Ch. 3 The Offering
While Legolas lay unconscious the wizard tended his hurts. They were many, some serious, but Gandalf laid his hands upon him and the bleeding, both within and without, slowed and stopped. He paid particular attention to one eye that was crimson instead of blue. Fortunately, the damage was superficial for even Gandalf's powers had limits placed upon them.
When Mithrandir at last leaned back on his heels Legolas opened his eyes. To his dismay, he quickly remembered all that had happened. He looked fearfully at the wizard. Gandalf, who had reluctantly felt pity for the elf when he saw all that had been done to him, sighed. "Do not fear, Legolas. I will not shout at you again. How do you feel?"
The elf tried to sit up and Gandalf put an arm around his back. "Gently, now. You have had quite a time, Prince of Mirkwood. Here, lean against this tree…"
He was startled when Legolas struggled and pulled away. "No! I do not want to touch them—they will not speak with me; they hate me!" His voice rose in spite of his attempts to control his fear. "What is happening!"
The wizard held his position, supporting the elf and speaking soothingly. "Calm yourself, forest child. You truly do not know what you have done?"
"I have done nothing. I have always guarded this forest with my bow and blood."
"Ah. Well, there it is, you see. Your blood. You have somehow called forth something that, by old bonds placed upon it, can only be called by one of your House. One in direct line to the throne. Only by you or your father, in fact. And I know Thranduil has been safely at home these last weeks, not raising something he knows nothing about and loosing it upon an already threatened woodland!"
"But I have done nothing! My people have little to do with magics, seeing all the harm they have done here. I know nothing of what you speak; never would I harm my home!"
Gandalf spoke a little sternly, "Have you, or have you not, ridden through the Forbidden Territory this very month? Do not deny it—Galadriel saw it and that is why I am here in time to save you."
Legolas flushed a little but met the wizard's eyes squarely. "Yes, I rode there. I know it is forbidden but I have done it in the past when in peril of my life. All the warriors do so, although not unless hard pressed. Nothing has happened—none of us has been attacked by our own forest before!"
"Something happened this time, Prince of Mirkwood! What incantation did you chant as you rode along? Did you tire of the songs of Aman and Elbereth? The ballads of your warriors?"
"Why do you accuse me so! I have done nothing! I chanted no chant! I spoke no spell!"
Gandalf drew a deep breath. It was a measure of the seriousness of the situation that he was having trouble keeping his temper. "This is getting us nowhere. Tell me exactly what you did, from the moment you entered until you left that accursed place."
Legolas began his story and had just explained that they had only stopped a short while to attend to Aragorn's wound, when the wizard grabbed his beard in both hands and shouted, "YOU SHED HIS BLOOD THERE!"
"No! At least, I had to cut the stitches and clean out the wound but I did it with all good intent! I was not sacrificing him, by the stars of Elbereth!"
The wizard stared into space with a grim frown and then spoke quietly. "There is a lesser maiar there, one who chose to follow Morgoth, like Sauron, except his bent was toward growing things. He gradually grew more and more plantlike himself, and he warped and twisted the vines of the Greenwood into dark beings that could not be allowed to flourish. With great effort and sacrifice some of us of the Light, by deep spelling, contained him within the vines he had created to destroy the Greenwood. Though we could not contain him completely. Terms were set, of which you now know one: that only your House would be able to wake him from his slumber. We felt that was a safe condition and we had to yield something or lose all. And now you have spilled the rarest blood in all Arda upon him. You, a prince of the royal line, held up a knife and shed the blood of Numenor in that place. Mirkwood is now in so much danger that if the Nazgul hear of it they will come to help us in order to preserve Dol Guldur!"
Legolas got to his feet, demanding, "What is happening? What is happening in the territory of the vine?"
"It takes over ground as fast as a walking man. Trees are dying by the hundreds and even slow or foolish animals are now being taken. It has found it has a taste for flesh."
The elf was stunned. He gasped, "No wonder they hate me! They called me 'death dealer' and so I am!" He turned and grasped Gandalf's sleeve desperately. "What must we do, what must I do, to stop this horror?"
"Blood called the vine from slumber; blood must send it back. You must send it back." The wizard hesitated before he uttered the words that would destroy the elf. "I have sent for Aragorn."
Legolas became still as death. "What do you mean?" he whispered.
"The Royal House of Mirkwood and the Chieftain of the Dunedain must return to slumber what they have awoken. I am sorry, Legolas. You cannot know how sorry." He stopped again, unable to speak the last, damning words. He drew a breath and forced himself to finish it. "It takes more blood to seal than to summon. Much more…."
The elf railed and argued, demanded and pleaded. Surely there was another solution! There were many maiar, why would they not come and do what they had done so long ago? If the Nazgul would help, let them! Feeling great pity for the elf, Gandalf patiently explained again and again, hour after hour, that the Powers did not work that way. The spell must be undone and there was only one way to do it.
It was a sober trio that rode through the vines toward the place where the elf and ranger had stopped in their journey. Legolas and Aragorn rode side by side; Gandalf rode just before them. In order to return to the place the troubles had begun, they had had to traverse the growing borders of the vine. Seeing it in action the elf had nearly fainted as he felt the howling rage and mourning of his beloved forest. As if that were not bad enough, his friend had ridden toward him already knowing why he was summoned. There was no accusation in his eyes as he greeted his brother-through-love and that, too, was beyond the elf's ability to bear.
As they traversed the vines Gandalf chanted and fixed his attention on the head of his staff. He held it out like a lance, and from its head there spread a circle of quiescence large enough to ensure the safety of the horses.
The two friends did not speak. From time to time the man would reach over and try to lay his hand on the shoulder of the elf, who would pull away. Legolas rode as if encased in ice. He felt nothing; he thought nothing. Deep, deep inside him someone struggled and sobbed and screamed, but the captive could not escape the frigid cage that contained him. He affected the elf not at all.
Where Legolas rode in a chill like that of the Helcaraxe, Aragorn burned. He felt as though he could not breathe and tugged repeatedly at the brooch that fastened his cloak. Instead of no thoughts he had too many; most of them pictures that flashed and changed like the most erratic of nightmares. He saw Elrond leaning on his balcony railing, despairing and angry. He saw the faces of men—hard-bitten veterans all—who had given him their respect. He saw elves that were fleeing for the Havens left lying where they fell as Orcs overran the countryside. He saw an Orc wearing a long golden trophy at his belt. Knotted into one tress was a gold ring in the shape of a flower. And again and again he saw one particular elf lying on a bier while a king wept and begged his son to stay in Middle Earth.
They came to their destination and all three dismounted. All around them the vine seethed and sent out tendrils to take them and their horses but Gandalf swept his staff around them in a large circle and within its boundaries the vines lay still. The wizard looked from one friend to the other and said, "Are you ready?"
The man nodded but the elf stared straight ahead. Gandalf motioned with his hand. "Face each other and kneel."
Slowly they did so. Aragorn could not leave his friend without speaking a farewell. "Gwador nin-"
The ice shattered. "No, Aragorn! Please, do not! I will follow you soon, for I cannot bear the burden of the damage I have caused nor the fact that I will –" He broke off, then continued in a whisper, "Please, say nothing more or I will not be able to – Please, Estel, say nothing." Desperately Legolas tried to return to the cold.
Aragorn nodded sadly and looked to Gandalf. "What now?"
Gandalf took a dagger, very plain and ordinary and not at all what they expected, from one sleeve pocket and presented it on his palms to the two friends. "Both wrists are to be cut deeply, with a minute between the two. I will have to chant and must be finished with the first phrases before the second cut is made."
Once again frozen, Legolas reached for the knife. How had he gone in so short a time from a warrior of Mirkwood, loved by many and respected by all, to a fratricide? The world was upside down and he cared not one wit whether it would continue after his fading.
Before the elf's fingers could touch the knife, Gandalf stopped him. "No, Legolas." He held the dagger toward Aragorn, whose head whipped around to face the wizard.
"What do you mean by this! It was my blood that called the monster from his sleep; it is mine that must –"
"Aye, it was your blood, by Legolas' hand. But the spell must be unwound. The rite must be widdershins. It is the blood of Legolas that must now fall upon the vine. And it is you who must hold the knife."
The elf's heart leapt within him, the ice melted in a rush of joy. His brother would not die! He thrust his wrists at Aragorn who recoiled as if bitten.
"NO! I will not!" Aragorn grabbed the dagger and threw it from the three. Legolas scrambled after it and then returned to his place. He tried to force the knife into the man's hands.
"You must! You will! You will not let me destroy my home and who knows how much more beside!"
Gandalf was exasperated (an inappropriate emotion for the time, place, and occasion). Each of the fools was more than willing to die himself if it would spare the life of the other. A rather odd stand-off, even in the wizard's wide experience. He watched the two struggle and argue over the blade.
Suddenly, something caught his attention. Two sun-browned hands struggled with two of paler hue. Man and Elf. First and Second Born. Prince and King. Evenly matched in strength, courage, and love. Each willing to sacrifice himself for the other. For Gandalf, time stood still as into his mind flashed another possibility. He thought feverishly of the terms set so long ago. He raised his head and was amazed to see Earendil had appeared to sail the heavens. He was not aware so much time had passed. The star flashed, telling him he had the right of it. There was another way.
Gandalf ruthlessly knocked the hands apart with his staff and stepped between the man and the elf. He bent all the power of his personality on Aragorn. His hair stood up forming an aureole around his head and his eyes flashed. Occasionally it was necessary to remind people he was not an old man!
"Take his wrist and do what I have brought you here to do! I cannot maintain control over the vine forever! The spell must be ended NOW!"
Aragorn's own eyes flashed as he determined within to withstand even the maiar in defense of his friend. Before he could say something extremely unwise, Gandalf spoke again.
"Take care when you cut him. Mirkwood cannot afford to lose her finest bow. And you, Legolas, beware of harming his sword hand."
The two stared at him, afraid to hope, but surely it would not matter what damage was done to a corpse?
The wizard smiled. "Yes, I have thought of another way. The blood of both, joined in truth as your hearts have been long joined in friendship. The blood of the House and of Numenor, together, is stronger than either alone. Do it now. Spill the finest blood in Arda upon this cursed place. Carefully."
Aragorn let go of the hilt of the blade he held and Legolas took it. The man pulled his own belt knife and they clasped hands between them, at the level of their hearts. They turned as one and looked at Gandalf.
"Good. Hold that position and your blood will mix before it hits the ground. Aragorn, you first, as that is still the order that will be best."
Aragorn looked at his friend and smiled. "Fast or slow?"
Gandalf, not getting the joke, broke in, "Slow! I told you, you must be careful! The tendons are very close to where you must cut!" He grabbed the man's wrist and held the inside up to view. "See, here and here, you must cut down to the arteries within. The blood must come from close to the heart."
The two re-clasped their hands and Legolas laughed merrily. "Slow then."
The dagger's point pierced the pale skin and the elf hissed a little but made no other sign. Aragorn dug about a bit until arterial blood, bright and shining, began to stream from the wound.
Aragorn intoned, "Thus I shed the blood of the Prince of Mirkwood, ruler-to-be of this realm and true son of Thranduil Oropherion. May it bind this evil for all time."
"Quickly now, Legolas, your blood must be mixed. Quickly!" The wizard began to chant, his speech sounding a little like Quenya, commanding and intense.
The elf pressed his blade carefully into Aragorn's wrist, probing deeply, and the man made no sound, though his fingers tightened bruisingly. His blood fell, glowing in the evening sun, to meet that of his brother-through-love.
"Thus I shed the blood of the Chieftain of the Dunedain, of all that remains of the blood of the Kings of Numenor. May it bind this evil for all time."
The vines began to thrash as though a gale blew through them.
Gandalf's voice rose above the loud rustling and snapping while the blood of the two friends continued to flow. The wizard chanted on and on and the blood pooled beneath the clasped hands before sinking into the ground. Still Gandalf chanted and still the blood flowed. Legolas, not fully recovered from his wild race through the wood, was the first to show the effects of blood loss. He began to sway a little and Aragorn turned his face to the wizard. "Hurry! He has lost too much!" He dropped the blade he still held and closed his hand around the elf's forearm, trying to slow the bleeding. But after only another minute, he too began to feel woozy and disoriented. He focused his blurring vision on the elf before him. Were they going to perish after all? Both of them?
Mithrandir finally stopped chanting and placed both his hands around the bleeding wrists. In a few minutes the flow had stopped and he gently pulled the hands apart. All three looked around at the vines as the rustling quieted and after a time, stopped altogether. The man and elf sat on the ground, waiting for the world to stop tilting and slowly spinning.
Gandalf removed his satchel from over his shoulder and took out bandages and ointment. The cuts, though deep, were short, and already closing due to the wizard's attentions. After bandaging them he cleaned the hands of both friends and finally his own. He returned to his bag and rummaged around in it. He finally found what he was looking for and pulled out a large pastry wrapped in linen and squashed from traveling. "There! Just what you need—something sweet!" He broke the confection into two pieces and presented the larger one to Aragorn and Legolas, while he began to munch happily on the other.
Legolas turned his head away in revulsion but the ranger hissed at him, "Just eat it! He will not leave us alone until we do." He took their piece and broke it in half. He bit into his portion. It was quite tasty and he grinned at the elf and nodded encouragingly. With a sigh, the elf accepted his piece and took a very small bite. Surprised, he looked at Aragorn. It was good! His queasy stomach accepted it without complaint. Both man and elf began to feel much better as they finished their pastry and they looked at Gadalf questioningly. Surely there were more—and odder—ingredients in this cake than was usual for such things. The maiar just smiled and licked his fingertips.
Legolas wanted reassurance about the welfare of his forest. "Is the monster gone? Have you worked the spell successfully?"
Mithrandir frowned. "Not gone, no. But he sleeps again and that is the best we can do at this time. We have a few other things to worry about as you know well, Prince of Greenwood That Was. Now, perhaps, when you return home you will be more forceful in reminding your warriors not to traverse this place?"
Legolas answered fervently, "That I will!"
The thought of "home" had Aragorn looking pensive. "Mithrandir," he began, "I have been thinking. You know that Elrond has had many, many burdensome things on his mind these last years."
Cautiously, the wizard agreed. "Yes. Yes, I think we could all agree with that statement. What is your point?"
"Well, no one knows about all this other than the three of us, correct? Why should it go farther?"
"What about Galadriel?"
"Oh." Aragorn was crestfallen. "She tells Ada everything. There is no hope in keeping my part in this quiet. I reckon I had better spend a few more years with the rangers before I go home."
Legolas snorted. "Huh! You think you have troubles ahead of you! My father has only the most nodding acquaintance with words like 'compassion,' 'mercy,' and 'understanding.' And his son almost let a giant, rampaging vine eat Mirkwood! Through open disobedience to a royal decree, no less. Of course, it was decreed a very long time ago, but that will not help me at all!"
The friends received help from an unexpected quarter. Gandalf had suddenly had a vision of himself standing between two irate fathers as both thundered, "You almost did WHAT to my SON!" He quickly thought of a plan.
"Do not despair. Unlike so many of your misadventures, this one was totally inadvertent." Aragorn started to protest that all their misadventures were inadvertent, but Legolas elbowed him in the ribs. Now was no time to argue with a wizard who might know a way to avoid parental unpleasantness.
"I will speak with Galadriel. She owes me a favor or two. I think we can arrange that your fathers do not know the entire story."
Legolas, the one in greater peril, was very grateful and said so. Aragorn, however, was intrigued with another aspect of the wizard's statement.
"She owes you favors? Galadriel owes you favors?" A picture of the rather austere Lady of the Wood appeared in his mind. "However did that come about?"
"Well, my boy, let us get hence out of this place and find somewhere to build a nice little fire, with perhaps a brace of coneys?" He looked at the elf and Legolas nodded agreeably. "Then, when we are all fed and comfortable, maybe I will tell you a little about the kinds of trouble a young Noldo can get herself into." He chuckled as they walked to their horses. "Yes, those were interesting times indeed…."