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Disclaimer: the characters and setting of Middle-earth are the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and belong to his estate. I do not have permission to use them. This story is written for entertainment only, and no monetary profit is being made.
Author's notes: as always, my deepest appreciation goes to Lisette for her beta work on this chapter.
Hello! I am delighted to be giving you a new chapter at last. Tis the season for giving after all, and this is the least I can do for all you good people after I received so many thoughtful and concerned well wishes regarding my daughter. She is better, though the battle continues. She suffers from an anxiety disorder, and her behavior had become very frightening toward the end of summer. She is under the care of professionals now, and her ability to enjoy life is much improved. But it is a sad and distressing thing to see so much worry and fear in a little girl who is only eight years old.
Her needs will continue to come first, but I hope to be able at this point to reclaim a bit of my life for my own again and return some of my attention to this, my favorite hobby! The holiday season will dominate the ensuing weeks however, and so I will only say that the next chapter will be along some time after the New Year. Until then, happy holidays and my thanks to you all.
To See A World by Nightwing
Chapter 39: Hope Fades
The new cell was larger than the previous one had been. It was also colder, or so it seemed to the elf as he lay with the bare skin of his back pressed against the stone floor, and he wondered at this sensation. Normally, the mild coldness of a room would not have bothered him at all, but there was nothing normal in any of what had been happening to him of late. He had been abducted and his friend slain, and he had been framed for the murder of the lord of the city. He had been drugged and injured by his captors. After all that had been done to him the cold should have been the least of his worries, but it concerned him nonetheless as he lay shivering, for he wondered if this peculiar discomfort indicated that the vitality and strength of his body had begun to wane. Perhaps it had finally been forced to endure too much, and had reached the point where it had begun to die.
He knew he had never fully regained his health after the orc attack that had left him blind. His ability to continue his life with something resembling normalcy after his recovery from the poison owed much to Aragorn’s ability with medicines. The man’s skill had held the pain in Legolas' head at bay, aided his sleep, and given strength to his limbs. Without the herbs, and he had been without them now longer than ever before, the elf feared he was growing weaker. He was noticing changes. The pain in his head had deepened somehow, as if the roots of it had increased in strength until they had at last broken past the fragile barrier that Aragorn’s treatments had erected.
The physical travails that he had recently undergone at the hands of his captors had added significantly to his distress. The blows to his upper body that he had endured during his abduction had done harm. A deep penetrating pain had been unleashed in his neck at the site of the old wound. It burned and tingled oddly. He could turn his head, but was reluctant to do so, and so he lay still and awkwardly investigated the stab wound in his side with his manacled hands.
It was with relief that he noted that the bleeding had stopped at last. The guards had not bandaged the injury. They had given him no aid at all, but had simply abandoned him after dragging him into the dungeon and locking a heavy metal collar round his neck. The chain leading from it was affixed to the wall, but it was long enough to permit some freedom of movement. He had remained on his feet, standing silently as they had shackled his hands together before him, cut what remained of his shirt from his body, and mocked him as they placed a filthy bucket beside him for his needs. It had obviously never been emptied of the waste from the previous prisoner. He had stood, head held high until he heard the door slam and their footsteps recede down the corridor. Then he had kicked the revolting receptacle away from him and fallen to his knees.
It was difficult to ascertain how much blood he had lost. The blade had been driven into his right side, just under the lowest rib. He did not think a lung had been punctured. It pained him to breathe, yes, but it was not so difficult that it caused him panic. Nor had he bled so profusely that he had feared for his life. The wound had only oozed, not gushed. Ramhar himself had probably inflicted it, and had done so with care so as to hinder the elf and make it seem as though a struggle had occurred between Legolas and the murdered lord. The wound was not meant to kill.
And so Legolas had rested quietly for some hours - until perhaps midday had passed - and held pressure against the injury as best he could with his hands, permitting what healing his body could manage on its own. No help would be forthcoming from his captors. Only once had someone entered his cell – the young guard, Koryon – but he had only come to ensure that his prisoner was still effectively held, and still lived. He had said nothing. Legolas assumed that Koryon was not permitted to assist him, and the elf had not expected it anyway. He had remained silent as well, lying quietly while the security of his fetters were checked and his hands gently pulled aside to reveal the wound, and then the young man had left him. But Legolas had heard him sigh and mutter something under his breath as he departed, and it renewed his hope that he still might have a friend in Koryon.
Noises came now and again from above him. Muffled they were, but the tumult caused by the morning’s events were conveyed clearly enough to the captive who lay in the dungeon below. The scene was not difficult to imagine. The thunder of rushing feet, the shouts of men, the cries of women all served to bring to life the chaos into which the household of Cadean has been thrown upon the murder of their lord. No doubt the horrifying events were being retold throughout the city with lightning speed, and Legolas wondered if the army was already preparing for the march upon Mirkwood.
This particular facet of the situation made little sense to the elf. Whatever Ramhar's reasons for his hatred of the elves, and it certainly seemed deeply imprinted upon him, he could not possibly hope to defeat Thranduil's folk in battle. It would take weeks for an army of any size to struggle its way through the mountain passes, and once it did emerge on the other side there still remained a considerable trek to the borders of the elven realm. The men would be spotted by the elves and met long before they could possibly reach Mirkwood, and their prowess in battle, however strong, would never match those of the Firstborn. If it truly came to battle, there would be a bloodbath. The men would fall. If Ramhar was as well acquainted with the elves as he claimed to be, surely he would know this? What did he hope to accomplish in attacking them? It made no sense.
Legolas still could not remember ever meeting Ramhar, though he had spent considerable time trying to recall his own doings in Dale in recent years. The man was from the realm of King Bain, and certainly his path must have crossed at some point with Legolas' for him to recognize the elf as the son of Thranduil. There had been many times that Legolas had ridden into Dale at the side of his father, and alone as well, to meet with Bain and discuss matters of concern to both Dale and Mirkwood. The elves had always entered the city of men openly, and with the flair and majesty that Thranduil enjoyed displaying as sovereign of his realm. It was not surprising to Legolas that he was known to the common folk of Dale by sight alone, even if he had never made their acquaintance personally. This must be how Ramhar had recognized him.
The elf was certain now that Ramhar was the murderer of his mother, but why that deed had been done he could not fathom. A strike against Thranduil, obviously, but what past event could possibly have caused such hatred against the elven-king, and such a terrible desire for revenge? And murdering Thranduil's queen had apparently not been enough to satisfy Ramhar's rage. Now, four years later, he was planning a full-scale assault upon Mirkwood. Why?
Legolas knew that the old man had to be the driving force behind Ramhar's actions. He was the source of the rumours and misunderstandings, for that was Sauron's way. Legolas could not imagine that Thranduil had done anything to deserve such unrelenting hatred from Ramhar. The servant of the Dark Lord was the true source of the trouble that had taken hold in the city of Carbryddin. The young elf shuddered anew at the memory of the cold fingers tracing his face, the nauseating voice, and the whispered promises of destruction. The sorcerer's proximity alone was enough to cause Legolas' courage to falter. He could feel the power of the old man; it coiled about him with the slow, dangerous movements of a viper. The force was real, and it was terrifying.
This agent of Sauron was striving in the Northlands for some terrible purpose, working to twist minds and lives to meet the Dark Lord's needs. The eventual enslavement and destruction of all the people of Middle-earth was his final goal, but in order to do so, Sauron employed many methods to further hatred between the races. Sewing seeds of distrust and causing communication to break was a powerful tool, and made all folk more vulnerable to insidious whispers. A war between the men of Carbryddin and the elves of Mirkwood could benefit Mordor. Perhaps an attack upon the elves by the northern men would be enough to distract them away from their constant vigilance against Dol Guldur, and then the evil forces that waited in the dark reaches of the forest would find an opportunity to strike a blow. The elimination of one of the last remaining elven realms was certainly one of the goals of the Dark Lord, for the hatred between the Firstborn and Sauron was long and bitter. If Mirkwood was to find itself under attack from the southwestern reaches of the forest once the elven warriors had moved north to engage the army of men, Thranduil and his people might indeed find their survival jeopardized. Or perhaps the destruction of the men of Carbryddin was what the evil ones sought. To gain land was to gain power, and were Sauron to establish another base of operations in this remote northern area, he would no doubt make use of it.
Legolas listened for some time to the muffled footsteps and shouts from above, but it was sound that gave him no real information. He feared for his people, and for the innocent men of Carbryddin who were about to be swept up in a massacre that would benefit none but those who served the Lord of Death. Deeply afraid, grieving and exhausted, he curled slowly onto his right side and sought escape in sleep, for he could do nothing to stop these events from unfolding. But sleep would offer no refuge. Dark dreams descended, rushing in on wings strengthened by pain and fever, empowered by feelings of guilt and failure, and they swept aside the comfort that he had hoped to find in retreating from the waking world.
In frozen silence he waited, not moving, his eyes cast down. The hardness of the stone floor dug into his knees but he did not shift his body or attempt to rise, for how else could one who had failed so utterly present himself? He had brought the story to him who must hear it first, and had told it. He knelt in silence now, for he could not stand, nor could he lift his gaze to look into the anguished eyes of one who had loved Aragorn.
The light and warmth of the great fire offered no comfort. He could not even feel its heat, though the dancing flames bathed the right side of his face and body as he knelt beside it. The blue-grey flagstones, usually the color of evening sky, darkened to that of iron as the tears fell from his eyes to splash upon them. Silk robes silently brushed the floor. The fire leapt up as a log shifted, and the color of blood splashed across the feet of the one who had come to stand before him. A hand gently descended to caress his temple. Closing his eyes, Legolas pulled free of the touch and bent lower, pressing his brow against the cold stone. There could be no forgiveness, and no comfort. Not for this.
"Legolas, what is it you would ask of me?" a voice, softened by pain, asked quietly.
The young elf shook his head blindly. "Nothing my lord," he choked out. "But a swift sword-strike, if that is your wish."
"Legolas," the voice whispered again, and the hand touched him once more, under his chin, bidding him to raise his head. With a sigh he did so, forcing his burning eyes to meet the sorrowful ones of Lord Elrond.
"A sword-strike is not my wish, Prince of Mirkwood," the lord of Imladris said. "Is it yours?"
"I have failed you," Legolas whispered. "Did you not bid me keep watch over him, to keep him safe, even as my friendship with him strengthened into love? He is dead, and I am the cause."
"Your death will not bring him back, nor will it change what the future will bring now. Or do you desire death as a means to end your own grief?"
Legolas lowered his head again. "I am a coward, my lord. I cannot live with this pain."
The elf-lord's voice had grown hard, though not cruel. "You must live with it, Legolas. You cannot seek death for such a reason."
Elrond turned away, making for the great oak desk at which he worked. "Word must be sent to his mother," he said, picking up a quill and beginning to write. "She recently returned to her people in Eriador. I will send a messenger today, while you get what rest you can."
"I will go to her," Legolas said. He had not moved from his position on the floor, and the cracks in the flagstones blurred under his gaze. "She will hear of her son's death from me and no other."
The elf-lord turned to look searchingly at him. "And after?" he asked quietly. "Will you seek your own death then?"
Legolas nearly strangled on his words. "No, my lord. If you forbid it, then I will bear life as my punishment. And though it will never be enough, all I do from this day forth will be in his name, until our end is upon us."
"I will send you to Gilraen in Eriador. From there, choose your own path."
Legolas nodded and wearily passed his hand over his eyes. He was not finished yet, for there was another here in Rivendell to whom he must speak ere he left. And if facing Elrond had taken all his courage, he knew that facing the elf-lord's daughter would strip him of everything else.
Again, a soft touch to the side of his face angled his head up. He was puzzled, for he had thought Elrond still remained bent over his desk. Legolas' eyes widened and fixed on the steady gaze of Arwen. Her face was pale, her cheeks glistening wet in the firelight. He did not know when she had entered the room, and the sharp stab of pain he felt at the sight of her forced the air from his lungs. Shadows clung to her features, and her hands were cold.
"You will not die, Prince of Mirkwood. You will not be the one who follows him," she whispered.
Legolas broke free of her dark gaze and glanced at Elrond. The elf-lord was staring at his daughter, the pen slipping unnoticed from his grasp to fall on the desk with a clatter. Fear was in his face, and he quickly crossed the room to enfold her in his arms.
Legolas tore his eyes from them both and buried his face in his hands.
A rattle brought him up with a start; the heavy door was being pulled back. Beyond it, low voices whispered. He remembered nothing but the anguish of his dream… how much time had slipped by as he lay? With gritted teeth Legolas carefully rolled onto his back, trying to clear his mind and orient himself to the passed hours, but then he shook his head and drew deeply at the air. It mattered not. If Ramhar had finally come for him, the only time that mattered was now. Legolas did not attempt to rise, but wiped the wetness from his eyes and sang softly to himself as he strove to gather his courage. If Ramhar thought to force him to talk of his father and of the secrets of Mirkwood, he would be given false information. If he had come only to deliver death, that would be met with song. Legolas sang, and so he did not recognize who had entered the room until the man had come to him, knelt, and grasped him by the hands.
"Valar’s breath, Legolas, how the devil did come to be here?"
The elf gasped and struggled to raise himself. "Alun?"
The man pressed him back. "Lie still."
"You must flee! They seek you… "
"I know it. I have little time, but I could not leave without trying to see you."
The elf's head spun in confusion. "How did you get in here?"
"Koryon admitted me. He will not tell them." Legolas felt strong hands investigate the heavy metal collar about his neck, and the chain clanked dully against the wall as Alun fiddled with it. "Ramhar holds the keys, curse him," the man said. "I cannot get these off you."
Legolas shook his head. "Do not trouble yourself. You must get out…" He paused for breath, and closed his eyes with a grimace as his injuries sent a spike of pain through him.
"What have they done to you?" the soldier demanded in an angry growl. "This wound in your side is untreated."
Legolas did not answer. There was no need, and after a moment's pause Alun spoke again. "I know what they have said – that you murdered Lord Cadean - but I know that is not possible. How is it you are here?"
The elf sighed and pressed his hands against his ribs. "I… what time of day is it? I cannot tell any longer."
"It is past midnight."
"Is it? Then it was two nights ago that they came to the cottage and took me by force. I have been held captive since, and framed for the murder of your lord. Alun, the boy…"
"I have not seen him. I hate to think what he is going through, but I dare not try to get to him. I've been on the run since dawn, and soon will slip from the city under cover of darkness."
"He was there… he saw it all… his murdered father. And he saw me."
Alun sighed heavily. "Poor lad. If I can get to him later I will. Tarnan will know the truth about you. I swear it." He paused, and then asked in a low voice, "Legolas, where is Aragorn?"
"He is dead," the elf whispered. "They left him to die in the cottage. Ramhar only wanted me."
The soldier swore softly. "Then it is as I feared. The house was come upon yesterday by one of my men, burned out. It still smoldered. The walls remained standing, being made of stone, but the roof was collapsed. He went in and poked around a bit, and…" Alun hesitated.
"He found the body of a man within. I am sorry, Legolas."
Legolas turned away. Alun murmured something, his hand on his shoulder, but the elf did not hear it. He thought he had accepted that his friend was gone, but learning this, the irrevocable truth, brought fresh pain to him. There could be no denial now, no hope that Aragorn had escaped somehow. The elf choked as he struggled to speak. "They burned him alive, Alun. I heard his screams."
"No," the man gasped.
"I brought this upon him. He was far from where he longed to be. He should not have stayed in these lands to care for me."
Alun's hand tightened on his shoulder. "You are not responsible for this. There is no one to blame. Aragorn was a man who made his own decisions and stood by them. I cannot imagine that he ever regretted his choice to remain with you when you lost your eyesight."
"His choice was wrong," Legolas hissed. "He should have gone home."
"In speaking thus you dishonor his sacrifice. His life had meaning, and if he chose to give it for his friend, in trying to protect you…"
"It was I who should have protected him," the elf stated through gritted teeth. "He died because of me, and it was wrong. His death was wrong." Legolas laughed bitterly. "His life had meaning, you say? Were there time, Alun, I would tell you of Aragorn. His life was worth more than all of ours combined, and now none of us on this side of the Grey Mountains or the other will have the world that should have been. He was our future, and I? I fancied myself his protector. Never again will I believe in destiny."
"Valar's breath, Legolas, what are you talking about?" Alun gasped. The man had moved his hand to rest it on the elf's brow.
"Aye, I fever, but my mind is clear enough," Legolas murmured, reaching up with his chained hands to brush Alun's fingers aside. He struggled to raise himself, to convey more urgency than he could with words alone. "Alun, tell me of the old man who guides Ramhar – what is his name?"
"Stop trying to move, will you?" the soldier hissed, and he pushed the elf down again. "His name is Malcovan. What of him?"
"He serves Sauron."
Alun met the elf's words with a hiss of fear. "Sauron? The Lord of Mordor? We… we never speak of him here. Are you certain of this?"
Legolas nodded wearily. "He told me so himself, boldly and without attempt to hide it. But I knew it even before, from the first moment that I was forced into his presence."
Alun sounded perplexed. "He is one of our own citizens! He was always slipping off, vanishing for months on end and returning with an even darker feel about him than before. We knew he had gone wrong - about as wrong as one could go in my book," he added. "I care not for him, but I never suspected this. It cannot be! No Legolas, it is too fanciful. It simply cannot be."
"He desires to keep it from the folk of the city. I believe that even Ramhar does not know. Malcovan only told me because he knew that I had already recognized what he was."
"It is difficult to believe, Legolas."
"Believe it," the elf whispered. "For the sake of all you hold dear, believe it. I would not lie to you."
Alun said nothing, but sat silently, his hands pressed against the elf's manacled ones. "Valar protect us," he murmured at last. "I will see what more I can learn. If what you say is true, we will be hard pressed to know which way to turn. Legolas, is it true you are the son of the elven-king over the mountains?"
The soldier blew out his breath. "That worked well for their plot, didn't it?"
"Perfectly. I cannot see how it could have gone better for them. They seem to hold all the cards. Does Ramhar ready the army to march against my people?"
"So it would seem. It'll take a bit of preparing though. They'll not start for a few days at least, and they may not even get that far."
"Why is that?"
"You'll recall that I have spoken before of an uprising? We know that Ramhar and the old man have been planning to seize power. Those of us who oppose them will gather for a meeting, and I for one will vote to strike against them. The time is now, before we lose half the men in the city on a quest that will see most of them killed."
"Will the people believe you? They have been convinced that the son of the elven-king has murdered their lord. It is a compelling reason to attack my father."
"They might believe all manner of distorted stories about elves, but not even the most gullible of men can believe that an elf who is blind can slip into our city and carry out an assassination."
"I have told no one of my blindness."
"Why the devil not?" Alun demanded. "If the people know that you cannot see, it would make Ramhar look a right idiot. It would expose him as a liar. His plan would fail right there."
Legolas shook his head. "I did try to tell them, when they found me in the dead man's room and accused me of the murder. They were screaming for revenge against my father, but I could not speak. Ramhar had drugged me. And now, when I think more on it, I will hold my secret as long as I can."
"No, the people must be told of your blindness."
"If Ramhar learns that I cannot see, how long do you think he will permit me to live?" Legolas asked sharply. "He will put his sword through me before the hour is out. And the army will march whether the people know of my blindness or not. The old sorcerer wants the men to leave this city and attack my people; it is his wish even more than it is Ramhar's. I am certain of that, and Malcovan has the greater power." The elf paused and turned his head toward the door. The guard was shifting his feet restlessly.
"I need time, Alun," Legolas continued. "Though I may not learn anything, and I certainly cannot do anything," he added, grasping at the chains binding him, "I must find out more of what is happening here. A few days, that is all I ask. Tell them of my blindness then, before the army marches, if you think it will make a difference."
A low whistle came from the direction of the door, and Alun sighed. "Koryon warns me that I must move on," he murmured. "Valar, how I wish I could get you out of here. I hate to leave you in their hands, Legolas. Whether they learn of your blindness or not, I fear you will not live long."
The elf nodded. "I will be tortured, and forced to speak of my home and my father. They have already said as much to me. But perhaps before I die I can turn their plans with false information about Mirkwood's strengths and vulnerabilities. I will do what I can to save my people. Go now, and do what you can to save yours."
Alun gripped Legolas' hands tightly for a moment and then he heaved himself to his feet. As he reached the door, the elf called after him quietly. "Alun, will you do one thing for me?"
"Name it," the soldier said.
"If you survive what is to come, will you send word to my father? I would not have him always wondering, never knowing what became of me."
"I give you my word."
"And tell him also of Aragorn. My father will send the news on to those who…" the elf faltered briefly. "Who loved him… his betrothed, and his foster-father."
"Aye," Alun said hoarsely. " Trust me for it. It will be done, Legolas."
The door crashed shut, and the lock was rammed into place. Alone again, Legolas turned his face to the wall and wept.
To be continued… (about time Aragorn woke up, don't you think?)
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