15. House of Glass
"Who goes there?" The question, voiced quietly–perhaps too quietly for mortal ears to distinguish easily–seemed yet loud in the utter silence, and Legolas gazed into the darkness. Another had come, of that he was certain, and he liked not the way that his heart raced at the thought.
"Welcome, Master Elf, to the House of Éorl," said a smooth voice. Too smooth! Legolas felt it lick over him, as if coating him with some foul substance, and he shivered.
"Wormtongue!" Every instinct screamed at him to move, but the Elf's body felt terribly lax and refused to obey. He felt his breath coming now harder, as if with panic, and Legolas struggled for composure.
"Ah yes… Wormtongue. You learned that of Éomer, wretched boy that he is! Whispering in the background, spreading rumors… for shame!" Wormtongue's voice trailed off in a cackle, and Legolas would have spit if he had been able. But he seemed divorced from his body, or else imprisoned in it–either way, such feelings were alien to Elves, and the prince wondered fearfully if Gríma had somehow divined a way to take advantage of the break in his own integrity.
Surely not! Not even Aragorn, I think, would know enough to deliberately force me away from myself…! There were ways, of course, and some were quite simple, but so far as Legolas could tell, he had not been injured in some further way. As for the more complex…. Why would a mortal in these waning days need to learn them? And if a Ranger raised among Elves knows naught of them, whence would a Man of Rohan come by such knowledge? "We are taught to fear the Elves: sorcerers, luminous beings endowed with a strength far beyond that of men. And yet the Elves fail! Year by year, your numbers decrease and you fall into your world of dreams. So very fragile you are, in truth. So very… very… delicate…Legolas!"
And with each hissing word, Legolas felt as though the breath were being drawn out of him, and though he struggled and gasped, what rushed now into his lungs was not air, but the darkness that he hated. Thick as sap, it clung to him, and as sensation returned to his body, the Elf clawed frantically at the stuff. To no avail: like tar or peat, the darkness flowed over him, getting into his eyes, clogging his ears and nose, coating his mouth and sliding down his throat to sit heavy in his lungs and stomach.
I am not yours! he snarled in silence, struggling against the sensation of drowning. An Elf is no part of this Shadow–I will be no part of it! It shall be no part of me! But it was a part of him: it was in him, this palpable shadow, and as it infused itself into his blood, he could feel its corruptive influence. Like poison… like pain… Stop!… leave me alone!… Valar help me, is this the age that Men fear? Legolas wondered blindly, feeling his struggles growing more feeble as the darkness enveloped him in a warm cocoon. Nay, worse! Like an insect in a spider's web am I, awaiting the bite! For before him now lay the Other Path, spoken of with dread among Elves and in whispers if at all. The Other Path… the way of twisted kinship… the way of Orcs… NO!–
–And Legolas woke suddenly, just in time to grunt in anguish as he hit the floor hard and jarred his shoulder. The shock of that unexpected impact held him immobile for a good several minutes while he panted and shivered, scarcely able to fathom how he had ended up on the carpet. Shadow shapes danced and writhed behind his eyelids when he squeezed them shut and refused to dissipate entirely when he reopened them to take in the room from his new perspective. What happened? The answer to that question might seem absurdly simple to a Man: clearly, Legolas had had a nightmare, no more and no less. Vivid, yes, but after all that he had seen and suffered, it was surely nothing to be ashamed of or wondered at.
Aragorn, having been raised in Imladris, might have been suspicious of such an easy explanation. Indeed, ere the Third Age, no high lord of Gondor or Arnor would have taken lightly the announcement that an Elf had been plagued by horrific dreams. For the way of the Elves is different from that of Men, and memory, dream, and waking life are not so clearly distinguished or distinguishable among them. It was a rare thing that an Elf should lose control of his dream-life to the point of suffering a nightmare, and bespoke some serious trouble.
Worse, it bespeaks some other–alien–influence, Legolas thought grimly as he picked himself up off of the ground at last. For if elvish dreams lay largely within the control of the dreamer, the rare instances when they did not were either indicative of deep divisions within the elvish soul or else of meddling by some other entity. Gríma Wormtongue… it seemed so very real, as if he spoke in his own voice! I wonder…. Legolas brooded silently, cradling his right arm carefully against the ache. I would not have thought that… that worm… to have such power in him. But certain it is that where he rules, there lies a thicker darkness, a more concealing shade. Is it possible that he is more dangerous than I had thought? What has happened in this place, that such a creature could be admitted to the highest courts of the land?
To such questions, he had no answers as of yet, but he intended to have them ere the night ended. Legolas had no need of a clock, nor of the long shadows that the setting sun made as its rays filtered through the windows to know that dusk came swiftly. And with dusk would come Éowyn and a visit to the dungeons of Edoras, which meant that he ought not to tarry here. With an effort, Legolas focused his mind on the present, refusing to let his attention wander off along the thousand spread out tendrils of sickly coiled darkness.
I feel dirty! Which, after the long and exhausting journey he had undertaken, might seem self-evident, but that memory of nightmarish grime left him feeling as if the filth of an Age riddled through with Sauron's waxing malice lay still upon his skin. A swift exploration of the room revealed the necessary supplies for a bath, and though his shoulder throbbed dully as he moved, he managed to get the water into the tub without re-opening the cut.
Leaving his clothes and the bandages on the floor, he quickly submerged himself, relishing the feel of something clean against his body. Once, when he had first met Aragorn and begun to learn of the strange ways of mortals, the Ranger had told him that Men often thought of Elves as being somewhat effete.
"Elvish polish and universal concern with aestheticism seem in their minds the product of self-absorption," the Dúnadan had said, with a shrug that Legolas had interpreted as being between sadness and amusement for the misperception. To Legolas's mind, while the Bardings were not an ignoble folk, their rougher ways were certainly no improvement on "effete" elvish custom, particularly as regarded bathing. And if water could not cleanse him of the darkness that lay about him, it could lighten his mood enough to make the former bearable. Once he felt he had managed to remove as much of the dirt as he could without scrubbing his hide off, Legolas clambered out, emptied the dirty water, refilled the tub, and threw his clothes in to soak for a bit. Drying himself off with the towel provided, he then went and rummaged through his pack, dressing quickly, for he knew not how much time he had ere Éowyn arrived.
Bandages proved difficult to set in place alone, but somehow he managed the feat, and then slipped a cream-colored shirt on, followed by a dark green, sleeveless tunic that he belted into place. Returning to the washroom, the Elf finished the necessary laundry and spread the garments out to dry on the rack provided. He dragged a comb through his hair, grimacing as the teeth caught on tangles, and wondered how his companions fared. Have they found Merry and Pippin, I wonder? Legolas hoped so–fervently, desperately hoped so. And he hoped also that Aragorn and Gimli had met with nothing ill-intentioned in the fabled Entwood. I should have liked to see Fangorn, he thought, and smiled a bit, hearing in his mind a dozen, rough-voiced dwarven responses to that. Dear Gimli, I never thought I should miss a Dwarf's company more than that of my brothers. At least you have Aragorn for company, and need not go to a dungeon to see him!
By the time he had finished getting the snarls out of his hair, the sun was no more than a smudge of red on the western horizon, but the Elf drifted out onto the balcony anyway. Standing there, he gazed out at Meduseld's golden roof, and he wondered that so fair an edifice could contain within it so dark a heart. Yet in spite of the sickness that lay upon this city, the wind that ruffled his damp hair carried to him the sounds of life–voices raised in laughter at some intimate joke, or the cheery greeting of friends as they called to each other. A song picked up in the yard below–The innkeep?–and though Legolas could understand naught of the words, he closed his eyes and listened; and after hearing the chorus once, he added his voice–a low, wordless exhalation of harmony, sweet and distinct from the voices of Men. Even here, not all is darkness, he thought. I must remember that, when my hope runs low!
At that moment, there came a knock upon his door, and he turned away from the view. "Come!" he invited, and was not surprised when Éowyn appeared, bearing with her a tray set for two.
"A fair welcome," Éowyn said as she set the tray on a low table and indicated that he should join her. "I fear this is poor recompense for the song, but I think none of us told you of the hours that the innkeeper holds here, and we shall likely be gone long past them. Eat, unless Elves need but a tune to live off of!"
"Music is as the air, but air alone does not suffice," Legolas replied glibly and came to join her. "Thank you for the company."
"I would rather yours than another meal alone," Éowyn replied rather darkly. "And we must speak in any case ere we dare the gaoler's questions." She paused to break bread and dipped a morsel in her soup. "Éomer's case cannot be held for very long without judgment, so we shall have few opportunities to speak with him ere his fate is decided. Such haste is the law of this land, which decrees that a man may not be held for more than five days before he makes his plea before the king. For an honorable man is needed always and quickly, and it would be cruel if by too lengthy a wait his honor were to be questioned unduly."
"And what of those who are not honorable?"
"Then best that we learn of the fault quickly and move to be rid of it," Éowyn replied simply. "Since Éorl rode to the succor of Gondor, this has been our way. Those of Minas Tirith call us swift, but they have their own traditions. In any case, I have not much time to decide what must be done, and in such matters, Éomer will have much to say."
"What is your place here, my lady?" Legolas asked, cocking a pale brow at her.
"I am the king's servant, the lady of his hall for he has no wife any more, and Théodred never wed. In former times, such was a position of honor, but of late it, like much else, has fallen into disrepute," the other said bitterly.
"But you serve your brother also."
"Only insofar as it is granted me to speak now and then with the king unremarked, or with the marshals and others who go about this court. I may not speak on his behalf in court, though. Not as I am!"
"And what are you?"
"Are Elves blind, or have they no children?" Éowyn asked, seeming both puzzled and amused by the question.
"Ah." Legolas was not often at a loss for words, but in the face of his tablemate's reply, he knew not what might be the appropriate thing to say.
"In any case, should any ask you why you go to see the Third Marshal, say only that you wished to thank him for his pains. And I, who have been commanded to see to your needs, do but facilitate the meeting. None shall believe us, but it shall be difficult to challenge the excuse. For you do wish to thank him, do you not?"
"And I wish to do my duty," Éowyn gave a thin smile that made the Elf blink, recognizing in those sharp blue eyes a predatory amusement and defiance that he was accustomed to see only in warriors. "The guard shall finish its meal and return to its place in perhaps a half an hour. We shall therefore wait an hour ere we make our attempt."
"If I may ask, you said you would see to it that we need not seek permission from the warden…."
"And we shall not need to do so," Éowyn replied firmly.
"How did you manage that?" Legolas asked.
"Gríma controls the king and all posts of any power or influence in court, either directly or through the pressure that he can bring to bear upon those who hold them. But he is a man, and pays little heed to lesser posts," Éowyn said enigmatically. And that is all the answer I am likely to receive, the Elf thought. He bowed his head slightly, conceding the round, and set to work clearing his plate. The two of them ate in silence for a time, occasionally glancing up to stare at each other. Always, Éowyn would look away first, but Legolas found it fascinating that she continued to dare his gaze, for many refused to do so after but a single rebuff. "Is there aught that you would know of Rohan, my lord prince?" Éowyn asked after a time.
"There is much I would know, but tell me this, if you can: how did Gríma Wormtongue come to have such influence? From all that I have seen of the Rohirrim, which is admittedly little," Legolas said, "they seem a proud folk, and not one easily led astray. How is it possible, then, that Rohan tolerates a Wormtongue?"
"You ask a question that many ask, and even the great and those accounted wise among us hesitate to answer it. In the beginning, he came to his position through his inheritance, as is usual, for he was born to a high family. He served well enough as a Rider and later as a captain, though with no particular distinction. Some say," and Éowyn gave a soft bark of laughter at this, "some say that that was ever his way: to serve with no particular distinction. He is as one of the fabled southern lizards that can take the color of any setting and so pass unseen. Know you of these creatures?"
"I fear we have none in Mirkwood, and from the deep south there comes little news and we seek not after it. Aragorn would know," Legolas replied.
"Ask him then, for I, too, would know the truth of old tales. But I stray!" Éowyn berated herself gently with a toss of her proud head. "Gríma was ever posted to the west, and often patrolled far up the Isen, for the Orcs were wont to come southeast from the tail end of the Misty Mountains, that we call the Grauberge. For a time, he was Théoden's messenger to Isengard, and perhaps that was how he was ensnared, I know not. 'Tis a strange thing, but many of the officers who served him in the field died shortly after he began his ambassadorship. An odd coincidence that many now see as contrivance, but the deaths are already so old that no evidence can be found of foul play, and at the time, there was no real cause for suspicion.
"It was only after councilors began to die as well that men looked askance at him, but by then it was too late. For it seemed that after he began his duties as a councilor that he had found in speech what he lacked as a warrior: skill and passion. He soon had the court under his thumb and Théoden round his finger, bent like a ring!" Legolas could not quite forbear to grimace at the unwitting but too apt analogy, and for an instant, Frodo's tormented face leapt clearly to mind. Courage, my friend! And safety, wherever you may be at this moment! "So it stands even now, and no one dares to challenge him. Yet! For he cannot stand forever. Soon enough, men will rebel but who can say whether it shall not be once more too late?"
"And Éomer would have been their leader, these would-be rebels."
"He would have, yes," Éowyn replied softly and bowed her head a moment. Legolas stared at her a long moment, suspicious of what had not been said. After a moment, she raised her eyes to his once more, seeming once again the cold-faced maiden who kept all at a courteous distance. "Eat, Legolas of Mirkwood! I would not have it said that you found our hospitality so ill that you fainted for lack of sustenance!"
"An Elf would never be so ill-mannered, my lady," he murmured even as he obeyed.
"Something to remember, doubtless," she replied with a slight smile.***
It was full dark when Edoras' first lady and Mirkwood's youngest prince entered Meduseld by a side door and went calmly through its many halls to its southernmost corridor. There opened off of it a small door, one hardly to be noticed, and there Éowyn paused. "Do as I do, and say nothing if you can avoid it," she instructed. Pulling the door open, she grasped her skirts by one hand and raised the lantern with the other as she began the descent. Legolas followed carefully, and forced himself to focus, though the darkness seemed so close about him it threatened to steal his breath once more. I am not of the darkness, and it is no part of me! he repeated to himself, and said naught as he went down in his guide's wake. At the bottom of the stairs there stood several men: guards, clearly, and as the two of them rounded the blind corner, they closed ranks against them, blocking the door. Éowyn ignored the lot of them, striding straight up to their commander, who frowned deeply at her presence.
"My lady, this is no place for such as you," the man said gruffly in Rohirric.
"I come to bring a visitor to the Third Marshal, captain," Éowyn replied coldly in Westron. "Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood, and a guest of my family, would thank the Marshal for his aid and consideration. Alas, the prince speaks not our tongue and knows not our ways, so I have come to guide him. Let us pass, captain."
"I have had no orders concerning this…." the man stalled.
"And you must always have orders in order to decide anything?" Éowyn shot back, and Legolas did not miss the grins on the faces of some of the soldiers. Someone sniggered, and their captain shot a dark look over his shoulder. Admittedly, the scene was ridiculous: the captain alone outmassed Éomund's fair daughter twice over, and was armed as well, but Éowyn stood proudly and her disdainful glance informed all present that she viewed the entire detail as no better than errant boys playing at soldiering.
She is taller than she seems, Legolas thought, realizing that Éowyn had not to raise her chin very high to stare directly into her opponent's face. The captain flushed, whether in embarrassment or fury it was difficult to say, but the effect was impressive and Legolas had sternly to command his face not to twitch, his lips not to smile at the other's discomfiture. "Come, open the door and let us pass! Or send to the warden to ask his permission."
"I may not, my lady, he is… indisposed."
"I see. Then please consult with yourself and come to a decision. The night grows older, captain!" Éowyn said, letting a touch of scathing contempt and impatience color her tone.
The captain was silent a moment longer, but then he gave a sigh and jerked the key ring from his belt. "Stand aside," he ordered his men, who fell back willingly before their captain's temper and their lady's scorn. "You shall vouch for him, my lady? As he cannot vouch for himself…."
"Of course, captain. Come, my lord prince," Éowyn beckoned imperiously and swept into the low-ceilinged corridor beyond, turning left without a backwards glance. The door slammed shut behind them, and Legolas shivered slightly, wishing he had Gimli beside him. A Dwarf would not find the cramped, subterranean corridor daunting, but Legolas found the space claustrophobically tight. His father's halls had prison cells which, like the rest of the city, were below ground, but the Elves had delved carefully so that free air could flow through all areas of the city, and even the dungeon had a vaulted ceiling, else no Elf would have stayed there for long, even to guard it. Soon Gimli shall come, the prince comforted himself. And I must not be found wanting in the mean time! 'Tis but this injury that makes of this unease more than it is. So he told himself and followed Éowyn, who seemed to know precisely where she went.
"Éomer shall be in the back, where traitors are kept," the woman of Rohan said over her shoulder. "'Tis not far! Come! Swiftly!"***
Éomer sat upon the plank that served as both bed and bench, back wedged into the corner, eyes closed, one leg drawn up to his chest while the other dangled over the edge. He had his arms clasped about the one knee, his chin rested on his forearms, and his chest felt hollow with grief and hopelessness. Since his incarceration earlier that day, he had paced his tiny cell one hundred and seventy-three times (that he had counted), brooding on the misfortunes of his house and country. And when he had lost patience with the repetitive nature of his thoughts, he had tried his best to divert himself: humming old tunes that he had long loved; playing chess in his head and losing with every victory; trying to calculate the costs of grain for the next year if the weather held; speculating on the bets men had probably already placed on the spring races that were always held in the Mark; wondering whether anyone had seen to Firefoot; counting horses in his head as he had as a boy when he had been unable to sleep; and finally adding long chains of numbers for no particular reason except that it kept him busy.
But eventually, his thoughts had turned to darker things in spite of himself. Grief for Théodred had descended with such suddenness it had caught him by surprise, and in the lonely confines of his cell, he had wept for the cousin who had been his friend and guide since he had been a child. And what of Éowyn? He worried incessantly over her, cursing Gríma in the darkness, and had swiftly discovered that in spite of years spent among the earthy Riders of the Mark, his vocabulary was not so extensive as he might wish in this instance. As his defenses wore swiftly down, even his usual restless energy had abandoned him, and he had sunk into a sort of bleak state of attente, waiting for the axe to fall, knowing it must, and wishing only that the farce of a trial were over already.
For though Éomer was no coward, his was not a spirit to withstand confinement for long. All his training had prepared him for the field, for the hardships of war and the trials, physical and spiritual, that accompanied it. To sit and wait for doom to come and claim him, unable to do aught to prevent it or even to forestall it, did violence to one accustomed to think in terms of what damage he might do his enemy ere he perished. To die without having managed to accomplish anything struck him as dreadful in a way that even a painful deterioration did not. Wormtongue could not have devised a worse torture for me had he tried, Éomer thought grimly. How long shall he make this period of waiting stretch? The full five days? And how many more, if the trial is drawn out? But how could it be, for if Gríma would be certain of me, he must paint me a villain so deep in treachery there can be no chance of redemption! That should not take him more than a day or two, for did I not give him the means with my law-breaking? Which still left him with a minimum of seven days in this hole, and he shuddered in horror at the thought.
In an attempt to sooth his nerves, Éomer strove to make his mind as blank as the fresh-fallen snow, to find that space of focused calm whence he could control his frustration, leash his anger and despair, and forget for a time his worry. But for all that he tried, it seemed that he needed a solid threat to inspire him, and he could not fight a cage. Drawing a deep breath, he held it 'til spots danced behind his eyelids, then exhaled slowly, wishing that he could empty himself of emotion so readily. I would serve my king honorably, he thought bitterly. I would die for the Mark, and I would give whatever I have to help those who fight against the malice of Sauron and his creatures, be they wizard or orc or worse than that! I have tried to do these things, but I cannot cure the cancer that strangles this realm, nor fight an enemy who wraps himself in royal authority. What shall become of Éowyn? What of those who have promised to come to Edoras? I would not see Gimli or Aragorn harmed, and I suppose as it stands I shall not! But what shall become of them? And of Legolas? I was–am– so sick of hiding and seeking ever the secret way. And in the end it mattered not! Here sit I, waiting….
"This way!" A voice broke through his dark reverie, and Éomer felt his spine stiffen as he jerked his head up and his eyes flew open. Éowyn? But surely the warden would not let her in, for the Third Marshal knew well the man's reputation as Wormtongue's creature. Light shone forth, coming from some ways up the corridor, and Éomer slowly unfolded from his position, hardly daring to hope as the sound of light footsteps reached him. "Éomer!"
"Éowyn!" Coming to his feet, he took two strides to reach the doorway, and he gripped the bars as the footsteps increased their pace, breaking into a run. The light grew brighter, and then his sister's tall form appeared. No more welcome sight had he ever seen than her face in that instant, and as she thrust her arms through the bars, he grasped her hands tightly, bringing them to his chest as he leaned against the cross bars, brother and sister ignoring the barrier in search of each other. "Éowyn…."
"Hush! I know, you would not have me stay, but brother, your authority stands in shambles, I fear, and I for one shall take advantage of that!" she replied, and her brother managed a laugh for the show of spirit.
"Hellcat!" Éomer retorted lovingly. "But how is it that you are come?"
"She poisoned the warden," a new voice said, and the Third Marshal, startled, lifted his head to gaze past his sister to where Legolas stood holding a lantern. The elven prince bent his bright eyes upon Éowyn, and he cocked a fair brow. "Is that not so, my lady?"
"The warden is indisposed," Éowyn replied, which did naught to confirm or deny the accusation.
"Éowyn… you did not…." Éomer stammered, caught between admiration and an appalled disbelief.
"I did nothing to the warden," she replied, and cast a glance back over her shoulder. "Did I not say to remain silent?"
"You also said that Gríma was a man," which meant nothing to Éomer, who could not fathom how so banal a truth could be significant.
"And you, being an Elf, are not so blind, is that it?" Éowyn demanded, and Legolas gave a half-smile, bowing slightly in acknowledgment.
"You came from the kitchens, and you serve the king often. Is that not what you told me?"
"You poisoned the warden?" the Third Marshal demanded. And seeing that Éowyn began to reiterate her denial, impatiently added, "Or you had another do so! A small difference in the eyes of the law, Éowyn, for Béma's sake! What possessed you?"
"Doubtless the same reckless impulse that led you here, brother, so do not reprimand me!" Éowyn's eyes flashed. "The warden shall be quite well by morning. Besides, we have not time for such trivial matters."
"Why have you come? Both of you?" Éomer sighed, accepting that there was naught he could do to change his sister's actions.
"I came to thank you for your aid and consideration," Legolas replied smoothly, which seemed for some reason to amuse Éowyn greatly. "And I do! But we would speak of Edoras and Rohan as well. Your sister has sharp ears and fears not to remember all that she hears. It seems that the force that overwhelmed Théodred's men was quite large."
"So I had been told," Éomer replied. "I fear that if it is not countered, and soon, then our forces shall be divided. As it comes out of Isengard, we have no way of knowing whether it constitutes the bulk of Saruman's strength in arms or if he has still more men to throw at us."
"How soon could this army reach us here?"
"If its captain kept a swift pace and shortened the rest stops, I doubt not that it could reach Edoras in little more than two days. But that assumes they mean first to strike at us here: some men will have escaped the wreck of the Fords of Isen, I doubt not, and they will have retreated to Helm's Deep. Saruman's captain may decide to invest the keep, but he need not use the whole of his strength to do that. If he leaves a few companies there, it may be enough, and then he could continue south with the rest to raze Edoras."
"How likely is it that he would do this?" Legolas asked, frowning as he considered this unsettling speculation.
"It is what I would do, were I in command," Éomer replied with a shrug. "Helm's Deep is well known as Erkenbrand's stronghold. But Erkenbrand it was who sent messages to Edoras with the news, and who begged for such help as could be spared. I doubt not that the straits are dire, for Elfhelm has not returned, or had not when I was sent here. I suppose there is no news on that account?" And Éomer glanced at Éowyn now.
"I fear not even a whisper has come south," she replied. "But that does not calm the whispers at home. Fear is in the air, and men look north with dread, awaiting the tidings of loss. You know well whereof I speak, Éomer."
"The Fords are at once an asset and a liability," the Marshal explained for the benefit of the their guest. "They are not easily defended because of the lie of the land. It seems clear that this attack was well-planned, and I doubt not that Saruman knows well how to exploit the weakness of those who may not maneuver freely. In any case, if Erkenbrand would reinforce and cover the escapes of the Fords, then Helm's Deep is open. Saruman need only prevent those within it from escaping, and then he could take Edoras at will, for with so much of our strength arrayed to the west already, we are weak here at home."
"Two days, three at the most," Legolas murmured, shaking his fair head. "If we had to make a stand here, what chance would you give us?"
"Without aid, our chances dwindle to nothing," the other replied grimly. "Worse, even had we help, whom would our people follow? There is no one left, save Háma, but he is not known widely enough to command the attention of men in a panic. If the king will not lead us, then I fear we are lost ere the battle is even begun!" He squeezed Éowyn's hands tightly against the anguish that rose in him at such a pronouncement.
"There must be some way…." Legolas trailed off, cocking his head suspiciously.
"What is it?" Éowyn demanded, glancing over her shoulder.
"Someone comes. I heard the door open," the prince said softly.
"Perhaps they come for another," Éomer suggested, but quickly fell silent. The trio waited, tense, and to Legolas, even their breathing seemed too loud. He would have shuttered the lamp but that that would seem incriminating if the newcomer expected to find them here. And Éomer's words aside, I heard no other sounds as we came. I think he must be the only prisoner in this section of the dungeons at least, he thought. Minutes seemed to drag by, and Legolas closed his eyes. For whether or not his human companions could hear it, the footsteps that he had tracked since the door's creak were coming unerringly towards them, and the Elf felt a shiver pass through him as the shade seemed to grow deeper. "Elbereth Gilthoniel!" he breathed, opening his eyes again.
"What say you?" Éowyn asked from behind him, but the Elf did not reply. Soon enough, the sound of another's measured tread grew clear even to brother and sister, and with it the knowledge that there was no escape.
And as the visitor rounded the bend, flanked by two of the warden's men, Éomer cursed softly under his breath, while Éowyn went rigid. Legolas alone did not flinch, but stared eye to eye, unblinking and unmoving, with Gríma Wormtongue. The king's councilor swiftly looked away, his gaze wandering to Éomer and then to Éowyn, who still stood clasping hands through the bars of the cell. "The dungeons are no place for a lady," Wormtongue said, and smiled thinly.
"Nor is it a place for my brother, but if he must stay here, then I shall visit him," Éowyn replied tautly. "You may not deny me that at least!"
"But I think that you have had long enough, and a place such as this so quickly takes its toll on a fragile spirit," Gríma responded smoothly, stepping closer to the pair. And when Éowyn made no move to leave, he added, in a tone that would brook no argument, "'Tis time you left, my lady. We shall speak of this later."
"Farewell for a time, then, brother," she said, refusing to address Gríma and turning instead to Éomer once more. Freeing a hand, she reached up and touched his face lightly, giving him a brief smile ere she stepped away and went to stand at Legolas's side.
"Take care of her," Éomer replied, but looked to Legolas, and the Elf gave a bare nod. That set his heart somewhat at ease, and he glared at the councilor balefully, earning a slight snort of contemptuous laughter for his bravado.
"Come, Éowyn, my lord prince," Gríma said, gesturing for them to precede him. "I would speak with you both. Pleasant dreams, Éomer!"
Éomer spat on the ground in the councilor's wake, clutching hard at the bars, swearing to himself. Damn his eyes! He did not miss the way that Gríma hovered over Éowyn as they left, standing far too close, and he felt a wordless, primordial rage rise within him. If he should touch her… ! Leaning against the bars, he felt the metal cool against throbbing temples. Éowyn was not safe in Edoras, and with his confinement, she stood as if naked before Gríma's malice, and Éomer winced at his own choice of words. Éowyn! he despaired, while a brother's love and fear stabbed at his conscience. But there was naught he could do save wait and brood… and dream of revenge. Pleasant dreams indeed!
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