25. Delving into Darkness
It was done.
Loosing a sigh of immeasurable weariness, the shrouded figure known as the Mouth of Sauron knelt between his two prisoners. For better or for worse, he had finished his work with them. The results were far from perfect, but nothing more could be accomplished. Time was up. All that remained was to collect the scattered pieces of their minds and mold them into something that would be serviceable.
Turning his attention first to the prone elf, the man who was no longer quite a man ran his cold hand over the fair face, brushing aside fallen tendrils of hair and smoothing away the wrinkles that marred the furrowed brow. He felt the prisoner shudder beneath his touch but the elf did not pull away as he had the first few times, and at a soothing word from his oppressor, he relaxed slightly. And as he calmed, the Mouth of Sauron submerged himself in the world of the unseen and reached for the drifting strings of Legolas’s thoughts.
He found himself swallowed by a sea of confusion.
The elf’s mind was awash with anarchy. Coherency had been shattered in the face of overwhelming terror, and the pieces of sanity’s broken shards tore at the fabric of the elf’s soul. For a moment, the Mouth of Sauron feared that he had gone too far in pressing the elf. There seemed to be nothing left save for the chaos of madness. But as he continued to wade through the whirling panic that ruled his captive’s mind, he began to sense what might be an underlying order. Hope tugged at his tainted soul, and he pursed this possible discovery, making careful note of any patterns that arose in the frightened thoughts that buffeted him. And as he pressed harder, he felt a spark of defiant flame rear up to block his path. It was faint and scarce to be seen, but it was there.
The elf was not completely broken.
Relief swept the Mouth of Sauron, and a sickening smile tugged at the corners of his lips. Retreating quickly so as not to overwhelm this fragment of rebellion, he loosed a light wave of darkness, watching and waiting to see how the elf would react. And as he had hoped, the fire of defiance cowered into submission, almost vanishing as it buckled beneath the onslaught. Reassured that his work with Legolas had not been in vain, the Mouth of Sauron began building upon the remnants of the elf’s consciousness, constructing patterns of logic that linked directly to the faint echoes of rebellion. It was a rather primitive way of doing things, but it would have to serve. There was no time for more elaborate or enduring creations. But the Mouth of Sauron was confident that his mental handiwork would last long enough for Legolas to accomplish his mission. And the binding was tight enough that he should not deviate from his path.
The Halfling, on the other hand…
Withdrawing from the elf’s mind, the Mouth of Sauron paused a moment to gather his thoughts before turning to his other prisoner. The hobbit had expelled quite a bit of the black liquor that was customarily used to break elves. Some had certainly passed into his system, but without knowing how much, the Mouth of Sauron had no way of telling exactly how much influence he now held over Merry. Nor did he have any way to determine how long the influence would last.
If I could make an escape and assure the continuation of my own life, I would not fear this, the man who was not quite a man sighed grimly. But the elves press too close for that. Should I retreat, they would find me. Nay, I believe it unlikely that I will live past the morrow. But because of that, I cannot be completely certain of either prisoner. And this hobbit…he is unlike anything I have ever encountered. He has no mental defenses of his own. He cannot will me to depart from his mind, and yet I find myself repelled by an unknown force.
Had the Mouth of Sauron possessed the time, he would have thoroughly enjoyed examining this hobbit in far greater detail. The resistance Merry gave him was truly singular. Elves and dwarves were considered difficult victims to subdue, but this simple Halfling put to shame the greatest defenses that could be mustered by the children of Eru and Aulë. It was not a conscious defense, but it was strong, nonetheless. And simple. As he considered it, the Mouth of Sauron decided that it was the simplicity that most intrigued him. Elves accounted wise and powerful could create winding mazes within their minds that baffled and confused those seeking dominance. Hearty dwarves trained in such matters could call upon the strength of Arda to bolster natural mental defenses that were considerably strong to begin with. Even men of certain bloodlines—if properly instructed—could wage vicious mental battles, sometimes endangering the mind of the one seeking entry. But this hobbit…it was as though darkness washed over him without so much as a ripple to mark its passing. There were some effects, but they were small and led to unexpected developments. It was baffling and confounding at the same time that it greatly intrigued this man who was no longer quite a man. He wished to have more time with this hobbit so that he could explore the furthest reaches of his mind and discover the limits of Merry’s resistance.
But time was a luxury of the past, if indeed he had ever possessed it to begin with. Now he would have to trust the hand of fate and send his prisoners forth, no matter how unprepared. And when considering the hobbit, the concept of unprepared took on a completely new meaning. Still, there was nothing that could be done about that now, and so firmly establishing himself within his own mind, the Mouth of Sauron allowed his thoughts to seep into the dreams of the hobbit.
At first, he found nothing.
Startled, the Mouth of Sauron withdrew. The hobbit still lived, but his mind was vacant. Perhaps he had kept down much of the black liquor after all. And perhaps it had been enough to completely destroy his mind. The Mouth of Sauron had been quite unsure of himself when administering the draught. It had been created and mixed with the idea that elves would be the recipients. The elixir had been used once or twice on men, but never on dwarves or hobbits. Its effects on smaller beings were unknown, and the Mouth of Sauron feared that his gamble had failed miserably.
But Sauron’s former lieutenant was not easily dissuaded. The darkness of Barad-dûr had taught him that persistence was sometimes the only barrier between victory and painful death. He had set out to properly train this hobbit, and he intended to pursue that goal until it was clear that there was no hope of success. Once more entering the hobbit’s mind, he drifted deeper, slowly letting his own identity slip away as the world became darker and darker.
And then he found it.
It was as though he had opened up a mountain and discovered a teeming colony of goblins where all was still before. Far below the surface, the hobbit’s mind was very active and completely intact, but it was buried so deeply that signs of it did not exist on the conscious level. The Halfling had abandoned all ties to reality and now existed completely within himself. He had retreated from the outside world and was aware of nothing that went on around him. Raging emotions and memories occupied his mind, and on an even deeper level, an unforgiving instinct for self-preservation kept his body alive and forced him to draw each and every torturous breath.
Again retreating from the hobbit’s mind, the Mouth of Sauron paused to consider this unusual development. Fleeing reality was a common defense mechanism in men when they were pressed too hard and too long. The man who was not quite a man had tortured and abused countless numbers of prisoners, and he had seen this many times. But he usually saw it after weeks or even months of slow and grueling pain. He had not expected it from the hobbit, especially when large portions of Merry’s mind still seemed to be untouched by evil. And then there was the emotional turmoil to consider. A retreat from reality usually involved a retreat from memory as well. Something had frightened this hobbit to the point where he completely shut himself into his own mind, but he continued to relive the horror within himself.
Loyalty, the Mouth of Sauron remembered, his dark eyes closing as he traced the progress of suggestive influence that he’d used in working with the hobbit. At first, he’d hoped to convince Merry that abandoning Legolas was the best tactic. But when Merry would not depart even after the elf commanded him to flee, a new idea had taken hold. But it had required altering the hobbit’s perception of reality, and thus, the Mouth of Sauron had risked using the black elixir. It had worked, and within the hobbit’s mind, Sauron’s lieutenant had convinced Merry to murder the elf in the name of loyalty and friendship. But it seemed that this had pressed him too far. He was not broken, but he was beyond reach for the moment. And that would not do.
The Mouth of Sauron was weary. Had he still possessed the resources and power of Barad-dûr, he would have the strength necessary to call the hobbit back. But with his master’s fall, he was now forced to rely upon his own resources. And they were not adequate to both control an elven prince and to call a Halfling back into the void of his mind. The elf alone might have been manageable. But not the hobbit. And earlier, I had hoped to capture three hobbits, he thought bitterly. Now I learn I cannot even control one. By the strength of the Morannon, has the might of the Dark Lord fallen so low that even vengeance cannot be accomplished?!
Reaching the limits of his patience and feeling the icy edge of desperation cut through his heart, the man who was not quite a man placed his hands upon the hobbit’s face and sank into Merry’s mind. As before, he was forced to delve deeply before finding the Halfling’s thoughts, and as he sank further, his exhaustion began to overwhelm him. He had very little time in which to act, and he was still uncertain that he even could act. So much was unknown in this, but if now was not the time for risks and gambles, then such a time did not exist.
Stopping on the fringes of the hobbit’s mind, the Mouth of Sauron allowed tendrils of his own feelings to brush against Merry’s senses. He allowed the sensation of touch to tease the hobbit, telling him of the hard ground underneath and the damp chill in the air. And then he began to create other sensations, firmly implanting them in the hobbit’s mind and forcing his way into memories. The hobbit began to resist his meddling, but the Mouth of Sauron withdrew, stopping just far enough away that the hobbit was forced to follow him if he wanted to continue the fight. And Merry did follow, his legendary hobbit tenacity proving to be his doom. As before, the Mouth of Sauron began to give him impressions and memories, and as before, Merry resisted. But he did not resist the thoughts themselves. Rather, he struck back against the one that intruded, and this proved to be the saving point for the Mouth of Sauron. Had the hobbit resisted the ideas that he planted, all would have been lost. But the resistance was not focused enough for that, and so he continued to feed sensations and ideas to the hobbit, hoping desperately that they would carry over into the waking world. And then he retreated again as the hobbit drew too close, once more stopping when he was just out of reach.
They played this game for some time before the Mouth of Sauron withdrew completely, leaving Merry just short of consciousness. He did not want the hobbit to wake completely, especially when the elf lay beside him. The sight of Legolas might be real enough to destroy the implanted memories and desires. Rather, he would allow the rescuers to call the Halfling back from the shadows, for they would probably separate the two in an attempt to better deal with each on an individual basis.
And now the Mouth of Sauron was truly finished with his work. Nothing more could be done, and it was time to organize the Orcs. The elves drew close, and ere long, some of them would find one of the cave’s many entrances. They would delay their attack until dawn, using the light of the sun to weaken the Orcs, but that still did not leave much time for preparation. This was probably the last night that the Mouth of Sauron would ever see, and he intended to put it to good use.
The moon was silent overhead. The stars, also. The sounds of the earth were muffled by a blanket of darkness, and the trees spoke only in whispers as though fearful of being heard. Shadows held sway this night, and their power shrouded the forest in a cloud as thick as the vapors that crept down the slopes of Orodruin. If any nightly creatures lived in the woods, they were still as stone and silent as death. The darkness that cloaked the forest was an unnatural darkness, and wise beings shied away from it as fire might shy from rain.
But not all in this forest could be accounted wise beings. At least not this night. There were some that stalked the shadows with no care for their own safety. Or the safety of those who followed after them.
His irritation mounting at the constant calls, Orophin hissed quietly and shot a dark look over his shoulder. He could see very little in this black night, but other senses honed by many hunts upon Lothlórien’s western borders told him exactly where his brother was. Haldir’s pace was significantly slower than Orophin’s own, and the delay was beginning to chafe at him. He had not come all this way through darkness and torment only to be slowed now by a brother who refused the call to vengeance. And he could certainly not allow this brother to give away their position with constant noise.
Silence! Orophin felt like screaming the command, but he held his peace. Nevertheless, the desire for silence roared through his being as loud as thunder rolling through the hidden canyons of the Misty Mountains. It was silence that Haldir had demanded just before he took Rúmil away. It was silence that had found and comforted Orophin as he shook with grief. It was in silence that he had found his answers, and it was silence that would now help him take those answers and see them realized as triumphs. As vengeance. As accomplishments that would give Rúmil cause for pride in his younger brother.
In the midst of his twisting grief, Orophin had decided that Haldir had taken Rúmil from him for a reason. Orophin had not been strong enough to shoulder the burdens that Rúmil left behind. He was not strong enough to take the place of the lost marchwarden. It was true that he was an accomplished marchwarden in his own right, but he could never hold a candle to his brother’s accomplishments. He was unworthy to carry his brother’s body. And so Haldir had taken him away. It had been a lesson. A challenge. A test. And Orophin now intended to see that he passed the test with flying colors.
"Orophin, you must stop!"
He had to mirror Rúmil’s actions. Follow in his steps. Tread where he had trod. He had to now do what Rúmil would have done. Unable to deal with grief himself because he was weak, Orophin was dealing with it as Rúmil would have. The silence had spoken to him of his flaws and his failings. He had heard and understood, and then he had found an example. Rúmil would have been seeking for vengeance, and so Orophin now also sought vengeance. Rúmil would have made his peace with Haldir before requesting his assistance, and so Orophin had apologized and then asked his oldest brother to accompany him. But he was now beginning to regret that decision, for Haldir was proving to be weak. Weakness could not be tolerated. Not now. Not when they were so close. And they were very close. Orophin could feel it. They were nearing a large body of Orcs, and the presence of so many could only mean that they were close to the base. With this in mind, Orophin increased his pace even more. Rúmil would now act with boldness. Rúmil would not let any stand in his way. Even the shadows seemed to whisper that this was so.
"By the will of Ilúvatar, Orophin, halt!"
It was too much for Orophin. Rúmil would not have tolerated such delays. Rúmil would have confronted Haldir. Rúmil would have made clear the need for silence. His eyes blazing, Orophin stopped and turned, watching with unveiled disgust as his brother hurried to catch him. "It is a wonder that all the Orcs of Eriador do not know our position," he spat when the other elf drew near.
Something flickered across Haldir’s face, but in the darkness, Orophin could not interpret it. But that did not matter, for Rúmil would have ignored it. Rúmil focused on his objective. Rúmil did not cater to warriors who were too slow or too fickle to fulfill a mission. If Haldir was now feeling uncertain, he would have to be abandoned. This was no place for the cowardly and the weak. The shadows and the silence told him so.
"Orophin, this is madness," Haldir said, stopping several feet away from his brother. "Surely you see it!"
"Madness?" Orophin challenged, the fires of rage igniting in his heart. Normally a rather passive and patient individual, Orophin found these new emotions strange but also wondrously exhilarating. He could feel his mind and determination feeding off of the anger that grew in his soul, and as they became strong, he became powerful. None could oppose him. None could bar his way. He was Rúmil’s kin, and he would honor the memory of the deceased with a display of vengeance so great that none would ever doubt his devotion to his brother.
"Yes, madness!" Haldir answered, his words stoking Orophin’s rage. "We are but two elves. Yes, we are marchwardens, and yes, we have been trained by some of Lothlórien’s finest warriors. But we are still only two elves against a host of darkness that possesses abilities we do not understand! We must know more, and we must join with others against this."
"You speak only of delay, and you cloak your words in excuses and rationalizations," Orophin said coolly. "But I see now what I was too blind to see before. You are a coward, Haldir. You fear that without Rúmil you will falter. Allow me to tell you that you have already failed. But I will succeed. Rúmil will live on within me. I will not dishonor him."
Had Orophin been in his right mind, his talent for constant and extreme observation would have informed him that Haldir was only moments away from drawing his sword and lashing out. Of course, had Orophin been in his right mind, he would have never spoken so to his brother. But Orophin was well beyond the borders of sanity and so remained ignorant of his danger. In his eyes, Haldir was too weak to strike back. He might become angered, but anger in one so full of cowardice was something to be pitied rather than feared.
"You accuse me of dishonoring him?" Haldir asked, his voice strained and his eyes flashing.
"I shudder to think I did not see it until now," Orophin snapped. "But it is all too clear. When Rúmil was strong, you cowered. When Rúmil was bold, you shrank from the task. And when Rúmil was in need, you hesitated. You have not changed. But I have. And I will not allow Rúmil to slip away so easily."
His brother’s hands balled into fists and one strayed to the hilt of his sword, but then Haldir froze. For a moment, the world seemed to hold its breath. Nothing dared move or breathe. Even the wind died away. And then Haldir stepped back, his anger seeming to vanish behind an expressionless façade. "Orophin, Rúmil is dead," he said, his voice little more than a whisper. "He has already slipped away. Naught can change that now. Do not hasten to join him!"
"And again you speak with the voice of fear!" Orophin shouted, his earlier desires for silence giving way to anger and frustration.
"Think of what you are doing!" Haldir entreated, a flash of moonlight through the trees revealing earnest eyes filled with concern. "Think and tell me that Rúmil would approve of such a foolish plan!"
"You know nothing of Rúmil!"
For a long time, Haldir stared at Orophin, his face a mass of conflicting emotions, and silence descended upon them once again. But this time, Orophin decided that he did not like silence as much as he thought he had. It had become uncomfortable. Uncertain. Unknown. It no longer held the clear, crisp answers that had previously guided his actions. But why should that be? What was different? What… Haldir, Orophin suddenly realized. Haldir now intrudes upon the silence. Even though he does not speak, his presence is loud. He cannot be here. I cannot have him with me. He does not understand. He will never—
"Very well, Orophin, since this is the way you desire it," Haldir murmured. Something in his voice had changed, but Orophin could not say what this change meant. Almost it seemed that he had resigned himself to an unpleasant but also unavoidable task. "I will play your game with you," Haldir continued, his eyes locked upon his brother’s face, "and may you still have the ability to forgive me when we are done."
"Of what do you speak?" Orophin demanded, thrown by both the strange words and the strange tone of Haldir’s voice.
"You say I know nothing of Rúmil?"
Now completely confused, Orophin frowned and started to turn away. "Time marches on and our chance of success diminishes. If you wish to stay, then—"
"You will listen," Haldir said sternly, moving swiftly and placing himself in front of his brother. Orophin could not recall a time when Haldir had spoken with such authority or with such disdain. Suddenly unsure of himself, Orophin stepped back and tried to regain the confidence he had felt only moments before.
"Your words are without meaning. You seek only to delay me and—"
"And you can do naught to prevent me," Haldir interrupted. "I can force you to stand here and listen to me. But Rúmil would not have tolerated this. Rúmil would not have stopped to debate. Rúmil would have spoken once and then moved on, heedless of my protests."
Orophin felt his mouth drop open in shock, but anger swiftly took hold once more. "How dare you—"
"No, Orophin. How dare you! You think to imitate one of the greatest marchwardens to serve beneath Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel? ‘Tis a mockery! A mockery of the vilest sort!" Haldir stepped closer, his eyes challenging. "Tell me you have mastered Rúmil’s technique with the spear. Tell me you have his gift for strategy under pressure. Tell me you possess his ability to sense Orcs and their numbers. Tell me you have even a small amount of any of these things!"
"You cannot!" Haldir took another step closer, bringing his faces only inches away from Orophin’s. "I know not why I even tolerate you. Valar, I believe I now have more reason for vengeance than you, for I have been forced to stand here and listen as you shame our brother! You do not have his cunning or his wits. You do not have his swiftness or his bravery. You do not have his courage or his temper. You are nothing, Orophin! Nothing! And in attempting to don Rúmil’s mantle, you pull him down into the festering fen that is your own pitiful existence!"
Orophin’s vision was tunneling until all around him ceased to exist with the exception of his brother’s face. Never before had he heard Haldir speak with so much rage and so much anger. Never before had he seen Haldir’s eyes blaze with what could only be interpreted as hatred and loathing. Never before had he felt such shame and fear when standing before his brother. And somewhere deep inside Orophin, a fragment of his former spirit shuddered, knowing that he was the cause of this outburst. He had brought this upon Haldir. But this feeling was not powerful enough to overwhelm the fires of indignation, which were now quickly consuming the last remnants of Orophin’s fragmented restraint.
"You were right when you spoke earlier," Haldir hissed, his voice growing cold as the winds that streamed off Caradhras during the winter. Reaching out, he seized Orophin by the tunic and dragged him forward until his hot breath was pounding against his brother’s brow. "You should have been in his place! It should be you and not he that lies silent and still in Imladris!"
Orophin felt his hands balling into fists. The world was turning into a sea of red, and damming the tide of seething blood that boiled through his veins was Haldir.
"I am ashamed to have ever called you kin!" Haldir hissed, his voice blending with the whispers of the silence until the two became one and all voices had but a single source. "Were Rúmil alive now, I am certain that he would say the same!"
And at these words, the flood of anger within Orophin broke.
His clenched fists flew forward, slamming into Haldir’s chin and snapping the older elf’s head back. Haldir’s hands flew away from Orophin’s tunic, and Orophin took this opportunity to press his advantage. He hit Haldir again, his left hand coming in from the side to pound against his brother’s temple while his right moved straight for the throat, instinctively looking to collapse the windpipe. But Haldir recovered too quickly to be overpowered, and he flinched back, mitigating the power behind the right strike. Then he began an attack of his own, and Orophin cried out as stars suddenly swam before his eyes after his head snapped sharply to the side. His wrists were then caught in an iron grip, and his arms were jerked roughly behind his back and held tightly. Pain shot through his shoulders, but Orophin did not heed is body’s cry for surrender. Slumping forward and forcing Haldir to catch his weight, he kicked backwards and swept his brother’s legs out from under him. But restrained as he was, Orophin could not recover his balance when Haldir stumbled against him, and locked together, the brothers fell from the tree branch.
Survival instincts took over, and Orophin tried to jerk his arms forward, his hands opening wide in order to catch passing limbs. But Haldir still held him tightly. Feeling the ragged edges of panic seep into his mind, Orophin began to struggle in earnest, trying to free his arms. Branches tore past the falling elves, and Orophin kicked his legs out, hoping to snag one and slow their descent while he fought to shake Haldir from his back. But his brother was too strong. Sensing that the ground now rushed to greet him, Orophin drew himself together as much as he was able and prepared for the jarring stop.
And then Haldir acted. Releasing his grip on Orophin’s wrists, he snaked one arm around his brother’s waist while the other shot out to the side, seizing a thick limb. The fall turned into a sharp swing toward the adjoining trunk, and Haldir twisted so that he took the brunt of the impact. His sharp exhale of air sounded loudly in Orophin’s ear as his back scraped across bark, and then the two were dropping down to land on a thick, protruding branch that promised to support their weight.
The moment they were secure, Haldir tightened his hold on his brother, wheeled about, and pressed him up against the tree trunk, his breath coming in ragged gulps. "You now fight to survive," he whispered, holding Orophin fast against the living wood. "You fight to preserve yourself. Do not forget that. You do not seek vengeance but rather survival!"
Fear was beginning to ebb in Orophin’s mind, and as it faded, he found himself lost in the midst of conflicting emotions. The anger and desire for vengeance he’d felt earlier was still there, but a growing feeling of guilt and shame was also present. And locked within this latter emotion was Orophin’s abandoned penchant for common sense.
"Orophin!" Haldir hissed. "Orophin, I know you are stronger than this. Do not give up now!"
And Orophin heard his brother. As though a veil had been drawn aside, he saw the darkness that had twisted its way into his heart. He saw how it had used his grief to worm its way around his mind and shape his actions to suit its desires. The fear he’d felt continued to leave him, and in its wake, he managed to distance himself enough to examine what had happened. He began to tremble as he recalled the things he’d said to Haldir and the actions he’d planned for them. They would have been killed. Both of them. Haldir would have followed him into suicide, and the blame would have been upon Orophin’s head.
Tears stung the corners of his eyes, and Orophin turned his head to look back at his brother, who still held him firmly against the tree. "Haldir…forgive me."
Haldir’s hold relaxed and he drew back, turning Orophin so that they faced one another. "Your mind is with me again?" he asked, his hands coming to rest upon slender shoulders.
Orophin nodded, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears the threatened to flow. "Yes," he whispered. "I am no longer filled with that madness."
"Good," Haldir said quietly, but his eyes were guarded. "Orophin, the things I said earlier…I did not—"
"You were right," Orophin interrupted. "It should have been me. I am the weaker one. I—"
"No!" Haldir said fiercely. "No, you are not! You held the madness at bay far longer than I did."
Orophin clenched his jaw and shook his head. "But—"
"Hush," Haldir commanded, stopping his brother and drawing Orophin against him in a firm embrace. "I meant not what I said. Those words were only intended to draw a reaction from you. I needed you to fight for something other than vengeance. I needed you to fight for yourself. And I hope you will forgive me for the lies I spoke."
"But you were right," Orophin insisted as he continued to shake. "I tried to act as Rúmil would, and in so doing I—"
"Hush," Haldir soothed again. One hand came up and pressed against the back of Orophin’s head until it was resting upon Haldir’s shoulder. "Hush, my brother. You were grieving then, and you are grieving now. You sought to keep something of Rúmil’s spirit with you, and there is no shame in that."
"I could not do him justice," Orophin stammered, feeling the agony that he’d hidden away trickle back into his consciousness. And without anger to shield his heart, he felt as though the force of his grief would rend his spirit until there was naught left of it.
"As his brother and one that learned from him, you do him justice every day," Haldir whispered. "But if you mean that you cannot replace him, then you would be correct. You can no more become Rúmil than you can summon him back from the Halls of Mandos." Haldir pulled back then, his hands clutching Orophin’s shoulders tightly. "And I do not wish for you to replace him, for in that, I would lose you. You are not Rúmil, Orophin. And you do not need to become him to deal with what has happened."
"I was too weak," Orophin protested quietly, remembering the turmoil and the utter silence in which he’d found himself.
"Nay, you were not too weak," Haldir answered with a shake of his head. "You were vulnerable, yes, and the shadows found entry to your mind because of this. But you are a marchwarden of Lothlórien, commissioned by Lady Galadriel herself. She chose her warriors carefully, Orophin, and she did not choose cowards or weaklings."
"Then why am I unable to deal with losing Rúmil?" Orophin asked, his voice catching in his throat.
"For the same reason that I am unable. There are darker forces at work, and we can not overcome them alone. But that has changed. We are together, now, and together, we may both grieve."
Above them, the limbs of the tree seemed to part, and moonlight shone down, reflecting off the unshed tears that filled Haldir’s eyes. And overcome by the need to both give and receive comfort, Orophin moved forward and wrapped his arms around his brother. Haldir quickly returned the embrace, and together they sagged against the tree as they began to weep. The feelings of loss and grief were still strong within Orophin, but they were tempered now by a brother’s protective love and the pain could be endured. As long as Haldir stood with him, all could be endured. So armed with this knowledge, Orophin gave himself over to his own tears. And as he began to shake with the force of his sorrow, Haldir’s arms tightened around him, providing a sense of solace and safety even as the sounds of quiet sobs made it clear that the sorrow was shared. And slowly but surely, feelings of relief began to creep into Orophin’s heart as cleansing tears rolled down his face. There was no shame in seeking help, and he was not weak for shrinking before overwhelming grief. He knew that now, and because he knew this, he was able to overcome.
And so the stars watched in gentle silence as Orophin and Haldir clung tightly to one another, taking from each other the strength and comfort needed to banish the last remnants of darkness that hovered within their souls. Perhaps it was not what Rúmil would have done, but beyond any doubt, it was what Rúmil would have wanted.
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.