Disclaimer: I own nothing!
Author's Note: This is just a story I couldn't help writing, but to all of you who are reading 'Unexpected', don't worry. This won't be interfering with that, I promise! Well, here's Chapter One of 'Grief and Grace'! Might be slightly AU, but not too badly.
Year 2933 of the Third Age:
Legolas surveyed the woodlands around him from his perch atop a high pine tree, and smiled as the slightly chilly wind ruffled his long, silvery gold hair. One of the tree's branches was wound around his ankle, as the gentle, slumbering giants had a tendency to be exceptionally paranoid about him. He had long been favored by all things green and growing, as well as by all things four-footed and furry. He looked over at his companion, and grinned when he saw her dark head beginning to descend. She'd been patrolling for a little over two years now, as she had demanded to do something more for her people then sitting around practicing needlework.
"Slow down, Arwen! Your brothers will never forgive me if I bring you home battered and broken!" He called good-naturedly, beginning his own rapid descent, the branch withdrawing as the tree started scolding him. Honestly! He was an Elf, for the love of Elbereth, and Elves simply didn't fall out of trees. Especially not wood-elves such as himself.
"Jealous, are you?" She called back, already halfway down. "You're just mad because I'm faster!"
"We'll see." Legolas murmured, took a step to the left, and let himself freefall. Arwen's scream rang through the forest as he fell and fell, and he knew she was going to kill him for this later. Then, as suddenly as his fall had started, it stopped. Wrapped securely, yet gently, within a massive branch of the now-irate tree, he tried his damnedest to stifle his laughter when he heard Arwen's gasp from above him.
"Are you alright!?" She shouted, moving down the trunk with enough speed that she would have seemed nothing more than a blur to mortal eyes. She landed on the ground almost soundlessly and rushed to his side. "Legolas? Can you hear me?" She asked, her voice high and shrill, and he couldn't hold back his chuckles any longer.
"Fine, fine." He choked out, and her gray eyes narrowed.
"You…you…you orc!" She huffed indignantly as the tree released him and he landed softly on his feet. Still laughing, he brushed a few stray pine needles out of his hair.
"You shouldn't have challenged me."
"Challenged you?" She cried, hitting him in the arm. "I did no such thing!"
"Yes, you did! You might not have said it exactly, but I—"
Legolas froze in mid-sentence, going rigid. Arwen looked around in alarm, knowing that he must have heard or felt something. His senses and instincts were much keener then hers, much keener than just about anyone's, and she trusted him. He'd been her instructor for the last six months while he'd been visiting her brothers in Imladris, and this was their second trip alone across the Misty Mountains. They were on the mountainside now, deep in the thick forests that sprawled across its surface almost endlessly, and which awaited the coming winter, the trees bearing leaves already long barren of any color. She knew that if there was any danger, he would be the first to know it. The trees and the animals spoke to him in ways that they didn't to any other.
"What is it, Legolas?" She asked quietly, carefully and silently stringing her bow and drawing an arrow.
His head was cocked to the side, his eyes distant and farseeing, and she once more became aware of the differences between them. He was older, yes, old enough to have fought in the Last Alliance and watch his grandfather die. And wood-elves in general were different from any other of their kind, feral and secretive as a whole. It had taken Arwen almost a literal age to win the Greenleaf's trust, and he truly trusted only a select few. Her brothers were the only exception. They had somehow gotten under the prince's defenses in less than three days, and they had been nigh inseparable ever since. They were in either Imladris or Mirkwood at any given time, but always together, barring patrols like this one.
"Flee up the tree." He said suddenly, and her lungs constricted with fear at the tone in his voice. He thought they were about to die.
"What is it?" She repeated, more frantically this time. He spun on her.
"Flee!" He ordered, and she wasn't looking at Legolas anymore, but the prince. She seemed glued to the ground, however, and couldn't move. Before she knew what was happening, he had grabbed her with speed even an Elf couldn't possibly possess and had thrown her over one shoulder. He flew up the tree again until he as almost back at the top, before putting her on a branch and telling the tree to restrain her. He removed her arrows as branches and vines tied her to the trunk, and she flung curses at him, which he ignored. So she tried a different approach.
"Legolas, saes! You cannot leave me here! I can help you!" She insisted, and the blank look in his emerald eyes stole the breath from her. ((please))
"No one can help us." He said in a deadpan voice, and she felt her eyes begin to sting. "We're too far from any other Elves or even any Men. I will die this day, but you…You are the Evenstar. You must not fade here, not now. You are meant for something greater. I can feel it."
"And you are not?" She asked, the first tears leaking down her cheeks. "Are you not the champion of Mirkwood, the beloved Greenleaf of your people? You have been touched by the Valar more than any Elf in Arda's history, except perhaps for my grandmother. This is not your fate, either."
"Oh, but it must be." Legolas said, still appearing as if he were listening to something that only he could hear. "Because there's no way that it hasn't sensed the presence of Elf-flesh so near. And how blessed by the Valar am I if this is our luck?" He inquired dryly, and he was scaring her worse than the creeping cold that she was beginning to feel on the edges of her psyche.
"What comes? Tell me at least that much." She said when he made to leave. He paused, halfway to the next branch, and his cat-green eyes seemed to pierce hers.
"Tell Elrohir and Elladan that my last thought was of them, and that I shall love them even in Mandos. Tell my father that he was always my idol, and that I am honored to have had the chance to call him Ada. Tell him that Ada'da Oropher greeted me at Mandos's Gates. Tell my mother that she shall always find me with her roses, and tell my sister that she shall always be my precious aewithen. Tell my brother to stay strong, tell him I said he will make a fine Crown Prince in my stead. Tell Glorfindel that his stories of Mandos had better be true, or I shall haunt him, I swear it! And you…I wish to thank you, pen-vuil, for being my friend. I am proud of you." ((dear one))
Then he was gone and she was sobbing raggedly, the reality of the situation hitting home. Legolas was positive that he was going to meet his death, and he was seldom wrong. As far as she knew, he had never been wrong. And he still hadn't answered her question. She grew still as the forest did, as the common noises of birds and beasts died out into nothing. The cold was growing stronger by the second, and the fear in her heart grew with it. What came for them? What could be so horrible that one of the best warriors in Arda doubted his skill? From her vantage point, she could see the small clearing below perfectly, and could see Legolas waiting, his bow drawn.
"Be safe, son of Thranduil." She whispered, and then very nearly screamed when his opponent melted out of the shadows. It couldn't be…But it was. And it confirmed that Legolas had been right. He was going to die if he fought it. Which was something that no sane Elf would ever dream of, but that he seemed bent on doing.
"Look who we have here." The thing hissed, drawing its long sword. "The infamousss Princcce of Mirkwood. No other could sssmell ssso ssstrongly of Oropher and old, forgotten power. Long have I desssired to tassste of your flesssh. It ssseemsss my opportunity hasss come."
"We shall see, Witch-king." Legolas countered, his voice steady and not in the least revealing his fear, if he even felt any. Knowing Legolas, he did not. He more than likely saw it as his duty, and therefore welcomed Mandos with open, unhesitant arms.
"Yesss, we ssshall." It agreed, swinging its sword and advancing.
Legolas let the first arrow fly and it hit true, right above where the creature's wasted black heart lay. It staggered only slightly before continuing, and within a minute, it was littered with arrows. Legolas was undoubtedly the best archer in Middle Earth, and he was positively deadly with his twin blades. But she didn't know if either would help him now. Legolas kept retreating as the Ringwraith came towards him, until he finally ran out of arrows. His white-handled mithril knives, short swords really, sung as he drew them from their sheathes, and he stopped his backwards progress. His breathtaking, androgynous face was set and hard, his eyes cold and unfeeling.
Their blades met in a deafening clash of metal against metal, and Arwen winced as the sharp sound seemed to echo in her head. She wanted to close her eyes, she didn't want to see the fall of Legolas Thranduilion, but she forced herself to watch. She would not abandon him, not even in so small a way. His final glory would be witnessed and remembered. That is, if she herself even lived to see the sun set. Legolas twisted to the side a moment before the Lord of the Morgul's sword would have impaled him, and struck quickly. One of his blades sunk into the creature's arm and it shrieked, a high, awful sound that was much worse than the swords' meeting had been.
Legolas danced away immediately, blood as black as night staining the mithril blade. The Ringwraiths weren't alive, but they could bleed and feel pain as much as any creature that walked the land. And this one, their leader, was now furious. She doubted it was used to being wounded. It swung its massive sword in a wide arch, confident since Legolas was pinned between it and a tree. But Legolas shot straight up and into the branches when it attacked, and its blade sunk through the thick bark, almost coming out the other side. Arwen could hear the tree's screams in her mind, and knew that if she could, then Legolas must be in agony from its cries.
And she was right. He fell from the tree, clutching his head, although he did manage to keep a hold of his short swords and land on his feet like a cat. But it gave the Witch-king the few seconds that it needed. It lashed out in a blur and cut a deep wound across his lower back, and he fell to his knees. It bore down on him and he blocked the next swing, lifting his head, his silver-streaked hair falling back from his sculpted face. His eyes were burning with battle fury, and she knew then that the wound wouldn't slow him down. She doubted he could feel anything but rage, and wondered if that was a good thing or not.
Truthfully, she was astonished that he was even still breathing. No one, except for perhaps an Istari, a Ring Bearer, or Glorfindel, stood even a small chance of surviving an encounter with the Black Captain. But there Legolas was, once more on his feet with crimson blood flowing down his back, and he wasn't merely surviving. He was giving as good as he got, and more. Shocked and scared stiff, her fear began to slowly change to wonder and amazement. She had seen Legolas fight before, countless times, but never like this. He was brutal and merciless, quicker then two Elves put together, and he didn't seem to be tiring in the least. He truly was the last great Elvin Prince.
Not to say that it was by any means an easy fight. The Witch-king was not the Lord of the Nazgûl for nothing. He inflicted another serious wound to Legolas's calf, a third to his left arm, and a forth to his abdomen. They swirled and spun, parried and feinted, and it seemed to last an eternity to Arwen, who watched silently with baited breath. In fact, it seemed that the whole wood had stopped, the creatures within it seeming to sense the importance of the moment, and Arwen shivered even though the sun was blazing. How had it come to this? What had they done to merit a seemingly random meeting with the Captain of Despair?
Another unearthly shriek rent the air as Legolas shoved both blades into its chest, ripping sideways until he hit ribs and then yanking them back out viciously. The Witch-king fell for the first time, its knees hitting the grass, and Arwen sucked in a breath. This was unheard of! The Morgul Lord was considered invincible, but here she witnessed him nearly beaten. A second later, she wished she hadn't thought that, as it reared back up and lashed out in three lightning-quick strikes. Legolas blocked the first two, but the third pierced his thigh all the way through. Still he did not scream, even as he fell to his own knees beside the creature.
The trees all around them began howling, crying mournfully for someone or something to save their beloved prince, but the tree that held Arwen captive would not loosen its grip, even as its own voice rose and echoed its brothers' plea. Her eyes locked on Legolas, the next few seconds seemed to happen in slow motion. He dropped one bone-handled knife, his bare hand shooting out and disappearing into the creature's gaping chest a second before a black-armored fist slammed into his temple. He fell backwards limply, his eyes glazing and falling shut, and Arwen felt her hope die. Until she saw what he grasped tightly in his hand.
Legolas had ripped the shriveled, diseased heart straight from the mighty Witch-king's breast. The Nazgûl Lord stared at its removed organ in shock, and Arwen was caught between sheer disbelief at seeing the impossible, and utter awe at the fact one of her best friends had just defeated the blackest evil left in the land. And defeat it he had. No shriek left its foul lips that time; it simply crumpled to the ground and disappeared. But not without one final act of vengeance. The tree that it had nearly cleaved in half with its sword gave an unearthly bellow before it crashed to the ground, right on top of Legolas's still form.
The branches and vines holding her in place finally fell away, and when she hit the ground, she couldn't even recall her descent from the tree. Drawing her sword, for she knew that the thing was not truly dead and she could not shake the feeling of fear that it had lit within her fëa, she rushed to his side. Fearing the worst, she sobbed with relief when she saw the fallen giant's final deed. The massive tree had turned its branches into spear-like prongs, and had slowed the speed of its fall, stopping its full weight from crushing Legolas completely. He was still in bad condition, and was pinned to the earth by the tree, so it was quite a surprise when his eyes fluttered open.
"Arwen?" He gasped, his lean body convulsing. Tears pouring steadily down her face, she clutched his hand in hers.
"I'm here, ernilen-bain." She choked out, trying to calm herself so as not to worry him. His grip on her hand tightened as another spasm racked his form, and pounding feet running towards them through the brush had her on her feet again in seconds, another arrow drawn. Four gigantic wolves burst into the clearing, their eyes rolling wildly, and she breathed a sigh of relief. They loped over to Legolas immediately, and she knelt back down as they crowded around him, frantically sniffing at his exposed body and whining when he didn't rise. ((my beautiful prince))
"Sedho, melloneamin." Legolas whispered, and the wolves grew silent at once, sitting back on their flanks. The largest of them, a male named Sereg, had a coat as black as the Ringwraith's cloak, while his mate, Dagor, was whiter than freshly fallen snow. The other two, Akso and Dagnir, were both a dark, startling gray, almost silver, and all four had mismatched eyes of amber and indigo blue. ((Quiet, my friends))
"Legolas, I have to get you out of here. We can't camp out in the open like this, not with the danger increasing daily." She said softly, and her thoughts on Dagor's pale fur came back to her with a sudden jolt of horror. "Snow! Oh Valar, what are we to do? Snow will block the passes within a week's time! We would have been safely in Mirkwood by then, but with you injured like I believe you to be, we'll never make it! We have to signal for help somehow, we have to—" Legolas cut her babbling short.
"Iston hen." He murmured in his lyrical voice, his eyes still slightly cloudy. Worried, as she knew his restorative powers were better than most, she again fought down her rising panic. ((I know this))
"Why aren't you healing?" She demanded, starting to claw at the thick wood in an effort to free him. The wolves caught on quickly, and they started working on unearthing the sunken branches as well.
"You must be in shock." He replied, obviously fighting to stay conscious. "You know why, as you know what I fought. And Arwen, if I…you must…" He trailed off, and when he coughed, bright red Elvin blood splattered on his lips, glowing faintly with his light.
His words drew her up short, and she froze as realization washed over her. How could she not have remembered? He had been wounded by the blade of the Black Captain of Morgul, the High Lord of the Nazgûl. He was dying, becoming a wraith himself. Her blood turning to ice, she felt guilt swamp her. If she had not insisted on him taking her on this patrol, if he had gone alone as he had originally planned to, she knew he could have fled too swiftly for even the Witch-king to have caught him. But he had known she couldn't keep up, and he was dying now because he had been willing to forfeit his life for hers, to keep her safe.
"No." She uttered, her words almost to low for even Elvin ears to hear. Then louder, stronger, "No! I will not lose you to darkness! Our people could not bear the loss; I could not bear the loss! And what of my brothers? They would fade from grief should your light be extinguished!" The mention of the twins had his eyes sparking momentarily, and two words, full of raw feeling and desperation, escaped his lips before his eyes fell shut in unnatural sleep.