A/N: Well, this took longer than I'd hoped, but it's here now.
The Shadow of Angmar
Chapter 34: Whispers on the Borders of Night
Shouts and warcries filled the valley, but Harry's ears were deaf to them. Smoke hung heavy on the breeze, yet Harry did not smell it. War, battle and death, the final angry death throes of the Orc forces, filled the valley, but Harry did not care.
In that moment, his world was no larger than the span of his own arms, and at the centre of it lay Daewen. Around her, a sea stretching to the ends of the earth, her blood spread over the rough, rocky ground. Far upon a distant horizon, her hand clutched at his, and he could feel weakness seeping into her fingers. Winter was coming to those distant climes. They were cold. Far too cold.
He met her eyes, and saw sadness there, banishing the pain she must surely have been in. In that moment he fancied he could hear her thoughts, though it came not as words, but something altogether harder to nail down. The sadness was that of a treasured friend, making ready to set out on a distant journey, from which they knew they would never return, and in her eyes he could read the reluctant farewell. Like all too many before her.
He would not stand it.
She was his friend. His oldest, and most trusted. They had been through fire and battle together. They had fought Wargs beneath the smoke of Angmar as it burned. They had climbed mountains, and forded rivers. They had fought a dragon, and waged a war. They had walked the timeless paths of Imladris, and seen out the turn of the seasons. And now, together, they sat upon the slopes of Azanulbizar, and her life slipped away.
He would not stand it.
Without even truly realising what it was he was doing, Harry pulled every healing concoction he could find from his satchel, and set about their use. His most potent healing brew smoked as it came into contact with the terrible wound inflicted by the Balrog. It was an ugly black tear in her side, burned where the fiery blade had instantly cauterized the wound. He had not come to the battle unprepared, though many of his healing concoctions were with the rest of their forces. He'd just have to hope he had enough.
He could feel the magic of his salve working to heal the wound, but it was slow. Far too slow. With every second, every heartbeat, the strength in her hands faded more and more. Cloying cold crept from the ground, meeting the burning heat of the Balrog's device, and they warred in her flesh. Whichever won, it would go poorly for Daewen, and in that moment Harry knew he needed to get her somewhere else. Somewhere far away from that blighted mountainside.
The battle below was all but done. The Orcs were fleeing. Panicked and frenzied, they clawed at each other in their haste to escape the vengeful Dwarves, Men and Elves who were hot upon their heels. The day had without doubt been costly, Harry could all too easily see how few of their forces were able to make good a pursuit, but it had been a victory.
Harry picked up his wand from where it had fallen, dropped unheeded to the floor when he had moved to tend to his greatest friend. He wasn't sure what he was planning on doing, but he simply knew that if she was to have any chance of survival, she needed to be taken far from Azanulbizar, and the bastion of fell power which the Balrog had created there.
A crack like thunder filled his mind, and his body felt like it was being consumed by cold fire. An icy rage filled his veins, and tendrils of dark frost grew across his sight. A voice was screaming in pain. No, not a single voice. Two voices. Raised together in a duet of agony.
Then, quite suddenly, it stopped. Or, the fire did at least, but a new pain replaced it. It seemed to fill him up until he was overflowing, his vision darkening as he drowned in it. Then a light, pale and white and warm as the first touch of sun upon a spring morning washed over him, and the pain was driven back. Not far, but enough that he was able to hold tight against it, like a piece of flotsam in a flood.
How long he clung to it he couldn't really be sure. Hours, perhaps, or mere seconds. Either could have been true, or perhaps both were. As he held tight to that comforting light, a whisper spoke to him from the darkness that battled to snuff it out.
There were no words, or if they were words they did not have sound nor a meaning that Harry could understand. Yet, despite that, he could feel their intent, and he knew the mind that had uttered them.
Pride and arrogance. Grasping jealousy. Wrath. Was it his own mind, an echo of his darker self? It had been long years since he'd felt the touch of such dark thoughts. They'd come readily and often when he'd been imprisoned in the dungeons of Carn Dûm, but with every day he'd spent away from that accursed place, every week and every month, they had grown weaker. Every time he'd laughed with a stranger, or confided in a friend. With every living breath, he was borne further and further from that dark place, and now, after so many years, it was a distant memory.
Another dark form arose in his mind then. Tall, and robed all in tattered black. Not unlike a Nazgûl, and yet now he knew it to be an evil wholly lesser than they. A Dementor. That monster of his far off childhood, which had drawn forth the very worst of his life by its merest presence.
Yet now he could not feel its icy influence. A memory, then? Why that memory? Why then? Then the warm light pulsed again, and the voiceless words which leaked from the darkness were further twisted by a revulsion. In the face of that light, though, which seemed to cut through the darkness with a surpassing ease, the shadows could not persist. At last, they fled into the hidden, distant corners of his mind, and Harry's vision cleared.
The barren mountainside was gone. The sharp, frost fractured stones that had been beneath him had been replaced by a soft loam which was dappled by shafts of warm yellow sunlight. A fragrant smell was on the air; wood and moss and spring wildflowers, and on the wind came the whisper of shifting leaves and creaking boughs.
Huge trees, silver barked, and gold of canopy, reached for the distant sun. They were Mellyrn, and they grew in only one place east of the sea. Harry looked up and saw the golden vaults of the Golden Wood above him, and beneath the boughs were the many tellain of Caras Galadhon, the great city of the Galadhrim.
His miraculous arrival had clearly not gone unnoticed, for the flets and pathways suspended so high amid the branches were alive with activity. Soon, many Elves ran up to them, and Harry heard them conversing between themselves in their Silvan tongue. It was one with which he was only passingly familiar, but he could recognise their worry and surprise easily.
From out of the group, two more Elves emerged, and it was clear that these were counted among the Wardens, those Elves tasked with keeping the security of their home should it ever become threatened by its enemies. Harry knew he surely looked to be in a frightful state, but that seemed to matter little to them. One of the Wardens stepped closer.
"The Lady Galadriel has felt your arrival, Nimaras," he said softly. Though it could be hard to tell among Elves, it seemed to Harry that he was younger than most of his brethren, and he looked uneasy. "She has asked that we see you both to the Dórthamán with all haste. Your companion is sorely injured, and though the Lady has done what she can to safeguard her life from afar, she fears that it will not sustain her long."
Harry's gaze snapped back to Daewen, and this time he tried to look past her injuries to the unseen world with which he was so slowly beginning to become acquainted. The fire and darkness of the Balrog's attack clung to her injury like a sickness. Yet it was no sickness of the body, but one of the soul, and one which his mere potions could not hope to heal. There was more than just that dark power, though.
A memory of that light which had pulled him from the darkness was in her too, and for a moment Harry wondered if he'd somehow fallen into the blackness when he'd become so focused on her survival. It took him but a moment to discard that thought, however. While there was something similar in their nature, the darkness he'd felt had been older still, and it had been within him, not without.
He didn't have time to consider what that might mean now though. He broke from his musings, and nodded to the Warden. He and his fellow leapt into action. Between them, they lifted Daewen over their shoulders upon a stretcher of sorts. There was barely any weight to her, as if she was already little more than a shade. Soon they set off in the direction of one of the larger flets and Harry, joined by a number of the other gathered Elves, followed along behind. It did not take long for him to realise that his own fatigue and wounds meant that it was unlikely he would be able to keep pace, but that did not stop him from trying.
They had made it not half the distance to it when another group joined them, and Harry was easily able to recognise she who led them. Arwen, closely followed by Celebrían, crossed the distance to them in a span of seconds and with a speed which he had never before seen from her. She was as graceful as any of her kin. Moreso, even, but he'd never seen her in such a flight of worry as she was in now. Her dark hair flew behind her like a midnight banner, and in it jewels sparkled like stars, yet all thought of decorum was surely lost.
She went first to the side of Daewen, taking up her cold hand as she easily kept pace with her bearers. She whispered something beyond Harry's ability to hear, and looked around for something until her eyes settled on Harry, lagging some way behind Daewen. Without so much as exchanging a word, Arwen pressed her friend's icy hand into the palm of her mother, who then resumed whatever whispered words Arwen had begun.
Then she ran to meet Harry. He was forced to stop, lest he run straight into her, but as soon as he did, she enveloped him in a hug. It lasted but a moment though, for before the warmth of her embrace could sap the pain from his aching limbs, she broke away again, and took him in.
"You too are injured," she said seriously. She looked around, as if expecting him to have some kind of entourage. "You should not be pushing yourself so."
"I need to make sure she's okay," said Harry, moving to step around her, but she neatly cut him off.
"And so you will," said Arwen. "But you will do it at a walk, at least. Or, if I would have my way, you would be borne to her side upon a stretcher of your own."
"I'll be fine," said Harry. He had to admit that after the brief pause he would have been hard pushed to run anyway. His legs felt weak beneath him, and every now and then the earth below would shift like a ship upon an ocean. "Maybe I could use a hand, though," he admitted.
Arwen allowed him to place his arm over her, and he breathed a sigh of relief when a measure of his weight was lifted from his weary legs. Then, much more slowly than before, they started to follow the route of Daewen and her company towards the Dórthamán, the place of healing voices.
"What happened?" Arwen asked as they walked. "Did the battle go well, or ill? How did you come to be in Caras Galadhon?"
"All battles are ill things," said Harry as he shook his head slowly. "And this was worse than most, in truth. I fear that the count of the dead may be far higher than we'd expected."
"The war was going so well though," said Arwen in surprise. "Is the battle lost?"
"Not lost," Harry replied. "Though I am not sure that I could call it a battle won either. I… left before it was over, and before I could get a true number for the casualties, but there were many. it was going so well too, but they were even more numerous than we'd feared. The Balrog" — the name tasted like ash upon his tongue — "came forth, and was more powerful than any of us expected."
"What of Lord Celeborn?" Arwen asked him next, her worry for her grand-father clear in the way she looked at him. "He went forth when Lady Galadriel foresaw that his presence might be enough to stave off a great evil, but she could not see if he would live through the battle."
"He was alive when I left," said Harry, thinking back. "Though I think he and Gandalf were about to try and battle the Balrog where I failed. It is possible that they won." He was not sure of it though. Celeborn was a mighty Lord of his people, and possessed a skill at arms which few among them could match. Gandalf was perhaps more powerful still, but he could not discount the power of the Balrog, even wounded.
"Then we must trust in his skill and wisdom," said Arwen. Though her words were even, Harry was not fooled. She was close to Celeborn. He was too, truth be told. Celeborn, more than any other Elf Harry had met save Daewen, had supported Harry's actions. The alliance that he'd been able to force with the Riddermark in the wake of Scatha's death had seen both peoples flourish, and even the Dwarves had grown to respect him for his honest dealings.
It would surely go ill for Middle-earth if he had fallen, but something told Harry that he yet lived. Perhaps once he might have called it intuition, but after so many years learning from the secret voices of the world he was not sure.
There was something in the rhythm of the world; in the way the tides advanced and retreated, in the way the moon waxed and waned, in the way the winds rose and fell, and in the way flowers bloomed, and withered. He would have felt it if Celeborn had died. The world would be different, lesser, with his passing. That was especially true within Lothlorien, his own realm.
When Harry didn't offer any response to her comment, Arwen glanced over at him, concern shimmering in her eyes. "You worry," she stated.
"I do," Harry admitted.
"What is it that weighs so heavily upon your mind?" she asked. "It is more than Daewen's injuries alone."
There could be little doubt that Arwen had inherited the insight of her forebears. "Much has happened today which I do not understand," said Harry eventually. "I have walked the roads and dales of this world for more years than I care to remember, and I thought I had come to an understanding of it. It seems I was mistaken."
"Tell me, then, of what troubles you," said Arwen. "I may not have the wisdom of Lords, but perhaps there is some insight I could offer."
Harry looked across at her, considering her words. He had spoken often with Saruman on such thoughts. Lord Elrond too, among many others, but none of them had been wholly helpful.
Before he could decide upon his response, they at last reached the Halls of Healing, and Harry was quickly drawn away from Arwen's support and placed in a bed of such surpassing softness that it might have been woven from the clouds themselves. Perhaps his long years in the wilderness, and then on the campaign trail had left him unfamiliar with the comfort of a true bed.
Almost without thinking, he dropped off into a deep slumber. As darkness once more crept into his world from the edges of thought, his last thought was that he was glad that this time it was not filled with malignant voices.
Night had fallen when he next awoke.
Elves had a very different relationship with the night than Dwarves or Men. For Men like those in the Riddermark, the night brought a darkness that could be filled with any manner of terrible thing, and they guarded against it with fire and with closed doors. They slept through the depth of it, and waited for the sun to burn off whatever nightmares the midnight hours may bring.
In Gondor it was a little different, but they still slept through the night just the same. Dwarves too slept through the darkest part of the evening. Even their deepest holds often made use of the sun to provide light. The sun wells of Moria were a wonder of Dwarvish craft, but their smaller holds often made use of similar contrivances.
Elves, on the other hand, had little need of sleep, and they loved the night perhaps more than they enjoyed the day. For an Elf, the day was for business, for conducting that which needed conducted. The night was a time of beauty and reflection.
When the stars filled the sky, music filled the woods. Beyond the walls of the Halls of Healing, Harry could hear numberless voices raised in a solemn song. It was not one he recognised, but he could make out enough of the words to know that it was about the doomed love of Nimrodel and Amroth.
How long he lay there, content to simply allow the music to wash over him he did not know. The ebb and flow of it seemed to bear away his lingering aches and pains, like the gentle caress of ocean waves upon a beach.
After some unknowable amount of time, he heard a quiet rustle of fabric. Arwen had entered the Halls, and was making her way over to the only other occupied bed. In a shaft of silvery light her skin was so pale that she might have been one of the danûla of the Jôrkhad, pale ghostly spirits that haunted the distant dunes of Far Harad.
Arwen checked over her friend quickly, seemingly satisfied with how she was faring before she turned her attention to Harry. When she saw he was awake, a smile dawned upon her features, and with it the Hall seemed brighter.
"It is good to see that you are awake," she said, her tone hushed. She laid a soft hand atop his own for a moment. "Lady Galadriel was much concerned by the manner of your arrival here."
Harry could remember that well enough; the pain and darkness. That malign voice in the shadow of his own thoughts. Old memories of the world before called it apparation, and yet he'd never experienced such pain from it before.
He'd attempted it but once since arriving in Middle-earth, centuries ago, not long after he'd managed to create his wand. It had been an experience which was wholly alien to him. The squeezing was familiar, but there had been a weight upon him, a yoke around his neck, holding him in place. He'd given it up as impossible, though he knew not why.
But surely apparation was what he'd performed in that moment of desperation. It wasn't as he remembered in hazy recollections of a world long dimmed by the passage of years. There wasn't meant to be pain. He wasn't sure what might have caused it. He hadn't left any parts behind, and so far as he could tell nothing else was amiss.
Well, nothing save the memory of that voice in the darkness. It sat uneasy upon the borders of his thoughts.
He remembered attempting to talk of magic with the first of the Istari he'd ever met, Rómestámo and Morinehtar far in the east. He'd been struck by their seeming inability to truly explain what it was they were doing. It was as if explaining magic was, to them, akin to Harry attempting to explain how he came to breathe. It was something utterly fundamental to their existence, and as natural to them as any other sense.
Saruman was much the same. While there was no doubt he could understand what it was Harry was speaking of, it often seemed as if he felt it was a needless complication of something fundamentally simple.
Perhaps Arwen was a better option, then, than one such as he.
"It was a technique I learned many years ago," he said eventually. "When I was little more than a child, really. It allows the user to move through space in an instant, but it was very different to how I remember it."
Arwen sat down upon the edge of his bed. "This is not an ability I have heard of you using, nor one which the other Istari choose to use. Is it costly? I am told you were in much pain when you arrived. More than would be explained by your injuries."
"It is not meant to be," said Harry, shaking his head. It still felt a little wooly. "But I did not think it was possible here."
"Yet you did it still," said Arwen. "Is it possible that your power continues to grow? That what once was impossible is now possible?"
That didn't sound right. He had a better understanding of his power now, that much he was sure, but with that understanding came the realisation that it was almost certainly not something that could truly be cultivated. "I think not," he said. "It is more likely that I was able to do it only out of dire need. After experiencing what I did, I have no desire to repeat the experience, of that much I am sure."
"It is a strange thing indeed," said Arwen thoughtfully. "A shadow settled over the forest when you arrived. It lasted only a few seconds, but all of us felt it, even if I think only Galadriel had any understanding of what it was. I asked her, but she said only that it was the shadow of something best left untouched."
A sense of foreboding settled over Harry. If the darkness had been felt by everyone, then that was so much worse than he'd imagined. There was little for it. He'd have to talk to Galadriel on the topic, but for now it could wait. Whatever that darkness was had passed, or perhaps been banished by the power of the Lady of the Galadhrim.
"Enough of these dark thoughts, then," said Harry, hoping that his mere words might banish them. Perhaps it was a fool's hope. "How is Daewen faring?"
Fool's hope it may have been, but Arwen brightened, and looked over in the direction of her friend. "She is much stronger now than she was when she arrived," she said. "The healers have been able to banish much of the taint which was laid upon her. Now that she is recovering, she has also been able to drive out the malign influence that fell across you both when you travelled here. They say she will make a full recovery." She glanced back over at her friend, a look of concern flitting across her delicate features. "In body, at least."
Harry shifted so that he could squeeze her hand. "She is strong," he said, trying to push away the rising guilt. "She will come through this."
"I am heartened to hear you say it," said Arwen with a small smile. "If you say that she has the strength to make it through this, then I believe you for surely you know more of this than I."
"I am sorry, Arwen," said Harry eventually. "For what I brought down upon your friend."
Arwen's searching gaze seemed to look right through him, and in that moment he was reminded from just what Lordly lines she came. "She is your friend too, is she not?"
"Then do not do her the disservice of disregarding her own choices. She knew what awaited her in this war, or at the very least what shades might be awaiting her on the path." Arwen turned once more to look over at where Daewen was bathed in clear starlight. "She spoke with Lady Galadriel before her departure, and though I do not know of that which they spoke, I think I can perhaps guess. She became only more adamant of her choice after that meeting however."
"She didn't say anything," said Harry. He pushed himself up a little more so that he could get a better look at her, as if that might offer some explanation for her behaviour. "She seemed little changed from how I have always known her."
Arwen smiled sadly. "And I think you can understand why. After all, was not your last thought that you should have stopped her, even though you did not know that a dark fate might be awaiting you in Nanduhirion?"
"I understand what it is you are saying," said Harry. He did, truly. But such things were seldom as easily addressed as they were understood. "Yet in my heart I cannot stand by and watch my friends risk themselves in my wars."
"Are these wars not the wars of all free peoples?" Arwen asked. "I heard that it was a war of Men and Elves too, not merely Dwarves. Is that not true?"
"Yet the Elves and Men were there only because of me," said Harry, "and look what it got them. Haleth is dead, struck down like he was little more than a child, and a great many of his warriors will join him among the count of mourning. The Elves too, surely saw too many casualties."
He knew it was not his fault. He really did. Orcs burned and pillaged all they could, and had their power been allowed to grow in the Misty Mountains it would not only have been the Dwarves that would have felt their foul influence. Haleth and his men were fighting for the future of their children and with so many battles won down the length of the mountains years of relative peace would hopefully see their people flourish, like a garden freed of weeds.
Yet an old part of him, older even than his arrival in Middle-earth, railed against the losses.
Was there no better way? Was he doomed to remain too weak to lead them into that bright future along any path that was not paved with bone, and slick with blood?
"I have not my grand-mother's gifts, but even I can see the dark route your thoughts take you now," said Arwen. She looked thoughtful for a second, then spoke again. "Perhaps it would help you to understand more of how it is that some among the Eldar see you."
Harry remained silent, but he couldn't restrain the frown which ghosted across his face. What did she mean by that?
"Though most count you among the Istari, it is clear that you are not the same as they," Arwen began. "You have not the wisdom of Mithrandir, nor the prudence of Saruman. You do not have the understanding of Radagast, nor many of the other hallmarks of their Order. You came to Arda by a different road, and I suspect not even Saruman could say what ultimate fate may await you.
"Yet you are both a part of them, and a man apart, it seems, and even Lady Galadriel has long wondered on your purpose among us. Yet while none could speak as to the reasons for your arrival, the effects of it are clear for all to see."
Then, Arwen stood up, and walked over to one of the open windows which looked out into the lower canopy of the trees beyond. She turned to Harry, and beckoned for him to follow, and so he rose from the bed and stepped up next to her.
A sweet scent was borne to him upon a gentle breeze, and the sounds of distant singing and music were louder there. He was no stranger to the seemingly magical atmosphere of those blessed places where the Elves chose to dwell, yet still they often took his breath away.
"It has long been the sad fate of our people to watch the world diminish around us," said Arwen, reminding him of her presence with the softly spoken words. "Undómiel, I am called by many. The Evenstar of our people, before we descend into the starless night of a wonderless age."
She turned to look at him then, and in her eyes Harry saw a dozen stars. "Yet here you are. A man who walks among Elves with a power that can reforge the world into the glory it had when it was new. I have seen you many times, and never have you been lesser than you were. It seems to me as if you grow greater with each passing year, and with you so too do your works grow.
"Fëanor was the greatest of our people, it is said" — She grimaced, then corrected herself — "The greatest in spirit, certainly, yet even he could craft the Silmarils but once. We have heard tell of that which now blooms in the darkness beneath the ancient home of the Dwarves, and it is surely a craft beyond anything else in this Age of the world. Yet as I look at you now, I do not think even this will be your greatest work. Unlike all others tied to this world, your grandest days lie still ahead of you, never behind."
Harry wasn't sure how to respond to that. He turned away and stared out over the numberless lights of Caras Galadhon. Fortunately, Arwen did not take insult, and simply joined him.
"So do not despair that darkness has fallen," she said, her voice drawing his gaze back to her. This time, she didn't match him, and continued to look out as she spoke. "For you, it is but a temporary thing, I think. A brief, star-filled evening before dawn comes again, and when it does come, it will shine all the brighter to banish the darkness that preceded it."
She fell silent then, and Harry continued to watch her. He wasn't sure what it was she was seeing as she gazed out of the window, but he did know that he wanted her to be right.
He needed her to be right.
A/N: Some language notes:
Mallorn plural is Mellyrn.
Talan (the tree-platforms common in Lothlorien) plural is Tellain.
Halls of Healing - Heal (Primitive Elvish) Atha. Place dóri. voice oma = Dórthamán in Silvan Elvish.
Nimaras - White Hart.
As I said, this chapter took longer than I'd hoped to complete. For some reason the chapter following a big climax is always a real uphill struggle for me, so I hope you all liked it. I've also been slightly distracted by other projects as I've been editing up my newest fic, In Bad Faith (a non-crossover with a fem!draco girl who lived which updates Wed/Sat and can be found on my author's page), and starting the writing of an original work which may one day see the light of day. Still, this is not forgotten, and updates will continue until moral improves.