38. Before the Black Gate
Apologies for the glitch last chapter - I had to delete Ch 37 quickly after I had posted because someone kindly pointed out an error. Then I had to go out and didn't have time to post it again.
As always, the fabulous Anarithilien makes such a difference. Thank you so much for everything, Anar.
Thank to those kind readers who take the time to review- it makes a real difference to know people are reading and enjoying this. I always reply to logged in reviews but to those who don't for any reason, thank you.
Reminder: The Host of the West has marched upon Mordor. Elrohir and Legolas have reached an understanding and Elrohir is insistent that until the battle/war is over, they must wait and this way, he trusts, Legolas will not be a distraction to him, and he will not be vulnerable to the Nazgul through Legolas...how wrong can you be?!
Chapter 38: Before the Black Gate
It was cold and as morning came, the wind began to stir again but now it came from the North, and soon it freshened to a rising breeze. The land seemed empty. Had he not been a Dwarf, Gimli would have felt the same unease that struck at the Men now, but as he was not, as he was a Dwarf-lord and Master Smith of the Stone Halls, Warrior of Erebor, he hummed cheerfully instead and combed his beard. He tutted at the coarseness under his fingers, wondering if he still had left any of that nice oil he had found in Minas Tirith. He intended to look his best for battle. He glanced across to where Pippin sat hunched up in his blanket, head on his arms and looking miserably at the camp. Legolas was nowhere to be seen.
Gimli hummed a little more loudly, a little more cheerfully, and picked up his coat of mail that he had worn throughout the Quest, looking at it appraisingly. The rings were bright and loose, but a quick polish would do no harm. Spitting on his coat sleeve, he rubbed the armour vigorously.
'I intend to dazzle the Eye itself today, lad,' he said. Pippin watched for a moment until Gimli held the coat up to the grey light and nodded in satisfaction. 'Do you not need to sharpen that sword of yours?' he asked, nodding at the short sword Pippin had got from the barrow-wights. He remembered the Hobbits telling the tale one night around the campfire very early on in the Quest. Merry and Pippin had taken it in turns while Sam stirred the little cooking pot. Boromir had taken the knife, for such as it was to him, and looked at it carefully, reverently…Ah. Gimli sighed. It seemed so long ago now.
No point dwelling on that now, he told himself sternly. It was for the Fellowship that he would fight today like Mahal himself was there.
'I suppose I should,' Pippin said half-heartedly and rummaged amongst his own small belongings to find his whetstone.
'And I will join you.' Gimli lifted his axe, letting his fingers stroke along the Khuzdul runes that he himself had etched onto the handle and poured molten mithril over them to give them potency. The steady scrape of stone on metal soothed him, the rhythm of it like a chant under the deep heart of the mountain and the words seemed to form themselves from the sounds around him.
Pippin too seemed soothed by the secret words, and even though he could not hear them in the way Gimli did, the Dwarf knew the song of stone on steel would fire his blood.
After a while, Pippin said in a brighter voice, 'I have been writing a letter to Merry.'
Gimli nodded. 'I have been writing a letter to my father.' When Pippin lifted his head to look at him, Gimli smiled and said, 'Don't tell the Elf.'
'I don't think he will laugh at us,' Pippin said softly and looked back down at his short sword. Then he smiled secretly and added in a voice more like his own, 'He is too busy anyway.'
Gimli frowned, wondering what Pippin meant, but they were all in a fey mood so he did not enquire further and returned to attending his axe. When he was satisfied that the blade would spilt a hair, he stopped and hefted the axe in his hand, and whispered its secret name. About him horses were being saddled and Men strode one way or another.
'Where is Legolas?' Pippin asked, looking around as if he had not finished the thought he had started a moment ago.
'He has gone to find Aragorn, I think. Or find a tree, I am not sure which.' Gimli sighted along the blade of his axe with satisfaction. 'He has been gone for some time.'
'So he's not with Elrodan then?' Pippin asked, carefully sweeping the stone along his own short blade. Gimli looked up quickly and narrowed his eyes.
'I have no idea. Why should he be?' he said more sharply than he intended, for Aragorn's constant interrogation yesterday had hardly been subtle. And as usual, the Man had been looking down a mine shaft for mithril when there was none. Gimli narrowed his eyes. Did he imagine a small smile played about Pippin's lips then?
'No reason,' said Pippin rather more blithely than necessary and Gimli, who had spent long months in the wild with the Fellowship, was just as astute as Merry now in picking up Pippin's feigned innocence.
'Then why do you ask?' he asked sharply. This time he shot Pippin a hard stare that would normally have reduced the Hobbit to silence.
Perhaps it was the imminence of the danger for Pippin looked Gimli squarely, boldly in the eye and said chirpily, 'You have the eyes of a bat and the ears of a hawk. Just thought you might know where he is.'
'Hawk and bat,' Gimli corrected automatically.
'That's what I said,' Pippin answered, a shade of indignation in his voice now. He let his whetstone drop beside him and looked along the blade in exactly the way Boromir had taught him.
'No. You said eyes of a bat and ears of a hawk. You meant ears of a bat and eyes of a hawk,' Gimli said, with only a smidgen left of patience.
'That's what I said!' Pippin declared, gazing up at Gimli with that wide eyed innocence that usually had the Fellowship checking their blankets, shoes, water skins, etc. 'Ears of a rat.' Gimli was not sure he said 'rat' but when he looked at Pippin and his innocent wide eyes, he was certain of it. He took a step towards the Hobbit and Pippin said quickly, 'Anyway, where is he?'
Gimli gritted his teeth. He drew on the patience that had seen him through the Quest so far, the patience of his folk, the patience of stone, of the mountain and said slowly, grinding it out, 'I have told you. He has gone to find Aragorn.'
'Yes. I think.'
Pippin stood up and stretched. 'So you don't think he is with Elrodan or Ellahir?'
'No! Why would he seek out Elrodan?' Gimli burst out. His scowl deepened, 'Or Ellahir.' Mahal- Pippin was as bad as Aragorn!
'Well I suppose you would know with those rat ears,'
'I think rats have better hearing though, don't they?' Pippin asked widening his eyes even further, and Gimli wondered why on all Arda he had ever felt sorry for the Hobbit.
'Are you bickering?' a voice above them was amused. It was Legolas and both Hobbit and Dwarf looked away abashed. Legolas quirked an eyebrow at them and shrugged.
'RAT,' mouthed Pippin provocatively and Gimli fumed and found his hand worrying the ends of his beard and fighting the urge to put the ends in his mouth.
Legolas laughed lightly and said, 'It is hardly becoming for Angren-Pau, the great Dwarf-lord and Mumak-Slayer to meet the Enemy with a soggy beard.' He reached out and gently stilled Gimli's hand.
Gimli ground his teeth and told himself over and over, very quickly, patience of stone, patience of the mountain. But he didn't feel like it. No. He felt like taking his axe to some orcs rather hard and rather soon. Instead, because there was only an infuriating Hobbit and a patronizing Elf close enough to make his fingers itch, he pulled his beard into two braids and muttered to himself as he bound them. Then he pulled his copper-wire hair into a thick braid and tucked it under his mail shirt. He scowled disapprovingly at Legolas' long, windblown hair.
'Any Orc worth its salt will grab you by that horse-mane and you'll be pig-iron.*
Legolas gave him a long steady look and Gimli was suddenly reminded that Legolas was not simply a tall gangly Dwarf but actually an Elf, alien, strange and utterly incomprehensible.
'It is easier by far to hold someone by a tail than grasp them by a mane,' Legolas replied lightly with obviously no intention of changing anything.
'Suit yourself,' Gimli muttered, grabbing his axe and hefting it over his shoulder.
Legolas was still looking at him though and Gimli sighed and stared straight on back. Not even Legolas was going to beat him in a staring duel. As he caught and held the Elf's eye, Legolas reached over his shoulder and wound his hair about his own hand and then stopped, as if he realised what he was doing. He looked down for a moment and smiled slightly, then he shoved it all under his tunic.
'There,' he said, tilting his head slightly and regarding Gimli strangely. 'Satisfied? It won't stay there.'
Gimli nodded and felt a strange relief, for he had often worried that an orc would seize that long hair and pull his friend down. 'It will at least give you a fighting chance to beat my score,' he said provocatively.
Legolas gave a sudden shout of laughter and clapped Gimli on the shoulder. 'Let us wager something worthwhile,' he said and Gimli laughed back and showed his white teeth. He heard Pippin sigh and the hobbit put his head in his hands for a moment and groaned.
'Let us wager that I will kill more orcs than you,' Legolas said, sliding his hands over the straps of his quiver and pulling them to check they were secure. 'How about…' he glanced about him for something of value.
'How about whoever kills the most, publicly admits the Dwarves are better than the Elves,' Gimli said chirpily and he eased his helm down over his head and wriggled it from side to side, checking it was wedged on properly.
'Pah! Why would I do that?' Legolas demanded but his eyes sparkled with amusement. 'How about whoever wins admits the Elves were right and the Dwarves were holed up in Smaug's cave drooling over treasure?'
Gimli showed his teeth. 'What about if the loser admits the only reason the Elves were even at Erebor, was because their King was a miserly…'
'Um. Is this a friendly contest?' Pippin asked.
'Yes. Of course it is!' Gimli said but he glanced across at Legolas who had turned away slightly and Gimli felt like kicking himself. He remembered the yellow smoke, and the heavy trophy hoisted onto a spear*. Ah! Fool. 'As I was going to say, a miserly yet honorable King who turned aside from his quest for gold to aid the people of Esgaroth…' He huffed and shook his head at his own stupidity. 'I have heard however, some very unflattering comments about the youngest son.'
'You have?' Pippin seemed willing to join Gimli's attempts to redeem himself and the slight smile on Legolas' face was a relief to Gimli. 'Have any of them included sons of other Elven lords?'
Gimli shot Pippin a quick look. But surely Pippin could not share Aragorn's imagined concerns about Elrohir and Legolas? No, Pippin could hardly see what was under his own nose most of the time, Gimli decided, strapping on his greaves. Legolas had never shown the slightest bit of interest in either of the sons of Elrond. He stamped his feet further into his iron-shod boots. He would ignore the comment, as he was ignoring Aragorn's ridiculous speculation. 'Where will you stand today, Pippin?' he asked instead.
Pippin looked up and Gimli thought his gaze was suddenly a little lost. 'I suppose I will stay with you both and Aragorn if you want me.'
Gimli nodded in satisfaction. 'Good,' he said, weighing his war axe in his hand. 'The Elf needs someone to watch his back. Those Nazgul aren't going to forget him in a hurry and he is a mite careless.' He carefully slid his axe into the harness he wore, and settled it comfortably against his back, ignoring Legolas' protests. 'You have a blade made in Numenor,' Gimli continued. 'It was Merry's blade that undid the spells that held Angmar to this world. The Nazgul will be afraid of you! Stick close to him please, Pippin.'
Gimli flashed a smile that Pippin could not help but return. Then he turned and looked up at Legolas. 'And you, keep your eyes on the battle and don't go wandering off from Pippin and me.'
A wind gusted down from the dark mountains suddenly and trailed cold fingers over Gimli's skin, across his face like spider webs. He shuddered and looked around him. Pippin had pulled his cloak tightly around him and was looking up nervously and Legolas stood tall above them, his keen eyes were trained on the mountains that sheered away to the East.
'We will make a stand today that will make our people proud of us,' he said and his voice was defiant, resonant.
It seemed to Gimli that in the mist that lay about the departing camp, ghosts of Men and Elves stood, like the Army of the Dead had done at Pelargir, and he thought he saw a glint of steel in the mists, and far away there was the sound of horns and the distant echo of a battle cry. It was here, after all, that Gil-Galad and Elendil had stood. He shivered slightly and turned to look up where Legolas stood tall against the grey sky, with the wind lifting his hair and a gleam in his strange green eyes as if he too, saw the ghosts of long dead warriors, Elves and Men.
When Legolas turned there was a fierce glitter in his eyes that matched Gimli's own. 'And should I fall and come at last to the white shores,' the Elf dropped to one knee now and held Gimli's gaze steadily. For a moment, Gimli felt the world slide sideways. 'I will tell the tales of the Fellowship so all shall be remembered. For such a small company we have accomplished...' Legolas drew a breath that seemed to tremble with emotion, '…we have accomplished much.' He put his hand on Gimli's shoulder. 'To my knowledge, which may be not as great as Gandalf's, but to my knowledge, there were no Dwarves,' he turned and put his other hand on Pippin's shoulder, 'or Hobbits, in the Last Alliance. And that is where Gil-Galad went wrong.'
Aragorn talked as they packed and saddled the horses. The Lords of the West had gathered around him and the air was tense with anticipation and breathless with unspoken dread. Here they were at the Gates of Mordor with less than six thousand men. Gandalf was quiet and his head was bowed as if in deep thought, and if he was listening, he gave no sign.
'We will leave the old road now and follow the trail along the edges of Dagorlad,' Aragorn was saying. He had a map and followed the line with his finger, resting it against Firefoot, who stood still and easy. Aragorn's own black mount pawed restlessly at the ground and Aragorn found himself wishing with all his heart for steady Roheryn or the well-trained Hasufel. Even he was surprised he had not fallen off. 'Thus we will approach the Morannon from the Northwest and away from the hills that surround the gates. We do not want to be engaging in battle before we reach the gates.'
Eomer shifted and glanced at Imrahil. Aragorn waited, expecting something, a quiet protest, and expression of their foolhardiness.
Instead Eomer said quietly, 'We are all with you, Aragorn. Let this be a glorious stand and if it be our last, it will not be a whimper.'
Aragorn felt a huge surge of affection for this young man, so recently and unexpectedly made King. His courage gave Aragorn hope too and he saw out of the corner of his eye, Gandalf smile slightly, and the wizard stirred as if he had received news for which he waited.
'It is time, my lords. Gird yourselves and mount up. We must draw His attention hither and let that which might creep beneath his gaze do so. We need to hold out as long as we can.'
'Give the order for the men to eat the rations,' Eomer began but Imrahil stopped him.
'No. Let us at least believe we will need something for the return.'
Aragorn nodded and looked at the tall Prince. His elven heritage was evident in the piercing blue eyes that seemed to look into men's hearts, and by the noble and handsome face. 'It will give us heart.'
Imrahil smiled but Aragorn noticed it was not he at whom the Prince of Dol Amroth smiled, but Elladan. Perhaps they had discussed this beforehand, Aragorn thought, for he had noticed that Imrahil had ridden with Elladan many times over the long march.
So the Host mounted and shouldered its weapons and abandoned the wagons now, for they would not be needed. Aragorn made it clear to those within earshot that he intended they return this way to collect them and that spread throughout the Host that he at least expected them to return. There were mutterings from a few, but those doughty enough to remain had already passed through the vale of fear and were fixed in their hearts upon the man who led them, and Aragorn felt a quiver of fear and pride mixed as he surveyed his army. It was enough, he told himself, enough for Frodo...and since Gandalf still believed, it was enough for him also.
The Black Gate was huge. Colossal. Like nothing Pippin had ever seen before. It towered as high as the hills that surrounded them and were heavy steel, spiked like a weapon. Two enormous towers flanked the Gate on either side and when Pippin was told they were called the Towers of Teeth he was unsurprised. All around the approach were huge slag heaps and broken rocks. Gimli tutted disapprovingly at the waste and carelessness. Pippin thought that even the huge siege engines that had assailed Minas Tirith could not dent these huge gates. Even if Sauron left the gate unmanned, he realised, Aragorn and the Host would still be no more effective than if he knocked and asked to be let in. He noticed that Legolas had fallen silent and his eyes were fixed at a point ahead, he had cocked his head slightly and that usually meant he was listening for something. He glanced up and around as the army marched between the mountains towards the Black Gate.
Pippin had stopped feeling anything other than terrified some time ago and he rode behind Gandalf once more and even that did not reassure him. As they drew close, Pippin could see that gargoyles clung to the towers, thin bat-like wings folded and sinuous necks curved down in a terrible likeness. And there were black-shrouded riders too, carved, as he thought, and clinging to the withers of the winged reptiles, still and silent.
He felt his thumbs pricking and the hair on his scalp froze in horror for the wind lifted the black shroud of one rider and Pippin stared, realising that these were no gargoyles or stone, but the Nazgul whose steeds clung to the Towers and even as he watched, one slowly unfolded its thin leathery wings and detached itself from the Tower, lifted onto the air. Pippin could see the Nazgul move its head, searching, as the beast rose upwards, spiraling like a great hawk.
Some of the men of Lossarnach who remained with the Host, looked up and were afraid but the Men of the West followed Aragorn as he rode at the head of the army, tall and determined. Pippin thought he would be proud to stand with Aragorn even if it was his last. As he watched from behind Gandalf, Aragorn and Eomer spilt apart and the Rohirrim followed Eomer and gathered below one of the hills.
'What are they doing?' he whispered to Gandalf. The Men of Gondor were already trudging up one hill and gathering silently. Aragorn urged his horse upwards and then drew to a halt at the summit. He looked across the plain to the Black Gate.
'We will make our stand here, Pippin.' Gandalf spoke quietly, glancing back over his shoulder towards Pippin as they followed Aragorn up the hill. 'Aragorn as you see, will hold that hill and Eomer will hold the other.' He paused briefly and then, pointing further down the sloping land towards the Black Gate, he said soberly, 'The sons of Elrond and the Dunédain will stand between the two, the first line of defence.'
Pippin put his hand over his mouth to stop his gasp for they would stand right in the way, in the front and surely in the first charge they would be swept away. Glancing over to where Legolas was, Pippin realised that the Elf had not heard, he was looking over the heads of the men on foot.
The two sons of Elrond had halted their black steeds, one half turned towards the hill where Aragorn stood and who spoke quietly to Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth who would also make his stand with them. The other raised his eyes and looked up towards Pippin, but he knew it was not himself the raven-haired warrior sought. Pippin glanced at Legolas and saw his jaw was tight and his eyes fixed on the warrior below. Pippin saw how their eyes met and Legolas dipped his head ever so slightly, but his eyes did not leave the face of the son of Elrond. Elrohir.
Aragorn had gathered together the Captains of the West upon the first hill and was deep in hurried conversation with Gandalf, Eomer, Imrahil and the sons of Elrond. Pippin stood a little distance away from Aragorn, next to Gimli and Legolas and the Rohan horse sighed and leaned his head against Legolas' shoulder. He was rubbing the horse between its ears and Pippin thought it looked the most at ease and most content of all of them. Legolas held himself with a tension that only those of the Fellowship would know; he glanced up at the Towers of the Gate more than once and his smile had a forced brightness.
'It seems a very long way to have come for this,' Pippin could not help saying looking below them. On the flanks of each of the two hills the ranks of men looked paltry beside the great gates of Mordor
Gimli stroked his shining axe and bared his teeth. 'It is sight I would not miss for a mine of mithril,' he said. 'Standing here at the Gates of Mordor with my good friends, about to witness the ending of the power of the Shadow forever.'
Pippin smiled wanly but could not feel as buoyant as Gimli, or be as enthusiastic as the Dwarf about the prospect of beating Legolas' tally, which he had talked about seemingly for hours but Pippin knew really it was only minutes. Legolas however had fallen silent and simply stroked the horse's velvet nose
'What are they talking about?' Pippin wondered aloud a few minutes later.
'They are holding a council of war,' replied Gimli loudly, so many heads turned. 'Deciding what terms to offer the enemy if he agrees to surrender.'
'Surrender?' Pippin declared. 'Then they must be mad. Look! We can never assail those gates…and who knows what is behind them.' He felt suddenly very small and frightened.
It was then that Legolas stirred. He shifted slightly and looked down at Pippin, his long green eyes serious and suddenly he seemed very old…well, not old, corrected Pippin, just very long-lived. 'You know what is behind those gates,' Legolas said. 'You have seen the field of Pelennor and that was the worst the Shadow had to throw at us. Remember those forces were decimated and Shadow is much weakened.'
He tilted his head slightly in the way he did. 'Remember too, Peregrine Took, you have seen a Balrog and survived. And you have seen battle and survived. You have fought against orcs and trolls and mumaks, men form Harad and the South and East.' He quirked an eyebrow and nodded towards the Tower, and he looked strained. 'You have fought, been pursued by the Nazgul and survived. This must be a stroll through the Shire in comparison.' He turned to Pippin and Gimli with a smile on his lips. 'I wonder if you would like me to light your pipes now or would you prefer to save them for after the battle when you have a nice fat orc beneath your feet. It will be my pleasure to light it for you, if you wait while I kill a few orcs.'
'I will hold you to that, Legolas,' Gimli said just as brightly. 'Ah, looks like they have decided what to do. Look, Aragorn beckons to us. Who does he want, do you think?'
'It will be me, 'said Legolas with forced humour, 'for the Elves.'
'I am sure it will be far more useful to have a Dwarf at his side,' Gimli flashed a challenge.
'Perhaps he needs a sensible Hobbit who knows it is past lunchtime and well on the way to teatime,' Legolas added with a slight smile at Pippin.
'Legolas,' Aragorn called. Legolas shot Gimli a smug look but then Aragorn raised his hand and Legolas turned, his smile wide.
'He calls to us all.' He turned and strode quickly away to where the Lords and Captains of the West stood grouped around Aragorn. And Elrohir was there.
Elrohir stood slightly apart from the gathered Captains and Lords of the West. He was uneasy with Aragorn's decision to go himself as envoy to the Black Gate whilst Elrohir himself and Elladan remained behind with the Host; something about it prickled at the back of his neck and he looked up at the Towers where high above, on the pinnacles, the Nazgul clung like gargoyles. One of the winged beasts moved its serpent head and even from here, he felt its cold predatory eye upon him. They were aware of him. He could feel the slide of their malice, uncoiling and slipping around him. But he was strong now, so much stronger, more aware, and he caught a look from Gandalf and the intensity of the Wizard's blue eyes showed that he too was aware.
Elrohir glanced away, coming to rest upon Legolas, for here at least in part was the source of his strength. The Elf strode up the slope towards the assembled Lords and Captains of the West, followed by the Dwarf and Hobbit of the Fellowship. Elrohir thought him tall and strong, and even in the pale half-light he gleamed. But as he drew closer, Elrohir saw his mouth was not the generous wide smile he had grown to love. It was pulled tight and there was a small frown between his eyes. He saw too that Legolas rubbed his hand over his chest and seemed to be tense, barely holding himself in.
The gathering of the Captains shifted and broke a little to let Legolas and his companions through. Suddenly Legolas turned and saw Elrohir and the tension in his face melted. He smiled his radiant smile, and began to weave his way between the lords towards Elrohir. And then he was there, before Elrohir and pushing past. A warm hand slipped across Elrohir's and a hard, strong body pressed against him as if by accident. A breath ghosted over his mouth but so fleeting it could have been a dream and Elrohir felt immersed in light like walking beneath the beech trees in spring when the new leaves unfurled their green-gold. The Woodelf stopped beside him, and although he stood with his face towards where Aragorn and Gandalf still conferred, he slanted his long green gaze towards Elrohir.
'Aragorn has asked me to stand with him on yonder hill,' said Legolas softly. 'I am of most use up there and can fire into the hordes and at the Enemy above. Where do you stand?"
'In the front line. With my brother.'
Legolas turned to him, lips parted slightly in a breath, and his long green eyes were wide with concern. Elrohir stared back, feeling his warmth and adoration, his desperate love. He wished he had taken those moments, those chances to learn to love Legolas more deeply, physically. But it was too late. Instead he simply breathed in the scent of Spring grass and hay, of ferns and cool forest streams running over granite rocks. He felt the song entwine around his heart and the green-gold threads that wound about him like they could protect him from harm.
'If I fall,' Legolas said softly, 'and I come finally to the white shores of Valinor, I will find you. And if you are not there, I will search for you, wait for you until the Ending of the World.' He sought and held Elrohir's grey gaze, and smiled with such a young and desperate yearning love, that Elrohir wanted to pull him into a hard embrace, to crush their bodies so close they could not be told one apart from the other. He wanted to press his mouth down onto the generous smile and to keep him close, safe in his heart...
He could not find the words so all he said was, 'Perhaps.' For he so filled with sin and guilt that Valinor surely would spit him out should he seek to set foot there? But he could not bear the thought of losing Legolas forever.
It seemed Legolas read something of that in his eyes for he tightened his grip on Elrohir's arm and pulled him round to face him. 'If I come there,' he said earnestly, 'my heart will know no peace until I find you. I will search everywhere just to hear your voice, to see your face.' His eyes were earnest, desperate.
Then he smiled his beautiful smile that left Elrohir staring at his mouth and imagining his warm mouth on his own. And then Legolas added with a cheeky insolence that was all Mirkwood,'I hear the Halls of Mandos are filled with Noldor.'
Elrohir felt his own mouth pulled by laughter and he smiled, his eyes soft and full of tenderness. 'I hear the Halls of Mandos are filled with Woodelves too impatient to wait.'
'I believe that is true.' When Legolas tilted his head slightly in that way he had, his long hair slid from under his collar where he seemed to have tucked it for a reason Elrohir could not fathom. It fell straight and pale down his back and Elrohir wanted to lift the cool silk in his hands as he had only once before, and let it stream through his fingers.
'Legolas! You have come,' a voice cried. Aragorn had looked up and saw that his friends were waiting for him, and Legolas pulled away from Elrohir slightly. His long green eyes gleamed for a moment, and then he turned and pushed forwards between the lords to stand with Aragorn and Gandalf.
Sparks must be flying from them, Elrohir thought, and he glanced across at the faces of those with them, thinking they must surely notice how the light had changed, how his face was lit with joy. But there was only one who did notice, and met Elrohir's gaze with a challenge of his own; Eomer. The young Man glared at Elrohir with such intensity and hatred that had Elrohir been anyone else, he would have stepped back.
As he was Elrohir Elrondion, Rávëyon, he did not. Instead he looked away from Eomer deliberately and watched Legolas who had his back to him now, but as he leaned forward to speak to Aragorn, his face half turned so Elrohir could see his strong profile, his lovely generous mouth that curved now into a smile at Aragorn. Elrohir let Eomer see that his gaze lingered on the long wheat-pale hair that fell down his straight back, the strong, wide shoulders and lean hips. He heard Eomer shift forwards and noted how the young Man's hand gripped the hilt of his sword. He did not care. Legolas was his now, his beloved.
He dismissed Eomer in his mind and if he was aware still of the glowering looks the Man gave him, he shut them from his mind utterly. He knew that Aragorn would ask Legolas and Gimli and Pippin to join him as he rode to the Black Gate, and to demand that justice be done to the Dark Lord.
Gimli was speaking, his voice rumbling pleasurably at the thought of such daring. 'We will knock on the very gates of Mordor and demand justice be done!' he declared and no one could deny the Dwarf's courage and there was a stir of approval from those men gathered around. But Elrohir felt a sudden sharpening in his concern and unease stirred in his heart. He thought it foolhardy but wished not to gainsay Aragorn in his newfound and fragile command, and he did not quite know what disturbed him so; perhaps it was simply the Nazgul working upon him as they did others.
'And you, Legolas? Will you accompany us on this foolishness?' Aragorn asked smiling but Legolas was very still and the moment stretched while everyone slowly remembered the night in the Houses of Healing when they brought the Elf down from the Minduillion and he awoke screaming.
Elrohir saw the moment it truly dawned on Aragorn's face and he realised what he asked but before he could speak, Legolas said, slowly, seriously, 'Have I not followed you as you bid? I will not fail you now.' The moment was charged with the cost to Legolas of following Aragorn, of the cuivëar, of his terrible encounter with the Nazgul, of the loss of his home whilst he fought far away on the plains of Rohan and on the shores of the Anduin, and now in the bleak ash of Mordor. Elrohir was not alone in feeling the intensity of Legolas' green gaze, or aware of the way his fists were clenched tightly.
Aragorn reached out and clasped Legolas' arm. 'Forgive me, my friend.' Elrohir felt Eomer move as if he were also distressed. 'I have regretted my words over and over and I will not let you think any longer that you have ever failed me...or failed my trust.' Aragorn bowed his head a little and said again, humbly, 'And I know the cost to you of bearing company with me in my hours of need. Never will I forget your sacrifice.'
'No, do not speak of sacrifice. I came willingly and there are others whose sacrifice is greater. It is why we stand here,' Legolas reached down then to squeeze Pippin's shoulder slightly so the Hobbit looked up at him and smiled bravely. 'I go with you as I have from the start of the Quest, in fellowship and as a representative of my people.' Legolas smiled but to Elrohir, he suddenly seemed unbearably sad, and he thought of Legolas' people and what Aragorn had told him they had seen at Orthanc, the trees aflame and Thranduil dead.
Gandalf nodded then and that simple act of acknowledgement drew all eyes to him. 'Then Legolas shall be for the Elves, Gimli shall be for the Dwarves and Pippin will bear witness for the Shire.' Gandalf's voice was resonant and deep so that all who heard it felt renewed in their hearts. 'Let us go with all haste and summon him forth, and as Gimli says, let justice be done!'
Suddenly all about Elrohir broke. Aragorn was shouting to his Dunédain and calling for his horse, Eomer too pushed past him with a sharp glance and there was no mistaking his intent.
But so quickly afterwards that it forced everything else from Elrohir's mind, Legolas brushed his arm briefly as he passed and caught his gaze. A shudder of longing and desire flooded him and he felt himself stiffen instantly and his loins were liquid. Legolas paused for a moment, looking deeply as if he knew, and that he gazed into something wondrous, into the depths of his soul, and then he was gone, striding down the slope and calling to the Dwarf and Hobbit to join him.
Elrohir closed his eyes briefly for there was no time left. All was chaos around them. Men were leading the horses away from the battleground for they were useless here; this would be hand-to-hand combat and there was no space or point in the charge. The men simply turned the horses loose and sent them cantering, galloping away, chestnut, grey and bay hides. He saw his own black Barakhir amongst them, cantering, wheeling about to search for Elladan's Baraghur. All but the horses of those who were to ride to the Gate were there, and those horses turned restlessly and whinnied to their departing kin. Elrohir turned back and amongst the crowd of running, hurrying soldiers, he sought his brother.
Imrahil had gathered his knights between the two hills, forming the front line, and the Prince himself stood at their head, his surcoat of blue fluttering in the wind and his white cloak billowed. His banner of azure with the swan of Dol Amroth was raised above him and streaming in the wind. But standing even before the front line of the swan knights, and ahead slightly of Imrahil himself, stood Elladan. The wind pulled his long black hair back from his stern and noble face and his cloak pulled out behind him. One hand rested on his silver shining sword and the other hung loosely by his side. He stared at the immense black gates as if he could burn a hole through them. So might Gil-Galad have looked, Elrohir thought proudly as he watched Elladan. The Prince of Dol Amroth took a step forwards then and stood beside Elladan, and his hand brushed against Elladan's arm as if by accident, and Elrohir was reminded that Legolas had done the same to him. But where Legolas' touch had made him startle and set a fire in his veins, Elladan merely turned his head slightly and smiled.
'They have become close,' thought Elrohir surprised and he wondered when that had happened. Too self absorbed, he berated himself and resolved that all would be different after the battle, should they live. That sobered him and he strode forwards, passing Imrahil, and stood with his brother. When Elladan turned slightly and spied his approach, he took a step towards him and clasped him, so Elrohir felt a great surge of affection and gratitude.
'Shall we stand together, you and I?' Elladan asked as if it were necessary and Elrohir laughed for the joy of being welcomed by his brother who had such reason to hate him.
'Do not think I will ever be parted from you,' he said and he did not mean it to weigh so heavily for Elladan drew back and gasped in relief.
'Then you have made your Choice?' He clung to Elrohir like he were afraid he might lose him and Elrohir caught the Song that soared in Elladan's heart, his calm blue shimmered and deepened so it became indigo, rich and deep with joy, almost unbearable in its intensity. 'Ah, how that cheers my heart before this dreadful battle. I was certain you would choose the way of Men and today we would be parted until the Ending of the World.'
It was impossible to speak and not shatter the gladness in his brother. Elrohir smiled instead and hid his fear, his doubt. It was too hard to say that was not what he meant, and he knew it was this that had prompted Elladan's forgiveness of him; the loss he faced should Elrohir choose the Way of Men. And, he asked himself again, what if he should fall today, and had not made his choice? What of Legolas and his oath that should he come to the white shores, he would search everywhere, to wait until the end of all things if he needed to...Elrohir squeezed his eyes shut for a moment; he could not ask it, and yet, he did.
Elladan continued unaware. 'Always you have walked the paths of Men and seemed closer to the Dunédain than the Elves. If it is Legolas who has brought this about, then I am forever in his debt.'
Elladan then pulled him close, tenderly, and Elrohir thought that this was his beloved brother, who had forgiven him when he should not be, for Elrohir believed that he himself of all people deserved the least and had been given the most. He could barely speak for the love that embraced him, by Elladan and Legolas and he rested his head on Elladan's shoulder and said nothing. How could he do otherwise?
Standing slightly apart from the brothers but watching intensely with his piercing blue eyes, was Imrahil and Elrohir thought he had not deceived the Man.
But he would not destroy Elladan, not now. If he fell, then he would be forced to decide, but for now, he lived and he could delay a little longer.
'Let us show them how we treat the enemy,' he murmured and Elladan smiled back, loosening his hold on Elrohir, and clasping his brothers' arm. Elrohir swept his cloak aside, unpinned the Dunédain star with one hand and tossed the heavy sable cloak to a squire who ran forwards to catch it with awestruck eyes. Together the brothers strode out to the front, beyond the line of the swan knights, beyond any of them. Their long hair was raven-black as their armour gleamed in the dim grey light, mithril runes on their cuirasses were molten swirls and Elrohir rolled his shoulders and swung his sword a little, dark Aícanaro glittered darkly, ferocious and hungry.
He heard well the intake of breath as the ranked Men of Gondor and of Rohan, those sons of Eorl with whom they rode many centuries ago, realised the sons of Elrond stood with them, the Sons of Thunder, and they stood before any of them, in the front line and they were long lived and would inspire such fear in their foes.
Pale sunlight struggled through deepening cloud, lit on their armour and shields so it seemed for a moment there was more light, but then a shadow sailed high above them. The shadow brought more than simple darkness. Around them, some of the Men quailed and cried out and Elrohir turned his eyes upwards...and as he watched, the Nazgul's beast wheeled high above, like an eagle, too far even for an elven bow, and he turned to see Legolas swing himself astride the Rohan horse, effortless, the power in him like steel.
The Nazgul passed over Elrohir like a cold wind, and he saw Legolas too look up and his lovely strong face was stricken. Elrohir felt the stroke of malice against his mind and turned towards the high spires of the Towers that reached up into the twilit sky like taloned fingers. Upon the turret six other gargoyle beasts clung and watched, roosting silently, carved from stone. What is your plan now, oh great ones, he said silently, sardonically, and let them drift into his thoughts, into his half-dreaming. While he stood back and watched, he let his hand fall upon the hilt of dark Aícanaro.
He felt their loss, their lessening. Khamûl, Angmar. Both fallen. And now those seven ancient kings, the Nazgul had thrown off the cloak of disguise, revealed themselves in his mind and he saw them, dark shapes, warriors and kings of ancient times, ancient power, their robes were merely shadows and he saw them clearly. Their helms were dark and hid their eyes and he was glad of that. In their mailed fists they clenched heavy swords, mighty blades the equal, he thought, of Aícanaro.
Seven that were Nine…
An iron crown appeared in his half dreaming. It waited. For him. And a ring of cold iron waited too. Cold power. Old power.
We will come for you. The Lord of Darkness awaits.
A flicker of firelight on warm flesh, painted skin, and a lean body writhed in torment and ecstasy, head thrown back and long pale hair streaming down.
Elrohir smiled thinly; I no longer wish for that. I am so much more than you, shadows indeed of your former masters, of Angmar, of Khamul, you lesser wraiths, he thought deliberately contemptuous and heard their outraged hisses and smiled.
He turned to Elladan and bared his teeth.
'See how the Enemy quakes! Those lesser shadows sit like ducks on that Tower,' he said loudly enough to be heard by those on the slopes of the hills. He raised his hand to gesture to the Nazgul, clinging still to the high, high towers. 'We have but six thousands and yet they fear to come from their tower! Like shy maids who fear for their virtue!' That raised a slight, astonished laugh from those men behind him. Other men then craned their necks to see the legends that walked out of the mountains in their time of need and who laughed in the face of the Enemy. 'They are passing coquettish, do you see? A sly peek, a flutter...one comes forth to see and then scurries back to the other maids, too shy to come forth? Sauron is naught but a tease!' There was a cheer and some of the Rohirrim clashed their swords against the shields.
The wind lifted his black hair, pale light gleamed on his armour but on dark Aícanaro it did not shine and he rested his hand upon the hilt and felt its dark power sink into his flesh. They were weak. Their loss diminished them. Now they were seven and they had been Nine. Weak. Diminished.
A flare of anger.
Suddenly he felt them leave him, the pressure of their regard fell from him and he almost sagged against his brother. At first he thought they realised they had done with him, but their attention had merely shifted. Imrahil had led his grey horse away towards the small group gathered nearby, Aragorn and his heralds and Elladan had turned to see. In Elrohir's mind though, he felt the sharpening of their interest, and the Nazgul that wheeled above, turned its great winged lizard and sped back towards the Towers where its Brethren clung to the pinnacle.
Narrowing his eyes, Elrohir watched. It was not he from whom they fled. No. For there was a whisper of fear and anticipation. The Ring. It was here.
His eye widened slowly. They believed Aragorn had the Ring...Elrohir was aware of movement and colour and shapes before him but it was like looking through coloured glass and unreal. A trap about to be sprung...
Even as he realized, he saw Aragorn and Gandalf gather with Imrahil, Eomer and Gandalf. Legolas was nearby, leaning down and listening to the Dwarf, his long hair fell around him and the Dwarf was gesturing to it in irritation. Legolas laughed and the sound carried clearly to Elrohir so he felt it strike his heart. And he stood for a moment, staring, fixing the memory so it would be with him forever in case... in case he needed it again. Above them all Baelderon the Dunádan, had raised Aragorn's banner and it streamed out in the wind spooking Aragorn's black stallion when the Man was trying to mount. The horse turned restlessly, shaking its head as the Man hopped beside it, one foot on the ground and one in the stirrup until Eomer held the horse and it calmed and stood still. Aragorn looked up gratefully at the Rohan King who was laughing, enjoying his discomfort as were others, as if oblivious to the danger.
Elrohir raised his hand, 'Aragorn!' he called to warn him. They must not approach the Gate - they waited for him, it was a trap, lulling him into a security that did not exist, making him believe the gate was closed, that Sauron slept or looked inwards...
'Aragorn!' Elrohir shouted, and strode between the men towards them. Elladan turned and frowned, and then swiftly followed him. Aragorn turned and seeing Elrohir's approach, he took his foot from the stirrup and stood waiting. The black horse snorted and tossed its head, pulling at the reins that Eomer held.
'Aragorn!' he called again. 'Stay a moment. You must not go.' His eyes fastened on Aragorn's and the man hesitated. 'This is a trap,' he insisted, and reaching Aragorn, held out a hand and rested it on his arm to stay him. 'Do not walk blindly into it. Let Mithrandir and me go, but you should stay here. They think you have IT and you will be almost alone up there. At least play for time.'
Eomer turned his horse in a small circle and regarded Elrohir with hostility. 'Why do you speak now, Lord Elrohir? You were silent in our council.'
Elrohir did not look at the Man at first and then slowly raised his eyes to where the Rohan King sat astride his chestnut horse. He returned the gaze with equal coolness. 'I have sensed what the Nazgul will do,' he said.
Eomer brought his hand up dismissively. 'You have sensed?' he almost sneered but Elrohir could see there was more hurt in his voice than contempt. 'That is not enough. Do you have some connection with them that we do not know of? Do you have some sort of pact with them?'
There was too a gasp and murmur of approbation from Imrahil but Elrohir saw the blaze in the Man's eyes and so close he was, that anyone else would have looked away.
'Eomer!' cried Aragorn.' This is my brother!'
Elrohir held the Rohan King's gaze steadily. He knew what he had done. He had owned his guilt and it was for no one else to judge him but those he had harmed. And he had not harmed Eomer. That was Legolas' to own.
'Tell me, my lord Elrohir,' Eomer said and he swung down from his horse to stand close to Elrohir. 'How is it that you returned from the Mindolluin unscathed and yet Legolas was barely alive, screaming at the mere memory of his ordeal?' He stood so close now that Elrohir could feel the Man's warmth, and feel his hot spirit. 'How is it that you were returned without a scratch? I ask again, what is it about you that the Nazgul pass over you with barely a glance and you think now you can parley with them unharmed?
Elrohir did not answer but deliberately let his gaze move past Eomer and rest upon Legolas where he stood with Gimli behind him, some way off. The Elf had lifted his head and looked towards them now, his fair face was troubled and strained, and Elrohir knew that this hurt he had caused Eomer still pained him, but the Nazgul's closeness also put unbearable tension upon him for he rubbed his hand over the dreadful wound in his chest and winced like it was still bleeding.
Eomer turned and followed his gaze for a moment and Legolas froze. In the moment, only the three of them existed, separate points in the moment but inexorably linked by loss and guilt.
'Ask what is in your heart,' Elrohir said so softly that only Eomer could hear and Elrohir saw the unexpected flash of hurt in his eyes, his intense youth and his intense hurt at what he had discovered those nights ago in Aragorn's tent. It had burned him, and the Healer in Elrohir could feel the hot roil of loss and hurt and rejection. But he was not the one to soothe and Eomer would not accept it either. 'It is not I with whom you are angry.'
'It is you who seduced him from me!' Eomer retorted softly for only Elrohir's ears, a blaze in his eyes and he stepped close enough that Elrohir felt the Man's heat. Aragorn moved as if he would step between them and Elladan arrived, looking worried, and caught at Elrohir's arm.
'Whatever this is, there is enough for us to face together without turning on each other,' Elladan said urgently, glancing an appeal at Aragorn. But Gandalf suddenly seemed to stir himself.
'Enough of this!' he tutted impatiently. 'I will go and summon the envoys of Sauron. Aragorn will stay and Elrohir will go with me.'
There was a mutter from Eomer and his lip curled in contempt. 'I do not trust him,' the young Man muttered under his breath.
'Well you will just have to trust me,' Gandalf replied acerbically and he shoved the white robes impatiently back out of his way and gave a sharp whistle for Shadowfax. 'Elrohir, come. I do not like to waste time.'
Elladan stood to one side. He had taken the reins of the black stallion and held them lightly. The horse stood calmly, its head slightly lowered against Elladan's shoulder.
'I will take this difficult beast off your hands,' Elrohir said with a wry smile at Aragorn, who looked suddenly young, and he saw Estel looking out at him from tangled hair and bright, curious eyes. His heart twisted again and he grasped Aragorn's arm. 'Be safe, brother.'
He turned and found Elladan close, and he held Elrohir's gaze for a long moment and then stepped close to Elrohir. 'Be safe, my soul,' he said quietly and Elrohir felt sudden prick of tears. He squeezed his eyes shut for the surge of love he felt for Elladan. How could he be so generous, so noble? 'I find I cannot face the world without you.' He pulled Elrohir into a sudden embrace and Elrohir felt the calm blue peace envelop him but there was such loss and longing in that light it caught his breath.
A moment later he had swung easily astride the black horse. Shadowfax had already struck out from the Host and Gandalf glanced over his shoulder briefly, impatiently. A sudden shaft of light pierced the heavy clouds and shone through and he thought he heard a sigh on the wind. He did not turn but clicked to the stallion who pranced once and then obediently trotted and then fell into a slow canter after Shadowfax. Elrohir knew Legolas watched aghast and called to him but he merely turned and dipped his head slightly and rode on with not a backward glance, for he had etched in his memory a warm hand slipping across his, and a hard, strong body pressing against him as if by accident. A breath ghosting over his mouth but so fleeting it could have been a dream and being immersed in light like walking beneath the beech trees in spring when the new leaves unfurled their green-gold. It was enough.
He felt the Nazgul's sharpening interest and felt their cold regard, the slide of their malice. They were breathless with anticipation. He walked into a potential trap and he knew it was a trap. They wanted him, and they had waited for him.
The next chapter is pretty much done so I hope to post it next weekend. Then there will tow more chapters I think and we're finished, for now anyway.
pig-iron: Pig iron is the intermediate produce of smelting iron ore with a high-carbon fuel such as coke, usually with limestone as a flux. Charcoal and anthracite have also been used as fuel. Pig iron has a very high carbon content, typically 3.5–4.5%, which makes it very brittle and not useful directly as a material except for limited applications. (Wikipedia) For the dwarves, pig-iron is a useless waste product.(ziggy)
* heavy trophy etc refers to a scene in Deeper in which Saruman shows Legolas a vision of Mirkwood in smoke and flames and Thranduil's body is hoisted on a spear. Gimli was of course at Orthanc when this took place.
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.