32. A Memory of Rohan
Disclaimer: no profit etc
Beta: As always my thanks to Anarithilen. Congratulations on her MEFA nomination - for her wonderful story, Dark Forest. If you haven't read it, do.
Author's Note: I have deleted a few words from the previous chapter as I felt I had made it too difficult for readers to be sympathetic to Elrohir. Elrohir now says: 'It is the fear of judgment, corporeal or other-worldly. That is what stops them. Mostly. But I have ridden with men who are not rangers... I have seen what they can do to the vanquished...and... and I have not always stopped it.' As someone helpfully pointed out I had previously implied that Elrohir had almost participated in rape. That is NOT what I had intended. Hopefully this should now imply that men who are not rangers, in war (for example the Rohirrim) commit atrocities against those who have committed atrocities against them- and he has not stopped them.
Chapter 32: A Memory of Rohan
Day broke and the sun shone. It felt more like a gala than going off to a final battle, thought Gimli. Horses tossed their heads proudly and the sunlight gleamed on a forest of spears. Banners fluttered and pennants whipped in the light wind from the West. A good omen, he told himself and chewed the end of his beard anxiously.
Legolas sat on the city wall with Pippin, both laughing, and Merry was placed carefully in a chair on the lawn in front of the Houses of Healing, a blanket over his knees. Gimli reached down and absently tucked it round the hobbit's knees. He half heard Legolas telling Pippin some scandalous story about Gandalf but he did not listen.
It seemed strangely domestic to be tucking in a hobbit when all around him banners flapped and whipped in the wind and horses stamped and whinnied to each other, impatient to be off. Here the dwarf and his companions seemed to be mere spectators, not waiting for the order to be off. It was for Merry they lingered a while.
'At arms!' A shouted order was followed by a sudden clash of steel as a company of pikemen raised their staffs and they tangled with each other in disarray. The sergeant at arms shouted at his men and cursed them for their clumsiness. 'The King has returned and might as well lead a bunch of maids as you rabble!' he shouted. Gimli barely registered it for here was he, leaning over a wounded hobbit, a hero, the slayer of Angmar.
'You've already done that twice now, Gimli,' Merry's voice was so weak it hurt Gimli to hear it, but he glanced down and smiled cheerfully instead.
'...had bells in its mane!' Legolas was saying somewhere above him. 'Is that supposed to frighten away the Enemy? Really!' The elf laughed and it was good to hear but Gimli did not really pay attention. Gimli knew Legolas was merely taking Pippin's mind off what was happening. He wondered if that was what Legolas did for the young warriors on their first patrols back in the Forest. It was as good a way as any, he supposed. But the elf was still pale and every now and again, he pressed his hand against his chest and his eyes became unfocused. Although he seemed to have recovered his wits if not his memory of all that had happened since Rivendell, and for that Gimli thanked the Seven Fathers.
Gimli tidied things around Merry and made sure the hobbit could easily reach for them, but his mind still wandered; Legolas still kept asking after someone called Rávëyon and Gimli had no idea what he was talking about. He thought it must be someone from the elf's past so he just ignored it for the most part, making reassuring noises whenever the elf asked. But Legolas' persistence bothered him. A puzzled, almost hurt look came over the elf when he spoke of it, and his hand crept to his chest, where that dreadful wound was.
Below them in the courtyard, men were assembling, getting themselves in rows. The Rohirrim stood beside their horses, waiting, shouting to each other.
'Look, there is the Prince of Dol Amroth,' said Legolas and Gimli looked up to see the tall Imrahil striding out of the Steward's House. Sunlight flashed on the mail he wore and gleamed in his hair. 'It is clear that Nimrodel and her people did not all sail,' Legolas added. Gimli looked up sharply for signs of that distance that seemed to take Legolas when he thought of the Sea, but there was only wistfulness, as if he were on the brink of something that was just out of reach. Imrahil caught sight of them and raised his hand in greeting.
'He's coming this way,' said Pippin excitedly and Gimli saw Imrahil stride towards them, but a soldier drew him away and he could no longer see him in the crowd.
'It will be time soon,' Legolas tilted his head and watched Gimli for a moment, sliding his gaze towards Merry and Pippin briefly.
'We have a few more moments surely,' Gimli said, suddenly reluctant to bid Merry farewell. This last sundering of the Fellowship seemed so final. And Legolas understood and inclined his head.
'You are fortunate to have a dwarf looking out for you rather than an elf,' Gimli said looking down at Merry, but his heart was not in it and his words sounded weak even to him. Merry smiled dutifully. Ah, but the hobbit was pale and thin, thought Gimli. Merry had barely eaten since he awoke. That was unnatural for a hobbit but he resisted the urge to fetch food for it must irritate Merry to have them all hovering over him like this.
Gandalf appeared astride Shadowfax amongst the Rohirrim.
Standing stiffly, Gimli let his gaze wander over his companions. Legolas was laughing conspiratorially with Pippin. In contrast to Merry, Legolas looked more and more like himself. The bandage round his chest was, Aragorn had said, more to keep infection out than to staunch any blood, for the wound was unnaturally bloodless. It did not seem to hurt much either but Legolas occasionally put his hand to it and winced, or looked pained. When asked though, he merely said it was cold, nothing more. Just cold.
'Are you sure you will be all right, Merry,' Pippin was fussing over him now and he too, tucked the blanket in tightly around Merry's knees.
'Don't you start, Pip,' Merry said, and Gimli noted the weakness in his voice that had always been so bright and chirpy before. 'It is bad enough that everyone I care about will go away into that gloom that hangs above in the eastern sky, and I have little hope left in my heart that I will see any of you again.*'
Gimli glanced at Pippin and as Pippin straightened slowly, he looked into Merry's eyes. He did not smile or speak, but he held out his hand and Merry reached up and clasped it. Gimli felt almost like he was intruding. He glanced away, catching Legolas' eye as he did.
'You are not fit for such a journey,' Pippin said and then he gave Merry a wry smile. 'Besides, you have already earned great honour for the Shire. More than I ever will. When they tell stories, they will all talk of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. I doubt anyone will remember me.'
'No!' Legolas interrupted and Gimli turned for the elf sounded agitated and he did not wish Legolas to become upset anymore than necessary. But his words astonished Gimli. 'If we do not all perish, I will remember all your deeds, Pippin. I do not wish to take any renown from you, Merry, for your name will be sung nigh on many a year in my father's halls, but if it were not for Pippin, surely Frodo would never have escaped the Black Riders in the Shire? And no one would ever have guessed Saruman had captured Gandalf. For that matter, we would all still be thinking the One R...'
Gimli turned to Pippin, knowing his mouth was agape and when Pippin squeaked a little and tugged Legolas' arm, hissing, 'No, Legolas, it's absolutely fine that I stay in the background,' Gimli stared, first at one and then at the other.
There was Legolas looking down at Pippin, green eyes alight with indignation and Pippin looking embarrassed. Legolas ploughed on, unaware of the hobbit's discomfort and that, thought Gimli, was a measure of his state, for Legolas was always most attentive to the hobbits. As Legolas spoke, the dwarf pursed his lips sadly, for it was clear that Legolas' wits were still addled by the dreadful encounter on the Mountain.
'No, Pippin, it is not all right!' the elf declared. 'It is about time someone acknowledged your part in this. When it comes to the telling of this tale in the forest, your deeds at the Bruinen will not go overlooked! You are too modest Pippin, for I know you have not told me all your part. And I know well there are others,' he glared at Gimli, 'who would take credit for what you have done. I think you, Gimli, especially should give Pippin his due. YOU certainly would not be here if it were not for him dragging you away from Balin's tomb in Moria.'
It was Gimli then who stared open-mouthed at Pippin first, then at Legolas. He felt a growing outrage. 'I beg your pardon! I did not have to pulled away from...from that place,' he cried, but he was still unable to dwell on the moment. 'Smaug's balls, Legolas! Do you think it was Pippin who came back for me?'
There was a moment's awkward silence and Gimli could not believe that Legolas had indeed forgotten how it was he who had returned to the shadows to catch Gimli's arm and drag him from that place, Gimli had been almost too stunned, too deep in grief to act except to strike out in fury and grief. "How could you forget?' he asked, stunned by his own reaction as much as Legolas'.
'Anyway,' said Pippin brightly, looking sheepish. 'Legolas? Did you say you were going to get your horse? Let's go now.' He tugged again on Legolas' arm. 'We can come back again before we actually leave,' he added, even more brightly. The elf rose to his feet at Pippin's request, and if it was a little less smoothly than usual it was only the practised eye of a dwarf that saw it.
'Very well, Pippin. But I will make them understand what you have done before the end.'
'Oh? Really? You will?' Gimli asked innocently but he threw a challenging glare at Pippin. Then smiled thinly for they had to pass Gandalf to get to the stables. 'I am pleased because I for one would like to hear exactly what Pippin has done. He has never, I think, told me what part he has played in the discovery of the One Ring, because I always thought it was Gandalf who discovered it,' he said loudly. Pippin squeaked and scurried past Gimli and the dwarf could not help but feel a sense of smug satisfaction.
He nodded at Gandalf as they passed and it was clear the wizard had not been paying attention because he barely acknowledged any of them, so intent in discussion he was with Eomer. But Gimli could not help but notice how the young King's eyes followed Legolas with a barely disguised longing as he passed.
It was pleasantly cool in the Steward's Mews, and the familiar smell of hay and horse reassured Aragorn in the way that the magnificent black stallion that had been selected for him, did not. He stroked his own weary Roheryn's nose and the horse leaned against him companionably. Even Aragorn had to agree Roheryn was exhausted and he could not force him to go further. But it put him in a bad mood. It didn't feel right. Nothing felt right. The black stallion was a war horse, one from Denethor's' own stable true, but it pranced showily having been trained to do so. No good in battle, he grumbled to himself, and looked down the line of horses left. The horse stabled next to Roheryn was a Dunedain horse also, Suldal, whose head was low and he had not eaten since his master fell. Aragorn stroked the forlorn horse's nose in silence, for he too mourned Halbarad's passing. And that was what did not feel right. That absence beside him.
He glanced down the stalls to the bright sunshine outside, glinting off the shields and spears, and he caught a flutter of his own standard, now carried by Baelderon. Baelderon sat astride his own horse and it champed the bit and shook its long mane.
Aragorn turned back to the forlorn Suldal and scratched behind the horse's ears as Halbarad used to. No. Nothing was the same. It unnerved him when he needed his nerves and wits about him. He wasn't ready for this.
A sense of peace washed over him quite unexpectedly.
'Are you ready, Estel?' Elladan asked quietly. He placed his hand on Aragorn's shoulder and he felt the warmth and love soothe away his grief as it always did. He was reminded of his childhood, of feeling safe and protected.
Taking a deep breath, he smiled. 'No, I am not ready,' he said. 'I am terrified. What should I do?'
'Ride to the head of the column,' another voice spoke and Elrohir stood on his other side. He too put a hand supportively on Aragorn's arm and smiled grimly. 'They want you to be their King. Make sure you look like one. Ride at the front, look ahead, hold you head high.'
'Don't fall off,' Elladan said lightly. Aragorn laughed, surprised. Elladan squeezed his shoulder slightly. 'Mount up when all others are ready. You must not be the one waiting.'
'They must wait for you.' Elrohir finished for Elladan but his voice trailed away, and only a fool could ignore the tension between the two brothers. Aragorn looked carefully first at one, then the other, but their gaze slid off one another, like duelers unwilling to fence.
'You have quarreled?' he asked, unsurprised for it had happened before but these things had always passed like summer storms and he was not concerned. 'Do whatever you need to do, but please resolve it quickly for my sake.'
There was an uncomfortable silence and then Elladan said stiffly, 'I do not think we can ever recover from this.'
Aragorn stared at Elladan, his gentle, kind brother, but Elladan looked down and away, and would not meet his gaze.
'Surely there is nothing that can come between you that cannot be repaired?' Aragorn turned to Elrohir instead. 'Elrohir? Apologise for whatever you have done and finish this. It cannot be so great!' But he saw the devastation in Elrohir's eyes and knew that it was not so simple. When Elrohir hesitantly reached out to Elladan, Elladan shook his head and moved away as if he could not bear Elrohir's touch.
'Elladan?' Aragorn caught his arm and stared into the grey eyes. But he had never seen Elladan so tormented and hurt and...and angry. It made him pause for Elladan was ever the calm, generous brother...and here he was, refusing to even meet Elrohir's devastated eyes, or even endure his touch.
'If this is something you need to do, my brothers,' Aragorn said softly. 'If you need to speak of something, I beg that you do for my sake. I need you both at my side.'
Aragorn watched carefully as Elrohir sought again to meet his brother's gaze. He dipped his head slightly to try to catch Elladan's gaze even if only fleetingly, but Elladan almost slid away from him.
'This is not about you, Aragorn,' Elladan turned away. He hesitated and then seeking perhaps to soften the harsh words he reached out as if he would catch Aragorn's arm but his hand fell back instead and he looked down as if in sorrow. Then he shook his head in some mute denial, or horror he could not comprehend and turned away. Walking swiftly out into the sunlight where a groom held his black horse still and Baelderon struggled to lift the sable banner aloft in the wind, Elladan did not pause or turn or look back. He put his foot in the stirrup and swung himself into the saddle, gathered up the reins of Barakhir and rode off amongst the waiting Rohirrim.
Miserably, Elrohir leaned against a stable door and put his head in his hands. Aragorn felt bewildered and suddenly afraid, he put his hand on Elrohir's shoulder. 'Elrohir? What has happened? I will go after him, speak to him. He cannot mean what he says!'
'No!' Elrohir's voice was muffled but his distress was clear. 'Estel. Leave him. There is nothing you can do, nothing you can change.'
Aragorn shifted and stood behind him, wanting to do more than just stand uselessly by. 'Tell me what to do?' he murmured. If it had been Elladan he would have easily slipped his arm around his shoulders, leaned his head against him but somehow, with Elrohir it had never been like that, never been easy.
'It is not for you to change, Aragorn,' he said hoarsely. 'It is for me to change. But what is done is done and I can only atone.'
Aragorn stared at Elrohir's bowed head and remembered he had said the same words in the Houses of Healing at Legolas' bedside. 'You said you had to atone for a wrong done to Legolas,' he said carefully. 'You said if necessary you would sail. What has happened here? Why is Elladan so hurt and angry?' He grasped Elrohir's arm and said urgently, 'If you have to atone, why are you not with Legolas?'
At this, Elrohir pulled his arm free from Aragorn and lurched away from him, keeping his gaze on the ground as if ashamed. 'Please,' he said and Aragorn was not used the pleading in his voice. 'I know you will not understand but please, trust me. Even if I do not deserve it! It is part of my penance. I will guard him from afar, I will guard his back even as I guard yours. I will not let him fall, nor you.'
Panic surged in Aragorn's heart then. 'Elrohir, you will not sacrifice yourself though? You do not seek to leave us?'
'If I happen to fall in defence of all that is good and pure in this world, Estel,' Elrohir said and finally he looked Aragorn in the eye and he smiled sadly, gently upon his foster brother, 'then I will believe myself acquitted in part for my other deeds of which I am less...proud.'
Aragorn opened his mouth to speak, to demand more, to know more about Elrohir's crime against Legolas when there was a loud whinny and sudden shuffle of hooves. The few horses left in the stables put their heads over the stable doors, straining at their halters, ears pricked and even Suldal, Halbarad's horse, gave a low nicker. Elrohir's head was turned in the same direction and every line of him was tensed with anticipation and something else... Aragorn would almost say it was yearning.
Then someone was coming, whistling tunelessly and cheerfully, sauntering down the aisle. The horses huffed and nickered in delight. A tremendous whinny came from the almost empty Rohan section.
Aragorn sighed and turned to look at Elrohir but he had gone.
'Elrohir?' he called, but there was no answer and he could not see where his brother was.
At that moment, Legolas sauntered into view followed by a rather more breathless Gimli and Pippin trotting along trying to keep up with them both.
Gimli glared at Aragorn and stopped, crossing his arms and planting himself in the way that he had, that made him seem immovable, like the very mountain itself, thought Aragorn, still searching for Elrohir.
'It's no good looking at me like that, Gimli,' he said, guessing the source of Gimli's irritation. 'It was you who told him what was happening.'
'It was YOU who told him...but I will let that pass,' said Gimli crossly, scowling in the direction of Arod, who was now banging his hoof against the stable door.
Legolas glanced at them both and smiled in an irritating way.'I told you last night, Aragorn. I cannot let you go on your own,' he said airily, sauntering past them both and reaching into a bin of oats. 'There's bound to be a dwarf with poor aim, or an orc with good aim from whom I have to protect you. You know you cannot win without me.'
Aragorn wondered if it was worth getting the Gondorian guard to overpower Legolas and throw him in some dungeon, just to spare them all the elf's unbearable smugness. It was not the first time he had thought that and, he was certain, it would not be the last.
'You seem remarkably recovered,' he said dourly, pulling on the straps of his uncomfortable armour, feeling weighed down, cumbrous compared with the elf who wore his usual tunic and only had his quiver and knives. And the noise Arod was making, and for that matter the other horses' excitement, was getting on his already strung out nerves and fear that his brothers seemed unreconcilable.
A shadow seemed to pass briefly over Legolas' face and his empty hand hovered over his chest but he smiled brightly. 'What is it you said, Gimli?' He clapped Gimli on the back, and grinned at Pippin. 'Dwarves are for digging, you might say, and strong men for something even less useful, I can't remember what.'
'Running,' supplied Pippin helpfully. 'No, I think they were for digging and elves were for running. Or was it swimming. I think men must have been for running,' he said looking doubtfully at Aragorn in his armour and heavy cloak. 'And elves for swimming. Aragorn would drown in all that.'
Aragorn felt he was losing control and opened his mouth to protest but Legolas waved his hand dismissively. 'Perhaps it is only dwarves and elves who are useful. Hobbits of course are for the much nobler tasks, such as lore and wisdom and impossible tasks!' He swept a bow to Pippin who bowed slightly back but the hobbit was very flushed and directed a worried sidelong glance at Gimli. Gimli rolled his eyes and Aragorn felt like doing the same except he had no idea what anyone was talking about.
'But we woodelves are made for this!' Legolas continued. 'Odds massively against us. Certain death and no reward? It's what we're good at!'
'You are good for something then,' Gimli muttered but Legolas pretended not to have heard. Instead he made a great show of fussing Arod once again, whose delight was loud and excited. Legolas laughed again and fed the horse the handful of oats he had swiped from the feed bin.
'He should not be riding that horse,' Gimli muttered to Pippin. 'Should be going in the wagons with you.' The dwarf looked sceptically at the elf. 'Look at the way he lists to one side.'
Pippin watched Legolas petting and fussing Arod for a moment. Then he said slowly, 'I have never seen Legolas take chances that mean he would be a risk to anyone else though, Gimli. He'll go in the wagon if he needs to, you'll see.'
As they spoke, a groom led Aragorn's own horse out of its stable. It was, Aragorn admitted, a magnificent, showy stallion. It tossed its head and champed at the silver bit in its mouth.
Legolas passed a quizzical eye over the horse and raised an eyebrow. 'That is a horse and a half,' he said and then added, with innocent concern, 'Are you sure you can ride it? You are supposed to be their King you know.'
Aragorn stared in outrage and Pippin sniggered. He silenced the hobbit with a glare.
'My lord?' A herald approached, looking slightly bemused and wary. He was young and handsome and Legolas threw him a dazzling, flirtatious smile that nearly floored the young man. "Er...I ....that is...the host..is ready.'
Gimli rolled his eyes and chewed his beard.
Aragorn suddenly realised there was a muted calm outside. The sound of fluttering banners could be heard and along with an occasional snort of a war horse or a great hoof scraping impatiently to be off.
He took a breath and looked at his friends. They too realised the implications of the muted quiet outside and they looked at each other silently.
'We are with you, Aragorn,' said Legolas softly and he caught Aragorn in his long green stare and Aragorn suddenly felt how much trust they had in him. A warm hand clasped his arm and it was Gimli and Pippin's face looked up at him smiling and awed.
'Well, this is it,' Pippin said. 'I never thought you looked much like a king as Strider but suddenly...Well, suddenly you have become one.'
Aragorn wished so hard for Halbarad that he could not bear it. Instead he searched against the blue sky for the sable banner of Arwen Evenstar that Halbarad would not let fall and he found it snapping and fluttering in the west wind, tangling with a flag of a green field and a white horse running.
Aragorn put his foot in the stirrup and swung himself up. The great charger tossed its long black mane and scraped its hoof along the cobbles, then Aragorn gave it slight push and it pranced and shook its head and clattered into the sunshine. He was blinded for a moment and then his sight adjusted.
Silver were the spears and helms of the assembled hosts, glinting and gleaming in the sunlight. The azure banner with white swans flew proudly beside the crimson and sable and gold of the knights of Gondor. He moved his great war horse to stand beside Eomer's chestnut stallion, Firefoot, and looked at him. The young man's face was still lined with grief but there was a steely determination in his brown eyes. The great King of the Mearas, Shadowfax came alongside him and Aragorn felt the air spark and crackle with Gandalf's presence. Glancing around him, he saw Elladan further back and deep in conversation with Imrahil, the man's noble face animated and flushed, Elladan his usual calm self. He could not see Elrohir anywhere.
Aragorn looked about him one more time, at the tall towers of Ecthelion, and its pennants that streamed in the wind, at the gleam of white stone in the sunshine, and he thought of Boromir. He looked steadily at the anxious faces of the men who were left to defend the White City if they should fall. A silence had fallen and he paused. He was their King. He needed his words to be significant, memorable. He took a deep breath ready to speak.
And then voices from the mews floated clearly out over the assembled expectant crowd.
'...by the time we have reached that wall bit around the city, what's it called? The Urch-Ramma or something?- that horse will have dumped him... He's a terrible rider, Gimli. I don't know what they teach them in Imladris...'
'Pah! You must think me wet behind the ears if you think will take that wager! Even I could ride his usual beast...nice and placid that one.'
At that moment, of course, the last Rohan horse emerged cheerfully from the stables, prancing and shaking its head like a colt. Not a single bit of tack was on him, even though they rode to war. Legolas gave Aragorn a cheeky wave, Gimli clutching at him fearfully and complaining loudly.
He heard Gandalf tut irritably and a whispered ripple threaded through the Rohirrim, for they loved Legolas and Gimli for their part in Helm's Deep and the rescue of Theoden. He caught more than one glance aimed at Eomer, sitting tensely on Aragorn's right.
Arod pranced and skittered and cantered sideways and finally shied into Shadowfax. Shadowfax, catching his rider's irritation snorted and shook his head bad-temperedly and snapped at Arod with his teeth. Legolas said something quickly in his silvan dialect that had the great stallion putting its ears back and swishing his tail so Gandalf was nearly unseated.
'Fool of an Elf!' Gandalf snapped as irritably as his horse. 'Control that beast of yours.'
Legolas glared back impudently.
Not a good start, thought Aragorn and clenched his teeth, ignoring the nervous glances around him. He felt Eomer's leg brush against his as their horses jostled against each other and grimly, irritably, he gave up his attempt to speak to his assembled host and instead let his hand fall in the signal to march.
So the Host of the West made its way down the cobbled streets of the White City and many watched their going with sorrow, for few believed they would return. They began the task of preparing for the final siege. But amongst the last to take their leave was the King's halfling companions, for Pippin was to travel in the wagons with the supplies. He hung back to take their leave of those who remained.
'Be careful, Pip,' Merry said hugging Pippin for the last time.
'And you, Merry.' Pippin hugged him back, as hard as he dared and buried his face in Merry's shoulder, thinking of the Shire, so far away now it hardly seemed real. But it is, he told himself. It is. And that is why I'm here.
Legolas scanned the rows and rows of marching men before and behind, sunlight glinting off steel, spears, armour, shields and helms. It seemed a multitude of banners and bright pennants streamed in the wind, but it was only seven thousand. Seven thousand to face all the hordes of Mordor. And some of these men from Lindir had never seen the twisted corruption of Sauron's armies, the orcs and half men, the Uruks and trolls. In Minas Tirith itself they had never felt the Nazgul until recently. So ill prepared, he thought. It reminded him of the way he had heard Imladris describe the Last Alliance, how ill prepared were the Woodelves, how heavy their losses, how foolhardy their charge under his grandfather's leadership. It was told differently in the forest of course. But this...this put all else that had gone before to shame.
He felt the warmth of the dwarf at his back, listened to the deep notes of his song, the creak of the Mountain, a deep note like a bronze bell, and was comforted. Looking across to Aragorn he caught a look from the copper-gold haired man who rode at Aragorn's side, with brown eyes that made him puzzle over something he could not remember. Legolas smiled at him, but carefully as if he might break something fragile.
Beyond the city walls the camp was still full of those who would not march but waited to guard the city should they fall. Those men came out to watch them pass, silently they raised their hands in salute as the seven thousand passed. Legolas turned his head to look at those left and wondered what they must feel, knowing that should this host not return, they too were doomed to defend a weakened city against the victorious might of the Enemy. He did not think he had the patience to wait, and he sent a quick prayer to Elbereth that Merry would be recovered enough to flee.
Around them, the dreadful remnants of battle scarred the earth. The soil had been churned up and deeply rutted, deep, slippery mud in places where rubble had been piled to attempt to shore up the road. But it was rough marching and some of the time, men dismounted to let their horses have their ease and pick their way along the road across the battlefield.
Legolas found himself following suit, walking with Gimli beside the King of Rohan. Aragorn was talking to Gandalf. Frowning slightly, because he knew it had rained, Legolas shaded his eyes with his long hand and gazed out across the Pelennor fields. He knew it had rained...but he could not think where he had been...and when he tried to, there was that silver-blue wall that slammed down before him, and a cold unease lodged in his chest.
'This is a grim start to a journey, my friend,' observed Gimli. He slipped slightly on the wet mud and Legolas caught him.
The charnel pits still smoked and the stench was overwhelming. They had to make their way around a broken cart wedged in the rubble, and there was a toppled siege engine that had not yet been cleared. Its broken timbers looked like some shipwreck in the mud, like there had been a storm and ships had been thrown up onto the mudflats.
This was supposed to be Gondor's garden, fertile farms and orchards. But Legolas could see not a single tree. It weighed him down and he felt the earth's grief for the bounty that had been lost. He wanted to sing to it, but he could not find his voice...and that worried him more than anything for his had always been the gift of song, not only listening but singing.
His shoulders slumped sightly and his head dropped. He felt suddenly so weary of all this, the constant war, and he wondered if he would ever live to see peace.
'I cannot think Mordor itself can be any worse,' the man walking near them spoke. His voice was low and deep and Legolas remembered liking it. He frowned again. He knew this man, the King, Eomer, and he knew he had to treat him kindly. But he could not remember why.
Everything confused him. This strong warrior of Rohan with his copper-gold hair, the familiarity of Elessar, who was his friend, Aragorn. And the dwarf whose strength and surety kept him earthed, centred, with his song of the mountain, like a bronze bell. Yet still he had not seen his warrior Rávëyon. He could sense him, feel the air vibrate with his presence, the power of him...but whenever he looked in the direction of that sensation, his gaze slid off and around things...like he could not focus. And yet he felt the intensity of an elven gaze, so different from a Man's gaze. He felt it linger on him but when he turned to look, he saw no one, just the ranks of marching men, or Aragorn, or Gandalf...
He would search, scan the faces and see the long, sleek fall of black hair tied severely back, the sharp grey eyes sweep over him, the sculpted lips pressed together...and when he swung round to face Rävéyon, he was gone...
'Do you need to stop for a moment?' an earth-deep voice spoke behind him and he shook his head. 'Whom do you seek?' Gimli asked again and Legolas sighed.
'I cannot find him, and yet I feel he is here.'
'Is it this Rávëyon of whom you speak?' Gimli sighed and Legolas tensed, feeling even more unsettled that Gimli didi not know who he was. The dwarf edged closer to Legolas, pulling on his arm to slow him down a little and draw him away from the man. 'Do you mean Eomer? Perhaps this is some ...pet name for him?'
'Pet name?' Legolas stopped and stared at Gimli.
Gimli shrugged uncomfortably. 'You know... you might have had...well, special names for each other.'
There was an awkward pause. 'Special names?' The elf looked down at Gimli like he had two heads. What on earth was the dwarf talking about? 'Do you mean a secret name as you Khazad have?' he asked, baffled over why he might call anyone by anything but their given name.
Gimli wriggled uncomfortably. 'Well...' Gimli hesitated and then said ambiguously. 'You and he were ... close.'
Legolas paused, chewed his lip. 'Close?'
'Yes. Close.' Gimli said impatiently, enough for Legolas to understand he was embarrassed and realised what 'close' meant to dwarves.
Instead he looked ahead uncertainly, rifling through his memories, searching for something to hang that word upon. Close. Did that explain those feelings that surfaced and surged around him? A memory flickered somewhere of a soft pelt of fur over a hard body, heavy musk and flesh. He half closed his eyes remembering and felt a burgeoning of desire. Yes, close, he thought luxuriously, bewildered. But where was Rávëyon? Had he been abandoned? He had thought that before, he realised...on the cold Mountain, in the rain...
Legolas closed his eyes for the pain of that thought pierced him as surely as the wound on his chest...which felt cold, freezing, like a spear of ice had plunged through his heart, cut his heart out...
He reeled, suddenly a flash of memory; a flash of lightning lit up a silvery reptilian hide gleaming wetly in the rain ahead of him. Movement flashed in the lightning and then darkness.
He froze, eyes wide and staring. Lightning and thunder came together this time and they lit up a blunt, ugly head that swung round blindly and snapped its jaws.
He blinked. The image had gone and he could not grasp it for it skittered away. and further confused him. He closed his eyes and held his cool hand against his head for a moment.
'Legolas? Are you well? Ride in the wagon for a time, you are tired.' Gimli urged, but Legolas shook his head mutely.
Gimli's cry had attracted the attention of more than one, and quickly Eomer was by his side, reaching out and then holding back.
'I heard you had been injured,' Eomer said, his voice awkward and tight so Legolas thought the dwarf was right; they had been close but he had hurt Eomer. The elf bowed his head in regret and felt Gimli shift beside him. Eomer looked at Legolas, and his gaze was cool, full of hurt and longing.
A sudden sharp pain in his chest took his breath away and everything but the pain fled. Legolas leaned against Arod briefly and took shallow breaths.
'That's enough. I am going to find which is Pippin's wagon and you will ride in that for a while at least,' Gimli said decisively. Legolas did not protest. 'Eomer, watch him for a moment while I find Pippin.'
Around them, other riders and soldiers simply flowed past them and onwards and Gimli plunged through them. Legolas found Eomer beside him, brown eyes full of concern and his strong arm around his shoulder. It was easy to lean against the man, smell the horse and rich grass clean scent, and the powerful heady song of the man filled him, of thundering hooves across wide open plains, high blue skies and the ring of steel....Legolas found himself smiling at a memory of a stone fortress in the aftermath of battle when the lust and desire were strong in his blood.
'I remember you,' he said in wonder. Then he laughed softly. 'You punched me...'
Eomer pulled a wry face, embarrassed and looked away first before meeting the elf's eyes.
'That was not all I did,' he said with a challenge in his voice and Legolas laughed and then winced again. Eomer put his hand over Legolas' where it rested against Arod's coat. 'And I would do again when you are well,' he said quietly with an appeal in his voice that made Legolas wince.
'I would still love you again...if you would let me,' Eomer whispered, looking earnestly into Legolas' eyes.
Legolas sighed quietly, and his breath lifted the man's hair slightly so that he looked up in sudden hope. But Legolas gently drew his hand away. 'I am sorry, Eomer. The injury I had...I can remember very little. Only snatches and they make no sense to me yet. Of Rohan I recall nothing.'
As he drew his hand away however, he paused and frowned. 'Nothing except...' A memory slowly surfaced.
... of a small stone room, the crackling of twigs burning and the copper pelt that lightly furred the man's skin, the Rohirrim's childlike wonder as he traced the yäré-camé, the pile of sacks he had thrown down in one corner and hurriedly spread his cloak. He had pushed the man down, hands sweeping over the broad shoulders, his back and flanks like he was some prize and Eomer had not seemed to mind in the least that Legolas had held him in that fierce and uncompromising possession.
The hard coupling between them had been followed by gentleness and quiet. Legolas had lit a small fire with dry tinder in the storeroom's tiny hearth and leaned back on one elbow watching Eomer. In the firelight, his skin was warmed and flushed and Legolas had been explored in his turn, fascinated by the markings inked onto the elf's warm skin, on his arms and across one shoulder.
'What are these?' Eomer had asked, finger tracing the green and gold ink runes on his wrists and thighs. The firelight had flickered, casting golden light on both of them.
'These are the emblems of my house,' Legolas had replied, tracing the oak leaf and runes. 'And these are remembrances and runes for protection.' He had indicated the swirling patterns and curlicue flourishes on his upper arms and that on one side, spilled across his shoulder and onto his chest. The wild colours seemed to merge and blur, almost into one shape and the dragon peering over his shoulder... but somehow he knew Eomer could not discern the dragon, and he smiled to himself that it was because the man had other things to think about.
The memory made him smile and unconsciously he leaned closer to Eomer, smelling the warm scents of horse and hay and the musk of the man himself...he breathed in and felt himself fill...
'You have lost all memory of Rohan except what?' Eomer asked hopefully, and there was such childlike expectation that Legolas almost smiled. He tilted his head slightly to regard the man.
...And almost gasped at the intensity of the gaze he felt burning into him. The Song of Rávëyon burst over him like a wave, like a blow, and he almost reeled. He turned around suddenly to see him standing there, raven-black hair pulled tightly back from his strong and beautiful face, and the rage fading from his face and utter, utter sorrow instead. Legolas parted his lips and stepped forwards but Rávëyon stepped to one side and slipped from view. Vanished into the hordes of faces, amid the milling soldiers and wagons and horses.
Legolas cried out in frustration and loss and lunged after him, confused and hurt. Pushing his way through the milling soldiers, he searched the crowd. A gleam of black hair turned out to be the tail of a horse flicking. A glint of mithril armour was only the sun on common steel. The swirl of a sable cloak was the banner of Elessar at rest, fluttering in the breeze that came up the river, from the West. Yet it carried a scent laid across it like silk...blue silk rippling...He blinked and slowly came to focus once more on Eomer's concerned face.
'Legolas? You are not recovered,' the man said urgently and gripped his arm. Legolas suddenly found himself reeling and unsteady and leaned against Eomer gratefully.
He wanted to speak but found he could not and felt himself sinking to the ground.
'Lean on me.' He found Eomer's strong arm around his waist and his other arm pulled across the man's shoulder. 'I do not understand why Aragorn let you come,' Eomer said crossly and Legolas managed a weak laugh.
'He did not want to, I confess. I tricked him into persuading me I had to follow him.'
Legolas found himself leaning into, against the man, and he was grateful of his support for his legs suddenly felt weak and his head spun in slow somersaults. It made him feel sick. He closed his eyes and sank against Eomer, wanting to sit on the flat earth, to make it stop. Eomer helped him to sit and then whipped off his cloak and wrapped it around Legolas, who found it strange that he was comforted by the warmth it still held from being around the man's own body. It smelled of horses and the open air, that slightly steely scent of the wind as it blew across the steppe beneath the high blue sky...he listened and suddenly found himself wanting to push his hands through the copper gold hair and pull him down. But there was too, a sense that he had finished with this part. Confused, Legolas stumbled and was caught by Eomer. Turning his head, he looked at the man to find those brown eyes gazing at him with the same yearning he felt for Rávëyon.
Legolas felt a pain in his head, sharp in the back of his neck and the silver-blue wall came down, but he felt it was flimsier, less opaque...dissipating. And he could almost... almost remember...His fingertips prickled and the hairs on his arms rose. Something high above and moving fast...A familiar sense of danger. He scanned the sky and thought he saw something high, high up, beyond where eagles fly. But it went beyond him and the sensation dulled... dulled but did not leave him entirely, just left him with a sense of unease.
'Legolas!' Gimli reappeared suddenly and squatted next to him, concerned. Legolas found himself on his feet, leaning towards Gimli, Eomer forgotten.
'We will ride for a while with Pippin.' Gimli tugged his arm and Legolas let himself be pulled towards one of the ox-drawn wagons.
A hobbit he knew was leaning against the barrels stored in one of the wagons, he was eating an apple. But he could not remember his name and stared at him for a moment so the hobbit slowly stopped eating, and said anxiously, 'He's gone again, Gimli. Look at his eyes. It's like he's asleep.'
And indeed, he drifted for a while, lost in his memories that began to shape, as if emerging from the mist...Then he felt the familiar warmth of the dwarf and it centred him, earthed him once more. He lifted his head and let the wind stream through his long hair and he listened to the still, deep song of the dwarf, like the ring of a heavy bronze bell beneath the mountain, and the ripple across the still silent pools beneath the earth like harp strings or the wind...
For the West wind teased his hair and the warmth of the sun stroked his face ... and there was a scent that made him want to follow the river downstream with the tide as it ebbed...
From the wagon, Legolas watched the sky. Clouds streamed like torn banners of white on azure. And above him, suddenly, sunlight caught the wings of gulls and he remembered. The Sea.
Ah, the Sea. That was what had been teasing at him all this time... the sounds of the rush and ebb of the tide, the call home, home. He found himself turning like driftwood, and the silver-blue skien of silk that lay on the breeze wrapped itself round him and pulled him. The rocking of the wagon was like a ship with white sails that rushed over the waves towards the west, home... home...
- ROTK. Merry to Aragorn as the host leaves.
Next chapter: Osgiliath and Legolas catches up with Elrohir and feels much, much better.
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.