taking a respite before seemed so utterly ludicrous and out of the question. How deeply she wished to rest now!
"It seems quiet," Glorfindel murmured as he reappeared to her right. He had dropped the leather reins of Asfaloth, but the horse obediently stood and waited so strong was its loyalty to the Elf. Still, Arwen could sense Glorfindels hesitation. "Yet a shadow clings to this grove." His face was blank and his eyes narrowed, knowing things that were beyond Arwen. He was such a powerful and experienced warrior that she could not even think to doubt or question his premonitions.
"Shall we continue on?" she asked, praying her voice did not betray her wistful hopes. She held Legolas tighter, her gooseflesh rising. Though her senses were dulled by her choice to become mortal, she too felt a strange foreboding as if the trees were trying to warn her. Frustrated that she could not make sense of her anxiety, she watched Glorfindel with imploring eyes.
The Elf Lord tilted his head as if listening to a distant voice offering an answer, damp blonde hair clinging to the frame of his face. Finally, his eyes grew focused. He slid his sword back into its scabbard. "No," he breathed quietly. He stepped forward and took Hasufels reins from her, patting the horses head reassuringly. The massive beast was riled, apprehensive about going further. "This is as good a place as any. All these woods reek of this danger, and I cannot make sense of it. I will keep watch as you sleep."
The idea eased Arwen. Glorfindel would not let any harm come to them as they took much needed respite. For some reason, this simple promise was enough to convince the hesitant Hasufel to carry them into the grove.
The rain dropped softly in the firs canopies, singing a lulling melody. Arwen felt her eyelids stubbornly droop as Glorfindel led them into the copse, Asfaloth obediently trailing as if in protection of their rear. The Elf Lord chose a spot beneath two great, old trees, their wide branches serving to block the cold rain. He dropped the reins and opened his arms. She silently and carefully lowered Legolas into his embrace, releasing her strained arms from the uncomfortable position she had for days kept. Only her resolve had driven her to keep such a position. Then she dismounted, her body moving with none of her customary grace and elegance.
Her back ached terribly. Her shoulders throbbed with a dull hurt she had not often felt before. When her feet struck the ground, she thought for a moment she might fall from dizziness and stiffness. But she brushed aside the pains of her body. There were more pressing concerns.
Glorfindel laid Legolas gently upon a mat of pine needles. Arwen grabbed the supplies from her saddlebags before turning and dropping to kneel beside her fallen friend. Glorfindel had Legolas hands wrapped in his own. "His skin is ice, but the fever consumes him." The prognosis hurt her inside, even though she had already suspected as much. The Elf Lord stood easily. If he was at all stiff or uncomfortable from the previous days hard ride, it did not show in his languid motion. "I will gather kindling. The ground is good and dry here, and a fire will hopefully be enough to ward away the chill."
She nodded blankly, turning her attention to Legolas as Glorfindel softly walked away. Her heart quaked with fear and sorrow, worry speeding her pulse and bathing her in tension. She took his hand then, his long fingers curling limply over her own. His skin was extremely cold, though his pale face was hot to the touch. She had rarely seen Elves so afflicted, and knowing it was Legolas whose life lingered between Middle Earth and what lay beyond terrified her. He was deathly ill.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she pulled away from him the sodden cloak and blankets. His chest barely moved in breath, and she found herself staring at him, waiting in terror for each rasping wheeze, frightful that this next may be his last. She scolded herself and snapped out of her daze. Shaking fingers undid the draws of the tunic they had hastily dressed him in before leaving Gondor, and she pulled it free from his shoulder to expose the wound. Blood had seeped into the white bandage. The rough jostling from the ride had undoubtedly torn the injury a bit. The sight concerned and surprised Arwen greatly, even though she was unable to refute the fact she had feared as much. She would have to change the dressing.
Arwen worked then mindlessly, ages of experience guiding her hands in her craft. She pulled a roll of fresh linens and a pouch of herbs from her bag. There was little she could do to clean and disinfect without hot water, so she concentrated on removing the dirty bandages. Her thoughts were lost in a mire of emotion. Poor Legolas! She saw the signs of what he had endured upon him, old bruises and cuts covering his skin. Very infrequently had she seen Elves who had survived torture, for Orcs did not often allow their captives to escape. The pain he had undoubtedly underwent! She shuddered, abandoning her task to lift his hand and examine it. The narrow wrist was red and swollen, marked by rope burns and bruises. The knuckles were scraped and raw. The fingers were limp, without grip or strength Were these truly the hands that had taken hers in a friendly dance, the powerful hands that had protected her love from harm, the gentle hands that had wiped away her tears? Arwen felt she might cry, her heart ached so for him!
A moment later she uncovered the wound. She grimaced. The injury was angry and inflamed. The stitched skin was caked in dried and wet blood. Clearly the wound was becoming septic, despite their best efforts. Arwen shook her head, sighing slowly and struggling with an emotional weariness. This would certainly complicate matters. An infection explained Legolas fever, his deep unconsciousness. She wished something so tangible and simple could account for the curse she knew was killing her dear friend.
She had never seen anything like it before. It seemed somehow impossible, like a grotesque nightmare that existed in logic and truth for the extent of the dream and no longer. Yet there was much about Middle Earth she did not know, powers she did not understand. Aragorn had said Legolas had been in the sadistic and demented hands of Saruman the Wise. A wizard of such potent knowledge may have found a way to sever an Elf from the gifts of his kind No! I cannot believe that! Yet everything about Legolas condition confirmed her worst fears, that somehow, some way, Saruman had wielded a black magic so vile and disturbing against him as to crush his light. Tears filled her eyes. Legolas so loved Middle Earth. He flourished in the forest, blossomed under the stars, glowed with all the vitality of the sun. What a cruel torture to cut him from it!
Even though she could not be sure if Legolas affliction was real, she knew for certain that the torment of this curse coupled with the anguish of his captivity had beaten him. His heart was lost in the sea of misery and despair she had briefly seen in his dull eyes. It hurt her now to think of it. She should have told Aragorn of the extent of Legolas illness, but she had not been able to find it within herself to burden her lover more. He needed to think clearly, and knowing his dearest friend suffered so seriously would deprive him of concentration and resolve. But holding within her this terrible knowledge was sheer agony. How she had wanted Aragorns comfort! She loved Legolas so dearly, and to see him so destroyed, so utterly beaten, decimated her. "Let me die," he had implored her. He had no will left to live.
A great storm of insecurity and doubt assailed her. Perhaps she was wrong to go against Legolas wishes. She knew what it was like to suddenly hear silence where the song of Middle Earth once colored her life. But her situation was surrounded in love and peace. If her dear friend wished to simply embrace mortality now, who was she to deny him that, especially after all he had done for her? But she dismissed these thoughts again, as she had frequently these past days. She loved Legolas like a brother, and she knew him in ways no one else did. He was strong! He was proud! Even if in this darkest hour he yearned for death, she knew that, deep inside where his spirit still struggled under the smothering hold of the black magic, he wished to live. She had to help him. There were but a few in Middle Earth who had the skill, knowledge, and power to potentially lift that terrible curse. She had to get Legolas to her father.
He was ailing like a mortal, and that terrified her. It was as if she could feel the feeble flame of his life wavering in a cold breath. The needling voice of her pessimism was sneering and harsh. She felt foolish having taken this dangerous quest on herself. How could she rush Legolas to Rivendell where he might receive the healing that would save his life when she herself was worn and exhausted after only two days? Rivendell was so far away, and she was so very tired.
There came the sound of light footfalls and she turned, startled. Her senses were not what they used to be. She calmed her racing heart when she saw only Glorfindel. The Elf Lords arms were filled with kindling. "These were the driest I could find," he explained simply. His concerned eyes indicated that he had not missed her awkward jump of surprise. Arwen could only smile weakly and nod, finding her voice lost and her body tingling.
After this they did not speak. Glorfindel had a fire burning in a matter of moments, the blaze crackling on the pine needles. From the packs on Asfaloth the Elf Lord produced a pot, a flask of water, and a quilt. They set water to boil. Glorfindel helped her move Legolas closer to the fire, hoping that the heat would do the archer well. Arwen set about bathing the wound, conscientiously cleaning the blood away. When the water boiled, she broke herbs and made a broth. Instinct guided her hands, her mind a haze of turmoil and exhaustion.
While the medicine cooled, she split more leaves and spread the sticky juices over the inflamed laceration. Glorfindel watched her work. She sensed his worry as though it were a tangible force slamming against her. The rain spoke a gentle conversation in their stead. She knew he meant well by his care for her, but she was afraid of his insistences. Her life was not at stake.
"You should eat," he reminded her gently.
She shook her head slowly, fumbling for the bandages. "Help me raise him," she whispered. Glorfindel quickly complied, kneeling behind Legolas. He braced his arms under him and tenderly lifted, supporting their injured friend. Arwen began to wrap the wound again.
The silence came once more. Glorfindel was an Elf of great experience and intuition, so he did not press her. He seemed to sense her guilt, her fear, her pain. They had known each other for so long that he understood her need to simply act and not speak. He was such a good friend.
They laid Legolas to the ground again. Glorfindel stood then as she took the blanket. He clasped her shoulder firmly. "Try to sleep," he said quietly. His tone was so soothing that her exhaustion was abruptly a great burden. She reached up and squeezed his strong hand, her gratitude quiet but understood. Glorfindel released her and stepped to the edge of the groove. She watched him pat Asfaloth and Hasufel compassionately. Then he folded his arms over his chest and stood tall with his back to them, eyes forward in a protective watch of their small camp. A silent and steadfast sentinel. How grateful she was for his companionship!
She returned her attention to Legolas. He remained still, unmoving. "Legolas," she said softly, patting his cheek gently. The heat of his skin repulsed her, but she forced the mettle of a healer to bolster her resolve. "Legolas, please. You must wake for a moment."
Much to her surprise, her friends eyelids fluttered. She had not expected rousing him to be so easy! Her heart warmed in relief. "That is it, my dear friend. Open your eyes and look at me!" Legolas moaned softly in struggling to regain consciousness. She waited expectantly, her hand coming to stroke his cheek caringly.
Finally he seemed aware enough of his surroundings to attempt to speak. Dry, cracked lips moved, but no sound came from him. Dull blue eyes so hazy with delirium and pain focused upon her. However, there was no glint of recognition in those lost orbs. "Stay still, Legolas," she ordered quietly, forcing a reassuring smile to her face.
"Where where am I?" he wheezed, his voice no more than a strained whisper. His face was a picture of fear and loss.
She stroked the hair from his brow tenderly. "Shh, Legolas. You are safe. We are merely resting the night," she declared. She lifted the cup with the steaming broth inside. "You must drink this."
Her soul quaked in agonized sorrow. "Please, you must. Your wound has turned septic. You are very ill!" She tried to keep the panic from her tone. "I must lower your fever."
Legolas drew a sobbing breath. "Do not take me home!" he gasped. Tears slid from his eyes like raindrops from the cloudy sky. "Please! Do not take me there!"
But he could say no more, for Arwen had lifted his head and tipped the cup to his lips. Slowly she poured the liquid into his mouth, and he was too weak to struggle. He coughed, the broth dribbling from his lips, but to her satisfaction he drank most of it. When she pulled the cup away, he collapsed in a fit of coughing and weeping.
"Have hope, Legolas," she said, smoothing back his hair. "We will get you to Rivendell." She drew the blanket over him, tucking it around his body. Then she wrapped her arms around him for comfort and warmth. He shuddered, his soulless eyes looking blankly above, searching for a peace that she would not give him. "We will get you to my father. He will help you!" she promised.
He said nothing, his raspy breath so loud. She pressed her lips to his forehead and pulled the blanket tighter around them. The shadows were deep and dark, the light of the flickering fire barely holding back the cold, wet night. "I will not let you die," she whispered. The silence became overbearing, heavy upon her heart. She watched as his eyes slipped shut again, and she gently stroked his cheek. Without another thought, she softly began to sing. It was an ancient Quenya lullaby, one that her mother often sang to her when she had been upset. If she could give Legolas strength through her love, if she could ease his pain and despair enough to return to him the will to live, then she would do all she could.
The sweet, serene melody filled the
grove. But it did not keep the nightmares at bay.
He was trapped in that void, that prison of emptiness. It was so dark, so very black, for no light could pierce the walls. The sun would never find him here. It would never reach him to rip the protective shroud from him and uncover the disgusting truth. The blinding power of its illumination would never make him see!
So he laid in the darkness, comforted by its oblivion. He did not feel. He did not know. His memories were a mess of disjointed pain and anger, and he could make little sense of who he was or how he had come to be in such a state. Somehow he was certain he should feel rage at all that had been done to him, at the injustice fed to him in return for his sacrifices. But the black was too lulling, and thinking brought him only more pain. He was too weak to fight anymore.
The curse was eating his soul, devouring his light and leaving a dying husk in which no spirit could survive. The parts of him that had eagerly succumbed to its numbing embrace, the parts that were riddled with hurt and weary with anguish, welcomed death. Still, something inside him continued to struggle. It cried out his frustrated misery. It fought against the oblivion, pleading for help. He knew what this was. It was his love. It was his defiance. These were the things that had driven him through Sarumans tortures, that had given him the strength to fight, that had pushed him to keep his promises. He was a prince! He was an Elf! He was Legolas, son of Thranduil! He could not give in!
You are weak. You are nothing. These were the hurtful, hateful things the curse manipulated his mind into saying. Die now, and spare yourself the shame at what you have become! Spare your father! Do not let them drag you into the light! A coward in the darkness! The terrible premonition came true! He screamed his despair, but his voice was soundless. There was no one to hear him, anyway.
He lingered in the void, his life growing weaker and weaker. Death would come swiftly and surely; he felt its cold claws dig into his soul and pull it from his body. The darkness swirled and consumed. The feeble cries of his love went unheard as he sank deeper into the embrace of the shadow. The prison was sealed tightly. It was as though he stood upon a narrow precipice, and the ground continued to recede beneath his feet. This was the terrible curse, the dark stain of hatred upon him, the black magic strangling his light. He was too weak to stop it! He had loved and had been tortured. He had defied and had been crushed. These foolish vulnerabilities! They only heightened his suffering! It would not happen this time. As the ground fled below him, he did not run or scramble or desperately search for a way to save himself. He did not try to escape the cell. He would drown in death.
Silence. Unending. Perfectly quiet. If not for the weeping of his soul, it was a peaceful end.
Then he heard distant words, felt a calming presence. It seemed so very familiar, so close to him. Trapped in his cell, he was lethargic and complacent, so he was able to ignore their call at first. But his restless heart, in a last desperate attempt to regain his sanity and his soul, pushed him from the daze. Such a sweet voice singing! It was slow to reach him, but when it did, it awakened in him something he thought long dead. The melody caressed to life the fire of his spirit, his need to survive, his love and defiance.
A speck of light penetrated the void and entered the cell. It twinkled feebly, as though it at any moment might go out. Yet it remained steadfast. The Evenstar.
But the shadow did not easily allow him to flee. The curse smothered him tightly, strengthening its grip upon his mind and body. Desperation filled his heart as it clung to that distant song. Death was too strong an opponent! He was grievously injured! His body was broken and bleeding! He felt then, sensation slowly returning to his numbed self. The pain! Ai, the pain! The fever and the fear Do not struggle! Fall back into the shadow! It will not touch you there!
For the first time in days he did not listen. The small foothold his will had regained upon him was enough to deny the want to sink back into the comforting, cursed oblivion. It was enough to ward away death. The parts of him that had already submitted screamed a furious and frustrated denial, but his heart ignored it.
He listened to the melody and held tight
to the last thread of his life.
Arwen slept poorly that night, fettered to awareness by worry and fear. Often during the night did she awake, uncomfortable and cold. The aches and pains of a mortal body still served to amaze and annoy her at times. Elves were not often affected by poor sleeping conditions when they did require rest. When finally she did lapse into a sleep deep enough to last, morning came far too quickly, and Glorfindel awoke her. She felt then as though she had never rested at all, and met the new day more exhausted.
They were quick to collect their things and continue on their way. In retrospect she realized that the source of her concerns during the night had been Legolas, and she had awoken repeatedly out of fear that he had passed from life. Each time she had felt her heart thunder in panic and cold sweat bathe her as she strained her ears for the sound of his breath, afraid to move lest she somehow jostle his weakening soul from his body. Each time she had sighed in uncontrollable relief, seeing his chest rise and fall, feeling warmth against her own form. She had held him all night, battling strange dreams and nightmares of her own. In the morning, when she woke him to drink more of the broth and inspected his wound again, she tried to convince herself that it was her nearness that kept him tethered to this world. Silly, she knew, but the thought heartened her.
Glorfindel helped her mount Hasufel and lifted into her arms their charge once more. He asked if she would prefer that he carry Legolas, but she politely refused. He gave no conflict, preoccupied and urgent in his movements, and Arwen immediately knew why. Though the rain had stopped and the dawn was warm with a bright sun, that strange air of danger was still strong in the air. The trees dripped rainwater and whispered a warning that she could not quite understand. It was enough to rile Glorfindel, though, and he rapidly mounted Asfaloth and charged on in their journey.
They rode in silence. The sound of the gallop and the wind was loud enough to hide her rushed breath and heart. The forest thinned as they approached the edge of the plains. Rohan stretched before them. They had made incredible time. With any luck, they would today cut across the wide fields and reach the gap. She knew not if Isengard would pose any threat to them. The idea unnerved her, so she decided to think about it when the time came. More pressing was a growing depression inside her. She had been quite the fool to think they might succeed! They were still so very far from Rivendell, and Legolas grew weaker each hour. And what could her father do for him, anyway? He was smitten by a very black power! Saruman the Wise, the most potent of all wizards, had cursed him to a mortal life! What could they do to rectify such a thing?
The morning soon wore to noon, and the fields of golden grass spread far and wide around them. The land was flat and ideal for traveling. To the west the mountains rose, blue in the midday haze. She forced all thoughts from her mind then, and concentrated on speed and strength. Her optimism stomped out her doubt. She had promised Aragorn she would let no harm come to Legolas. She would not fall back on her word!
Ahead, Glorfindel drew to a sudden stop. Confused and alarmed, Arwen pulled back upon Hasufels reins, signaling the horse to halt its gallop. The Elf Lord turned around, his eyes distant. The wind picked up his gold spun hair as it blew by them gently. It smelled faintly of rot and fetid skin, of sweat and blood.
Glorfindel drew Gwemegil. The long blade glimmered in the sun. His face became stone, dark and tight with anger and concentration. Hasufel stepped skittishly, obviously upset. Arwen held tighter to Legolas limp form. "They come," whispered Glorfindel. Her eyes widened. The hint of warning became a blaring scream.
Suddenly, from an adjacent line of trees, a volley of wicked, blade arrows descended upon them. Most struck the ground near the horses feet, causing Hasufel to rear in shock. Arwen barely managed to grasp the reins tighter and steady herself.
"Go!" Glorfindel hollered. He ripped free from his thigh an arrow that had hit him and threw it to the ground.
Thunderstruck, Arwen shook her head. "I cannot leave you!"
The Elf Lord opened his mouth to speak further, but there was no time, for from the cover of the leafy trees came running a small brigade of goblins and Orcs. They were not overly numerous, but there were certainly enough of them to be a serious threat. Arwen watched in fear a moment, paralyzed by the horrible event. Then she shifted Legolas so that he sat up in the saddle in front of her, his head resting against her shoulder. From her sheath she drew her sword.
They were upon them in a matter of seconds. Snarling and snapping they attacked, streaming from the woods in a thin line with weapons raised. They were obviously rogues of sorts, too small and remote to be allied with Sauron. Undoubtedly they had smelled Legolas blood and had tracked them. She cursed their foul luck!
The little demons crowded around her, bearing rotting teeth in bloodthirsty and gleeful howls. Their dirty, fetid bodies surrounded her, certainly sensing her weakness. Orcs had an uncanny ability to prey on the wounded and vulnerable; it was such a gruesome facet of their evil. She slashed at them with a grunt, gripping Legolas tightly. Her blade caught one in the face and it fell back squealing. Another was quick to take its place. Instinct guided her sword, Hasufel turning and jumping to avoid their enemies grasps. She was by no means a warrior, but her brothers and father had trained her to be able enough with a blade to protect herself. She hoped their instruction would be enough!
Glorfindel gave an angry cry as he leapt from Asfaloth. She turned, marveling at his prowess at fighting, as he cut down one Orc in a fluid movement before stabbing another. A spear poked at Arwen, and she gasped, cursing herself for her momentary distraction. She swiped the weapon away with her own, reaching around in the saddle. They were so many! Hasufel neighed angrily, kicking at their assailants. One fell back, its neck broken.
Then there came a low chanting in ancient Elvish. The wind grew powerful, whipping about her, tearing her hair free from its pins. She pulled her horse around in time to see Glorfindel raise his arms, his eyes empty. The words he muttered crackled with power as he invoked an elemental spirit. As though a tangible force, the tempest shoved at the land, the roar of the wind deafening. It passed through her with but a cold brush. For their attackers, it became an invisible battering ram, and it crashed into them with brutal force. They screamed and yelled as they were flung bodily back, slamming roughly into the grass. The wind died as quickly as it came.
This did not stop them, however. Groaning and growling, those not seriously injured rose again, more infuriated than before. Arwen gritted her teeth, clenching her sword tighter. More shots careened from the trees. They buried themselves in the ground before Hasufels feet. She shook her head. They would not touch Legolas! She would die first!
A roar of wind swept across her again, tearing the grass up. She watched as the monsters stopped their charge. One released a terrified cry, and the others soon after followed. Their yellow eyes grew wide in horror. Then they dropped their weapons in panic. Much to Arwens surprise, they turned and ran quickly in a frightened retreat, disappearing into the trees.
She could only stare blankly at the woods. Why had they suddenly abandoned their attack? Glorfindels spell had hardly fazed them before!
Arwen ripped around when she heard a loud flutter of flapping wings. Behind them landed a great eagle. He was a magnificent bird of dark brown feathers and piercing yellow eyes. He stood tall, tucking massive wings to his side. Clearly, he had scared the Orcs into retreat and rightly so, for he gave a great shriek that rocked the land beneath them. Huge talons ripped into the ground. He was a majestic animal that struck awe into the hearts of all that beheld him. She recognized the grand creature immediately. He was Gwaihir the Windlord, king of the eagles. An amazing sight!
Glorfindel lowered his blade, a trickle of blood dripping down the leg of his pants. Yet he did not limp as he stepped closer, lowering his head in a polite bow. Asfaloth whinnied, following him obediently. "My Lord," he said, his voice steady and calm. He was not obviously nonplussed over Gwaihirs appearance, acting as though he had expected it. "A timely arrival, if any!"
"Indeed," rumbled Gwaihir, ruffling his feathers as he stood. He towered over Arwen, and Hasufel was quite a large horse. "I received a message yesterday from Gandalf the White. He requested that I find you and speed you to Rivendell. His plea seemed urgent, and urgency from Gandalf is not to be taken lightly!"
Glorfindel nodded. "We bear an injured Elf," he explained, "the youngest of King Thranduils sons and one of the Nine Walkers. He is badly wounded and in need of the care of Lord Elrond."
"Then I will waste no time with unnecessary talk, save this: the One Ring has been destroyed."
Arwen felt her heart stop. Could this wondrous tale be true? She felt unable to breathe, so taken was she with astonishment. Could Frodo Baggins have succeeded in his quest?
A look of amazement passed over Glorfindels stoic face. Then the Elf Lord raised an eyebrow and shared with her a controlled look of joy. "That is wonderful news! You are certain of it?"
The eagle seemed to smile, if birds could do such a thing. "Quite, though I at first thought it a falsehood. Great disarray spreads from Mordor. It can only signify that Sauron has fallen."
Elation spread from Arwens core. For a moment, she could forget her pain and fear. The weight in her arms was gone, and the burden was removed from her heart. Oh, joyous day! The sun suddenly seemed bright and warm, and anything was possible. Despite all they had suffered, all they had lost, they had achieved a victory for all that was good and pure! She wished fervently that she could share this moment with Aragorn, that she could see the euphoria in his beautiful eyes and know that they, all of them, had together done an amazing thing! She imagined his smile, his eyes twinkling with mirth at the righting of the crimes of his ancestors. His clean, musky scent filled her, his strong, warm arms surrounded her So vivid was this daydream! She thought she could feel herself lay her cheek against his chest and hear his heart beat, strong and proud.
She realized then that such a thought was silly and premature, and she could not be so selfish. Again she felt the weight of Legolas in her embrace and the burden of his torment upon her spirit. There was much yet for which she must fight!
Weary but determined, she looked to their savior. "Come, daughter of Elrond! I will take you to safety!" Gwaihir announced, his deep voice filled with gentle insistence.
A moment of hesitation crawled within her, and she looked to Glorfindel. The Elf Lord took Hasufels reins. "Go, my little star. Save him. He has done too much to win this day to not see it." Arwen felt tears burn in her eyes, and she looked away, embarrassed at the display. She was simply too worn and wrought with conflicting emotion to control herself. Glorfindel of course did not fault her, but only smiled reassuringly. "I will find my way home!"
His words were filled with such promise and comfort that it finalized the decision. Carefully she offered Legolas to Glorfindel, and the other held the fallen archer while she dismounted Hasufel. She returned her sword to her scabbard and stepped to the eagle. Gwaihir lowered his massive neck. Stiffly she climbed upon his shoulder, his feathers so soft and strong beneath her hands. Once she was seated securely, Glorfindel lifted Legolas again into her arms. "Be well," he whispered, grasping her hand. He lifted it to his mouth and planted a light kiss upon it. "Do not fret. Even the darkest of nights still see a dawn!" Then he released her and stepped back.
His words encouraged her. She smiled weakly. Gwaihir then grumbled, "Hold tight to him and to me. I cannot guarantee a steady ride, and it would be most unfortunate if either of you should fall." Then, giving her barely enough time to grasp Legolas close to herself and take hold of his neck firmly, the massive eagle king unfolded his wings. These he flapped twice, as if to stretch them, before lifting off the ground with his powerful legs. Arwen gasped at the marvelous sensation.
They tore through the clouds at remarkable speeds, the white wisps floating past her like beautiful arms seeking to hold her. Bright blue was all around; they were so very high! The wind was cold and nipped at her nose and ears, but she could not afford a free hand to draw up her hood. In stead, she lowered her eyes.
Legolas remained still, his face sallow and sunken. There was no light in his face, no color in his cheeks. His eyelids were sealed, as if to protect him from the horrors of the world. Mortality clung to him like a shroud of death. She tensed the arm that encircled his upper body, dreading what had happened and what still might. Would this all be for naught? Time might beat her yet! Tucking him close to her warmth, to her heart, she closed her eyes and silently willed that he live, that the curse release him. In her minds eye she imagined that they flew over a great sea of black, soaring over a mire deep with death and disease, running from the magic that had stole his light and now greedily sought his life. Legolas dangled over it, secured to the light of the sun above by only her hand. Her grip was strong and sure.
Hold tight to me, dear Legolas. I will never let you fall!
She would fight, even if he would not. She would resist this terrible fate!
They sped towards Rivendell, this last
vow strength enough for them both.
The Elven city was deep in slumber by the time they reached it. By Arwens panicked guess it was past midnight, the stars bright and sparkling above in a canopy of peaceful twinkling. They landed upon a terrace of her fathers house, and the guards stationed upon it were jolted into full awareness by the unexpected and unusual sight. She quickly ordered a litter brought and her father summoned. As the Elves rushed to do as she asked, Gwaihir helped her down cautiously. His heart, she knew, was bigger than she could fathom.
She was not strong enough carry Legolas, especially as exhausted as she was now, so she simply knelt, her dear friend tucked into her arms once more. She reached up to fondly stroke the eagle kings neck. "You have saved us," she declared softly, her voice wavering in emotion. "I cannot ever find the words to thank you for what you have done!"
The bird cooed fondly under her touch and then rumbled, "Think nothing of it, daughter of Elrond. Mirkwood has done much for Middle Earth in these days past. It is but a little thing to return its son."
"I am sure the House of Thranduil will forever be indebted to you!"
Gwaihir blinked, and she saw her reflection in his large eyes. "I must be off now," he stated simply. "Though the Ring is destroyed, there is evil yet in Middle Earth and I cannot long be apart from my people. Good night to you, my Lady." A fierce wind brushed over her then as the eagle flapped his wings. Moments later, he was up in the air, flying quickly away. She followed him for a moment until the shadows consumed his frame and she could no longer discern his wings from the sky nor his eyes from the stars.
Almost immediately after a flurry of activity burst onto the terrace. At its lead were her brothers, Elrohir and Elladan. They were twins and quite inseparable, their likeness to their father remarkable. Elladan was the first to reach her, surprise written across his youthful face. "Sister," he gasped, "how have you come back to us? Such a blessing that you return unharmed, though shrouded in mystery!" Behind him came the guards with the gurney. Lights slowly came to life in the palace, spreading golden illumination into the still and peaceful night.
Arwen shook her head. "There is no time to explain now. Help me, please," she gasped. The last of her strength was coming to her, filling her limbs with sudden energy as she struggled to lift her burden.
The cloak fell away from Legolas bruised face as Elladan received him from his sister. The Elf shook his head numbly, shock burning in his eyes. "But this is-"
"Yes," Arwen interrupted, pulling herself up. Adrenaline churned within her, making light-headed, and she nearly stumbled. Elrohir, forever concerned with others, was quick to steady her. The flight had certainly disoriented her! "He has been wounded badly. He needs Fathers attention immediately!"
Elrohir took her arm as they settled Legolas into the litter. Then they were rushing inside the palace. Familiar places were a blur as they moved rapidly to Elronds chambers. It was clear from Legolas fading breath that there was little time left. Arwen tried to ignore the dark aura reaching from her dear friend like a hand in a caress, but she could not, and it left her shuddering. The other Elves felt it as well, for they were silent in urgent fear, reluctant to even so much as look at the fallen archer. The curse was growing stronger! Please let Father know how to help him!
Finally, after long and hard days of travel, she reached her destination.
Lord Elrond wrapped his robe tightly around himself, concealing his bedclothes, as he exited his chambers. Upon seeing Arwen, his firm face fractured in a mixture of confusion, fear, and joy. "Daughter," he whispered, his lips barely moving. Noticing her ragged condition, he reached forward, his eyes betraying intense concern. It felt so good to have her father near again! "Are you well?"
"It is not I, Father, who is in need of your skills." She took his hand and pulled him forward, to the side of the litter.
Even in the meager light of the corridor candles, she could see Elronds face become pale and drawn at the sight of Legolas. The Half-Elf shook his head numbly, his eyes clouded in a great many emotions that she could not discern. The moment lasted indefinitely, she regarding her father with teary, wistful eyes, and he analyzing the still form of Legolas with a gaze borne from worry and shock. "What has been done to him?" he finally asked, his voice a whisper.
The words fled her lips rapidly, as though they had suddenly become a vicious poison. "I know not," she began to explain. "Saruman tortured him for many days. The wizard laid upon him a black magic so powerful that it has become a shadow that steals his light."
The lord grimaced as he laid his hand upon Legolas brow. "He is mortal," Elrond declared quietly. A quiet gasp went through the crowd assembled. Arwen felt her hopes wither.
"But how can that be, Father?" Elladan questioned, his voice harsh with denial. He and Elrohir had for many years been friends with the youngest of Thranduils sons. When Legolas had come to see her, they had oft joined him and Aragorn in games of hunting and tracking. His worry was plain upon his open face. "No force could do such a thing!"
Elrond did not answer, recovering from his shock. His strong fingers were quick to pull the dirty bandages from Legolas wound. His face regained a stern, controlled expression. She did not like to think of the underlying implication of the instant. Wounds of the flesh were something with which he could easily contend. The curse was a problem he was perhaps helpless to remedy. "Bring him inside," Elrond said flatly. To another of his servants he asked that a hot bath be drawn with medicinal soaps. He also demanded that a broth be prepared containing a mixture of the same herbs Arwen had been using to lower Legolas fever. Her fathers commanding visage gave her strength. She knew that he would now spend all his strength in magic of a most ancient learning, giving just a piece of himself so that Legolas body might heal. She did not doubt her fathers wisdom or power, but she was weary enough to fear it was already too late.
They laid Legolas upon the bed, and Elrond pulled from him the cloak and blanket. As more candles were lit, the shadows fled, unveiling his dreadful condition. Arwen thought she had become accustomed to the horror of her friends appearance, but as the servants and their lord removed Legolas ripped clothing, it struck her anew with powerful pangs of anguish. The blood. The bruises. The cuts and scars. His boots were taken off, revealing a horrific sight. His feet had been wrapped in loose bandages that were now covered in dried red. When the servants unwound them, she winced. These were wounds the panic in Gondor had not permitted her to notice. His feet were messes of ripped skin and blood. Bones were cracked and poking through the flesh. How could he have walked upon them?
"Father," Arwen began, breaking from her pained reverie, "should we not send for King Thranduil?" Her voice faltered, but what she meant was understood. Legolas required his fathers love. He needed his fathers understanding to heal his fractured soul.
Elrond knew this, and his face was torn. "We cannot," he finally submitted. "Thranduil alone defends his kingdom. None of his sons are at court. I cannot put such a choice upon him." At seeing his daughters downcast expression, Elronds grim face adopted a softer look, the sort he always offered his children when they were distraught. He understood her so well. "I know you fear for his spirit. Time can heal such a wound. We must first care for his body."
Releasing a slow sigh, she nodded. She watched as her father once more laid his palm across Legolas brow. "The bath is nearly ready, my Lord," one of the servants declared.
"Go now, my dear, and take some rest," Elrond ordered gently. The look in his eyes was sympathetic but vehement.
Arwen stepped back as they lifted Legolas from the bed, his thin, battered body wrapped in a sheet. Normally she would not think to question, but her heart was demanding action of her weary body. She could not leave Legolas! "Father, please, I can be of use to you here."
Elrond stepped to her swiftly. In the candlelight, she saw the firm glint in his eyes. In them as well was his love for her. He took her hands, his large and powerful. "You have already done much to help him in bringing him to me. I promise you that I will save his life. Now, please. Rest. I will need all my concentration to bring Prince Legolas back to our world, and it would much ease me to know that you sleep soundly."
Tears stung her eyes. How could she have been so selfish? She was unable to nod before her father rushed away, speaking softly to his assistants. The last of her strength fled her in a weary sigh. She stepped back, watching the flurry of activity with agony grinding inside her. Numb with her despair, she turned, glancing one last time over her shoulder. Elrond was holding his patients head steady. Legolas thick, blonde hair fell over the sides of the porcelain tub as the servants set about washing the blood and dirt ingrained into his skin. Tendrils of steam rose from the water, reaching up into the beams of moonlight streaming through the window like wisps of his tired soul that were straining for love and help. She wished so strongly then that she might do something to help him. Yet, as much as she wanted to deny it, she knew she could do nothing more.
At the doorway, Elrohir took her arm. She stumbled into his warm embrace, her legs suddenly unable to carry her. She could not see or think straight. Elladan stood beside them, his face sympathetic. The tears came unbidden as her brothers escorted her from their fathers chambers. The pain she held inside, the very same hurt that had festered within since the assembly in Lothlórien, was too heavy and too sharp to contain any longer. What could she do now but cry?
She collapsed into Elrohirs arms, sobbing piteously. The secret within her burned. She kept it inside her no longer. "He wanted to die," she moaned into her brothers shoulder. Elrohir wrapped her into his embrace, uncertainly glancing to his twin. "That is what he wanted, and I denied him it!"
The pain poured forth. The admission did little to relieve it, and she sank into the despair. The guilt and fear left her heart in soft weeping. Had she not been so riled, so completely distressed, she would have been ashamed at her behavior before her brothers. As it was, she only cried, grateful for Elrohirs arms and Elladans hand upon her head. They said nothing, allowing her this release.
Not long after, when there were no tears left, her weariness caught up with her. Eyes burning with dryness slowly closed, and she lapsed into an exhausted slumber. Vaguely, she knew she was being moved. She felt something soft and cool and it smelled of flowers and fresh air. Her room, her bed.
Dreams came, dreams that were not made of fear and hurt. There was warmth and compassion. In her deep sleep, she stood in the gardens of Rivendell, sun streaming from the perfect sky, the air laden with the aroma of flowers. She saw Legolas, smiling and laughing, glowing with the day. She saw Aragorn, jesting with his friend, exuding strength and pride. Her family. For the first time since her fathers council, she slept without hint of warning or black tidings. She knew now that all would be well. They would be whole again. The shadow fled from her, leaving a quiet absolution that glowed in her dreams.
Love. The strength to defy. Somehow peace would come.
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.