Title: The Last Journey
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: Fourth Age of the Sun
Genre: AU, Action/Adventure
Rating: M / FRM
Main characters: Aragorn, Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Elrond, Éomer, Erestor, Faramir, Gandalf, Gimli, Glorfindel, Haldir, Legolas, Meriadoc, Nazgûl, Pippin, Thranduil (, OCs).
Pairings: Legolas/OMC (brief Aragorn/Arwen, Éowyn/Faramir)
Summary: After many peaceful years that have followed the war against Sauron, everything changes. Evil returns, striking without warning, and it is stronger than ever before. It is time for the final fight, but who shall achieve victory?
Work in Process.
Warnings: Characters’ death (major, OC), violence, torture, slash, mild sexual content (het and slash), plenty of evil, etc.
The dawn was pushing itself across the night sky. It was a life-long battle between two forces of equal strength; without night, there could be no day, and without day, who could tell what the night was?
Pippin watched the horizon bathe itself in soft colours, slowly gaining more and more ground from the lingering darkness. It was a soothing view. Something certain. Even though a day may be dark, it could never be that dark.
The wind picked up across the plains, harsh and cold. It made the Hobbit shudder, even though he was clad in his warm Elven cloak. He shifted a little, bare feet against hard, raw stone beneath him, older than him without doubt.
“Are you cold, Master Hobbit?” a smooth voice asked him, and Pippin looked up, smiling a little at the tall Elf who had appeared beside him. Even his sharp Hobbit ears had not picked up the arrival’s light step.
“I am afraid I am not quite as accustomed to this kind of weather as these hard Men who live their whole lives here,” Pippin admitted.
Rafél made a sound of approval, but it seemed the wind did not matter to him. Clad only in his tunic and leggings, the Guardian looked as comfortable as he had inside, in front of the crackling fire. The memory of the heat emanating from the burning wood made Pippin shudder even more, but he stood beside his silent companion, trying to draw from the noble air of the Eldar. Rafél was quite different from Legolas.
“Do you like to watch the Sun rise?” Rafél asked him.
“Back in the Shire, I was usually still buried beneath my blankets at such an hour as this, so I missed most of the sunrises,” Pippin confessed with a chuckle that the Elf joined with him. It seemed the other was not disapproving of the Hobbit’s apparent laziness, though. “I think I have learned to enjoy such a simple beauty as the one of the sunrise, afterwards,” Pippin added. “It is such an important thing. Without it, darkness would be everywhere all the time, and that would be depressing.” He nodded to himself, imaging such a dark world, and shuddered some more.
“I remember seeing the Sun rise for the very first time. It was magnificent. Powerful.” Rafél closed his eyes, as if to recall the exact moment. “I was also disappointed, because in the daytime, you cannot see the beautiful stars that my people had learned to love.”
“Were you afraid of the Sun?” Pippin asked curiously. “Or did someone tell you it would suddenly appear on the sky?”
Rafél opened his eyes and directed his brown, intense gaze at the Hobbit. “It was the creation of the Valar. They gave us the Sun, and the Moon. If there was fear, it was soon washed away by amazement and gratitude.”
“But you still like the night better?” Pippin insisted.
“Sometimes,” Rafél admitted. “But recently, the nights have been even darker, and they have lost the beauty they once held. Now, dark things crawl in the shadows, and when the Sun goes down, it happens that many evil dares to come out of their hiding places. It takes away most of our joy and freedom.”
“The swifter we battle them, the quicker we can return you back to dancing naked in the moonlight,” another voice joined them, the rough tone laced with sarcasm. Pippin glanced at the dark appearance of the man – or whatever he was – whom he knew by the name of Thaíly. He also knew he and Rafél had a very bizarre relationship.
Rafél gave Thaíly a dark glance, but then moved his eyes to Pippin and slightly inclined with his head towards the door behind them. Pippin took the hint, bowed at the old Sindar, and then headed for the door, feeling like he could use a long, warm bath and some breakfast. Just before he slipped inside, he looked back, the Elf and the man silhouetted against the rising Sun. Light and dark, and the bloody red dawn.
“Close the door,” urged a soft voice, and Pippin did as he was told, meeting Aragorn’s eyes in the dimness of the hallway.
“What do you think they are going to talk about?”
The Man seemed to think about it for a moment, looking at the door as if he could see through it. “About Legolas, I would assume. About our plans.”
“Well, that is good,” Pippin said, daring to smile briefly. “When do you think we will find him? Is he going to be alright?”
Aragorn’s face darkened, and Pippin regretted that he had even asked. Whatever the answer was, it was clear none of them would like it.
Glancing towards the door between them and the two people outside, Pippin let his shoulders drop a little in defeat. A hand settled on his right one, and he looked up at Aragorn. The other offered him a smile. “Let us not abandon our faith. Legolas is strong, and they took him alive. There may be a purpose they have for him, and that is something we must hope for. We will find him, alive and well.” There was conviction in Aragorn’s voice, and Pippin nodded.
There was some rustling as people moved across the room on the opposite side of the hallway. The city was waking.
“Come,” Aragorn said, straightening up, “let us find some food, and our friends. The day will be long, and we cannot tread it with empty stomachs.”
“Finally some words of wisdom I can wholeheartedly relate to,” Pippin chided as he followed the Man’s long stride.
“We are wasting time here.”
“We need a plan.”
“Whatever they come up with,” Thaíly pointed out, “involves too many people. We should leave now, track down the army, and sneak up to them unnoticed.”
“And perhaps throw away our lives in the process,” Rafél interjected.
“You have vowed to die for him, to protect him.”
“But not in vain. Not when it will not ensure his safety or freedom. We could just as well run ourselves to death, trying to find him.” Rafél had no love or fond feelings towards desperation, but that was what he felt.
“You know where he is,” Thaíly insisted. “You just have to reach out and find him. Why have you not?”
Rafél looked at the half-man, half-monster from the corner of his eye. To him, Thaíly would never be a Man, and the blood of a vampire was rare though unmistakable. It irritated him that this untrustworthy creature could come here and tell him what to do – and be right in doing so. “There are reasons,” he said at length.
“Are you afraid?”
“Perhaps I am not strong enough. In case you have not noticed, my powers have been massively weakened as of late.”
Thaíly chuckled. “The strength of your body has nothing to do with the valour of your heart. Reach out for him. I am sure the distance is not too great. After all, if you love him, no length on this earth will be too great.”
“None but one,” Rafél said, closing his eyes.
There was a brief silence. Thaíly knew what he meant, so there was no reason to explain. “He is not dead.”
“The Halls do not have him yet, no. But… he is far. And he is weak, within the shadows.” Rafél felt his mind darken as he thought of Legolas and involuntarily his fëa reached out for the mate his heart had chosen, perhaps against his better judgement. Well, there was nothing he could do about it; he could merely pledge these newfound feelings to the resolve he already had, and do all in his power to save Legolas.
“Find him,” Thaíly pressed.
Rafél wondered why the other was in such a hurry. Did he not like the city of Men, or was there something else to it? Was he driven by guilt like Rafél himself? And if so, what had he done? After all, there were certain things in his behaviour that fed the Elf’s suspicion more than usual. He may have followed his distrust, but one thing stood adamant in his heart: the other was right, he could not delay. The faster he found Legolas, the better their chances of saving him.
Closing his eyes, the Elf focused. He could feel Thaíly’s satisfaction for a brief moment before his mind sank deeper.
The distance between him and the darkness seemed to lessen, and the air was suddenly freezing cold on his skin, seeping deeper into him. He gasped, but did not give in. Pushing deeper still, searching for the younger Elf, he braced himself against the darkness and the stench of Evil.
Then, something went wrong.
For a moment he felt Legolas grasp at him, like a ghost from the shadows, but as he tried to make it linger, to strengthen the connection, something intervened. It was so close that it stole his breath, burning his mind. At once he knew he had to pull back, or he was risking his life, and perhaps that of his beloved.
Rafél found himself kneeling on the stones, smell of blood in his nostrils and swallowing the copper taste down his throat. His body was shaking. Thaíly was kneeling beside him, holding him up, concentration on his face. Their eyes met, Rafél’s still dark from the brief but vicious pain. “We must hurry. Whatever stood between Legolas and me was powerful. It was as if it came from… within. Our connection is no longer unstained.”
Thaíly lifted his eyes towards the rising Sun that had climbed over the mountain tops a considerable amount since they had first come out there. “Where?”
Rafél had not seen enough to satisfy his hunger for information, but he had at least some kind of vague feeling. “They have taken him to Mordor.”
Thaíly did not pry more about that. He got up, leaving Rafél to his own struggle to regain his footing. “It is time for those mortals inside to learn the new meaning of haste. If they are not ready by midday…”
“We ride out alone,” Rafél agreed. No longer would he sit idle.
Before they went inside, the Sinda allowed his eyes to rest towards the East. It seemed the daybreak was yet to reach some stretch of the land there. His thoughts lingered on Legolas, and the other’s unknown fate. He hoped he had given the other some strength, brief as their touch had been.
“It pains me just like it pains everyone else, but I must think of my people as well – as should you, Aragorn,” Éomer began, every eye in the room on him. Tension hung heavily in the air. “How much are we willing to risk for one Elf?” the King of Rohan asked. “Yes, Legolas has been a loyal friend and a valiant warrior, and fought battles beside me and my men –”
“But you think it is not worth the effort for us to try and save him?” Gimli thundered across the room. It was good that he was seated there, and nowhere near Éomer.
“Gimli,” Aragorn hushed his friend, a firm hand on his broad chest to keep him still since the Dwarf looked tempted to get up and show Éomer exactly how much he appreciated his carefully selected words.
The Man’s steady eyes next turned to his fellow King who had just spoken. “I see your worry, and blame you not for it. It is true we know little of Legolas’ situation, and if he is indeed in Mordor,” at that, his eyes rested briefly on Rafél, “it will be hard to release him. The risks will be great.”
“I think you should not go, my Lord,” Faramir noted from behind his King. “Like Éomer’s people need him here, you will be needed in Gondor. We know the Enemy is planning something, and as long as we do not know what that something is…”
“I cannot turn my back on my friend!” Aragorn said firmly.
“No one expects you to, laddie,” Gimli soothed the Man in turn.
“Many of us will go. Ones who are not bound by Lordship or people to govern,” Thalión pointed out. Most of the Elves nodded.
“I think that does not lessen his desire to join us,” Elladan wisely added, looking at his foster brother. Elrohir dared an open smile, seeing the stubbornness on Aragorn’s face. “I think Elessar is going to join us, whatever your wish on the matter, Faramir,” the Half-elf noted.
The Steward bowed his head in submission, but Aragorn’s firm hand on his shoulder made him look up again. “We ride through Gondor on our way. I trust you and Imrahil to gather the news and raise the army if a need for battle arises.”
There was no doubt Faramir would have liked to respond to that, but he knew his King’s mind was set. The resignation on his face was as evident as the words he chose not to voice.
“I must remain with my people, at least until we are prepared to repel another attack,” Éomer said a bit haltingly, as if he was expecting Gimli to hurl an axe at his head for those words. “I will ride for Gondor as soon as I can.”
“And we shall welcome you with open arms, my friend,” Aragorn acknowledged his fellow King’s words with a nod. Éomer looked much relieved by that.
“Who shall accompany us to Mordor, then?” Gimli asked, getting up from his chair, flexing his strong arms as if preparing to mount their horses and ride out at once.
“The Elves will come,” Celeborn said without hesitation. There seemed to be no argument between his people.
“The road will be dark, and treacherous,” Gandalf spoke up for the first time, his bright eyes meeting the Elven Lord’s.
“It is one I am willing to tread, to try and release my kinsman.”
“We will be honoured by your sword among ours,” Dínnor bowed.
“I hope you shall feel the same about mine,” Gandalf smiled, standing up himself.
“And ours!” Merry and Pippin shouted at once, jumping to their feet, drawing their Elven blades.
Short silence followed, and the Hobbits looked around for support, the enthusiasm in their eyes replaced by disappointment.
“Let them come. They too are friends of Legolas,” Shannai spoke up after a moment. The Hobbits looked at him with grateful faces, and it seemed the Elf had no trouble hiding his warm smile.
“We should leave you behind,” snapped Thrénandu, who had been brooding ever since they left Helm’s Deep. It seemed he was not pleased with their current situation.
“Hobbits have travelled to Mordor before, unseen,” Thaíly interrupted the heated staring competition between the two Elves. “They are good spies, if they manage to keep their mouths shut.” The dark eyes bore into Merry and Pippin as if to question them on the subject.
“They shall come,” Aragorn decided, letting his small friends off the hook.
“Good,” Gimli roared, “then let us be on our merry way, because I am afraid that no joy shall linger with us long after we reach that cursed land.” His fingers smoothed the firm end of his axe almost nervously.
“We will meet some of the Ithilien Rangers on our way,” Aragorn told Faramir as everyone got up and went to seek for their gear. “We move fast, and with the bravery of our men, the strength of the Dwarves, and the senses of the Elves, we shall make our journey as painless and swift as possible.”
“I hope you find him in good health,” Faramir nodded. He seemed somewhat comforted by the idea that his Lord was going to take some of the Rangers with him.
“So do I,” Aragorn mused, his eyes darkening again and he turned to strap Andúril around his waist. It was time to ride.
to be continued…