44. Chapter 44: Distant Shores
Beta: The wonderful Anarithilen. More a co-writer than beta.
Thank you Aiwendiel, Azalais, AndreaH, curious, elftart, Erulisse, for your lovely encouraging comments. This is almost the last one...
(Good soundtrack if you want one, is Vangelis The Last of the Mohicans...especially The Kiss, Top of the World etc.)
Chapter 43: Distant Shores
Stifling a yawn, the King Returned clenched his fists to keep himself alert and awake. He had done all he could for the moment and now resigned himself to watch.
The light of Eärendil shone an otherworldly light upon Gandalf where he knelt, leaning towards Frodo and cradling the Hobbit's injured hand gently between his. Aragorn bowed his head, intensely moved by this scene of tenderness.
Peace settled upon him and he closed his eyes. He remembered how he had found the exquisite glass vial, like a thin globe of starlight, tucked away in Sam's jacket. He had pulled it out, astonished that the thin glass had not somehow broken during their long journey. Instead the starlight seemed to kindle and shine upon the famished Hobbits.
His head sank against his chest....
....He started. Had he fallen asleep? Surely he could stay watch with Gandalf over Sam and Frodo? He felt a traitor, abandoning them merely to sleep when the suffering was plain on their drawn and pinched faces. Bilbo had had a similar look when he arrived for his final rest in Imladris; Aragorn recalled Bilbo saying he felt...what was it he had said? Stretched? Yes, stretched. Looking now at Frodo, he thought how apt the word.
'It is done. Now he comes back to us.'
The words were spoken so quietly that Aragorn thought that first he had fallen asleep again and dreamed it. But the Wizard shifted slightly and beneath the deep sorrow and weariness that lay upon him, it seemed the veil between the worlds thinned and Aragorn glimpsed the Wizard as he was on the Other Side.
'Sam...' It was a whisper but it was a beloved voice and Aragorn looked round to see that Frodo's head had turned slightly towards Sam, his brown eyes half open and gazing at the little gardener.
'Frodo!' Aragorn could hardly believe the Hobbit was awake but Frodo blinked slowly, sleepily, and a small smile lit his face as he caught sight of his dear friends. He closed his eyes once more and settled deeper into sleep.
Aragorn smiled in return, feeling a swell of pride then, and unutterable joy. All his fatigue and weariness suddenly washed away and he felt like Arda had lifted her head and stretched in the Spring light; Sauron was gone. Truly. His spirit had been plunged into the Void amongst the other howling evils that had been sucked into the crevices that had opened up in the earth. Two small Hobbits had accomplished this. Not great heroes amongst Men or Elves. Just two Hobbits. Suddenly he felt the immensity of the deed, and that for himself, his heart's desire was suddenly so close he could scarce believe it. Arwen. His Evenstar. His hand crept to caress the gem that nestled against his throat and he thought of her warmth against him, her softness that was so different from his own hard, lean body. And he suddenly wanted her, wanted her in his arms, pressing his mouth against hers, pulling her body against him...
He shook himself: this would do no good. He needed to distract himself. Fresh air. That was what he needed. Rising stiffly to his feet, he clutched at the tent pole for support for his limbs were stiff now after fighting for hours and hours, and then crouched uncomfortably in this tent trying to pour his healing into the Hobbits. Gandalf glanced Aragorn's way briefly, but merely frowned slightly and leaned forwards closer to Frodo once more, as if listening to something.
Suddenly there was the sound of voices outside. Gimli's voice raised and angry and then a lower voice answering. Aragorn rolled his shoulders stiffly and held out his hand to Gandalf, whose frown deepened irritably, indicating he would see what the commotion was about. Aragorn pulled aside the tent flap, hoping to find that Gimli had found Pippin and that Legolas would be with him. He almost ran into Gimli. Elladan was close on his heels and the two were arguing loudly.
'I did not think you would simply abandon him!' the Dwarf was exclaiming and he was struggling into the tent with something heavy in his arms. Aragorn's heart leapt into his mouth and at first he thought it must be Legolas. But it was too small...and then he saw the mop of unruly curls and the pale, wan face. A bruise was on Pippin's cheek and blood streaked down his face. He could not stop a cry when he saw Pippin so still and pale.
'I have not abandoned him,' Elladan cried hotly, following Gimli into the tent. 'I seek a cure, for what ails him is beyond me.'
'Mind yourselves!' Gandalf rapped out crossly and glared at them. He jerked his head towards Frodo and Sam meaningfully and Gimli instantly softened. Elladan looked ashamed. 'Pass that Hobbit to Aragorn before you drop him,' the Wizard barked.
Aragorn reached out and took Pippin from Gimli. Anxiously he stroked the hair back from Pippin's pale face and tutted. There was a nasty cut on his forehead and some bruising. He shot a quick look at Elladan, wondering what his brother and Gimli had been arguing about; Pippin's wound looked awful but was not deep. Had Elladan left Pippin alone earlier? Was that why Gimli accused him of abandoning him? It was unlike Elladan to leave a patient who needed care. He would only do that in the direst need. Aragorn quickly laid Pippin down and leaned over him. Elladan had also spoken of finding a cure, he thought as he lifted Pippin's eyelids quickly and peered into his eyes. Perhaps there was more to this wound than first appeared, he thought.
'I found him crushed beneath a troll,' Gimli murmured and he too bent over the Hobbit with a solicitous, anxious air.
Aragorn lifted the edge of the mail shirt the Hobbit wore and felt beneath it. 'How badly is he hurt?' he asked Elladan.
Elladan looked surprised. 'Not very. It is just that contusion I believe.'
Aragorn frowned and looked down at Pippin. 'What are you two arguing about if it's not Pippin?'
'Not what, who!' growled the Dwarf emphatically, and then without answering the question, he turned back to Elladan and said accusingly, 'And what cure do you seek? If what ails him is beyond you, you should not have left him!'
'That is why I have left him, so I can seek better counsel!' Elladan answered back hotly.
Aragorn frowned. Whoever or whatever they were arguing about, right now it was Pippin who lay unconscious before him and that was who demanded his attention. He glanced up expecting to see Legolas' shadow at the entrance, but he was not there. A nagging feeling tugged at him lightly but he bent his head to focus on Pippin and pulled a lamp closer to see the wound on Pippin's head. It was crusted and bloody. 'Hand me that swab please, Gimli.'
The Dwarf looked about him for a moment and then alighted upon a roll of bandages and swabs. 'I trust you have not left him completely alone. Is that brother of yours with him?' Gimli demanded angrily as he thrust the swabs at Aragorn, and stood ready with rolls of bandages should the Man need those too.
Aragorn half-listened, dipping the cloth in the water and wiping away the dried blood and dirt from Pippin's head. He stilled himself and let his focus sink down, through his fingers, gently probing, sensing the damage beneath the skin; he found a slight softness of tissue around one ear but nothing serious. He sighed in relief and straightened up. 'As you said, Elladan, there is a small wound, hardly worth dressing. It looks much worse than it is. He will awaken soon.'
But Gimli and Elladan were hardly listening, so intent on their own argument were they. 'What do you mean? He is in no danger from Elrohir if that is what you dare to imply!' Elladan glared at Gimli.
Aragorn glanced up at each of them assessing Gimli's outrage, Elladan's concern. He frowned, seeing Gandalf's mounting irritation as their voices inevitably rose and they were no longer whispering. He looked about again for Legolas, for he would calm Gimli and take him off somewhere.
Pippin groaned quietly. 'Pass me the small pot with violet ointment.' Aragorn took the pot from Elladan and took a generous fingerful and smeared it liberally over the cut on the Hobbit's forehead.
'You have left him alone and in pain and distress whilst you wander about camp doing I don't know what!' Gimli hissed at Elladan but he held out a roll of linen to Aragorn. He switched his ire towards Aragorn. 'He was caught by an Uruk whilst watching your back,' Gimli said suddenly, accusing Aragorn. Aragorn stared, realising now that the reason Legolas was not there was because it was about Legolas they argued.
'Legolas is injured?' he asked anxiously.
Gimli stared at him furiously. 'You didn't even check on him? After he took a blow meant for you?'
Aragorn winced at the contempt in Gimli's voice. 'Where is he now?' he asked instead of answering. He should have checked, he berated himself inwardly. He should have seen what happened. Quickly he tied the linen bandage about Pippin's head, thinking that it would at least keep the wound clean, for Pippin did not need it otherwise. 'I will go to him now.'
Gimli shook his head slowly and looked away, refusing to meet Aragorn's anxious eyes.
'I left him with my orderly,' Elladan told Aragorn and flung out a hand, gesturing towards the tent entrance. Then he turned in desperation to Gandalf. 'But I only left him to beg you, Gandalf, to come to him!' Gandalf lifted his head then and looked at Elladan shrewdly. 'I can see that Aragorn has no need of me here,' Elladan said gesturing to Frodo and Sam. 'I can see they need but rest and their spirits to be guarded.' He crouched down next to Gandalf then and looked up at the Wizard. 'Please spare some time from them, Gandalf! Legolas has great need of you!'
'Tell me what you fear, Elrondion.' The Wizard spoke now and suddenly the tension thickened.
'He has been poisoned.'
'Poisoned? Surely you know how to deal with poison?' Gandalf asked but in his voice there was sudden attention and concern. He lifted his chin then and Aragorn was reminded of a hound scenting the air, as if he knew somehow that Sauron's hand reached for them even now.
'This poison is like nothing I have seen before.' Elladan looked earnestly from one to the other now. 'There are black threads beneath his skin...'
'Threads? I never saw any threads,' Gimli muttered darkly.
'You would not have seen them,' Elladan told him quietly, urgently. 'It is some spider venom that entered through the wound on his arm but it has been changed somehow. Ensorcelled.' He rose to his feet then and took a step restlessly towards the tent entrance. 'Gandalf, I need you to come with me. Please. I tried to heal him...but when I touched him...' He shuddered. 'The threads crawled onto me.'
Gandalf too had risen to his feet as Elladan spoke, and his blue eyes narrowed as if he sought to pierce the canvas and see into the wide night. 'Sauron is still at work I see,' he muttered as if cursing. 'Even though he has gone into the Void and beyond the bounds of Arda, he toys with us still.'
He reached down towards Frodo briefly and Aragorn thought first he stroked Frodo's brow but the light dimmed suddenly and he realised that Gandalf had covered the phial and was lifting it from Frodo's pillow. The Wizard whispered something as he touched the Hobbit's cheek and Frodo shifted slightly, seeming to sink deeper into sleep. But it was a good sleep for his cheeks were slightly flushed and a smile was upon his lips.
Gandalf straightened and looked again out into the night. 'Fool of an Elf!' he said to no one in particular. 'Come Aragorn,' he commanded. Elladan had already thrust the tent flap open and pushed his way outside.
The scents of the camp outside drifted through the open tent flap as Gandalf followed Elladan; horses, campfires and the freshness of the air felt renewing after being inside for so long. Aragorn had long ago learned to trust Gandalf so he started towards the tent entrance when he realised that Gimli followed. He turned and met the earth brown eyes that were full of fear. He put his hand on the Dwarf's shoulder and held him gently.
'Gimli, I need you to stay here, with Frodo and Sam and Pippin.'
'No, I am coming with you. I need to make sure that tree-hugger knows what trouble he has caused me.' Gimli looked up then and despite his stern words, his eyes were full of love and fear.
Aragorn paused and then he looked Gimli firmly in the eye and said slowly, 'Someone has to be with the Hobbits when they awake. Would you have me stay instead of attending Legolas?' Aragorn reached out and clasped the Dwarf's shoulder. 'You know he will be well tended.'
'Then you would have Frodo or Sam awake to a stranger? You looked for Pippin a long time. You would relinquish his care now to someone who knows him not?'
'No...' Aragorn watched as Gimli bowed his head in defeat, for it was a defeat. He could see the Dwarf's steady, faithful heart falter and gradually accept it had to be so.
Aragorn looked down and said quietly for none but Gimli's ears, 'You think I have wronged Legolas by bringing him to the shores of the Anduin. By not checking if he had been hurt when he took a blow meant for me perhaps?' Gimli did not look up, for he knew it was true. 'Then let me make amends at least and heal him. And you would be doing me a great service in turn, for I trust no one but you to guard Frodo.'
'And I trust no one but you to heal Legolas,' Gimli said quietly then. 'But you will not let him go?'
'No Gimli. I will not let him go.'
'I swore not to leave him here. Not in Mordor.'
'And we will not.' Aragorn squeezed the strong shoulder, felt the hard muscle beneath the Dwarf's leather tunic. His strong heart pulsed and Aragorn met his earth-brown gaze steadily. 'Let me help him. I will bring him back.'
Gimli nodded then and Aragorn followed Gandalf out into the night.
It was dark outside, and cold. The rain was nothing more now than a thin drizzle that misted his face, his hair. He welcomed it, feeling briefly refreshed.
Raised voices nearby made him look round and he saw two Tower Guards with a smaller figure, a boy. The boy was angry, protesting loudly and one of the guards took his arm to propel him away
Aragorn ignored the scuffle, turned to follow the glimmer of white robes in the darkness where Gandalf strode ahead between the tents. He could not see Elladan.
'Your majesty?' The guards glanced at one another anxiously, nervously. 'This boy says he has been sent to find you...' one began, nodding towards the pale flaxen-haired lad who stared up at him defiantly.
Aragorn silenced the guards with a look. 'I have not the time now,' he said, keeping one eye on Gandalf.
At that moment, a cry came from one of the healing tents nearby. A bellow of fury and a strange resonance hit Aragorn, more than a simple voiced cry but a call to him. He heard it in his soul. 'Aragorn! Let him pass!'
Aragorn gave the boy one look, and realising, pulled him forward. 'Show me!'
Gandalf too had heard the cry, and glancing back to see if Aragorn followed, ducked into a tent. Aragorn ran after him. The boy was quicker and ran ahead, dodging beneath the flap that was secured open by some red string.
Within were two voices raised in anger, speaking Sindarin. Aragorn heard them as he shoved aside the tent flap and dipped his head, entering.
'What in Eru's name have you done!' Elladan's voice cried.
A murmured response that he could not discern was Elrohir's deep, rich voice.
Gandalf stood in the way and at first, Aragorn could not see. There was a fragrance of herbs overlying the putrefaction beneath, and the copper smell of blood.
Then Gandalf moved forwards and Aragorn saw Elladan bending over Elrohir who knelt beside a narrow bed, one arm slung uncomfortably over the bed as if he protected the sleeper beneath his arm. Elrohir's face was turned away as if he wished to hide.
'Can I not leave you for a moment?' Elladan tenderly swept Elrohir's long black hair away from his face, but Elrohir shrugged him away and the light from an oil lamp gleamed on his naked torso. He seemed lessened somehow. Bundled up in a corner was his linen shirt and his rich sable cloak.
Aragorn stared, uncomprehending and then he glanced down at the narrow bed where Elrohir had been leaning. A fall of golden hair swirled confusingly and Aragorn started, for it was Legolas lying there, skin unnaturally white and his veins seeming raw and angry, swollen. Gandalf moved to kneel next to him, leaning on his staff and looking intently at the Elf.
'Fool of an Elf!' Gandalf repeated his earlier curse, exasperated. And reaching out, the Wizard touched Legolas lightly on the forehead.
'Mithrandir, do not touch him!' Elladan pulled the Wizard's arm back but Gandalf shook him off irritably and turned his piercing blue eyes upon Legolas.
'Look!' Elladan insisted and dragged at Gandalf's arm forcing him to look. The Wizard narrowed his eyes slightly and then took a startled breath and leaned back. 'See!' Elladan cried brokenly.
'Elladan, what is going on?' Aragorn touched his brother lightly and Elladan turned to him.
'Aragorn...See to Legolas, I cannot leave Elrohir.' He scooped up Elrohir's cloak and swept it around his brother's naked shoulders.
Aragorn felt the world close around those two as it so often did. Outside, the rain pattered gently on the canvas again and on the parched earth of Mordor, and the soft hubbub of the camp edged slowly back.
Aragorn ran his hands over his head and watched for a moment, confused. Then he took the three steps that brought him to Legolas' side, and leaned over the unconscious Elf. Only then did it register with Aragorn the Elf's state. A bloody bandage on his arm was stained black and the veins were red-raw and swollen around the wound. He started reaching out to touch his skin, test his temperature but stopped himself. 'What do you wish me to do?'
'I do not know! I have done everything I can and now...I do not know what I can do! I dare not even touch them.' Elladan hid his eyes with one hand then and Aragorn realised then that he was at breaking point. He held his tongue and instead he fell back upon old learned practice from Elrond. Even now, he could almost hear the compassionate voice, the teacher, his mentor, his father. 'Never stand idly by. What can you do to assist?'
He glanced about and saw that there were the familiar blown-glass flagons of crimson uilios and the amber sere-vanda. He thought he could smell their fragrance on the air when he had entered the tent.
Aragorn was aware that Gandalf was leaning forwards again and peering down at the Elf. 'Yes, I see it,' he said.
Aragorn half closed his eyes as he had been taught and looked where Gandalf looked, searched his friend's face and torso for the signs of sickness. Legolas was very still. And his skin was white. Whiter than usual. There were shadows beneath his eyes, a purplish tinge to them. With a thin wooden spatula he lifted the bloody and black stained bandage over his arm. The wound had been scraped clean and dressed with a poultice. He sniffed. Charcoal and naithlhoth*. Either Elladan or Elrohir had dressed it then, he decided.
'I see the wound,' he said, 'but...' He stared. A thread of black, like ink beneath the skin, slid sinuously...like a worm.
'Now you see it,' Elladan said wearily. 'If you touch him, it will slide onto you. My stupid brother is probably now infected.' He lifted Elrohir's hair out from beneath his cloak and eased him back without touching skin to skin, so he was kneeling upright now and leaning back against Elladan.
Aragorn looked back at Legolas. A thin sheet covered him and he wore his breeches still as did Elrohir but that was all. Aragorn hesitated, for he was horrified by the sight of a thin black thread writhing beneath Legolas' skin.
'There is only one now,' Elladan looked over from where he held Elrohir against him. 'They were everywhere before. In his veins. That is why they look so swollen and red. Now there is only one...' Tenderly, Elladan pulled his brother's shivering form closer against himself though the thick cloak was between them. 'Fool,' he murmured tenderly. 'You fool. And now what will I do?'
Elrohir's head dipped and his breathing was harsh and rasping. 'What else could I do?' Elrohir's voice was barely a whisper and his breathing was loud. 'You know not to touch me, Elladan. If you do, it will infect you. It is quick. Already it is around my lungs, I can feel its black threads tighten...' He gasped and his hands flew to his throat.
Aragorn moved towards Elrohir, his heart stricken but Elladan pressed his hand against Aragorn, holding him back. 'Stay back. I told you. I do not know how it will affect a Man.'
'Help me...up!' Elrohir grabbed at the poles that kept the tent aloft and dragged himself to half sit. Aragorn reached out instinctively but Elrohir drew back and the sable cloak slipped from his shoulders. Aragorn stared for he saw the black threads writhe and snake over Elrohir's white skin. Like Legolas, his veins were swollen and red. Elrohir swayed and passed his hand over his clammy skin, the sweat on his forehead gleaming.
Elladan pulled the cloak gently back over Elrohir's shoulders, and wrapped Elrohir lovingly within it. 'Forgive me for not being here. Again.' Aragorn saw there were tears on his face.
Elrohir shook his head violently and tried to shove himself free from Elladan's close embrace. 'Do not touch me, Elladan. The only thing that will succour me...You, and he...must survive. If I do not...but I think I can ...fight...' He retched. Horribly. Clutching his belly, he leaned over, and retched again. A thin trickle of black liquid streamed from the corner of his mouth and he blinked slowly...when he looked up again at Elladan his eyes were filled with blackness and he blinked again and this time, he reached out himself, groping towards the light that shone low from the oil lamp.
'I cannot see.'
Aragorn gasped and moved forwards instinctively but he was pushed back by Gandalf, who slowly opened his hand. A brilliance crept out from the edges of Gandalf's robes and Elrohir turned his face towards it for it was the light of Eärendil. Its diamond light fractured and splintered into something unearthly, strange, and Aragorn thought it like starlight but somehow greater, somehow more beautiful, more ancient, more impossible. He felt tears prick his eyes and overwhelming nostalgia swept over him, flooding him with a longing for when he was young and had just fallen in love with Arwen, before he really understood how impossible was their love. And he was cradled in the bosom of his foster family.
Elrohir reached out blindly and Elladan wrapped him in the sable cloak, pulled him close.
'Aragorn,' Gandalf said slowly as if coming out of a dream. 'You will assist me with Legolas. He is lost and you must call him back as you did Faramir while I extract that poison from him. Quickly now.' He turned then to Elladan and his eyes were grave. 'For you and I need attend to your brother.'
Aragorn hesitated for a moment, for Legolas was still and quiet and Elrohir's breath was rasping and hard fought. Should they not fight for Elrohir first? But Gandalf gently nudged Aragorn towards the sleeping Wood-Elf.
'Legolas needs you,' the Wizard repeated. 'You can do nothing for Elrohir but you can bring Legolas back. He wanders dark paths.'
Aragorn hesitated, but long ago he had learned to trust Gandalf. His gaze lingered on Elrohir, huddled in on himself as if in pain, head bowed as if weighed down by some great horror. Slowly Aragorn dragged his attention back to Legolas. The Woodelf lay still and quiet, skin whiter than Aragorn had ever seen him, and those veins swollen and red were reason enough for concern. In the low lamplight, that thin black thread slid and vanished beneath his skin. Aragorn felt the hairs on his neck rise.
'It is one only and with your help, he can fight that,' Gandalf said quietly as if he heard Aragorn's thoughts. 'Draw it to you so that he can be separated from it. It will not come to me.'
Aragorn steeled himself for he could not bear the thought of Legolas and his merry heart overwhelmed by such horror. He gently pulled the thin blanket over the Elf's chest and lay his hand over it, not on the skin for he knew Elladan's fear. Narrowing his eyes, he looked more deeply, felt deeply...searched for Legolas himself, for the sense of him, for the spirited, mercurial Elf who had fought alongside him and followed him even at the cost of his own heart. But he found his way blocked by a brooding darkness and he thought it like the Black Breath for it had the tinge of malice he associated with the Nazgûl.
Tenderly, with all that love in his breast, Aragorn leaned over Legolas and let himself sink, let his healing and love reach from his heart and flood through him, into his hands and then he laid them upon Legolas' brow. The black thread skittered beneath the skin and wormed its way towards him. He felt sudden disgust and instinctively began to draw his hands back when a hand reached from beside him and Gandalf smoothed the skin above the thread. A flash of white fire and the thread dissolved, incinerated and Legolas took a deep breath and seemed to settle more deeply.
'Good! And now it is gone from him. Call him back. He wanders and is lost. He swore to follow you,' Gandalf said softly and then turned his full attention to the other lost soul.
Aragorn lay his hands now on Legolas' brow and let his healing flood him, pour through his hands and his consciousness followed...He sank into that place within himself where the veil between the worlds thinned and dissolved and he could pass beyond the veil and seek his friend.
So he called and Legolas turned and followed him back out into the starlight, the wide skies and the earthy smell after rain...
Much later, he felt cool water bathe his face and a blue energy wrapped about him. Cool blue light fell upon him and a peace settled. He was exhausted and let himself be half carried back to his own tent where Frodo rested.
He remembered murmuring and Elladan saying, 'Legolas is safe. You called him back and he awoke just a moment ago. You need to rest. Gandalf is with them.' He did not hear Elladan's reply to his second question about Elrohir...but he heard the muffled sob and his heart sank.
When he awoke, Legolas felt his wounded arm was flaming and pinched with iron tongs. Someone was forcing liquid between his parched lips. He panicked for surely the iron chain was what bit into his arm, and the dark figure above him would soon raise its hand and the lash would tear his flesh from bone. Surely he was being flayed. Was that a knife that cut the silk membrane between his flesh and skin? There was firelight and it flickered over him, snuffling, growling from somewhere over his shoulder. He squinted up at the dark figure above him and moved his head in protest at the pain.
Grey eyes pinned him. A hand pressed against his hot, clammy skin. It hurt.
He tossed his head from side to side. His neck felt stiff and his eyes were swollen and puffy. His arm burned and he cried out.
Then there was a familiar presence that smelt of a smoky herb he had become used to; it reminded him of friendship and stories, and a need for stealth. A voice called to him, gently, and this time, he knew the voice had come to find him to call him back and he turned unresisting, for had he not sworn to follow this Man even unto death.
White power soaked into his burning skin.... He opened his lips in a sigh. It was not the Nazgûl. He remembered. And an unearthly light shone from somewhere nearby, something ancient and wonderful. He felt the Song tremble in its loveliness and for a moment, he was overwhelmed by it, drenched by its purity, by the yearning for the light, for the soul that had created it, the brilliance. He basked in the light and listened to the Songs that wound about him. For a while there was a cool blue song of moonlit pools and petals drifting and then it faded away, and there was a familiar song that was of movement and purpose and the earth after rain. That was deep in him, and he turned towards it, welcomed it and followed when he was beckoned...And throughout all that time, there was a blaze of white power that was all restless brilliance and impatience but was gentle in turning him back. But the song he listened for the most, of snow-covered mountains and the cry of eagles high above, the song his heart yearned for was not there, though he strained to find it, searched for it...and finally he awoke bereft...but he could not remember for whom he searched, or what, just that the absence left him aching with grief.
A warm presence nearby drew him awake and he blinked.
Gandalf sat on a low stool nearby, with his back to Legolas. He was hunched over, leaning forwards and a light shone from somewhere before him, bathing him in its unearthly glow, softening the contours and angles of his face, casting a silvery sheen on his skin and hair like starlight. Legolas felt overwhelmed for a moment and to him, it was again Olórin he saw; Legolas felt his Song keenly, already ancient under the starlit sky when the Elves first awoke. Slowly, understanding unfolded of the resonance that Gandalf caused in him.
He lay for a moment, letting the deep, slow pulse of Olórin's Song beat with his own heart. An absence nagged, tugged at him though and he struggled to waken fully. A bead of sweat rolled down his lip. He frowned and blinked slowly, painfully for his eyelids felt swollen , his head pounded, and he felt dizzy. And then he saw a fall of black silk next to him. Elrohir. The diamond-light flooded his face but he looked so still and pale.
A memory surfaced and he grasped at it before it sank and drowned again; he had been sunk in fever, burning alive like he had been when the Eye had opened upon him. A black web had burned within him, had roared through his veins like wildfire, suffocating him. It had crawled over him like a rapist, writhed about his limbs and thrust its way into him, his lungs, veins, heart. And then Elrohir had come, like an eagle plummeting to his rescue. Elrohir had breathed life back into him, wrenched him from the web's choking grasp, and wrapped it about himself like his rich sable cloak.
...He felt a Voice calling him from across the mountains, clean snow glinting in moonlight and the stars hard and bright in the dark skies above him. He felt he stood on the mountains and looked up at the star-scattered vastness, Vingilot crested the midnight sky and he craned his neck to watch. The dark peaks silhouetted by the untouched snow and the Voice was fading, calling to him from across the empty Mountains and slowly, it vanished from his hearing, and he thought he saw a wall of silver-blue glass ahead, like a glacier.
And then, suddenly Legolas felt cold. As if a warmth had cooled that had been in his life forever, one that he had never recognised as distinct and separate from him because it was so much a part of him. He gasped and clutched his chest for his heart felt as if it were struck.
'No! You will not leave me!'
His eyes opened wide and he pushed himself upright. His head spun and he grabbed the bed to steady himself. Lifting his hand to his head, he stilled himself for a moment and then threw off the sheet, swinging his feet around so that he sat on the edge of the narrow bed. He meant to rise, but suddenly his head swam and he felt nausea flood through him. Bile stung his throat and he lifted his hand to his lips.
Gandalf turned and with surprising strength, he pressed a hand against Legolas firmly keeping him on the bed, though allowing him to sit upright. 'Where do you think you are going, Thranduillion?' he demanded irritably and suddenly Olórin was gone and there was the Wizard that Thranduil complained of and always obliged.
He had not the strength to resist but he saw that Elrohir lay on the next bed and it was he whom Gandalf leaned over and tended. Elohir's eyes were shut and his skin gleamed with sweat. Legolas traced the pattern of veins, so dark red they were almost black and then he saw the threads slide and writhe beneath the pale skin.
'Elrohir!' he cried. 'He took it! He took the darkness from me. He sacrificed himself!'
A look of intense compassion flickered through Gandalf's eyes. 'Yes. He took it from you. You were dying.'
'And now? Is he dying instead of me?'
Gandalf looked back at Elrohir and sighed. 'Maybe. He is strong...but I think he may wish this.'
'He wishes it? He cannot die! Not now, not when I have just found him!' Legolas declared vehemently. He stared at his own clean hands, clear of the writhing black threads and he felt his own strength and vigour slowly returning. Then he looked back up at Gandalf, determined. 'I will take it back!'
'Like a child's game of Pass?' Gandalf said dismissively, handing him a cup of cool water that was suffused with something else. The bitterness took away the taste of bile and cleared his head. He did not miss the half smile on Gandalf's lips. 'No. I cannot let you. I still have a debt to repay your father and I cannot let you die.'
'But you will let him?' Legolas threw the cup away from himself and again tried to stand, but his legs were weak and he knew he did not have the strength.
'Gandalf, I beg you. I have done everything you have asked. It is not my father you owe, it is I to whom you owe a debt.' Legolas leaned from his bed and plucked at Gandalf's sleeve. 'I beg you, save him. I will do anything. I will take it back to myself. Please.' The light that bathed Elrohir fell onto him now and though he felt weak and his arms trembled, he felt stronger for the warmth of the light. He saw the light came from a small glass globe placed near Elrohir and he recognised it and gasped.
At that, Gandalf softened and a light came into his face so he looked suddenly beautiful. 'They both live' he said simply, knowing that Legolas would understand.
Legolas felt his eyes sting with tears and the great tide of emotion swept over him. 'If Frodo and Sam live, then there must be hope too for Elrohir? Gandalf, I will beg on my knees if I must!' He bowed his head to let his pale hair fall around him. It was all too much right now. The light of the Mariner shone up into his face then and he pushed aside his weakness, looking down at his beloved's face, so still and pale. It was like looking upon his corpse. He felt a slow shudder across his skin like cold fingers trailed over him and he thought himself bereft should it be this way. And he realised with sudden certainly that he would fade. It shocked him.
'No! You will not leave!' he cried aloud as if Elrohir would hear him and pause.
'Fools both of you,' Gandalf said impatiently. 'Do you think I am sitting idly by?' He scooped up a blanket and threw it around Legolas' shoulders. Then the Wizard knelt beside the bed now, opposite Legolas and leaned forwards, careful not to touch but to lift Elrohir's head and held a cup to his dry lips so liquid dripped slowly into his mouth.
Gandalf placed the cup on the floor beside him and threw a look at Legolas over his shoulder. 'Now be silent, Thranduillion. You do not have to plead with me. I have work to do and I need you to not interfere...unless I say you can.' The light seemed to pulse then, and shone brighter. The glow was unearthly and strange and made everything beautiful.
Gandalf took a breath, and leaned over Elrohir now. Murmuring so quietly that even Legolas could not hear, Gandalf cradled the warm globe reverently in Elrohir's hands. Elrohir stirred and moved his head slightly so his long black silk hair gleamed in the light caught from the Silmaril. It seemed to glow even more intensely, as if it recognised his Feanorian blood. Gandalf settled beside Elrohir then and appeared to sink deep into memory, a sort of trance that left Legolas watching passively and helpless.
It seemed a long time they stayed thus and then Legolas felt a strange impulse to take the phial from Gandalf. He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, knew the venom had left his blood but had weakened him. He sank onto the bed next to Elrohir and gently, with immense tenderness and love, stroked his face. Elrohir's skin, already pale, was white, like the blood had been drained from him. He was very still and he barely seemed to breathe.
Legolas leaned forwards and through the sable cloak, he cupped his own hands around Elrohir's still fingers clasped about the warm globe of light. The light that was like the star, fractured into something impossible. It glowed and seemed to leap towards Elrohir, shifting like it passed from the ancient night to the forest, and the early morning sunlight streamed through the green-gold of beech trees in Spring. A green-gold glow washed through the diamond light and it softened and glowed, casting lights on the walls of the tent and Legolas felt his breath catch, for he heard a Song soar and his heart swelled at the love that flooded the small tent then. He knew then, unshakably, what he would do.
'I will follow you. I will not wait...'
He leaned forwards and pressed his warm mouth onto the cold lips, did not care if the web slithered onto him, for he knew he would follow.
Elrohir was lost. The black web suffocated him, pressed slowly upon him, bound and cocooned so he could barely breathe, barely move and Elrohir had wondered that Legolas had made it so far and for so long...
It had been slow at first. The black threads had curled as if aware of his intentions, and slowly reached out to his own inviting fingers from beneath Legolas' own skin...like tendrils of black ink, like serpents. They had surged at the new blood, new flesh, and crawled onto him, poured into him, burned through his veins and flesh, crushed his fluttering heart so he could barely breathe.
He had tried not to give up though and in spite of the pain, he had pressed deeper into the poison, delving its inky blackness...and felt the dark sorcery of the Nazgûl...
Then he had seen with absolute clarity what they had intended...
An iron crown was never going to be enough to tame him, to bend him to the Will of the Power that dwelt in the black tower like a spike of malice. Sauron demanded more; demanded Elrohir's obedience, not merely his acquiescence. He demanded fealty. And did not believe He would get it. So He would bind Elrohir to his dark will through Legolas.
The flames leaped and burned. They watched silently, coldly and a shadow twisted against the stone walls of the cell. Fire gleamed orange, streaked with black. A shadow threw back its head and a scream split the quiet watchfulness. A long river of golden hair caught in the firelight, eyes tightly shut, teeth clenched and the iron manacles bit deep. Legolas. No. He could not speak the name, could not stop himself for the iron crown, the Ring lifted his hand to drift down a lean hip, stroke the sweat from panting flanks, cup his sex which shriveled in horror. The Ring compelled him and the crown bore down upon him...
Elrohir had understood. The venom had been intended to paralyze Legolas, weaken him so he could be taken to Barad-dûr. For him.
Elrohir had pressed deeper, had suppressed his fury, his molten power, so the black threads had scurried back, retreated and then rushed at him, sinking into him, crawling over him where he lay, passive and tempting.
Come, he had invited, offering his hand. Come. He had offered his body to its hungry ravenous maws and it had moved quickly then, writhed and scuttled and crawled into him. He had felt it tighten its grip upon his throat, his lungs, shift its heavy mass over his and smother him.
For a while he had merely fought to remain conscious; he had felt Elladan was near, felt his blue coolness...an intense blue, like the deepening sky at dusk, pure and deep. He had known that Aragorn too was near, felt his calm healing, the hands of a king indeed...but it would not be enough to save him.
Later, he heard Legolas speak. With a sigh, he felt himself weaken then. He had done it. He had saved Legolas from the Web. He could let go.
He felt thoughts slide like silver-blue silk on his skin. He felt the growing coolness of his being, his fea, and the cool breeze of ...of... he did not have the words for it but somewhere, far away, he caught the scent of meadow grass, of dim shady pools and the forest stream running away, westwards...into the great slow river that rolled across the lands to the sea.
Salt spray was on his lips as it had been so long ago...so long ago when that small, shrunken figure huddled into her grey cloak and hurried along the grey stone pier, never looking back, never once even pausing to look back...
He stood with tears streaming down his face and felt the immense surge of grief break over him so he wanted to cry out...and then...and then, impossibly, she turned. She turned and lifted her hood back and her long cornsilk hair caught in the wind and streamed around her.
No... Mother...Nana...the child in him cried and reached for her and the man in him trembled and shook with fear. But the smile that softened her shadowed face was a mother's for her child and so full of love, forgiveness...
Mother, he cried. She was waiting, reached out her hand to him and he wanted, oh how he wanted to go to her...the child in him ran and fell sobbing into her lap... But the man? The man hid in shame and turned from her in his guilt and despair...He heard her call but he would not turn to face her. Instead he ran away, stumbling away as quickly as he could.
Something liquid and sweet trickled past his lips and a light of green-gold seemed to surround him, and that intense blue of deepening sky - he wasn't sure where one started and the other ended for it seemed odd but both suffused him He was so tired and pain dulled the edge of feeling and awareness but that blue-green intensity was stopping him, and voices struggled to keep him there when he turned again to the silver glass...It was the Sea...
You will not leave!
He wished the voice would let him go but that Song that was in his heart held him close like he was cherished and the blue evening intensified, deepened more than he thought possible and washed round him, like night. There were stars brighter, like huge swirls of silver light...He wanted to sleep and turned towards the silver shores where he could see beyond a far green land. He sighed with longing and in that sigh, a breath....
Ahead of him was a light, like the opening of a door. The brightness did not blind him...and there was the distant horizon...The world cooled, turned to blue and silver glass.
I will follow you. I will not wait.
A voice reached him across the distance and he paused before he stepped into the light, turned briefly. The stars wheeled in the vastness of the heavens.
Do not leave me! A strange Elf dressed in green and brown, was running towards him, running light across the snow and sand and his feet left no footprints. Starlight caught in his hair, in his eyes, and he reached out to catch Elrohir as he paused and turned to look back...
No! The Elf cried for he could not follow where Elrohir would go.
It is better this way, said Elrohir gently to the Elf who ran faster, his feet flying over the snow, reaching for him, despair in those green eyes... You are free.
No! You will not do this! You will not leave me!
Ah, but he was so so tired...and everything hurt. He felt his paling crimson dimmed to softness like a sunset sky... bleeding into grey.... The deep blue night caressed him but lightly as if it withdrew...
No! You will not leave.
Warmth was on his cold mouth. Another's warmth. Wetness on his cold skin.
The voice trailed away...Crimson turning grey and the white shores were ahead of him...
Too late did Gandalf see Legolas lean in and kiss Elrohir. But he knew by then that Legolas had chosen to follow him and would fade. And it shocked him beyond anything, for he saw Elrohir's choice and it was not for the Elves. Sorrow settled upon him and he bowed his head.
In that moment he saw that Elladan too had returned and stood gasping and breathless. He had run back. Elladan threw himself beside Legolas and clasped Elrohir's hand in his, regardless of the black threads, tears streaming down his face. The light of the Silmaril caught on his devastated face and Olórin then saw the despair that approached inexorably, but he could not interfere in this. He wondered why the Gift of the Peredhel was such a curse.
Olórin bowed his head. His work was done. He need not do anything more really; Mairon was vanquished, banished into the dreadful Void with his dark Master. And his own grief, his own great loss, he had thrust aside. But oh, he would grieve. He would grieve for the loss of the bright, burnished spirit of fire, the vibrant curiosity that had once been Aürušur*...Olórin himself would grieve as did Legolas, as Elladan. For they would be as separated by Elrohir's Choice as if he too were cast into the Void.
He saw that Legolas had raised his head, gazing at Elrohir with such devoted adoration, the light of the Silmaril shining in his eyes and resolved that he would follow.
Olórin felt something in him quietly break. Surely the One did not mean for such suffering? But Vairë's loom was already spun and to interfere might be to cut loose some thread already woven. Yet...
A prayer then, to the One. A last prayer, for already Olórin had been granted a great boon. But one more... he must try.
He reached out then, and walked along the silver-glass shore for a while towards the kindly light that opened for Elrohir. And then gently he turned Elrohir back.
Go back. He waits for you.
His breath whispered over Elrohir's burning skin and sought the dying flame within him. With his own Narya he lit a torch in the cooling heat that was almost spent.
Go back. He calls you.
For a moment, there was only the quietly guttering flame. And then, like a dragon awakening, Elrohir's own crimson power surged, his fiery spirit kindled and he burned. Fire raged in him, crimson fury and power flooded him, poured like molten lava through his veins. The black threads caught alight and flames ignited in the suffocating web and it burst into flames.
A blazing soul, Elrohir turned and gazed and gazed at the strange Elf who ran towards him, a green-gold presence that reached out to him, that stretched out his hand and caught him in a hold that was stronger than he was himself. Legolas.
Olórin felt the Song soar, the huge notes spiraled and surged together...they melted one into another and built into a beautiful crescendo. He listened rapt, as Elrohir's own Song lifted on the wind above the snow-clad peaks, and circled higher to where eagles soared in the cold blue skies....the wind lifting them so they could look down and see the jewel that was Arda. Olórin smiled. This was right then. He had chosen well. He wondered then, as he looked upon the two Elves, how he could leave MIddle Earth, how he could leave these senses, these passions and feelings, this love. He was unutterably changed. And his heart would never rest again beneath the unchanging skies of Valinor...
He was aware, that somewhere, nearby, there was a breath...and then another breath. But he only listened to the Great Music that surged around him like the Sea, calling him home...but he did not want to leave.
tbc- one more I think. Max two.
- naithlhoth meaning spike flower- echinacea. A poultice of charcoal and echinacea can be used to draw out poisons / venoms.
Aürušur* see previous chapter. Olórin's name for Sauron. (In Sons AU verse only.)