10. Fits and Starts
"You must try to be more careful in the future," Legolas murmured, gently spreading salve over Aragorn's shoulders. Raw wounds--ten of them, long and clean almost as a knife's cut, so sharp were werewolves' claws--decorated pale skin, and blood oozed from some of them. The Ranger had broken several sets of stitches during the course of that last battle with the werewolves, and although Hithras had done well to rebandage the cuts, they were quite deep in places, so that even simple movements could reopen them. The prince worried privately about a mortal's ability to endure a steady loss of blood, since they had still another day's hard travel ere they reached Thranduil's halls. More worrisome to Legolas was Aragorn's withdrawn quiescence, as if he sought to retreat into himself. With the examples of Nuilandar and Aradhil staring him in the face, the thought of losing Aragorn to that wandering nether-land was not to be borne lightly, but Legolas knew not how he could prevent it from happening. For injuries fed upon themselves, and if Mithrandir had not seemed overly concerned about Aragorn's state of mind, still, Legolas was not insensitive to the tattered, shadowy veil that hung about him. Sometimes it was more transparent, and other times less so, but the prince had quickly marked that the shadow fell thicker about the Ranger when his pain waxed. And right now it sits heavy indeed upon him! Legolas thought, dreading the coming of night.
Nor was he alone in that dread, for Nuilandar suffered with the onset of darkness, and sat already within the relative shelter that Hithras could offer. The latter Elf had an arm laid about Nuilandar's shoulders, and his eyes were closed as Hithras sought to maintain balance enough for them both. Dorothil had quietly volunteered to watch Aradhil for a time, though it was plain that he liked not the task and that it troubled him--Nay, it hurts him--to hover at the edge of such darkness. Still, he sat with Aradhil's head laid gently in his lap and his hands upon the other's shoulders, and Legolas was grateful. For strange though it might seem to draw comfort from tending an injured and moody Ranger, the prince found him the easier to endure. He knew not why, but although hardly unaffected by the wraith's shadow, Aragorn seemed to have thrown off the encounter much more readily. It might take an effort of will for him to lift the darkness that shrouded him, and such efforts might seem rather... laborious... to elvish eyes, but there were times when he seemed nearly himself. And then there are times when he is gone strangely mute, and I cannot follow whither his thoughts take him. An Elf might be able to read a Man's heart far more readily than a Man could read an Elf's, but Legolas had discovered that there were recesses within Aragorn's soul from which he was absolutely barred, and it was thither that the Ranger went when he could no longer muster the will to resist the darkness. And now the elven prince was plagued by a doubt-filled fear: how if he should simply abandon the effort altogether?
As the afternoon had crept towards evening, Legolas had grown more conscious of the shadow as it crept over his friend, for the Ranger had not attempted to fight it. Although the Elves, even Nuilandar, could have continued some hours more, all had been relieved when Mithrandir had called a halt for the night. At the moment, the wizard stood watch, but if Aragorn did not soon show signs of recovering somewhat, the prince intended to take the shift and ask the wizard to speak with the Dúnadan. For surely Mithrandir knows more of mortals and their ailments than do I! And in these days, none, save perhaps one of the Keepers of the Three, can rival his leechcraft in the healing of souls. For the moment, though, Legolas concentrated on easing his friend's physical hurts, and he hoped that without the distraction of bodily discomfort, Aragorn would be able to focus enough to writhe free of the shadow. Finished with the salve, he wrapped clean bandages about the other's chest and shoulders, then eased back to give Aragorn some space. The Ranger rather stiffly pulled his tunic on again and draped his cloak about himself, drawing his knees up against the chill of the evening, as he stared at their small campfire. The prince watched him worriedly for several moments, sensing that Aragorn remained distant, nestled within those confines that even elvish others could not breech. But when after awhile, the Ranger still said nothing, he hesitantly reached out to lay a hand on the other's back, below the wounds, fearful of losing him to his isolation, but equally fearful that uninvited contact might drive him further away.
As if in response to the touch, Aragorn closed his eyes, and Legolas felt him tense, and for a moment it seemed his fears might be realized. But as the Elf began to withdraw, the Ranger murmured, "Stay!" And although he knew it was foolish to waste gestures on those who could not see them, Legolas simply nodded, unwilling to break the silence again, even with so low a whisper as Aragorn's. Settling himself more comfortably at the Ranger's side, he counted his heartbeats and gradually opened himself to the night where lay the darkness of a wounded spirit. I am here! The prince drew a deep breath as his senses reeled a bit, confronted with his friend's sense of disorientation, of unreality, and the conflicted harmony of Aragorn's inner song.* But it was not nearly so terrible as touching Nuilandar, nor did his senses dim and grow chill as when he touched Aradhil. And I have had time now to learn to endure even Aradhil's Silencing, so surely I shall not falter in this. Even now, he could feel his pulse steady after the initial alarm, and he focused upon the rhythm of his being, rooting himself firmly in himself even as he let himself touch upon his friend's darkness. And it seemed that he pierced it readily enough: an Elf would find it little trouble to shelter in the ordered mental space that the prince provided with his intrusion. Yet Aragorn was not an Elf, and as the moments stretched out and no response seemed forthcoming, Legolas felt himself falter a bit. Aragorn? Still there came no answer to his offer. Aragorn did not seem willing to reach for him in return... or perhaps he knew not how!
Legolas hesitated, caught in the crepuscular realm between light and dark, on the pointed edge of choice, and he knew not which way to lean. In the face of the Ranger's unmoved silence, he knew not whether he ought to reach deeper in an attempt to catch and anchor the other, or whether he ought simply to wait and let Aragorn come when he was ready. If he is ever ready! I know not what is considered normal for him... what if I misjudged? What if he cannot find me without help? Is it possible he has never been taught this? That his brothers or Lord Elrond never had cause to teach him? It hardly seemed plausible to the prince that this could have been the first time that Aragorn had been hurt thus. Elves, after all, had little choice, bound as they were to a tortured Arda and the ability to peer deeply into another's soul was equally a vulnerability to just such injuries as the patrol now suffered, if on a lesser scale usually. Surely Aragorn, with his perception, could not be unfamiliar with such wounds; surely he would have suffered them before, for the intricate harmony of his soul proved him no stranger darkness. It marked him, even as the scars on his body proved him a warrior of long experience. And yet... and yet were he not a virgin in this realm, would he not recognize what Legolas tried to do and reach for him...?
"Legolas." The sound of his name barely registered, but the weary refusal that surged against the prince as Aragorn distanced himself again was clear enough. The prince shook himself and withdrew rather more abruptly than he had intended, knowing that his own confusion would hardly help either of them. Aragorn twitched slightly as Legolas lifted his hand from the Ranger's back, and his breath caught for a moment, as if stung by some discomfort. But he said nothing more, and so the prince, snatching his dignity back from the yawning maw of his own startlement, murmured, "As you wish. Rest you well." And having said so, he stood and moved away quickly in an effort to regain his balance. What happened just now? If the others had remarked that awkward interlude, they gave no sign, and as Hithras and Dorothil were absorbed in their own struggles to bolster companions in need, it seemed that they might well not have noticed.
Almost without realizing what he did, Legolas found himself gliding over to where Mithrandir sat, chewing on the stem of his pipe as he watched the dark woods. The wizard quirked a bushy brow up at the prince, and watched as the Elf lowered himself to sit across from him. For a long while, neither spoke, and the silence was broken only by the occasional puff of the wizard's pipe. Finally, though, the wizard gave a soft grunt and bent his gaze upon the Prince of Mirkwood. "Legolas," Mithrandir murmured, exhaling that last syllable in a long stream of smoke. It drifted, the vapors curling about to form a blue-grey ring and the prince smiled slightly, amused. He had never understood this particular habit, but it was endlessly fascinating to watch the wizard's ephemeral creations. On the heels of the smoke ring came two others, though one wrapped itself about the other in a tangle, eliciting a soft laugh from the Elf. "Hmmph. Better!" the wizard rumbled. "Now, my prince, what brings you? Or must I guess?"
"I doubt not that you could, my lord," Legolas replied, casting a significant glance at the Ranger, who still sat, seemingly heedless of the rest of the world. Mithrandir did not follow the Elf's gaze, but he nodded nonetheless.
"I heard. You did not think that an encounter with one of the Nine would be lightly forgotten, shrugged aside like an old cloak, I hope?"
"Nay, not that! But ... I thought he wished for help, for he suffers, that is plain. Yet he rejects what aid I might offer. I fear I do not understand him in this matter," Legolas admitted, arching a pale brow back at the wizard.
"What is it that you stumble over, Legolas? Surely you have met with Elves equally stubborn."
"I have, yet Elves are not contrary in their words. Why ask for help, and then refuse it when it is offered? Or have I in ignorance committed some offense...?" the prince asked, and Mithrandir smiled slightly.
"I would not call it offense, only a misunderstanding," the wizard replied. And when Legolas simply raised his brows, clearly awaiting enlightenment, he added, "He did not ask for help, only that you stay." Another puff on the pipe and graceful strands of smoke rose up into the darkness. "And as he is human and accustomed to his brothers who know him well, he doubtless did not think that you would see in that a request."
"Ah." Thranduil's son replied, watching the ash rise. After some few moments, though, he darted another glance at the Dúnadan, and asked, in an even lower voice, "Are you certain that he is well? I admit, I have never seen a Man fall under the Black Breath before, nor even an Elf ere yesterday. But I have heard accounts of those who have seen--and sometimes felt!--such things. An Elf needs time to overcome such a mark fully. What of a Man? Is it common to seem better, and then to grow worse?"
"Men are creatures of less constancy than are Elves, prince of Mirkwood. Born of earth, they yet are made for greater things than Arda--that is not a paradox to be lightly lived, even if born to it. And so he shall not behave as an Elf, who, once cured, is little troubled despite the grief of memory. He will always bear the mark, and I doubt not that he shall always need to struggle against it, when dark times arise. Fortunately, he is well-suited to such struggles or we might all have despaired of him much sooner than this," Mithrandir replied, smiling slightly as if recalling some amusing event. "But," the wizard continued after a moment, shaking himself out of that memory, "be at ease, for he is in no danger of death, nor, I think, will he long permit this to govern him. If it lasts too long, I shall speak to him myself." Legolas sighed inwardly, relieved by that promise. And then he frowned.
"He will always bear the mark, you say. Then... he truly has never suffered this before? For I saw no stain of darkness on him before, though certainly it is clear that he has seen much!"
"Nazgûl are uncommon creatures," Mithrandir replied. And when Legolas opened his mouth to explain himself, the wizard held up a gnarled hand. "I understand your meaning, my prince. No, he has not. Not so seriously as to need help, that is. And for that he may consider himself fortunate, for the Rangers of the North brave many fell things, and endure many trials, not all of which are recorded in blood shed and scars earned. But a Nazgûl, against so few foes and in the shadow of its master's old dwelling? Glorfindel might have found it a challenge, but no Man and very few Elves could possibly have withstood its fury unscathed when it turned its attention solely upon them. You might spend a few moments considering your own good fortune, Legolas of Mirkwood, for you broke free swiftly enough to spare yourself what others now suffer."
"If I was spared, it was not through my own doing. It seemed suddenly that the shadow lifted from me, or grew less oppressive at least. As if," the prince said thoughtfully, "the Nazgûl lost interest in me."
"And if you had waited a moment longer, I doubt not that the shadow would have fallen back heavily again. Do not blame yourself, that history has denied you the experiences of others. Trials bring wisdom and fortitude, but among Elves, memory can also enslave, for it held captive your elders while you were free to act."
"True. But I fear I am little use now, though we are still riven by need. I cannot even help the one whose pain lies within my power to ease!"
At the sound of the worried frustration in Legolas' voice, Mithrandir laughed softly. "Give him time. And if he still refuses after another day, then rely upon me to force sense between his mortal ears!"
"Tell me this at least: does he not know how...?"
"Oh, he knows. He simply chooses not to, Legolas," the Mithrandir assured him. And seeing the Elf's frowning incomprehension, added, "Be not offended, young one. As I said, he may seem an Elf in the eyes of many, and even in the eyes of some who ought to know better, yet he is a Man, and one not unused to being his own succor. Let him struggle awhile longer, and we shall see what arrives." Legolas considered the bent, grey figure of the wizard, his lined face framed by the tendrils of smoke that curled and caught beneath the brim of his broad-rimmed hat. Mithrandir's dark eyes seemed to sparkle, but with a measuring sort of kindness rather than simple amusement. The prince cocked his head slightly, then gave a soft laugh.
"I bow to your wisdom in such matters, Herdîr Ithron!"
"Good. And I see that Dorothil stirs, so perhaps the two of you would see that Aradhil does not waste away from starvation."
"Of course," Legolas replied, but hesitated a moment, watching as Dorothil pressed a hand over his eyes and blew out a soft sigh. Eyes still locked on the other Elf's back, the prince asked in a low voice, "Tell me truly, Mithrandir: what hope have you for Aradhil?"
"Very little. But not none at all," the wizard responded. "Go now, Legolas." And the prince went, leaving Mithrandir to stare after him as he stepped lightly to Dorothil's side and knelt. Legolas spoke quietly with the other, who nodded, and said somewhat in response ere the prince went to fetch a mug and tea from the pot by the fire. Dorothil shook his dark head twice and then seemed to collect himself as he pulled Aradhil into a more or less upright position as Legolas returned. Not none at all, no, but the Nazgûl, curse him, broke him like a child might shatter a tea cup! the wizard thought with angry regret. Too crushed for others to reach him in his oblivion, yet too stubborn to relinquish this life--aye, that is Aradhil indeed! For Mithrandir knew well those who kept watch in Mirkwood, and he had long watched Aradhil, knowing the risk of an unsettled elvish mind. But hale or failing, he could have done nothing to save himself, and the wizard wondered whether efforts to cure him would even be worthwhile. He touched the Nazgûl, stabbed it, and that left him bare to it, more helpless than he would have been otherwise, even. Not that it would have mattered much.
And what of you, Aragorn? The wizard's keen eyes darted surreptitiously from the three Elves to the Ranger, who had not moved since Legolas had left him. Mithrandir knew the Dúnedain of Arnor to be a stubborn and independent lot, which served them well given their straits; and he knew Aragorn better than Aragorn might even remember, for Elrond and the wizard had discussed him often enough when he was but a child. Thus despite the veil of darkness that shrouded him, he did not truly fear that the Ranger had been done irreparable damage, for he had seen no sign of that. Likely, the Nazgûl was too surprised in that moment to strike with the force or precision that felled Aradhil, and for that we may all be grateful. For that, and for that native tenacity and resistance of yours, Dúnadan! What horror, though, did he raise in your mind, I wonder? What memory out of the multitude of dark ones do you relive now? Such questions were unanswerable at the moment, and the wizard had much else to occupy his mind beside guard duty. For there waited within the dungeons of the Elf-king's halls one who might answer many questions, and confirm his greatest fears. It will be a difficult matter to force sense out of that wretched Gollum. But we must know, and so we shall.
In the dark... running, cries in the darkness... Do not stop! Keep moving!... so cold... soundless save for those who run there... breathless terror and ancient stone... Shall I ever see daylight again? ... Or am I blind now? Ai, the pain! Keep moving!... lost in the darkness... Valar do not forsake us now! Silence. Interminable, unending, eternal silence. As one by one, the others were engulfed, cries suddenly ceasing, but ceasing horribly... in pain... in fear... Help us! ... How? How can I help?... Do not leave us!... Where are you? No answer... nothing... Alone in the darkness, in the belly of the earth... And the shadow walked still behind... closer... closer... I can feel you... O Valar--!
--Aragorn woke from his sleep with a violence that had served him well in the past, but this time he found himself pinned. Panic lanced through him, but even as he drew breath to cry out a warning, a voice spoke, sundering him from the last vestiges of his nightmares: "Aragorn!"
"Gandalf!" Relief washed over him, and the Ranger closed his eyes again, sagging in the wizard's iron grip. Still, Gandalf held him down, hands locked about Aragorn's wrists, as if to be certain that he had indeed left the world of dreams behind. "You can release me now," he murmured. The wizard did, and Aragorn sat up, running a hand through his hair to get it out of his face. It also gave him another moment to collect himself, but already he felt Gandalf's gaze on him. Avoiding those dark eyes, he glanced about the clearing, noting that all lay sleeping. The darkness was filled with the hesitant noises of the night creatures, and a light breeze was in the west. Aragorn let out a long, silent breath. Midnight in Mirkwood, however fraught with fear, still fell short of the terror of the abyss. "What matter, Gandalf, that you wake me?" he asked at length, though from the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knew the answer already.
"You were dreaming," the wizard replied gently, and the Ranger winced at the other's tone, which recalled his mother's voice as she had soothed him as a child after a bad dream. And why not? Apparently, my nightmares are enough to attract a wizard's attention!
"I hope I wakened no one else?"
"No. Fear not," and now there was a smile in that voice, though the words were not unkind, "You were restless, but spoke little and in whispers." A pause, and then, "You must leave Moria behind you, son of Arathorn."
"It troubles me not at all, unless I have cause to think of it," Aragorn replied. "And that is seldom, for I have no cause to return."
"Yet since last night, you return to it again and again in your dreams, waking or otherwise. I had thought you had freed yourself from it," Gandalf replied with an edge of reproach. But even so, concern predominated, for the wizard was well aware of what had driven Aragorn into Moria, and knew of the nightmares that had plagued him for a time afterwards. Indeed, it was a measure of the trust between them that Gandalf was the only person, other than Elrond, Arwen, and perhaps Halbarad, who had heard that tale in full. And if the Ranger now fought those memories again....
"It is not the same dream." Aragorn raised his eyes to Gandalf's face, and noted how the other stiffened at that revelation. The wizard frowned, and the creases in his aged face, visible in the dim light of his pipe as he drew a sharp breath, grew deeper. With one hand, he gestured for the Ranger to continue. "True, I thought of Moria ere the werewolves struck, yet since yestereve, my thoughts turn not to the memory of what happened, but to the darkness of that pit, and the shadow that dwelt there--that still dwells there, I doubt not. But in my dreams it follows me, threatens to suffocate me and the cold is nigh unbearable. And I am not alone. There are others who run with me, and one by one, it... consumes them. " And there he fell silent, hearing once more in his mind those piteous cries for help--cries that, too often, were real enough, being the voices of wounded friends. For a time, Gandalf spoke not, only watched him, but eventually, a knowing grunt signaled the other's understanding.
"Interesting," the wizard murmured, tapping the stem of his pipe against his teeth. "You have never dreamt this before?"
"Not this particular dream. But it is not new, nonetheless," Aragorn admitted, shrugging before he could think the better of such movement. The sharp pain made him hiss softly, but at least it helped to clear his head somewhat.
"May I ask which parts are not new?"
"I think you know well that all of it I have dreamt before, in one way or another." A pause. "See you aught of significance in one man's nightmares?"
"Not in one man's, but in yours, Aragorn, and in the disrupted dreams of your elvish companions. It is not truly surprising, given the shadow that you still lie under, and given that it was Khamûl, I suppose I ought to expect a certain cruel creativity," Gandalf sighed.
"You know its name?"
"Dol Guldur is not a post for the Witch-king, but Khamûl... yes, it would suit him. Not all of the Nine are nameless, Aragorn, and though they are bound to the One, they are not all of a kind, as I think you must know from the accounts of Elrond and others. Khamûl is quite cunning, and by all accounts delighted in playing with his victims even as a mortal man not yet transformed. You have heard such tales told yourself in your southern journeys."
"Mayhap, but what has this to do with aught?"
"It may have much to do with your survival, my friend," Gandalf replied. "For it is nothing short of a marvel! Had it been the Witch-king, I doubt not that he would either have killed both you and Aradhil outright--Aradhil for the threat that he might present, and you for your insolence in protecting him--or he would have raped your memory to learn what you were. The end result would have been the same. Khamûl, though, was always somewhat too subtle for his own good... or others' ill, as it sometimes occurred. And he never had quite the sense of... occasion. He has tried to use your memories against you, but he let you betray your worst fears yourselves," the wizard explained, and as he spoke, pinned the Ranger with grave eyes as he continued quietly, "'Tis fortunate, Aragorn, that your worst fear is not discovery, else he would have slain you the instant he realized who you were. As it is, the lot of you suffer under the strain of your own self-confessed terrors."
"Save Legolas, it would seem!" Isildur's Heir replied, quelling the shiver that wanted to run down his back. I have been hunted before. This is hardly news to me, that my enemies would kill me if ever they recognized me! So said reason, and strove with the memory of the primal terror a Nazgûl in its fury could inflict.
"Mmm. Well, he is young, and was not long held by the wraith. But he is not without fear, and at the moment, you inspire him to the very brink of it, Aragorn!" The Ranger blinked, then shot a quick look across the clearing at the prince, who slept back to back with Dorothil. "Others who know you better might not be as concerned, but remember that he knows little of Men," Gandalf chided gently, and Aragorn sighed softly.
"I fear I did not think this afternoon," he murmured, feeling the bite of chagrin.
"Nay, clearly not!" the wizard agreed, though his voice was not unkind. Aragorn snorted at that, and smiled wryly in the near-darkness.
"You were never one to spare me aught, were you?"
"Would you prefer that I did so?"
"You know the answer to that! Well... I shall have to speak with Legolas tomorrow. I can take this watch, if you wish," the Ranger offered, but Gandalf shook his head and, swift as a thought, reached out to touch Aragorn's brow. Warm fingertips brushed against his skin, and he felt as if a warm weight had settled upon him, bowing his head beneath the caress of oblivion. He swayed, and felt Gandalf's hands brace him.
"Sleep, Aragorn, and dream not! For you have passed under the shadow, and must needs recover your strength!"
"... 'm not a child, t' need wizard's trickery," Aragorn managed to protest ere the lure of sleep grew too strong and he acceded to his body's demands. The wizard steadied him as he lay down, for his eyes were closing of their own accord. Just before unconsciousness claimed him, he heard Gandalf chuckle softly at his complaint.
Dawn roused the Elves as well as the birds, and while the larks sang the morning to life, all went about their business, swiftly accomplishing the routine that had been established: breakfast was made, Legolas and Gandalf cared for Aradhil, and while Hithras and Dorothil by turns watched Nuilandar and the woods, conversation was held in murmured voices. And unlike days prior, there was even the slightest hint of anticipation in those hushed voices, for they would reach Thranduil's hall that afternoon. Also, as they had crossed the road yesterday, they would likely meet with other border patrols, which would let them send their news back more swiftly to the king. This prospect was greeted with a thrill of ambivalence by the Prince of Mirkwood, for Legolas could not but feel a certain discomfort when he considered the inevitable meeting with his father. Doubtless, Thranduil would have plenty of time to find fitting words for him after this disastrous mission, but he refused to dwell on it overmuch. His disappointment is no less than I deserve in this matter, after all! And we must first reach home, and there are other things--other people--with whom to concern myself, the prince thought as he eased Aradhil back down onto the travois again. Faladhros had no wife, for which he could be grateful, but he had a sister and two nephews, and his mother had not yet departed over the sea. And Aradhil.... There is no one to tell, Legolas thought, and felt that long-known truth to be almost a revelation, so hard did it strike him in that instant. There is no one for him to return to, no family to grieve. Only we who knew him best, and Faladhros is gone! We are but four who hunted so long with him! It was an unsettling thought, for even among the Elves of Tol Eressëa, there was no one to sing Aradhil's name. Legolas made himself shake off such thoughts, for the warden lived still. And Mithrandir still sees some hope. May it not prove in vain!
As the prince joined the others about the campfire, he caught a long look from Aragorn, who had, he realized, been watching him for some time now. The Ranger seemed improved compared to yestereve, though there was, to Legolas' elvish eyes, just a touch of fragility to him still that told of wounds not yet healed. But the other's gaze was sharp and alert, and that rather surprised the prince after yesterday's encounter. The difference of a night, truly! "Aragorn?" But even as he asked, Aragorn shifted his gaze to glance over the Elf's head, and the prince sensed Mithrandir standing over him. After a moment, the wizard spoke:
"Gentlemen, I would suggest we make this a swift journey, for I think we shall all be quite glad to reach the halls of Thranduil." Murmurs of assent greeted this suggestion as those who had finished their breakfast began to strike camp, allowing others to concentrate on downing the remaining food. Soon enough, though, all were ready to depart, and Hithras stepped into the harness for the travois. Following Mithrandir, they set out again: Hithras followed by Nuilandar and Dorothil. Legolas stood to one side to let the others pass, intending to take the rear-guard. Soon there remained only himself and Aragorn, and the prince waited for the Man to take his place in the line. But as the Ranger moved to do so, he paused before Legolas, and the prince found himself once again subject to that intent silvery gaze. Legolas quirked a brow at Aragorn, then gestured minutely for him to take the lead. Before his air of cautious puzzlement, Isildur's Heir gaze a soft and not unself-conscious sigh as he lowered his eyes. But only for a moment, and then he seemed to shake off the passing mood, and as he looked up once more, he said, "I would speak with you, if you would, when we return to your father's city, Legolas. I doubt not, though, that you will have much to occupy your thoughts and time...."
"Aye, my father shall wish to hear my account, and... there are other matters," the prince admitted, unwilling to name aloud those other matters. Nevertheless, the ghost of Faladhros seemed to slip between them in that instant, and both of them felt the chill.
"Then I shall find you later, when you have a few moments," the Ranger said simply, and so let it stand as he turned away.
"As you wish," Legolas called after him, and then, with a last look round, set out on the last leg of the journey towards home.
A/N: You can read about Khamûl of Dol Guldur in "Unfinished Tales" starting on p. 353. There are a few versions of the movements of the Nazgûl, but they all agree that it was Khamûl who was holding the fort in Mirkwood. Any details of personality, pre- and post-transformation, are my own imaginings and stem primarily from the possible significance of the fact that of all the Nazgûl, he was the only one whose name is remembered.
*For more on my fake elven metaphysics about souls and songs, search around chapter 10-12 and 16 of "Lie Down in the Darkness...." Save Middle-earth, recycle the plots you use! Bring 'em back! ;-)
I'm not entirely happy with the leaving off point for this chapter, but I don't think I can reasonably cram everything into this chapter that I would need to cram in in order to get to the starting point of the next one. Sorry! Bad pacing on my part. :-S
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