10. On the banks of the Bruinen
Beta: Wonderful Anarithilen.
Summary: Legolas has arrived in Imladris in time to join the Council of Elrond. He has told his tale of Gollum's escape, during which Naurion, a member of the guard, was captured and killed, and of the slaying of Legolas' childhood friends, Celdir and Anglach. Since he arrived in Imladris, Legolas has taken up with Berensul, a member of Elrond's household, and has sort of met Elrohir. In this chapter, Legolas volunteers to join the Elves that Elrond sends to scout the lands around Rivendell to ensure the Nazgul have gone.
'Elrond is sending Elves, and they will get in touch with the Rangers, and maybe with Thranduil's folk in Mirkwood. And Aragorn has gone with Elrond's sons. We shall have to scour the lands around for many long leagues before any move is made.' Gandalf. FoTR. Chapter 3.
Warning: Violence and brutality in the next two chapters.
Chapter 10: The Banks of the Bruinen
Berensul had not come to him until the early hours, knocking lightly on the door. When Legolas opened it he was already dishevelled and when Legolas stepped aside to let him in, he snatched a kiss as he passed. He smelt of a woman, thought Legolas surprised. He followed Berensul in and watched as the Imladrian Elf cast himself back on the bed, his long dark hair spreading out over the pillows. His cheeks were flushed.
Legolas was no stranger to the ways of love and cocked his head to one side knowingly, noted that Berensul looked away and would not meet his gaze. Legolas poured a goblet of wine and drank it. He did not pour one for Berensul, not yet.
'It's Elemé,' Berensul said finally, awkwardly. He shrugged and twiddled with a thread on the sheets. 'She seduced me'
Legolas raised his eyebrows at the preposterousness of Berensul's claim and shook his head slightly. He turned then and poured a goblet for Berensul, approached the bed where the Elf sprawled and handed it to him. At the open window, the sheer gauze that veiled them from the outside world fluttered and the smell of snow in the mountains drifted in.
Berensul took the goblet and then looked up at him. He paused for a moment and then smiled wryly. 'She has always pursued me,' he said almost petulantly. In the moonlight, his smooth dark hair gleamed and he looked down so his long lashes lay against his cheek. He sipped the wine Legolas had given him, avoiding his gaze.
Legolas sat on the bed beside him, stroked a hair back from Berensul's face and asked, 'What of her suitor, out in the Wilds?'
Berensul looked sheepish and would not meet his eye so that Legolas guessed. 'There isn't one,' he realised and frowned. 'Why did you...?' He paused and looked away feeling foolish, deceived.
'You were obviously interested in her, you were going to pursue her,' said Berensul looking up at Legolas from beneath his eyelashes in a practised shyness that did not fool Legolas. 'And I wanted you,' he added, unrepentant.
'You could still have had me,' said Legolas a little annoyed. 'I wish you had not lied,' he said turning away from Berensul.
He stood, pulling the sheet from Berensul and wrapping it around his waist for he felt suddenly that he did not want to be naked in front of Berensul. He was less bothered by the fact that Berensul had come from another lover than by the lie itself that she had a suitor.
'I am sorry for it now.' Berensul reached out and caught Legolas' hand, kissed his wrist. 'I did not know you then.' He looked up again at Legolas but this time there was no guile.
'And what of Elemé?' Legolas demanded. 'What does she feel about you leaving her and creeping into my bed?' He did not pull his hand away though and stood, undecided and looking down at Berensul.
'Elemé will not mind. I think she will like it,' Berensul said with a gleam in his green eyes and a flash of white teeth. 'I told you we could all...'
'Enough!' Legolas said and laughed suddenly. 'You are incorrigible. You should live in the Wood.' He thought Berensul lovely and even if he had come from another, still desired him so he knelt and pulled him close, kissing his mouth.
They had taken leave of each other sweetly and as the first pale light of dawn crept over the Mountains, Legolas had washed thoroughly in the sumptuous bathroom, still wondering at the warm water that spurted into the porcelain bowl. Berensul had brought breakfast with him, and after his ablutions Legolas sat and ate the bread, fruit and cheese hungrily. Then he dressed, pulled on his boots, belted his tunic. Lastly he sat and braided his hair and watched Berensul, who was propped up on his elbow with his long dark hair spilling over the white rumpled sheets.
'You are very early,' Berensul said, still soft with sleep. 'No one else will even be about. You will be the first to be ready. '
Legolas scooped up his quiver and bow, slid his knives into their sheaths and checked his belt and boots. Then he touched Berensul lightly in farewell, but it weighed on him that Berensul might feel a little guilty still and Legolas would not be here for much longer.
'You are free to pursue whomsoever you wish,' he reminded Berensul gently.
Berensul had merely blinked at him sleepily and smiled. 'Be safe,' he said and rolled over to sleep. Legolas wondered if Elemé knew that Berensul had come to him after he had been with her, and if she cared.
The pale crack of light crept over the mountains later than in the Wood, Legolas thought, leaning his head against the stone pillar where he waited for Glorfindel and his warriors to appear. He even wondered if he had missed everyone for it was past dawn and surely everyone would be up and about now ready to ride out, to make the most of the daylight as they did in the Wood. He had already walked about the grounds, and found sleepy horses in a large, well-kept stable yard. They had whickered softly to him but no one else was about. It seemed that everyone else still slept and he wondered how many inhabitants there were of Imladris.
He sat on the stone wall and swung his legs a little, waiting. Berensul was right, he was far too early. At last he saw the sun climb above the Mountains and the sunlight poured over the House. And into that golden light emerged Glorfindel.
Legolas almost sighed aloud.
The Elf-lord turned and gold shot through his hair and there was such a joy and fearlessness in his face that Legolas felt he had looked beyond the Veil and seen the Far Shore and there was nothing to fear...When Glorfindel smiled at Legolas and raised his hand in greeting, he felt his mouth drop open. He may have even drooled, he thought later with embarrassment.
'You decided to stay? Good. I am glad.' His thoughts were interrupted by Boromir, the son of the Steward of Gondor.
Legolas shook himself free of his hero-worship and smiled easily in welcome, pushing away from the wall to stand with Boromir. 'Your words moved me,' he told the Man and was pleased to see Boromir's gratified expression in return for his honesty. 'And one more day will not inconvenience me at all.'
'I think it will be more than one day,' Boromir replied, looking at the number of Elves assembled.
It seemed many for a simple scout around the immediate area of Imladris and Legolas frowned. There must be over two dozen Elves, some on horses and some not. Elrond was there, dressed as if for hunting, and Aragorn stood with Mithrandir. To Legolas' surprise, one of the Dwarves also joined Aragorn and stood talking with him in a quiet voice. But then the Brethren, the Sons of Elrond arrived, and even amongst such illustrious company, Legolas felt the change in the air, as if a storm was gathering. The air crackled and he felt the hairs on his neck rise but not in fear but instead with anticipation. He could not help but stare. Identical, noble and fair they were, their long black-silk hair loosely braided but where Glorfindel brought joy and courage, a darkness seemed to settle around them and the assembled warriors drew back a little from them as if in fear.
Mithrandir was standing on a nearby terrace, leaning on his staff and watching everything with shrewd blue eyes. Legolas pushed his way through the assembled Elves and hailed him.
The Wizard started slightly and then greeted Legolas cheerfully. 'Ah, there you are, Legolas. Well done for getting here on time. I was worried for a moment that you were going to miss the Council.'
Legolas frowned.'What made you think...? How did you know...?' And then he shook his head again. It was always best not to enquire too deeply of Wizards, his father always said. His father also said other things about Wizards that were less subtle, like trouble following Mithrandir like carrion follows war. 'It is good to see you, Mithrandir,' he said and pushed past some Elves with a slight bow and apology to join him.
Mithrandir gave a slow smile and then looked at him kindly. 'It is good to see you too, Legolas. I would ask after your father but there is little time right now. We must have a talk you and I when you get back. There is something I need you to do for me.'
It was on the tip of his tongue to say he thought the folk of the Wood had done quite enough but it was not in him really. That was Thranduil speaking and he sighed. 'Of course, Mithrandir.'
Mithrandir patted him on the arm and his blue eyes were grave. 'I am sorry that you lost people in helping me, Legolas.'
Legolas looked away and the pain of his failure was too deep to speak of so instead he said, 'I have news of the Nazgul. Two passed me on the Mountain. I have not been able to tell you this before.'
Mithrandir's kindly face changed then and Legolas thought he glimpsed something harder, brighter. 'Well now. They passed you by, did they? Did they sense you? Smell is their main sense you know.'
'No. I hid from them well.'
'And were you afraid?'
Legolas glanced at the Wizard briefly and then away. 'Of course I was afraid. They are terrifying.'
'But you thought of other things. And kept your fear in check,' observed Mithrandir thoughtfully. 'Well done, Thranduilion. Not many could have done so. Most would have fled.'
Legolas shrugged. 'I did not challenge them as Glorfindel did, or drive them off as Aragorn. It can hardly be said to be a great deed.' He thought of the way he had cowered in the scrubby heather and whortleberries in the mountains and was not proud.
'Well, never mind that now. I am pleased you are here and safe.' The Wizard gave him a quick dismissive smile and turned to make his way towards Elrond leaving Legolas alone on the terrace.
Legolas watched the Wizard, unperturbed by his abruptness; it was one of his charms, as Galion said. Mithrandir leaned towards Elrond now and spoke quietly. The Elf-lord had glanced over at Legolas and there was speculation in his eyes.
Glorfindel was shuffling his warriors about, directing them here or there. Elrond and Mithrandir stood with what was clearly one party, and Erestor stood with what was clearly another. One of the Sons of Elrond stood talking quietly to their father and the other stood separately, staring out over the mountains southwards. Two black horses stood saddled and bridled, packs strapped to their saddles as if for a long journey. In the crisp morning, their breath steamed and they shook their heads and fretted at the silver bits in their mouths. Legolas wondered where they were going for the other horses standing waiting were not so laden.
At last Glorfindel beckoned to Legolas and Boromir, and directed Legolas to the group where Aragorn stood and Boromir to the other. A large grey horse stood patiently beside Aragorn, one back hoof resting. Its eyes were half closed and it was dozing, but its quiet patience hid great strength, thought Legolas. It was not an elven steed such as the black horses Elrohir and Elladan.
With him was the younger Dwarf who had spoken to Elemé in the Halls of Fire. Legolas nodded to him briefly, looking into the earth-brown eyes that narrowed at his greeting.
'I know who you are,' said the Dwarf curtly, and although he did not turn away he eyed Legolas distrustfully.
'...At your service,' Legolas finished in spite of the Dwarf's rudeness, for his father would expect him to show such courtesy to a neighbour of the Wood. Just in case.
The Dwarf did not return his greeting but turned his head and greeted Boromir more warmly so Legolas wondered if he had done the right thing in staying. Aragorn had not spoken to him either.
Boromir gave him a sideways look and touched his arm briefly. 'Do not regret your kindness,' he said, drawing Legolas quietly away. 'I have found that sometimes the greatest antagonism leads to the greatest friendship.'
Legolas gave him a doubtful look and was about to reply when he felt a gaze fall upon him like a weight. He looked around to find the Sons of Elrond stood now with Aragorn and both were watching him intently. He drew himself up and smoothed his hand over his braids as if reassuring himself all was in order, for these warriors were magnificent, and though he knew his worth he could hardly believe he was to be riding out with Glorfindel, Elrond, and the Sons of Thunder. He could not stop a wide grin that spread over his face. But it was only Boromir who returned it.
He shrugged and gave Boromir a rueful smile as the Man joined the other group and they began to move away, going North, taking the road that Legolas himself had taken when he first arrived in the Valley.
His own troop set off soon after. The sky was sharp blue, and the air frost laden. Leaves that were turning from gold and red to brown now, drifted on the breeze. They crossed the bridge and followed the banks of the Bruinen until they reached a fork in the road and at a sign from Glorfindel, the troop split again with Elrond and Mithrandir leading one group. Legolas was left with Glorfindel, Aragorn, the Dwarf, the Sons of Elrond, and two Imladrian warriors, Rhawion and Amron.
The Sons of Elrond walked alongside their horses with Glorfindel and did not even look at Legolas. He remembered the sense of Power and energy when he first set eyes upon the Son of Elrond and was disappointed. Perhaps he had been simply overwhelmed by the events he had heard spoken of, or that he was simply tired and more susceptible to whatever Power there was in the House. Whatever it was, clearly it had been in his mind alone and the impression he had made upon the Son of Thunder had been negligible and he was not deemed worthy of notice. His mouth twisted wryly and he thought of home. Perhaps Imladris was not the great adventure he thought it would be after all.
The River Bruinen swept through the narrow gorge, its water white-foamed as it surged over rocks away to the right of them, and Legolas thought it deserved its name, Loud-water. Ahead of him, the Dwarf, Gimli, walked with Aragorn and the two were deep in conversation so that Legolas wondered what they spoke of. He himself walked slightly apart, between the two Imladrian warriors, Amron and Rhawion, and Glorfindel who was behind him with the Sons of Elrond. He could, if he wanted, hear what any of them were saying but he had never eavesdropped and did not intend to start now, whatever the temptation. But the Dwarf clinked slightly as he walked and Legolas guessed he had a small armoury beneath that cloak, much as Legolas had concealed a number of weapons about his own person. He was quite sure that the other Elves in the party were similarly attired. Instead he listened to the forests that climbed out of the Valley and up the shoulders of the towering mountains.
In the late Autumn morning, beech trees clustered at the edges of the gorge and silver birches clung to impossible crannies in the cliffs. He smiled to see their tenacious hold on life and turned instinctively to the Elves to point out one sapling clinging to an impossible cranny in the cliffs but his joyful exclamation was met with a baffled stare from Rhawion and amusement from Amron, so he shrugged and from the on kept his delight to himself. He found his feet took him off the road and he wanted to let his feet sink into the deep moss that covered the ground, and the rocks like a deep carpet.
He spoke a little but listened more, for Gimli and Aragorn seemed well acquainted now and Aragorn described the distant lands of Rohan, of Umbar and the harbours of Dol Amroth. And when he spoke of the Sea, Legolas found something shifted in him and he thought he would like to travel further afield.
Glorfindel had instructed that everyone speak Westron, in respect to Gimli. And in truth Legolas sometimes found the heavy Imladrian accent difficult to follow; it seemed more clipped and sharper than his own lilting Silvan dialect although it was all Sindarin. They used different words sometimes as well, ones he did not know and so the common tongue was a fair compromise.
He had recovered a little from the awe with which he viewed the company he walked in and he tried to keep his hero-worship under his cloak as it were, for the two Imladrian guards had regarded him with faint amusement until he realised that he was gawping and closed his mouth, giving them a wry smile and shrugging. One of them at least had smiled back in understanding.
They had quickly made their way through the gorge and to the Ford where the Nazgul had been swept away by the river. Even now it seemed the River was still turbulent and deep. Now they paused and Glorfindel and Aragorn went to look for any tracks of horses on this side of the river, for even though the Nazgul were wraiths and would leave no tracks, the horses were not.
Legolas turned and scanned the river, his eye catching far down the banks, a tattered black cloth, he thought, in the river. He leaned out a little over the bank and squinted against the fading sun. The water moved and the black rags spread out in the current and he realised it was not cloth but hair...the tail of a black horse, and now he saw the bloated carcass was caught in branches of a fallen tree and what he thought was a rock wet from the river was the body of one of the Nazgul's steeds. He let his senses stretch out and listened, felt...but there was nothing. He called to the group waiting on the banks of the river and ran lightly down the bank to the long shore, and picked his way across to the carcass.
It stank, that oily stink of death that coats the back of the throat, and the eye sockets were already picked out by carrion. The black hide had been torn open and red flesh, white bone showed beneath. But worse was the taint of the Nazgul. The air around it felt strange, dislocated, like he was looking into a tunnel or into a pool where the world was reflected and everything was sepia and strangely distorted. His fingertips prickled slightly but it was not because the Nazgul were here, but instead because they had been.
He returned and by that time, both Glorfindel and Aragorn had joined the group.
'One of the Nazgul's beasts is caught in that fallen tree, my lord,' he told them, pulling himself back up to the road.
Glorfindel turned and narrowed his eyes and followed where Legolas pointed. He nodded. 'Was there any other sign of Nazgul?'
'No, my lord. Nothing.'
Glorfindel nodded. 'There is nothing on the shore either. We must push that body out into the river. It will simply rot and taint everything in this area if left there. Legolas and Gimli, will you set about that task. Aragorn, go with them and search for other tracks while you are there. See if there is anything else left. None of you touch anything. Use sticks to push it away.'
Legolas' heart sank and when he glanced up at the Dwarf, he looked no happier than Legolas.
Glorfindel turned to the Sons of Elrond. 'Ride back up along the other bank and see what you find. Join us at Luin-Aglar. We will set camp there. The water will be clean there and the camp safe.' The Brethren nodded in unison and whirled their horses away. Sable cloaks billowed behind them and the fading sunlight caught on the silver bits and runes that curled on their sheaths.
Legolas led Gimli back down to where he had seen the dead horse while Aragorn left his patient grey horse by the ford and walked further downriver. It was an unpleasant job but the two of them waded knee-deep into the icy river without complaint. It was bitter cold and the current was strong enough to pull at Legolas. At one point his foot slipped and he would have plunged in had he not caught his hand on an overhanging branch. The roar of the river as it swept through the gorge drowned their voices and Legolas found himself shouting to the Dwarf to be heard, but when the Dwarf spoke it seemed his deep voice was beneath the sound and carried better than either Man or Elf.
'Raise it with that branch,' the Dwarf said and Legolas took hold of the other end of it and together they levered the body free so it was suddenly taken by the current and then it whirled and was turned by the rushing river. It was caught against rocks for a moment and then swept away.
Legolas did not speak but Gimli said quietly in his voice that sounded like the gravel of the river and the deep places of the Mountain, 'It is a travesty of Nature to see a beast so enslaved to evil. I wonder what Sauron has done to make a mortal beast carry a Ringwraith?'
Legolas glanced down in surprise, for he thought Dwarves cared nothing for their animals. The Dwarf must have seen it for he said then in a voice that was angry and defensive, 'You think us stone, Master Elf, and we think you dull-witted. Who is to say we are both wrong?'
Legolas snapped. 'You are wrong in one thing at least,' he said quickly. 'We think you dull-witted as well.' He turned and leaped lightly up onto the riverbank to come face to face with Aragorn, ignoring Gimli's spluttered rejoinder.
The Man did not seem surprised by Legolas' sudden appearance, nor by the frozen silence between the two of them for the rest of the time they searched the banks. Legolas felt the deep eyes of the Dwarf boring into his back but did not care. A few days at most would be needed for this task, then he would be done with his duty and back on the trail home. He was quite resolved that he would travel alone rather than with any Dwarves.
At last Aragorn called for them to make their way to join Glorfindel. Legolas looked at the water that poured over the Ford and thought he would be thigh-deep in crossing and the current strong.
Aragorn paused before it and though he turned to all of them, it was clear it was Gimli with whom he was concerned. 'Can we all cross safely or do we wait until the river has gone down?'
'If you mean me, Aragorn, say so.' The Dwarf hefted his axe as if he might use it to cross the river.
'Peace, Gimli.' Aragorn raised his hand to pacify the Dwarf but Legolas thought that such an unreasonable person as their dwarvish companion would not be so easily swayed. 'I did not say so, but if you feel it is more likely that you cannot cross, there is no shame in that.'
'Pah! As if I mind getting a bit wet!'
Legolas suppressed a sigh- surely the Dwarf could see it would come up over his waist at least. And that great axe would be no help at all.
'Perhaps you should ride Roheryn,' Aragorn suggested. 'My horse,' he added.
Legolas glanced at the placid beast. It stood resting its hoof, as it did whenever Legolas looked at it. It seemed at ease, resting and he wondered if it ever did more than plod.
'My own two feet were enough to get me here and my own two feet will see me home.'
Legolas could have said any number of sharp things but bit his tongue instead and rolled his eyes.
Aragorn brought Roheryn forwards and certainly the heavy patient horse was not going to have any trouble crossing, Legolas thought. It snorted as if it shared Legolas' irritation.
'Legolas, can you lead Roheryn. Gimli and I will stand on the other side of him so his body shields us from the heaviest of the flood,' said Aragorn. 'I intend to hold onto the stirrup. Gimli for I do not wish a dousing. You may do as you wish.'
Legolas nodded and quickly took the reins from the Man. He rested his hand on the horse's nose and breathed through his nose so his breath ghosted over the horse's nostrils. He caught a slight amused patience from the beast and looked a second time. Intelligent brown eyes gazed back at him with unending patience and then it heaved a deep sigh, as horses do when they are a little bored. Legolas smiled and thought they might do well to simply let the horse lead them.
He entered the cold water. It was melt water from the glaciers and snow on the Misty Mountains, white-green like ice. It was cold enough to take his breath and for the horse to shy once when it stepped into it, but it did not as first Aragorn, then Gimli, followed.
When Aragorn entered the icy water, he gasped and when it reached his thighs, he shouted a curse and Gimli laughed. But Legolas watched Gimli for he simply strode in, crossed and sank first to his waist, then to his chest. He raised the great axe above his head and did not stop, his face did not flicker with discomfort and Legolas found a begrudging respect for the Dwarf at that moment. When they emerged on the other side, the Dwarf simply sat on the scrubby grass and pulled off his boots, emptied them of water and pulled them back on. Legolas did the same but Aragorn flapped his arms and ran about for a moment while Legolas watched with amusement. Thranduil had friendship with Dale at least so Legolas was used to Men, knew something of their ways and their physical weakness, but he remembered Bard well, had liked him, and fought alongside him, knew his sons and daughters. Ah, his daughters.
He was caught in elven memories and had a smile upon his lips when they arrived at the place Glorfindel had called Luin-Aglar. It was a deep, fast-flowing tributary that fed into the Bruinen. Its cold cloudy waters were unusually green-blue, almost turquoise and it plunged through a little gorge so cliffs lined the river. But further down towards it confluence with the Bruinen it flowed into a deep pool that was still and quiet before the water rushed beyond and into the Bruinen. Here a pebbly beach had formed at the foot of the cliffs of the gorge giving way to lush grassy banks and here Glorfindel had made his camp.
The two Imladrian guards already sat companionably around a small fire, breaking open some provisions. One of them, Amron, smiled brightly when Legolas approached and held up a pack of leaf-wrapped lembas.
Legolas made a face and shook his head. 'Thank you but I have had more than enough of lembas in the last few weeks.' He wondered if Ceredir the cook had as famously a heavy hand as Galion, but he did not ask.
'Ah. Then you might prefer bread and cheese, dried meat perhaps? Here. We have enough rations for everyone.' He handed Legolas a carefully wrapped wedge of cheese and a half loaf of bread that must have been made that morning.
Legolas thanked him and sat down with them. Both Elves he found to be talkative and well disposed. He was ravenous and ate what he had been given quickly, then looked about to see what needed to be done. Kindling and firewood needed collecting and he set off with both the Imladrians. As they collected dry timber from the surrounding woodlands, he asked them what their normal patrol was and their duties and was surprised to learn how light it seemed. Except when they ventured with the Sons of Elrond, when they hunted Orcs deliberately. But both were strangely reticent about that and fell silent when Glorfindel joined them to talk briefly about the plan for the rest of the day, which was to base themselves here and to thoroughly search this area. The following day they would search the next section of the river and press on into The Angle where Aragorn's folk dwelt and whose help they would enlist in their search.
The Brethren had not yet returned and Glorfindel was untroubled by their absence.
Three more black horses were found later that dayas well as a tattered black robe that was curled over an overhanging branch like a black snake. Legolas had sensed that strange dislocation in the air, and the trees felt strange, as if some dread thing had brushed its hand lightly over the leaves, touched the grass, drifted over the earth. He stopped and lifted his head to stare around him.
'What do you feel?' He turned to see that Glorfindel was watching him and he felt a keenness in that glance, like he looked beneath the skin, saw him as he truly was.
'The air is different...It always is when they have passed.' Legolas frowned, wondering that none of the other Elves seemed able to sense it. 'It feels greasy, and it's like looking through a tunnel of glass.' Glorfindel came and stood very close to Legolas. 'You have felt this often?'
'Yes. In the South of the Wood. But more recently they have come closer to us and they led the attack on our folk when Gollum escaped.'
Aragorn came and stood with them then. 'I have heard it described so before,' he said. 'I have heard Elrohir say that there is a sense of otherworldliness...A strange smell.'
'The earth remembers their unhallowed feet and the air their cold, black breath,' he said seriously and then remembered to whom he spoke and blushed. 'I am sorry my lord. I know you know this. You defeated the Witchking of Angmar and drove them off single handed- all Nine.' He bit his lip hearing himself gush embarrassingly.
He saw Amron and Rhawion exchange an amused glance and Glorfindel shook his head. 'At the Bridge, they departed only because they knew I did not have that which they seek,' he said. 'Even I cannot defeat them, Legolas. The Witchking cannot be defeated by man. And the other Nazgul were merely unhorsed and uncloaked, becoming the wraiths that they really are. They do not need a form to invoke fear.'
He turned and looked about him. The woods were quiet but in this space where the black robe had been found, not an insect stirred and the leaves seemed to draw back from where it rested. Legolas could almost see where the Nazgul had passed by and he realised the tiny hairs on his neck and down his spine were raised. He looked away, remembering the intense cold that had crept over him on the Mountains and the lingering smell of an empty tomb. His fingertips tingled but it was a distant memory. They were gone.
They had found nothing, thought Elrohir angrily. Not even a hoof-print or a tattered black robe. Nothing. And so as night fell, they returned to join Glorfindel and his small band.
He had pulled off his cloak and tied it to his saddle so it would not slow him down and now he leaned low over Barakhir's neck to urge him ever faster, heard Elladan close, caught the sight of his brother, long hair streamed in the wind, tangled with starlight., tangled with starlight. He felt Barakhir's muscles stretch and his long legs pull, long black mane whipped back as they plunged through the night.
No, they had not found the Nazgul, though his blood roared for it, thundered with need for an encounter, for the battle and blood. He felt himself burgeon and fill with lust, for battle, for blood and knew he needed to spend himself in slaughter, stand deep in blood and gore, wash the stains of his terrible sin from his hands in blood.
He felt his dark sword hiss at his closeness to the Nazgul. For they had been close, had attacked his home, and he had not been there, had missed them by days. His blood and bones called for revenge and a thrill ran through him; Elladan was by his side, Aícanaro in his sheath, Barakhir beneath him, Glorfindel ahead. Invincible, he thought himself, knew himself to be. For there was something that slid between his thoughts...a darkness that he sent scurrying back to crouch in the deep places of his heart. Ignored. The Nazgul would not touch him...they were afraid.
Two black horses, black-clad riders on the silvered road, breath frosting under the stars, and the air surging around them. Starlight caught in the long manes of their horses, in their hair, mercurial, fluid, silken, caught on the silver bits and stirrups, on the mithril runes etched onto the sheaths of their swords. Hooves pounded the road, thundered over the grass, leaped the fords and water sprayed up as they passed like the wind under the hard bright stars. They tore down the old road and drew close to the ridge above Luin-Aglar.
Out of the darkness came a voice, a light voice that he did not recognise, an unfamiliar accent, softer, lengthening the vowels and softening the consonants. 'Hold, Elrondion.' It lilted out of the darkness like some strange call and for a moment he felt a sense of eerie dislocation and in the darkness, Elrohir thought he could see a faint brightness, that seemed edged with green-gold like sunlight through spring leaves.
Barakhir skidded to a halt, threw up his head and pranced, turned in a tight circle around the intruder. Dark Aícanaro slid singing from his sheath and the blade glimmered in Elrohir's fist.
Elladan who drew up alongside, his black horse, Baragur, breathing hard. 'You are out of condition, brother,' Elladan laughed softly and swung easily from his horse. Elrohir was yet mounted and Barakhir circled, picking up his rider's unease, his tension, unsettled excitement that he could not quite account for. 'Why are you drawn?' asked Elladan, his lovely face suddenly concerned. 'Is that not Legolas?'
The bright voice came back. 'Yes my lords. Our camp is below.'
Already Elladan had dismounted and was slackening Baragur's girth. Yet Elrohir hesitated.
He knew who Legolas was, had observed the Mirkwood Elf on the road, could not help looking at him. No one could; he drew the eye. So when Elrohir had passed him on the stairs the day before, he had turned to look, with a strange sense of foresight, and green-gold light shimmered in the air as he passed. And then he had seen him that same night in the gardens, clearly in a tryst with Berensul.
Elrohir's lip curled in contempt. More dangerous, less wise indeed; the son of Thranduil was clearly anxious to bolster the wild and promiscuous reputation of the Woodelves in every way he could.
He felt Barakhir's restlessness as he tossed his head and lipped the silver bit in his mouth, but Elrohir was still staring, thinking of that bright, fearless face flushed in passion, lips parted, long green eyes half closed in ecstasy, and as before, he saw gold and black coiled together, black hair, raven-silk, swirling through the gold like coloured inks. Almost he gasped then, almost he reached out. Instead a dark lust uncoiled in his belly, raised its head and its tongue flickered over its lips at the loveliness before him; begging to be taken, begging to be pounded hard, to be....he shuddered...
'My lord?' Legolas looked up at him in concern and Elrohir almost snarled. A breeze lifted the Mirkwood Elf's long pale gold hair and unbearably, pain lanced through Elrohir.
...and too late, the image of cornsilk hair, feverish blue eyes staring up, unrecognising and the whispered, hateful obscenities...fingernails that tore at his loathsome face... Horror seized him then and he squeezed closed his eyes and clenched his fist. Bile flooded his mouth and he could not bear it.
He was aware of Elladan looking at him and gentle concern in his eyes. A hand lay gently on his arm and cool blue suffused his tormented thoughts, soothed him. 'Come brother. There is nothing here but the phantasms of your mind, your dreams.' It was but a whisper and the gentle hand soothed him so he gritted his teeth and slid from his horse. He kept his back to Legolas and shook off Elladan.
The Mirkwood Elf looked away as if an idol had fallen before him. And it probably had, thought Elrohir, knowing well his reputation amongst younger warriors. He did not care. He had never asked for it. His reputation was based on vengeance for his mother's torment. It had frozen him like the Helcaraxë and the Mirkwood Elf would do well to keep clear of him.