29. A Week Since
A week passed. In it, Aratadarion understood little and felt less. A painful apathy concocted of a worn heart and beaten spirit had consumed him. Its numbing embrace was enough to ease the emptiness, though it did little to provide an absolution or make better his confused rage. Still, he lingered in those calming arms, content to live but do so in a world of his own making where nothing could touch him. The battle raged about him, but he was only a flimsy sapling bending in a violent breeze.
Twilight was fast approaching. Dusk spread over the battlefield, though in the failing light the carnage was not hidden. Aratadarion watched the shadows creep closer to the bloodstained wall. Though battered, the sturdy, ancient rocks had held strong against the assault. For days the Orcs had punished it for its endurance, charging relentlessly and violently. It seemed, though, that the old ramparts had somehow known of the great victory won for the free peoples of Middle Earth and they too had renewed hope enough to hold steady for the sake of the Last Alliance.
It was a strange thing, the Elf now mused in retrospect. First he had witnessed the Nazgûl in their hasty retreat. In the heat of the battle, time had stopped, and for the longest, queerest moment everything had been suspended. The incredulity had held every man and Elf in the tightest grasp as the Orcs had stood still. From the east came the greatest flash of light, so bright and piercing that all diverted their eyes. A soundless explosion had rocked the land. When Aratadarion had recovered enough to again pay heed to his senses, he knew immediately what had happened. The Ring had been destroyed. The Orcs seemed to have sensed this as well, for many raised their voices in shrieks of anger, confusion, and dismay. Chaos overcame them in that instant, and a portion of their forces had simply fled. An amazing thing indeed! Enough had chosen cowardly retreat over revenge or loyalty to significantly increase the Last Alliances chance of victory.
Still, the terrible fight had continued for days. The monsters hatred of men and Elves was enough, it had seemed, to fuel their ambitions. Without rest or repose, they slaughtered the forces of good, pummeling the feeble wall with their defeated masters rage powering their hearts. Triumph never came easily, especially when it determined the fate of so many. Holding tight to their position was essential, and for endless days and nights they had done just that with doubting hearts and silent fears. Aratadarion sensed the tense terror of the others, of his fathers soldiers. Elves did not often suffer such panic, and it was unnerving to experience it so acutely. As time wore on and more had died, he began to wonder. Perhaps the Ringbearer had not been successful. Perhaps even that mattered not; if they lost here, Gondor would still be under siege. If Mirkwoods forces were obliterated, nothing would protect Thranduils kingdom from the dark forces of Dol Guldur. The destruction of the Ring would mean little if they were to fall now!
These were the thoughts that had plagued him. Though Vardaithil spoke naught of it, he knew his brother had as well such doubts. But Vardaithil was ever the leader, and his anger over Astaldogalds loss had only further centered him upon his task. He never faltered or showed his weaknesses. When the time was most bleak and hopeless, he only ordered that the dead be pulled from the wall their positions filled. It became a cycle of sorts, a terrible pattern of death and despair. Aratadarion had to admire Vardaithil for his equanimity. The Elf prince had watched their forces dwindle, but had never expressed fear or doubt. Such strength! He had no doubt that it had only been Vardaithils resolve that had carried them through the darkest nights.
Now another night was coming, the first in so long where there was no battle. The quiet seemed somehow out of place. In his mind he heard echoes of screams, of the weeping of dying people, the cries of battle and the twang of bowstrings singing together in a vile chorus. He stood on the hill that overlooked the field, watching numbly as Elves pulled their dead from the parapet. They had not had the time to perform proper rites during the furious fight, so those that had perished had been piled beneath the platform. Now they labored to honor those that had sacrificed their immortal life for the good of Middle Earth. Aratadarion closed his eyes as the pain welled up within him; it was strong enough to pierce the numbing veil shrouding his heart. So many dead. So many lost. It seemed so terribly fruitless!
A cool evening breeze pushed its way up the plain and struck him. In spite of himself, he shivered, though not from the cold. He wavered and felt he might be sick from the sadness within. It was a great day for their cause, and he knew he should have been ecstatic and elated. Towards the end, the shadow of doubt and terror lifted and hope returned. By some miracle, when the sun rose that morning, the Last Alliance had whittled down the attacking army considerably, the product of the weeks resilience and dedication. Saurons remaining forces were finally driven into a retreat, though they returned not long after for their last assault, but it had been a vain effort, for the allied forces of Rohan had finally arrived. With fresh archers upon the wall and supplies replenished, the last confrontation was easily won, and the few Orcs left alive drew back. It was as this battle for Gondor ended. The sunrise had soaked the field in blood.
Exhaustion riddled the Elf, but he thought it somehow disgraceful to sit in this moment. Across the field, the banners of Gondor flew high and proud. They waved in the wind. Beside them rose the colors of Rohan, gently swaying in the breeze. His fathers colors were fewer in number and dull in the shadows. The plains were crowded with the injured and dead. Officers rushed about as stoic as possible in their tasks, decorum permitting little else. Aratadarion watched this all with a grotesque detachment, as though he were looking into a peculiar dream. As he did, he began to think. The week had done much to deaden the pain at Astaldogalds loss, but the Elf prince was sure that he would later acutely know his despair when exhaustion and relief could not shield him. He thought he should have been upset or at least concerned for Legolas, but he found he could not will himself to feel anything in this strange stupor. The apathy pleased him. He had always been a creature of emotion, and such sensation brought him familiar security. In this, the first true trauma of his existence beyond his mothers death, there could be no silly feelings. Nothing would again be as it was.
He wondered idly what he might do now. Return home, he supposed, to a kingdom cold and empty. He thought it unusual to have come through all this and not be excited to go back to his familiar, pleasant home. He loved Mirkwood with a silent ferocity that many did not see. Yet it was wrong to simply end this like that. It was home ripped and broken. It was not as it should be, and there was nothing that might restore it. The House of Thranduil was shattered by death and curse. Bile burned the back of his throat then and tears filled his eyes. The secrets he held within felt a poison eating at his heart. He wished he were stronger, braver, better suited to deal with all that had happened. He did not have Vardaithils resolve. He did not have Astaldogalds fiery passion. He did not have Legolas great strength. What was he to do but succumb?
The spiteful words he had shared with the heir of Isildur now tortured him with shame. They had been spoken in a heated moment of anger and grief, but he still felt that was no excuse. He tried to rationalize his guilt now if only in self-defense. It was perfectly logical to deny the pain of the heart for the sake of their victory. That was what he had done and what he had forced Aragorn to do. Had not such a sacrifice been necessary? Had they not finally triumphed? Maybe they had, but deep within, where the indifference could not penetrate, he felt undeniably defeated. A sacrifice, indeed! I sacrificed Legolas. I sacrificed Vardaithils trust. I sacrificed my own soul.
The tears came, and he let them. It seemed so long since he cried, though he knew it had only been a week. A mere week since Astaldogald had died. It felt like forever, and in that lifetime he had changed in ways he found disturbing and cold. What was this hard tenacity that had allowed him to lie to Vardaithil about Legolas? Such a thing he had never before had. Perhaps it had been for the best; none could say for sure, least of all him whose mind was muddled by despair and exhaustion. He knew not what to make of it. What can you? You had but one quest given to you, and in that you failed! This as much was true. His father had levied upon him a task, simple in purpose but so very difficult in execution. Rescue Legolas from the shadow. Protect him. But I could not! I did not! I have no such mettle, Father! And Astaldogald, his beloved twin, was dead.
Reasons and excuses blurred, and none seemed adequate. Had he denied Vardaithil the truth to spare his brother the pain, or because he himself could not stand the fact of it? The fact that he failed in his fathers task. The fact that Legolas was doomed to mortality if he even survived long enough. The fact that Astaldogald He whimpered, refusing to raise his hands and wipe away the hot tears. They would be the scars for all he had done and failed to do. "There may indeed be consequences later for my lies, but I will gladly face them than sacrifice all for which we have fought." Never had he dreamed them to be so agonizing!
There was no battle now to distract him. There was nothing to alleviate this pain or to justify ignoring it. How could he have gone so long without feeling? The numb grasp upon his heart fell away then, leaving a soul bleeding and battered. Still, he was prisoner to its hold no longer. In that moment, he wondered how he had ever fallen so deep as to not feel. He was an Elf of song, perhaps meekest and weakest of his brothers, but he did have his own vigor. It was certainly the gift of his mother. She had not been an Elf of remarkable strength, but she loved like none other could. She brought beauty and peace to all she touched. Her patience and nobility were bright and powerful. She had been Thranduils silent strength. She had always offered Vardaithil only the best of advice and encouragement. For her beloved twins, she had sung and laughed, had understood squabbles and listened to upsetting dreams. For Legolas, her youngest and brightest, she had been the protector, doting upon the child she had named for the beauty of Mirkwoods trees. How it would have killed her to see her sons act so violently and hatefully towards each other! How it would have broke her heart to know of his lies!
He could bear this no more. This wall he had built around himself would now come down. He would betray his identity with apathy no longer.
There came light footsteps, so soft that few other than an Elf could discern them. Aratadarion did not turn, knowing who it was that approached.
Vardaithil did speak for a moment. Aratadarion drew a deep breath to compose himself as the silence grew laden with weary sadness. The two stood, unsure of how to act, uncertain of what to say. The younger Elf felt tense with turmoil as the emptiness stretched on infinitely. There was no better time to say what he wished, and the pain was almost too much to handle. For some time he wondered what words he might use, planning the declaration, the tone of his voice. When he finally mustered enough bravado to do as he must, all the thoughts fell away and he could only mumble the truth. "Legolas He is alive."
There was no immediate response, and Aratadarion was chained to the moment. He waited on bated breath for Vardaithil to react, but his older brothers shock must have been quite strong, for it was many moments before the other even breathed. The Elf prince grunted shortly. "You are mistaken, brother," he declared quietly.
Aratadarion gritted his teeth and forced himself to be strong. Vardaithil had always intimidated him somewhat, for the crown prince was so much their fathers son. "It is no mistake, my Lord. I would not lie about this."
"But that is impossible!" Vardaithil turned then, forcing the meek Elf to meet his fiery gaze. Aratadarion nearly flinched under his brothers ire. His tenacity wavered, and for a moment he wanted to look away. But he would not. For the sake of their mother, he had to restore truth and dignity between them! Vardaithils eyes grew distant with lethargic understanding.
"Brother," spoke Aratadarion gently, his voice empty and his eyes equally vacant, "I am sorry. I have lied to you about so many things, but I did so because I thought there to be no other way." The admission tasted terrible. "And now I must speak plainly Though I fear I have not the strength to concede all that has happened."
Vardaithil afforded him a stony and steady gaze, and Aratadarion suddenly flushed with anxious embarrassment. But there was a glint in his eyes, a flash of understanding and compassion. Of sorrow borne together. It was enough to convince the meek Elf to finally speak, and he did so without any more thought. Once the words came, they would not stop. "We tried to do as Father asked, Vardaithil. But we were too late! We chased Saruman the Wise from Isengard to Cirith Ungol, but we could not undo the damage done to Legolas when we found him. The foul wizard He made Legolas mortal."
"Silence!" Vardaithil suddenly roared. His eyes flashed, and in that moment he so resembled their father that Aratadarion was utterly taken aback. "I will hear no such nonsense! No Elf can be made mortal!"
But Aratadarion would not let his brothers frustrated rage dissuade him. He spoke calmly and quietly. "You know as well as I that I say only the truth, brother. Please, believe me. Legolas lives in a world of shadow. Saruman demeaned and tortured him for many days, and then levied upon him a curse of the most cunning magic." Tears filled Aratadarions eyes. "I did not want to believe it myself. Ai, Vardaithil! He has been so viciously destroyed "
He could say nothing more, overwrought by emotion. Vardaithil looked away after a moment, returning his clouded gaze to the tired troops on the field. The gentle wind rustled the grass leaves. Finally, the crown prince murmured, his voice clenched and pained, "It must be a lie "
Aratadarion struggled to breathe around the lump in his throat. Could he say this? Explaining Astaldogalds insane jealousy and violence was akin to defaming himself! They were twins, brothers and friends in the strictest sense, loyal beyond any doubt. He still loved Astaldogald so very much and he did not know if he had the strength to personally discredit his dead twin! An observation his mother had made in jest so many years back, before Legolas was born, now peppered his stricken mind. "My dear twins you are a strange pair! Never have two been so close as to share a heart, a soul. I dare say without the other, one would be quite lost!" His heart broke. He idly wondered how many times it might shatter before it could never be repaired. The silence within him where Astaldogalds spirit once powerfully sang stabbed him, and he nearly doubled over. How this hurt!
Through the turmoil, he heard himself speak. "Legolas was wounded. He needed the care of Elvish healing. Elessar had him returned to Rivendell."
"This is madness!" his brother roared. "There is a silence so deep within me that it sunders my heart and mind, Aratadarion. This a silence made of death, of a spirit lost to me in an endless night Legolas is gone!"
Sudden anger fueled Aratadarion at his brothers selfish insistences. He saw through Vardaithils denial clearly enough, for it was borne of the same terror, of the same prejudice, as Astaldogalds had been. "It is you who suffers a madness now, brother, and I do not say this to offend or demean. I have seen this craze turn kin upon kin. I have seen it murder, rob, and torture. Break free of it now, please, I beg of you!"
Vardaithils face broke in frustrated anger. "Speak clearly, young one, for my mood already is foul and I wish for nothing more than rest and retreat." The stern visage of their father had quickly reclaimed his face and Aratadarion grew frustrated. It was a defense mechanism he found particularly infuriating, for both Astaldogald and Vardaithil had learned it quite well from their father and he had never mastered its command. It was an arrogant sort of denial, a way of dismissing a matter that was too painful or undesirable. Aratadarion realized it was only a show of weakness, not strength.
His frustration bolstered his determination. "You do not understand, Vardaithil. So much has happened these weeks past to break the ties between us, and it was of our making. Had we not for so many years pushed Legolas away, had we not insulted him for his views, for his friendship with Elessar-"
"Elessar betrayed him!"
Aratadarion felt the rage come again, the same that had split him from Astaldogald, that had driven him to protect Legolas. "Elessar did nothing of the sort!" He gave a short laugh of incredible understanding. "I see this now in hindsight! I see it all and understand so very well! The forming of the Fellowship, Legolas capture and torture, even this foul curse upon him All of this was merely a catalyst! Do you not see, my brother?" He shook his head sadly. It made such terrible sense. His mind fled him as he explained. "For thousands of years this indifference and hate festered in our Fathers House, and now it is repaid to us in kind!"
Vardaithil was ashen as Aratadarion became silent, the meek Elf panting. His cheeks glistened bright with tears. The crown prince shook his head in confusion. It must have been an unusual sight to see an Elf typically composed with quiet serenity to rant so desperately. Worry broke through Vardaithils hard eyes. "Please, my brother, you are sick with grief and you know not what you say. Come, take some rest. We shall leave for home on the morrow and return to Fathers side. Together we can properly mourn our brothers and find peace."
"No!" Aratadarion yelled, his eyes flashing with anger. "How naïve it is to think we can just go back to Mirkwood after all that has happened! It will not be the same! I cannot look Father in the eye and tell him I did all I could to succeed in the task he gave me!"
"It is not your fault, Aratadarion," Vardaithil said softly, shaking his head slowly. "The task was dangerous, and there was little you could do to save Legolas from a power so great and black as Saruman. His death is not your burden to carry." The crown prince sighed. "I know why you speak as you do, brother. I too wish that Legolas were alive and well. I would do anything I could to bring him back! Astaldogald, as well!" Vardaithils tone turned melancholic and regretful. "I long to return home and find all of us once again seated about Fathers table, engaged in banter before dinner Ai, our family! How much we sacrificed for this pathetic cause!" Bitterness flashed in his eyes. "Nay, there is no blood on your hands."
"Stop!" cried Aratadarion. He stared at his hands, the same hands that had done nothing to stop Astaldogald from stabbing Legolas or to stop Aragorn from killing Astaldogald. They seemed so red and chapped from battle, worn and battered. Bloody. He clenched them into fists and turned to his brother. "Stop your hate! It has grown from a prejudice to a flaming rage, and it will consume you! It consumed Astaldogald and turned him from a loving brother to a killing monster!"
Vardaithils gaze shattered in a shocked fury. But he had no time to speak, for Aratadarions fury drove him like a creature possessed. "Nay, Vardaithil, we cannot return to the past. We cannot undo these mistakes! I have seen a nightmare unfold before me I have seen it and I stood by, bound by a foolish promise and weak with my own fear and doubt! I did nothing as Legolas and Astaldogald fought! The culmination of hundreds of years of anger and spite and I never did anything to stop it!"
"They " Vardaithils voice trailed off and he faltered. Then the crown prince frowned. "Ai, Elbereth "
Aratadarion dug his nails into his palm until he felt warm blood drip through his fingers. "Would you hate your own kin, Vardaithil? Would you despise the creature Legolas has become? Would you wish death upon him for his descent?!" Vardaithil did not answer, pale and lost. He appeared almost weak and fragile as his frantic brother bombarded him with the terrible information. "For so long this prejudice has festered, and it meant so little when it applied to a distant menace. Then Legolas met Aragorn, and the hate gained itself a convenient target. The first casualty, you see. It grew within Father, within you, within Astaldogald within me. And Legolas responded with a hate of his own, a spiteful, bitter contempt for us because we refused to understand. You understand, do you not? He became rebellious, looking elsewhere for acceptance and he found it with Aragorn and the House of Elrond. With the very Fellowship that took him to his downfall! And then My heart is straining for absolution, but there is nothing!" His fist shook in a rage he had never before felt so strongly, so acutely. "Saruman defiled our little brother, Vardaithil. He is but a shadow of himself. And Astaldogald He would have rather seen Legolas dead than turned a mere mortal!"
The Elf stopped then, drawing a deep breath. Abruptly, he felt numb and exhausted, and he looked up to the sky overhead. The setting sun spread its shadows with great fervor, the dusky dark reaching from the horizon to enclose them. He felt their cold fingertips touch his soul, chilling him. It began to make an eerie sense, as if the final pieces of the horrid puzzle were falling into place. The truth came to him, and he had no choice but to accept it. All that had happened had done so because he had allowed it to happen. His indecision had created decision. His inaction produced action. And when he had finally made his choice, when he had finally forced himself to see Astaldogalds madness, it had been too late to stop the inevitable chain of events that had unfolded. The years of bitterness and disrespect, the endless arguments and festering anger it had exploded all around him. The wall that had grown between himself and his twin had sealed their fate. Divided from one another, Astaldogald had fallen. He had been lost. A horrible truth! It was his own fault his twin had died.
"Perhaps," he whispered to the wind, "this is the penance for a family built upon arrogance and prejudice."
Vardaithil grew cross again, though the crown prince made a solid effort to keep his irritation from reaching his voice. "What do you mean?"
His tears were bitter and cold. "We have long despised mortals, and now our own has become one. A fitting punishment, I suppose." He was surprised by the calm, matter-of-fact tone he heard in his own voice. "We all deserve no less. We covet immortality, the House of Oropher. We covet it as though it is a gift of superiority. And now Astaldogald is dead, and Legolas will die by fates cruel hand."
Vardaithil let his hand fall to Aratadarions shoulder. "Father taught us what he has to protect us. You know that."
"That I do," murmured Aratadarion. "Yet it means so little now. It became a curse to our family. It has taken Legolas. It has murdered his spirit." He let out a slow breath. I did not mean for this to happen. I did not want to choose, my dear Astaldogald, between you and Legolas. Yet, by not coming to your aid, by casting you away, I am sure I drove you to commit your crimes. To lose the love of one brother for the sake of a man was pain enough. To lose the affection of his own twin Aratadarion felt tears in his eyes, tears of loss and pain, tears of understanding and relief. Tears for the hurt he had unwittingly done his closest friend. "Astaldogald tried to kill Legolas. I I stopped him." He took a cleansing breath, feeling repentance in his words. The truth would not redeem him, he realized. He had sworn to his dying brother that he would end this fight. To do so, he would assume the ultimate guilt. He did not know if it was his to bear, or if he even could survive the rest of his life carrying this stain. But he knew there was no other way, and that somehow, this was his fault. The hate would never end unless he ended it. And if Vardaithil did not overcome his racism towards mortals, Legolas would never be healed. I will do this for you, Astaldogald. I will repay you for all your strength and compassion. I will honor you by offering Legolas the love you always wanted to give him. This was perhaps the last step of his own tumultuous journey. "I killed Astaldogald, Vardaithil."
Silence. Aratadarion did not meet his eldest siblings gaze, frightened of what he might find. He was surprised how easily the declaration left his lips, and how much the simple confession eased his burning heart. The meek Elf prince rather expected Vardaithil to shout or cry, to express shock or rage, to condemn him for the sin. In stead, his brother but released a long breath. Aratadarion felt the strength leave him as he looked to Vardaithil. His brothers stern, strong face was streaked with tears. "Brother?"
Vardaithil gave a short sobbing, breath. "Legolas is alive " he whispered breathlessly. Something inside Aratadarion relaxed. His faith resurfaced, tentatively at first as it poked its gentle caress through the murk of guilt and sorrow. To trade one brother for another! Life was a strange fact, indeed! "Legolas the grief from Astaldogalds sacrifice is lessened by the jubilation I feel inside!"
In a most unexpected gesture, Vardaithil turned to him and wrapped him in a tight embrace. Aratadarion nearly jumped in surprise, but he recovered quickly and sank into his brothers strong arms, folding his own around Vardaithils form. Tears spilled from his eyes. "I am so very glad you are well " whispered the crown prince. "Aratadarion, I am so very glad you are here!"
They said nothing more, content to hold each other as the sunset darkened the sky with purple and blues. Aratadarion closed his eyes, feeling for the first time in so very long that he had done what was needed. That he was needed. A part of his battered soul healed then, in the heat of his brothers embrace, the warm salty tears running from his eyes. The bond between them strengthened.
An evening star twinkled upon the horizon, shining upon him. He watched it wink with tired eyes and suddenly felt something he had not since leaving his fathers court.
"Pay me your attention now, young Hobbits." Gimli heard his voice grow rough and tight with irritation. He did not intend to sound so cross, but now was not the time for Merry and Pippins frivolity. A peculiar mood had taken the two since arriving in Lórien, and though Gimli found their euphoria heartening, it was now becoming more a nuisance than a joy. There was still much to be done, even if the One Ring had been destroyed, and they could not afford a lapse in concentration. "This fight will be furious, and you must not let down your guard for even a moment!"
"When do you suppose Frodo and Sam will return, Master Dwarf?" inquired Pippin. The small creatures eyes twinkled with cheery merriment. Gimlis vexation was apparently lost to him, so taken he was with joy. "And to where? They wouldnt go back to Hobbiton without us!" The Hobbit was aghast with the idea.
"Shush, Pip! Cant you see there are more important things?" Merry snapped, though his tone was pinched by a happy excitement. He tried to keep his face hard, but there was no hiding the jolly shine in his eyes.
"Of course, I can! Im just wondering, after all."
The bickering continued. Gimli felt Haldir sigh beside him, and the Dwarf had to struggle to keep a smile from climbing to his face. The whole forest of Lothlórien had adopted the same sort of conflicting mood of overwhelming elation and anxious trepidation. They had made their arrival a mere hour before, having driven hard from Gondor at a grueling pace fueled by only their determination to see the Golden Wood protected. A week had passed, each day seeming somehow longer than the last. Gimli had watched the Hobbits grow weary with traveling. Though tight-lipped and unwilling to admit it, both Merry and Pippin lost the will to do much else other than ride. Perhaps the gravity of the situation had finally taken its toll upon them, mutilating the last of their faith that somehow their Fellowship of nine would be restored. Sam and Frodo struggled alone to Mordor. Boromir had left them. Legolas was gone, dead most likely. Gandalf and Aragorn stood to weather the awesome threat facing Gondor. It seemed so very unlikely that they would ever again see any of them.
The Dwarf mused briefly on the strenuous journey. It had been quite surprising to see Haldirs quiet compassion surface. He would have surely expected the Elf to be a cold force, pushing them rapidly and without repose to their destination. If it were his glorious home at stake, he would have certainly waited for none in his race to save it! Yet Haldir had not expressed frustration or irritation when the Hobbits grew too weary to continue and they were forced to stop and make camp. He simply provided silent and steadfast encouragement, standing guard while they slept, refusing even Gimli a turn at watch. The Dwarf was undeniably amazed at the transformation he sensed in his Elvish comrade. Haldir had inexplicably become quite attached to them all, though if questioned Gimli was sure the Lórien Elf would deny it. His compassion was not as obvious or as bright as Legolas had been, but it was definitely soothing and powerful. And as much as he himself perhaps wanted to dislike the notion, his begrudging respect of Haldir was blossoming into a tentative friendship.
They had reached Lórien earlier that day. The Golden Wood, which he remembered to be peaceful and quiet, had erupted into a controlled chaos. The Lady herself had greeted them, but her great aura of serenity and wisdom was marred by worry for her people. Her welcome was brief and formal, her eyes betraying nothing of the gravity of the situation. She as well seemed torn between a strange relief and a tense anxiety. Gimli absently touched the lock of her golden hair that she had given him, pressing it to his heart. He had sensed a change in her, a demure weariness and sadness creeping into her pale face. Though she was a creature of exquisite beauty and ageless wisdom, she appeared very old to him, burdened by much toil. His heart ached at her withering energy, though she admitted no sadness. Still, it was enough to unnerve and trouble him. Quiet your thoughts! came the chiding voice of his conscience. There is plenty to worry about without pondering matters over which you have no control!
Elves rushed about, carrying weapons and armor for the battle that was about to begin. Presently they headed to the front lines, where the fighting was the strongest. From Gimlis understanding, the battle had commenced some time the day before. Their enemy consisted of rogue Orcs and goblins, whatever Uruk-hai remained from the assault on Isengard, and rebels from the hills surrounding Rohan. They were a motley crew if any, but Gimli supposed that greed produced the most unusual alliances. He had had little time to ponder how Wormtongue had possibly managed to arrange such a potent attack on the Golden Wood from afar, unsatisfied with the simple idea that the spies of evil were widespread and deep set. Still, he realized rather angrily, it was unlikely they would now ever learn the truth of it, and how or why were insignificant at this point at any rate.
He pulled himself back to the present. If the state of tension in this fair land was any indication, the war was, for the moment, at some sort of stalemate. The Elves of the Golden Wood, though few in number, were amazing warriors and cunning adversaries. The master archers had taken station in their great mallorn trees, firing a steady rain of sharp arrows upon the enemies as they advanced into their home woodlands. Lothlórien was a complicated maze of trunk and leaf, the paths through the thick forest hidden and intertwined. Gimli remembered his first entrance into these woods, guided only by the knowledge of Legolas and Aragorn. A strange tingle, which he had mistakenly taken to be evil, had prickled his skin and set him on edge. He knew now that to be only the unusual feeling of this place, one of secrecy and empathy strong enough to gently pierce ear and eye and flesh. He knew these foolish men and monsters would experience the same misguided dread when faced with the peculiar sensation. Some would probably run, too frightened of the powerful Elf-witch that lived among the ancient trees. Gimli smiled ruefully. Caras Galadhon was buried quite deep and accessing it would be monstrously difficult for those that remained. For now, these advantages were enough to keep the fight even, though their attackers outnumbered them tenfold.
They had to protect this wondrous land and all of its people at any cost!
His reverie broke, and Haldirs calm voice filled his ears. "Be still now," he said to the bickering Hobbits. Gimli narrowed his eyes. Ahead was a small battalion of Lórien Elves, dressed in shining plate and bearing sleek weapons. They stood stiff in their post, their eyes alertly directed forward. The sounds of distant fighting disturbed the timeless peace of the woods, screaming, shouting, and the clanking of metal piercing the cool air. These few Elves were the only ground defense Lothlórien could offer.
Merry and Pippin watched astounded, wide-eyed and pale. Feeling overtly protective, Gimli stood close to them and leaned on his axe. Though the Hobbits were adequate warriors, they were by no means fighters of the caliber needed in such a dangerous battle. Still, they had refused to stay in the security of Caras Galadhon. They claimed it was the least they could do, given that Sam and Frodo had done their part to save Middle Earth. It would be improper and otherwise traitorous to sit back and allow another to fight this battle in their place. Despite his reservations, Gimli was inclined to agree. However, doubt and dismay assailed him. From the Fellowship he maintained a certain responsibility for these two. Though they had all fought together to bring the Ring to Amon Hen, the two men, the Elf, the Istar, and the Dwarf had silently agreed that they would never allow any harm to come to their Halfling companions, each taken in his own way with the childlike innocence and naïveté of the kind. He did not know if he could ever face Aragorn again should anything happen to Merry and Pippin.
From the group of Elves approached one. He was tall and lithe of build, like most of his kind, but he bore a familiarity in his face that Gimli immediately placed. Long flaxen hair, paler than straw, framed a narrow, young face. Piercing eyes regarded them. "Brother," said the Elf to Haldir. He spoke in Westron out of consideration for the others; Gimli credited the Elf for this at least. "Praise the Valar for your arrival! We need your command now."
Haldir responded with a curt nod. "It much eases my heart to see you well, Rúmil." For a moment Gimli felt at odds watching their emotionless display. The stoicism of Lórien Elves still served to unnerve him, though he realized this reunion was not at all heartless. He watched Haldirs eyes and saw the unmasked relief.
Rúmil lowered his long blade and looked to his siblings companions. His face grew perplexed. "I trust all went well with the son of Arathorn?" asked the Lórien warrior.
Haldir stiffened slightly; Gimli knew his comrade still harbored quite a bit of guilt for abandoning his charge. "I believe it did," replied the other, pausing in an attempt to rid his voice of doubt or shame. There was something that perhaps only Gimli perceived in his tone. Worry. Concern for those left behind in Gondor. But Haldir shook free from his thoughts a breath later. "Tell me, how fares our fight?"
If Rúmil was at all perturbed by the situation, it did not register on his placid face. "We lose ground. Our archers have done much to whittle down their forces, but I fear it is not enough. They return now to regroup. We will have to hold them here. If we are slain, nothing protects Caras Galadhon. Lord Celeborn has formed a perimeter about the city, but it will not be enough to repel an attack of this size."
Gimli grunted hotly, feeling anger run through his blood. He gripped the shaft of his great axe tightly. "Then we will defeat them here!" he declared loudly, watching the Elves turn their attention to him. Merry and Pippin nodded their assent enthusiastically.
Rúmil gave a small grin and nod. "A strange thing! I bid you welcome! For your aid here, you shall always be Elf-friend!" he declared, a jovial, grateful tone finding its way into his serious voice. "Alas, there will be time for gratitude later."
Haldir nodded and stepped forward. "Indeed," he said. He spoke softly to his brother then, whispering in Elvish. Gimli watched the exchange, a bit resentful of it, but said nothing. Now was simply not the time.
Ahead there was a great shout, and then the thunder of feet. From the thick wall of trees came many Elves clad in grays and greens. Most bore great bows of the sort Galadriel had given Legolas. Few were injured. "They come!" yelled one of the archers, coming to stand beside the forces assembled.
Gimli felt his heart surge as he lifted his great axe, its deadly edge glimmering in the fading sun. Merry and Pippin both drew their short swords, their faces tense with determination and fear. The last of the Elves sprinted from the trees, some angling about to fire behind them. They had augmented their group, doubling its size. Gimli began to allow himself to have some hope of victory.
From the trees came the battle cries of men corrupted and demons of the dark. Their poison spread about, and the mallorn trees were still, dropping no more of their precious golden leaves lest bloody and dirty feet trample them. Gimli stiffened as the wind blew to them a foul stench of violation and death.
Haldir drew his bow and stepped to the front of the group. He raised his voice. "The battle for Middle Earth may be over," he shouted, his tone calm and proud, "but ours just begins! We will not fall!"
The Elves rallied. Though few in number, they were strong of heart and body and proud enough to equal a force twice as big. Swords were drawn in a metallic chorus than rang through the air. Arrows were notched and bows raised. Haldir returned to the line, lifting his own weapon.
As the first troops of the enemy poured from the trees, the Elf narrowed his eyes. "We will defeat them here," he whispered softly.
Gimli felt heartened as he heard the Lórien archer repeat his earlier words. Their adversaries tore at the peace with their horrid and lusty cries and ripped at the ground in their charge. The Dwarf took a deep breath to steady himself, clearing his mind of all thoughts so that he might pour every potent ounce of his strength and spirit into this battle. He did this for Aragorn and for Gandalf. For the Hobbits. For the Lady and for Legolas. For himself. I will not fail! "Stay close to me, Merry, Pippin," he ordered softly as the archers released their first volley of arrows upon the approaching attackers. The small creatures nodded, jaws firm in their decision to win this moment.
All of Lórien shook with rage at the desecration.
The last battle had begun.
Another night came to Rivendell. The city was normally a picture of serenity and peace. Shadows fell over it, but they were calm and gentle, hiding nothing. The air was cool and still, without breeze or disturbance, the quiet moon above shedding a pale, ethereal light that soothed and brought a glow to all it touched. It was a beautiful sight, the marble of the terraces and buildings shining in the shadows, fireflies and wisps dancing in the air like winks of stars. Night was not meant to be a time of fear or distress.
Yet this night was much like the last and the one before that as well. A terrible wailing sliced through the tranquility, shattering the peaceful evening. It filled the air, leaving those awake to hear it wincing in pity and awkward fear. It was a cry of agony, of terror and rage, of the worst imaginable torture. It was a plea for help.
Arwen gasped as she pushed open the doors to quarters where Legolas lay bed-ridden. She pushed aside her grogginess and rushed inside. Her heart pulsed in panic and pain as she reached the side of the bed. "Legolas!" she called. "Legolas, awake! Please!"
But the body before her only continued to howl, struggling weakly in the throes of a horrific nightmare. Legolas kicked and pulled away as she tried to grab his arms in a tender restraint. Sweat-soaked bedsheets were tangled around his lithe form. Arwens heart shuddered to hear his cries and sobs. Tears filled her eyes as she drew him into her arms.
He fought against her perhaps a moment more, pushing her away frantically. It pained her greatly to realize that he thought her capable of hurting him, that in his delirious, feverish mind he perceived her gentle, cool touch as only another attempt to cause harm. Finally he grew too exhausted to pull away, and he collapsed against her breast.
"Shh, Legolas," she whispered softly, feeling the heat of his skin through her nightclothes. His burning tears seeped through the light fabric, searing her skin. Gently she ran her hands through his abundant hair, trying to comfort him. She felt wretched this night. A terrible pattern had grasped them. Legolas would fall into a nightmare, distraught with memory and fever, and his cries and wails would awake her. She would rush to his aid, pulling him from the black pit of torture consuming him, and hold him as he sank back into an ailing slumber. And after that She closed her eyes and felt them burn in exhaustion. It felt as though sand was trapped beneath the lids. She never managed to fall into anything besides a light doze, typically in the chair stationed beside the bed, afraid to leave him lest he again wake. She was afraid he might tear his wounds in his thrashing.
A heavy, ominous silence had descended upon them as she had thought, and now it deafened her. She heard her heart pounding, her heavy breathing. Instinct guided her hands, for her mind was distant with somnolent concerns and memories. It had been almost a week since her return to Rivendell. The time had seemed to pass incredibly slowly, the minutes stretching to hours, the hours lethargically becoming days. She despondently recalled her fathers face the morning after they had arrived. She had awoken early, pulled from a healing sleep by the pressing worries abandoned selfishly by the want of her body. Her father had just finished tending to her dear friends wound, and he emerged staggering from the room with lines about his eyes. She had rarely seen him so weakened. With imploring eyes she had regarded him, praying with all her being that he had known how to heal Legolas of the curse. But his diverted eyes told her before he had even spoken that he could do nothing to make Legolas once again an Elf.
In the days since a depression had come over the House of Elrond. No one spoke directly of the matter, but it was clear in each mind that the poor creature they housed was destined for a mortal life, that the dark aura about him could not be undone. A terrible tiding! Many of the Elves of Rivendell knew Legolas from his frequent visits. Some were quite affable with him. He was such a powerful and loving friend that all felt acutely his suffering. To see a great Elf fall! It was a rare enough event that it struck each brutally. Legolas was a prince, no less, and the son of a great and proud lineage. The shroud of despair and emptiness was thick and heavy, and none had the strength to utter even a thought of hope.
Arwen looked down at the shivering form in her arms. Legolas was wheezing, clinging to her. Underneath his disheveled and loosely drawn tunic she saw the bandages wrapped around his chest. Some were dotted with blood. She closed her eyes again and felt the energy rush from her body in a languid sigh. At least Legolas would live. Elrond had spent a good deal of his vital energy in healing his broken body. The nearly fatal wound was no longer threatening him with dangerous infection. The bleeding had all but stopped. His bruised ribs had been wrapped in linens as well as his left hand, which, after closer inspection, Elrond deduced had been broken rather badly. Many of the other injuries would heal in time. Still, some things would never remedy themselves. Her father had regretfully informed her that, given the extent of the injury and his bodys diminished ability to contend with physical duress, he would most likely never walk again without a limp. The thought brought a lump to her tight throat and made her lips quiver.
She banished the thought. He is alive! That is hope enough! Yet, though she put all her spirit into convincing herself of this fact, it seemed so very shallow. It was not enough. He was tormented by terror and delirium. How long would these horrible nightmares continue? Was this a manifestation of the dreadful curse? She duly wished it were not the case. A lifetime of such suffering was the most heinous and unspeakable ordeal she could imagine. Was he forever doomed till the end of his days to reel in this shadow, to be ravished by the blackness set upon him? For all her want, she could do so little to help him!
A brush of cool air came through the room, piercing the uncomfortable and stagnant heat, and her dream she had had so many nights prior returned to her. There she had known peace. She held tight to the smallest sensation, basking in its easing touch, and prayed she had not been mistaken. Perhaps these nightmares that assaulted her injured friend were the substance of his own brutalized soul. Perhaps the curse was She did not allow herself such a wanton hope, sufficing her hungry heart to simply believe that if Legolas overcame his pain, he might heal his spirit. He might grow strong enough to crawl from beneath the smothering shadow and live the rest of his life in peace.
So Arwen held him, listening to his pained breathing. He was probably sinking back into sleep, having exhausted himself with his fit. "It is alright, Legolas," she promised, smoothing his hair from his sweat-covered brow. She did her best to keep her own apprehension from her tone.
Much to her surprise, he spoke. His voice was a low, strained murmur. "It is not. It never will be again."
This was the first coherent thought he had spoke since Gondor. Had he finally broken free from his delirium? So taken aback, its depressed tone and content did not register upon her immediately. Before she could speak, he pulled away from her. With grimace he rolled over, hiding his face. His hair shimmered in the moonlight as it spread over the pillows.
Stunned, she sat still for a moment, unsure of what to say or how to act. That dark spirit clinging to him reached out to enfold her. She shuddered, feeling his depression, knowing this hell he could not escape. Soft weeping came from huddled form. "Why did you do this to me?" he asked. Cold fear jolted her, her heart leaping to her throat, as her worst fears materialized before her. "Why?"
Say something! Her numb lips moved, but she could find no words, shocked into a shameful, frightened silence. Legolas choked on a sob. His voice was a pathetic whimper. "There is no silence I I can hear myself screaming. I hear the crack of their whips and my blood splatter on the floor. I hear them laughing. They have taken my pride, my heart, my dignity and they laugh and laugh!" She could not breathe or think to speak as he laid bare the substance of captivity, of what he had endured for their sake. "He is inside me He tears me from within! I cannot escape him!" An insane chortle fled his lips. "He did make me his!"
"Who, Legolas?" she heard herself breathlessly ask.
She cringed inwardly at the name. The helplessness and pain became too much, and leaned over him, grasping his shoulder gently to pull his body around so that she might see his eyes. He screamed, skittering away from her as best as he could. "Do not touch me! You stay away from me!"
"Please, it is I, Arwen!" she declared, tears spilling from her eyes, her voice a weak plea for this nightmare to end.
Legolas howled as she touched his leg, recoiling as though her hand were a weapon. She saw the madness swirl in his eyes, a storm of delirious rage, anguish, and terror filling the feverish blue orbs. "I will not tell you " he hissed through clenched teeth. In the pale light, he seemed a wounded animal, defiant but terrified of the punishment he had incurred. "I will die before I do! The Ring will not come to you, do you hear?! I will not let it!"
Then she realized frantically that he did not realize where he was. He believed himself to back in Orthanc, in Sarumans clutches! "Legolas," she gasped, grabbing his shoulders and forcing him to look at her. He pushed back, his back against the beds headboard, his eyes wide and panicked. "You are safe now! Look about you! This is Rivendell! Come away from the prison of your memories and have peace!"
If he heard her at all, he did not make sense of it or ignored the words. His eyes flashed with a murderous rage. Arwen yelped. Never should such a terrible humor come to such a gentle creature! "You lie! You seek to trick me into lowering my guard! I will not fall for your ploy!"
She pinned his writhing body to the bed with her own weight. She took his jaw into her fingers and held it tightly, though he did everything within his power to wriggle away. "This is no trick. The One Ring has been destroyed!"
In his eyes there was a glint of tears, of yearning. She saw him them, his weakened spirit struggling to break free from the insanity of the curse. Recognition crawled into those bright, blue eyes and she nodded firmly. He ceased his struggles, his taut face relaxing slowly. He began to cry again. His tears were warm against her hand as she wiped them away. For a long moment, neither spoke. She watched him battle against the fever. He was fighting to believe, to have faith, to heal.
Then he closed his eyes and sunk down as if his body was falling in defeat. She did not know whether to be glad or disturbed by his lax face. She straightened the sheets and blankets and helped him nestle beneath them once more. His strained breathing seemed so loud as she tucked him in, a wince returning to his face. Distressed, she lifted his hand between her own and closed her eyes. She had not anticipated the strain his illness would place upon her. "Arwen "
She looked to him again. Clear tears slid from half-lidded eyes, running down his temples and into his hair. The orbs showed a picture of decimation, of pain and loss. "Would you stay with me here tonight?" His voice was no more a whisper, but the misery in his tone filled her with pangs of hurt and grief. Was this the same Legolas that had assured her all would be well so many nights past after her fathers council? Could it be the same gentle and confident brother that eased her with his strong embrace and affectionate words? "Please "
Leaning down, she smiled tenderly. "Of course." Then she kissed his cheek.
A moment later she lay in the bed with him, her arm draped across his shoulders, holding him close. She could feel him shake with sobs, his breath a weeping moan of air and voice. "It hurts," he whimpered, squeezing his eyes shut. "It hurts so very badly!" She did not know what to say, so she merely held him tighter. "There were so many times when they were beating me I hoped I would die. Sometimes I thought I had." She felt him shudder, as though his spirit was banging against the confines of the flesh in a desperate attempt to escape the torment of this world. "But I never did."
She closed her eyes against the nightmare.
"I could always hear myself screaming."
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.