21. Methods of Madness
Gimli couldn’t quite decide how he felt. A part of him was fuming, a part of him was wallowing in guilt, a part of him was clamoring for vengeance, a part of him was grieving mightily, a part of him was trying desperately to shove down fear, and a part of him was completely exhausted. The dwarf scowled as he attempted to sort through these various feelings and wondered if there was a word to describe what was happening to him. Madness, he sighed at length. At least, that is what Legolas would suggest were he here to do so. And that might well be the case.
Leaning against a tree and studying the messy grime of Orc blood upon his axe, Gimli wondered what the next move would be. The encounter with the enemy’s scouting party was exactly the sort of thing that Thranduil had warned them about, and if that elf was anything like his son, then the king of Mirkwood would soon be a far more interesting mix of emotions than the dwarf was. And possibly very dangerous, as well. No one among the searchers was thinking very clearly, but Thranduil seemed to be more distracted than most. The Celeborn’s subtle hints to Elladan had triggered something in Thranduil, and he had been moody and withdrawn ever since morning. His fear for his son was making him anxious and irritable, and the fact that his counsel about the Orcs had been proven correct was not going to help matters.
But even more than that, Gimli feared the words that Thranduil had spoken in relation to the prisoners and the proximity of the searchers. If the king of Mirkwood was right, then Legolas and Merry were now in even greater peril. The recent battle had informed the enemy that the forces from Rivendell were closing, and the dwarf feared what that might mean. He was well aware of the hatred that Orcs bore for elves, he knew Legolas would be experiencing the brunt of this hatred, he knew that some of this was undoubtedly spilling over onto Merry, and he knew that haste and fear in an enemy made him careless. Even if Legolas and Merry were desired alive, they might not stay alive if the author of the darkness was driven to reckless acts, and this was the source of a fear so great that Gimli was certain he would lose what little sense remained to him if it continued.
Adding to his problem was a growing guilt complex stemming from Rúmil’s death. There was nothing more he could have done to save the elf, and in his mind, Gimli knew that. But his heart, already torn because of his failure to save Legolas from the initial Orc attack, was not willing to believe his head. Twice now he had sought to aid elves as they battled Orcs, and twice now his efforts had come to naught. Rúmil was dead and Legolas…who knew where Legolas was.
Tipping his head back against the trunk of the tree upon which he leaned, the dwarf closed his eyes and shuddered. Six years ago, if someone had told Gimli that he would be mourning the absence of King Thranduil’s youngest son to the point of despair and also working with the king himself to find that son, Gimli would have laughed him to scorn. Yet now he found himself teetering on the edge of reason and sanity for the sake of an elf while at the same time compromising dwarven honor in order to humor the king of Mirkwood. It was an improbable set of circumstances, but Gimli no longer cared about the audacity of it all. At the moment, he only cared about one thing, and that was seeing Legolas safe and whole once more. Even his need for vengeance was dying away in the face of this desire, and so great was his fear for his friend that killing the Orcs who had taken Legolas no longer gave him any satisfaction.
By all the Valar, Legolas, if I do not find you alive, I shall storm the Halls of Mandos myself to retrieve you! Great Mahal, what is the point of your cursed immortality if you leave me? I have not suffered through your friendship for five years only to lose you now!
Startled out of his thoughts, the dwarf opened his eyes and looked around, quickly spying two hobbits jogging toward him with Elladan following from a slight distance. Berating himself for not watching his surroundings, Gimli attempted to order his thoughts and assume a casual expression. Of course, assuming anything casual at the moment was something of a challenge for the dwarf. Concern—or perhaps the better term would be bald-faced terror—for Legolas he could hide easily enough, but feelings over Rúmil’s death… For some reason, Rúmil’s death had shaken him badly. Worse, in fact, than he had ever been shaken before. Why that was, he truly could not say. It was not the first time that he had seen warriors fall in battle. It was not even the first time that he had seen elves fall in battle. Perhaps it was the way that Rúmil had looked at him. Perhaps it was even the fact that Rúmil had tried to absolve him of all guilt. Or perhaps it was because Rúmil had called him elvellon before the end. It might have been the look of naked horror upon Haldir’s face as he cradled his dying brother. It might have been the outraged shock and anger in Orophin’s innocent eyes. It might have been the reminder that even elves could die. Whatever it was, though, it had done something to Gimli. And he had yet to come to grips with it.
Turning his attention back to the hobbits—who had arrived sometime during Gimli’s musings—the dwarf eyed them both critically and frowned as Sam began to gingerly rub the back of his head. "Are you hale, Master Gamgee?" he asked gruffly, hoping to divert attention from himself by turning the conversation upon others. It was a trick he had learned from Legolas, and remembering this, Gimli felt his heart sink further into its despairing wallow.
Apparently caught off guard by the question, Sam blinked and then smiled sheepishly. "It’s nothing serious. Just a slight knock. And if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if we kept this to ourselves. No need for Rosie to know, if you follow me."
Gimli flicked his gaze toward Pippin, looking for confirmation, and the Took nodded quietly. Satisfied that Sam was not underplaying his injury, the dwarf turned his eyes back to the gardener and grunted slightly. "You must learn to take better care of yourself, then," he said, trying to sound stern. "These Orcs are not to be trifled with."
"We noticed," Pippin muttered as Elladan joined them. He seemed about to say more but was interrupted by a quiet whisper of air behind Gimli. Recognizing this subtle displacement in the atmosphere as an elf dropping silently from the trees, the dwarf sighed, braced himself, and turned to face the blazing eyes of the king of Mirkwood.
"I warned you against this," Thranduil hissed, his eyes sweeping across hobbits and dwarf before settling upon Elladan with a scathing glare. "You may have doomed those we seek. We should have left the trail. We should not have pressed onward in this fashion."
"It is too late to mourn what has happened," Elladan said, his voice weary. "And I accept responsibility, yet I will not accept that we are without hope, as you seem to believe. We must now take counsel upon what is to be done next. The wounded and dead must—"
"I have handled that matter," the king interrupted coldly. "The wounded and dead have already left for Rivendell with ample guard. Those able will return with Elrohir this evening, bringing supplies with them."
"Ah." Elladan seemed slightly surprised by this, and Gimli frowned, wondering just how tired Elrond’s son was. "Then I suppose we must decide upon our next course of action."
"The next course of action is clear," Thranduil said, a tone of exasperation becoming evident in his voice. "We move the company away from this area. We leave the trail and begin a broad-based search pattern for the enemy’s base."
"But we are too few in number for that," Elladan protested. "This darkness has dampened our senses, and should we come upon other parties of Orcs, we would be unprepared to deal with them."
"Then I challenge you to propose a course of action that will not lead to our deaths as well as the death of my son," Thranduil snapped.
There was a tense pause, and then to the surprise and shock of all, Elladan turned to Gimli. "Master Dwarf, you are knowledgeable in stone. Are caves possible in this area? And if they are, in which direction are they most likely to lie?"
Up until this point, Gimli had been content to watch and listen. He had never expected inclusion—especially with Thranduil involved in the conversation—and as a result, it took him a moment to find his bearings ere he could answer the question. "Caves in this area are unlikely," he said at length, tapping his foot against the ground that still lay hidden by darkness. "I cannot be certain, but I believe the soil to be too soft. This is a rich, organic area. We must find a rockier region in order to find caves."
"Immediately to our south is such an area," Elladan said, his eyes turning that direction.
"It should be an area with diminishing vegetation," Gimli added. "Poor soil will be an indication. Or we should look for a sudden rise in the ground that might expose the bedrock beneath. Such an area would also yield caves."
"This area to the south matches your description perfectly," Elladan said.
"What makes you think these Orcs and such are in caves?" Pippin asked curiously.
"Because that is what I saw in the darkness," Elladan murmured. "I saw the opening of a cave."
Gimli frowned and studied Elladan. Perhaps the son of Elrond had spent too much time sifting through shadows. He was beginning to look rather dazed, and Gimli remembered that Elladan had looked much the same as this the previous day when he had collapsed.
"I suggest you return to the trees, young one," Thranduil suddenly said, apparently coming to the same conclusion as Gimli. "I will give orders that shall take us away from the trail and so away from further attacks by Orcs. We cannot linger here. And we shall hold together for them moment as I sense that there is a need for recovery ere we begin searching. Go now, Elladan. We will debate the method of search in an hour. That shall be soon enough. Until then, rest."
Elladan opened his mouth as though to protest, but he closed it again in the face of a dark glare from Thranduil. A tense silence fell over the small group, and then, much to Gimli’s surprise, Elladan nodded wearily and moved away. Without offering a rebuttal or an argument, Elrond’s son swiftly climbed into the leafy canopy and vanished from sight. It was one of the most unusual things that Gimli had ever seen. The dwarf knew of no elf who enjoyed being coddled, and the proud sons of Elrond were certainly no exception to this. He is even wearier than I thought, the dwarf mused. I doubt that he will be up to debating Thranduil even given an hour’s reprieve!
"If you wish it, young hobbits, some of my archers have offered to take you into the trees as well so that you may rest without fear of this unnatural darkness," Thranduil continued, further adding to Gimli’s surprise. "And I strongly recommend that you accept the offer, for this dark sorcery is not to be trusted."
"But what about Gimli?" Sam asked. "I don’t fancy the idea of him being the only one on the ground right now. I know Legolas wouldn’t agree to it."
"Hush," Gimli whispered, studying Thranduil closely and reading unspoken clues in the elven king that reminded the dwarf very much of a few silent conversations that had taken place between himself and the king’s youngest son. He didn’t know if he was interpreting the signs correctly, but it felt as though Thranduil was looking for privacy so that he might speak. "Move into the trees," Gimli continued, turning to Merry and Pippin but watching Legolas’s father out of the corner of his eye. "King Thranduil is right. This darkness is no place for hobbits."
"Is it any place for a dwarf?" Pippin countered.
"I shall remain upon the ground with him for a time, if it eases you," Thranduil said, a very strange note entering his voice. "And I shall instruct archers to shadow his feet so that he is not without protection should the Orcs come again. And now I bid you go, for you are undoubtedly weary. Tonight shall not be a night for sleeping, and there will be no time for rest." Saying this, Thranduil made a slight motion with his hand, and two archers dropped out of the trees, landing behind the hobbits.
"Go," Gimli urged, still watching Thranduil. "Go or I may consider telling Rosie what has happened to Sam."
Sam paled visibly at the threat, but Pippin remained unconvinced and shook his head. "I don’t think that—"
"My words were not a suggestion, Peregrin Took," Thranduil interrupted imperiously, his eyes going dark. "You will leave us."
Silence reigned supreme for what seemed to be an interminable amount of time, and then Pippin nodded reluctantly, his eyes darting between dwarf and king. "If you want company, Gimli, we’ll be close," the hobbit promised, moving slowly toward the elven archers, who looked more than ready to leave the inky shadows upon the ground and return to the sanctuary of the trees.
"I shall remember," Gimli answered, mentally thanking Pippin for both the words and the intent. He watched the hobbits as they scrambled onto the backs of the archers and then disappeared as the elves hurriedly left the ground for safer areas. And now things shall become interesting, the dwarf thought, turning back to Thranduil.
The king was leveling a rather piercing look at Gimli, so Gimli met his eyes with a dwarven stare that Legolas had once dubbed the closest thing to an elven glare that Gimli would ever manage. It gave the dwarf great satisfaction to see a tiny ripple of surprise flicker across Thranduil’s face. It seemed he had not expected Gimli to be able to endure his gaze. As if answering a challenge, Thranduil stepped up the intensity of his stare, and Gimli had to stop himself from involuntarily turning away. Legolas had a few very formidable looks of his own, but they were as nothing compared to what his father was currently doing. Apparently, a few extra thousand years could do wonders for perfecting an elven glare.
Eventually, much to the chagrin of the dwarf, the staring contest became too much, and Gimli began to speak, if for no other reason than to get Thranduil to stop looking at him. "We are now alone, king of Mirkwood, and I feel that such was your intention," the dwarf said, mentally sighing in relief as Thranduil’s gaze lessened slightly. "You have words you would say to me, perhaps?"
"I have words, but they are not my own," the elf answered stiffly in a manner that reminded Gimli very much of Legolas in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation. The two of you are more alike than you know, the dwarf decided, curious as to what other traits Legolas had inherited from his father.
"Speak, then, sire," Gimli said aloud, keeping his eyes locked on Thranduil’s eyes despite the fact that the elf’s stare was still far too intense for the dwarf’s comfort.
"As you know, Lord Celeborn remains in Rivendell, and so the Galadhrim who travel with us in the forest have done so under my command," Thranduil began. "I bear a measure of responsibility for their deaths even though I counseled against this course of action."
Gimli nodded slowly, wondering exactly where this conversation was headed. Nothing that had been said so far needed to have been said in private, and the dwarf was thoroughly confused. An odd look was growing in Thranduil’s eyes that Gimli could not quite understand. Had he seen this particular look on Legolas’s face, he would have identified it as the Second-Round-Of-Drinks Look. During their stay in Minas Tirith following Aragorn’s wedding, Gimli and Legolas had created a game that involved the telling of unbelievable tales from dwarven and elven creation myths. The stories were always told while drinking, and Gimli would always go first. He would weave a tale so far-fetched and so inconceivable that Legolas would be shaking his head over his wine in disbelief by its end. And then, Gimli would reveal the one or two bits of evidence still remaining that proved the tale’s validity. After that, the second round of drinks would begin, and Legolas would always have upon his face a look that combined skepticism, doubt, frustration, and confusion as he was forced to reevaluate the dwarf’s tale based on the proof that had just been given. It was one of Legolas’s more interesting expressions, and for this reason, it had earned its own name. But why should Thranduil be wearing this expression? the dwarf wondered, watching the elf closely.
"In addition to being responsible for the deaths of the Galadhrim, I am also responsible for the lives of those who fought for them," the king continued, the strange look in his eyes growing even stronger. "And so it is my duty, though I may not agree with it outright, to commend you for your actions in defending Rúmil. Though he could not be saved in the end, you fought bravely."
This last part of Thranduil’s speech had come out in a rush, as if saying it faster would somehow make it easier. Gimli, though, barely noticed the change in pace for he was frozen in shock. Never in his strangest, most bizarre dreams had he envisioned hearing a civil word from Thranduil. But here was the king of Mirkwood actually praising him. Well, praise was probably not the right term, but the king certainly wasn’t blaming him for Rúmil’s death, which was something that Gimli was doing to himself.
"I…I thank you for your words, sire," the dwarf said at length, stumbling over his speech. Despite his friendship with Legolas, he had never been overly fond of Legolas’s father. Glóin had painted the king of Mirkwood in terms that were less than glowing, and Gimli had never been able to move past that completely. Yet now… He shook his head and grimaced. "Your acknowledgement means much to me."
Thranduil inclined his head slightly, but his eyes never left the dwarf’s face. "I was among the archers who sought to buy you time," he said quietly. His voice was not exactly compassionate, but it had lost some of its hardness. "You did all that could be done. It is doubtful that another elf could have saved him."
Gimli wondered if it was possible to die of shock. If so, then he was about to bid a fond farewell to Arda. "King Thranduil, I—"
"Do not blame yourself, child of Aulë," Thranduil finished, reading the dwarf as easily as Legolas might have. "Guilt will only serve as a distraction. Hold tight to your axe instead. We shall find you other foes to rend." And having said this, Thranduil turned away and leaped up into the trees, quickly vanishing from sight and leaving a very dumbfounded Gimli alone with his thoughts.
* * * *
The journey back to Rivendell was becoming, without a doubt, the longest journey Orophin had ever made.
Weaving through interlacing tree branches, he clutched a heavy burden to his chest and tried to avoid looking down. But despite his resolve, his eyes were continually drawn to the pale countenance of his dead brother. And every time he caught sight of the still, motionless face… Orophin moaned quietly, and all the years of his long life began to flash before his eyes. And in almost every frame, he found Rúmil’s face. It was a face that had crinkled in laughter and scowled in frustration. It was a face that had creased with worry and softened with mirth. It was a face that had trembled if pained and hardened if angered. It was a face that Orophin knew better than his own, and he had seen it under almost every condition imaginable. Almost every condition imaginable except one…
"Ai, Valar," Orophin murmured, staring at Rúmil’s shuttered eyes. "Why, Rúmil? Why did this happen to you? Gladly would I give my place in this world so that you might return."
Orophin shook his head, fighting desperately to hold back the tears that flooded his eyes. They would only blur his vision and make travel difficult. He had to be strong. He had to be practical. He had to put his feelings to one side. He had to look to his duty first and his emotions second. I must be all the things that I am not, Orophin wailed silently. I must be what you were, Rúmil. I must become you, else I shall go mad!
Choking back a sob, Orophin tried once more to keep his eyes forward and to set aside, for the moment, the feelings in his heart that were clamoring for release. But the more he tried to silence the grief, the louder it became. He barely remembered his father, who died on a scouting mission to Dol Guldur. His two brothers had taken it upon themselves to raise him and teach him everything that their father had not been able to impart. When he had completed his training as a warrior, he had joined Haldir and Rúmil upon the western borders of Lórien. They had been an almost invincible force against raids from the mountains. During the War of the Ring when Dol Guldur once again assailed Lothlórien, Orophin had fought side by side with Haldir and Rúmil, looking to topple the fortress that had taken their father’s life. In the year that followed victory, Orophin had somehow convinced Rúmil to learn the Westron tongue with him. Haldir had been their teacher, and as with all things they did together, the experience brought the brothers closer. But now…
"I am sorry, Rúmil," Orophin hissed, squeezing his eyes shut and coming to a stop. "It should have been me. As the youngest, I should have been sent on the errand to warn the scouts. It should have been me!"
Bowing his head, Orophin began to shake. He struggled to contain the tears that once more threatened to spill over his face. He hadn’t even had the chance to bid his brother farewell. He doubted that Rúmil had been able to see his face by the time he reached his brother’s side. He’d died without knowing that Orophin had come in the end. Too late. Delayed. Preoccupied. Caught up in his own mind, just like Rúmil had always warned him.
But what is time to elves?
More than you might believe, but there are few enough left who understand that.
It had been one of the last things Rúmil had said, and only now did Orophin realize what it meant. There had not been enough time. There could never be enough time. Despite the casual attitude of the Eldar toward the passing of seasons, seasons did pass. And though the elves might remain unchanged for the most part, the world around them went through many different phases and many different stages. And there was never enough time to experience them all. The world moved too quickly for that. While Orophin and Haldir had been guarding the retreat of other elves, Rúmil had been dying at the hands of the Orcs. Both situations were now gone, lost to the past. There had not been enough time to live them both. And by choice, Orophin had missed his chance to wish his brother well.
Attempting to swallow the growing lump in his throat, the youngest of the three brothers looked down at the still figure in his arms, and one lonely tear slipped onto his cheek. Rúmil had been right in a way that Orophin could have never anticipated. Time was fleeting. Fate did not always reveal itself until time was gone, and then it was too late. Time held no more place for Rúmil.
Orophin’s single tear reached his chin, and there it dangled as an autumn leaf that refuses to fall. But as winter eventually claims the most stubborn of leaves, this tear fell, tumbling down a short distance to splatter upon Rúmil’s face. And as the water in the tear broke apart upon impact, Orophin felt his own heart burst. In spite of himself, he gave a soft moan and shuddered, shaking his heavy burden.
Almost immediately, he felt someone’s arm slide around his shoulders, and then his head was pulled over to rest against a firm chest. "Peace, my brother," a soft voice whispered. "Peace. I shall carry him for a while."
Orophin started to shake his head, intending to explain that he wished to continue carrying Rúmil, but before he even realized what was happening, Rúmil had been taken from his arms and he was left standing along, bereft of an anchor to reality.
"Come," Haldir said quietly, his gray eyes boring into the eyes of his younger brother. "The others are drawing ahead. We must not fall further behind." Haldir made as though to move, but it was as if he had never spoken. "Orophin?" Haldir tried again. "Orophin, come! We must take Rúmil to Rivendell. There we may tend to his body. Orophin, are you listening? Orophin?"
Orophin made no response, his eyes still fixed upon the face of his dead brother. Lying there in Haldir’s arms, Rúmil looked so peaceful. So strangely peaceful. It was an odd expression for Rúmil as he had rarely looked peaceful. There had never been much peace in his life. Was death so much better that only now did he seem to rest? And how was it that he could look so peaceful when he was the cause of so much grief? How—
Haldir’s voice, frustrated and worried at the same time, seemed to break through Orophin’s thoughts, and the young elf looked up, his eyes lost and pleading. "Why?" he asked. It was the only question that could make it past the knot in his throat, and it was the only question he could not answer himself. "Why?" Orophin repeated brokenly.
With a sigh, Haldir bowed his head and turned away, "I do not know," he said at length. "There are many things that I do not know."
"I should have been there," Orophin whispered.
Haldir shook his head and turned back to his brother. "Nay. You could have done nothing to aid him. You would have shared his fate."
"I heard him cry out," Orophin murmured, seeming not to listen. "I should have gone then."
"We could not go," Haldir said firmly. "Our position was vital. Had we left, then those we protected would surely have fallen. You know that as well as I do. We had our duties. We could not abandon them. Orophin, do not blame yourself. If you must place blame, place it upon the dwarf."
Orophin blinked, not quite certain the he had heard correctly. "The dwarf? He did more for…for Rúmil than did we. He is not to blame."
"The dwarves are ever the bane of the elves," Haldir hissed, a strange light coming into his eyes. "Were it not for them, then—"
"Haldir!" Orophin interrupted. "Haldir, Gimli tried to save him. You heard what the archers from Mirkwood told us. He was trying to lead him away from the Orcs. He killed many of them when they would have—"
"And for what? For naught!"
Orophin frowned, his grief temporarily replaced by confusion and anger. "Gimli did all he could. Had I been there and failed, would you now be blaming me?"
"It is different," Haldir said sharply. "You cannot understand. You are too young."
At this statement, something deep within Orophin broke. All his life, he had endured the gentle teasing of his brothers as they called him young and inexperienced. They looked upon his curiosity and his obsessions with amused indulgence, never quite knowing what to make of him. But now, with one of those brothers gone and the other looking to fall upon prejudice as a crutch, the famous restraint of patient, tolerant Orophin shattered like breaking crystal.
His eyes filling with rage, Orophin drew himself up to his full height and advanced on Haldir. "Listen well, brother," he hissed. "I am young according to our kind, and I still have much to learn. But this I know and understand: Rúmil died by the hands of the Orcs. His life was prolonged by the hand of a dwarf. We owe Gimli our gratitude for facing Rúmil’s enemies alone when we could not come to his side. You and the other elves cling to ideas and hatreds long gone. There is no room for them now. How dare you call me young and tell me I do not understand when your own mind is so clouded by darkness that you can no longer see?! You are a fool, Haldir. A fool!"
It was Haldir’s turn to grow angry, and the returning glare almost caused Orophin to back away. "Now I see where the true folly lies," Haldir said angrily, his voice beginning to rise. "You have been tainted by these mortals. Everyone has been tainted. Valar, am I the only one who sees clearly?! I wonder now if you did not play a hand in Rúmil’s death. Perhaps because of you he trusted a mortal when he should not have!"
"And where were you when Rúmil was attacked?" Orophin cried, a fiery rage threatening to destroy his tattered sanity. "You say he left you to look for other scouts, but why did you not accompany him? Was it your own cowardice that killed our brother? Are you the reason he is no longer with us?"
Haldir looked as though he had just been stabbed in the gut by a Morgul blade. His face paled until it matched the pallor of Rúmil’s face, and he began to shake. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but no sound came forth.
Watching all this and feeling his sudden anger drain away, Orophin felt as though he was going to be violently ill. What had he said? Rúmil lay dead in Haldir’s arms, and he accused Haldir of being the cause of that death! Yes, he had been angry, but that was no excuse. "Haldir, I—"
"Silence," Haldir hissed, his countenance twisting itself into a combination of rage and guilt. "Speak no more words to me."
Orophin shook his head, sorrow and shame rising like swells of agony within his chest. "I did not—"
"Silence!" Haldir roared, turning away. "I would be alone." And suiting action to word, the older elf fled, recklessly finding his own path in the branches and quickly disappearing from Orophin’s view.
"Valar," Orophin murmured, dropping to one knee and catching his face in his hands. "Why? Why?!"
It was the question he had asked of Haldir, and now he asked it of the world, though the query had taken on greater meaning and a broader scope. But the world gave him no answers and kept its silence. And it was into silence that Orophin fell, trembling grievously as he struggled to master the emotions that were tearing through his young soul. In the end, it was too much. Collapsing against the broad trunk of a tree, Orophin finally released his tears, pouring his grief into the living wood and sobbing until his chest ached.
And still, the world was quiet.
Orophin was alone.
* * * *
His world was one of madness. He existed in a sea of darkness, devoid of all substance save for the cries of a tortured soul that had given up hope of deliverance. But though he tumbled through a shapeless void, empty and alone, his senses were screaming with input. Voices, light, heat, cold, comfort, pain, darkness…he knew them all. His ears rang. His eyes ached. His skin felt as though it was crawling with fire.
Legolas no longer knew where he was. He no longer knew what he was. He had lost his understanding of time and being. His memory had been reduced to a confounding jumble of pictures that merged together to create a deafening menagerie of color and sound. All sense and reason had been annihilated by the chaos that defined and mutilated his world. And so he cowered in a pitiful ball of terror, something that should never have happened to a prince of Mirkwood, a descendent of Oropher, yet his pride, also, was lost to him. All he knew was fear.
And rising above all this anarchic turmoil was a wave of shadow that threatened to drown and crush any resistance left to the elf. Somewhere in that cloak of night was a voice, like and yet unlike the ghosts that screamed in Legolas’s sensitive ears. It was this voice that inspired most of the fear and most of the confusion. It said things that made no sense, but since nothing made sense anyway, Legolas was compelled to believe. The darkness had rooted itself too firmly in his soul for him to ignore the voice, and so the words that it spoke twisted themselves into the elf’s mind, driving out almost all thoughts of rebellion.
But a tiny spark did remain. A defiant flame, hidden within the ashes of coals long dead, still burned. It was a flickering light that cowered beneath the onslaught of darkness, but it refused to go out. In Legolas’s world, this flame was his only constant, and to it he fled, hoping against hope that perhaps it might become his salvation. As the devolution of his mind and spirit progressed, he cupped this flame and held it close, savoring its searing touch as though it were a cool and soothing ointment. It flickered pitifully in his grasp, threatening to die at any moment, but it was the elf’s best hope. In truth, it was his only hope.
The omnipresent darkness looming above seemed to sense this tiny flame of resistance, and it descended upon the elf so quickly that he lost hold of his fire. Driven back into the void of chaos, Legolas found himself screaming, though why he was screaming he could not truly say. There were no longer any answers to the questions he might ask, and there were no longer any questions that made sense. But still the elf screamed and still the elf fought, unwilling to give in though he no longer knew why he struggled. And apparently sensing his refusal to surrender, the darkness abruptly shifted. Legolas found himself falling…
His descent was arrested by a sudden jolt, and with some amazement, Legolas discovered that he was conscious. He could still hear voices, he still feel darkness, and he could still sense chaos, but he was conscious. And at this realization, the tiny flicker of resistance flared brightly, sensing an opportunity for escape. Even if escape was not a possibility, perhaps something in reality would give Legolas the anchor he needed to better defy the shadows that sought his soul.
Summoning all the energy that had not been spent in the brutal fight against the darkness, Legolas somehow managed to open his eyes. He closed them again quickly, though, for his mind was not quite up to processing the things that he saw. Visual input was too overwhelming at this point in time. Struggling against a pounding headache, Legolas tried to work from details not obtained through sight so as to give his mental faculties an edge when he opened his eyes again. This conscious act of starting small and proceeding to larger things should have been viewed with great triumph, for it was one of Legolas’s first coherent thoughts in a very long time. But as before, the elf’s mind was not capable of recognizing this. And so the triumph went unnoticed, and the darkness scored yet another victory.
Ignorant of the fact that he was losing the battle for sanity with every moment in which he did not act, Legolas lay completely still and allowed his senses to sweep into his surroundings. His eyes remained closed, but he didn’t need sight to tell him where he was. He discovered that almost immediately. The cold, gritty stone beneath his stomach and the smell of sweat and blood gave it away. He was back in the cell. Again, he moaned. And judging from the labored breathing to his right, he was not alone. Merry was also with him.
Now having a mental picture of his surroundings, Legolas once again tried to open his eyes. Knowing what to expect, the elf’s mind was better able to process what he saw, and so this attempt at sight was far more successful than his first. Beyond that, his mental cobwebs seemed to be vanishing, and his thought processes were speeding up, making sensory analysis easier. Unfortunately, this improvement in the elf’s mind was not matched by an improvement in his surroundings. And with a gasp of dismay and rage, Legolas looked up to see that the cell door was once again open.
The mental torture could not have been more agonizing for the elf. The open door was a cruel, painful sight, for Legolas knew that he could not rise and leave. Though he bore no physical restraints and though the way to freedom was unrestricted, he could not leave. The darkness trapped him as surely as any chains and manacles could have held him. He could not will himself to move. He could not leave the cell. Escape beckoned him, and Legolas was powerless to answer its call.
With a strangled cry of anguish that quickly became a sobbing whimper of despair, Legolas turned his head away from the cell door, hoping to distance himself from the situation. But he looked in exactly the wrong direction, and the elf’s breath caught as his eyes suddenly focused on Merry.
The hobbit was shaking violently, his arms wrapped tightly around his gut. His eyes were open but vacant, and a trail of saliva dribbled out of his mouth as he shuddered and moaned. Much to his dismay, Legolas found himself trying to back away in horror. He lacked the energy for such movements, but that didn’t stop his frantic need to put space between himself and Merry. He was ashamed of this desire and even more ashamed that he could not seem to suppress it even after it was acknowledged. But try as he might, Legolas could not stop the feelings of revulsion that rose within him at the sight of the hobbit. He knew not if these sensations were his own or a product of the darkness, but they were very real to Legolas and at the moment, that was all that mattered. He longed to close his eyes and fall back into the void from which he had escaped, but he couldn’t tear his gaze away from the hobbit. And so he watched in growing horror and dismay as Merry’s condition began to deteriorate even further.
"Merry?" Legolas eventually gasped, his throat raw as though he had been screaming. Perhaps if he could speak with the hobbit, he could control his reactions. "Merry?"
The hobbit made no answer. He was completely oblivious to his surroundings. No hint of recognition or acknowledgment entered his empty eyes. A moan would escape him from time to time, and as he moaned his arms would press hard against his abdomen as though his stomach pained him greatly. But other than this, Merry showed no indication that he was aware of himself or the outside world.
"Merry!" Legolas tried again as desperation started to rise within the elf. Along with it came an increase in the voices as they urged his fears onward, screaming words of betrayal into the void of his mind. Shaking his head hard and ignoring the sudden headache, Legolas tried to turn his attention back to the convulsing hobbit beside him. "Meriadoc Brandybuck!"
The elf didn’t know if it was these words or another factor that he could not see, but something about Merry was suddenly different. The glazed look in his eyes seemed to spread across his contorted face, and as Legolas watched with unmasked horror, Merry’s body stiffened even as it continued to shake. His skull began to slap against the floor, and his arms tightened about his stomach. His periodic moans became a constant sound, interrupted only by the hitches in his breathing brought on by the seizure. The convulsions and shaking increased, becoming so violent that Legolas was certain Merry would tear himself apart. And then Merry froze, going completely still for one horrifying second before his head snapped back as a keening, despairing wail shot into the darkness.
Unable to endure anymore, Legolas turning sharply away and squeezed his eyes shut. He tried to silence his ears and lock out the hobbit’s cry of agony that joined the cacophony already raging within his own mind, but no matter what he tried, Merry’s screams burned their way deep into his soul and his heart. Cold shadows followed closely on the heels of these screams, and shorn of any hope, something deep within the elf finally snapped.
The voices in the confusion cheered wildly as the broken shards of his mind flew far and wide, scattered by the dark wind that swept his soul. A soundless blast tore through his body, removing light and hope as it rent asunder the remainder of Legolas’s being. Pain and light flashed as lightning upon the plains of Rohan during the height of summer, and then everything went dark.
The world fell into silence.
Author’s Notes: Well, I hope we’ve all learned a valuable lesson. I know I did. Never underestimate Thranduil. ;) Don’t overestimate him, either, though. He’s still got that fiery spark that makes the Sindar so endearing. And you’ll all note that I finally got back to Legolas and Merry. Hopefully you’re satisfied now. ;)
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.