This story takes place between the years 2951-2980 of the Third Age, when Aragorn was journeying in the wild after his true name and heritage had been revealed to him by Elrond Halfelven.
= Elvish for "spirit".
* * *
“Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa, that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.” (The Silmarillion)
“But it would seem that in these after-days more and more of the Elves, be they of the Eldalië origin or be they of other kinds, who linger in Middle-earth now refuse the summons of Mandos and wander houseless in the world, unwilling to leave it and unable to inhabit it, haunting trees or springs or hidden places that once they knew. Not all of these are kindly or unstained by the Shadow. Indeed the refusal of the summons is in itself a sign of taint.” (Laws and Customs among the Eldar, History of Middle-earth vol 10.)
* * *
The Fëa had resided in the darkness of the cave throughout the ages of the world, while sky and stone and seasons changed outside.
It remembered little of what had been before the darkness. All recollections were faint as wisps of smoke from a dying fire, fleeting as clouds scattered in the wind. Memories of light and a world where it had walked free were buried deep under thick layers of fear and hatred. The Fëa knew more of enslavement and pain and despair, of such violations of mind and body that their forms were distorted beyond recognition and repair. Yet rarely did its memory wish to touch upon these reflections; its apprehension of the world had long since become a tangled web of dusk where it slumbered, wrapped in a suffocating cloak of lightless dreams. It no longer feared anything, desired anything or felt anything.
That night, however, the air stirred, a sound travelled through coarse vaults of stone and something moved in the space that was usually void and still. The Fëa shifted in the shadows.
A light was suddenly ablaze in the dark.
Even before it began to remember what it was like to see, the Fëa sensed the presence of two other spirits. Unlike itself, they were still merged to their bodies. Both had strength and determination to them; yet one seemed much younger and somewhat less enduring than the other, albeit noble and courageous. Such a difference had only one likely reason: one of the intruders was an immortal Elf, and his companion a mortal Man. They were tense and wary, alert for any enemy – armed and ready to defend themselves or attack fiercely, should it be needed.
The Fëa also sensed something else, which it could not quite decipher. There seemed to be an extraordinarily strong bond between these two, an unbreakable thread that sewed them together like two pieces of cloth cut to fit each other’s shape.
The Elf spoke first. The words of his language were flowing and soft; they rustled and hummed like a breeze among forest leaves. They sparked something in the Fëa, a faint flame of recognition. It had once had a voice, a tongue and lips which it had used to form words, words of kinship and friendship and love, and later words of pleading and fear and hatred. The language had changed in the span of the ages, but the Fëa still knew the meanings rooted in its sounds and shapes, rather by long-preserved instinct than remembrance.
“It is quite safe to enter,” the Elf said. “There is no one to be seen, and this cave is too small to hold any hiding places. You may lower your sword.”
“I thought you said this place had been frequently used by your kinsfolk in the past,” the Man replied fluently in the same language, as he stepped further inside.
“I am afraid I may have made a mistake, Aragorn,” the Elf said, and a slight tinge of amusement coloured his tone. “It does not look like this place has been used for a very long while, even by the animals of Mirkwood, except perhaps spiders.” The Elf was sweeping away thick cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.
The Fëa was now able to form some kind of a visual image of the two, but it still mainly sensed them as immaterial presences, fires of soul inhabiting bodies Arda had granted them. Rather than seeing them, it became aware of their carnal figures through the way they connected to their spirits.
The Elf seemed to be fair as all his kin and of slender build, swift as light and quiet as shadow. The Man, on the other hand, may not have been old yet in his mortal years, but he was weary and scarred, his strength was bloodstained and his skin marked by the battles he had fought.
“Do you believe it is safe for us to sleep here?” the Man named Aragorn asked.
“From whence we came there was naught but dark vales where Orcs patrol,” the Elf replied, “and you know we cannot risk going any nearer to Dol Guldur.”
“You are right, Legolas, as usual,” the Man sighed.
The Elf named Legolas stepped closer to Aragorn and seized his arm. At this touch the Fëa perceived a change in the spirits of the two, and a most peculiar sensation flared through it. It was like a sudden flicker of light and a tingling promise of something yet to come. The spirits of the Man and Elf were drawing towards each other.
“It will do for tonight,” Legolas said gently. Aragorn turned his head, face almost touching the Elf’s, and placed his hand upon Legolas’s arm. This time it was the Elf who sighed, and his spirit brushed the Man’s.
* * *
The lantern the intruders had brought was burning near the wall. The Fëa had waited and watched while they committed themselves to what seemed like an oft-repeated ritual: they cleansed their weapons and supped in silence on what way-food they had before spreading their blankets side by side on the dirt-littered floor. The Man lay down, while the Elf stood near the entrance of the cave, motionless, listening to the stirrings of the night outside.
“It is quiet,” Legolas said at length. “Naught is moving nearby. The Shadow lingers heavy upon these woods, but I believe we may have found one of the safest hideaways we could have hoped for.”
“If that is the case, you should sleep tonight,” Aragorn said. “You have not taken good rest since we left the Old Forest Road. I will stay awake a while; between the two of us we will sleep lightly enough to know if anything draws near.”
Legolas turned to look at Aragorn and smiled. The Fëa felt the inexplicable flickering again, as the Elf’s spirit reached for the Man’s.
“You would allow me to sleep then, friend?” Legolas asked, and Aragorn returned his smile.
“Would you expect any less of me?” the Man responded. “We have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow, if we wish to reach the Southern borders of Mirkwood.”
“Perhaps I would expect more,” the Elf said, “knowing that reaching the borders will mean another parting for us, and that you are fond of lengthy and passionate farewells.”
At this remark both spirits were taken over by a peculiar desolation, a grave feeling of loss and longing that hung upon them heavily like clouds on a bruised winter sky. While the Man and Elf remained motionless, their spirits circled around each other tentatively, as if uncertain of how to tame what had settled between them. The Fëa sensed a great deal of sadness and relinquishment it had previously been unaware of. The Man and Elf were no longer smiling.
“The only farewell I need from you is a promise you will take the safest road home, so we may meet again,” Aragorn said quietly.
Legolas’s voice was more sombre than before. “If only you worried as much for yourself as for others,” he said. “I never know where to find you, or when I will see you again; half the time I believe you may be dead. Will you be returning home anytime soon, so I may seek you out there?”
“If it is Imladris you speak of,” Aragorn replied gravely, “it ceased to be my home when I was told of my true name and heritage. I am a Ranger now. I have no country, and I have no family, unless it be among the dead; I no longer have a home. And no, I do not expect to return to Imladris for many long years.”
“Then it must be as fate shall have it,” Legolas said. “We shall meet when we may, and steal a few, too short moments before parting, and our lives shall be set forth by forces we cannot command.” He turned his face away from the Man.
“I have always wished it were otherwise,” Aragorn said.
“But it is not,” Legolas replied, “and thusly we must live. For what choice have we?”
“I have changed my mind, friend,” Aragorn said, his voice heavy with emotion. “I do desire to bid a long farewell before dawn.”
He extended his hand towards Legolas. The Fëa was taken by surprise at how strong the impulse emanating from the Man was. His spirit longed for the Elf with a force that rushed through his body, cutting into the very core of his being. And the Elf’s spirit responded. Legolas said nothing, but he stepped towards Aragorn, took his hand, kneeled down on the blanket and kissed the Man deeply on the mouth.
The Fëa observed with increasing fascination as the Man and Elf engaged in loving each other. It did recognise such a union, although it seemed uncommon between a mortal and an immortal. But it was obvious these two had walked many strange roads side by side, and their deep intimacy had grown from a long chord of shared experience. There were no barriers between them. They were passionate and thorough; their devotion and pleasure were aglow in both spirit and body. The two spirits caressed each other and intertwined, they danced together like flames reaching for the sky and wrote spells of closeness and belonging, they sang like ancient waters sing against slowly changing shores as they embrace them. But it was not this song that attracted the Fëa to draw closer.
It was the bodies that enchanted it.
It sensed the bodies only through the song of the spirits, but every movement, every touch seemed to cut through the feverish haze of the souls. The Man was moving deep inside the Elf, and they were clasped together tightly as a stretch of light and the surface it lingers upon. The Fëa hungered to sense more tangibly the moist mouths and tangling limbs and hips arching into each other, the touches it could not feel and the skin it could not taste. And for the first time in countless years it wanted something.
It wanted a body.
And thus it began to wait for the right moment to claim one.
* * *
The lantern was burning more dimly than before. The Man and the Elf had pulled most of their clothes back on and wrapped their cloaks around themselves to keep the chill of the night away. Both of them were sleeping, weary and sated.
The Fëa moved in the semi-dark towards the Man, whose spirit was wandering through elusive dream landscapes, roaming along strange paths that changed their shape by the moment. Occasionally his attention would sharpen and focus on a passing sound or a faint movement of the air, ready to wake to an alarm call from the senses, if anything should disturb his rest. But the Fëa knew its own existence was beyond a mortal’s perception. It traced the features of the Man, the stern face softened by sleep, the hard body relaxed in the intimacy of the embrace the two intruders shared. Yes, it would have to be the Man. His soul was younger and less prepared for such assaults; his mortal body was less strongly commanded by his spirit than that of the immortal. He would be easier to persuade.
The Fëa approached the Man’s spirit slowly. It sought in the depths of its memory a form graceful and shining, a disguise that would allow it to advance.
The Man’s spirit stirred, but did not resist, as the Fëa touched upon it very lightly.
Encouraged by the success of this first tentative contact the Spirit stepped into the Man’s dreams as a distant, faceless presence. The Man did not drop his reserve, but he allowed the Fëa closer, curiously inquiring what or who it was. The Fëa assumed a form it hoped would be deceptive for long enough. It reached for the Man’s spirit and fondled it gently, imitating the Elf’s spirit as it had connected with the Man’s earlier.
The Man relaxed in false recognition and began to give in. The Fëa could feel him yield and open. He was inviting the Fëa to enter. It gathered its strength, preparing to thrust the Man’s spirit into the darkness and take possession of his body.
It was at this moment that the Elf sat up with a start and reached for his long, sharp knife he had kept next to him. His body was tense and his spirit screamed danger as he turned his head quickly from side to side, gazing into the gloom of the cave.
The Fëa made its decision swiftly. When the Man awakened, his defences would be hard, perhaps impossible to penetrate. This last instant while he was emerging from the depths of his sleep was the only chance the Fëa had left. Thus it concentrated all its might on forcing itself inside the Man’s body, directed its will and its malice towards the mortal, and struck.
Aragorn woke with a violent cry of terror and jolted up. His spirit was shrieking, struggling to shrug off the Fëa’s savage attack. The Fëa was confounded at how strong he was, how tenacious; it had not expected such resistance. But as soon as it had hit him, it had known it had got hold of the Man’s body. It would not give up now.
Legolas sprang to his feet and stared at the Man.
“Aragorn?” he queried.
And the Fëa saw the Elf through the Man’s eyes. Simultaneously, it began to actually feel the weight of the Man’s body, the way the cool night air was lapping against it, the clothes pressing onto the skin. It tried to calm down the furious movements and form the name of the Elf with its mouth. The sound that came out was nothing recognisable in any language it knew. The Man’s spirit was still fighting back, refusing to leave the body of which it was being robbed and resisting the Fëa’s attempts at controlling it.
Legolas’s eyes widened in dread, and he clutched Aragorn tightly by the shoulders. The Fëa saw alarm mingle with a slowly spreading realisation in his expression.
“No,” the Elf gasped. “No. I will not let you take him from me. Go back to the shadows, fiend!” he ordered.
But the Fëa knew the Elf could not command it, and the Elf knew this also. His warrior’s hands might have been skilled with knife and bow, his arrows lethal and furious as white flashes from thundering skies, but this enemy could not be destroyed by such means. Disbelief and despair quarrelled on Legolas’s face, and he did the only thing he could think of.
He attacked the Man.
The Fëa tried to use Aragorn’s body to fight the Elf, but it was not used to moving these strange limbs and keeping balance. It was easy for Legolas to push him down to his knees. The Elf straddled the Man, reached swiftly for his leather belt that was lying next to the blankets, and wrapped it tightly around Aragorn’s wrists, thus capturing the Man’s arms behind his back. The Fëa could now hardly move Aragorn’s body at all, for the Elf had chained it firmly with his weight and limbs.
Aragorn’s spirit was losing its grip on his body. Inevitably it was drifting towards the darkness, trying in vain to cry out with a mouth it no longer had. Legolas sensed this too, and fright swept his face. His spirit fumbled for the Man’s blindly, searching for something, anything, to bring him back. He placed his hands on Aragorn’s cheeks and interlocked his eyes with the Man’s. Then he began to braid together the simplest spell there ever was, one raised into being by instinct only, without knowledge of the lore and wisdom of ancient writings. He wove it right there and then, out of a thousand passing moments inscribed on his immortal memory, out of marks of lingering touches and traces of unspoken words. He spun it of intense light and shadow, of crisp white mornings and opaque blue nights, of earth and water and green stalks of grass, of that which never waned, no matter what the shape or size of the moon, and that which never faded, no matter how seasons might grow and diminish.
“Come back to me, Aragorn,” Legolas chanted in soft whispers that fell like rain on forest leaves, layers and layers of sounds that would repeat endlessly, as the purifying downpour washed over each tree and twig and petal. He cradled Aragorn’s head against his chest, pulling the Man’s spirit towards his own, never letting go, never ceasing to recite his summoning spell. “Come to me. Come to me. Come back into my arms, Aragorn. Come home.”
And the Man did.
The Fëa was struck numb by the force of Aragorn’s return into his body. It was torn violently away from the sensations and movements it had only just begun to absorb as its own, when the Man’s spirit cast it out. The Fëa was flung into the darkness from whence it had come, and its force seemed to leak out until it was flat and wasted, shivering against the mute, coarse rocks. When its awareness of the intruders was slowly recovered, it knew it had lost the battle for the possession of the Man’s body.
Aragorn was trembling, and his face had a haunted, bewildered look, but he was visibly himself again. Legolas was leaning his forehead against the Man’s, holding Aragorn’s face between his hands, and murmuring inaudible words of gratitude to powers beyond the sea. His eyes were closed, and his spirit was luminous with profound relief.
Aragorn’s breathing was heavy and ragged, and his voice was shaking. ”What happened?” he asked.
Legolas opened his eyes and his gaze held the Man intensely. ”Something tried to take you by force,” he replied. He fixed his glare upon thin air behind Aragorn’s head and struggled to focus. His eyes moved rapidly, as if trying to see the outlines of a constantly shifting shadow. “It is still here,” he continued. “I feel its presence, although I cannot see it.”
“What is it?”
“I believe it is one of the houseless spirits. Fëa
is the name by which my people call them. I have never encountered one before,” Legolas said.
“I do not believe I have heard of them before,” Aragorn responded, visibly labouring to control the trembling of his body.
“The houseless are tainted spirits that have been severed from their bodies by torture, violent death or other dark ending,” Legolas said. “They refuse to leave Middle-earth for the Halls of Mandos, and many of them are said to reside in these woods. It is the Shadow that draws them here.” A wound-like frown appeared on the Elf’s pale forehead. “I do not know why I did not sense it earlier.”
“It must have entered the cave after us.”
“Perhaps,” Legolas responded slowly, as if constrained by a thought that would not let go. “Or perhaps it woke gradually from a deep slumber. This cave had rested forgotten for a long time, until we disturbed its peace.”
“What did the fëa
want?” Aragorn asked.
Legolas’s fingertips grazed over the man’s face. “You,” he said simply. “They desire living bodies, for they have no homes. But they cannot really intrude unless you invite them to approach and welcome their advances.” He eyed Aragorn, but did not pose the question that appeared to be burning him.
“It disguised itself as a dream,” Aragorn replied after a short while of hesitation. “You know how warily I sleep. There is only one person I would trust near me without reservation.” He paused. “I dreamed I was embracing you, and then suddenly I felt a flaming, throbbing pain that tried to burn my spirit down, batter it out of my body. I fought it, but it was very strong.” Aragorn looked around restlessly, as if trying to see what he could not. “Will it attempt another assault?”
Legolas stared for a long while into the tattered darkness that was broken by the light of the lantern.
“I do not think so,” he said at last. “It seems to have dwindled. It is almost as if you damaged it somehow.”
“Nevertheless, we should not stay any longer than we must,” Aragorn replied. “We do not know how powerful a fëa
this is, and when its strength may return.”
Legolas turned his eyes towards the Man again. “It must be nearly dawn now. As soon as the pitch-black darkness turns into twilight, we shall go,” he said. Then the faintest of shadows crossed his fair face. “I feared I would lose you,” he whispered.
“I am right here,” Aragorn murmured against the Elf’s neck. He tried to move his arms, and twitched impatiently. “Would you…? This is getting rather uncomfortable.”
Legolas laughed a laugh that reminded the Fëa suddenly of open night skies and bright stars it had not seen since the morning of Arda. The Elf reached to untie the leather belt and release Aragorn’s arms from behind the Man’s back. When this was done, the two held each other fiercely, and their spirits began to sing again.
This time they sang of home.
For a brief, dazzling moment the Fëa could not tell them from each other, for they glowed as one.
* * *
As the light changed outside, the Man and the Elf gathered their belongings and prepared to leave the cave behind. The Fëa watched as they disappeared into the woods, taking with them the home they had in each other.
It hated them.
It was still stupefied, weak and thin as a sunless dawn, so there was no revenge to be taken, but it would recover. It had made only one mistake. It had tried to defeat a spirit that was much stronger than itself, a match to far mightier forces. But its slumber was over. The world outside was changing once again, and it craved to live in the new age that would grow from the ashes of the old one. Long buried memories were surfacing, those of terror, those of pleasure, and those of both. The Fëa longed for a skin that could feel the sharp sting of fresh wounds, a body that could walk the grounds where enemies lay slain, and a heart that would beat in wrath and desire. It hungered to crush other creatures and behold their fear, it thirsted to shed blood and be intoxicated with sensations of which it had so long been deprived. And it knew now it might steal back the life it had lost. All it needed was a body that would succumb to it, and a spirit not forged quite as strong as the one it had tried to cast out.
The Fëa was certain another living creature would sooner or later enter this cave. And then it would take what it wanted. It would find a new home. It was not in a rush. There was time.
It would wait.
* * * * * * * * *
Special thanks to Milady Hawke for the beta.
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.