A/N: I know it has been quite a long while, but I would like to finish this story. The problem is that I'm coming off of two years of writing a dissertation—the polar opposite of creative writing (thus the long absence of any desire or inspiration to write for my own enjoyment, but I've defended it now and am thank God, done!). I'm a little shaky on my writing pins yet. This is me trying to get my swing back. My guess is that I've got a lot of practicing to do before this is easy for me again.
Chapter Eight: In Shadows Dwelling
Legolas, always uneasy with the mountain pressing down on his shoulders, found his uneasiness increase threefold by Fora's screaming nightmare and by her revelation that she knew something of Eowyn. So that he might compose himself, he rose from the pallet where she lay and turned his back deliberately on Fora. Disentangling his hand from her tight grasp had been a bit of a task, but she had at last let go.
He often found it hard to breathe in the caverns, and he took a few deep slow breaths. He tried hard to conjure the pure and open air of his forest. The sudden taste of salt water on his tongue, and the pain of the longing that came over him at the imagined breath of sea further shook him.
He glanced at Gimli, who had been watching him intently but quickly looked away. Legolas passed the dwarf and went to the low table in the corner of the room, where the food and drink brought to Fora had remained untouched. Gimli said nothing, but turned back to watch the girl, now with suspicion where before there had been only pity.
Legolas poured water into a silver goblet and returned to the cot and furs that served as her bed, pushing the water into her hands as he sat down on the blankets beside her. "Drink," he suggested and when her hands trembled as she tried to grasp the heavy goblet, he reached to steady it.
Drink she did, with his aid, gulping thirstily and nearly finishing the water.
"Tell me what you saw in your dream. Everything you can remember," Legolas commanded Fora gently as he placed what remained of her water on the small table at her side.
Her eyes met his nervously and then slid away. "Must I?"
"Yes," Legolas said firmly. "Everything you have seen about the White Lady and the King."
Fora sighed shakily and began, her voice barely a whisper. "I don't see. Things are not clear. But I feel things in the dream... things that I never really see...it is very hard to explain..."
"Try," Gimli growled, his voice growing thick with emotion, "a fine lady's life hangs in the balance, and the lives of all who love her!"
Fora winced and Legolas cast a reproachful glance at the dwarf, which was met only by his defiance. Gimli was very fond of Eowyn.
"I think she is in a place not touched by sunlight. An underground room, or a cave perhaps, or perhaps it is only that I saw her in the night. Her clothes are dirtied and torn about her, and there are marks upon her skin. Marks of cruel hands. She will not give in, though I feel she draws close to surrender. If she surrenders, he will kill her."
"Who? Who has put his hands upon her?" Gimli growled and brought the end of his axe sharply against the stone floor. The clacking sound reverberated in the small room.
Legolas noticed that his own fingers had curled into the furs beneath him until his knuckles turned pale and with effort, he relaxed them. His shortness of breath seemed to have returned, as if the air below was of too poor a quality to sustain him.
Did Eowyn feel this, in her underground prison, as if the air was too foul to sustain life and hope? Did she, every moment, struggle against the despair and panic pressing down upon her with the weight of the world above? How would dear, firey Eowyn fare in a place where nothing of the light lived?
"Who is this man? I will end him! " Gimili demanded again when Fora did not answer.
"I do not see his face. He leaves her to herself and to her dark thoughts for long hours, with no light and no comfort. At first, she spoke aloud to keep the terrible silence and darkness at bay, but now she is quiet and she no longer looks for escape. He knows he is driving hope from her heart and light from her spirit. He feels joy when she is in shadow, for it is where he dwells."
"What do you mean you have not seen his face, and yet you know his thoughts?" Legolas questioned, throat growing more and more constricted.
"In the dream, I see through his terrible eyes, I felt his hatred in my hands, I feel the pleasure he takes in the pain he inflicts upon her. And I cannot stop it. I do not want to feel him hurting her..."
"Where is she then? Where is it that he's taken her?" Gimli demanded and Legolas could feel his agitation rising. For his own part, he watched Fora struggle through the memory of her dreams and felt that she told them all she could. It was frustrating indeed that this was the only news they had of Eowyn, only news of her pain and ill use and no way to put an end to it.
"I do not know. I have not seen where she has been taken either. Only the darkness of the place. I do not know if she is yet there or if it is a future for her that I see."
Gimli roared in frustration, "you speak in riddles!"
Legolas ignored him. "What else? What else of the Lady?"
"I can almost touch her grief," Fora's voice seemed old suddenly, and wistful. "She must have known great love, to know such great loss."
"She thinks Faramir dead. She must have seen him fall," Legolas murmured quietly to Gimli, then turned back to Fora. "How often have you had these dreams? Is this what you dreamed before I found you in the mountains?"
"For six nights I have felt her. And each night I feel more of her pain, more of her despair, and I feel him revel in it."
"And the King who searches for her. What have you seen of him?"
"There are two Kings. The Dark One feels unfriendly eyes upon him, but he knows not from where. I see a shadow in the night, a shadow that threatens to overtake him when his guard is down. And I feel flames. Flames that reach high enough to burn the sky and smoke that is as thick as poison. These are his doing...the one who hurts the Lady."
"What else have you seen?" Legolas persisted.
"That is all that I have seen!" Fora insisted.
"Nonsense!" Gimli snarled, his worry making his voice more fierce than usual. "All that screaming? What else have you seen? She withholds something!"
"Is it not enough that I have been forced to see this much? Is it not enough that I feel him hurt her?" Fora insisted, pulling herself closer to the wall and further away from Legolas. "I have seen nothing else! Just the Lady and the Kings, and striking me will not make things more clear to me! I swear it!"
Legolas and Gimli, whatever they'd been expecting, hadn't expected to hear that, and for a moment neither said a word. Legolas considered the scars on the back of the girl's legs, and imagined that others had tried to gain from the girl's tortured dreams, and had taken their frustration with her inability to tell all out upon her flesh.
"Do ye think we'd lay a hand on ye lassie?" Gimli asked, his voice a bit less of a growl than it had been. Whatever mistrust he had toward the child, he seemed stung to the core that she had mistrust of him.
"She has no reason to expect any more of us than of most, and plenty of reason to expect less seeing as how you've been roaring at her," Legolas guessed.
Fora shook her head. "No, you are kinder than most...but you seem to have great need of knowledge, and I cannot give you more. Not yet. I cannot control what I see."
Legolas nodded. "You cannot give more than you have, little one. It is grim news you give us, but at least she is alive."
Fora hesitated a moment before looking at Legolas. "I think that our paths run together...I think that you must take me with you."
"Absolutely not! It is too dangerous by far!" Gimli asserted before Legolas could respond.
Legolas however, drew a deep breath, and to Gimli's dismay, sighed. "We shall discuss it soon. For now, rest."
"You will not leave before we have talked again?" Fora asked softly.
Legolas gave her a smile and brushed a damp strand of hair back from her forehead. "I promise I will not leave before we talk again. Rest now, as well and as long as you may."
He stood and met Gimli's half-disbelieving, half-mutinous look, and left the chamber before the dwarf. He continued through caverns, past the guards, up the staircase and at last burst out under the stars and doubled over, hands on his knees. Breathing, breathing. Gasping.
His ears were filled with the sound of waves thrashing at the shore.
Aragorn could not tell whether the gaze he felt boring into the most vulnerable spot between his shoulder blades belonged to the anxious and eager Turen, never more than a half horse-length behind his own stallion or whether the gaze was full of sinister intent from somewhere further back in the line. He found himself, not for the first time, wishing to have his Captain Barmor with him if he could not have his Steward or Legolas there instead.
There was a traitor among them. Although there had been no sign of further treachery in the three days and two nights they'd been traveling toward the Shire, Aragorn grew more and more sure that a foe rode at their elbows. Aragorn found himself loathe to bring evil into the Shire with him, to the place of peace that his good Hobbits had found again. But in the Shire lay their hope for Eowyn, and so they made their uneasy way forward.
Eomer, at the head of the line, rode as always tall and proud, but Aragorn and those that knew him best might have detected the stiffness in his own carriage as well; a rigidness that spoke of tension and fear. They took only brief respites for the sake of the horses. For their part, the men of Rohan all seemed eager and tireless to a fault in the pursuit of their Lady. Yet, Aragorn often caught Eomer's stare relentlessly combing the faces of his men, looking for the smallest indication of betrayal.
Aragorn could not help but notice that one of the men that Eomer studied most intently was Turen himself. As a result, Aragorn found himself watching the boy more carefully. He might have, and in retrospect supposed he had, staked his life on the fact that Turen was not their traitor. However, his confidence in his own instincts was badly shaken. If he had not grown soft in peacetime, he thought, he never would have whiled the evenings and days away with his lady while men of his charge died in his stead.
Bitterness rose in Aragorn's throat, fighting with the heartsickness that had been lodged there since they had news of Eowyn's steed returning without her. Why in the name of the Valar had they been asked to sacrifice so very much in the War of the Ring if the evil had not been purged from the land after all? It was as if he could see the Darkness of the East falling back across them, and they seemed to ride deeper and deeper into shadow.
And, Aragorn knew, one of the fair-faced servants of Darkness followed them further into it and was silently gleeful that soon, very soon, would be the time to strike.