Well. Here we are no, not the story at the end. Yes, my friends, this is the final chapter, and, as usual, I'm writing at quarter to twelve at night, with classic fm playing away in the background – I don't know how long that will last for: probably put on some RotK for inspiration fairly soon – they don't tend to play my kind of thing at this time of night. Oh – and I'm missing the rest of Swordfish to write this, so I hope you're all happy…
Any who any how, on with the story! Not overly sure about how this chapter's going to turn out; I'm hoping that it'll write itself like the others have…
OK, the bit up there was written about a week ago, so here's an update. I've finished my exams AS Levels for all of you in England, and I'm in my 12th school year for my American friends.
Profuse apologies for the lateness of this final chapter, and I hope that none of you lost interest while you waited…
Chapter Eighteen – Crossing the Bridge we built
When they arrived back at the Tower, all re-entered the black building – save for Legolas, who still resolutely decided to stay outside, standing quietly away from the entrance, chewing thoughtfully on a chunk of ham that Aragorn had finally cut off for him. So very much had happened to him of late that he was grateful for this temporary lapse in company to mull things over in his mind. He knew what his father was going to say to him, without a doubt…
"Will you come back home with me, Legolas?"
He wanted to. He wanted to go home so very achingly much. But he could not. Not even if Ilúvatar himself commanded him to would he go. Why, though? Why was he so determined to pass the opportunity by like a fool? They were on a fool's errand, anyway, so it made sense to just give up now and face his fate – whatever it may be, whether it was live for all eternity, like he was born to do, or die in battle defending the borders of the Woodland Realm – at home.
He might even be able to recover properly back in Mirkwood – he would, doubtlessly, be admitted into the healing wing as soon as they passed through the gates. That was a thought that made him wince; Aragorn had been right, he conceded…
'And what, exactly, are you implying about my father's healing chambers?'
'Oh, there is nothing wrong with them at all, mellon nin: save the fact that - and I speak from experience - it is much better to be a visitor than an occupant, as your father's head healer can be merciless when it comes to painful injuries.'
He smiled at the memory: Estel – though Legolas was grudging to acknowledge it – was right about the head healer, an Elf to be well-respected if you wished to come out relatively unscathed from a duration in his healing chambers the next time you were dragged home half-dead by your troop. This was something that had been rather a regular thing during his younger years, when he had commanded with little experience and nearly got all under his charge killed. But he was a competent leader, now; able to direct a body of men wisely, respecting them and in turn receiving that respect back ten fold. He missed going out with the patrols…
His attention snapped back to the present as he heard a great boom coming from inside the Tower, and the ground beneath his feet trembled considerably, stopping after a couple of seconds. He saw a faint cloud of black dust escape the mouth of the Tower, as though the building were an ancient beast of some kind, emitting one last, tired breath.
It was not long before people started to emerge… Éomer and his men came out first, aiding something that looked as though it had been a man, once – although, now all Legolas could see was a bloodied mess that did not even attempt to move its feet as it was manoeuvred carefully down the steps. Legolas felt his heart sink in his chest. Only one out of five, it appeared, had survived, and Legolas sensed that this one was not going to last much longer. He could detect many things that mankind was unable to; pregnancy in women, impending danger, the exact temperament of animals … and approaching death. And this man was going to die, there was no question about that … Legolas' senses were never wrong when it came to this kind of thing, and it would be sooner rather than later. None of this would have happened if he had kept his mouth shut and not pressurised Aragorn into inspecting the forest…
Éomer passed the Elf a half-glance as they went to pass by – and stopped. He faced the Elf fully, and gave a slight incline of his head, which was returned.
'I do not want you to feel that all of this was your fault,' Éomer told Legolas – much to the surprise of the other. He had read the expression in the face of the Elf, something akin to guilt knotting his bruised brow.
'You were right about there being something going on in the forest, and I am sorry for my short-sightedness concerning that situation-' Éomer was finding it difficult to formulate this apology – he never apologised to anyone, nor did he explain himself to any save his King. 'Anyway,' he continued, deciding to give up and just say it: 'it was not your fault that the company was ambushed-' he gave a quick gesture to the man he was propping up '-and this certainly wasn't due to you. I hope that now, perhaps, we can try to understand each other a little better.'
Legolas was taken aback by the sincerity of Éomer's words – but he recovered from his shock and smiled, offering a bow to the other.
'Thank you. I, in turn, apologise for my sharp tongue and for trying to stick an arrow between your eyes. You are right: it would be better for both of us if we were to set aside our differences – there is enough division in this world without allies being aggressive towards each other.'
Éomer bowed himself, gave a quick smile, and indicated to his man that they were to continue walking, and Elf and Man parted with no further words, but with the safe and satisfying knowledge that differences were now settled between them. Éomer still was not overly struck on the Elf, and Legolas not overly struck on the Man, but at least there was no longer any open hostility.
After them came a rather pleased looking Gimli, thumbs tucked into his belt and a pipe hanging in his mouth, smoking away. He came over to his taller companion, enjoying seeing the other wrinkle his nose in displeasure at the smell.
'What are you so smug about?'
'I, Master Elf,' began the Dwarf in as loud a voice as he could muster just a stones' throw away from being a shout, 'have just supervised Gandalf in the collapsing of a certain tunnel, which, without the help of yours truly, he would never have been able to do.'
'Certain tunnel? As in the tunnel full of-' he stopped himself before he said too much and fully resurrected the memory again. 'The tunnel I came in by?' he finished in a quieter voice.
'The very same,' came the proud reply. 'Though to call it a tunnel now would be rather short of the truth.'
'Saruman – the foolish old goat – left some black powder where I could find it.'
'What black powder?'
Gimli gave an exaggerated role of his head in disbelief at the other. 'What black – only the same stuff he used to blast the hole in the Wall with, Master Elf! A miner's best friend!'
'Gimli, I am hardly a miner,' Legolas reminded his companion, a small frown over his brow. 'I have no familiarity with such things.'
The other heaved a heavy sigh – to Legolas' amusement – at the hopelessness of his friend's knowledge. 'A grainy powder, friend of mine, which, when used correctly and ignited, creates an explosion enough to collapse a whole mountain, it is so powerful.'
Legolas could only think of the corpses in the tunnel, that vision of the one that he had been forced to jump over the most prominent in his mind. He had despised it down there, a loathing that he had never felt before for anything, and that was really saying something, with the amount of horrors that he had seen during his millennia. But it was the thought of all of those bodies being crushed that made him shudder like he did.
His father, Aragorn and the others came out next, Gandalf pausing before the door before passing down the steps himself.
'I think that we all have had enough of this Tower and its inhabitants for a considerable amount of time,' the wizard passed to the group, and he hovered his staff over the doorway, apparently sealing it. It was almost a therapeutic action for Legolas – it felt as though it was all truly over; no more pain or suffering, with the pair that he now deemed as his greatest enemies locked in the mass of carven black stone with no way out.
The group progressed to the walls of Isengard, various Elves whistling to their horses to come to them – including the King, who mounted his stallion and shouted out the order that they were to ride for Mirkwood as soon as possible.
'Will you not come back to Edoras, my Lord Thranduil?'
'No. Thank you, Lord Éomer, but we must get back to the kingdom as soon as we can: we are needed.
'Will you come back home with me, Legolas?'
Those words, which he had so accurately predicted, jarred Legolas' soul all the same. To go home would be wonderful; just to sleep in his own bed, get the rest that his body urged him to get, to take command of his patrols again as captain…
Legolas looked up into the hopeful eyes of his father.
'I am sorry, Adar – my King – I cannot; I have sworn an oath to carry this through, and by the grace of the Valar or no, I will do it.'
Thranduil studied the face of his child intensely – an action that caused his son to lower his head. The King cupped Legolas' chin, forcing him to look him in the eye again.
'You have your mother's spirit, Legolas – do not apologise for that, ion nin.'
He smiled at the single tear that tumbled down the cheek of his son, and wiped it away with his thumb.
'Swear another oath for me, will you, Legolas?'
'Promise me that you will come home in one piece at the end of this.'
Legolas smiled, laughing quietly. 'I swear it.'
Thranduil patted Legolas' face lightly with his hand before he whispered to his horse, and the entire host began to pass out of the gates, leaving the mixture of races behind them.
Aragorn glanced over to his best friend as he raised his hand and placed it over his heart in the Elven fashion, extending it out, uttering: 'Namárië, Adar,' and then turning to them as the last soldiers left the grounds of Isengard.
By a conscious act or no, Aragorn, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry and Pippin were stood together, the remainder of the fragmented Fellowship of the Ring – it felt as though they were waiting for their Elven member to join them, and he smiled as he walked over to them…
Six out of nine, he thought. Perhaps there is some hope after all. Perhaps…
The black spear that was Isengard slowly diminished in size behind them, little more than needle against the blue of the sky as their horses made their speedy coverage over the land of Rohan. Thranduil could not help but look back at it constantly, gyrating his head so frequently that it was beginning to irritate Lord Daerahil.
'Thranduil,' he alerted his King as he turned about for what must have been the fiftieth time. 'If you continue to do that, I shall personally cut off your head and put it back on your shoulders backwards!'
'Sorry,' came the reply, Thranduil's brow raised. 'I'd hate to annoy you.'
'I know that you miss him,' Daerahil offered, all seriousness returned to his voice, 'but turning round and looking back will not bring him to your side.
Thranduil sighed at this matter-of-fact, blunt analysis. 'I know. I just wish he had chosen differently through all of his stubbornness.'
'Yes – well, reminds you of someone, does he not?'
Thranduil turned confused eyes upon his childhood friend. 'His mother, yes, but there is something to your tone, mellon nin, that suggests to me that you speak not of her.'
'No, not the Queen,' Daerahil smiled. 'You.'
The King straightened his back, lifting his head to try and make himself tall and indifferent to anything Daerahil tried to suggest, eyes facing dead ahead in a mocking fashion.
'I know not what you mean.'
Éomer's men had set up a watch between themselves, their eyes wide and attentive: no-one wished for a repeat of past events, though whether or not that kind of thing was likely to occur again was unlikely, so to speak…
Darkness enveloped the camp in the small glen, numerous tents now occupied with sleepers whom had passed from the side of the fire to go to their sleeping mats. Only two now remained before the fire, both tired to a degree, but not wishing to give up to dreams just yet.
Aragorn wondered what had happened with his Elven friend down in the dungeons of Orthanc, that was true enough, though he had absolutely no intention of asking. To ask would not be fair: if Legolas wished to tell him, then he would: but until the Elf chose to disclose this information – if he ever did – then Aragorn was willing to wait.
Legolas was both physically and mentally exhausted, Aragorn could tell, despite the fact that there was not a hope in Arda of the Elf admitting to such a thing. But it was in his face … his eyes were dark and heavy, and his skin was still too pale for Aragorn's liking. Far too pale. His captivity had done absolutely nothing for the Elf's healing abilities, which was clear enough. Why had he not gone home with his father when he had had the chance? The Ranger doubted very much that the company of the King would not rest for a time in Imladris; with the healing skills of Lord Elrond to push him back to full health, Legolas, he was sure, would be well again far sooner than if he were to stay out in the Wild.
'You should have gone back with him, Legolas,' he said softly.
A pair of blue eyes lifted to his grey ones, accompanied by a quiet: 'I know. But I have a duty.'
'A duty? Really? And what would that "duty" entail, O Elven Prince?'
'To see that you do not get yourself killed, Master Aragorn – and please don't call me that.'
The first part of the answer had sounded well-humoured, but the second half had held a certain tang to it which persuaded Aragorn to set a mental reminder never indeed to use Legolas' title in such a manner again. Why Legolas should be slightly testy about this he had no idea, but he deemed it unwise to ask.
'How do you feel?' Aragorn gave the fire a small poke with a stick, watching the flames flare temporarily in a dance of orange.
'Decidedly better than when I was in the Tower,' came the response.
'Really? You do not look it – you are still too pale for my liking.'
'Well, thank you for saying what you really think – I am alright, Aragorn!'
A dark eyebrow was raised at this, a mischievous twinkle dancing in the eyes.
'The last time you were "alright", you had a gaping hole in your gut – I think that we need to run through your definition of "alright."'
Legolas emitted a soft chuckle at this. 'Yes, well,' he retorted, 'you still look terrible.'
Aragorn glowered at this: he had bathed since then – several times, in fact, and he had also mended his clothes. And this was coming from Legolas of all people, whose appearance at the moment resembled that of a tall, blond street urchin!
This pointless banter and exchange of insults did the pair of them the world of good, forgetting for a time all of the happenings of the past few weeks with the course of light teasing.
'Seriously, though,' said Aragorn, though he still smiled, going back to the original topic with all severity reinstalled in his voice, 'you look tired: did you sleep at all when I told you to before we left Isengard? In fact, did you even try?'
Aragorn saw a flash of intense pain wash over the Elf's face, and his smile faded away, being replaced by a furrowed brow of deep concern.
'Legolas? What's wrong?'
Legolas met Aragorn's gaze swiftly with clearly glassy eyes, though he had adopted an unnatural smile which quivered under the weight of the lack of authenticity.
'Nothing, mellon nin. Just a dream. That is all.'
Legolas took out a knife and whetting stone, which he placed between his knees, and commenced with sharpening his weapon, deliberately avoiding the gaze of the other, knowing exactly what the look the Man bore was.
Aragorn took out a water-skin and proceeded in emptying the contents down his throat, and making a show of it, trying hard to grasp the Elf's attention. And if he knew Legolas, then his interest would indeed be sparked.
Sure enough: 'You have wine!'
'Correction, dear friend: I had wine.'
Aragorn smirked as he tipped the skin upside down, not a drip emerging from it. He knew that the Elf was sure to smell it, and laughed at the consternation on his friend's face at the complete consumption of the beverage without him tasting any. It was a taste that Legolas had inherited from his father, his incredible love of wine. More often than not, when in a tavern, Legolas would drink only wine if he could get it, or have nothing at all, no matter how long the journey had been.
'I have something else for you.' With that, Aragorn tossed a full skin to his companion, who eyed it suspiciously.
'What is this?'
'Try some – no one else in their right mind would drink this: I hope it is to your liking…'
Legolas unscrewed the cap, keeping an apprehensive eye upon his friend as though he expected stagnant water – and give out a surprised cry at what he found the contents to be. He gave Aragorn a broad smile, an expression that made him look less ill and more like his usual self.
'Where did you get this?'
'I went out earlier and got the ingredients,' he replied simply. 'Go on, drink it!'
Legolas did so, and gladly. It was a tea that he was particularly fond of, though if Aragorn knew why then his mother had been a cave troll. It was a mixture of wild mint and Wolf's-claw root with a drop of honey, something which Aragorn was yet to find someone else besides Legolas who could stomach it and say that it was the best thing they had ever tasted. It had been Legolas' favourite for as long as the Ranger had known him, and was always Legolas' way of calming down whenever he was particularly stressed. Indeed, Aragorn took special delight in seeing the Elf slouch down a little against the log he was leaning against as he relaxed fully.
The skin was soon drained, with a complementary: 'I commend your efforts, mellon nin – though a little more honey would have been appreciated,' he added playfully, only to nearly have his head batted from his shoulders by a sweeping action from Aragorn's hand, at which the Elf laughed openly.
When he had calmed down a little, Legolas leant back against the log again.
'Now will you go to sleep, O Stubborn One?'
Legolas gave Aragorn a look of you-cannot-be-serious from beneath his brows.
'Please, Legolas – you are still far too pale: you need a good sleep to help set yourself back to rights.'
The prince cocked his head like a curious bird before asking: 'Did Lord Elrond teach you to behave like a mother hen, or did you acquire that one on your own?'
'It's a gift.'
The Elf laid his cloak over the ground, resting his head on his good arm for a pillow, his back turned – to be honest, Aragorn had expected more resistance than this. He shook his head sadly at his companion, his best friend. He was in such a condition because he had given himself up in order to save his friends, an act of selflessness that Aragorn had never expected from him or wanted, but was grateful for all the same. He shook his head slowly.
'What will it take to stop you from doing this, Legolas?' he asked quietly, not really expecting a response.
'All the riches the children of Ilúvatar have to give could not stop me from following you, Estel.'
Aragorn watched as the rise and fall of the Elf's chest became more steady and slow, a tear falling from his eye.
Mellon nin – my friend
Adar – Father
Estel – Aragorn's Elven name, meaning 'Hope'
Ion nin – my son
Well, my friends, here we come to the end of this journey. I hope you all liked it, and that you like my future works, which I shall be posting in the near future, all being well…
Gracious thanks to all reviewers and readers alike – if I didn't have my reviewers to boost me into action when they demanded the next chapters, this would never have been finished by now – about four months in the making. So, yeah, again, many, many thanks to you all wow – loads of comers in there.
Oh, and just sos you knows, Wolf'-claw root is a made-up version of ginger – it was going to be ginger, but then I thought about it, and it turns out that ginger is actually grown in Japan, so there wasn't a hope in Hell of Aragorn getting his mitts on any. I actually made this tea, by the way, and can I just say that it is truly VILE, just to warn you – although, if you want to, you can make it … as I said, I'm warning you.
Right, next in the works is my gap-filler not The Ebb of the Tide, a different one and my assassin fic, which looks set to be on a bigger scale than this one, God bidding.
Hannon le, mellon nin – Namárië!