Disclaimer: the characters and setting of Middle-earth are the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and belong to his estate. I do not have permission to use them. This story is written for entertainment only and no monetary profit is being made.
Author's notes: Gads, did my muse flee. There are too many reasons for the long silence, and I shan't bore you with them. I feel like I have forgotten how to write. I really had to wrestle this puppy to the ground, so please forgive me if this chapter is "off". I'm a bit wobbly, but it's time to get back to it.
Attempting to re-upload this chapter. The first section is a dream, and needs italics. Or something! Aargh!
Oh, this story has been nominated for a MEFA award. Wow! I am stunned and honored. Thank you, Lethe.
Hello darkness my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again.
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping.
--Simon and Garfunkel, Sound of Silence
To See A World by Nightwing
Chapter 48: In Dreams
The blade flashed, driving toward his breast. He leapt aside, frantically dodging the blow, and rolled to avoid the next sweep. A burning slash scored his arm, and he fell back, panting. Laughter, high-pitched and grotesque, grated against his ears. "You are a fool to stand against me," the dreadful voice hissed. "You have no chance."
He knew he was cornered. There was nowhere to run. Glowing eerily, the weapon weaved before his eyes, filling his mind with blinding white. He stared in horror, seeing the fire within the blade pulse like a heartbeat. The rush of blood through his body matched the terrible rhythm, and the wound in his arm throbbed and burned. He turned his head aside with a pained gasp, crushing his eyes shut.
"My blade hurts you. Yes," the sorcerer whispered. "It knows you now. It has tasted you. Are you ready to die, as your mother died? As that foolish young guard died?"
Dreadful sounds erupted - the cry of a woman, the agonized scream of a young man.
"As your companion will die?"
The weapon turned and flared. A man cried out. Splashes of red – of blood – streamed across his mind.
"Do not touch him!" he shouted. "Take me!"
"It is not yet your time. He will go before you. Foolish elf – can you not see what you have done? You fettered him, bound him to you with your need. You have caused this."
"No," he whispered. "How could I -?"
"You are blind, are you not? He tried to help you, and this is where it has ended. You cannot stand on your own. Now your friend dies, and you will hear every agonized sound."
He drew himself up, spitting defiance. "I will kill you."
"Think you so?" The sorcerer raised the blazing sword, looking long at it. He caressed its length, stroking it as he would a lover. "No, you cannot kill me. My life is held in safety. It is beyond your reach, or that of any man. I am deathless."
The blade flashed again. Aragorn screamed.
"No!" Legolas fought to rise. He was being held down, something filthy pressed against his mouth. Burning agony arced through his brain. A voice spoke low, but he could not make out the words. Blinded by pain, he thrashed and struck out with both fists. His right hand collided with a skull.
Someone gasped, and then swore. "Stop, Legolas! Be quiet, they will hear you!"
The image of the blade seared him again, and he fell back with a cry. He clutched at the wound on his arm. Gagging, he struggled against the urge to be sick. He was hauled to a sitting position, and something cool was pushed into his hands. "Drink," Aragorn panted. "And for the love of the Valar, stop hitting me."
Somehow, his memory began to work. They were in hiding, in a back room of the infirmary. They were being sought. The cup was guided to his lips, and he gulped at the water.
He reached out, gripping his friend's arm. "Aragorn –"
"I am here, mellon-nin. You had another dream."
The elf nodded, grimacing. "A dream…" he echoed shakily. "Just a dream." He rolled up to his knees and inhaled deeply, shuddering, and tried to slow the pounding of his heart. The veil between nightmare and reality had been terrifyingly thin. "How long did I sleep?" he asked.
"A few hours perhaps," Aragorn said. "There is no window here – I cannot see the sun. Tell me about your dream."
"It was nothing," Legolas said, fingering the gash in his arm.
"Was it that black sword again?"
Legolas shrugged in an attempt to appear indifferent. He did not wish to speak of it, though the image of the fearsome weapon still burned. "Yes, the sorcerer's blade. It was the same as my other dreams."
Aragorn persisted. "No, not the same. You screamed out my name."
"Did I? I needed you, perhaps. You played no other part. As always, I was helpless."
"You are not as helpless as you believe," Aragorn said. "This is the second time you have nearly taken my head off."
Legolas blinked. "Forgive me, Aragorn. It seems I am a danger mainly to you." Restless, he climbed to his feet.
"I -," the elf turned away. He sought the wall and pressed his brow against it, welcoming the cold of the stone. "Valar!" he hissed, and struck it with his hand. "The blade sears my eyes. I cannot erase the image of it from my mind. The sorcerer - he speaks from the dark. He says he cannot be killed."
"Dreams are only dreams, Legolas. They are not real."
"I know that," Legolas said impatiently. "Of course the old man did not truly speak to me. How could he? And I know that I do not have the gift of foresight. But the blade – it breathes, Aragorn. It pulses like a heartbeat. And in my dream it cut me, here on my arm, just as it truly did last night."
"Dreams often contain what has happened in our lives, blended with what we fear. Sometimes they can help us to face what frightens us. But at other times, they only cause more confusion. Especially when we are fatigued, or ill." Aragorn was suddenly at his side, pressing his hands, soiled bandages and all, against Legolas' face. "Turn. Look at me," he demanded.
At that, Legolas almost laughed. "What?"
The ranger sighed. "You know what I mean. I want to see your eyes. How is the pain in your head, and your neck?"
"Awful," the elf admitted without evasion. "I cannot think when I feel like this. And it burns, where the dart hit. It has been so long since it happened, and yet –" he faltered. "I try to take care when I move. I am afraid to move, sometimes, lest something changes within."
Legolas felt Aragon sweep his hair aside and probe gently. "This area still looks bruised, more so than before, I think. Though the light in here is poor. I cannot tell," the ranger said. He was unable to entirely disguise the concern in his ragged voice. "I do not know what do make of it. If there is a shard within -"
"We can do nothing about it," Legolas said quietly. Hearing a soft sound beyond the door, he turned quickly and gestured toward it. "Someone comes," he whispered. In another moment, a sharp rapping rang out.
"Five knocks, as the old woman said," Aragorn said under his breath. He crept forward, but did not open the door immediately. Legolas hastened to the ranger's side and pressed his ear against it. He heard an impatient snort.
"It is Brina," he said, and closed his eyes. He had been dreading this moment, and also longing for it, as she had promised to bring the medicine for his head.
"Open this door, you two, before we drop these things all over the floor," the old woman barked.
Aragorn drew the lock free. Two sets of footsteps shuffled past. "Well now, I'm back," Brina said. "Here, child, set the small basin on the table. Put that other on the floor beside it. Mind you don't spill the water. Off you go now, and not a word to anyone."
Legolas, listening uneasily, recognized the voice of Koryon's young brother. He had given them first warning of the approaching orcs during last night's battle. What did he and his grandmother know of Koryon's death? They both sounded weary and saddened, but whether this was a normal reaction to the hardships of the night and of treating so many wounded, or if they were mourning someone more dear, the elf could not tell. Brina went immediately to Legolas and thrust a small vial into his hand. "For you. Your eyes look like black holes."
Legolas nodded gratefully and turned away, hastily removing the stopper. Tilting his head back, he swallowed too much of the bitter liquid and immediately gagged.
"What are you doing? Slow down!" Brina barked. "Just a sip or two, remember, or you'll turn your stomach inside-out. Is your pain that bad? Here, take this bread and behave yourself."
She turned her attention to the ranger. "These basins are for you. What is your name – Ara –what? Aragorn? Well, I've heard worse. There are herbs soaking in the water. Ugh, these bandages are a filthy mess. Let's get them off. Good, the skin is healing. No infection. You are lucky; you've only broken your hands open in two or three places. I was expecting worse. Now take a deep breath, and in they go."
Legolas gnawed on the bread. Beside him he heard the soft sounds of water, and then Aragorn swore.
Brina sounded surprised. "That's it? Ah, good, you can manage the soaking on your own then. That's a relief. I wasn't looking forward to sitting on you. Keep your hands right there until I tell you to take them out. Now let me see your foot. Valar help us, where DID you get this boot? Hold on, I'm going to give it a yank."
Aragorn cursed again. The boot thudded to the floor. "Oh, this is lovely," the woman remarked. "Almost as bad as the hands. All right, into the water with your foot. Easy, set it right there. Breathe through the pain, and stay put. All right Prince Legolas, let me see you now." Brina grabbed him and hauled him forward. "Take your shirt off and sit down. There's a chair here next to your unhappy friend. It's too bad you can't see his face, by the way. He looks like he just swallowed a toad. So do you, for that matter. Eat another piece of bread."
Legolas did as he was instructed. Brina examined the wound in his arm. "This is a nasty one, all red and fiery looking. But it is clean, for all that. Must have been a funny sort of blade."
"It was a funny sort of blade," Legolas said uneasily, and he raised his free hand again to investigate the gash.
A sharp slap startled him. "Honestly. Get your fingers out of there," Brina said. "Do you want to make it worse? You'll just have to tolerate the cleaning and stitching," she added. "I've nothing to give you for the pain."
Nodding wordlessly, Legolas closed his eyes as she began bathing the cut in water, listening as she questioned Aragorn.
"So tell me, what happened to you? That injured foot of yours didn't occur in any fire, and neither did your hands. They were frozen, if I am any judge."
"I got caught out in the forest, in a leg-hold trap," Aragorn rasped through obviously clenched teeth. "One not meant for animals."
"Ah, one of Ramhar's special toys? He snared you in it, left you to freeze to death, and when that didn't work he tried to burn you up? He must be very fond of you. But I've heard about those traps - you can't get out once you're stuck. However did you free yourself?"
"I was not able to. It was Legolas. He found me and opened it."
"With his hands."
"You're joking," Brina exclaimed. "His hands?" Her own faltered as she started the first stitch, and tugged too hard on the thread. Legolas made a low sound in his throat.
"Ah, sorry about that," Brina said. "Got a bit distracted. Well, that is something, the elf opening the trap on his own," she continued. "A story worth the telling, when the two of you are feeling more conversational."
She finished stitching Legolas' arm in silence and wrapped it securely. Expecting her next to reach for the bandage covering the knife wound in his side, the elf was startled when she took hold of his hands instead. Slowly, she turned them over and back again. He sat still, head lowered, wondering what she saw. He did not know if Koryon's blood was still on them.
"And so these hands opened one of Ramhar's traps," the old woman murmured. "And I hear they fired arrows last night faster than the eye could follow. With your skill, you slew many orcs." With a sigh, she released him and moved her own hands to the sides of his head. Gently she angled his face toward her. "And yet there is no triumph in your eyes. They are filled with pain," she said. "And sorrow. I know that you failed last night. The sorcerer has escaped, and my grandson is dead."
Legolas leapt to his feet and knelt before her. He had no words. Grief and guilt welled up and choked any he may have tried to utter, and he knew they would be useless. To apologise, to offer excuses would not be enough. He bowed his head and waited silently, for whatever she might say or do.
Brina slowly stroked his hair. "Alun spoke to me, and told me of Koryon's sacrifice. My grandson gave his life to save yours, and you were with him at his death. I do not desire the details. But I will ask you one thing – did he suffer much?"
Legolas cast about for something comforting to say, but his friend spoke before he could find the words. And, as was Aragorn's way, he spoke the truth. "It was over quickly, but not instantly. Koryon was able to speak, for a few moments. He asked Legolas to forgive him, for what he had been forced to endure in the dungeon. But the boy's final words were for you."
The elf heard Brina catch her breath. He rose and stood before her. "He wished to convey his love for you," he said gently. "His words had become difficult to understand, but I am certain of their meaning."
At that, the woman wept. "I was often severe with him," she said in a choked voice. "I raised him and his brother and sister. My daughter and her husband died some years back, during the sickness, and I took the children. It was difficult at times. I was widowed, and had to make my own living. Koryon and I clashed when he first decided to support Ramhar. But he was growing up of course, and needed to make his own choices. In time he grew to understand the folly of his decision and talked of breaking away, but he feared to do so." Brina sighed. "I always worried about where it might lead, and now it has come to this."
She continued her work silently then. The knife wound in Legolas' side was cleaned and covered with fresh bandages, and she turned her skills again to Aragorn. She had brought a remedy for his throat, to ease his discomfort and control the cough. His hands and foot were carefully wrapped, and she tended to the burn on his shoulder.
"That should take care of you for the time being," she said as she gathered her things. "There are two flasks, water and wine, and some food in the pail there."
"We do not want to endanger you by remaining here any longer," Aragorn said. "We should move on."
Brina snorted. "Oh yes, by all means. Go blundering about the city in broad daylight. No one will notice a blind elf with a hood over his face being dragged along by a fellow who looks like he's just returned from a holiday in Mordor. You'll fit right in."
"You're not to set one foot out this door," the woman said. "We haven't anywhere else for you to go. Ramhar's men are still looking for the elf. You'll be safe enough here for a bit longer, and Alun wants you to wait for him. He's gone off to talk with his friends, but I also told him not to show his face round here again until he gets some sleep. And I want you to eat something and get more rest as well."
Legolas bowed to her. "We are in your debt."
"You owe me nothing," Brina said in a low voice. "Do you think I do this for you? I do not. When I look at you now, young prince, all I feel is pain. The sight of you, standing golden and beautiful before me, hurts and confuses me. Shall I hate you for being alive when Koryon is not? Are you more deserving of life than my grandson?"
Legolas shook his head, unable to respond. The woman made her way past him. "It is difficult to see beyond the darkness this loss brings," she said from the doorway. "But I have lived long enough to understand that if I give in to rage and turn my back on you now, I will dishonor Koryon's final act. And so I help you instead, and in doing so I honor his sacrifice. I ask only that you do the same." She closed the door, and her footsteps went rapidly down the corridor.
As Aragorn set the lock in place, Legolas blew out his breath and leaned his shoulder against the wall. "I am glad I was not able to see her face just now," he murmured. "I feared that she would hate me."
"I do not think she does," Aragorn said quietly. "She grieves. Give her time." He handed the elf his cloak and slid a container into his hands. "Here is the food - some meat, and a bit of cheese. Where is the vial of medicine she gave you? I want to see it."
Legolas handed the small bottle to Aragorn and took his meal to sit beside the warmth of the brazier. He ate slowly, not really desiring the food, but knowing that he needed it. The pain in his head had lessened. The horrible image of the sword had faded, but the sense of dread remained. His hand strayed again to the wound on his arm. It throbbed painfully under its wrapping.
Just a short time ago he had been strong in his desire to accompany Aragorn on his search for the sorcerer, certain that his presence was important, and that he could handle whatever came their way. Had he not found and rescued Aragorn when he was trapped in the forest? Had he not survived terror and despair in the dungeons, and fought a battle in the courtyard against orcs?
"What is happening to me?" he whispered. "After all I have endured, I am a stranger to myself. How can a mere dream do this?"
Aragorn's voice came from the other side of the room. "What's that? I did not hear you."
"I am afraid to speak of it."
"All the more reason why you should."
Legolas sat silent, filled with uneasiness. He felt weary to the marrow of his bones. At last he spoke. "In my dream the sorcerer killed you. I could not stop him."
"Is that what is troubling you? That I will die by his hand? It was only a dream, Legolas. And you yourself said that you do not have the gift of foresight."
"Why do I dream of that blade, Aragorn? It frightens me." Legolas paused, unable to puzzle out his feelings. "And now, it has cut me. It is getting closer."
Aragorn crossed the room and sat beside him. He said nothing, but took hold of Legolas' arm and lifted an edge of the bandage.
"I was so certain that I needed to come with you on your hunt for the sorcerer," Legolas continued. "I thought I could be of help to you, but now I know that was foolishness. I will only hinder you; perhaps cause you to be in more danger. I do not want you to be distracted, having to look after me, having to protect me -"
Aragorn cut him short. "You would let the dream control you? You think as a child, mellon-nin."
"Do not mock me," Legolas said angrily.
"Believe me, I am not mocking you. I want you to come with me when I seek the old man."
"I thought that you were reluctant to have me join you."
"I have changed my mind."
"Why?" the elf asked, perplexed.
"Because there must be a reason why you dream of the sorcerer's sword," Aragorn said. "And you will not find the answers by staying behind."
Legolas' heart began to pound with a strange dread. "No, Aragorn," he whispered. "Do not seek to help me. It is what he warned against. You will be safer without me."
"After all that you have gained, do you now give in to fear of the darkness?" Aragorn asked quietly. "This is not the elf I know."
"He no longer knows himself," Legolas murmured. Throwing his hood over his head, he turned his face away and said no more.
to be continued…