45. Chapter 45 Pipeweed and Tall Tales
As always, my thanks go my very generous beta, Anarithilien who has her careful hand on the rudder and steers me back from my more wild moments.
Also to those of you still reviewing. I realise I started saying, last chapter some time ago and it keeps stretching out. Well, this is it and then an epilogue. Definitely.
Summary: The Nazgul had constructed a poison that was intended to paralyse and suffocate Legolas so they could bring him alive to Barad-dur and that would keep Elrohir bound to Sauron. Of course Sauron fell and the poison, a spider poison that took the form of threads that wove into a suffocating web, had almost destroyed Legolas until Elrohir took it to himself. Gandalf saved him and so Elrohir is alive but still unconscious. Frodo and Sam are recovered and sleeping.
Chapter 44: Pipeweed and tall tales
It was long after daybreak that Gandalf gently loosened Legolas' hand from Elrohir's and tucked it back beneath his own blanket. There was no trace of the Web. It was gone. Incinerated. Legolas stirred slightly and winced and Gandalf stroked his head gently. This was his one last prayer, his one last boon. He did not regret it.
His knees cracked as he pushed himself upright, using his staff. This body was a burden but there was not much time left that it needed to serve him. He looked down at his own hands, marveling again at the tangle of veins and sinew that made it work, that showed through the skin that became more transparent with age. Sometimes he knew his own true self showed through the thin vessel of a body, and there were times when his Power had flooded the mortal body, wearing it out more quickly...He would miss taste, and smell, he thought. He needed a smoke.
Elladan had fallen asleep in the earliest hours of dawn, slumped next to his brother and Gandalf gave him a sharp tap with his staff. 'Wake up, Elrondion. I am leaving,' he said briskly.
He did not wait for Elladan to acknowledge him but shoved apart the tent flap and stepped out into the clean morning air. The camp was astir. Tents were being collapsed and wagons waited to be packed up, cart horses waited patiently, resting on one hoof. Imrahil seemed to be in charge, ordering the men and organizing things generally, Gandalf thought approvingly. Eomer stood nearby and was nodding slowly, agreeing with something the Prince had said. Gandalf narrowed his eyes shrewdly - it would be no bad thing for a union between the two kingdoms. If he recalled correctly, Imrahil had a very lovely daughter with long pale gold hair. Quite clearly she had inherited her father's elven blood, the Wizard mused, striding between the doused campfires and men who were busily picking up their weapons and few belongings. Eomer should find her pleasing, Gandalf thought wryly. He might interfere just a little more, just to make sure things were secure as they should be.
He lifted his staff slightly in greeting just as Aragorn emerged from Frodo's tent, tousled and blinking, and strode towards him. Less Heir of Isildur and more Strider of the Fellowship, thought Gandalf, smiling at him fondly.
Aragorn lifted his hand in greeting and smiled too, for he had glad news. 'Frodo awoke briefly,' he called to Gandalf as he drew near. 'He has eaten some little food but sleeps once more.'
Gandalf felt a huge sense of gladness and relief. His guilt over sending the two small Hobbits to do such a mighty deed was not lessened by their rescue. If they awoke and absolved him he would rest more easily. 'Legolas was also awake for a little while.' Gandalf came to stand beside Aragorn. 'Elrohir has not awoken but the darkness has gone from them both and all is well.'
'All is well, you say?' came a deep voice as Gimli emerged from the tent looking as though he had not slept a wink. And well he might not have, for he would have worried himself half to death, Gandalf realised and felt a guilty twinge. Although Aragorn had returned to Frodo's tent to sleep once Legolas was safe, Gandalf had not sent word when Legolas awoke, and it would have been easy to have done so. 'Pippin is sleeping too,' the Dwarf added.
'Ah, good.' Gandalf smiled. 'Safe and sound. All tucked in.' He allowed himself a quiet sense of satisfaction. All safe...Almost. He would not let himself think about Boromir just yet. And there were other stories yet to be played out, he smiled to himself.
"Right. I am going to check on Legolas,' Gimli said and stomped past Gandalf.
'And I am going to check on the Hobbits,' returned Gandalf. 'All of them!' As the Dwarf passed, Gandalf caught the delightfully bitter fragrance of pipeweed. He stopped for a moment and turned towards the Dwarf. 'Haven't got a bit of pipeweed on you have you?'
Gimli's eyes darted towards Aragorn and then away sheepishly. 'Er...no. Seem to have run out somewhere between Osgiliath and er...Mordor.'
Gandalf scowled. 'Well, it must have been very good stuff for the scent of it clings to you both still!' He glared at Aragorn and Gimli scurried off. Yes, scurried, thought Gandalf suddenly bad tempered. Aragorn laughed and reached into his tunic.
'Let it not be said that I ever denied you,' he said and generously held out his pouch.
'And let it never be said that it was not rewarded a thousandfold!' Gandalf patted Aragorn on the shoulder and dipped inside the tent. Aragorn followed and they stood for a moment in silent awe. He had returned the Light of Eärendil some hours ago and it nestled between Frodo and Sam, a soft light shining over their starved little faces. Its starlight was unearthly still, undimmed, and Gandalf felt a little of his mortality dissipate, like mist, for like called to like.
Aragorn glanced at him briefly. 'You have a little time to rest,' he said with a concern that Gandalf found irritating, for he had much to accomplish in this brief time left to him. 'We leave today but we will move the Hobbits later when we move the other injured. They will be in one wagon. Pippin can travel with them if he wishes. And Gimli will travel with Legolas and Elrohir.'
'Hm. If you think that is wise,' Gandalf peered at Aragorn quizzically. The King Returned snorted in a most unkingly manner and grinned disconcertingly before he took his leave.
Gandalf pulled up a low chair and settled himself into it to watch and smoke, for someone had told him that pipeweed could bring folk back* and if it brought anyone back it would be a Hobbit. He stuffed the bowl of his long thin pipe and tamped it down, and looking aorund, saw that Gimli had carelessly left his tinderbox behind so he reached for it and struck a flame. It flared and quietened and he puffed on the pipe, drawing out the smoke and then it caught. He drew a long breath and let the smoke tease between his teeth, filling his mouth. The taste was bitter and burnt the edge of his tongue in a pleasant way. The taste, ah, the taste...he would miss this, he thought.
He watched the Hobbits who slumbered under his care now, their faces thin and pale. And he felt. Yes, felt...and he would miss that too, for in the Other Place, feelings were ... different. This life was too brief a span and these mortal lives would fade and disappear; he would be left alone with only memories. All of them would fade and die. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Aragorn, Bilbo, dear Bilbo, and Gimli...he and Legolas alone would endure. He sucked hard at the pipe, savouring the bitterness and let the thin smoke stream from between his lips. Yes, Legolas alone would endure. Gandalf let his eyes gaze off into the middle distance and thought a while about this youngest son of Thranduil. Legolas alone would be left...and would sail of course. Sooner or later. He could not help it now, the gulls had called him as they called to Olórin. He let his thoughts drift a little.
Nothing was certain. But perhaps the son of Elrond and the son of Thranduil would be a comfort to one another...as long as they didn't end up killing each other in the process, he thought wryly. Then he softened. Legolas had a long road ahead of him paved with grief as each one of the Fellowship passed. He sighed for he knew it would try him too and he glanced at the small Hobbits' faces, so worn and thin. He chewed the end of his slender pipe and drifted again. He knew he was wearing thin himself and he found it suddenly more difficult to focus. The battle had been hard on him, the destruction of his beloved Mairon had taken something from him too and he knew he would seek the Gardens of Lorien for healing. Closing his eyes, he fought the desire to look closer, to see beyond the thin veil between the worlds, to peer into the Darkness, to trace that blazing trail into the Void...
Still raw, he had wanted to spare Legolas that same plunge into despair. And he knew that his interference would not buy them anything more than a little time. Pray it be enough, he thought.
Legolas leaned across and touched Elrohir where he lay as if dead. He was not dead, Legolas knew, but he needed to touch him, to be assured that life still pulsed through Elrohir's veins. Elladan was busy amongst the glass bottles, familiar blown glass of crimson, emerald, amber and golden...For a moment Legolas, newly awakened, had a moment of confusion when he thought he was yet upon the SeaSong and all this a dream.
Legolas knew the venom was gone, but he felt very weak and his veins were sore at every pulse of his heart, still swollen. Earlier Gimli had bustled in and at the sight of Legolas he had started in horror and then clutched at Legolas' hand. The Dwarf had briefly assured himself that Legolas would not die suddenly while he was not there, and then rushed off to berate Aragorn no doubt. Legolas felt sorry for Aragorn for a moment and smiled, but that hurt too so he sank back onto the hard pillow, feeling the blanket scratchy and meagre when he wanted softness and warmth. This is still a battlefield, he reminded himself. And you are still a warrior of the Wood. He thought how his brothers would tease him when they knew and then was overcome for he still had no word from the North, and though the Shadow was gone, there could still be battles fought under the trees of his home. How glad he was that old Smaug was gone, for a dragon would have devastated the North had he been won by Sauron's promises of gold and treasure.
'You waken more fully.' It was Elladan and he stood now over Legolas, his eyes lit by a strange light. He tore his gaze away as if he did not want to look anymore and Legolas frowned, but he did not really care. Elrohir was safe. Gandalf had saved him, he knew. He felt an immense wave of gratitude towards Gandalf then and wanted to kneel before him, plight his fealty, swear an undying loyalty... He laughed at himself for he was foolish as a Feanorian...and then checked himself again. He must remember to curb those sayings if he was not to offend his Noldo beloved. He almost laughed aloud and put his hand in front of his mouth.
'Drink this,' Elladan thrust a tin cup towards him. The amber liquid swirled within and smelt foul. 'It will clear your head and your blood.' Legolas wrinkled his nose. 'Drink,' Elladan said but he spoke gently and this time, he smiled.
Legolas took the cup - Naithlhoth mixed with other horrible medical plants beloved by healers, he thought wrinkling his nose. He recognised that pungent scent and knew the taste was worse. He tipped his head, letting the thick fluid slide down his throat. He squeezed his eyes shut at the horrible taste. And then shook his head as if he could rid himself of the taste. But it worked quickly upon him, he felt the cleansing of his blood and his head cleared, the pain dulled. He blinked hard and thought he felt less sore, his skin less inflamed. He glanced down at his hands; the veins, still red and visible under his skin, seemed a little less swollen. But when he looked across to Elrohir, hoping for a similarly hopeful outlook, he was disappointed for Elrohir's eyes were tightly closed and his face was crumpled in pain. The veins were almost purple, and there were bruises under his eyes and his skin pale. When Legolas reached over and stroked his hand over Elrohir's head, he was warm and clammy.
'It will be some time before he awakens. Days perhaps. Maybe weeks. It is not only the venom he fights, but there are other wounds. Wounds of the soul.' He heard Elladan speak and lifted his eyes to where he stood in the thin morning light. 'Perhaps it is best. When we move him, it is better he sleeps...' He paused for a moment and then said, 'Will you stay with him?'
'Of course,' Legolas answered quickly. 'I will be there when he awakens.' He looked back at Elrohir's sleeping face. 'For he will awake. Whether it is days, or weeks...or months. I will be here.'
Elladan looked away.
'I know he almost died,' Legolas said quietly. 'I know he sacrificed himself for me. I will not let him die.'
Elladan bowed his head and would not meet his gaze so Legolas sighed. He could understand Elladan's resentment. 'We both love him,' he said softly.
Elladan said nothing for a moment. Then he looked up and met Legolas' eyes. 'Forgive me,' he said but he could not keep his eyes on Legolas for long and looked away. 'It is hard to know how close he came to...'
'Death,' Legolas closed the silence that followed.
'Yes.' Elladan's grey eyes were serious, fixed on the low-hung lamp above them. 'And in that, how close he came to choosing the Way of Men.'
Legolas stared at him, a cold squeeze in his heart.
'You didn't know?' Elladan looked at him realising. 'We are Peredhel. The Gift is the choice...'
'I know what the Gift is,' Legolas interrupted, more abruptly than he intended and Elladan almost flinched, but then nodded with a sympathy and compassion that Legolas could not bear. He stared at Elrohir, the beloved features gentled in repose.
It shocked him more than anything to realise that he had come so close to losing Elrohir for all eternity, that Elrohir might have actually chosen the Way of Men and gone forever beyond the circles of the world. And Legolas could not follow.
Elladan shifted closer to Legolas and rested his hand on his shoulder. 'He was dying.' He turned his head to follow where Legolas looked, upon his brother's sleeping form. Quietly he said, 'Elrohir has always been closer to Men.' He was still then, looking silently upon his brother's lovely face, tortured and distorted by the venom in his veins, by the memory of the Nazgûl in his thoughts.
Legolas could not speak. He could not think. He had almost lost Elrohir? Not just to death, but lost until the Ending of the World?
'Forgive me for what I am about to say, Legolas,' Elladan stirred. He moved his hand from Legolas' shoulder and Legolas blinked and stirred, steeled himself. Surely there could not be more to bear? 'I need to understand and be understood...for my brother's sake.' He paused and stole a quick look at Legolas.
Then he said, 'You have been generous with your heart.'
Legolas breathed and gave a wry smile. It was true. He was silvan, avari, and that was their way.
'There are those that you have loved, and who might love you still,' Elladan continued hesitantly and Legolas glanced away embarrassed.
A hand gently touched his hot cheek and he felt blue calm stroke away his unease and the knot of tension smoothed away. He glanced up surprised. Elladan was watching him with a kind smile that made him feel very young and foolish.
'I do not say this to make you feel you have done wrong,' Elladan said gently. 'But this must be said. You must understand Elrohir if you are to love him as I do.' He paused and seemed to think for a while. Legolas held himself still, waiting. And in spite of Elladan's words and his kindliness, he thought himself judged and found wanting, and did not blame Elladan.
When Elladan spoke again, his voice was quiet, reflective. 'Elrohir is not like you. He has not loved often... He will not understand how your body can be shared so lightly, without his thinking that your heart is given lightly too.'
Legolas closed his eyes, thinking. It was all true, he thought. It explained Elrohir's violent reaction to his stupid pursuit of Eomer all that time ago in Minas Tirith...the memory was scorched onto him, the hands round his neck, the words 'whore' burned him still.
'I have seen that you are different with him.' Elladan spoke earnestly now, and he moved so Legolas looked up to meet his grey eyes. 'I know it is different with him,' he said emphatically and held Legolas' serious gaze. 'Gandalf turned him back from death, but he came back for you. He stays his choice for you.'
Legolas found his fingers clutching at the thin blanket that covered Elrohir, searching for his hand. Even without Elladan's assurance, he knew what he said was true; Elrohir's tender, all-encompassing love had cradled him, wrapped itself around him, took the choking black web to himself and laid his own life down so that Legolas would live...And then, on the brink of death, Elrohir had turned back. Legolas almost trembled at the passion, the violence, the tenderness. Elrohir would possess him utterly and would brook no sharing. And he found himself wanting that completeness. Because he realised suddenly that, for him, nothing else would suffice.
'I do not want to walk a different road from him,' he said simply. 'The thought that he is not in the world, that he go beyond the circles of the world is unbearable. I do not know what I would do if he were to take the Way of Men and be forever sundered from me.' He found that even the thought of it sank him a little in despair and he reached out to catch Elrohir's fingers in his and held them tightly as if he could stop him.
A touch from Elladan turned him and Legolas found himself caught in that grey gaze that was so utterly different from Elrohir's. He felt himself weighed and tested in the way that he had when the Fellowship had stumbled into Lothlorien, wounded and each lost in his own grief; each one of them had been judged by Galadriel. He felt the same now as Elladan searched his face, and his heart it seemed. But he did not mind the compassion now, for there was understanding too.
Elladan smiled gently. 'Let us make sure together that he does not.'
The camp was astir and moving. All around them, Legolas could hear tents were being collapsed and wagons moving slowly out. Horses moved past, and he imagined them swishing their tails and shaking their heads. Elladan had been summoned to council with Aragorn and Gimli had arrived a moment ago flustered and anxiously fussing round Legolas. Now a small group of Men entered the tent almost reverently, nodding courteously first at Gimli, and staring in awe at Legolas before recovering and nodding at him too. He shifted uncomfortably under their gaze and stirred, for he was conscious of his half naked state and they seemed mesmerised by the yarë-camë swirling on his skin, but they merely began quietly to move things outside, loading up a wagon that had pulled up outside.
Legolas watched silently from the narrow bed, knowing the moment would come when they would want to move him. He did not think he could bear that. He turned his head slightly as they lifted Elrohir's narrow pallet bed with him still unconscious, and lumbered clumsily out of the tent. He could hear them grunting as they hauled him onto the wagon and he rubbed his hand across his eyes angry with himself; it was his carelessness with that last Uruk that had led to all this.
'Aragorn has ordered that the injured are to be moved last.' Gimli observed him with bright, shrewd eyes. 'Everything else will have already begun to move so at least you are left until last and there will be comfort when we arrive.' He rose to his feet and brushed down his tunic. 'Well, it looks like they are ready to load you up,' he said as if Legolas were so much baggage, and Legolas caught the glint in Gimli's eyes.
'You will be in wagons while those of us who managed to not get half killed and are hale and whole can guard the weakest,' Gimli said, trying a bit harder. He stuck his hands in his belt and stood squarely, eyes narrowed.
But Legolas did not respond. He was listening to the Men settling Elrohir and returning to the tent. They are here for the last piece of baggage, he thought and thinned his lips. He did not know how much he looked like his father in that moment but he could see the two Men baulk. He did not speak but fixed them with a steely eye until they shifted uncomfortably and looked nervously at each other. Furious with himself, he held up his hand to stop them and swung his feet out of the bed. He swayed a little even as he sat there on the edge of the bed for his head swam and his legs felt wobbly.
And then a warm square hand steadied him.
'I will see to him, thank you,' Gimli said and waved away the two anxious Men. They bowed gratefully and left in more haste than was strictly necessary, thought Legolas, supposing they did not look forward to manhandling him any more than he did.
'Here, I will help you if you will accept it,' Gimli said and shook out a clean shirt. He held it out to Legolas, who reached for it carefully but he knew he could not manage on his own and let his arm fall by his side. Gimli gave him a shrewd look and cocked his head on one side, watching Legolas astutely.
'Have I told you about the time I was buried alive?' the Dwarf said, holding the shirt open. 'It was ...'
'Yes, you have,' Legolas bit his lip so as not to wince as he pushed himself to his feet.
Gimli looked affronted. 'You don't even know where and I have not told you all my stories yet!' He held the shirt open and Legolas raised each arm carefully, wincing as the new skin pulled, and pushed his arms into the sleeves.
'Let me guess,' Legolas murmured. 'Deep cast or open cast?'*
Gimli grinned delighted and his white teeth gleamed. 'Deep cast,' he said, standing in front of Legolas and pulling the shirt closed.
Legolas raised his hand and tried to tie the laces but his fingers felt too big and clumsy and he fumbled uselessly. Gimli let him try first and then gently pushed his hands out of the way and finished the task.
Legolas looked about for his boots and saw them lying near his narrow bed. 'Iron or silver?' he asked, letting Gimli push him gently back to the bed and reach over for his boots. He let Gimli kneel before him and hold the boots open while he shoved his feet into them.The Dwarf grunted as he pulled at the tops of the boots and Legolas pushed his feet in further and between them, they managed. It was not quite comfortable but Legolas did not feel strong enough to care.
'Silver.' Gimli picked up his green sueded tunic and looked at it doubtfully.
'The Blue Mountains,' Legolas said smugly and took his tunic from Gimli, folding it carefully. It was not fit for use, blood crusted on it and a black stain marked the cut from the Uruk.
'Yes!' Gimli cried delighted. 'You have been listening after all! You have made much progress in your understanding of the Earth,' he said in the tone of a teacher with a very slow and stupid pupil who has finally, at last, understood the most basic rudiments. Legolas smiled to himself weakly, carefully stowing his tunic in his open pack, but slowly for he could not move with anything like his usual speed, and he fumbled to close the buckles of his pack before Gimli reached out and took it from him.
'Now, let me see how much you can work out for yourself. Deep cast silver mine, in the Blue Mountains. Can you work out why I was buried alive?' Gimli asked, eyes fastened on his slow-witted pupil.
'You were very irritating to your fellows?' Legolas asked innocently.
'Oh?' the Dwarf said loudly, intending others outside the tent to hear him now, 'You are feeling wobbly, Legolas, and would like some big burly Man to sling you like a sack of coal over one shoulder and carry you into the wagon? Why, I am sure one of those Guards of the Tower will help you. Or maybe one of...ow!' A small tin cup had hit the Dwarf on his round, hard head.
'You seem much recovered,' Gimli said, sounding unsure if he was quite pleased about it.
Outside the tent, the sky was a washed clean blue, and there was still the scent of rain from the night before. Legolas breathed in and though there was still the iron tang of Mordor, it felt different. Cleaner. The clouds were ragged white but they were only clouds and there was none of the threat that was there before. Sauron was truly gone.
Wagons trundled past some drawn by oxen, and others by heavy horses, the feathers of their legs long and knotted with mud now. The narrow wooden wheels of the carts and wagons rutted the mud as it churned beneath hooves and feet and wheels. A small group of Men sang as they loaded up the last wagon and one whistled an accompaniment as the last few injured were hoisted into the last wagons.
Gimli nudged Legolas' elbow but did not take his arm and for that, Legolas was glad. But he needed help getting into the wagon and Gimli had to scramble up before him and then haul Legolas up behind him. It was hardly Elven grace, he thought. But he did not care, for inside the wagon on a thin mattress on the dusty floor, Elrohir lay as one dead, white faced and still. The light was yellow through the canvas cover of the wagon and around them were boxes and boxes packed tight. Medical supplies, he thought looking round.
Gimli was fussing, laying out another thin mattress next to where Elrohir lay. 'Here, you can lie here if you wish. Make sure you don't jar yourself.'
Legolas smiled. 'Yes, Nana Gimli,' he said fondly and because he knew it always delighted and irritated the Dwarf in equal measure, he patted him on the head before settling his long limbs on the mattress next to Elrohir and taking his old hand in his, he settled down to watch over him.
Legolas fidgeted uncomfortably and fretted. He was bored rigid but knew he was not quite strong enough yet to leave the wagon that trundled along the rutted and pitted road. He was jostled and jounced and rolled about and he felt quite sure it was doing neither him nor Elrohir any good. He had plumped up the blanket he had taken from his own thin mattress and tucked around Elrohir to minimize the impact of the jostling but he still winced whenever they went over a rut and twice Legolas had shouted at the driver for his carelessness. Arod plodded behind, poking his head in between the canvas sheets and nosing about for tidbits whenever the wagon stumbled to a halt in a rut or got stuck in the mud that was being churned up by the long procession of wagons and horses and feet. It had taken five days to march the whole route from Minas Tirith to the Morannon and now it seemed like he had been stuck in this wagon for weeks. The wagons took longer, the oxen that drew the wagons were slow and plodding and it would be another two days at least before they reached the field of Cormallen whence they headed.
Gimli strode alongside, sometimes he rode behind Eomer and sometimes he climbed up into the wagons with the recovering Hobbits or Elves. Legolas travelled with Elrohir and that was his one consolation. The wagon was loaded up with medical supplies and that meant little space for the two Elves and sometimes a box would come loose and slide about on the wagon floor that was dusty and hard and had bits of straw on it. Sometimes he was bored and fretted and like now, he looked out at the passing land. He noticed how the scorched and grey lands of Mordor changed and the earth became richer, the smells of grass and growing things tempting him to leap from the wagon regardless of injury, and run lightly towards the great silver ribbon of water, the Anduin, where it flowed endlessly to the Sea.
Most times, he sat quietly watching the light shifting on black silk hair, remembering the way his beloved raised grey eyes to his, thinking about the power of his movement, remembering each moment, taking each one out like a jewel. It was beyond mere attraction, it was soul and bone deep. Elrohir commanded him.
... he smoothed his long fingers against Elrohir's heart, tracing a circle over his breast and said, 'You called my name.' A memory, submerged and lost ... of hands tracing the runes of his name, it had called to him…No, summoned, commanded him. And he had simply obeyed.
Now it was night and the march had ceased. All was quiet and he watched over Elrohir in the wagon for they did not unload the injured. He smoothed his hand over Elrohir's dark head and stroked the long black silk hair, let it run through his fingers, let it trail between them, let his breathing slow and listened to the sounds below the sounds of the world, deeper than his heartbeat, deeper than the thump of his own blood ... Then he heard the eagles call high over snow, far away, too high for them to heed him. He let himself drift. Memory took him onto the paths of Elven dreams...
'It is not me you want…' Elrohir had said gently pushing Legolas away and Legolas finding the resistance exciting, thinking still of the lingering, smouldering, yearning kiss he had from Elladan before, had pushed himself against the other Elf… Elrohir…
'Let me show you how much I don't want you,' Legolas had pressed Elrohir back against the thin timber wall and licked lazily down his mouth to his throat, traced the rounded tip of his ear. Wanting him, wanting him to respond, and still listening for the long notes of Elladan's song, like moonlight, like petals floating on still pools. Instead he found a hot red glow and fiery power, still vibrating from the fight to win Nestor back for the living… a fierce, pounding rhythm of fire and red leaping flames, an angry burning and longing…it was the song of the sword and of war.
He lingered on the memory. A stroke of desire caressed his skin, pooled in his belly. At the Morannon, despair had drowned him such as he had never known, of such intensity he thought he would die. Because he thought Elrohir lost.
Thunder rolled and rolled around the valley, until it filled the air. His hair crackled and prickles skittered over his skin. Immense pressure as if a storm were coming, built up, pressed down on him. But he did not care. He had seen the black horse fall beneath the great behemoth of the Nazgul and Elrohir had not emerged from the red dust that rose like flocks of birds. Legolas had bowed his head, his shoulders slumped slightly and he had covered his eyes with his hand for he thought he would die of grief that pierced him like the Morgul blade.
He had felt a rush of air, of heat, like a wildfire raging through the forest. Legolas lifted his head. His eyes widened, lips parted and before he could speak, Elrohir was before him, had cupped the back of Legolas' head and brought him close. Elrohir stared for a moment, and Legolas felt his heart searched, opened, penetrated and he was powerless. And then he was pulled to Elrohir, and he pressed his mouth against his, pushing between his lips as he gasped and Elrohir's tongue filled his mouth, fierce, brief, passionate. He heard eagles soar above the snow.
'I will find you,' he said, pulling back and Legolas gazed at him, full of wonder. 'When this is done, I will find you.' He pushed a loose hair back from Legolas' face. He did not pause but turned and strode down the slope. Men parted for him and turned their faces towards him in admiration for he was fell and fair and had braved the Nazgul and the Black Gate alone with Gandalf. Legolas filled with love and pride, and there was too, fear for he had seen the dreadful images of his own torment and he did not know what that meant.
But he would not think on that now. No, for Elrohir had taken the Black Web to himself, pulled it from Legolas and called it to him, wrapped himself in it like it was his own sable cloak. Was not that enough? Elrohir had been prepared to give his own life for Legolas. And he wanted the furious passion, that fire and lust and rage. A thrum ran along his nerves and his veins filled with fire, like he was in battle.
All was quiet outside in the night. He could hear the breathing of the Men asleep and at rest. He ran his hands over his own hair, imagining it was Elrohir's hands on him. He leaned back, and let his left hand drift down his chest, lightly squeezing his own nipple between his fingers, down his chest to his flat belly and groin. He was hard and hot already and he had not had release, he thought, since Minas Tirith, and that was by his own hand. Old Smaug's long golden eyes gleamed up at him from where he coiled over Legolas' shoulder and slithered across his chest. He quirked an eyebrow. 'Old snake, you have seen too much,' he said, and he stroked his hardness so exquisite sensuality melted him into something else.
He breathed in, his lips parted and he closed his eyes, remembering Osgiliath, where he had stood with Elrohir on the roof of the ruined town with the stars hard and glittering bright above them. He had brought Elrohir to him with his song, kissed him with love and tenderness. Taken him by the hand and been taken by him. He had told Elrohir to yield but had yielded himself instead. He had found an answer to his own wild desire. Elrohir's possessive hunger overwhelmed him, hot and wanting to fill him, pushing down on him, forcing him to open, to submit…Such strength and passion and power. And how Legolas burned for him, felt it pool in his loins like liquid fire. He felt his own flesh rise and throb in spite of his weakness and let his head fall back against the wooden frame of the wagon, closed his eyes and thought of Elrohir in his ecstasy.
They stopped often to let the cart horses and oxen rest, uncoupling them from their traces and letting them wander and find grass. The tang of hot metal that hung in the air around Mordor gradually dissipated and there was scrubby grass on the edges of that desolate and withered land.
On the second day, Legolas fretted in the confines of the wagon and he took turns watching over Elrohir with Elladan so he could go out into the fresh air and walk with Pippin or Gimli, for Aragorn had become remote, not from choice but necessity. A gentle friendship had developed quickly with Elladan, and Legolas found himself looking forward to the times Elladan joined him. They played chess or talked of their homes, Legolas hungry for stories of his beloved.
When he left the close confine of the wagon, Legolas carefully dismounted from the wagon, gingerly holding his arm for it was still sore and swollen. He wondered how long it would take to recover from the venom...a few days, a week? He had a spider bite once that had taken weeks to purge from his system, its venom deep in his blood, oozing like silt in his veins. This was worse.
Walking slowly alongside Gimli, he patted Arod or sang quietly, looking around and breathing in the good clean air of Ithilien. The army marched slowly, taking its ease. The Rohirrim sang their rousing songs in their own tongue which was rich and rolling like their lands, and the Men of Gondor were quieter and more reserved, but all smiled at one another and were comrades. Often he climbed into the wagon where Pippin watched over Frodo and Sam, and he, even with the venom lingering in his veins, was humbled by their sacrifice, their great courage.
At times Frodo half awoke and gazed at them with astonished wonder, and when he twitched and cried out, Pippin held his hand and Legolas sang more softly of the fields and streams, the mist lying over the meadows and woods. Frodo slept then, falling into a restful sleep and in those times, a rosy flush washed over his cheeks and he looked again like the Hobbit who had set out all those months ago from Hobbiton.
It was such a song that finally brought Sam to a blinking, half-stunned wakefulness. He murmured something incoherent and blinked, rubbing his eyes and the tears that rolled down his cheeks seemed more sorrowful than joyful for he did not realise at first that this was no dream. Then Gandalf had been summoned and laid his hand on Sam's heart and brought him awake. Sam had eventually been able to sit up a little and had gazed at Pippin and then Legolas in amazement and disbelief for a few moments before he had sought out his beloved Frodo and upon seeing him well, the little gardener had sunk back into a deep, restful slumber.
Pippin and Legolas had both stared at each other with shining, tear-filled eyes and wept unashamedly. Then Legolas had tried to swing Pippin round in a jog, momentarily forgetting his own dire state and both had been thoroughly scolded first by Gandalf, then Gimli, and finally Aragorn.
After three days slow march, they left Mordor far behind, and passed through Ithilien. Pippin saw that it was a land of climbing woods and swift-falling streams*, and thyme and marjoram, juniper, and wild lavender scented the air. During the frequent stops to let the oxen and horses graze, he felt the knots in his muscles unwind and stretch. And in the days that followed, Frodo was gradually able to sit up and talk, even looking out of the wagon with a faint expression on his face that Pippin could not read. Grass grew thickly, cool and lush and celandines and anemones scattered over the meadows. Buds burst from the slowly rising sap of the great trees and beneath were the green spears and slender stems of woodland bluebells thrusting their way through the warming earth*. The river lay sleepily silver under the pale April sun.
On the fifth day since Barad-dûr fell, they were met by a small company of riders who bowed to Aragorn but Pippin was too far away to hear what they said. The company then turned and rode with Aragorn at the head of the returning army and then a little while later, Pippin saw a city of tents spread before them on the banks of the Anduin. The tents were luxurious, made of many colours of silk with banners and flags flying. Glossy-coated horses were tethered nearby and oxen grazed, and it seemed that there were many cooking fires, nothing like the small campfires they had grown used to, but proper cooking fires with meat roasting on spits and barrels rolled out. There were any number of folk bustling between the tents, carrying bundles, chatting, calling to each other, some were shaking out lovely clean white sheets just washed and aired. Pippin thought they looked like the sails of a ship billowing in the wind and there was the savoury aroma of roasting meat and new baked bread that had his mouth watering and tummy rumbling. Pippin wondered if this was the camp of some great lord or King come to greet them.
As the wagons and tired horses of the Host trudged and trundled towards the city of tents, those in the camp looked up and stared. A shout went up and then more voices joined them, and the folk in the camp below began to gather and run to greet them. Amongst them, were the Men who had turned away, grateful for a task they could do,* Men who had gone to Osgiliath with the Host and then had stayed behind to defend the last stand before Minas Tirith. Now they welcomed home the heroes who had not turned aside, whose hearts stayed strong, whose faith was in Aragorn, this Ranger from the North who claimed to be the Heir of Isildur. They gathered in their hundreds and the cheers rose, grew until the sound filled the sky, became a continuous roar like the sea. Pippin and Frodo peeped out between the canvas flaps of the covered wagon and saw the crowds of Men, waving and shouting and smiling, looking up at Aragorn as he rode by.
Even better, Pippin saw that long tables had been set out and already cooks were bringing meat and drink for the weary Men. For the messengers who had been dispatched to Minas Tirith with news of Sauron's fall, had returned from Minas Tirith, Osgiliath and Ithilien, leading trains of supplies and with them, courtiers and captains, advisors and many men hoping to meet with the new King and make their case.
Messages had been brought from the city for the new King, and amongst them, was one who was short for a Man and tall for a Hobbit, with his arm in a sling and glossy curly hair. Merry.
How glad the reunion had been! How much they had to tell! They wept and laughed with relief and joy. Pippin was not the only one overwhelmed by the confusion of emotions. And the Hobbits were not the only ones who wept. Pippin saw Gimli rub his eyes with his hand and chew the end of his beard when no one was looking.
It was the second day since they arrived. The Hobbits had settled into a rather luxurious tent that had been put aside for their sole use, and was fitted with proper Hobbit-sized furniture that Pippin knew was really Man-child sized, but it did not matter. Gimli had tied back the tent flaps so Frodo could look out across the green sward to the river which lay flat and silver in the sunlight. Pippin was sitting in a rather comfortable chair that he was considering taking back to the Shire with him when all this was finished.
Frodo leaned back on the pillows, eyes half closed and drifting, soothed and comforted, for Sam had stirred and awoken a little earlier, enough to see that Frodo was awake with the sweetest smile was on his face. Merry chatted on about Faramir and Eowyn, and Gimli was sitting near the tent entrance but faced in so Pippin could see the crinkles around his brown eyes where he smiled and every now and again, he would break into a deep, rolling laugh that had the Hobbits smiling too. Pippin could hear Legolas singing somewhere not far away and caught a ripple in the trees. Ah, thought Pippin, he is up there then; the Fellowship back together. All safely gathered in...almost. And he felt a little pang...But he would not think about Boromir now. No...the thump of arrows in his flesh, the slow fall to his knees...Pippin shook himself and looked down instead at the smooth pipe that nestled in his hand.
Between the three of them, Frodo, Gimli and himself, they had almost finished the last bit of pipeweed, and having discussed its merits and compared it unfavourably to the infinite superiority of Longbottom Leaf, the three of them had decided it was not bad...for Mannish weed.
'That cannot be the last of the pipeweed?' Merry said regretfully and Gimli laughed, showing his even white teeth.
The Dwarf reached into his tunic to pull out a pouch stuffed with pipeweed. 'All these fawning courtiers will have been fighting and scrambling over each other to purchase the best, the most to impress their new ruler. So it was when Dain arrived at the Mountain.' He ran a finger along the pouch to open it and the rich bitter fragrance filled the air. 'This stuff is too good for Aragorn so I have relieved him of it. We cannot let him get spoiled and soft like some Elf Princeling.'
A swallow swooped and sliced the blue sky beyond the tent and Pippin saw that Frodo's eyes wistfully followed the bird as it skimmed low across the grass, and he worried constantly at the bandage around his poor hand.
'Do you think you might be strong enough to go outside, Frodo?' Pippin asked softly, and Merry and Gimli ceased their chatter and turned their heads in concern. 'We could put a chair outside, beneath the trees. Just there so we can still see Sam,' he added quickly.
Gimli carried the chair that Pippin liked best outside, and set it carefully on the grass beneath a great oak that spread its young pale green leaves over them. Then Merry and Pippin walked on either side of Frodo and gently helped him into the chair.
'I am quite well,' Frodo protested, but his voice was strained and he looked anything but. 'It is Sam I worry for.'
'Well, he opened his eyes again today and has eaten a little soup, so we should all rejoice,' Pippin said briskly.
The sun was warm and the three Hobbits and Dwarf sat companionably in the afternoon, enjoying the pipeweed that even Merry agreed was as good as Longbottom Leaf, or even Hobbiton Gold, which was praise indeed. Pippin was aware of a faint rustling above him like the oaks were whispering to each other. He glanced up to see a flash of pale gold and smiled to himself secretly.
Gimli had leaned back against the rough bark, pipe in hand when suddenly an acorn dropped upon the Dwarf's nose.
'The squirrels are mighty restless today,' Gimli said loudly and unconcerned to the Hobbits and Pippin looked up and laughed. A larger acorn landed on Gimli's nose and he spluttered irritably.
Pippin looked up and laughed. 'Come down, Legolas! Come and sit with us.'
He watched Legolas climb slowly from bough to bough and hang for a moment from the lowest branch so Frodo was aware, and then he landed softly before them. Pippin wondered that Legolas seemed to have recovered so quickly after the dreadful effect of the venom. He had seen the way the Elf's veins had seemed purplish and swollen and so sore. And to one who knew Legolas well, he seemed a little less sure of himself, a little less confident perhaps and sometimes his hand trembled.
'Legolas and Gimli and me watched over you and Sam while you slept,' Pippin told Frodo and the Hobbit smiled back, and it was a smile, thought Pippin, however wan. 'Legolas sang to you.'
The Elf knelt beside the chair in which Frodo sat and smiled at him.
'I knew it was you,' Frodo said dreamily, looking down at Legolas where he knelt. 'You made me dream of the Shire and green grass and fields and rivers...all the things I could not remember. Sam tried to...Sam kept trying to remind me of things...but...' He pulled at the bandage on his injured hand and Legolas looked down at it and frowned. Then carefully, with infinite gentleness, he cradled the poor hand in his and at first, Frodo pulled away but then he looked into Legolas' strange green eyes and then trustingly, he gave his hand to Legolas like a blessing.
Legolas did nothing, merely held him and Pippin saw there was a tenderness in his face as he looked up at Frodo. There was a burst of birdsong and the oak leaves rustled quietly above and around him, and Pippin felt the rough bark beneath his hands. He heard the slow, deep song of the oak trees, great old hearts and slow, deep roots pushing into the moist earth. Pippin leaned closer for he heard the song of the stream as well, and the woodlands, the fields and rolling hills of home, and the blackbird nearby joined in.
When Frodo spoke, it seemed a strange part of the Song and Pippin barely heard him.'I could not remember The Shire,' Frodo said softly. 'I could not remember grass or birdsong, or the smell of rain. I could not recall the sound of the river or sunlight or leaves in Spring...' And when Pippin looked up at last, he saw that the frightened stare had faded and a longing was in his eyes instead.
'And here, even though I could see it around me,' Frodo continued in a whisper, 'or hear a blackbird singing, I could not...imagine it or see it once it was gone from my sight.' He swallowed. 'And now I remember The Shire. I remember the green fields and the little streams and brooks, and the woods in Spring full of bluebells.' He closed his eyes briefly and then looked at the Elf kneeling beside him. 'How did you know?'
Legolas tilted his head slightly in that way he had and a small smile played about his lips. 'It is your song,' he said very quietly so Pippin had to strain to hear. 'The Ring drowned it so you could not hear it. I have simply helped you to find it again.'
Frodo leaned back in the chair and the smile on his pale, starved little face was enough to make Pippin want to weep, and he felt a shift in the air and Gimli dashed something from his eye and muttered something about hayfever and tree pollen.
Quite abruptly, in a typically Legolas-way, thought Pippin, the Elf sat back on his heels, tucked his braids behind his ears and then threw himself lengthways on the deep grass, smelling it deeply. He looked up with nothing of the eldritch magic he had just worked on Frodo and said without rancour, 'I see that none of you have abandoned your liking for sitting in fog with Dwarves,' Legolas laughed as he spoke and Pippin could see he did not really mind for his green eyes sparkled with mirth and excitement.
'Ah, well the King Returned being very partial to a spot of pipeweed, the messengers coming back from Osgiliath and the city brought small barrels courtesy of the many grateful citizens. There's barrels of it stacked all over according to Gimli. He was most concerned that Aragorn not get spoiled,' Pippin said mischievously. He put a long pipe between his teeth and stuffed the bowl neatly. 'Here, Frodo, have this one and I will do another for myself.'
'Anyway, since said King Returned, Lord of the Two Kingdoms, of Anor, Gondor and Anyotherdor is walking around with a soppy expression on his face and a faraway look in his eyes, dreaming of his Elf-maid, he doesn't need this!' Gimli declared cheerfully and blew out a long stream of smoke towards Legolas, who waved his hand in front of his face in an exaggerated way and coughed loudly.
'Help me sit up, Pip,' Frodo asked softly and Pippin helped him to pull himself upright but he felt the bones through the light clothes and his heart clenched. No Hobbit should ever be so thin. It was unnatural. Frodo grunted quietly and closed his eyes as Pippin began to lift him.
Quickly, Legolas moved to help Pippin and gently pushed his arm beneath the frail Hobbit. As he did so, Pippin caught a look on Legolas' beautiful face that was full of compassion and tender grief. But he was pale too, the shadow of bruises under his eyes and still faint trails under his skin where that dreadful venom had flooded his veins. When Frodo opened his eyes, he frowned and reached out, lightly touched Legolas.
'You have been injured too?'
Legolas looked startled. 'A little, but that is all gone.' He glanced away and it seemed to Pippin that he shuddered a little. 'We have all been injured, apart from the Dwarf, but that is because he has lurked well out of the way of any battle...ouch!' He ducked but was slower than usual and Gimli caught him a soft clout on the upside of his head.
The Elf laughed softly and Pippin thought what a glad sound it was in spite of its softness.
'Have they been telling you tall tales of their heroism and great deeds, Frodo? Do not believe any of them or they will have you believe that Gimli led the way through the Paths of the Dead and summoned them himself at the Stone of Erech, and that Pippin harnessed oliphants and besieged Osgiliath himself! But Merry...' Legolas turned and looked down at Merry with pride. 'Merry killed the Witchking of Angmar.'
'So I have heard,' Frodo looked at Merry again and Pippin saw his face almost crumple a little.
'Sing us a song, Legolas,' he said quickly and Frodo looked up, his face brightening.
Legolas tilted his head and looked mischievously at Pippin who grinned. "Shall I sing a song of Gil-Galad?' he asked. 'It is long and very sad...' He glanced at Gimli. 'Now let me see...' He breathed in.
'Gil-Galad was an elven king...' he sang brightly, and loudly.
Frodo nodded approvingly and whispered to Pippin, 'I have always liked this.'
'Um...' said Pippin, who had heard the Mirkwood version.
'Of him the harpers sadly sing,' Legolas sang not in the least bit mournfully.
'The last whose realm found such bliss,'
Suddenly Gimli sat up, listening.
'But nowhere could he find to...ouch!' Legolas rubbed his head again, looking annoyed at have been caught out twice now, and by the Dwarf no less!
'Sing something else,' Gimli scolded him but Legolas just gave him one of his blinders, as Pippin called the dazzling smile that Legolas flashed at the Dwarf. 'And not that other one either.' Gimli did not say what the other one was, but Pippin thought he might have heard that one too.
'Very well, Khazad vuinen,' he said fondly.
Frodo laughed but it was such a bright, brittle sound that Pippin felt his eyes sting. 'My dearest Dwarf?' Frodo asked lightly and laughed even more at Gimli's scowl.
The song Legolas sang then was something like an old country tune that Pippin thought he remembered from the long summer evenings in the Shire, and the hills were green and rolled endlessly and the little villages and hamlets nestled comfortably and swallows darted across the evening sky, their chattering calls...and then Legolas' song dropped an octave and Pippin thought of the little gardens around Hobbiton, stone walls and roses clambering over them...Legolas' voice was mellow and soft and it seemed all the Hobbits and the Dwarf too felt themselves lulled and soothed.
The melody had become sorrowful and Pippin felt somewhere a terrible longing and lingering nostalgia. Gradually they ceased speaking and listened instead, and their thoughts turned to those they loved at home or had lost. Pippin thought of poor Boromir and he guessed from Merry's wistful look that his cousin was thinking of a certain Hobbit maid he had kissed so lightly that evening of Bilbo's party and who might even now, be walking beneath the eaves of the Old Forest with another Hobbit-lad.
And Frodo let his eyes drift back towards the tent where lay Sam. Pippin did not know what Gimli was thinking but he had a tender look in his eyes and his hand closed over a small pouch he wore round his neck.
Silence had slowly fallen and Pippin looked up as if a spell had been broken. Legolas was gazing into the middle distance a faraway look in his strange green eyes. Pippin wondered what he was thinking about when there was a shrill mewling in the sky and the sunlight caught on white wings. Legolas looked up and squinted against the bright sunlight as if a terrible joy stirred his heart. Pippin glanced towards Gimli, and he saw in the Dwarf's brown eyes such loss. Before he had left the Shire, Pippin had never met an Elf, and now he thought how empty Middle Earth would be when the Elves had left, sailed in their grey boats on the grey sea and left the shores of Middle Earth forever.
Legolas had left the Hobbits and Gimli sitting beneath the oaks, wreathed in pipeweed for he knew his song, and his heart, had turned melancholy. The gulls had been flying upriver and their call drew him now to the water's edge, to the river that stretched sinuously before him, silver and becalmed, and the weight of water pulled it inexorably to the Sea. Willows trailed their long elegant fronds over the surface and flies, newly woken in the Spring, danced on the surface. Great old oaks with steady heartwood hummed their deep song.
From the bank, he watched a kingfisher dive, a jeweled dart of turquoise and gold plunging into the slow river. It shot out of the silk water with a glint of silver caught in its beak. After the dust and ash of Mordor, here was the stirring of Spring and the warmth of the earth and burgeoning life emerging from winter slumber. Not since Lothlorien had he sat quietly amongst the trees and green life. And Ithilien was nothing like the magnificent slow time of Lothlorien and its mallorn trees full of awareness and sorrow for its passing. Ithilien was more ordinary and more wonderful in its way.
The sounds of the camp faded into background. A green sward stretched upwards towards the grouped pavilions. As he always did near water, he sat on the grass and pulled off his boots, then stood to let his toes sink into the grass and soft mud and then the cold clear water. The little pebbles ground beneath his feet and there was gravelly sand too, that felt rough and good beneath his hard feet.
Quickly he unbuckled his belt too, and threw off his much mended moss suede tunic, letting the sun warm him through the thin linen shirt. Then, thinking how silly it was to even be wearing clothes on such a lovely Spring day, he pulled his shirt over his head and then he whipped off his breeches, bundled them up and threw then towards the bank.
For a moment he stood naked in the sunlight, letting the warmth pour over him, face tipped up towards the sky and eyes half closed. He let the Song wash through and around him, pour over him like light...The water slid around him, cool against his skin and he waded out a little more until the water slipped over his hips and cooled him so his nipples pebbled in the cold and the little hairs on his body rose, but it was not unpleasant. He ducked himself completely under and emerged sleek as an otter and then pushed off, and swam strongly out into the river but the current was strong and he felt its pull towards the Sea. The tug on his limbs and his heart frightened him a little so he returned to the shallows where he floated a little, thinking.
...Elladan had said that Elrohir had been about to choose the way of men...and as he gazed up into the clear blue skies, he found himself feeling utterly bereft as though it had happened and he was left behind to face his loss alone... Fool, he told himself. Elrohir sleeps nearby and you can go to him now if you wish...
He wondered why it was that the Way of Men should have any attraction for Elrohir. How could he turn his back on his family and all those he held dear? True, Arwen would choose to follow her husband, and there had been many Men that Elrohir had raised and watched grow old and die....Here, Legolas paused. Aragorn would grow old and die. And Gimli. And the Hobbits. Not for the first time, he thought of their brief span of years, bright as flames, and that he, like a moth, burned himself on the edges of their lives.
He let the cold river cradle him, stroke him with its silk coolness, and drifted, gazing up at the rain-washed skies with their ragged white clouds. Above him, somewhere a lark sang, the first he had heard since Osgiliath.
He turned and swam closer to the shore where the willows dipped their long branches and brushed the water's edge. He let his feet touch the riverbed, and dug his toes into the deep silt. It felt like velvet beneath his toes.
The choice that was given to Elrohir was not his, he thought, watching the small brown trout slip though the ribboned weeds. He could not endure without Elrohir and he resolved then that he would teach Elrohir the way of Elves, that he would make him understand that the Sea's call was for him also. He dreamed of taking Elrohir to Dol Amroth and together they could stand and watch the sea's restless turmoil, listen to the gulls as they flew upriver, trailing the salt spray and smell of the sea in their wake...He was unaware that he had become still, gazing into the smooth water. He stood, remembering the gulls that had trailed mewling after the SeaSong, like a tattered banner. The ship had plunged and risen on the waves, grey-blue water fringed with white surf...
'It is quiet yet, son of the forest,' a well-known voice spoke to him from the banks and he lifted his head in surprise. A gleam of white light suddenly shone on the smooth green bank above the rushes and he squinted against it before it coalesced into Gandalf. He blinked and waded towards the shore. His feet sank slightly in the softly silted mud and he smoothed back his hair with both hands, pulling it over his shoulder to squeeze out the water. The water slipped around his hips, holding him for a moment, and he looked down as he waded ashore, the water running off his skin, the painted swirls and spirals wet and gleaming in the sunlight that warmed him as he emerged from the water. He looked up smiling to see Gandalf's lips slightly parted and his eyes keen. For a moment, Legolas saw not the old bent figure of Gandalf but the utterly breathtaking Maiar beneath and he felt himself choke a little at the loveliness of Olórin.
'It is quiet now,' the Wizard said, lifting his eyes to follow the River. 'But it will become louder, more insistent. And one day, you will hear nothing else...'
Legolas stood beside Gandalf and followed his gaze. 'Do you hear it too?' he asked softly
Gandalf sighed and looked away from the river, turning slightly to look beyond Legolas towards the colourful tents and pavilions behind them. 'Yes- it calls me now and I feel it stir my blood. Mavoinë we call it, the Great Longing.' He looked fully into Legolas' eyes then. Again, pure light seemed to pour from Gandalf and Legolas felt a sudden dislocation like the world had tilted slightly. 'It has always been there but quiet, like low tide, but the tide has turned now and my work here is done. Once Aragorn is crowned, I will have finished. Then I can go home...' There was such yearning in his voice that Legolas felt an immense sadness well up in him, for it was how he felt too.
'Home...yes,' he said wonderingly, for he had not even considered that Gandalf might feel this longing. 'That is what it feels...like home.' He turned to Gandalf suddenly, for he felt keenly all that he would lose to go into this unknown. Surely the High Elves as they called themselves, would see him and his kind as a rustic and rough folk, like they wrote in their books? They would float about like they did in Imladris and he would struggle with their rules and their stuffy customs and laws. He would suffocate. What would he do if there were no spiders or Orcs to fight?
But instead he said, 'Will you be there? When I come?'
'Yes.' Gandalf looked at him and it was Gandalf now, blue eyes twinkled playfully as if he knew Legolas' doubts. 'But I will not be Gandalf.'
'You will always be Gandalf,' he said with absolute confidence. 'Whatever you look like.'
Gandalf laughed softly as though recognising something that he had not known before. 'Yes. I will always be Gandalf...It will fade though.' He touched the Elf's arm, still damp with river water and turned him towards the pavilions. 'And you, Legolas...what will you do if your love does not hear the Sea as you do?'
The question hit Legolas with force. It was what he had been considering all this time but submerged somewhere. It was Elladan's point too, and he did not know the answer.
'If I were to leave and he not follow...if he were to die here on these shores and I there in Valinor...how could I live? I might go to the Halls of Waiting, if that be true, and he would never come. He might yet choose a different path from mine.'
He bowed his head, the heaviness that settled in his chest overwhelmed him and almost he could see the future; himself standing on a distant shore, on a beach where they said there were jewels instead of pebbles. He was shading his eyes with his long hand and gazing far out to Sea, searching for a sail, a ship, but the last one had already come. Nothing...He could see himself sitting near three grassy mounds that were planted with flowers and small tokens, utterly forlorn. The weight in his chest settled further like a stone around a drowning man. He saw himself then, a ghost haunting the doors of the Halls of Waiting and then finally passing through...and nothing then.
'Is this my fate?' he cried in sudden despair. 'Indeed the Lady spoke truly when she said my heart would rest no more, but it is not the Sea that is my Enemy!'
'You must tell him this,' Gandalf said calmly.
'I will...but what if he says he cannot?' What if Elladan is right and he is closer to the Ways of Men, too close?' Legolas hated the note of desperation in his voice, the despair. When had he ever lost his hope, his heart? When had he ever been reduced to such pathos?
'Then you will come with me to a place I know where you can forget.'
'I do not want to forget!' Legolas declared, miserably, vehemently. He thrust himself away from Gandalf and grabbed at his clothes strewn with such carelessness, and strode up the bank. He found a place amongst the cool willows and threw himself down.
He lay on the cooling grass, his arm thrown over his eyes for he no longer basked in the Song, in the deliciousness of the day. A dreadful ache had settled just below his ribs and it felt like all the black threads that had been burned away by Elrohir had bunched together just beneath his heart.
'If he does not come with me,' he finally decided, 'I will not leave either.'
It was evening of the sixth day since Sauron had fallen and the third evening they had been on the Cormallen field. The long rays stroked the grass, lit up the small insects that hovered above the deep grass. In the luxurious tent belonging to Elladan and Elrohir, Legolas lounged carelessly in a low chair and stared at a thin volume in his hands. He was baffled by it. Not because he was untutored in the characters and letters of Gondor, but because what he read made no sense to him. 'On the shadowed hall of the Elven Realm of Mirkwood.' Imrahil had brought it the evening before and handed it to Legolas with a wry smile, suggesting he might like to correct any misconceptions therein. It was the second such volume, the first was entitled On the Laws and Customs of the Elves and had been written by some Noldor scholar unheard of in the Greenwood. It lay open where he had cast it last night.
He reached for a glass of wine, deep red, and light shot through it. It had a good mouth, as his father would have said. He dropped his eyes back to the page again.
'...Now of old the name of that forest was Greenwood the Great, and once its wide glades and eaves were the haunt of many beasts and of birds of bright song; and there was the realm of King Thranduil under the oak and the beech. But after many years, when well nigh a third of that age of the world had passed, a darkness crept slowly through the wood from the southward, and fear walked there in shadowy glades; fell beasts came hunting, and cruel and evil creatures laid there their snares.
'Then the name of the forest was changed and Mirkwood it was called, for the nightshade lay deep there, and few dared to pass through*. And the elves, the Fair folk were driven back and back until even they dwindled and have become a folk of legend, of the dell and glade and only seen in twilight. Save on the nights of the old calendar when it is said the Elven King rides out to catch the souls of the unwary and lure them back to his ....'
Legolas snapped the book shut irritably, and cast it upon the floor. He threw his head back and drew his hands through his hair.
Grey eyes, soft with love, gazed upon him and the thin parched lips moved slightly to speak his name. 'Legolas...'
Legolas lifted his gaze in wonder. Elrohir was awake and gazing at him as if he could not quite believe it either. With a cry, Legolas cast himself on his knees beside Elrohir and took his hands gently between his own. He pressed his lips onto the trembling palm, stroked his fingers over the pale skin and then looked up into Elrohir's grey, uncertain eyes.
'You are awake,' he said unnecessarily. He did not care that he was grinning like a fool and his heart was leaping. 'I have been waiting for you...it seems a long time.' He smiled and pushed back a stray tendril of black hair in a gesture of utmost tenderness. 'I almost lost you.' A surge of loss heaved in his chest and he took a breath to still it, to soothe and calm himself. 'I could not bear that.'
Elrohir did not speak but gazed up at Legolas like he was starving.
'Gandalf turned you back...But I hope you came back for me.' He looked hopefully at Elrohir, noting the shadows beneath his eyes, and the still slightly grey pallor of his skin. The veins still showed slightly but the horrible swelling and bruising had faded. So close, it had been. Elrohir still did not speak and Legolas reached for a cup of clear, cool water and slid his hand beneath the silky head to raise him to drink. Elrohir clasped his own hands around Legolas' around the cup and his palms were still clammy and hot. A horrible memory forced its way through Legolas, of the black threads writhing and wriggling through him. But he pushed it away and focused all his attention, all his love on Elrohir.
Elrohir drank greedily and when the cup was drained, Legolas turned and poured more from a glass jug that stood on a table at his side. Elrohir was able to take the cup himself now and as he drank water escaped his mouth and trickled across his throat. Legolas watched it bead on his skin and reached out and wiped it with his finger gently, tenderly.
And Elrohir gazed at him with such tenderness it caught his heart and cradled it. 'Beloved.'
One last chapter to go - really because this one was getting too long. And then, all over.
* Gimli returned Legolas ot himself in an earlier chapter by smoking.
* Deep cast or open cast- mining terminology- open cast is a mine in the open ground and deep is underground. Gimli is delighted because Legolas has been listening after all!!
* This is based on, and uses phrases from Tolkien's own description of Ithilien.
* Aragorn offers all those in the Host a chance to turn aside or stay with him. Many who did not have the heart to fight in Mordor turned aside and took Aragorn up on his offer to let them go and do something they could do. Some of them went to fight in other places or stayed in Osgiliath to repair the town against Mordor should Aragorn fail.
* Taken from the Silmarillion.
Note about chronology: Tolkien has Frodo and Sam awaken on the 8th April. I have taken some liberties because that seems an awful long time.
Day 1: 26th March: Leave Mordor.
Day 5: 31st March: Arrive in Cormallen. (It took five days for the Host to march from MT to Mordor and they were fresh and had no wounded. On the return the wagons have caught up and are drawn by oxen - slower than horses. They have wounded so will take longer. The Pioneers of the West used to let the ox take rests and graze as they needed. I thought five days was not unreasonable.)
Day 6: 1st April: Suitably, Merry arrives.
Day 8: 3rd April: Elrohir awakens.
Day 14: 8th April: The Feast (and back to the canon timeline).
So we have 5 days left to fill before the end of this fic - but it really is one chapter now. Already pretty much written but I have to sort out the povs and write the very last scene so be patient. Work is very hectic and I get about two hours a week to write.
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.