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.
Like a storm in its full fury, Angmar whipped around. Nine swords were freed from their scabbards, shining darkly in the night. All battle ceased around the Nazgûl: Orcs, Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits stared and waited what would happen. Without hesitation, Angmar took a step forward, and was rewarded with another arrow.
Aragorn turned his head, his eyes catching Rafél standing alone, only his raised bow between him and the Black Riders. There was not a single shadow of terror upon his pale face, and the only fear he might have had was that for his Prince. New arrow was set to the taut string, strong fingers caressing the feathered head.
All sides waited, none daring to move.
Angmar ripped the arrows from his body, casting them aside with a malicious hiss. Then he took another step, pointing with the tip of his sword at the guardian. “You shall die tonight, Firstborn,” he promised with a voice echoing in the night, chilling the hearts of those who heard him. The Nazgûl went forth as one, ready to end the life of the offending creature before them.
Aragorn opened his mouth for warning, knowing that Rafél would stand his ground to the end. But as Aragorn tried to call out, he found the unnatural fear grab him, taking his breathe away. The terror of Nazgûl was more powerful than ever. Only Rafél seemed not to be effected by it, his loyalty pushing all fear and reason aside from one goal: to save Legolas. That was exactly what Aragorn knew the other was trying to do – what he would have done if able – but at the moment, that intent was beyond them both: nine devils stood between them and the Prince.
Darkness fell heavily over all the world, extinguishing the final spark of hope in the hearts of those who defended Hobbiton. Weight of the shadow increased, all faith in victory and survival drowned by the endless flow of evil. All was lost…
Light exploded in the village suddenly, brighter than any dawn after a long night. All heads turned at the growing light, dark creatures stepping back aghast. Nazgûl let out a chorus of cries, backing off slightly. Rays of pure light spread around, pushing back the shadows and driving away the fear in the hearts of those who stood against the darkness.
Aragorn turned his head, pain flashing in his shoulder, but he ignored it, willing himself to see what was happening. A wave of stinging pain assaulted his eyes as he stared at the bright light, but it was sweet discomfort after the coldness of evil. The lingering feel of malice was soothed away by the warm rays, the ebbing pain falling back. Tears came to his eyes, his heart filled with disbelief, and he would have shaken his head if he had the strength. But as it was, he merely kneeled on his place on the ground, his eyes following a figure that emerged from the brightness, riding forth to meet the shadows.
Rafél also dared a look back, his enemies’ movements speaking of something unexpected happening. His eyes grew wide, the tip of the bow in his hands dropping lower, the arrow falling to the ground. Across the field, on the edge of the village, stood an old man on a top of a white horse, his entire form shining brighter than any star he had ever seen. He knew this man, yes, but he was the last person he would have expected to see. The man – which he was not – halted his horse, faced the waiting enemies, and raised a staff in his hand high in the air. As a new wave of light emerged from the object, Rafél closed his eyes momentarily, a small smile passing his features. “Mithrandir,” he whispered. “Twice be blessed your name on every shore of Arda.”
Orcs screamed, trying to get away from the light now flooding the battlefield. The foul creatures rushed away, heedless for the Men and the Elves at they escaped to the night. Nazgûl seemed to hesitate for a moments, deciding if they should fight or not. Then they let out a final cry, anger seething their voices, and turned away, mounting their mounts and fleeing to the forest. The shadows retreated after the Nine, vanishing to the night.
Blinking himself out of the haze that had fallen upon them all as the White Rider appeared, Rafél turned away from the Wizard’s form. Sudden, terrible fear assaulted his mind, his mind recalling his earlier task. Legolas… Lunging forward without hesitation, Rafél pushed past the fleeing Orcs. He did not have to see where he was going: he was well aware of the location of his destination. His fëa shuddered in cold pain, guiding him forward steadily.
The guardian did not slow down as he was freed from the swarming sea of the retreating enemies. His eyes immediately fell upon the unmoving figure on the ground, the rest of the world falling away. Rushing at the other Elf’s side, Rafél kneeled to the stamped grass, his hands ever so carefully reaching for the being next to him. “Legolas?” he whispered, his own voice strange in his ears. He cannot be… He saw the wound, clearly torn through the clothing and skin. There was no blood, but that did little to solace him. He knew that any blade Nazgûl bore was a dangerous one, and ones like this… “Legolas?” he asked again, with more force this time, his hand caressing the pale forehead. He is so cold. So still. So awfully still…
Forcing himself out of his maddening thoughts, Rafél swallowed and closed his eyes, his fingers pressing against Legolas’ skin. Long seconds passed, agonisingly long. There! He felt it, a small fire of life. Legolas’ fëa embraced his, weak but bright as it sought strength from him. Opening his eyes, Rafél reached for the Elf before him and inched closer. “You will make it,” he whispered, trying to ignore the darkness that was slowly taking over the natural light of the Elf that he had grown to love more than a brother. Don’t give up. You haven’t come all this way to die like this, Rafél prayed, trying to join his own fëa’s power to Legolas’. But the shadow seemed to grow stronger, both inside and around them, and soon Rafél did not even try to pretend that he could save either of them. For if Legolas would die, so would he.
Slowly the light in the air faded, gathering to the staff in the Wizard’s hand, shining around the cloaked form for a while longer before subsiding. The white horse under the Istari snorted, pricking his ears as several voices called out, terror finally gone from the minds of defenders.
“Gandalf!” called out several Men, raising their swords in respect. “Mithrandir!” others shouted, tears of joy and relief in many eyes.
The Wizard did not halt to greet the Men, but guided his mount forward, stopping the great horse as he reached a place further from the lines of Men. “Rest now, Shadowfax. For a moment, we shall remain here,” Gandalf whispered soothingly at the horse, sliding his hand along the strong white neck. He dismounted and turned, his clear blue eyes scanning the field, trying to decide where to start from. Then he noticed the kneeling Elf – and the one lying beside him on the ground – some two dozen yards away from him, and dismissing the fear raising in his chest, Gandalf strode towards the couple.
Some distance away from the Wizard, Aragorn blinked, his heart still beating maddeningly in his chest. “Gandalf…” he whispered, trying to get up to follow the older man, but found his legs unable to support his weight.
“Aragorn!” came a call from behind the King, and a moment later two set of hands pushed him back down, pair of identical faces appearing in front of him. “By the Valar Estel, be still!” Elladan commanded, inspecting Aragorn’s shoulder.
Only then did the Man remember the blade still embedded to his flesh, and he flinched in the returning pain. “It is nothing. I must –”
“Stay nice and still,” Elrohir ended helpfully, his strong fingers keeping the Man securely in place.
“Don’t let him move,” joined a new voice, Glorfindel stepping to the trio. “It is all the way through,” he muttered, running careful fingers over the blade.
“You should count yourself lucky,” Elrohir continued, trying to draw Aragorn’s attention. “It is an Elven blade, so the cut should be nice and clean. If it would have been a weapon of Orcs, you would be in a lot more trouble.”
“Is that meant to make me feel better?” Aragorn cursed between gritted teeth while Glorfindel tested the blade. It seemed to be solidly stuck, which meant the King of Men would be forced to endure a great amount of pain in a near future. “Just take it –” Aragorn began, but then halted, his eyes spotting Gandalf moving across the line of his vision. As the Man’s own eyes took a path before the old Wizard, he found the other’s destination: some distance before Gandalf, Rafél was kneeling on the ground, more Elves gathering up to that place. On their feet lay an unmoving form, pale skin glowing faintly in the darkness. Struggling yet again to get on to his feet, Aragorn’s mind was filled with numerous horrible thoughts.
“Please, Aragorn, you must stay still!” Glorfindel exclaimed, his hands pushing the Man back down.
“We must take the knife off before it makes any more harm,” Elladan pressed, and after Aragorn had calmed slightly, he turned his grey eyes to see what the Man had been looking. He understood immediately, his own hand upon Aragorn’s arm tightening in compassion. “He has to be alright…” he muttered.
Elrohir raised his head, frowning, and then spotted the fallen Prince. “Elbereth…” he swallowed. “He is so still…”
“Stop it, both of you!” Glorfindel snapped. “We must take care of Estel first. Now, keep him still. Let’s get this over and done.” With that, he took a firm hold of the hilt of the blade, and slid it free with a swift yank.
Aragorn’s body jolted in pain, a cry of pain almost escaping his tightly closed lips. He took a long breathe of air, shaking his head as dizziness threatened to overcome him. He felt someone press against the wound, trying to stop the bleeding. Slowly he dared to open his eyes, wondering when he had closed them, and saw the bloodied knife on the ground. The sight of it brought memories to his head, the latest event playing in his head yet again: Angmar embedding his dark knife into Legolas’ body, the Elf’s scream cutting through the air as the weapon was forced deeper... He shuddered despite himself, anger and self-hatred blooming in him. His hands fisted in a grass beneath him, almost to a brink of pain.
“Aragorn!” came a rough, breathless voice from behind the group of Rivendell Elves. A moment later Gimli pushed at the Man’s side, ignoring perfectly the looks he gained from the Twins and Glorfindel. “Are you all right, lad?” the Dwarf asked anxiously, his eyes running over Aragorn’s weary, bloodied form.
“I am well, master Dwarf,” Aragorn said quietly, his eyes again searching the ring gathered around his fallen friend. Lórien Elves were coming towards them, their faces grave, and a pang of fear twisted itself in the Man’s heart. Gimli also glanced at the same direction with Aragorn, his entire posture changing in a moment. Perhaps he came to check me first, but his true worry lies with Legolas, Aragorn thought, putting a steady hand upon the Dwarf’s shoulder. “You know his strength. And he would not dare to risk his life in a fear of your retribution,” the King added with an uneven voice, pain and fear for their friend making speaking difficult.
“Elves are known to do very foolish things, especially this one…” Gimli murmured, shifting to get a better view. “Why did he not run? Why had he to play a hero again, knowing that he was in no condition to stand the shadow of the Nine? Or whatever they were.” His eyes narrowed, and after a moment he grumbled something with his own tongue. “Is that truly Gandalf there? It seems that today is full of surprises: things and creatures long gone are jumping on our way without a warning,” he snorted, pushing against Aragorn’s hold in attempt to move forward.
“Please, stay here, master Gimli,” called out a clear voice, and Haldir halted before the Dwarf, clear warning in his cool eyes.
“You tell me to stay behind when my friend has fallen and is in need of my help,” Gimli spoke proudly at the taller being, sudden anger filling his voice. He had held his temper in check ever since he had seen Legolas stricken down, but his patience was swiftly reaching its limits.
“All help that Prince Legolas needs is now with him,” Haldir retorted, but whatever frustration had been in his voice was suddenly gone, pained flash crossing his grey eyes. “There are other tasks to be done,” he continued with a sigh, throwing a quick glance at his companions to ensure they were indeed there.
Khai and Ithika were both staring at the direction of Legolas, hatred and worry visible on their fair faces. “We should have stayed with the others…” Khai whispered, bowing her head.
“Mithrandir commanded us to take care of the wounded,” Ithika said softly to his sister, though his voice was not controlled enough to shadow the disappointment in him.
“Stop, two of you,” Glorfindel spoke, standing up as he finished his work with Aragorn’s wound. “Many have fallen tonight, and there are many to tend – even from our previous battle.” The Noldo gave Aragorn’s uninjured shoulder a soft squeeze. “As Aragorn cannot do much for our wounded, we must help him. Legolas is in good hands. All we can do is to pray for him.”
“It is easy for you to say, isn’t it?” Orophin said suddenly, his eyes burning. “You haven’t seen him, pale and unmoving, fading away before your very eyes.” Haldir turned to his brother, but Orophin sent his elder sibling a look that stopped the Marchwarden to his tracks. “There is no blood, but evil flows all around him, almost like a visible layer. It did not move back when Mithrandir arrived, instead hissing its challenge.”
“But he is still alive, is he not?” Glorfindel demanded calmly, yet he was now paler than a moment ago.
“He was, when we left his side,” Orophin answered.
All eyes turned back to the group gathered on the field, fear taking a tight grip in all of them. Gimli’s hand stole to the jewel around his neck, his fingers curling about it. “He is fighting,” he murmured. “He will live. He has to.”
At the very moment when Gandalf reached Rafél’s side, he knew their time was limited. His senses corrected him where his sight left him: the evil radiating within and without the young Elf’s body was so immense that it pained even him. It floated around the comatose body, all the time seeking ways to get in and corrupt more of the already weakened fëa. But it was stopped again by the silent Guardian at the Prince’s side, Rafél’s battle drawing him to his limits.
More Elves gathered around the three, but Gandalf paid them no heed, instead kneeling to the ground beside Rafél, trying not to disturb the other: Rafél’s attempt to keep the darkness away were possibly the only reason why Legolas was still with them. Searching the ground, the Wizard’s eyes found the object he had been looking for. Carefully he extended his hand, reaching for the black hilt of a knife which had no blade anymore. His hand jolted away as if burnt, hissing sound escaping from him.
“A Morgul-blade!” Dínnor swore from his place on Legolas’ other side. “This will not be easy.”
“It is not merely a kind of a weapon you think it to be, Cousin,” Gandalf said with slightly shaken voice, cursing beneath his breathe. He felt several pairs of eyes lock into him, only Rafél’s staying closed, his mind solely upon its task to keep his Prince from slipping into the shadows. “Actually, it is a weapon few have seen. None of you, I would dare to say. I had never seen one before this day myself, but I can tell what it is.”
“This sounds worse than a Morgul-blade…” Asthaldo muttered, immediately silenced by the other Elves around him.
“This is a weapon made by someone who is well taught to the ways of evil: and who has power to make such a blade. Weapons like this did not usually serve the purposes of the evil ones, so they were not used. The blade that was connected to this hilt – which is now gone – had no actual physical form. It was made of pure evil, seemingly materialised. When struck into the victim, the blade vanishes. Or shall we say, transforms into its true form.”
The Elves shivered, glancing at the wound on Legolas’ chest with wary eyes. “What does this blade do? It sounds effective to me,” Thalión questioned with a careful voice.
“And why to use it at Legolas?” Khai asked, her voice full of terror. “It would take a lot of time and effort to make such a weapon.”
“I do not know,” Gandalf answered the Marchwarden, “yet. But some answers will be given to you soon. As for what the blade does,” he glanced at Thalión, “it forces evil into the victim. Perfect weapon against Firstborns, indeed. But it demands much knowledge from the maker. That is why they were never used as a weapon against Elves in wars: normal ways to kill were much more simple, and yet effective.”
“What is happening to him?” Haldir asked, his eyes narrowing. “I can sense nothing but evil…”
“He will turn into a wraith,” Gandalf stated. “His soul will never reach Mandos, and he will be ever doomed into darkness.” Silence filled the group, expressions speaking of rebellion and disbelief. “But I will not see it come to that,” Gandalf declared, turning his attention at the Prince. “Not after all the way I have come shall I see one of my friends die in my hands…”
“What can we do?” Ithika asked, holding his sister still.
“Haldir, take your kinsmen to help the wounded. There is nothing you can do here. Three Cousins may stay, though there is no task I can give to you.”
Haldir nodded, though reluctantly, and led the Marchwardens away from their fallen friend. Disagreeing sounds were soon silenced, and the three remaining Elves stood a small distance back, their eyes remaining on the scene before them, sharp and waiting. They knew better than to hinder the Wizard in his task, and they saw little they could do to help. But they did not wish to leave, either.
Rafél shifted, moaning under his breath. Brown eyes opened, dark and disoriented, but they fell upon the Wizard immediately, as if he had known the other to be there all the time. “Help him,” he begged with a hoarse voice, sincere plea in his eyes.
“I will do all in my power,” Gandalf smiled, but the expression faded as soon as it had appeared. His hands travelled over Legolas’ body, his eyes closed as he focused at the darkness before him. Finally he opened his eyes, his face grave. “He has almost given up. He is too tired to fight, his mind too weary to go on anymore. His fëa has almost diminished.” Rafél bowed his head in grief, his hands refusing to let go of the body of his Prince. “But there is still hope,” Gandalf continued, turning fully at Rafél. As the brown eyes met his, he said with a firm voice: “There is no time for subtleties. His time here is almost over, and we must act quickly. I can destroy this shadow, but it extends too far in him already: if I would drive it away, it would most likely rip his soul apart. Here you must aid me. Keep him from slipping to the shadows, and bring him back to light.”
“How…” Rafél asked, not quite understanding.
“You know how!” Gandalf bellowed, his hand grasping the Elf’s shoulder painfully. “Being his Guardian means that your bond with him is stronger that any other’s. Use that bond, and your fëa will show you the way. Now hurry, or we shall lose him,” the Wizard said with an adamant voice, releasing Rafél from his hold that did not by its strength quite fit into a form of an old man.
With a deep, steadying breath, Rafél turned back to Legolas. He moved himself so Legolas’ head rested in his lap, his right hand settling upon the icy cold forehead. His left hand sought Legolas’, lacing their fingers together. He was not quite sure what he was doing, for normal healing ways could not compare with what Gandalf asked him to do. But he was adamant to save Legolas, and it seemed that some subconscious part in him knew what he should do. Closing his eyes, he delved deeper to the darkness, his fëa hunting Legolas’ through the mist of evil. Their lights embraced when they met, familiar tingling sensation sweeping through Rafél’s body. This he knew, and had grown used to during their long years together: this was the connection they shared. A secret, silent way to communicate, which formed between Elves who grew exceptionally close to each other.
But instead of staying as he was, Rafél guided himself deeper, trying not to think that he had never before dared to intrude into Legolas’ soul and mind like this. They both had their privacy, and he felt like violating some unwritten rule. Yet he had to go as deep as possible to draw Legolas into light – or else they would both perish when Gandalf attacked the darkness.
His fëa melded together with Legolas’, giving Rafél more access in the darkness. For dark it was, all around him, the wordless whisper of shadows filling his ears. Cold seemed to assault his body, even if he told himself not to care: it was not real. Only a trick which the shadows played with his mind. The only part that was real was the evil in Legolas, and through their bond he was beginning to feel more and more darkness floating towards him. It seemed impossible that so much malice could be in one weapon, but then his mind concluded a shocking truth: Legolas had borne a great amount of darkness in him for some time. Rafél maybe hadn’t noticed anything back then, but yet he knew it had been there. Waiting. For how long, he could only guess. But as memories filled his head, terror crept into his mind. How deep had this evil extended its roots? How long had he closed his eyes from the truth?
A sudden yank pulled Rafél’s fëa deeper, forcing his thoughts back to the present. But something was happening around him, even if he couldn’t see it. He felt it, something taking shape around him, but when he tried to reach for it, it was not there. And then he heard something, as if a small child crying. He turned his mind towards the sound, confused, and then everything vanished around him.
His vision returned as fast as he had lost all knowledge of his surroundings. He blinked, dazed, and saw that he was somewhere, now. Burned forest spread around him, white mist hiding the ground from view. Corpses of trees stood silent, dead, ash covering the soil. The air did not smell of burned wood, which meant that these trees had been like this for a long time. Shadows mingled around the mist, creating a black background to everything, as if the forest would have ended into darkness around him, some dozen yards everywhere around him. What is this? Rafél wondered, reaching out to touch the bark of a nearest tree. But before his fingers touched the surface, he heard a sound again, and drew his hand back alarmed.
Someone was crying, but it was no more a sound of a child. That someone sounded to be very frightened, and in pain. Hesitating only momentarily, Rafél ran forward, trying to avoid the sticking roots on the ground. Shadows drew back slightly, presenting more forest as he went forward, closing up behind him as he passed on. He had to search only a moment before he found what he was looking for. He halted with a jerk, his eyes falling wide with shock, and yet it all started to make a perfect sense.
Before Rafél, kneeling on the dead ground, was an Elf, his naked body shaking both in fear and pain. As the broken sobs ended, the Elf turned his head, blue eyes widening in surprise. He hadn’t expected for anyone to come – none had come before. “Rafél?” he asked with a small voice, swallowing slowly. Tears were still streaming from his eyes, forming tiny rivers down his face.
“It is all right,” Rafél hushed, walking to the other and kneeling at his side. “I am here, Legolas. All is well.” But the youth shook his head, fear in his eyes, and shied away from him as he tried to touch the other.
“You have to leave!” Legolas shouted suddenly, glancing into the darkness. “They will hurt you…” he sobbed, his eyes meeting Rafél’s for a moment.
The guardian sat still, for the first time seeing genuine fear in Legolas’ eyes. It scared him, to see the other so vulnerable. And yet… this was only a dream of some sort. A dream that the shadows had locked Legolas in. “I will not leave you,” he promised with a calm voice, reaching out with his right hand. Legolas hesitated, staring at his hand, then at his face, but it seemed that he had chosen the right words. And before he was able to say another word, Legolas cried out, throwing himself into his arms, sobs wracking his lithe body again. Wrapping his arms around the Prince, Rafél pressed his body close, trying to figure out what to do next. It seemed that he was not able to connect Legolas through their fëa anymore. “I will take care of you,” Rafél soothed, trying to calm the younger Elf. “I will take you away from here, but I need your help first.”
Legolas raised his head, biting his lower lip in anguish. “There is no way out. This is… everything. This is…”
“A dream,” Rafél pressed. “An illusion. I have to take you back to light,” he pressed on.
Legolas’ eyes seemed to light up some, but then he looked back suddenly, his eyes widening. “He is here!” he almost screamed, but instead of trying to get away from Rafél, he pushed himself flush against the older Elf, whimpering with a small voice.
Rafél lifted his gaze, staring at the darkness. He did not understand. Was it possible that Legolas saw something in here that he did not? Was there something wrong with their bond… But then he also saw it, flaring slowly from the darkness, growing slowly into its full glory. Flames burned the air, setting trees in fire again, and the voice of shadows grew into a great rumble. The fire opened like a flower, revealing a lidless eye, gazing down at the Elves with all-seeing sight.
Rafél’s heart missed a beat, a familiar feeling filling him. Under this very shadow he has lived for so many years. And this being was destroyed from the face of Arda. “Is this what you dream of?” he suddenly asked from Legolas, understanding. “This is the nightmare you have been struggling against for so long…”
Legolas cried out, his fingers digging into Rafél’s tunic, his face tightly pressed against the other’s shoulder. “Please, make him go away. Don’t let him touch me. Not again.”
In the real world, Legolas’ body jolted, an agonised scream escaping from him. He trembled, screaming again, his breathe catching in his throat. The Cousins look worriedly at their Prince, not even daring to go forth and touch him. Their eyes moved to Gandalf, begging the Wizard to do something – anything – to stop their companion’s pain, but the Istari sat on his place, thoughtful. “Go on, Rafél. You know what to do,” Gandalf murmured with a deep voice, his eyes shining with worry.
Rafél’s arms tightened around Legolas’ body, his mind resolved. He was not sure what to do, but he knew he had to drive these shadows back in order to save Legolas. Facing the eye of fire before him, he released the power within him, the light of Eldar shining from him like a new-born star. The shadows fell back, and the eye blazed, finally fading completely.
Legolas moved against him, turning his face to see that the enemy was gone. The shadows were slowly edging closer, building anew, but he felt as if he was able to breath for a moment. When a gentle hand caressed his head he turned back, meeting Rafél’s eyes with a small smile.
“See? He is gone now,” Rafél said slowly, smoothing back the tangled golden hair.
Legolas nodded slowly, closing his eyes momentarily. “Thank you for coming for me.”
“You thought I wouldn’t have come?” Rafél asked, slightly surprised.
“It was dangerous. It still is,” Legolas replied, looking at the darkness again. “It was only a beginning…” he muttered, holding tighter to Rafél.
“There is no danger, evil or darkness that I would not face for you,” the guardian said firmly. “No length there is that I would not travel for you, no misery I would spare myself from to see you safe and happy.”
“And why is that?” Legolas asked, suddenly daring himself on. This might be the last chance he had to hear the truth from his guardian…
“Not because I made an oath to your father, nor because I am bound by duty,” Rafél began, resting his face against Legolas’.
“I know,” the Prince replied softly, closing his eyes again.
“But because I love you.”
Legolas remained silent, but his hands around Rafél’s neck held the other close. He felt the tears again, burning his eyes, and as much as he would have liked to hold them back, he was too exhausted to do so. But these were no evil tears, nor those of weakness.
“Legolas…” Rafél said carefully, feeling the wetness between their faces. “We must –” He never finished, a dark laughter rising from the darkness. Shadows rose like walls around them, making the forest vanish into nothingness, tendrils of mist remaining floating above the ground which suddenly felt hard and icy beneath them. Cloaked figures emerged from the darkness, gleaming like ghosts in the dark. One stood before the others, entirely dark, not a single ray of dim light shining from his form. The mere feeling of him spoke of evil power, mastery of something dark.
“He is mine,” the foremost said, raising his hand to point at Legolas. More ghosts – or wraiths – closed up around them, leaving them surrounded. “Give up, Guardian. You cannot protect him here. Not anymore.”
Rafél ground his teeth together and forced himself not to answer. Instead, he forced trembling Legolas to meet his eyes. “I will keep you safe, I promise,” he whispered. “We have to do this together,” he continued, swiftly glancing at the waiting ghosts. “Trust me,” he added.
“Always,” Legolas smiled, his fingers mingling into Rafél’s hair. They pressed close to each other, Legolas trying to draw strength from the other Elf.
“Give up,” the one on the front insisted, taking a step forward.
“Never,” Rafél answered, and then allowed all his power to release itself. It was time to see if he could save neither of them. Legolas clung onto him, still shaking with pain, but his fear seemed to be gone. With a fond kiss at the Prince’s temple, Rafél leaned his face against the other’s shoulder and turned his power from outside to within.
After the third scream from Legolas, the Prince suddenly calmed down. Gandalf sat up straighter, his body tense and alarmed. Then he was forced to shut his eyes, the Sindar sitting next to him blazing up with a bright light. Pure, white rays seemed to shine from within Rafél’s form, making all on the field to look up in disbelief.
“What is happening?” exclaimed Pippin, who with his cousin had just reached Aragorn and his companions.
“I am not quite sure,” Glorfindel answered when no other did. They all kept staring in awe, too paralysed to move on to see what was actually happening.
Gandalf merely smiled in his place, nodding in approval. He pushed the sleeves of his robe back, preparing himself, his eyes remaining on the Elf whose hold of his Prince tightened slightly as his inner light became slightly lesser, staying like that for a moment. Legolas shifted, pushing himself closer to Rafél, his brow furrowing.
Then suddenly, without a warning, Rafél’s light diminished, drawing back inside in a swift rush. He still shone with inner light, in a god-like appearance, his face relaxed and yet set deep in concentration. A tremble like a wind shaking the leaves ran through him, his breath coming in swift gasps.
Legolas reacted soon after, a long moan coming from him, ending into a small cry of pain. His right hand shot up, fisting into Rafél’s tunic as a desperate gesture. His entire body jolted, his head tossing restlessly from side to another, and the shadows swirled around him in anticipation.
“What is happening?” Asthaldo asked, alarmed. “Gandalf?”
“Wait,” the Wizard hushed, his eyes narrowing. He leaned in, his hands hovering over Legolas’ restless body. His eyes shifted at Rafél, and then he leaned back, pain flashing on his face. “We cannot do anything.”
“What? You just said that you would destroy the darkness when Rafél has drawn Legolas to safety!” Asthaldo exclaimed, his eyes shining with worry.
“Rafél isn’t strong enough,” Dínnor murmured. “The shadows are too great for him to overcome.”
“No!” Gandalf said sternly. “I do not dare to interfere, for Rafél will be able to handle the shadows within by himself, it seems. Their bond is stronger than I thought,” he mused to himself, his right hand caressing his beard.
“What about the shadows without?” Thalión asked, calmer than either of his cousins. “I can see them, waiting…” the powder-blue eyes shifted, scanning the air, seeing things that no mortal eye could see.
“Those I shall take care of,” Gandalf said almost gently, reaching for his staff. “Soon…” he murmured, his eyes staring at Legolas, as if waiting for something.
Legolas squirmed, as if trying to get loose of something, but his hold of his guardian did not falter for a moment. “Rafél…” he whispered with a broken, distant voice, and his body was washed with light immediately. It came from within, it seemed, growing stronger all the time, until he shone with a light almost painful to behold.
Shadows rose up from the Prince’s body, falling back from him with a high, terrible shriek. They rose to the sky, swirling there like an angry cloud, ready to lay their malice back to the ground when a chance would be given. But Gandalf did not allow such a thing to happen. He jumped up from his place, raised his staff above his head, and shouted a string of foreign words with a booming voice. The shadows were washed away with a flash of the staff, and with a ragged sigh, the Wizard lowered his tool of battle and leaned on it like an old, weary man. His eyes rested upon the two Elves, anxiously waiting what would happen.
Legolas breathe stopped at the moment the shadows left his body, his body balancing on the edge for a moment. Then he settled back down with a deep sigh, some colour returning to his features even if he still was far paler than usual. He seemed relaxed, at last, the air settling down around him.
Rafél opened his eyes with a startled shout, falling to the side until Thalión caught him, holding him up as he fought for breathe. He moaned, resting his head against the offered shoulder for a moment, his eyes slowly adjusting to the waking world again. Then he shifted, realising that it was Legolas’ weight leaning against him, the Prince’s fingers still holding on to him, though their hold had lost the deadly grip. Fond smile crossed his features, his hand caressing the golden forehead.
“You did it,” Gandalf said slowly, meeting the guardian’s eyes. He smiled warmly at the Elf, nodding. “Now rest, and watch his dreams. The others shall take care of the other tasks.”
Instead of disagreeing – as it would have been his wont – Rafél nodded, slowly divesting himself from Legolas’ hold to allow himself to rest beside the Prince. Legolas curled against his body, the pale hands seeking their way around Rafél’s neck. The guardian smiled, letting himself slip into reverie, his protege close in his embrace.
“Let them rest here,” Gandalf said at the trio before him. “Shall you watch them, if I return to the others?”
“Of course, Mithrandir,” Thalión smiled, bowing at the Istari as he left them to guard the sleeping ones. With a soft smile on his own, Dínnor put his cloak around the sleeping couple. Then he motioned his cousins to take their places, and so they stood around the slumbering ones as a silent sentinels.
Using his staff as a walking-stick, Gandalf made his way through the field to the other gathered group. “It seems that you haven’t made it very far despite my orders, Haldir of Lórien.”
“My apologies, Mithrandir,” the addressed Elf bowed, somewhat shamefully. None of them had wished to leave from the sight of the fallen one, especially after Rafél’s unexpected show.
“No offence taken,” the Wizard said lightly, nodding at the three Men who sprang up to meet them. “Now as you are here,” he said to Éomer, Faramir, and Irolas, “I would have you gather the Men, organise the tending of the wounded, and gathering of the dead.”
“But –” Faramir began, halting beside his King.
“Do as he says,” Aragorn smiled, looking at his fellow Men. “I am quite taken care of,” he added, grimacing.
“Yes, my Lord,” Faramir bowed.
“We really didn’t believe it to be you, Gandalf,” piped up a new voice, Pippin pushing nearer to the Wizard. The Hobbit took enough time from inspecting the Istari so he bowed at Faramir with a smile. The Man returned the gesture, also nodding at Merry when he came to his sight.
“How is Legolas?” Merry asked just as most of the group opened their mouths to ask the same question.
“He shall live,” Gandalf said shortly, giving Gimli a glance. The Dwarf smiled in acknowledgement, still holding tightly the jewel in his hands. Then the Wizard turned at Aragorn, addressing the Man with a solemn look. “Much hardship has been on your journey, since the death of your beloved. I do not say that the road from this on shall be any easier, but use this moment of peace wisely: rest.”
The King of Men bowed his head, sorrow passing his features. “You speak words of wisdom, truly. It is good to see you, old friend.”
Gandalf nodded, resting one hand on Aragorn’s shoulder as a sign of compassion. “You are not alone in your grief, but onto you it falls the hardest. My heart mourns with yours.”
“Thank you,” Aragorn said, not daring to say anything else.
Gandalf then turned at Faramir and Éomer, his face clearly showing his grief. “Easy has not been your journey, either, but loyally you have followed both your King and your friend. There shall be time for sorrow, when that moment is appointed.”
“And may those responsible find their justice,” Éomer returned with a look of grief.
Gandalf did not answer to that, but his eyes agreed with the Horsemaster.
“What are you speaking of?” Pippin asked suddenly, his youthful face extremely worried.
“You must tell us, for surely something evil has happened to make you say such words,” Merry added, looking anxiously up at the Big Folk.
Men changed glances, not sure what they should say to the Hobbits. Finally it seemed to stay as Aragorn’s duty to tell the ill news forward. “Arwen and Éowyn are dead,” he said shortly, gaining sympathising looks from the people around.
“Dead?” Merry asked, horrified, disbelief in his eyes. “How?”
“They were murdered,” Éomer continued, his voice bitter. “We have no knowledge of the person who did it – or why.”
“Dead…” Pippin echoed, his eyes seeking Faramir’s, tears in them. “I am sorry,” he said slowly, then glanced at Aragorn. “So very sorry.”
“Its not fair,” whispered Merry in turn, swallowing his own tears. “There’s no reason…”
“We do not know that yet,” Gandalf comforted the two. “For a moment, we can do little to it. But due of time, all mysteries shall become clear.”
“That is exactly what we all keep hoping for,” Irolas muttered, sounding somewhat unconvinced.
“Patience, Soldier of Gondor,” smiled the Wizard. “The answers do not come to us any quicker than they are meant to.”
Aragorn raised an eyebrow at this, but as Gandalf refused to go on, he turned back to his kinsmen. “Now go and do as Gandalf wished: gather the Men and tend the wounded. I shall leave the lead into your capable hands.” Faramir and Éomer nodded, leaving with Irolas behind them.
“I will miss her,” Merry said suddenly, making all who heard him to turn. “I didn’t know her very well, of course, but we rode together for a while,” the Hobbit continued.
“Éowyn would be greatly comforted by those words, Meriadoc,” Aragorn said, settling his right hand on Merry’s shoulder. “Now wipe your tears, for the living are in need of our help.”
“Is that how you live with it, from a day to another? Thinking about the ones who live?” Gimli questioned as the Hobbits were out from the range of hearing, returning to their village to help the Men.
“We all have our own ways to handle grief, master Dwarf,” Aragorn shrugged, his eyes scanning over place where Legolas was now resting.
“Aye,” Gimli agreed to this, but did not turn his gaze from the Man. “You could use some rest, lad.”
“Excellent idea,” Elladan said before Aragorn had a chance to reply. “We shall handle the situation well enough without you. Rest is what your body craves for, and your mind will be sharper after some sleep.”
“And a sharp mind is what we need to solve all the riddles Gandalf is about to set before us, I wager,” Elrohir added, giving the Wizard a cheeky grin.
Gandalf merely snorted, motioning Aragorn to follow him.
“Do you think we should scout for the enemies?” asked Ithika, staring at the slowly lighting up forest. Dawn was still some hours away, and the world would remain dark for a good while still. The Elves around the Marchwarden nodded, thinking it would be necessary to search out the enemies and watch their movements.
“If you wish to humour yourselves, or put your mind at ease, you may do so,” the Wizard answered, looking back himself. “But the deeds of the enemy are done here, and they shall not return.”
“Shall we trust in that?” Rúmil asked.
“Mithrandir’s words do not usually go wrong,” Haldir replied.
“We would do better while helping the wounded,” Glorfindel agreed.
“That is settled, then. There is enough time to scout later, for Orcs have never bothered to hide their tracks,” Haldir said, picking up his weapons as he made his way after the distancing King and Istari.
“But in the end, is it the Orcs that we should worry about?” Elladan mused, giving the forest a one, final dark look.
to be continued…
Author’s Notes: Here we are again, at the end of a chapter. I wish this was enjoyable, and took away some of your worries – for a time.
For those who wonder – if any – Gandalf of course knows the Cousins, as well as all the Elves of Lothlórien who are now involved on this little trip. They have all travelled long in Middle-earth, and as Gandalf spent many years among the Elves – both in light of Lórien and in the shadows of Mirkwood – he most likely knows at least Cousin personally. Perhaps we shall get more information to that in the earlier stories of the series, when I get that far.
At this point I would advice you to take a look at my other fics (if you haven’t already), “Influence”, “Prince of Dol Guldur” and “Loyalty to Blood” especially. They are slowly beginning to be important for this story. Not that it matters greatly if you haven’t read the other stories ‘published’ (so far) from “The Journey” –series: it just gives you more information. But you have still time to do that, before the plot moves into a point that indicates directly at those stories.
Until the next chapter!