Title: The Weeping Wraith, Chapter One
Author: Katharine the Great
Summary: "What were the Riders trying to do?" "They tried to pierce your heart with a Morgul-knife which remains in the wound. If they had succeeded, you would have become like they are, only weaker and under their command. You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord…" --Frodo and Gandalf at Rivendell
Notes: This story starts on the bank of the river Anduin, after, Frodo and Co. left Lothlórien. It is the eighth night since their departure from that blessed land, and they have run into a bit of trouble with the orcs closing in from the east bank. Things, however, are about to get much worse…Also, this is very very very A/U, and somewhat rooted in the movie's portrayal of characters.
Disclaimer: Some of this story is quoted directly from the trilogy itself. I will note these excerpts with italics, so pay attention and don't sue me for plagiarism! I wouldn't dream of such an offense against the great JRR!
Legolas laid down his paddle and took up the bow that he had brought from Lorien. then he sprang ashore and climbed a few paces up the bank. Stringing the bow and fitting an arrow he turned, peering back over the River into the darkness. Across the water there were shrill cries, but nothing could be seen.
Frodo looked up at the Elf standing tall above him, as he gazed into the night, seeking a mark to shoot at. His head was dark, crowned with sharp white stars that glittered in the black pools of the sky behind. But now rising and sailing up from the South the great clouds advanced, sending out dark outriders into the starry fields. A sudden dread fell on the Company.
There was no sound, save for the rustling of the trees overhead. The orcs across the River had fallen silent. The River itself slurped and bubbled on its way past the wary travelers, further obscuring any enemy movements. Aragorn remained seated, but slipped his sword from its sheath and made ready for swift action. Gimli's hand moved to the hilt of his axe, and Boromir's blade glinted dully in his grip. The hobbits hunkered down, peering all around them. All gave nervous glances to the far-away eastern bank from whence the orc-cries and arrows had come. Several minutes passed, and nothing out of place was witnessed.
"It is too quiet," Boromir murmured almost inaudibly.
"Hsst!" Legolas warned under his breath. Dark as it was, the Elf's hair seemed to shine under the starlight. His motions were soundless, but Frodo could dimly see him stepping further up onto the bank and turning toward the silent forest.
Aragorn touched Frodo's arm, indicating that he should be ready to flee by boat or by land if necessary. Frodo swallowed and tapped Sam, who was startled and barely managed to avoid making an outcry.
After more long minutes had wafted past, Aragorn made a low hissing sound to collect Legolas' attention. "What see you, Legolas?" he whispered.
Legolas had not moved in all that time, but now he turned his head slightly to reply. "I see and hear nothing, but my heart quails within me as it has not often done before," he said softly.
Frodo cast a fearful look past the Elf. "I feel it also," he breathed.
"What shall we do, then? Sit here all night and wait for some unknown terror to consume us whole?" Boromir asked in a low tone.
Before any of the rest could form an answer, Legolas lifted his bow and released an Elven arrow into the heart of the darkness beyond the bank. "Black Riders!" he cried. "The Nazgûl are upon us!"
Even as he spoke, a terrible shriek arose from the forest beyond. All at once the hooves of the black horses smote the earth, unseen as yet by those in the boats, but the sound was instantly recognized by Frodo. Aragorn was already shoving off from the bank, holding his sword captive in one hand and wielding the paddle with the other.
"Come, Legolas, get yourself into the boat so that we may be off!" Gimli called out.
To Frodo's horror, he saw Legolas' silhouette still standing high on the bank. "I will remain to slow them if necessary," the Elf replied plainly, without a trace of fear in his voice. "Go, all of you, and get yourselves and the Ring to safety!"
By then the boats manned by Aragorn and Boromir were trailing away from the bank. "Gimli, Legolas, come!" Aragorn cried. "We must go quickly to avoid the threats from the two banks!"
The Nazgûl swept through the trees with a chorus of howls, echoing the fading orc-shouts from the opposite bank. Frodo felt a thrill of horror streak through his veins, for he remembered well the screams of the creatures as they had pursued him and the Ring he bore. He had nearly died at the point of one of their blades. Now, somehow, the Black Riders had recovered from the floodwaters at Rivendell, and had found their quarry once again.
"Legolas, run!" Frodo cried, knowing well that the Riders would soon reach the unwavering Elf. How he could discern such, he did not know, for it was still very dark. He knew, too, that Legolas meant to stay where he was and provide a rearguard to cover their escape.
Gimli shouted something that Frodo could not decipher, but Legolas' reply carried over the River's water without trouble. "Go, my friend. I tarry for your sake as well, and if you are safe, then I shall escape."
The Dwarf cursed loudly, but Aragorn's voice sprang forth and cut off his denial. "Away from the shore, Master Dwarf, else the Riders will destroy the both of you!"
"You would not leave Legolas to die!" Frodo gasped.
"No, Frodo, I would not. I mean to get Gimli away as Legolas asked, so that he may flee when the rest of us are saved." Aragorn laid a hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "Elves are good swimmers, Master Hobbit. I have no doubt that Legolas means to dive into the River and reach the safety of Gimli's boat when he deems that no one will be within the reach of the Nazgûl when he does so."
Gimli's keen ears had heard Aragorn's words. Cursing mightily, he finally shoved the boat away from the shore. "Cursed and blessed Elf!" he cried. "Come and reach haven, then, before I regret my seeming cowardice!"
"I am but a moment after you!" Legolas called faintly, and then his voice was lost to the shrieking and pounding of the black-cloaked Riders.
It seemed to Frodo that a storm cloud burst forth from the line of trees beyond the bushes at the edge of the bank. The horses' bridles jangled harshly in the night air, and their riders keened fiercely in unison. Legolas was at the edge of the water when the Riders charged him, and those in the boats saw with dismay that the Elf could not dive fast enough to escape. Frodo and the others let out a loud cry as Legolas whirled to meet the attack and then disappeared under the hooves of the black horses upon which the Nazgûl were mounted. The animals did not pause even for a moment, but skidded to a halt at the edge of the bank, neighing and kicking at the lapping water in a frenzy.
"Curse you, foul creatures!" Gimli shouted, adding several pungent words in his own language. From the sounds of the splashing, Frodo guessed that the Dwarf was paddling furiously back towards the bank.
He heard his own voice joining Aragorn's in a half-commanding, half-beseeching duet. "Come back, Gimli! Do not hasten to your death!"
There came a wild cry then, a voice that rose above the snorting of the horses and the shouting of the Company. "Kelo, namárië! Kelo!"
Frodo recognized the voice of Legolas, crying out in his native tongue and commanding them to flee. Namárië, he had said. Farewell! "No!" Frodo shouted, thinking that the Riders must have killed the Elf, who upon seeing his doom had given his companions leave to save themselves. Frodo frantically scanned the dark shore, which seemed so very far away now, but to his dismay he could see nothing.
Abruptly the Nazgûl ceased their howling. The horses turned and raced back into the forest, disappearing as swiftly as they had come. With their departure came the return of the wild orc yells and a rain of arrows from the eastern bank. The creatures had paused in their assault, apparently unwilling to interrupt the errand of the dreaded Nazgûl, but with the latter's departure the orcs had resumed their own attack. Gimli was still heading back to the shore where Legolas had disappeared, not heeding the call of Aragorn.
There came an exclamation from the boat containing Boromir, Merry and Pippin. "Aragorn, Merry has taken a hit from one of those wretched arrows!" Boromir called out. "We must get to shelter immediately!"
"Merry!" came Pippin's faint voice, choked with worry. "Wake up, lad, don't sleep on me now!"
"I do not think the Lady would be offended if we returned to Lórien in such straits," Frodo remarked softly. His tone was remarkably calm.
Aragorn paused. "If that is what you wish, then we shall turn back to Lórien," he said.
"I think we must, Aragorn," Frodo said. "We cannot stay, and we cannot go on with Merry injured and Legolas missing."
Without another word, Aragorn grabbed up his paddle and began to stroke the water furiously. "Boromir, we are going back to Lórien! Gimli, get away from the bank and follow us!"
"I shall not leave our Elven friend in the wake of the Riders!" Gimli answered with a roar.
"We will not leave without you, Gimli," Frodo called out desperately, ducking under the arrows splicing the air above his head. "Every moment we delay is another moment in which another of us could die!"
"Legolas told us to go!" Aragorn added. "The Lady will surely see to it that he is found and rescued, if that is possible now."
With a bitter, angry roar, Gimli turned his boat and began to slash at the River with his paddle. "If it were not for the Lady, I would disregard this treacherous command, Aragorn," he snarled loudly amid the dull thuds of the orc-arrows. "But I have faith that she will help my good friend much more that I could at this moment."
There was a faint groan from the second boat, and Pippin gasped. "Merry, Merry, stay here! Don't sleep yet!"
"Do you think Legolas is all right, Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked hesitantly, in a low voice so that only Frodo could hear.
"I hope so, Sam." Frodo gave the disappearing stretch of shore a sorrowed glance. "I hope so."
Fueled by desperation and by increasing anxiety for the plights of Merry and Legolas, those manning the oars paddled up the Anduin until their muscles burned and their sight blurred. Aragorn was still wary of the shores, and so was reluctant to stop and rest. He decided that they should rearrange themselves in the boats so that they could rest in shifts and still progress up the River. He sent Sam over to Boromir's boat so that the hobbit could paddle when Boromir rested, and Frodo would do the same for Aragorn, and so on. Gimli was determined not to rest until they reached Lórien, for his mind was filled with worry for his lost friend.
They were three days into their journey back to the Golden Wood, and Frodo and Sam were paddling while the Men rested. Pippin was tending to Merry as best he could though the wounded hobbit was drifting in and out of a feverish slumber. Gimli's face was set in hard lines, as he was trying to ignore his weariness.
Frodo kept his strokes long and even in order to maximize his speed without overtiring himself before his shift ended. To pass the time, he and Sam sang soft snatches of song from the Shire, and Pippin joined in as well in an attempt to cheer Merry.
"Mr. Frodo, did you see that?" Sam gasped suddenly.
Frodo automatically tensed, but did not break his oar-rhythm. "What is it, Sam?"
"Over there, on the west bank. I saw something move really quick-like," Sam replied.
Gimli, overhearing the conversation, turned his attention to the shore. He was nearest to the western bank, and so had a better chance of sighting whatever the hobbits were discussing. "I see nothing, Master Hobbit," the Dwarf said. "Perhaps it was a bird flying to its nest."
"It was much bigger than any bird I've ever heard of," Sam answered stoutly.
"What color was it?" Aragorn asked, rousing from his sleep at the tenseness in the voices around him. "Was it a Wraith?"
"No, I don't think so. There it is again!" Sam cried, nearly dropping his oar in his hurry to point out his phantom.
Now all saw it, a fleeting touch of white in the trees to the west. Aragorn drew his sword, wishing with a pang that Legolas and his strong bow were present. "Oh, for the eyes of an Elf," he murmured, so low that none save Frodo heard.
"If not a Wraith, then what?" Pippin asked, cradling Merry tightly in his arms.
As if cued by the conversation, a white horse with gleaming mane and tail stepped out of the trees, appearing from within the darkness like a dream creature. Seated astride the horse was a fair-skinned, golden-haired Elf with a bow in one hand. He looked so like the missing Legolas that Gimli and Frodo gave a start.
The Elf called out in his own tongue, walking his horse steadily along the bank to keep pace with the boats. Frodo could not understand what was said, but Aragorn replied in the same language, for he had been reared in the house of the Half-elven Lord Elrond. He used the name Legolas a number of times, apparently explaining the reason for the Fellowship's sudden reversal of course.
After Aragorn had finished speaking, the Elf on the shore nodded once. "This is distressing news, Elessar," he said, switching to the Westron language. "So soon into your journey, and already you have troubles enough to drive you back to Lórien. The Prince of Mirkwood is missing, you say?"
"Yes, and Meriadoc the hobbit is injured," Aragorn answered. "I fear he may not survive the journey by boat, Léhulai. Will you take him to the Lady while we follow by way of the River?"
Léhulai of Lórien glanced about. "My companions and I were patrolling the southern borders when we heard the cries of the Nazgûl," he said. "We came to investigate, and that is how I found you. But I will break off my search in order to save the hobbit, for you have all been named Elf-friends by the Lady."
"Thank you! Oh, thank you so much!" Pippin cried. "I am afraid for Merry; he is pale and hot to the touch."
"The Lady will see to him upon my return to Lórien," Léhulai said. "Bring the boat alongside the shore, and I will collect Meriadoc from the shallows."
Sam and Boromir (who by this time had come to full wakefulness) carefully paddled over to the western bank, where the Elf dismounted and waded out into the shallow water. Léhulai reached out and took Merry's limp body from the arms of Boromir, who then drew his sword in case of a Nazgûl attack while they were near the shore. When Merry was safely atop the horse and held securely by the arms of Léhulai the Elf, Boromir and Sam hastily pushed the boat away from the shallows.
"Goodbye, Merry," Pippin called anxiously. "I shall see you in some days, I hope! Be strong!"
"I shall make all haste after I have contacted my companions and informed them of my errand," Léhulai said. "Lórien shall be watching for you when you arrive. Fare well until then, friends of the Elves!" With that, the white horse and its fair rider turned and leaped nimbly into the forest, and vanished.
End of Chapter One! So, what happened to Legolas? And is Merry all right? And what of the orcs and the Nazgûl closing in on the Company? Please review…my Plotbunny's name is Francine, and she gobbles reviews…