Sorrows come and their touch is cold
Death borne on feathers green and gold
The day is spent and night comes hence
We take the path I know not whence
Rain of thy soul, these tears now run
In moonlight softened come undone
I miss thee, journeyed now afar
Thy heart thus bargained for a Star
Please…please, no more. I cannot leave them…don't make…
Tiredness. An immense weariness that nothing seemed to break through wrapped itself around Aragorn and pressed downward. There had not been a terrifying dream in some while, but instead of feeling better, he only felt worse. His cruel captor had loosened the hold on his mind long enough for him to waken slightly, and take some broth at his father's hand, but he had not been able to articulate any of the warnings he felt he must.
Since then, it had simply been a flood of darkness. One that was beginning to wear him down and break him. Despite Aragorn's determination to survive and see to the safety of those he loved, he felt his resistance growing weaker against the floodtide of pain that assaulted him.
It had become far easier simply to stop fighting, and let it roll over him, attempting to maintain a shred of conscious thought that was his own. Why…? He wondered wearily once more.
Because I must kill them.
The soft voice that had picked at his sanity had returned, and Aragorn felt a flicker of anxiety as memories of terrible things stirred in the depths. Terrible things that involved Legolas…
Please…stay your hand. Aragorn roused himself enough to beg. A soft sigh seemed to filter down over him, and the dark touch almost caressed him.
I cannot do as you ask, Elrondion. I showed you what they have done. Their voices must cease.
Aragorn felt engulfed by despair and he knew his tenuous hold on reality was waning.
The sight that met him now was nothing less than the most beautiful, most amazing vision he had ever taken in, apart from Arwen the day they met. Light, golden and nearly liquid in its appearance, seemed to flood in from everywhere and nowhere all at once. A path, smooth and unbroken appeared before his feet and on either side, were flowering bushes and the sounds of birds, the promise of a moment's rest.
Aragorn smiled. He nearly expected to see his heart's desire; this was just like Arwen and unlike the previous images did not reveal dread, torment or danger. The path led on for some distance before curving away gently just out of sight. A great longing suddenly filled him as he stood there upon the path.
He took a step.
The first of the eastern villages that Aragorn had likely visited was just becoming visible under the silvery gaze of the moon. The traveling had been fairly easy thus far; the skies remaining clear and the early fall chill not overmuch for the cloaks the men wore.
Glorfindel sensed rather than saw Eólin's presence beside him as the Ranger drew his mount up alongside the seneschal. After a moment, the blonde elf glanced over at his friend, and a slight smile graced his features.
"Madred was rather well pleased to have the acquaintance of an Elf." Eólin said cheerfully, his hand holding the reins of his mount loosely, the horse traveling in the slow gait they had adopted for the time being to allow the animals some easier going. They had cantered through the wide expanse of open ground just beyond Talathfen, and then picked their way through a small ribbon of forestland before breaking out into the expanse of boulder-strewn territory they currently traveled. "You are as you ever have been, mellon nín."
"And you…" Glorfindel returned the good-natured comment with a slight rise of eyebrows. "…appear to have gained a few grey hairs in my absence. Are you certain you are hale enough to accompany me, Ranger?" That garnered some laughter from Eólin, who like Madred had always been fascinated with the permanent grace of the Elves.
"Im ú'dannen nedh i haudh, pen iaur." I've not fallen into the grave, 'ancient one.' Eólin retorted, but with the same easy manner of speaking, and this time it was Glorfindel's turn to laugh aloud, although there was a shadow behind the balrog-slayer's eyes that even in the moonlight, the human could not miss. "Glorfindel?" He prompted gently, and the blonde elf glanced aside in silence for a few moments longer before answering.
"Sen na i saer naeg o gwend pân firiath…" This is the bitter pain of all mortal friendship... Glorfindel's voice was taut with a sadness that Eólin had only heard from his friend a handful of times. "Adanath cuinar sui i garn o gurth." Men live as the property of Death.
"I have many years left to me, mellon nín." Eólin said gently, seeking to soothe a worry that in truth had nothing to do with his own mortality. "There is not so much grey in my beard that you should mourn me." Glorfindel shook his head amusedly, although he appreciated the Ranger's effort to soothe his disquiet.
"It is not of you that I speak, truly." He said softly. "At least, not yet."
"Strider's years are yet ahead of him, Glorfindel." Eólin tried again to encourage his elven companion. "Lord Elrond is far too stubborn a healer to give up on him; neither should we. Our responsibility lies in finding what has afflicted him and taking it back to Imladris. Lord Elrond's healercraft will do the rest."
Glorfindel smiled wanly at his Ranger friend. Eólin would have some knowledge of that stubborn healercraft, having spent nearly a month under Elrond's close care after the events in which the young Ranger had saved the balrog-slayer's life, the story he had spun for Legolas.
Legolas. Pain stabbed his heart with the loss, and Glorfindel looked away. This time Eólin observed a distinct wince cross the blonde elf's face. Before the Ranger could make further comment, however, the Elf abruptly halted the scouting party, senses alert. Eólin looked about as well, but knew his dulled human senses could not hope to match those of his friend. "What is it, Glorfindel?" He whispered anxiously.
"Orcs." The seneschal hissed, carefully unsheathing his sword, a signal that the rest of the Dúnedain party were well familiar with and they too prepared their weapons. "They're closing on us from the right." Eólin turned in his saddle, squinting and peering into the night. Despite the fair amount of moonlight, he could not make out the enemies that his elven friend had declared were coming.
"Do you see them?" He finally whispered hoarsely, glancing back toward Glorfindel. "I cannot."
"Nay…they are beyond that rise, but I can hear them." The warrior Elf was sitting straight up on the back of his horse, simply listening, and breathing. "And I can smell them."
Down along the riverbed, and fanned out along both banks, the Mirkwood escort continued their search for Legolas into the night. Aided by the silver grace of the moon's light, keen eyes and ears were on the watch for any sign of their prince.
In his hand, somewhat bruised with the effort of retrieving it, Trelan clutched the scrap of Silvan green material that had been wedged into the crack of a large tree trunk, apparently having been washed into the mudflats when the river had receded. The sight of the torn cloth had fairly made his heart double its beating in his chest, and as he had fallen on his knees to retrieve it, the two sentinels had worked out in moments what must have truly happened. The riderless horse and scattered arrows in the mudflats had been the result not of battle but of the floodwaters tearing Legolas from his mount and sweeping him downriver.
Glorfindel had searched for him, coming far downstream before finally turning north, at the place where they found the hoof prints leading away from the river, and it sorrowed both their hearts to know that Glorfindel had believed Legolas either far beyond his reach, or worse, drowned.
So they had continued westward, taking the time to be thorough, searching the riverbanks and mudflats; the more time that passed without sign of the Mirkwood prince, the more likely it was that Glorfindel was correct and their friend had perished beneath the rushing waters.
The ground on far side of the riverbed was beginning to give way to something more rough and rocky; there were less silts and flats, making it more difficult to track any signs of passage, but easier to simply sweep the area for a body as there was less vegetation. The near side however had small copses of trees growing in pockets, bushes and underbrush, necessitating a slower pace and more diligent searching.
They were diligent.
Under every bush, through every clump of trees, every so often even daring to call out the missing Elf's name, albeit with a good deal of caution and not nearly so loudly as they might have during the day as nighttime in these evil days was the realm of orcs and wolves, and wargs.
Raniean shivered lightly as he thought of such things, the idea of Legolas being at the mercy of such foul creatures made his skin crawl. Thankfully, they were not making this search within the borders of Mirkwood; quite likely, a spider would have had the Silvan prince by now if his injuries were too great to defend himself.
His shoulders slumped slightly as he walked now, glancing over at Trelan some paces to his right, and how tightly the shorter Elf held the scrap of fabric. He dropped his head at the sight, and sighed softly.
Elven hearing, particularly elven hearing alerted toward any sound that might indicate success in their quest, was sharp however and Raniean had underestimated how closely Trelan had been paying attention to him as well until he felt a hand upon his shoulder.
"I should have been with him." Raniean said, without compunction, despite the fact that Trelan was also a sentinel assigned to the Royal Family of Mirkwood. "He would not wait! Why could he have not waited just once for us to accompany him?" A mixture of guilt and anger tinged his words, and his hands tightened into frustrated fists. It was, Trelan recognized, the beginnings of grief, and he felt his own heart sink. Raniean had lost hope of finding Legolas alive. The smaller Elf removed his hand from his friend's shoulder, and looked away.
"I would rather have been with Legolas myself, you know." Trelan said quietly, and it earned him a contrite look from Raniean as the taller Elf realized that his compatriot shared the same guilt and grief as he. "You know that Legolas would not have waited a moment longer to come to your aid or mine if one of us lay near death."
"I know." Raniean agreed quietly, and he glanced again toward the swatch of cloth from Legolas' dark green jerkin. Trelan reluctantly parted with it, as if it pained him physically to do so, and Raniean held it between his fingers, his thumb brushing absently against it. "Erú, help us find Legolas. Even…even if it is only his body we must bear back to his father, please help us find him." He breathed out, looking up once to the stars above as if the answer waited in their light.
The riverbed grew rockier as they went along, although there were still clumps of trees along the banks. In some places, the great tree roots had grown around the boulders. It was a sight that troubled the search party; at flood stage, the river could easily have battered Legolas against the rocks, and once again, Trelan shivered.
On impulse, Raniean nimbly picked his way down the slight bank, wading out into the river shallows as if to search for Legolas among the twisted, gnarled roots of the old trees, perhaps his body had become wedged in the tangled mess of rock and root. Trelan leapt lightly down to walk alongside on the pebbled bank, his silver eyes still alert. "Trey." Raniean had stopped, his right hand clutching the cloth and his left resting upon a rather large boulder.
Trelan joined his companion, wading into the shallows as well, and he peered at Raniean's hand upon the rock face. Next to the taller Elf's fingertips, there was a dark stain. Trelan swallowed convulsively, his own hand coming to rest near the dried blood, for that was all it could possibly be. Legolas had indeed been driven against the rocks.
They searched together along the twisted gnarling roots but found no sign of the Prince's body, and Raniean silently passed the cloth back to Trelan. Lightly he stepped back up onto the high bank, and as Trelan had done with the log containing the cloth, he nearly froze in place.
"Ran?" Trelan noticed his friend's stillness, and started to wade out of the water. "What is it?" He watched as Raniean bent down at last, and then turned to face him.
In Raniean's hands, lay Legolas' bow.
Elrond's face paled, and his knees nearly buckled beneath him in shock. There was no sign of Glorfindel anywhere; he could only assume some disaster had befallen his old friend and the young prince of Mirkwood. The Elf Lord opened his mouth, but in a rare moment of speechlessness, nothing would come.
"Ada?" That quickly, Elrohir forgot his own distress to slip an arm around his father and steer him back into the room and to the nearest chair. At Estel's bedside, Elladan's expression was suddenly fearful as he took in the appearance of his sibling and father. "Lospód has returned." Elrohir explained simply, and the older twin's shock was a mirror image of his own as Elladan realized what he meant.
Elladan bolted from his place once again, this time heading toward the balcony himself. Seeing the horse still slaking its thirst in the fountain, he quickly raced down the outer steps from the balcony into the courtyard, seeking to retrieve the pouch that was around the steed's neck.
Lospód jerked his head up sharply at Elladan's rushed approach, flinging water upon the Elf's tunic. Elladan simply held out his hand, speaking softly in Elvish, and the startled horse placed its velvety nose into Elladan's palm.
"Sîdh, Lospód…Anno nin caul lín." Peace, Lospód…Give me your burden. Elladan soothed, rubbing his hand along the horse's forehead and then down along the long neck, lathered as it was. He turned and called out for a stable hand, and within a few moments' time, a young elf from the stables approached quickly. "Ithilind, please take this horse in for a good rub-down and a proper brushing…and see to it that it is watered well and fed."
As the younger elf nodded once in receipt of his orders, Elladan turned back to the horse and slipped the courier's satchel off. Lospód nudged the older twin's shoulder once, and the younger elf led the exhausted animal back to the stables.
Looking back toward the balcony, he saw that Elrohir had returned, watching from above as he retrieved the satchel and had Lospód taken away. Drawing a deep breath, he opened the pouch and looked inside. His face blanched nearly as white as snow and for a moment, he actually swayed on his feet. Elrohir hurried to join him, reaching out a steadying hand. Into it, Elladan placed the arrows that he had found in the satchel, and Elrohir came to a halt, struck silent as he stared down at the chipped shafts and ruined fletching.
"El…" Elrohir finally whispered, looking up from the ruined arrows to meet his brother's similarly tearful gaze. There was only one reason for Lospód to return to them in this manner…Glorfindel had returned the horse with the arrows to inform them of the prince's demise and that he had continued onward in an attempt to complete their mission.
"I know." Elladan replied softly, choking back a sob.
"This will kill Estel." Elrohir whispered now, salty teardrops falling onto the arrows he held, and Elladan bowed his head in misery. The fading already had such a grip upon their mortal brother that this grief would certainly put Estel beyond their reach forever.
"I know!" Elladan repeated, this time with a note of desperation that echoed the crying of Elrohir's heart.
"Ai, Valar…why Legolas? Why now?" Elrohir begged, the fist holding the arrows coming up to his chest, over his heart. "Will you now take Estel from us?"
Estel's life, his survival, is now in your hands. You, and Elrohir, his brothers, and his Adar. Erestor's words returned to him, and Elladan willed the grief not to take him. Not now, when his brothers needed him most. Shaking his head slightly and blinking back tears, he pulled his twin into a close embrace, nearly crushing the already damaged arrows. "We have to be strong, now, 'Ro. We cannot let Estel know about Legolas' passing from this realm until he is well enough to endure it."
"I cannot believe he has departed…" Elrohir whispered, still weeping upon his brother's shoulder. "Estel will miss him so much." He trembled. "Ai…I miss him. Perhaps we teased him for his Silvan blood and he teased our Noldor heritage, but I will forever regard Legolas as family."
"As I do." Elladan agreed, finally stepping back a pace and gripping his sibling's shoulders. "We should return; Estel needs us, muindor. And we must ease Ada's mind; I am certain he fears for Glorfindel as well." Legolas' death could hardly be called easing, however for Glorfindel to return the stallion to Imladris meant that at least at the time of the sending, the balrog-slayer was alive, well and heading north. "Perhaps there is yet hope for our little brother."
"Aye…" Elrohir agreed at last, still clutching the arrows to his chest. "We will save these…for Estel…for when we may mourn Legolas properly, together." There was a tremor in his voice that he was unable to banish completely, despite his other hand wiping away the tears that remained in his eyes and on his cheeks.
"And we will muindor." Elladan promised solemnly. "We shall raise the lament and proclaim his memory; I swear it, 'Ro. But we cannot do so until we are certain the grief will not take Estel from us. It is not his time yet; it cannot be." Elladan stopped short of bringing up Aragorn's destiny as a king of Men, the heir of Isildur. The human had not yet stepped into it, and at this moment, it seemed farther away than ever.
Still, Elrohir knew exactly what his brother meant, and he simply nodded silently. He wasn't certain just exactly how long they stayed by the fountain, drawing strength from one another, feeling the rush of sorrow cascading over them from their own hearts and from the voices of the trees that mourned the loss of their Prince and friend. But the sun had long fled and the first stars were showing through the sky, the moon rising over the lip of the far horizon; it seemed to have changed in mere moments.
At last, the pair turned away from the fountain, Elladan placing one arm around his brother and fairly guiding him back toward the outer stairs that would lead back up to the balcony and their brother's room. Elrohir felt as if his feet were weighted, each step an effort as they climbed the stairs leading back to Estel and their Adar.
Elrond could not help but notice the red-rimmed eyes of his twin sons, and he knew at once that the tidings were as dire as he feared, and he swallowed convulsively as Elrohir held out the arrows. The Elf Lord felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight of the battered arrows, and his heart fell. Lifting his eyes to Elladan, he murmured very, very softly, "Legolas?"
At Elladan's confirming nod, Elrond closed his eyes tightly. His vision was happening before his very eyes, and he was helpless to stop it. He felt a hand at his wrist, and he opened his eyes to see Elrohir kneeling beside him. "And Glorfindel?"
"He must be all right, Ada, if he sent Lospód back to us with the arrows." Elrohir replied softly, glancing once over his shoulder to be certain Estel had not overhead his words.
"May the Valar will it to be so." Elrond pronounced softly. He hesitated a moment longer before reaching out and touching the torn fletching on the arrow closest to him.
"We thought to save them…for…later." Elrohir stammered softly, struggling to control his voice.
"For Estel." Elladan added, and Elrond looked up at his other son, another sad smile touching his lips but not his eyes. His sons could be fierce in battle, formidable warriors, but they were also tenderhearted and kind, and they knew how difficult this pain would be for their youngest brother.
"Thranduil must know." Elrond finally said quietly, his heart heavy with the burden of composing and dispatching such a message. Slowly he reached up and rubbed his eyes with tired fingers. "I would not send this by messenger but go myself. If it were in my power to travel this night, I would not spare a single moment."
The twins both nodded miserably in understanding. It was his father's heart that prompted Elrond's wish to speak to Thranduil face to face in such a terrible moment, but it was also his father's heart that knew he must not leave Estel's side. Fading and grief were still all too near, and the danger to his mortal son had just multiplied with the arrival of this fresh burden.
Elrond could only hope his old and trusted friend would not fail the charge that was now his alone. Glorfindel would do all that this house required of him; the seneschal's kinship of arms and loyalty long pledged to Elrond and his family. If he should fail, Elrond knew it would not be from lack of effort. Still, anxiousness lodged itself in his chest. If whatever had slain Legolas had also wounded Glorfindel...
"Ada?" Elrohir murmured softly, catching his father's attention, and Elrond simply reached up to brush his fingers along the younger twin's high cheekbone, wiping away a glistening teardrop.
"Spare not your tears, ion nín. Legolas is certainly worthy of them." The Elf Lord felt his own throat constrict once again. "But you must not shed them here…not yet. Estel has need of all we can do to keep him from fading too far beyond us. Our hearts will have to wait…at least within this room."
"Aye, Ada." Elrohir bowed his head, struggling to control his emotions and school his face to a calmer mask. Elrond placed his hand upon the dark hair, stroking comfortingly even as his own heart bled for the loss of the Mirkwood prince. After a moment, he lifted his hand away, and the Lord of Imladris came to his feet.
"Will you stay with Estel?" He asked softly, and as one man, the twins nodded their assent. "I will be in my study. Fetch me immediately if anything changes." With the numbness that only grief could bring, Elrond left his sons together and turned his mind to the terrible tidings he must compose for Aran Thranduil.
The subject of those tidings stirred a bit from his elven sleep, blinking the glaze from his eyes. Legolas drew in a deep breath and released it in a slow sigh. The day had fled, much to his despair, and now the stars cast their sparkle in the night sky. The moon was not yet high in the velvet dark, and so it could not yet be the mid-eve hour. An unnatural silence seemed to have fallen over the room, and the Silvan Elf coughed slightly, almost as if to provide a break in the eerie quiet.
Laeriel had tucked the blanket around him as he slept; Legolas faintly smiled as he touched the soft fabric. He had managed to persuade her to leave the hood down, and eventually she discarded the cloak altogether, revealing a grace in her movements that would not have been expected from the remnants of wounds taken at the orcs' hands. She bore more scars upon her arms and it became a little more apparent without the cloak that she favored her right leg just slightly. However, she had learned over the years how to compensate, and she appeared much as any other elleth, aside from the terrible damage done to her face.
Laeriel had spent the entire day simply waiting on him; nearly hand and foot, and while under other circumstances might have found it almost amusing, he was now both frustrated and anxious. It had a feeling of penance about it, as if the Singer felt she had evils to atone for, and he could not seem to coax her into seeing it otherwise—nor to persuade her to release him to his quest.
Not that he could have pursued it to begin with. Legolas, increasingly perplexed by the persistent dizziness that seemed to cling to him with the tenacity of a warg with its prey, had begun to wonder what was wrong with him. Surely, there was more than just a concussion to feel still so exhausted and dizzy.
After a moment, he became aware of more than just the stifling silence in the darkness of early evening. A sorrowful sound carried on the breeze that wafted in through the window, caught his keen elven hearing and he inclined his head slightly, listening. The first voice that he distinguished was that of the willow tree, once again mourning with the sorrows of another, presumably Laeriel.
The second voice caught at more than just Legolas' ears; this one clenched at his heart and compelled him to listen.
Laeriel herself, somewhere above him, was singing a lament that floated out onto the night air with a beauty and depth of passion beyond anything he had ever heard before. Despite his discomforts, Legolas was enthralled and he barely dared to breathe as he listened to the Glîrnathron spin her voice across the earth.
Curiosity got the better of him, and Legolas very slowly, very carefully sat up. The dizziness swirled around him and then coalesced down to a single point of discomfort, and he stayed still like that a moment more before cautiously gripping the bedpost once more, and propelling himself upward. A slight twinge announced the sprained ankle, but the soreness was much less, than it had been and as the archer cautiously placed his weight upon it, the joint held without much pain at all.
Emboldened by the condition of his injured foot, the Silvan prince ventured to take several careful steps, his footfalls lighter and with better grace than his attempt earlier in the day. His heart lightened by such a result, Legolas continued his journey across the room to the doorway. Other than carefully guided trips to the necessary, this venture beyond the room was his first since his arrival.
The vertigo attacked him once more, and he instinctively put his hand upon the wall, steadying himself as he closed his eyes tightly against it, determined to remain on his feet. It might have been his imagination, but for a brief moment, he could have sworn he detected a slight pause in Laeriel's singing. However, the dizziness subsided and both his steps—and Laeriel's phenomenal voice—had resumed their activity.
Despite his condition, Legolas' ears directed him unerringly toward the source of the elvensong, delightful despite its sorrowed lyrics simply for the quality of Laeriel's voice alone. He found himself at the base of a set of steps that led up into the more disused tower area of the structure, and briefly, Legolas hesitated. Finding a sturdy handrail that seemed to be in slightly better condition than he might have expected, the Silvan prince began the careful climb up the stairs.
The stairwell emptied out into a chamber that at one time must have been a guards-post, or watchtower, but was now roofless as well as missing an entire portion of wall along one side. It was at this point that Laeriel stood—uncomfortably close to the edge even for an elf, Legolas noted—looking out over the landscape of night, her voice low and haunting and unlike any he had experienced.
Laeriel's hands were splayed outward as if in supplication to the Valar themselves, her head tipped back slightly as if unaware of her precarious position upon the broken flagstones, her lament swirling around them like liquid silver, a musical reflection of the mournful moon above. The impression struck Legolas that it was as if grief poured through her rather than from her. It was a slightly odd sensation, and yet he found himself captivated by the sheer beauty that was Laeriel's voice.
Down below, he was aware of the willow, still echoing the aching refrain, and at last he tore his thoughts from the singing to wish he could console the lovely little willow tree. It wasn't until a moment later that he realized she was speaking, and he looked up once more to see Laeriel facing him.
Laeriel smiled as well as she was able to, her hands hanging slack at her sides now, and appearing to be somewhat drained. The stunned, nearly blank look of surprise on the elven prince's face was one that she had not seen in many years and she remembered when it was more than just her voice that prompted such awe. A long time ago, before the mirrors. Before so much pain.
"Thio le sui pen tirio am mân, Thranduilion." You seem as one looking upon a ghost, son of Thranduil. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but it had been enough once again to capture Legolas' attention.
"Perhaps…I am." Legolas replied oddly, stiffening slightly beneath Laeriel's curious gaze. "Your voice…" He blinked a moment, as if perhaps thinking himself caught in a dream and seeking freedom from it.
"What about my voice, Caun Legolas?" Laeriel watched the slender archer carefully.
"You bear a sorrow greater than I have yet heard before." Legolas finally said; a slight frown upon his features. "And yet more familiar than my own name." His breath hitched a little in his throat, and he could not understand what it was about the haunting song that affected him so.
"Aye." Laeriel replied, her voice still soft. "Anann hebin sen naeg…sui le; ion uin tawarwaith." A long time I've kept this pain…like you; son of the forest-elves. There was, in that moment, an almost wise cast to the Glîrnathron's eyes, and Legolas instinctively bowed his head as if spoken to by an elder of his father's house.
Laeriel drew closer, now and she placed a slender hand beneath Legolas' chin, tipping his head back up just as he had done for her earlier when she had revealed her face. Sapphire eyes met emerald ones, and Laeriel seemed to be seeking something as she looked at the Silvan prince steadily.
"Man naeg?" What pain? Legolas swallowed tightly, backing away a step from her touch. The Singer seemed to see into his soul and it was a disconcerting sensation.
"U'garo inc ten?" Have you not guessed it? Laeriel replied. "Tiro nedh ind lín. I dúath erio ammen." Look into your heart. The Shadow rises upon us. The quiet, determined sort of tone took Legolas aback; it was a harder tone of voice than he had yet encountered from her.
"Estel dan i dúath deri." Hope against the Shadow remains. Legolas replied just as firmly, refusing to concede to the growing disquiet rising within him.
"Does he?" He? Legolas felt his stomach tighten painfully as he realized Laeriel knew exactly of whom she spoke. "What do you fear, Legolas?" Laeriel asked him once again, and she turned away, walking toward another portion of the crumbling watchtower. "Come, and I will show you."
Legolas had the distinct impression of falling into a web as surely as prey of spiders in Mirkwood, but if it involved Estel, he could not refuse her. Steeling himself for whatever would come; he followed her into a small alcove…and audibly gasped in surprise.
Within a niche in the stonework, was a palantir.
The entire Mirkwood contingent gathered around their captain as Raniean cradled the bow in his hands. Soft exclamations of dismay rippled through the group of Silvan elves, and Trelan bowed his head, fighting tears as he placed his hand upon the wood.
"He would never leave his bow behind, Ran." He said; voice taut with worry and grief. "Legolas would never leave his weapons unless he was forced to."
"Perhaps the river simply relieved him of it." Another of their group voiced quietly, yet with the sort of tone indicating uncertainty; they were all well acquainted with Legolas' fastidious nature, particularly when it came to his weaponry.
"The bank here runs high." Raniean noted as his keen eyes swept the general area. "If he did lose hold of it in the currents, I don't…"
"Captain!" The soft, tight hiss from one of the other of their number was enough to put the Mirkwood sentinels on alert, and Raniean heeled about to whisper back.
"What is it, Giliathion?" The elf whose name meant 'son of the stars' had drawn his sword and there was a cautious look in his eyes as he turned to answer Raniean.
"Something—or someone—approaches from the east." Giliathion replied tightly, his voice barely above a breath yet charged with urgency. "Swiftly." Giliathion was the first to react, but the others did not miss the faint rustling sound that few beyond elves would hear.
"Take to the trees!" Raniean ordered quickly. "Scatter the horses." He lifted his head, and a moment later, an owl's cry warned the Mirkwood elves on the other bank to seek cover. With such speed as could hardly be followed, the escort obeyed his orders. Soft Elvish commands sent the horses to cover a short distance further west, within easy recall, and the sentinels themselves were up in the trees, arrows nocked, within the span of a few breaths.
In the tree branches above him, Trelan could see Raniean drawing his bow, the arrow perfectly balanced to let fly, and he drew in a steadying breath. Within their unusually limited field of vision, thanks in great part to the terrain and to the clouds that were beginning to obscure the moon, there was no sign of the advancing beings by sight. However, every one of the Mirkwood elves could hear the swift, untidy approach and Trelan felt a knot harden in his stomach.
"It will not be wolves." Trelan whispered up to his companion. "The horses were not spooked and such night hunters are silent until they wish to be seen."
"Only two creatures are so careless in the dark." Raniean replied confidently, despite the fact that truly the sound was not so loud to any but sensitive elven ears. "Orcs; and Men."
They could hear the first footfalls now and Raniean straightened upon his branch, bowstring taut. The sentinel lowered his bow slightly…
The arrow thudded heavily into the ground just inches away from the horse's foreleg, causing its rider to rear back in the saddle. Following quickly was a warning call to hold fire, on both sides. Raniean dropped down from the tree, followed by his fellows; the elves appearing almost ghostlike with their faint glow and silent movements.
"You could have simply asked 'who goes there'."
Halbarad remained in his saddle, unperturbed. Behind him, his men had their hands on hilts or bows, but obeyed their leader's order to hold. The Dúnadan lieutenant gazed steadily down at the elf in his path, the slight lift of his eyebrows the only indication of his reaction.
"An arrow," Raniean replied with a slight smirk, "makes a more convincing hail, does it not?"
At that, the human astride the horse laughed softly.
"It does at that." The Ranger agreed cheerfully. "Especially one of your arrows, friend."
"You appear to be somewhat familiar with me, Dúnadan." Raniean said cautiously, pausing long enough to retrieve his arrow, as he felt relatively at ease to do so, especially since Trelan and half a dozen other elves stood by with their own bows at hand. "Do you and your men patrol this area?" He wished to know quickly if there were orcs about; it could make any further searching for Legolas a difficult proposition at best.
"We do, of a purpose." Halbarad replied, and the human dismounted without protest from the archer in front of him. He had not missed the elves' continued alert caution, and the Ranger in him nearly smiled with approval. Elves could be cocky little buggers but were also some of the best sharpshooters he had ever had the pleasure of seeing. "I would hazard a guess that we are on common ground. I am Halbarad and the men who ride with me have been dispatched by Lord Glorfindel."
The path was pleasant, not rough at all, and even if it was only in his mind, Aragorn could distinguish the scent of honeysuckle and clover blossoms. The steady pain that had driven him throughout his illness seemed nearly to fall away and while he was aware dimly of a steady headache in the far distance of his consciousness for the greater part he felt a great relief.
His human heritage had precluded such things as foresight to a great degree, but his elven forebears, back to Elros himself, had left a small fingerprint upon their descendants, and Aragorn began to recognize where he was. He was walking in Lothlorien. The mallorn trees were also in blossom and their heady fragrance was a joy.
Pausing along his way, he simply closed his eyes and breathed in. The sorrow that had inundated his soul and afflicted his body seemed so far away. There was something about that which troubled him, but he couldn't place his mind on it.
Aragorn opened his eyes slowly, as if expecting his surroundings to melt away and return him to what surely must be reality, but the lines were blurred, and it nearly seemed to him a natural thing to find himself still upon the path, still smelling mallorn blossoms.
"Do you not yet guess what has come to you?"
The soft voice shouldn't have startled him, truly but yet it did and even though it remained faceless, Aragorn smiled at its sound.
"Daer Nana." He said softly, knowing that Galadriel was somewhere close by. This was, after all, her realm…the Golden Wood.
"Estel." She replied, her voice as always a haunting sort of gentleness, especially when she chose to speak to one's mind directly. "What do you seek, Daer-ion?" She had rarely called him so affectionately; although she chose to love him just as easily as she loved the twins, Galadriel had always been mindful of his destiny as the heir of Isildur. She had always loved Elrond's choice of elven names for him, saying that it would always be truer than they could yet imagine. Aragorn as yet was uncertain of that for himself; but so it was that Galadriel nearly always referred to him as Estel, rather than by his human name or by any term of endearment. Her voice had always been endearment enough.
"I am not seeking…anything." Aragorn replied, slightly puzzled. A sort of hazy fog seemed to be blanketing his thoughts. "I do not remember…how or when I arrived."
"You are losing yourself, son of Arathorn." Galadriel appeared to him now, walking out from behind one of the large mallorn trees, her expression somewhat distressed and yet…still bearing that overall calm with which he was so familiar. Aragorn frowned slowly; in the span of a breath she had gone from 'grandson' to 'son of Arathorn,' a distance as it seemed growing between them just like that.
"I am as I have been." He replied warily, almost defensively. An almost…tearful look seemed to come to Galadriel's eyes, and Aragorn reached out a hand as if to touch her, but something seemed to hold him back.
"Nay…you are changing, son of Men." Galadriel's voice, while velvet as ever, had now taken on an edge Aragorn had never heard before, despite the fact his visits to Lothlorien were few. "You are losing your sense of pain, and therefore losing what it means to be Estel." There was a pause and Aragorn realized with a start that it felt strange to hear the elvish term describing him. "For what is Hope, son of Men, if it is not the fight to stand against the Shadow?"
The liquid amber light that had seemed to surround him began to fade, and Aragorn found himself drawn to the very blue eyes that gazed back at him. "Will you choose to remember the pain and therefore become Estel?" Her voice whispered quietly within him. "Without Hope, all will fall around you…"
Galadriel seemed to melt away into the mallorn trees, her presence yet lingering as she left him upon the path, and he realized that he must decide. Could he remember, truly, what it was to fight in this place? When all his heart longed to do was walk the path upon which he stood and stay within the peace of the great mallorn trees? A lengthening moment of indecision descended upon him…and a slow darkness began to fall.
The atmosphere within the room felt close and heavy, at least it seemed so to Elladan as he and Elrohir sat quietly with Estel, one on either side of their foster brother, each struggling to hold their grief over Legolas' passing—and Estel's fading—at bay. Tears often pricked Elrohir's eyes, and the younger twin rose each time, fighting to compose himself as Elladan remained with their human brother. It seemed too great a burden to bear, and the softly choked-back sobs seemed to echo Elladan's very soul.
Elrohir stood by the window, gazing out upon the moonlit courtyard and struggling once more to master his sorrows when suddenly Elladan's voice cut sharply through the haze of grief.
"'Ro!" His voice carried an edge of fear in it. "Hurry—get Ada! Estel has stopped breathing!"