A/N: Please note that this is rated R for mind control and mention of rape.
Disclaimer: All gratitude to J.R.R. Tolkien, who created these wonderful characters. No profit is made from their use, and no disrespect is intended.
This sketch was much improved through the labor of my wonderful beta, Angel.
For Nightwing, who always seemed like such a nice girl.
"Saruman has powers you do not guess."
- Gandalf, "The Voice of Saruman"
"Tell me," the wizard said, "what you love."
There was a long silence as he regarded the figure stretched before him. The Elf lay upon an oblong length of polished obsidian, ten feet long and four feet high. Bolts at each end held the short chains affixed to his captive's wrists and ankles.
The Elf did not answer. He could scarcely move, bound as he was with his arms pulled high over his head, but he stared up at the distant ceiling and seemed to ignore the wizard utterly. He did not struggle. The flesh of his wrists was torn and bruised from his earlier escape attempts, but now the time for struggling was past. He lay and looked at the vaulted darkness, and did not speak.
The wizard breathed out sharply through his nose. "Perhaps we should begin with something easier." He came slowly forward and traced one sharp nail along the high cheekbone, curving up over a delicate ear and stopping just under the line of the jaw. "Tell me what you fear."
Bright eyes turned toward him then, and the muscle of the jaw tensed. Saruman gave a thin smile. "This is not so difficult. Shakru could find part of the answer for me, I think." He stepped back, and the Elf's eyes flashed unbidden toward the huge Uruk that leered from a corner. "See how his eyes are fixed upon you. He watches your every breath; he sees the pulse of your throat and the trembling of your hands. He has not touched you, not on the journey from Amon Hen and not in your cell, because I willed that he would not."
The Istar walked slowly around the plinth. "You see," he murmured, "I know what he fears. I know," he reached to stroke the silken hair, and the Elf jerked his head away, "what he loves."
This last was whispered against the captive's ear, and then the wizard drew back and there was only the Uruk's rasping breath and the distant clang of machinery. "I could give you to him. That would, I think, make him very happy."
The Elf's eyes shuttered closed. The manacled hands clenched into fists, long tendons standing forth in his forearms as the lean body tensed, arching his back and bringing all his Elven strength to bear on the linked chains at hand and foot. Saruman watched this with mild amusement. Finally the captive ceased his futile effort, and lay still. His breath was coming faster now.
"But you see," the wizard continued, "Shakru can only find the very basest of fears. Fear of pain, fear of death. Fear," the long white hand pressed lightly on the Elf's bare chest, over the caged beat of his heart, and then slid slowly down the flat plane of his abdomen to rest just above the fastening of the leggings, "of rape. That does not interest me."
He moved back again, and watched the movement of his captive's throat as the Elf swallowed. "What interests me, Legolas, is this. What does your heart fear? Tell me that. And then, later, you may tell me this. You may tell me what your heart loves."
The Elf turned his face away. His jaw clenched.
"Look at me," the wizard said.
Legolas did not move. His eyes were closed, the lashes dark against pale skin. Saruman sighed. "I could have you tortured. I could force you to give voice, if only to scream." The nails raked more deeply along the smooth skin, leaving thin red lines in their wake. "I could do so many things, and if you wish to pursue this path, I will do so. But the choice is yours. You have it in your power to give me what Shakru and his boys cannot: understanding of your heart. Will you deny me so simple a request?"
Finally the Elf spoke, toneless in the echoing chamber. "You want the Ring."
Saruman smiled. "Yes. Let there be no secrets between us. I want you to tell me where the Ring is, Legolas. But there is more that I want from you, my dear prince. So much more." Again the long fingered hand stroked the smooth fall of hair, white gold over the midnight glass. Again Legolas jerked away. But this time Saruman caught a silken handful and pulled the proud head back.
"Let us have no misunderstanding," he hissed. "There are many things I desire, many things that you can give me, my fair Elf prince. But now, at this moment, all I want is your understanding. You will listen, and tell me what I wish to know, and you will not pull away. And I, in turn, shall grant you what you desire."
"I want nothing from you."
The long fingers tightened, pulling sharply. Legolas gasped, his eyes opening and fixing upon the wizard's. "You will not lie! I have many things that you want, Elf. I hold your freedom, your safety, and your life. You understand?"
Caught fast, every muscle straining against the restraints and the sensitive skin of neck and chest laid bare, Legolas gritted his teeth. Saruman kept his hold tight, angling the Elf's chin up, and stroked his free hand with feather touch from down the smooth flank to the sharp angle of the hip, and lower. A strangled cry caught at the fastening of white teeth on lip as the Elf arched up against his bonds. Saruman bent down to whisper, his mouth inches from the finely molded ear, "Do you understand?"
"Yes!" Legolas gasped, and the wizard released him. He fell back against the plinth, the chains clinking slightly as the tension was relaxed. Saruman stood back, watching him. "What do you understand?"
The Elf glared at him. "That you are a monster, Saruman, who delights in holding power over one chained helpless before him."
The wizard blinked in surprise, and then laughed suddenly. The sound was rich and warm, out of place in the great chamber of shining obsidian. "Am I? That remains to be seen. After all, it was not I who chose the manner of our conversation. A master must use all the tools at his command when faced with a pupil so stubborn." He sobered, and his voice deepened with slow meaning. "But at least you understand now that I do hold power over you. That is a beginning.
"Now tell me," he moved closer again, and held the Elf's fierce gaze with his own, "what do you desire of me?"
Legolas drew a ragged breath, but said at last, "My freedom."
"Yes." The wizard walked with measured steps around the plinth. "And what do you fear?"
Legolas stared at him with eyes gone deadly cold. "I fear nothing."
"No?" Saruman met his gaze, and smiled. "We shall see."
The cell was small, five paces by thirteen. Legolas had memorized this in the first hours of his captivity, had found every intimate detail of the damp stone, the smooth fit of the heavy iron door, the thick stench of Orcs and the distant clang of machinery. But there was no light. He learned the confines of his cage through brush of sensitive fingers over the rough stone; he felt the depth of his confinement through the utter lack of Song or breath from life above.
He crouched in the center and wrapped his arms about his knees. He breathed shallowly of the dead air and felt the shadowed night heavy upon him. Nightmare shades of Moria lurked and grew in his mind, quickened his heart and flared white panic along his nerves. He focused his gaze upon the faint glow of his own hands, until even that seemed to fade, swallowed by the endless dark.
They had taken his knives. He had given chase at Amon Hen, had left Aragorn to care for Boromir and run fleet-footed, heedless, after the Uruk-hai that carried off the Hobbits. They would not have stopped for him, would not have risked their burden to fight one Elf, and that surprised him, for he knew well the hatred they carried for his kind.
But he had shot the two that carried Merry and Pippin, and in the fray that followed one Uruk's blade had sliced his arm, and the scent of his blood had awakened the Orc spawn's lust and brought them wheeling about to face him, all else forgotten. He had seen the Periannath escape, before he ran out of arrows. And the band was reduced by half, and their blood hate fully aroused, when they fell upon him.
He had expected to die. They swept over him with the inexorable force of a black tide. They robbed him of his empty quiver and crushed his bow, gift of the Lady, beneath their heavy boots. They threw away his knives as though the Elvish weapons burned them and they found even the small blade he carried strapped to his calf. He was bound, weakened and bleeding heavily from a gash at his head, and they growled and slavered like dogs at the scent. But they did not kill him. They stripped away his cloak and vambraces, tunic and boots, and he had thought he knew what they intended, and determined to fight, to force them to kill him first. But their leader had stopped them, and they picked him up and bore him away with them.
After the first interview with Saruman, he thought that they would take him again, to make real the wizard's threat and find what sport they could. He would kill them. He was weak from lack of food or water, had not slept in days. Still he was a warrior trained in service of his home. All chance for honor was gone it seemed, yet he would strike against the enemy while he could. He would give his death meaning.
So that when they only brought him back to his cell and left him there alone he was confused. He thought that they would leave him to die slowly then, driven mad by the weight of dead stone and the endless dark. Time passed, blurred in the shadows and the far off creak of turning wheels, hissing steam and pounding metal. So he sat, and thought, and forced back the madness that crept in upon the steel edged shriek of the machines.
So that when they brought him again to Saruman, again to be chained to the cold obsidian with arms stretched high and aching above his head, again to be asked the same questions, what do you fear? What do you love? he thought that perhaps it was not him, after all, who was mad.
He watched the Istar. Power there was here, and it radiated from the tall figure and resonated in the cold chamber. He felt also the wizard's strong tone in Ilúvatar's Song, though that surprised him. But where Mithrandir had resonated as one with it, full and complete in harmony, Saruman shone apart, unique in timbre and in voice. It fascinated him, the shifting complexity of the wizard's tone, like the changing hues of the robes he wore. White, and yet not. Pure, and yet not. And it seemed to him that the complex rhapsody of the Maia's tone came full into his voice.
The voice washed over him, now soothing, now harsh, and the words it spoke mattered little. Endlessly varied, beautiful and yet full of horror, it engulfed him. And it was so hard to resist answering. He needed to answer, to interrupt the smooth flow lest it carry him away entirely. And yet he dared not. It made no sense, this questioning, but still he sensed danger in the seemingly harmless words. And the voice continued, gently probing as a silver stream that wears away the granite cliff, what do you fear? What do you love?
And he finally knew that he must speak, if only to hear some sound that was not that voice. If he could not break its flow it would fill him utterly, until no thought or spirit remained but that of the voice. So he parted lips cracked and dry with thirst and said as he had before, "I fear nothing."
"Brave Elf," the Istar murmured, and his voice was a low purr as he traced the healing line of Legolas' wrist. "Would you like to go back to your cell, then? Or perhaps you would prefer a place in the Uruk birthing pits. They are your kin, after all."
Legolas did not shudder. "Do as you wish. I will not give you the Ring."
"Do you even know where the Ring is now, little Elf?" It was strange; this need the wizard seemed to have to constantly touch him as he spoke. He held rigid under the butterfly whispers over his skin, the light brushes against his eyes and lips and throat, the trailing caresses along his ribs and hips and legs.
Legolas did not answer. He hoped, he prayed that Frodo had escaped, that Aragorn and Boromir could protect him. The Ring-bearer had not been taken captive with Legolas, that much he knew. But the Uruks had been looking for a Hobbit, and that meant that Saruman already knew far too much.
"Do you fear what would happen, should I find the Ring?" The voice was calm, slightly amused, and he turned his head toward the warm brush along his cheek, yet Saruman was not there. The wizard had retreated to his chair, but he saw Legolas stiffen at the phantom touch, and he smiled.
"It is not I who should be afraid, were that to happen," Legolas managed. "The Eye would see you, Saruman, and you would not stand long." He met the Istar's darkling gaze and spat with as much contempt as he could, "You are weak."
The wizard stood abruptly, and his hands clenched in anger. "Insolent fool," he hissed. "I have fought longer than you shall ever know. What strength would you find, if not in me? I have seen the Eye, and I have stood against it. Could Galadriel have done that? Could Mithrandir? He could not even stand before one of the lesser servants."
Legolas glared at that, but he could not hide the flicker of deeper pain, and the Istar saw it. He regained control, and his next words came as soothing balm to the Elf's hurt. "Truly he could not stand, could he? Though he tried. Most valiantly, I do not doubt." He came close and stroked a long hand over the Elf's chest, renewing the connection so that voice and caress came together, until Legolas could no longer distinguish between them. "He would never abandon you deliberately. Even though he was one of the greatest of our order, a Maia of the Ainur's Song, he could not expect to defeat a Balrog of Morgoth." A whisper of hot breath on Legolas' ear, even as the phantom touch brushed the soft hairs at the back of his neck, and he did not know if that were real or only a power of the voice. "A Balrog, one of the shadow figments of Morgoth's making." He stepped back and the voice took on a slightly hurt, confused note. "It is strange, is it not? One so powerful, brought down so easily." The next was a bare whisper of doubt, the faintest touch at the vulnerable hollow of the throat. "One might almost think he wished to leave."
Legolas looked toward him then, and his mind seemed clouded as with a mist, for the wizard's words found their place in the inner ponderings of his heart. Saruman's voice and touch were gentle, as the comfort of a friend. "And did you help the grey wizard fight, my brave Elf prince? Did you stand against the shadow demon, you who fear nothing? Did you bring honor to the house of Oropher, such honor as has not been known since time of Glorfindel twice-born?"
Legolas closed his eyes, and with the wizard's voice he felt again the coiling Shadow, the smoking reek of sulfur fumes and the tormented weight of Power hoarded by the demon of the deep. And he saw again his weakness, his failure. "No," he whispered.
"No," the wizard said. "Lies and more lies strip away, and what is left? You did not stand with him. Did you cower, little Elf? Did you run away, you who have been trained to fight the Shadow?" The voice deepened, rhythmic and gentle as a poisoned lullaby. "Did he abandon you, or did you abandon him?" Legolas did not answer. Whatever words he said, whatever protest he made, were turned and twisted against him, and he dared not speak. And he could not deny the truth, nor Saruman's interpretation of it, for the wizard's words struck too close to the bitter condemnation of his heart.
There was the sluff of robes over stone like silk on glass, and the breath came hot against his cheek. "So tell me again, little Elf. What do you fear?"
It slipped as a chilled razor through his flesh, that voice, so cool and soothing at first touch, but left him burning defenseless in its wake. He could not deny it, could not negate it, and his treacherous mind found reason in its words, though he knew they must be false. It was a trap, he felt it, but he was weary, aching in body and sick with the endless throb of machinery around him, and truly what harm could there be in answering such a simple question? It had nothing to do with the Ring, nothing to concern Aragorn or Frodo or the Quest.
He had no great part in this tale, no role save as a warrior to guard and support his friends. He held no hope for rescue, for Aragorn surely must stay with Frodo. Gimli might wish otherwise, for sake of the stubborn friendship they had begun, but even the Dwarf had to see reason eventually.
He was so tired. If only he could rest, if only he could have a moment to think, away from the constant maddening caresses and the gentle voice and the bone deep vibration of the machines. "What do you fear?"
Do not answer. Do not speak. But he could no longer remember why. And he heard the answer spoken, in a voice seeming rough and harsh because it was not the voice, and he did not at first recognize it as his own. "I fear myself."
"What does that mean, little Elf?" A soothing brush against his hair, and he did not pull away.
"I am weak. I fight, but I am not strong enough to drive back the Shadow. It grows ever longer, and Lasgalen becomes Mirkwood, and the trees are twisted and black." It was strange to hear such doubts spoken aloud. Never before had he admitted any doubt, always he had kept the illusion of absolute control. Yet it was the truth, though no more than might be guessed. He sought refuge in the diversion, still to keep his deepest secrets hidden, and hoped it would be enough.
But the voice was not fooled. "Do not trouble me with trifles. What concern have I for a single petty forest, a few rotted trees? This is not true fear." The voice cut into him and he felt the invasion of his mind as a force that stripped away the layers of control, leaving him exposed even as the phantom touch invaded his body. "Now tell me truly, little Elf, why do you fear yourself?"
And there was no hiding from that demand. The answer came as a sob, wrenched from him as he twisted in futile effort to avoid the stroke of the voice's power. "I could not save her. She begged me to help her, but I could not." He kept his eyes closed, feeling his betrayal, his humiliation.
"You speak of your mother."
"Yes." Whispered aloud, though he did not wish it.
"Predictable, I suppose." The voice seemed resigned, bored. The touch lingered upon him in absent caress. "The Queen of Mirkwood, captured and tormented by Orcs, mourned by her people and, of course, the source of considerable grief and guilt to her sons. It is enough, though I had hoped for better."
"No!" He opened his eyes, glaring at the wizard. It hurt, to gainsay that voice, but he would not be misunderstood now. For two centuries he had kept the secret close, hid from those who loved him best, concealed from even his father's all seeing eyes. Now it was ripped from him by an enemy, but if that be the case he would not be dishonored by half-truths.
"She was in their camp. All the guard were dead, and her skirt was wet with the blood they spilled defending her." Now only his voice sounded in the cold chamber. The wizard's was blessedly quiet. "But the Orcs were too many, and they cut down her escort and took her. I did not wait for the search parties, when I felt her cry, but came swiftly and alone.
"She was dying when I found her. The yrch, they," his voice cracked, and he stopped, and swallowed. The wizard did not move, but watched him hungrily. Legolas wished to close his eyes, to turn away, to somehow distance himself from the words that must be said. But he steeled himself to meet that dark gaze, and continued in a whisper. "They forced her. She fought them, but they were too many, and when I came they were upon her. But she saw me. She saw me, and she begged me to save her."
"The connection between an Elf mother and her child," Saruman murmured. "You must have felt everything. But what could you do, after all? There were too many of them. How could she ask you to save her?"
"No," Legolas whispered. "You do not understand. There were too many for me to fight, but they did not block my shot of her. She asked me to kill her."
A moment stretched in time, measured by the dull pulse of far away machines. Finally Saruman spoke. "And did you honor your mother's request, little Elf? Did you use your skills to end her suffering? Did you kill her?"
Legolas turned away, letting his head fall back against the smooth plinth. "No." His voice was soft. "I could not. I shot the Orcs upon her, and when my arrows were gone I fought them hand to hand. The searchers found us, and the border guard, and together they drove off the yrch. They brought her back to the palace, and she lived for ten days." Some part of him was screaming to stop, to keep close this pain for the wizard would surely turn it against him, but he could not. Now he had begun, he must finish. "Ten days she had of agony, and shame, sick beyond even my father's ability to heal. Her fëa had longed for release, when first they broke her, but through my weakness I bid her suffer more."
There was silence. He felt dim gratitude for that, for the reprieve from the flowing quick-silver voice and the endless phantom touch. But more, he felt the lifting of the poisoned burden from his heart. So long had he carried it, concealed and growing in weight through that concealment, and now at last it was spoken aloud, to an enemy that cared nothing for him, and somehow that seemed right. Somehow the horror was lessened through the telling.
Then the voice came again, disdainful. "Guilt. Shame, and grief, and guilt for bones turned to dust two hundred years ago. What has this to do with fear?" He twisted to stare at the wizard. Saruman sniffed. "I did not ask for the self pity of a spoiled prince. I asked," his voice became deceptively soft as a knife edged in velvet, "what do you fear? Tell me. Now, at this moment, what do you fear?"
The voice spoke with all the power of the ages, and the dark melody of twisted Song. It raked over him and into him, searing with intangible caress like fire and wrenching the most deeply guarded secret from his heart. And Legolas could disobey no longer.
"Aragorn." A whisper, born upon the gasp of pain.
"The Ranger?" Confusion now and some small part of him was glad for it. But still he had to answer.
"He desires the Ring. He fights it, but still he hears its call. It would take him, if it could. I think it would have him as master, more than any other save the Dark One himself. And I cannot help him. I am weak, and I fear that even were he to take it, and all the world fall to his dominion, I would stand and let him do it. I could not kill my mother to save her agony. I could not kill Aragorn to save all of Middle-earth."
It was said. He heard the words, and knew his heart was laid bare and vulnerable at last. And there was freedom in that. Never before had he spoken such things aloud, never had he so lost control. Discipline had bound him, but grief had driven him, and his secret walls were very high. But now they were cast down, and he was left trembling in their wake. He lay exposed, stretched upon the plinth, and waited for the final blow.
Saruman drew a long breath. "So we come to it at last, little Elf. It is as I thought: the heart's fear is not so distant from its love. So tell me now, and let me hear the words. What is this Ranger that you would sacrifice so much for him? Why would the Ring so take him? Tell me why you fear him. Tell me what you love."
Legolas did not even try to resist now. A hundred things came to his mind, truths and half-truths raised as a last feeble shield from the bare intimacy of that question. What do you love? His family, his people, the forest of his home, even unto all of Middle-earth . . . all these things were loved, and he would give his life for them, and count himself fortunate in the giving. But that would not satisfy the voice. Now it soothed, and coaxed, but in an instant it could turn again to razor edge and hurt. Yet still he would have fought, had there seemed a reason for it.
But he was tired. And Saruman was right. Now they were come to the end, and what purpose was there in further secrecy? The love and fear of one Elf would not change the course of Frodo's quest, nor affect the outcome of the Age. He would die here, and it did not matter any longer if Saruman learned that which he had kept hidden for so long.
So he said again, "Aragorn." And he wondered dimly if the wizard could understand. It was a love that was not physical, was not touched by any desire or selfish wish. Arwen held the Ranger's heart, and he did not begrudge her. Yet he loved the Man. There was no reason for it that he knew. Truly he felt the nobility of Aragorn's lineage, the strength of his bearing and the weight of duty so close to his heart. But he had known others of Isildur's line, had seen the same honor and nobility in Aragorn's grandfather and great-grandfather. And they had not moved him as this one had.
"Aragorn," Saruman repeated, slowly, rolling the word over his tongue. Legolas tensed. There was danger here. He did not know how, could not see what difference it would make, yet still he had given the wizard knowledge hidden from all others, and power over him.
"So the little Elf's greatest love and greatest fear are come to be the same," Saruman mused. He was calm, thoughtful, and the voice was neutral. "And does the Ranger know? Does he see how you watch him, how you guard him in the night? Does he know what you would give for him? Would he do the same for you?"
"No," Legolas said. He did not ask how the wizard knew or guessed these things. He had already offered up the deepest secrets of his soul; anything else was immaterial. "He knows me as a friend, perhaps even as a brother. But he has not an Elven heart. The deeper love is mine alone."
"Can you be so certain?" A whisper coiled in the dark, and now the voice was laced with danger. "Who is this Man that you would love him so? Who is he that the Ring desires him, that you would let him take it?"
Legolas met the shining eyes and set his jaw. The phantom breath against his skin was constant now, the curling touches that brushed over his neck and chest, and promised pain. But he would not answer. The voice had taken everything from him, had left him stripped and defenseless far more than any physical torment or chain could do. It had claimed him, had violated his mind and his heart and left open his most secret pain for the pleasure of this wizard. Yet he would not betray Aragorn.
But Saruman smiled. "Come now, little Elf. Is there anything left between us? What purpose is there in resisting when you have already given all away? Isildur's heir is not worth your pain."
Legolas did not react, schooling his mind and face with the last shreds of discipline, but still the wizard looked at him, and the voice stroked icy tendrils into him, and he knew that all was lost.
His breaking had seemed such a small thing. However painful it was to him, him who guarded his heart so closely, it had been inconsequential to any other. Yet now his fear was come to rest, and his weakness threatened Aragorn.
"It is not such a difficult deduction. Who else would be so right a master for the Ring? I only wished to see if you would say the words. But it seems that you will cling still to your folly, even seeing it laid clear before you."
The voice was mocking, its touch like ice. Yet it demanded that he speak, and he could not stay silent. "It is no folly to love a friend."
"No? But think what you love, little Elf." Saruman came close, bending over him. "Isildur's heir. Isildur, the traitor son of Men. Because of his greed your people suffer. Your forest is black, your home near ruin, because of him. Your mother is dead because of him. Aragorn is the heir of greed, of treachery, of deceit and lust. Do you imagine that he is free from them? Would he feel the Ring's call so strongly, if he were? Would you envision him taking it, so that your love becomes your fear? And you are right to fear, little Elf."
The voice deepened, became salacious, and the phantom touch was joined by the caress of the wizard's white hand. "What do you think he sees when he looks at you? His friend? His brother? Are you yet so naïve, my fair Elf prince?"
Legolas swallowed. He tried desperately not to listen, but his heart was pounding. "And you are so fair. So beautiful. He watches you, in the deeps of the night, when you are alone together in the Wild, and he desires you."
Legolas glared at the wizard, anger giving him strength to deny the power of the voice. "You lie. You know nothing of him. He has honor, and purity of heart beyond your base imaginings."
"Does he?" Saruman met his gaze. "But I have seen him. I admit that I thought a mere Ranger unimportant, but still he did not escape my eye. And it seems that I saw far more clearly than did you, little Elf."
In a few swift strides the wizard crossed the room and threw back a black covering to reveal the orb that rested upon its pedestal. Fire coiled in its depths, and Legolas' gaze was drawn to it, though he tried to look away. The thick weight of power that emanated from that simple sphere churned his stomach.
Saruman spoke, and the deep power of his voice resonated with that of the palantír. The fire within it swirled up and then cleared to reveal a great hall of Men, gilded in gold and standing high upon a hill before an upswept crop of jagged mountains. A Man stood alone at the edge of the high porch. His face was turned away, into the strong wind that blew back his hair and whipped his tattered clothes, but Legolas knew him at once. He would have known him anywhere.
"The future King of Men flees to Edoras," Saruman said. The voice was amused, dancing shivers over Legolas' skin. "He has abandoned you, little Elf, and seeks to gather the might of Rohan. Now I wonder why he would do that?"
"I told you," Legolas said. "He knows his duty. He will fight you, Saruman, and the Dark Lord your master."
"And has he no concern for his friend?" the wizard moved back toward the Elf. "Does he not even try to save you?"
"I do not ask him to save me," Legolas whispered. "I have never asked it."
"No," Saruman murmured. "I have seen that as well. And yet you follow him. And in him is bound your greatest fear, and your greatest love. And what is his response, little Elf? What does he feel for you?"
Legolas turned his face away. "He loves the lady Undómiel."
"Of course," the wizard said. "But it is not of love that I speak." The voice pulled at him, dragging him back to meet Saruman's gaze. "There are other forces at work in a Man's breast. Doubtless he loves the lady. But she is not with him on the long weary marches far from home. She is not there when the noble heart is weakened by the desires of the flesh. But you are."
Legolas could not look away, could not block his ears from the darkly insidious voice. "Why do you fear him, Legolas? If he were truly so noble as you say, if he loved as purely as you do, would he be tempted by the Ring?" The wizard's caress was as ice, his voice a burning heat even as his long hand stroked down the Elf's body. "Is it not that you have already seen his darker desires? Why would you fear the need to kill him? What would you truly sacrifice for him, if he demanded it of you?"
"He would never ask it," Legolas whispered.
"Oh, but if he had the Ring there would be no need to ask," Saruman said. "You would beg to serve him ere he even wished it, my proud Elf. And does that not tempt him? All of Middle-earth would fall before him, and the lady he loves, and the prince he desires, would both be his. What temptation that must be. You love him, little Elf, but can you trust him?"
Saruman moved away, pacing slowly toward the foot of the plinth. Once more Legolas' gaze was drawn to the dark power of the palantír. The Man had been joined by the stocky figure of a Dwarf, and both stood looking over the shadowed valley. Night was coming.
"You fear that you cannot kill him. But what if there were another way? You could save him, little Elf. You could rescue him from the weakness of his heart, from the lusts of his flesh." The breath was warm on his ear as the wizard crouched above him, looking over him toward the palantír.
"Tell me where the Ring is. Remove it forever from his reach, and let him live out his days in honor. Save him from himself."
Legolas gasped. The image in the palantír dissolved and reformed to show an army. Legion upon legion of black armored Uruk-hai stretched into the distance, marked with the white hand upon helm and banner. They stood in ranked silence before Orthanc, a vision of nightmare power.
"They will march upon Rohan. They will slaughter its people. None can stand against them, none can resist them. They will come ultimately to its heart, and they will find the king and your Ranger wherever they may flee. They will kill him and drench the earth with his blood."
Legolas did not speak. He forced himself to hold still, to betray no reaction despite the knife edged certainty of the voice. "But if he has the Ring, he may save himself. Yet at what cost? If he wields it in power, all that you know of him will surely be lost. He may live, for a little while, but whatever nobility your love sees in him will surely be gone."
Legolas' mind was whirling. The voice blanketed him, but still he tried to think. Aragorn would not take the Ring. Whatever dark truth there was in the voice, still he must believe that Aragorn would resist. And further, Gimli was with Aragorn. Surely the Dwarf would not aid the Man if he had succumbed. And wherever the Ring was now, it was not being used. Saruman would have seen it, if it were. So Frodo must still have it. He must.
"And now the time has come to confront your fear, little Elf. You have given me what I wished, and now I offer what you desire. You can stop the army, if you are strong enough. Come with me to Rohan. Go to your friend, and find the Ring for me. No innocents need die. You can save them all. You can save Aragorn."
The possibility shone before him, and it would be so easy, so easy to give in, to follow the sweet reason of the voice. He could save them all. Legolas flexed his numb fingers, groping at the iron chains, seeking some physical reality in the quicksand mire of twisted logic. "You would only use the Ring yourself, Saruman. And even with it you could not withstand Sauron's wrath. He will take it from you, and the innocent will die anyway."
"Perhaps," Saruman said. "But it will not be Aragorn who kills them. If he is to die, why not let it be fighting the dark powers? Why risk his corruption? Let him remain the noble Man you love. You can go free, and fight at his side, and die with him untainted by lust or power."
Legolas felt the world spin about him. He had feared that he would be too weak to save Aragorn from the dark forces within him. And now the chance rose before him, and he would save both the Man's soul and his life, for a little while. But it was not as Saruman thought. Aragorn did not have the Ring, not yet. If he told the wizard that the Ring was held by another, could he not divert this army? He could buy time, time for the free peoples to muster their strength, time for Aragorn to lead them to some refuge, while Saruman sought vainly for another.
And then he thought of Frodo. The little Hobbit had not been in the vision of the palantír. He might be anywhere, but he was at least hidden from Saruman's sight, and presumably Sauron's as well, for now. Now they looked to Aragorn, and saw the danger of him, and they did not seek any other. But if Legolas told Saruman to look elsewhere, how long would it be before he thought again of the Hobbit? He had forgotten him in the revelation of Legolas' heart. He had assumed that the Elf's love and fear were bound with the ultimate power of the Fellowship, and forgotten Mithrandir's tale of the Hobbit. That much Legolas' humiliation had done at least.
He could save Aragorn. And sacrifice all Middle-earth, and betray one whom he had sworn to protect. And a small thought came to him, like a tiny light through the dark shades of the voice's power. If you truly love him, will you not trust him?
It hurt, to listen to something other than the voice's words, to seek strength other than what Saruman offered. But some core within him still resisted. The wizard had stripped his heart and mind, had broken his defenses and left him vulnerable to the slightest touch, the dripping whisper of suggestion. His very soul now teetered on the balance.
Legolas turned away from the palantír to look directly into the wizard's dark eyes. "You would have me give in to fear," he said. Saruman straightened. The power of the wizard's voice was heavy upon him, and to defy it seemed akin to holding his hand over a flame. He wanted to give in. He wanted so badly to say yes, to seize this chance to save Aragorn's humanity if not his life, to do as the voice willed him.
But he was no puppet. He would not be manipulated by the wizard, and he would not let fear conquer love. He stared down the wizard and spoke with all the stubborn pride of a true son of Thranduil. "You would have me despair, and betray all the world for fear of one Man's weakness. But I have seen that weakness, and I know what he desires. And it does not matter."
Saruman opened his mouth, but Legolas continued, louder now, drowning out the wizard's voice though the pain licked fire across his flesh. "Whatever he may wish, whatever dark whisper might come to him, he resists it. And I will not assume weakness where he has shown strength. I will not try to save him when he does not wish it."
Again the wizard tried to interrupt, reaching out to grasp Legolas' chin, but the Elf jerked his head away and overrode him, shouting now through the force that pressed against his mind, over the agony that ran down his nerves, "Send your army, Saruman. It will not find the Ring. Aragorn will defeat it. He will drive you back into your holes, and let you beg for mercy from your master. He will destroy you."
Saruman snarled, his voice dark and blunt with the shredded remnants of power, "And what then? After he defeats me and becomes the greatest force in Middle-earth save for the Dark Lord himself, what will he do? What will he do when he finds you here, little Elf, bound and helpless before him?"
"It does not matter. I will stay with him, and trust him, whatever he may do. I will not take the choice from him."
"You are a fool," the wizard spat.
Legolas lifted his chin, cold and proud as befitting a prince of the Sindar. "Do not presume to know me, Saruman. I have given you more of my heart than is known by any other, and still I am beyond your comprehension."
Saruman struck him then, a cutting blow that rocked his head back and split his lip, and he tasted blood. And with that the last figment of the voice's spell was broken. The wizard was reduced to physical violence, and Legolas was free. His own fierce will had broken the wizard, and Saruman's voice held no further power over him.
Legolas reeled in the shock of freedom, the final absence of that horrible touch. But he was too shaken to rejoice. Surely in his rage the Istar would kill him now. Yet he did not fear death. He had yet regained some honor. His mind was his own, and he had not betrayed Frodo.
But Saruman whirled away and strode from the chamber without looking back. Faintly Legolas heard him speak, addressing the army that waited below. And then there came the dull pulse of thousands of heavy boots, beating in hard rhythm over the earth. They were moving away, though it would take hours for all the army to pass through the gates of Isengard and out of range of his hearing.
Saruman's army was marching to Rohan. Legolas closed his eyes, feeling the rhythm of that march in the pounding of his heart. For all his brave words to the wizard, he could not believe that any force could stand against it. He had condemned his friends to death.
Saruman left him there, chained to the obsidian plinth in the dark chamber. The palantír was dark, and he had no word or sign of what befell his friends. But surely Aragorn was not dead. Surely he would know it, would feel it if the Man were killed.
The wizard did not speak to him or acknowledge him in any way. He was grateful for that, grateful for the silence save for the endless turning of the machines far below. Occasionally a lesser Orc would come to him with some foul draft of water, and he would drink. At times the chains at his wrists would be loosened, and his arms allowed to flex while the returning blood burned and stung them. But they were always drawn up again and locked above his head. Some faint light fell through the mullioned windows of the chamber, and this was his only hint of passing time.
It was long after the last of the light had bled away into utter blackness on the third night, and Legolas had slipped into a troubled reverie, that something happened. A rising roar as of many deep voices stirred in anger came up through the dark and woke him. There was a great grinding noise, and the squeal of tearing metal. Legolas strained up against his bonds, struggling to see, and he heard Saruman's voice calling in sharp panic, and then, glorious in this tomb of glass and metal, the unmistakable rise of a forest's song.
The Ents had come to Isengard.
Aragorn found him on the fifth day. Legolas had listened, half dreaming in the stupor of thirst and hunger, as Saruman had treated with the lords of the west. He had been faintly amused by the weakness of the wizard's voice as he tried to master the king of Rohan, and Mithrandir. Was Mithrandir there? Strange, he had not expected that. But he was dreaming again.
Saruman was gone. The machines were finally, blessedly still. He drifted, exhausted and mindless in the silence.
He came back to focus when the door to the chamber crashed open. It clanged back as though driven with a furious blow, and light streamed in from the outer hall, so bright it nearly blinded him, shading the Man that stood in the doorway to a mere silhouette. But Legolas knew him at once. He would have known him anywhere.
Aragorn came forward, and as Legolas' eyes adjusted he saw again the weathered planes of the Man's face, newly lined by strain and stained with the grime of travel. For a moment Aragorn did not move, but gazed at him in silence. Legolas was acutely aware of how he must look, stretched almost nude upon the polished glass, vulnerable and helpless before the Man.
A muscle moved in Aragorn's jaw, and he whispered, "Legolas." Then he came forward, and one rough hand caressed the Elf's cheek. Legolas shied back from the touch, jerking his head away unthinking. Hurt flared in the Man's grey eyes, and something flickered in their depths. Legolas regretted the pain he caused, but he could not suffer that intimate touch. "Aragorn," he whispered. "Aragorn, please."
The Man stepped back then and raised Andúril above his head. He brought the Elven blade down with ringing force that cleaved through the iron chains at Legolas' wrists. He had freed the Elf's feet as well and was lifting him gently from the plinth when Gimli came panting into the room.
The Dwarf stopped upon seeing Legolas, and his mouth worked for a moment without a sound. Then he came forward and clasped the Elf fiercely about the waist even as Aragorn was setting him on his feet. Legolas had no time to flinch away as the Dwarf's strong arms engulfed him, but he could not repress a faint shudder at the touch. "Crazy, stubborn Elf," Gimli said, and his voice was thick with unshed tears. "I knew you were too block-headed to die." He stepped back after a moment, clearly struggling for control. "You'll have some work to do to beat me, Master Elf. My score at Helm's Deep was forty-two."
Legolas could hardly think of a response to that, for his mind was whirling and he still felt as though in a dream. But he smiled weakly, and Gimli smiled back and then unclasped his cloak, and reached high to fasten it about Legolas' thin shoulders.
The Dwarf led the way from the chamber. Aragorn wrapped one arm about Legolas' waist to help him. Loathe though he was to be touched, the Elf leaned heavily upon the Man, for his legs would not support him. But as they neared the door Legolas stopped, and whispered, "Aragorn. The palantír."
The Man turned, and seeing the shrouded globe upon its pedestal he took it up and wrapped it closely. A slow thrum of dread pulsed through Legolas as the Man claimed it, and he swallowed hard. It is his by right. I will not take the choice from him. Aragorn clasped the palantír under his arm without looking at it and returned to where the Elf leaned weakly against the chamber wall.
Legolas looked at him, and saw again the strange dark glitter in the Man's eyes. Then it was gone, and there was only Aragorn, as he had always known him. If you truly love him . . .
Yes, Legolas thought. I do. And he permitted the Man to hold him, as they moved into the light.
A/N: Coming in 2013: The Gloaming, an original novel by Lamiel. In a world ruled by monsters, you have to be a monster to survive.