TITLE: A Time and Times and Half a Time
CHAPTER: Chapter 1: The Twisting
DISCLAIMER: Legolas, Saruman et al belong to JRR Tolkien, whom I am quite glad has not survived to read this. I am sure he would not appreciate it.
SUMMARY: Legolas, captured by Saruman, discovers *exactly* how Orcs were made; and Gimli must keep a vigil he will never forget.
A/N: This is the fifth, and, I *promise*, final revision of this sadistic little tale. I've never known a fic go through so many incarnations after first posting - but I swear this will be the last. I am now *nearly* happy with this. Though I still think the ending's a bit on the sentimental side.
Many thanks to Arachne for some inspired editorial suggestions. Undying gratitude
- more power to your pen.
This is set in a needlessly pessimistic AU.
Chapter 1: The Twisting
"Have you never wondered, Elf, how the Orcs came to be? Then let me instruct you. Let me show you."
Saruman. That was Saruman's voice. He clearly remembers hearing the words. But was it now, or an hour ago, or a year ago? Or has he dreamt the words, and Saruman has never been present? How long has he been here? A day? An eternity? When will it end?
And where is he? Underground, if the echoes and the staleness of the air speak truly. At Isengard, he supposes. His eyes would tell him, but he cannot see, for all the harsh reds and yellows of firelights and forges that burn through his sealed eyelids.
More pressure is applied somewhere outside him, and he feels his spine buckle and twist under it. He feels it strain and crack, and the fires in his elbows and knees flare anew. He cannot scream, though the breath catches in his throat in a dry half-sob. The pain eases for a second, and then pulses anew through him.
His spine twists again, and in a sudden rage of grief he realises how proud he has once been, of the straightness of his posture, of his suppleness and strength and his skill with the bow, of the clear singing voice of his people, of his love of the green woods, and his place in them. Yes - of his elfhood itself, and of all his people's heritage. He was - is - a youth among Elves, considered a green innocent by hard-eyed elders like Elrond and Celeborn, though older in his youth than all the children of men. He has a future, as a noted warrior and son of an Elven king.
He has never thought before that it might be taken from him, he who has been one of the fair ones.
"A lesson ... a lesson most fitting, I think. Gandalf the *White*, indeed! As if one with his monochrome morality could understand what light is, or dark. Well, let him learn."
"No..." He receives a lash across the face for daring to utter a sound. It falls hard on his broken nose, and he feels his mouth fill with blood and mucus again. He swallows awkwardly, twice, and the heavy liquids stay down.
One clear thought trickles through amid the pain and grief. They would corrupt me ... And then the spasm of fear which follows. It would take more than instruments of pain to make an Elf an Orc. He is suddenly aware that Saruman has more weapons at hand than these. Weapons, perhaps, that an Elf cannot resist. Perhaps that he cannot even sense, already working their cankerous way through his heart and mind. Perhaps he has already been transformed, and waits only to realise it.
The pressure eases slightly, and he drifts, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep and delirium, letting the comparative absence of pain wash over him and round him. It seems quieter now, though far from peaceful, as hammers ring from nearby forges.
He drifts further, unresisting, taking refuge in memory of the Elven lands - of Lothlorien and Rivendell and of the long years of his youth in his father's kingdom in Mirkwood. He dreams of the cool green of the forests, and the music of the streams, and of the sky. They have never failed to lift his spirits, even in the darkest moments, but now the memories seem distant and inconsequential. Nonetheless, the kingdoms still live And ... I will see them again. It feels like a lie, but he does not challenge it.
A slight sound nearby rouses him to near-wakefulness. A footstep, he is sure, and then another, and a third. And then the footsteps stop, and he hears nothing more, though he is listening intently. The oversensitive Elven senses strain to interpret the sounds from the confusion around him.
Someone. Standing by him.
Watching? If so, he watches in extraordinary silence. He, an Elf who could once hear a twig break a mile away, can hear nothing.
And then he feels his mind overcome by a wave of horror ... foulness so intense that he feels it engulfing the memories of his homelands. He banishes them from his mind immediately, in a desperate attempt to save them from the decay that swamps him. He tries to think of nothing, tries to wait it out as it breathes putrefaction through his flesh and spirit. He retches twice as it racks him, but nothing rises, and he is grateful for that small mercy at least as the rot flows through him.
A time, and times, and half a time it assails him, racking him on his bed of iron and pain, for seconds beyond all reckoning.
And then it passes, though he does not hear the quiet footsteps retreat once more, for he has slipped temporarily beyond reach, into the dust and ashes of unconsciousness.
* * *
Remembrance. And with remembrance, the pain redoubles. He does not try to analyse what they are doing to his body now, but lets it lie there limp, wondering vaguely if it makes things better or worse.
He reaches instinctively for his memories, and finds they have been despoiled. Mirkwood, the trees felled and carted away for timber, the wood's inhabitants lying dead beneath them. Lothlorien, a haze of ash, where fell beasts prowl among the remaining half-burnt trees. And the fair palace at Rivendell, its halls and balconies filled with Orcs, their faces almost familiar. The tallest of them ... had that once been Elrond?
He recoils from the memories. No. Not memories, lies, some distant part of his brain coolly informs him, but he cannot decide whether to believe it or not. He searches for other memories, for some other source of strength and hope, and he remembers the Fellowship. A word filled with such hope for the world, but which brought such failure with it. The halflings he can hardly remember, only that they had such strength, and yet such weakness. Where are they now? In Mordor, he supposes, the two who remain alive. Unless, of course, they too have been caught already. And Mithrandir is fallen, and Boromir also. And Aragorn ... the face in his memory speaks great strength, but also great weariness. After all, he *is* but a human, for all that a great heritage rests upon him. Could he endure this and remain unchanged? Could any?
But we were nine; and I cannot remember the ninth. He searches his memory, but can recall neither face nor name.
The pain is accellerating, and his concentration wavers as it ripples and undulates across the delicate surface of his sanity. He tenses instinctively, screwing up his sealed eyes against it, (we were nine!) as it twists and torments him. It feels as though strong acid has been poured over his skin, and he writhes and shudders against it, clinging desperately onto the single word as the burning liquid trickles and drips and slithers, stroking his bruised ribs with its malign fingers, leaving trails of fire in its wake.
Nine... (Though at that moment he cannot recall why there were nine, or what there were nine of.)
The fire endures an hour or two, and then fades, before he has solved the riddle. He's never realised before, how monotonous pain can be. It seems as if there are now longer intervals between tortures, and before the next begins he has worked out who the nine must be: the nine Riders, whom they call the Nazgul, black riders on black steeds, whose presence scar the land. He has seen them, many times, on his travels with ... but who did he travel with?
Nine walkers for nine Riders
And I was one of them! An obscure joy at the memory, at remembering even so little as that.
He names them one by one, the living and the dead. Mithrandir, whom men call Gandalf, Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of the Dunedain, Boromir of Gondor, Frodo Baggins, the ringbearer, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrine Took, and one other, one other, the name lingering just beyond his reach ... and one other Gimli the Dwarf.
Yes ... Gimli. Gimli, with whom he had clashed continually, as their two conflicting racial memories met head-on. Gimli of the strong axe, and stronger arm, built as sturdily as any weapon of war, and with a mind to match, simple, blunt and direct, and proof against all but subtlety. Gimli, who gave his loyalties unflinchingly, and withdrew them not.
Such as he could withstand this.
He can see the Dwarf now, in the eyes of his memory, dressed in his customary furs and mail, grinning all over his weathered face as he pulls his axe from the neck of a dead Orc. He's short and solid, a squat lump of muscle and bone and sinew. He remembers suddenly an old saying he's heard, a favorite of his father's. "The Dwarves are hewn, not born. You can kill them if you can - and that is not easy, but you will never change them." The Gimli in his mind's eyes nods approvingly. "That's right. You stick with us, Legolas. We'll see you through."
It is too much for him; he almost weeps.
He embraces the hours of darkness, holding fast to that one memory, waiting for what will come. Eventually he falls into sleep, and it is as if a single Dwarvish figure, axe in hand, guards his dreams.
* * *
"Is all ready?"
It is Saruman's voice which awakens him from his slumber, and he knows now that it is no hallucination, but danger here and now.
The chamber, cave, wherever he is, is absolutely silent. He can feel presences around him, figures looming over him, and they grunt or snarl their yesses from positions around him. Gimli! his mind shrills in terror, and the memory returns immediately, though its presence can do little to soothe him.
"Good." Saruman is standing at his head, and as he speaks, he places his hands firmly on the Elf's temples. "Then let us begin. I want Gandalf the *White* to get his ... lesson ... before nightfall."
It starts as pain alone, though pain such as even now he has never known before, lacerating and excoriating him, burning and stabbing and bruising him all at once, leaving no inch of his skin untouched. He holds, desperate, to his memory of the Dwarf, the strength and good humour, and courage, as if he, too, can gain that rocklike immovability. Better ... to die untainted.
The pain burrows deeper, spreads through his nervous system, and he is dimly aware that he is retching, and retching again, repeatedly trying to empty his stomach, though nothing comes up. His bones burn like fire within him, and he feels his limbs thrashing uncontrollably ... but those two cool, smooth hands still pinion his temples. Still the memory stays with him, and he realises that the grass underneath the decapitated Orc is thick and green, lustrous with health. The thought nourishes him for a moment, and he clings to it.
And then, as he watches, the grass sickens and withers away, as once again the foulness swamps him, drawing him down into a sea of filth. Gimli! he shrieks again, and immediately his almost-friend is there with him. The currents drag him and wash over him again, and the face before him is transformed into something terrible, a gloating, leering ugly face. No! You cannot *change* a Dwarf, he roars in his mind, and the face wavers and almost changes back before another waver of currents hits him, and the creature metamorphoses into something even more terrible.
But he has seen it now. It is pure fraud, and he knows it.
The foulness and the filth break over him again, harder and more terrible than before, but he has the strength now - strength to fight it. The face has gone completely, so he repeats the name, repeats it over and over again until it rings in his ears, along with everything it stands for, with a tenacity that he must surely have learnt from the Naugrim ... remembering, remembering, remembering ...
... as the pain and the foulness goes on, for a time, times, and half a time, and then is gone.
And he is still Legolas.
And then he is gone, as his mind trickles away into the darkness.