15. The Shadows Deepen
Before doing anything else, I’d like to dedicate this chapter to Dwimordene, who gave me some wonderful insight into the relationship between Celeborn and Arwen. However, in the process of writing their section, I think some of her beautiful ideas became…muddled. So my apologies to her if this is the case. But I am still VERY grateful for the assistance and hope I haven’t brutally destroyed her insights too much.
Chapter 15: The Shadows Deepen
Arwen rubbed her eyes and leaned back in her chair with a weary sigh. Whoever had taken the trouble to detail each and every facet of history within memory of the oldest elves had possessed no talent for either storytelling or writing. Unfortunately, there did seem to be a plethora of talent for turning the reasonably interesting tale of Círdan and the founding of Mithlond into a history so boring that even the most studious of wizards might shrink from reading it. Arwen almost suspected that an Ent had penned the words she now read, and the daughter of Elrond wondered how this particular volume of history had survived without being torn apart and burned by desperately bored readers. Not even the endless council meetings of Minas Tirith compared to this.
"Remind me again what our purpose here is," Arwen muttered, brushing an errant strand of hair out of her eyes.
"You see now what your father was forced to endure when the Enemy pressed near," Celeborn said with something that might have been taken as a quiet laugh. "Think you that Imladris was defended by the strength of your brothers and those who had beheld the light of Valinor? Not even an army consisting of Glorfindel and all his kindred could have held the forces of Mordor at bay had your father not been constantly seeking for new ways to thwart Sauron."
"I know that well, Lord Celeborn," Arwen sighed. "Many were the sleepless nights that my father spent in this library, and at times I spent them with him, seeking to aid in whatever way I could. Yet in those instances, the purpose was clear and the goal was set. Here, I know not for what I search, and I fear that in skimming these passages, I shall miss some vital detail that you might covet."
Celeborn was quiet for a moment, and then he spoke again, his voice somewhat hesitant. "If it aids you in any way, you might focus your readings around the time of Númenor. In particular, I am currently interested in the rule of Ar-Pharazôn and the corruption of Númenor’s nobility."
"Thranduil would have a ready explanation for their corruption," Arwen murmured, returning to her book and flipping through several hundred pages before finding the chapters devoted to Númenor.
"He does, actually, and I have been forced to listen to it on several occasions," Celeborn remarked with an undercurrent of amusement to his voice. "The son of Oropher never ceases to amaze me with his leaps of logic and his complete acceptance of rumors involving the disgrace and the fall of men. I must admit, though, that Thranduil’s oldest son, Celebas, does a most humorous impression of his father’s diatribe on the fall of Númenor."
Arwen laughed and shook her head. "I have seen Prince Celebas do this. I might add that Legolas does a very good impression of Thranduil ranting about the dwarves. Gimli is also quite adept at responding to this by giving his own father’s opinion of the elves."
"I shall have to ask the dwarf to perform that, for I would be interested to see if Glóin’s opinion of our people has changed since his son became an elf-friend."
"It has not changed much," Arwen said, turning a dusty page and coughing slightly. "And I gather from conversations with Legolas that Gimli has become somewhat estranged from his father over their friendship. From what Legolas has managed to glean, and that is little enough since the dwarf is not disposed to speak of it, Gimli’s return to the Lonely Mountain after the War of the Ring was a rather awkward return for all involved. He was met with much celebration and honor, but there was very little in the way of welcome from those who mattered most to the dwarf."
Celeborn sighed and shook his head, though his eyes never strayed from the scroll he was currently reading. "Alas that such friendship should be met with such scorn. I had hoped it might serve as a bridge between elves and dwarves. Perhaps we might have mended old hatreds ere all the elves fled Middle Earth. But perhaps such things are only a fool’s dream, and the elves will depart with animosity still running between us and the children of Aulë. And it seems to me that the word children could also be used to describe the elves, for in this petty feud we are all children."
The lord of Lothlórien fell into a thoughtful silence and Arwen sensed that the time for idle talk had passed. With a weary shake of her head, Elrond’s daughter turned her eyes back to the endless stream of writing that tracked the gradual corruption of Númenor’s last king, Ar-Pharazôn. The account was based on records left by Elendil and written by someone who had apparently never be forced to read his own work. It was dry enough to make Harad look like an ocean of water. Forcing herself to read, Arwen tried valiantly to remained focused, but her mortal body began making demands for sleep and rest. Her elven spirit revolted at this, but a heaviness was descending upon her mind and she wondered how long she would be able to last.
"Perhaps you were right," Celeborn suddenly said, his voice low and scarce to be heard. "Mayhap this is foolishness."
Arwen looked up in surprise and frowned. She had never heard her grandfather sound so despondent and wondered at the sudden change. "A moment ago you seemed to think that studying Númenor would help. Has that now changed?"
"Nay," he murmured. "It is still my best guess, and yet…I thought I remembered something, but I have found nothing to corroborate my theory. And time drags on." He turned away and shook his head. "If we do not find answers soon…"
"My lord, you were determined and filled with purpose not more than an hour ago," Arwen said, watching Celeborn carefully. "What has happened to alter this?"
The silver-haired elf glanced down at the scroll before him and smiled mirthlessly. "Perhaps I am merely caught in memories. In just a short time I have gone over the history of the Ages as I remember them, and in remembering, I am reminded of those who stood with me. Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, Glorfindel, Celebrían, Elrond…"
"And Galadriel," Arwen added quietly.
"And Galadriel," the lord of Lothlórien echoed after a slight pause.
"You miss her," Arwen said softly, aware that she now trod upon somewhat dangerous ground.
"As you no doubt miss your father," Celeborn answered, his tone indicating that the discussion was closed.
"But for you it is different," Arwen pressed, not yet ready to forsake the conversation. "I miss my father, yes, but my brothers still remain and my love for Aragorn is powerful enough to overcome the feelings of heartache. But you have not these things, grandfather. My mother forsook Middle Earth years ago, all of your kin save Thranduil are gone, and now Lothlórien is fading."
"Arwen, if there is a point to this, I suggest you arrive at it."
"My point is this," Arwen said, ignoring the warning note in Celeborn’s voice. "You miss Galadriel, and this is interfering with your ability to find answers."
Celeborn was silent for a long time and Arwen began to fear that she had pushed him too far, but at length, her grandfather sighed and shook his head. "You are right, young one. I do miss her. My heart longs for her presence. As I peruse these writings, I am reminded of the many years we lived together, staving off evil side by side until at last the One Ring perished and Sauron was vanquished. For thousands of years we relied upon one another’s strengths. And now it is as though a part of me is gone."
"And you seek to replace that part somehow," Arwen guessed.
The lord of Lothlórien nodded slightly. "I would gather the facts, receiving reports from the scouts and doing a bit of scouting myself. She would then interpret what I had learned, forming causal links backward until she arrived at the source and could interpret motives. She was inductive. I was deductive. She would decipher the reasons behind an attack and the methods used. I would then take what she found and predict future incursions or skirmishes and how they might best be avoided."
"But now you are trying to take on her role as well as maintaining your own," Arwen said. "You are looking at the effects and trying to determine the causes as well as attempting to determine from the causes what other effects will be."
"And you think I am not up to the task?"
"Nay, I said not so!" Arwen hastily amended before she caught the teasing gleam in Celeborn’s eyes.
"If you had, you would be right," Celeborn sighed. "I have now a focal point around which to center my studies, but I can not seem to go further."
"You mentioned Númenor," Arwen said.
"I did," Celeborn said. "And I hold to that, yet…" He shook his head. "It happened in Númenor, of that I am certain."
"But what? What happened in Númenor?"
"Whatever it is that we face now."
"And what makes you so certain?" Arwen pressed.
"A passing thought. A whisper. In truth, I do not know, Arwen, but I do know that this happened in Númenor."
"And you are specifically interested in the time of Ar-Pharazôn," Arwen said quietly, unconsciously slipping into the game of questions that she and Elladan would play. "Why that period?"
"It is that period that is most likely to yield results," Celeborn answered.
"Because of the corruption and the darkness that spread like a plague and eventually drove Elendil to these shores."
"But what forms of corruption and darkness would have survived the ruin of Númenor?"
"Any that Sauron used, promoted, or was aware of," Celeborn sighed. "For he also survived the ruin of Númenor."
"So you believe that whatever we face will have roots in something Sauron did or influenced," Arwen concluded. "Think you that Ar-Pharazôn himself was corrupted by unnatural means?"
"Perhaps to an extent, but I think it rather unlikely that unnatural means were necessary," Celeborn answered with a shake of his head. "I met Ar-Pharazôn many years before Sauron was captured. Even then, he was far too proud for his own good. You will recall that he seized the throne through illegal means. No, it would not have taken much for Sauron to convince him that the Eldar upon Aman warranted his enmity."
"But Ar-Pharazôn did not rule Númenor alone, and thus we come to the nobles who sat upon the councils," Arwen said. "Elendil and his sons escaped. Did they leave a record of unnatural occurrences? Perhaps this is what makes you so certain. Perhaps you remember such a record."
"I have skimmed all that Rivendell has in the way of their works, but I saw nothing," Celeborn murmured. "Yet…mayhap you are right, Arwen. I think this is somehow related to one of the council members. Perhaps…" Celeborn’s brow furrowed and he fell quiet, his eyes narrowed as his gaze became rather blank. Deciding not to press him for the moment, Arwen turned over a dusty page in her book and went back to studying, her own mind turning rapid circles. Silence dropped over the library as each became lost in thought.
The silence was abruptly shattered when Celeborn uttered a short oath and slammed his fist upon the table. Startled, Arwen almost jumped in her chair and turned sharp eyes to her grandfather. "You know what we face?"
"Perhaps, but I pray I am wrong. Still, it makes sense and would fit well with the intentions as we know them. And it would be well within the power of a Black Númenórean. Only time will bear out my predictions, though." He stood abruptly, letting the scroll before him roll shut, and began searching the shelves of the library in earnest.
Arwen studied the older elf for a moment, torn between the restraint her upbringing called for and the curiosity that plagued younger elves. In the end, curiosity won and she followed Celeborn as he swiftly glanced through Rivendell’s vast stacks of books, scrolls, and miscellaneous parchments. "Am I to be given an explanation?"
"I would hesitate before spreading unfounded rumors," Celeborn answered absently with what seemed to be a conditioned response.
Arwen bristled slightly. "I am hardly one to partake in idle gossip, nor do I spread rumors, as you call them. Beyond that, I have now spent a good amount of time aiding you in your search for answers."
Celeborn blinked and looked at his granddaughter, as though realizing for the first time that she was with him. "My apologies, Arwen," he said after a moment. "I did not think before I spoke."
"Apology accepted, of course. But if you would, what have you discovered that so vexes you?"
There was a moment of silence before Arwen received an answer, and when the answer eventually came, it was not exactly what she had been looking for. "Prepare two of the healing rooms for patients, and add restraints to the beds."
Arwen’s mouth gaped open as she blinked in surprise. "Restraints? Are we to be caring for Orcs?"
"Nay, but in all cases, prudence is called for. And see that sleeping draughts are also well stocked. Beyond that, I wish to know exactly what medicines are stored, and doses must be measured out for a being of hobbit size."
After a long, studying look at the lord of Lothlórien, Arwen eventually nodded. "It shall be as you say, but I am still waiting for an explanation, my lord."
"And you shall receive an explanation, I promise, once I have reviewed as many facts as I can find in this place. Then mayhap I might put some order to this madness. But my thoughts are not yet organized, and I fear to spread alarm. But when I have unraveled this mystery, you shall be the first I tell. Now go, Arwen, quickly. Time is of the essence and things must be made ready."
For a moment, Arwen hesitated. Celeborn’s vague words had already begun to spread alarm in her mind, but she sensed that no more information would be forthcoming. Celeborn had lived too long to speak of things that were not yet substantiated. Elrond had done the same thing from time to time, hiding many things from even his children until the time came when secrets could no longer be kept. At length, with a final nod for the elven lord who was now lost in the books again, Arwen turned and left the library. The sooner things were prepared, the sooner she could confront Celeborn again.
* * * *
"Gimli, you’re going to fall," Pippin warned with a large yawn.
"Mind your own pony, Master Hobbit," the dwarf grumbled, blinking his sleepy eyes open.
Slightly ahead of the hobbits and Gimli, Elladan glanced back and sighed. The horses were tired, the searchers were tired, and night had come, yet none of them wished to return to Rivendell, which was now within mortal sight. There was a very strong feeling of reluctance within the group. Most of them were warriors and understood the necessity of delegation and obedience, but it was still quite clear that the hearts of all wished to be back on the trail.
Indeed, there were some who, though they could not be on the trail itself, were still in the forest. Imhran, captain of Gondor’s forces under Aragorn and Faramir, had refused to leave until Aragorn himself emerged from the shadows. He and his men would not disobey their king’s orders by entering the darkness, but neither would they leave until they knew their king was safe. It was a tiring business that they undertook, but it seemed that all the forces of Gondor were determined in their course.
Men are strange creatures, Elladan decided wearily. He glanced back into the forest where Imhran and the Gondorrim waited for their king, and as he did so, his sharp eyes caught sight of Gimli’s nodding head, Sam’s closed eyes, and Pippin’s mammoth yawns. But then, so are dwarves and hobbits. And elves, too, I suppose. Valar, we are all strange creatures to push ourselves beyond reasonable limits when there are others who might carry on while we rest. That had been the argument that ultimately convinced Elladan to return to Rivendell, much though he wished he could stay with Estel and Elrohir in the darkness. Actually, he did not wish to stay in the darkness, but he wished to stay with his brothers, particularly when each step they took brought them closer to the Orcs.
But that is not my place at this time, Elladan sighed. My place is home where I shall rest, though what rest I might find this night shall surely be lost in pondering over our enemy.
The sudden sound of splashes suddenly caught Elladan’s attention, and he belatedly realized that they were crossing the Ford. Perhaps I am wearier than I first thought, he mused, wondering how he had missed seeing the subtle signs that signaled the direction to the Ford. It is fortunate that the horses know the way so well or I might have found myself lost in the Rhudaur far away in the north. And I have it on good authority that trolls make for rather poor traveling company.
As his horse surged up the banks and out of the river, Elladan glanced behind to see how Gimli and the hobbits were faring. Swollen by snowmelt, the River Bruinen was running swiftly today, but the half-elf need not have feared. The ponies were swimming the river well and elves slightly more aware of events than Elladan were crossing parallel to them further downstream so that they might be prepared should aught happen to the smaller horses and riders. The water was forded without incident and the riders continued on.
If we are forced to rest, I suppose we must make the most of our time, Elladan sighed, raising his hand and moving the group into a fast trot. Let us arrive quickly and retire soon so that we might rise with our minds refreshed by the morning.
A few minutes later, the elves, hobbits, and dwarf crested a hill, bringing into view the Last Homely House. Its lights twinkled in the darkness as the sun dipped below the horizon, and for a small moment, Elladan felt peace steal into his heart. He allowed this feeling to tarry a bit, sensing that he was in great need of it, and then he shook himself as they began the final part of their journey home. He could not afford to dwell in the peace that Rivendell offered, for war and Orcs loomed upon the borders. Still, Elladan felt strangely invigorated by his brief indulgence and he made a mental note to take such opportunities with more regularity. It might mean greater endurance in the long term.
Having heard their approach, elves now came from the stables and the riders dismounted, allowing their horses to be led away and cared for while they saw to their own needs. Feeling weariness brought on by too much exposure to darkness, Elladan almost stumbled beneath the leaping arches as he climbed the steps that would take him to the main porch. Behind him, the other elves were dispersing, but the sound of footfalls on the main path informed Elladan that Gimli, Pippin, and Sam were following him. No doubt wondering when we may return to the forest and resume our search, Elladan sighed. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a clear answer for this. Elrohir had been rather emphatic that no one should leave Rivendell until after sunrise, but Elladan was already suffering pangs of guilt for his brief respite. Surely he could not allow this to continue until after the sun cleared the mountains. Combating mysterious shadows was a far better prospect than combating his own guilt.
Elrond’s son glanced up quickly, and despite his dark mood a smile slipped onto his face. "You are ever a welcome sight, dear sister."
Arwen smiled and embraced Elladan briefly, but though her eyes shone with joy upon seeing him, Elladan could feel the tension in her body and wondered what was going on in Rivendell. Now that he stopped to think about it, the anxiety was not exclusively Arwen’s. It seemed the very air held its breath, and there was an atmosphere of fear and waiting that had rarely been felt here before. Elladan turned sharp eyes upon his sister as questions rose in his mind, but she spoke first, seemingly reluctant to dwell upon her own concerns.
"What news from the south, Elladan? How goes the hunt for our friends?"
"Slowly," the half-elf sighed, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "Each new step in the trail must be wrung from the grip of shadows, and it is exhausting work. Estel and Elrohir now lead the hunt, for I fear that the darkness was too much for me."
"Then to return was wise," Arwen said quietly, her eyes staring intently at Elladan. "Do not blame yourself, brother, for I know well that you do. You were ever the responsible one, and whenever aught went wrong, you always took the blame regardless of fault. But this is beyond your control, and to invite guilt is to invite failure. You distance yourself from your true feelings by hiding them in a cloud of guilt. Have you not said as much to Estel upon occasion? Valar, Elladan, look at me! Are you listening to my words?"
Hearing the frustration in his sister’s voice, Elladan opened his eyes and sighed. "I know you speak the truth, yet I cannot change my nature. And it is my nature to carry what responsibility I have until such responsibility is fulfilled."
"And is it always your nature to labor under a shadow that is of your own making?!"
"This discussion accomplishes nothing," Elladan said, injecting a note of finality into his voice that he desperately hoped Arwen would heed. "Tell me of Imladris, for I sense that all does not go well here."
Something flashed in Arwen’s eyes, but what that something was, Elladan could not tell. It was gone too quickly. "Lord Celeborn thinks he may have found something in the library," Arwen eventually revealed.
"Something pertaining to the hunt?" a gruff voice asked.
Elladan nearly jumped, for he had forgotten that Gimli, Sam, and Pippin had followed him. Glancing back, he noted that all three were standing quietly behind him, listening intently to the conversation and making observations of their own. "I have already discussed eavesdropping with the hobbits," Elladan stated, his voice laced with steel. "Must I also discuss the subject with you, Master Dwarf?"
"Nay, Legolas has spoken with me often enough," Gimli answered, his voice casual but firm. He then turned his attention to Arwen and repeated his earlier question. "So Lord Celeborn thinks he has found something to aid our hunt?"
Arwen hesitated for only a moment, but it was enough for Elladan to mark the pause. Judging from the way his eyes narrowed, Gimli had also seen the brief lapse in focus. "I know not," Arwen murmured, turning her head and looking back at the house that now lay shrouded in the shadow of night. "He was not looking for something to aid the hunt but rather something to explain why Orcs would wish to capture members of the Fellowship. At least, that was the impression I received from him, but his mood was strange. Fey, almost. I am worried."
"You were with him, then, in the library?" Elladan asked.
"For a time," Arwen answered. "He wavered between frustration and obsession. I had never seen him so desperate and yet so hopeless. And then, when it seemed that he had almost given up, it was as though he suddenly received the answer. I think he remembered whatever it was he had been looking for, but I know not for certain. In any case, I have now been dispatched to stock medicinal supplies, particularly sleeping draughts, and to add restraints to some of the beds in the healing quarters."
"Restraints?" Pippin’s voice was slightly higher than usual, an indication of his stress and mounting frustration. "Why do the beds need restraints?"
"I asked Lord Celeborn that same question," Arwen said. "I received no answer that satisfied me. Instead, he spoke of the need for prudence."
"Prudence," Gimli spat with a dark glower. "If we hearken to prudence, we shall never find Legolas and Merry. Perhaps I shall seek Celeborn out myself and demand answers."
"You would demand answers of Lord Celeborn?" Elladan asked with a smile that did not reach his eyes. "You may find this difficult to believe, Master Dwarf, but there are times when my grandfather can be even more difficult than the Lady Galadriel. Demanding answers of him can be likened to pressing blood from a stone. It is futile at best and dangerous at worst."
"I should have stayed with Aragorn," Gimli grumbled quietly, folding his arms across his chest.
"But you said—"
"I know very well what I said, Master Peregrin, and I still hold to that. The darkness has an ill affect on those subjected to it, and in order to help our friends, we ourselves must be whole. Yet it is hard knowing that they suffer as we rest."
"If we could rescue them quickly, we wouldn’t have to worry about spending too much time in the darkness," the hobbit muttered angrily. "It’s beyond me what we can hope to gain here in Rivendell."
"Begging your pardon, Pippin, but that’s actually easy to see," Sam jumped in, speaking for the first time since leaving the hunters in the forest. "What we’ll be gaining here is sleep, and lots of it. If I’m not mistaken, we’ll be starting out into the woods again in the morning, so that should set your heart at ease." The gardener looked to Elladan for confirmation.
"That was my original plan," Elladan said slowly, "but now I am beginning to reconsider my thoughts." He looked back at Arwen. "You say Lord Celeborn wishes for sleeping draughts and restraints?"
"It was practically the only information I received from him that was not in the form of a riddle."
"Sleeping draughts and restraints," Gimli muttered darkly, his eyes running over Rivendell as night crept over the valley.
"Peace, son of Glóin," Elladan warned, watching the dwarf carefully out of the corner of his eye. "We shall accomplish nothing this night, for all solutions are too far from our grasp. Let us do as Elrohir and Aragorn have counseled. We shall rest now and take what sleep we may find. One hour before sunrise, we shall meet here and once again resume the hunt."
"Good," Sam breathed. "Then by your leave, I think I’ll go find Rosie. She gets a bit worried at times and I don’t want to be on the wrong end of her tongue, if you understand me."
"Then I bid you a good night, Samwise," Elladan said with a nod toward the hobbit. "And a good night to Peregrin and Gimli as well. Come, Arwen. If you will have me, I would aid you in your tasks and then see to my own rest."
"Your aid would be most welcome, brother," Arwen answered with a knowing look. "Perhaps we shall exhaust your nervous energy so that you might better sleep this night."
"Perhaps," Elladan conceded with a small smile. He shot a farewell glance at Gimli and Pippin, neither of whom had moved, and caught a glimpse of Sam disappearing into the darkness next to the house. It seems not all of us shall find rest this night, he sighed to himself, recognizing traces of his own despair in the countenances of Gimli and Pippin. But if the return to Rivendell served to strengthen at least Sam, Elladan decided to count it as profit. And doubtless other elves would also be refreshed by this respite in the hunt. He only wished that he could be refreshed as well.
"Elladan?" Arwen questioned gently.
"Coming," he murmured, trying to shrug off his melancholy and focus on the present. "Sleeping draughts, you said?"
"I did. We have some dried ôlgalenas leaves, but it would be wise to obtain more."
"Then I shall find some and prepare them."
"There is also the matter of the restraints," Arwen said quietly, sounding as though she was testing him.
"I remember," Elladan said shortly, walking toward the house and only slowing his stride slightly when Arwen fell into step beside him.
"Grandfather said these measures were primarily for the sake of prudence," Arwen murmured. "A precaution and nothing more."
"But a precaution against what, Arwen?" Elladan demanded, the tight control over his inner thoughts and feelings slipping marginally. He stopped and turned to Arwen, causing her to stop as well and face him. "What possible need will there be under any circumstance for restraints?" Elladan asked. "Did not Celeborn tell you anything concerning this?"
His sister was silent for a moment, her luminous eyes searching his. Then she sighed and shook her head, turning away. "You need not answers, Elladan. You need rest and escape from guilt. This darkness is no fault of yours. The shadow of evil is far older than either of us, and when we are gone, it shall remain. It has deceived many of the great ones in the past. Your inability to detect its presence is not a sin. Now come and aid me. Or sleep. In truth, I care not what you do so long as you cease to dwell in your world of self-pity."
A spark of anger flared within Elladan, but it was swiftly doused by the knowledge that Arwen was right. But then, she usually is, he thought wryly. With resignation on his face, Elladan laughed quietly to himself and wrapped a brotherly arm around Arwen’s shoulders. "My apologies, dear sister. I think I shall come to aid you, and by doing so, I believe I shall aid myself. My thanks for your words. Your thoughts are clearer than mine."
"As is usually the case," Arwen snorted, but her eyes were kind and she smiled at him. "Then let us depart so that we may both have time for sleep, for I am also weary."
"It shall be as you say," Elladan promised. "But speak with me as we walk. Surely Celeborn told you more than what you have revealed. Surely there was a purpose to his search."
"Ar-Pharazôn," Arwen answered, her voice carrying a touch of confusion. "Toward the end of our search, the focus was upon Ar-Pharazôn."
"Ar-Pharazôn?" Elladan echoed with a frown. "What does the last king of Númenor have to do with our current situation?"
"I believe Celeborn was looking for means of corruption, for he seemed intent on discovering things related to the downfall of Númenor. But again, I cannot be certain."
"So our grandfather searches records of the Second Age," Elladan said after a moment of silence. "He believes this evil to be the product of something that happened several millennia ago." The son of Elrond shook his head, and his voice became bitter. "Would that we could have prevented this."
"We have been over this," Arwen sighed. "And going over it again shall not change what has happened. Guilt is useless, and we need not its burden. Now come, brother, and let us not speak of these things again tonight but concentrate on the tasks given us. Perhaps hope shall rise again with the sun."
"Perhaps," Elladan murmured, glancing back out at the valley that now lay shrouded by night. "I suppose that anything is possible."
* * * *
Until now, Legolas had never been in complete darkness.
He had been in caves, of course. One could not befriend a dwarf without entering a cave at least once during the duration of that friendship. And before his friendship with Gimli, there had been Moria. Additionally, there had also been the darkness of Sauron over Minas Tirith, the shadow of Dol Guldur upon Mirkwood, and almost the entire expanse of the Paths of the Dead. Dark places and dark times, all of them, and all known well to the elf. But never had Legolas found himself in a place where even the light and hope of companions as well as his own inner light as an elf seemed to be extinguished. Here, not only was there a total absence of light, but there seemed to also be a total absence of life. His soul felt as though it had faded away until it was but a mere flicker of flame set amidst the cooling embers of a dying fire. A chill the likes of which Legolas had never experienced crept over him, and it seemed to the elf that evil took on a tangible form and loomed over him, intent on devouring what little essence remained.
And for the first time in his long life, Legolas was mortally afraid.
This was another new experience for him. The elf had experienced fear many times. The sight of the Balrog in Moria had raised terrible memories of stories that older elves would tell the younger generation just before bed. It had also raised memories that were more born of heritage than anything else, and the elf had been very afraid. And all throughout his life, Legolas had lived with the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown, the fear of Mordor…but never had he been mortally afraid. He had faced death before, of course. That was nothing new. And he had been nigh unto death several times through mishap or misfortune. But never had he feared it. That is, never had he feared it until now, for if he died at this moment, Legolas sensed somehow that he would remain trapped in this darkness. He would not be able to find his way out, he would not journey to the Halls of Mandos, and he would become the property and the plaything of evil for as long as time endured. And this knowledge, coupled with his rather dangerous circumstances, caused such turmoil and anguish within the elf that he was almost on the verge of a full-fledged panic attack.
Fortunately, a small measure of calm and sanity remained to him, and retreating deep within himself, Legolas tried to summon his fading reserves of energy to strike back at the darkness that sought to control him. But the darkness was content to sidestep his blow and dance around him, secure in the knowledge that its prey would not soon escape. Fighting away the feelings of desperation and hysteria, Legolas tried to rationally assess his predicament, but coherent thoughts were beginning to slip away from him as fear took a firmer hold. He had to get out. He had to flee. He had to escape! But how? He knew not where he was, why he was here, or in what direction safety might lie. And the more he realized the hopelessness of his predicament, the more he pulled back and the more the darkness encroached.
Focus! he screamed at himself, hoping to stir some form of resistance. But resistance seemed to be in short supply while the darkness was certainly not lacking for strength and patience. Time, also, was currently on the side of darkness, and Legolas was all too aware of this. Frantic for anything that might aid him in driving the shadows from his mind, Legolas directed his senses toward his surroundings, hoping that a better grasp on reality might aid him in regaining his bearings.
Sight was a lost cause, as the elf had already discovered. Wherever he was, there was a complete absence of light and his keen elven sight was of no use to him. But other senses there were at his disposal, and Legolas quickly put them to work. Judging from the surrounding smell, he was still somewhere in the caverns of the Orcs. The air was dank and musty, and there was an odor lingering in the room that spoke of the unwashed filthiness of many goblin bodies as well as not enough ventilation. Cringing slightly, Legolas wondered if this new knowledge might not be making things worse, but he had no other option.
Touch came next, and it was through this sense that Legolas began to gain a better idea of where he was. Cold stone lay beneath his back and his arms were stretched above his head. Tight chains had been locked about his wrists and ankles, and an experimental tug revealed that he would not be going anywhere in the immediate future. His fettered position reminded Legolas immediately of his first mental encounter with the Mouth of Sauron, and a chill crept down his back. It didn’t help that there was also a sharp chill in the air, indicating that he was deep underground. Again, he sighed mentally.
Finally, the elf focused his attention on sound. Initially, this seemed to be just as fruitless as sight, for the only sounds he could hear were the sounds of his own labored breathing and the rapid pounding of his heart. But gradually, as he adjusted his senses to ignore these particular noises, his acute ears began to pick up on something else. It was a faint sound that seemed to tread the boundary between real and imagined, but as he continued to listen, Legolas became convinced that it was no trick of the mind. He could hear breathing that was not his own. There was someone else in this room with him.
Immediately, Legolas’s mind shifted into action and he ran through possible beings who might be sharing this room with him. The sound of breathing was too soft for him to identify who it was, but the elf decided there were only three plausible options. It could be Merry, it could be an Orc, or it could be the Mouth of Sauron. And if his current run of fortune was any indication, it would undoubtedly be one of the latter two.
Unable to tell who shared his room and wary of betraying the fact that he was now awake, Legolas stayed quiet for another minute or two in the hopes that the stranger might reveal himself. But there was no change in the breathing, and Legolas eventually decided that he would have to make the first move. He was beginning to harbor a faint hope that the room’s other occupant was Merry, for surely anyone else—or anything else—would have already acted. Steeling himself in the event that his hopes might prove false, Legolas drew a breath and called out softly.
Now his ears caught a soft rustle of heavy robes and the unmistakable clink of chain mail as someone moved in the darkness. With a sinking heart, Legolas realized his initial instincts had been correct. Wherever Merry was, he was not here.
"You are awake," a soft voice observed, and at the sound of this voice, the temperature in the room seemed to dorp several degrees. "I had begun to wonder if you would sleep the night away. Your hobbit friend woke some time ago, and if he has regained consciousness again, he is no doubt anxious about you. It is unusual for an elf to stay unconscious for so long. My apologies if I was the cause."
Legolas had no idea what to say in response to that and so stayed silent. The man from Mordor’s ruin paused as though waiting for some kind of answer from the elf, but when there was none, he chuckled slightly. Legolas’s keen hearing heard him move above him, and then a touch colder than death came down to smooth the hair away from his forehead. Despite himself, the elf jerked away from the man’s hand, but this only resulted in a greater chuckle, and he heard the Mouth of Sauron seat himself on the stone slab where the elf lay.
"You still think to fight me?" The voice seemed vastly amused and a shiver of fear went down the elf’s spine. "You forget, elfling, that you allowed the darkness to enter your mind. Without it, you would still be broken and bleeding in your cell. But you chose otherwise, didn’t you? You consented to its healing power. And then you obeyed its first commands by not leaving the cave system. Do you really think you can cast it aside now?"
Once again, Legolas made no answer to the Mouth of Sauron, but this time, an answer was not expected. Hands came down to rest on either side of the elf’s face, and slender fingers positioned themselves on his temples. Legolas tried to jerk away, but it seemed as though strength suddenly fled him. He found himself completely unable to move.
"Nay, none of that, my friend," the Mouth of Sauron whispered. "Relax and allow me to work. Open your mind to me. I will be but a moment."
Sauron’s lieutenant fell silent then, his hands tightened around Legolas’s face, and the elf stiffened as the darkness about him suddenly seized his mind. This was nothing like the shadows he’d fought before, for they had merely hovered on the edges of reality. But now, evil’s presence was unmistakable, and Legolas found he was no longer the master of his own thoughts. Driven deeper into the recesses of his mind, the elf scrambled for some way to slow his retreat, but the darkness would not be denied and pounded away relentlessly at whatever walls he attempted to construct.
"What do you want?" Legolas eventually gasped, struggling to reassert at least some semblance of control over the situation.
"You, my friend. But there is no longer a need to struggle as you are doing. Relax. This will not take long since you have already granted me access." There was silence for a moment more, and then the Mouth of Sauron spoke again while shadows continued to strike against the elf’s defenses. "Good, elfling. You are afraid. You fear the darkness, and rightly so."
"I fear nothing," Legolas hissed, hoping the quiver in his voice and the tremble in his limbs might go unnoticed.
"Only fools fear nothing."
"Fools or those who have nothing to fear."
"Those who have nothing to fear are those without hope, for from hope is born fear. Tell me, elfling, are you truly without hope?"
Legolas gritted his teeth, grasping for an answer to that. The darkness was further clouding his thoughts and the questing probe of evil within his mind was becoming harder and harder to resist. "I have no need of hope, for I have a surety of knowledge."
At this, the Mouth of Sauron began to laugh. "A knowledge of what, my friend? That you will escape? That the darkness shall be thrown off? I say to you, Legolas, son of Thranduil, that even were your friends to find this lair now and slay every Orc ever spawned within the shadows, you would be lost to them. There is no help for you, and your only refuge can be found in the twilight. Now, let us cease this talk and go about our business. There is much to do and we have only just begun."
Legolas, though, had other ideas. He had no intention of allowing the Mouth of Sauron to "go about his business" and he mentally braced himself for whatever was about to happen next. But for all his efforts, he was completely unprepared for the onslaught that swept over him. With a mental scream, he felt the light of his soul buried beneath a realm of shadows, and as Legolas faded away into darkness, the room was illuminated just long enough for him to catch sight of a triumphant smile gracing the Mouth of Sauron’s face.
Author’s Notes: It seems that the Mouth of Sauron is getting more names than Aragorn. And they all had me laughing, so I thought I’d share. Liz D. was informed that Mr. Mouth once introduced himself by saying, "There are those who call me…Tim?" Not fully content with this theory, Liz has also pointed out that Bob would be a nice, neutral name. On the other hand, Gimli der Zwerg firmly believes that Mr. Mouth’s name is Edward "Ted" Crilly. Personally, I like Patches, but I think that Ted is a more dangerous-sounding name. Have to credit Nimue with that one.
As for when Celeborn and Galadriel met, I believe it was shortly after the Age of Stars. However, it’s interesting to note that in some of Tolkien’s later manuscripts he had both Celeborn and Galadriel coming over into Exile together, which means they met before the First Age. I’ve tried to write with an interpretation that doesn’t exclude other interpretations (meaning I’ve made it all rather vague) so take it as you will.
The method Aragorn uses to find the Orc trail is from my own imagination. I kind of sat back and wondered exactly what happened when he confronted Sauron through the palantír, and that’s what came out. So I figured I’d use it for something.
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.