16. Midnight Musings
Samwise Gamgee gently swung the door to his room open, shielding the candle with one hand so as not to disturb anyone. It was dark and silent inside, and for a brief moment, the hobbit was reminded of the clinging shadows that had drifted about in the forests south of Rivendell. He shivered and thrust that thought away. He was back with Rosie and Elanor now. That was all that mattered. He wasn’t about to taint their minds with the things he’d seen while hunting for Merry and Legolas.
Setting the candle on a large chest, Sam turned with the intention of finding his pack and changing into nightclothes, but as he faced the bed, he stopped, surprised. It was empty. Concerned now, the hobbit began a thorough search of the room, yet he found no sign of where his wife or child might be.
"But…but we’re in Rivendell," Sam murmured to himself, surveying the room with confusion and a bit of fear. "And nothing would come into this valley but what Arwen and the other elves would know it. And Rosie wouldn’t leave Rivendell with Elanor. Not without protection, at least. She’s too bright a lass for that." The hobbit scratched his head, took one more glance at the room, and then picked up the candle. Hurrying out into the corridor, he paused for a moment to gather his bearings and then started for the main hall. Perhaps someone there might know where Rosie and Elanor were.
"You seem distressed, Master Samwise. Is aught wrong?"
Sam jumped and berated himself for not paying attention to his surroundings. When wandering about in a land of elves, it was always good to glance about every minute or so to see if there were any elves sneaking up on you. Not that all of them would sneak up on you for the fun of it, though there were some that did and seemed to find great amusement in doing so. But most elves didn’t try to sneak up on people. At least, that’s what they told him. It just seemed to happen because they were so quiet.
Realizing he had become lost in his thoughts, Sam turned and bowed to an elf behind him. He recognized the elf, but he couldn’t place the name at the moment. "I…I was looking for Rosie. My wife. Have you seen her?"
"Ah, no one has told you?" the elf asked. "I believe she left a message for you, but it appears that the message has become lost. Fear not, my friend, for I know her whereabouts and shall lead you to her."
"She’s all right, isn’t she?" Sam asked, fear coloring his tone. "Nothing happened to her, did it? And Elanor? She’s fine, too, isn’t she?"
"All are well," the elf reassured him. "Your beloved was merely in need of thought and contemplation. Much has happened to her since leaving the Shire, and it took time to sort through all that has transpired."
At this, Sam felt a pang of guilt slice through his heart. What had he been thinking? While he was off playing in shadows with Pippin, Rosie was left alone to deal with memories of the Orcs and the battle. Sam remembered all too well the first time he met an Orc. It had been in the Hall of Mazarbul where the Fellowship made a desperate stand before Balin’s tomb. And even with all that happened afterwards such as the fall of Gandalf and the peace of Lothlórien, that memory continued to haunt Sam for many days. There was something about confronting a living, breathing Orc that completely destroyed innocence. Not even the Black Riders could really compare, for they were too otherworldly. Once their presence was gone, they were almost as ghosts and shadows of the imagination, too horrible to actually be real. Orcs, on the other hand, were far too real to dismiss, and their hideous natures were as poison to innocent souls. Somehow, in the chaos of everything that happened after Legolas and Merry disappeared, Sam had forgotten that this was Rosie’s first encounter with the Orcs and that she would need help in dealing with it.
Once again startled out of his thoughts, but certainly not out of his guilt, Sam jumped and then sent a sheepish expression toward the elf. "Sorry. I didn’t mean to get distracted like that," he explained. "It’s just that I remembered when I…or when we, rather…can I see Rosie now?"
The elf laughed, and at his laugh, some of Sam’s fears began to ease. After all, Rivendell was probably the best place in all of Middle Earth to deal with Orc memories. "As I said before, dear hobbit, all is well," the elf said, his eyes twinkling in the dim light of the halls. "It was many years ago, but I also remember my first encounter with an Orc. Rest assured that we have done everything in our power to comfort and aid your wife. We should be very poor hosts were it otherwise. Come! We shall test our hospitality by your judgement of our conduct!"
Saying this, the elf began walking, and Sam was forced to double his stride in order to keep up with the elf. They passed silently through many twisting corridors and many large rooms. It might have been bewildering to the untrained eye, but to Sam, there was suddenly a great air of familiarity about their journey. The hobbit had walked this path many times during the months that he and Frodo had been guests in Imladris, and he now knew exactly where Rosie was. And had I chosen a place for her to be, I don’t know as I’d have chosen any better than what the elves chose. Bless them, when they do something, they know how to do it and do it well! My Gaffer would be proud.
The elf that Sam had been following eventually stopped outside a tall set of doors and then gave the hobbit a quick bow. "Unless she has taken herself elsewhere, your wife is within. I now bid you a good night, Master Gamgee, and I urge you to seek sleep at some point. It seems to me that you are greatly wearied."
"I’ll do that," Sam promised, placing a hand on one of the door’s large handles. "Have a good night yourself, and thank you."
"It was my honor," the elf assured him before turning away and vanishing into the darkness.
Left alone, Sam stifled a large yawn and then pulled the great door outward, grunting slightly at the effort. A red light fell upon his face and a pleasant sensation of warmth crept over him. The hobbit smiled and sighed, feeling as though somehow he had just returned home. It had been years since his last visit to this place, but Sam had never forgotten the Hall of Fire.
Pulling the door further open, Sam’s eyes first came to rest upon the roaring hearth where the eternal flames for which this hall was named leaped high into the night, banishing the darkness and dancing in rhythm to the stars that twinkled above Rivendell. It seemed as though all the waters of the River Bruinen were suddenly set loose, and a flood of memories washed over Sam. Songs and tales sprang to mind, as fresh and vivid as they had been when he’d first heard them in this hall. Laughter and voices called out to him, and for a moment, he walked in living memory. He could see all of them again—Frodo, Bilbo, Boromir, Strider, Elrond, Merry, Pippin…they came to life around him, joking and singing as though the past had come again to Rivendell. Or perhaps he had returned to it and it had never left. Joy swelled within Sam’s breast, and he took a step forward, ready to embrace the memory as reality.
And then the vision vanished. The hall was empty once more. Silence fell again.
With a sigh of both gratitude and regret, Sam shook his head and moved forward, reminding himself of his mission. Looking around, he quickly spied two figures against the far wall, both hidden partially by a pillar. Smiling in relief, Sam started toward them, and at his approach, one of them looked up, immediately sending him a grin that would put the sun to shame.
As Elanor came bounding to him, Sam dropped to one knee and caught his daughter in a firm embrace, feeling all lingering effects of shadow drift away to be consumed by the roaring fires. "Hello, beautiful. Were you a good girl while I was away?" Sam asked, squeezing his daughter tightly.
"Very good," Elanor answered, pulling away and bobbing her head. "Daddy, the elves said I was pretty."
"And you are," Sam said, affectionately tousling her hair. "You’re the prettiest lass in all of Rivendell and in all of the Shire, or my name’s not Samwise Gamgee." Sam rose and smiled at Rosie, who was now moving toward the two. "And did you take care of Mommy for me?" he asked with a wink at his wife.
Elanor nodded again, her smile growing. "Mommy said I was a big help."
"And you were," Rosie confirmed, closing the distance between them quickly and wrapping Sam in a firm hug. "I feared you wouldn’t come back," she whispered.
"Now, Rosie, there’s no call for that," Sam said awkwardly, returning the embrace fervently. "Seeing as I was with the best protection you can find nowadays, there was no reason to worry."
"I worried anyway and I’ll worry when you leave again tomorrow."
Sam blinked and pulled back. "I didn’t say anything about—"
"I know, but that’s what will happen," Rosie sighed. "You didn’t find Merry and your elven friend, did you? If you had, we’d have heard about it. And since you didn’t find them today, you’ll be going back out there tomorrow. I know you too well, Samwise Gamgee."
"I can’t sit here and do nothing," Sam murmured, feeling as though his heart was torn in two.
"And I don’t expect you to," Rosie said. "I love you for who you are, Sam, and if you didn’t go back out into those woods, you wouldn’t be yourself. I’d be holding you back, and I wouldn’t do that. But I’ll worry every minute you’re away. Those…those Orcs…they…"
"Hush," Sam soothed, pulling Rosie back into a tight hug. "Those Orcs are none too bright, but they’re too smart to come into Rivendell. You’re safe here, and I’ll be safe with the elves. Elves don’t like Orcs, and they won’t let them get away with anything if they can help it." They were silent for a moment, all things around them forgotten, and then Sam drew back. "How are you? And don’t lie, Rosie lass. How are you really?"
"I’ll be fine," Rosie answered with a slight smile. "The elves here…they’re wonderful for talking. They’ll listen to everything you have to say, and when you’re done talking, you feel better for some reason. They said I should wait for you in this hall, and I think it’s helped. I don’t feel alone here."
"You never were alone, and you’re certainly not alone anymore," Sam said firmly. "I know what you’re going through. I went through it, too. And it will pass, Rosie. It will pass."
Elanor’s inquisitive voice reminded Sam that he and Rosie still had an audience. With a quiet chuckle, he moved out of the hug, though he still kept his arm possessively around Rosie’s shoulders. "Yes, sweetheart?"
"Where’s the bush?"
Sam started to laugh, and he felt Rosie’s shoulders quivering as she began laughing as well. "I don’t know. I think he went to bed, which is where you should be going."
A look of extreme stubbornness took over Elanor’s face, and she folded her arms in a very familiar expression of indignation and determination. "I’m not sleepy," she declared.
"It’s long past your bedtime," Sam reasoned, "and you had a busy day today, I’m sure."
"The elves are still up," Elanor pointed out. "And they had a busy day, too."
"Elves are different," Sam tried to explain. "They don’t need sleep like you and I do."
"Just because I’m different doesn’t mean that I’m sleepy!"
"You can stay up just a little longer," Rosie broke in with a sigh. "But not much longer. Is that clear?"
Mollified for the moment, the little hobbit nodded. "Then can I go play?"
"For a bit."
Elanor grinned and ran back to the far wall, dropping down to play with the toys that Elrohir and Elladan had dug up for her. Confused, Sam shot an inquiring look at his wife who merely smiled in return.
"This place is so peaceful. I really don’t want to leave just yet, Sam, and I don’t see any harm in letting Elanor stay up a little later. She’ll probably fall asleep on her own in a minute anyway."
"And force me to carry her back to our room," Sam grumped, smiling to show his playfulness. "But you’re right, Rosie. This place is…well, I don’t know as any words rightly describe this place, but I wouldn’t mind staying here a bit longer, either."
"Good," Rosie said, wrapping her arm around her husband’s waist as she began walking after Elanor. "I wanted to share this room with you. They told me it was called the Hall of Fire and that there’s always a fire here."
"Even in summer, or so they say," Sam murmured. "I once spent about two months here in Rivendell, and I don’t know as I found any place better than this one."
"There are…memories here," Rosie said, seating herself upon a bench and leaning against Sam as he sat next to her. "Good memories and bad memories, both, but…it feels like everything that ever happened is somehow with us in this room."
"Wonderful folk, elves," Sam sighed, pulling Rosie against his body and closing his eyes. "To look at them, you wouldn’t expect all this memory and heartache. But when they start to sing…it’s the singing as what goes to your head. Or rather you heart, I guess I should say. And they have songs about everything. Fancy songs, simple songs, long songs, short songs, happy songs, sad songs…they’re all there and they’re all sung. I don’t know as would I ever tire of them. The elves don’t seem to, never mind that they’re always singing them. Even Gimli grew fond of elven song by the end of the journey. He’s the dwarf that Elanor’s taken such a fancy to. Now there’s a puzzle and no mistake. At the start of our journey Gimli wouldn’t so much as look at an elf, but now he’s riding behind Legolas wherever they go, and you never see one but you also see the other. I never did understand what happened and they don’t talk about it much, but…" Sam suddenly trailed off, aware that Rosie had become very heavy against his side. Glancing down, he discovered that somewhere during the course of his monologue, she’d drifted off to sleep. An expression of peace was plastered over her face, and Sam sighed, smiling slightly and brushing away a strand of dark hair that was tickling her nose. "The Gaffer always did say I talk too much," he murmured, stifling his own yawn. "And bless me if I haven’t put you to sleep with it. I should probably wake you and take you to bed. You an Elanor both."
But another yawn took hold of Sam’s face before he could act on this thought, and a sleepy warmth was creeping over his body. Ah well, it’s probably for the best, he reflected as his mind began to drift. And it’s not as if I haven’t fallen asleep in here before. And with this, Sam allowed his eyes to close and his mind was taken away into strange dreams, touched by hobbit memory but blessed by elven sanctuary.
* * * *
Merry decided that the next time he and Legolas took a journey to the world of the unconscious, the elf should have to wake up first. It was clearly his turn. Merry had been the first one awake after their initial capture, he’d been the first one awake after their first encounter with the Mouth of Sauron and his rather enthusiastic troop of Orcs, and he was the first one awake now. This didn’t sit well with the hobbit, particularly since he didn’t like to be the first one awake. It was always easier if someone else woke first, figured out what was going on, and then filled him in on the details later.
Unfortunately, Legolas showed no signs of stirring in the immediate future, which meant that Merry was left to puzzle out the latest mystery on his own. This actually wasn’t as much of a challenge as it could have been because the current enigma was very similar to the last one. In fact, it was exactly like the last one. The door to their cell had once again been left open, there was nothing in the way of shackles or fetters to hold the prisoners back, and as far as Merry could tell, they were very much alone in the dungeon. Again. And we all know how well this worked last time.
With a sigh, the hobbit sat back against a wall and drew his knees up to his chest, resting his chin upon them. He supposed he could have gone exploring on his own, but he really didn’t want to venture into the dark caves without Legolas. The elf had a presence and a poise that was very comforting. Even when he’d confessed that they were going in circles, Legolas had been possessed of a quiet confidence that never seemed to fail. And this quiet confidence was an invaluable asset when fumbling through black corridors and foul dungeons. Without it, Merry feared that he would lose his courage and his mind, so he settled back to wait for the elf to wake, humming softly to himself. He probably should have been more concerned about their future than he was, but since there didn’t seem to be anything he could do at the present time, he didn’t see any sense in worrying. It was something he’d learned from Frodo on the quest to destroy the Ring. There was no point in worrying about the things you couldn’t change. It was the things you could change that should be worrisome.
Which is not to say that Merry was comfortable in his cell. Far from it. Deep down in his heart, he was terrified. He had no idea what was happening, he had no idea what was planned, and he had no idea about what the future held. But he wasn’t letting these fears take over his mind, which gave him a calm that was very much at odds with his present surroundings. He was still rather unnerved by what seemed to be a growing shadow in his thoughts, but since it was more or less dormant at the moment, Merry decided it wasn’t worth stewing over.
Still, I suppose that I ought to think about something or do something productive while I’m awake and alert. Otherwise I’ll do nothing but sit here and stare at that torch over there. Not that sitting by the wall and staring at the torch was necessarily a bad thing. It was certainly a far better prospect than running into a band of Orcs or the Mouth of Sauron out in the tunnels. But torch-watching was becoming a rather tedious activity, and Merry decided that for the sake of his sanity, he probably needed to do something else with his time. As for what that something was, well…that was another matter. Perhaps if I sit here long enough, something will occur to me.
With this thought, Merry continued to stare at the torch, eventually becoming lost in the dance of the flames while his mind was slowly drawn back through time until arriving at the failed escape attempt. Deciding that this place was as good a place as any to start, Merry shrugged and began calling to mind pertinent details. Exactly how long ago had that been? An hour? A day? A week? Time had ceased to hold meaning for the hobbit, which was strange, especially since hobbits used time to signal the start of meals. Merry hadn’t eaten during his stay with the Orcs, but he could not say that he was hungry. Not really hungry, anyway. He was hungry in the sense that he knew he’d missed several important mealtimes, but his stomach was not clamoring for food and his body didn’t seem to mind that fact that he hadn’t eaten for a while.
And no drink, Merry realized, thinking the situation over a little more carefully. I’ve had nothing to drink, but I’m not thirsty. And I’m not nauseous. That can’t be the problem. If someone put some turkey and potatoes in front of me, I’d gladly eat them. But I’m not hungry. I wouldn’t need to eat them.
Scratching his head, Merry frowned and glanced toward Legolas. He’d have to ask the elf about this. There was something very strange going on, but for the life of him, Merry couldn’t figure out what. The thought occurred to him that perhaps Legolas wouldn’t know what was going on either, but that was too discouraging for the hobbit and he dismissed the notion, ignoring the fact that the elf had already admitted that he didn’t know what was happening.
With that problem now stored away for a time when Legolas was awake to discuss it, Merry returned to the task of figuring out just how long ago he and the elf had tried to escape. In the end, his estimate was three or four hours. Maybe five. When he woke and discovered himself back in the cell after a rather unnerving meeting with the Mouth of Sauron, his back had been stiff from lying on the ground in an awkward position but not painfully so. He couldn’t have been lying there for long. That problem solved, Merry took a moment to celebrate and then moved on to a far more daunting question: What had happened to them at the entrance of the cave? Why hadn’t they been able to escape? And what had been the purpose of letting them leave the cell in the first place?
Merry could have gone on in his questions, but then he would have to confront the mystery of what exactly the Mouth of Sauron was doing to them and he didn’t want to think about that. He had a feeling that the answer would be unpleasant, and he’d rather leave the task of figuring that out to Legolas. The elf was probably better at handling unpleasant situations than he was.
But how was he to know what had happened at the cave’s entrance without knowing what the Mouth of Sauron was doing? Rubbing his head and cursing as he felt the beginnings of a rather large headache, Merry wondered how Aragorn made this all look so easy. The king of Gondor only had to glance sideways at a situation, and then all the details would suddenly became clear to him. It was uncanny and the hobbit was more than a little envious of this ability.
A quiet mumble suddenly drew his attention away from his thoughts, and Merry looked hopefully at his cellmate. Legolas moved slightly and one hand came up to rub the side of his head, but then he quieted and fell motionless again.
"Legolas?" Merry tried, refusing to let hope die so easily.
But the elf made no response, and the hobbit sighed with the knowledge that he probably had another hour or so to himself until the elf woke. Legolas didn’t look very good and probably needed the sleep. But what if sleep is bad for him? Merry wondered, wishing Aragorn was here to decipher everything. My own dreams aren’t too comforting right now and there’s something dark in them. Something keeps telling me to…to do things, only I can’t remember what those things are right now.
Becoming disgusted with thoughts that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, Merry groaned and rubbed his temples. He was no closer to answers now than he had been when he’d started. For all his musings and all his ponderings, the hobbit still knew only one thing for certain: The next time they were unconscious, it was definitely Legolas’s turn to wake up first.
* * * *
The Hall of Fire was silent and still when Gimli entered. High above him, the eternal stars glittered and sang, harmonizing with the flames that surged up from the blaze at the end of the room. During his stay in Rivendell prior to the formation of the Fellowship, Gimli had spent much time in this hall. His father had strongly disapproved, but Gimli had been strangely drawn to the place. He’d made a point of avoiding it when it was frequented by elves, but in the early morning hours when all others were asleep, Gimli would often rouse himself and creep into this unique room for quiet meditation. It seemed as though his thoughts became tangible entities here, easier to see and sort, while distracting emotions were soothed by the crackle of the perpetual fire. Gimli had never been able to look upon a forge in quite the same way ever since, and he had occasionally wondered if fire might not be the elves’ connection to the foundations of Arda, where flame and heat shaped the structures of the world. Of all the wonders of Rivendell, the Hall of Fire was a place that a dwarf would most appreciate, and unable to sleep, it was here that Gimli had come in a seemingly fruitless search for answers and dreams.
With a tired sigh that spoke of far more than simple weariness, Gimli moved to stand before the raging fire, watching as tongues of flame leaped and hissed, waving slightly when a gentle breeze wafted through the room. Losing himself in their hypnotic dance, Gimli’s mind began to drift to other fires, and he saw himself seated in the wilderness next to Legolas, speaking quietly as the campfire died away and the night turned cool. He could almost hear the elf singing softly to himself as the stars lit the sky, and Gimli felt himself lulled to sleep by the gentle cadences of an elven song. He heard Legolas laugh and say something about ballads being used as lullabies, but by that point, the dwarf was too far gone to give a response. Then Legolas would cover him with his own cloak and a thick blanket, resume his singing, and Gimli would drift away on the tides of strange dreams.
With a shake of his head, the dwarf moved reluctantly out of memories and back into reality. He still harbored doubts about returning to Rivendell, but Gimli’s mind was possessed of a cruel logic that asserted itself once in a while. It had been at work during the long chase across the plains of Rohan and had made him suggest stopping for the night, contrary to the obvious wishes of Legolas and the fears that they all shared. And this logic had come to him again in the face of Aragorn’s arguments, pointing out that he would do Legolas no good if he collapsed on his feet in the middle of a battle. It was better to rest during the long wait rather than worrying and stewing over things that could not be rushed.
And beyond these reasons, Gimli had seen that Aragorn would not be gainsaid in his decision to send the dwarf and the hobbits back to Rivendell. And as stubborn as he was, even Gimli would hesitate before he challenged Aragorn when the man had set his mind upon something, especially if Aragorn also happened to be tired, frustrated, worried, and away from Arwen. In any case, Gimli had been of little help on the search itself, and he was not too proud to admit that the tension between himself and Thranduil was partially his fault. At least, he was not too proud to admit it to himself, but he would build a forge in a tree ere he would ever admit it to anyone else, even Legolas.
Gimli did not like feeling helpless. Dwarves were not supposed to feel helpless. They were fierce warriors and industrious workers, always finding something to do and always having two or three other projects in mind even as they labored away on something else. But at the moment, Gimli could only think of the searchers in the darkness and how he was powerless to aid them. Somewhere beyond the shadow was his friend, yet how that friend could be found was beyond the dwarf. Glancing up through gaping windows at the stars that seemed to dance forever while remaining blissfully ignorant of life’s cruelties, the dwarf offered a silent plea for help. But the night kept its silence and made no answer.
Passing his hand over the sharp blade of his axe where it rested in his belt, Gimli shook his head and sighed. If Legolas could see him now, the elf would laugh. Here was a dwarf, a master of metal and stone, staring at the fire and the stars with an intensity and interest that only an elf would show. And much as he hated to admit it, Gimli longed to hear that mocking laugh and listen to the teasing jests that would be tossed his direction. He wished to field the insults and return them. He wished for their endless banter and battle of wits that could drive even Aragorn to distraction. He wished to be continually looking up at the elf and envying him for his height. Durin’s beard, he wished for his friend!
"By the Valar, Legolas, where are you?!" Gimli cursed, slumping down onto a nearby bench and running a hand over his face as frustration, fear, and anger got the better of him. "Where are you, my friend, and how can I reach you? How do I come to your aid?"
The dwarf jerked up in surprise at the tentative voice, for he had believed himself to be alone. Making a quick survey of the room, his quick eyes soon spied three figures in a far corner, hidden by the shadows of pillars. Leaning against the wall, Sam was fast asleep and snoring slightly. Rosie’s head was pillowed on his lap, a look of relief spread across her slumbering face. By contrast, their daughter was wide-awake and gazing at Gimli with curious eyes.
"Good evening, little one," Gimli finally answered, managing to force a smile onto his face. Elanor smiled back and waved. "Would you join me?" the dwarf invited, patting the bench next to him. Elanor giggled and nodded, scampering across the room and scrambling up onto the bench. Her first action was to grab for the beard, and Gimli chuckled as he lifted her into his lap. "Still fascinated by this? I suppose you haven’t seen many beards during your short life, have you?"
"Pretty," Elanor said with a smile, entwining her small hands in the thick hair and resting her had on Gimli’s chest. The dwarf snorted and began to laugh.
"Pretty? Ah, little one, if only Legolas was here now. It would do him good to hear an honest and accurate opinion." The dwarf sighed, his thoughts darkening and his eyes glancing again at the stars that his elven friend loved so much.
"Why are you sad?" Elanor asked, staring at Gimli with the innocent and heartfelt concern of a child.
Gimli smiled slightly and pulled the little hobbit closer to him. "I have a very dear friend, and he can’t be with me right now," the dwarf whispered, saying things he would never imagine saying to anyone else, least of all Legolas. "I miss him very much, and I am worried about him."
"Where is he?"
"I wish I knew, Elanor," Gimli murmured. "I wish I knew."
"Maybe he’s scared and he’s hiding."
Gimli bit his lip, not wishing to think about the possibilities. "I hope that is not the case, dear one. I have never seen him hide from anything."
"Maybe it’s a game. I know lots of good hiding games."
"I pray it is merely a game," the dwarf whispered, closing his eyes and turning his head. "Yet if that is so, it has lasted far too long, even for him."
"I can help look for him," Elanor volunteered. "I know all the good places to hide. I found some this morning!"
"I am certain that you did," Gimli sighed, unconsciously tightening his arms around the child. "And I would greatly appreciate your help, but my friend is many miles away. We would have to travel far and the road would be too long for you. You must stay here and look after your mother and father. They need you, much as my friend needs me. Yet you have my thanks for the offer, Elanor. It was generously made."
"Mommy says I’m good at helping," Elanor said, pulling back slightly and studying the dwarf’s face. "But you’re still sad." She was silent for a moment, her lips puckered with thought, and then a smile lit her face. "When I’m sad, daddy tells me a story and then I’m not so sad. Maybe if you tell me a story then you won’t be sad, either."
Gimli laughed quietly, his mood lifting momentarily, and he shifted so that he could lean back against a wide pillar. "A good idea. I think I would enjoy that very much. What kind of story would you like?"
Elanor thought about that for a moment, her small brow furrowing in concentration. "A story about your friend," she finally said.
"You want a story about my friend?" Gimli repeated, no longer certain that he could do this. But Elanor nodded firmly as she snuggled up against his chest, and Gimli realized that he was beaten. Though he was a victorious veteran of many battles, a single look at Elanor’s determined face told him that he could not hope to win this one. "A story of Legolas," he finally murmured, trying to collect his scattered thoughts that seemed to darken with each passing minute. "Well, little one, Legolas is an elf. And elves are…elves are different. They’re not all there, if you understand me. But Legolas…Legolas is a very special elf for all that he can be the most irritating, annoying, stubborn, and foolish being on Middle Earth."
"What’s irritating mean?"
Gimli smiled as several memories suddenly sprang to mind. Perhaps this could be entertaining after all. "Listen closely, Elanor. Listen and I shall tell you a story about an elf and a dwarf who ventured into a dark forest filled with strange, talking trees. And by the story’s end, you will know what irritating means."
* * * *
Surrounded by darkness and pale as the moon that hung overhead, Aragorn swayed slightly on his feet as his eyes drifted shut. A soft moan escaped him, and then his knees began to buckle. Swift as one of the Mearas, Elrohir leaped to the side of his foster brother and caught him, supporting the weakening frame and holding him upright.
"Northeast," Aragorn murmured, struggling to open his eyes. "They turn northeast for a bit, perhaps a mile. It could be even further, but my last sense of the trail was not clear. I will have to check again after we have journeyed a mile."
"Then we must see to it that you do journey a mile for some time," Elrohir said firmly, turning bright eyes into the treetops. "King Thranduil? Northeast for one mile. Estel and I shall meet you there in a moment."
A form moved in the darkness above, and the finely chiseled face of Mirkwood’s king was briefly illuminated by moonlight. "Time presses upon us, Elrohir. Do we know the trail beyond that mile?"
Elrohir gritted his teeth and wished fervently that Elladan had been able to stay with him. His twin had always been better at dealing with Thranduil than any other elf in Rivendell. Even their father, shrewd as he was, had never been able to quite match Elladan’s talent for subtle dissuasion and casual meddling when it came to Thranduil. And now forced to deal with the king of Mirkwood himself, Elrohir was coming to realize just how precious and rare his brother’s gift was.
"The trail must be checked again beyond that mile, King Thranduil," Elrohir eventually answered, "but Estel must be given a chance to recover. He has suffered the darkness to encroach upon his mind far too long now, and it is taking its toll upon him."
"I shall be fine," Aragorn murmured weakly, struggling to break away from Elrohir’s restrictive hold.
"Hold your tongue or I shall personally carry you back to Imladris," Elrohir shot back. "You are not fine, brother. You need rest and you need to reorganize your mental defenses. This darkness has completely sapped your strength."
Aragorn grunted and started to respond to this, but his eyes glazed over slightly and a look of confusion crossed his face. Sensing that the man was about to fall, Elrohir readjusted his grip and leaned Aragorn against his own body in order to better support his weight.
"Perhaps Elladan should be summoned back from Imladris," Thranduil suggested. "I remind you that two lives hang in the balance, and we have not the time to wait for King Elessar to recover."
"I remind you that Elladan is also recovering, King Thranduil," Elrohir said, tightening his grip on Aragorn as the king began to sway to the side. "He can no more confront the darkness at this time than can Estel. Unless you or one of the elves beneath your command is willing to make the attempt, then I fear we have come to an impasse. Patience and waiting are our only options."
"Patience and waiting have cost us too much in the past. We cannot resort to them now," Thranduil shot back. "If the mortal is incapable of trailing the Orcs, other measures must be sought."
"Such as?" Elrohir challenged.
"Dispatching teams of elves throughout the woods. If the groups were of sufficient size, the darkness would not overcome us and we would cover greater ground."
"But for what purpose?" Elrohir asked. "Think you that Legolas and Merry are still being held above ground and in the open? Nay, that will not be so. Not with one of Númenórean blood behind the attack. There is something planned in this, and should we separate, I fear we would but oblige he who orchestrated this great darkness. Nay, we must hold to this course, however long it may take. Only by so doing shall we discover the Orcs’ lair."
Thranduil was silent for a moment, his eyes dark as he studied Elrond’s son. "You have hunted Orcs before, young one," he eventually said, his voice quiet. "Your mother was taken captive and you were forced to free her. Tell me this, if you can. During what portion of her confinement did Lady Celebrían sustain her most severe injuries?"
Elrohir felt Aragorn stiffen against his side, apparently sensing the direction of the conversation despite the haze within the king’s mind. Tightening his grip on both his foster brother and his temper, Elrohir shifted Aragorn to the side and started walking, hoping to distract Aragorn by forcing him to move. "You ask a difficult question, King Thranduil," Elrohir said at length when Aragorn’s attention had left the conversation and moved to the task of putting one foot in front of the other. Thranduil trailed them as a silent shadow in the trees, and Elrohir fervently wished that this silent shadow would slink back to Mirkwood.
"Nevertheless, there is a purpose to the question, Elrohir, and so I ask again. At what point in your mother’s captivity did the Orcs do the most harm?"
"During the latter half of her captivity, just ere we slew the Orcs that guarded her," Elrohir whispered harshly, his mind now forced back through time to that horrid day when he and Elladan had finally found the place of their mother’s captivity. It had been a miserable, wretched experience, and one that Elrohir had desperately tried to forget.
"And why do you suppose that was?"
"Because they knew we were coming and sought to drive us to madness by her cries," Elrohir answered, stopping and closing his eyes. Aragorn stopped beside him and once again started to fall as the darkness overcame him. Sensing that his foster brother was on the verge of collapse, Elrohir sighed and then swept Aragorn into his arms, ignoring the weak protests that indicated that Aragorn was still somewhat aware of his surroundings. Searching for a suitable tree, Elrohir leaped into a set of low branches and found a sturdy limb upon which to prop the king of Gondor.
"You say that your mother’s torment was a direct result of your attempts to rescue her?" Thranduil asked, joining Elrohir on the lower branches as Elrohir tried to make Aragorn comfortable.
"Some of it," the half-elf conceded, his voice a quiet murmur as foul memories stirred within his immortal heart. "They also…they had…that was not the only time that they…" Elrohir shook his head and cursed his inability to speak of this. In truth, he’d never been very good at talking about this, and it was partially for this reason that he was still so haunted by the experience.
A hand upon his shoulder startled him, and he looked up in surprise at the king of Mirkwood. "My apologies, young one," Thranduil whispered, and in his voice was a strange note of compassion that took Elrohir by surprise. "I did not know the event was still so painful for you, else I would have chosen another example."
Because of a mixture of regret, longing, anger, and confusion choking his throat, Elrohir could not respond, but he nodded slightly in gratitude. After a few swallows, he managed to regain some of his composure and turned to Thranduil, his gaze empty and expressionless. "I trust you had a purpose in raising these memories, King Thranduil. Speak of that purpose, I pray you, so that I may feel that this has not been merely an exercise in torment."
Looking slightly uncomfortable—an extremely rare look for the king of Mirkwood—Thranduil grimaced and sighed. "It has been my experience—and I have unfortunately had quite a few experiences—that Orcs do not excessively torment a captive elf until that elf is on the verge of death or liberation. This is not always the case for there are exceptions to everything, but as a general rule, it holds well. Orcs wish to keep their prisoner alive for as long as possible so that they might prolong their sport. With this idea in mind, it is easy to see that our current strategy is folly. We draw closer to the Orcs’ lair by following their trail, true, but the Orcs will be expecting this and watching for us. The fact that they were able to find us earlier today is evidence enough of that. If we continue on this course and press too close for their comfort, they shall release their anxiety by visiting torment upon Legolas and the hobbit, and they will kill them both ere they allow them to be rescued."
"But Legolas and Merry shall surely die if we fail to find the lair," Elrohir answered, still trying to shove foul memories to the back of his mind. "And that is exactly what shall happen if we fail to follow the trail."
"Have you so little faith in the elves of Mirkwood?" Thranduil shook his head and hissed slightly in frustration and anger. "We fought against the darkness of Dol Guldur for centuries, unaided by the Three that sheltered Lothlórien and Rivendell. We know better than any how to deal with Orcs, for that has been our lot in this world. My warriors can recognize an Orc stronghold better than they can recognize their own homes, for in many cases, they have spent more time in the presence of the Enemy than they have spent in the presence of their family. Think, Elrohir! You know this to be true, and you know that I am right. We cannot follow the trail all the way to the dungeons themselves. At some point, we must leave the sure path and seek our own way so as to preserve the advantage of surprise. Why not now while we are delayed upon the trail?"
"Because we are not yet near the lair," a weak voice mumbled.
"Rest, Estel," Elrohir commanded absently, mentally wrestling with Thranduil’s logic.
A snort indicated Aragorn’s thoughts on this particular command, and before Elrohir could stop him, the king had struggled to a sitting position, clutching tightly at the branch beneath him but supporting his own weight. "You are correct, King Thranduil," Aragorn said, his voice slowly gaining strength. "We cannot pursue this trail to its end. But there are too many areas to search, and I fear the delay that it would cause should we leave the trail now."
Thranduil’s eyes flashed and he studied Aragorn for a good minute before finally releasing the man from his piercing gaze. "You may continue in the path of folly if you wish," he said to Elrohir, "but my warriors and I shall work at finding release for those who have been taken captive."
"I need only a moment, Thranduil, and then we may resume our search," Aragorn said quietly. "Patience."
The look of anger and frustration was growing in Thranduil’s face, and Elrohir found himself shifting closer to Aragorn in the event that the king of Mirkwood decided to lash out at the man. "We must work together in this," Elrohir reasoned. "Divided, we lose strength."
"But it seems that Rivendell is incapable of seeing clearly," Thranduil snapped. "This slow and methodical way is well and good when it serves its purpose, but the time has come for more decisive action."
"Perhaps," Aragorn murmured, swaying slightly but still managing to maintain his sitting position. "Yet through my reading of history, I seem to recall that this exact reasoning was used once before and with disastrous results. Was it not Oropher who refused to hearken to the counsel of Gil-galad and began the attack prematurely while the other elves opted for a slower siege and a more methodical form of attack? And was this not the cause—"
"Silence," Thranduil snapped, his eyes flashing dangerously. "You speak of what you cannot possibly understand. And what would you, the heir of Isildur, know of respecting counsel given by—"
"Enough," Elrohir interrupted, realizing that things were about to go downhill rapidly. "King Thranduil, I have no wish to argue this with you, for I have not the talent to do so. If you choose to take your forces elsewhere, that is your affair and there is naught I can do to hinder you. But I strongly urge you to postpone at least until morning. Elladan shall return then, and perhaps he shall bring word from Lord Celeborn, who is undoubtedly studying this matter. And discussions such as this will be clearer by the light of day. I like not the darkness that hangs over us, and I believe that it would be wise to wait on a decision to separate until the sun is overhead."
A rather tense silence settled over the three, and the anger sparking between Thranduil and Aragorn was almost enough to blot out the darkness altogether. At length, though, Thranduil turned away and nodded sharply. "For now, Elrohir, we shall delay. But my counsel stands and come morning, my warriors and I shall seek a different path. If you wish to join us in this, you are welcome, but if not, then I urge you to return to Rivendell. By following the trail of the Orcs, you put my son in jeopardy, and I will not allow you to do that." And having said this, Thranduil inclined his head and leaped upward, catching hold of a branch and twisting into the shelter of the treetops where he vanished from sight.
Elrohir sighed and tried to allow the tension to drain from his shoulders, but before he could do so, a rustling sound from behind caught his attention.
"If Thranduil means to go ahead with this, we must make better progress tonight," Aragorn answered, struggling to his feet and nearly falling.
Catching his foster brother by the arm, Elrohir fixed a stern glower upon his face and forced the king of Gondor back down on the branch. "We will make no progress if you collapse as Elladan did. Rest a moment more and then we shall resume the hunt."
"I am perfectly capable of seeking the trail now and—"
"Estel, if you leave this branch, the consequences will be dire," Elrohir said firmly.
"I’ve heard better threats from hobbits," Aragorn retorted, struggling back to his feet.
Recognizing in his brother an attitude of extreme stubbornness that not even Elrond had ever managed to overcome, Elrohir finally gave in. "If you insist," he murmured. "But we shall make our way forward in the trees."
Aragorn blinked and frowned. "That is the slower way."
"We go by the trees or not at all," Elrohir said firmly, his own stubbornness coming into play with a vengeance. "Valar take you, Estel, for I will not endure much more of this. Now, we can do it my way and rejoin the others on the trail in due time, or you can sit here and recover. Which shall it be?"
For a moment, there was no response. And then Aragorn began to laugh. "A fine pair of fools we make, Elrohir."
"One fool there is at least," Elrohir snorted.
"You take after Elladan in that," Aragorn answered.
"And I believe that I taught you everything you know."
"As I said before, a fine pair of fools we make." Aragorn sighed and shook his head. "Let us stay in the trees, then, but let us make as much haste as possible."
"Or as much haste as you are capable of," Elrohir amended with a wry grin.
Aragorn laughed but gave no other response, for his attention was now focused on keeping his balance as he began to navigate the tree limbs. Elrohir sensed that the king of Gondor was recovering rapidly now that he was out of the misty shadows, but he kept a hand on Aragorn’s arm just in case aught should happen. They continued thus in silence for a bit, each lost in thought, and then Aragorn spoke, his voice quiet and anxious. "Thranduil is right. We cannot follow the trail to the lair itself. They shall know of our coming long before we can arrive to save the captives."
"But we have no way of knowing when to leave the trail and seek our own paths. Should we leave it prematurely, we could lose the Orcs entirely, and such a delay would prove costly."
"True enough, and therein lies much of the problem. But I feel that we are drawing close. Come morning, I think we may want to seriously consider Thranduil’s suggestion. Elladan may be able to better sense how close we are. We should confer with him."
"I doubt that he will know any better than you."
"Perhaps not, but I would feel better obtaining his opinion before deciding upon anything."
"As would I," Elrohir readily agreed. "Careful here. The branch is weak."
"Like ourselves," Aragorn murmured, moving cautiously and stepping only where Elrohir indicated he should step. "We are weak for we are not united. This must change."
"I am open to suggestions."
"As am I."
Elrohir sighed and shook his head. "Then I counsel that we speak no more of this until dawn. For we are both at a loss, and the night weighs heavily upon our spirits. Perhaps the sun shall see a change for the better."
"Or perhaps it shall only see more individuals with more questions," Aragorn muttered ominously. "But I will heed your words. Come. The night wears on, and I would seek the trail again."
Author’s Notes: Hey again! Here am I, back to answer a few questions that have cropped up. But before I do, thank you for all the reviews! I really can’t say that enough. You guys are the ones who keep me going, and I love all the comments, suggestions, and thoughts you bring up. Thank you so very much!
Next up, here are the latest in what seems to have become a mad rush to name the Mouth of Sauron. I had no idea what I was getting into when I idly wondered what his name might be, but the suggestions are hilarious! Jocelyn has actually met the Mouth of Sauron. His name is Tony Porter and he runs a restaurant in Gainesville. Jocelyn has given us permission to call him Mouthy, though. But Mari disagrees, claiming that a better name for him is Clarence. That one gives me shivers, though. Not because of its fearsome connotations, mind you, but because I now have this horrible mental image of the angel Clarence from "It’s a Wonderful Life" dressed up in this black shroud as the Mouth of Sauron. And lastly, on a less terrifying note, JastaElf thinks that Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light, from Dilbert is an excellent name for Mr. Mouth. (Personally, I’m still holding out for Patches…)
And now, question time.
No, I do not plan on doing a romance between Legolas and anyone. I tend to laugh uproariously at romances and mock them ceaselessly, so I don’t think I could write one and take myself seriously afterwards. Not that I take myself seriously anyway, but…you get the idea. Right, so no romances in the foreseeable future. And apologies to all the romance lovers. Sorry, but I’m far too cynical a person to get romantic. But if you are in the mood for a good Legolas romance, I’d recommend Nebride’s series. One of the few romances I can read and enjoy.
The origins for all the Black Númenórean stuff are something of a mix, actually, both in this story and in the story Land of Light and Shadows (apologies for a shameless plug). Some of it is coming out of my own head, some of it is coming out of the Silmarillion. If you want to know about a specific thing, ask and I’ll track down the source.
Yes, Littlefish, I felt your wrath. It was freaky. :)
Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn, I’m working off of several legends that the professor himself wrote and adapted through the course of his life. I’ve tried to make the back history of Galadriel and Celeborn as vague as possible in order to support all the theories, but it’s not always possible. So if there are some discrepancies with my story and your own beliefs regarding this couple, my apologies. I’m just trying to hit a broad range of theories.
Finally, the point has been brought up that Elladan and Elrohir should not bear the title Half-Elven because their mother was a full elf, making them Three-Fourths elven. I fear that I must respectfully disagree with this claim. If you go with this interpretation and then trace history, you’ll find that the children of Elrond are actually Thirteen-Sixteenths Elves.
Don’t believe me? Watch.
Elrond is the son of Eärendil who is the son of Tuor (man) and Idril (elf). Thus, Eärendil is a Half-Elf. Then Eärendil marries Elwing. Elwing is the daughter of Dior Elúchil who is the son of Beren (man) and Lúthien (elf). So Dior Elúchil (not to be confused with Dior the ninth ruling steward of Gondor) is a Half-Elf who then marries Nimloth (elf), making his daughter Elwing a Three-Fourths Elf. Then Elwing the Three-Fourths Elf gets together with Eärendil the Half-Elf and produces Elrond (and Elros) who is consequently a Five-Eighths Elf. To finish the genealogy, Elrond then married Celebrían (elf) and out came Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen. And with a Five-Eighths Elf parent coupled with a full elf parent, the children are…(cue drum roll)…Thirteen-Sixteenths Elves.
Confused? Don’t worry about it. You can actually forget the entire preceding paragraph, because it really all comes down to what it means to be Half-Elven. The Half-Elven title doesn’t refer to lineage proportions but rather to the fact that Elrond and all his children have the choice to either become mortal or immortal. They’re caught halfway between two worlds, so Half-Elven. Why not Half-Man? I’m not as certain on this one, but I think that it’s because elf is the default. Until Elrond and company make their choice, they might as well be elven, so it makes more sense to refer to them by that.
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.