Title: Last Stand
Summary: The battle at the Black Gate leaves Legolas strange wounds that do not heal. He knows he is slowly dying & keeps it a secret, as he tours the fleeting mortal pleasures of the world before his last breath. He finds an unwilling coconspirator in Eomer
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On the timeline. The story operates in movie-verse, though it assumes some book details that the movie did not tackle, like Estel being raised by Lord Elrond, and when he finds out about his lineage (in 2951). Other than these assumptions, the events unfold a few days after the movie-set crowning in Minas Tirith, and then tosses back and forth in time with memories.
On the structure. The structure follows one big story arc or theme, peppered by short stories in between, like Tolkien's "Lost Tales…" or if you've read "1001 Arabian Nights" or, "Borders of Infinity" by Lois McMaster Bujold.
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The purple skies seemed to be shivering over his head, shaking, shifting, dancing with the demands of a whipping wind that promised the fall of harsh rain. Lightning streaked across the dull gray, and after a few beats, the sound of the grumbling, displeased thunder seemed to shake the Earth.
Eomer smiled, as he watched the wild mare prance across the rolling plains, as if a terrible storm was not threatening its peace, as if it was grazing in the light of a perfect day.
"Sire, we must leave."
It was his aide. Lenne was an irreverent young fellow with perpetually-unruly sandy hair and lonely eyes. He does everything from dressing the King, to packing his things and generally accompanying him everywhere he went. He was efficient when he needed to be, and Eomer kept him around as a favor to his widowed mother, who desperately desired for a son to be in the King's service. Mostly, Lenne did all the worrying for the illustrious King, and over most of his jobs, he did it the best of all.
"The horse shall run away with the first drops of the rain either way," Lenne urged him, "Leave it. Sire. It is not worth getting struck by lightning out here in the plains, my lord. It really does not bode well, for so young a King to die in such an unfortunate manner."
Eomer waved at him, to keep him quiet. The pair of them were upon their stomachs on the ground behind a gently sloping hill, hiding and watching the wild, claret-colored stallion.
"It is undaunted by the threat of the storm," Eomer said in a low voice, "It is spirited, and will make a fine addition to my stables."
Eomer rose quietly, and sauntered toward his own horse, grazing just at the foot of the hill and happily awaiting its master. Lenne hurried to his feet and followed after the King.
The wild mare's head perked at the sudden movement, wrinkled its nose at the intruders and neighed, just as it reared up on its strong hind legs and shot forward at a speed to rival the lightning and the wind it seemed to defy.
"Lenne!" Eomer snapped in displeasure, as he hurriedly mounted his horse and urged it forward.
"I'm sorry, my lord!" Lenne exclaimed, breathlessly, hurrying to follow the King upon his own steed, "I'm sorry!"
Gritting his teeth in displeasure, Eomer rode in hard pursuit. The horse beneath him, however, seemed to be enjoying the chase-- its powerful hooves crashing against the ground in beats that sounded like a fervent heart. The wind was making both horse and master feel so distinctly alive.
"That steed shall be ours," Eomer whispered to his horse as he rode low against its thick, warm neck. The desire to claim so beautiful and bold a creature was one as old as his line, as old as his blood. One of his hands released the reins of his horse to draw out a rope from the pack attached to his saddle, though his eyes never strayed from his quarry.
The rain began to fall about him, thick beads slow and sporadic at first, and then harsher, in innumerable, slim white lines that streaked across the air, connecting heaven and earth.
He blinked and narrowed his eyes to keep his vision clear. He pulled back the soaked strands of his hair, away from his face.
That steed shall be ours…
He was narrowing the distance. The horse was but a shadow in the dark of the stormy skies and the obstruction of the thick rain. It ran, and swerved, and moved most majestically, un-cowed by the torrent, fearless of its pursuer.
Suddenly, Eomer was made aware of another shadow in the dim light and amidst the curtain of the rainfall. A cloaked figure stood amidst the plains, standing directly in the way of the wild horse the King of Rohan was pursuing.
"Move away!" Eomer called out in a panic. That wild horse knew no master, or restraint. The fool standing there could be mauled to his death!
"Move away!" Eomer said again, willing his horse faster, perhaps if he caught the horse, perhaps he could restrain it… But there was no time…
To his astonishment, the wild horse shifted its course just-so, missing the cloaked figure by a hair. From the folds of the dark, water-soaked cloak of this foolish stranger, a graceful white-hand drew out and touched the side of the wild horse from its neck to its flank, as it passed by. The horse let him, before it thundered away at a greater speed.
Catching his breath, Eomer let his quarry go, for now. He slowed his horse down to a trot, nursing his temper. He was angry, yes, that this cursed fool would risk his death and hold his ground. But he was more jealous, of this stranger whom the wild horse meant to be his seemed to favor.
"Are you trying to kill yourself?" Eomer retorted to him, dismounting before the stranger.
Those distinctly beautiful hands rose up to the edges of the hood of his cloak and pulled it away from his face. Eomer blinked at the sight of an old ally.
Legolas the elven prince and warrior, was smiling at him tentatively. His blue eyes were a light in the midst of the storm, his golden hair reminiscent of the sun, even as it was soaked through and through and matted to his head.
He bowed before the King of Rohan, a hand over his heart as he stooped slightly in respectful greeting.
"Legolas," Eomer said, finding his voice at last. He bowed slightly too, for the old ally was a prince himself.
"I suppose I should be asking you the same thing," Legolas said to him.
"Hm?" Eomer inquired, forgetting what he was referring to.
"If you are trying to kill yourself," Legolas clarified, "'Tis not just the threat of the lightning, but the rain, and the more delicate built of a human. I've heard of the phrase… 'You might catch your death of cold.'"
"I am hardly delicate," Eomer replied tersely, looking after the direction in which the horse ran with some regret, "Is it yours?"
"No," Legolas answered, "I'm sorry to have spoiled your hunt."
"My lord!" Lenne exclaimed, coming up towards them upon his horse,
"I'm so sorry."
"I suppose you can say it's long been spoiled," Eomer said to the elf wryly.
Lenne dismounted, and stopped to stare at Legolas. "Oh, my lord. I know his face. The people could never forget that Legolas of the Woodland Realm fought for us."
"Then greet him properly at the least, fool," Eomer grated at the boy, "Your father is turning over in his grave."
"I'm sorry!" he exclaimed, bowing hurriedly before Legolas, "My lord. If I may ask… what business have you in our fair lands?"
Eomer frowned at the insolence, but bit his tongue and looked at Legolas expectantly.
Legolas seemed to ponder the question for a moment. "Traveling," he answered tentatively, before he smiled and shook his head, saying, "Would it surprise you if I said I'm not entirely sure?"
"We've had our share of wanderers," Eomer said, "It is hardly new although… I would not have expected it of you."
"Ah well," Legolas breathed, "You know what they say. Not all who wander are lost."
"So you inadvertently find yourself here, though you know to where you are ultimately going," Eomer guessed.
"Yes," Legolas replied.
"You speak like a wizard," Eomer commented, and Legolas had the distinct feeling it wasn't exactly a good thing.
"I'm just a traveler," Legolas said.
"I suppose you meant to pass through my lands without even thinking of having an audience with me," Eomer said flatly.
"I suppose," Legolas replied, chuckling a little in embarrassment, "I'm sorry. I did not even think I would be by this way."
"Well we are both here and you are soaked to the skin," Eomer declared, "You will have to suffer my company, in my hall. Before a fire. I will not let you leave otherwise."
Legolas looked about him, the storm, the beautiful plains… but he was cold, and he was very tired. His mind was weary, and so was his heart. The offer was a welcoming one.
"Thank you," he said to the King, "It sounds splendid."
"Good," Eomer said with a nod, "Did you travel on foot?"
"My horse is off…" Legolas looked about him, "Somewhere. I think I've gone further than I thought. I left him grazing some strides back."
Eomer hauled himself up to his seat, and offered his hand to Legolas. "Come. I shall take you, and we can ride to Edoras together."
Legolas took the King's proffered assistance. Eomer's hands were rough, warrior's hands, warm and sturdy. Or perhaps his were just so terribly cold. He sat before the King, and they moved forward in a comfortable pace.
"I recall this route, my lord," Lenne said to Legolas as he rode beside them, "Plains, and hills and rocks. There is a cliff nearby too, isn't there? I remember, we traveled this road towards Helm's Deep not too long ago. You would not have known I was there, but we all knew of Legolas, who rode with King Theoden and the heir of Isildur. We were attacked here."
affirmed quietly, "This is that road."
"We thought we had lost Lord Aragorn," Lenne explained to Eomer, "You were not here, sire."
"Of which I am acutely aware," Eomer muttered to the boy, "But I am desperately wishing that you are not here right now."
He felt Legolas' shoulders shake as he laughed in front of him. But the elven prince thankfully kept his mouth shut.
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The horse was a curiously old, unglamorous spotted gray. He had black hair and deep, doe eyes. The warrior and horse-master deeply ingrained into Eomer could not help but wince.
"That is not Arod," he commented, for lack of a better thing to say. The horse was sure on his feet, at least, and seemed not to mind the rain. And why should he? He seemed only to have a care for the grass in his mouth.
"No, it is not," Legolas smiled, "That is Butter."
"Butter," Eomer repeated flatly, "is his name."
"Butter," Legolas affirmed, and the horse looked up at its elven master. There was some sprite to him yet, and he abandoned its grassy patch in favor of a petting. Legolas reached forward and indulged him, touching his nose.
"Where on Earth did you find that beast?" Eomer asked.
"I bought it from an old drifter," Legolas replied, "Practically for nothing."
"You are probably more saddled than benefited by it," Eomer pointed out, "That horse is on its last legs, mark my word. I shall give you a new one for the rest of your journey."
"It has quite a few leagues to it yet," Legolas assured Eomer, "It will do what it must, and it will take me where I ought to be."
The elf murmured something to the horse in his own language, before explaining to Eomer, "Arod is very dear to me, and he has carried us through the direst of straits, for which I am still vastly grateful to you. But I decided to yield him to Gimli. The dwarf has trouble with horses as it is, and I did not have the heart to deprive him of this one beast with whom he seems to get along with." Legolas chuckled to himself, "Do not mention that to him, though. He doesn't know. He thought he won Arod over a game of cards. He is actually very pleased with himself."
"The dwarf was always by you, somewhere," Eomer commented as Legolas mounted his steed, "Why are you traveling alone? The roads are still unsafe."
"I've places to go where he cannot and must not trail," Legolas answered, "An inevitability, I'm afraid, for all beings, to tread the world alone."
"Yes," said Eomer, "but not unnecessarily."
"Ah," nodded Legolas, "Yes. Of course. This situation in particular makes it very necessary to travel thus."
Eomer's brows furrowed, "Some trouble in the land?"
"Not particularly," Legolas replied, drawing his hood over his face again, "I would greatly appreciate if we kept my presence in Edoras a secret for awhile."
"You've nothing to fear of my discretion, of course," said Eomer, "But 'tis a small city. Your presence will eventually be known, lest you wish to keep your face hidden for the entirety of your stay."
"I merely meant not to be announced in a public way," Legolas clarified.
"As you wish," Eomer replied, looking at his young aide pointedly. Lenne seemed disappointed. "You have something to say?" he asked the boy in his most kingly way, the words lined by the menace of you'd better not.
"Nothing my lord," Lenne gulped, "It's just that… well the people would have been thrilled and honored to have the elf warrior back, that's all. We'd have given him a right good welcome."
"We all have our reasons," Eomer said coolly, and Legolas glanced at the King from the corner of his eye as they traveled towards the capital city of Rohan. That statement was lined by its own determined Kingly menace of I will discover yours later.
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He was staring at the bed with such fierce longing for innumerable moments before he caught himself, and blinked at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Legolas faced the servant boy, forgetting he was even there at all, and offered him a reassuring smile.
"Will the quarters do?" Lenne asked.
"They are perfect," he replied, "As they always have been. Thank you for your hospitality."
Lenne nodded, and strode toward one of the elaborate room's ornate wooden cabinets.
"This room once belonged to the King himself," Lenne shared as he drew out some tunics, robes and towels for Legolas to use, "King Eomer, that is, before he ascended to the throne. These clothes were his, and you may use them until your own are cleaned and dried."
He placed the garments on top of the bed, and stepped toward Legolas with every intention of helping him dress.
"I do not require a valet," Legolas chuckled, "You may leave to attend to your master."
Lenne smiled at him and nodded, "As you wish, my lord," he said, turning his attention now towards working the fireplace. He finished quickly, his hands well-used to the routine. He rose with a flourish and dusted his hands upon his pants, saying, "Welcome back to Rohan, my lord. The King expects you for dinner in a pair of hours."
Legolas watched the boy leave and close the door behind him. That at least left him time for some rest. He stepped towards the fire, and wearily plopped down to the ground in front of it. The warmth was addictive, and comforting. It was lulling him into a sleep much-needed and much-deserved, even if it was not particularly welcomed.
He folded his legs, and hugged his knees to his chest, resting his forehead over them. He was plagued by a menace of a headache, one that has been hovering over him for so long he thought (unfortunately wrongly) that perhaps he only needed to get used to it.
He coughed once, and shakily recovered his breath. He desperately needed the rest and yet he did not want it. There would be a whole lot of time for rest later. Why rush?
Sighing, he lifted his head, as his trembling hands reached to unlace his boots. He tossed them next to the fire, and his cloak and outer-most tunics quickly followed. The billowy white of his undershirt now clung to his wet skin, pressing against the red-stained bandages that still liberally adorned his body. The once-white cloths that bound his left arm from wrist to elbow was soaked through with rainwater and his blood, as was those that held his right shoulder and wound around his waist.
It's looking better, he managed to lie to himself, except he knew very well that these were wounds were as old as a fortnight. They did not bleed profusely, or, perhaps it was better to say they no longer did, after he sewed shut cuts that he normally would have just allowed to heal with time, after realizing they will not do so on their own. But the aid of the stitches without the wounds closing and the blood clotting was still distinctly troublesome. The precious red fluid still trickled from his weary body in amounts that would have been trivial if he had not been so vexed by this strange malady for weeks on end. Nevertheless, infection was yet to set in and at least in this respect, he still counted himself amongst the vastly lucky.
Wincing, he rose to his bare feet and sauntered toward his traveling pack. Its contents were no-less soaked than he, and he glanced at the door in suspicion, before he drew out the wet strips of bandages from inside it and hung them over the fireplace mantle to dry.
This is a mistake, he thought fleetingly, I should not be here. It was only a matter of time before the charade was broke and lost, and his secret was discovered.
And yet he could clearly see the pounding rain from his window, and the world outside seemed profoundly unwelcome against the warmth of this room.
I will leave when the sun shines, he decided.
He sat in front of the fireplace again, languishing in the radiant heat. He stared at the fire, and wondered what his friends might be doing at this very instant.
Just days after a glorious victory… what would he have done, if he wasn't so incapacitated? He'd have taken up the dwarf's invitation to explore the Glittering Caves, and shown Gimli a thing or two himself about forests. Or perhaps he'd have stayed in Minas Tirith a bit longer. The city was beautiful, and the spirit of victory, and the grand return of their long-lost child, Aragorn son of Arathorn, hung heavily and welcomingly upon the air. Perhaps he'd have gone home, to Mirkwood, to his father. And yet here he was, of all places. In Edoras. And with Eomer. Of all people…
The man, he reflected, was more than decent enough. Eomer did not suffer fools gladly, and was an honorable and fearless warrior with considerable skill. He was vastly intelligent, and wise beyond his years. It is here that their similarities ended. Legolas knew little of Eomer outside of being the staunchest of allies in a battle. He couldn't say they were friends. He couldn't recall if they ever shared a meal. Or shared in laughter. He did not dislike the King of Rohan, that was certain. He just didn't particularly like him, and it was strange how life threw them together in this manner, at this time.
Naturally he wished he was elsewhere. With Gimli, perhaps, who made detestable caves a curiosity to him, and even journeys toward deadly battles an amusement. And with Aragorn of course, his spirit-brother, with his pair of kind, teasing eyes. Aragorn to him was like a rock. He never wavered. That strength was like a light, it called and appealed, and he often felt all the lesser for not having it near to him… As he did now. But times were different and upon this light he could no longer indulge, lest he infringe upon it and dim it with his own impending darkness. He would be the pall to the King of Gondor's happiness, he knew, if he stubbornly remained with him.
He smiled a little, at the thought of Aragorn and his wife. Arwen will make him happy. They will have beautiful children, and a stunning kingdom to raise them in. He will not storm that paradise and mar it, as surely as his heart once was marred by the loss of those whom he loved.
TO BE CONTINUED…
THANKS to all who took the time to read. This piece is going to be a leap for me… it's kind of experimental. I have made about seven chapters or so but I've been hesitant to post for a lot of reasons… (including the lack of a title… I woke up this morning and suddenly just thought of it) Anyway, c&c's always welcome. 'til the next post!!!
THANKS. Btw, super thank you to all who read and reviewed the recently concluded "Exile" trilogy. You're all so wonderful :)