19. The Request
Warning: After the fluff and lightness of the last chapter, here begins the angst and violence. m/m violence, sexual violence ahead in the next chapters, death and general nastiness beginning with this one although no special warnings for THIS chapter- next one will be nasty.
Disclaimer: Not mine etc
Beta: The wonderful Anarithilien. Thank you as always for making this make sense and readable! Hoping DF gets an update soon please!
This is for Tanis, who gave me a nudge and reminded me there are a few of you on this site who like reading this.
Chapter 19: The request
Sunlight shone through the young leaves of the lime trees and Legolas turned his face up as he wandered through the garden. He could still hear their voice. His fingertips brushed the bark as he passed and he felt the tremor of the breeze, the buzz and whirr of life, insects and the sap rising. A small brown bird hopped about and chirruped at him as he passed and he chirruped back. Black beady eyes regard him seriously and he wondered how it survived in this barren city of stone where there were so few trees and so few gardens. Sam will put that right when they return safely, he thought for he could not bear to think otherwise. And someone had planted lime trees around the square in front of the Houses of Healing. One, he remembered, pressed up against Gandalf's rooms.
Legolas frowned and his hand crept up to his chest and toyed with the thin bandage. He had forgotten that. The panicked visit to Gandalf, the fluttering nervousness in his stomach … He had a dim memory of Elrohir half carrying him, half dragging him… and then Olorin's calm presence, blinding white at first and then calming, settling, gentle and suffusing him with peace. The Wizard had dulled the edge of the yearning found in the sea-longing; he had made it a dim roar, a welcome promise of respite.
It was gone then, the memory. Legolas blinked and looked about him for the way to Eowyn's rooms that Merry had pointed out earlier.
The western side of the Houses of Healing was quieter, shaded by trees. This must have been one of the earliest parts of the city, he thought. He brushed his fingertips against the cool stone as he had against the trees. He heard again the pomp of Gondor, the loss of its grandeur, the blood soaked into its making, echoes of swords clashed and the trumpeting whinny of war horses… but beneath it all, beneath the cacophony of diminished splendour was the mountain itself, and the earth.
He leaned for a moment against the cool stone and listened… a single deep note, like a heavy bronze bell … the stroke of a drop of water across a mirror of water, undisturbed for a thousand years like the thrum of harp strings … creak of stone in the heart of the mountain…he thought then of Gimli's words of Aglarond and smiled.
Eowyn lay pale and silent on a bed near the long windows which opened out onto a different part of the garden where the fountain splashed and the sunlight gleamed on the pool. Her golden hair streamed unbound over the pillow and her skin was white. Her eyes were closed and she seemed be barely breathing.
Legolas knelt sadly by her bedside and lifted her limp hand in his; it felt so cold. Listening to her breathing, he groped for the tremor of life in her pulse, it was there but not strong. In her breathing he felt the misery and sadness of the days of her life, of her fear of being caged and clipped to prevent her flying. Aragorn had called her back but the Black Breath lingered, and when he closed his eyes and listened for her, reached out for her, the fire that he loved about her seemed to be only a flicker. About her clung a darkness.
Loosely holding her hand, the elf breathed with her, seeking the fire within the weakened, frightened thing what was not Eowyn, and he grieved that he might lose her still. Her song was distant so he began to quietly find the notes for her, setting them free. And then she took a deep breath and settled more softly into a sleep that was natural and clean and pure.
He sat with her, so close to her that his breath warmed her cold cheek and the song wound between them. A warmer flush was on her pale skin then and she turned her head with half a sigh and settled again into a deeper sleep.
Sudden movement caught his eye and he glanced into the garden. There was a man, standing half hidden in the shade. Legolas started suddenly and almost stood.
'Boromir!' he whispered.
Surely not? It could not have been. But when he moved to better see, there was a slight tremor in the leaves and the man was gone.
Legolas looked down at Eowyn's face. There was now a soft blush of sleep on her cheeks and her lips were parted in breath. Beautiful she was in body and in her brightly burning soul. He loved her courage and pure spirit and though he was not gifted with foresight, he had a glimpse suddenly ... years from now, silver amongst the golden hair and those crinkles at the side of her eyes…she was laughing and looking up at a man who looked like Boromir…Legolas looked out at the garden again but even his keen eyes could not see the man or where he had gone.
He stayed with her for a long time, until her eyes flickered open and she smiled and lightly he squeezed her hand.
'I am glad you came,' she said, almost too quietly to hear. He had to lean forwards to catch her words. He brushed her golden hair from her pale face and smoothed his hand over her brow.
'Impatient child,' he smiled as he scolded her, as he had at Helm's Deep before. 'Did I not tell you that you had another fate? But your impatience led you here for you could not wait for it to come to you. Well now you will have to.' He glanced up and looked out over the garden. ' But I do not think you will have to wait for long.'
Eowyn reached up and caught his strong hand in hers and brought it to her lips. 'He loved you, did you know? Theoden. He called you his saviour and lord. I loved him. And now…' Then like the cracking of the Helcaraxë, Eowyn, the White Lady, cold Shieldmaiden of the Mark, wept. He lifter her as she buried her face in the elf's chest and sobbed and sobbed until she had nothing left. And Legolas felt his own face wet with tears.
Humming an old lullaby that he used to hum when the Fellowship settled down to sleep and Frodo was restless, Legolas stroked her head and waited until her eyelids fluttered and she drifted back into sleep.
He watched her, smoothing her hair like a sleeping child. The sunlight lit her hair, golden, not the copper-bronze of her brother. Legolas looked away briefly and stared out of the window at the sky. He had caught up to Eomer quickly last night, the man wanting to be caught, hoping there would be more…Legolas had laid his hand gently, insistently on the man's shoulder and the man's body had quivered under his touch. But when it was clear there was no more to give, Eomer had declared he understood, wanting to appear worldly and experienced.
'We are both of age,' he had declared to Legolas. 'And you have always been honest with me about this. You said in Rohan at the start, it is no more than it is.' He had laughed then, as if it didn't matter and Legolas tilted his head to one side, for it mattered to him. But the shine in Eomer's eyes belied the words and Legolas had had to turn away to spare him. There was no more to be said.
The elf leaned his cheek on his hand and although he gazed at Eowyn, his thoughts were elsewhere. He had made such a mess of this, and it was his feelings for Elrohir that had led him to this place, nothing else. For he was tidy with his heart, always in control, seeking pleasure lightly, giving it too. He always finished one affair long before starting another …and he grieved that he had hurt Eomer, but perhaps that was always going to be so. It was Elrohir and his deep, dark passion that had blinded him to all else, even to mistaking Elladan…
He sighed and rubbed his hand over his eyes. He had erred and now he had to find those he had wronged and put things right.
So now he stood on the city wall, shading his eyes with his long hand and gazing across the plains. Below he saw the tented city that clustered up to the walls of Minas Tirith. The fields were charred and scarred with war and the stench of charred corpses hung still in the air. He followed the Anduin as far as he could as it wound its way through the bloodied and ruined fields of Pelennor and through the Lebinnin, and from there onwards. His eyes were drawn inevitably west where the clean blue sky met the sea in the far, far distance where even his eyes could not see.
Legolas swung his arms, looking upwards for a glimpse of the white birds that called to him. In one part of his mind he realised it did not hurt as much to think on them; if anything it gave him a soaring elation and made him want to run all the way to the Sea and throw himself into the waves… He shook his head and laughed brightly at his own fancy, and found himself singing a song of the Lebinnin as he strode down the paved street. He leaped up onto a high wall and ran along its precarious length and then sprang onto the rampart of the city wall, wondering why his feet led him this way.
The day was bright and clear above the city but away in the East, huge clouds were building. Legolas paused to watch them gather and roil over the mountains. If anything they felt more threatening than the great bruised thunderheads that had gathered over the Pelennor fields before battle. There was something there that prickled at the edge of his consciousness, something to do with the Nazgul.
He felt the weight of a gaze upon him and glanced about. Briefly he caught a gleaming white presence, too bright, too pure and then it faded and he saw that it was simply Gandalf. He sat comfortably on a low bench in the brief sunshine. Legolas grinned and was not surprised then that he had come here.
Olorin waited, as he had the night before and he listened to the great symphonies and soaring chords of the Music, of the Song. It was coming back into harmony and the dissonance was but a thin thread that trembled along his nerves, ached in his bones. He did not have to wait long, for above him on the teetering edge of the city wall, ridiculously high above a sheer drop on the other side, an elf ran lightly. His face filled with joy and he was singing quietly under his breath a song of the Lebennin. His long flaxen hair was tugged by the west wind as though it conspired to draw him Home. Home. Olorin felt it too.
The Maia tilted his head to one side and regarded this child of the forest, remembering how he had given the gangling creature, Smeagol into this one's care knowing somehow that it had to be that way, knowing that this would bring him to Imladris and thence on this long journey to this city of men. He was meant to be here, even as Smeagol was meant to be where he was, and Merry was meant to be with Eowyn as she struck Angmar. It was all in the Song that circled in its immense, cosmic spirals, its shifts of patterns and huge chords, and the symphonies… this elf was the small piece that would bring it back into harmony.
He watched the elf leap from one crumbling ledge to another, and almost skip along the edge. The Maia felt a pang for what he was about to do… but there was no choice left. Gently, Olorin stirred and brought the other's awareness to himself.
The elf glanced about him suddenly and then grinned with delight as his forest-green eyes caught on the gleaming white presence that was Olorin. The elf's own light burned and was young, like a green shoot of Spring. Then he leapt with hair-raising recklessness from one crumbled bit of wall to another, descending rapidly until he stood before the Wizard.
'Mithrandir!' he sounded pleased, surprised. He wore the plain homespun tunic and dark brown breeches Gandalf had scavenged for him even though he was tall and the borrowed clothes were ill-fitting on him.
Gandalf smiled gently. 'Ah. Young Thranduillion. Good. You found me then,' the wizard said, fingers twitching for a pipe to soothe him through this. He sought to be gentle, to ease their way into this. 'Did you you see our young friends? Is Pippin behaving himself? '
Impossibly, irritatingly flirtatious, even with Gandalf himself, Legolas bowed and smiled sweetly, 'Indeed Mithrandir, Pippin has excelled himself with his musical appreciation, and his wit and humour are undiminished.' He smiled more widely and his eyes searched the wizard's face as if looking for something of which he was almost aware. Gandalf smiled. He knew Legolas was still too young to see him as he really was, but it would come in time. He winced then as he remembered they did not have time.
But Legolas was yet oblivious to Gandalf's dark thoughts and hidden intentions. He threw himself beside the wizard and breathed in the air. Gandalf knew it was the thin scent of the sea on the west wind he breathed, and he winced at the irony. The sea on the air served his purpose.
Legolas glanced at Gandalf's unlit pipe and said generously, 'Go on, I have become used to it. The hobbits wreathed themselves in so much smoke at Orthanc it was hard to tell which was pipe smoke and which was Saruman's dreadful fire.'
'Hmmm,' grunted the Wizard and he puffed on the pipe as he lit it, remembering the hour of Saruman's fall, the awful battle of wills he had fought with his former leader and comrade, never friends. He had never found any warmth in Saruman. 'So you have recovered from that? Good…it was a hard thing to bear.'
'Well, I do not say recovered, but I can speak of it now,' said Legolas soberly. 'I wonder now if I should have chosen to go home after Moria…'
The wizard looked sharply at him. 'There are many choices ahead of us all, Thranduillion. And each choice affects the paths of others. Had you not chosen to let Gollum climb that tree, he would not have escaped. Had you not decided to bring the message yourself, you would not have been the one at the council of Elrond. Had you not chosen to follow Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead, Gimli would not have followed either. And had you not chosen that, you would not have heard the gulls. You are very resourceful. That is one of many reasons I persuaded Elrond to give you this quest and not others.' He peered at Legolas from under his bushy eyebrows. 'We all have things that we must now do.'
Legolas laughed gently and shook his head, then he said, 'Go not to Wizards for counsel, they will say both yea and nay and take their time about it, as Galion used to say.' He looked at the Wizard and smiled cheekily. '"And then you will end up running off on some adventure without a hat,"* as Thranduil always adds.' He cocked his head to one side and regarded Gandalf sharply. 'I have always thought that last bit had something to do with Bilbo Baggins, for whom he has a great fondness.'
Gandalf smiled and puffed on his pipe. A smoke ring hovered above him and turned purple and then green and then blue. 'Bilbo returns the fondness I think. He stood with your father at Erebor.'
'I remember.' Legolas looked down then and rubbed his finger along the edge of the stone bench. He paused and then said quietly, 'I will follow Aragorn still, if that's what you mean, Mithrandir. I will follow him to my death if need be, for the sake of him and Middle Earth.'
Gandalf felt a heaviness settle in his heart. It was this that had brought Legolas to this point; his loyalty, his courage- lightly worn and deeply felt.
There was a pause and then Legolas gave a wry smile and looked away across the city to the river and said, 'You were right about Gimli.'
Gandalf said nothing but puffed silently on his pipe, but he smiled a little sadly.
'He was so afraid on the Paths of the Dead …' the elf continued, looking up into the blue sky. 'But he went anyway.' The Wizard blew a smoke rings that hovered and turned different colours and took shapes, an axe, a bow, a sword.
Gandalf's blue eyes crinkled. 'You were told you would die should you hear the gulls, ' he replied. 'But you went anyway.' A smoke-ship like the Sea-Song drifted for a moment and then disintegrated, then an archer appeared briefly taking aim and drifted…'And here you are.'
Legolas said nothing, but he looked down at the simple brown tunic that Gandalf had left for him, and picked at a loose thread. Gandalf gently put his hand over Legolas's and stilled it.
'It hurts less. Thank you.' Legolas looked at the Wizard's gnarled hand. He did not look up as he said, 'But I cannot feel the woods are my home anymore. All I can hear is the Sea.'
Gandalf said nothing but his fingers squeezed Legolas'. 'It is a blessing also,' he said softly, looking at the Elf's bent head and wishing more than anything he did not have to do this. But why else would the Valar have sent a Woodelf so close to the Sea? Why else would this have happened if it were not a chance to put things right?
'It saved me from the Nazgul I suppose,' Legolas nodded. And Gandalf felt like a traitor as he saw his opening.
'Yes,' he said gently prompting the elf.
'It was strange that I could escape through Cuivëar,' he said almost to himself, looking up and towards the mountains. 'It did not kill me, even stranger still. But I am certain that is only because Elrohir came.'
'Yes, that too was indeed a blessing.' Gandalf steeled himself. 'You might say it was fated… ' Legolas glanced at him and the Wizard saw something else stirred in those green eyes, something he could not define. 'Do you recall at all the thoughts of the Nazgul?'
Legolas shook his head and the Wizard continued softly. 'It had captured and I am afraid, tortured, one of Faramir's Men. Caught in Osgiliath by the Orcs and tortured for information about Minas Tirith I am guessing. But in that interrogation, he must have also revealed to the Nazgul that he had seen something else in Ithilien; a Hobbit with a Ring. And Smeagol. '
Legolas gasped and Gandalf knew he had indeed forgotten until now the Nazgul memories. 'Yes! I saw that … how could I forget? And Sam..' he trailed off… 'I did not see Sam!' He turned to Gandalf distraught.
Gandalf put down his pipe and leaned back against the sun-warmed stone. 'No. Sam was not there. But it does not mean… it does not necessarily mean what you think it means,' said the Wizard briskly. He glanced at the elf. 'What you saw was the Nazgul's image of Frodo. What it saw in your mind was a Hobbit holding the Ring.' Gandalf paused to give time for Legolas to work it out. He had faith in his companion. He only had to wait.
'So the Enemy knows Frodo is in Ithilien…' Legolas said distressed. 'That is why there were but four Nazgul at the battle. The others search for Frodo.' Gandalf watched sadly. He knew Legolas would not disappoint him. The elf's fair face was troubled and when he turned to face Gandalf, he felt like a traitor. 'But they also know that I have seen It and I am in Minas Tirith and have not been to Ithilien,' he said thoughtfully. Legolas was foremost a strategist. Inevitably he reached the conclusion the Wizard had led him towards. 'We need to distract them, to draw them here,' he said.
'Yes.' Gandalf drew on his pipe and sent a smoke dragon to hover around their heads. Legolas watched it, bemused.
'They need to believe that the Hobbit who has the Ring is here, ' the elf said thoughtfully. 'Pippin is here. The Enemy has seen Pippin in the Palantir. And Merry slew the Nazgul-lord.' He smiled thoughtfully.' It is not so hard to make the Enemy believe that we have the Ring here,' he said. 'We simply need to leak this to the Enemy. Denethor must have had spies, and Mordor must have spies here as well. Surely Faramir knows who they are?'
Legolas stretched out his long legs and Gandalf saw with a pang, that the boots he had found for the Elf were a little too small. He could see the Elf's toes pressed against the leather. He knew Legolas would rather suffer discomfort than complain about a gift well meant and for moment he hesitated. Could he really send this Elf off to his death?
'Denethor executed all those he knew were spies, I am afraid. He did not see how they might be of use,' Gandalf answered and watched as the elf realised what he was doing.
There was a long silence and Gandalf closed his eyes, waiting, as he had waited the night before, although he had not known it would be Legolas who brought him the way to salvage this terrible wrongness in the Song. And even as he waited, he could hear the dissonance lessen, the symphony soared in his mind and he knew exactly what would happen next. He knew it even as the elf said, 'You have something to ask of me?' Legolas' brilliant green eyes were sharp and focused entirely on Gandalf. In that moment, he looked so much like his father that Gandalf hesitated a moment. If Mirkwood had fallen, then Legolas was possibly the last elf from Mirkwood. Could he really do this?
'Yes. I have,' he said slowly, aware of the bright gaze of the elf. He had always been such an inquisitive child. Gandalf remembered meeting Legolas the first time in Mirkwood, clinging to his oldest brother's leg. But the brightness of the eyes and the sheer curiosity had drawn him and even then he had felt there would be some later time when Legolas would have a role to play beyond the eaves of the forest. He had spared him a little time, wondering and trying to seek the spark that lit him…what would that role be? And here they were, at this place, at this time. It was right. And he knew that of all, Legolas would argue the least, would balk the least and would do whatever he asked of him.
He began gently. 'We need to create a chance for Frodo… to give him some time. As you say, if we can convince the Enemy that the Ring is here, it will distract Him.'
Legolas stared straight ahead. His arms were straight and hands gripped the edge of the bench. Gandalf noticed that his knuckles were white. 'And you have a plan.'
'Yes.' Gandalf lay his pipe to one side and breathed deeply.
'And your plan involves me?'
So unlike the Imladrian elves were the Silvans from Mirkwood. Many times Gandalf had said they were more dangerous and less wise. Now he wondered if he had judged them too harshly. Ever had Thranduil been an ally and given him aid when he needed it… neither Galadriel nor Elrond would have taken Gollum, even if he would have been safer. Strange that he had known absolutely that Mirkwood was the right place to take him. Legolas was no fool. He was watching Gandalf astutely.
'I think you know that already,' said Gandalf.
He heard the elf give a small ironic laugh, but it was not bitter. 'So your talk of choices and paths was not just idle. Galion is right.' But he did not say how Galion was right. 'You wish for me to put myself in the Nazgul's path. And to suggest that It is here in the city.'
'Yes.' And in that moment, the Song was triumphant, soaring, leaping in Olorin's heart.
'Do you think it will risk coming back here to the city, as it did before?' Legolas picked at the loose thread on his sleeve again and this time, Gandalf did not stop him.
'We cannot wait. Aragorn will march out in three days. We must be sure that Sauron does not ignore him by instead scouring Ithilien and Mordor. For He will soon guess why the Ring travels through Ithilien. It either makes its way to Minas Tirith or to Mordor itself.' He resisted the urge to press harder. He turned to Legolas and held his forest-green gaze. 'Sooner or later they will find Frodo.'
Suddenly the sun broke through the clouds once more and caught on a lone gull. They both stared, watched its slow wingbeats flash white. A long moment passed before Gandalf spoke again.
'You will scout beyond the city. It can find you there and is more likely to approach you.' Gandalf almost winced at how innocuous that sounded, how prosaic. 'You will let it see only the Ring and Merry killing Angmar. Then you will let the …let the Mavoinë* - the Great Longing - into your heart. You will know nothing more…' he said quietly.
'Nothing more.' Legolas let his head fall back against the warm stone wall. He sounded so desolate. But Gandalf had no choice now. One life, one immortal life.
But only moments later Legolas continued, head on one side slightly, 'The Nazgul kill their prey usually. Or they take them captive if they think there is more to be gained.' The observation was practical, thinking through the options, the possibilities. He had accepted it, Gandalf thought, and it had been horribly easy. But this was Legolas Thranduillion, a captain of the Woodland Realm. 'It did not kill me because it was interrupted. Prevented. Ravëyon…I mean Elrohir… Otherwise it would have killed me.'
Gandalf glanced at him from the corner of his eye… that slip. How strange he referred to Elrohir as Ravëyon.
'So how do I escape this time?' he asked, eyes bright. 'Because then it thought a troop was nearby. Had it stayed it might have lost its steed, and that would have left it in the midst of enemies and on foot. Forced it to flee overland on foot. As it did at the Fords of the Bruinen…So it withdrew…I think,' Legolas was saying dispassionately, objectively.
Aye, there's the rub of it, thought Gandalf. I cannot see a way to rescue you because it would not be convinced…not enough. We cannot take the risk. If Elrohir, or another, were to surprise the Nazgul again, it would not withdraw and I will lose the sons of both Elrond and Thranduil. And if I sent a company of soldiers, it will not dare approach. And if I told Elrohir to shoot the Nazgul's steed, it would cripple the Nazgul and delay its return to Sauron and it might be too late…
But Gandalf did not have to give that dreadful answer for he saw that Legolas too had worked it out already and was sitting patiently, waiting for him to speak, to confirm, to announce his death.
'In the forest we have the milui-criss.' Legolas said after a long silence and he turned to Gandalf as he spoke. 'The Merciful-Cut. It is very hard to do. You will need someone with nerves of steel…Do not ask Gimli.'
'I have someone in mind for the task. It is not Gimli.' Gandalf did not flinch. It was the least he could do.
'Do not tell me his name. Not yet.' Legolas suddenly turned to Gandalf and beseeched, 'Let me believe a while that I might escape.'
Legolas turned his face then up to the sun and bathed in its warmth. He said nothing more but Gandalf lifted his gnarled hand and cupped the elf's cheek gently.
'The journey doesn't end here, ' he said. And his blue eyes went wide in remembrance. 'Death is not the end. Death is just another path.' Legolas turned to stare at the wizard then. Gandalf smiled at the memory, gently and drew a deep sigh of longing. 'The grey veil of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass and then you see it…white shores, and beyond… the far great country and the swift sunrise.'**
Mavoinë* - Quenya - the Great Longing. This is Gandalf's name for Cuivëar. Presumably the Istari experience some extent of the longing for 'home' too. That would make sense - a sort of homesickness.
Milui-criss – Sindarin - as Legolas says, the Merciful Cut. A mercy killing.
* This reference is to the Hobbit. Bilbo does indeed run off with the dwarves without a hat and it bothers him greatly.
** from ROTK film. Gandalf to Pippin -Siege of Minas Tirith.
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.