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Above All Shadows - Part I

Title: Above All Shadows
Pairing: Legolas/Aragorn
Rating: R
Genre: Slash, Mystery

Written for the Legolas/Aragorn ficathon 2008

AN: Written for the Legolas/Aragorn ficathon 2008

Summary/Request: Aragorn sees Legolas stumble as they run towards Rohan, but doesn't know that it is one of the first signs of the Elf’s dark secret.

Disclaimer: Some lines and situations are lifted whole from The Two Towers and Return of the King by J.R.R.Tolkien. The title is from the poem Journey’s End, also by J.R.R. Tolkien. If you like this story, thank JRR Tolkien, that’s what I’m trying to say. *g* This story is presented in this medium for uncompensated entertainment purposes only.


"It is a great company on foot," I said, scanning the plain ahead. At this distance not even my eyes could discern the particulars. "But I cannot say more, nor see what kind of folk they may be."

The company was traveling toward Isengard at a speed I had never seen from orcs, moving in full daylight over the plain where no shade of tree or shadow of rock fell. An ill portent burned within my breast as we set off, continuing the chase. We needed to reach the orcs before they disappeared into the forest of Fangorn and out of our reach forever. Did Saruman think the hobbits had the Ring? If so, his wrath would be great when he discovered they did not. I feared there was no terror he would fail to visit upon those who disappointed him. My mind cast aside the foul images that leapt unbidden to my thoughts. This would not happen, not to the Shirefolk, we would not let it happen.

We set off again, picking up our pace, our thoughts our own as we ran. Aragorn bounded along lithe as a deer, his grey eyes intent on the trail. Ever had I admired this Dúnadan Ranger whose forays to the Greenwood, oft on some errand for Mithrandir, were occasions for joy and welcome conversation.

I had rarely left my home. Indeed, few of my folk had journeyed as far or seen as much as he. How I loved the times when, sitting by a fire in my father’s hall, Aragorn would tell me tales of his travels. However, his last visit to deliver the pitiable creature Gollum had been less pleasant. Our people had proved poor wardens, allowing the prisoner some freedom in the hope we could reach his better nature, but it was not to be. I had been tasked to travel to Imladris to deliver the news of his escape. Though the duty was an unhappy one I was yet excited about the quest, for it was the first time I had left the Greenwood in many yén.

At the Council I was chosen as one of nine to accompany the Ring-bearer and, despite the danger, I could scarcely believe my good fortune. Not only would I have the opportunity to bring home travel tales of my own, I would be journeying with Aragorn.

When we came upon the plains a hopeful breeze rose up, warm as spring, carrying with it the scent of newly awakened plants, the sap running strong within their stems. I drank the air with an unbounded thirst, my spirit renewed by its promise, and ran like a hare over the unobstructed plain. It took no tracker to mark this trail, the sweet grasses broken and trampled by the iron-shod feet of the orcs. Determination set wings to my heels and I was well ahead of my fellows when I heard Aragorn's cry.

I frowned, not wanting to halt with the trail so clear ahead. I turned back to find Aragorn taking a side trail. "Do not follow!" he shouted. Gimli and I waited so as not to spoil the signs that told the fate of the hobbits. Presently Aragorn bade us approach and I saw the leaf brooch glinting in his hand.

"Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall," he said, and I looked with distress upon the beaten ground.

Pippin had managed to briefly escape and leave a sign, but he had been caught, undoubtedly punished. The consequences of his bravery tore at me. An innocent in the clutches of evil pierced my faer to its nadir. It was an abomination before the Powers!

I urged my fellows to haste and we set out again, running until night's shadows spread around us. As it grew darker we debated our choices: rest or continue our pursuit. I argued for going on, chancing the straight-seeming course to gain whatever advantage we could, but in the end Aragorn decided the possibility of missing the trail in the dark was a risk too great to take.

As he and Gimli slept, I kept watch over the vast, gloomy plain. Far was my sight under the pale moon and stars, but nothing stirred save for the grass rippling in the breeze. We had come perhaps twelve leagues since dawn, bringing us approximately to where I had spied our quarry last morn. How much more had the orcs lengthened their lead in that time? And if they kept their pace while I waited for the mortals to sleep, how much closer to Isengard would they be upon the morrow? My hope sank with the rising of the moon.

I looked to the north, trying to read the song of the grass and wind as Aragorn read the signs of the trail but there was no sound. The emptiness, silence, and vague foreboding, similar to that which had troubled me since Moria, was as a doom laid upon my heart. I had not Elrond's gift of sight but I knew as well as I knew my bow I must not come to Isengard.

The night passed slowly and my gaze was drawn often to Aragorn as he slept. His expression was of restless apprehension yet how striking he appeared, even in repose. A mortal man, but with few of the weaknesses that plagued his race. After Gandalf's fall he had kept our course true. If only Boromir... No, I would not think on it. Aragorn understood Frodo's decision to take the quest upon himself, and that our path now lay in a new direction. I would follow him wherever this path might lead us.

Ithil was riding low in the sky by the time Aragorn stirred. I had not awakened them for watches since they needed to be hard and fast for the chase. Still, I was saddened by a sense of opportunity lost as I looked to the north and thought of the lead the orcs must surely have by now.

Aragorn roused Gimli and, since it was yet too dark to see our way, put his ear to the ground to listen for news of the orcs’ hated tread. He stood, a troubled look in his eyes, saying he had heard the sounds of horses, that dreams of them troubled his sleep. I knew then he felt as I did, that something was amiss in this land.

Taking up the trail, we ran long through the day until the grasses thinned and the ground became hard and strewn with rocks. Even as we ran, the vigor I had felt earlier seemed to drain from my limbs. Anor was at her apex, her rays shining down benevolently as ever, yet I felt myself in the grip of a burning hand. A sudden flash of light behind my eyes brought a vision from long ago, one I had not seen in countless years. A slash of sharp claws sent me reeling in pain and I stumbled, nearly falling to my knees, my hand going to my chest. Then, just as quickly, the image was gone. I righted myself and kept going, shrugging off the residual fear that lingered in the vision's wake.

We were running single file and I had taken the lead, pushed by a sense of urgency. Aragorn could not have failed to notice my misstep. I glanced behind to see the grim set of his jaw as he scanned the ground in front of him. Relieved, I turned back to the trail and ran on. As dusk settled upon the plain we drew up, pausing to debate our options which were the same as the day before, though I grudged their rest more bitterly now.

Yet I could see their weariness, and even Aragorn admitted our enervation was more of spirit than strength of limb. Still, I tried to press them to stay our course through the night. In the end, Aragorn and Gimli decided that they must rest and fell into slumber. While they slept I fretted, keeping vigil and pacing as I watched the mist roll over the plain.

As the night wore on my dread grew. I could not tell my companions that I alone among them feared coming within sight of Orthanc, for I did not know whence my unease arose. Already thoughts of dark magic gripped my imagination. Why this should be, I could not say. I had not had these feelings when I first set out with the Fellowship and now I found them difficult to escape. Gandalf's fall was a blow from which I had not fully recovered, and then to have our company broken upon the field of Parth Galen, Boromir fallen, the hobbits taken, the Ring-bearer and Sam continuing to Mordor on their own, raised doubt I could not deny. The very air seemed at times laden with oppressive malevolence, even so far from the fires of Mount Doom. Despite my numerous patrols and duties within the woodland realm, only once had the dread I felt this night brought me so close to mindless panic.

Perhaps I should share my misgivings with Aragorn, tell him of my fear. Yet how could I add to his cares now when the hobbits were in jeopardy? I did not want him to think me unfit or send me away. I was not even certain what the sudden vision meant. No, better to wait until some answer presented itself before burdening Aragorn with my suspicions.

Even as the night mist grew thick around me, my weary mind drifted into such waking reverie as only Elves are able to achieve, bringing visions and augury of that which will be or may be brought into being within the living world. Looking into the mist I bethought I saw a pair of yellow eyes staring back at me, a wolf. I pushed my fear down deep and reached for my bow but my arms would not move, held as by some unseen force. I was as one carved of stone, motionless, watching the creature stalk forward, its shaggy grey body emerging from the mist before my terrified eyes like a spirit made flesh. Its step was slow, measured, as though savoring my fear. When this demon vision was naught but three feet distant, it sprang!

I had no knife and could not have drawn it if I'd had. My bow lay broken at my feet, the arrows scattered and trampled upon the leaf strewn-forest floor, and the creature was upon me, the savage yellow eyes... I could not look in them, I could not look away, as jagged claws opened four deep gashes in my bare chest. I cried out my father's name like a child, screaming as sharp teeth sliced my scalp, sending a stream of blood into my eyes. I blacked out.

My mind snapped out of the dream memory and I became aware that my face was awash in tears. I wiped them away with my sleeve, looking with wonder upon the dampness there. Not since that hunt had I wept, not since... The rest fled, leaving me shivering with cold not even the peak of Caradhras could leach from my bones.

Only that fragment of memory remained after the healers had treated me, that and four deep scars that I carried with me for many years. The scars were gone now, and I would have cast aside the memory as only a childhood nightmare, if not for the changes in my father’s disposition toward me: ever watchful, controlling my activities, refusing to let me leave the close confines of the safest part of our wood.

I looked upon my sleeping companions with sadness and affection. Gimli, hale and stout of heart, Aragorn kind and strong of character, and along with myself, resilient and true, we made as fine a group of hunters as had ever run prey to ground. On the morrow I would push them harder, I would remind them strongly of our need for haste, insist we not fail our friends. I would keep my pace and let no dream or vision steal the speed from my feet, the elven grace from my step. And I would strive to guarantee that we not come within fifty leagues of Isengard.

The mist began to roll back and presently Aragorn opened his eyes. He yawned mightily and got to his feet. I glanced at him then resumed scanning the plain. He came up behind me so close I could feel his breath brush my ear. I shivered, crossing my arms so he would think it was the morning chill.

"We must go," I said.

"In a moment," Aragorn replied. "First, I have a question."

"Yes?" I kept my voice steady.

"When we were running yesterday I saw you stumble."

My throat closed in dread even as I cursed his sharp eyes and Ranger curiosity. He paused.

"That is not a question," I said at last, mildly.

"You seemed in pain, your chest..." Again he hesitated, "Are you well?"

His look was guarded but discerning. I gave him my most disarming smile, lighting my face to cover the darkness. "Yes, I am well,” I lied. “It was a misstep. I thought I felt the buckle of my quiver strap come loose and I reached for it, causing me to step in a hole. I am fine."

I kept the smile in place, waiting for him to return it. He did not, but the concern in his grey eyes abated and he turned to Gimli and woke him. Gimli rose, as eager as I to begin, and we set out. Another long day we spent on the chase. By dusk, as Aragorn read the signs, we were no closer to closing the gap. As manfully as they both tried they simply could not go without rest or sleep as long as an Elf. Again I was forced to wait while they slept.

That night the mist rolled in again and I remained awake and watchful, singing softly as I walked to and fro. My companions slept uneasily, and I wondered if their dreams were haunted by the same apprehension I felt with each step deeper into Rohan. Each time Aragorn woke, I felt his eyes upon me. I wondered what he was thinking but I continued my watch, pretending to take no notice.

The next dawn they rose at first light and we set off, now with the bitter knowledge that our efforts were increasingly futile. After a time I spied riders, armed, many in number and coming our way rapidly. Should we flee or wait upon them? They were following the orc trail in reverse, could this be the hope I sought?

Aragorn called out to them and the riders wheeled and came back toward us, surrounding us in a thicket of spears. Aragorn spoke to their leader. There was a perilous moment with Gimli. I acted rashly, stringing an arrow and aiming it at the Rohir in response to his threat to take Gimli's head. Aragorn stepped between us and began to speak quickly, stating our purpose. He looked every inch the warrior king as he faced down the suspicious Rohir with forceful command; my heart thrilled to see it. Unsettled, the Rohir told us of Saruman walking the land in the guise of an old man, spying and working evil wiles. He then told us the most disturbing news. The Rohirrim had come upon the orcs in the night and slew them, leaving none alive.

His was a bitter tale, and I could see my companions were as shaken as I. Aragorn obtained leave and, surprisingly, horses from the Rohir and we set off again, coming at last to the eaves of Fangorn. I knew naught of the place save for the ancient songs of my people, and Aragorn knew only the fables of his. I longed to journey under the trees, to renew my spirit among chestnut and oak, but Celeborn had warned us not to go into the forest, and even my companions seemed to feel the brooding malice of it as we sat by the fire.

We drew for watches and I at last allowed myself rest and sleep, but I came awake at once when Gimli jumped to his feet in surprise. An old man, heavily cloaked, wearing a wide brimmed hat and leaning on a staff, stood at the edge of our camp. Aragorn approached him, but he disappeared, along with our horses which had run off before Gimli had spied the old man. Gimli thought he must be Saruman and though I kept my counsel I thought so as well.

The next day dawned chill and I found myself in better spirits than I had been for many days. I even joked with Gimli about seeing the old man the night before. We discovered signs of a struggle, a bound prisoner, a desperate escape, but no sign of tracks leading away. Perhaps the hobbits had sprouted wings and flown away I surmised with a grin, munching on a bite of lembas, for along with my spirits my appetite had returned. Gimli challenged Aragorn to best my supposition and Aragorn did so easily. He smiled at me and winked then began the tale. Admiration warmed me as he recounted the tale of a hobbit's escape, his skill a sight to behold. Aragorn deduced that the trail led into the forest and said we must go beneath the trees after all.

I leaned forward, peering into the thick atmosphere beyond the eaves, relieved that the echoes of darkness were deep within this place and not here within the edge of the wood. The feeling of some portentous event grew in my heart and the intensity of it took my breath. We plunged in, following Aragorn, and were soon met with good news, the prints of two hobbits. Merry and Pippin both lived! The three hunters might soon be rewarded with fair game. We journeyed on until we came to a rocky escarpment that rose from the forest floor. The air was stifling and my breath short. I suggested we climb the ridge to gain a better view and to tamp down the unease that had again begun to creep over me.

Even knowing the impossibility of wolves in such woods, my heart thudded with the old fear and my trepidation blossomed. Then I saw the old man making his way toward us, leaning on a staff, his step slow as if he were nothing more than a weary traveler. I felt the net draw close around us, and this time my friends would be caught as well. Gimli exhorted me to take up my bow and I drew an arrow, but my limbs moved slowly as though struggling against the will of another. A spell! I did not breathe, I could not speak. The old man climbed the rock face spryly, telling me to put my bow away. I tried to tighten my grip but the weapon and my arrow slipped from loose fingers. It was happening again, just as before, and my mind cried out what my voice could not.

'No! I will not betray my father or my people!'

I saw a glint of white beneath the tattered grey cloak he wore as he topped the rocky shelf and stood before us. He questioned us, and Aragorn asked his name. I could scarce believe his boldness, but the old man only laughed. I trembled, the sound gripped me with the power of ancient secrets whispered in dark places below the earth.

The old man moved away and my companions and I found the command of our limbs once again our own. Yet when he bade us sit and talk, taking a seat on a low stone nearby, his cloak parted revealing white robes beneath. Gimli sprang at him with his axe, I took up my bow and arrow and strung it with haste, Aragorn drew his sword, but the old man sprang up and my shot went awry. Sudden realization struck me and I cried out "Mithrandir!"

He acknowledged my cry. His eyes gleamed with wisdom, and power radiated from his white-clad figure as the sun's rays pierce the morning mist. Suddenly, as one awakened by a clap of thunder, I realized whence Gandalf's power sprang. Awe and fear vied within me as I gazed upon him, unable to speak. I lowered my head, an inexplicable feeling of shame bringing a blush to my cheek.

We took council, sharing information. I told him of seeing the Eagle over Emyn Muil and that Sam had gone with Frodo. This seemed to please him greatly, though I did not know why. Gandalf's talk of Saruman disturbed me for the news of his betrayal still hung like a cloud over my thoughts. Now Mithrandir was clad in white, no longer the Grey Pilgrim, and I did not know what to make of it. An ominous feeling gripped me when he glanced my way. Our gazes locked for the briefest instant and his brows drew together. Then he was talking to Aragorn again and the feeling passed.

The talk turned to the Ents and I was intrigued. Fangorn, for whom the forest was named, was an Ent and the hobbits had spoken to him. Would that I had come here in better days! I wished to meet and speak with him, to discover the secrets of this wild forest and its legendary inhabitants. I vowed then that if I survived the coming darkness I would return to explore Fangorn.

Now our quest for the hobbits was at an end, Gandalf said. We must go to Edoras and seek out Théoden, King of Rohan. We all agreed that wherever Gandalf led we must follow, yet my relief at avoiding Isengard was largely what prompted my enthusiasm with our new path.

Before we set out I felt compelled to ask Gandalf of his fight with the Balrog. I had to know, needed to know, how he had triumphed. He told the tale of the battle and his death, "roads I will not tell" as he put it, and my blood turned to ice with the telling. The great Eagle had found him and borne him to Lothlórien, and here the tale turned grimmer still. He told me the Lady's words and I puzzled to hear them for they seemed to speak of a kind of death. If my heart could find no home among my beloved trees, where then would I go? Gimli's disappointment at having no word of his own from his beloved Galadriel made me pity him, but when Gandalf told him the Lady's fair words and he began to caper about, I could not help but smile.

We set out, discussing how we must come to Meduseld at haste and yet having lost our horses to the mysterious old man who Gandalf said must have been Saruman after all. When we reached the plain, Gandalf whistled and after a time we saw our horses in the distance, led by the most magnificent steed I had ever seen. I had heard of the Mearas but the legends did not do Shadowfax justice. Never had I seen his like and never would again. Arod was with him and I called his name. He came to me and I stroked his neck before leaping up. I could tell he was happy to see me, and happy as well to have not the burden of the dwarf as he tried to keep up with Shadowfax. I saw a great smoke rise from the direction of Isengard and my heart quailed. "Battle and war," Gandalf said, and we rode on.

Eventually we stopped to rest and I fell into sleep at once. With Gandalf standing guard my fears had eased. Yet, as I slumbered, a wolf ran through my dreams, its jaws gaping, its eyes gleaming, and sadistic laughter rang in my ears. I awakened to see Gandalf stooping over me. Darkness still held sway over the winter plain.

"We must go," Gandalf said.

"Yes, yes," I agreed quickly.

"What did you see, in your dream?" Gandalf asked.

I looked around to see that the others still slept. I lowered my voice. "A great wolf, a memory from my childhood I think. Until we began to come near to Isengard I had not remembered it save as a shadow at the edge of thought, and only when I found myself in danger or under duress."

"How much of the attack do you remember?" Gandalf's eyes were keen.

"Attack? I did not say there was an attack. How did you know?" Anger kindled within my breast and my voice grew sharp.

"I was there, Legolas. Do you not remember?" The gentleness of his voice snuffed my ire and replaced it with consternation.

"No, I do not remember you. I barely remember the attack. I was hunting, but the wolf came out of nowhere and I was wounded, near death. I do not remember how I escaped."

Aragorn stirred and Gandalf placed a hand on my head and closed his eyes briefly. I felt something hard and dark within me skitter out of Gandalf's reach. He opened his eyes and looked into mine. "So be it," he said.

Before I could question him he turned away to speak with Aragorn and we made ready to ride again. Through the remainder of the night and on into the day we rode, coming at last to the Golden Hall of Meduseld I had seen shining in the early sunlight from afar.

The halls of Théoden were less than welcoming. We were forced to give up our weapons and it wounded me greatly to give the Galadren bow I had been gifted by the Lady into the care of these rough men. Aragorn was as loath to give up Andúril but Gandalf convinced him we must obey the King of Rohan in his hall. Gandalf was allowed to keep his staff and I smiled inwardly. An old man must have his staff for support after all.

We entered the hall and approached the throne. The old king was bent and frail. I grimaced at the shroud of mortality that hung upon him, but then he stood and addressed Gandalf in a clear, strong voice. His words were disdainful but Gandalf spoke with wise counsel. An unpleasant man, the king's advisor, called us beggars and found himself at the mercy of the wizard's staff. Gandalf then coaxed Théoden out of his hall and it appeared the aged monarch had not been outside in years. He became taller and stronger with every step out into the chill morning air.

As Gandalf and the king talked, I looked eastward and saw at a great distance what looked like tongues of flame. A sharp pain lanced through my skull and then was gone. My thoughts turned to Imladris, the night after the Council when I was on my way to my rooms. I happened to pass beneath a balcony and overheard Elrond and Gandalf talking above.

"Are you certain you want to risk it, Elrond? He is only a wood elf. He has never traveled from Mirkwood save for visits to Imladris and Erebor," Gandalf said.

I did not mean to eavesdrop but how could I not in light of such a statement? I stopped and stood in the shadow of the balcony as their conversation continued.

"You know as well as I that he might be the Ring-bearer's last hope. What he carries within might be just the diversion to win us through," Elrond replied.

"But at what cost? His sanity, perhaps, or his life?"

"Is either too high a price for the deliverance of our people, and his?"

"Then he should be told, so that he may make his choice."

"And if he refuses or fights it, what use will he then be on the quest?" Elrond said. I could hear the wearied reluctance in his voice, as though he agreed with Gandalf but was determined to stay his course.

"And what if the Lady's vision comes to pass? Can you live with your decision should that happen? What of Arwen?"

"He may try, but trying is not succeeding. Legolas is young but he has his nobility, Mithrandir, and his strength. He is his father's son. One may say what one likes about Thranduil, but there are few as valiant as he in any of the four realms."

"I will look out for them as I may, but many perils lie between the Nine and Mount Doom," Gandalf said with a sigh of resignation.

"If the time comes, do what you must Mithrandir. The destruction of the Ring is imperative. None will survive if the Dark Lord gains his prize."

I did not hear Gandalf reply but their voices stopped then. I stood, dazed, for many long minutes. Something was hidden from me. What could it be, and what vision had the Lady seen to warrant Gandalf's concern?

I could make no more sense of the conversation now than I had been able to then. I wanted to question Gandalf, and I had attempted to broach the subject a few times before we had set out, but I could never bring myself to speak of it in his presence. Yet with disturbing memories now plaguing me and my unnatural fear surrounding Isengard I wondered if I was fit for this quest. If something was wrong with me, inside, something from my past, should I not seek the answer?

Gandalf was speaking to the unpleasant advisor, Wormtongue, as he was called in the common speech. I shook myself, returning my attention to the events at hand and watched the exchange play out. Wormtongue was a spy and traitor, working for Saruman, and he fled when confronted like the coward he was. His treachery disgusted me and I gave him no more thought. He was not worthy of his Lord or of Éomer, the loyal Third Marshal of the Mark who had almost fallen victim to the advisor's evil plotting.

After we ate, we made ready to ride to war and armed ourselves after the fashion of the Rohirrim. I was given a coat of shining mail and Gimli a shield fit to his size that had belonged to a young Théoden. We set off across the plain, riding into the westering sun until after dark. We made our camp beneath the stars and set out the next morn at dawn. From Isengard a shadow rolled down from the mountains and I felt a sudden wild joy, completely at odds with the seriousness of our situation.

Gandalf told us to go to Helm's Deep and he rode off, much to my dismay. I had hoped to speak with him alone before battle but it seemed it was not to be. We reached the fortress after nightfall and were granted entrance. A mighty host was coming, burning plain, village, and tree as they advanced. Ill news for Théoden and his people. I sat upon a parapet, gazing into the darkness, wishing for action to take my mind off my cares. I wondered where Aragorn was, what he was thinking. Were his thoughts of me as mine were of him? So much rested on this fight and we were hopelessly outnumbered. I felt troubled, hoping I would comport myself well in battle. This was a different style of fighting than that to which I was accustomed. Gimli eased my apprehension with his talk of the mountains. I could see he was as at home in this place as I was not.

And then the siege began and I had no thought other than the slaying of orcs. Gimli and I made a small sport of counting our kills. We were separated and though I feared for him there was naught I could do. Aragorn and I fought on. I ran out of arrows and was forced to scavenge them from the fallen, Aragorn fought like a king in stories of old, and still we could not win through. A mighty blast took out the deeping wall and the orcs streamed through, as deadly as a flood and as impossible to stop.

As the night waned, Théoden decided to ride forth at first light and Aragorn and I agreed to ride with him. We charged from the gate, slashing a path through the remaining orcs, their host still hundreds strong. We battled our way to Helm's Dike, halting above the Deeping Coomb to look upon the forest that grew dense and silent, a forest that had not been there at the last sunrise. The orcs and hillmen were staring in wonder upon it and they no longer had will to fight. Glad was I to see the dawn and gladder still to see Gandalf and Erkenbrand, as Gandalf later named him to me, sweep down from the ridge and send the orcs and men fleeing in fear beneath the thick canopy of the trees. Gimli and Éomer soon came from the Dike, and though Gimli had a bandage in place of his helm he yet bested my number in hewing orcs. Just as he had said he would.

But now my fears were come to full flower when Gandalf said he must now go to Isengard. Théoden would go, as would Aragorn, and Gimli, though wounded, refused to stay behind. How could I do less than follow? Dark were my thoughts, and while the king and his company rested I managed to get Gandalf alone at last.

"You wish to speak with Saruman. Is there any reason my presence there should hinder your parley?" I asked.

Gandalf looked at me with mild surprise and hesitated before he spoke. "None that troubles me, Master Elf. Is there something you wish to tell me?"

"I cannot tell what I do not know," I said. "I have had ill dreams and dark memories of late, and a conversation I overheard in Imladris before we set out haunts my thoughts, an exchange between you and Elrond."

Gandalf's face was pinched with weariness and his eyes did not mask his sorrow. "I feared you had heard, but you never mentioned it and I was reluctant to go against Elrond's counsel and speak of it without some sign you knew or sensed something. You fear to go to Isengard, do you not?"

"I do, but I do not know why. The stifling darkness from the east seems to grow stronger even as my valor fades. Why was I chosen for this quest, Gandalf? For I know there were others Elrond might have considered."

"Indeed there were," Gandalf said, "but none could do what you may when the time comes."

"You speak ever in riddles, Mithrandir. What is it I may do that none other could accomplish in my stead?"

"If the Fellowship had completed its journey to Orodruin there is a possibility that you would have been. . . compromised."

I gazed upon Gandalf with wide eyes, unable to answer for long moments. At last I managed to speak. "How could this be? I have been in the presence of the Ring for weeks, and though I felt its power never have I felt its influence."

"No, for my ring and the ring of Galadriel shielded you, kept the One Ring from gaining access to your will. Then Saruman's treachery and Boromir's weakness separated you from Frodo just before you became most vulnerable, for the Ring was nearly revealed and Sauron's thought was bent so completely upon discovering it that you were not even a passing consideration to him."

"My will? Sauron holds no power over the free peoples that they do not give him," I said, disturbed by Gandalf's words.

"Would that it were so, but alas it is not," Gandalf said sadly. "Now I ask you again. What do you remember of your hunt and the great wolf?"

Another riddle, I wondered? But no, I could see the light in Gandalf's eyes and I knew the memory had some special meaning. I cast my thoughts back, feeling my way through the details as I spoke. "I was following a deer track while on patrol along the Old Forest Road at dusk. Beneath the trees of Mirkwood it is always dark but as I followed the trail, it grew so dark I could not see. A mist rose up and terror gripped me so suddenly I dropped my bow and arrow. A pair of yellow eyes stared at me from the gloom and a great grey wolf stalked from the trees. Before I could react, it was upon me. It slashed me with its claws and bit into my head. I passed out and when I awoke, I was in the healing rooms of my father's halls. I do not know who rescued me from the beast or how I made it back to the stronghold. I drifted in and out of consciousness for days, and when I was myself again I could remember no more than what I have told you now. I carried the scars on my chest for years, and though my father never spoke of it he was much grieved."

"Your father was grieved indeed, but not because of the attack. Your memory is false; it was placed within your mind just as. . . other things were."

Stunned by this revelation, I fell to my knees and covered my eyes. "Ai, Gandalf, you give me evil news! What happened to me and why do I not remember?"

He placed a hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him, searching his eyes for solace or hope. I saw none.

"I do not know exactly what you went through at his hands, but you were missing for over a year when I entered Dol Guldur. Sauron had fled and I found you in his dungeons, barely alive. I was unable to free any held there except you. I helped your father's healers with your treatment, but what you carry within I cannot reach, not even with the power of my ring. I fear the spell is fed by your own will to survive and cannot be separated from you unless Sauron is destroyed."

"And what if he is destroyed and the spell is not?"

Gandalf looked uncomfortable. "Then there is a possibility you will go mad, or die."

I lowered my head in despair. "So I was to be bait for Sauron, divert his attention from the Ring, but to what end?"

"Perhaps to give Frodo the few final moments needed to cast the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. It was a chance Elrond and I thought prudent to take."

"Elrond more so than you, it would seem," I said sadly. He sat down beside me, taking my hand, and I looked at him with forebearance. "You wanted to tell me. I think even Elrond was saddened by this choice. I bear you no ill will, Gandalf, but how can I now be of use to the Fellowship? We are scattered. Frodo and Sam have the quest, Merry and Pippin are lost, Aragorn must find his own path and Gimli will follow him wherever it may lead. What of me?"

"Now that the truth has been revealed, you have your own choice to make. You may continue to follow Aragorn, and should his path bring him before the Black Gate, fulfill the destiny Sauron set in motion, knowing it may mean your life. Or you may return to your home and fight with your own people. If Sauron is destroyed, the distance might be enough to spare you."

"Then the words of the Lady are my doom," I said. "Never again shall I see the Greenwood or live beneath the trees of my homeland. I cannot return to my father's halls in defeat when each day brings the West closer to war. I will see Aragorn through, to whatever end."

Gandalf gave me a wan yet encouraging smile, "Do not lose hope, Legolas. You shot down a Nazgûl; you fought bravely in the battle of Helm's Deep. You are far seeing, wise, and your spirit is strong, else you would not have survived in Sauron's dungeons. Aragorn still has need of you, and Gimli would be saddened to be parted from you. The road ahead is not wholly clear to me, this is why I must speak to Saruman, but all is not lost."

"Your words hearten me, Gandalf. You fought the Balrog and have returned through many trials. Frodo still carries the Ring. Aragorn and Gimli will fight as long as they have breath. I will do no less."

Gandalf smiled and clapped me on the shoulder. "Take your rest, Master Elf, tomorrow we ride."

Continue to Part 2



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