Encroaching Darkness Epilogue

By Ecri

Galadriel's hand rested on the mithril pitcher she used to fill her mirror. She had had not used it, but she had considered it. There was a future here she would like to see. There was a gathering of clouds, a strengthening of the Shadow, an Encroaching Darkness that seemed to hover just beyond her reach on the barest edge of her perception.

The Enemy was cunning and he was not likely to give up his claim on Middle-earth. He would use what tools he could find, and the Dark Lord was ever adept at manipulation.

Galadriel had long watched Estel and Legolas somehow sensing that their paths would cross, that they together would be greater than each alone. Having them both here within Caras Galadhon strengthened this belief. There was something between the twoa brotherly affection, an easy trust, a bolstering of each other's weaknesses that made them formidable as long as they fought side by side.

She sensed Celeborn's approach, but she said nothing as he seated himself by her side. She felt his hand rest on hers, and she smiled.

"You wish to see something." It was not a question, and Galadriel knew that Celeborn would be warring with himself wishing to know that all would be well, yet not trusting the mirror's images enough to find its message comforting.

She shook her head. "I thought I did, but I find it unnecessary." She turned to face him and smiled though it did not reach her eyes. "They are young."

He nodded. "They are that, but they are growing. The next age will be"

"The Age of Men." She whispered the words, not apologizing for the interruption, but he seemed not to mind.

"Elessar will make a good King."

She nodded. She would not look within her mirror, but that was more for the sake of her own sanity. There were some things that even the wisest should not see.

Celeborn had not needed to search for Galadriel. He had known where he would find her. How could he not? His heart was ever hers as hers was ever his, though, in truth, in many ways, she was a mystery to him. He sometimes believed he could offer her no comfort, and that his words, though meant as a counsel, could not reach her.

He had never in his long life spoken of these thoughts, either to her or to another. He would keep them with him all his life, perhaps to speak of if they ever reached the Undying Lands, or perhaps not. If she were not permitted to sail, he would remain with her, for such was his love.

Galadriel's own foresight, sometimes aided by her mirror but often not, caused a sorrow in her eyes that she could not escape. The future, after all, was always in motion, and seeing some sign of it did not mean you saw the true end.

He had long ago pledged–without her knowledge–that he would stand by her when her gift manifested itself so as to offer support.

Seeing her now, sitting by the mirror, one hand resting on her pitcher, he knew she had denied herself a look at some future, and he was glad. Mostly, he was glad for her, because seeing such things often upset her. He was, however, also glad because, with the guests currently enjoying the hospitality of the Golden Wood, it was not hard to imagine whose future she most wanted to see.

He saw little point in it. The future would become past soon enough. That was one lesson every elf learned at a tender age.

He sat by her side. He knew she sensed his approach as he seated himself by her side, and he saw her smile as he reached for her hand.

"You wish to see something." Celeborn knew this to be so, and was surprised when she shook her head.

"I thought I did, but I find it unnecessary." He watched her carefully as she turned to face him, and he saw the expected sorrow in her eyes. "They are young."

He nodded. "They are that, but they are growing. The next age will be"

"The Age of Men."

He heard her whisper and knew there was a fear in her heart that Arda would come undone in the hands of men. He sought to assuage her worry.

"Elessar will make a good King."

He knew she agreed with that statement at least, but he was not surprised when she did not reply.

Elladan and Elrohir shared a companionable silence in the early morning stillness of Lothlorien. Elladan's recent worries over both his brothers had taken a toll on him. It was a relief to know–as only a twin can know–that Elrohir was well. They needed no words to understand that whatever had been wrong with Elrohir had been erased. It simply felt better.

Lord Elrond's oldest son had worried over the possibility of losing his twin since he had been old enough to learn of Elros' fate. That his uncle had chosen the fate of men did not surprise him. Elladan could see the attraction of such a life.

Still the dread of suffering the loss that Elladan even now saw in his father's eyes had been enough to prompt the two to make a pact. The decision of one would be the fate of both. They had put off the decision certainly, but the knowledge that they would abide by the same choice was enough to restore equilibrium and make their days together easier. There was strength in this decision, and neither would alter it, for life without his twin was unthinkable for both.

Elladan had feared that Elrohir would be taken from him when he had realized his brother was unwell. He knew it would have killed him, and the knowledge had brought an old thought back to his mind. How had his father survived the loss of his own twin?

It did not seem possible to Elladan.

He had once had the nerve to ask Elrond about it, but the reply had not eased his mind.

"I have responsibilities here, Elladan. I could not indulge myself."

He had said little else, and, to Elladan, it had seemed to imply that, if Elrond ever felt his responsibilities had been discharged, he would then give in to grief.

Of course, with Naneth in Valinor, Ada would be most likely to sail to the west in the hopes of finding there the peace that eluded him here.

Elladan looked to Elrohir and whispered a silent thanks to Eru that he did not yet have to face what his father bore even now.

Aragorn watched from a discreet distance as Legolas let fly arrow after arrow at the target Haldir had set up for him. Aragorn had suspected Legolas didn't really need practice, but it was a joy to see his friend doing what he loved unhindered by either infirmities or spells.

He saw the satisfaction on his friend's face as Legolas hit the target time after time, and he was not the least surprised when Legolas called to him, though, up until that moment, the Elf Prince had not even hinted that he was aware that Aragorn was hovering nearby.

"Come, Aragorn! I would try my knife skillsfor I have not touched them in far too long."

Aragorn went to his friend. "I should realize by now that I cannot hide my presence from you, mellonin."

"Yes, you should." Legolas laughed as he slung his bow across his back for he liked to practice as he would fight in a true battle, with bow and arrows upon his back.

The friends drew their weapons, and Aragorn divorced himself of any notion of admiration of the Elf's skill, for he had learned in practicing with his brothers that such admiration would merely distract him and make him an easy target.

Aragorn had no notion how long they fought, but when finally they called a halt, both were flushed from the exercise.

"You have no need to worry over your knife skills, Legolas. They are as impressive as ever they were." Aragorn said as he settled down to clean and sharpen his blade.

Legolas settled beside his friend to do the same with his knives. "I am please to know it, Aragorn, and your own skills are just as impressive."

The two worked in silence for some time enjoying the rhythm of the movements and the challenge to prove their own skills.

Aragorn was not at all startled to find that his friend's skills were much sharper than he had been led to believe. Legolas set high standards for himself, likely because, among elves, he was usually the youngest, the least experienced. Yet, for all that, he moved through the battle with the grace of a dancer. No wasted movement, no muscle twitched without the permission of its owner. Legolas grew more confident with each moment that passed.

Much as Aragorn's own confidence grewin his abilities, in his destiny, and in his choices.

It was such a startling revelation, that Aragorn had to back away and end the fight.

Confusion clouded Legolas' face. "What has happened? Estel? Are you ill?"

Aragorn shook his head. "Nay, gwadornin, I am well. I" He smiled broadly. "I merely note how we both improve, Legolas! How much we have both improved on this trip!

Legolas grinned and it was enough to tell Aragorn that Legolas did indeed understand.

They resumed their practice.

The trees had long ago stopped their singing, or rather altered their song. No longer telling tales of endless carefree days, of reaching long limbs up toward the sun and stars, of enjoying the sight and sound and feel of happiness as elves and others of Eru's creation cavorted among their trunks and branches. No, the trees of Taur-e-Ndaedelos, now known in the Common Tongue as Mirkwood, sang a more ominous song. Fear, shadow, evil, darkness and the end of all things–these were the things of which Mirkwood's trees sang.

The trees knew the lay of the land far better than those who dwelled beneath their limbs. Only one favored son of Mirkwood knew all that they knew. The trees that surrounded the palace of Mirkwood's King much rejoiced to have the King's youngest son laughing and leaping through their limbs, but it had been many months since that happiness had permeated the Former Greenwood. What had befallen their favorite Woodelf, the trees spent long hours discussing. They knew of a dark spell, one that had stolen something vital from the Prince, but that was all they knew.

They had heard tales that had traveled from tree to tree through most of Arda. They had heard tales from Imladris. Some word even reached them from the Golden Wood, though they wondered how much truth could be left in a tale that had come such a distance.

They believed their Prince was well, for they believed they would feel his passing. They also believed that their King and his family would keep the child safe.

Of course, having lived for centuries upon centuries, they knew that safety was a relative thing.

When the cloaked figure had left Isengard, the trees along the route it had chosen passed along the information with nary a thought of what it might portend for the future. Trees are observant, but do not plan or ponder the future. To them, each day is much as the last and the passions of the more mobile of Eru's creations meant little.

The cloaked figure's progress was noticed, perhaps commented upon, but the trees outside of Mirkwood had little call to wonder about intention. It was the trees of Mirkwood that wondered. When the figure reached the Palace, more than one of the Prince's favorite trees leaned closer to learn more. When the familiar figure of Oropherin greeted the figure, it threw back its cloak revealing the White Wizard Saruman.

"Saruman, Mirkwood is honored by your visit, but my father is not here"

Saruman waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "Your father is well. When I left him, he and your brothers were in the company of Celeborn, Galdriel, and Elrond. They have gone to the Golden Wood."

"Is Legolas" Oropherin faltered over his words.

"I am here on your brother's behalf. I have been asked to look through my ancient texts for some clue what has happened to him. I have found a spell that might counter his condition, but it requires that I use some personal itemsomething he might have used frequently or worn"

Oropherin nodded. "Come, I will take you to his rooms. Certainly there will be something there."

Saruman followed the Prince. He made small talk, but his mind was not on what he said. He was instead contemplating his plans. There were many spells that required some personal article to work properly, and, while Saruman had many in mind, he would never have a better time to acquire something again. With three of the five members of the Royal Family away in Lothlorien, it would be easy enough to deceive the remaining two, and, if it were mentioned to Thranduil upon his return, what of it? The elves had indeed sent Saruman away hoping he would find something within his tomes to help the young one.

Their steps had slowed and Saruman looked at the large doors before him. It was carved intricately, elves being unable to leave even a door undecorated, and the carvings seemed relevant to the life of the Prince. Saruman would have studied it in the hopes of learning more about him. He could not say why he prized this elf above the others he had known, but there was something within him that spoke of this elf, this Legolas, as the key to the coming strife. There was somesome innate quality of this youngest of elven princes that could spell victory for one side or the other, and Saruman meant to make certain his own supremacy. He would rule even over Sauroneven over Eru. Saruman smiled a death's head smile. He followed Oropherin and began to search through the belongings scattered about the room hoping to find one the one possession that would aid him in turning the Prince into a pawn.

A single rider left the Golden Wood on a journey he'd put off for much too long. Having satisfied himself that Aragorn, Legolas, Elrohir, and Glorfindel were all well, Gandalf headed northwest toward a far distant part of Middle-earth. He had been too long away from the Shire, and believed he should check in on his old friend Bilbo Baggins. He wasn't at all sure Bilbo would be please to see him, since the last time he'd been at Bag End had been to give the Hobbit a bit of a nudge out of the door to accompany Thorin.

That had been a good dozen years ago. Surely, he'd be welcome by now.

He wasn't certain what had put it in his head to look in on Bilbo, but Gandalf was one who believed that what some called 'whim' was actually a guiding suggestiona nudge out of the door from a much higher power.

The further he traveled outside of the Golden Wood, the further he went from Celeborn and Galadriel's influence, the more he sensed it. He halted his steed and sniffed the air like a Ringwraith, though the comparison sent shivers down his spine. There was something growing on the wind. There was something

He brushed the thought away. Perhaps things would become clearer when he reached the Shire. If they did not, he would merely wait for another divine nudge. He had no doubt he would end up where he was meant to beeven if the road diverged from what Ilúvatar originally intended.

Satisfied with his thinking, he began to sing softly to himself.

Mordor's darkness grew and deepened as he who ruled Mordor felt his own impotent rage grow and deepen.

Screams of rage echoed across the dark lands and every Orc within hearing shuddered and cowered in fear.

The Great Eye felt only frustration. He could not see his prey. He could not be sure the Line of Kings had been successfully broken. He had been certain that the one who could be his undoing was yet alive, but now, his certainty faded. The One Ring was what he sought, but there was no sign of it.

That the Future King of Gondor held the Ring he had been certain, yet, now that certainty bled away. Perhaps the Steward of Gondor retained the Ring

The thought surprised him for it had not occurred to him before, and, though he pondered it momentarily, Sauron knew that the Steward was not so strong-willed that he could keep the Ring so close to Mordor and not give away its presence.

No. Ecthelion could not possess the Ring.

Sauron would need to expand his search. He would need Saruman.

He would not sit idly by. His plans were many, and he would see them to fruition.

Gondor was the weak link. Gondor and its line of Stewards, men denied the vain privilege of calling themselves Kings, could easily be made to seize power for themselves or be tricked into seeing themselves as the last line of defense or the last hope of their White City.

Sauron would find the Ring. He would defeat the Dunedan who might try to defeat him. In the end, he would be victorious, for there was no creature in Middle-earth capable of besting him. Not Isildur's heir, and not any mere mortal man could destroy him. He allowed his own power to flood through him, and he savored it.

It was growing. One day, he would unleash it upon Arda.

The End

Watch for the sequel.

Thanks to everyone who has read this over the past six months, especially through the long lulls between chapters brought on by everything from computer troubles, writer's block, and an illness in the family. Your encouragement means the world to me.

Please watch for the sequel. I will post that as soon as I have finished my Pirates of the Caribbean fanfic, A Pirate's Life and Death. It won't be too long, I promise.

Thanks once again, and please remember to let me know how you like this rather long tale.

Ecri