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The Last Journey; Chapter 32: Words of Wisdom

Story Info

Title: The Last Journey
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: Fourth Age of the Sun
Genre: AU, Action/Adventure
Rating: M / FRM
Main characters: Aragorn, Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Elrond, Éomer, Erestor, Faramir, Gandalf, Gimli, Glorfindel, Haldir, Legolas, Meriadoc, Nazgûl, Pippin, Thranduil (, OCs).
Pairings: Legolas/OMC (brief Aragorn/Arwen, Éowyn/Faramir)
Summary: After many peaceful years that have followed the war against Sauron, everything changes. Evil returns, striking without warning, and it is stronger than ever before. It is time for the final fight, but who shall achieve victory?
Work in Process.
Warnings: Characters’ death (major, OC), violence, torture, slash, mild sexual content (het and slash), plenty of evil, etc.

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Author’s Notes: I am spoiling you people! Another chapter, this soon… But I absolutely had to write it, as I got an idea of how the beginning of the chapter should go. So, whine if you like, but here it is! ;)

Of the next part “Parting Ways”, I promise nothing. I haven’t planned it too much, either. It will be a short one (as this one was supposed to be…), which means I might get it done sooner. We shall see about that, when the time comes. Remember to review, hurry me on, and tell your opinion: which characters you wish to have more, what possibly annoys you, and so on! I will try to answer to every review as soon as I can.

For now, enjoy this chapter! This was supposed to be one without much action, but see what happened?! This is almost maddening, my creative fingers corrupting the fine script I have done... #sulks#

All hail Gandalf, the saviour of the day, and let there again be light in our lives – and in those of our heroes. Enjoy!

Chapter 32: Words of Wisdom

Some days later

There was a change in the air. Or maybe it was simply Aragorn’s own imagination. He couldn’t tell either way, but it did not matter: he felt it in his heart. The change was also visible, if you knew where to look: whereas it was merely a feeling to a Man, it must have been a physical transformation for an Elf. They probably heard a familiar song, smelled in the air a call of their home.

They were coming closer to the Valley of Rivendell.

Turning slightly to a side on his saddle, Aragorn tried to pry a look at Legolas without being caught. The Elf looked more at ease than for days – especially since leaving Bree. He was not sure if anything had changed, really, but it must have affected Legolas too that they were back on Elven lands. I just wonder how long this serenity will last? the King pondered. He had had numerous conversations about the matter with Gimli, neither of them able to answer to the question – or to any other invading their mind. He had actually turned to Gandalf, after Bree was left behind. It had taken some effort to find a moment to speak with the Wizard, as he had to make sure that any of the Elves were not nearby.

“Patience, Aragorn. I know it must be hard to you, but it shall not be long, now,” the Istari had said, awful calmly for Aragorn’s liking. So he had to wait – again. It was becoming a habit he loathed more than anything else.

“You are staring,” Legolas’ smooth voice alarmed the Man. The Elf was actually smiling, and it seemed the expression reached his eyes as well.

This is a step to a better, Aragorn told himself, throwing an apologising smile back at his friend. Let us wish it shall last.

A series of laughing voices filled the air and the King directed his attention to the smaller being walking on the ground. Dwarves and Hobbits were sniggering while plodding along, making remarks of the Elves who were riding back and forth aimlessly, sometimes disappearing to the surrounding forest and then appearing again. Fair voices remained when the sight of them was lost, laughter and Elven words carried in the air.

“Have they all gone mad?” Gimli wondered loudly, knowing that most of the immortals would hear him. That was the point, actually.

“They are merely happy to reach their home,” Gandalf explained, knowing that at least the Hobbits truly desired to know what was going on. “After a long travel on strange lands, among strange people, it is a joy for them to return to a world they know. The Valley might not be considered as an Elven kingdom, nor do they all come from these lands, but it is still… more like a place of their own,” he concluded, laughing along with the others as the Cousins raced by them with the Twins, a hunting-game taking place between them. Their horses seemed as excited as their riders, snorting and neighing, moving restlessly when they were halted and willingly moving to a swift gallop again when allowed.

Elrohir guided his horse next to Legolas’, making it move backwards before the Prince’s. “Come, join us! Surely Morchaint could use some exercise – especially now that Gimli is not sitting behind you and whining.”

Legolas smiled but shook his head. A swift glance was stolen in Rafél’s direction, a light passing his eyes. “I could not do that.”

Elrohir made a face. “Surely you can. You are not chained together.” He glanced at the guardian. “Haven’t you ever escaped from him?” he leaned forward, staring at Legolas with a dare. His brother guided his horse beside theirs, joining to the luring with an encouraging look.

“I have,” Legolas answered with a smile.

“And?” Elladan encouraged him on.

“I never managed to escape him, but momentarily,” Legolas confessed, though he did not look too ashamed of that.

Elrohir tried to look crestfallen as he glared at Rafél, almost in disbelief. “How could that be?” he questioned.

“He is a very good rider,” Legolas explained. “He has the experience of many years, and Lumén here is not to be taken lightly.”

“Neither is Morchaint,” Elladan said, nodding at the black animal. “I have seen him run, and I do not think even Shadowfax could rival him for long.”

Shadowfax snorted, and Gandalf lifted an eyebrow. Morchaint merely trotted along, pricking up his ears as Legolas smoothed his long neck. “Thank you, but no,” Legolas answered. “I have caused Rafél enough reasons for a headache, lately.” It was something a mortal might have said, as Elves did not suffer of headache, but Legolas had adopted many things from his friends – their idioms among them.

Elrohir pulled his horse away, still back towards the direction he was going in. His face took a martyred look, and he lifted his hand to the air dramatically. “You would be quite safe with us. This near to the Valley, no evil would dare to move –”

An arrow shot through the air, making its way between Elrohir’s spread fingers before hitting a bush nearby. Elrohir fell to the ground with a shriek as his horse reared up. Laughter echoed in the trees, and soon Khai appeared to a nearby branch, bow still in her hands. “My apologies, Elrohir! I just couldn’t resist!” she tittered, accompanied by her brother who did not try to hide his grin, either.

Elrohir looked ready to explode, leaning up on his elbows and glaring up at the tree. “If you consider this as a joke, let us show what kind of ‘fun’ we can make up here, at Rivendell…”

The Lórien Elves laughed, then let out a whistle. Their horses appeared from among the trees, and without a second thought each of the siblings jumped down to the backs of their mounts. Khai rode next to Elrohir and reached down with her hand. “Come now, do not be such a baby,” she smiled tauntingly.

Elrohir allowed himself to be pulled up, dusting his clothes for a while with a hurt look. “I will inform Haldir of this rude action against your fellow comrade. He will see for that a just punishment will be set for you.”

Elladan shook his head, wiping the smile from his face just as his brother turned to look at him. “What?” he asked innocently. Another second later, both twins were again on horses, hunting each other to the forest. With a final chuckle, Khai and Ithika headed out as well, to join their own group that was scouting ahead. There was no reason to fear an approach of an enemy, but it was more of a habit that guided the Elves to check their surroundings.

Glorfindel shook his head, Rafél looking just as amused. “Youths,” they both sighed at once, laughing heartily at their wittiness.

A momentary silence landed, the shouts of the racing twins disappearing to the distance. None of them complained of the peace, knowing it would be broken all too soon.

It was, but not by a new set of Elves rushing into the sight.

“How old are you? If you do not mind me asking,” Pippin asked carefully, glancing up at Rafél from his place beside the Elf’s horse. “I mean, you look very young – as all the Elves do. That is so confusing. Yet they refer to you as an elder one, and, well, you look older, in a way. Like Glorfindel,” the Hobbit pointed at the golden-haired Elf, giving them both a shaky smile.

Rafél smiled fondly, remembering all the details Legolas had told about these creatures – and what he had learned himself. Hobbits may be innocent and child-like, yet there was great courage in them. They were also curious – sometimes so it was dangerous to themselves. Peregrin Took was one of those. “I do not mind, of course,” he answered, noticing Legolas’ smile from the corner of his eye. “I am old, indeed, like you have guessed.”

“Eldest of us, actually,” Glorfindel joined in. “He is far older than I. Probably a lot older than Lord Celeborn or Lady Galadriel.”

“Older than Elrond?” Merry asked, eyes wide as he gazed at the Eldar riding beside them.

Aragorn laughed at this. “Far older,” he confirmed. “He has seen Legolas’ father, King Thranduil, grow up. He is one of the eldest who still remain on these shores.”

“I even saw Oropher grow up,” Rafél muttered, bowing his head. Long were the ages behind him, and today proved to be one of those days; when he remembered Legolas was nothing but a child compared to him. And a child I have vowed to love, as an equal. The thought was almost ridiculous, but one glance at the Prince next to him reminded him of the reasons why he had told Legolas of his feelings in the first place. Heart rules the actions of Elves. Fight it, and eventually you will perish.

“You really are…. old,” Pippin finally got out. “I am not sure if I understand…” His youthful face looked troubled, and he glanced at Rafél again, as if trying to find some traces or hints of age from his face.

Rafél tried not to look amused. “I was one of the first born to this world, from those who woke at Cuiviéne. Children were not an usual thing for Elves at those times, yet my parents made a decision to have a child. Those were the years when Eldar separated, most making their way to west from our birthplace. The Seven Fathers of Dwarves, and the Ents, woke at that time, also,” he glanced at Gimli who looked up in interest. “I have lived the time when there was no Sun, or the Moon, either.” He smiled as if in memory, eyes distant.

“No sun?” Merry exclaimed, looking up at the sky in alarm. “How could you live? In darkness, without the sun…”

“Oh, there was light,” Rafél laughed. “The Stars shone down on us, and they still reflect from our eyes. We needed nothing else but them. We sang at them, danced under them…” The guardian fell silent, his fair face showing the pain of the years long lost in memory. “But even in the light of Stars, there was darkness. Shadows of Morgoth haunted us. Many left for Eldamar, a promised land of Valar. I was one of those who never crossed the Sea. I stayed, and was there to face the twisted creatures Morgoth had created: Orcs and Trolls, and many other hideous things that I shall not name. Some made of my kin, or from the captured Ents. Many were the Evil we fought, places we found from new lands, and great were the cities we founded.

“When the Sun and Moon were made, Edain woke. It started a new era in the world of Elves,” his smile was genuine as he glanced at the Men around him. “This time was followed by teaching the Men, and fighting off the power of Morgoth. I was in the War of Wrath, in the final battle against him, when he was finally banished to the Void. I saw Beleriand washed away by the Seas, mountains falling apart in front of the might of Valar.

“The rest of the history is more or less known to you,” he looked at the Hobbits again. “Much I have seen and ventured – and much there is still for me to see and learn.” Rafél shifted on horseback, looking at the distance. He was aware of Legolas’ gaze upon him, but did not meet the other’s eyes: he needed a moment to return to the present, memories now fresh in his mind. None bothered him, understanding that memories like his were not easy to push back when surfaced.

“No sun…” Pippin muttered, shaking his head. “I can’t believe that. I wouldn’t have survived those times, that’s for sure…” he bit his lip, then looked up at Gandalf instead. “What shall we do in Rivendell? What happens there?”

The Wizard laughed, pretending to look surprised. “We shall try and solve some of the riddles you have created in your wake during the last months.”

“I would rather say the riddles have been forming around us, all the time since the murder of Lady Arwen and the attack to Woodland Realm. We have merely been forced to follow the path appointed to us, and hope for the best,” Gimli stated gruffly.

“And who has forced you to take any path, Master Dwarf?” Gandalf asked in return.

“For an example, a certain Elf’s clear dreams of hazard and disaster,” the Dwarf answered, glancing at Legolas with a meaningful look. This was good time as any to try and solve some of the riddles he desperately wanted to unravel.

Legolas drew very still, his face pure of all emotions. Morchaint paced nervously under him, tossing his head aside. Without waiting for the next words, Legolas guided Morchaint forward, disappearing into the woods in a moment.

“It is good we did not ask him for more details, back at Gondor,” Gimli continued. “I have a feeling he would have been able to give us those.”

“He did not look too surprised as we entered Hobbiton,” Faramir added carefully. Aragorn glanced at him, then at the guardian who was still riding among them. None said a word.

“Should you go after him?” Aragorn stated finally, directing his words to Rafél.

“He is quite safe with the others,” Glorfindel argued, looking unconcerned.

“He did not join the others. He wishes to be alone,” Rafél said quietly, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the forest for a while. Then he said something softly at Lumén, and without another comment, he also rode to the forest. It took him a little while to track Legolas, but as the other did not try to hide himself, it proved to be rather easy. Making sure no other was nearby, Rafél entered a small clearing Legolas had found, stopping as he reached the other’s side.

Legolas sat in silence, staring down at the moss and roots. He did not reject the other, however, and even gave his hand freely as Rafél laced their fingers together. Neither spoke for a moment, just enjoying the closeness of each other. Their fëa moved in unison, comforting and seeking solace. A breeze woke in the trees, swaying the branches in the rhythm of an unheard song.

“Sometimes, I wish it all to be over,” Legolas whispered finally, lifting his gaze from the ground. His eyes traced the forest, emotions flitting through them like waves hitting the shores of the Sea. “All this guessing and hiding… The questions I have no answers for.” Despair entered his voice and he turned to look at Rafél, knowing the other would understand even if he did not know everything. Their souls, close to one another, made them understand the things left unsaid.

Rafél pressed his head against Legolas’, closing his eyes. “It will pass. Gandalf will guide us now.”

“It is so easy to let an old man lead the way, and forget your own responsibilities,” Legolas said almost sorrowfully. He nudged his head closer, feeling the other’s warm breath against the skin of his neck. “Gandalf can’t make all the decision for us. I keep wondering how he intends to find all the answers he – and we – need. Can he even find them? On his own…”

Rafél lifted his head, pressing the fingers between his with more meaning. “The answers are out there. We just have to find a right way to reach them. Have faith in those around you – and in yourself.”

Legolas nodded, his expression still downcast. He closed his eyes as breathed deeply, shuddering at some memory. “I wonder how the things are going at home. After so much…” He did not finish – he did not have to.

Rafél felt a twinge of pain in his own heart. “They are fine. Who knows, maybe we can go and visit them, after Gandalf has reached his… answers.” He hated how hollow his words sounded even in his own ears. Legolas was no child and they both knew it might take a rather long time before either of them was able to see their friends and families again. “But I will stay with you, come what may,” he promised, knowing it was better than nothing was.

Legolas smiled and turned to look at the elder. Their faces hovered close to each other, eyes locked. “I know. And I am more grateful of that fact than you will ever know.”

Rafél made a small nod, eyes soft. Legolas’ fingers held fast on his and he was able to hear the others beating heart. Trust was pure and strong in the blue eyes, drawing him closer. He could easily forget the shadow that lay beneath, all the pain and suffering drowned by the immense feeling of love.

Their lips barely touched when Asthaldo’s voice rang though the air. Legolas halted, closing his eyes. There was mirth in their depths when he opened them again, and a small apology. Rafél merely swallowed his sudden pang of bitterness and leaned back. Their fingers remained together, however, Legolas signalling that he was unwilling to let go yet. Rafél succumbed to this, maintaining the contact as they slowly rode forward to the direction they knew the others were in.

The Cousins appeared from the forest without a warning, joining to the Prince and his guardian. Asthaldo and Dínnor seemed to check Legolas for injuries, sensing something was out of place, but Thalión merely smiled knowingly.

“Is everything all right?” Asthaldo asked, frowning at Legolas.

The Prince nodded, but did not let go of the hand holding his. Right now, he needed reassurance. He did not know why, but did not deny the feeling, or the need. Having Rafél close was one of the things he wished to enjoy as long as possible.

Asthaldo glanced at Rafél, who shook his head. With a shrug, the youngest Cousin settled down as they made their way back to the army.

Twins had not returned to the company yet, but Haldir and his companions were present, having a small debate going with Glorfindel. Hobbits were back on horses, Dwarves making their way on the ground – a way of travelling they preferred. Gimli threw a wary glance at Legolas when the Elven party came to view, but as he found no immediate danger, he even dared to welcome the other with a smile. Legolas returned the gesture, finally letting go of Rafél. They still kept close to each other, but no one wondered about that.

After another half an hour passed, Elladan finally appeared, smirking as he stopped his horse. “Come now! Not a long way anymore.”

“Where did you lose your brother?” Glorfindel asked, frowning.

Elladan’s grin widened. “He had not the patience to hang back anymore: he made his way to the Valley, starting the preparations for our coming.”

Glorfindel snorted, but Gandalf and Aragorn laughed. “And left you behind? How very brute from him,” the King joked, reaching his foster brother.

The twin nodded and turned his horse to ride alongside Aragorn. “Yet it is good idea to have someone in there, too. Not that my people would be completely ignorant of our arrival,” he said quickly. “Things will be done quicker, that’s all.”

“I wonder how you or your brother makes that happen,” Glorfindel muttered, but his words were a mere meaningless jibe. All knew that the twins had both taken up their father’s place in the command of Imladris. “I can only imagine what Erestor shall say about our recent adventures…” he pondered quietly, more to himself than to the others, but those who heard understood well: Erestor would not take these matters lightly. And he would not be he only one.

Aragorn sat up in his saddle, suddenly recognising an old tree beside the road. Then came a familiar group of boulders, a small river that gathered to a pond a few miles aside… These were lands he knew like his own pockets – better, even, as he thought about it. He had forgotten much during his years away, but now it all came back to him and filled him with intense emotions. Their last visit to Imladris had been filled with fear for Legolas’ life and worry over several other matters. Now that he had gathered at least a small amount of peace of mind, he enjoyed this immensely. He also began to envy Elrohir who was already at home, however much preparing for their coming.

As they came within a sight of the Valley, they all halted. Men gasped in wonder and blinked their eyes. Elves merely took in the vision familiar and beloved to them – wherever they were from: Imladris had always been a place of importance to all of them.

“Amazing,” Éomer breathed.

Aragorn gave him a strange look, then laughed. “Forgive me, my friend! I have completely forgotten that not all of us have been blessed to see this place before.”

Indeed, it was Éomer’s first time he saw Rivendell more than just with his imagination’s eyes. “I think it is greater than in any of those stories and songs I have heard of it,” the King of Mark noted, gazing at the waterfalls and almost invisible buildings among the trees.

Elladan beamed at the Man, yet there was sadness in his eyes. “Much of its glory is now gone as our people have left it. Come, for you have seen nothing yet! Let us enter, and then you shall devour the sight and the feel of it as long as you like.”

The army moved forth, some eager to return to a familiar place, some looking forward to a proper rest. And food. Hobbits chatted eagerly about the dinner and poor food they had received on the road. Faramir and Éomer merely shared looks, unable to do anything else.

As the entire party gathered within the walls of Rivendell, a small group of people had already gathered at the yard. Elrohir was there of course, sided by Erestor who was beside Glorfindel quicker than the other Elf had got down from his horse. “What is this talk of Nazgûl and a new rise of darkness? You had better explain this before I –”

Glorfindel led his friend aside and they spoke for a moment, Erestor eventually deciding that if he wished to have the full account of the event, he would have to wait for a while.

Another Elf waiting for them received bows from the Lórien Elves, shocked looks from the others. Celeborn did not let the surprise last for long, walking straight to Gandalf. “It is good to see you again, Mithrandir, even if the news of your return were a shock. I can only wish it is nothing bad that your arrival is deeming.”

“We shall see about that,” the Wizard answered, smiling. “You will receive a full account of the events from your people. They have been a great help for us. Now, if you all please, this company is in a need of a good rest. Let us find rooms for all of us, and then gather for a lunch later. After that I shall go to the library, and gather all the information I am able.”

Both Erestor and Celeborn nodded, Elladan and Elrohir already in a work of dividing the Men into places they could rest in. “I am afraid we might have to share rooms,” Elrohir grinned as he returned to the others, soldiers currently taking the horses to the stables and preparing to settle in.

“I think we are going to survive that,” Aragorn grinned, taking his packs from Roheryn’s back. “Let us take care of our horses, and then do as my men already are. I will feel like a new man when I get some fresh clothes on me.”

“I shall see with Irolas that the men are in no trouble,” Faramir offered. “I shall find you others then.”

Aragorn nodded, too weary to do that himself. Éomer accompanied Faramir, and the Men soon disappeared from sight. “At least Faramir has been here before: I can trust him to move around without a fear of getting lost.” Aragorn’s smile was tired yet happy. It felt like coming home after a long, lonely travel in the wilderness – though this time there was quite a different road behind him.

“Let us go then!” Gimli growled. “I am ready for some fresh clothes and food myself.” The Hobbits nodded eagerly beside him.

Fundal kept glancing around all the time, taking in the unfamiliar place. Adír looked ready to tell him to stay put, but instead the older Dwarf stole a look himself. They had heard stories of this city, like everyone else, but it was quite different in the nature. Even deserted, Rivendell still differed from the rest of the world around it. An invisible curtain of magic seemed to hang over them, sheltering the Valley from all evil.

“Do you like it?” Legolas asked, making Fundal look at the Elf in surprise and blush to the tips of his ears. After he received a curt nod, Legolas laughed softly and looked around himself. “I am sure Gimli will be more than happy to show you around, after the supper. He spent quite a while here, before we set out with the Fellowship.”

There was an answering growl from the mentioned Dwarf, but Gimli did not outright reject the idea. Fundal looked excited, and Adír shook his head wearily. It was going to be a long evening for the elder Dwarves, it seemed.

After getting the horses settled, the company left the stables and moved inside. Faramir and Irolas had joined them by then, Éomer still curious of all he saw. “The soldiers shall eat in their rooms,” Faramir informed his King. “We shall gather up to eat together, I assume?”

“Naturally,” Elladan smirked. “Now lets find us some spare rooms, shall we? I am starving.”

“I think that is the very first time I hear an Elf say such a thing,” Pippin mused, rubbing his own stomach.

“He is a half-Elf,” Asthaldo corrected, elbowing Elladan to the side good-naturedly. “That is why he is hungry.”

The Hobbits looked at him doubtingly, and the Elves laughed. “Better to keep those jokes away from Hobbits,” Ithika decided. “They won’t buy it.”

“Duly noted,” Elladan huffed, elbowing Asthaldo in return.

They parted soon, each to their own rooms. Hobbits shared one, Dwarves another, Elves making their own groupings in the other end of the hall.

Legolas allowed his packs fall to the floor as the door closed behind him, feeling suddenly tired from the journey. Gimli and the Dwarves were in the room next to his, and he could hear them speak among themselves on their own gruff language. A few words he could make out, but not enough to understand.

Rafél moved across the room, taking their belongings to a one side. Gazing out to the forest opening outside their room, the guardian stood on the doors of a balcony leading outside. He opened the doors, allowing fresh air to blow in. Leaning against the frame, he closed his eyes and allowed his body to rest for a moment.

“I bet you could use some sleep,” Legolas said quietly, approaching his companion. “I do not even dare to ask when you have slept properly last time.” He reached for the other, touching his back haltingly. “Such trouble I have caused you. You give so much to me, and I have nothing to give back…”

Rafél turned around, gazing at the sorrowful face before him. “This is not about giving or taking, Little Leaf,” he soothed, taking Legolas’ face in his hands. “This is about... My duty and love.” He halted for a moment, eyes cast aside. “I do not know which, anymore. It confuses me, almost to a point of fear,” he uttered, meeting Legolas’ gaze again. “I swore oaths to your father, years ago. Now it feels… as if I am violating them.” He saw the alarm on Legolas’ face, but did not let go yet. He had something to say. “But who am I to refuse your love?”

Legolas’ eyes widened, then he smiled. “And love I do,” he whispered brokenly.

With a satisfied sigh, Rafél drew Legolas to his arms and turned back to the trees. They stood so for a while, Legolas’ back leaning against his chest, listening to the song of the trees and watching the birds that came down to sing for them.

Finally, they went back inside, knowing they would soon be missed for the lunch. Legolas dug some clean clothes from his pack, settling them to the bed. He unfastened his braces slowly, humming a song to himself, then moved to undo his tunic. He did not hurry, taking his time, all the time listening to Rafél’s movements around the room. He couldn’t help but smile as the other Elf walked to him, breathing in his scent playfully, the warmth of his body solacing against his back.

“You are doing this on a purpose,” Rafél muttered, reaching around to undo Legolas’ tunic. “We shall be late soon, and you know how much the Hobbits hate to wait – especially when it is something about food.” There was no real scold in his words, of course, and that made Legolas smile even wider. At some point Rafél’s fingers halted, his arms instead holding the smaller Elf.

Legolas turned his face slightly, meeting the brown eyes. As they gazed at each other, Rafél’s fingers moved slowly, finding the warm skin of his chest. They moved carefully over the fresh scar near to his heart, feeling, remembering. Legolas shivered, but was held in a firm embrace. “I’m alive. I live.” His words were met with a harsh intake of breath, the change in Rafél’s eyes almost visible. But whatever inner demons the other was battling, they did not show in his actions: slowly Rafél bent down, kissing Legolas softly.

Legolas’ eyes closed and time seemed to stop. His fëa flared, reaching out for its mate, dancing with excited joy. Legolas did not understand this but allowed it to happen, shyly answering to the older Elf’s movements. They had kissed before, once, and that was roughly all the experience he had. But he was not afraid, and knew he could hardly do anything wrong.

Rafél drew back for a moment, his lips marking the other’s temple fondly. Legolas swallowed then looked up at his guardian. There were so many emotions in the dark eyes that he was not sure which to read first, but Rafél gave him no chance to ponder that when he was kissed again.

Legolas turned in the other’s hold with a smile, breaking the contact of their mouths for a moment. Facing his lover now, Legolas brought his hands to his own heart then moved them over Rafél’s. He said nothing, merely stared at the other’s eyes, and then sighed as Rafél drew him back to his arms. His fëa was still singing, filling him with strange warmth. Frowning, Legolas looked up at Rafél, silently asking what to do.

Rafél tightened his hold around the other, shortly unsure. His fëa yearned to join with Legolas’, to dance with it, but the other Elf was obviously confused. He did not wish to frighten his protégé, even if that meant certain refraining from him.

Legolas sensed the hesitation, and bit his lower lip while gathering his thoughts. “I am not very… experienced in this. I understand love, but I have never felt it, this way.” He looked at the other Elf desperately, hoping Rafél would understand. “There are certain things you will have to teach me, of love, of life. And I am willing to learn. Just…” he closed his eyes, focusing at his spirit within. “This is so new to me. Every emotion is so raw. Like my fëa: it sings of things I know nothing about, and I cannot understand, nor control it…”

Rafél smiled, remembering distantly the same feeling from his own youth. Elves love strongly, and the first time – usually the last, as well – is overwhelming in strength. If he guessed right – and he had a feeling he knew this quite well – Legolas had never loved. As a youth, long time ago, Legolas had made a promise that he would wait until he met the right one for him. I wonder if he waited this far? Only time will tell, I think. Either way, there is much for both of us to learn.. Closing his own eyes, he allowed his fëa to touch the one next to his.

Legolas gasped, his body shuddering. The mere feel of Rafél’s emotions and spirit were amazing, and he knew he was sensing only a small part of them. And above all else stood the other’s love for him. It was like a bright light that shone on him, filling his own dark corners with new strength and will to go on. There were tears in his eyes as he opened them, but he did not care. Lifting his hands, he circled them around Rafél’s neck, kissing the other with all the passion he had. He felt the reaction in his spirit, the other’s fëa surging to surround his, closing him into some warm, heavenly bliss.

After a long moment, they halted, just breathing in the fresh air and holding each other. Legolas was still shuddering and felt almost dizzy with warmth. He thought he would have collapsed if Rafél had not held him up. He was still able to feel the other’s presence, constantly next to his. Either something has happened recently, or I have been too ignorant to notice this never before, he mused, pressing his forehead against the guardian’s shoulder. Valar, I must have been blind… Numb…

“We should get ready. The lunch…” Rafél tried, but as Legolas made no move, he guided the other to sit on the bed. He kneeled before the younger Elf, eyes worried. “How do you feel?” he asked with genuine concern in his voice.

Legolas smiled dreamily, shaking his head. “I am fine… Better than that... Just give me a moment…” he made a vague movement with his hand.

Rafél thought he finally understood, his fëa checking Legolas’ spirit for any possible hurts. He smiled, sitting beside the Prince on the bed. “They are strong first, the emotions. But you will learn to know them, and control them.”

Legolas nodded then looked at Rafél. His eyes were regaining their sharpness, his thoughts gathering themselves into an understandable order. After he felt somewhat coherent, he got up and changed his clothes. When he was done, he took Rafél’s hand, drawing him up. “Food,” he uttered, and they headed out for the lunch.

- - -

Rafél stared at the darkening night, standing on the balcony of the room he shared with Legolas. He could hear Legolas’ voice from the next room, laughing and chatting with the Dwarves. Aragorn was there, also, though the Man would soon join to his kinsmen and Rivendell’s twins.

The lunch had been uneventful, after the first set of glares that had been directed at them of being late. Gandalf had soon excused himself and went for his own errands – probably locking himself into the famous library of Imladris until he reached some kind of a decision of what they would do. Dwarves had taken a tour through Rivendell, while the Elves separated on their ways and Men gathered in the Hall of Fire, soon joined by the others. Celeborn, who had arrived from East Lórien some days ago, had received a full account of the events that had taken place during their journey. Erestor – considering the look he was wearing – had also heard the same story, and was not happy about the things he had heard. Few were, to be honest. Rafél himself would have left much undone, had it been in his power.

“Good night” –calls were given, and after a moment Legolas entered their room, closing the door soundlessly behind him. He waited by the door for a moment, expecting the other to greet him, but as Rafél did not move he made his way through the room to the other’s side. “Your thoughts are dark.”

“So are the moments we are living,” came the hollow, distant answer.

Legolas frowned, taking a defensive step back. “What?” Without saying, he knew this was something about him.

Rafél sighed, stepping inside. He closed the doors, drawing the curtains in front of them. Slowly he turned to Legolas, easily reading the other’s guarded expression in the glowing light of a lonely lamp on the other side of the room. “‘Why he asked me to search the Ten instead of the Nine.’ This is something Thaíly wished me to think of, while he is gone. I have, for my time, and I haven’t reached an answer.” Rafél’s voice was cold, clearly signalling he would not tolerate a lie, not an attempt to slip away from the subject. He demanded an answer.

Legolas took another step back. He tried to ignore the dark voice that had began to whisper on the back of his mind, but it was difficult as he knew it to be there. “Maybe there is no answer,” he offered. Rafél did not move, but the way his stare hardened told the Prince he was playing with fire. “I do not know!” he shouted, cold fear gripping his insides suddenly. “That is why I set him out to find out.”

“Who rides with the Nine? Was he there, at the Shire? I did not see him…” Rafél halted, closing his eyes and bringing a hand to his temple. After he caught the memory, he returned his stare to Legolas and dropped his hand. “He was not in the Shire, was he? But he was in your dream. When you struggled against the darkness,” he clarified; his hand touched his chest in a place Legolas had his own wound. Legolas shook his head, his eyes turning wide. But Rafél knew Legolas did not deny his words: he denied some dark calling inside himself. “He was the same who made you to look at the palantír.” It was no longer a question.

A sound that had been a whisper turned into a scream in Legolas’ mind. The hissing voice multiplied and turned into a roaring noise, drowning his thoughts. Pain assaulted his body all the way up to his back. Unable to lift his defences that seemed to be paralyzed, he fell to the floor in a trembling heap, sobbing through his tears, as his lungs seemed to be burning with pain.

Rafél felt it before Legolas collapsed, and he was beside the younger Elf in a moment. The other’s skin was cold, clammy under his touch, yet his back seemed to be burning, even through the clothing. Rafél did not have to look to know that the scars of Balrog’s whip marked the skin there. Gathering Legolas close to his body, he unleashed his fëa. After the bond already made between them, he needed no time to get inside.

What Rafél met was an immense wall of darkness.

His shock lasted only a moment, anger surfacing and conquering the fear. The light within him attacked the darkness without another thought, driving it back a fraction. Rafél felt the impact thorough his whole body and he blinked in dismay. Legolas clung into him desperately; his breathe was shallow and pained, eyes closed tightly. Then the younger Elf screamed, shivering maddeningly.

A breeze moved the curtains. Rafél looked up, knowing he had closed the doors. The next move of air was stronger, blowing out the lamp. Light disappeared. Shadows shifted, then moved forth. Hissing sounds and distant voices, empty of words, filled the air. Darkness moved outside, but it was nothing compared to what was inside.

- - -

Gandalf sat in the library, head buried to his hands. Hours ticked away, and he was no closer to the source of their problem. He had talked to many people, prying out every last drop of detail and information. It was no use. He had no answers. Legolas is the last of my hopes. Yet it might be too early for him, taking into consideration that he has faced both Balrog and Nazgûl recently. But as every alternative road had been used, the only solution he could find was to speak with the Elf. Tomorrow. I will speak with him tomorrow. Tonight, we all shall rest. You as well, old man, he noted to himself, feeling the already familiar weariness take over him. He was no longer young, nor was his form.

Sudden change in the air made him lift his head. A frown appeared to his forehead, deepening as he thought he sensed something. Glancing at the window, he saw only dark night. I must be getting delusional. I am seeking for the answers so hard that I try to make them up from thin air…

When the feeling came again, there was no mistake: it was real. It was pure. Evil.

Gritting his teeth against the pain that washed over his mind, Gandalf lifted himself from the seat, leaning heavily on his staff. Breathing with difficulty he made his way out of the door, knowing without thinking were he was supposed to go. He had felt this before, though he had thought it destroyed. What a fool I have been! Underestimating the evil standing against you is the last of your mistakes! You will pay of that with your life – or someone else will.

The Wizard reached the door he was seeking, stopping before it to gather his strength. He was able to hear voices, people running towards him. It is high time for them to feel it, he mused, then put his hand on a doorknob. The door did not open. Someone screamed inside.

“What is going on?” Thalión was the first to reach the Istari, his eyes immediately locked at the door. His face went pale, all remaining colour draining from his features. “Legolas…” he whispered brokenly, and tried to move to the door.

Gandalf shoved the Elf back roughly. “Do not! This is beyond your power, and you might just make it worse. Now stand back, all of you!” he commanded as the rest of the company halted in the corridor. Dwarves were also rushing to the hallway, looking alarmed and ready for a battle.

“What is going on?” Gimli demanded to know, but another scream from the room cut him off from further questions.

Gandalf did not answer in words. He lifted his staff, pointed the closed door before him, and said one words. With a burst of blinding light, the door fell apart.

Something hissed and drew back from the opening. It was as if the darkness itself was moving, shadows filling the air like smoke. Elves cowered back in alarm, some of them holding their heads in pain.

Gandalf moved forth, his entire being shining with light as he entered the dark room. Lifting his staff over his head, he said another word. Light flashed, shadows drew back – but returned immediately. Gandalf gripped his staff harder, then shouted out the same word. Light exploded. Shadows drew back, then faded as another source of light attacked them. Hissing voices echoed in the room a long time after the darkness faded.

Slowly the light also went out. After Gandalf had lowered his staff, a lonely light shone from the other side of the room. Walking to it, Gandalf kneeled beside Rafél, trying not to squint his eyes in the other’s light. Legolas lay against the older Elf, blood flowing from his lip where he had bitten down on it. His eyes opened, gazing up at Gandalf with confusion.

Rafél sat unmoving, barely breathing.

“Rafél?” Gandalf called out softly, touching the other’s temple. The skin was feverishly hot to his touch. “Rafél?” he said with more force.

Legolas struggled to sit up, his movements disoriented. But his will to help his guardian was greater, and he finally managed to sit up. Hands tightened around him, Rafél holding him close with as much power as Legolas had possessed before. “Rafél? Please, come back,” Legolas whispered brokenly, tears escaping from his eyes. His hands reached to touch the other’s face, trembling. “Do not look. Please, just come back. Do not look!” he ended his pleading with a desperate shout.

A moment of still silence seemed endless to all of them.

Rafél’s eyes flew open, his lungs taking a desperate breathe of air. His eyes were dilated and dark, as if still focused on some other vision. Legolas buried his head to Rafél’s chest with a sob, crying silently. The guardian glanced at waiting Gandalf, his stare almost haunted as he met the worried grey depths. Holding Legolas almost desperately, he let out a whisper, repeating the same, three words over again: “I saw Him. I saw Him…”

- - -

Breakfast was served early on the next morning. The Hobbits looked half-asleep, stuffing food into them rather with a habit than with awareness or desire. The others around the table did not look good either, most of them been awake the rest of the night after the accident in Legolas’ room. Neither Legolas nor Rafél were present, Gandalf and Celeborn watching over them with the help of Rivendell’s healers.

Gandalf had decided to keep a council on the morning, and both the guardian and his Prince were expected to join the event. Everyone knew this was the day when Gandalf would find his answers – in a way or another.

“Do you think he can take it?” Gimli asked thoughtfully. “The meeting might turn harsh, and after the last night…” he shook his head, eyes tired.

Aragorn made a sound on his place beside the Dwarf. “Gandalf knows what he is doing. And there are many who will see for Legolas’ wellbeing.” His words of course meant both of them, as well as of all the Elves in the table.

“Star-eye is going to be well, right?” Fundal asked, unconsciously using the nickname again. He had barely touched his food, nor had he slept at all after he had seen Legolas carried out of his room.

“He is an Elf,” Adír said to the youth, his voice softer than one could have believed from a Dwarf. “Of course he will be well.”

Fundal nodded, but did not look convinced. Asthaldo gave him a sympathising look across the table, leaning a bit closer. “He is going to be fine, like Adír said. Some sleep and they shall both be fine. Gandalf is a Wizard, after all, and this is a house full of healers.” He glanced at Aragorn, then at Glorfindel. “They will be all right…” he muttered, turning back to his own food. He used more time into stabbing it with his fork than actually eating, but none rebuked him of it: few of them had any of their appetite left.

After finishing with breakfast, they made their way to the Hall of Fire. Everyone sat down, waiting for the rest of their companions to arrive. Even Pippin and Merry had woken up now, realising they might finally get some answers, or at least some news.

It took several minutes of waiting before there were voices from a corridor nearby. Gandalf appeared in sight with Celeborn. The Wizard had his head bowed and he listened closely to the Elven Lord’s words, nodding now and then. “… Dol Guldur has turned dark again, and my people are afraid to venture far in the forest. As much as I have heard, Thranduil is still unnerved by the situation, but keeping his people closely in the caves…” Celeborn ended his speech, gazing steadily at Gandalf.

Gandalf frowned, but nodded. “At the moment, I do not know what to expect from him. Thranduil has always been unpredictable, but in the wake of such events…” he fell silent and looked back along the corridor, stepping aside as Legolas passed them.

The Prince looked pale and tired, his glance kept down as he entered the Hall. Many of his friends stood up, but sat back down as Celeborn signalled them to do so. Legolas halted near the doorway of the corridor, lifting his gaze to run it over familiar faces. He gave both Gimli and Aragorn a small smile, the Elves seeing more in his eyes than in expression. A moment later Rafél appeared from, halting behind Legolas. He whispered something, and Legolas nodded, making his way to a free place. He sat down, Rafél remaining standing behind him, a comforting hand set on the Prince’s shoulder shoulder.

Rafél looked even worse than Legolas, but somehow he was able to maintain his upright bearing. His eyes were dark and face pale, yet he did not seem as exhausted as the younger Elf. He eyed the people filling the room then returned his eyes on Gandalf, who now stood alone in the middle of them; Celeborn had already taken his place among his kinsmen.

“We are all here,” Gandalf began, making sure that everyone had arrived. “Good. I think we all know why we have gathered here – and in the case someone does not,” he glanced at the Hobbits, “we shall soon learn the reason.” His eyes fell upon Legolas this time. “I will not make this any longer than necessary, for some of us are in a desperate need of rest.” He eyed the others, almost smiling. “Though each and every one of us could use a few hours of sleep,” he added wryly. “As you all know,” he continued, voice stronger and firmer this time, “I was sent back to Middle-earth. About the reasons of my return, I can tell you this: a new evil has risen. I do not know exactly what it is, yet, but I am beginning to have my suspicions.” He changed looks with Celeborn, who nodded. “Of what I have learned, darkness has strengthened its hold both in Dol Guldur and Mordor. What this means, I cannot be sure.

“What we do know, for certain, is that someone killed the Queen of Gondor – possibly to prevent Aragorn from having an heir. Someone sowed the seeds of suspicion and hatred into the mind of Men so they drove the Elves away from Ithilien. Someone attacked Woodland Realm, destroying it almost completely; someone powerful enough to summon a Balrog.” Silence was almost touchable around him, many sympathising eyes turning to Legolas. “Elves are making their way to Havens as we speak, though we all can understand their reason to leave,” Gandalf continued, sadness touching his features. It was replaced by anger as he continued: “Someone also attacked the Shire. And somehow, the Nazgûl have been awoken – stronger than ever.”

“Stronger?” Merry asked with a shaky voice. “How is that possible? Were they not supposed to be destroyed with the Ring? Does this mean that the Ring was not destroyed, and that we all suffered in vain?!”

“Honestly, I do not know,” Gandalf said softly. “We cannot know if one enemy is behind of all these actions, or are we attacked by many. But what I have learned,” he glanced at Legolas again, “it that Sauron has made an appearance. More than once.”

“Sauron?” Aragorn demanded, looking from the Wizard to the Elf. “He was destroyed. And why has none mentioned this before?”

Gandalf gave the Man a warning glare, his eyes falling back on Legolas who seemed even paler than before. “It is possible he still lives. If he somehow survived the destruction of the Ring. Perhaps we misplaced our faith...” The Istari fell silent, frowning.

“Why would Sauron do any of this?” Éomer finally spoke up as no other did. “What is his profit of all this?”

“Besides getting us confused,” Gimli supported the Man gruffly.

“Sauron would profit nothing of actions like this,” Glorfindel answered. “Closest thing that comes to my mind is a personal revenge to those who destroyed him: the Fellowship of the Ring. Arwen, Woodland Realm, Shire…”

“What about the Dwarves?” Adír asked.

“I think it hurt me enough to be in Woodland Realm when it was destroyed, and get almost killed in the process,” Gimli concluded.

“It still makes no sense…” Aragorn muttered. “What in all this points at Sauron?” he asked, voicing a question they all wished to ask.

“They have a right to know,” Celeborn said slowly, his eyes on Gandalf. “This touches all of us.”

Gandalf nodded, stepping closer to Legolas. “It is time, Greenleaf. You refused to tell me as much as I would have desired to know, but for the sake of your friends, you have to speak out now.”

Legolas looked up at the Wizard in indecision and then shook his head. “I… I cannot. I do no know.” His pleading eyes flew at Celeborn.

Rafél shifted, his eyes locking with Gandalf. “It is too early,” he muttered.

“No,” Gandalf said with a dark voice, “it is too late. The grip of darkness has a hold of him, and prevents him from speaking. It fills him with uncertainty, hiding the obvious answers from his thoughts.” There was a frustrated look on his face as he shook his head, fingering his beard. “This much I have learned: you were lucky with your ‘vision’.”

“Lucky?” Aragorn asked.

“Yes, for it was no vision. There was no dream, but the nightmares it left in its wake. We shall speak later of those dreams. What puzzles me most is how Legolas was able to see what he saw, in the palantír.” There was a shocked silence, Aragorn paling visibly as he turned to stare at his friend. Legolas had closed his eyes, pressing his face to his hands. “He looked at the palantír that night, and to our fortune, things happened like with Pippin: he saw a glimpse of the enemy’s plan. He had enough senses to tell you enough so you moved out, and possibly saved the Hobbits from a certain death.” He halted, pondering something. “As, and when you go back to Gondor,” he turned to Aragorn, “make sure that the stone is locked away from all who could use it. We cannot risk that someone might look at it. If Sauron is truly alive, he might be able to control the Stones as before.” Aragorn nodded, his face grave, and Gandalf turned back to Legolas again. “Yet few things still remain as a mystery. For what does Sauron need Legolas? If we assume we are dealing with the Dark Lord, that is. However it is, this evil is for some reason connected to Legolas. How, I can only imagine, but most of all I want to know why. There lie all the answers.”

“So we do not know what kind of an enemy we are facing, nor the reasons of it?” Gimli concluded unhappily. “You speak of Sauron, but you cannot be sure. It might be as well be an imposer, leading us astray from the real goal.”

“Remember the Nazgûl,” Erestor reminded sternly.

“I do, yet none of this makes any sense. Could it be that we are facing multiple foes at once? Ones, who might have been allied against us?” Gimli pressed on.

“It is as likely as any other option at the moment,” Gandalf answered.

Pippin opened his mouth, but several voices drove over his, and he sat back with a sigh. Anger mingled with tension and weariness, turning the discussion into a verbal fight, all sides trying to collect their thoughts and ideas.

Legolas stared at his friends, wishing to cover his ears from the noise. His eyes met Pippin’s, reading the helplessness there. Glancing back at the arguing people, Legolas made his decision. Winking at Pippin, he stood up abruptly, making most of the people hush immediately. Silence was soon to follow, and with a satisfied smile, Legolas gestured at Pippin. “I think he has something to say. Please, Master Hobbit.” He sat back down, waiting expectantly.

Pippin got up to his feet, aware of the gazes locked at him. “Well, this is just my idea… It is probably worse than most of yours, but…” He swallowed and smiled at Legolas who was still looking at him. “We can do nothing more here than argue. Maybe you cannot see it, but this is exactly what any enemy would wish us to do: fight among ourselves and do nothing. Instead, why don’t we all separate to our ways, alarm our people, and then meet again? Surely in that time we gather more information, and then we are strong enough to actually do something. The enemy has an army, so I think we should gather one as well.” He sat down hastily, glancing fearfully at Gandalf.

The Wizard was motionless for a while. Then a smile appeared to his face, and he shook his head. “I wouldn’t have dared to guess there would be a day when Peregrin Took is giving me an advice to follow. Well spoken, Pippin, and good is your idea as well! It seems that the darkness has done more harm in us than I imagined. What say you?” he turned at the others.

“I think Pippin is right,” Aragorn nodded. “We can do nothing like this, or here. Why not to go back home, muster our people, and get more information?” Éomer nodded, none of the Elves disagreeing.

“Very well. Now all we have to do is to count the days, and make our plans,” Gandalf concluded. He turned at Rafél, bowing at him. “Now get your Prince to rest, and take some yourself. You will both need it.”

Rafél smiled then walked after Legolas out of the room. It had been a stressing morning for both of them, especially as Gandalf had tried to find out all the information possible.

“You did not tell him of the Tenth,” Legolas said as they were outside to others’ hearing.

“You left many things untold – unable or not,” Rafél said in turn.

Legolas halted, turning to Rafél. “It is not the same thing: you do not know of those things. I know he took you aside before I woke, making you tell of my dreams. But you never mentioned that someone forced me to look at the palantír. You told nothing of him, even if he invades my dreams. Why?”

“You wished me not to,” Rafél answered shortly. “Oh, you did not have to say it aloud. Like you never said that it was truly Sauron you saw in your dreams. But I have seen him myself now, and I do not need to guess anymore.” He took a step closer. “One word from you, and I fall silent. But between us,” he placed a finger on Legolas’ lips, “I suffer no secrets.” They stared at each other for a moment, Rafél’s eyes searching the answer in the blue ones.

Legolas looked away first, tears in his eyes. Rafél sighed, leaning with his hands at the wall behind Legolas. “He was right, wasn’t he? You cannot speak of it.” A nod from Legolas was all the answer he needed, and with a look of surrender, he led Legolas to their appointed room to rest. He had a feeling they would both need all their strength, probably sooner than he hoped.

to be continued…

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