Mael-Gûl: 54. Terrible as the Dawn

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54. Terrible as the Dawn

Authors note:
Completely A.U. Legolas slave fic. This story was inspired by Bluegold's story "Bound", which can be found here: http://lotr.adultfanfiction.net/story.php?no=10373

Betareader: many thanks to the wonderful Nancy and the most generous and always encouraging Randy! In addition, my thanks go to Lethe and to the kind people at Lizard's Council. Thank you!!! All still remaining errors are solely my own.

Warning:
Slash, m/m, BDSM, torture, toys, d/s, *very* graphic descriptions; abuse both physical and sexual. Non-con and debatable consent. Special warning for this chapter: Mild BDSM. Please heed the warnings!

Disclaimer:
Universe and characters are not mine, but Tolkien's. The idea of the spell, however, belongs to me. Apart from that, in this chapter I am directly lifting dialogue from Peter Jackson's movie "The Fellowship of the Rings" (Extended Edition) and occasionally also some descriptions and dialogue from J.R.R. Tolkien's book "The Lord of the Rings" again. Both original and closely paraphrased dialogue will be marked with proper reference notes where it is quoted. Please bear with me!

Guide: Occasionally I work with flashback scenes. Here is a Guide:
// /flashback/ //; ************Time change within a flashback***********; "speech"; 'thoughts'

For all other warnings, other disclaimers and author's notes see Story Intro.




LII. Terrible as the Dawn

 


The Fellowship was still busy settling down in the tent they had been given. Aragorn lost no time. He homed in on Gimli, whom he found standing at the side. "Where is Legolas?"

Gimli shrugged. "In the bath house, I presume. I've seen him go there before you left. Why? What is the matter?"

Aragorn reined himself in. It would not do to panic, not now. But still... He grabbed the shoulders of the Dwarf. "Gimli, listen to me! This is very important! It is of the uttermost importance that none of you leave Legolas alone. Not while we are in Lothlórien. Do not let him wander about without your company, do not let him go alone with any of the guards and do not let him go unaccompanied if he is summoned by the Lord or by the Lady. This is vital. If he is summoned, make sure he does not go there without a member of the Fellowship, and alert me immediately. Do you understand me? You must make sure that he is with one of our company at all times!"

Gimli drew his brows together and sized him with a sharp look. "Why?" he asked. "Is he in further danger? I thought the Lady..."

Aragorn gritted his teeth. "In this, we cannot trust her," he said. "None of us can. Whatever favor she may have decided to show in that audience, in this realm Legolas is just a slave. He needs to remain under our protection. Please, tell the others. Make sure he is never left alone, and one of the Fellowship is always with him, even if he is called to see the Lady herself."

His voice sounded desperate in his own ears. Behind the Dwarf, Aragorn saw Boromir stepping closer. "You seem beside yourself," the Man of Gondor observed. "What happened?"

Aragorn shook his head. "I cannot tell you. Just promise me!" he pleaded.

Gimli's eyes seemed to pierce him. "Would that mean keeping Legolas company when he is in your presence, too?" the Dwarf asked.

Aragorn glared at him. "Of course not! Why..." he trailed off and simply shook his head. "No. And I cannot explain any further. I have to find him, now. Just tell the others!" With that, he left his baffled companions standing where they were and ran along the path to the bath house.

He was nearly frantic when he finally reached the elegant, wooden bathhouse. Legolas was just leaving. He was clad in fine, fresh garb, his hair hung loose, and he looked much better; but his familiar slight glow was far too dim, adding to Aragorn's dread. He grabbed Legolas' arms and looked into his face. Doing his best to hide the shaking in his voice, he asked: "Legolas! Are you well, Little Leaf?"

Legolas looked at him with alarm. "Of course, my Lord. What..."

But Aragorn could see him flinch, and his own stomach coiled. "Are you sure?"

It took only a moment, then Legolas' brave facade cracked. "I am just... would you... would you hold me, Estel? Please, my Lord! I need..."

Wordlessly, Aragorn opened his arms. He did not care that unlike Legolas he was still dirty and his clothes stained from the weeks of travel and grime. He just took Legolas in his arms and held him fast. "It is all right – I am here, Little Leaf, I am with you... it is all right, now..." It was meaningless babble, and he knew it. As long as they were still in these woods, there was no safety. Yet under his mindless crooning, his gentle embrace, Legolas seemed to calm. And yet... Aragorn's hands came up and took Legolas' face. Searching his gaze he said: "You are trembling. What..." Then it hit him, and he took a sharp breath. "Are you in Need, Little Leaf?"

Legolas' eyes seemed haunted. "I ... I am not sure. It has been a while, my Lord." He swallowed. "I..."

Aragorn shook his head in desperation. "It has not been that long since Moria – just a few days." He felt the blood leave his face. "I had thought I had been more careful that last time. Oh, Eru..."

Legolas did not reply. After a moment, he hesitantly said: "It isn't that, Estel. I think there is still time. It's just... I... I need you, Estel. Please... please, my Lord, may I be with you, tonight?" He sounded desperate.

Cold fear recoiled in Aragorn's stomach. No! It could not be! He had just left Galadriel, she did not have the time.... He swallowed. He could not even send Legolas to Boromir, instead. Not in these woods. And yet, all he could see before him were the empty eyes of that other Elf, his pitiful pleading to be hurt, for more... He forced the thought away. Legolas must not know. If Legolas ever learned of the fate of his sibling, Aragorn was sure he would not be able to stop him, and the result would be Legolas' death. He could not bear that. And yet..."Are you sure? I would... have to hurt you again, Little Leaf!"

"I do not care! Please, Aragorn, my Lord, I need you!" Legolas' reply held something fierce in its tone. Aragorn could see the pain, the desperation in his eyes. " Estel, please..."

He nodded. "So be it. I will be with you, tonight. Just answer me... have you seen the Lady since last we talked?"

Legolas drew back a bit and shook his head no. "Not since the audience she gave us all. Why, Aragorn? What happened? I heard she asked you to talk with her – what...?"

Aragorn shuddered. "It does not matter," he lied. "Legolas, I need you to promise me something. It is important. While we are here, I do not want you to go anywhere alone – especially not before the Lady! I want you to keep company with someone of the Fellowship and have at least one member of the Fellowship with you at all times. This is of the greatest importance! If she summons you, if you are ordered to attend to her, do not go there alone. Ask somebody to go with you, and send for me. Make sure you are accompanied by one of the others until I arrive. This is an order! Please, Legolas, I need you to promise me that you will do this! Now!"

Legolas stared back at him. He was positively alarmed, now. "Estel – why, my Lord? What happened?"

Aragorn shook his head. "Don't ask. I cannot tell you. Just promise me. I need you to do this!"

"Estel..."

"Promise!" he demanded, and after a moment, his slave finally complied. "Of course, my Lord. I will obey your orders, I promise."

Aragorn sighed. "Good! Thank you! And now, I believe it is time I take a bath myself. I fear I am already smelling like an Orc," he said. "I require your assistance," he added with a rueful smile. "I fear I spoiled the efforts you took to wash off your grime."

Legolas looked a little calmed, but still uneasy, and Aragorn gave up on lightening the mood. "Assist me, Little Leaf," he just commanded. "We have not had a time of privacy to ourselves since Moria."

Legolas shot him a quick look. He seemed relieved. "I am honored to serve you, my Lord," he said and followed Aragorn back into the bath house.


_________ o ________________


The bath was calming to Aragorn's nerves. Legolas' gentle ministrations, the familiar closeness of his slave, soothed his sense of alarm. And yet... Trying for a casual tone, Aragorn said: "I missed you, Little Leaf. I feared for you, these last few days. To know what you had to do for us, and having to agree to it, was... did they treat you well? I heard what you said to Galadriel, although I do not understand why you decided to spare them. But was it the truth?"

He felt Legolas tense under his hands and shook his head. "I am not angry," he said, "not with you, anyway. I just don't understand. Why did you spare Haldir?"

Legolas swallowed. Hesitantly, he looked up to meet his master's gaze. "I did not spare Haldir," he said. "She would not have gone after him. I spared Orophin. She told me..." He shuddered and shook his head. "I cannot say. Please, my Lord, do not ask! Orophin treated me decently. He did not deserve..."

Aragorn bit his lips. A sudden image sprang up in his mind, and he shuddered. The beaten prisoners back in that glade... Galadriel had said she used that spell for punishments. She said she even had considered once to put a milder form of it on Arwen...

"I can imagine," he said. "Do not fear! I shall respect your decision." He shook his head. "I am glad you are all right and this is over. And to think a few months ago I even contemplated giving you to one of these Elves..."

He felt Legolas cringe and caught his face between his hands. "No! Look at me!" he commanded. "It will not happen! I will never give you up to them! Not now! Not as long as I have life left in me!" He saw the still present fear in his slave's eyes and closed his eyes against it. "Do not worry. I was a fool back in Imladris. But it won't happen now." I would kill you first! But he did not say that aloud; in this wood, he needed to guard even his thoughts. Opening his eyes again, he saw Legolas' astonishment at his fierce tone, the question in his gaze, and shook his head, mouthing silently: 'Not here.'

Legolas nodded his understanding. Hesitantly, he raised his hand to Aragorn's face. "Estel..."

They heard a knock. "Aragorn Dúnadan?"

Legolas paled and stepped back. Aragorn turned around and grabbed a towel. "Yes, what is it?"

The door opened. It was the Elf who had earlier called him to the Lady. His face did not betray if he had heard anything of their exchange; he merely bowed to Aragorn. "The Lady has sent me to show you to your talan for this night," he offered. "If you are ready? The meal will be served at the camp of your comrades in half an hour."

Aragorn sighed. "Yes, we are ready. Give us a few minutes to clad ourselves. Then you may lead the way."


________________ o _______________


The meal was short and frugal, and it was pretty quiet, since Legolas refused to answer any more questions from his comrades about the last few days, or the audience with Galadriel. The conversation then turned to Gandalf and to the lament for Mithrandir they could hear sung around them in the trees. Legolas refused to translate the laments, too, and Aragorn had not the heart to do it, either. 'You were wrong, Mithrandir, in your hope that even the destruction of the One would end this misery. You were wrong on many things. And yet, what hope is left if we don't trust in you?'

He did not dare to voice that, though. So he bid the Hobbits, Boromir and the Dwarf an early good night and asked the two warriors among his comrades to keep an eye on the company. Then he and Legolas went up to the talan Galadriel's guard had shown to them. It was a small one with just one big room set around the trunk of a tall tree some way from the camp of the Fellowship; the platform in front of the entrance left just enough space for their boots, the trap door and the water tank. The interior consisted of a broad bed, formed from a low, wooden platform set on one side of the hut and soft furs, a small wash stand, a big chest, and some strategically placed slings, hooks and ropes. Even a yoke was there, which could be hung from one of the big wooden beams that supported the ceiling, and a number of fine waxen candles. A small lantern lamp at the trunk of the tree provided light and fire. A few yet unlit candles on holders at the walls and at the trunk offered additional light if needed. Beside the bed, a rack offered a place for their garb, pack and weapons.

Aragorn felt his mouth go dry. He took a quick inspection of the chest. Yes, he had been correct; it was well filled, and the collection of toys, whips, paddles and restraints could even match his own back in Imladris. Some of the toys were familiar from earlier and well-recalled occasions when he had a chance use them on his slave, some he had seen before but never used; and some were completely new to him. He felt a stirring in his groin and gritted his teeth. Only a few weeks earlier he had dreamed about this occasion, had longed for the privacy, for the collection of toys and the exquisite possibilities to play which this very talan offered. He had felt hot desire course through his veins at the thought.

That seemed to have been ages ago, at the moment.

He felt Legolas step behind him, felt the heat of his body against his back as his slave spied over his shoulder. He heard his dismayed hiss. Blindly, he raised a hand and stroked over his slave's head. "Hush! I am not sure yet which of these I'll use on you, tonight, if any at all. I shall try to be gentle."

But even as he said it, his groin stirred again and he felt heat course through him. Just a few blows with that delicious paddle, just to see how Legolas would react to that; just to hear him hiss in dismay when it hit his flesh... and that interestingly formed carag... it seemed to glow, made of a kind of stone. He longed to try it out. Then there were clamps, and needles... and these candles, the best kind, with the most expensive wax, it burned hotter than normal candle wax, and smelled much better. Perfect to use on his slave's skin...

He felt his breathing quicken and felt the body of his slave shiver against his back. Legolas' carefully controlled voice hit him. "It will be my honor to serve you, Master." A hard, audible swallow. "In any form you shall decide."

The fear and dismay of his slave, as well as the resigned acceptance, were palpable to him and made him shiver. Brave Little Leaf! He had just given him his consent, had he not? And yet, and yet...

He turned around. Legolas swallowed and took a step back. Aragorn hardened his voice. "Kneel!"

Wordlessly, his slave obeyed.

"You know that if we do this I will have to hurt you tonight, and that I will use many of these toys on you?"

Legolas' voice was a dry whisper. "Yes, my Lord."

"And yet, you are willing to serve me? You are asking me for it?"

A heartbeat of silence. Then the answer, another whisper. "Yes, my Lord."

"Look at me!"

Legolas complied. Aragorn could see fear, and yet longing and desperation in his eyes. "Please, Estel... I need you tonight," his slave said.

It was a breach of rules, as they were already in the game and he had not been addressed or allowed to speak, but Aragorn did not care. He felt his groin tighten. He took a deep breath. "So be it, Little Leaf," he said again. "But remember, I do this at your own wish." His voice was raw and croaky. "Undress! Ready yourself for me. And light the candles!"

Legolas obeyed. While he was busy, Aragorn rid himself of his weapons and his pack, then he turned back to search through the toys in the chest. He chose a couple of paddles and two different whips, and the strange, glowing carag. It seemed warm to his touch, and his mouth watered in anticipation, wondering what it would do. He chose a few of the exquisitely worked clamps, and a velvet roll of cloth adorned with jeweled needles. There were all sorts of pebbled staffs and a number of different restraints. He chose four buckled leather straps that seemed to fit Legolas' wrists and ankles, and a broad one for his slave's neck. There were five different flacons with oil, as well, and Aragorn tried them out, choosing one that was smooth and not mixed with any irritant. He wished for no lasting cruelty, tonight.

He also registered a sixth flacon, and sniffed the contents. He felt the blood leave his face and set it back. Sogo nen aniron!1 The poison could make a slave more sensitive and it would heighten his desire, but it was dangerous. It was a necessary part in the casting of the Mael-Gûl spell; he had taken a small amount with him on the Quest because he had expected to extend the spell to one of the Lothlorien Elves, to give Legolas an option for survival once Aragorn would die; a ludicrous thought now. But to use it merely for sport? The thought made him shiver. He closed the trunk and took the chosen items with him to the bed. The sight that awaited him when he turned took his breath away. Legolas knelt before him on the floor, completely naked and head demurely bowed. His skin glowed in the light of the candles, and he looked like a feast waiting to be consumed.

Aragorn let his eyes rake over the supple body and took a deep breath. "You are beautiful!" he said. "You do not know how much I have dreamed of seeing you like this again. Just you and me! I cannot wait to taste you again, tonight!"

He saw Legolas flinch at his words, and desire coursed through him. Legolas' hesitant answer hit him.

"It... is my honor to serve you, my Lord." There was fear and yet longing in his voice, and Aragorn had to swallow hard against the hotness in his stomach.

"And you will! Go to the bed and kneel on it! I will bind you for this." His voice was raw. His breath caught as Legolas complied and knelt on the bed the same way he had before on the floor. "Hands behind your back! Touch your ankles! Present yourself to me!" he commanded. Legolas obeyed and spread his thighs, arching his back and pushing out his chest. His muscles rippled under the strain of the position, and yet he remained motionless and obedient, waiting to be bound. The sight sent hot arousal through Aragorn's body. He stepped close and placed the chosen toys carefully on the bed, so that his slave could see them. A shiver ran through Legolas' body at the sight, and Aragorn's arousal grew. He felt himself harden. Swallowing against his raw desire, he reached out and let his hands wander over the soft skin, the strained chest and stomach, the hardening nipples, the rippling muscles of the sides, the unmarked thighs, and the yet limp maleness of his slave. He felt his mouth watering at the thought to bring that cock alive, to ensure his slave's arousal despite the pain he would yet start to inflict on him this night. But first...

Taking Legolas head with one hand, he placed a kiss first on his throat, then his mouth. Legolas opened up for him and he tasted sweetness, the first kiss he had had in weeks. He finally came up for breath and sighed. "You cannot know how much I missed this!" he murmured. "Beautiful Little Leaf! Let me bind you for me!"

Kneeling beside his slave on the bed, he carefully applied the restraints, making sure they sat snugly but not too tight. When he was finished, Legolas' wrists were bound to his ankles, securely keeping him in his position. Aragorn smiled. Taking one of the whips – the small, slender one – he stood up and let it slide gently over his slave's naked skin, his sides, his chest, toying for a moment with Legolas' nipples. He saw the shiver running through his slave, and felt it answered in the shuddering of his own skin. His breath caught again. He let the tip of the whip wander upward, let it touch Legolas' mouth.

"Kiss the whip!" he commanded.

His slave obeyed. Aragorn let the tip of the whip caress his slave's cheeks, let it wander down the throat again, the nipples, the chest over the stomach to Legolas' most private parts and then his thighs – then he raised it high for the first blow. He was completely hard now. Just a few hits...

His slave opened his eyes again and looked at him, and in his eyes, Aragorn could see fear, but also complete acceptance; even a kind of longing.

Longing for his blows. For a moment, it was not Legolas he saw, but the writhing body of that other slave, tortured and used, and yet still mindlessly craving for more. He saw again those empty eyes, the mind completely gone, longing, begging for another bit of torture... Shocked out of his arousal, Aragorn dropped the whip and hid his face behind his hands. He dropped to his knees, trying in vain to force the image from his mind. "I can't!"

He heard Legolas' shocked intake of breath, the alarm in his voice. "Estel? Aragorn, what...?"

He shook his head and rose. Staggering to the bed and freeing his slave from the bonds, he just stammered: "Forgive me, Little Leaf! I cannot do it. Not tonight." He could not look him in the eyes, for fear to see that other image again. The idea to flee, just run away, he dropped the moment it occurred to him – the talan was some forty feet above the ground. No way could he manage the rope ladder right now. So, he just sat on the bed and looked away.

"Estel..." Legolas' tentative hand touched his shoulder, and he felt his warmth behind him. He shuddered.

So trusting. So ready for him. Only a few weeks ago the willingness of his slave to serve his needs, to bear the pain for him despite the fear, would have worked on him like strong, intoxicating wine, driving him on, arousing him like nothing else. And now...

Fighting for his voice, he finally managed: "I am sorry, Little Leaf! I just can't. Not now." And yet... his slave had been willing and welcoming to him. He had been ready to serve him tonight, ready for the pain, willing to play... would it be so bad to have this every time when they made love? To have Legolas' complete acceptance, having him enjoy this, longing for their play as much as Aragorn himself? Why not accept Galadriel's gift? Wasn't that what he had dreamed about? He shuddered, forcing the thought away. Not like this! Not with this kind of twisting of his slave's desires, with a curse that would destroy any hope Legolas might have for his salvation.

The touch of his slave vanished from his shoulder. He felt movement behind him and turned around.

Legolas knelt on the bed but turned his back to him. He shivered. "I am... I am sorry I offered myself to Haldir without your consent, My Lord." His voice shook. Aragorn heard the pain and despair in his tone. "I... I request punishment. But... please, please don't send me away. Even... even if you are... d-disgusted with me..."

Aragorn groaned. Kneeling beside Legolas, he took him by the shoulders and turned him around. "Legolas! Melethron! Look at me!" he commanded. "Please! Look at me, Little Leaf!"

Hesitantly, Legolas obeyed. When he met his gaze, Aragorn said: "I am not disgusted with you! This is not about you, or about Haldir. It is about me. I could never be disgusted with you! I love you! Please believe me, Little Leaf!" He took his stricken Elf into his arms and said: "I cannot speak to you right now, But... please believe me that I do desire you. And I will be with you tonight if I can. Just not right now."

Legolas' hesitant voice hit him. "Estel? What..."

He shook his head. "Not now, Little Leaf. Not while we are still in these woods. Just remember that you are not to walk around alone. Not under any circumstances!"

He felt Legolas nod against his shoulder and searched his gaze again. He saw understanding dawn there. His slave mouthed: 'The Lady?'

Aragorn nodded. He saw Legolas pale. Setting a finger to his lips, Aragorn shook his head, and to his relief, Legolas nodded. Aragorn took a deep breath. "I will try again in the morning," he offered. "Until then, let's just be together. And from now, we will spend our nights with the fellowship again. As lovely as this talan is, I think we will do better if we share the tent with our comrades."

He saw Legolas' eyes widen at his words and pressed his lips together. There would be questions about this, questions he had no intention to answer. Grimly, he thought: 'I shall have to find a way to keep you distracted, melethron. I cannot tell you the truth. Not if I do not want to lose you!' But for now... "Disrobe me!" he commanded, and was satisfied at the puzzled expression on Legolas' face. Usually, he delighted in the power of staying clothed while he had his slave fully naked, at his bidding. Yet for now he would luxuriate in another kind of play. "What are you waiting for? I think the command was clear enough!"

It took only a moment, then his slave started to follow his command. Slowly and reverently, Legolas began to loosen the bonds of his master's jerkin. When he was finished, he removed the belt and freed his master from jerkin and shirt, folding them tidily and setting them aside. Then he knelt to free Aragorn of his boots. Finally, he started on the bindings of the trousers, mutely asking and receiving permission before he touched the knots that closed the trousers over Aragorn's groin. He kissed the bindings before he opened them, and kissed his master's trousers again before he finally set them aside.

Aragorn watched him, moving only when the procedure demanded it. The quiet worship and reverence of his slave was to him like a strong wine, especially as it was given freely. When Legolas was done and knelt again before his naked master, mutely waiting for his commands, Aragorn took a moment to enjoy the sight. It would be a while before he would see him like this in such perfection again.

Finally, he spoke. "Very good! Now, come here and kneel on the bed. Hands to your ankles, as you did before. I want you to keep as immobile as you can, whatever I will do. Can you do this for me?" He smiled as Legolas shot him a quick, puzzled look, but then just bowed and followed his command. He did not bind his slave this time. Let's keep this as different from the treatment of that other slave as possible!

When Legolas knelt for him again, thighs spread, torso bowed backward to give his master the best possible access to his chest and stomach, Aragorn began a slow and determined worship of his slave's body. Kissing and caressing his way down from Legolas' throat over the breastbone and the chest – teasing the nipples gently with tongue and teeth – he had to smile over every shudder, every little gasp he managed to elicit with his ministrations. Finally, he reached Legolas' groin. Standing up, he knelt before the bed and licked his lips at the sight of his partner's semi-erect member. "Don't move!" he warned again, and homed in on his prize. He was delighted at the wonder in Legolas' eyes, at the little moan as his mouth closed over his companion's flesh, at his slave's quickening breath... When Legolas finally came, gasping Estel's name, Aragorn felt pride and joy. The spectre of that other slave was gone.

Aragorn held Legolas' back while his slave spilled himself and helped him keep his strained position. Then he came up to share the taste of his companion in a kiss. "You are beautiful!" he said. "And now, melethron, it is time that I should take my pleasure, too." He sat beside his slave on the bed and tapped his thighs. "Over my knee! Face down. Present your back. I wish to leave a mark or two on you, before the night is over!"
It took a moment for Legolas to disentangle himself, and Aragorn subtly helped him to straighten up and follow his orders. When his slave had followed his commands, he took the time to caress the smooth skin, the muscled cheeks in appreciation. Then he chose one of the paddles and set to work.

It took only a few whacks with the paddle and a few more lashes with one of the whips to get him hard and ready for his slave. Legolas' willingness and ready obedience, combined with the warm afterglow of seeing him come with Estel's name on his lips, for him and him alone, was enough to heighten his arousal, and made it easy to ignore the other toys. He sniffed and tasted the oil before he used it to make sure it held no hidden drugs, and let Legolas ride him to completion. The sight of his Elf, relaxed and glowing again with pleasure and with joy, was glorious. He felt relief and gratitude. They had done it! The spell was fed for at least another fortnight. Spent and satisfied, Aragorn dragged Legolas down to the bed beside him, swept the used and unused toys down to the ground, and settled down to sleep. He hardly noticed the blanket Legolas tucked over them.


_______________ o _____________


When Aragorn awoke again he was alone. The small single room was lit just by the gentle, dim light of the lantern over the door; the place beside him on the bed was empty and cold. In a short moment of panic, he sat up and looked around him. Legolas stood at the door, clad in nothing but a shirt, and stared out in the night. He had obviously been up for some time; the toys Aragorn had swept to the floor had been set aside neatly beside one corner of the bed, ready to be used again if Aragorn should decide so.

Aragorn cleared his throat. "Couldn't sleep?"

Legolas turned to him and bowed. He hesitated. "My Lord... Estel..."

Aragorn just nodded. "I feel some unrest, too. Let's return to the camp. I feel safer when we stay with the others."

He set aside the blanket and stood up. Quickly dressing himself, he took a moment to return the toys into the trunk. The glowing carag he had not used that night felt warm inside his hand, and it seemed to resonate with every sound. He weighted it in his hand and experimentally ticked it with a finger. It hummed.

Sighing, he returned it to the trunk. Before he left, he cast a last, regretful look at the talan behind him. There had been a time when a place like this would have been close to what he had imagined for his future with his slave. No longer.

He turned and closed the door on that specific dream.


__________________ o _________________


The way down the ladder was easy. It was deep into the night, already, but still the darkness was lit by some remaining lanterns, and they made it down with hardly any noise. The lament of the Elves for Mithrandir had stopped; there was an eerie quietness in the wood. Legolas was glad of it. He felt a haunting unrest in his mind, and he strained all his senses to hear what may be the cause, but the night was silent. Even the trees around him seemed asleep. But Estel had felt this unrest too, and he had foresight... yet whatever it was that had disturbed him earlier, he could not grasp it anymore. They made it back to the camp in silence.

The Fellowship was fast asleep, save for Gimli, who harrumphed when they tiptoed back into the tent. "Ah, back already. I wondered when you would decide to reappear," he grumbled.

Aragorn did not reply. He just walked over to his bedroll. "I hope you took some rest, Master Dwarf," he said. "We will move on come the morning."

Gimli shrugged. "Boromir had the watch earlier this night," he said noncommittally, and Aragorn gave him a nod and settled down to sleep.

Legolas did not join him. He stayed outside and stared into the night. He heard the Dwarf approach him.

"So, aren't you going to take rest as well?" asked the gruff voice.

Legolas cast him a short look. "I cannot find sleep, Master Dwarf. My dreams are haunted, and something is giving me unrest. I will take the watch, if you desire."

Gimli shook his head. "There is no need. It is Pippin's turn to take the watch."

Legolas nodded. He took his gear and weapons and made to leave.

"Where are you going?"

The Dwarf again. "I need to take a walk, Master Dwarf. I wish to have a look around."

Gimli just nodded and took up his axe. "Very well. Just let me wake up Pippin, and we can take a walk."

Legolas drew his brows together. "We?"

"Your Ranger said not to leave you alone," the Dwarf called to mind.

Legolas regarded him for a long moment, then he just sighed and gave in. "I would be honored to have your company, Master Dwarf," he said. He watched as Gimli shook the Hobbit awake and said a few words to the yawning Halfling, then the Dwarf joined him on his path.

Legolas had no clear idea where he was going. The uneasiness he had felt earlier was back, full force. He did not know where it came from. And yet... more and more, the silence of the wood around him troubled his senses. This was the center of the Golden Wood! He had been here only a few times before, but never had he seen this place so dormant. It was as if the whole wood held its breath, waiting for something...

"He has hurt you again, has he not?"

Shaken out of his thoughts, he turned to his companion. "What?"

Gimli's face was unreadable. "You walk more stiffly than you did this afternoon. And you favor your left leg."

Legolas thought of the whacks of the paddle he had received. Aragorn had been laughably gentle compared to what he had put his slave through at other times. And yet... "It is nothing."

The Dwarf gave him a long look. "Don't give me that. You asked me not to tell the others he had sold you out, and I did not; they came to that conclusion all by themselves. But I have seen you being hurt by him several times, now – and you cannot tell me that he had reason to punish you again. That Dúnadan should ask you for forgiveness on his knees! Why did he do it this time?"

Legolas paled. "You cross the line, Master Dwarf," he said icily. "If you wish to keep me company, I invite you to keep to your own business."

Gimli did not budge. "Your master told us to keep an eye on you, for your own safety," he said, "and I plan to do that – even if it is in regard to Aragorn himself. So, answer my question!"

Legolas bit his lips. "It is his right..."

"We have been through that," Gimli said. "And that is not an answer."

Legolas remained silent. The Dwarf growled. "Look," he said, "I can see why you do not dare to rebel, and why you think you owe him your loyalty. What I do not understand is why you still defend him!"

"He is my Lord," Legolas said exasperated. "What do you expect? I am glad that I belong to him!"

"Why?" Gimli asked. "He hurts you, he abuses you on a regular basis, and yet you all but love him. What did he do to deserve that?"

Legolas shook his head. The whole conversation had grown somewhat surreal, even more so as it reminded him of his earlier exchange with Orophin. And yet...

"Aragorn is a noble man..." he began, but he was interrupted by the Dwarf.

"Noble? He sells you out, he shares you with others, he abuses you at will, and you call him noble?" He shook his head. "My understanding of noblesse seems to be different than yours, Master Elf."

"He did not sell me out," Legolas said. "And you do not understand. Estel... Aragorn has grown more grim over the years, ever since his destiny comes closer. But he was once a sweet and noble man, untouched by any darkness. You cannot know..."

Gimli shrugged again. "He is not pure, now," he observed. "With everything he did to you just on this quest, you cannot tell me he is free of any darkness. So, why do you still love him?"

Legolas shook his head. "You do not understand! I was the reason why he became corrupted. It was my fault!" He balled his fists and ended in a whisper. "He fell into this darkness just because of me!"

"What?"

"He... he became my master to protect me," Legolas said. "And everything that happened afterward sprang from that. He has seen to my needs and taken care of me ever since. Even if I left aside my oath to him, how could I then condemn him?" He stared down at the Dwarf in sheer frustration. "Aragorn is a good man, and a great leader of his people. He is a noble warrior. Don't judge him by an evil not of his making," he finally said. "He has done what he could for me and more than I could ever have demanded."

Gimli looked back at him with drawn brows. "How? How could you have caused him to be corrupted?"

"I..." Legolas did not finish his sentence. He had paid no attention to the path he and the Dwarf had taken, but now he realized where they both had been going. This was forbidden territory. He looked around, and his earlier unrest hit him again. He heard voices. Then he became aware whom they belonged to.

He turned to the Dwarf. "Gimli! Run back to the camp! Tell Aragorn to take the company down to the river. I will meet him there. We must leave these woods immediately!"

The Dwarf looked confounded, but he shook his head. "Your master said not to leave you alone," he objected.

"There is no time for that, now! Run!" And with that he set off as fast as he could manage, without another look at his companion.


___________________ o _________________



Frodo woke from an odd dream. There had been voices arguing somewhere in the distance, and an odd, white light, but now the camp surrounding him was silent. All he could hear was the quiet sighing of the wind. His companions slept all around him. Not far distant he spotted Pippin sitting slumped against the trunk of the big tree, apparently fast asleep. Gimli was not there; Frodo assumed the Dwarf had sought the bushes to relieve himself. He was about to turn around and huddle back in his blanket again, when he saw a movement.

The Lady was quiet and silent as a ghost. Her feet moved without sound. She looked regal and determined, and she did not pay him or the others in the camp any attention. And yet he felt as if something had called him. As if his feet had developed a will of their own, he stood up and followed her.

Onward she went, over bridges and past lanterns and small springs and beautifully carved statues, through round doorways and mossy steps hewn into stone. She never looked around and never spoke. Frodo soon felt as if he walked inside a dream. He quickly lost all orientation, but on he went, without hesitation. Finally, he found himself inside a grove where a clear well sprang forth out of a rock and flowed into a basin. Another basin, hewn of stone but dry, stood in the middle of the grove. Galadriel took a silver ewer and filled it with water from the well. All her movements were ruled by serenity. "Will you look into the mirror?"*2

Frodo started. It was the first time she had acknowledged his presence. He stepped carefully closer. "What will I see?"*

She gave him a look from the side. Stepping to the basin in the middle of the grove, she raised the decanter and poured a clear stream of water into the stone-carved bowl. Her voice was clear and deep.

"Even the wisest cannot tell, for the mirror shows many things. Things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass."*

Frodo stepped closer, mesmerized by her voice. The crystalline, gleaming water seemed to draw him in. He leaned over the basin and looked into the reflecting surface. His own face stared back at him, calm yet hesitant. Then it disappeared and he saw -

Elves fighting Elves, a brutal battle, without mercy. One of the leaders held his sword high, shouting orders. The fighting halted. A ragged, battered warrior, clad with a crown of leaves, stepped forward and knelt before him, laying down his weapons, and with him knelt the line of warriors behind him... a different image, Aragorn, sitting haggard and stony-faced at a bed. On the bed was Legolas, face grey and shot with dark, eyes closed; he was lying much too still. Aragorn buried his face in his hands and broke down over the quiet body... Then he was back on Caradhras, and there was Boromir, holding the chain of the ring, his hand about to close on the trinket. Aragorn stood behind him, hand on the grip of his sword, and about to draw on his companion... Another image, and he saw himself, running, the world around him blurred as it was when he had donned the ring. Behind him, somebody raged, tried to follow, fell... he saw himself on a hill, backing away, Aragorn standing before him, face cloudy and threatening... Elves in a battle against Orcs, beleaguered, dying from cruel, flying bolts... A great city, besieged by an army of Orcs, too great to be imagined. Somehow he knew that this city had to be in Gondor...Then he saw his home back in the Shire, but it was terribly changed, the trees around the streets there all cut down, smoke rising over strange structures. Hobbits in chains were led away, ducking under a whip, among them Sam. Orcs ran about, killing and being cut down... Then all of these fast-changing images disappeared and were replaced by a great, red eye. Sauron himself was looking back at him!

Frodo gasped, but as much as he tried, he could not look away. The water started boiling. The Ring slipped out from under his shirt and dangled free, mere inches from the water. He heard Galadriel's warning ringing out in his mind, 'Do not touch the water!' and with a last bout of resistance, he grabbed the Ring and threw himself back. He landed on his back, on the ground, panting.

Galadriel watched him from the corner of her eye. He heard her speak both with his ears and directly in his mind.

"I know what it is you saw, for it is also in my mind. It is what will come to pass, if you should fail. The Fellowship is breaking. It is already begun. He will try to take the Ring. You know of whom I speak. One by one, it will destroy them all."*

Frodo looked back at her. "What of the Elves? The battle..."

Galadriel nodded. "The war of Elrond. His mind was conquered by his Ring. Long ago, he threw the Mirkwood Elves down, threatened to kill them all, to the last man, women and child. To save his people, Thranduil, Legolas' father, capitulated. But it was not enough. They have been promised freedom, should you succeed. But it will never be enough. Elrond will not give in. He has created that foul spell, which you have seen at work, and he will not let go."

Frodo stared at her. There was something, at the back of his own mind, but he could not quite grasp it... "What of Haldir? His demands..."

Galadriel looked down, then up again. "Ah, yes. He overstepped his bounds and acted in this against our will and without our consent. He would have been punished, but the Mirkwood prince forgave him for his deeds and asked him to be spared. Legolas has a great heart and he is a noble offspring of his people."

"I saw him at his death bed. Will he die?"

Galadriel looked down again. "The spell that holds him bound cannot be broken. Even should you succeed in destroying the Ring, I fear the life of the young Mirkwood prince is still forfeit. Only he who has created that foul spell knows all its secrets. Of course, maybe the Master of the Ring may find a way to break or bend the spell, for it is wrought with the power of one of the Three, and he who claims the One knows all the secrets of their bearers. But should the One ever fall in the hands of Sauron, then he would use that evil to enthrall his enemies... and so, all free people of the world."

Frodo shuddered. "But Elrond – he is your ally, even..."

She nodded again. "Yes. Even my son in law. And yet, he has deceived us all, turned us against the Mirkwood Elves, against ourselves... you must understand, Frodo, the Rings are powerful. Elrond was not for nothing once counted among the Wise, but he turned from that path long ago. We did not know how deeply he had been corrupted. And when the deed was done, our realms lay under siege, for Sauron, in his guise as Necromancer, had returned again. Now we are all caught in this deadly game. If we come through, Celeborn and I will see Thranduil's people free, but I fear those who are under the spell will all be lost."

There was something, something in the back of Frodo's mind, but he paid it no heed. It was as if his own lips did not follow his volition anymore. "Then with the Ring, you could set them free? And you could break the spell, and end this evil?" he asked.

She hesitated. "Maybe. But..."

Frodo heard himself speak, and he could hardly believe the words his mouth was forming. "You are wise and strong. I will give you the Ring, and you will end this evil and the threat of Sauron. You will bring us peace." He stood and held the Ring on his flat hand. Something deep in his mind screamed a warning, told him to close his hand, but he could not move. The white light that surrounded her seemed to have frozen both his body and his mind and held him captured, and his hand, his fingers did not follow his commands anymore.

Galadriel came closer. "You offer it to me freely,"* she said. "I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this..."*

She spread out her arms. Darkness seemed to break out of her, mingling with that white light. Her voice sounded like thunder.

"Instead of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen, beautiful and terrible as the dawn, everlasting as the sea, stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me, and those who would do evil shall despair!"**

She set her hands together and looked back at him. "I accept. I shall take the Ring and replace the rule of Sauron. And I shall see that those who do evil and deserve my wrath shall be justly punished."

Frodo watched her approaching him in abject horror. He could not move. He tried to close his hand, he tried to run. But he was frozen on the spot and could not move an inch, and the white light seemed to fill his mind and even catch his breath. He could not even scream.

Then somebody broke through the bushes surrounding the glade and tackled him, and in that moment of distraction, his fingers followed his orders again. All he could do was close them over the hard, round band of the Ring and keep them closed around it as he hit the ground. The air was driven from his lungs, and he gasped. Suddenly, he could breathe again. He looked up and stared into the pale face of Legolas.

"Can you move?"

He nodded, unable to speak. Behind him, he heard Galadriel scream.

Legolas nodded back at him. "Then get up and run!" he commanded. When Frodo did not follow fast enough, he simply grabbed him and jumped up, and started back on the way he had come from. Behind him, Frodo could hear Galadriel rage: "You will pay for this, Mirkwood spawn! You and your people will be sorry!"

Legolas did not slow down. Frodo had trouble shaking off the last vestiges of the trance that had held him captured. He heard shouts and screams behind him, now not merely of the Lady of the Wood, but also from many Elven guards. Then, an arrow hit the tree they had just passed. Legolas rounded another tree and dodged a small bush without slowing, only to come to a sudden stop. Frodo heard his breathless whisper. "Can you stand?" He nodded and found himself set down.

Legolas had straightened up already, and had drawn his knives. The next moment, somebody broke through the hedge before them. Frodo swallowed a shout. But it was Gimli. Legolas had already put his knives back in their sheaths. "I thought I told you to go to the camp!" he said.

Gimli shrugged. "I did. Aragorn and Boromir have taken the Hobbits and are on their way down to the river. I chose to go back to you. Aragorn wanted to come himself, but he has to lead the others; he is the only one who knows the way." The Dwarf sounded smug. "What is happening?"

"The Lady tried to take the Ring. We need to leave," Legolas said. "Gimli..."

The next moment, he drew his knives again. An Elf dropped from the tree beside them right into their midst. It was Haldir. The next instance, he had Legolas' knife at his throat. He gasped and raised his hands. "Daro! Peace! I have come to help you!"

Legolas hissed. "Why should I trust you?"

"You do not understand. I spoke with Orophin. He has convinced me of your cause. But it is Celeborn who sends me now. I am here to help you!" Legolas did not relent. Haldir gasped again and said quickly: "My Lord foresaw the temptation of his wife. He sent me and my guards to watch out for such a case, and here we are. Please – I am here to protect you!"

Gimli hefted his axe. "Tell me to kill this Elf for you and I will," he drawled.

Frodo heard shouts in the crown of the tree above them, and the sound of bowstrings. More arrows hit the trunk beside them, and Haldir flinched. Legolas removed his knives and sheathed them again. "We have no choice but to trust you, but if you lead us in a trap, you'll die!" he said. "Go ahead!" He turned to Frodo. "Can you run?" Frodo nodded.

"Then let us move!" Legolas said, and they ran on. Haldir went ahead, and Gimli followed. Legolas kept close by Frodo. In the trees above them, they heard cries and singing bowstrings, then a horn. Frodo lost all sense of direction, following the two Elves around trees and bushes, over paths and through thick hedges where there was just dim light. He thought that their flight led them downhill, but he was not sure.

"How do you know that we can trust this bastard?" Gimli gasped between two gulps of breath.

Legolas' answer was grim. "I do not. But he is leading us into the right direction, and his guards above our heads cover our retreat," he said. "For now, we have no choice!"

On they went, the sound of horns and shouts close behind them. Finally, Frodo saw ahead of them the gleaming of light between the trees, and after a few more steps, the wood retreated. Passing through a gap between two trees, they entered a wide, open space – a glade at the shore of what appeared to be a lake, gleaming under a bright, full moon. There stood Aragorn, among several Elven guards, staring grimly into their direction. Boromir, Merry and Pippin stood close by, and so did Sam. When Aragorn spied them, he ran in their direction.

"Legolas! Gimli! Where is Frodo?"

"I am here," Frodo said. Aragorn turned to him. "Is it-?" he asked, and stopped himself.

Frodo just nodded. His hand still clutched the Ring; it had been like a hard cold bulk within his fist, pulsing with cold ice. He did not dare to look at it here among all the strangers. How had he ever thought to give it up?

Aragorn's face showed relief. "Keep it close," he hissed quietly. "Do not expose it here, and do not show it anymore. Not to anyone!" He turned to have a quick exchange with Legolas.

Frodo felt Gimli's hand on his shoulder. "Come, lad," the Dwarf said, "I'll bring you to the others!" And he stayed at his side until they reached the rest of the company. Then, Frodo was nearly tackled by Pippin, followed by Merry and finally Sam. He breathed easier now he was back among their company, and used the safety of Sam's embrace as an opportunity to put the Ring back where it belonged on the chain he still wore around his neck.

A moment later, Aragorn and Legolas walked back to them, followed by Haldir. With him was the noble Elf they had met at Galadriel's side the evening before. Celeborn. He bowed to Frodo. "Frodo of the Shire, I have to ask forgiveness for the actions of my wife. It is with great sorrow that I say I feared that this might come to pass. I am glad to see that you escaped unharmed."

Frodo just nodded. He did not know what to answer. The Elven Lord turned. "Aragorn..."

"There is no time for this! We have to leave," Aragorn said grimly. "We cannot afford to stay here now – not with the thing we carry. We must leave the Wood immediately."

Celeborn nodded. "I have prepared boats and supplies for you in the event that this would happen. But you cannot risk setting out now. The followers of my wife presently hold the mouth of the river. You would not make it through their arrows. And at the eastern shore..." He did not continue. Frodo recalled with a shudder his view from the tree at Cerin Amroth just the day before, the darkness he had seen lingering over Dol Guldur at what he had been informed was a stronghold of the Dark Lord.

"You need to wait till we have gained the entrance of the river, or at least till morning," Celeborn continued. "In the cover of the morning mists, you might succeed in what you cannot do under the brightness of the moon."

Aragorn made a face. "Maybe if we took the long way...."

Celeborn shook his head. "There will be scouts out there who are waiting for you now," he said. "You would never make it. I will do my best to quell this rebellion. You need to wait." He offered Aragorn a last nod and left. Haldir followed him. Several of the other guards remained and took posts a few steps from them.

It was a long night. Sometimes they heard horns in the distance. The three warriors of the Fellowship busied themselves with packing their supplies, while the Hobbits huddled together. Frodo did not know when sleep took him. When Sam finally shook him awake, grey light filled the glade and the water was clouded by a fine, white mist. Dawn had arrived.


_______________ o ________________


Legolas packed the supplies into the boats. They had been given bundles with lembas and other food, fresh blankets, and fine grey cloaks of the kind the Galadhrim wore that would protect them from the cold as well as serving as camouflage. They might help averting their discovery, if they ever made it out of the Wood; yet Legolas doubted that they could grant them a safe passage through the mist over the river. They could not avert any arrows, nor an evil spell.

He, Aragorn and Boromir had discussed the manning of the boats earlier this night. They had agreed to place the Hobbits with the two men, and Legolas would share his boat with Gimli. The Dwarf was unused to a boat, and the four Hobbits lacked the strength to drive the vessels forward with the speed they would need to escape. So, Aragorn would take Frodo and Sam, Boromir Merry and Pippin. Legolas was glad. Usually, he would have expected to accompany his master, but Gimli's company seemed to him oddly comforting. The Dwarf had shown to Legolas that he respected him, and he would not pry, as the four Hobbits might. This might actually be a sort of relief...

He heard soft steps approach him and looked up. Haldir! Legolas flinched. The Marchwarden seemed hesitant. "May I speak with you?"

Legolas felt his face close. "What do you want?" he asked briskly.

Haldir hesitated. "I came to tell you that the rebellion has been vanquished. We have gained the mouth of the river and we control the western banks down to Anduin. You will be able to leave now without a further hindrance." He hesitated for a moment. "The Lady and the Lord have come to an agreement – the Lady has given in and told her followers to lay down their weapons. The civil war has been averted, though there is no way to know how long the peace will hold. You better leave within the hour."

Legolas nodded. "I shall inform my master," he said neutrally.

Haldir shook his head. "There is no need. Celeborn himself is giving him the tidings." He nodded to the place where the company had slept the night, and Legolas saw Aragorn in a quiet discussion with the Elven lord. He turned back to Haldir, who had taken a step in his direction. Haldir shifted his feet. "Legolas -" he swallowed. Then he straightened up and bowed with careful dignity. "I wanted to apologize. For what I did to you, what I made you do – it has been grave injustice. I have been blind. I ask for your forgiveness."

Legolas did not reply. Haldir looked away. "I do not expect you to simply give me absolution. You hardly have a reason. But what you did last night..." He sought Legolas' gaze again. "Orophin convinced me. He feared the Lady would try to take the Ring. I spoke to Celeborn, and he ordered me to take a troop of guards and hinder her if needed. But if not for you I would have come too late. I do not think you understand what you have done. You saved us. You saved us all. And after everything I did to you...."

"I did not do it for you!" Legolas spat.

Haldir nodded. "No. But still, you saved us. And I owe you more than I ever can repay." He swallowed. "I... what I did, I did in part to help my brother Rúmil. He fell afoul of the Ladies' favor for a mistake he made, and his punishment... has made him what he is now. I thought you would enable him to regain some part of himself again. I thought... I have been blind. Orophin made me see. I am truly sorry."

"Mistake?" Legolas repeated. He felt hot fury coursing through his blood, too much to still care what he said. "Your brother had a heart, and acted on it. And you call that..."

Haldir paled, then his face closed down. "I should have known that Orophin would tell you the story," he said. "I beg of you not to share it with anyone. But you are right. Orophin was right. This has to end. After last night, even my Lord Celeborn thinks so."

Legolas stopped short. "Was? Is Orophin -"

Haldir shook his head. "No, he and Rúmil are fine, at least when I last met him. He had to leave, though; he and his followers may have over-reached our Lord's orders, last night, and he has decided to wait out Lord Celeborn's wrath. But he sends you his greetings." He bowed again. "He asked me to remind you of your conversation, and of the hope he places in you."

Legolas was frozen. Open rebellion... Orophin was hunted, now. Another burden and responsibility. "May he be safe," he said.

Haldir bowed his head in agreement. "Legolas – there is nothing I can do now to repay my debt, or show you my gratitude. But still I would ask you to accept this bow." He held it out – an elegantly carved and strong long bow of the Galadhrim, beautifully worked, with a quiver full of slim and deadly arrows.

Legolas took a step back. Haldir sighed. "It is not mine, nor am I the one who sends it. It's Orophin's. I made it for his begetting day, but he told me to give it to you. He said that you would need it on your mission, and that it may remind you of the hope he sets in you." When Legolas still hesitated, he said: "Please. It is stronger and it has a longer range than your own bow. You may need it."

Finally, Legolas took a hesitant step closer. "I take this from Orophin, and not from you. There is nothing that I would accept from you, Haldir of Lorien, except your blood."

Haldir handed him the bow and nodded gravely. "I am not free to give what you demand, but I still hope that one day, I may find a way to repay my debt. Legolas of Mirkwood, you have my respect. And I do owe you."

He offered Legolas the Elven greeting and went away. Legolas resumed packing.


_________________ o ______________


The mist had not lifted when the Fellowship gathered at the boats about three quarters of an hour later. They were seen off by Celeborn himself, who gave them good advice about the way, and how best to pass the mouth of the river. He expressed his sorrow again about his wife's breach of hospitality, when a shout disturbed the companies' attention. Legolas turned and saw a guard pointing at the river. He looked and froze.

In a white, swan-like ship, the Lady of the Wood herself approached the company, surrounded by a number of her maidens.

Legolas set his hands to his bow and noticed a similar gesture of most of Celeborn's guards around him. But the Lady was not accompanied by warriors, or at least none the eyes would reveal. Her appearance was regal and full of dignity, and her ship came alone. It gained the shore, and she stepped off and approached her husband and the company. When she had reached Celeborn, she bowed her head in a deep and humble greeting.

"Peace, my husband, and well met. I have come to restore the peace, and to ask your forgiveness, and that of the Ring-Bearer."

She straightened up but kept her head bowed. "Let it be known that with your help I now have conquered temptation. I am here to express my regret for what happened last night. I thought I could resist temptation, but I could not. I failed, and for that, I stand ashamed and in contempt before you." She bowed again. "I ask your forgiveness, husband of mine."

Celeborn returned her bow sternly. "Lives have been lost and sorrow has been brought upon this wood," he said, "but so work the snares of the Enemy, which bring deceit and discord even among kin. I am glad to see that you have overcome them." He straightened and added gravely: "But it is not my forgiveness alone that you need to gain."

Galadriel answered with a nod. She turned to Frodo and offered him a similar bow. "Ring-Bearer, what I have done last night is unforgivable. And yet I am here to ask you for forgiveness. I do not know what has come over me. All I can say is that I hope you once may look upon me with leniency, again."

Frodo stood wordless for a moment, and Galadriel looked down, obviously shamed; but then, the Hobbit took a step forward. "It was I who offered that thing to you," he said, "so how can I lay blame? I thank you for your apology and accept it."

Galadriel's head came up and she pierced him with her gaze, but he did not say more. She bowed again, and placed a hand over her heart. "You are generous, Ring-Bearer," she said, "and you have a great heart and the wisdom you need to fulfill your quest. I am deeply in your debt." She gestured one of her maidens to step close and took a small phial from a basket the maid carried with her.

"I give to you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights have gone out."* She offered it to him on her flat hand. The flacon glistened in the sun like fire. "All our hopes now reside with you. Carry them well."

Frodo seemed hesitant for a moment, but then he took the phial from her hands. He took a step back.

"I thank you, my Lady," he said, "but may I ask a favor? Let it not be forgotten that it was Legolas who rescued us last night, and if not for him, we both would not stand here."

Legolas flinched. Galadriel looked irritated for a moment, then she turned to Legolas and said: "Well spoken, Frodo of the Shire. We shall not forget what we owe the Mirkwood prince." Her eyes found Legolas and he froze under her gaze, for it was anything but benign.

Celeborn spoke up. "Well spoken, indeed." He changed to Sindarin. "Legolas of Mirkwood, we all owe more to you than any of us can repay. So, let it be known that from this moment onward, you and your people in this wood shall be held as free. There shall be no more hostages any longer. As far as the Golden Wood is concerned, the debt of your people has been paid for good."

Galadriel turned to him in obvious surprise, but then she bowed. "Well spoken, Husband," she agreed in the same language. "Thus it shall be. We shall intervene with Elrond to assure it."

Legolas stood stunned. He did not know what to reply; he hardly could believe what he was hearing. From afar, he saw Aragorn's disbelieving stare. Boromir beside him looked just irritated, and so did the Hobbits. At his back, he felt Gimli's reassuring hand. "What is it? What did they say?" the Dwarf asked in a loud whisper.

"The Lord and the Lady assured me that from now, my people will be free within this Wood," Legolas translated automatically. "They give my people Freedom as reward for my actions last night."

"That is wonderful tidings, my lad!" Gimli beamed. "You see, it will be well!"

Galadriel shot the Dwarf a measuring look, and inclined her head. "Indeed," she declared benignly in Westron. "The Mirkwood prince saved me from my brief moment of madness and temptation, and so averted great evil from us all. For this, we give him our thanks and our reward." She turned back to Legolas. "I have no greater gift to give to you than the one you have already received," she spoke calmly. "Be glad, for it were your actions that have achieved this."

Yet her gaze seemed to pierce his soul, and in his head her words continued, cold as ice. 'Be known, though, that this turn in our path cannot break the spell. You still remain bound to Aragorn, your master. And also know that as of now, you alone are the last living heir of your father. Your last remaining brother died last night and at the hands of the rebels. I am sure they thought it was a mercy killing.'

Legolas stared back at her, chilled to the bone. He had to fight to keep himself under control. He knew he could not attack, could not kill her – any attempt, and everything just gained would be lost. He did not know what to reply. Did she speak the truth? Had Orophin – He cut the thought. She was still in his mind and following his thoughts. He swallowed. With calm he did not feel he forced himself to bow, breaking eye contact. "Thank you for the news, my Lady," he said blandly. "I shall keep in mind what I owe to you."

Her words and the white ice of her presence resonated in his mind even while she spoke aloud. "Well spoken, Legolas of Mirkwood. May your path stay true and may it lead you to the reward for your actions, both for you and your people, in the end." With a last brush of coldness, her mind left him, and he was alone.

He straightened up and fought for calm. He hardly heard or saw anything of the remainder of the ceremony. He looked around for Haldir, but he did not see him. When the company finally entered the boats, he felt relief. He hardly heard what Gimli said to him; grief and pain warred in his chest. The mist of the river swallowed him and covered him like a cloak. Bleakness closed up around him.


____________________ o _________________


Aragorn moved the boat with strong, determined strokes. He did not look back. Nor did he look aside, where, in some distance, he heard the calm, regular dip of Legolas' and Boromir's paddles. He had been as stunned as Legolas had been at Celeborn's announcement; yet he had seen Legolas' face afterwards, his slave's mute exchange with Galadriel, and he guessed that there was more about this tale than he yet knew. But there had not been any chance to talk to Legolas before they left. He had suffered through Galadriel's words to him before their departure, telling him that he had been right to refuse her offer, but that she feared Legolas would die in the end for his bravery and loyalty to him, even though he may have saved his people. She also said she feared that Arwen would diminish and die if she chose to stay with him. He had been stony, told her that he would have Arwen seek the Undying Lands, and had refused to comment on Legolas in any way. He had been glad when they finally entered the boats. Maybe tonight he would find a chance to speak with his Elf. Legolas had seemed relieved he shared a boat with Gimli...


Aragorn was shaken from his thoughts when Frodo, sitting before him in the boat, rummaged in his pack and took out the phial of Galadriel. Frodo weighed the delicate vial in his hand, glancing at the light that shone within. Then, without a warning, he flung out his arm to gain momentum. Just as he was about to throw the phial into the water, Aragorn's hand closed around his wrist. "Don't do that!" Aragorn warned. "You may yet need it on your way!"

Frodo turned to him, eyes glaring. "How can I keep this thing? How may it be of use?" he hissed. "It came from her! You've seen it. That white light surrounding her. It is evil!" He shook his head. "You've seen her! The way she ensnared us – the way she spoke within our minds... She is entirely corrupted!"

Aragorn bit his lips. He recalled two empty eyes, a voice begging for torture... Galadriel's offer... And yet. How could he explain to Frodo that in this moment he knew, with absolute sureness and clarity, that Frodo's life and safety would depend on this very light at some point? A dark tunnel – danger – a threat in the dark – legs – a sudden flash of brilliance... The images were too unclear to explain. Yet he was sure. Whatever else Frodo might choose to do, he must not throw away this phial. Quietly he said: "This is the light of Eärendil, the light of the Silmaril he wears upon his brow. The Silmarilli were jewels made before the sun, and their light was hallowed by the Valar themselves. They were stolen by the Dark Lord Morgoth, yet not even his evil could tarnish or corrupt them. Keep it! You may still need it at some point!"

Frodo looked skeptical, but he stored the flacon back into his pack. "You speak with foresight?" he asked. "Legolas said that possessed the gift, also."

Aragorn nodded. "Yes, I do, although it is not often very clear, and at times I may misread the signs," he said. "It is a gift of my line. Did you know Eärendil is one of my forebears? Let me tell you about him..."

And he continued to row, quietly recounting the tale of Eärendil, and his search for finding hope where all hope had been lost. When Frodo finally drifted to sleep under his voice, Aragorn had found his calm again. The tale had cleared his head.

He would find a way to see Legolas and his people free. Whatever the cost. Whatever he would have to do to achieve this.

Even if it meant he had to gain a crown, or win a war to do it.



______________ o _______________


- End of Chapter Nine -


To Be Continued

Notes:


1) Sogo nen aniron: Drink of water of desire. A drug causing sexual need.

2) As mentioned, in this scene I am quoting dialog directly from the movie, although I am altering a few words in some sentences to fit my needs. Directly quoted dialog is marked like this.' Lifted but slightly altered dialog is marked like this.** Please bear with me!


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: Crowdaughter

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 05/11/11

Original Post: 12/23/06

Go to Mael-Gûl overview

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