31. Sight So Clear
The leaves again fell in Lothlórien. Like a sprinkle of gold, they tumbled from the mallorn trees, floating through the air as if they possessed tiny spirits that yearned to fly. Upon the forest floor they rested, landing lightly and carefully, the pattern they created at once beautifully random and carefully planned. An ancient magic guided this gentle rain of leaves, bringing to it an aura of peace and purpose that took more than simple senses to understand. Knowing that the threat against the fair land was vanquished eased all who were present to see this splendor.
Gimli breathed deeply. The air was fresh and clean, warmed by the rising of the sun. He watched the elegant dance of the leaves and developed a new appreciation for nature. As a Dwarf, he much preferred the rough strength of ancient stone, and he was much at home in dark caves where the rock was powerful and protective. Still, he was beginning to understand why Elves so loved the trees and the stars. Each possessed a certain beauty that, while perhaps subtle to his people, was undeniably heartening. His father had often spoken quite unfavorably of the Elves of Mirkwood, criticizing their dark, dense forests that more resembled a labyrinth than a kingdom. After traveling so much, Gimli was beginning to understand that each land, each home, had a grace that often took the eyes of its own children to see.
They stood at the edge of the forest, where the trees receded and became grasslands. A small collection of Elves had assembled to see them off this morning. Among them, flanked by Lórien’s best warriors, were the Lady and Lord. With the dawn they shone, golden and beautiful, ageless in wisdom and experience. Before them, Gimli bowed, placing his attention once more on this last good-bye. Merry and Pippin followed suit.
"You need not lower yourself so, Gimli, son of Glóin," said Galadriel. Gimli raised his gaze to look upon her. Her pale face was calm and peaceful, and her eyes, once so burdened by a timeless evil he could not begin to understand, were now clear. "You have done a great favor to us in fighting on our behalf, and I would not have you think yourself unworthy of my mere gaze."
Gimli grinned. "It is no matter of worthiness, my fair Lady, but a choice. Ere I look upon you, I feel greater than I was moments past. Such a gift I would not easily give myself!"
Galadriel returned his simple gesture with a smile of her own. "How kind you are," she declared. She turned her bright gaze to the Hobbits as well. "How kind and valiant you all are!" To each of the Halflings she gave a chaste kiss, a mere brush of her pink lips upon their foreheads. Merry and Pippin both smiled quite broadly. The elation of their victory the night before still had not dissipated, and the two had been veritable frenzies of joyous energy. Gimli was happy for them; they had accomplished something grand and stupendous, and they had every right to be proud.
Then the Lady knelt before him. She spoke softly, her voice little more than a melodic whisper that reminded him of the breeze rustling the leaves. "Hasten to Rivendell. There you will find much that you thought lost." Her words perplexed him, but he chose not to question the matter, simply awed by her powerful presence. She kissed his brow as well, endowing him with a caress he knew he would long remember. Then the enchanting Elf straightened her form and returned to her husband’s side.
Celeborn’s face was without expression, but in his fathomless eyes showed relief. Clearly the threat against his people had disturbed him greatly. "We wish you a safe journey," he said. "You shall be forever Elf-friends and welcome in these lands."
"Such a reward is far too much for our simple deeds," responded Gimli, "but I do accept it. I am only glad we could be of some service." The Dwarf pressed a spot over his heart where he kept the lock of Galadriel’s golden hair. "I will never forget the lasting alliance formed between our peoples."
"Let us not."
"Farewell, my Lady and Lord."
"Farewell, Gimli, son of Glóin!"
Then they turned elegantly and began to walk, although to Gimli’s eyes the magnificent creatures seemed more to float across the bed of golden leaves. Their guards each offered a bow or nod before following, though now their weapons remained lowered in this time of peace. The Dwarf and Hobbits watched the retinue until they could no longer distinguish their forms from the blur of trunk and leaf.
Only Haldir, Orophin, and Rúmil remained. Gazing upon the three now Gimli detected the likeness between them. He had never imagined Haldir to have such a family when the Lórien Elf had enigmatically appeared in Edoras so many weeks back. Brotherly love seemed a concept too precious and sweet for such a cold, arrogant, and aloof being. How wrong he had been!
Orophin smiled. He held the reins to Arod. The white horse appeared as skittish as ever, barely comforted by the touch of the tall Elf. Perhaps the impatient steed merely wished to begin their journey. Gimli wondered if the horse would ever calm itself. "That beast will not let me ride it," grumbled the Dwarf, eyeing the horse with disdain.
"Come now, Master Dwarf. He will bear you well enough. You need only trust him," said Rúmil. Gimli found that Haldir’s brother was somewhat different than the standoffish Elf, displaying at times an air of open friendliness. He had once or twice even jested since the fall of their enemies the evening before. He was not so old or experienced not to be shocked into a paralyzed stupor by the mere existence of the Ents, much less their timely appearance. Like a curious child, Gimli had witnessed him watch Treebeard and his people with awe as they had received the gratitude of the Lady and Lord. Much had transpired between Galadriel and Treebeard that Gimli had not understood, and it was clear from the confusion in the eyes of many of the Lórien warriors that they did not comprehend the exchange either. It was another facet of their culture that Gimli found common to his own. Though immortality made Elves ageless, it was clear that youth still clung to some like Rúmil and Legolas. They still acted with childish immaturity that the Dwarf found endearing at times. Rúmil had even gone so far as to walk with the Ents as they left Lothlórien, glued to them with unending interest. Gimli regretted that he would not have the opportunity now to better become acquainted with the Elf.
The tall Rúmil gave Merry the reins of the pony. The saddlebags had been adequately stuffed for their journey to Rivendell. Then he turned to Gimli. "I must thank you," he announced quietly, meeting the Dwarf’s gaze. "You saved my life, and I will not forget that."
"Do not indebt yourself to me," Gimli ordered. "Allies do much for each other in battle that deserves no reward."
Rúmil smiled, the light in his gray eyes betraying his relief. He turned away. "Be well, Master Dwarf. I hope to see you again." Orophin joined him, offering the reins of Arod to Haldir. The latter Elf nodded, cool and stoic yet. There was a bit of reservation in his eyes. Gimli returned the gesture, satisfied with that and nothing more. Then the two Elves walked back to Caras Galadhon.
Then there was silence. Even the forest grew tense in the awkward emptiness. Haldir grasped Arod’s reins tightly. "Come," he said softly, "I shall escort you out."
They remained quiet as they walked, the sound of soft footsteps loud and pressing. These were the last footsteps of their journey together, the final paces in a long and difficult quest. Gimli bowed his head as they walked, watching the leaves disappear under his feet, and found he was not tired or pained as he thought he would be. Haldir was silent beside him, making no sound in his gait. It amazed Gimli that so powerful a presence could come and go so silently. Was this the way of the Elves? To magically appear when the time is most needy and then depart again when the moment is right, without hint or warning? His heart ached a bit as he saw the edge of the forest approach. He had become quite attached to Haldir, despite his best efforts. He would be most saddened to part with him now.
The border was marked by little more than tall grasses. It was the same sort of boundary the Fellowship had crossed so many months ago after escaping the terrible dark of Moria, after losing Gandalf. It had marked the beginning of a great change in Gimli, of a beautiful new sight. So much had happened since then! He felt a vastly different person now as he stood at the same spot.
Haldir drew to a stop. For a moment, no one spoke, as if none had the strength to talk first of their departure. The silence was uncomfortable and long, and Gimli felt his heart crawling in an anxious whisper of truth. He did not want to leave Haldir behind. Perhaps it would do best to ask again if the Lórien Elf would accompany them to Rivendell. Surely Haldir would again like to see Aragorn and share with him the joy of what they had accomplished. Yet, as much as his spirit willed this to be possible, Gimli found he could not make himself voice the question. It was a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew that this was meant to be the moment of their parting, at least for the time being. "Hasten to Rivendell. There you will find much you thought lost." Whatever waited for him in Lord Elrond’s realm was not meant for Haldir. It felt almost as if their correspondence was meant to end here.
"This silence infuriates me," Haldir finally declared. His tone was clenched and cold, as if in a struggle to keep emotion from it. "So be gone. I wish not for a long and weepy farewell."
Gimli smiled in frustration. "Crazy Elf," he muttered. "You need not be so aloof now. I would like to think we have come beyond that."
Haldir did not answer. The look of indignant pain on his long face amused Gimli, and the Dwarf glanced away to hide his smirk. The emptiness came back and it remained quiet until Merry could stand it no longer. "Thank you for everything, Haldir. You’ve done so much for us."
The tall Elf turned to the Hobbit. The exasperation had faded from his eyes to be replaced with genuine affection. "Think nothing of it, Merry," responded Haldir. "I was doing naught but my duty to my Lady and Lord."
Merry shook his head. "You did much more than that. You had a hard spot to fill." The Hobbit said no more, but it was clear what he had meant. Haldir had taken up Legolas’ role after their dear friend had been taken, and he had done so without demeaning Legolas’ memory or encroaching upon the bond they had formed with the son of Thranduil during their journey. The Lórien warrior had done only what was required of him, never seeking to replace Legolas or make light of what had happened. Haldir had only been himself, and that was exactly what all of them, including Aragorn, had needed. He had maintained a clear sight.
Pippin sniffed. The small creature seemed a bit teary eyed. He extended his hand to Haldir, and the Elf slowly took it. Pippin embraced him then, and Haldir seemed a bit surprised as the Hobbit gripped him tightly. "I’ll miss you, Haldir!" said Pippin in a rushed breath. "You’ve been such a good friend!"
The Elf pulled away after a moment, looking uncharacteristically rattled. Gimli swallowed his laugh. Quick to escape, Haldir said, "Now be off. You have a long journey ahead of you." He then helped Merry and Pippin mount the pony. Then he turned to the Dwarf. Gimli gripped Arod’s saddle and Haldir gave him just enough a boost to push him atop horse.
Arod jumped about, clearly unhappy with the arrangement. Gimli hardly had time to grab the white horse’s leather reins and steady himself with the infernal lurching and jerking. "Cursed beast!" shouted the Dwarf, his face reddening. Why had this horse always been so riled? It was almost as if he knew something greater was misplaced or different.
Merry and Pippin laughed at the sight of Gimli scrambling. Haldir took Arod’s bridle. Long fingers stroked the horse’s face tenderly, and the Lórien Elf whispered soft words to the unnerved animal. It was enough to calm him and he stilled his skittish hooves, allowing Gimli time enough to settle himself. The Dwarf grumbled to himself over the embarrassment and cursed Arod silently again. Though he had come to respect much of Elves and their ways, he would never understand how they could so love animals such as this one.
It was time to leave. Haldir rested his hand on Arod’s flank. The rising sunlight caught his hair, turning it aglow with gold and gleaming yellows. His eyes were full of fond amity. "I am proud to have fought beside you," he said quietly, meeting Gimli’s gaze.
"And I you," responded the Dwarf, his heart warm with Haldir’s words.
"Tell the son of Arathorn that I was glad to be of use to him in his journey."
"Keep your peace now and forever." The hand fell away. "Legolas was fortunate to have a friend so devoted as you." He turned. "As am I."
He was gone then, strolling on light feet into the woods. Gimli watched him slip into the forest, moving with such grace and elegant he seemed more a spirit. Only once did he turn back, and Merry and Pippin waved. The stoic mask had returned in that instance, but Gimli knew now that it was only a façade. Underneath the arrogance and detachment, the cold exteriors and harsh glares, Haldir had a heart as big as any.
Finally they could see him no longer. The Dwarf sighed, surprised to find he was so moved by the moment. Then again, much in these last weeks had touched his heart in ways both painful and wonderful. So much was clear to him now.
"Come," he said to his
companions. He dug his heals into Arod’s flanks for support and urged the
stubborn beast into a light trot. "It is high time we rejoined our friends." With
that, they left the Golden Wood, guided by their hearts and hopes that in Rivendell
they would find much more than an end to their journey.
They were but four days from Minas Tirith, and Frodo felt no more alive than he had upon the slopes of Mount Doom. Whatever joy he had experienced then at finally accomplishing his task, at surmounting the stupendous and dangerous quest laid upon him, at being finally free from the Ring’s terrible, taunting call, had not been enough to ward away the depression as he and Sam had braved a path to the kingdom of men. Likewise, the elation at again seeing Strider and Gandalf, at hearing that, despite his worst terrors, Legolas yet lived and had been taken to Rivendell for healing, at knowing Merry and Pippin were hale of heart and body and in the presence of the powerful Elves of Lórien, was doing nothing now to elevate his crushed spirit. The weight of what he had done, or nearly done, was simply too decimating.
A warm bath and good food had healed his body enough, he supposed, and sleeping appropriately in a proper bed had done wonders for his aches and pains. Though he was weary of traveling, he could not stay in Minas Tirith for all the want of his shameful spirit. Part of his brutalized heart needed to again see Legolas. Aragorn hid something from them, though Frodo was sure Sam had been simply too euphoric over the entire matter to notice the lies and sorrow lacing the ranger’s words. Frodo did not have the courage to seek the truth, and he submitted to simply waiting. He did not want to know there was yet more blood covering his hands.
So they had set out. Sam’s broken leg slowed their progress, and Frodo saw the frustration that this caused in Aragorn. Though the man hid it well behind empty smiles and denials of anxiety, the Hobbit knew Aragorn also felt there was much blame upon him. He wondered at all that must have happened since he parted company with the dear ranger at Edoras. He knew Boromir was dead, though he was uncertain of the circumstances. Aragorn had only explained that the son of Gondor had been killed while trying to rescue Legolas. This much at least seemed sincere, and it somehow eased Frodo’s tired soul. Obviously Boromir had found his redemption. Perhaps he might as well. No longer did Frodo fault the warrior for his succumbing to the sickness of the One Ring. The Hobbit now knew the weakness borne into each of them all too well. He understood the corruption better than he ever thought possible. The demon he had once pictured Boromir to be became simply another victim, not entirely so different from himself.
The thought brought fresh pain, so he decided not to dwell on the matter. They had stopped this night in a small grove. The stars were bright above, and the night was not so cold as to need blankets or any warmth beyond that of the fire that burned within a circle of stones at the center of their little camp. Frodo sat close to it, his eyes glazed and distant in thought. Sam lay snoring beside him. The Hobbit turned to his sleeping friend tiredly, envious of Sam’s easy peace. How simple this all seemed to him! Frodo darkly turned his thoughts away, returning his gaze to the dance of orange and yellow flames before him.
Aragorn was sprawled on a large, flat rock nearby. He held Andúril across his chest, his head pillowed upon his bedroll. Frodo stared blankly at him, watching him gaze up at the starry sky. He had such an intense look upon his usually lax face that Frodo felt it a crime to intrude upon his interlude. The ranger seemed to be imploring the stars for some sort of answer or absolution. Frodo shivered. Something terrible had happened to Legolas. You shouldn’t think it, came the chastising voice of his mind. He’s alive! Have hope in that. Lord Elrond surely helped him. He thought of what he had told Sam when he had finally found his friend after days of searching Mordor. Lying about Legolas’ death had come so easily, offering fake hope where there before had been none. The falsehood’s comfort was alluring. Would it be so wrong to lie to himself now?
Gandalf stepped quietly to the horses. Aragorn’s steed, a great brown horse by the name of Hasufel, whinnied at the wizard’s gentle touch. Shadowfax grew jealous of the attention and snorted, butting his head against Gandalf’s shoulder. The ancient Istar gave a low chuckle before stroking the horse’s mane. He stood there a moment, still and tall, looking as well to the crystal clear sky. The stars winked beautifully in the sea of blackness. To Frodo they appeared as a million teardrops falling. "This night is quite peaceful," declared Gandalf quietly. He stepped to the fire and sat cross-legged before it, placing his staff across his knees. The white of his robes fanned about him like a sheet of snow. "Yes, and I am glad for it."
Frodo lowered his head and returned his weary, mournful gaze to the fire. The flames licked and bit at the wood with audible snapping and popping, tearing its grain and charring its insides. It sadly reminded him of his own heart. In the blaze of the Ring’s possession, he had been so badly burned.
"Now, my boy," said Gandalf, his tone a gentle rumble. Frodo did not look up. Though Gandalf had become the leader of his order, both powerful and intimidating, to the Hobbit he was still the friendly, scruffy wizard that had so often in the past amazed him with tales of journeys long ago taken. Gandalf had never been anything but an affable, old man to Bilbo, and much of his uncle’s perspectives had become his own. Bilbo had often complained of Gandalf’s unnerving knack of convincing one to do exactly what one wishes not. But I took this burden upon myself. And it is mine to bear, mine and mine alone. Shall I bear it forever? "Frodo?"
He raised his head and met Gandalf’s gaze. The wizard’s eyes twinkled with a knowing mirth. "Come now, speak of what troubles you so. If your face grows any heavier, I fear it might simply fall from you!"
The joke was lost on Frodo. He looked back to the fire. He did not want to speak of the matter; it was a personal pain that was private and disgusting. The last thing he wanted at that moment was to appear a corrupted wretch before Gandalf and Aragorn. Aragorn had cast aside Boromir for such a crime. The Hobbit had no doubt that he as well deserved such a punishment. The bitter irony of it all had become achingly clear to him during the long trek back to Minas Tirith. He had cursed Boromir for attacking him, for making him feel such a helpless victim and a failure. He had damned the man for his weakness, for the greed that had so terribly destroyed them all. How high-handed and arrogant he had been. He had nearly done the same thing to Sam.
"I don’t want you to know this of me," murmured Frodo finally, feeling tears build in his eyes. He settled his lowered gaze upon the stony ground, refusing to lift his head in shame. The mess of dried pine needles below his bare feet had suddenly become terribly interesting. "You will think less of me if I tell you."
"I will do no such thing," corrected Gandalf, a slight tone of admonishment in his voice. "Now tell me of it. If you do not, I can do nothing to help you." Frodo did not meet his gaze, frightened of the disgust he feared might come to it. In the silence the chatter of the fire was so loud. There was the swish of moving cloth as Gandalf stood. The old wizard resettled himself beside the small creature. "Silence is so much more painful that the truth."
The open and accepting look in Gandalf’s eyes was too much a comfort to his hurt spirit, and the words spilled from his shaking lips. His voice was weak and quivering, somehow alien to his ears. "I failed you," he finally admitted. "I failed you and I failed Sam. I failed Bilbo." He sighed, feeling a sob threaten him. "Worst of all, I failed myself."
Gandalf’s response was gentle and knowing. "Now why would you think such a thing?" he asked.
Frodo sucked in a wheezing breath. "I tried to take it from him," he said, his head tipped a bit as he stared into the fire, tears shining in his eyes. "I… wanted the Ring so very badly at the end. I swear I tried so very hard to fight it, but I wasn’t strong enough. It wouldn’t let me see it destroyed. It was as though I lost control of my body and mind, and it made me do terrible things. I didn’t want to!" The words came faster and faster, and he could do nothing to stop them. He looked glumly to Sam. "I nearly killed him, Gandalf. I would have done it to get the Ring. If not for Sam… and Gollum… I don’t know what would have happened."
Silence. Frodo lingered, wondering how the great wizard would perceive this terrible knowledge. The small creature did not know if his heart could weather his friend’s rejection. "It is not for you to wonder about," Gandalf said. "There are many paths in life. No one can say for certain which is the best or safest. Hindsight oft proves the most painful of all views." The wizard clasped his shoulder. "You need not let his hamper you, young Frodo. In the end, all became as it should."
"How can I not think of it, Gandalf?" demanded Frodo, his eyes now blazing in anger. It seemed so unfair that the wizard sought to simply brush aside his shame. "Don’t you see? Boromir attacked me and took the Ring, and I cursed him for it. I blamed him for what he did to me, for what he did to all of us. I thought him a weak coward that stole what he did not rightfully possess. And then I… I did the very same to Sam! I knew of the disease, of the corruption, but I haughtily believed myself to be above it." Frodo’s voice died in his throat and he shook his head. "Sam does not fault me for what I have done, and this grieves me deeply. I am no better than Boromir. Don’t I deserve the same hate, the same disgust?" He shook his head, his eyes dark, his face scowling. "Though Boromir I imagine found his redemption when he saved Legolas. There’s no way I can atone for what I did."
The wizard did not speak immediately, and Frodo did not have the courage to look at him. The truth was laid bare, horrible in its implications. The Hobbit sat still, tears blurring his vision, waiting for judgment. "This will stay with you a long time, Frodo." Gandalf’s voice was serious and regretful. "We each have made our mistakes upon this journey. The true strength of friendship allows us to look past our wrongs. Sam does not fault you because he cannot. He sees you with the eyes of a brother, of a steadfast companion who knows your strengths and weaknesses. We are who we are, no more and no less. And as Sam loves you, he understands this." Gandalf looked to their left where Aragorn lay. The ranger still watched the sky, oblivious to their quiet conversation. "Aragorn suffers a guilt as well, one not terribly dissimilar from yours. For many years he has held the tightest bond with Legolas. The Elf forfeited much it seems for the sake of Middle Earth, and Aragorn blames himself for denying their friendship and choosing instead his duty. He fears Legolas will not forgive him for that."
Gandalf sighed, as if weary of standing tall amidst the pain of others. His hand found Frodo’s and grasped it tightly. "Much has occurred to test the ties between us. Lives had been lost and souls sullied. Hearts have been broken. Yet this is behind us now, and everything will be as it is meant to be. We have all suffered too much to let ourselves be dismayed by our own helpless guilt. Know this. Atone for what you must, and accept what you cannot. See things for what they are. A clear sight is what we all need," he declared sagely.
They were silent a moment. The fire burned warmly and the night was bright with celestial glow. The moon and stars shed a peaceful, pale light upon them, and Frodo felt it ease his heart. Sam snored louder in the quiet, rolling over in his blankets. He smiled, and Frodo felt a grin twist his own lips. What was his dear friend dreaming, he wondered. Of the Shire? Of the Hobbit lass Rose Cotton? Frodo felt better as he pondered something he had not previously considered. He could go home. When all was said and done, he would be among his family and friends again. He pictured the Shire, luscious and green, ancient and peaceful. His heart suddenly ached in anxiety; how he longed to return there! Familiar people and places, open arms and quiet days… He knew he would not be the same, but returning to the Shire would be enough to heal him. A normal life once seemed so impossible. Now it could be his again.
He looked up. It seemed an unspoken promise, this hope he held within him. Perhaps he could overcome this and wipe away the ugly stain upon his heart. Perhaps Sam was right not to blame or doubt. He had carried the Ring quite far and long lasted beneath its smothering grasp. He came to a small epiphany then as he beheld his dear friend’s sleeping form. Gandalf was right. This guilt would long be part of him; he did not know if he could ever rationalize it or shed it. But he could not allow it to tether him to the past. What was done was done, and in the end, they had succeeded in their quest. Little more than that was needed.
Frodo wiped away his tears and returned his gaze to Gandalf. He smiled feebly. "Thank you," he murmured, feeling genuine relief enclose him in a warm embrace. The wizard grinned and nodded.
"Of course, Frodo. Bilbo will be
quite proud of you, I imagine," Gandalf declared, squeezing Frodo’s hand.
"In fact, I daresay he will be overcome with joy to know that you triumphed. We
all are, Frodo." The pain stopped. The wound closed, and Frodo escaped the
shadow and embraced the sun. "We are all."
Rivendell was much as Aragorn remembered it. It seemed that the terrible war had not touched that beautiful sanctum. The river Bruinen rushed through the city the same this day as millions prior, spilling the clearest, coolest water against ancient rock. The trees were just beginning to turn from bright greens to yellow, shedding a leaf now and then on a gale strong enough. The buildings stood tall and proud, constructed protectively into the side of the gorge. Their remarkable and breath-taking architecture had not suffered much these last months, for the pillars and terraces remained as smooth and flawless as ever. In fact, time itself had barely passed in the Elvish kingdom, the city and its inhabitants picturesque and unblemished by the destruction and chaos elsewhere in Middle Earth. The reality of it at once hurt and heartened the ranger. It relieved him to know that the fighting had not compromised the security of his home. It also disturbed him, for seeing how unchanged Rivendell was reminded him of how very different many things were.
As they had neared Elrond’s kingdom, his thoughts had fled him, and he could do nothing but concentrate on the overwhelming anxiety to know the truth. The others had sensed his urgency and stilled their conversation. He had ridden with Frodo and had felt the Hobbit’s tension as the paths had become more familiar, marking their proximity to Rivendell. Clearly all hearts were centered upon what awaited them in Elrond’s House. The truth had dangled before them, and concentrating on the road was all Aragorn could do not to scream his frustration.
Now they moved without thinking. The last few minutes had been a blur. Upon Hasufel and Shadowfax, their small group had descended the winding road into the Elvish city. None had the strength to speak, the silence deafening and laden with unwanted fear and unspoken hope. Finally they reached their destination.
The stables were nearly empty. One of the hands lazed about, singing to himself a particularly frivolous tune of a love lost. Aragorn smiled in spite of his anxiety at the sight. Upon seeing the companions, the Elf stood quickly. His fair face opened in shock. "Lord Estel!" he shouted, a wide smile coming to his countenance. He rushed forward across the hay-covered floor and grabbed Hasufel’s bridle. "Welcome home, my Lord!"
Aragorn lowered Frodo to the ground before dismounting himself. He bowed briefly before the tall Elf. "Please send a page to alert Lord Elrond of our arrival," he gently ordered. Though many of the Elves in Rivendell considered him to be kin of Lord Elrond and thus their superior, Aragorn had never quite acclimated himself to this power. It felt somehow inappropriate to demand things of these kind, wise people when he was not their leader and held no claim to their allegiance. Still, they were willing to comply, and the stable hand called forth two helpers to assist with the horses while he sought a messenger.
The ranger clasped Frodo on the shoulder. The Hobbit seemed a bit bewildered and lost in this great city. There was a ruckus behind them and a loud, elated gasp. "Bill!" cried Sam. Both Aragorn and Frodo turned.
The stout Gamgee sprinted as best he could with his injured leg to one of the stalls. Aragorn found himself staring in disbelief, wondering how such a thing could be possible. Bill the pony whinnied at the attention as Sam wrapped his arms around the animal’s neck. "Oh, Bill! Bill! How glad I am to see you!"
Such a sight! It brought joy inexplicably to Aragorn’s heart. He remembered standing outside the gray entrance to Moria, the night full and heavy upon them. Each member of the Fellowship knew the dangers that awaited him within those black, ancient caves. Sam had seemed most unsure of his courage, and parting with the faithful and friendly pony had made matters no easier, for the Hobbit had become quite attached to Bill since leaving Rivendell. Aragorn had promised Sam that Bill would return to the great city on his own. These words, while good intentioned, were not anything he himself had believed. The road was long and treacherous, and it seemed unlikely any horse could navigate them.
Stranger things had happened, he decided. He laughed. "It seems brave Bill did know his way home!" he declared jovially. Frodo smiled widely. Gandalf took Sam’s shoulder as the Hobbit pulled himself away from Bill.
Then they were walking. Aragorn pulled Sam into his arms so the Hobbit would not stress his injury. The ranger led them by instinct, the haze of anxiety and excited worry coming to again squeeze his heart in a vice. Familiar faces and sights were a blur as they rapidly walked to Lord Elrond’s chambers; Aragorn’s heart thundered and he found it hard to breathe. He wanted to run and only the smallest inkling of respect and decorum kept him from racing to his destination.
They reached the great meeting hall. Elladan and Elrohir were waiting, having obviously been summoned by the page. Aragorn’s heart throbbed in euphoria at seeing the two tall, brunette twins. He stopped, winded, and set Sam gently to the ground. "Elladan! Elrohir!"
The twins approached quickly and each embraced him heartily. Aragorn held tight to both of them, feeling tears burn his eyes. How very good it felt to be with them again! His dearest friends! They had always been so supportive of him, offering him encouragement, training him to become the warrior he had. In truth, there were times during this conflict that he doubted he might ever again see them. Now he nearly floundered in weary relief.
Elladan smiled as he pulled back from Aragorn’s embrace. "You have done so well, Estel! So very well!" he declared proudly, speaking in Westron for the sake of the Hobbits. The Elf prince looked behind his foster brother to Gandalf, his eyes twinkling in mirth and happiness. "Has he not, Gandalf?! Look at the king he has become!"
Gandalf nodded firmly, one hand on each of the Hobbit’s shoulders. "That he has," declared the wizard. Sam and Frodo watched silently, each grinning though they knew little of the exchange. Sam leaned upon Frodo for support once more, and the sight of his injury reminded Aragorn of their urgency.
Grasping Elladan’s shoulders, he locked his stormy gaze upon that of the Elf. "Tell me, where is Arwen? Where is Legolas?" he implored softly in Elvish, wishing to spare the others any pain the conversation might inflict.
Elladan’s face fell considerably, his eyes growing dark with grief and worry. Aragorn felt the energy leave his body, his spirits tumbling deep into shadow at the dismal sight. Elrohir, ever quick with words, covered in his twin’s faltering moment. "Arwen is well, Estel. She and Father are with Legolas. Come, we will take you to them."
Aragorn felt brittle then, like glass cracked and shattering. Elrohir took Sam’s hand and helped the hobbled creature follow them as Elladan led them deeper into the manor. The ranger tensed as they walked, feeling the dark aura suffocating the joy in this place. The depression was a heavy veil, shrouding the light and peace that Aragorn had come to associate with his Elrond’s House. It chilled him; he felt his soul shrivel and cry.
They stopped at one of the chambers. Elladan glanced at Elrohir, communicating with eyes and thoughts. Aragorn had often found their silent connection irritating in the past, for they used it often to understand each other in a manner to which he was never privy. Yet now he only watched anxiously, yearning that there could somehow still be hope. He was clinging to the last of his faith. "I will summon him," said Elladan, and the Elf lightly stepped inside the closed room.
A heavy silence descended upon them. Aragorn rubbed his brow with shaking hands, cold sweat collecting at the small of his back. The room felt tight and hot though through the open windows a cool wind entered. No one was brave enough to speak, and the emptiness was powerful and decimating. It mirrored the silence of his own anxious heart.
Then the doors creaked open. Aragorn jerked his gaze upward. Elrond stood at the door, Elladan beside him. The Half-Elf was adorned in red, velvet robes, his long, brown hair secured in a royal fashion. His circlet he bore proudly upon his high brow. Aragorn nearly felt his body shudder as he beheld Elrond again. Given a different time with better circumstances, he might have embraced his mentor and reveled to be again in Elrond’s care. As it was, his quaking heart let him have no such pleasures, and the words fled his mouth before he could even think. "Is Legolas well? May we see him?"
The initial joy that shone in Elrond’s eyes faded at the inquiry, replaced by a solemn sadness. "I cannot say," he admitted, his voice calm but grave. Aragorn could not dare to think even, praying with all his being that somehow Legolas would be cured yet. "Gandalf," began the powerful healer, nodding at the ancient wizard, "it much pleases me to see you again."
"And I you, Lord Elrond," stated the wizard. His impassive face revealed little of what he thought of the situation. He left Sam and Frodo beside Aragorn and stepped close to the Elf. He whispered something quietly, and Aragorn grew frustrated and irritated when he could not decipher the private words. Yet the ranger did naught but bite his tongue to stifle his anger. Elrond nodded at whatever Gandalf said, and wizard stepped inside the room.
Elrond looked to the two Hobbits. His smooth face was expressionless, but the pride in his eyes was evident. "It seems, Mister Baggins, that you have succeeded in your quest. I commend you."
Frodo smiled feebly. "Thank you, Lord Elrond," he answered despondently, "but I can’t be very happy about it knowing Legolas is so sick." Aragorn cringed inwardly, suddenly and painfully reminded that the two Hobbits knew nothing of the truth behind Legolas’ condition. The ranger had lied about it, obscuring the terrible reality to spare them from the pain.
Elrond merely nodded at the comment, his face placid. To Sam he said, "Shall I care for your leg, Mister Gamgee?"
Sam thought a moment, and then vehemently shook his head. "No, sir, I’d like to wait a bit and see Mister Legolas, if you don’t mind," decided the stout creature. His round face was tough with his own sort of duty. "He did a lot for me, and I think I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t respect that."
"Fair enough," Elrond said, smiling tenderly at the two. The mask of stoicism had receded just a bit, revealing Elrond’s wonderful and compassionate nature. It was a side of the great Lord that few had the pleasure of seeing. It was also the part of him that Aragorn appreciated so dearly. "It seems that you all have strength enough to offer the prince. That is good; he desperately is in need of your love."
No one answered, each silent with painful understanding. Aragorn lowered his gaze. His body felt weak and useless, his nerves so riled that he could barely stop himself from shivering. He felt a hand come to grasp his shoulder, and he looked up. Elrond’s eyes were wide and open, fathomless in age and wisdom. His grip was firm. "I am very proud of you," he said in Elvish, his voice comforting and kind. Aragorn’s vision grew blurry with tears, and he swallowed the painful lump in his throat. He felt a youth again, so very small and insignificant, so unworthy of Elrond’s praise. "You did what fate asked of you and returned to your rightful path. You have restored faith in men. Never doubt the value of what you have done."
Aragorn’s voice would not come, so he simply nodded. Elrond’s fingers squeezed his shoulder before releasing him. The Elf Lord returned to the chamber. Then the silence descended.
The man did not know how much time passed. It seemed a torturous eternity, and the turmoil within beat and brutalized his heart. The anxiety became a hammer than pounded his resolve. The anguish was unending. He could find no reprieve. No thoughts came to him, no memories to ease his howling soul. Instead he lingered in a fog of fear and terror, of love and loss. He worried he would never break free, that this torment of sluggish time would never end.
The door finally pushed open. Aragorn snapped to attention, the world jerking into motion around him, and he felt dizzy. Gandalf emerged from the room, softly closing the door behind them. Was this it? Would he finally know the truth?
All eyes were upon Gandalf. The wizard sighed softly and tiredly, his face ashen and lax. His eyes were filled with such sadness and defeat, the sort that Aragorn not often witnessed in him. The ranger knew it inside. The wizard began to speak. "A black curse of the darkest magic has been laid upon him. Its roots go deep into his heart and soul, strangling his light. It has crushed most of his spirit, and for an Elf that is a terrible thing. The magic is dark and ancient, unfamiliar to me though I dove deeply into Legolas’ mind for answers." The wizard winced from a pain he decided not to share. "The dark aura about him is powerful indeed. It… it acts as a shield of sorts, a barrier that blocks from his heart the songs of nature and Middle Earth upon which Elves, especially Silvan Elves, thrive. Without them he is lost, mortal." Aragorn heard the words but could make no sense of them, his mind numb with overwhelming grief. "There is nothing I can do," Gandalf admitted at last, his tone low and melancholic. He lowered his eyes as if in sad shame.
Rage burst inside Aragorn, rage hotter than the sun and more violent than a thousand armies. "No!" he gasped, his eyes burning, his gaze piercing. "There must be something! Gandalf, please! Please!"
The wizard’s gaze appeared almost watery. "I wish there was, Aragorn. But I cannot lift from him this torture. It is an intricate and clever beast deeply set into Legolas. I fear only the hand of the one who placed it upon him could remove it, and Saruman is dead."
His body was tingling with pounding despair. He suddenly could not hear or feel. His legs grew weak, his joints buckled, and he fell, slamming to the floor hard on his knees. Elrohir was immediately beside him, his arm wrapped around the ranger’s shoulder comfortingly. The pain and sorrow that had plagued Aragorn since losing Legolas at Amon Hen suddenly became too much to bear, and the tears poured from his eyes. He could not remember the last time he had cried so hard, and his soul shivered and shook with waves of anguish.
"What does this mean?" asked Sam, his youthful face wide with anger and confusion. His eyes were blazing as he looked between the distraught ranger and Gandalf. "Does that mean…"
Frodo was still and silent, fat tears slipping from his blue eyes and rolling down his face. He said nothing, beaten by this news. White as a ghost, his hope withered before their eyes. Elladan shook his head sadly and diverted his gaze, as if somehow the guilt lay with him.
Sam was furious, struggling valiantly not to believe what Gandalf had said. "But Elves are immortal, Gandalf… You told me so many times! Saruman couldn’t have been so strong to change something so fundamental… could he?"
Gandalf brushed his large hand over the top of his head, smoothing back his white hair. "I do not know, Sam. I do not believe it was so simple a matter of stealing Legolas’ spirit; that I do believe is impossible." The ancient Istar shook his head. "I do not think this curse is real…" Aragorn looked up, his eyes shining in intense interest. He was leaping at any spot of hope. Gandalf grimaced. "I find this difficult to explain. It is an illusion, if you will. A guise. To him and to any that perceive him, he is mortal, dulled and deprived. Yet I do not believe his blood and birthright are so much gone as they are hidden from him. I cannot think otherwise! As you said, Samwise, Saruman could not change something so basic as Ilüvatar’s gifts to his children. All powers of good and evil must balance, for they are all of the same making. Nothing exists without Ilüvatar’s consent. I doubt there is no way to remove it!"
Aragorn dared to hope again. He jumped to his feet. "Then what must we do?" he asked, his voice rough with emotion. "I will do anything! Sacrifice anything!"
Gandalf sighed once more as he met Aragorn’s gaze. "The great evil done to Legolas must be countered by a strong measure of good. But this measure of good cannot come from us, I fear. It must come from him. I explained that I believe this curse hides from him the things he needs. It feeds upon his despair, his anger, his anguish. It grows stronger when he loses hope. It is a vile demon that preys upon the sorrow it has inflicted: the self-loathing Legolas now feels. He is trapped in a world of nightmare and shade, of memories of things best left unspoken, of shame at what he has become. I have seen this world, and it is a terrible one." The wizard stepped forward and grabbed Aragorn’s shoulder. "There is nothing we can do for him other than offer our support. He must fight this himself. His spirit is nearly destroyed, and he barely yearns for life at all. This is the curse’s true power. If he wishes to die, he will, but not of mortal ailing. Of a broken heart."
The ranger was beginning to understand, to clearly see the true menacing intent of what had been done to his dearest friend. He was right so many days back to think that Saruman would not have the strength to break the will of an Elf, let alone one so powerful and proud as Legolas. Yet the clever, demented wizard had devised a heinous way to do just that. Aragorn’s fury was burning him, eating at his control, and he clenched and unclenched his fists subconsciously.
It was silent for perhaps a moment while each contemplated what Gandalf had revealed. Then the wizard again spoke. "If we wish to help Legolas, we must love him, for that is what he needs more than anything. A reason to live becomes a reason to fight." Gandalf’s deep eyes sought his, firm in vigor, offering faith once more. "Legolas is strong, even if he does not now believe it. If there is a way to break this curse, he will find it."
Love would be the strength to defy. Aragorn would see to it. The king wiped the tears from his cheeks. He drew in a deep, cleansing breath to compose himself. He felt his hands shake in nervousness and wished with all his heart that he might be strong and brave. Legolas needed it. I swore I would never let you fall. I promised to protect you always! I am sorry it has taken me so long to keep my oath.
He felt a tug at his pants and broke from his reverie. Frodo regarded him with wide eyes. "We can help him," said the Hobbit softly, his eyes wide and strong. Aragorn felt reassured by his resolution. It was wonderful to see Frodo so persevering again. His small hand found Aragorn’s. "Together I know we can."
"Strider, everything we did, everything that happened, happened because he took the Ring back from Boromir," Sam said. "If not for him, we would have lost. We have to help him."
Aragorn released a slow breath. "Of course, Sam," he finally said. Everything began to throb, and his vision blurred with fresh tears. Why did those words seem such a lie? He banished his doubts then and forced himself to have strength. He could not afford to be weak or pessimistic.
His pressed his palm to the doorknob. The moment for which he had longed had finally come. Beyond this door lie the answers to his fears, to his unending worries. It was the completion of this torment. Yet as he stood there, he felt fresh pain spike within him, and his fingers grew weak in their grasp. Things would never be the same. He feared for Legolas and their friendship, concerned that in this moment his dear companion would not forgive him his broken promise. The fruit of his crimes was also behind these doors. He did not know if he had the courage to face what he had done.
Gandalf’s great hand closed over his on the handle. "Do not falter now," spoke the wizard in a hushed tone. "Do not forget that you have suffered as well! Be his brother. That is all you need do."
These words were enough to give him strength, and slowly he pushed open the door. Now he would see.
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.