Dark Horizons: 9. Questions and Answers

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9. Questions and Answers

Author’s note: Here is chapter nine, and it’s a long one! Just a friendly reminder, this story is a rather dark Pg-13 from here on out. (I suggest not eating anything while reading part 2) : )

The sun was in its midmorning position when the weary and travel worn company passed beneath the first gate into Minas Tirith. Aragorn rode at the front, and was greeted reverently by the guards at the gate. Beyond, the city streets were already bustling with the morning activities. Hawkers cried their wares, and children ran screaming and playing throughout the streets. The atmosphere was bright and warm, and the small company found themselves able to relax for the first time in several days.

As it became aware to the thronging people who exactly it was that rode in their midst, they began calling out and several began to cheer, as if the king had been gone for months instead of just over a week. An old shopkeeper, hearing the noise, ventured from her shop and peered about, trying to make out what was going on. “What’s all this commotion about?” she hollered to no one in particular. “Are we under attack?”

Another young woman near by smiled kindly at the woman and shook her head. “No grandmother, we are not under attack; the king and his company have just returned.”

The old woman turned and squinted at the second woman, then turned back to staring at the street where Aragorn had just passed. “Returned?” she mumbled. “He was gone?”

“Yes,” the young woman replied once more. “He rode south over a week ago, and now he has returned. And Mithrandir rides with him.”

“Mithrandir!” the old woman yelped, stepping back as if she had just heard a curse. “What ill tidings does he bring Minas Tirith this time?”

“You are wrong, grandmother. I am sure he is here only for the wedding. Our king has invited all his old companions. See, there are the hobbits, great warriors of their race. And there are the dwarf and elf seen riding beside the king during the war. It is said they are both princes of their own people! They have all come to see our king wed.”

The objects of the women’s discussion had since passed out of sight beneath the arch of the second gate, and now began the last ascent up into the heart of the city. The safe arrival at the city was met by a different reaction from each member of the company.

Aragorn felt himself relax, the tension easing from his frame. He sat up tall in his saddle, nodding regally to the people who called out to him, and saluting the guards who stood at attention before him. He could almost forget the weight of problems that had settled upon him as a thrill of joy coursed through him at returning home. He knew that those problems would soon need to be faced and dealt with, but for the moment, he was content to relax for the first time in several days. His gaze was set forward, toward the castle, where he knew Arwen would be waiting for him.

Beside Aragorn, Gandalf also seemed to have relaxed. The wizard was somewhat surprised that the company had reached Minas Tirith without incident, but he was also extremely grateful. It seemed that luck had traveled with them, and Gandalf was unsure how much more ‘luck’ the company could expect to have before all was finished. Now, he was content to ease his vigilance and allow his mind some greatly needed rest.

Gimli was thinking of nothing more than his great desire to be off the horse and on his own two feet once more. The company had ridden almost nonstop the past two days and nights, and Gimli did not think he would ever be able to walk straight again. The closer the party came to its destination the more restless the dwarf became, shifting uncomfortably on Shandarell’s back in his eagerness to reach their destination.

As for Legolas, he might have been more aware of the dwarfs’ discomfort, but at the moment, he was trying to stifle a yawn; his third since entering the city. He remembered his ascent up this very road a week earlier, and he desperately hoped this stay would be longer than the previous one. He needed the rest badly, loathe to admit it as he was. Elves did not require as much sleep as other races, but Legolas knew he was fast reaching the end of his endurance. He could not remember the last time he had slept peacefully, indeed he could not remember the last time he had had the luxury of sleeping at all. Just the thought of sleep caused yet another yawn to pull at his face, and he clenched his jaws tight, his eyes burning.

As for the hobbits, they were, for once, not thinking about food; at least, not entirely. Their daydreams rested more firmly on hot baths, clean clothes, then food, and finally rest.

As they entered through the final gate into the courtyard of Aragorn’s home, Legolas caught sight of Faramir, waiting anxiously within. The steward’s face was grave as he took in the company’s haggard appearance. He stood at the center of the courtyard, along with several grooms who waited to take their mounts.

Legolas rode to the center of the courtyard, and then slipped off Shandarell’s back. Gimli followed suit, and as the dwarf’s feet hit the ground, his knees, which were unaccustomed to the great strain of riding long distances, buckled. The dwarf nearly pitched forward onto his face, but managed to catch himself just in time. He quickly glanced toward Legolas to see if the elf had witnessed his near fall. Legolas was stroking Shandarell’s nose, seemingly completely oblivious to the dwarf.

Gimli let out a soft, relieved sigh, and began to stretch his sore muscles, discovering in the process several other, more sore, areas.

“I have some crème in my pack that may ease your discomfort.” Legolas was still stroking the horse, his eyes toward the approaching groom, but a smile covered his face, and there was barely disguised amusement in his voice.

Gimli jerked his hand away from where he had been attempting to rub some feeling back into his backside. He glared at the elf who still did not look at him. “I’m fine,” he said stiffly, straightening his back and letting out a wince as his knees let out a loud crack.

Legolas finally turned to regard him fully. He arched a smooth eyebrow, never losing his amused expression as he looked the dwarf up and down. “Perhaps I should carry you on my back, lest your legs give out and you fall flat on your face.”

Gimli snorted. ‘So Legolas had seen his near fall.’ He decided to make the best of it. Straightening to his fullest height, he looked up at the tall elf. “I would take you up on your offer, my friend, but I am afraid you would fall asleep halfway to our destination. Either that, or you would somehow manage to swallow your entire face in one yawn!”

Legolas looked surprised at the dwarf’s smooth comeback, then his face registered surprise as yet another yawn threatened to split his jaws open.

Smirking, Gimli turned, and began walking with as much dignity as he could muster toward where Aragorn and Gandalf stood speaking to Faramir. At least, the dwarf tried to walk with dignity, but this was made difficult by the fact that his knees popped and threatened to give out on him at every step, and his legs bowed out, giving the dwarf a rather rolling gait.

Legolas shook his head as he stared at the retreating form of his friend’s back. He was still fighting back the yawn, and his jaws were beginning to ache. He decided he would have to declare Gimli the victor in this particular sparring match, at least, for the time being.

The groom had reached Legolas’s side and was looking Shandarell up and down, as if uncertain how to handle the horse. For his part, Shandarell eyed the groom just as mistrustfully. Legolas spoke quietly to him, and after a slight hesitation the great horse followed the man toward the stables.

Legolas walked over to Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, and Faramir, arriving at the same time as the hobbits. Aragorn addressed them all, “ I have just suggested to Gandalf that we each take some time to rest and refresh ourselves before holding our council, and he has agreed. We have arrived safely, despite everything, and we are all tired.” Aragorn smiled toward Legolas, and the elf flushed slightly, wondering if everyone had noticed him yawning. From the grins on all their faces, Gimli’s the biggest, he suspected they had. “We will meet again when the bell rings, at the changing of the watch,” Aragorn told them, as they prepared to retire to their rooms.



After the others had left the courtyard, Aragorn turned to Faramir. “We have much to discuss, and I would like to hear what has happened in the city during my absence if you can spare the time.”

Faramir bowed low. “Of course, my lord,” he said. “I, too, am eager to hear of what has befallen you, but would you not prefer to rest and refresh yourself along with the others?”

“There will be time to rest later,” Aragorn stated firmly. “I must contact the families of my fallen guards, and then I will talk with you about……” Aragorn’s voice trailed off, for at that moment, Arwen entered the courtyard and began walking towards them.

Faramir smiled and quietly left the courtyard, giving the reunion between Aragorn and his soon to be bride some privacy.

***

‘It feels good to be clean at last,’ Legolas thought contentedly as he toweled off his wet hair with a dry cloth. ‘Almost as good as a little nap would feel.’

He glanced toward the bed at the center of the room, and let out a wistful sigh. He knew that he still had a couple of hours before the noon bell rang, and he wanted nothing more than to sink down upon the bed and let his tired mind rest. He moved over to the bed and sank down on the edge. ‘There are other, more productive things I could be doing with this time,’ he told himself firmly, even as he allowed his head to fall back onto the pillow.

Legolas was not sure how long he had slept, when a soft knock on the door caused him to groan and struggle into wakefulness.

“Come in,” he called wearily, sitting up and struggling to free his mind from sleep. His brief rest seemed to have merely served to accentuate his exhaustions.

The door opened, and Legolas was surprised when Arwen entered. He smiled at the elf princess and she returned the smile with one of her own. “I hope I am not disturbing you?” she asked, glancing towards the bed he had just vacated.

Legolas shrugged, then laughed. “No,” he answered, “Saving me, is more like it, for I doubt I would have roused myself in time for our meeting this afternoon, and Aragorn would have some sharp words for me.

Arwen laughed with him, but Legolas could tell that something was bothering her. He had known Arwen for a very long time, and considered her one of his closest friends. She had never been one who could disguise her emotions well.

“I am surprised at your visit, my lady,” Legolas admitted. “I would expect you to be with Aragorn at the moment.”

Arwen nodded, though she looked distracted. “Yes, I have just come from him. He is meeting with Faramir now, and I learned that you were injured and wished to come and check on you.”

Legolas shrugged. “My wounds are not that great, my lady, and are even now healing. The worst is my shoulder, which will keep me from using my bow.”

“Can I look at them?” Arwen asked.

“Of course,” Legolas answered, allowing Arwen to remove the makeshift sling and examine his arm. Her hands were extremely gentle in their examination, and after only a couple of minutes she sat back and smiled at him.

“You are right. It is healing quite nicely, and I suppose you will be using your bow again in no time. But what about your ribs, and that cut upon your arm.”

“The cut is all but gone, and the ribs hardly trouble me,” Legolas answered.

Arwen nodded, then seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. Legolas was content to wait for her to form her words. He knew that checking on his injuries was not the only reason Arwen had for visiting him, and now he waited to hear what was troubling the beautiful elf princess.

Finally Arwen spoke once more. “I heard Aragorn tell Faramir what happened.” She paused, then looked up, meeting Legolas’s gaze with her own. Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears.

Legolas stepped forward, alarmed at her grief, but Arwen raised her hand and shook her head, forestalling him before he could say or do anything. “I just came here to thank you for saving Aragorn’s life. I would be lost without him.”

Arwen’s voice was soft and filled with grief, and something else - fear. Legolas’s heart went out to her. “I am sorry that this has happened now, Arwen,” Legolas said sadly. “If I could do anything to make it otherwise, I would.”

“I know,” Arwen replied simply. “Evil respects no one’s schedule, does it Legolas?”

“I am afraid not, my lady,” Legolas replied.

There was a moment of silence, and Legolas could sense that Arwen was struggling for words. He tried to help her out a little. “Are you expecting your father and brothers to arrive soon?” He seriously hoped so, for he knew that having her family close once more would cheer Arwen better than anything he might say or do.

“Yes,” Arwen replied softly. “They have already left Rivendell, but my father wishes to stop in Lorien before continuing on. He has sent a messenger saying he expects to arrive before the end of the month.”

Arwen still seemed distracted and apprehensive, and Legolas sought to draw her into conversation to put her at ease. He asked her the first question that popped into his head. “Do you miss Rivendell very much?” Legolas almost kicked himself. ‘How could I have brought that up now,’ he berated himself. ‘Of course she misses Rivendell, and I have kindly reminded her of that fact.’

But Arwen merely smiled up at him, as if she understood what he was thinking. “Yes, I miss Rivendell,” she replied gently. “It was my home for a very long time, and I loved it dearly. But now Minas Tirith is my home, and I have grown to love it as well.”

Legolas was relieved that his careless words had not caused her distress, but when he looked at her again, tears were flowing freely down her cheeks.

“Arwen,” Legolas said gently, pulling the elf down to sit beside him on the bed. “You must tell me what is upsetting you, for I feel a darkness upon your soul that does not belong there.”

“I am afraid,” Arwen admitted frankly. She looked up, meeting Legolas’s eyes once more, and he could detect the fear and desperation on her face. “I am afraid,” she repeated. “I fear that despite all that he has gone through, this will be too much for Aragorn, and he will be torn from me forever.”

Legolas squeezed her shoulder gently. “That will not happen, my lady, for I shall not allow it,” he stated firmly, not caring about the rashness of the statement. “I shall not leave Aragorn’s side until this thing is finished, and as long as I live, I will use everything in my power to keep him from harm.”

Arwen smiled up at him through her tears, and he could feel the tension leave her shoulders. “Aragorn is lucky to have friends such as you, even as I am lucky.” She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek before rising.

“Thank you for listening to me, Legolas.” She laughed lightly, wiping the last tears from her face. A new determination lit her face, and Legolas was glad to see the fear and uncertainty gone. “My father or one of my brothers are usually the ones to whom such a task falls, but I am glad you are here to listen in their stead. Your words have been a great comfort to me. Now I shall go and speak once more to Aragorn, for he and I have much to discuss.”

Legolas stood staring at the door for several minutes after Arwen had left. He sighed heavily as he returned to sit upon his bed once more. All thoughts of sleep were gone. Instead he pondered the strange meeting that had just taken place. He thought of the vow he had made to Arwen, and slowly shook his head. “Not just words, Arwen,” he said softly to himself. “No matter what happens, or where we go, I intend to do everything in my power to make sure that Aragorn returns to you safely. Even if it means that I do not return at all.”

His thoughts were still on this matter when, in the distance, the bell signifying the changing of the guards began to toll.

***

The council hall was a long, rectangular room, with a high ceiling and many windows. At one end of the room, a giant fireplace dominated much of the wall, waiting to chase off the cold night air. The hearth was dormant now, but logs lay ready for whenever it would be needed. The far end of the room opened out onto a large balcony, overlooking a spacious garden.

Legolas stood at the open door leading onto the balcony, letting the sun’s rays warm him. A small smile crossed his face as he watched a mother bird feeding her nestlings, their mouths opened wide, demanding food. The garden looked so peaceful that Legolas was tempted to go and lay beneath the giant elm tree at the center of the garden. It would be so easy to allow the gentle rustling of the trees and the soft bird songs lull him into a peaceful sleep, with all troubles forgotten. But this was not to be, and his mind was unwillingly drawn back to the real purpose of this meeting.

He turned and glanced down to the other end of the long room. A dozen chairs were placed in a comfortable group in front of the fireplace. Gandalf, Gimli, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Faramir occupied seven of the chairs. Each seemed lost completely in thought as they waited for Aragorn’s arrival.

Legolas shook his head at the cloud of smoke that hovered over the group, permeating the air with the sweet smell of pipe weed. Shortly after entering the room, Gandalf had produced his pipe, and Gimli and the hobbits had quickly followed suit. Now, the hobbits were having a contest to see who could blow the largest smoke ring. They seemed to be desperately trying to forget the reason why they were here.

Faramir was the only one of the group not smoking, but Legolas thought he might as well have been for the amount of smoke the man was undoubtedly inhaling. Faramir held a book in his hands, his eyes intent upon the pages. He looked the picture of relaxed calm, except that Legolas’s sharp ears had not picked up the sound of a turning page in quite some time. Legolas knew that Aragorn had requested the man’s presence at this council, but he could tell that Faramir was feeling slightly out of place.

Legolas was wondering what was keeping Aragorn, and as if his thoughts had been a summons, the door at the end of the hall flew open, and Aragorn and Arwen strode into the room, side by side.

Faramir jumped to his feet, and his book went crashing to the floor, causing Merry to erupt into a fit of coughing as the ring of smoke he had been about to blow caught in his throat. Sam reached over and began thumping Merry on the back as Pippin and Frodo looked on sympathetically.

At Aragorn’s entrance, Gandalf had turned in his chair, but he now returned to staring at the empty fireplace. Gimli was looking towards Merry with genuine concern as the hobbit’s hacking grew worse and Pippin joined Sam in pounding on the distraught hobbit’s back.

Aragorn turned to Legolas and motioned for him to join the group. Legolas sighed, and took one last deep breath of fresh air before plunging resolutely into the smoke filled room. Arwen caught his eyes, and the two shared a smile.

Aragorn reached the group in front of the fire and frowned down at Merry, who was still trying to suppress wrenching coughs. “Are you all right, my friend?” he asked with concern.

Merry managed to nod, though his face was beginning to turn a bright red.

“I don’t suppose this means you will give up smoking?” Legolas asked hopefully.

Merry was just beginning to breathe properly, but he still managed to look at Legolas as if he had suddenly sprouted two horns, all his hair had fallen out, and had just announced that the sun was green.

“I didn’t think so,” Legolas muttered as he dropped into a seat next to Gimli. The dwarf turned his sympathetic gaze upon Legolas but continued to puff contentedly upon his own pipe.

Aragorn sank into one of the large chairs, and Arwen sat beside him. No one questioned her presence, just as they had not questioned Faramir’s. Aragorn let out a loud sigh, easing back into his chair. “Now that we are all gathered, it is time for those answers you promised us, Gandalf,” Aragorn said as he looked toward the wizard.

Aragorn was perhaps the only one of the company that didn’t appear nervous. His face was completely relaxed and he gripped Arwen’s hand lightly in his own.

“Yes,” Gandalf replied, still staring into the fireplace. “I merely wonder where to begin.”

“Why not start at the beginning,” Pippin volunteered, although from the tone of his voice it did not sound as if he wished the wizard to begin anywhere.

Gandalf finally turned away from the fireplace to give the hobbit a tight smile. “Ahhh, my small friend, but which beginning?”

At Pippin’s nonplussed look, Gandalf continued. “I could start my story when Sauron was first gaining his evil powers, for indeed it goes back that far. But if I were to start there, we would be here for several days. Instead, I will begin my tale from the battle at Cirith Gorgor.”

Gimli grunted. “I remember that battle all too well.”

“So do I,” Pippin added glumly. “Most of it anyway. Up until I was buried under a pile of orcs.”

“That was the day of Sauron’s destruction,” Aragorn put in. A day I shall never forget for as long as I live. I wonder why you choose to begin your tale there, Gandalf?” Aragorn asked curiously.

“My tale actually begins after the battle, while you were all recovering,” Gandalf gave them all a small smile. “It begins in the fortress of Cirith Gorgor itself, for it is there that I found the letters.”

“What letters?” the hobbits all asked at once.

Gandalf shook his head, “I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first state that at the end of the battle, after we had rescued Frodo and Sam, I chose to go into the fortress and do a little exploring.”

“Exploring?” Aragorn asked, amused.

Gandalf shot him a look that told him not to interrupt, and continued with his story. “As I was walking through the fortress, I sensed a great evil emanating from somewhere deep within the castle. It is very rarely that I have felt such a great force of darkness, and I knew that something remained within the fortress that was causing me to have these feelings. So I began to search through the castle in the hopes of finding and destroying whatever it was.

Gandalf sat back in his chair, pulling a deep draught from his pipe and blowing it out again before he continued. “At last, I came to a small vault that was so completely rusted over I knew it had not been opened for centuries. It was from this vault that I sensed the evil emanated. However, when I opened it, I only found a pile of old manuscripts, discolored and beginning to decay.”

Once more, Gandalf paused, as if lost deep in thought.

“What were these parchments that they could cast such a feeling of evil?” Aragorn prompted lightly.

“Mostly old records and accounts of the keep,” Gandalf replied dismissively. “But among them I found ancient letters. Letters written by the hand of the dark lord Sauron himself, when he was still human enough to do such things. These letters dated back clear to when Sauron was first rising to power and beginning to spread his evil influence. The letters were so dark and persuasive in their evilness that I had no doubt that they were the reason for many a weak kings turn to the dark lord. I was so repulsed, my first thought was to destroy the parchments immediately, and be rid of their evil.”

“Let me guess? You didn’t do that, did you?” Gimli asked dryly.

“You should be glad that I didn’t,” the wizard replied, “for these manuscripts hold valuable information on the creature we now face. No, I did not destroy them, instead I gave them to my friend, Landroval, brother of Gwaihir the Windlord, and greatest of all the Eagles of the North. I bid him carry them to Rivendell and deliver them to Elrond along with a letter warning him not to open or read the letters.”

“I remember the day that Landroval arrived at Rivendell,” Arwen said quietly. “I also recall that my father was in quite a foul mood for the rest of the day. Elrohir and Elladan wouldn’t go near him, instead leaving me the task of trying to learn what troubled him. He never did give me a clear answer, though I guessed from what he would tell me that he was upset at something you, Mithrandir, had sent him.”

Gandalf chuckled softly. “Yes, Elrond was not too happy with me. Although he took my advice and did not read the parchments, he could still sense their evilness, and he did not like it that I had sent them to Rivendell. But Elrond has forever been faithful, and he hid the letters in a safe place for me.”

“Why did you never tell me about these letters?” Aragorn asked.

“I believed you had enough on your mind at that particular time,” Gandalf responded. “And indeed, I soon forgot about them myself, or at least did not allow myself to dwell on them.”

“But you did not forget them for long, I take it,” Aragorn responded. “That is how you learned of this creature, from reading these parchments?”

“Yes,” Gandalf replied. “I read them, but not by my own desire. After we parted company, I remained in Rivendell for several months, for Elrond had matters he wished to discuss with me. He never brought up the letters, and I did not ask for them. I knew they were safe, and I intended upon dealing with them in my own time. Then, we began receiving reports of renewed orc activity in the mountains. After the war, many orcs fled to Moria, so Elrond set watch at each entrance to ensure that they remained there. These watchers reported that the orcs were becoming restless and were daring to venture further and further from the caves.”

Gandalf sighed, taking another puff of his pipe. “Neither Elrond or I were extremely worried by the reports. We knew that without a leader to bring the orcs together and direct them, any uprising would be easy enough to quench. Elrond increased the strength of the watch at the entrances to the mountain, but other than that we did little else, something that I greatly regret now. It was not until a group of orcs, led by a creature that even the elves found hard to describe, broke free from the mountain, killing several elves in the process, that I realized a new threat had arisen. Though I still, at this time, did not recognize how great this threat would prove to be. It was the very same night that we received news of the orcs attack upon the elven party, that I had a dream.”

Gandalf paused and looked directly at Legolas. “This dream was like no other dream I have ever had in its potency and clarity. I saw much in this dream, and when I finally awoke, I knew what I had to do.”

Gandalf sighed once more and shook his head. “Unfortunately, Elrond did not agree with me. He was against me reading the letters, but when he realized he could not persuade me, he led me to their hiding place. There, I locked myself in with the parchments with strict instructions that I was not to be disturbed. Then, I began to search.”

“I was forced to use a powerful spell of protection as I read the words, for even in the city of Rivendell, the letters held a great power of evil persuasion, and I feared being polluted by the words.

It took me three days, but I knew immediately when I had found what I sought. I called to the guards posted outside, and they were forced to carry me from the room, for I was too weak even to stand. Even now, I still suffer from weakness, and I fear it will be quite some time before I regain my full strength. I was barely able to call forth enough power the other night to bring that light that scared away your attackers.”

The others all stared at Gandalf, at last understanding the great weariness in the wizard.

The wizard smiled back at them reassuringly. “I may be weak, but my powers are returning, slowly but surely. I am not completely defenseless.”

Legolas nodded, finally understanding the wizard’s great hurry in returning to Minas Tirith, and also his earlier hesitation when assuring the hobbits of their safety. The wizard had been greatly weakened in rescuing them, and he had been unsure of his ability to protect them should another attack come.

“But you learned what this creature is that hunts us, and where it came from?” Gimli asked.

Gandalf shook his head. “It is unknown where this creature came from, or even how old he is. Even the elves have never heard of him or creatures like him. He has lived for thousands of years beneath the slopes of Barad- dur, content to remain hidden in the shadows of that evil place. At least, until now.

It was Sauron himself who first discovered him and took him as his ‘pet,’ as he took all creatures of evil, such as the creature Shelob. He named him Malek and kept him beneath his fortress, for the creature intrigued him. Yet I also believe that Sauron was wary of him, for he kept him imprisoned beneath his fortress, often sending him slaves upon which to feed.”

“He fed it slaves?” Sam broke in incredulously.

“Yes,” Gandalf answered, “for this creature is a scavenger, surviving on death and destruction. He feeds upon the flesh of other creatures and drinks their blood to sustain and strengthen him.”

“That is disgusting.” Sam looked positively sick.

“I agree,” Gandalf stated.

“But why has the creature chosen to come forth now? And why is he after us?” Frodo asked.

“To those questions I have only my own thoughts and speculations, and no clear cut answers. Perhaps Malek finally grew tired of his imprisonment, and decided to break free, or perhaps he had grown so accustomed to Sauron providing slaves for his prey, that when the dark lord was destroyed, he was forced to go hunting for his own food. There is also the possibility that he somehow sensed that Middle Earth was weakened, and wanted to take advantage of it. I am afraid that there are a thousand possible explanations as to why he chose to come forth now.”

“All right,” Frodo replied, “but that still does not answer why he is after us. Is he angry that we destroyed his master?”

Gandalf snorted. “I highly doubt that Malek ever saw Sauron as his master. And I do not think he could have cared less that Sauron was destroyed. No, it is not for that reason that he hunts us.”

“Then what is the reason?” Gimli asked.

“Once again, I hold only my own opinions on this matter,” Gandalf warned them. “But I believe that he is after us because of what we represent.”

“What we represent? Pippin repeated, obviously confused.

Gandalf nodded. “We must keep in mind that the intentions of this creature are different from those of his predecessor. Sauron wished to conquer and enslave Middle Earth. I believe that this creature merely intends to destroy it and feed off its destruction. And for this purpose, he is uniting the orcs once more and drawing them to him.”

There was a silence, as everyone digested the wizard’s words.

“In order to weaken Middle Earth enough to overcome it,” Gandalf continued, “Malek would need to weaken its people. He must cause them to despair. And what better way to begin that despair than by destroying the heroes of the people. The very ones who are partly responsible for the destruction of the dark lord.”

Aragorn nodded thoughtfully, his face remaining completely calm.

“Also,” Gandalf said, “have you noticed who exactly comprises this fellowship?”

The hobbits glanced around, completely confused, though a light of understanding was beginning to cross the faces of the others.

Gandalf helped the hobbits out. “The main races of Middle Earth are all represented within the eight of us. Aragorn represents the race of man, as well as being king over all of Gondor. I represent and am the head of the dwindling faction of wizards; Legolas is a prince of the elves; Gimli is the son of a well-known dwarf, and you four represent the hobbits, a race which has become very well known in the last year, although they remain unaware of this fact. By destroying us, Malek will indeed have struck a great blow to all the races of Middle Earth!”

The four hobbits all sighed, as they finally understood.

“Well,” said Gimli. “We know who this creature is…., sort of.” He cast a glance toward Gandalf. “And we know perhaps why he is after us. I think the next question should be what we are going to do about it.”

“Before we begin planning out strategies of attack, there are still things you need to know about Malek,” Gandalf interrupted.

“I think we may already be aware of some of these things,” Aragorn commented dryly. “Such as his ability to freeze you where you stand.”

“Yes,” Gandalf mused thoughtfully. “However, you have all faced this and survived, and I do not think he will be able to so easily entrap you a second time, as long as we all remain alert and wary.”

“This is true,” Aragorn added. “When I fought him, he tried to use this trap on me a second time and was unable to. Just avoid looking directly at him, and remain wary, as Gandalf said.”

Legolas frowned slightly. He was the only one of the group besides Faramir and Arwen that had not faced Malek’s freezing stare. He remembered his dream, and wondered if that counted. He somehow doubted it. He would just have to remain extra careful and watchful as Aragorn and Gandalf had suggested. Gandalf was continuing, and Legolas forced his attention back onto the wizard’s words.

“There is another important thing you must know about this creature,” the wizard was saying, but then he paused and frowned, as if trying to find the best way to put into words what was on his mind. At last he merely shrugged and forged on. “Malek is a shape changer, and can take on the shape of any creature for a certain period of time. When you all first encountered him, he was in the shape of an elf, probably in an attempt to throw you off your guard.

“Shape changer!” All four hobbits cried at once, sitting forward in their chairs. Legolas was almost as surprised as they were. He was uncertain what he had been expecting, but it most certainly was not this. Beside him, Gimli let out a low curse, and Aragorn showed his first reaction, a deep frown.

“How then, are we ever supposed to find him and destroy him?” Pippin wailed. “He could be anywhere, disguised as anything. He could even be in this city right now, waiting to murder us in our beds, and no one would know it!”

“Do not despair yet, Pippin,” Gandalf said gently. “However it may sound, Malek’s power is not invincible. It is difficult for him to do this thing, and he cannot keep the disguise up very long. There are also ways in which to see through his pretenses, such as his eyes. He can never disguise the blackness and evilness of his eyes. And there are also other ways to see through any mask he may put on. You must only remain watchful. And as for him sneaking in and murdering you in your bed, I do not think he will dare enter the city. Malek does not like crowds, for the more people about, the easier it is to see through his disguises. Nor do I think he will enter at night, for the streets are kept well lit, and Malek hates the light.”

Gandalf paused, and let out a sigh. “And this brings me to my last point, which may well be the most important.

Pippin’s sigh sounded much like Gandalf’s. “I do not think I am going to like this,” the hobbit said wearily.

“Malek has lived for perhaps millions of years,” Gandalf stated quietly, staring into the empty fireplace. “If ever there was a time when he lived above the ground, it is forever forgotten, even by the elves. The deep caves of Mordor have been his home until just recently. So accustomed is he to living in complete blackness, that it has become, in essence, a very part of him. The darkness wraps itself about him like a shield, making him all but impossible to kill at night.”

There was a brief moment of silence, and then the council room erupted at this news. The hobbits all jumped to their feet and began shouting at once. Faramir, Legolas, and Gimli leaned forward in their chairs, faces registering shock and dismay. Even Arwen’s face had gone pale at the news. Only Aragorn remained unaffected at this news. He had been wondering when the wizard would get to this. He looked at the other members of the fellowship with sympathy, remembering all too well his own despair when Malek had healed himself right in front of him.

Gandalf raised his staff, bringing order to the room once more. The hobbits sunk back into their chairs, shaking their heads in numb disbelief. “This is impossible,” Merry muttered. “Not only can this creature take on any form he wishes, it is also impossible to kill him. How do we even try to resist him?” The hobbits words were melancholic and full of despair.

“Do not give up before we have even started,” Gandalf admonished gently. “I did not say that this creature was impossible to slay; I merely stated that he was nearly impossible to kill at night! The blackness within Malek, the very essence of his power, bonds with the darkness that shields him, and allows him to heal any injury he may sustain. During the day, however, is another matter. Light strips him of this shield, and makes him vulnerable. Malek hates any form of light, and though he can stand small amounts of it, daylight is too much for him. He reminds me much of the creature Gollum in this aspect. I assure you, that during the day, Malek is as easily killed as any of us.”

“I wish you hadn’t used that particular comparison,” Sam moaned.

Gandalf ignored him. “Our only task is to find a way to draw him out during the day, and then destroy him.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Gimli mumbled sarcastically.

“It will not be easy,” Gandalf replied, “but it is not impossible either.”

The council room was silent once more until Sam turned to Frodo. “Well, master Frodo, I was not wishing for another adventure so soon after the last, but here I am. The old Gaffer always told me that us Gamgees were destined to suffer, and now I believe him. But I feel more sorry for you. You haven’t even finished your book yet, and you’re off on another quest. I hope this one is over a bit quicker than the last, if you catch my meaning.”

Frodo nodded at Sam’s words, but he seemed lost in thought. None of the hobbits noticed the glances exchanged among the other member’s of the party.

Aragorn turned to the hobbits and addressed them. “Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin.” He said each name gently and with great fondness. “I think that perhaps this time you should all remain at Minas Tirith and allow us to deal with this creature Malek.”

“We would think no less of you if you did,” Legolas put in. “Already you have all done more than your share for Middle Earth. Why don’t you remain here. We will take care of what needs to be done.”

Gimli nodded, but Frodo was already shaking his head. “I thank you for the offer, but I am still a member of this Fellowhsip, and as a member, and a friend, I cannot allow you to leave me out of this.”

“Besides,” Pippin stated firmly. “I seem to recall Legolas mentioning our names as being on that list found in Mirkwood along with all of you. If this creature, Malteck, or whatever, wants to mess with one of us, he will have to get through all of us to do it!”

Everyone stared at Pippin in amazement, even the other hobbits, and the young Took soon blushed fiercely under their scrutiny. Aragorn laughed softly, eying Pippin with a new respect. “I think we shall make a warrior out of you yet, my young friend. Very well, I will make no further attempts to persuade you to stay behind.”

Pippin looked extremely proud under the compliment, and his face grew even redder if it were possible. Merry pounded him proudly on the back.

“What do we do now?” Faramir spoke up for the first time. “How do we find this Malek creature? You said that he was building an army of orcs. Do you suppose he intends to attack the city?”

Gandalf shook his head. “I do not think he is that bold yet. No, he will attempt to draw us to him. We must be ready for him when he does.”

Gandalf turned to Aragorn. “How large a force can you muster as swiftly as possible?”

Aragorn looked to Faramir, and the Steward answered right away. “Right now, the only soldiers within Minas Tirith are the city guards, but give me two days and I can have a force over fifteen hundred strong. Give me a week, and I will have the whole force of Gondor ready to march.”

Gandalf nodded, pleased. “Gather as many as you can, as fast as you can. I do not know yet when we shall march from the city, but I wish to have a sizable force when we do. I am not certain how many orcs Malek has managed to unite, but we must be prepared for anything.

Faramir rose after a quick nod from Aragorn, and swiftly strode from the room. Aragorn and Arwen also rose and faced Gandalf. “There is still much yet to be done, and the hour is late,” Aragorn said, glancing out the window at the sun sitting heavily upon the horizon. “I must bid you all a goodnight, and I hope to see you in the morning at my breakfast table.” He bowed low to the group, and then he and Arwen also exited.

Gandalf sighed and rose as well, stretching much like a cat. “He turned and regarded Legolas, Gimli, and the hobbits. “I suggest you take all opportunities offered to you to rest. I do not know when we will be forced into battle once more, and we must all be prepared. Rest, and heal,” Gandalf said, looking directly at Legolas. “I, too, must bid you goodnight. Sleep well!” the wizard called as he strode out the door.

“He did not just tell us to sleep well,” Sam muttered under his breath. “There is no way he could have just told us to sleep well.”

“I don’t think I will ever sleep well again,” Merry commented sadly.

“Me either,” moaned Pippin. “And I don’t look forward to returning to my own room either.”

“Then why not remain here?” Legolas suggested. “We can keep each other company, perhaps sing a few songs, and drive away the coldness from our hearts.”

The hobbits and Gimli immediately jumped on this idea, and the hobbits suggested that they call servants to bring them food and wine. Legolas built a fire upon the hearth to warm the room against the approaching night and they all settled comfortably in the large chairs. The hobbits begged Legolas to sing the song that he had sung back in the copse of trees two days before, but Legolas shook his head. “The songs of the elves are sad and mournful, and right now our hearts need cheer. I hear the hobbits have many such songs, so why not sing to me for a change.”

“All right,” Frodo agreed, “but I warn you, our voices are not nearly as fair as yours.” And so the hobbits began to sing a song about an old widow who tried to find husbands for her three more-than-plain daughters. The song was a joyous one, and soon all the hobbits were dancing and clapping to the melody, taking turns singing the verses.

“So send her home, Molly

Send her home.

So send your daughter home!”

Pippin sang out in a high tenor, and Merry joined him on the chorus.

“She cannot cook

She cannot sew,

She cannot clean,

Or hold a hoe,

She looks as plain as batted dough!

So send her home, Molly

Send her home.

So send your daughter home!”

Legolas and Gimli laughed, as they watched the hobbit’s merriment, and the cold shadow of gloom quickly fled the room.

Outside, the sun slipped completely from view, an unnatural darkness settling over the horizon.

Part 2

To the West of Minas Tirith, deep in the shadowy caves of Ered Nimrais, a large force of orcs were gathered, waiting for the darkness of night. Here and there, a weak torch cast flickering light about the cave, revealing the grotesque faces of the orcs.

On one end of the cave, no torches burned, and blackness deeper than night obscured everything. The orcs stayed well clear of this area, and if any errand drove them close, they crept forward timidly, peering into the darkness warily.

Malek sat deep within these shadows, watching his army closely. Near him, seven orc captains crouched in the darkness, their eyes never leaving the spot where Malek sat. He knew that they could not see him, for he blended into the darkness until he was nothing more than a shadow. But they still knew where he sat. His evilness was a tangible beacon. The smell of their fear and hatred filled Malek’s nose, and he breathed deeply, a small smile forming on his lips. These seven were the largest and strongest of his army, a remnant of the Urukai, and they knew well the price of failing him.

A small scratching sound at his feet caused him to glance down casually. What had once been his eighth captain now lay in a pool of blood, his body convulsing weakly in the throes of death, a boot rubbing against the cold stone floor. Even as Malek watched, the creature’s convulsions ceased, and he stared fixedly up at Malek, a look of horror forever etched upon his face.

Casually, Malek removed his claws from the orc’s lungs, then bent his head and began to feed. The smell of fear grew even stronger, for even though the orc captains could not see, they could still hear the sound of Malek eating.

Malek did not especially enjoy orc blood. He much preferred human, and during his brief trip through Mirkwood, he had acquired a great love for elf blood, as well. He had never tasted dwarf blood or hobbit, but he expected to remedy that soon. Just the thought of this caused a vicious smile to warp his twisted features.

The fellowship had managed to escape him once, but Malek did not intend to allow it to happen a second time. Hatred flared through him, and he flexed his claws, tearing into the flesh of the dead orc.

He had been too easy on them earlier, and he was actually glad that they had escaped. Next time, Malek intended to see them all suffer. They would provide hours of entertainment for him and his army before he let them die, and their screams would be music to his ears. Then he would feed off their corpses, and the strength he would gain would be unstoppable.

Just the thought of fresh, sweet elf blood, caused Malek to roughly push away the orcs carcass and lift his head, sniffing the air in the cave. He rose and stepped forward, out of the deep shadows, and the seven orc captains rose with him.

Turning to the nearest one, Malek hissed out his question. “Is there a town nearby?”

The orc bowed low, fear radiating off him like steam from a doused fire. “Yes, my master. There is a large town not far south from here.”

“Gather a small force,” Malek ordered. “We march tonight.”

The orc bowed low, a gleam of anticipation in his eyes, before he hurried to do his master’s bidding.

Malek turned his gaze almost directly east, toward the city of Minas Tirith. “I will draw you out of your little stone city. I will draw you to me, and when you arrive…” Malek did not finish his sentence, but as he turned back to his captains, the look of raw hunger and desire on his face caused them to cower away in fear.

***

Legolas jerked awake, his left arm flying to his knife. He was on his feet in a flash, blade drawn, and breath coming in short gasps. It took his sleep-fogged brain a couple of seconds to discern reality from the remnants of the dream still clinging to his mind. But when he did, he sank back to the floor, letting his head fall into his hands, trying to control his harsh breathing.

Gimli and the four hobbits lay sprawled in various positions in front of the fireplace, their loud snores filling the long hall. The fire had died down to embers that glowed eerily in the dark room.

Legolas tried desperately to still his breathing and erase the dream from his mind, but it was useless. At last, he gave up and rose to his feet, picking his way carefully around the sleeping forms of his friends and heading toward the balcony and the garden beyond.

He needed some fresh air badly, and he seriously doubted he would get much more sleep this night, despite his weariness. He didn’t even want to try. A deep shudder ran through his body, and when he ran a hand through his long golden hair, he noticed that it was shaking.

Legolas reached the balcony and swung over the edge to drop lightly to the garden below. A brief spurt of pain ran through his ribs, but he ignored it and began walking along the garden paths, taking deep, even breaths.

He did not want to think about his dream, or what it might mean. Instead, he tried to focus upon the sweet scents of the garden and clear his mind of any thought.

He was so intent upon not thinking, that he walked right past Gandalf, sitting upon a narrow stone bench, and didn’t even notice until the wizard stood and called a greeting.

Legolas whirled, drawing his knife once more, until he realized whom it was he faced. Then he sighed and sheathed his blade.

Gandalf frowned, noticing the elf’s pale features, and slightly shaking hands. “What happened,” he asked worriedly, thinking that something dreadful must have transpired to cause the elf’s distress.

Legolas’s face immediately became guarded, and he shook his head, feigning confusion. “Nothing has happened,” he replied casually. “I merely wished to take an evening walk through the gardens. What brings you out here so late?”

“I could not sleep, and came here to compose my thoughts,” the wizard answered, eyeing Legolas shrewdly. It was obvious that something was bothering the elf, and that he was trying to keep the wizard from noticing, for he would not meet Gandalf’s eyes. A sudden thought hit the wizard, and he narrowed his eyes, studying Legolas. “Did you have another dream,” he asked intently, and immediately knew the answer from the look on Legolas’s face.

“Does it deal with Malek?” Gandalf asked, taking a step closer to Legolas.

The elf shrugged, still not meeting his eyes. “It is nothing,” he said dismissively. “Merely a nightmare brought on by our earlier discussion, I’m sure.”

Gandalf frowned deeply. “I do not think elves have nightmares very easily. If this dream deals with Malek, you must tell me, as you promised you would. I do not understand the nature of these dreams, but they seem to be a warning of sort, as to what is to come, and they should not be ignored.”

Legolas sighed and finally faced the wizard. “I still think it is nothing more than a nightmare brought on by dark thoughts.”

“Then tell me of it, and I will decide if I agree,” Gandalf stated firmly.

Legolas hesitated for a second longer, then dropped his eyes to the garden path. “I dreamt of my death,” he said quietly, then raised his eyes to meet Gandalf’s once more. “It was not….pretty,” he added, even softer.

Gandalf felt as if his stomach had sunk to his knees, but he kept his face carefully expressionless. Reaching out, he took the elf by the arm and drew him toward the bench he had just vacated.

“Tell me,” was all he said.


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.

Story Information

Author: littlefish

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/11/02

Original Post: 06/26/02

Go to Dark Horizons overview

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