8) Green Life, Charred Bones
Legolas followed the highway uphill all night. He was beginning to get an idea of exactly how far he had drifted during his latest death. His rock-as-a-weight idea was even more flawed than he thought.
Though he knew the woods that the trail cut through very well, they looked different. He knew the voices of these trees well. He knew what they would say, their opinions, their wisdom. But they refused to speak to him now. He couldn’t even hear them muttering amongst themselves, as he knew they certainly must be.
However, what he saw wasn’t quite like anything he had ever seen before. He could see vividly and perfectly everything in the forest that was alive in direct contrast to that which was dead. The living trees and foliage swirled with light green design, illuminating their veins. The rocks, alternately, hummed with a dull black. The dead trees also contained this black colour, but with lights of green within where the bugs, plants and other life were alive, utilizing the rotting wood for food and fertilizer.
“What is this new sight?” He said aloud. He turned to a tall evergreen. “Why won’t you speak to me? I didn’t ask to be reincarnated. I didn’t ask for anything. Yet you won’t forgive this unnatural occurrence?
Legolas’ mind was beginning to move along faster and make connections that he didn’t really have proof of. He was becoming disheartened and the trees’ snobbery did nothing to calm his fears about Aragorn’s fate.
The tree said nothing.
“I will not forget the way that you have treated me here, this night…”He whispered and turned on his heel and carried on, clumsily up the path.
In his flushed anxiety and anger he felt more and more ill. His head felt empty and light as air. In great contrast to the darkness, the bright lights of life in the forest hurt his eyes and he was beginning to feel dizzy. He swayed from side to side all the way up the path, using the trees to balance off of. He carried on, determined to ignore his own discomfort and secure transportation from Rivendell.
The pink clouds of morning presaged the arrival of the sun as he neared Rivendell. He slowed. He could hear elves moving on the fork in the road ahead. Without thinking, he ducked behind a tree to avoid being seen. He wasn’t sure why he felt like some sort of criminal or fugitive – it felt as though he shouldn’t be there. However, he did know that he didn’t want to run into anyone, but that he wasn’t going to get anywhere on foot, especially with this dilapidated body that barely listened to his commands.
I need a horse. But the stir that I would create by showing up, presumed dead. . . My father still there. . . His throat hurt terribly. He decided that there was no alternative to sneaking into Rivendell and stealing a horse.
Ahead, the Prince could hear the Elvish murmurings of a couple of hunters. They were exclaiming to one another about some blackness down the trail, but Legolas wasn’t listening. Instead he was focusing on how he could use their distraction to sneak through the trees and over the bridge without being detected by their keen hearing, or being exposed by the ever-lighter morning. As they moved down the path the way that he had just come, he snuck toward the bridge, through the dense brush of the forest, careful to move as they moved, his noise absorbed by theirs. At the foot of the bridge - the very bridge covering the water that, a few hours ago, ushered him to his second death – he knelt in the high grass and listened. He listened hard over the thundering water of the waterfall and over his own pounding, exhausted heart.
Quick and painless! He told himself.
As agile and swift as a cat, he rolled low over the bridge and hid in the grass on the other side. He turned and kept himself from looking at the ruined mound of grave-dirt where he was supposedly buried. From here he moved behind various trees and walls trying to avoid being seen on his way to the stables.
It was then that he heard a loud rumbling that sounded like a staggered explosion. He froze. Were they under attack?
There was no time to find out. He slunk into the stables, checking carefully to make sure he was alone. Upon his entrance, the horses all perked up in their stalls. They glowed green to his eyes as many stamped nervously. Some tried to back away as he stepped forward, but none acted so violently as those closest to him. A bay mare and a dappled gray angrily reared to the best of their abilities, tied within the stalls.
Legolas was shocked. This had never happened to him before. All animals had always responded with warmth and respect, in light of the deep connection between elves and all life, as well as his own love of such creatures.
Astounded as he was, he moved quickly to try and calm the frightened horses. He shushed them as gently as he could, reminding them in Elvish who he was and that he meant them no harm. He told them all that he had had a rough week, but that that didn’t change the deepest reverence he felt for all of them.
Slowly but surely, he succeeded in calming them. Despite his success, Legolas felt the strangest suspicion that rather than being calmed by his words, it had been the tone in his voice that had finally won them over. But that didn’t make any sense. Since when could he not articulate himself to other creatures? But there was no time to wonder about such trivialities. It would soon be time for breakfast and the stable master would be down soon to feed these beasts.
He chose the bay mare that he had initially frightened the most deliberately because she was spirited. He wanted to reinstall as much confidence as he could, so he chose her. She also looked nimble.
He moved quickly, taking her saddle and blanket from the peg near her stall. He slid the blanket and then the saddle over her back, her warm fur the first soft sensation he had felt since his death.
She suddenly stood erect, her eyes bugling, her nostrils flaring. And then, the elf’s eye caught on something black. It took a moment for him to realize what he was seeing. His eyes widened and his stomach turned into a horrid block of ice.
Black was rapidly spreading all over the horse’s back like a plague, charring and disintegrating as it went. The creature gave a grotesque scream as the disease trickled down her legs and burned and charcoaled her like acid.
“What?! No! Why is this happening? Oh Valar, no!” Legolas fumbled, trying to stop the spread, trying to hold her up even as her legs disintegrated and she began to crumble into dust.
But there was nothing he could do. Her face turned black and her bulbous eyes, which were now milky and bright in contrast, accented her voice, letting out one last strangled plea for help. (Legolas heard dimly that in her plea she was appealing to the other horses, hoping that they would save her from him – the enemy.) The coaled horse fell into a pile of charred bones and dust while the elf stood, his hands open and shaking, not believing his eyes.
7) Deadmares, Dusted Wings, & the Affliction of the Tree
Six hours had passed since the shores of the gorge had seen elven life. The sun had recently set and the creatures of the woods were settling down for the night, ready to pass the roll of activity over to the nocturnal beasts, when the land fell dark.
Back from the water and the boulders, where the seemingly impenetrable wood began, there was blood everywhere. Ten pints of it had sprayed all over the evergreen branches and run black and pooled over and between the river rocks. And the bloodless carcass lay amidst it all, having fallen over with a branch rammed through its air passage.
Again, the hands were the only part of the body that appeared alive, wrapped around the branch, which they had done after death – a last plea. The elf’s hands were the most integral and innovative of all of his instruments. They could not stop doing, even in death. And these hands didn’t care about rods through life-giving throats, or ten pints of blood on the ground. They cared about doing.
What woke them after six hours was unclear. However, what was perfectly clear was that this piece of wood would have to be removed from the neck. Without hesitation, twitching or testing, the hands summoned the strength of the arms and slowly pulled the branch from the oesophagus. Blood that had been held within the walls of the throat by the tree spurted forth. The rod slid out with a sickening “gloop,” though there was no one around to hear it.
The fire in the heart exploded and lit the brain. Within moments, breath had flooded Legolas’ lungs and his brain was sparking. His eyes blinked open. He took in the gorge and knew at once all that had happened to him.
Incredible! He thought, his skin prickling. I am alive, again…. I am mastering death…This is so very wrong… I truly am immortal…
He stood and stared up at Rivendell, feeling as though his mind had stalled. He swayed. And then all at once, it seemed obvious what he should do.
I will not use a branch again. That was most unpleasant. What I truly desire is a sword or even an arrow point…Something that will bring instant death…
He leaned against a large boulder to think in the gathering darkness. He looked down at his attire. He was now clothed in little more than a blue silken rag that hung draped off of his shoulders untidily. He had no weapon with him. They had not suited him with a defence in death. They had not thought that he would need any.
Why am I trying to be creative? It’s not as though it is a contest… Still… that branch was … He shuddered.
The water of the falls thundered behind him and he froze as a terrible thought crossed his mind. He turned and began wading into the water over the slippery stones. He picked up the largest boulder he could carry, subconsciously and ironically careful to bend at the knees and lift, so as not to harm his lower back, and continued to wade deeper.
Where the water grew dark and he could no longer reach the bottom, he thrust himself down, pulling the heavy rock onto his stomach. It weighed him straight to the gloomy bottom. Legolas felt his lungs panicking. He let his air out of his mouth in large glossy bubbles until his body was completely empty. He had to fight all of his instincts to keep from trying to free himself and swim for the surface.
He stared up at the white ball above the surface that was the emerging moon and waited for death to come. He tried to be patient. He tried to meditate.
He would begin upon a path along a peaceful field in his mind. He walked slowly towards a large boulder in the centre of the field.
But his mind kept skipping off to the right, creating a dark forest. He tried to pull himself back to the peaceful field, but he could not. The darkness kept flashing over the gold of the field.
He entered the forest, desperate to find someone…Desperate to find Estel! He clawed through a wall of branches and thorns and black foliage, but seemed to get nowhere. His brain was aching terribly from lack of oxygen, but in the forest in his mind, it was the thorns that were killing him.
Why can’t I find you? He wondered dreadfully.
He pulled back branch after branch and saw nothing but more branches. He was becoming more desperate and yet sleepier inadvertently.
I can’t find you, Estel… I’m dying…
His head sunk low on his chest in the murky water. He kept pulling thorns away as he ploughed deeper into the forest, but this action was much slower now. He thought he saw a glimpse of brown ahead, through the next few branches. He pulled them back. It looked like Aragorn’s hair. He wasn’t moving.
“Aragorn!” Legolas choked out in his mind.
But the ranger would not respond. The elf pulled back the last two branches to excruciating agony and just as he was looking up to see if he had finally found his comrade, his heart stopped. His brain fizzled. He died, the last useless beads of air clinging to his blue tunic under water like mocking pearls. It was slow and quiet; yet there was nothing peaceful about this death.
Aragorn had headed east, certain that he should be able to find the mysterious forest of Legolas’ death. Once within the forest, he would find the dead marsh clearing where they had been attacked. He was confident that the attackers would have left behind some clue - perhaps tracks that he could follow. Perhaps he could at least find some evidence as to who they were. If he knew that, he might very well be able to find them.
He followed the highway away from civilization as the sun began to sink. He walked his tired horse over the smooth, flat trail through tall, green grasslands riddled with round boulders. He was certain that the elves had brought him in the wagon by this same road. He knew these fields well and thought it a shame that he had rode so hard and angrily the evening before. Galloping fast over this area had always been a sure joy for him. But now, his horse was much too exhausted.
Ahead, tall, straight alders closed in on the path and fed off the moisture of the creek that meandered over to join the road’s side. It was hardly a forest, but Aragorn was sure that if he kept heading east, he would eventually find the wood he sought.
However, the more that he thought about that forest, the more unsure he was of his memories. Where, exactly, was it? How had they stumbled upon it? Why had they never been there before? Did it not have a name? None of it made any sense. The elves hadn’t mentioned it either, nor had they even asked Aragorn what they had been doing there.
And my mission is officially abandoned. Aragorn thought. Well, it doesn’t matter. Whatever conspiracies that forest holds, they will be solved in time, after Legolas is avenged.
Down the road, half on the trail and half amidst the trees, was a rider. He seemed to be a man, dressed in dark robes. He had a wide-brimmed hat and a black horse, which pawed impatiently. The man sat with his hands lightly on the reins and a bowed head. He was obviously waiting for Aragorn.
The ranger subtly gripped the blade, which he had strapped to his leg under his cape. Atop his mount, he slowly walked up to the man and stopped a safe distance away.
“What is it that you seek beyond here?” The man asked him.
“I am seeking a forest beyond this glade. And may I seek the identity of he who enquires about the business of others?” Aragorn answered without hesitation.
The man looked up from under the brim of his hat. He had developed lips, limitless black eyes and long, scraggly black locks. He looked Aragorn in the face for the first time.
“ You are upset. Something very terrible has recently befallen you.” The man paused. “Your voice says everything for you.”
Aragorn narrowed his eyes, his whole body tensing. He barred his teeth and tightened his hand on his blade. He was determined that he wouldn’t tell the stranger anything more. However, after a long silence, Aragorn relented, his face falling.
“The terror has not fallen upon me.” He said. “It has fallen upon my companion.”
“Ah. I see.” Said the stranger.
Suddenly, something caught the eye of the man and he whipped out his blade. On reflex, Aragorn matched the man with his own blade, ready to do battle. But the stranger wasn’t looking at him at all.
“He’s here!” Hissed the man.
“Who?” Aragorn asked.
Then a beautiful monarch butterfly came into his vision. The stranger slashed his thin and agile knife at it, but missed.
“Run! Hide!” He said to Aragorn. “Save yourself! You will fall to it!” With that, the stranger kicked his horse into a canter and flew back the way Aragorn had come.
Aragorn peered up at the butterfly. It looked to be an innocent blur of yellow and black fluttering.
That man knows this butterfly? That’s madness. I have more reason to mistrust a strange man than I do a normal butterfly. Either that man was trying to deter me from going this way and taking my revenge, or he was completely mad . . .
Aragorn walked on, the butterfly dancing happily above. He noticed what he thought to be a yellow pollen on his coat. He looked up and found that dust was tinkling freely from the wings of the insect.
“It’s going to die.” He muttered. He walked slowly and admired the shimmering sunlight that dappled the leaf-covered ground and the trunks of the alders. Warmth clung to the evening air and licked the ranger’s face delicately. The quiet trickle of the stream soothed him and he . . . couldn’t . . . stay . . . awake . . . any longer . . . And just before he fell from his horse, dead asleep, his drugged and helpless mind offered up one last feeble reflection:
That . . . cursed . . . butterfly . . . casting evil . . . spells against . . . me . . .
I…I can’t breathe!
So spoke the lungs of the elf. Neither the brain, nor the heart knew such words. They were dead, after all. No, these were the words of the lungs, perhaps with the aid of the hands, which, to this point, had been so full of life, even in times of death.
Nonetheless, there could be no explanation for how the elf’s body was fired into life three hours later. With all due science, it could be described as no less than miraculous. Face down, the limp body floated downstream slowly. The rock had, at some point during the early evening, given into gravity and fallen further, to the very bottom of the river amongst the others. As the slow-moving current had pushed the uninhibited body along, bubbles in the water had formed air pockets under the elf’s billowing clothes and lifted him to the surface.
How the sparks of life heralding Legolas’ previous resurrections could hope to be struck in such wetness, with no hope of air seemed dismal. Therefore, where the dreams came from or even the inspiration fuelling the resuscitation could not be traced. The only thing that was certain was that the mind, long before the body had taken any steps to bring it to life, screamed, “Aragorn!”
The eyes snapped open to the black blurry cold water. All at once, the entire body was alive, and filled with terror and rage. The mind had never been more awake, more clear. Legolas willed his body to roll over and so it did. He inhaled as much air as he possibly could, filling his chest cavity to its very bottom. Without thought or hesitation, the Prince swam for the nearest shore. He paid no attention to where he was, or rather, how lost he was. He pulled himself up the slippery rocks like a merman, holding his legs and lower body perfectly still. He dragged and dragged until only his feet remained in the water. Then he collapsed, exhausted, his cheek smushed against an algae-covered stone.
“Estel….” Escaped his lips on his first exhaled breath, as he lay resting.
What…. What’s happened to him? I’ve got to get to him!
And, forgetting entirely about his present resurrection, the elf made to stand. His entire body shook with the effort and the shock of its once more being asked to perform its duties. He stood, swaying dizzily on the huge, round river rocks. He fell sideways and caught himself on a huge rotting stump that lay amongst the boulders. But his thoughts weren’t on the stump or his dizziness. He wanted to know why everything in his body was telling him that something had happened to Aragorn. He rested with his arms pushing against the stump, keeping himself up. He looked at his feet, willing them to work.
Come on! We have to master this together. He said to them.
He pushed himself away from the stump, determined to stand on his own.
He no longer cared about life or death, what was natural or unnatural or mastering resurrection and thought upon it not a moment longer. All he cared for was finding Aragorn.
He was standing on his own and began to slowly walk into the woods, casting a wary glance up at the pallid moon. He could see no other choice, as he was all but stranded on a small beach of stones, down river from Rivendell on the opposite side of the water. He staggered along little deer trails within the dim forest, surrounded by stringy-barked evergreens and little underbrush.
However, the more that he thought upon his friend, the more desperate he became. The more worried he became, the faster he tried to move, and all at once, he was running. His weak body was not ready. It began to tremble and wouldn’t hold him up.
He lost his concentration and his grace and fell clumsily over a root. He crashed into the dirt and wood chips and the mess clung relentlessly to his wet clothes.
He then noticed for the first time a large slash in his boot on the top of his ankle, his bare skin exposed. This was the exact spot that had grazed the root. The elf cursed and coddled his ankle with his hands. Through all of his deaths, his clothing had taken the same beating as his body and now lay in shambles, hanging off of his ashen body like drenched silk shawls.
As he began to push himself up, he heard a hissing noise. He looked behind him and saw that the protruding root was sizzling and turning black. The black spread like a disease over the root and it shrank into nothing as though it were on fire. With no more root, the disease seemed to disappear. Abruptly, the root’s plague showed up at the base of its tree. It spread up the seventy-foot high elder cedar, rapidly turning brown to black. The sizzling sent curls of smoke up the tree and Legolas watched from the ground as it ate the tree alive like acid. The base began to get thinner and thinner. Though the tree would not speak to him, the Prince knew that it was dying and that very soon it was going to be no wider than an arrow.
Sooner than he would have liked, Legolas’ prediction came true. The base was now crumbling like blackened cinders and before the rest of the tree had the chance to follow suit, it began to fall.
The elf cursed again as the shadow of the ancient tree fell upon him. There was no time to think. The elf rolled backward and flattened himself against the ground just as the trunk crashed down upon him.
He was thankful that his estimation had been correct. The trunk was mere inches from his head. Slung over another stump, it had been suspended just high enough to avoid squashing his head in. He pulled himself out from under the tree, his knees shaking. The elf cursed a third time, observing the damage.
What was that?! He ran his fingers lightly over the charred wood but nothing happened, nor was the mystery revealed to him. The wood was neither hot nor cold - just burnt.
I can’t understand. He ran his fingers back and forth, grieving for the dead tree until he remembered his purpose.
Estel! He made to run, but checked himself immediately. No falling. I have to master myself first.
He had to content himself with simply walking as fast as he could. As he moved away from the tree and closer to the forest road that led to Rivendell, he wondered why he had been so concerned about dying from being flattened by a tree.
“I don’t die.” He muttered and then immediately shuddered at the idea of waking from being flattened dead by a tree trunk.
6) Straining Hands
The sun shone dead centre in the mid-afternoon sky. The day was filled with natural words from the birds, the pounding of the waterfall and the sun’s rustling through the trees. Below the height of the forest sounds, amongst the large boulders of the far shore of the waterfall’s ravine pool, something lay out of place. A splay of blonde hair lay drying over the river rocks, over a drenched, unmoving face. The frail, white, waterlogged body was covered with the pale blue silk of what was once a ceremonial tunic. It was now little more than a soaked rag. The body lay curled around nothing; only the ruined leather boots remained in the water.
Were there life in the body, it would have found the bulbous rocks uncomfortable, the unnatural way that the shoulder still clung onto the torso disconcerting. The open eyes of the body had changed from a full-blooded blue to a diluted moon shade, as though the pigment itself had disintegrated. In fact, the mangled body all but appeared as though it had always been a soulless shell.
However, the pale hands were the one part of the carcass that implied that it had not simply been dropped from the sky like a wind-blown piece of clothing. The hands grasped, sallow and empty, haggard and beautiful. They reached for that which was not there. The hands were the one part that did not look sculpted. They looked as though they were straining, as though they had once had power in them - the power to perform tasks. And, in a way, the hands were the one part that still had life in them – dead, only long enough to appear frozen while straining for life.
These fingers still had things to do. If life were just inches from them, why not move forward? If the chance was there, why not take it? Rather than simply twitching as the night before, the fingers rippled through the motions, as fingers play with the feathers of an arrow.
They did not bother much more with testing, but sent fire straight to the heart like electric current and immediately shocked it into beating again. A great gasp came from the elf and his whole body straightened abruptly. Tingling blood flooded the rigid form from toes to forehead.
The stretched limbs slumped back onto the unyielding rocks and Legolas listened to the sound of his own heart beating. He did not try to move. He simply thought, wondering if any of this could be real.
Does one dream when one is dead?
An involuntary moan escaped his lips. This caused him to question whether or not he had control over his body now. He was not shuddering hysterically as before. However, though he did not try to move, his legs felt shaky. He did not wail with horror as he had before either, though he did not feel entirely opposed to doing so.
I should not be here. He thought. I have fought my entire life to maintain balance and nature. This is not natural. He struggled, and as he did so, he managed to sit up. Without thinking, he got to his knees. He then fell back into a sitting position. He regarded his feet and the water’s edge. He did not dare look at his reflection.
Yes. But you want revenge, don’t you? He asked himself. You were murdered! Murdered by cowards, no less. . . No, no. Revenge is not a part of me, dead or alive. He argued.
And exactly whom do you think you are fooling? Suddenly he was struck with a thought. Estel! Where is he?! Did he escape? Did they kill him!? Where am I?
He looked up the waterfall and abruptly noticed the river elves’ home, nestled against the hillside. He looked up at the sun.
Midday. Is that to imply that it took me half a day to come back to life? And how long before that? A day? Legolas was once more overcome. I should not be here. It’s wrong. It upsets the balance. I am no more deserving of a second life than anyone else . . .
He took off his waterlogged boots. How beautiful they were . . . He tried not to think of those who dressed him for death, those who chose the finest quality garments that Rivendell had to offer for his passage into the next world. It was not the thought of exposure that harmed his heart, but rather, he did not wish to think on those he knew were grieving for him.
He looked up at the bridge and the dwellings above. He knew they were up there, thinking of him. How close to civilization he was and yet, how very, very alone. He had been closer to his loved ones when he had been buried above, when he had been dead. Now, he was some sort of freak of nature, alone in his strange magic.
We are to live forever. Or die. And be dead… Forever. He put his head in his hands. He tried not to run his hands through his matted hair, or his tiny frayed braids. Had he been given a gift, or a curse? Was he a grotesque phenomenon or a good omen?
It took me a day to come back to life, the first time. Then half a day, again. The time was cut in half: Why? Am I getting better at dying for an impermanent amount of time? Am I perfecting resurrection? How can that be? Do I have more lives?
The elf began to wonder if he dared test his theory. He had been given a second, and now a third chance. Could he waste them?
The elf realized that he had stood without much thought and that his body was his. He could control it now.
What does it matter? It’s all borrowed time anyways. If I have to know, I have to know. No more fear. I have had it to death with fear.
Legolas stumbled and weaved the few feet to the edge of the forest, which, he noted, refused to speak to him. There, he broke off a strong, serrated branch. He kneeled. He propped the bluntest end against the rocky ground and the sharper end against his throat.
I pray I have the strength for this. I shall know what is meant to be – in life or in death.
The prince took a shuddering breath and released all restraint. He let all of his weight fall against the branch. There was a moment of white pain and then instantaneous lifelessness came to the bloody pale creature with the tree through his windpipe.
5) Tremors Above the River
At some moment during the night a terrible rain began to pour. A dim yellow light lit the room where Thranduil and Elrond conferred by the fire deep into the hours of darkness. Below them the courtyard path led out under the wood arcs to the outskirts, past the gardens, towards the forest - to the side, the bridge.
The long grass was pelted down by the rain and below it the dirt was slowly saturated. Some six feet below all of this, something stirred.
At first, it was naught but a finger – a pinky twitched. It felt mud. Suddenly, the whole hand spasmed. When the hand met with no room to move, no room to be scared, surrounded in mud, the arm became enraged. The other arm agreed that this motionlessness was unacceptable…
Next, the nerves in the feet fired. The toes wiggled in their fine leather boots. A foot moved in its boot and tried kicking.
The dirt was soft, loose. It was not yet hard-packed soil. The four limbs finally decided that there was a chance to do this. With the soil loose, there was a point to doing this.
Two hands and two feet clenched hard and then released. This motion, like the letting go of an arrow, fired electricity through the arterial highways and straight into the heart like gunshot.
The fire ran through the body and met at the centre with a blast. The mouth gasped as the lungs and heart exploded into life. The brain was lit like a lamp in the dark soil. Messages twisted, trying to connect and inform each other.
But the limbs didn’t need information or encouragement from the brain before they started struggling. They swam through the earth as though it were the thickest of oceans.
The mind of the elven Prince was not yet coherent enough to be surprised when the limbs began to make progress. Up six feet. After the first four, the brain finally sparked as all of its connections were made and it handed the reins over to self-awareness. The mind encountered a mouthful of dirt and the inability to breathe. Panic-struck, the limbs made haste, lest the claustrophobia take the mind. He swam higher and higher in a great crescendo of strength.
Finally, the hands broke the surface in a spray of mud. They felt a soaking rain. The legs kicked and the arms emerged, the shoulders came next. At long last, the elf’s head came out of the earth, spat soil from his mouth and took in a great gasping breath. Waist deep in mud and breathing again, Legolas screamed a great howl of harrowing agony. He pulled himself out of the grave and let his second-hand body flop onto the earth with surrender.
He convulsed for a few moments and then he let fly the monstrous animalistic screech that can only come from someone who has just emerged from their own grave, someone who has defeated death without cause or experience, someone who has just had the thunderous and devastating realization that he was murdered.
Shivering compulsively, the elf eventually found his feet. His brain, though, had not yet mastered the practice of resurrection. He stumbled about, uncontrolled, ever closer to the river, ever closer to remembering whom he was, where he was. The rain poured and the torrent took small rivers of storm water between his feet. His motor skills felt as though they belonged to an infant human.
Confused and spinning, the elf stepped back into shin-deep mud. The foothold eroded right out from under him and he fell backward into the rapid river.
In this present, he felt every sensation with a rawness that only the recently-awoken dead can know. The sensitivity was overwhelming his senses. He did not know what to focus on. He could feel everything and feel it intensely and now he felt the swift-flowing water running past his body, shoving it. He felt the slippery black algae on the stones that prevented him from gripping anything as he flailed about, trying to gain control of himself. He felt the sharp rock edges that his body was banged and carved along. He felt his long hair coating his face as he fought desperately to keep it above water. He felt the roots of his locks at his neck tingle as the current lifted and played with them, reminding him that nothing good could be coming. He felt exquisite pain, as his shoulder was knocked out of its socket in a particularly narrow pass.
And all at once, Legolas felt his body, thrust by the helpful hands of the river, cascading over the waterfall. He gasped as he fell hundreds of feet, sucking in his hair, choking. His helpless body tumbled end over end, a perfect waterwheel of soaked flesh.
And mere feet from the water’s surface, he hit a rock. He banged his temple against the jagged surface first. His body quickly followed and added its weight to his neck, which buckled under the weight and broke.
He died instantly. The river committed the woodland elf’s body to its pool below where it floated, crooked and cracked and pelted with the ceaseless rain.
4) A Temporary Tomb
When Aragorn regained consciousness, it was his hearing that returned first. He could hear birds singing as though it were midday. But their singing was oddly off somehow. It was as though their song had no melody, no tune to it.
He opened his eyes slowly, and found that it was midday, truly. He found himself lying in tall green grass and there were many figures bustling about. He rolled onto his back and looked into the arms of a beautiful oak tree. The sky was blue, and the sun was very bright. He sat up slowly and rubbed the bump on the back of his head. He realized he was surrounded by elves carrying out duties. None of them were paying the slightest attention to him.
There were two kinds of elves here, he realized. There were Mirkwood elves as well as Rivendell elves. He sighed with relief. He was among friends. He summoned a blonde elf that was walking nearby him carrying an ornate hatchet and a bundle of wood.
“Excuse me.” Aragorn said. The elf looked at him blankly. “What is going on here? Where are the orcs? The man? Where is Legolas?”
The elf stared at him without expression. His face looked pale and tired somehow. “I can’t answer any of your questions. Talk to Elrond, for Thranduil has not yet arrived… You should lie back down, Strider. You took a mighty blow to the head.”
“But that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I-“
But the elf had continued on hurriedly. Aragorn growled. Another elf passed him and the ranger seized the bottom hem of his cloak. The dark-haired beauty looked down in silent alarm.
“Where is Legolas?” Aragorn demanded, firm and even.
“I’m sorry. I cannot help you there.” The elf wrenched his clothing out of the human’s grip and carried on.
Aragorn’s frustration was growing. He stood up slowly on shaky limbs. He was opening his mouth to make himself heard to whomever would listen when his quivering legs gave out on him and he fainted.
He heard muffled voices. He opened his eyes to a face that, though blurry, was unmistakably that of Lord Elrond. The elf was holding him, elevating his head.
“A-Ada…” Aragorn started when he flipped violently out of Elrond’s grip and vomited on one side of the oak tree. He felt the elf’s hands around his waist, keeping him from falling face-first into the dirt.
“Just rest a moment. You’ve got concussion.”
Aragorn slumped back against the oak tree and stared into the face he knew so well. A foreign hand came out of his peripheral vision with a large ladle of water. The man took it gratefully. He rinsed his mouth and drank. “Lord Elrond,” He panted. ”Where-is-Legolas? Is he safe?!”
“We have him.”
At this, the ranger closed his eyes with relief and let his head fall back against the tree trunk.
“Now, that we know you’re coherent, I think you should sleep.” The elf said without emotion.
But the man was already half asleep. He dreamed that he was walking in a forest that was disintegrating into ash when he realized that there were butterflies all around, eating him. Then Legolas saved him by poking him in the mouth with a magic flute. Then they were lying together in an open field under the stars. Thranduil suddenly was hovering over them.
“How dare you allow the prince to swallow raspberries! And where is my horse?!”
Then a gargantuan raven came flying towards all of them and Aragorn cried out in warning.
But Aragorn’s cry was real and he woke himself up with the noise of it. He found himself in an elven wagon that was swaying peacefully through the late afternoon light. A glance around told him that he was on the outskirts of Rivendell. How had he and Legolas thought themselves so lost?
Legolas. But where was Legolas? He hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of him since he had awoken from the blow. If he too was injured, surely they should be on the same wagon. And if Legolas was not injured, surely he would have ridden with him to make sure he was all right. Legolas was usually so concerned about him and his “frail human body”.
In Rivendell, the wagon was relieved of its load and Aragorn hopped off and began weaving through the elves trying to find Legolas. So many blondes… Soon, all of the elves had gone off to do their separate duties and he still had not found Legolas. Even Elrond wasn’t to be found. He was about to start towards Elrond’s library when a glint of blonde caught his eye. He walked towards this blonde that was brushing down a gray mare. It was not Legolas. Aragorn felt his whole body sink. The elf looked at him.
“You were not out with us just now, were you?” Aragorn asked him.
“I was not.”
“But tell me, do you know where Legolas is?”
“Of the Woodland Realm?”
“But he is dead, sir.”
“What! What makes you say that?”
“The fact that it is true.”
“It isn’t. Why would it be?”
“Everyone is talking about it.”
“Are they?” Asked the man, haughtily.
“Everyone knows that he is dead.”
“Do they?” Aragorn’s temperature was rising.
“They do. It is true, Lord Aragorn.”
At his name, Aragorn felt even more offended. “What made you think that you could say any of this to me? This is ridiculous!”
“Lord Aragorn, it’s all true.”
“You, sir, are a liar. I have never met an elf that could lie before.” The ranger was fuming and bubbling, his voice getting dangerously low.
But the elf only became more quiet and firm, swallowing his offence. “Lord Aragorn, if you please-“
“Enough!” Aragorn stormed off to find the truth. He had just found the staircase leading away from the stable courtyard when the elf’s cold voice came again and Aragorn stopped dead.
“If you want to find him, go to Lord Elrond. It is said that they aren’t to do anything with the body until Lord Thranduil arrives.”
Aragorn made his way to Elrond’s library. For every quick step he took, he took a second at a slower pace. He could not decide whether he was desperate for the truth or whether he dreaded the unfolding of it. Perhaps in a few moments time he would desperately desire to return to his present state of ignorance and would never be able to forgive himself those quick, forwarding steps.
Whether too soon or not soon enough, he eventually found Elrond pacing his library while several official-looking elves seemed to await his words from the sides of the room. Upon entering, all eyes turned to Aragorn’s scraggly, dirty form. He crossed the threshold, abandoning formality and manner.
“Lord Aragorn, no one offered you a room, or tried to address your cuts?” Asked a Rivendell elf that Aragorn didn’t recognize.
Aragorn ignored this ridiculous remark. “Elrond. I must know. Where – is – Legolas?” Aragorn did not ask if he was alive or dead. He did not at all desire to suggest that there was cause to question his being alive.
“Estel, we have been unkind to you. There has been much to do. I admit that my mind has been on Thranduil and not on you. I apologize. Estel, please sit down.” Elrond’s voice finally broke its characteristic evenness and pleaded that Aragorn take a chair made of twisted oak.
Aragorn did not wish to sit. He wanted to be everywhere. He wanted to stand with authority and power and demand the truth. However, since it appeared that Elrond was on the tangent that would lead to answers, Aragorn obeyed. Elrond drew a similar chair up to face him.
“Estel, you must understand that no one blames you . . .”
Aragorn didn’t like the way this was going. But Elrond didn’t continue. He trailed off and some character of the nature outside too subtle for Aragorn’s human senses distracted his expressionless eyes.
After a few moments of silence, Aragorn demanded, “Elrond, I won’t ask again.”
Elrond’s eyes snapped back onto the ranger’s face. “Estel, Legolas is dead. He died, we have deduced, moments after you lost consciousness. He was run through with a sword.”
Aragorn was silent. Suddenly he could feel nothing but the numerous eyes on his back that belonged to the elves he didn’t even know. He could sense them stirring and thought that their restlessness was not very elf-like. His body felt cooled by those eyes and his fists clenched into sensitive balls. He had never felt any action as vividly as he did this clenching.
When Aragorn made no reaction, Elrond carried on, “Thranduil is on his way to take custody of his son’s body. We will discuss the funeral ceremony. Thranduil will most likely insist on a Mirkwood rite . . .”
Aragorn’s words and expression reflected a rage, a tearing that he did not at all feel connected to as he spoke. “And what,” He began in a quiet voice that shook with hatred. “Is being done about those responsible?” Aragorn was now grasping the arms of the chair in a terrible fight to keep his demeanour even.
“There will be a time for justice, Estel.” Elrond had turned his back to the elves and the man and was regarding his books. He was silent in his surprise that this was the first thought to come out of the ranger. A chilled breeze blew over the room and the pages on his oak desk rustled noisily.
“And have you thought that every moment that you spend planning ceremony and preparing for guests puts the criminals closer to their escape? This is preposterous, this preparation, this reserved thought of funerals! The ceremony should commence when the heads of the villainous murderers are there for the bon fire!”
“Estel, you do not speak as yourself. You are a man of honour, and as such, have always been able to understand the integrity of honouring the dead.” Spoke an elf from somewhere behind him. He recognized the voice but did not care to look.
“And what of his spirit?! How shall we put him to rest without justice!” Aragorn could see in the faces of the elves as he turned and surveyed the room that he was not convincing. In fact, he seemed to be insulting everyone with increasing success. “This is ludicrous! You may do nothing to bring down the perpetrators, but I certainly won’t!” Aragorn rose and started swiftly for the door.
“Please don’t.” came his father’s emotionless voice.
Suddenly there were a number of elves blocking his exit.
“Let me pass.” Aragorn growled while looking back at Elrond.
Elrond put up a hand, telling him to be silent. His eyes were over and bellow the railing. There was something of interest in the courtyard. “Be still. Thranduil has just arrived.”
Thranduil looked as Aragorn felt. The man had never seen an elf look so destroyed and moist in the face and hoped never to again. Consolation followed formality, as the elf leaders paid their respects to one another. Aragorn’s silent form was now growing hot as he stared hard at his feet in the shadows. Thranduil’s voice also sounded to Aragorn like it was just barely controlling the enraged grief beneath. Like the man, the King could just barely manage himself. Aragorn could feel the heat and water rising to his head and knew that his cold, even moments were over.
Then suddenly he didn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it. Legolas wasn’t dead. The very possibility was pure absurdity. And he had the most overwhelming desire to demand to see the body. But his mouth wouldn’t open. Worse, he knew what the answer would be and he knew that he would be seen by the elves as crass and raw. And after the wave of frustration went through him, he was glad that he had not spoken.
The elves were discussing funeral arrangements in monotone. Aragorn gripped his hands onto the railing of the window to keep himself from doing anything stupid. He tried not to listen. But when he didn’t listen, he became angry that he was doing nothing. And when he became angry, he had to grip the railing all the harder, lest he have an outburst.
His eyes strayed outside and fell on a familiar sight. Brollas was the horse that he and Legolas had become lost in the confusing forest because of. Brollas had been frightened and escaped. As Aragorn had predicted, he had found his way back to Rivendell.
How long has he been here?
Abruptly, Aragorn was overcome with rage, particularly as the assailants had been anonymous.
“My Lord,” Aragorn interrupted. He pushed his way into the centre of the circle and the conversation. “Surely you desire justice to be done that your son’s soul might know peace?” He appealed to Thranduil.
“Estel!” Elrond chided him for his rudeness.
Thranduil looked at first shocked and maddened by his gall. However, his eyes soon revealed to Aragorn that resolution, if not revenge, was exactly what Thranduil desired. However, it soon became obvious that Thranduil would never admit this out loud.
“Strider, I dare say,” Thranduil drew himself up to his full height in front of the human. “You are very arrogant. We are discussing the matter of my dead son.” His mouth twisted as though he couldn’t control it.
Aragorn ignored this statement. “Please, my lords, you must help me. Let us capture these murderers.” There was a long silence. Aragorn felt the same changelessness. “Well, if you don’t want to come along, at least give me some clue . . . A direction. A physical description. Anything.”
“As the only witness, we were hoping that you could describe the villains for us.” Thranduil drew.
“I…. It was very dark…”
“So we’ve heard.” Thranduil narrowed his eyes.
“I know there were a number of orcs. Those I battled. And there was a figure with long dark hair. He seemed to be a man, but I can’t be sure. He could have easily been something else. Do you know any man that might hold a grudge or a -”
“So, as usual, Strider, you expect others to provide the answers and, when you have them, you will scamper off on your horse to battle and glory.” Thranduil crossed his arms.
“Thranduil, I hardly think-“ Elrond began.
“Is that truly what you believe? That I am to seek these villains for glory?”
“Aragorn, we’ll-“ Elrond tried.
“Yes. Why would I say it if I didn’t-“ Thranduil cut in.
“Regardless, Majesty, of what you believe of me, I will go,” Aragorn’s voice grew louder with the agonizing heat in his body. “ And obliterate those who have slain your son. I will bring back their heads and I will release Legolas’ soul along with yours. When I return, you will all wonder why you did not aid me when I requested it, for it would have hastened peace for all!”
“Estel.” Elrond called, but the man had torn out of the room for the armoury. “Estel!”
Aragorn hurriedly suited himself with as many weapons as he could carry, a canteen of water and a cloak that he did not know the owner of. He demanded the fastest and most fit horse of the stable master with such clout and fury that the elf didn’t dare refuse.
He galloped across the courtyard beneath the library lividly, Elrond’s voice shouting with increasing desperation from above. Aragorn had never heard him like this. It was as though Elrond believed that Aragorn was now riding into certain death.
“How are we to lose you as well?” Elrond all but split apart at the throat. But Aragorn was already too far beyond the bridge to hear.
At sunset, Thranduil demanded, despite his better judgement, to see the body of his son. Accompanied by Elrond and a host of council elves, the Mirkwood King descended the stairs to the square near the forest of monuments where Aragorn’s own mother slept. Legolas’ temporary tomb was an above ground stone coffin with chiselled leaves twisting all over it. It would later be carried on a large wagon to Mirkwood.
The elves stood before it and Thranduil braced himself for unspeakable pain. He moved quickly and pushed the heavy stone lid off of the tomb. It crashed to the opposite side with a thunderous boom. The King stepped up and gazed down inside.
“W-w-where is he?” He demanded of no one in particular.
“T-there’s nothing in here!”
“I swear to you!”
Elrond ran up to the tomb and peered inside. “This doesn’t make any sense.” He muttered. “Who has moved the body?” He demanded of all present.
There was no answer.
“We were all with you.” Piped up a tall council elf.
“Someone fetch he who was responsible for the undertaking then.”
Elrond caught Thranduil in his arms, who said his knees were feeling weak.
The undertaker appeared immediately. “My Lord?”
“Where is the body?” Elrond demanded, still supporting the brunt of the King’s weight.
“Oh. The Prince was buried.”
“’Tis true, sir.”
“On whose order?!”
“I – I don’t know, sir.”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Then how do you know he was buried?”
“Well, I saw the figures of several gravediggers return from the edge of the forest with shovels. I asked them what they had been doing as they were passing. They said that they had buried the Prince as ordered. I thought that that sounded strange, but I assumed that King Thranduil ordered it, sir.”
“And who were these gravediggers?”
“I- I didn’t see their faces.”
“And what would ever make you think that I would do such a thing to my son, and without a ceremony?” Thranduil demanded, rage rushing his body.
“I admit that I did not long consider it, sir.”
“Take me to the burial site.”
The nervous undertaker took the party to a peaceful spot on the edge of the wood just before the bridge leading out of Rivendell. It was directly next to the stream, which fed into the thunderous river in the ravine below. There was a seven-foot long shape of disturbed soil. Grasses and wild flowers surrounded it. It would have been a perfectly gorgeous resting place, were the oaks not raining brown shrivelled leaves on everything.
“T-t-this is unacceptable!” Thranduil screeched. “He – is a – Prince – of – Mirkwood!”
“My Lord.” The undertaker bowed low. “I am greatly sorry. Whatever we must do to set this right, it will be done.”
Tears of fury beaded at the side of the King’s face.
“And, what might that course be, mellon nin?” Elrond asked the Prince’s father.
“Nothing, you fools! Nothing can be done! How much respect could I claim to have for my dead son, if I insisted that his body be dug up and carted all over the countryside? The Prince will have to remain here, buried in Rivendell. However, I demand that a monument be erected in his honour here, as it will be in Mirkwood. We will have to have an emergency funeral here in a few days time.”
“Yes. All this will be done.” Elrond bowed. In the face of loss, the Lord of the River Elves thought it best to bend to the ego of the King he knew so well.
3) Blood in the Marsh
Legolas did not understand what the man or creature was referring to and he didn’t answer. He let his arrow go instead. He didn’t hear it fly, and the dark figure in front of him did not buckle. He seemed to have some how missed the creature or the creature ducked with unprecedented speed. The elf was unfamiliar with both options and so stood perplexed, another arrow already ready in his hands to try again.
“Who are you? Why are you attacking us?” The panic was quietly rising in the elf as black was beginning to close off the sight at the corners of his eyes. Suddenly, two orcs came up from behind the stranger and pinned Legolas’ arms behind his back. (He could tell they were orcs by smell alone.) “You coward!” The prince coughed out, frustration overwhelming his voice.
“Stop.” The stranger said and the orcs tried to hold Legolas perfectly still. The stranger bent to his face. “Coward? Me? I think not, young prince.” The stranger’s head turned then and looked off out of Legolas’ vision and he suspected that Aragorn was calling to him.
Too much was going on that Legolas couldn’t sense! “What do you want?!”
“Your father should have really awarded you better bodyguards. This ranger fellow is easily overwhelmed. Yes, more bodyguards. A prince, after all. . . Thranduil also should have cultured your love for fine and dangerous music.” The stranger couldn’t hold back a horrible cackle. “More perplexed than ever? Well, it matters not. You won’t be around to make use of any knowledge I could give you.” The stranger nodded to the orcs. Legolas felt his sleeve pushed up and something wet was rubbed along his arm with rough clawed hands. He tried to wiggle away, but he was too weak for them.
Aragorn fought all the harder when Legolas’ incapable form was surrounded. But there were too many orcs. It seemed as though they had come out of nowhere. He chided himself for not detecting the attackers earlier. Now his weakened friend was suffering for it. He slashed and hacked, but there were just too many. He could see the elf’s blonde hair glistening in the darkness, but the rest of the prince was hidden behind a swarm of orcs and another who appeared to be a man. Aragorn began to fight his way towards them when he was caught from behind and whacked over the back of the head with the handle of a broad battle-axe. He crumpled and lost all consciousness under a shrivelled oak.
Legolas continued to wriggle and writhe as his enemies jeered at him. Then, to his surprise, the orcs released him. His first instinct was to run, but he could not see and could hear nothing that did not happen directly beside him. He felt the man’s soft hands grasp him by the shoulders and move him out towards the middle of the dried marsh where there were no trees. His captor rubbed Legolas’ arm where the wet had touched him before.
They’ve poisoned me! He thought.
“Five, “ the man began to count, stroking his arm in that same spot. “Four,”
Legolas began to fear the worst.
He felt ridiculous, standing deaf, blind and dumb in the middle of a marsh at the complete mercy of an evil stranger.
Where was Estel?! Legolas clenched in terrified anticipation.
“One… Open your eyes, Prince.” The man sounded loud and clear.
Legolas slowly opened his eyes. The moonlit swamp came into sharp and crisp view. His perfect vision was back. He could hear the soft rustling of the grass some one hundred feet away. He was himself again. Instinctively, his first thought was to go for his bow and quills, but it seemed that the orcs had relieved him of them.
“Why have you done this?” He demanded. “You have some how taken all of my senses, only to give them back to me at no reward.” At last, his captor came into view. He had a strong jaw line, developed lips, bottomless black eyes and a mane of black hair hanging down.
“I needed you vulnerable enough to get you before me. But I wanted you to see me when I killed you….” With no more warning than this, the stranger ran his sword through Legolas’ torso until a good foot of it stuck out of his back.
“Huucck!” A bloody cough escaped the elf’s lips. His eyes were wide and clear as he took in the falling countryside. He fell to his knees with a whoosh. Somehow, his hands had become covered with his own blood. His only thought was to get the sword out, but it was a physical impossibility – the right leverage unavailable with the sword in him, his arms too short. His captor received no attention, as, within moments, the trees began to scream, tremors went through the grass roots, bugs came out of the soil, and the elven prince died on the salty dead grass.
2) The Sense of Losing Senses
Legolas awoke to the sound of his own retching. He did not open his eyes, but turned to the ground. He was on all fours as he began to vomit loudly. He felt a hand on his back and another gently supporting him under his stomach. He opened his eyes, his forehead wrinkled in distress. He saw black grass, with orange light dancing upon it. All was dark. Tears streamed down his cheeks and dripped into the grass as they often did when he vomited. He spat and spat and spat.
Finally, he fell back. He meant to sit on the grass, but he found himself in someone’s arms, pressed up against them. He looked up to see Aragorn. Relief washed over him, and the fact that anything was washing anywhere made him wanted to be sick again, but he knew there was nothing left in his stomach. He was embarrassed as the tracks of his tears shone in the firelight.
He noticed then that he was on the edge of a clearing, just near the beginning of the trees. Aragorn had set up camp next to the stream under the protection of the trees.
He didn’t know what to say. He felt ridiculous; the events of the day previous to the retching were not coming to him.
“What were you thinking?” Aragorn finally asked.
Legolas didn’t know what he meant exactly. The events were only slowly unfolding in his mind.
“You knew what they were.” Aragorn continued.
“Knew what what were?”
“The scantalois. You ate scantalois. A whole lot of them, it would appear.” Aragorn glanced over at the vomit. “That’s not the first time you’ve vomited since I found you.”
“I . . . .I . . . “
“Why did you do it? You know as well as I that those are not for eating. You know that they are poisonous. And despite the old wives tales we used to hear, they are just as deadly and toxic to elves as they are to men. Why?”
“I . . .I don’t know. . .” Legolas said softly, without remorse.
Aragorn just stared at him.
“I don’t believe I was right.”
“It was you.” Aragorn suddenly realized.
“You were the one tromping around through the forest. I dismissed that it could be you. It was noisy and clumsy. I followed the noise until I found you.” Aragorn paused and then looked back at Legolas. “Some evil has had you.”
Legolas raised himself shakily from Aragorn’s lap. He crawled in a wavy pattern towards the fire and the stream. He felt very weak and progress was slow. Aragorn found the scene too frustrating to watch. He stood and offered his hand to Legolas. Legolas intended to use Aragorn as a sort of crutch, but the human had other ideas. He picked Legolas up, and set him gently down in front of the stream. Legolas had wanted to protest but he was too tired to speak any more.
He crouched on the slant of the stream’s bank and took a cupful of water with his hands and drank. His waist-length hair hung down on the dirt of the bank. Soon the effort of keeping his balance and moving his arms about was too much. He stopped and waited. Finally, Aragorn took the hint and moved back to the fire. Legolas lay right down on the ground and began drinking, his lips on the stream’s smooth surface. When he was finally relieved, he sat back. He began to crawl up the bank again.
Aragorn set Legolas sitting against a large tree next to the fire. He wrapped him up in his bedroll. Legolas took it upon himself to remove his grass, mud, and vomit stained tunic. His tights remained and he curled up in his blankets once more. Aragorn sat on the other side of the fire and smoke his pipe. He stared at Legolas in deep thought.
“You’re lucky you didn’t die from the poison.” Aragorn said after a long pause.
“Estel, I am aware of the consequences. I am not proud of this. In fact, I cannot remember when I last felt this shame. I’m sorry I have delayed the mission as well.”
Aragorn waved his hand at him, dismissing these thoughts. “Get some rest, mellon nin.”
Legolas woke to a cool, damp on his face. The late morning light was gray and unforgiving. He opened his eyes to the grass dulled by this light. His face contorted. His abdomen felt as though it had been bruised by a swift kick. He no longer felt sick, but sweaty and cold instead. The events of the night before slowly unfolded in his mind as he realized where he was. He could feel Aragorn’s eyes on him, and though he felt scrutinized by his gaze, he ignored them.
Somewhat impulsively, he stood. The blanket of his bedroll fell to the ground. A shiver ran through him as his skin covered in goosebumps. He stood in naught but his pants. He hadn’t realized how sick he was still. He swayed, lost his balance and almost collapsed. A hand on his chest pressed him up against the tree behind him to keep him from falling.
“Be careful, mellon nin.” Aragorn said without emotion.
Legolas had crushed his eyelids together as he had begun to fall helplessly. He now slowly looked up at Aragorn from under his eyelashes.
“Estel. . . I . . . I can’t . . .”He felt angry at himself as Aragorn was forced to take him in his arms to hold him up. “I . . . I need to . . . relieve myself.”
Aragorn nodded in agreement. He pulled Legolas’ arm over his shoulder and led him away from the camp to a nearby tree. “If you hold on to these branches, can you take care of yourself?” Aragorn was quiet as he offered the gift of privacy.
“Yes.” Legolas mouthed silently.
Aragorn left Legolas. Instead of returning to camp, he wanted to survey the area Legolas had fallen to the mushrooms in the daylight. But he could not leave Legolas hanging on the tree that long. He rustled through his pack until he found the trinimbilis leaves. He put them into the fist-sized pot that was already boiling the creek water in the fire. The tea would help steady the elf.
Aragorn glanced over at Legolas hanging on the tree. He briefly wondered what a passer-by would make of the scene. He could tell that the prince was finished, but too embarrassed to call for him. Aragorn felt somewhere in between exasperated and insulted. He brought the half-naked elf over to the camp. He sat him down near the fire and covered his shoulders in his blankets. Out of his pack, Aragorn found a ratty blue wool undershirt he had been using to wrap various supplies in. He tossed it over to Legolas. Legolas folded it out of its tightly wound ball and pulled it on. It was tight, long-sleeved and very warm. However, it was also full of holes and the neck had been ripped wide so that the collarbone and shoulders were exposed.
“Thank you, Estel.” Legolas looked down and fiddled with the tattered strands of the shirt. ”We should leave right away.” He said, quickly. He began to rise as though to leave.
“Not until you’ve rested and had this tea.” Aragorn managed to grab his hand and pull him down to a sitting position. To convince, Aragorn hurriedly filled a metal mug with the trinimbilis tea he had made. Legolas said nothing but held the tea and regarded it with concern etched on his brow.
“We can-not stay here.” Legolas’ quiet voice broke. Aragorn suddenly realized how serious his friend’s concern was. “It’s not safe.” He whispered urgently after a long pause.
“What is it? What makes you say that?” Aragorn pulled himself around so that he was closer to Legolas.
The Mirkwood Prince’s eyes were wide and glossy and darted around. Aragorn was starting to detect a supreme fear in the elf.
“A presence approaches. I can feel it . . . But, Aragorn . . .” Legolas’s head dropped, his hair slid off his shoulders, and shielded his face.
For one horrific moment, the ranger feared he was crying, but when his voice came it was even and bitter. “ I cannot see. . . I cannot hear. . . I am blind and deaf, and the trees are silent to me.”
Aragorn pulled back in alarm. “But surely, you are not . . . Only compared to elven standards. You are not blind blind, or deaf deaf. “
“Agreed. Indeed, Estel, I can hear and see you. But not the way I do.”
“How about that tree over there?” Aragorn pointed to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing that any man could see clear as day. He was merely making the point that Legolas was only blind in comparison to an elf.
But Legolas squinted. Aragorn’s stomach filled with a dread as he listened to the elf’s words.
“It is foggy and out of focus.”
The ranger’s mouth was agape. “And the birds? Surely you can hear those birds.”
Legolas listened. “I hear no birds.”
Legolas and Aragorn stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Aragorn said, “We must get you to my father. Perhaps he knows a cure to get this poison out of your system.”
Legolas nodded. Finally, some action.
Aragorn quickly packed camp and used his small pot to put out the fire, while Legolas quickly gulped down the cup of tea.
“We should make haste. Let us trouble ourselves no more over Brollas. He will find his way back to Rivendell, I am sure.”
The progress of the travellers was slow and stunted. Aragorn had to restrain himself from his usual efficient ground-covering pace for Legolas’ sake, who looked like he might, at any moment, fall down asleep. They made their way west, towards Rivendell, and yet this mysterious forest seemed never-ending. Legolas stayed unusually close to Aragorn, and was constantly looking every which direction around them. His were eyes wide open at all times, desperate to take in all that they could.
As night approached, the elf suggested that they continue on as long as possible. To Aragorn, this was a favourable decision that would get them to Rivendell all the sooner. But he was concerned about Greenleaf. He had looked tired all day, but as they trudged on, he seemed neither better nor worse. Weighing these matters, Aragorn had not yet decided either way.
He continued to ponder this until dusk when they arrived in an area that was sparsely treed. The trees that were there were tall and thin and seemed dead. The crunchiness of the ground and the nature of the dead grass revealed that very long ago this had been a swamp. It had since dried up and trees had grown in it. But the trees too had found it too difficult to live here and dried up because of the salt deposits in the soil.
Legolas was imagining this very history of the old marsh when he suddenly felt himself pulled down into the grass. Aragorn had narrowly saved them both from the path of a arrow that zinged into the tree behind them. Desperate to latch onto the one skill that was still his, Legolas crawled through the tall grass to the tree with the arrow in it.
“Load your bow!” Aragorn hissed.
“Why?” Legolas asked, while quickly nabbing the arrow out of the tree. “It’s not like I could see to hit anything anyways.” Legolas took the arrow in his lap and began analyzing the point for identification.
Aragorn finally began to understand the full ramifications of his friend’s stunted ability. Aragorn barely dodged another arrow, rolling through the grass, clenching his jaw in bewilderment and frustration. Sword ready, he studied the direction the arrow had come from.
Legolas’ eyesight was fading by the minute and he could no longer focus even on the object he now held in front of him.
Though Legolas was now too deaf to hear it, a roar startled the ranger and before he could turn to address it, Aragorn was barrelled over by two orcs. They began to duel. Legolas was oblivious to this, having neither seen nor heard it. He was feeling the metal point of the arrow gently when a hand went under his throat and lifted him to his feet. Choking, Legolas whipped the arm away from him with his own arms. Quick as a whip, Legolas had a loaded bow pointed at his blurry attacker.
“You seem to enjoy my music. Shall I give you some more?” The attacker’s deep voice inquired.
1) The Song
Like an animal testing for danger, he raised his head. His ears filled with sounds of the forest as he strained to find any trace of danger. He knew Aragorn was somewhere nearby, but Legolas would not search for him now. He knew the ranger needed to think. He wondered briefly what he should do. He might hunt, but the impression the irritable forest was giving him was that to take from it would only lead to bad relations.
Suddenly, a sound drifted into his head. A tinkling. It sounded like the wind chimes of Lothlorien, only with a more menacing song. Where could they be coming from?
He looked all around him, deep into the forest. He saw nothing but the green of the soft ferns coating the forest floor. And if someone had hung chimes in the forest, why would they have suddenly started singing? No wind had picked up. Legolas began to wonder if he was in fact hearing the sound or just imagining it. Perhaps he was near the edge of the forest and he was hearing the music of some nearby dwelling.
The song sounded malevolent in nature and it did not play at random the way wind would take bells. This melody had structure, all the notes minor.
Then Legolas felt a presence behind him, and he whirled around, bow and arrow already strung in his hands. But there was no one. He followed the point of his arrow all the way around in front of him, but he was alone in the forest.
“Estel?” He called, loudly. The forest seemed to absorb his voice and it traveled nowhere, as though he had spoke into a sponge.
Suddenly the branches of the wide trees seemed to have gotten lower. If Legolas wanted to see along through the forest, he would now have to drop to his knees. As he stood, he could only see dense twisted branches. Had it always been this way and he had only just noticed? He could no longer see the sky either, though the cavernous wood seemed to emit its own green light. Though the forest was wide open inside, he began to feel a claustrophobic panic rise in his windpipe. He quickly pushed it down, telling himself that going to pieces would get him no where.
“Some evil is at work here.” Legolas said aloud.
He decided then that Aragorn’s right to solemnity had officially expired.
Legolas was vaguely aware that the trees would not respond to him. He went to return the way he had come. But the trees all looked the same. The soft moss of the floor was so puffy that it seemed to expand back outward, leaving no trace of footsteps. His face grew hot with embarrassment and frustration as he realized that with all of his skills and senses, he was lost. He wanted to make some sort of growl to relieve his tension, but the knowledge that the sound would go no where in this place was so unsatisfying that he didn’t bother.
The tinkling was filling his head up as though it were a pitcher of water. Was it really getting louder? He could no longer think. He was so overwhelmed by the sound that he dropped to his knees, covering his pointed ears, his face contorted.
The song then changed for Legolas. Instead of eerie and ill conceived, it sounded appealing and seductive. He slowly let his hands fall from his ears. He looked up, and a smile slowly crept across his face. Lifting one leg at a time, he stood. He began to follow the music. All thought left his head. He did not see and he did not feel. He only sought the tinkling song.
Soon the music became more than it was. A delicious smell filled the air. His stomach became desperately hungry. And the music played on. A sight of beauty filled his eyes. It could not be described as anything. It was only colour and light. And he did not see it at all, but it was a part of the music as well.
How long Legolas followed the sound would be incalculable. But when the music faded away, he was kneeling somewhere deep within the middle of the forest. It was a clearing.
Legolas still knew nothing. The spell of the music did not wane.
In front of him in the grass was a small patch of mushrooms. Though there was no voice, something or someone was telling him to eat a mushroom, to have as many as he wanted, in fact. And Legolas did not need to be convinced either. He wanted them more than anything else. This was his one desire, the fruit of all of his arduous searching. Had he been himself, he would have known better. Legolas knew this vegetable, and that it was not for eating.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed up a handful of mushrooms. He stood and devoured them without tasting or feeling them in his mouth. As he was swallowing, he heard the trickle of a stream and then birds chirping and the distress of the forest. And suddenly Legolas could hear and see and feel everything. He also thought he heard laughing. He was confused. He had no idea where he was or how he had got there. He realized he was swallowing something, though he didn’t know what. He grasped his throat, but it was too late. Whatever it was, it was down his gullet now.
The trees on the outskirts of the clearing seemed to suddenly be stretching tall up towards the sky in his peripheral vision. He looked down at his knees. There was a disturbed and shredded patch of mushrooms there in the grass, which seemed to sway. His stomach lurched. Without warning, he fell to the ground, unconscious, his blond hair sweeping down through the air to keep up.
When Legolas had called for Aragorn, Aragorn had answered. Upon receiving no response, he became concerned. But now he knew Legolas’ whereabouts and followed the direction that the elf’s voice had come from. As he walked he heard movement in the trees. But these steps were too clumsy for an elf, but they led away from the direction that Legolas’s voice had come from. Alert, Aragorn followed these steps from a distance, convinced that they had something to do with Legolas and the reason he had called for him.
After a while, Aragorn stopped and listened for the bumbling steps, crashing over logs and bushes as it had been, but he heard nothing. He soon realized he was very far behind. He quickened pace and kept south as the creature had been going. Almost missing it all together, Aragorn stopped himself as he noticed bright light between the trees to his right. He headed towards the light. After hopping over a small stream, Aragorn climbed the bank of the opposite side of it and found himself on the outskirts of a large clearing.
The sun was setting and the glare was in his eyes. Stepping past it, Aragorn struggled, cautiously into the clearing. Near the centre, he saw something on the grass. It was a figure, a man. Scanning past the legs, up the torso, Aragorn’s eyes finally came to rest on the head of the distant body. Long blond locks scattered about the head of the crumpled body.
Legolas! Aragorn’s mind screamed as he began to bolt for him. But he stopped himself, and did so with such abruptness that he lost his balance and fell soundlessly into the grass. He had to be careful. There was a reason Legolas was lying there and that reason might easily still be nearby. He crouched in the grass and listened, the skills he had learned in his youth being put to use. He heard nothing but the pounding of his own heart. He struggled with himself to remain where he was and to pick out the danger.
You’re wasting time! He told himself. He may be dying!
“Be still.” He whispered. He snuck around the outskirts of the clearing, using the mask of the trees to cloak himself. The descending dark was generous in aiding him of this. He moved until he was as close to Legolas as he could possibly be while still being in the dark of the trees. There was nothing to suggest that there was anyone or anything nearby.
Finally satisfied, the ranger darted out to the elf. He knelt at his side. He felt his pulse and called his name. His pulse was only a fraction slower than normal, but he did not wake at his name. He stirred and his eyes moved from under their gentle lids.
“Oh, what has befallen thee now?” Aragorn muttered.
He suddenly felt something wet under his knees where he knelt. He shuffled back and found he had completely obliterated a patch of mushrooms.
“Arg.” Aragorn did his best to wipe the moist vegetable off his knee. “Scantalois?”
Struck with a thought, Aragorn gently pulled Legolas’s head into his lap. He looked to the prince’s mouth, but found no trace. If he had eaten a mushroom, he was much too dainty to have left any on himself, Aragorn reasoned. Then his eyes fell on a tiny fleck of grey on the front of the elf’s tunic.
“Then again, maybe not.” The ranger picked it up and sniffed it gently. He matched it with the foul fungus in the grass. He looked down at Legolas and stroked his hair. “What have you done?”