Title: The Marshes of the Dead
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: Fourth Age of the Sun
Genre: Drama, AU
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Gimli, Legolas (, OCs)
Summary: “There are dead things. Dead faces in the water!” “All dead. All rotten. Elves and Men and Orcses. A great battle long ago. Dead Marshes. Yes. Yes, that is their name.” Who are those dead warriors in the water, whose lights call the living to join them? Only few truly know. When visiting Legolas briefly in Ithilien, the Three Cousins recall some of their worse memories, and the battle of Dagorlad is only a part of them…
Part of the history of “The Last Journey”. Complete.
Warnings: References to violence and death¬. The rating could also be PG, but let’s take no risks…
“Legolas… where are we going?” Gimli asked, his voice already desperate. As he received no response from the Elf, he cursed bitterly with his own language, and kept walking. They had been walking for days now, and still Legolas refused to tell where they were heading . Gimli highly doubted that it was going to be any kind of lovely surprise. Legolas would have pointed that out already if the things had been so.
Now Gimli was forced to wait for the answer, or stay behind. But leaving this Elf to stumble around alone wasn’t the first thing in Gimli’s mind. And also that sting of curiosity that crawled beneath his skin kept him going.
Today was different from the other days. Legolas was even more subdued, his posture slightly stiff, his step somewhat nervous. Whatever their goal was, they were getting near to it. The Elf’s behaviour only made Gimli wonder what kind of surprise was waiting for him. Or them both. Maybe even Legolas didn’t know what lay ahead.
Without a sound, Legolas had stopped, and Gimli, deep in his thoughts as he was, ran right into his friend’s back. With an annoyed scowl, Legolas looked down at the Dwarf, who merely glared back up at him.
Then the scent caught Gimli’s nose, and he wrinkled it in disgust. “What is this terrible smell? Like something rotting in a wet ground. A lot of something.” But before Gimli had time to get his answer, Legolas had continued on. With a frown, Gimli started ahead, and then stopped dead in his tracks. They were standing on an edge of a cliff, and below them – actually everywhere before them – spread out some kind of a great bog. That explains the smell, Gimli thought, but not that why the Elf had brought us here. Ah well, I guess I just have to go along and find out myself. Gimli continued after Legolas, carefully avoiding slipping on the steep rock.
As they reached the bottom, they were nearly on the side of the bog, and the smell was even more pressing. Legolas had stopped again, looking kind of lost as he stood on the edge of the water, gazing before him. Gimli reached him soon, and stopped beside his friend.
“If you ask my opinion, I liked more of the view from up there. And the smell too.”
“You should not whine: Frodo and Sam travelled over all this.”
“Over… but that means that we are on the side of the Dead Marshes.”
“So we are.”
“And what might on the face of the earth brought you here? I have always known that you have something terribly wrong inside that head of yours, but this is far beyond your usual coups.”
“You would not understand,” Legolas said sadly, a tone that greatly terrified Gimli.
“Then why drag me along all this way?” the Dwarf asked, annoyed.
“You could have said ‘no’.”
“So I would have done, if I would have been aware of the destination of our little trip. But in the case you have watched this smelly swamp enough, we could head back home…”
“What do you mean? ‘Not yet’? When, then, your highness?” Gimli asked, impatiently tapping with his foot.
“When I have seen the lights,” Legolas said, his voice like in trance. “When I have heard the calls of the dead, and seen the faces in the water.”
“You could have asked Frodo if you would have liked to hear about the dead ones in the water,” Gimli muttered. “I came to understand that he took a… closer look at them.”
Legolas, however, wasn’t listening, but sat down on the moss, staring ahead of him, as if waiting for something. A sign of some sort, perhaps.
Gimli, sighing deeply, sank beside his friend, knowing that there was no way he was going to drag Legolas away from here before the Elf had seen what he wanted to see. Not that Gimli liked it. No, he didn’t like this thing at all, seeing lights and dead faces. He would have rather been on his way away from here, quickly as possible. For a moment, he seriously thought about hitting Legolas unconscious and dragging the Elf away from here. But Legolas had come here for some purpose Gimli didn’t yet know, and so he waited. After all, he could render the Elf unconscious at any time later…
The night was dark, and Gimli felt even less comfortable with the situation than what he had been before. Wrapped into his cloak, Gimli stared angrily at the dark, muttering terrible things about a certain pointy-eared, foolish child, who had again dragged him to some cold, dark, and wet place to suffer – without a reason, as it seemed.
Not that Legolas cared about the Dwarf’s words. He sat on his place, like he had sat since they had arrived, his unseeing eyes gazing at the darkness. Gimli wondered if the Elf now saw those lights he had spoken about. Most likely not, because the lights were supposed to be seen by Gimli as well, and he saw nothing.
But there were voices. Gimli was not sure if it was his own imagination, but he heard things. Or maybe it was the Elf. Turning to look at his friend, Gimli tried to identify any signs of changing in the Elf. No luck there.
Muttering even darker things than the night itself around them, Gimli dug himself more deeply to his cloak, and waited.
It maybe took only minutes, or then hours, before there was a change. Lights came out of nowhere, looking eerie in the night. Gimli had to rub his eyes to believe that he really saw them. But there they were, here and there, among the tussocks of grass and moss, lighting up the night.
Legolas stood up then, startling Gimli with the sudden movement. There was now recognition in the Elf’s eyes, but Gimli was still afraid of the strange, hypnotised look in Legolas’ dark eyes. The Dwarf also stood up, uncertain what was going to happen next.
Legolas, on his side, didn’t think too long. He walked forward, towards the lights, the voices now calling him to come closer. He didn’t notice the dry land disappear beneath his feet as he stepped on a moss-covered tussock, his eyes boring themselves into the water.
There were lights. Burning brightly on the surface of the water, they caught his eyes.
There were voices. They spoke to him of death, of pain, of loss.
And then there were faces. Now that Legolas drew nearer the lights, he saw them. Shining with their own, eerie light, the faces looked up at him.
Legolas stepped forward, mesmerised. He couldn’t resist. He could nearly touch them. The voices urged him on. The Elf didn’t even notice as the moss ended and the water began. He was so near…
“Legolas!” With a powerful yank, Gimli pulled his companion bodily away from the water just as Legolas’ hand touched the water. The lights flickered angrily.
The Dwarf had long watched the scene unfolding before him, until he understood that the Elf was in danger. One more step from Legolas, and he would have fallen into the abyss. Gimli shuddered at the thought.
“Legolas, wake up. This is not a good time for sleepwalking.”
With a violent jerk, Legolas woke from his reverie, trying to get away from the arms holding him down. Gimli, on his side, strengthened his hold around the Elf, afraid that Legolas would bolt right into the water.
“It is all right, I am here,” the Dwarf said softly.
Finally Legolas calmed, and patted Gimli’s arm as a sign that the Dwarf could let go. “I am fine…”
“Sure you are. Without me, you would be right now taking a swim with the dead ones.”
Legolas looked at him, somewhat puzzled, and the turned to look at the water. His eyes widened. Fully out of his trance-like state, he saw… Dead faces. Corpses in armours that were nearly untouched by the ages. Men and Orcs and Elves. All dead. All rotting.
With a wailing shout, Legolas shot back, burying his head to Gimli’s shoulder. The Dwarf, bemused, held the Elf, feeling the lithe body shake against him as Legolas fought within himself.
Legolas still heard the voices. Even behind his closed eyes, he saw the faces, empty eyes staring at him, boring into his soul. But he didn’t wish to see, nor hear, and he shook his head in desperation, pushing himself as near as possible to Gimli. He didn’t wish to see the dead ones of his own kin. The ones dead because of one Elf’s pride had been too great to be defeated. They were all dead now. They had paid the price.
As the hours passed, Gimli tried to calm the Elf, but with little success. Finally he gave up, sat down, and held Legolas tightly, comforting his fried as the other demanded, giving Legolas strength through his presence.
When the sun finally rose, the lights disappeared, and Gimli shook Legolas gently. “Wake up, Elf. The lights are gone, and we should move on.”
Legolas raised his pale face up, looking around himself, and saw the lights were indeed gone. He didn’t dare to look more carefully, for he feared that the faces would still be there. Gingerly, he rose up, and walked to the shore, going a good way away from the bog before he stopped and slumped wearily to the ground.
Gimli sat beside him, digging out some food from his bag. “Now would you tell me what this all was about?”
“I’m not sure if I understood.”
“They are all there because of one man’s pride. One Elf’s pride, if you like to put it so.”
“The dead. Dead Elves… they died in the Battle of Dagorlad.”
“I see,” Gimli said thoughtfully, munching a peace of bread.
“No, you don’t understand! They would all still live if Oropher would have fought on Gil-Galad’s side! If he would have swallowed his pride just for once. But he didn’t… he attacked alone, and with that, he doomed not only himself, but also his warriors.”
“Maybe he did as he saw best,” Gimli tried.
“A fool’s deed, it was. A proud fool’s. That same blood runs in my father, and you have seen it in his actions. Too proud to seek alliance from your kin, or from the Men. And I am not any better than him… than either of them.”
“There, there, Las. Do not be ridiculous. We both know you are not meaning that. Even if your pride is great indeed, my tall friend, you have learned to swallow it for the sake of others. And you befriended me! Isn’t that something with a meaning for you?”
“Of course it is –”
“Then stop your mumbling, and eat. I know your valour, my friend, and that is enough. As long as you acknowledge the mistakes of your forefathers, you have nothing to worry about.”
Legolas thought this for a while, and then smiled, taking one piece bread from the Dwarf’s pack. “Thank you. And not only for your friendship: I think you saved my life yesterday. In more ways than one.”
“Don’t mention it, Elf. That’s what friends do. But I must admit that I was worried for a while. Just make sure such a folly thing won’t happen again.”
“I will,” Legolas said, and the added, as Gimli looked slightly unconvinced: “I promise. I shall at least inform you before I attempt to do such a thing again.”
“Good. Now tell me, how did you decide to come here in the first place…”