Disclaimer: not mine. mucking about for no money etc.
Beta: The impeccable, inimitable Anarithilen.
Chapter 25 Vigil
Gimli watched. He stood at the walls of the city's seventh level and watched the sun climb into the morning sky above the mountain. He heard the gradual sounds of the city awakening. From silence, men emerged from the guard houses and barracks. A few women left in the city made their way quietly to the Houses of Healing, greeting the men as they passed. Two horses were led out of the Royal Mews, one nickered softly as it clopped past.
A warm presence at his shoulder who had watched with him and had not moved until now, shifted and his silent, waiting companion said softly, 'It should have been me.'
Gimli wondered first if he had heard rightly, so long they had stood their vigil. Then he heard his own voice come as if rusty from such silence. 'But your brother went instead.'
There was no reply for a moment, and then Elladan said again,'It should have been me that went. My brother...is not the one who should do this thing.'
'No one should do this thing,' said Gimli with sudden vehemence. A sudden image of Legolas sitting near the fire, laughing and teasing him to make the hobbits laugh flashed in his mind. 'No one should be asked to give up their life for such a thin hope.' He did not say that he thought it no coincidence that it was not a son of Elrond who had been asked to give up his life, merely to give the final cut should it be needed. Merciful cut indeed, he snorted to himself.
The Half-Elven merely nodded and resumed his silent vigil.
Gimli turned fully to look at him then, and studied the proud profile- the strong mouth that he had once thought soft, the elegant strength, and he thought him like his brother, Elrohir. He remembered that he had once thought to sculpt the elf's figure out of granite, but then his mind wandered and he began to think the stone should be finer...he wondered marble perhaps, but it was too cold a stone ... He turned away in sudden anger, feeling somehow he had abandoned Legolas by thinking such trivial thoughts.
At some point Pippin joined them but Gimli barely noticed. The Hobbit thrust some food in front of him but the Dwarf ate and did not taste it. It could have been kram for all he cared. For now he was deep in Aglâbnâla and his earnest prayer to Mahal had never been more fervent. He wished for a forge that he might do this properly but he had to keep watch. So instead his hands moved in the minute gestures of the iglishmêk that had beseeched Eru at the Making and so the Khazad had been spared. He made the same prayer now to Mahal to spare his friend.*
Pippin sighed and leaned his arms on the stone wall. Gimli heard a sniff and caught Pippin lifting a hand to dash away a tear from the corner of his eye. He blinked slowly, coming out of his trance and looked down at the Hobbit. He could not smile but he rested a strong, capable hand on the Hobbit's shoulder, squeezing it slightly.
Pippin tried to smile but he couldn't quite manage it either. 'Do you think...do you think Frodo and Sam are alright?' he asked, but Gimli knew Pippin asked this because he could not bear to ask if Legolas was alright. They both knew he was not.
Gimli closed his eyes briefly and nodded. 'Yes. Yes, I am sure of that...Otherwise, all this is in vain.' The Dwarf turned back to his watch and as he turned, Pippin squinted up at him and then gasped.
'That leaf...' he stuttered.
Gimli's fingers brushed the small mithril pendant lightly and then caught around it as if he could somehow protect it. 'Legolas left it with me,' he said gruffly. 'I am looking after it until he returns.'
Pippin looked away then and his mouth twisted. 'It isn't fair!' he burst out suddenly, and Gimli looked away bleakly. 'We have come all this way, survived Moria, Helm's Deep and Orthanc. And now Legolas will die horribly, alone on the cold mountain, without any of us to keep him company.
'I will look after it,' Gimli repeated defiantly and his strong fist clenched. 'And then I will return it.' But he did not say whether he would return it to Legolas or to Thranduil as he promised.
Gimli watched Pippin walk away and then drift back, like a pebble on the lake shore. The hobbit's shoulders were slumped and his head bowed. Gimli wished he could say something that would cheer the hobbit but he could find no words of comfort, either for the hobbit or himself. Pippin stayed a little while longer and then he drifted off again.
After a time Elladan started pacing and restlessly staring up at the Mountain, and then he lapsed into absolute stillness, leaning forwards slightly as if listening in the way that Gimli had seen Legolas do so often.
The weak sunlight warmed Gimli where he stood on the highest levels of hte city, but the mountain had become steadily more clouded and now he could not see the peaks, so low were the clouds. Elladan had spent most time, like him, staring out at the mountain as if he could will it to show what unfolded. The Dwarf settled into his Aglâbnâla, and his pleading was all the more fervent for its silence.
He was aware that time passed but he could not say how long. Aragorn had stood with them for a while but Gimli could barely speak to him for fear he would say things he might later regret in his fury with him, for allowing this, for even allowing Gandalf to ask Legolas to do this. When Aragorn saw the leaf pendant dangling from Gimli's fingers, he almost reached out, but instead he walked away, head down. He did not come back.
But it was Gandalf that Gimli found it hardest to be near right now.
It was about midday when he caught the gleam of white robes in the sunlight, and knew the Wizard stood nearby. Almost Gimli turned and spat. But he did not. In his heart he hated the Wizard, but his head, his hard Dwarvish head, told him that this plan, in spite of its weaknesses and flaws, was their best chance and was for the greater good. But the little leaf pendant had grown warm in his hand and there were marks on his palms where he had gripped it so tightly. His fingers moved around it in minute gestures of the iglishmêk.
It had come to a head just after the Wizard had joined them, just after midday. The air had become so still, so heavy he could swear there would be a storm. But above the city, the sky never broke. Instead the heavy bruised clouds clung to the mountain, building and growing into huge towering thunderheads...and at last low thunder rumbled and crackled in the air around the mountain peaks. Forked lightning split the sky, thrust into the mountain like a molten blade, but the skies above the city were still and heavy, and did not break.
'That is no storm,' Gimli muttered. He let the chain tangle in his fingers.
'No. It is an unnatural dark,' he heard the Wizard murmur.
Gimli almost turned, almost gave him his most scalding glare, but instead he kept his heart and mind focused on his long prayer...his silent chanting, his fingers running up and down the telling of the iglishmêk... His lips did not move but his mind wrapped beseechingly around the secret words.
And then the Wizard jerked upright as if he had been struck. Gimli stared at him, his piercing blue eyes stared up at the mountain.
'This is not how it should be...' Gandalf muttered to himself. 'Words released into the dark...' He shook his head slowly as if in disbelief. 'A summons...That cannot be Legolas.'
Gradually Gimli's fingers stilled and his lips no longer moved. He watched Gandalf now and the Wizard seemed intent and focused inwards although he looked still at the mountain. It seemed to Gimli that all the Wizard's power was coiled and tense, waiting, straining to be released, but it was caged. And Gimli suddenly understood that this was the same as when the Fellowship was lost in the blizzard upon cold Barazinbar, when the mountain had thrown them off and Gandalf had said he could not use his magic without proclaiming to all Gandalf is here. To use his magic now would be to alert the Nazgul, and Sauron, that Gandalf's hand was in this. Gimli hated him for it.
'What is it?' he demanded, pulling at Gandalf's sleeve insistently.
Sudden lightning split the sky and a dreadful crash of thunder rolled over and around the Mountain. Gimli jumped and pulled his hand back but when he saw Gandalf's alarm, he knew that had not been Gandalf but some dreadful magic upon the mountain. People came out from the houses and barracks to stand and watch with frightened awe, for they had seen too much to not guess this was the work of Shadow.
Gandalf leaned forwards suddenly, his hands grasping the smooth edge of white stone. He stared up at the mountain and seemed to still utterly.
'Something terrible has been done,' he murmured. 'This is not how it should be...' His face was pale and terrible.
Gimli heard Elladan whisper a prayer to Elbereth and saw that his fist clenched on the hilt of his sword. 'What have you done, brother?' he murmured, 'Elbereth, what have you done?'
The Dwarf looked from one ashen face to another, fear bursting inside him. 'Never mind what Elrohir has done! What about Legolas?' he demanded of them furiously. 'Is Legolas all right? Is he alive?'
Gandalf looked down then at the Dwarf, as though he were not seeing him and his face was ashen. 'Something dreadful has been done. Something ... dreadful...'
Elladan was moving, he spun away and his long strides broke into a run. Gimli turned to Gandalf who looked again up at the mountain. 'Do something!' shouted the Dwarf. 'Do something. You are a Wizard! And don't tell me you cannot. I have seen what you can do! You defeated the Balrog. You came back from the Dead!'
Gandalf looked down at Gimli and there was great compassion and sorrow in his ancient blue eyes. 'Gimli son of Gloin, you cannot know...'
'Don't you dare!' Gimli cried, not wanting to hear it, not caring that the Wizard could not interfere, that it might endanger the Quest. 'You lit a fire on Baranzabir because we would have died otherwise! Do something now!'
And at that moment there was a thunder of hooves and a great black horse hove into view. Astride was Elladan, like some ancient warrior from the War of Wrath, long black hair blown back and his sable cloak, so like his brother's, whirling around him. His horse trumpeted a challenge and half reared. Suddenly it surged forwards. As it thundered towards him, Gimli saw Elladan stretch out his hand and reach towards him. Gimli grasped the outstretched hand, and as he had done so many times with Legolas, he let himself be pulled him up to sit behind the Elven warrior.
'What say you, Master Gimli? Shall we follow our two fools?'
With a roar of approval Gimli hung onto Elladan and he heard Pippin cheering as they thundered past onto the forgotten road, charging along the paved road and breaking out of the city through its hidden gate and into the mountains. Gimli clung to the Elf and sat deep as Legolas had taught him. He became aware of the sounds of another horse following them. He managed to half turn to see a white charger on their tail. Gandalf followed close on their heels on Shadowfax. He felt a fist in his chest then and tears squeezed from his eyes.
The Nazgul had gone. For now.
Elrohir collapsed to his knees beside the limp, lifeless body of Legolas and gathered up the Woodelf in his arms, remembering another that he had clutched to his breast. He gripped the empty body and dragged Legolas to his chest, the Elf's pliant body soft in his arms. His eyes were blurred and he remembered that he could not bear this world without Legolas. He had failed. Oh, how he had failed! How had he dared? Shaking his head in disbelief, he moaned and rocked over his beloved...his beloved. Yes. He admitted it now when it was too late. Too late. Always too late.
He threw back his head and howled in misery, uncaring, undone. Then fumbling and panicked, he sought to loosen the collar of the Elf's shirt and groped for a pulse, a sign, a whisper of life. But there was nothing, no pound of blood, not even the faintest thread. He could hear a sobbing, moaning like some wounded, distressed animal and even as he half-thought it, he realised it was himself who made that keening sound. His face was wet and he thought at first it rained again, but there was salt on his lips. He felt a warmth at his elbow and glanced up to see the pale ghost, its image trembling at the edge of his awareness.
Choking on his tears, he poured his desperate love from his heart into Legolas, drenched him with his fiery love so it soaked into the empty shell he clasped in his arms. He hugged the limp body to his chest, feeling his own heart would burst. He flooded the Elf's body with his own fire and searched frantically for a spark of life in that cold shell. On the Elf's cold skin the painted dragon seemed curled in on itself around the Morgul wound that did not bleed.
A warmth drifted over his wet cheeks and he lifted his head. The ghost shimmered on the edges of his awareness, and he had to make a conscious effort to see its desperate pleading face. It approached him hesitantly, head tilted as Legolas had in life, and it lifted its translucent hand to his cheek. Elrohir felt the warmth again over his skin.
He stared, understanding now what the Morgul Blade had done, that what the Nazgul had said was true. It had driven the spirit out of the Elf. Except for the empty body, the ghost was everything that remained of Legolas. And Elrohir's own red, furious fire would not, could not, bring Legolas back to life.
The Ring of Angmar was warm against his skin, although he could not remember when he had slid it into the pocket of his tunic. He looked down at the still body in his arms and his free hand stroked a stray tendril of hair from the still and lovely face. It hovered over the generous mouth, still...warm.
If you do not use the Ring by nightfall, he will be lost. And then...I will hunt him.
Khamul's words resonated as if he was still there and Elrohir glanced up at the sky. He thought he must have some hours left before nightfall. Perhaps five hours, he guessed. That was even less time than it had taken them to reach this place, he thought. There was not enough time to get back to the city. He rubbed his hand over his eyes and his sight blurred slightly. It no longer rained but the clouds hung low and heavy and he feared that more rain might yet dissolve the insubstantial ghost, though he did not know why.
Gently he caught the ribbon that tethered the ghost to its lifeless body. But the thin threads that had been so carelessly torn by the Nazgul blew loosely, shimmering in the wind. He felt the red fire in his fingertips and gentled it to a coaxing warmth and then softly, he gathered the torn and loose threads into his cupped palm. The sparks that flew from the shining threads cooled in the darkness that surrounded them, and he caught them lightly in the warmth of his own power. Carefully he gathered each spark, each thread, and wove them together into the ribbon. Looking up at the ghost's fair, troubled face, he paused, holding the threads and ribbon lightly in his hands, for he did not know what else to do.
He closed his eyes in desperation. There was the Ring of Angmar.
What the blade unmakes, the Ring can make anew...
He drew it forth now and rubbed one finger around the perfect gold circle, worn thin and he suddenly shuddered. It was Angmar's still, and he felt its terrible power of cold, cold fear. Its blood-red jewel flashed though there was no light to catch it, and Elrohir was reminded of his own ring, the one that had been his mother's. It was the one thing she had given him in her haste to leave for the Havens. He remembered now, though he had not thought of it for many, many years, how she had glanced up at him, as if afraid, and pressed the ring into his palm, turning away instantly, almost running from him. He rubbed his thumb over the polished surface of the dark gemstone there. He stared for a moment at it, remembering how they could not heal her, the small huddled figure, the grey waves splashing on the stones of the quay, his wretched grief. And to his shame, he knew he had relief that no one knew of his terrible guilt.
But Angmar's Ring glowed in his hand, and he almost thought he heard words spoken as if from a great distance...a dark chanting of many voices in the shadows, an incantation of sorcery...agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. He could heal Legolas, bring the threads together, weave them back into the fabric of his being. He could almost see how it could be done as his fingers hovered over the space above the Ring, brushed its smooth, worn gold.
He felt a warmth on his cheek and glanced up to see the ghost leaning over him. It seemed almost that the pale ghost's hair brushed him. He almost started back but the eyes held him, the long green eyes, wide, beseeching. The ghost was shaking its head, its insubstantial hands held before it as if to plead with him and he glanced again at the Ring and then at the ghost. Its hands sought to grasp him but could not. The fingers that tried to stop his hand brushing the Ring merely passed through his own but he thought he felt a drift of warm air over his arm.
He glanced up at the sky with sudden anxiety. Maybe there was another way...He wondered how quickly he could return to the city. Gandalf waited for him there. If Elrohir was right and they had five hours... Granted, he thought, it was less time than it took them to reach this place, but a descent is quicker. If only the ghost would follow him and quickly...
Decided, he rose to his feet and glanced about the clearing frantically, eyes alighting on the Lorien bow still leaning against the dead pine, and then on the ghost which lingered sadly. It knelt over the white knives where Legolas had dropped them, brushing its fingers over the wood of the bow as if in farewell.
And if it were not enough time? Elrohir thought quickly, still calculating, still hoping. If he failed and night came upon them before he could get to the city, he still had the Ring.
Elrohir let the Ring slip into the pocket of his tunic. The ghost tilted its head slightly and looked down at him reproachfully. Ignoring it, Elrohir picked up the bow and slung it over his shoulder, he took the white knives and pushed them into the harness, buckling it over his own shoulders. He drew together the thin silver strands of the thread, as lightly as he dared, winding the shimmering ribbon gently around his hand to lead the ghost down from the mountain. Then he leaned down and pulled the still warm and pliant body into his arms. Clasping Legolas to his chest, he struggled to his feet. Although the Elf was light in his arms, he stumbled slightly, and strands of the thread came loose and flew in the wind. He cried out and almost dropped Legolas to grasp the tendrils that flew. He felt a sudden despair and the Ring pulsed.
He stopped. What if Gandalf could not help him? What if the only way was...?
'Please,' he said earnestly addressing the ghost. 'Please, you must come with me or I must use this...' He glanced down at the pocket of his tunic where the Ring of Angmar nestled against his heart. 'If you stay, they will return. The Nazgul will hunt you. Legolas...please.'
It reached out its transparent hands and shaking its head sadly, brushed its fingers over his mother's ring. It met Elrohir's gaze with such compassion he could not bear it. Glancing away he caught sight of the body he held, of the bruises on Legolas' neck where his own hands had squeezed...He cringed. But the ghost's pale, lovely face looked at him with such trust he felt his heart clench at the thought of what he had lost. He turned and started down the narrow goat track once more, feeling the slight tension of the threads against his hands.
He went slowly, for often he felt the ghost drift and caught it staring up at the trees or the sky as if it were listening to some song. As the sky cleared a little and the clouds lifted, a beam of sunlight pierced the clouds and shone through the ghost so it looked like grey smoke or mist. Elrohir stifled a cry for it had dulled in the sunlight, grown more transparent. Small threads drifted away, dispersed a little more...
'No,' he cried and tried to catch them as they broke off.
He stopped and bowed his head, waiting for the ghost to come close. And when he felt it, it was a colder breath on his cheek than before. He breathed his own warm healing energy again into the ghost, and it glowed a little more warmly. It rubbed its hands together as if it were cold and Elrohir could not bear it. His hand crept to the Ring...he could wear it just once perhaps ... and then give it to Gandalf to rid the world of its blight...But the sad ghost held out its hands once more and at its mute and desperate plea he lifted the still body higher against his heart and continued on his way.
It was slow going, and Elrohir felt his arms tremble with exhaustion. With hours of carrying the awkward weight of the inert body, the difficulty of carrying bow and knives as well as his own weapons, after the fight with the Nazgul, he felt his strength ebb, He glanced back to see the ghost falter and stare at him helplessly. Elrohir paused and rested for a moment, knowing it was his own energy that the ghost needed to keep him here, to keep him anchored to the empty body. And the unnatural darkness deepened, it must be gathering towards evening, Elrohir thought with desperation.
He felt the weight of the Ring against him. It was warm and glowed. It seemed to give him energy when he thought about it.
At last the narrow track widened and grew easier. No longer a mere goat track winding into the mountains, it became wider and smoother. Men had ridden this way long ago and the path, though overgrown, was still evident. Elrohir recognised the way marks, covered now in lichen and whortleberries, but there nonetheless for a skilled tracker. Suddenly the darkness grew deeper and he froze.
His eyes darted about, searching for a hiding place. Surely the Nazgul had not returned...surely it was not yet dusk?
From the darkness of the crowding pine trees suddenly emerged a great black horse. It shook his head and gave a great trumpeting whinny that seemed to shake the mountains.
'Barakhir!' Elrohir felt his arms almost give with relief as his horse broke into a trot and another, Legolas' own Rohan mount, followed in his wake. He had found the horses, or it seemed they had found him, for he had left them much further down the slopes than this.
The Rohan horse approached Elrohir and snuffled gently at Legolas' hair. Then it threw up its head, nostrils flaring, and it looked back up the track to where the ghost lingered, faltered. The Rohan steed harrumphed softly and shied, then stepped slowly, hesitantly towards the ghost and stopped.
Almost tearful with relief, Elrohir gently slung the body of the Woodelf across Barakhir's withers. The black horse snorted softly, his eyes rolling a little at the strange burden but Elrohir patted and soothed him. Gently talking to both horses, he managed to swing himself astride Barakhir and then maneuver Legolas' body against himself so the Woodelf's body was leaning back against Elrohir's chest, his head lolled back against his shoulder. With the other hand, Elrohir kept the tenuous hold on the thin threads of ribbon that no longer shimmered but only glowed dully in the growing darkness.
Through sheer willpower, he kept the ghost with him. It leached him of power and energy until he felt weak, barely able to keep astride Barahir. He kept the horse walking slowly, keeping sight of the trembling, nervous ghost, for it kept looking back up the mountain as daylight waned. It had tugged on the ethereal leash as if it wished to flee but Elrohir had gentled it in the way he would a nervous horse.
'Don't go!' he begged and turned towards it. 'I will not let them have you.'
Its eyes were huge and hollow with fear and pain and something shifted in the light. He felt the air change as the day settled into evening; he knew the sun was sinking behind the mountains and the last rays were touching Arda. Nightfall was almost upon them.
He looked down at his hands and cried out. It seemed the thin thread was now transparent and barely visible, running from between his fingers. He grasped at it desperately and it seemed to tear in his fingers. He gasped and forced himself to hold still, the strands running, unravelling and the ghost shimmered and trembled and fragmented. Barakhir halted and looked back inquiringly. Elrohir drew the strands together slowly, with the infinite care of a surgeon and slowly the image coalesced and he wound the strands delicately around his hand, lightly, but as the light dimmed, the threads seemed to fray.
'Do not leave me,' he pleaded. 'I beg you, stay.'
Warmth seeped from the Ring of Angmar into his skin, against his heart and he thought how he could bring the ghost back into Legolas' empty body, now, before it was too late, before the Moon rose and the Nazgul hunted. He saw in his mind how it could be done, how easy it would be to mend those threads, to weave them back into one strong rope of life, to pull the spirit back into the body and bind it there with words of power...to make Legolas obey...
Far away, shivering on the wind that came down from the high ridges, came a cry...high and thin it wailed down into the forests.
He felt a tug on the thin silver thread and saw the ghost's terrified, pleading face, felt its fear, its need to flee.
Elrohir cast a desperate look back up the mountain. All his choices were gone. He could see now between the tall pines, the distant white towers and spires of the city, and they seemed impossibly far. He would never make it to the old hidden road before nightfall.
He reined in the great black horse and gently traced his hand over Legolas' still, cold face. He glanced to where the ghost hung back, and it knew his mind for it lifted its transparent hands, beseeching him. It pulled on the thinning leash of light that bound it to the empty body, and tried to draw away even as Elrohir drew forth the old, worn Ring and stared at it briefly.
Sudden hoofbeats clattered in the distance. Elrohir whirled around, ready to draw, to fight, this time to the death and as he did so, he tugged from his finger his mother's ring and placed the Ring of Angmar on his fingertip. He threw a final glance at the trembling ghost which frantically tugged and pulled on the leash that held it, seeking to escape, to run, to flee, but Elrohir's will held it to him and he looked down at the Ring. It glowed with a menace and power that billowed, coiled like smoke.
Gimli clung to Elladan for their pace was fast and the track often vanished only to reappear again later beside some clear mountain stream or crossing some high meadow. The white figure of Shadowfax surged ahead of them. Up, up through the trees, along the broken paved road that became more and more a track until they reached the high slopes where only goats and mountain sheep grazed. Already it was late afternoon but the clouds were thick overhead and mist clung to the trees damply, curled up from the ground like thin smoke...the lichen grew thickly over the waystones and the road was almost hidden by moss and heather and ferns. It was lushly green on these lower slopes of the mountain but high, high above, the scree and bare grey granite cliffs and high ridges towered. Only the ibex and mountain goats clung to that inhospitable terrain.
The pine trees were dense here and even less light filtered through the gloom. Pine needles deadened all sound and moss clambered thickly over granite boulders. Suddenly Shadowfax snorted and pranced, and Elladan's black horse shook its head, silver bit jangling.
It was then they saw the horses.
A black horse, with a rider appeared from the trees and then disappeared behind the trees. A grey horse followed too briefly to see more.
'Did you see?' Elladan asked breathlessly.
'Not enough,' Gimli replied but Elladan urged his great charger onwards.
Gimli strained to see round Elladan, seeking a glimpse of the horses they had seen through the trees. And then suddenly they came into view again. There were two riders on the black horse. One with long raven black hair and resting against him, Legolas, his face pale, eyes closed. He did not move.
'Please Mahal- let it not be. I will give all the gold of my fathers and all the mithril and jewels of the mountains if this be not so...'
Elrohir's horse had stopped and its rider seemed intent on something behind him. He looked back up the track and then fumbled in his pocket. Gimli saw a glint of something and a shiver went through him.
'Elrohir!' Elladan called and the dark Elf looked up suddenly. His hand flew to the hilt of his sword but Shadowfax surged past suddenly pushing against the black horse, Gimli felt Gandalf's knee jostle his briefly and then his view was blocked. But he heard, felt, Elladan's horse give a tremendous whinny and they surged forwards and stopped beside Elrohir's horse.
Before he knew or could see anything, Gimli felt Elladan push him slightly and he let himself slide from the horse. Gimli landed hard, the impact shuddering all the way through his feet and legs for Legolas always gave him his arm to slide down slowly. But he had no thought for his own comfort, immediately turning his face up to where Legolas rested against Elrohir's chest. Then Elladan had joined him and was reaching up and taking Legolas from his brother.
Elrohir leaned forwards as if exhausted.
Gimli reached out to Legolas as he lay across Elladan's arms, still and silent, his head falling back. He could not believe how pale Legolas was, how still. The Elf was half naked, his painted skin cold, covered with small wounds, like he had been pierced many times by knives that meant to hurt, not kill, not even injure mortally. And then there was the one fatal wound in his chest. Gimli frowned. There was no blood from that wound. He laid his hand against Legolas' forehead. It was cold. Cold like the stars he loved. Oblivious of Elladan's kind scrutiny, Gimli peered carefully into the Elf's still face, held a hand beneath his nose to feel if warmth was there. None...and yet...and yet… He held out his own arms to take Legolas from Elladan, unaware of the howl that was building up in his chest, the disbelief that all that vibrancy, that passionate, merry soul...
He lifted Legolas from Elladan and clasped him to his chest, and he felt the tears come then.
He was aware of Elrohir wearily swinging down from his horse, that he stumbled as he dismounted, that Elladan put his hand out and steadied his brother. He knew that Elrohir leaned against his horse as if he might faint. He was aware too, somewhere in the back of his mind that Gandalf was standing beyond them and staring intently into the gathering darkness. But Gimli held Legolas close and did not really care for anything, anyone else. He hugged the Elf tight to his chest, fighting the howl that wanted to burst from him, biting his tongue against the curses he wanted to hurl at all of them and the sobs that wanted to wrench their way out of his chest.
Elrohir stood shaking at his brother's side. Gently the exhausted Half-Elf reached out to stroke the hair from Legolas' still, cold face. Gimli felt like growling but he forced himself to allow it. He felt Elrohir's distress and thought that he at least seemed as miserable as Gimli. But that was as it should be, he thought recklessly. For had not this Half-Elf killed Legolas? Had he not delivered the so-called Merciful Cut? He clenched his fist to stop his hand from trembling, to force himself not to lash out at them all. But when the Half-Elf sobbed slightly and tried to take Legolas back, Gimli pulled away and clasped Legolas jealously to himself.
Elladan pushed Elrohir's hand away. 'Fool, you can barely stand yourself,' he said and Gimli heard a tenderness in his voice that he could not bear, for Legolas was dead.
'No, you don't understand,' Elrohir protested. Gimli glanced coldly up at his distraught face, saw the way he clung to his brother but that his other hand was outstretched strangely as if he held something delicate and fragile. 'I must...I must hold him here.'
Gimli stared at him, thinking he had lost his mind. Perhaps there were two tragedies here then, he thought. And it penetrated his own misery that these two sons of Elrond had had more than their share of hurt. It was the Enemy after all who had done this.
Gimli shook his head sadly for Elrohir had spoken to him gently after the battle at Pelargir and he had sought to mend his quarrel with Legolas, had he not? He stroked a hand over Legolas' cold cheek and spared a glance for Elrohir. He was broken, Gimli could see. Elladan sought to hold his broken brother, much as Gimli held his beloved friend, but Elrohir pushed him away, staring back along the road and holding out his hands as if entreating, beseeching something, someone who obviously was not there.
Gimli turned away from the brothers, not wanting to see their despair, cold towards their pain for he was so frozen by his own. Then he heard a cry from Elrohir and slowly, reluctantly he looked.
Elrohir was looking down at his open hand. 'No.. No!' he cried aloud, 'It is breaking, loosening, fading.' He held both his hands open, fingers splayed as if he were trying to catch something slipping through his fingers, like sand. He cast a despairing look back up along the broken road and held out his hands beseeching. 'Please. Stay.'
Gimli shook his head coldly. Elrohir had obviously gone quite mad with grief and horror at what Gandalf had asked him to do. He sent a glare at the Wizard and slowly realised that Gandalf too was staring intently along the road where Elrohir gazed.
Suddenly the Wizard spun around, his face fell and fair- the light of the Maia shone through suddenly and was as quickly veiled. He strode forwards and grasped Elrohir's shoulder. 'What has happened here?' he demanded of Elrohir. 'What have you let happen?'
'Daro!' Elladan growled and he shoved Gandalf aside and stood protectively in front of his exhausted brother. 'Here is Legolas slain, as you commanded, my Lord Mithrandir. My brother only 'let happen' what you demanded of us!' He stood quivering with rage and Gimli thought he looked indeed the grandson of Galadriel.
Gandalf drew himself tall. White fire seemed to crackle round the edges of his robes, of his hair, his piercing blue eyes flashed and suddenly he was terrifying. 'I speak to your brother, Elrondion.' He stepped around Elladan and seized Elrohir by the shoulder. Gimli did not care much but he saw Elrohir wince as the Wizard cried out, 'What have you done?'
Elladan went to step forwards, bristling protective fury, but Elrohir grasped Gandalf's robes and clung to him, his eyes desperate, fastened on the Wizard's blazing blue fury. 'It is as you see,' the Half-Elf said urgently. 'I have brought him back. To you. You must heal him. You must undo what was done. You can see...' He thrust his hand away towards the mountain again and at something, Gimli thought, only Elrohir in his madness, could see. 'They will be here at nightfall. They will hunt and ... and devour him...You must help him!' Tears ran down his cheeks.
Gimli looked away. Let Elladan care for his mad brother. The Dwarf cradled Legolas gently, not caring about the arguments that went on above him. It made no difference. Here was his friend, cold and still. There was the wound in his chest that had not bled. Gimli shrugged out of his own cloak and wrapped it tenderly around the still, cold Elf. He thought he felt a cold breath on his cheek then but he tasted salt and knew it was only his tears cold in the wind. But he felt it again, like a touch, on his arm. Bitter cold that seemed to leach the warmth from him briefly.
Gandalf stepped back from the brothers, magic still crackling from him like static, and he glowed in the gathering night. 'I do not know what you were doing up there, Elrondion,' he said angrily, 'but I swear I will find out. For now we must protect Legolas.' He was suddenly businesslike. He turned to the Dwarf. 'Gimli, get up on that horse.' He indicated Arod and Gimli opened his mouth to protest. 'Don't argue, just do it. You are no use to me just standing here - I need you with him. He will follow with you. He trusts you.'
Gimli clung to the Elf's empty body, hugging him tightly and tears streamed down his face. He broke, too wrenched with grief. 'How dare you order me so, Tharkûn!' he thundered. 'You have given me the body of my dearest friend and you command me...you who stood by and did nothing!'
'No time for that now, Gimli,' Gandalf spoke briskly but he knelt beside the wretched Dwarf and put his hand on his shoulder. Gimli opened his mouth to argue and found those piercing, clear blue eyes pinned him, nailed him...completed his thought. The Dwarf stilled. He saw Gandalf then as he truly was, the forge-hot blaze of white. Here was the spirit of fire that had battled and defeated the Balrog, had blazed against Saruman, and conjured fireworks for the delight of hobbit children. Olórin.
Gimli blinked and it was Gandalf again. 'If you love him at all, Gimli, trust me now and think of all you and he have done.' Gimli tasted salt on his own lips. 'Think of how you love him, how he trusts you.' He saw that tears had fallen on Legolas' cold cheek and wondered where they had come from. He reached out a strong, capable hand to brush it away and felt a drift of cold air on his own cheek again as it had before.
He found Gandalf very close to him and gently the Wizard said, 'He is not quite gone yet, Gimli. We still have a chance to bring him back but the Nazgul are close now. We must be gentle. Bring him with us, Gimli. Bring him back.' Slowly he mounted Shadowfax and was still. 'I will take him, Elrohir. Gimli, you stay close to me.'
'Not gone yet...There is a chance?' Gimli's heart gave a great leap and pounded in his chest. He thought he felt a warmer brush against him then and turned, expecting to smell meadow-hay and the forest. As he turned, he caught sight of Elladan kneeling on one knee and peering at a something that he had picked up from the ground, and which gleamed in his hand. A flash of crimson and gold, but Elrohir leaned down and blocked his view then. Gimli thought no more of it but turned back to the cold, beloved face.
Gandalf did not smile but his gaze seemed to alight on something just beyond Gimli that made him infinitely sad. It was Elrohir who took Legolas from Gimli's arms with such gentleness that Gimli could not object, and passed the inert body up to Gandalf. The Wizard took him and held him tenderly, one arm across the Elf's chest, and rested Legolas' head against his own shoulder so it looked like the Elf merely rested. But Elrohir seemed unable to let him go for he held onto the cold hand, all the while staring at the air next to Gimli.
'It is true,' Elrohir said earnestly, and it seemed to Gimli that he almost stroked the air beside them. 'He needs you now. He will follow you for he loves you.'
Gimli frowned and glanced up at Gandalf but the Wizard was looking up at the sky anxiously. 'Come Gimli. Get up and stay close. I need you with me.'
Arod stood strangely patient and still, his dark eyes fixed on the space beside Gimli while Elrohir gave the Dwarf a shove up and he swung unsteadily astride Arod. The Half-Elven looked up into Gimli's face and said, 'You will bring him back...I will guard you. They will have to kill me to get past me.'
Even as he spoke, Gimli felt a cold dread creeping over his heart and he saw that both Gandalf and Elladan had turned and faced upwards along the broken road into the cold mountains. He thought he saw shadows between the trees on the high ridge above. There was a swoosh of cold air above. A darker patch of cloud passed over them and he felt his heart freeze in fear.
Gandalf looked down at Elrohir. 'Quickly then,' he said brusquely.
'There are three,' Elrohir told him. 'They will come swiftly now that the night is falling. Gandalf, they...they will do terrible things...Do not let them catch you.'
The Wizard settled Legolas' body carefully. 'Fear for yourself, son of Elrond,' he said tersely and then he stroked his hand over Legolas' face and murmured something Gimli could not hear. Looking back at Gimli, he said, 'Ride close to me, Gimli and do not stray from my side.' And although Gimli said he had no love for horses, Arod moved as smoothly and softly as a lamb. As Gandalf turned Shadowfax, he cast a look back at the sons of Elrond who stood close, heads bent together. 'Do not linger,' he said sternly. 'Follow close.'
At that moment there was a terrible cry faraway in the darkness that gradually descended the mountain. It was answered by another fell voice that filled them all with cold fear. Gimli did not need to urge Arod forwards; the Rohan steed moved quickly to stand with Shadowfax. And although Arod almost trembled with fear, Gimli was glad he had the greatness of heart not to bolt into the night as both their instincts told them they should.
Elrohir had watched Gandalf take Legolas from the Dwarf, and murmur something quietly over him. The ghost had dissipated so it no longer had shape but was a pale green light. He had felt his heart crack when the thin, gleaming ribbon had disintegrated in his hands and the threads and sparks had drifted on the breeze. It had shimmered a little more strongly with Gimli close and Gandalf's soft murmuring over him. Elrohir put his hands over his face then as Gandalf drew Gimli close and the horses started off down the broken road. He hated himself. If only he had waited, if only he had not summoned the Nazgul himself, if only he had stayed near Legolas...
He saw the Dwarf ride towards Gandalf, and when the ghost drifted close to them, Elrohir felt suddenly bereft, desolate, as if all his world had turned to ash and there was only despair. He felt as he had that gloomy afternoon when he had been left abandoned on the cold grey stones of the Havens and watched until the white sail grew smaller and smaller and then... nothing. But still he had stared, straining to see...
'Brother.' It was Elladan, and he turned to face him, knowing the last time they had spoken he had been brutal, shocking, hateful. 'Whatever was between us, my heart, forgive me.'
Elrohir looked up and stared in disbelief. Elladan looked at him with absolute compassion, love and Elrohir hung his head in shame. 'I do not deserve your forgiveness and you have done nothing to forgive,' he mumbled.
He heard Elladan give a muttered curse and then he was caught in a hard embrace, his head pulled down and muffled in his brother's warm chest. 'What was between us,' Elrohir said against Elladan's chest in sudden despair, 'is of my own making. I have wronged you. I have wronged you, and father, and Legolas, and Arwen and...and...'
Gandalf's call came back to them, 'Do not linger. Follow close.'
Quickly Elladan pressed a finger against his brother's lips and said fiercely, 'Do not say it. Do not speak. I would not know and I forgive you anyway, my heart.'
Elrohir fell to his knees, humbled by the greatness of his brother's love. He bowed his head. 'You could leave me here now and I would deserve it!' he declared remorsefully. 'Leave me for the Nazgul to tear apart and it would be no more than I deserve.'
He could not look up at Elladan. He was not worthy to stand with such a pure soul. But he saw his brother's fist clench until the knuckles were white and he heard him ask in a low voice, 'Did you ... did you touch her? That is all I need to know. It is all I can bear.'
So. It was time to face all that he was. Time to confess. He rose to his feet and forced himself to look his brother in the eye. He took his brother's face in his hands. Elladan's grey eyes so like his own that it was looking in the mirror and facing himself. Except it was not. It was time...
'No,' he said and he heard his own voice calm and steady though his heart hammered in his chest. 'I did not touch her.' Elladan drew a great breath then that sounded like a sob. Elrohir knew it was relief but that was not the truth of it. 'But Elladan... I hesitated...I...I watched...' He gazed at Elladan with all the anxiety in his heart, of the years and years of guilt, waiting to see his brother's hand raised to strike him. But Elladan stared at him uncomprehending at first. And then as the truth dawned on him, he gave a cry and pulled away.
Elrohir put his hand over his own eyes. How could anyone forgive him? He could never forgive himself.
A thin and terrible cry came down on the wind and he cast a quick glance around them, into the dark trees. Shadows twisted and clung to them. There was no time now and when Elrohir turned to look for Gandalf, he could no longer see the white shape that was Shadowfax. But his own black horse nudged him urgently.
'Elladan!' he called softly, as he swung astride Barakhir. 'Come, we must go quickly.' Elrohir tried to see his brother's face, to see his reaction to the revelation, but Elladan kept his face averted and pulled himself up on his own restless charger. He did not turn to face Elrohir even when he drew his sword. It gleamed frost-white. Pure. Elrohir thought how different it was from his own blade, which thirsted darkly for revenge.
He urged Barakhir after Elladan and their hoofbeats pounded along the track. The horses seemed to know where they were going for soon he glimpsed Shadowfax glimmering ahead of them. He reined in, and Elladan sensing him, pulled back with him.
'We must slow the Nazgul down. Let them go on ahead,' Elrohir said and Elladan nodded curtly, swinging his horse round and joining him. Barakhir pranced a little and shook his great head, the silver bit jangled and his long black mane flowed. Elrohir thought he saw a glimmer of slivery green light bob up and down near where Gandalf had disappeared and he hoped it was not the fading ghost when he heard Gimli cry out in sudden fear.
'They are there already!' he cried and Barakhir surged forwards towards the cry.
And then it was all too late, for the Nazgul descended upon the brothers like wolves.
Aglâbnâla - literally, the River of Words. The litany of the Khazad to Mahal. A bit like a rosary is to Roman Catholics.
*When Eru discovered that Mahal had made the Dwarves before the Elves had awoken he was going to destroy them but they pleaded and were afraid. Mahal persuaded Eru not to destroy them.
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.