23. Chapter Twenty Two
After a long time Cerveth pushed himself up on his elbow and gazed around him: yes, everyone was here, even Gwirith. He let himself fall back on the ground and closed his eyes.
'Cerveth,' said Haldir's voice coldly. 'Do you realise what you did? You put every single one of us in danger. Explain yourself.' Cerveth opened his eyes and saw Haldir standing over him.
'I…I can't…' he stammered, looking into the Guardian's stern face. 'I went after Gwirith, and then…I don't know, Guardian.'
'Get up,' said Haldir.
'I thought…I thought if I found something, Thranduil would release me…Legolas said it depended on what was in there…' said Cerveth desperately.
'On your feet!' shouted Haldir.
Cerveth dragged himself up, but there was a pain in his side which prevented him from standing straight.
'Has Gwirith nothing to say?' he said carefully.
'He has not. He has said nothing at all since we found him at the foot of the tower.'
Cerveth hung his head. 'I thought…we would find something…'
'And did you?' demanded Haldir.
'Yes,' said Cerveth, and he described the parts of the tower they had seen, and seeing the Witch King in the inner room. Haldir listened in silence.
'It's a miracle you both survived – that any of us survived,' he said. 'Never did I think that one of my captains would betray my trust in this way, Cerveth. We will get away from this infernal place, and then you shall hear my decision on your punishment.'
Head bowed, Cerveth groaned softly under his breath.
'Haldir,' said Legolas quietly, just beside him. 'Does Cerveth know how Gwirith burnt his hands?'
Haldir looked inquiringly at Cerveth who said, 'Burnt them? No, I don't know. There was no fire in the place, or outside. But…he touched the walls of the tower, and…'
'And what, Cerveth?' demanded Haldir impatiently.
'Everything we touched was strange. The bar across the door, and the brass handle…'
'And even that wasn't enough to warn you to stay out of the accursed place…' said Haldir angrily. 'Show me your hands, Cerveth.'
'My hands? There's nothing wrong with them,' said Cerveth, turning them palm up for Haldir to see.
'Is that so?' said Haldir, wearily, as they looked down on the reddened and blistered skin of the right one, which he had used to open the door of the tower.
Cerveth winced, aware for the first time how painful it was. Legolas opened the pot of salve which he still had in his hand after treating Gwirith, and rubbed some into Cerveth's skin.
'It's not as serious as Gwirith's,' he said.
'I wrapped my hand in my cloak before touching the door,' said Cerveth.
'How fortunate you remembered to take such a precaution,' said Haldir sarcastically. 'Now, if it isn't too much trouble, perhaps we might get away from here, Cerveth.'
'Sir,' said Cerveth, shame-faced.
Haldir strode off. Cerveth watched him miserably.
'Keep up your heart,' said Legolas. 'Haldir will be just with you.'
'That's what I'm afraid of,' said Cerveth.
'Onward, brothers,' called out Haldir, and the others got slowly to their feet and took up their packs and weapons.
Cerveth bent over to pick up his pack, but unaccountably he lost his balance and crumpled sideways on to the ground.
'Didn't you hear me, Cerveth?' said Haldir in exasperation. 'Haven't you caused enough trouble without delaying us even further?'
But Legolas had laid a hand on his arm and in a moment was kneeling beside Cerveth, raising him up.
'I'm sorry…' said Cerveth, trying to get to his feet. 'I am ready to go now…'
'Stay a moment,' said Legolas and he moved aside Cerveth's cloak. He examined him for a minute or two, then touched Cerveth's left side, just under his arm. 'Here,' he said, and when he removed his hand it was stained with blood. 'You're wounded, Cerveth.'
Cerveth looked at Legolas' hand. 'I don't remember…' he said.
Legolas took off his own pack and put it down beside Cerveth's, propping him up against them, then lifted up his tunic and shirt to reveal the wound. No-one said anything, but the quality of the silence spoke for itself.
'Is it bad?' said Cerveth, looking down.
'Bad enough,' said Legolas, holding out his hand without taking his eyes off Cerveth. Haldir rummaged in his pack and found the cleansing salve and the very last of their supply of bandages, and Legolas quickly cleaned and bound up the wound before helping Cerveth to his feet.
'Now it is you who must let someone carry your pack, Cerveth,' said Legolas.
Luinil bent down and picked it up, and they began to walk again, south west towards the Vale of Anduin. Luinil and Aiglin walked close to Cerveth, who stumbled occasionally. Although each step took them further away from Dol Guldur they were too weary to rejoice, wanting only to be out of the shadow of the tower and see the sunlight again, and to rest.
After an hour or two Cerveth began to cough, and all at once his strength gave out and he fell.
'I'm sorry, Guardian,' he whispered, as Haldir examined the wound.
'You're losing a lot of blood,' said Haldir. 'Are you in much pain?'
Cerveth shook his head but Haldir took out his bottle of poppy juice and made him drink some, before sending the others to find some sturdy branches to make a stretcher.
'No,' said Cerveth, pushing himself up on to his elbow. 'I'll walk. Just leave to me to rest for a moment.'
'You will do as you're told,' said Haldir, taking off his cloak. When the branches were ready, he laid it across them and after making some holes in it with his knife, he used some fine hithlain he had in his pack to fasten the ends together, then wove some more hithlain between the branches to strengthen the stretcher.
They laid Cerveth on it and began to walk again. At first he complained, asking to be set down, but after a while he drifted into sleep.
Haldir left his place at the front of the column and came to walk beside Legolas.
'If we can get away from the shadow soon he'll have a chance of healing,' he said.
'It will have to be very soon,' said Legolas. 'Going into the tower will have hurt him, and Gwirith too, even if we can't see the wounds it has made. If Cerveth lives until Anduin he must go to Lorien for healing. He can return to Mirkwood when he is well again. I'll plead his case with my father, but I can't promise he'll be released from his service.'
'And you? You can't travel back alone, Legolas,' said Haldir.
'I can, if I must,' said Legolas.
'Come to Caras Galadhon with us at least, and we can send an escort with you.'
Legolas shook his head. 'I'll borrow a boat from you and go along Anduin, as you did when you came to me,' he said. 'It will snow again soon. I can't stay away all winter.'
Haldir looked at him, and for a moment the thought of a whole winter together nearly made Legolas weaken. But his resolve held and Haldir saw the determination hardening in his eyes.
'Legolas, I beg you, don't do this, not all alone…' he said.
'We have so little time left together,' said Legolas gently. 'Let's not waste it in quarrelling.'
Haldir looked at him, stricken, but he said no more.
They stopped to rest soon afterwards and Cerveth woke and tried to get up from the stretcher, but Haldir would not let him, leaving Legolas to examine his wound.
Haldir knelt down beside Gwirith who sat silent and subdued with his brother.
'How goes it?' asked Haldir.
Gwirith seemed not to hear the question, and Luinil shook his head and shrugged. Haldir took out the bottle of poppy juice and held it out to Gwirith, but his bandaged hands stayed motionless in his lap. Haldir saw the signs of fever were still on him, and he gently laid his arm on Gwirith's shoulders and held the bottle to his lips. Gwirith took a deep draught, then wiped his mouth clumsily with his hand, but he neither looked at Haldir nor spoke to him.
'Cerveth has told me something of what happened to you both, Gwirith,' said Haldir. 'You will both be disciplined by the captains' council when we reach Lorien.'
'I've told you, I'm not going back to Lorien,' muttered Gwirith.
'You can go of your own free will or under guard, Gwirith, but you are going. I will not release you from your oath to Lorien. You must come to the Lord and the Lady of the Wood and ask them in person.'
'Did Cerveth tell you about the well?' said Gwirith suddenly.
'What well?' said Haldir.
'In the room where we saw the Witch King. A deep well. Maybe we could mine underneath the tower and find a way in.'
'A well?' said Haldir. 'There's nothing on the maps about water under Amon Lanc.'
'I heard it,' said Gwirith. 'He was dropping…things into it. Isn't that information good enough to give in exchange for my oath? If you release me from it now I could go to Imladris.'
'And Celinn?' said Haldir quietly.
Immediately Gwirith turned away, grim-faced. Haldir sighed.
'When we're out of the sphere of the shadow, you'll put aside this madness, Gwirith,' he said. 'Rest now, while you have the chance.' And with a glance at Luinil he got to his feet and left them.
The next day it snowed a little, but at last the shadow began to lift and they could see the sky again, albeit dimly. Haldir increased the pace although they were all exhausted and carrying wounds, and they reached the edge of Mirkwood at dawn after walking through the night. At last they could see the sun again and they rested all the next day under the trees, planning to travel the whole twenty leagues across the unsheltered vale that night, so that they could reach the Tongue as soon as possible.
'I'd forgotten what colours were like,' said Cerveth, lying with his back against a tree, looking out at the open plain. Clearly it was an effort for him to speak. His voice had lost all its old strength, and was as light as a leaf blown on the wind. 'It's so long since I've seen sunlight that…I think I'd truly come to believe that black, white and grey…were all that there were.'
'I think I had too,' said Celinn. 'Everything seems bright after so many weeks of darkness.'
'And I'll go to Lorien, if only for a little while before I must return to Mirkwood,' said Cerveth, wincing a little. 'Truly, it's worth the pain to go home again.'
Celinn looked at him. His skin was as white and clear as ivory, so much blood had he lost, but there was a single line of colour high on his cheekbones where the fever had signed itself on him. Even in such a short time he had become thin and frail so that his dark blue eyes seemed large and vivid. Celinn felt his heart clutch with fear.
'Now that we're no longer under the shadow, you'll begin to heal,' he said, as if his words could make it true.
'Yes,' said Cerveth but he turned away at once and looked into the distance. 'It may take a little while, because of going into the tower. The power Gwirith and I felt within it has stayed with me and may delay my body's healing.'
Celinn glanced over at Gwirith who sat alone and silent as usual, and an anguished expression passed over his face.
'He will heal also,' said Cerveth, catching his look. 'He'll come back to you, now that we're coming in the light again. Celinn…will you…do something for me?'
'Of course, if you tell me what it is.'
'I've brought a gift for Falariel. It's in my pack – only a small thing, a glass bottle. I thought she could use it for oil, or perfume… And a letter, telling her what's in my heart. If…if for any reason I can't give it to her myself, would you…'
'Cerveth, in a few days we will be home...'
'But if…if we were delayed, or…or…you'll see that she gets it, Celinn? And my parents, you'll tell them…'
Celinn put an arm round Cerveth's shoulder to comfort him; Cerveth tried to hide his wince of pain but Celinn felt his body contract, and gently withdrew his arm.
'You will tell them whatever you want in person, Cerveth, but…if the need arises, I will do what is needful, as I know you would do for me.'
'Cerveth, will you take a bet on the knucklebones?' came Aiglin's lively voice, interrupting their solemn mood. He threw himself down on the grass, getting the bag of knucklebones out of his pocket.
'Of course! When have I ever refused a bet?' said Cerveth.
'Are you going to let me join in, Aiglin, or are you still angry with me over Celinn?' said Luinil, kneeling down beside him. 'But I warn you, I'll beat you. I always do.' He stretched out and yawned hugely. 'At last that infernal spider-bite is healing. I thought I would have a limp forever.'
'There are some who might find it most becoming,' said Aiglin.
'So you've forgiven me,' said Luinil, reaching out and taking his hand, his face lit up with a smile. 'I'm glad, Aiglin. I've missed you. I'd almost forgotten the sound of your voice, so reluctant have you been to speak to me.'
'What did you expect?' said Aiglin, nettled.
'Nothing. But you know it was the shadow, Aiglin. If we ever go again we will be forewarned.'
'Well, and when are we placing this bet you have offered me?' said Cerveth.
Luinil spilt the knucklebones on to the grass and they began to discuss the odds. Celinn watched them in silence, glad to see them reconciled, but his heart heavy was with his own grief.
'Why did Gwirith want to go into the tower?' he said suddenly.
'It was for you,' said Cerveth. 'He wanted you out of danger, so he thought to hasten our departure from Dol Guldur.'
'By Elbereth…' whispered Celinn.
He got to his feet and went over to Gwirith.
'You risked yourself to go into the tower for me?' he said. 'How could you think I would wish for such a thing?'
Gwirith turned slowly and looked up at him, then turned away with a deep sigh.
'Gwirith, will you not even speak to me?' said Celinn gently, kneeling down and resting his hand on Gwirith's arm.
But Gwirith slowly slid his arm away from Celinn's touch and turned his back on him.
As soon as dusk fell they stepped out from the shelter of the trees and began to cross the vale of Anduin. Since it was coming close to midwinter, they were able to take advantage of the long night to complete their journey and it was no more than a few hours after dawn when they reached the eastern bank of Anduin. The river was high and powerful, full to the brim with snow water from the Misty Mountains, and they looked across at the opposite bank to where Celebrant flowed into it.
'Someone must go across and fetch boats from the hythe,' said Haldir, looking round for someone to send. 'Luinil, Aiglin, you are both good swimmers. Fetch two boats from the hythe alongside the Tongue and bring them back to us.'
'I will go too,' said Legolas, 'and fetch a boat for myself, by your leave.'
'No,' said Haldir at once. 'Come with us to the Tongue, and rest awhile there, and then we will part tomorrow. Maybe there will be someone there who can go with you on your journey.'
'I will come,' said Legolas, 'but if there is no-one there I will not wait, and nor must you. You must get to Caras Galadhon as quickly as you can.'
Luinil and Aiglin stripped down to their breeches and shirts and diving into the water, began to swim strongly towards the opposite bank. The current was powerful and it took a long time to cross, but at last they pulled themselves out of the water and ran along the bank until they were lost to sight under the trees of Lorien.
A cold wind blew up then, and snow began to fall again.
'Must we wait much longer?' said Cerveth softly. 'I want to go home.' He had drifted in and out of consciousness as they carried him in haste across Anduin, and had just opened his eyes.
'Not much longer,' said Haldir, kneeling down beside him. 'Are you cold, Cerveth?'
'No, the air is warm around me. The spring is coming. I suppose it will be the festival soon. This time Falariel will go with me, not with Caranfir. Even if a Man of Numenor comes to visit her, she will be mine this time. I shouldn't have waited so long to ask her to bind with me. Celinn, will you make me a song for the day of our binding?'
'I will,' said Celinn gently.
Cerveth gave a blissful smile.
'When I am healed of this affliction, I will teach you…all the skills I know: tumbling, turning… and making a pyramid on each other's shoulders…you were always too busy making songs to learn it before…'
'Thank you, Cerveth,' said Celinn. 'You are most generous.'
'It's you who are generous,' said Cerveth.
Haldir had been listening to them, and now he turned away so that the others would not see his face, but Cerveth said,
'Haldir, before I return to Mirkwood, I will stand you a drink – no, a whole evening of drinks – to thank you for bringing me home. Whatever you choose. Miruvor, Dorwinion…And for all the others who have carried me all this way.' He reached out and laid his hand on Haldir's arm, and lowering his voice, said so that only Haldir could hear:
'Don't worry about me, Guardian. Now I'm within sight of the Golden Wood, nothing will prevent me from coming home.'
Haldir opened his mouth to answer, but Cerveth's eyes had already closed again.
'Make haste, brothers,' Haldir whispered urgently to himself. 'Time is against us.'
Many hours passed. The elves waited on the bank of Anduin, looking out with far-sighted eyes for the first glimpse of the boats which would take them home. Slowly the wide vale grew white with snow, and it settled on their hair and the shoulders of their cloaks and their packs, until they seemed part of the landscape themselves. They crouched down on the bank and made a little fire out of what they could find that would burn, and tried to shelter Cerveth from the biting wind.
'Where are they?' said Celinn in frustration. 'Surely something has happened to them.'
'Nothing has happened,' said Haldir firmly. 'Be patient, Celinn.'
And a quarter of an hour later, two fair boats of white wood came round the curve of Celebrant and into the waters of Anduin, and shortly after came alongside them on the east bank.
Soon all were embarked. With many of them at the oars, it was not long before they were turning back towards Celebrant and the Tongue. No-one spoke as they laboured against the snow-waters and then slipped into the easier current of Celebrant, moving swiftly westwards until they were under the trees of Lorien. At once Haldir felt the light tremor of energy which was the power of the Lady of the Wood. Unconsciously he reached out to where Legolas sat behind him in the boat and the prince took his hand and held it. Celinn looked behind into the other boat where Gwirith was, hoping the good airs of Lorien would heal his dark mood, but Gwirith's face was as stern and closed as before.
'The mellyrn…' said Cerveth suddenly, in a stronger voice. 'I'm coming home to Lorien.'
'Hold fast just a little longer,' said Haldir, leaning forwards as if his energy might speed the boat.
It was nearly dusk when they reached the hythe alongside the lawn of the Tongue, and Rumil and Orophin were there waiting for them. Haldir leapt out of the boat and was pulled into his brothers' arms, and held there while the others did the work of unloading themselves and their gear.
'The Lady sent us to meet you, but we were already on our way to see her, to get leave to come to the Tongue when she summoned us,' said Orophin. 'She must have seen something in her mirror, but we knew you were near us again without any magic, Haldir.'
'But why is Cerveth with you?' asked Rumil. 'And Legolas?'
'I'll tell you as we walk,' said Haldir, but Legolas said,
'Then I must say farewell.'
Haldir turned to him sharply. 'You wouldn't go now, at night?' he said. 'There's no-one to escort you.'
Legolas looked at Rumil and Orophin. 'I know you can't spare your brothers, captains of the pellarim as they are. But I daren't risk another day, or I may not get home if the snows worsen. If I leave now I could travel many leagues along Anduin by morning.'
Haldir looked helplessly from Legolas to his brothers and back again. Seeing his distress, Rumil and Orophin approached him and they spoke quietly for a while, then Haldir turned back to Legolas.
'They are willing to come with you,' said Haldir. 'They will come home in the spring after the snows melt, by your father's leave.'
'Haldir, no,' said Legolas. 'I wouldn't have you without them all winter long.'
'Please, Legolas. You said we shouldn't quarrel: now do not you refuse this small request of mine.'
'This isn't small,' said Legolas, but he didn't argue any more.
'So you must go,' said Haldir. Legolas nodded. He quickly said his farewells to the rest of the company, and then they walked a little apart away from the others who discreetly turned away.
'Now it's you who are cruel, Legolas,' said Haldir softly, smiling at Legolas although his eyes were full of pain. 'You would leave me now when we're so close to home. If the snows had come half a moon earlier, you would be spending the winter in Lorien with me.'
'Haldir, I beg you…' said Legolas. 'Would you have me weeping before all your warriors?'
'No, that I wouldn't have,' said Haldir. 'I would have you safe home with me, never again to leave me. Do you know, whenever I'm with you, I believe for a while that we'll never part, and so the parting is more painful than ever.'
'My dearest Haldir,' said Legolas, pulling him into his arms. 'At least now we're reconciled.' And he kissed him deeply. Afterwards they clung to each other, as if they were trying to imprint the memory of the other's body upon their own. Suddenly Legolas spoke, hesitant and beseeching.
'Beloved, I know what you'll say, but I can't bear to leave you without asking you: bind with me, Haldir, so that when you're far away, I'll know you're truly mine, and will not turn from me again.'
Haldir lifted his head slowly and looked at Legolas.
'You know I can't do that,' he whispered. 'I've told you so, many times before.'
Legolas turned away from him sharply and stood silent, his back to Haldir.
'Don't ask me this now, Legolas, when we're about to part,' said Haldir. 'We promised not to quarrel: we must settle this.'
'No,' said Legolas, unsteadily. 'We can't settle it. I want it and you do not. How can we settle it, Haldir?'
'But even if we wanted to, there's no time…'
'The words of binding are few. You put obstacles in our way, Haldir,' said Legolas wildly. 'Is there some other reason you don't wish to bind with me? Do you mean to turn away from me again? Or is there some other lover you have kept from me?'
Gently Haldir took hold of him and turned him round.
'You know there is not,' he said. 'And you know I won't turn away from you, Legolas. There has been no-one but you for Valar knows how many years. Nor will there be anyone else. Please, beloved, let's part without anger…'
Legolas wiped his face with the palms of both hands.
'I'm not angry,' he said, his blue eyes awash with tears. 'I'm lonely.'
Now it was Haldir who pulled him into his arms and held him close.
'And so will I be, every moment you're away from me. Lonely for your face, for your body…' He kissed Legolas hard, then pressed himself against him, groaning with his face buried in Legolas' hair. 'I don't know how I'll bear it…but I'm yours, as truly as if we had celebrated our binding with all ceremony before the rulers of Lorien and Mirkwood both. You need not fear my defection, for this time I will not turn away from you, I swear it, Legolas.'
'Well, then,' said Legolas, his voice trembling. 'For the moment that must be enough. But I will ask you again next time we meet, and every other time, Haldir, until the day you consent.'
Legolas' hand came up and held the back of Haldir's head, caressing it gently so that he could feel the beautiful shape of the bones beneath the skin.
'My heart stays with you here in Lorien,' said Legolas.
'And mine goes with you to Mirkwood,' said Haldir.
Legolas' fingers slipped under the cloth of Haldir's shirt on to the figure he had painted there many weeks before.
'I've put my mark on you,' said Legolas. 'This one will fade, but next time I'll put a mark on you that will not fade, so that it will always be a part of your body and your soul.'
Haldir looked at him, his eyes full of tears, and then without a word they stepped away from each other.
'Farewell, beloved,' said Legolas.
Haldir nodded, unable to speak, and then Legolas turned away from him and went to stand beside the water.
Seeing they had finished speaking, Rumil and Orophin came over to him and they also said their farewells, made all the harder by the fact that they had thought to be with Haldir again after such a long absence.
When they had finished, Legolas and Haldir's brothers got into the boat. Quickly they stowed their belongings and took up their paddles, and then they turned the boat and set it into the current. At once it picked up speed and began to cut through the green water. Once only Legolas turned and raised his hand, and Haldir raised his also in silent valediction, and within a minute or two they were out of sight.
Haldir visibly gathered himself, then turned to his company.'Home, brothers,' he said, and Luinil and Aiglin picked up Cerveth's stretcher and they began to walk towards Caras Galadhon.
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.