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The Last Journey; Chapter 43: Unsuccessful Attempts

Story Info

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.

~ ~ ~

“)…(” = Sindarin

Chapter 43: Unsuccessful Attempts


Faramir insisted accompanying his King until they reached Osgiliath. It had been painful enough to see Éomer stay behind, and hear the regret in his tense words when they parted ways before the walls of Edoras. He had to take care of his people, though, and would join them once matters in Rohan were under control.

Until then, they were on their own. The Elves did not seem too concerned with that, but then, their thoughts were with their lost Prince and his fate, and it was not their King who would accompany them to the darkness of Mordor.

The sky around the looming tops of Ephel Dúath seemed darker than ever. As Faramir eyed them, picking at his bow string in frustration, he once again swore in his mind to learn one day the kind of lore that would turn Elessar’s mind once it had already been set. But then, it was also the man’s determination he respected so much, so perhaps it was for the best if he tried not to meddle with it.

“Be at ease, Steward,” Gimli said gruffly, walking up to him. The way he touched his axe’s blade was much alike with the manner Faramir was fingering his own weapon. “I shall keep Aragorn safe. You have my word.”

“And a stout word that no doubt is, Master Dwarf, but still I worry,” Faramir replied. He knew Gimli had travelled long with Aragorn, and there was much between them. The Dwarf would not see his friend come to harm’s way, King or not. At the same time, though, there was something else to consider: the jewel hanging around Gimli’s neck, in a shape of a delicate bird, was a mark that there was something else at stake for both Gimli and Aragorn, and that was Legolas’ safety. This foolhardy attempt to save him was a good proof that anything could happen if they forgot caution, and Faramir had a feeling they already had.

“Your King shall be safe with us,” joined another voice, much fairer, and with a respectful bow Faramir turned to meet Celeborn, flanked by his Lórien warriors – for like warriors they looked, their faces grim though fair, eyes scanning the horizon darkly. It seemed they did not take joy from the idea of entering Mordor, but their hearts were set. Faramir hoped he could join them as his own heart yearned, but Gondor had to be raised, armies gathered, and plans prepared. He had to trust these eternal warriors to keep his Lord safe.

“Mithrandir is with us,” said Haldir. “Surely the knowledge of that calms you somewhat. He went through much trouble to get Aragorn to his crown. I do not see him casting away all that hard work.”

Gimli chuckled beside them, stroking his beard, and then marched away towards the rest of the group. Faramir watched him go, then glanced towards the spot where Gandalf was conversing with the Rivendell Elves, Aragorn seated on a stone next to them, focused on tending his blades. Every once in a while the grey eyes would flicker towards the Mountains of Shadow, but if there was any fear that he felt, it was hidden by the determined force of his will.

After a while Aragorn re-directed his gaze, fixing it upon Faramir. The Steward gave him a nod, knowing he had been caught staring. With a last, loathing look at the mountains, Faramir strode to the main group of miss-matched people; Men, Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and a creature he had no name for. He had no desire to ask Thaíly of his origin, either, since he had already decided the other was a rather unpleasant character he wanted nothing to do with.

“Are we ready?” Aragorn asked after a moment, getting up, Andúril already strapped to his side. He halted beside Faramir, clapping his shoulder with one, firm hand. “The sooner we move out, the further we will be before it gets dark.”

“I wish you would not go,” Faramir tried one more time, though he knew it would be fruitless.

Aragorn gave him a sad smile. “I know, Faramir. And you would rather come with me than have me go alone. But I am in good company,” the Man said, nodding towards the people gathered around them. “I owe it to Legolas to try to save him. I would not find peace until I knew he was safe.”

Faramir nodded. He knew there was no reason to be obnoxious and try to reason with his Lord. “Journey swift. Send us a word if you can.”

“We will,” one of the Three Cousins, Thalión, said. He gazed up to the sky promptly, his eyes following a bird flying over them before it headed towards the forest of Ithilien in the distance. Faramir was not certain if it was supposed to be a sign of some sort.

Gimli snorted beside him, so perhaps it had been one. “Let us be off,” the Dwarf said out loud, twisting his hands excitedly.

Aragorn nodded, and with a final squeeze of his hand, he let go of Faramir’s shoulder and helped Gimli to mount his horse Roheryn before jumping atop it himself. The others followed the example, Dwarves and Hobbits helped to climb onto the great animals.

Faramir watched them go in silence until his eyes could no longer tell them apart from the shadows on the opposite side of Anduin. Only then he dared to return to the Men waiting for him so that they could head back to Minas Tirith.

- - -

“Is it much further still?”

It was Pippin, once again, his voice high and almost plaintive. Aragorn sighed, wondering if he should say anything at all to his small, impatient companion.

“I wonder how Frodo and Sam managed to travel anywhere at all. We must have gone on for days…” Merry joined his cousin, although they had not travelled more than one day and night. Their pace was slower now, their horses resting a little after the long night the Elves had spent guiding them in the darkness. The Men had forebodings about travelling at night, at such a hostile place as the border of Mordor, but Aragorn trusted their Eldar companions and had even dared to doze for a few hours at Roheryn’s back. Now he walked beside his mount just like everyone else stepped beside theirs, trying to give the animals some rest without stopping their journey. They would need to stop eventually, though, and the Elves were scouting for a proper place to do that.

Shannai marched a few dozen yards ahead of everyone else. He was the only Elf remaining with the group; everyone else of his kin had spread around to find the safest path. The Elf’s step was light even in the shadow of Mordor, but it was clear by now that the company he had kept Shannai’s spirits very high indeed.

“We are making good progress,” Gandalf said, sounding thoughtful as he gazed at the trees and rocks around them, then at the sky that was grey rather than blue. “It should not be too long now…”

“I think it is too long for the Halflings,” one of the Rangers muttered, but dared say no more after his King glanced his way.

Aragorn dared to smile, then looked back where the Dwarves and Hobbits were walking together. Young Fundal looked both excited and alarmed in these new surroundings. Gimli merely looked grave, his hand occasionally caressing the jewel hidden beneath his beard. It was as if he was trying to reach Legolas, hoping that each step closer to Mordor would somehow bring their friend to his reach. It had not happened yet, and since Rafél was not able to feel him through their bond, Aragorn did not hold high hopes for Gimli’s tireless attempts. Still, he supposed he would have done the same in the Dwarf’s place.

Shannai stopped before them, and the entire group came to a halt. A moment later there was a rustle of leaves, and Thalión appeared from the trees. The Rangers looked up in awe and amazement as the Elf stepped from one branch to another as if he was taking uneven stairs, and then dropped to the ground from a height that would have certainly been rather painful for a Man. A second passed, and Haldir followed him with his Lórien Elves.

“The forest ahead of us is clear. Dínnor, Asthaldo, and the Peredhil brothers headed towards the mountains. If all goes well, we can enter Mordor through Morgul Vale,” Thalión reported.

Aragorn nodded, changing looks with Gandalf. If the enemy was awaking, Morgul Vale would not be abandoned. The Elves would bring them news, though. “Shall we wait here or move towards the Valley?” he asked.

“I think it would be for the best if we wait here. The horses and Men can rest their feet, and I am sure that even our valiant Dwarves and Hobbits appreciate a break,” Haldir said diplomatically.

Gimli snorted nonetheless, but sat down to the closest rock he could find. The Hobbits also sat down, digging into their backpacks to see if there was anything edible there. Shannai headed to sit with them, and had a few apples he had found somewhere, which definitely made him most welcome in the eyes of the hungry Hobbits. Not that they would have denied his company: Merry and Pippin still seemed mesmerised by Elves. Dwarves were so much alike them, but Elves were a race of their own, and it seemed Shannai’s similar interest in Hobbits gave them a lot to talk about.

The Men searched for a place to sit down, their wary eyes remaining on the trees. Tension was almost palpable in the air. It could not be helped, though. As long as they remained this close to Mordor, the shadows would keep them on their guard. Aragorn wished they would soon defeat this new darkness, so that his people could freely wander in these woods again without fear. Perhaps Elves, too…

“You have never tried it?” Pippin’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and Aragorn looked up. Pippin was holding his pipe in his hand, looking at Shannai.

“Elves, as a rule, do not understand or appreciate the subtlety of a good smoke,” Gimli said knowingly. He had taken out his own pipe as well, and Shannai was visibly too curious to argue.

“I did tell you once that I wanted to try it,” the Elf finally stated.

“What happened?” Pippin ask, lighting his pipe, taking a drag, and gave a long, appreciative sigh.

“Legolas told me not to,” Shannai answered, and he looked rather disappointed by the memory. “He did not even tell me why, just told me I was better off without trying.”

“Legolas never tried it, not even once. Valar knows I and Aragorn have tried to talk him into it…” Gimli mused with a soft smile.

“Do not get me drawn into this, my friend,” Aragorn said from his spot, but as he spoke he dug into his bag, retrieving his own pipe. He did not have the luxury of it very often these days, but since he was in good company… Gandalf smiled at him from his place beside him, relaxed and content with the sweet smell of Longbottom Leaf already hanging in the air.

“Well, I could try now,” Shannai suggested after a moment of silence.

Pippin helpfully offered his pipe to the Elf, who inspected it for a while, sniffed at it, and then mimicked what he had seen everyone else do. He coughed a little, making Gimli chortle. The Hobbits merely smiled and began to share tips of how to do it right, and in the end Pippin had to request to have his pipe back because Shannai seemed so intent on learning this new-found art.

Aragorn looked at them, and listened to Merry’s explanation of the various different Leaves – to which discussion Gandalf soon joined, to everyone’s surprise. Shannai listened with keen interest, his light green eyes gleaming like a new leaf on a sunny day, reflecting the rays of Anor. It was as if they were back to Shire before it was raided by Orcs, and not in the shadow of Mordor.

They rested for a few hours, and it seemed the hearts of the Men had been lightened somewhat after they had listened to the chatter of the Hobbits and one Elf. Even though close to the Mountains of Shadow, their fears seemed to be alleviated for now.

“Once this is over, you must come visit the Green Dragon with us,” Pippin said as they set out again. His voice rang clear in the darkness of the valley they were currently travelling through.

“I have heard of it,” Shannai said. He was once again the only Elf remaining with the company; Thalión and Haldir had returned to the woods with their companions, scouting ahead.

“Probably from us,” Merry grinned, and he laughed alongside with his cousin. “It is not in its old glory, really, but still worth a look…”

“Among other places. It seems things do change in the Shire after all. I remember this one time when –”

“Pippin, would you be quiet for a moment?” Gandalf requested, his blue eyes fixed on the path before him. Shadowfax had slowed his trot beneath him, and the Men around him suddenly shifted in nervousness again.

“Perhaps we should make a list. I am very interested in seeing the Hobbit way of life. Is it true there are actually five meals that you eat on a normal day?” Shannai kept on talking, leaning on his horse to be closer to the Hobbits on their respective mounts.

“Five?!” Pippin exclaimed. “I think the regular number must be seven, but that is only the worst of days, really, when you have a whole lot of things to do. So, you can see why travelling with you lot is so very strange to us…” Pippin surely would have gone on complaining, but Gandalf shot him a look and he shut his mouth.

“That is fascinating,” Shannai mused. “I wonder if I could tempt myself to eat that many times a day. It seemed so strange. How do you do it? And what kind of food? Are there any specialties –”

Shannai’s litany of questions would have surely gone on for much longer, but Gandalf’s staff swung through the air, knocking him sharply on the head. The Elf let out a sharp breath, then rubbed his scalp and looked a bit guiltily towards the stern looking Wizard.

Pippin laughed on his horse; Aragorn knew he had had his fair share of Gandalf’s temper while they travelled as the Fellowship. Now, the Hobbit could add one to his list, since Gandalf treated him with another sharp tap of his white staff. That cut the Hobbit’s laugh short, reducing it into low muttering.

“Thank you,” Gandalf said smoothly, then directed his gaze at the path again.

Aragorn sat up upon Roheryn, uncertain of what the Wizard was suddenly so worried about.

“Someone is approaching,” Shannai said suddenly, his voice steady this time, very different from what it had been when he was having fun. Now, clearly, something was wrong.

“Thank you, Shannai. I would have loved you to tell me that long before now. Quick, off the road, everyone,” Gandalf commanded, and they headed to the woods around their path. They had barely found a place out of the sight of the path and got off their horses before they could see black shapes scurrying along the road from the direction they were headed in. As they came closer, Shannai sneered in disgust, and Aragorn felt his own fingers tighten around the handle of his sword instinctively. Orc after Orc they came, their ranks not quite in order, armour clanking loudly as the Men, Dwarves, Elf, and a Wizard waited for them to pass.

At any moment Aragorn expected one of the foul creatures to sniff their fresh tracks and halt the entire group, but that did not happen. With gnarling swears and baleful looks at the sky – they never liked to travel at day-time if they could help it – the Orcs passed, hurried on by their ruthless leaders that felt no alienation towards using the whips in their hands.

Once they were safely gone, and Shannai had gone to check they were indeed safe, Aragorn dared to breathe deep again.

“That was close,” Gimli muttered.

“Pure luck,” one of the Men muttered.

Gandalf glanced heavenwards, closed his eyes and muttered some silent thanks, then straightened up and strode to the path. The others followed him with some reluctance. Just then, Shannai returned, running lightly just outside the trail. “They are gone,” the Elf informed them, halting.

“Fool’s luck,” Gandalf murmured, then got atop of his horse again. “If you do not feel like protecting us from further battalions of Orcs coming across us, feel free to say that now, Shannai,” he went on. “I do not have a wish to be surprised in such a manner as this. We are too close to Mordor to lose our focus. There is too much at stake.”

Shannai bowed his head, then strode ahead of them, keeping a silent watch as they rode on.

“I hope you did not hurt his feelings,” Pippin piped up in a low tone, looking at Gandalf as if he was going to get another knock around the head for saying such a thing. But he was a brave little Hobbit, and Aragorn knew it was beyond him not to speak up.

“I merely reminded him of the graveness of our mission. His best friend’s life may depend on our safe journey to Mordor,” Gandalf said, his tone almost mournful. “Shannai is trying to draw hope from anything he can, but he is also easily distracted by his new friendships. He ought to know that himself, after all these years.” The Wizard gave Gimli a look. Aragorn smiled, knowing the Dwarf had been forced to endure Shannai’s endless questions for years now. “We need him to remember that Legolas’ safety is all that matters,” Gandalf finished, his face drawn all of a sudden, as if he expected some great trials to lie ahead of him.

“We will find him. Alive,” Aragorn told his old friend sternly. He knew he could accept no alternative.

- - -

The day was only drawing towards the evening, but the woods were already dark. With each step, the grass seemed darker and dryer – less alive. Such were the trees as well; their bark was dry and crackled, their branches shivering in the breeze without the lush leaf-covering that he had grown used to. The very soil beneath his feet had a stench of evil. The light that filtered to the ground was cold upon his skin. Everything was lifeless around him, dead or dying.

There were not many places like this upon Arda, but one resided in his home forest: near the ruins of Dol Guldur, nothing grew. It was sad that Mordor could remind him of home.

A dry, dead twig snapped somewhere behind him, and Rafél’s attention peaked immediately. He tilted his head slightly to the side, and from the corner of his eye he could see the darkly clad figure of Thaíly approaching him. He moved like a ghost, but for the Elf’s senses he was still easy enough to find.

“A word, Guardian?” the other asked, his rough voice breaking the silence, making Rafél cringe inside.

“I assume I cannot stop you,” he said, not bothering to hide the annoyance in his voice. He had been aware the other was trailing after him, but then, he did not bother to guess for what reasons that might be. Certainly not worry.

“There is a matter which I would like to discuss with you. Now that we are so conveniently alone, I have no fear of unwanted ears listening into our conversation.” Thaíly took a look around, as if to make sure they were alone – something Rafél knew for certain. The next Elf in their chain of mapping out the road was half a mile away from them.

“We will find Legolas soon enough. I am sure you can contain your news that long,” Rafél said, certain he had no desire to hear anything Thaíly had to say.

“Ah, but the thing is, I wish to discuss it with you before I tell Legolas. It is a matter of… how shall I put it? Well, I would assume it will be awkward business for the Elves.” Thaíly did not sound as if he cared too much either way, but there was a tone of seriousness in his voice, and Rafél finally halted, turning to look at him. “When you headed south to warn Helm’s Deep of the impending attack, and you got caught… I could have followed you, but I had business in the north so I arrived only once the battle had ended.”

“I hope your business was worth it, then,” Rafél snapped. He had no desire to remember those particular events, although he knew he would never forget – not even if they got Legolas back alive and unharmed. He had failed to protect his Prince, and he would refuse to let that memory escape from his grasp.

“I went north to get help,” Thaíly went on, unconcerned by Rafél’s dilemma. “I knew Legolas needed protection none of you could provide, and it would seem I placed my bets correctly. As Legolas asked me to, I was tracking the Nine and the One who rides with them. It seems that the One who keeps the company of Nazgûl deems Legolas’ life worthy of something. Of what I have heard, it was him who took your Prince that day on the battlefield.”

Rafél stared at Thaíly. “Is this what you wanted to tell me? That you led the Nine to our tracks, told them where to find us?”

“They would have found you nonetheless, I am sure,” Thaíly sneered, “if only they had wanted to. As it was, they were uninterested until I told the One that Legolas’ life might be in danger. He seemed to think the Man leading the army would not appreciate his life. Which leads me to suspect Legolas is still alive.”

Rafél suppressed the urge to drive his sword through the other. He turned on his heels and began to walk once again. The Nazgûl were terrible creatures. Anyone who would seek out their company was mad. Most creatures of the Dark avoided Ringwraiths if they could help it. Of course, everyone had thought they were destroyed with Sauron. Why they were back, and kept company with the creature that had an interest in Legolas, he did not know. “What is he? The Tenth rider. He is no wraith for sure.”

“I think we can establish as much,” Thaíly agreed, following him through the half-dead forest. “But whatever he is, he wields enough power to bring a group of Elves to their knees, and that is saying something.”

After experiencing that dark power firsthand, Rafél could only agree. “So, you told them to come after us. Then what? You did not follow them, I assume.”

“You might think my source was unreliable, and I can only agree… But one of the Nine told me something I could not let go without checking. He told me to beware the royal blood of Mirkwood – that the King had already fallen.”

Rafél stopped again. His eyes scanned the forest, but his mind worked another path than the one before him. “Why would it say that? And why did you believe it? They are our enemies. They only seek to destroy and betray us.”

“It was too kind of an advice coming from a Nazgûl, on that I agree with you. They know whose side I am on. But it bothered me, so I rode further north.”

“And what did you find?”

There was silence. They stared at each other, and Thaíly was the first to look away. “Not much. But what I have heard before, and seen… Eryn Lasgalen is no longer a safe place to live. The darkness has descended, and it greatly reminds me of the darkest years of Mirkwood. I did not go to seek the Elves, and I doubt I would have seen a sign of what the Dark Rider referred to. But tell me… what do you think it meant?”

“Other than to throw us off? I cannot say,” Rafél muttered.

“You have to do better than that.”

A challenge was in Thaíly’s voice. A dare. Rafél tried not to take the bait, but his mind instantly travelled to the few incidents that could mean nothing… Thranduil’s trips, one of them especially well timed if one looked at the attack against Woodland Realm. The darkening of the forest no doubt affected its Lord as well, but Rafél had a nagging voice of doubt in his mind. What if the Nazgûl had told them the truth? “There is no way to know. Not now.”

“Well, just in case you happen to think of it…” Thaíly mused, stepping beside him as they once again continued to walk. “Perhaps you should determine to yourself with whom your loyalties lay: with the son, or the father?”

Rafél dearly hoped it would not come to that. Thranduil had appointed him to protect Legolas when the Prince was still just a baby. He had fought beside the King for years. He had fought beside Thranduil’s father Oropher. But at the same time… “My heart and soul belong to Legolas.” Perhaps his heart had deceived him, but his love for the Prince was strong, and he could not deny it. Tearing his own heart out of his chest would have been easier.

Thaíly smiled, teeth shining in the waning light. “Good thing you did not have to think about it too long. Makes things a lot easier if our black robed devil is actually telling us the truth.”

Rafél was not willing to take advice from Ringwraiths just yet, but the warning stood clear in his mind as they again walked in silence.

- - -

“This is it,” Celeborn said, and the trail of people behind him stopped. The grave tremble in his deep voice made the Elves glance nervously about themselves, as if they wanted to avoid what was right before them: the dark stones and long shadows stood uninvitingly, marking the beginning of the Morgul Vale.

What was left of Minas Morgul after the downfall of Sauron was a recognizable fortress. Statues had crumbled down and parts of the stone walls fallen, but altogether it had held onto most of its past glory, if one wanted to call it such.

“It has been a long time since Men ruled here,” Gandalf mused.

“Living Men, that is,” Aragorn muttered; the Nazgûl had taken over Minas Morgul long ago.

“Is this where Frodo and Sam travelled?” Pippin suddenly spoke up. He gazed around, and it seemed he was not affected by the shadows around him like the Men and Elves.

Gandalf looked around as well, then pointed to their left. “Right up along those stairs, I would imagine. To the pass of Cirith Ungol.”

“We are not going to take the stairs, are we?” Gimli asked. While the Dwarf must have taken comfort from the nearness of mountains, the way he glared upon the endless raise of winding, narrow stairs was far from friendly.

“Nay. There is no need, and besides, we do not have the time,” Gandalf said, then looked ahead again. “We shall follow Morgulduin as we have thus far, past this accursed city, and after passing the Tower of Cirith Ungol, we are much closer to our destination.”

The Elves did not seem encouraged by this plan. Their bright eyes looked at the shadows with venom and dislike. “Many shadows still linger here,” Thalión spoke out. “Shadows of pain and evil.”

“We are well within the borders of Mordor; what did you expect?” Thaíly snapped. He seemed right at home here, casually leaning against a fallen stone figure that must have guarded the bridge leading to the gates of Minas Morgul.

Haldir, who happened to stand beside the dark man, snorted softly, but did not step forward either.

Merry and Pippin looked at each other, and then at their visibly uneasy friends. “Well, let us go, then,” Merry said bravely, “we are wasting time here, and I recall someone saying we are constantly under the threat of being found by our enemies.”

Pippin nodded beside his cousin, and the two marched forward, right past the fallen statues and crumbled walls.

Gandalf smiled, watching the Hobbits. “They ask me sometimes: ‘Why Frodo? Why send two Hobbits on such a perilous journey?’ This is why.” His blue eyes sparkled, his smile braving the shadows around them. “They are no great warriors, and they most certainly are not fearless, but they have courage beyond their short stature. They have a lot to fight for in their stout hearts.”

“Admirable creatures,” Shannai breathed beside him, almost entranced.

“You will do well to learn from them,” Gandalf told the Elf, and watched as Shannai stood up straight, then marched after the two Halflings.

“Come on,” Gimli muttered, “we will look like fools standing here while those three are already marching on.”

Aragorn chuckled, and the two moved forward, followed by the reluctant Rangers of Ithilien.

“Fan out. Keep an eye out. We draw close to our enemies,” Celeborn commanded his Elven soldiers, and they did as they were told. A slight tenseness could be seen in each of their movements, compared to their usually light step, but Gandalf knew that they were keen to feel the darkness of this place, and thus he did not blame them.

“Rafél? Are you all right?”

Gandalf stopped, looking back at Dínnor, and the Guardian who had halted only few steps from where he had stood before. His face was ashen grey and pained, and the Wizard turned in alarm.

“Rafél? What is wrong?” Dínnor repeated, his voice tense.

The Guardian’s eyes were closed, his brow twisted in pain none of them could see a cause for. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the deep brown eyes snapped open, dark as the early morning around them. “We must hurry,” Rafél said, then set forward, his stature far from its usual nobleness.

“What is it?” the eldest of the Cousins kept demanding, blocking his way.

For a moment Gandalf was certain Rafél was going to strike Dínnor for his question, but his features softened after a moment, the anger replaced by deep sorrow and pain. “Legolas is in pain.”

That seemed to halt the rest of the group that had lingered to see what was wrong.

“Are they torturing him?” Gimli asked, dashing back to them.

Rafél shook his head, as if he would have preferred that option. “No. It is not the kind of pain a mortal can understand.”

“Then what?” young Fundal asked, his deep voice trembling.

“The kind that eats away the soul and kills the heart,” Rafél explained a bit breathlessly. “I am giving him all the power that I can, to withstand it…”

“Do not lend him too much,” Thaíly interjected all of a sudden, trotting back to them. “You will need it,” he said to the Guardian, stopping in front of him, as if to physically ease Rafél’s agony.

“What?” Rafél snapped, clearly not appreciating the closeness.

“Men are coming,” Thaíly finally explained, giving the rest of them a glance.

“Men?” one of the Gondorians asked, baffled. “Reinforcements from Gondor?”

Thaíly snorted, clicking his tongue sharply. “Not only Orcs and foul beasts fight on the side of the Dark. There are plenty of Men in the East.”

That seemed to subdue any further questions. “Spread out,” Glorfindel advised his fellow Elves. “The rest of you, stay together, and try not to make too much noise. Stay out of sight.”

“Whose sight?” Pippin asked, frowning and looking around. “I do not see anyone.”

“They are coming,” Gandalf murmured. “Prepare yourselves. Even if we can avoid this battle, we might not be so lucky next time. We are deep within the enemy’s territory. One wrong move, and our hopes for saving Legolas are for naught.”

The Hobbits swallowed but nodded. The Dwarves pulled free their axes, fingering them in clear anticipation. Aragorn fanned his Men around them, all of them now alert for any unexpected sound or movement.

- - -

It did not help the tension that for the better part of the morning – which could have easily been mistaken into a night in the darkness of Mordor – they walked undisturbed. The Elves were rarely seen, but Gandalf reassured his companions they were around; scouting the surroundings and perhaps misleading the enemy, because none of them had come back to warn them of an approaching danger.

Shannai was the first to return with the other Mirkwood Elves. Rafél seemed even paler than before, but he said not a word of his discomfort. The other Elves were also hushed about it, encouraging others to follow their example. One by one the Eldar returned, and finally Thaíly joined them, sharp eyes glinting.

“Anything?” Aragorn asked.

“There are Men, patrolling the Plateu of Gorgoroth before us. The land is very open; it will be tricky to cross it unnoticed. Bringing the horses further than this would be foolish,” Elladan reported, his twin nodding.

Regretfully the Men let their mounts go. “Fear not,” Aragorn calmed them. “The Elven horses shall lead our fearless steeds into safety.” He patted Roheryn, then pushed the animal away. With several high neighs, they all disappeared, Morchaint being the only one to stay behind. Rafél stepped up to the horse, slid his hands across the black coat, and softly murmured to the keen ears in Elven tongue, after which the stallion followed its companions.

“Such loyalty from an animal,” Thaíly snorted softly.

“You would know, would you not?” Aragorn muttered, making Shannai laugh beside him. The half-vampire gave them a dark look, then began to walk away again. He did not go far before stopping, and the Elves lifted their heads in alarm a second later.

“We are not alone,” Thaíly announced, drawing his sword.

“I thought you said we were safe,” Gimli growled.

“Never did we promise such a thing, Master Dwarf,” Asthaldo said lightly, preparing his knives. “We honestly thought they were going to turn another way, miles from here, but it seems they have changed their minds.”

“Perhaps they saw one of you,” Adír suggested helpfully, a strong hand on Fundal’s shoulder. The young Dwarf looked just as grim as his elder kinsmen, but also excited; he was yet to see his share of battles in his life.

The Elves just huffed in response, refusing to answer such a question, and Gandalf shared a look of wry amusement with Aragorn. The moment did not last long, however. A distant sound of feet could be heard, steadily approaching. “There are a lot of them coming,” Pippin commented, but was hushed by Merry, who had a stern, tense look on his face. They had their small Elven swords in hand, sharp eyes gazing at the shadowy land.

Around a small bend of jagged rock and stone came a group of Men; line after line in formation, creating a steady sound as they approached. A small cloud of dust trailed around their feet, but without the light of the Sun, it could barely be seen. They came closer, but for the time being it did not seem as if the hiding group had been spotted.

“Do you think they will turn?” Shannai asked in a quiet voice, barely audible.

“Shh,” Haldir hissed nonetheless, restlessly eyeing the approaching army of Men.

“We have to move,” Elrohir said after a moment.

“They will spot us if we do,” Aragorn deemed darkly.

“If they do not walk over us first,” Elladan defended his twin, shifting anxiously. His eyes scanned their surroundings, but the desperation on his fair face showed he saw nothing the others already had not: if they left their current shelter, there might not be another to be found in time. Not for a group as big as theirs.

“They are coming right at us!” Pippin noted with a nervous edge in his voice. He was standing on the balls of his feet, looking ready to sprint away at the first given order.

“One of us can try and lead them away,” Haldir offered. The Elves nodded, although not with much enthusiasm.

“It would be a lost cause, and we shall not abandon one of our own,” Aragorn refused.

“Move,” Gandalf commanded after a moment; it would do them no good to sit here, waiting to be found. They would be seen, hiding or running, and perhaps luck would be with them and give them an opportunity to fight their way to freedom. This was not an opportune place for a fight, though, and they needed to find a place where they could keep their ground.

The Men did not need to be told twice, and after they sprang up, the Elves and Hobbits followed suit, the Dwarves looking as if they wanted to linger, but thought better of it. “Live to fight another day,” Gimli muttered, as if repeating the words once spoken to him.

They did not get far before the enemy spotted them. Among the rocks, there was no place to hide, and the uneven terrain made it hard to move quietly. With a roar, the Men of the East gave chase. The Elves shot down many of them, but doing that while attempting to stay outside the range of enemy bows was not easy.

“We cannot run forever,” Asthaldo pointed out.

“And we are going to run out of arrows if that is our only plan,” Thalión added.

Panting breaths and the sound of running feet was the only reply they got – until Gandalf halted, turned, and drew Glamdring free of its scabbard. Everyone else stopped, turning to face the enemy, who halted soon after realising their change of plan.

“And now?” Gimli asked, brandishing his axe.

“Now we fight,” Gandalf decided gravely. Any hopes of walking deeper to Mordor unnoticed were now dashed.

“Shannai,” Rafél spoke quickly, “stay with the Halflings.”

“We can defend ourselves,” Merry interrupted, a look of offence on his features.

“I am certain of that,” the Elf replied in a lower tone. “And that is why I want you to watch Shannai’s back; he is not very good with his bow.”

“I am good enough,” Shannai retorted bitterly, holding his bow firmly. He sounded insulted, yet deadly serious.

Rafél left it to that, moving to a side. The Men were approaching more cautiously now, their number at least thrice as great as they circled the group. The Elves eyed their enemies carefully, waiting, bows ready but arrows remaining on theirs strings for now. Then, without warning, they all attacked, as if sharing one mind that told them what to do. Bows singings, blades twinkling in the weak light, they pushed at the circle of Men.

Gandalf watched for a moment, then joined the fight as Aragorn commanded his Men forth, and the Dwarves lifted their axes. It may have been a glorious battle, but the Easterlings were many, and while dying for a cause such as their may have been noble, it was not their plan; Gandalf told his friends to lower their weapons. “We are no use to Legolas dead.” There was no chance of escape in sight, and he was content to wait until there was an opportunity to escape and save the Prince.

The dark servants seemed anxious to finish them off, but they stood still, waiting. As if they were standing guard.

“What are they waiting for?” Gimli finally asked.

His question was answered as the Men parted to allow their leader to approach the defeated group. Tzórag eyed them suspiciously, but he also looked very pleased with the new turn of events. His dark eyes flashed as he gazed upon Gandalf – it was hard not to recognize a Wizard – then moved on and raised an eyebrow at Rafél. “You are a hard one to kill,” he noted, but there was no hint of respect in his voice. Rafél did not look as if he was taking it as a compliment, either. Gandalf raised his hand, just slightly, to calm the Elf who looked ready to attack the Balchoth descendant regardless of the warriors standing around them.

“)Easy, my friend,(” Thalión spoke softly to Rafél in the Elven tongue, taking his arm into a tight hold. “)He will take us closer to Legolas. Save your strength.(”

Tzórag’s eyes flickered towards them, but he did not demand to know what was being said. “Disarm them,” the Man commanded. “We will take them with us.”

Reluctantly everyone handed over their weapons, carefully following what their enemies did with them. “An old man needs his walking stick,” Gandalf argued when they reached for his staff, but the Easterlings would not be fooled.

“Then ask one of your friends to carry you,” Tzórag suggested.

Muttering a curse far more ancient than any of the Men standing around him, Gandalf gave them his staff. Gimli walked over to him, offering his support, which Gandalf kindly took. Who knew, perhaps one of his enemies would take pity of him, although he doubted it.

They were closely watched by the Easterlings, but left unbound or restrained. Perhaps their captors had not expected to find someone, and thus were not prepared to take prisoners. Also, they were being surrounded by a fairly sizable amount of guards, which would make any escape attempt rather foolish. Still, the Easterlings followed their every move.

It may have been a great misfortune to be caught, but as it was, they travelled faster towards their destination than they had before. All they needed to do was to wait, and then seize the first opportunity to escape once they were close enough to save Legolas. Gandalf tried to anticipate what they were up against, and what would be the best plan of action, but once they began to near the old foundations of Barad-dûr, there was something else that caught his attention.

“Is it just me, or are the shadows deeper here?” Elladan mused as they walked, eyeing their surroundings suspiciously and with apparent distaste.

“You are not imagining it, I am afraid,” Gandalf answered airily. He could feel it in the air, like a breathing of something huge and prominent. A presence not quite like anything else he had met in a long time.

“Look,” Shannai whispered, pointing ahead. Everyone looked, and even in the darkness they could tell apart from the mountainside behind it a broken tower. At its feet scurried black shapes, though it was hard to tell how many they were from the distance.

“We are most definitely not alone,” Dínnor said, gritting his teeth. Frustration was apparent in his voice, tension making his usually light step almost rigid. Gandalf knew that he did not possess the words to calm the Elf, so he did not attempt to do so; he, too, could feel the darkness and evil pressing closer, and his Elven companions were sensitive to such things.

They walked a few more miles, then stopped. The Hobbits squinted to the darkness, shivering under their cloaks. “I thought…” Merry began.

“We saw it fall apart, did we not?” Pippin joined him.

“If my memory does not fail me, and my eyes deceive me, I would say yes,” Gimli grunted.

“The news we got after the final battle was that Barad-dûr was brought down,” Thrénandu agreed, frowning at the structure ahead of them. He had been silent for most of the trip, clearly holding great disdain over Legolas being caught. He followed his kinsmen, though, in an attempt to release his Prince, and each new misfortune seemed to be eating at his patience.

“It does look a little shaken up,” Shannai observed, tilting his head as he studied the sight. Then his light green eyes shifted lower, to the masses of Dark servant mingling around them. “How come there are so many of them?”

“They multiply in the darkness like vermin,” Thénandu muttered.

“That sounds almost superstitious,” Asthaldo noted.

“Nothing magical about their numbers,” Thaíly confirmed. “While you celebrated your victory on the peaceful side of the mountains, in here, they had time to pick themselves up, dust themselves, and put new plans in motion.”

“Is lifting Barad-dûr among those plans?” Haldir questioned. “It seems rather pointless to me, not to mention a waste of effort. Sauron is gone. His minions can uplift all the monuments they want, but it is not going to bring back the Dark Lord.”

Rafél’s face flinched at that. Gandalf would have not noticed it if he had not been looking at the ancient Sindar right that moment.

With a sigh he looked towards the mass of enemies passing around them, and then at the structure of rock and stone and iron reaching towards the soot black sky. “I was afraid of this,” he said quietly to himself.

to be continued…

Story Info


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 15th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)

YAY! An update!! But poor legolas.

'“The kind that eats away the soul and kills the heart,” Rafél explained '

(rape? perhaps?) What else is Legolas and Rafel have to deal with? The death of his Father?

And with the king of Mirkwood MIA, but are Legolas' brothers up to?

I love your story. Please update again soon.

Posted by: Del Rion (del_rion)
Posted at: April 15th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)

Yes, can you believe it... an update!

(I hope I can keep them coming more often now...)

And no, I don't think it's rape. More like... what we have already seen. ;)

The matter of Mirkwood royalty shall be solved later as well. I will have to keep you guys waiting until then.

Thank you for reading and dropping a comment.

Posted by: big_eyed_fish18 (big_eyed_fish18)
Posted at: April 16th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)

I was so excited to see an update with this story. As always I absolutely love your writing. By the way, I was glad to read the Legolas part and that it wasn't rape. I wonder will Rafel ever stop blaming himself. Waiting eagerly for the next chap!

Posted by: Del Rion (del_rion)
Posted at: April 16th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)

I am very happy to see someone's actually still reading this story! It means a great deal to me, since I've kept you people waiting.

No, rape would be a bit far fetched, eh? And if that had been the case... I think Rafél would have not spoken of it so openly to the others. And since we are talking about Elven guilt... do you really think he will let go? :P Moping creatures with elephant memory... *shakes head*

Thank you for reading and dropping a comment!

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