MEFA 2010 nomination.
Gandalf puffed on his pipe, staring into the embers of the small fire. He shifted in the carved wooden chair and harrumphed irritably. The rooms that had been prepared for him on his arrival in Minas Tirith were comfortable, but not ostentatious, they suited Gandalf. But he was unaware of the comfort right now. Instead, his eyes wide with staring into the flames, he listened.
It was the Music, the Song. It rolled around him. Immense. Majestic. Huge symphonies twined and swirled, like towering thunderhead clouds. Great chords struck and their echo struck like a wonderful thunder, sung again and again. But there, Gandalf paused and listened. A great dissonance, like a bell had rung out of tune, out of time and its clamour had rippled and shattered something that held the symphonies together. And he waited to learn what it was.
He had felt it days ago, when he stood with Pippin on the ramparts of the white city, the night before the siege…the night of the capture of Osgiliath. Faramir had returned, wounded and with only a handful of his Rangers, many slain or taken. Even he, Gandalf, felt a dread in the pit of his stomach at what the enemy would do to their prisoners.
It would be soon. The discord scraped thinly on his nerves. His hair crackled with it, like a storm was about to strike.
All night, he had sensed one solitary Nazgul flying over the city, aware of the thin wailing, too far to be heard by mortal ears. He knew what it was looking for… or he had thought he did.
The ancient spirt that was Olórin looked past the shadowy forms of flesh that was the physical world, and into the bright, shifting world of colour and light and saw in the East, the growing shadows, reaching, grasping, growing darker. The stars that had so recently reappeared, were no longer visible. He waited.
He had swept back the blue woven curtains of the balcony, and let in the moonlight. Pale green leaves of a lime tree rustled and kept him company in this stark city of stone.
And then it came.
Quiet voices outside the door. A soft knock. A muffled argument, one voice half-hearted, another more urgent, insistent. He puffed on his pipe, twice.
'Either enter or go away,' he called irritably but he watched with bright knowing eyes. He wondered who it would be to deliver this message, to tell him what had gone awry.
Slowly, the door creaked opened and to Gandalf's surprise, Legolas stepped into the candlelit room, clad only in breeches and thin linen shirt that was torn and stained with old blood. His boots made no sound on the stone floor.
Gandalf raised an eyebrow. He had not seen Legolas since leaving Orthanc, but the Elf was … unusually dishevelled. As if he were hardly aware of himself. Legolas eyed him warily, half-sleepily. Dreams clung to him of the Sea, and Olórin, within this old man's body, could almost smell the salt and wind, taste it, hear the soughing of canvas filled with the west wind.
So, thought Gandalf, this is what Galadriel meant by her message. And he sighed because he knew what it meant for this child of the forest to lose his heart to the Sea.
He said gently, 'Ah, Legolas. This is a strange hour to come calling, but not unwelcome. Come in, sit down.'
Legolas stood still at the doorway, and smiled that slow smile. Gandalf was relieved to see the sweetness had not gone.
'A strange hour indeed,' the Elf said a little dreamily. 'But Elrohir said I must come now. To tell you.'
Gandalf saw then a darker shadow hung back outside the door. 'Welcome Elrohir,' he said. 'What is it you need to tell me?' The son of his old friend shifted uncomfortably and then followed Legolas into the room.
Gandalf settled himself back in his chair and watched as Legolas took a place on the wide bench by the window and leaned his head back against the stone wall. His green eyes drifted to the lime tree that brushed against the open window and then away, staring out at the night. Elrohir stood in the corner furthest from Legolas, where shadows clustered, away from the bright fire and candle light.
Legolas was emerging from cuivëar, Gandalf could see, and that was strange enough in itself. He knew the Elf would drift in and out of dreams, lucid one moment and dreaming the next. He had seen it before. When Legolas had tilted his head slightly, Gandalf knew he was listening to the Sea. The Elf's slate-green eyes were focused on some distant patch of sky through the window.
'Now, Elrohir, son of Elrond,' Gandalf said. He could see he would get little from Legolas at the moment. 'What is it you must tell me that cannot wait until morning?'
Elrohir did not look at Gandalf, instead he stared at Legolas, as though he were feeding on the sight of him. Gandalf raised an eyebrow slightly and wondered what there was between these two, for Legolas was certainly not above a dalliance with Elrond's sons, Elrond's daughter too if an opportunity presented itself, Gandalf thought a little disapprovingly.
'Elrohir?' he prompted, and this time the Elf looked at Gandalf and the old wizard almost balked at the raw longing in the Elf's eyes.
Gandalf leaned back slowly. Let the story unfold, he reminded himself. 'Where did you find him?' he prompted gently.
Elrohir seemed to shake himself a little, as though he shared some spider-web of dreams with Legolas, but his voice when he spoke, was irritated and his reply short. 'I was returning from the Houses of Healing.'
He does not like to be questioned, Gandalf thought. Here is one used to command. He does not explain his actions .
'I saw him on the city wall,' Elrohir continued, his eyes drawn back to Legolas who leant back against the limestone wall, deep green eyes distant and dream-filled. 'There was a Nazgul above him. I thought it would kill him. I startled it and it flew off.'
'A Nazgul!' Gandalf stared at him in alarm. It must have been the same Nazgul he had heard for most of the night, circling, watching, searching.
'Yes. Legolas was transfixed by it,' Elrohir went on less certainly now. Gandalf watched him shrewdly, wondering if he was hiding something. 'It was like he could not move. It fled when it knew I was there.'
Gandalf pursed his lips speculatively. Then he picked up his pipe once again and considered. 'My dear Elrohir, no one simply chases off a Nazgul. Either it wanted to leave, or it thought you were perhaps the first of many Elves or Men coming to attack it. Nazgul always kill their prey.' He looked about for his flint and then tamped down the pipeweed carefully. 'Hmm.' Gandalf struck his flint and the flame flared briefly. He sucked on the stem of his pipe, tutting as it failed to draw immediately.
Legolas was still staring out of the window, his long hair lifting gently in the breeze. Elrohir had moved closer to him, Gandalf noted, as if he were drawn to him irresistibly. The dark Elf's hand reached out and lightly touched the long pale hair, he stroked his fingers down the flaxen length. But when Legolas leaned towards him, eyes half-closed, Elrohir snatched his hand back like he had been burned. Gandalf looked away and leaned back in his wooden chair. He did not know what there was between these two but he wondered if that touch was unwelcome.
He decided that was not his business, ''Hmm. A Nazgul, eh? And Legolas is left here to tell the tale,' he said musingly. 'Well, we had better hear what he has to say.' He suddenly leant forward and tapped the Elf on his knee.
'Legolas. Awaken now. I need you to tell me what happened.'
Legolas opened his long green eyes languidly, and seeing Gandalf, smiled. Then the Elf caught a slight movement of Elrohir and he lifted his head to stare.
'Ah, you are here,' he said slowly. 'Ravëyon.' He seemed to savour the word, rolling it around his mouth like wine. But Elrohir stepped back in horror.
Gandalf said nothing. Ravëyon. Son of Thunder. He did not know this son of Elrond well, but he had heard the stories. Ravëyon, it was what they called him, the Orcs of the Mountains and he was a terror to them. It was curious, thought Gandalf, how Elrohir had reacted to Legolas saying that name. But he could not think about that now. Instead he leaned forwards, drawing Legolas' face towards him and said gently, 'Legolas? You know what this will mean? I will be looking into your memory… as did the Nazgul.'
For a moment here was a flicker of terror in the Elf's eyes but then he looked up at Gandalf trustingly and nodded.
Gandalf felt a squeeze in his heart at that look of absolute trust, but steeled himself and placed his hand gently on the Elf's brow. The wizard closed his eyes.
…It was immediate and shocking.
The Sea rushed around him and for a moment he thought he was drowning.
Cuivëar, he told himself. It is not real…He soothed it, settled the immense ocean roar in his ears, the pounding on the surf on white shores… he pressed harder.. What else?
… huge bat-like wings spread over the night sky. Something grazed the edge of Legolas' mind. And a spear of ice was driven deep into his heart …
Gandalf himself almost cried out in shock, for he too felt the searing pain that drove all thought from the Elf…
…the memory of the Nazgul searching, raking its thoughts through the Elf's, searching for one stray thought, one memory that would give it what it needed, one moment …ripping aside everything else, it had paused at the thought of Aragorn but then wanted more...
He felt the Elf tear his thoughts away, tried to think instead of the forest eaves and bright sunlight. But the Nazgul had laughed, showed him instead the burning forest, in flames, and yellow smoke drifting. No! I will not believe that, Legolas had cried aloud and Olorin cried with him in spite of himself… but the Nazgul gave a hollow, grating laugh. Beneath his hood was an empty helm of iron…Kamul, I am Kamul and I know you…Give It to me, the Nazgul pressed hard… He, Olórin was shown It. He felt like he was no longer simply seeing through Legolas' eyes. Olorin leaned towards It and almost… almost tasted the ash of Mordor before he wrenched his thoughts away, felt the pain and then everything blurred and he could no longer separate what he felt and what the Elf felt, where Legolas began and he, Olorin, ended… The spear of ice drove deeper and he writhed in agony, and then…for a fleeting moment, he showed the Nazgul what he kept in his mind; there was the Ring… so simple, so pure… such gold… He stared at it, held close in a small hand…and then he felt how Legolas had fought and kicked and struggled and opened up the tides that swept them both away. And he was drowning again…
He emerged, spluttering for breath and gasping, aware that someone was pulling at his sleeve, anxiously calling, but he shook him off. Legolas had given away that he had seen a Hobbit with the Ring. What else had he given away? He had to know what else Legolas had seen, what he knew…He pressed his hand harder against the Elf's head, only dimly aware that Legolas was on his knees before him, breath coming in sobs...
… The Sea rushed in, an incoming tide…Legolas struggled against Olórin, desperate to escape...
…No, you will remember, Olórin commanded. He pushed past those dim memories that shocked him nonetheless…he saw the broken teeth of Osgiliath's ruined towers…the hordes of Mordor rushing in… and then there was only the incoming tide, the rush of water… No, he told the Elf, you will not escape to the Sea. He took him deeper. Deeper…he pushed blue light into the corners of the Elf's memory, searching for one shadow of thought…
And then he found what he had been looking for…There it was. A thin thread, like mercury, poison seeping into the Elf's veins. The Nazgul's thoughts…the smallest sliver of darkness…Olórin pressed him. What did he see in that dark nest of evil that was the Nazgul's memories?
He saw a black horse thundering over the desert under hot skies, galloping amongst others over the dunes and his red robes swept behind him, red as the blood on a gleaming steel sword, curved blade …Kamul the Easterling, Kamul the Red Shadow they called him, a dark jewelled ring glittered on his finger…
No. Not that. Olórin pushed into the Elf, forcing him to yield…Deeper, he insisted, deeper. And the Elf gave way…
… there was a Man's face, a Ranger, tortured and screaming and a touch only to his head, even as Olorin did now, brought a screaming anguish… he ripped into the Man and then… ahhhhh…. yesssss….
…A small, pale face stared up at him with eyes that had faded under its too-heavy burden…Frodo… Frodo on his journey through Ithilien… and another small shape crouched nearby, muttering and whispering… Gollum… Gollum… With terrible slowness, the Eye of Fire turned away from the White City and seared Ithilien with its burning gaze.
...The Brethren of the Eight who were once Nine search for the Halfling. He has it. It is precious to him…it seeks to return to its Master…
Gandalf broke off abruptly, breathing hard and blue eyes clearing. Frodo! A terrible panic seized him then. Some unfortunate Man had seen Frodo, with Gollum in Ithilien. And that Man, likely one of Faramir's Rangers captured at Osgiliath, had been found by Kamul… yes, it was Kamul that ripped the memory from the Ranger's minds like an untimely birth.
Gandalf looked down at his chest almost expecting to see a gaping hole where the spear of ice had been driven into his heart…but of course, there was nothing, for it was Legolas who had encountered the Nazgul. He was dimly aware of panicked breathing, like sobs from somewhere nearby.
'Again,' he said quietly, and reached towards Legolas, who he realised was kneeling before him now, trembling hands over his face as if to ward off the evil that pervaded his thoughts and it was he who breathed those great panicked sobs. Gandalf hesitated, hand outstretched.
And then Elrohir was half lifting Legolas back to the bench and shouting at Gandalf furiously. 'No! He has suffered enough. Leave him. He will tell you everything, just give him time!'
Gandalf drew his hand back and fell back into the carved wooden chair. It was enough for the moment. Legolas had survived Kamul the Easterling, second only to the Lord of Angmar, the Witchking, now vanquished. Gandalf that had been the Grey, breathed slowly and looked down at his hands, gnarled like branches, blue veins twisting round the bones. Such a strange thing old age in Men. He felt a sudden fear of death and knew that he felt the dark poison of Kamul's thoughts still lingering, his own hunger, fear.
Gandalf sighed and looked with guilty compassion at Legolas, who leaned against Elrohir, his trembling hands still over his eyes. 'He did not know that the Nazgul had to open its mind to him in order to search his memories,' he said quietly, thoughtfully. It grieved him to cause Legolas pain but he knew Legolas would recover. He was steel, like a blade that flexed and sprang back. 'Legolas would not have known those dreadful memories are now in his mind too. It is better that he should forget.'
Elrohir threw him a resentful look and pulled Legolas towards himself possessively. 'You have already done the damage, Gandalf. Look at him! What more would you know?' he demanded distrustfully, his body tensed and furious with anger.
Gandalf looked at him and thought what a formidable enemy he would be, how powerful he was for his energy thrummed and tingled in the air, and he knew this Elf warrior could be dangerous, he had a darkness in him that shadows flocked to.
He stroked his hand gently across Legolas' forehead and this time, gave him warmth and comfort, letting the energy drift through his flesh and blood and bones, giving him peace. Legolas let his hands drop to his sides and his face softened. Gandalf paused to look, for all the Elf's irritating playfulness, the Wizard had an immense affection for him, perhaps even because of that playfulness. Then he let his fingers wander to the Elf's shoulder, seeing the thin scar that traced itself over his collarbone and down his ribs. The bandage had come loose.
'He's bleeding,' he said and lifted the edge of the bandage.
'I will see to him,' said Elrohir coldly and he put his arm beneath Legolas' shoulder and pulled him to his feet. 'If you need to speak to him you can do so in the morning. He will be outside the city walls. You can find him there.'
Gandalf nodded. 'Elrohir?' he said suddenly looking up with his piercing blue gaze.'There are things you too need to tell me. What did the Nazgul reveal to you?'
Elrohir glared at him and pulled Legolas close to him. Legolas leaned against him, his eyes still half closed but peacefully now.
'Nothing. It fled. As you say, why else would it have left us alive if it did not fear I had an army at my back,' he said coldly.
With an arm protectively around Legolas, Elrohir threw open the door and the frost-laden night air flooded in. He threw a resentful glare over his shoulder at his father's old friend and pulled the door shut behind him. Gandalf was alone.
Deep in thought, as he had been for hours now, Gandalf stood leaning against the white stone wall of the balcony. Even in the moonlight he could see the lime tree's leaves were pale green and quietly brushed against the white stone. He drew deeply on his pipe, letting smoke curl about his nostrils, his mouth, savouring the bitter soft flavour against his tongue and the back of his throat. Corporeality had its compensations, he thought. He watched the smoke swirl and drift into rings about his head, lazily turning them blue, then red, then green as he pondered.
Sauron was narrowing his search to Ithilien, where a Hobbit had been seen with Gollum.
Gandalf stared at nothing now and the smoke dissolved around him into long wisps. It would not be long now before the Nazgul found Frodo. Only four of Sauron's foul servants had been in the battle. It took little to imagine where the other five Nazgul might have been. All the time Sauron continued to search for the Ring in Ithilien he drew closer to finding it. Somehow Sauron must come to believe the Hobbit who had the Ring was not in Ithilien but here, in Minas Tirith.
Gandalf sighed. Maybe Legolas' encounter with the Nazgul was the smallest piece of luck after all. Maybe… He stared out across the battlefield where fires blazed to burn the carrion of Mordor …Maybe he could use this to his advantage. Maybe he could create a fissure of doubt in Sauron's mind.
He considered what he knew. The Nazgul, Kamul, had fled, taking with him the image gleaned from Legolas; a Hobbit holding the Ring. Kamul would tell Sauron that the Elf who had seen this was in Minas Tirith where the Heir of Isildur was, and with Gandalf himself! Minas Tirith was where a mere Hobbit, with the help of a Rohirrim maid, had vanquished the Lord of the Nazgul. Surely this would give the Dark Lord pause, create doubt enough to give Frodo a chance?
But Gandalf knew it was not enough… he had to do something to bring those great chords that clanged against each other now back into the great symphonies.
He thought again of the plan that was gradually forming in his mind. But he did not like it. It was fraught with difficulties and maybes… But then, he had not liked any of the plans the Wise had come up with to destroy Sauron. Every one they had ever tried had had gaping holes in them too …Not least of these was the plan to send one small Hobbit on his weary way through the dust and ash of Mordor. One small Hobbit, and the gangling creature that was Smeagol.
He had not seen Sam in that memory of Frodo, and Gandalf blinked suddenly at the thought of the small valiant gardener and what must have happened to tear him away from Frodo's side.
But the blue fire that was Olórin steeled himself; if there was any way to make Frodo's way easier, then he must take it. … No matter the cost? Gandalf asked himself. No matter the cost, Olórin answered. But he was appalled at what he was going to , he thought that Legolas himself would be the least likely of all the Fellowship to protest at his plan…even though it was the Elf who would suffer most.