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.
New morning broke through the darkness of the night, colouring the wall of clouds golden in the light of the rising sun. Such mornings were divine to behold, quiet in their serenity, and Gandalf allowed himself a moment to take in the beauty of a new day on Middle-earth. He had missed this, during his years on the shores of Valinor. Many would have wondered such a feeling, but he had fallen in love to this land from the first day he had set his foot on its shore. And later, his love had extended to the people living here. Small or tall, they all had a special place in his heart.
Nearby shouts woke him from his thoughts, calling the ancient mind back to the present. Turning his head wearily, Gandalf looked at the commotion about him. It was completely unnatural to have an entire village of Hobbits up and about at this hour. But this day – or the ones before – had not been easy for the small folk. Unused to battles, warriors, and wounded, they were running back and forth almost mindlessly, trying to busy themselves with whatever work possible.
“They are a kind folk. Slightly ignorant, perhaps, but absolutely kind-hearted,” stated a voice, tired yet musical.
Gandalf nodded, turning to look at the Eldar next to him. “How are our patients?” he asked, knowing the other was well aware of whom he meant. “Your cousins are still keeping an eye on them, I assume,” he added, fishing his pipe from his pocket. As he found no leaves to fill it with, he gave it one mournful look and pushed it back to its pouch.
Thalión watched this unconscious movement with interest, and then nodded, noticing that he had the Wizard’s full attention again. “Dínnor and Asthaldo remained with them. We moved them both into one of the houses of Hobbits, thinking it was far better place for them to rest.” Gandalf raised an eyebrow at this, making Thalión chuckle softly. “The Hobbits insisted it to be done. It seems that they are not used into sleeping under the open sky. Though I am sure that Merry has got his share of it…”
“Enough to tell you to take those two indoors,” Gandalf laughed. “How do they fare?”
“Good, by my observation. Legolas looks much better, and Rafél actually woke up when we were about to move them into the house. He did not put up with the idea that we would carry him as well.”
“How very surprising…” the Wizard mused, and then laughed. “Things shall be normalised soon – as much as possible.” He fell silent, watching the folk pass by them; Hobbits, Men, and sometimes an Elf. All absorbed into their work, a routine by far to most of them. “Soon we have taken care of the wounded, and people shall go to rest.”
“You are not going to do so?” Thalión enquired, assuming as much.
“No,” Gandalf sighed, shaking his head. “Put a word around – you know to whom. I have a need for a quick debate before we move on. And make sure that Samwise shall be present as well. There is something I need him to do.”
He has a plan if he has thought about moving on already. But you can do better than try to guess a mind of a Wizard, Thalión decided. “When and where?”
“At noon, on the Party Field. That should be suitable enough. If not – we have a lot of people who will soon try to seek a place to sleep – we shall simply find another place,” Gandalf said, his voice informing the Elf beside him that he was already deep in though.
Thalión smiled, bowed, and left the Istari with his musings, knowing he would learn nothing more until their meeting. He and his cousins knew Gandalf through many years, and even if they were not personal friends, they knew each other enough to show respect on both sides. Now, then, where to start… the Sinda pondered, walking through the village that was already preparing to rest. The night had been long for all of them, and even his body yearned for rest. But some things came before such luxury, and if Gandalf wanted to get his debate held and be on his way, so be it.
As the Cousin passed one small house, he noticed a familiar-looking Hobbit on its porch, ready to leave from his whatever duties. Frowning, Thalión tried to remember the small creature’s name, at the same time stepping forth to catch the other’s attention. “Pardon me,” he began, making the Hobbit bounce around in fright. “My apologies, I did not mean to startle you,” he apologised quickly.
“Oh, it is all right, Sir,” said the Hobbit, blushing. “They always say that we Hobbits are a silent folk, but so surely are the Elves, if you know what I mean.”
Thalión laughed, noticing immediately that this Hobbit was somewhat more familiar with the Elves than most of his kin – yet very respectful, of course. “You might not be Samwise?” he asked, daring his luck.
The Hobbit bowed, looking surprised. “Indeed I am,” he stammered, looking carefully at the Elf before him. “Samwise Gamgee, at your service. Might I be able to help you in some way?”
“I have something for you: an invitation, kind of,” Thalión said smoothly. “Gandalf wishes you to attend a meeting, at noon on the Party Field.”
“Oh,” Sam muttered, frowning. “I wonder what he needs me for… But I shall come, if so requested. If you excuse me now, I have to go and check Rosie and the children.” With another bow, Sam took his leave and hurried along the road to his own house. Thalión looked after him, cocking his head, and couldn’t keep from smiling.
“They are interesting people, Hobbits. I find myself deeply fond of them.”
“Indeed, my Lord Aragorn. But as far as I remember, you were supposed to be resting,” Thalión replied, turning to meet the Man whom he had heard to approach for some time ago. Aragorn grimaced, taking a careful look around, trying to avoid moving his bound hand which rested on a sling against his chest. Thalión shared his glance, and then understood. “You escaped from the Twins of Imladris? Why, my Lord, you indeed have skills,” the Cousin praised with a shake of his head.
“They were distracted by Glorfindel,” Aragorn confessed. “Their wounds needed to be attended as well, and I merely…”
“Took the situation for your advantage,” Thalión quipped, good-naturally. “Did you hear of the meeting?”
“I over-heard some of the discussion,” the Man replied, somewhat shameful to confess that he had been eaves-dropping, even if by an accident. “Gandalf must have something important to tell us.”
“Why else would he be here?” Thalión said in kind, turning to leave. He had many people to find and inform, and he was still trying to get used to the ways of the world of Hobbits.
“Do you mind if I join you?” Aragorn called out, glancing behind again as if afraid that the forces of Rivendell were already on his trail.
“Of course, my Lord. It would be my honour,” Thalión laughed, noticing the look. “You can serve as a guide for me, if anyone asks,” he added, walking forward with the Man at his side.
Aragorn grinned, and together they made their way through the village, one by one sending a word ahead to those of their company who should attend the meeting. They dared to go even that far that they went to see the Rivendell Elves – whose shocked expressions revealed that they had not noticed Aragorn was missing from the broken house they used as a shelter.
“You little…” Elrohir swore, throwing Aragorn a dark look. “You were supposed to rest!” he shouted accusingly, throwing his hands across his chest.
“I did, for my time,” the King defended himself, just as adamantly. “And Thalión needed my help,” he added.
“Oh, so it was good Thalión that kidnapped you from the back-door?” Elladan asked, half-seriously.
“From the window,” Aragorn corrected.
“Ever better,” Elladan replied, rolling his eyes. “I take it you feel better now?”
“You think I would be walking around if I were not?” Aragorn asked, almost shocked.
“Yes,” answered all the four Elves as one, even without sharing a look. The Man muttered, glaring at Thalión.
“That is a well-known fact,” the Cousin defended himself in turn. “Legolas has warned us many times that if such an occasion would take place, you must be watched at all times, personally. Or else.”
Aragorn groaned, making the Elves laugh around him.
“Leave him be. He knows his limits, and as long as he keeps his hand in place, I think he can enjoy the fresh outside air,” Glorfindel decided, leaving the others no room for complaints.
“Well, I shall be off. There are few things I must talk with my cousins about, and food would be a nice thing to find, as well,” Thalión told the others, backing away slowly.
“In the case you haven’t noticed, we are in a village of Hobbits. Ruined or no, it means that there is a plenty of food around,” Elladan said cheerily. “Just ask someone to find it for you. Mentioning of food is always a pleasant thing for Hobbit-ears.”
“I have to remember that,” Thalión muttered, turning away to find his way back to the house they had been shown into. It took him only a small moment to find it, his senses guiding him back easily. The streets were almost empty now, but he indeed dared to ask one Hobbit for some food. As a result, he returned to the house with a large basket full of various comestibles.
“Oh, what a lovely sight you are!” Asthaldo saluted his elder cousin, taking the basket from him eagerly. “Though we could live with this for a week, at least.”
“Hobbits have a funny way to count how much three Elves can eat during one meal,” Thalión agreed, seating himself down to a soft grass beside the house. “How are Rafél and Legolas?” he asked, leaning against the wall.
“They are fine, both. I haven’t even tried to rouse them,” Dínnor answered as he emerged from the house, looking at the food with shining eyes. “That indeed is a lunch of a warrior,” he laughed. “Maybe we should wake them, after all.”
“Nay, let them rest. This food will not go bad after some waiting,” Thalión put in, leaning closer to the basket which was being eagerly explored by Asthaldo. His eyes swept from the food to the world around them, some of the earlier sadness returning to him. “So much is destroyed here. So many lives, so many houses… How will this folk ever survive of this?”
“They have done it before, and shall do it again,” Dínnor evaluated, his eyes taking the same path over the burned grass and houses, a broken carriage on the rode opposite to them. “But let us eat, now. I at least think better with a full stomach, and some rest.”
“Speaking of which, Gandalf called in a meeting at noon,” Thalión remembered, taking a piece of bread from an offered piece. “He spoke of moving on.”
“Someone has a plan, then,” Asthaldo mused, munching a mouthful of cold bacon. “About a time, I say.”
“To form a plan, you need to know something,” Dínnor added, thoughtful.
“We shall hear about that soon enough,” Thalión sighed. “Let’s not trouble our minds with that at the moment.” They agreed on that, eating in silence. As Ithika walked past them, they gave him a part of their meal, sending a word to the rest of the Elves with him. After they had finished they sat talking quietly, one of them checking their sleeping companion now and then.
As the noon drew close, Thalión rose up from his place and went to the house. He watched the slumbering couple for a while, thoughtfully musing over what he saw. Rafél’s hand was carelessly thrown over Legolas’ waist, the Prince’s head leaning against the crook of his neck. Such display of closeness was unusual to them, speaking of something changed between them.
“They look so sweet like that,” Asthaldo snickered, slipping inside and lowering the half-full basket to the floor.
“You dare to say that aloud while Rafél is awake,” Thalión smiled, but he was not amused in a same way that his cousin seemed to be. The guardian indeed stirred, turning to look at them, careful not to disturb Legolas on his side. “We shall attend a meeting on the Party Field,” Thalión whispered. “Shall you join us? Gandalf has something to tell us, no doubt.”
Rafél seemed to ponder at that for a moment, glancing at the Prince in his arms. “He will be fine,” Asthaldo said. “He will sleep, and when he wakes, he will search for us, anyway.”
As Rafél still was not convinced, Thalión took a step forward, lowering a hand to the guardian’s shoulder. “You go, and I will stay with him. You may tell me the news when you return.”
“But –” Asthaldo began, but silenced himself, accepting his cousin’s offer as an elder’s wisdom.
Rafél nodded, slowly getting up from his place. As he walked to the door, he halted for a moment, throwing one, last look at his Prince.
“Go,” Thalión commanded, sitting on the edge of the bed.
The guardian submitted to this, leaving the house with two other Cousins, smoothing his hair as they went. He took a piece of meat from Dínnor, smiling his thanks. He still felt a little awkward to leave Legolas alone with someone else, but he knew he also wished to hear what the Wizard had to say.
In the house, Thalión leaned against the wall, his eyes falling upon Legolas in an instant. “This is most amazing, I should say,” he mused to himself, drawing the blanket more closely over the sleeping form. “But I do not say that. Instead, we shall wait and see,” he smiled cryptically, caressing Legolas’ hair dreamily, preparing himself to wait for the others’ return, eager for news.
On the Party Field, a central place of Hobbiton, a small group gathered slowly together. Gandalf was already sitting in the shade of a tree, holding his pipe in his hand even if he had nothing to burn in it. The company of Rivendell, as well as the Men, were next to come, taking their places next to the Wizard. Aragorn dug in his pockets for a moment, soon realising that he as well had ran out of pipe weed. The King and the Wizard shared a dark look, and then settled down again to wait.
Lórien Elves arrived soon enough, Dwarves on their trail. One could have thought they came as two separate groups, or so it seemed to anyone who would have taken time to watch: neither side took notice of another, both groups drawn onto their own discussion – with their own languages. Only Gimli seemed to keep a track between both sides, eagerly glancing from the Elves to his kinsmen.
“Where are the Cousins?” Gimli demanded immediately, not bothering to sit down.
“I am sure they shall be here soon,” Gandalf said peacefully, putting the empty pipe between his lips. “We are waiting for some others, as well, so you would do well to sit down and wait, master Dwarf.”
Gimli grumbled, taking his place on the grass, but his eyes kept scanning the village around them. “I doubt Legolas shall attend this meeting,” Aragorn spoke out, catching the Dwarf’s attention immediately. “He needs to rest, and of what I have heard, he hasn’t even woke up yet.”
Gimli nodded, somewhat downcast, and remained silent. But all could see that he was greatly worried, and none was fool enough to ask the reason. They were all worried about Legolas’ health, even if they spoke not of it. Much evil had befallen to the Elves at late, and this was just one more reason to take the ship to the West. This was also a thing that Gimli dreaded to occur, for once he had already thought it happened. That time, Legolas had remained even as most of his folk had left. But now things were different…
“What a sad look you all are! Mourning for what, I wonder. Cheer up, for we saved the Hobbits and drove the enemy away – with minimal losses, I might add,” Asthaldo called out as he and his two companions appeared into the view. Rafél was silent, even if agreeing, and Dínnor rolled his eyes, yet taking his time to inspect the already gathered group.
“Here you are at last, we have been waiting for you,” Elladan replied. “Did you leave Thalión behind?”
“We did,” Dínnor answered shortly, settling down to the ground. He glanced at Rafél, silently telling the other to follow his example. “Legolas is still asleep, and he volunteered to stay and watch.”
“Good,” Gandalf said, nodding thoughtfully. His eyes sought Rafél’s for a moment, welcoming the other.
“Now then, if we are all here…” Glorfindel said, looking around.
“Not yet,” Gandalf stopped the Elf. “There is more to come, I hope.”
“More people?” Haldir asked, somewhat puzzled.
“Hobbits,” Aragorn interrupted, and nodded with his head towards a small group that was making its way towards them.
“I hope we are not late, my Lords,” Sam gasped as he halted before the others, bowing hastily. “They insisted to come as well,” he said to Gandalf, pointing at Merry and Pippin by his side.
“It is our right,” Pippin declared, making most of those present laugh.
“Sit down, all of you, and we shall finally begin,” Gandalf said sternly. Then he smiled, taking a pouch that Merry offered to him. He sniffed its contents, sighing contentedly, and filled his pipe. “My thanks, Meriadoc.”
“My pleasure,” Merry smiled, fishing out his own pipe.
“May I?” Aragorn asked quickly, pointing at the pouch.
“Have some of mine,” Sam offered, his own pipe already lit.
When everyone was seated comfortably, some smoking and some just trying to put up with the smell, Gandalf cleared his throat, gaining everyone’s attention. “I am glad to see you all here, mostly unharmed. But the reason why I called you all together is not too light of a matter.”
“As one could have guessed,” Elrohir muttered.
“For months now you have fought this enemy, not knowing where they come from, who commands them, and what is their intent,” the Wizard continued, blowing a ring of smoke into the air.
“But you shall surely tell us the answers to these questions,” Faramir suggested anxiously.
“At some parts, I may tell you what you yearn to know. But I am much at loss, as well. I will make my way to Rivendell, to search the answers from there.” Gandalf fell silent, feeling several eyes boring into him. “There is an enemy out there, who has mastered the evil creatures multiplied in the dark, hidden places of Middle-earth. Who or what this enemy is, I do not know.”
“Sauron,” Rafél muttered, seeming as if he really listened the discussion for the first time. He had looked daydreaming all the way since this, but now his eyes were clear and sharp, his gaze never letting go of that of the Wizard. “When you first came to this land, you were intended to fight Sauron. He was your mission. With the Fellowship, you completed your task, and were called back to Valinor. But now you have returned, for your task was not finished, as thought.”
There was a long silence, battle between the Eldar and the Istari growing in length. Finally Gandalf gave in, taking the pipe from his mouth and letting his eyes rove over the people gathered around him. “I do not wish to do hasty conclusions. But the fact that this all has something to do with Sauron is fairly true, I do not deny that. How, I cannot tell you yet. I wish I shall be wiser when I reach Rivendell. My Lords had their reason to send me, even if I am not fully aware of that. Yet.”
“How much time do we have?” Glorfindel pondered, drawing lines on the ground before him. “First – if we assume all these things are connected – was the murder of Queen Arwen. After that the enemy unleashed its poison among the Men, making them attack the Elves in Ithilien. At the same time, Woodland Realm was attacked and destroyed. Now the Hobbits are targeted. What shall come next? Into what are all these actions aiming at?”
“Beside to the fact that we have ran across Middle-earth for several months,” Gimli spoke out. “At the moment, Gondor is open for attacks.”
“And yet capable of defending itself, even without its King,” Aragorn said harshly, his brow furrowed. “I was afraid of that when we left to the west, but it was a risk I had to take. Imrahil is taking care of Gondor, so there is no great danger that things might go ill. The Men have spent their anger towards the Elves by now, realising their folly. Which also proves that the whatever enemy we are facing has succeeded in its attempt to drive the Elves away from the side of Men.”
“For now, it is pointless to worry over facts we do not have,” Gandalf said finally. “I wish you would join me and move to Rivendell as soon as possible. I do not promise you any more accurate answers there, but I need to learn more of all this before I can make any guesses of our enemy.”
“Any answers are better than this uncertainty and ignorance,” Dínnor answered to all of them. People nodded, agreeing with the Elf fully.
“When have you planned to leave?” Faramir asked, calculating in his head the different possibilities.
“The day after tomorrow, if tomorrow comes too soon,” the Wizard answered, gazing at the sky. “But first I must speak with you, Samwise,” he added, looking down at the Hobbit.
“Me?” Sam squeaked, startled. He and his kinsmen had stayed silent, observing and listening, and he had not expected to be drawn in to the discussion itself.
“Yes,” Gandalf said kindly. “There is a favour I must ask you to do for me.” The Hobbit nodded, still uncertain and looking more than a little afraid. “If things turn evil – it doesn’t mean they will, of course – you must take care of your people, and take them to safety. Hobbits are no warriors, and if it will ever come to that, you would be all killed. If and when the enemy comes back to the Shire, you must take the Hobbits somewhere you cannot be found.”
“A hiding-place?” Pippin asked with a small voice.
Gandalf nodded. “There might be a hour when I cannot watch over you, my small friends, and then you must be able to take care of yourselves – alone. Sam, I give this task to you because you have seen both the might and the world of the enemy. You know what you are saving your people from, and it will give you strength to fulfil your task.”
Sam nodded, his face determined. His mind was looking back at the time when he had travelled to Mordor with Frodo, no doubt, and it made him perfectly understand what Gandalf meant.
The Wizard also nodded, his face more serious than before. “Now take your rest, short as it might be. Of tomorrow, none of us knows.” And so the meeting was over.
to be continued…