Time is irrelevant to immortals.
Regardless of the line between day and night lapsing into obscurity, time would be irrelevant. Whether it was day, or night, or twilight or dusk, there would be an eternity of these more. As it were, a day or eternity could have passed and to no accord, no purpose. To pass one's life is such a manner, especially one gifted with eternity, could be (is?) a travesty.
At some point in his life, he would have cared.
Now, tainted by mortality and betrayal, he simply sat and stood and walked and slept and dreamt; aimlessly. He woke now, or fell asleep and dreamt, or perhaps simply stood shakily up after a time of sitting and losing himself in the vast stretch of eternity. Sometimes he thought he could tell when he truly slept and dreamt and woke, because some vague memory of pain seemed to rest upon him for a few moments in the lugubrious wakefulness from a dream. He welcomed those times. The memory of the idea that he could feel pain—feel anything, even pain—was welcome, because it reminded him that he could feel at all. Reminded him that he had once been a person.
Despite the fact that the dreams were often filled with pain and noxious fumes, dark forbidden languages and shackles, the dreams briefly united him with reality, and reality lay in ideals and hope—hope that the pain would end. For it was the silence in the wake of screams that tore at his heart and ripped words from his mouth—anything to overpower the cacophony of voices all screaming and pleading and begging and betraying his own spirit until he thought his mind might simply break.
He would wake then, a scream torn from his otherwise unused vocal chords. Then, a few moments would pass and the dream would fade into the ambiguous haze of grey that permeated the land and he would forget again, forget that life existed outside of this hopeless, though not despairing, simply hopeless land. And in a hopeless land, there could be no purpose and meaning, for there was simply nothing to hope for.
He stretched bones that seemed to stiffen further in protest.
Grey light tinged the horizon and hinted of twilight, or dusk, he was never certain anymore in this land of grey light and grey darkness. Whether it was the beginning of day or the beginning of night, neither option promised anything at all.
Perhaps if he had not been so terrified of betraying his brother and thus creating the worst of scenarios in his mind, he could have been able to fight the hold over his consciousness, or unconsciousness as it were. As it were, the Elf-prince simply lay, unperturbed by any, in the darkness of his mind. At times, he broke from the nightmare his mind had trapped him in; he woke in reality and the Orcs would note his glazed eyes struggling to focus through the fumes of Mordor and the permanent stench of death, through the obviously incapacitating pain of waking despite the dark magic placed upon him to keep his mind based in an unreality. At these times, as he weakly and futilely struggled against iron shackles and magic, the Orcs would beat him until he fell unconscious again and once again be caught beneath the magic of the Dark Lord.
He lay in a dark unreality based completely in his own mind, by his own mind, atoning for a sin he had yet to commit, but that he was unwittingly and unknowingly lying in wait as bait to do so, to lure the heir of Isildur to Mordor. And so as he woke in the land of grey light and grey darkness, he closed his eyes in the world of true light and true darkness, and the magic of Sauron tightened its hold upon his mind, allowing the prince's darkest fears and nightmares to take over his psyche and trap him in his own mind.
To escape once would not be inconceivable for the intelligent and resourceful Prince of Elves, yet for him to escape twice—first from his mind, then from his shackles in the darkest land of Mordor—would be impossible, and so rescue would clearly come first in the face of a ranger, the heir of a kingdom and a dynasty. The master of the one ring did not know his prey's name, but knew of his existence, would know him when he saw him, and would end this threat against his reign of darkness before this ranger could become a threat at all.
Now, in this land of unreality, the Elven prince stood, ignoring the hollow of his chest, the vast emptiness of the land that had seeped into his heart, the utter purposeless of standing with nowhere to go and no reason to stand. Eyes, haunted and yet dull, gazed across the desert-like earth. There was cracked, dry terrain now for as far as his eyes could see on every side.
He had run for a day; for eternity, he had fled.
Yet as long as he ran, from his shadows, from his demons, from the light and from the dark, he found himself ever in the presence of all these things, and so finally simply became accustomed to their presence and ceased his futile and frenetic flight.
His once lithe body was now stooped and frail, his sharp mind now dulled with the effort of closing his mind off from the unrelenting cacophony of voices, dissonant voices, all begging to be heard, and the utter uselessness of trying. The voices would be heard, the shadows would not leave his mind, his demons would not relent upon his heart, the light would not cease to burn, the darkness would not cease to instill fear.
The fair one, touched by mortality; the fair one, touched by a summer as never before.
For it had been summer, before.
The memories of his life had been blurred, and now it seemed as though he saw the world and recalled his life through the dark haze of death. Yet he knew one thing with certainty. It had been summer. And one more thing.
Summer is gone, summer is gone, summer was gone.
And with the end of summer came no autumn leaves, no leaves at all. The end of summer brought with it the end of everything he had ever known. Trapped in this land with no summer, no autumn, no winter, no spring, and no reason to care that there was nothing to care about.
It was as miserable and meaningless an existence that one could ever hope to avoid. This introspection did not bring with it the sort of self-realization that it should, but rather brought with it the conclusion that life was not cruel, not sad nor poignant nor happy, not anything, and then it ended; except for him. For him, he had come to realize, life was not anything, and then it continued. And such a life was so meaningless that he wondered that he were alive at all, or whether perhaps he had become a specter, doomed to eternally wander the earth in a hopeless and futile quest to find meaning in an existence robbed of everything he had once held precious: integrity and vitality, brotherhood and trust, forgiveness and love and hope and faith; redemption.
This introspection brought a sort of ache to his chest that he could not explain nor banish; the sort of profound ache that one normally feels deep in their chest, as though at the bottom of an empty well—hopeless and hollow; the type of ache that rips and claws so dreadfully and so anguished at the bottom of this well, that at last water begins to well up. Then, suddenly, come the deep, desperate chest racking sobs that leave one heaving for breath and yet feeling inexplicably complete. Inexplicably alive.
Tears would not, could not, come, and so, instead, he was left feeling inexplicably hollow and alone.
"He is shrouded in darkness."
The despairing voice of the King, though quiet, still sounded over the thunderous hooves of the horses of the Company and the rhythmic rain falling about them. If possible, he pushed his steed to run faster. The Wood-elves were empathic Elves, and were able to take on some of the strain of their horses, thus enabling them to travel faster and lighter.
"I can no longer but feel that his heart still beats."
The sound of the rain, and then someone was riding beside him. "That is all that matters right now. We will not allow him to perish alone and hopeless."
Thranduil cast his eyes up toward the pouring skies. "And yet alone and hopeless already he perishes. Eru," the Elvenking implored, "Saes. Saes."
The sound of the infamously strong Elvenking's voice pleading brokenly carried above the rain yet again, abruptly stopping as his voice caught in his throat. Curiously enough, this seemed to give heart to the Elves who rode beside their King, rushing to the aid of their Prince.
The rain, too, seemed to offer a sort of serenity and hope in its ability to offer cleansing and redemption. The steady deluge of water, however, became lost slowly in the sound of raging water. Superior though the eyesight and hearing of Elves is, Thranduil abruptly heard the sound of a horse before him through the thick mist and rain, though could not see the mount, and then suddenly his stallion was rearing and jerking to the side to avoid another, riderless, steed. The horse was obviously spooked and upset, so Thranduil pushed his own mount to gallop alongside it, and reached out to it, whispering and inquiring to its anxiousness.
The roar of the water was deafening, thunderous and angry and demanding, if water can be given such characteristics. As the group fled before the sudden onslaught of water, they seemed to be caught in the echo of the flood and yet cocooned in the stillness of the canyon lands. It was an eerie feeling of surrealism, being caught between stillness and chaos. The walls on either side rose up in steep, unrelenting rock and yet the path before them rose so slowly in unrelenting denial of safety.
They could not flee the promise of the furious water forever, and with the promise the water held, having forever to flee was no longer a promise.
"We ride to our deaths!" cried Elladan, his stallion rearing upon nearly crashing into a tree that had obviously been uprooted at the origin of the flash flood. The tree flew past them in the raging waters.
Aragorn's face was white. "Nay." The water thundered on toward them and continued to rise at their steeds' legs. The ranger raised his voice until it became almost a yell. "Nay! We must climb the walls. Our horses will run faster without our weight and we can catch up with them further up, at dry ground." He left the words unspoken, if they made up the deadly steep walls alive, if their horses made it out of the canyon alive.
Aragorn had already led his horse to the edge of the canyon wall, beginning to stand upon its back, even as the stallion continued at a gallop. With an abrupt movement, he had jumped from the saddle to the wall and immediately clung desperately to the rock so that he wouldn't rebound backwards into the icy arms of death that the water promised. The rest of the company had stared in shock at the sudden change in position of the ranger. As they continued on at a gallop, it seemed they had no choice but to follow. It was partly true that their horses could move faster without their masters upon their back, despite the fact that they were Elves. Elrond was the first to follow Aragorn's lead, guiding his anxious horse to the edge of the wall and nimbly leaping to the rock wall and attaching himself to it, beginning instantly to climb out of the way of water and debris slamming against the side of the canyon.
Immediately after Elrond took to the wall, the other Elves broke from the stupor of indecision and began to lead their horses beside the wall, one by one leaping to the wall and beginning to climb. The rock wall was slick with rain and mud and more than once the Company found themselves beginning to fall, only to catch onto some sort of stronghold, or be pushed or pulled up by another of the Company. It was obvious that Aragorn's hands had become numb as he more and more frequently began to lose feeling in the hands and thus was unable to get good handholds.
As Aragorn's hope of escaping this alive began to diminish, so did he his finesse. As his icy and numb mortal hands were at last unable to grip the wall at all, and he seemed frozen in place, and all hope seemed to abandon him, suddenly a rope appeared beside him.
He stared dumbly at it, thinking perhaps the level of cold was at last making him hallucinate, delusional, when another rope fell beside the first one, and then another upon his head. Shaken from his stupor, he attempted to gaze through the icy sheets of water descending upon him. He thought he saw flashes of golden hair and fair skin, and was shaken further from the stupor that had overcome his mind, shaken with the shock that he thought he saw that object of his anguish, thinking somehow, Legolas had escaped and had come to rescue him instead. As he, in jerky movements so as not to fall off the cliff, wrapped the rope around his arm, he noted that other Elves of the Company were already being hoisted upwards.
As he was raised up, slowly, he realized the golden hair and delicate features belonged to Legolas' father and the shock, yet again, nearly made him fall again.
At last, all of the drenched and frightened Elves and Man had reached the top and found the Company of Thranduil and Wood-elves. Before Elrond could speak, as the Ranger could see he was about to, Aragorn interrupted.
"My lord Thranduil," gasped the exhausted human, respectfully though strangely timid. "It is a shock that we would meet here, though I am in your debt. Were it not for you, our Company might still be struggling below for our lives."
Though Aragorn had been raised among the Eldar, and knew of the sort of subtle magic of the Elves, he still could not be somewhat astonished to cross paths with Thranduil, no doubt upon the same mission, despite the fact that there was no way he had been told by a messenger and somehow made it to the same place as the Noldor Company at the same time.
Thranduil's sharp gaze met Aragorn's. "We seek to attain the same goal, do we not? You are in no debt of mine. Please, though, I implore you to tell me what you know of my son."
Aragorn's expression suddenly seemed to close off while at the same time it managed to express utter despair and guilt.
"I," his voice cracked and he broke off, pausing for a moment before he could continue. "We were hunting a party of Orcs when somehow they took us by surprise. I know not how. We were both captured. After two days, Legolas was able to plan my escape. He knew we were being taken to Mordor and he insisted that I leave." How could Aragorn explain to his friend's father that his friend had insisted Aragorn was more important?
A gentle hand touched the Aragorn's chin, lifting his head so that the two met gazes. As deep, intense blue met stormy grey, the Elvenking spoke one word, "Estel," and, somehow, Aragorn realized, Thranduil already knew.
"You did what was right. You are the hope of mankind. Had you remained with Legolas, I have no doubt that your light would have been extinguished. This was the purpose of the capture." The Elf paused, glancing at Elrond and the two immortal Elves locked gazes. "Legolas is shrouded in darkness, retaining life only physically. Since he is not yet… killed, I fear they keep him alive only as a trap."
Elrond inclined his head and Elladan and Elrohir stepped on either side of Aragorn, placing their hands upon his shoulders.
"You did what was right," repeated Thranduil, "and so did Legolas."
Abruptly, Aragorn realized what the king was saying and the look of subtle despair communicated between the two Elven lords, why his brothers had come beside him to comfort him.
"No." His voice was terse and rough, his movements jerky as he stepped away from his brothers. "I am the reason he is there! I have to rescue him, I have to help him," he suddenly implored, his voice desperate. "You cannot send me away." The ranger closed his fist and his gaze hardened. "King though I may not be yet, I am heir of Isildur, and I will make my own decisions. I am—" his voice cracked again. "I am the reason he is there," he at last repeated, his stormy gaze hardening. "And you cannot send me away."
And so it was that two of the last great Elven leaders in Middle-earth rode toward Mordor, along with the last hope and leader of Men.