43. The Black Web
Special thanks to Spiced Wine who has written a wonderful spin-off on another fanfic site, Faerie, run by Esteliel, which tells a story of Aícanaro and its origins. And I suspect in part at least, some of this later chapter may well have been influenced by her fabulous work. There is a nod to her wonderful OC, Vanimórë and her story in this.*
Beta: Anarithilien. MEFA winner 2011 for her fabulous story Dark Forest.
(This has taken a long time- sorry.)
Chapter 43: The Black Web.
The earth still groaned and shook and Elladan felt the tremors beneath his feet. Half way up the hill, he turned to stare. It seemed that those Orcs and Trolls that had not been sucked into the great chasms had plunged terrified through the rearguard, disappearing into the Mountains and now there were very few to be seen. But still a few proud and bold Men from the East and South gathered, in their turn, for a last stand of desperate battle. Even now they were arranging themselves into a wedge bristling with spears. Banners of crimson and gold fluttered above them and they readied to meet a new assault from Gondor and her allies.
Elladan rubbed his eyes. He had had enough of battle, of fighting, enough of the blood and killing. But he knew that for Elrohir it was different. He would still want to fight. He was not alone; there were small groups of Men scattered about the hillside, waiting for someone to give an order, to emerge from the chaos and lead them on to further battle.
He glanced over to where Elrohir stood. Aícanaro was not yet sheathed and its tip rested on the stony ground. A rill of thick red blood slid slowly down the dark blade, gleamed in the half-light. The wind lifted Elrohir's long black hair slightly and fluttered the edge of his cloak. He did not look at Elladan. Instead he kept his eyes trained on some fixed point in the Mountains. He frowned as if he half-recognised something*, stared for a moment and then slowly turned away, his gaze sweeping over Elladan as if he were not even there.
Elladan frowned and reached out, touching Elrohir on the arm, closing his hand over his brother's. 'What is this?' he asked softly. 'You are still in shadow. Come back to me.'
Elrohir slowly brought his gaze back to focus upon Elladan and he almost recoiled. Elrohir's eyes still blazed with ferocious thirst, his pupils dilated, black, and Elladan saw himself reflected in them strangely. His own face seemed distorted, pulled askew and elongated as if he were a ghoul. He shuddered. The darkness that had cloaked them both was still too close. His hand clenched the hilt of his own frost-bright sword and he remembered how Aícanaro had seemed to leap into his hand, and blaze in delight at the slaughter. Staring into Elrohir's blank, lovely face, Elladan felt a chill, like icy fingers, trace his spine.
'Elrohir?' He touched his brother again, flooded him with cool peace, held his hand out to him, and this time, slowly, Elrohir looked up as if clearing his thoughts. 'Come. Let us join Aragorn,' Elladan invited softly, gently as if to a sleeping child. He stroked his hand over Elrohir's smooth hair. 'There will be many wounded and we will be needed...Elrohir?' he called softly, and laid his hand upon his brother's arm.
Slowly Elrohir blinked and his lips moved silently.
'Go.' His voice seemed to come from far away, his eyes once more unfocused and distant. He seemed to gather himself and then spoke again.
'Go.' His voice was so soft Elladan could barely hear him. 'You will find some warmth and peace...But that is not for me.' Elrohir stood silent and thoughtful, and then seemed to grow stronger, as if he came back into his own skin. Slowly he raised his head and shrugged himself loose so Elladan's arm fell to his side.
'You would have me heal the injured,' Elrohir said slowly. 'You will find your peace that way, brother but I cannot heal anyone.' His eyes stared at the drops of blood clinging to the blade of Aícanaro. 'I am...too full of lust and hate..'
Elladan did not reply at first; he knew it was true. He had seen the violence and anguish of Elrohir's revenge upon their enemies, not only the Orcs of the Mountains but Men, the unquenchable thirst for blood, lust that pounded in his veins and earned them the name, Sons of Thunder.
'I know what you have done,' Elladan said softly. 'I know what you are.' He stepped close and leaned in towards his brother. 'And still I love you. Still I see what is good and noble.'
At that, Elrohir looked up and his grey eyes were clear. 'Always you see what is best in me, even now.' He reached out and lightly touched Elladan's face. 'You are so pure, Elladan.' He smiled bitterly. 'The Nazgul saw what I am. I have not changed. '
Elladan felt such sharp pain in his chest. 'I almost lost you,' he said quietly and he pulled his brother close, pressed his lips against Elrohir's dark head. It was not the first time, Elladan thought, remembering the depths of winter when Elrohir had returned alone and late, too late in the year to be riding alone through the mountain passes. He remembered the strange wounds and the haunted look in his brother's eyes. He could see Elrohir watching him knowingly, his eyes soft with understanding, almost pity.
'It is what makes me what I am. The darkness. I am akin more to Men than the Elves.'
Elrohir held his gaze and it seemed to Elladan that there was more in those words than were spoken. Yet had Elrohir not chosen? He had told Elladan as much back in Minas Tirith, had he not?
'Say not so, not here,' said Elladan and he knew he was pleading, that Elrohir was very still, listening to what lay beyond the words. 'The shadows afflict you still.'
Elrohir smiled tenderly, gently. 'Do not fear for me, Elladan,' he said softly and the irony was not lost on Elladan that it was Elrohir who sought to comfort him now. 'I am not lost. Not yet...I need to purge myself of this...this darkness.' He smiled tenderly, touched Elladan's cheek. Elladan found that harder to bear than his anger or coldness. He pushed his hand though his hair in a small gesture of helpless distress, knowing he could not change Elrohir's mind.
'Go to Aragorn. Lend him your healing and I will lend him my sword.' Elrohir said. 'We each do our work best. I will find you. Wait for me.'
There was a flurry of gold and white hurtling through the grey skies above them and both raised their heads, watching as the eagle dwindled to nothing over the fallen towers and vanished in the skies over Mordor.
'They are alive,' Elrohir said quietly and Elladan looked at him, knowing the sight was upon his brother at that moment. 'They are weary and heartsore but they will survive...not unscathed though.' He frowned as though he were trying to see into a darkened glass. 'There is another though, lost and in pain...I cannot see...' He blinked and shook his head slightly as if ridding himself of a dream.
Abruptly Elrohir gained his feet, smoothly as though he had never been afflicted, and his cloak flowed around him like a shadow. He looked at Elladan for a moment and then he turned and strode down the hillside as if he had taken no wound, as if the Nazgul had merely inconvenienced him. He raised one gauntletted hand as he walked. Some few Men lifted their heads as he passed. And, after a moment of hesitation, they rose and followed him as if summoned. These were the Men whose hearts had no peace, who still wanted vengeance and their blood was hot. Elladan watched them gather about Elrohir. Baelderon was amongst them, his grief for his brother still darkened his eyes. Elrohir spoke. They did not cheer but their faces were grim and determined as Elrohir moved between them and Elladan could not help but think of them as shadowed.
Aragorn stood on the hilltop for a moment, leaning on his sword, staring after the eagles that soared upwards, spiraling high and speeding over the Morannon. The grey half-light splintered on Gandalf's white robes and he gleamed for a moment like a falling star. Then they had dwindled swiftly to a gold spot against the grey sky and Aragorn could see them no longer. He stood staring for a moment after.
There was warmth against his arm and he started. Imrahil had come to stand beside him and his piercing blue eyes were intent on Aragorn. He held his great sword in one hand and in the other a bloody cloth which he had been sliding down the gleaming blade. Spatters of blood were on his blue surcoat.
'I am unhurt,' Aragorn said reassuringly in answer to the unspoken question. 'All my thoughts are with Gandalf.'
'Pray he finds the Periannath quickly,' Imrahil murmured, and handed back the bloody cloth to one of his Men. He seemed to pull himself erect and brought Aragorn's attention back to himself. 'Many men are shocked by these great events,' he observed, glancing around at the gathered soldiers who milled about, staring at the ground as if afraid it might start trembling again. 'It would be good to have them do something, my Lord. We are yours to command.'
Aragorn looked across the battle field, at the fallen corpses of Men. Already a crow had alighted on one upturned face and pulled at something stringy and red. If he had not been so used to war, he would have felt sick. Aragorn shook himself. Imrahil was right of course. He could not stand here waiting for Gandalf's return, and he was suddenly aware of the blood on his own blade. At his feet was a dead Orc, its mouth open in rictus and its eyes wild even in death. He stooped to wipe Anduril clean on its black tunic and then squinted down the blade to check it was clean.
He drove Anduril back into its sheath and addressed the captains who waited upon them, blood-stained and weary. 'Have the bodies of our own gathered. We will not leave them here unburied and open to carrion,' he said surveying the devastation.
Imrahil shifted slightly and his face was serious as he turned to Aragorn approvingly. 'It will be done, my Lord. Already the summons has gone to bring the wagons and horses.' Then he smiled as though he could not quite believe the end had come. 'We have won, my Lord. Sauron is gone.' His piercing blue eyes met Aragorn's. 'Now is the time to declare yourself, as you would not be declared before the city.'
Aragorn stroked his fingers over the delicate pendant at his neck. He blinked slowly, hardly able to believe that all his dreams would now come to pass. And yet, the cost.
Imrahil had turned his head and was looking down the slope towards the field of battle. Aragorn followed his gaze to where his own brothers stood; silver armour that seemed unstained by any blood, sable cloaks and hair like raven's wings. As if they sensed the scrutiny, the Sons of Elrond lifted their sharp grey eyes to where they stood. One smiled and lifted his hand in greeting, but the other stood like stone and ice.
Imrahil said nothing but watched for a moment and Aragorn wondered at his stillness. He turned his blue eyes back to Aragorn and the wind stroked his dark hair. 'The Lords of Imladris are said to be skillful healers, my Lord.'
'They are indeed,' Aragorn replied. He did not say that Elrohir would fight on until every last enemy was vanquished. 'Elladan will be here soon I'll warrant. He will want to heal, to cleanse himself of the killing.' Aragorn smiled. 'He is the gentler soul.'
'But fierce in battle.'
Aragorn glanced at Imrahil for though he spoke smoothly, his gaze lingered upon the Sons of Elrond. Aragorn frowned, wondering, and looked back to where his brothers moved slowly as if in a dream and one began to climb the slopes towards them and the other moved away, gathering Men about him like crows.
There was a sudden shout of greeting from behind them and they turned to see Eomer slowly picking his way towards them, holding his left side but looking otherwise unhurt. Aragorn rubbed his hand over his eyes, feeling the grit and dust on his own skin, seeing how Eomer's armour was mottled with dried blood and mud, how his hair was tangled and his face bloodied. He thought he himself could not look much better. But he was glad to see the younger Man uninjured and whole.
'Aragorn! Victory is ours!' Eomer's eyes were shining with triumph. His sword was still in his hand and gleamed brightly. He clasped Aragorn's arm and then turned to greet Imrahil. 'A good day, my friends. We will celebrate this for many a year to come and hold to our memories in our dotage.'
'Yes, my lords.' Imrahil inclined his head urbanely. 'Let us proclaim this great victory. Send news to the White City and our realms.' He looked at Eomer who nodded. 'Gather news of our allies in the North, Dale and Erebor and the Woodland Realm. And over the mountains to Imladris of course.'
'Yes, my messengers will take news to Rohan and beyond, even to the Golden Wood if you wish it,' Eomer said cautiously and Aragorn smiled inwardly. Even now, he could not shake off the superstition about Lothlorien. But Aragorn suspected that Galadriel and Elrond would already know.
'I will send messages South,' Imrahil said. 'And to the North, to Brand of Dale and to the Lonely Mountain. They can divert to Thranduil's realm in the forest and gather news of Dol Guldur, my lords,' Imrahil said, as if barely noticing Eomer's caution. But something had caught his blue eyes past Aragorn's shoulder. The urbane mask slipped for a moment and it seemed to Aragorn his handsome face shone.
Suddenly, before he could turn to see what had lit Imrahil, Aragorn was seized, caught up in a strong embrace. He pulled back instinctively and looked up into Elladan's grey eyes.
'It is done!' Elladan's face broke with joy. He threw his head back and laughed aloud. 'You, Estel, are King of Gondor!' His kind grey eyes smiled upon Aragorn and in a moment, Aragorn remembered all the times that Elladan had picked him up, dusted him off, dressed his scabby knees, held him when he sobbed over a broken heart...listened silently as he told him of his love for Arwen, and hers for him...
'I am glad that you are here with me,' he said and wished he could find the words to express the emotion that filled him. But Elladan knew, he could see it in the smile Elladan gave him, and felt it in the warmth of his clasp. They both laughed.
'And glad to see you whole,' he added relieved. 'Elrohir is still in battle?' he asked quietly.
'Give him a moment. So much happened at the last.' To Aragorn, Elladan looked distressed and he wondered what had happened during the battle. He had lost sight of them when the Nazgul had begun to plummet to the earth and he had been beset by a troll. 'It is too much to tell you now. He will come back to us. Look,' Elladan drew his attention to the battlefield below. 'He finishes the day for you.'
They turned and surveyed the plains before the fallen Morannon where the few Men from the East and South who had fought with Sauron, proud and bold, gathered for a last stand of desperate battle.
Elrohir's men charged the small desperate troop of Easterlings, their red robes bright though the light was dim, and blades flashed as they fought.
'They make a brave stand though the one they fought for has gone into dust. It is a pity they do not sue for peace,' Imrahil observed. 'They are proud and bold. Worthy opponents...Perhaps worthy allies too.' He turned and smiled at Elladan.
Elladan shifted and when Aragorn caught his glance and noticed a flicker of disquiet. 'I am of more use to you with the injured,' he said abruptly. 'I take my leave of you both. I am sure the healers can find some use for me.' He bowed and turned away, hastening down the hillside to where tents had sprung up. Red flags tied to poles fluttered above each tent and lines of men made their weary way towards them. Wagons rolled across the battle field now and filled slowly with those injured men who could be moved.
Aragorn was puzzled at Elladan's abrupt departure, but at that moment, other captains approached him and his attention was drawn to the ordering of the final skirmishes and the organisation of the army.
The banner of the White Tree flew proudly, the cinders and dust did not seem to show on it. Beside it, the Swan and Ship of Dol Amroth fluttered and, on the hilltop opposite, the banner of Rohan, the white horse on emerald field streamed proudly.
Elladan strode towards the camp that was moving, settling, restless. There were long snaking queues of injured Men over the muddy plains as the light grew dim and long shadows reached out. Elladan sighed and rubbed his eyes, unable to ignore the red cloud of pain that hung over so many of the men making their way towards the tents. And there were certainly not sufficient healers to deal with all of them.
He was welcomed by the Men who staffed the tents and who directed him to a large canvas tent divided up into three sections. One was filled with wounded men on narrow pallet beds lined up close to each other. There was the same crowd of noise that Elladan had heard on every battlefield; the tense and pain-filled murmur punctuated by a scream of agony that came from another section. Every now and again a healer would emerge from one of the other sections, looking harried and concerned, hands covered in blood and the inhabitants of the tent would fall silent, knowing some poor soul had lost a limb or passed onwards. Elladan hoped there would be few amputations.
He was shown to a place behind a white screen spattered with blood into the third section, his own surgery it seemed. One table was set up, wobbling on the uneven ground but it was being scrubbed clean by a hard pressed orderly, no more than a boy, with flaxen hair tied back and sharp blue eyes that slid away whenever Elladan looked his way.
Elladan nodded at the boy briefly and tied his long hair out of the way. He scrubbed his hands in a pail of hot water and dropped the soap back into it. It seemed the boy was his orderly for he sloshed the bloody water away outside the tent and then came back in shyly.
'My name is Elladan,' he said kindly. The boy nodded and blushed. 'And you are?' he prompted.
'They call me...B...Beren, my lord,' he said hanging his head.
Elladan hid a smile and the boy stammered on. 'It was my mother's favourite tale.
'A good name indeed,' Elladan did not smile when he met the boy's anxious gaze. 'Shall we start?'
The light had dimmed so Beren lit oil lamps. His awe had lessened in the blood and pain, but it did not stop him from being a brisk, efficient and kindly orderly, if a little unskilled. But he learned quickly and Elladan was pleased with him. It had been an endless stream of injured and wounded. They did not save them all.
Beren leaned over and wiped Elladan's face with cool water infused with athelas. Elladan glanced up, unseeing. They had settled into a rhythm, a pattern that suited them both and lulled the injured men. Elladan had found the place in his heart where moonlight stroked the still pools and the sky filled with stars. He no longer saw men, but simply different shapes and lights, edged with raw pain, red and sore. He touched the red edges and smoothed, soothed, healed.
He knew Beren had left him for a moment, felt the absence beside him and he sank onto the stool where those patients who could usually perched. He was exhausted. Battle had leaked from his bones now. The surge of energy that met the attack, that extra power had gone. And then he had spent hours pouring healing energy into those injured and wounded men who looked at him with desperate hope, clasping his hands. And there had been the Nazgul...he had sunk himself in healing so he did not have to think on that.
He was aware of a more frantic movement from Beren, a sense of panic and rushing. He lifted his weary eyes and saw Beren bringing someone in. A flash of gold hair and the head tilted cheekily on one side.
'Is this where you have been hiding, Elrondion?' The teasing voice was strained and he noticed the lines around the Elf's eyes. His lips were thin with pain and dry, and he remembered how erotic he had found that once...it still was.
'I have told him to sit and be still.' Gimli was close behind and somehow in spite of the Dwarf's relatively short stature, he seemed to fill the space far more than Legolas ever did.
Elladan frowned, immediately sighting the bloody cloth around Legolas' arm. It looked minor but there was a pungency to it that he could not name. It pricked at his memory.
'Come, sit here.' Although he was tired beyond thought, he stood and reached for Legolas. Beren lowered the Elf with such care he must think he would break, thought Elladan. Legolas sighed and looked up, hazy with pain, thought Elladan, noting the clammy skin of his face.
Legolas' smile had lost its dazzling radiance, and the brightness of his eyes was feverish. Elladan saw only the pain beneath the thin-lipped smile.
'Look at him please,' said Gimli and his voice was tight. 'He was caught with a poisoned blade. Here.' He pulled off the thin tourniquet and Elladan peered at it, narrowing his eyes so he was seeing with more than just his eyes.
Legolas' skin had a pallor that made him seem almost ghost-white...the wound was putrid and festering. But it could easily be cleaned and purged, thought Elladan. If that was all he could start that now. Indeed, Beren had already begin to sterilse the fine steel scalpel he would use to lance and scrape the wound clean...and then he narrowed his eyes again. Looking again with more than his eyes, he let cool blue energy suffuse the air, and he forced it through his hands so his fingers tingled.
He stroked his hand lightly over Legolas' skin...
...and pulled his hand back quickly as if he were burned. Something black and threadlike seemed to skitter over his fingertips, like spiders. He slapped at his own hands quickly and stared. 'Do not touch him,' he warned, putting out his hand to hold Beren back behind himself.
'What is it?' Gimli pushed forwards, alarmed. Elladan held up a warning hand and the Dwarf stilled.
Elladan leaned closer but without touching Legolas' skin. He half-closed his eyes and looked beneath the surface, searched for the green-gold light that was Legolas...but there was instead a strange darkness. With his healing sight he could see a black cocoon suffocated the green-gold light. It was a venomous darkness, unlike anything he had encountered. No simple poison. Some sorcery was at work here.
Elladan frowned and closed his eyes. He reached out again, more tentatively to the black swathe...black threads skittered onto his own hand where he touched it and again, in horror he pulled back, sent a pulse of healing force and drove the threads off, swept them from his skin in horror. They receded back to Legolas and crouched there, as if waiting, almost conscious.
Elladan blinked slowly, letting himself drift and he felt his mouth dry, licked his lips. Beren had become used to this and quickly pushed water towards him. Elladan drank and the cold liquid brought him back to his physical self.
The Elf was leaning back on the stool against Gimli as if he thought he might fall otherwise. And Elladan almost gasped. He could see clearly now, if others could not, that Legolas' skin had become white...like veined marble. Fine drawn lines skittered beneath, tracing the pattern of veins and he knew without any doubt, this was beyond him. Remembering how the black threads had seemed to crawl up his own hand when he touched him, Elladan recoiled a little and then he caught the look in Legolas' eyes.
Elladan stared into his eyes, the long green eyes that sparkled with mischief and teased were dull now, half lidded with pain.
'How came you by this?' Legolas lifted an eyebrow wryly and Elladan noticed how he held himself, how he did not touch anyone where skin might touch skin, and turned the fabric of his tunic towards anyone if a hand strayed near him. 'I will make you comfortable,' he said, wondering if Legolas knew that was all he could do. He frowned. 'Is it only you that was wounded so?' he asked Legolas. 'I have not seen another.'
Legolas sighed. 'An Uruk. It said it had something special for me...it had been looking for me, I think...' He paused as if looking inward and thinking. 'It is dead now.'
'Why would it want you alone?' Gimli leaned over him and Legolas shrank away, putting his naked hand inside his sleeve so Gimli would not touch him and Elladan knew then he had seen the way the threads crept onto others as well. 'Why did it not simply kill you? What does it want that it had to keep you alive? At least for now? How long has it been? Hours?' The Dwarf shook his head in despair.
Legolas suddenly met Elladan's gaze. A look flickered in his eyes and Elladan frowned, remembering an image of flames licking over a naked torso, gleaming with sweat, and the darkness hid all...
'Unless it was the Nazgul wanted you,' Gimli continued unaware. 'They have much to hate you for...'
Legolas looked panicked. He tried to pull away but Elladan leaned forward, hand lifted. 'Peace.' He let his blue calm flood from him, spread it like silk upon the close air of the small space and slowly Legolas leaned back once more against the Dwarf. He kept his eyes mistrustfully on Elladan's face but slowly the fear left him. It was fear, Elladan recognised. Not anger. Fear. And he wondered why those disturbing images had struck him then; darkness, a glint of iron, a chain, a fire that cast its hungry light upon naked flesh...a hand drifting over pale skin, stroking the blood across already painted flesh. A ring upon that hand with a dark jewel flashing in the torchlight.
There was a sudden flurry and the tent flap was lifted. A Man stood in the doorway, his face etched with relief. 'My lords!' he exclaimed. 'I am glad I have found you. The King sends his greeting. He asks that you attend him when you are able'
'King?' Gimli interrupted, frowning and shuffled Legolas upright. 'Oh! You mean Aragorn. Yes, yes... of course...'
'And the Lord Peregrine? He is with you also, my Lord?' the Man asked anxiously, glancing around the tent as if he expected to find Pippin there.
A moment of panicked silence.
'He is not with Aragorn?' asked Gimli.
'No...the King had hoped he was with you, my Lords.'
Legolas pushed himself up, white faced and trembling. 'I sent Pippin to stand with you and Aragorn,' he looked at Gimli in fear.'I said that he should hide, cover himself with his cloak and not come out until either you or I or Aragorn called him... Gimli!' He turned in consternation and suddenly winced in pain. 'Gimli...' He pushed aside the Dwarf's hand. 'I have to find him. He could be hurt or...or...'
'Too frightened to come out,' Gimli said briskly. 'Yes, I understand. I will search for him but you must swear to me to stay here until you are well. Swear!' He held the Elf in his earth-brown gaze, the warmth of forge and hearth.
Legolas gazed fearfully at the Dwarf. 'Yes. Of course! If only you will find him. Take him to Aragorn if need be. Only do not leave him here...Swear it!'
Gimli looked at him oddly. 'Of course I will not.'
'No. Do not leave him here in this forsaken place alone.' His fever-bright eyes were wild and his white face shone with sweat.
Elladan saw the truth then. Legolas knew the black threads had wound about him so tightly now, that he was struggling even to stay conscious. And he was frightened. It was not only Pippin he pleaded for.
Gimli reached up with infinite gentleness and went to place his warm, square hand on Legolas' cheek, but as he tried to draw the frightened face towards him, Legolas pulled away quickly. Gimli paused, and let his hand drop to his side. 'We swore to each other, Legolas. You and I,' Gimli said sadly, and Elladan could see he was hurt that Legolas had pulled back.'I will not fail Pippin. And I will not fail you. I will not leave you here. Elladan knows what to do and will purge you of this...this thing.'
Legolas looked at him and bowed his head. 'Yes. I know. Forgive me...For a moment I...was overcome. But I am calm now.' He smiled. 'Go now. Please. Find him. I swear I will wait for you here.'
Gimli nodded and patted his arm. 'Take good care of him, please Elrodan whichever you are. I would hate to deliver bad news to his father.' The words were brusque but the fear in the Dwarf's eyes as he left was not.
'My lord,' the King's messenger touched Elladan's arm and spoke quietly. He cast a worried look at Legolas but Elladan knew none other would see how sick the Elf was. 'The King asks for you...He asks that you leave whatever you are doing and come to the Periannath. They are in a deep sleep and will not awaken.'
Elladan threw a look at Legolas and then looked away. 'I cannot just abandon those I tend here,' he whispered angrily. 'The King will not expect it! I will come when I can...' But he did not know what the poison was, and he did not know how to vanquish the black threads or stop their spread.
He instructed Beren to bring poppy-juice distilled so it drugged the Elf insensible. When Legolas' feverish eyes closed and he looked at least more peaceful, Elladan left, troubled and guilty for there was no more he could do. And in truth, he did not believe that either Aragorn or Gandalf would know more than he, but he sought them anyway. At the least, if it came to it, they might ease Legolas' way...
It was strange, this dizziness and clarity that ebbed and flowed. Sometimes everything seemed to be distant and hazed. But the Song sparkled in its intensity and he saw everything as if through coloured glass and shapes and light instead of...things. And then, this rolled back like mist and he saw Gimli and Elladan and the boy with astounding clarity and everything seemed sharp and hard and real.
They thought Legolas did not hear, but he was an Elf, and a scout in the forest, messenger and captain. Of course he heard. But then the dark threads wrapped around him again, and it became muffled, blurred, seen through coloured glass again... Slowly he was cocooned, muzzled. And he became unclear what these folk were or who or what he was himself...
Legolas caught himself staring down at his own hands where the skin was pale, thin black spider webs of veins running through his body, carrying the venom to his heart and his head. He knew it was already there for he felt his heart pounding like he had run a great distance, fought a battle, and his head was light as air, spun lightly away into the darkness in the sky. The darkness clung to the sky...how was that possible? It clung to the mountains...wrapped itself around him like a cocoon, a web...spider webs scattered over his skin. Sticky and coiling...he brushed them away but they stuck to his hand and when he looked down he thought the webs had stuck so hard they had sunk into his skin... No. That was the venom.
He wanted to speak but his tongue felt thick and dry in his mouth, stuck. His throat felt dry and stuck too.
And the dark seemed to lift and his head cleared suddenly. Through the open tent, he could see the sky was grey with rainclouds and the clean air filled him. It must be wearing off, he thought and looked at his hands again. But they were still marble, white pale and black threads...
He tuned himself to the Song. The great chords and notes had slowed, like a great river. Waves swelled and fell slowly and the sound of gulls pierced the air, wheeling on the breeze that drew the scent of salt, like a skein of blue silk on the wind, and he closed his eyes.
He dreamed that there was a rush of gold and wind. A shining light in the sky, pouring down, closer, like a star and the Song rushed up to meet him. Olórin. And huddled against him, two small figures.
In his dream, he pushed himself to his feet, mouth open, heart bursting. Frodo. Sam. The small figures shifted slightly and one moaned. Alive. They were alive! He wanted to run up the hillside to where the eagles had brought them, to where Aragorn gently lifted them down, to where Gandalf leaned over them in tender distress. He wanted to shout, and sing and pray. But all he could do was sink down onto the stony ground and weep.
He bowed his head and stared at his frayed sleeve. He realised that Elladan had gone and the venom had seized hold of him while he frittered away his time.
...but you are sick. A voice said. He nodded. 'I am,' he said.
...you are worse than sick, the voice said. You are dying.
Am I?...Yes. He knew that too. The venom skittered its way through his body and wrapped itself about his limbs, his muscles, his heart. Cocooned him. He knew of two venoms, and this was indeed spider venom. One paralysed the victim, so the spider cocooned them and stored them, for they liked to eat their prey alive. They also sprayed another venom on their victims so their innards became liquid and the spider would suck the liquid from the carcass...It was an unpleasant way to die, he thought and wondered if there were indeed Halls of Waiting before one was reborn in Aman? He thought of Avari tales he had grown up with and felt a tremor of fear...what if that were not true? What if the venom would cut his feä like the Morgul blade and he were unhoused? What if the Nazgûl were not destroyed with the Ring?
A darkness fell over him then and he looked up. A shadow loomed above him, seemed huge, reached out for him. He felt it wrap a dark power around him and he swooned.
Elrohir fought hard amongst the Men who followed him, and it felt like it always had; fighting amongst Men, hunting Orc and Uruk. But there were few left. Those not swallowed by the Void had fled into the mountains that ringed Mordor, and now all that remained to stand against them were handfuls of Haradrim. Valiant Men of the South and East, their long eyes darkened with kohl and veiled against the dust. They fought for their Dark God who was vanquished, yet still they fought. Beside him his band of Men harried and chased the survivors until they were either slain or surrendered.
Then there was mercy. Not from Elrohir. He could not give it...he wanted to kill them all...It was Baelderon who rode with him and restrained him. The Men knew his will though he could barely speak. The company had driven the enemy hard across the plains, hunting survivors, killing any Orcs, capturing Men who surrendered. Only one troop had escaped. One captain, one commander had led his Men swiftly over the Mountains to the far South and he alone, Elrohir did not challenge or pursue*.
Now he was alone as twilight and then darkness crept over the abandoned land. It was empty. Sauron had gone. The Ring had gone. He felt a hollow emptiness where the Power had been...Something else nagged him quietly. It felt like something was fading that he had grown used to, been hardly aware of. He closed his eyes and turned inwards. He felt Elladan nearby, his cool blue like moonlight faded now and drawn, at the edge of exhaustion. Elrohir opened his eyes, seeing the growing darkness was just that, night.
He found himself needing warmth, needing the beat of blood, the pulse of a heart, warmth of another's breath on his cold skin...for there was only this quiet absence. He felt colder than he had ever been, like the Helcaraxë must have been, those great creaking glaciers cracking and shifting with the cold, grey sea beneath.
He rose, his cloak folding about him. His hand rested on dark Aícanaro. The sword slept now, sated with blood, gorged and full. There was within him still, that darkness, but it was different now...and he knew what he needed to slake it. He needed light to banish it, needed to feel life, to smell the clean air and frost coming down from the Mountains. The shadows were slowly eased back, crouching now at the edges of his crimson light. Slowly he opened his eyes and blinked as though he had been asleep for a long time... He felt the last flicker of darkness at the edges fade and withdraw. They were gone. Gone. He breathed in and the air was cold.
He needed warmth. He needed colour. Green-gold threads winding amongst his own black and silver and crimson. Legolas. He strode between the rocks and boulders that had been thrown by the trembling, shuddering earth and made his way towards the campfires that dotted the night. Even with Sauron gone, it was a haunted land and Men huddled close to each other, gathered around the fires, standing rather than sleeping.
He knew where Elladan was. He could almost see the drift of colour on the night, like blue silk. He followed it to a tent and the glow from within showed him figures bunched over a bed. Aragorn was there also. Elrohir breathed the cold night air as he nodded to the guards who stood aside to admit him.
Within, the air was sweet with athelas and camomile, and the simple tent was flooded with a rich light, like pure starlight. It lit the face of his beloved, gentle brother, and the two small figures lying as if dead, their faces thinner and more pinched than any Hobbits should be. A grey-ish pallor to their skin showed their famished state and their breathing was shallow and strained. This, he thought, was Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. He had only glimpsed them in Imladris but he knew them both. They were so changed.
The light came from a small vial and he knew this was Galadriel's gift. It lay on the pillows between the Hobbits and cast its diamond-brightness onto the faces of those gathered. Beside them was Gandalf, head bowed and he held Frodo's hand lightly. In the light of the Silmaril, Eärendil's star, Elrohir saw Olórin within, thinly hidden beneath the old man's skin. Aragorn too sat with them, with Sam and his face was still, noble, like the old Kings of the Argonnath. He glanced up at Elrohir briefly and there was such loss in his grey eyes that Elrohir felt like he was an intruder on the sanctuary, and stepped outside again.
It seemed then that the heavy clouds rolled back. The stars were hard and bright in a velvet darkness. He looked up and sent a prayer into the night. And if the Hobbits were not brought back by Eärendil's light, his grandson was. Elrohir breathed out and the last vestiges of shadow went with the frost of his breath. It curled in the cold night air and dissipated. The scent of athelas had soothed him and he turned to search for one he loved, to fulfill his promise to Legolas.
The memory caressed him. He let his head fall back slightly so he looked open-eyed into the night sky, felt a burgeoning of desire; he had cupped the back of Legolas' head and brought him close, stared for a moment into those wide green-gold eyes and pulled Legolas towards him, pressing his own mouth against Legolas', pushing between his lips as the Elf gasped and filling his mouth with Elrohir's own tongue. Wishing there was nothing between them. It was fierce, brief, passionate. He had heard eagles soar above the snow. This, this is what love is, he had thought. Pure. The Song amplified.
'I will find you,' he had said, pulling back and gazing into the green-gold eyes that were full of wonder. 'When this is done, I will find you.' He had pushed a loose hair back from Legolas' beautiful, flushed face.
...And now he would find him as he had promised. He shrugged the sable cloak back over his shoulder and hitched his sword-belt over his lean hips. He looked back up the hillside and wondered where to find Legolas, unwilling to open himself up even on the edge of these dark and shadowed lands, even with the Enemy vanquished. It was still too soon.
'My Lord,' a boy ran panting up to him, his face anxious. 'You must come! He has worsened and I do not know what to do!'
Elrohir frowned, but the boy had already run ahead and ducked into one of the tents. He followed quickly. He was used to being mistaken for Elladan and this was the Healing quarter. Someone needed him.
'Quickly my lord!' the boy shouted from within and Elrohir shoved aside the tent flap and followed the boy inside. Within he found Legolas.
No warm light of Eärendil suffused this tented ward, nor watchful hush. A dying lamp cast a cold half-light over Legolas. His chest heaved and his breath was loud, rasping and his open eyes stared glassily upwards. Pale gold strands of hair clung damply to his skin, and Elrohir saw with horror that the gold and emerald swirls and abstracts painted on his skin were withered, faded and threaded with black veins. Even as he stared in horror, Legolas gave a last heave of his lungs, arched upwards, mouth open in a horrible parody of ecstasy, and the breath left him slowly...He did not breath again.
Elrohir leaped to his side and pushed his fingers against Legolas' throat; he felt the struggle and quiver of one last pulse and then nothing. In panic, he raised his fist, brought it down hard on the motionless sternum**. Crying aloud, the boy pulled at him but Elrohir shoved him aside, sent him crashing to the ground where he sprawled, wailing and shouting for help.
Elrohir ignored everything and thumped Legolas again. Hard. And then once more. He dropped his mouth over Legolas', pinching his nose and pulling him upwards, he forced breath into those starving, suffocated lungs. Breathed for him, sent a fire of energy storming into the lifeless body. Commanded him.
I will not let you go! he thought and chased the fleeing life down, dragged it to a stop...and then saw the cocoon of black writhing web that suffocated him, crawled over his green-gold light and drowned him in darkness.
'Get yourself up!' he shouted at the weeping boy. 'Go into the Periannath's tent. Tell the King, I musthave the light of Eärendil!'
The boy scrambled to his feet and tried to scuffle away for Elrohir knew he looked a madman. Reaching over, he grabbed the boy, pulled him tightly to his chest. He thrust his face close to the boy, glared into his terrified eyes and snarled, 'If you do not do this, trust me. I will find you! And then I will eat your heart! Go! Fetch me what I need.' He shoved the boy through the tent flap and threw himself towards Legolas, he tore at his vambraces, cast them to the floor, pulled at his harness and breastplate until he was free of them and stood only in his thin linen shirt and breeches.
Breathed... breathed...hands on his chest...breathed and more desperately this time for there was no pulse. He sent his crimson fire down into the cocoon driving the black threads skittering onto his own hands, his face, he felt them crawling into him and he did not care. Come then, he said and opened himself, pulled the linen shirt over his head and bundled it up, threw it from him and tenderly, lovingly, covered Legolas with his nakedness. There was almost a hiss from the dark web beneath Legolas' skin.
There was noise and a rush of feet, shouting outside. He lifted his head. 'Let him pass!' he bellowed. 'Aragorn!'
He felt the sudden weight of a black web draw itself over him, heave itself from the green-gold light and wrestle with his own fire. You will not have him. Have me instead.
There was a tremble beneath his fingers. A gasp at his ear, where he breathed and breathed and suddenly a cough. Quickly he turned Legolas on his side and the Elf retched violently. Black liquid poured from his mouth, his nose and Elrohir watched the thread skitter over his own hands, felt them tighten round his throat.
Come. He spread his hands over the Elf's pale, cold chest, over his face, stroked him, stroked his pale gold hair, his cheekbones, his straight nose and dark brows, let his hands run lovingly over the throat and chest and he brushed the swirling, withered dragon back to colour and life. The black threads fell away from the Woodelf and crawled like insects onto Elrohir's hands, his arms, so they were blackened and bound. The black threads sank into his skin, his flesh. He felt the burning of it clamber over his chest and allowed it. Legolas lay marble white and cold, but he breathed now. The swirls and painted skin threaded more lightly now with black veins...
Come, he invited and he pressed his skin against Legolas and felt the desire flare like wildfire. Come, he seduced the black web, called to it, cooled himself. I will give you myself if you leave him. Elrohir felt the nipples pebble beneath his hands and he wanted to lick and suck them to hardness, to let his tongue trail down the hard belly and he felt desire like a furnace in his loins. He was hard and needy.
Legolas lay half-naked and Elrohir covered him, pressed against him and kissed him, breathed into him all his warmth and fire so he was close, close enough for the dark web to skitter into him and wrap itself about his heart.
There was a commotion at the entrance to the tent but he paid it no heed. He knew he was suddenly thrown with elven strength to the ground, away from Legolas and that Elladan stood over him, furious, a blue tempest swirling around him. He knew there were words but he could not distinguish them- he was slowly wrapped in black threads that skittered and wove about him...the web cocooned him...and he felt himself falling, his heart enveloped and his lungs furred with the black web
Nearly at the end now folks.
** only trained medical professionals should ever attempt this. Elrohir knows exactly what he is doing.
Spiced Wine's spin-off story is about Elrohir and Sauron's nasty plans. This is a reference to that story. The phrase Dark God is also hers. A wonderful writer.
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.