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
Rafél knew he should have seen the decision being made before Legolas took action. He knew he should have felt it, like a stab in the heart. Like the tearing pain he felt right now, trying to reach the younger Elf yet knowing he would be too late.
Too many Orcs stood between them, and Rafél was weary from the battle and trying to give Legolas enough strength to survive the darkness within and without.
“)Goheno nin. Gerich veleth nín.(”
Legolas’ words echoed in his head, cutting to his soul like a blade of an Orc drew a line across his arm as he dashed past the vile creature. His mind was no longer with the battle, though. All he could think of was that Legolas was going to end his life in an attempt to save them all, and Rafél was going to fail in the promise he had given to Thranduil long ago: to protect his youngest son with his life.
He had failed.
“Legolas!” Rafél shouted the instant his protégé jumped off the cliff. It was like the air had been driven out of his lungs all at once, something clutching at his heart like a clawed hand, trying to rip it away from him…
A flash of dark, ugly green light tinged with fiery red shot up from the gorge Legolas had just fallen in. A roar like thunder filled the air and the ground itself shook for an instant before everything fell silent again. Several hundred feet from him Annatar screamed. The light was slowly fading, disappearing completely by the time Rafél reached the edge.
Someone grabbed him by the shoulders and brought them both down. “Stop,” Aragorn grunted, dragging Rafél back down to the ground when he tried to get up. He was so close now…
“Foolish Elf!” Another set of hands – stronger this time – joined the Man’s feeble attempts to hold him down. “It will do us no good if you throw yourself after him!” Gimli roared, his rough voice bringing Rafél’s mind back from the dark abyss he had momentarily lost himself in.
They were all lying in a heap on the edge of the gorge. The Man and the Dwarf held Rafél back until he slowly nodded. Aragorn released him, shaking a little. Gimli just clutched onto Rafél’s tunic, his deep-set eyes glancing towards the emptiness beside them, but he did not take the final step to actually see…
“You can let go of him, Gimli,” Aragorn finally said, and Rafél could tell it was an effort for the Man to keep his voice steady.
The Dwarf’s wide shoulders trembled a little, and his grip tightened around the handle of his axe. “They will pay…” he muttered.
Rafél would have loved to agree, but he knew it would not change anything. He closed his eyes instead, yearning to look down and see for himself, but he dared not. His heart knew Legolas was gone. Sauron too, his powers broken to the four winds. But even in triumph Rafél tasted the bitterness of failure.
He had seen Legolas come to this world. But the first time he held the youngest Prince of Mirkwood had been the most special moment of all; he could remember when Legolas’ mother first handed him over for Rafél to hold, the bright eyes looking up at him, the soft, warm little weight in his arms. He had been nothing but a baby.
They had learned together, practised together, and gone through more than Rafél had ever expected when he promised his King and Queen to become Legolas’ Guardian. There had been dark, evil times when they had both almost lost faith in each other, but there had also been times of trust, and later love.
Love that now gnawed at his insides like a lonely call of a swan that lost its mate…
“I am sorry,” Aragorn spoke softly, and Rafél opened his eyes, then picked himself up. He did not answer. Gimli was watching him, as was the King of Gondor, but Rafél paid no heed to them. His mind and heart were numb, filled with rage and sorrow deeper than any other creature could ever understand. He would use those emotions to fuel his will to fight, and perhaps if the Valar were merciful, he would die today.
Only… it seemed there was something wrong with the battle.
Thaíly could tell something very interesting was happening.
The moment Legolas plunged himself into the depths and Sauron’s power cracked like a dry stick, it seemed Annatar lost her concentration. She screamed, cursed Gandalf with a promise of vengeance, then disappeared. Thaíly had many tricks of dark and magic, but never this. Gandalf too seemed a little taken aback by her swift exit.
At the same time the Dark army hesitated. They were still many in number, and could have easily defeated their enemies even if their commander was gone, but it seemed someone had a different plan: Thaíly watched how one of the Orc commanders blew a horn, the sound echoing from the mountainside, and so the Dark vermin began to crawl away.
“This is different,” he mused to himself, then found the Nazgûl and their fair friend and had his answer: he did not know who exactly that Tenth Rider was, but it seemed he was not interested in staying to fight after Annatar had disappeared. The command to retreat must have come from him because the Men led by Tzórag looked confused, yet grudgingly followed the rest of their army.
“What are they doing?!” one of the Men of Gondor shouted.
“We won!” one of the Hobbits replied.
Thaíly would have not bet his life on that, but for now it seemed the battle was over. “I suggest we do not stay to find out if they change their minds,” he said out loud as Gandalf walked by him, leaning heavily on his staff. It seemed his battle against the daughter of Sauron had drained him.
The Wizard nodded a little distractedly. His blue eyes were staring towards Aragorn and Gimli who were holding Rafél back from taking off after the retreating Orcs. It seemed the Dwarf would have preferred to follow the Guardian’s example, but perhaps he had some wit in his head after all.
With a shake of his head, Thaíly strode over to the trio and seized Rafél by the front of his tunic. The other halted, staring him in the eye, and Thaíly braced himself just in case the Elf would decide to run him through now that the only thing that had ever united their interests was gone. “It will not change anything,” Thaíly hissed. “Honour Legolas’ decision. His choice spared a King’s life today, not to mention many of his friends – perhaps all of us. Had any of us possessed the power to break Sauron’s hold of him, he would have done differently, but…”
Rafél jerked his head aside, not looking at him. Thaíly could hear his heart pounding frantically, then slow down a little. “Let go of me, filthy half-blooded monster,” he finally snapped, shaking Thaíly’s hand off him.
The half-vampire smiled. “I will take offence another time. Now we have more important things to do.”
Rafél did not respond as he strode away, making his way smoothly past the carcasses of the dead Orcs.
“That went well,” Aragorn observed dryly. “You do realise our friend just died? I cannot imagine the pain Rafél is enduring.” His words got more heated by the second.
“Getting himself killed over it is pointless. At least before he has seen through with his final duties, which is to honour his Prince and recover his body,” Thaíly noted, taking after the Elf who was looking for a way down the gorge’s side.
Silence followed him as Aragorn and Gimli seemed to have no reply to offer him in return.
While the Men of Gondor collected their own dead and piled up the enemy carcasses to burn them, the Elves found a cracked path down to the bottom of the gorge. They helped their mortal friends down the most perilous steps, but it seemed the light was gone from their eyes and they just did their duty without any heart in it.
Gandalf knew they felt the weight of Legolas’ loss heavily upon their spirits. This had been a terrible end for their attempted rescue mission, and while Sauron was finally gone, he still knew it was only a matter of time before Annatar would return. Until then they would have to honour their dead and prepare for the inevitable retribution of their enemies.
They reached the bottom, and very slowly moved forward. A breeze brushed against the walls of the gorge, creating a lonely howl that seemed to precede them as they walked. Then finally the Elves stopped, forcing their friends to follow their lead.
Only Rafél walked forward, and Gandalf swallowed through the tightness of his throat. Among the jagged rocks lay a body, still and silent. The wind had ceased, as if to lament with them.
Shannai was sobbing which made the Hobbits look at him in mild shock; the rest of the Elves were clearly saddened, but there were no tears in their eyes. Gandalf knew there might be none – at least not before they were in the silent solitude of their own kin.
Rafél knelt beside the body, and Gandalf muttered a quick prayer to the gods, then strode forth. The Elf glanced at him, his hand resting on Legolas’ forehead. Gandalf went down beside him, leaning heavily on his staff.
Legolas’ skin was deathly pale, his eyes closed, and Gandalf had seen enough death in his life to recognise it now. The youngest of Thranduil’s sons was indeed gone. There was no blood, though, and Gandalf could not see that there was any damage that had come to Legolas’ body. That was Sauron’s doing, no doubt, but a cold comfort nonetheless.
Reaching out his hand, Gandalf touched the ashen remains of the necklace the Dark Lord’s power had been tied to. It broke apart at his touch, sliding between his fingers like fine sand. “Dust,” Gandalf muttered, then looked at Rafél. The Guardian’s face was impassive, but a struggle raged inside him. One of his hands rested upon Legolas’ unmoving ones, as if trying to find some strength in the touch. Gandalf laid a hand on the Guardian’s arm, then got up and joined the others.
Gimli, who was clutching his axe in a deadly grip, was making small suffocating noises, no doubt trying to hold onto his emotions. Merry and Pippin were hugging Shannai, crying. Aragorn stood apart from others, and Gandalf could sense his dark thoughts. The Man had lost too much since all this began, and the Wizard knew this was a trying time for him; first Arwen and Éowyn, and now Legolas…
“We should head out,” Thaíly suggested from the back of the group, and although his voice had lost some of its edge, he still got many murderous looks in return.
It seemed to prompt Rafél into action, though. The Elf took off his cloak and wrapped it around Legolas’ form, as if to somehow shelter him from the world, then picked up the body. Everyone stepped aside to let him pass. Gimli finally let out a sob. Gandalf stepped up to him, clasping his shoulder, and together they followed the Guardian.
Behind them Aragorn let out a howl of pain, and Gandalf turned just in time to see the King of Gondor driving his fist against the rocks before Elrohir and Elladan pulled him back, holding tight onto the Man before his struggles ceased. “He would want you to mourn him, but not like this. He gave his life for all of us. Honour that,” Elladan told his foster brother.
“It is so unfair,” Fundal muttered, his gruff voice shaking.
“Does not feel much like a victory,” Pippin joined him.
Shannai just sniffled, earning a look from Thrénandu. The green eyes lit up for an instant, a defiant look on his face. “Do not tell me not to mourn my friend! This is not how he should have died. No one should,” he ended with a whisper, looking at Rafél’s back.
They climbed out of the gorge without another word. The enemy had disappeared, but the Elves still took turns scouting the path ahead of them. When the night grew closer the Eldar began to sing, their fair voices sad and mournful. Even though most of their companions did not understand the words it brought tears to many an eye, yet their steps were a little lighter.
In the morning a surprise awaited them: Dínnor came back from his scouting round with Haldir, informing them that a group of Rohirrim was approaching with some riders from Gondor. That raised the mood of the group, promising them a safer trip home.
“I hope they brought spare horses,” Elrohir noted.
“I thought you Elves liked walking,” Gimli snorted.
“I am only a Half-elf, mind you, and besides, I was thinking of your comfort as well, Master Dwarf,” Elrohir quipped back, then dashed off with his twin to see if indeed they would be done walking.
An hour later the sons of Elrond returned, four dozen Men following them on horses. Banners of Gondor and Rohan flew in the air, tugged gently by the wind.
Éomer and Faramir came forth, and Aragorn moved to greet them.
“What happened here?” the King of the Mark questioned. “We passed a hundred Orcs, but they were too busy running away to even stop to give us trouble.” His men let out a roar of laughter.
“Did you find Lord Legolas?” Faramir asked instead.
Aragorn’s face must have darkened, and when he glanced back where the Elves still hovered by Rafél and their dead companion, Faramir seemed to understand. He bowed his head, which in turn prompted Éomer to follow his earlier line of sight.
“We lost him?” Éomer asked, dismounting and taking off his helmet.
“His life was the cost to bring down Sauron’s power,” Aragorn replied. Both Men gave him a look, but he shook his head. “I will explain later. After all, the way home is long… Longer still if you did not bring horses with you.”
“We have a few,” Éomer said stoutly. At once his men brought forth the spare mounts.
“Could be we do not need them after all,” Thalión noted, nodding towards the horizon. Something was moving there, and a while later shapes of horses could be seen.
“Did you summon them?” Shannai asked.
“Several times,” the Cousin snorted softly. “They were far away; seems like they do not enjoy the shadow of this land more than we do. Good thing Shadowfax is with them: his courage brought them this far.”
“Summoning horses…” Adír muttered, but Gimli growled and shook his head, which shut his kinsman up.
Once the horses finally reached them, Thaíly stepped up to his own steed and mounted Morisûl. Everyone looked his way as he straightened his belt. “We will meet again, no doubt,” he noted.
“Where will you go?” Shannai asked.
“We do not care,” Rafél answered.
Thaíly merely smiled. “I have business elsewhere. Do not lose him this time, Guardian,” he remarked finally, then rode away.
“Such an unpleasant character,” Haldir noted.
“Useful in a battle, though,” Shannai defended the half-vampire. “He risked his neck quite often to save Legolas, I believe, and to bring him information. You should give him some credit.”
No one said anything to that.
“Are we ready to head back home?” Gimli asked after a strained silence.
“Yes we are, Master Dwarf,” Aragorn sighed, then helped the Dwarf to mount Roheryn before following him up to the horse’s back.
Everyone else followed their example, but none made a move to leave before Rafél encouraged Lumén forward, Legolas’ still form safely in his arms. Though they had victory, there were no signs of celebration within the riders as they headed north to Gondor.
to be continued…