Through the Dark
A/N: So this is it. The last chapter.
I want to say thank you to the people who have reviewed this story so far, those who will in the future, and everyone who put this story on their Faves or Alert lists. I wish there were more of you, but with the looooooooooong wait, I can see why there aren't. Looking at the stats, though, it's kind of depressing seeing the story get almost two hundred hits a month and no reviews. That's the kind of thing that leads to no updates. 'Sir Edwin', so are you. Crabbing at an author kills the inspiration to write, not encourages it.
A pretty (formatted) version will be put up in my InsaneJournal by the end of the month.
Disclaimer: I don't own LOTR or any of its characters, and no money is being made.
Through the Dark
The Pelennor, and the massive battle that took place there before the walls of Gondor, was something that Legolas had hoped he'd never have to see again. The sheer number of the Dark Lord's massed forced was enough to drive one into despair. How could the ragged remnants of Gondor's once-mighty army and a handful of would-be heroes possibly hope to not only withstand the hordes that turned the entire plain black with their numbers, but also hope to defeat them? It seemed an impossible task.
But Aragorn, it seemed, was to earn himself a reputation for accomplishing the impossible.
A man of the long-lost line of Kings of Numenor, rightful heir of the throne of Gondor, he was not a man of weak will, nor prone to despair. And while some of his accomplishments had crept up on him unlooked-for, as evidenced by the budding life he and Legolas had created, most were well-earned. Somehow, he had managed to resist the lure of the Ring long enough to give the Ringbearer a fighting chance of accomplishing his task. Somehow, he had managed to lead the ragged remains of their shattered Fellowship across the lands in search of their stolen companions, and if they hadn't managed to meet up with them in person, they had gotten glad tidings of them from the one they had long since mourned for lost. He had managed to convince the Lord of the Riddermark to gather his armies and ride to Gondor's aid, no small feat in itself, especially after the losses incurred at Helm's Deep. He'd managed to convince the hosts of the dead, lurking in the bowels of the earth in the Paths of the Dead, to fight with him, for him, against the armies of the Dark Lord.
He'd managed to get an Elf-Prince pregnant.
Legolas, for his part, found the battle at the Pelennor Fields an exercise in frustration. Heavily pregnant though he was, he still longed to fight, to do his part in the battle. There were so few standing against so many; surely every hand, every blade was needed? But while in his heart he longed to throw himself into the fight, to hear his bowstring hum time and again until he was out of arrows, to feel his blades slicing through that corrupt flesh and bone, he'd had more than one opportunity to feel grateful for the ghostly guard Aragorn had assigned to him that kept him safe from harm, buffered from the battle by a glowing, ghostly wall of death a bowshot deep on all sides. He'd run up from the shore with the others, with Aragorn and Gimli, only to find himself lagging behind before they had passed much beyond the docks themselves, and forced to stop entirely for a long moment to regain his breath and soothe the twisting and kicking life within that was making it plain that it was not impressed with his desire to join the battle in his condition. The weight of the leather and chain armor his companions had insisted he don, if only to protect his large belly, didn't help either.
Even so, he reached the plain at last, only to find enemies rushing at him and he himself too worn just then to do much more than draw his blades, blades that suddenly felt far too heavy, and curse at himself for his stubborn pride and stupidity. That was when his honor guard made itself known and while he was incensed that he was once again being coddled, another part of him was grateful and acknowledged that had they not been there he would have been in dire straights indeed.
From that point on, he'd been grateful and frustrated by turns as his energy peaked and ebbed, frustrated at his inability to get within reach of his enemies, grateful that they couldn't get within reach of him. There were so many of them, covering the plain like a dark ocean, and for a long while he could see no end. After a while, he caught on to the fact that he could help, that he could kill; all he had to do was move so that whatever enemies he wished to engage were within his ghostly kill-zone. It didn't matter to his guard if there was one or one hundred; all were taken care of just as easily, just as quickly. And when there weren't enemies to kill, when he stood there resting because he knew that if he sat he wouldn't be able to get up without aid, his guard seemed to delight in coming close, in staring at him and the new life that he bore within him. Having been dead for so long, and surrounded by nothing but death for such a length of time that they could barely recall a time when it was not so, the spark of new life drew them like flies. It was that, apparently, which lured them into revealing themselves in the Paths of the Dead, and not the call from some ragged man who claimed the blood of kings.
Legolas stowed that little tidbit of knowledge away for the next time Aragorn saw fit to aggravate him.
The Pelennor was a long, bloody battle that no one had really hoped to win once the might of the Dark Lord stood revealed on the plain, but thanks to the valiant efforts of the City's defenders and allies and help unlooked-for, it was done. The damage to the City was great and the plain was awash with the dead and blood, but at the end the forces of Men stood, battered yet unbeaten though both Gondor and Rohan had lost their masters.
Once the battle was done, Aragorn released the dead to their long-awaited slumber. Most chose to fade away gratefully, to seek the restful death they had been denied for so long, but a good number of them chose to linger a while longer, to protect the Elf-prince a while longer.
Legolas didn't know whether to be grateful or insulted. Now not only were Aragorn and Gimli trying to coddle him – him, an Elf-Prince who had been fighting and defending himself and others since before their grandparents had ever met! – but now so, too, were the dead.
He was never going to get within blade-reach of an enemy again.
But, sitting in the Healing Houses and listening with rapt attention to one end of a tube while a healer pressed the other end – that looked rather like a short funnel with a drumskin attached – to his swollen belly, hearing for the first time the heartbeat he'd only felt before then, he couldn't quite muster the will to be angry.
They rested in Minas Tirith, the White City, for a few days to rest and heal before setting out once more, this time to challenge the Dark Lord directly.
Aragorn, Gimli, the healers, and most of the men riding out tried to get him to stay behind. Logically, Legolas knew that he should. His baby was due to arrive at any time and he knew that he should stay behind with the healers and rest up for it as they requested. He knew it, and yet he could no more stay behind than he could pull the stars from the skies. He had joined the Fellowship with the intent to see the Dark Lord destroyed, and he would see it through to the end.
And so it was that Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and his ghostly retinue, Eomer, and a sizeable group of mixed Gondorian and Rohirrim fighting men left the White City at dawn one morning not a week after the battle had been won and started out for the Black Gate to challenge the Dark Lord in his domain.
The Pelennor was quiet that morning, blanketed in a thick fog that was quickly being burned away by the rising sun. Busy with tending the wounded and clearing out the city, only the dead of Men had been taken from the bloody field of battle. Everywhere they looked, they could see the corpses of orcs, wargs, evil Men and other dark creatures. The plain was littered also with weaponry; abandoned blades, broken arrows, wicked things out of Mordor for which Men had no name. It would be a long time before everything was cleared away. Longer still before the land was ready for the plow once more. Right then, though, it resembled nothing so much as the battlefield it had been just days before and they were grateful to the fog both for hiding the extent of the carnage and denying the Sun the chance to make the death-stink worse by shining on it.
That was the scene that greeted the Elven-lords as they rode into the plain from the direction of Rohan. They looked from one torn and bloody corpse to the next, each new sight bringing up memories of battlefields long gone, and wondered how the diminished forces of Men could possibly have withstood such a force alone. Would they arrive at the White City only to find it now ruled by darkness? Would they see in it the death-knell of the free peoples? Would they see in it insurmountable proof that it was time for the Elves to sail to the West, to leave these lands? Had all that was once great fallen now into the hands of darkness?
The only hope they could see, as they rode under cover of the fog towards the City, was that though the bodies of the Dark Lord's forces were countless in number, they had yet to see a single Man.
That hope was rewarded as they neared the City and saw, high above, long-unused pennants fluttering in the wind on the tip of the highest tower, declaring to one and all that the King had returned.
Thranduil, for all that he still wanted the mortal in pieces for what he had done, seemed pleased. At least now the father of his son's child was a King of Men come into his own and no longer a wandering, dispossessed Ranger. With that in mind, he let himself give more thought to Elrond's proposal that the two be wed. Though he would have preferred his son to settle down with a gentle elleth – or ellon, if he preferred – he found himself less opposed to the match now that the Man in question was King of Gondor, the last great kingdom of Men.
Elrond, for his part, saw the fluttering banner and felt both happy and sad. Happy, that the boy he had raised as a son had taken up the role he'd been destined for; sad, because it showed him that beyond all doubt the time of the Elves had passed. The time of Men was upon them and it was time to leave, time to let them make their own choices, their own mistakes. Time to leave the land he'd fought all of his life to protect, to nourish. It was a beginning for Men, but it was the end of the tale for the Elves.
At last they reached the gates of the City, and none too soon as far as they were concerned. The sun had burned away the last of the mist and the stench from those untold thousands of dead orcs and orc-kin was enough to make Men nauseous. For the Elves whose senses that were so much more acute, it was torture. Granted, it was something that they had all endured before, but it seemed so much worse now that they had not been involved in the fighting, had not had the overpowering stench creep up on them gradually, giving them time to get accustomed to it. They were glad to reach the gates, knowing that whatever awaited them inside could be no worse an assault on the senses than the battlefield outside as the Sun continued to rise.
The guardsmen at the gate let them pass once they got over the shock of seeing the group of Elves suddenly and unexpectedly on their doorstep. Elrond and Thranduil led their group inside, shocked at the amount of damage visible, yet relieved that the worst of the stink stayed outside as they had hoped. Neither was impressed when in answer to their questions one of the guards told them that they had missed Aragorn and Legolas by mere hours but, their senses still reeling from the battle-stink, their horses more than ready for a rest after a hard morning's ride, decided that they would take the time to rest that day and depart at dawn the next.
Legolas knew he was in trouble.
The battle raged all around him, kept buffered from him by his ghostly guardians, as the forces of Men – numbering barely six thousands – fought against the forces that streamed out of the Black Gates and Mordor. It was chaos, pure and simple. The dark hordes had slammed into the Men's formation and battered at it, breaking off bits and pieces until the battle had degenerated into nothing so much as a free-for-all melee; every man for himself. The Captains of Men fought to call them back into some semblance of order, but their shouted commands were more often than not drowned out by the din of battle.
Which brought us back to the Elf prince.
He'd gone with them, with Aragorn and Gimli and Gandalf and the Hobbits and Eomer and the host of men, to represent the Elves as he'd sworn to do so long ago, his only concession to their concerns the saddle and bridle he rarely ever used. He'd felt a bit off as he rode with them to challenge the Black Gate, but brushed it off as a symptom of his inability to find a comfortable position in which to rest the previous night. When the Mouth of Sauron had thrown them Frodo's shining coat of Mithril mail and laughed, he'd felt a strong twinge inside but brushed it off as heartache for the little ones, taken and tortured by the Dark Lord's forces.
It was only now, with the battle raging full-force around him on all sides, that he was forced to admit that it had not been sleepless-cramps, had not been heartache. His leggings and saddle wet under him, his belly visibly twitching as the spasms shot through him with a strength Galadriel's book had in no way prepared him for, he was forced to acknowledge the fact that he was, in fact, in labor, and that judging by the signs the baby was well on its way.
What was he to do? He could see now that he'd been a fool to ride to battle so near to his time, but there was nothing he could do about that now. He'd intended to be somewhere safe, most likely in Minas Tirith and the Healing Houses there, when his time came. Not in the middle of a battle in front of the Black Gate. He'd read the section of the book describing the birth with horrified fascination enough times to have a fairly good idea of what to expect, but even that resource described the act as if he was in the company of a midwife.
Somehow, he doubted the dark forces would let one through.
Which was entirely beside the point. He could not have it there, in the middle of a raging battle on a dead plain just outside Mordor. He refused to have it there.
Another hard pain ripped through him, letting him know that he might not exactly have a choice, and he curled around it as much as he could, tensing involuntarily against it even as he knew he should be trying to relax into it. Whoever thought that a person would be capable of relaxing when they were being split in half from the inside out was an idiot. His horse pranced a little both from the odd smells and the confusing signals its rider was giving it. The tensed legs said go but the reins said stand, and it didn't know which was true. Instinct said it was stand so it stayed, though it couldn't help but sidle a little.
He was so focused on the gut-wrenching pain inside that it took a moment for him to register the fact that he was staring down at a pair of green-glowing ghostly feet that were standing on the ground right in front of him. Or seeming to, anyway. The fact that a fist-sized rock was sticking up through one foot belied the fact. He looked up, meeting eyes long-dead yet somehow warm.
The dead had no voices, not since their leader had passed on, but they still managed to make themselves understood somehow.
This one was plainly curious, and wanted to know what was wrong. Had they somehow failed in their self-appointed duty of protecting him?
"Baby. Now," was all Legolas managed to grit out, fighting to keep his seat. He could not get down. If he did, there would be no getting back up and he really would have his baby right there. In the open. In the middle of a battle.
Ghostly eyes widened in shocked understanding, darting from his face to his belly and back. A cocked head asked the question.
"Yes, now!" Another pain, and Legolas grit his teeth against the pain, somehow keeping in a stream of curses that his father would be astounded and dismayed to learn that his precious son knew, let alone knew how to use.
All of a sudden his ghostly guardians were all around him, answering the voiceless call of the first. They milled around him, the occasional hand reaching out to run along his skin with a shiver-inducing sensation. He did not fear them, though those were the same hands that decimated the enemies that came near him. Even had they not promised to protect him, he would not. He did not fear the dead.
Perhaps that was part of the reason they were so taken with him. That, and the new life he bore.
The life that was fighting to be born at that most inappropriate of times.
He looked up at them, sweat breaking out cold on his forehead at the pain that peaked and ebbed yet never entirely went away, and dared to hope.
"I need to get away from here," he told them. But where could he go? Everything was bleak and barren and lifeless! Where could he- Ah! North Ithilien! They'd camped there the night before.
…And arrived at the Black Gate after hours of riding.
He didn't think the baby wanted to wait that long.
He looked to his otherworldly escort. "I need to get to the forest... I need to get to Ithilien, to the forest we camped last night… Can you help me?"
The dead said nothing, just reached for the horse. It shivered and twitched, its eyes rolling as they touched it, but before he could do much more than say a few soothing words, they were off, shooting across the battlefield with unworldly speed. Those in front cleared the way, leaving behind the occasional Man to stare in dazed shock at the bodies of his opponents before charging back into battle once again, while those around him carried both him and the horse, carrying them both away to safety as quickly as they could.
And for the dead, that was very fast indeed.
The battle was over.
They could hardly believe it, could hardly believe that they were still alive, could hardly believe that they had, against all odds and sense, won. Sauron's power was destroyed, his tower cast down, his armies dust without his will to guide them.
Of the six thousands that had marched on the Black Gate, one thousand would not be making the return journey. It was a high price to pay, so many good men had already been lost, but their deaths had not been in vain. The long war of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth and the Dark Lord Sauron was finally at an end.
One argument, however, had not been dealt with.
The Elves, led by Elrond and Thranduil, had reached the battleground in time to join in, sending arrow after arrow flying into the writhing black hordes from Mordor. They had been there to see the Dark Tower of Barad-Dur fall, to see Sauron's forces destroyed as his Ring was returned to the Fire.
It took them a while after the battle had ended to find the Man they were looking for, but now they approached him even as he spoke to a group of riders, sending them out in all directions.
Legolas was not there.
"Aragorn!" Thranduil bellowed as they came within earshot. "Where is my son!?"
The Man spun on his heel to face them, wide-eyed, and winced. Visibly fighting back against the urge to cringe, he answered. "We… aren't exactly sure."
"I've sent riders out looking for him," Aragorn said. "We know he is not on the battlefield; I've Men who saw him ride off with the Dead. We just don't know where they went, or why."
Thranduil was livid. This is the Man Legolas had decided to be with? This? How could this Man have lost his son? Logically, he knew that it was impossible to keep track of everyone once a battle had started, but Legolas was his son, his only child, and logic fled his parental fingers. Wait. Had he said-? "The Dead? He rode off with the Dead? My son is-"
"No! No, he is alive!" Aragorn said. "We rode through the Paths of the Dead and asked the Dead there to fulfill their oaths in the defense of Gondor. A group of them decided they wanted to protect him, and have been guarding him since, even though the others have since gone to their eternal rest. Some of my Men saw him ride off with them during the battle."
It was Elrond's turn to frown. "And why was he in the battle?" he asked. "So close to his time, he should be-"
"I know that, Ada, but try telling him that! He would not stay behind. He threatened to ride out after us should we leave him. I thought he would be safer with the host than alone."
Thranduil chuckled. "He is somewhat stubborn when he had made up his mind," he said. "He gets that from his mother."
Elrond cocked one brow. "From his mother?" he asked wryly. "I think not."
Thranduil glared, though his eyes bore hints of laughter. "Are you calling me stubborn?"
"I'm not call-"
"My Lord Aragorn, King, Sire, Sir!" a rider called as he approached. He clearly had no idea which title to use on an acknowledged yet uncrowned king, so he used them all. "We found him! Well, we didn't find him find him, but we found the direction in which he went!"
"Good," Aragorn said. He turned to his horse and mounted, then looked back at the two Elven lords even as a hastily-assembled escort gathered around him. "Will you ride with me?" he asked.
"He is my son, of course I will ride!" Thranduil said, urging his horse closer.
"As will I," Elrond said. "And I will hope that my services as a Master Healer are not required."
The sun was sinking into the West by the time they arrived in Ithilien, and the sky was a brilliant mix of reds, oranges, and purples when a single ghostly guardian led then to the secluded glade where Legolas rested.
He lay on the thick moss to one side of the clearing, shoulders propped up against a moss-covered fallen tree. Not far from him, a small stream trickled along on its merry way, filling the air with its watery laughter. He was pale, still, covered to the shoulders with his cloak, and for one heart-stopping moment they thought he was dead.
Then the blond head moved, tired eyes sliding over to look at those who had disturbed his rest. He dismissed most of them with barely a thought, until his eyes settled on the one he most wanted to see. "Ada," he called, voice soft and a bit hoarse.
Thranduil dismounted, moving at once to his son's side. He brushed unnaturally tangled locks back from his son's pale face. "Legolas," he greeted.
"Ada, look what I did," the younger Elf said. One arm rose, then shaking fingers turned down the cloak enough for them to see, wrapped up in his tunic, a tiny bundle of life.
Staring down at his son and new grandson, Thranduil found that he couldn't say anything.
Elrond, moving up beside them even as Aragorn did, smiled down at them. The baby was beautiful, and strongly favored its… nana? He looked to Aragorn. "You two make beautiful children," he said. "When do you intend to have the wedding?"
Aragorn managed to tear his gaze away from the baby long enough to give Elrond a confused look. "Wedding? I don't know. I'll have to speak with Arwen."
"Arwen?" Elrond asked, frowning. "What does she have to do with it?"
Now it was Aragorn's turn to frown. "I'm marrying her. You said that once I was King of Gondor, she and I could wed."
"Yes, but that was before you found love with Legolas. So when do you intend to wed him?"
"Found love-?" Aragorn's eyes were wide. "We didn't-"
"I'm not marrying him!" Legolas said, eyes just as wide.
Thranduil frowned. "But, my son, if you love each other well enough to make this baby possible, then-"
"He's only my friend!" Aragorn said.
"I don't love him like that!" Legolas said.
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