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
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. The Evolution of the Ending
A. The Original Ending
B. The Revised Ending
II. The Structure
III. The Style
IV. The Theme and Recurring Scenes
V. The Phenomena of the 'Torture Fic'
VI. Movie Gap Fillers
VII. The Affliction
VIII. The Cure
IX. The Characterization of Legolas
X. The Characterization of Eomer
XI. The Characterization of Aragorn
XII. The Aragorn-Legolas Dynamic
XIII. The Legolas-Eomer Dynamic
XIV. The Original Characters
XV. The Rohan Setting
XVI. My Next Project
I. On THE EVOLUTION OF THE ENDING. The title of the fic is "Last Stand." It took me awhile to post this fic because I absolutely could not get a handle on what to call it. It's called "Last Stand" because of these lines:
Here in these plains of Rohan, the last battle of a war that spanned a lifetime was fought. It twisted, and it turned, and it ended at last. Here was his final stand. It was a field of losses and victories. When he died, I wondered if he considered it the former or the latter. Either way, it ended at the last, and that in itself seemed a strange and profound relief.
This is from Chapter 16, an excerpt of the letter Eomer was writing to Aragorn. These lines were the namesake of the title because these were actually supposed to be the lines that concluded the ORIGINAL ENDING of this fic.
THE ORIGINAL ENDING. The fic was inspired by the acoustic version of Sting's "Fields of Gold." Its first lines are: You'll remember me when the west wind moves among the fields of barley. You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we walk in fields of gold.
The way I write, I get inspired by scenes or dialogue that pop into my head and then I try to build a story around it. So "Last Stand" began with a song-inspired quiet death scene in a golden field. It's a fic that ironically began with an ending!
So this fic was supposed to end at around Chapter 17, in the fields of Rohan. Aragorn was originally never supposed to know, and Legolas was supposed to die. But of course, the muses had their way, and I find that my story also evolved with the review responses. So to tychen, deana, LOTRfaith and Kelsey, haha, I hope you're happier with this revised ending :)
Sting's "Fields of Gold" is just such a nice song, with a kind of lonely, folk, nostalgic feeling to it, kind of what I tried to convey. I know it's too adult-contemporary for a lot of people, but well, that's where "Last Stand" came from so you may want to give it a listen if you have the chance :)
THE REVISED ENDING. You may have noticed that I did not bother to change the "tragedy" part of the genre. This is in keeping with the idea that I conveyed in Chapter 18:
"You know you have a problem when you begin to find tragedy in survival, rather than in death."
To survive isn't always a triumph; his ultimate loneliness is still guaranteed even if he did find the heart to live. That is why the story remains a tragedy even if it does end on a happier note than originally intended.
The revised ending does raise a problem that I've not thought of before, though, until I started writing the last chapter and literally couldn't stop… how to end it? So Legolas lives. But is it a scene that ends with Eomer, to whom the present timeline mostly belonged? Or does it end with Elessar, who is admittedly the closer friend? I tried the first, and it felt strange and hanging; unresolved with respect to Elessar (this ending would have concluded the fic with Eomer leaving the room in the last scene of chapter 20). I tried the second and it almost seemed unfair to Eomer (this would have ended at Chapter 20, "Among other things."). The three of them together felt kind of… silly for some reason. So. The story ends with Legolas alone… which is how this fic will end and how his life literally will unfold until the end of time. But, well. It's all right to be alone for him now.
II. On THE STRUCTURE. As I mentioned at the start, the structure is one big arc, and then it has little stories in between.
The memories serve several purposes: first, it is to establish a pattern of behavior for Legolas. Secondly, I did not think it would be so easy to understand his grief if the things he was losing were not expounded upon; I felt a window to how greatly things mattered to him was necessary for his loneliness over losing them to be accessible to the audience.
This structure is incredibly difficult for me, because it's like each flashback is a different story. It's like writing several stories in one big story. This means I might be running out of plots to work with for awhile, haha.
I wanted the structure to feel 'round' though, so past and present suddenly meet to form the final chapter, and to shape the future. Chapter 20 is very special; you see here that events that were formerly in the 'present' timeline become memories too, and events from the past recur and become the 'present.'
III. On THE STYLE. The style, in a very general sense was supposed to be 'the medium is the message.' I wanted the readers of the fic to WANT Aragorn to come, to WANT him to save the day, just like the characters want him to. The original ending did not make him into a shaper of events, he was just a memory. I wanted to convey to the readers the desire to make him more than a memory, to share this desire with the characters of the fic. But well, things took a different turn and this style stuck just until near the end. He appeared and shaped the story. I'm not particularly dissatisfied though :)
The style is also very indulgent. The aim is best embodied in this line from the Eomer scene in chapter 19:
The King watched the fields sway in waves that followed the force of the late afternoon breezes. The fields were shamelessly golden beneath the light of the setting sun. It was his favorite time of the day. The afternoon would thereafter climax to its sharpest, most rebellious, rich amber, before it dimmed to various shades of red, ushering in the evening. While each day generally ended this way, each was its own picture of beauty. It was never the same, the way the clouds made patterns in the sky, the way the winds shifted. It was a stark reminder of how each moment counted in a life.
I wanted to pay attention to the smallest details; trembling hands, moist clothes, cackling fires. It's to convey the importance that death suddenly gives to the most simple, most minute and seemingly irrelevant things. I wanted the fic to feel intimate, so I tried to focus on the littlest details.
There are also some symbols. The coming rain at the very start of the fic is a kind-of warning that a figurative storm is also brewing. The taming of a horse was made analogous to the making of a friendship; notice how that wild animal was tamed the next time Legolas sees it and he and Eomer go out for a stroll. The sunset of course, is visually arresting and also symbolic of things that end. Then if you remember the board game pieces in chapter 20? At first it is randomly arranged; as if they've all been placed there haphazardly by the machinations of a fool who doesn't know how to play the game (ahem, that would be Lenne). And then Legolas fingering the pieces hesitantly, as if wondering where to go, what moves to make. And towards the end they're all much more sure.
IV. On THE THEME AND RECURRING SCENES. The theme is, of course, healing. Notice that practically all of the flashbacks had something to do with healing; we see this in chapters 2 and 3, in chapters 5,7,9,10,13, etc. Either Legolas aids Aragorn or the other way around, whether it's physical or spiritual. I thought there was an interesting irony in that all the memories involved healing and in the present he could not heal. It's like, he cannot heal now because of all those other times he's healed before. I found the dynamic kind of fun to work with.
A minor detail of an idea that recurred is also the 'cameo' of Eomer in the memories. He appears in the very last memory, almost very trivial, almost insignificant. It's supposed to feel like… well, you know those murder mysteries where the murderer appears at the start as a very minor character who just passes by and is forgotten along the length of the story until the truth is revealed and we realize just how important he was? The 'cameo' of Eomer in the memory is supposed to be similar to that, just as Aragorn's 'cameo' in the present timeline is also very important to the story. Throughout the fic, the present timeline belonged to Eomer and the flashbacks belonged to Aragorn, right? But Eomer appears at the last flashback chapter and Aragorn appears at the last present chapter and these small appearances changed the outcome of the events.
You may have also noticed that scenes often recur but with the characters switching places. This is best seen in Chapter 20. Legolas wants Aragorn to understand his predicament, so Chapter 20 kind of just switches their roles (it's a repeat of Chapter 13), like walking in someone else's shoes :) This is how Aragorn understands him. This (and the note on the Structure abovementioned) is what made Chapter 20 the hardest one to make.
V. On THE PHENOMENA OF THE 'TORTURE FIC.' The Fallen Hero archetype is pretty prevalent not only in the Lord of the Rings ffic fandom, but in practically all the fandoms I've visited. One must wonder why it is that writers often 'hurt' their favorite characters and why the readers who share this favorite character get attracted to these stories. I'm not sure why other people go for it, but I have reasons that seem sensible and I think may be shared by some people too.
THE FALLEN HERO archetype always answers the question of how important a character really is to his friends and to the world. I think it is a response to that ever plaguing question of the test of death. Would your demise change anything? Would you be remembered? How much of an impact did you have upon the lives of others?
These 'torture fics' answer these questions, I think. It magnifies the importance of a favorite character when the world is threatened by his loss. I mean if you've ever seen those movies that tackle the idea of 'what if I've never been born?' it's kind of like that. So there. I suppose I just got into thinking about why this is so prevalent.
VI. On MOVIE GAP FILLERS. Oh these are just a great weakness to me. I adore movie gap-fillers because great as the films are, it is a story about an ensemble of characters that leaves much room for development (and imagination! :)). My first LOTR fic was a movie gap-filler called "Battle—" a clip of which you've seen in "Last Stand." The thing with "Battle" was that my creative side felt compelled to write it and at the same time, my obsessive compulsive side felt as if it was just hanging there; no definitive beginning, no definitive end. When I was writing Chapter 15, I actually began with yet another version of a Helm's Deep gap-filler. But I eventually decided to slip a clip of "Battle" instead, because I was dissatisfied with my other movie gap-filler.
VII. On THE AFFLICTION. Ah, so here comes the confusing part. Why did Legolas' wounds refused to heal again? Though I tried to explain it in Chapter 18, this note will tackle the short of it and the background of precisely why.
So first, many years ago, Legolas' wounds refused to heal because of his grief over the deaths of those that he loved. This time around, he hasn't lost his loves yet but he is dying of the grief borne from an anticipation of this loss.
Aragorn, while hardly the focus of his life, was a magnification of his destiny. Legolas won't die just because Aragorn will. He's dying because the example of Aragorn reiterates the fact that he will be ultimately alone.
That is the first reason for his sickness. The second reason is the sudden lacking of purpose. If you've ever read philosophical text regarding functionalized existence, you may be aware of the despair that is associated with suddenly realizing you no longer have a purpose (it's not a good thing, but it happens). So in this case, although Legolas has long been aware of his lonely destiny, there was always something else to do that calls for his responsibility not to indulge in his unhappiness. The end of the war also ends this duty.
Lastly, the incident at the Black Gate became the turning point. These wounds in particular did not heal because they came at the moment of his realizations that at the face of all these looming truths, he really cannot do anything. He is helpless. As was mentioned in Chapter 19:
You do not lose them to an enemy. You do not lose them to a sword. You lose them to time. You lose them to yourself, because you are made differently. These arms have held many, these hands have buried more. And there are others to come.
So the long and the short of it is this: the affliction comes from the lack of purpose, lack of distractions, anticipation of ultimate loneliness and helplessness over the entire dire situation.
I suppose the natural question would be why Arwen would not have it yet. I'm not sure, haha. In the movies, was she not leaving until she saw the vision of her son? She knew the harshness of the fate that awaited her, and she was leaving because the 'best case scenario' that Lord Elrond pointed out to her was still one fraught with loneliness. But the idea of creating a life that would transcend hers gave her a purpose, I think. And she returned. I don't know though :)
So we know why they die of their broken hearts. But why not escape it and just sail over the sea? I tried to answer this in chapter 12:
"Much as all of this pains me," said Legolas, "I cannot bear to leave. Anywhere I go I would still be who I am. From myself, there is no running. Though it is comforting to presume they might have athelas for the soul in Valinor, I cannot believe I would emerge subdued and freed from these pains as still distinctly myself… I cannot divorce this from the entirety of my being."
So there. Hardly perfect, I know. Lots of questions… I get confused myself at times, haha.
VIII. On THE CURE. So established fact: Legolas is destined to be alone. He is destined to lose those that he loves. This makes for a lethal tragedy. But there is a cure. If before, it was the loving of others that sustained him, this time, it is his loving of others that keeps him alive. Like the responsibilities called upon him by the war, to love others is also a vocation, a calling. He learns not so much to desire to receive, but to desire to give. He does not want to give others the pain he is surely to get from them.
The irony of this cure is this: Aragorn does not heal him because Aragorn is strong or powerful. Aragorn inadvertently heals Legolas because the adan is weak in his loneliness. If you've ever read philosophical/political/theological text about 'bowing' to the needs of others not because they are stronger and we are forced to do so but because they are weaker and we are responsible for them, this is a manifestation of that.
IX. On LEGOLAS. Obviously my most favorite character. I've always depicted his loneliness, I know. It's just that I find the situation to be so tragic, to be an immortal surrounded by mortals. To watch others die. I don't know, personally I would want to die before anyone else that I love. I guess my works mirror that sentiment.
Like all heroes, I wanted to give the formidable and seemingly invulnerable elf of the Fellowship a weakness. You know what they say, about courage not really being without fear but facing these fears? I cannot conceive of a sympathetic character without fears and without weaknesses. As was mentioned by Legolas in Chapter 12:
It's theoretically embarrassing. I hate weakness. I despise needfulness. But it is what it is. All beings must face a challenge of some sort. Our bodies have mastered the perils of this material Earth; it is only logical for our harsher battles to be set in some other place.
His great challenge was elsewhere, in his heart. So anyway, as always, I give him these weaknesses but I always always try to infuse a defiant strength to him. He is ill, he is dying, but he is also dignified, very prideful. There are a lot of pretensions, a lot of understatements. I try to depict his sadness more subtly; more inside than outwardly expressed. I'm not so much for tears. He takes everything with some wry humor, it's almost morbid. He appreciates the tragicomedy of the situation.
The word I would love to use regarding my characterization of Legolas is defiant. I think the character is a staunch fighter. Losing is incidental, but he always fights. I hope it's not over the line. I try to be as faithful to how he is generally perceived while adding my own spin. I really hope it's not off because I work so hard to keep the characterization in line.
X. On EOMER. I've been saying that I've been just desperate to write a fic on him since I saw "Return of the King." The actor just created an incredibly formidable kind of manly-man that I found so intriguing. His voice was gruff but his tones were addictive to me. He had a stern countenance to him, a kind of weathered, hardy look. His brows were often furrowed, his forehead wrinkled. His eyes looked as if they've seen much in the world.
Compared to the Gondor folk, the Rohan men seemed to be less polished, almost 'rural' to me, very rugged. The men are as different as Minas Tirith is to Edoras. There was something almost exotically different about them, with that music that always accompanied Rohan scenes in "Two Towers."
Eomer as he is portrayed here is an inspiration of that. I wanted him to be hardy, with a bit of a rough edge but just so dignified and honorable. A true warrior with a stern countenance but a loyal heart. Though the wars have seen his tougher side, I think "Return of the King" shows him as slightly more disarmed, when he was telling Eowyn not to encourage Merry.
Literally and figuratively, he almost always had his armor on. My characterization wanted to put some of those reservations off. He was still cautious, yes, and gruff and not openly affectionate. As a matter of fact, even when he knows of a friend's impending death, he is still very outwardly cool even when his mind is racing. Notice he doesn't quite say goodbye, or doesn't really express regrets. He just says "I'm displeased" and everything else is a thought, or like in scenes 14 and 16: in 14, he makes the decision to keep Legolas' secret after this log reflection but in chapter 16 he just says, 'I won't tell Elessar.' Even at the end, when he discovers Legolas will not die, he's very casual but you kind of feel there's more going on inside those perceptive eyes. He's kind of taciturn, but nice too. Just… well as I mentioned above, not openly affectionate.
But I just wanted to throw him curveballs, like dealing with the original character Lenne, and talking about his love life. I thought it might be fun :) I hope this did not seem too off the wall either. I just wanted to see how far I can take it. I've been gambling with characterizations lately (like Haldir in "Escape") and I'm always so scared that I'm not being properly representative.
XI. On ARAGORN. I always say he's that dependable hard place, the eye of the storm, that one guy who has his head on straight when everything seems to go wrongly. More than that hero focus, though, what I see and like of this incredibly strong character's depiction in a lot of fics is this insatiable spirit. He is just so alive, and I always try to portray him thus. I have a fixation for expounding on the idea of him as Estel, as Hope. This is from Chapter 13:
~I thought I simply liked you, mellon nin,~ he said quietly, comfortable that he would not be heard, ~but you do not know how much you mold my world.~
It was the truth; Aragorn was like a looking glass. He changed how people viewed at things. He is dead and things seem so bleak and impossible. He is alive and there is just… estel, Legolas thought wryly. Just so. Very aptly named.
The thing is, I wanted to shake his foundation a little too. More curveballs :) This we can see in Chapter 19. A man could only be so wise… how can he teach that which he cannot know? Suddenly, this guy who has everything placed in careful perspective finds himself in a situation where he is at a loss. The other curveball is this: for the first time, it is not his strength that tides them over the dire situation, it's his weakness.
So there. I know Aragorn is much loved and I hope he is done a measure of justice in this fic.
XII. On ARAGORN AND LEGOLAS. This friendship is just an addictive theme to me. I'm not quite sure why… I'll have to think about that :) I think what I did differently in "Last Stand" (vs. my other fics) is that this was a friendship that didn't immediately take off. My other fics created extraordinary situations that quickened the lowering of boundaries, so to speak, whereas "Last Stand" creates circumstances that are closer to 'ordinary.'
The friendship supposedly began when a seven-year-old boy inspired an elf to live. They see each other almost two decades later to find many things have changed. And naturally, they knew each other only for a little while a long while ago, so they weren't immediately comfortable. Soon they became two leaders with great respect for each other. And then they became friends. So the development is more gradual this time. But hopefully, no less meaningful :)
I decided to focus on a particular idea regarding this friendship. You know how some relationships are based on shared experiences, or mutual needs, or simply because two people enjoyed each other's company? This time I focused on a friendship borne of this:
~Remember I said to you years ago, that you seemed to be wherever I needed you to be?~ Estel asked him with a wistful expression on his face, ~That first time, I was seven and sick. That second time, you halted what could have been a disastrous duel. That third time you helped me bury my dead. And that fourth time you helped save my people from a flood, and me from a uh…~ he smiled in embarrassment, ~a rather murderous tree branch. And then I remember just last year, when I captured the creature Gollum in the Dead Marshes. I passed through Mirkwood and your soldiers imprisoned me fearing I was some kind of a spy. You were there too. You're so seldom in your kingdom, I know, and you were there when I need you to be there. And now here we both are. I'm seldom here at home too, but fate would have it that we are once again together and I am once again in need. Are you by any chance getting sick of my face?~
The above is a line from Chapter 11, which is a mixture of needing, and shared experiences, and being amused, and also being constantly put together by their destinies.
This "you're there when I need you" theme is probably inspired by this thing I noticed in the films, about Aragorn seeing some sort of trouble and always exclaiming "Legolas!" and suddenly the elf is doing something to remedy the situation. I guess I just wanted to set a big backgrounder for that.
XIII. On LEGOLAS AND EOMER. Ok, I must admit. There are two scenes that inspired me to try this dynamic. In the "The Two Towers" we saw them on opposing ends and that was how they met. And then in "Return of the King" after the battle at Pelannor Fields, Legolas and Eomer stood side by side and just looked so formidable together. So I've long written Aragorn and Legolas stories, I wanted to see what I could do with the seemingly colder Eomer. This is from Chapter 1:
…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.
I didn't want to depict them as fast friends because I kind of got the impression that they weren't. Eomer always seemed suspicious, and Legolas could only court that suspicion because he isn't very open either. So I wanted to see what I could do with that. Each of their chapters together kind of build up to a friendship.
The first chapter is just polite, civil wariness. And then there is a friendlier atmosphere, because they are suddenly in an environment that is not a war. Then the secret is discovered and there is anger. Then there is understanding. Then there is a giving kindness. As the formation of the Legolas-Aragorn friendship throughout the memories build up, the same goes with Eomer and Legolas in the present timeline.
XIV. On the ORIGINAL CHARACTERS.
AVIA. Ah, yes. The great ffic threat: the original female character. I'm always afraid for OFC backlash. That's why she's old, haha. I've always slipped into my fics these wily, aging female characters. I think it's because I have this strong female war survivor archetype in my head. These beautiful faces with wise eyes and really, they are just clever and unfazed. She's also in the story because she's like the more imposing version of the healer in Aragorn. I wanted Legolas to miss Estel because of her contrast with him.
LENNE. As I said before, this is Eomer's curveball. He is the foil to the King. He is not as wise, and not dignified at all. But he's like the side story to the big story already filled with little stories. He's a character who grows up in the midst of everything. His musing about servants, by the way, is an idea that I got from the film "Gosford Park." When I put him in the story originally, he was more of an amusement, like a comic relief. I guess it's really surprising to me too how he took on a life of his own and vastly changed the outcome of the story. I guess I just couldn't resist the idea of this little man changing the world bit.
XV. On ROHAN. I can say this fic was vastly influenced by the sights and sounds of Rohan in the films. Those horse plains are so vast, yet the aura of the palace was just so intimate, far less austere than Minas Tirith. There's just a great and interesting contrast between the wide open spaces and the closed, quiet rooms. The geography is also just so varied and simply mind blowing and stunning. Aside from these though, Rohan was made into the setting of the fic because during the War of the Ring, it was just a place of great turning points for characters. I think it's just a land that has seen so much. So that's why "Last Stand" makes Rohan its home.
XVI. On MY NEXT PROJECT. Actually, I have no definite one yet, haha. I often have works in process at the tail end of a fic; it's why I never vanish for too long between a concluded story and a new one. Well this story just drained me. Sometimes I had a hard time sitting down with it (until I figured out a happier ending some days ago). I have several plots. Much lighter, of course. I'm thinking of returning to my action/adventure stuffs because those are the ones that I have the most fun with :) I'm like a little boy, haha. The first plot goes back to the horror genre I tried out in "Ghost of Imladris" and (if I should ever get around to writing it) will be featuring Elrond's twin sons, Legolas, Aragorn and Haldir. I might also venture into the realm of the legomance… (which I always say but I can't quite get a handle on the right kind of plot and likeable OFC). I am also pondering an AU future fic which is the most concrete one so far:
Summary: Legolas lives in 2004 as a policeman. The colleagues are starting to wonder why the 10-yr veteran doesn't age & more trouble ahead as he runs across Gandalf as a street prophet, a band of motorcyclists called the Roadhogs led by Emmett, gets treated by an E.R. doctor named Adrian… in short, the Fellowship and some friends are back in curious modern incarnations and a world-threatening peril is resurrected along with them.
Now I know it can sound typical… after all, there are some basic fic archetypes that authors somehow end up doing at one time or another; I can think of a few off the top of my head: 1. the girl-lands-in-middle-earth-thing, 2. the slash fic, 3. the fellowship in the modern world thing, 4. the legomance, 5. the mary sue, 6. the movie gap filler.
Well anyway, it's an irresistible concept so I'll try it out for now, I think, but no promises :)
But all these are pretty loose plots :) We'll see :)
'TIL THE NEXT FIC!!!