12. Strange Sights
The prickling sensation that crept into Legolas's hands startled him. It had been long since he had felt them. As his fingers awoke, pain followed the tingling. Pain was less alarming. He had grown accustomed to pain. His arms felt strange, as if bent unnaturally. He thought he felt hard stone beneath him. That would mean he was off his chains. It seemed ages since last the Orcs had taken Legolas down for their recreation, but he did not trust his sense of time.
Suddenly, he was swung up in the air as something pressed around his arms. A rancid smell signaled an Orc was near. Cracking open an eyelid confirmed it. Even with bleary sight, he knew an Orc.
Legolas realized the Orc spoke to his companions as he held him up. Or did the Orc speak to him? The Orcs enjoyed offering details of their plans for him. He closed his eyes in an attempt to shut out whatever depravity the beast spewed.
"I'm looking forward to doing what I want, now that Saruman has gone..."
Saruman has gone? Chilled, he heard nothing more. As the shock faded, questions arose. If Saruman had left, then what of the others? Gimli did not seem to be nearby, but Legolas could not be certain. And Aragorn? Merry? Pippin? Were they yet in the Tower, or was he the only one left to the whims of these monsters? Only Saruman's word had spared his life and kept the Orcs from doing their worst, for why would Saruman need him if he could not talk? Now, if this Orc spoke truly, such restraint was removed and the Orcs could do as they would. And they would. For as long as they wished, as long as he endured. Legolas felt a shiver of the fear he had until now deeply buried.
The Orc sniffed deeply, then chortled loudly as he called to another Orc. "You smell that? Smell him!" Legolas forbade himself to pull away as the second Orc closed in and inhaled. "Hand over your payments, boys! That's the scent of fear!"
The second Orc looked at the first suspiciously. "What you do to him?"
"Hah! You think I'm gonna give away my secrets!"
The second Orc frowned, but then offered a toothy grin. "All bets are off, now."
"Except for the one I won!" He called to more Orcs and goblins, all the while holding Legolas up by one arm like a prize he wished to show off. Legolas willed himself still, trying to calm the tendrils of panic rising within him. The Orc barked at him suddenly. "Open your eyes!"
"No! Don't tell him to do that! I hate it when they look at you." The second Orc reduced his voice to a whisper. "They give you that evil eye-" now he turned to Legolas "-but soon you'll have no eyes to look with!"
Legolas shuddered. Now more clear headed, he realized his situation was a truly dangerous one. He ached from the tips of his ears to his toes; his limbs trembled from lack of water and food. Among his many bruises were wounds that still bled; and the pain he felt when he breathed told him he had more injuries than he could see. He was in no state to make an escape, even if he could find one.
And escape he needed. Cuffs yet bound his wrists, so the Orcs could chain him to a wall once more, but that might prove pointless. The Orc that held Legolas was surrounded by enough of his own kind to keep him just where they wanted him. But he remembered there had been more of them. Saruman had truly left and taken his Orcs with him. These must be the remnants of the horde. The wizard had left him to these beasts in this rock of shadows and flame.
The Orcs spoke of no others, and he wondered if Saruman had taken Gimli with him. Legolas could not remember when he last had seen the dwarf and realized he could not say if his friend yet lived. Perhaps Gimli had been pushed beyond his incredible endurance. A new pang of fear clenched Legolas's heart.
I am alone with these creatures. Filled with dread, he tried to gather his strength and his courage but found he had little of the former, which threatened to deplete what he had of the latter. If only he could know Gimli's fate. If only Gimli were still here by his side. He had to admit the dwarf's presence would give him some will to persevere. Now Legolas singly faced an army of Orcs hungry for sport. And he was the game.
The din in the cavern grew deafening and Legolas began to look about, desperate for flight. In every direction, there was an Orc or goblin leering or jeering at him. If he made his way past one, there was another behind. Yet he would not relinquish himself without a fight, no matter how futile. His press for freedom would be a laughable effort. But he knew no other way.
The air rushed out of his chest as he suddenly slammed face down into the ground, pain flooding his torso and greying his vision. Rough hands grabbed his shoulders and turned him onto his back, as others grabbed his arms and legs, crushing bruises and wounds. He tried to remain as still as he could bear, shutting his eyes to the scene about him. First were the kicks and punches. Then he felt the first blade pierce his side and then another slice him across the chest.
"I wanna taste elf blood!" The call jolted Legolas from his concentration. Suddenly a leathery hand drew up his shoulder and a gritty tongue dragged across a wound. He shivered as he realized what the Orc was doing. Yells and shrieks focused into a chant: "Elf blood!" Legolas relinquished his attempt at calm and writhed and squirmed in resistance, despite knowing it would only thrill his attackers more.
"I've got a hankering for elf meat!" an Orc screamed and for an eternal moment all was still. Then chaos broke out and more hands took hold of Legolas as the creatures pushed each other out of the way to reach the prize.
He felt another mouth on him. Only, instead of a tongue, he felt sharp pricks that could only be teeth as the beast began to gnaw at his leg. Another began to chew on his arm. Legolas could barely comprehend what was happening. The Orcs meant to eat him, as he was, alive. The panic he had earlier quieted blossomed fully. He could possibly endure torture, beatings, starvation. But he would not be food for these creatures.
With all that was left of his will, he forced himself to be still for a moment, then all at once thrashed wildly and threw his remaining strength into breaking the grip of the hands that held him. One hand slipped, then another, and he arched his back, pushing himself up, kicking at faces, throwing his cuffed wrists into noses, then his elbows into bared throats, creating more mayhem.
He was hidden from view of most of the Orcs that stood behind those that had now lost their grip on him. Two that had stood at his head fell into each other and bellowed as their heads knocked together. Their attention turned from Legolas as they now brought their blows upon each other. More Orcs began arguing and fighting with each other, yelling as one lost sight of him, ordering another to grab him. He dove down to the floor as two more Orcs entangled in fisticuffs above him, and slithering beneath them, he pushed and pulled himself through the throng, rolling on occasion to avoid legs and arms that were suddenly everywhere. He was beyond the mass before they realized they had lost him. Without looking back, Legolas crawled then forced himself to his feet. He staggered the first few steps, the pain of standing blinding, but he steadied as he moved along and simply refused to stand still. Moving aimlessly at first, he found himself in a dark passageway. Groping his way as his eyes adjusted, he breathed his gratitude to the Valar when he saw the stairs. Not daring to stop to see if he was pursued, he began the painful upwards trek, knowing to stop would be to end.
He continued up and up, encouraged by the increasing light, diminishing heat, and fresher air. He came suddenly to a landing that opened onto a large round room with light streaming in from small windows above. Unbearably bright, he refused to look away, drinking in the sight. Only when he pulled his eyes away from the windows to the dark niches encircling him did he recognize his surroundings. It was the room they had been brought to upon their arrival. How much time had passed since then? A few passes of the sun? of the moon? or whole seasons? He could not say. A far off cry from the Orcs below ripped his attention away. They had yet to find his trail. Mayhap he could remain here. No one seemed to inhabit this level. Saruman had taken them all with him. He was indeed alone.
His legs began to tremble wildly, then buckled, and so he crawled on his forearms, his fingers throbbing from their injuries. If hiding was the only avenue open to him, then hide he must, mayhap in one of the many dark nooks around the room. Then he saw the balcony. Fresh air called to him and he pushed himself the remaining distance. Throwing himself out onto the balcony, he lay on his back, gasping at the sight of the open blue sky. Hearing sounds that may have been echoes of his pursuers, he dragged himself to the end of the balcony, beyond the doorway. They would find him, but he was outside, and he would not surrender such a prize. Mayhap he would throw himself over the edge rather than face what came for him. He trembled as he thought of it again, still incredulous. He was going to be eaten by Orcs. Yes, he would jump to his death rather than that.
He heard once more the deep echo of footsteps but now thought perhaps it was something else. It sounded as if it came from without the Tower. Squinting in the bright sunlight he had not seen in so long, he looked at the scene below through the balustrade. Stumps of trees dotted the ground and occasional spouts of steam emerged from the many holes in the earth, all continuing to the walls of Isengard where the forest began. He heard the thud again, and although it had the rhythm of steps, they were too heavy even for Orcs. He turned to look beyond the balcony and gaped as he was met with a sight he had not beheld in all his long years.
A shimmer intruded into Aragorn's view of the horizon. He recognized the golden roof of Meduseld even now, after so many intervening years, after all he had lately endured. Saruman may have succeeded in muddling his mind, but the sight of the Golden Hall under the broad blue sky brought memories back clearly of the time he had spent in Rohan long ago. For a moment he was wistful of that period in his life, but the present mercilessly intruded on his nostalgia before long.
"Come, Dúnadan, I would be at Edoras by nightfall." Saruman spurred his horse on, and Aragorn could do naught but follow.
As he rode he tried to order his thoughts. What was their purpose in going to Edoras? He drew bits of memory from his cloudy mind, searching for meaning. The king, Saruman would meet with him, Aragorn recalled. Saruman had a plan of some sort and he wished for the succor of Rohan. Was Aragorn part of that plan? Yes, yes, he and King Thengel - no, Théoden... Aragorn thought for a moment. Sauron. Saruman intended to defy Sauron. But he needed Rohan to do that. Were they to face Sauron with Rohan's army? That would be madness; it was not the plan, but a portion of it. Saruman had been quite certain of Théoden's support, but he also desired Aragorn's presence, that he might speak to the king - or to the people perhaps? What could he do that Saruman could not? How did Saruman expect to... Gondor. He aimed to persuade Gondor to join them. In that case, he needed Denethor, not Aragorn. Aragorn shook his head as his thoughts doubled back over each other.
He did recall giving his consent to this strategy. He wondered at his reasoning at the time, as his horse pounded its way to Edoras. Perhaps his head was clearer and he had understood. Of late, he had been unable to sort out his thoughts after Saruman brought his hands to the palantír. Pippin usually helped him after that, but Pippin had not been given much time with him since they had left Isengard. And so he was left in his own fog, his mind drifting as he struggled vainly with reality and illusion.
Certainly the goal of fighting Sauron was worthy. If those where Saruman's aims, perhaps they were acceptable after all. The only hope for success against Mordor was in the union of Rohan and Gondor. However that was arranged was of little consequence if the ends were the same, was it not?
Aragorn's mind merged with the thunder of the horses' hooves, and for a while his thoughts had no form. The gold colors of the sky deepened, the air cooled, and still the hooves pounded over the grass. As happened more and more often, when his thoughts regained clarity, his mood lingered in deep despair.
A glint of gold reflecting the setting sun reminded Aragorn of their destination if not their purpose. But he did not try to remember. For it did not matter.
They were all gone.
He saw it now.
When he had seen Arwen fall, something in Aragorn had broken. Was it true? He knew not. But he did know - quite suddenly - that Saruman meant to take lordship of Rohan. He would march them to Gondor and bring them before Denethor. Gondor and Rohan would owe fealty to Saruman and thus would he rule.
Gondor's future was gone. The throne that awaited him - gone. But there was yet more to lose.
Sauron would not tolerate Saruman's impudence. Saruman thought himself a match for Mordor. But Saruman would learn his errors. Sauron would march on Gondor. Saruman would die.
Then Sauron would pursue the hobbit. For Saruman would have put Pippin to the Stone again. Sauron would learn of Pippin. And Pippin would die. Perhaps before he died, he would reveal Frodo. Aragorn saw all this in the first moments after Pippin had touched the Stone, and Aragorn grieved deeply for the hobbit. He did not deserve such a death as that to which he was now fated. And more terrible, perhaps, it would lead to Frodo's death as well. Then all would be lost.
Sauron would destroy them all.
They were all gone.
Not all the trees of Isengard had been cut down. Rather, some had merely been freed, it seemed. For this tree walked toward Legolas as if its roots were feet. He stared, then blinked. His eyes were unused to daylight. And it had been long since he had had water or food. Could this be a creation of his mind?
The tree approached and stopped before him. Bending in half, the top of its trunk came closer to him, so that Legolas saw it had eyes, deep, brown, ageless eyes, and soon proved to have a mouth as well. "Hoom-hoom!" the creature said, and Legolas jumped. His own eyes grew wide as the creature continued to speak in its language. It spoke, for all it looked like a tree. Switching then to the Common tongue, it asked, "Is this another Orc?" It tilted its head and considered Legolas. "It smells like an Orc."
If the sight were not amazing enough, Legolas saw then two more behind it, busy at work, apparently. They appeared to be dismantling structures across the field. Another was at the far end of Isengard near the dam. Legolas returned his gaze to the creature before him. He gasped as he remembered an old tale - could this be a tree herder? An Ent, that was the word in the Common Tongue. What would they be doing here? He struggled to stand, looking with unconcealed curiosity at him.
The Ent looked at him for a moment. "Hoom... you might be an elf if I did not find you here. But then, this is a wizard's home. The better question would be: are you a friend of Saruman?"
Legolas laughed, not noticing the edge of hysteria lacing it. Leaning heavily on the balustrade, he answered the Ent in a rasp of a voice he barely recognized: "I am no friend of Saruman. I am indeed an elf and his prisoner, and I have been left to the Orcs." Legolas held up a grimy arm with an iron manacle still wrapped around his wrist. "I have been held captive for ...I do not know how long. It is no wonder that I no longer appear as an elf. But I now seek escape from their torture."
"Prisoner? Saruman now keeps Elves as prisoners! That wizard becomes more of a traitor with each day." The bark around the edges of the tree herder's eyes crumpled into what Legolas realized was a frown, and its voice deepened as he spoke of Saruman. "You say you look for escape from Orcs? You will not go far on that ledge."
"I have nowhere to go. I can only hide until they find me. And they will." He had already heard their shrieks grow louder as they approached. "But I will not return to the depths of Orthanc. The beasts thought to make a meal of me. I would rather plunge to my death from this height than return to their hands."
The Orcs were louder now - they had reached this level. "There he is!" They saw him on the balcony. As they neared, Legolas struggled to swing one leg then the other over the balustrade. Refusing to look down, he clutched the railing as best he could with one hand, his right too injured to be of use, and glared at the Orcs with all he had left in him. The Orcs, in turn, paid him no notice. They instead stared in a stupor at the walking tree before them.
"What is that?"
"You dope! It's a tree!"
"Trees don't walk!"
Then the Orc who had first grabbed him in the Pit arrived in the crowd, and he glanced at the Ent. But it was Legolas who held his interest. "There's the elf! Forget about the tree! Get hold of him!"
The Orcs turned to Legolas as one. It was time. Legolas leaned back, preparing to release himself. But suddenly the tree herder was there.
"There is no need to dash oneself on the rocks below." The Orcs hesitated as the Ent reached out a limb that ended in a cluster of smaller boughs. "Step onto my branches." Legolas stared in awe at the escape offered him.
A hand clamped around his arm. There was no more time to hesitate. Another hand. Legolas told himself it would be no different than walking onto one of the hundreds of trees he had climbed in his lifetime. Wrenching his arm free, he stepped unsteadily onto the Ent's branches, falling gratefully on what he thought to be the palm of a hand. The branches closed protectively around Legolas, lifting him high into the air. The newly freed elf looked over the limbs and watched the Orcs on the balcony shrink behind him. Was he finally safe?
"It's got our elf!"
"Ai! That's ours! Give it back!"
The Ent made a sound that seemed like a growl. "Orcs. I grow tired of Orcs, with their slashing and burning." He reached down with his free hand and scooped up two of the Orcs. But instead of hoisting them up, he tossed them into the field below. The other Orcs froze, then ran back inside. "I grow tired of Orcs," he said again.
After a moment of speechlessness, Legolas agreed weakly. "Yes, I must say, I am quite weary of Orcs myself. There was much slashing and burning."
"Mmmm... hoom..." The Ent began an easy stride away from the Tower, holding his hand so that Legolas could sit upon it. From his seat, Legolas could clearly see the Ent's face, especially his eyes, which were studying Legolas closely. The Ent looked him over from head to toe, and Legolas became conscious of his wretched appearance for the first time.
To draw the Ent's gaze from him, Legolas asked the first question that came to mind. "You are of the Onodrim, are you not?"
The tree herder looked closely at him, repeating slowly, "Onodrim... You must indeed be an elf. Yet you do not appear as an elf." The Ent surprised him then by continuing their conversation in Sindarin, reminding Legolas that these ancient beings were taught to speak by the Elves. "You do not look as ... bright as I remember Elves to be. It has been long since I have seen an Elf. No one but Saruman and Orcs have walked beneath the boughs of Fangorn for many rounds of the sun."
"Fangorn - you are from Fangorn Forest, then?"
Another strange noise came from the tree herder. "My young elf, and you are young, are you not? I am Fangorn, or as Men call me, Treebeard, and the forest beyond is my home." Legolas continued to stare shamelessly at the creature he had only heard of from Elves of old. "You say Saruman has left you to the Orcs. Where is Saruman now? For I would have words with him."
"He has left..." Legolas said, still distracted. He came to himself finally. "Forgive me. I am Legolas, of the land known as Greenwood the Great in ages past, and in this age of darkness known as Mirkwood."
"Greenwood the Great! A fine forest indeed. You are far from home, my friend elf."
"Indeed. As to your question, from what I have seen, Saruman is no longer in Isengard. He may have taken my friends with him, though I cannot be sure."
"There were other elves taken prisoner with you?"
"Not elves, but friends nevertheless. I know not what has befallen them. They may still be within the Tower among the Orcs."
"And to where has Saruman gone?"
"I know not. I know of his absence only from what the Orcs say."
"Hmm... I think we can see to those Orcs. Do not concern yourself with them. Now, this is no place for an elf! Especially one so maltreated. The blood you wear on the outside of you normally is on the inside, no? I will take you to my home in the forest. You can take your rest there."
"I would learn the fate of my friends first, if you please, Fangorn. I could not bear to think they remained within the Tower, still prisoners of the Orcs." How could he leave while Gimli might yet remain?
"Do you wish to return to the Tower?"
Legolas contemplated the suggestion for a long moment. He was not certain his friends remained in the Tower. To be sure meant to return to those Orcs... The Orcs had meant to eat him! He shivered. "No," he said quietly. "I do not. Nor could any save the Valar themselves bring me to do so." He bowed his head, ashamed that he would leave his friends to their fates.
"Then to Wellinghall we go. It is not far from here, if you walk with the stride of an Ent. As a wood-elf, you will appreciate these woods far more than the Orcs, who have defiled them so recently. Come, I will ask Bregalad if he would finish our work here. If Bregalad finds your friends within the Tower, he will safeguard them."
"I thank you, Fangorn. What sort of work do Ents have with Isengard?"
Fangorn's words sounded closer to a growl than speech. "We grow tired of the Orcs' work in our woods. Now we work here, putting out their fires once and for all. There will be no more cutting in Fangorn Forest."
King Théoden faced his sister-son, Éomer, and those warriors who stood behind him. "We have lived long in the shadow of the mountains, always in fear that the greater Shadow would rise to threaten us. That day is come. I have been informed by Saruman, long a friend and wise advisor to Rohan," he said slowly, gesturing to the wizard who had arrived late the previous night and now stood by the king's side, "that our Enemy prepares to march across his mountains into the land of Men. It is the time to take up arms against him. You have long cried out for blood, and blood you shall have."
Éomer narrowed his eyes at his uncle. "Now we fight? Now, after we have lost Théodred? We may have lost Erkenbrand as well. Why is now the time for battle, my lord, but the moment was not right while they yet lived?"
Théoden hesitated, and Saruman stepped into the silence. "The threat to Rohan was yet uncertain. To retaliate without cause would invite needless retribution and greater losses. Now looms sufficient peril to tip the balance." He took a step to the side and revealed his companions who had accompanied him to Edoras. "Other... circumstances have aided in the tilting of those scales." He motioned to the man, ignoring entirely the child beside him. "This one is of the Dúnedain of the North. He goes by the name Aragorn, son of Arathorn," Saruman said, according emphasis to the name. The wizard watched as Éomer looked upon this new party with suspicion. "Yes, the heir of Isildur, whom you doubtless know from legend." With this revelation, Éomer's eyes widened then narrowed again. "He is well-versed in battle and has agreed to fight for me. With him, you can lead your men across Rohan, face the approaching army, and make way to Gondor. For Gondor will be in greater need of your arms. It is there that Sauron will make his battle. Even the Steward Denethor will not deny his need for you."
The man Aragorn faced the scrutiny of Éomer impassively. After some time of silence, the young warrior said, "We wish to fight for Rohan, and Rohan alone."
Aragorn spoke quietly. "Sauron will come, whether you agree or no. Will you wait till Sauron's army is at your doorstep, and then attempt a defense with your meager army? Or will you begin now the fight, when you can meet the Enemy on the fields of Rohan, far from Edoras."
"What does it matter where our meager army meets them?" Éomer responded icily.
Aragorn did not offer an answer at once, and Saruman again filled the silence. "I command a vast army of my own ...creation. Their fealty is to me alone. They will fight against Sauron because I command them to do so. You will not fight with only your meager army."
Éomer's eyes pierced Saruman's once more. "This army - they are the beasts that have been spoiling the fields of Rohan for months, are they not? You ask us now to fight beside them?"
"These uruk-hai are my army, and they obey me. They will fight against Sauron." He paused for only a moment. "And in a day's time, your scouts will report sighting them on the outskirts of Edoras. They await my command."
Éomer's eyes widened as understanding came, and he looked from wizard to man and then finally to his king. "My lord, what you wish, will be done." The scowl never left his face, even as he bowed to Théoden.
Éowyn struggled to silence the gasp that jumped from her throat, and she shut the door to the hall as quietly as possible. She had seen enough. As understanding had come to her brother, it had come to her, and she saw the impossible position in which Rohan now sat. A deceitful wizard she trusted less than Grima on one side and a horde of Orcs on the other. His excuses for Rohan's previous inaction were flimsy and transparent. That he brought with him a man who claimed the name of a legend counted little to Éowyn. He supported Saruman, and therefore she took no word from him as truth. She briefly wondered on the purpose for the child; perhaps he was a servant to Saruman. Something strange about his appearance nagged at her, but she forcibly returned her thoughts to the king's court. She would not blame her brother for acquiescing to the king's wishes. None would want such a decision resting upon them. With Saruman here at Edoras, clearly all choices would be made in his favor.
The men had decided the fate of all. They were to go to war. It was for what they had long pleaded, but never had they dreamt their war cries would ring out before Saruman. Éowyn could not know what tomorrow would bring, but she could only hope Saruman's deceptions would be revealed.
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.