Chapter 7 – Stars and Souls
Lothlorien, though beautiful, was eerily silent as the Fellowship settled for the second night since the events of Moria. All felt the toll of that day lingering in their minds; the strain of both Gandalf's fall and the shattering of Leiwen's soul weighed heavily upon them. The journey to the Golden Wood had been made swiftly; Aragorn had gathered them together in an instant after Leiwen had been taken into the care of the other two Dragons. The Ranger, of course, also kept a close eye on the one Dragon whom had been left in her place, not trusting him to do any more than answer what he would of the Hobbits' inquiries.
Jorum, as he was called, had made his presence amongst them as unobtrusive as possible given the circumstances. He spoke only when spoken to, kept himself as far from the disgruntled elf as he was able, and often glanced to the North, where the Iron Mountains lie in wait.
The Nord that stood in Leiwen's place appeared as though he were perpetually occupied with his own thoughts, constantly looking into the middle space at something discernible only to himself. No member of the Fellowship spoke at great length after he has relayed Fafnir's plan to re-make Leiwen's soul. The small, fragile hope that she might be returned to them seemed too far a thing to fully accept, especially after the loss of Gandalf.
Now, on the second night since the Nords had taken their shattered Dragon, the Fellowship stood in a clearing beneath the great Mallorn trees in Calas Galadhon. Their hosts' voices lilted all around them, singing out a mournful melody from the silver-lit forest. It was a beautiful tune and Sam could not help save wonder what it was that inspired such a heart rendering song from this timeless race of people. The blonde Hobbit stood up from where he had left Frodo to sleep for the night and looked up in wonder that he could not contain; he had always wanted to see the Elves.
"What 'r they saying?" he asked Legolas whom stood not far from him.
"A lament for Gandalf," the Elf spoke softly, gazing up at his kin as their voice lifted into the air. "I have not the heart to tell you, for me the grief is still too near."
"I bet they don't mention his fireworks," Sam declared and the gazes of the Fellowship landed upon him. "The finest rockets ever seen: they burst in stars of blue and green, or after thunder golden showers came falling like a rain of flowers… No, no that doesn't do them any justice by far." Then he turned from the eyes of his fellows to return to his pallet.
The portly Hobbit sat down next to Frodo as the clearing went silent once more save for the Elves' mournful lament. How could he sing of those amazing fireworks, the kind of which had brought so much cheer and wonder to so many? He truly was a fool if he could not do something so simple to bring hope in the midst of such darkness. And what about Leiwen, what could he sing of her?
All he knew of the Still-Cursed Dragon was that…well, she was from the Iron Mountains far to the North. He eyes glowed in the firelight, she and Gandalf were friends for a great many years, and she could stand against the wrath of a mountain. Leiwen had fought a Balrog with Gandalf for them and she was quietly kind even to Pippin who could aggravate even the most kind-hearted person. How would she be remembered?
Sam looked over to Legolas as the Elf listened to his kin sing of the Wizard. "Do the Elves have a song for Dragons?" he asked openly and honestly.
Legolas' gaze slid over him and narrowed almost as though he were disgusted at the very though. "Why would anyone lament the loss of a Dragon?"
"Well," he began, at this point nearly unsure of himself. "Doesn't Leiwen deserve to be remembered, too?"
Sam had not only drawn the gazes of the Fellowship once more, but the Dragon at the edge of the clearing as well. After a moment some of their eyes fell to the ground, almost as though they had forgotten her since their arrival in Lothlorien and they were ashamed of it. So, Sam dropped his gaze as well and busied his fingers with the loose threads clinging to his sleeping roll.
"It just don't seem decent, to forget a friend…"
Two days had come and gone since Leiwen had been taken from the Fellowship, now night had fallen and Frodo was beginning to fear that perhaps Fafnir had failed.
The Dragon is dead, boy. We're all you have now. They will turn on you when she does not return, when they know she is gone, when they finally lose that small, pathetic shimmer of hope.
The Hobbit tensed against the belittling whispered words, the Voice twisting about his consciousness as a specter would, cold and clouding, bearing clawed fingers that dug in like blades. That Voice spoke to his darkest fears, casting doubt, keeping him from sleep, and tricking his eyes. The events of Moria draped like a curtain over his vision; the Balrog, Gandalf and Leiwen on the Bridge…what had happened afterward. What remained clearest in his mind were the Dragon's eyes, the absolute blackness of her gaze that stared back like the gaping maw of something horrendous, as though there were a vast expanse of nothingness where once her soul had been. That darkness terrified Frodo, the Dragon that had taken his friend stopped his breath in his chest, and the thought of Leiwen returning but changed beyond recognition caused his heart to stand still.
Frodo's only small comfort was that Jorum kept a steady watch on the North; as long as the Nord waited for her, so too would he. They were not sure when or how it had happened, but Leiwen had become an integral, necessary part of the Fellowship. A hole had opened up in her absence and where warm, candle-lit eyes had once waited with an ever-sad smile, now unanswered questions lie and small fingers twitched without a braid to hold on to.
The Hobbits, more specifically Merry and Pippin, wanted to know how the Troll King had stolen the Wood Elves' wine, where the Rock Giants had disappeared to, why Dragons' scales took on the appearance of the places they dwelled within. So many questions left unanswered, stories unfinished, songs unsung, and promises…so very many promises left to fulfill.
Merry had convinced her to sing with him once, one of the tavern songs she knew from many years of traveling amongst strange peoples, and Sam wanted to hear about the people she had traveled with, where they had gone and the innumerable adventures she had taken part in over the ages of her life. Pippin, of course, had become quite taken with their Dragon, and had pulled from her the promise of a dance; he would not let her forget about it.
So many hopes. Gimli, though he would never admit it, often looked on in wonder when she spoke of the treasures his ancestors had crafted in the ancient days; he would then glance down at his own hands as though he wanted to show off his own skill for comparison. Boromir and Aragorn admired and respected her as both a fighter and a companion; the latter had often unknowingly trusted her at his back nearly as much as the Elf Prince. And Legolas, Frodo was not entirely sure what to make of him, all the Hobbit knew was that sometimes the Elf, too would look off into the Northern sky, as though waiting for her return.
Gandalf was gone and they mourned his loss. An essential, necessary piece of their Fellowship had been ripped from them, they could ill afford to have the small, fragile hope of another's return crushed and snuffed out as the small flame of a midnight candle.
"She isn't dead," he stated firmly then stood from the pallet Sam had laid out for him in the pavilion and made his way over to Jorum.
If the Nord heard his uncertain steps he gave no indication of it, keeping a steady gaze on the Northern sky. The Ring Bearer was weary and despaired for the loss of the Wizard and Ancalalei, the Voice ate at his withering resolve, and he withdrew from his friends. Never before had he felt so utterly alone and his fingers twitched again, almost reaching for a braid that wasn't there. He came to a stop just beside the blonde Nord and followed his gaze into the star-studded night.
"What's out there?" the Hobbit asked in a wavering voice.
Jorum pondered the boy's inquiry for a moment. What would Ancalalei tell him? He could feel the despair and grief bleeding from the Hobbit's skin as an open wound. It tainted him, made him weak against the will of the Ring he carried. His Lady would tell the boy the wonders of the world and how, against the darkness and the monsters, the light and those that lived within it, were all the more beautiful as they shone against it.
So the Dragon took a breath and then began. "In the Iron Mountains lies the Ruined Fortress, where my kin were first born into this world. Many centuries ago, when the land was still young and the echoes of the First Songs remained, we took to the skies as flocks of birds, breathing fire amongst the stars. The night would come alive with wild magick, light streaking across the sky with colors so radiant you could not dream of them. It has been said that our light was seen even through the Door of Night and onto the Walls of the World.
"Though our numbers have dwindled greatly since that time and we no longer gather together to breathe among the stars, the mountains remember. And when the night sky is close enough to touch, magick shines against that darkness. There are nights when the stars light up the skies more beautifully than the lights of this Golden Wood. Just reach out your hand and pluck them from their place against the Walls of the World and just once you would be able to tuck that star close to you; pull it to your chest and feel the light of it cast away your fears and sorrows. You would become so luminous that no darkness could touch you ever again. Have you even seen that kind of light, young Hobbit, so brilliant as to warm your very soul from self-doubt and darkness?"
Frodo could not help save look on in wonder as Jorum spoke, trying to imagine the things his rumbling voice spoke of. For surely nothing could be as beautiful as streams of light in the darkness of a night sky, waving as streamers in the breeze. Stars so close that they could be touched, taken from the sky for a moment and held close; how amazing the things that he had seen. He glanced at the Dragon once more, waiting for him to continue.
"When the sun rises over the mountains and the skies are alight, the whole world can be seen from a single point. The forests, and villages, and seas cast vibrant color against the mountains and their snow-capped peaks. To stand upon the top of the world then simply let go and have the wind take hold of you with gentle hands, fill your wings with a soft breath. You can stay near to the mountains or follow the sun's path across the world, far above the vibrant green of a summer forest or the silver light of winter's touch on the land. Fly until the day dies and the moon reclaims the sky or into a thunderstorm to chase the lightning across blackened clouds. There are wondrous things out there, young Hobbit
"Though there are perils and dangers in the world, there is beauty of the like which you could not imagine. The Great Lady will take you to see them should you but ask; you are likely the only being she would grant such a request."
The Nord glanced down at Frodo with gentle, earth-colored eyes. "Have no fear and do not doubt that she will be brought back. The Valar have not kept the Curse upon her this long as to simply allow her to leave us now."
At this Frodo gazed back up into the skies and Jorum could smell the curiosity upon his skin, "What do you mean?"
The Dragon considered his next words with great care. "Ancalalei, or Leiwen as she is known to those not of our kind, has a far greater destiny than the tasks she has lived thus far. It is whispered from beyond the stars that she will see the end of the Great Deceiver's greatest achievements and lead her people back through the Door of Night. If ever there were to be a queen of our kind, the Great Lady would be she; when her Curse is lifted, she will lead us home.
"Fafnir will not fail, young Hobbit. He is well aware of what must be done."
In light of Jorum's assurances, Frodo and the Dragon both looked into the starry sky once more. For once, Frodo imagined that he and Leiwen were very similar; all the darkness of the world fighting against them, the expectations of so many biting at their heels, weighing them down. He wondered if she was as alone in her task as he was in his, did she ever despair as he did now; did she grow weary of it? Had she hidden away from the world after so many centuries of failure? Did she long for an end to it when none of her kin suffered as she had? Had she ever been overwhelmed with sorrow or grief or doubt as he was now?
The two stood in silence for long moments under the silver lights of Lothlorien, the Elves' song wrapping around them. Gandalf, like Leiwen, had given the Fellowship hope and though he was gone his words and warnings remained. Leiwen was Gandalf's friend, she had gone to aid him when none of the others could against a creature so monstrous that all the orcs and goblins and trolls of Moria fled before it. They had sacrificed themselves to keep the rest of them safe, to grant the time needed to escape the Tomb Under the Mountain. It was almost horrible for him to despair in light of what they had done for him; fallen and shattered.
They have taken the shortest, swiftest path from the darkness that is soon to consume this world, boy. Death is the only hope of escape; they will all soon learn of this truth themselves, the Gondorian especially, the Voice whispered and taunted. How long until his mind breaks, boy, how far would he go to save those that cannot be saved?
Stop it! Frodo wanted to scream against the Ring's persuasion. Between the Voice of the Ring and the Lady Galadriel's own whisperings upon their arrival, the Hobbit had quiet enough of others encroaching upon his thoughts.
Then, quite suddenly, Jorum's head snapped back as though he had been struck and he tensed visibly, his hands clenching into fists so tightly that his knuckles were shockingly white. Without turning or otherwise so much as glancing at him, the Dragon addressed the Hobbit in a voice so soft he very nearly missed the words as they met his ears.
"This is where I leave you, young Hobbit," and in a rush of warm wind the Nord was gone, not so much as a dark silhouette to be found amongst the light of the starlit darkness.
He, too has abandoned you, the Ring whispered as Frodo almost frantically searched the skies, his breath and rapidly drumming heartbeat thundered against his ears. The rest of them will soon follow, boy, have no doubts of that.
"Where has the Nord gone?" he heard Aragorn call out, his footfalls growing closer. When he couldn't answer, Frodo felt the Ranger's hand upon his shoulder to draw his searching gaze away from the unmoving sky. "Frodo," he tried once more, "where did the Nord go?"
The Hobbit met Aragorn's gaze as he knelt in the cool grass. "He said it was time for him to leave," he finally managed, noticing the concerned faces of his kin, Gimli, and even Boromir not far off.
"But Fafnir said that he would stay with us until Leiwen came back-" Pippin began until Boromir spoke over him.
"He has abandoned us. They are Dragons; they live only for themselves and care nothing for anyone or anything save their own desires."
In that moment Frodo's gaze slid to the only member of the Fellowship that had deigned to not inquire as to why the Nord had taken his leave so suddenly. The Elvin Prince stood at the far side of the clearing, near to the pavilion his kin had constructed for their use. Legolas' form was tense and his eyes cast upon the ground beneath his feet. As the Elf's hair gleamed in the light of the Mallorn trees, covering his downcast eyes, Frodo knew they had reached the same conclusion. The hard line of the Elf's body reflected the Hobbit's own thought and he knew neither of them would have an easy time of accepting this obvious truth.
Leiwen would not return; Fafnir had failed them all.
He saw the realization in the expressions of his fellows as they slowly began to understand; Jorum had left them because Leiwen's obligation to the Fellowship was done. Despair clawed up his spine with spidery limbs and constricted his throat with near-panic; one by one they looked upon him with mournful sympathy, all save Pippin who simply could not accept it. He ranted and shouted and begged them all to come to their senses, but Frodo could not hear him.
Grief and anger began to bleed through as the Voice of the Ring taunted, tormented, and laughed. Frodo wanted to scream, convince them all that she was still alive. But how could he when that wavering hope was fading fast? He was foolish and blind and now his choices had lead to the deaths of two people, both of them friends and mentors. Maybe the Ring was right all along, perhaps they would all die if they remained with him; there truly was nothing he could do to stop it.
Aragorn's hand fell from Frodo's shoulder and he gathered the others once more to hold off the sorrow that threatened to consume them as well. Frodo did not follow. Instead he remained at the tree line where the Northern sky was clearest against the darkness of the forest. Not far from him Pippin continued to protest, demanding they listen to reason, but Frodo was deaf to all save the sounds of his own panicked breathing. As he sank to his knees in a slow fall, he buried his face in his hands and fought against the sobs that built in his chest.
It was then, between one shuddering breath and the next, that he felt an inexplicable warmth and heard the tink of metal upon metal. The scent of autumn and worn leather drifted beneath his nose along with that singularly distinctive wood smell that simmered beneath summer rain. If this too was a trick of the Ring, Frodo did not know that he could escape the illusion unscathed.
Then a hand came to rest upon his head, slender, nearly delicate fingers tangling in his dark curls and the Voice of the Ring fell completely silent, its influence fading away as pipe smoke on a summer breeze.
"I knew you would wait for me," came that all-too-familiar voice that reminded him of mist over the water on a chilly morning, and he began to hope once more.
"You found me," he managed to push the words from his throat, which was still tight though now for a different reason altogether.
Then a sob forced itself past his lips and he was pulled into a warm embrace; an embrace that forced away the sorrow and despair. It was her, he knew it, and despite the relief and joy he felt in her presence, in knowing she was alive, he was also ashamed. He had given up on her; even though it had only been a moment, the Ring was stronger than his faith in her and he had doubted her.
"This is not your fault, Frodo," her voice whispered, wrapping around him as the comfort of his own feather bed back in the Shire. "This, too, shall pass."
Somewhere by the pavilion he heard Pippin cheering "I told you she wasn't dead" and rapid footfalls grew closer until both her and Leiwen were bowled over by both Merry and Pippin. The two were laughing and cheering, wrapping their arms around the Dragon, holding her close as they were overwhelmed with relief. Frodo knew Sam was not far off, he never had been so enthusiastic, but when Frodo finally opened his eyes he saw his friend smiling widely, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.
It was Sam's smile that finally grounded him, how he knew this was real. So he very carefully moved his gaze towards Merry and Pippin, both of whom were releasing their Dragon from a tight grasp whilst simultaneously wiping tears from their eyes. Near to all of the Fellowship had the tell-tale traces of wiped-away tears on their faces, only these tears were shed in joy and relief as opposed to mournful grief. When the two had finally stepped away from her she greeted Sam with a nod and that same sad smile, her dark hair drifting about her waist as it always had; his fingers twitched as he took notice of the braids woven throughout the long strands
And then he saw her eyes and the warm amber he expected was not there.
Frodo's cool sapphire gaze was met with a mismatched molten gold and lightning against frost; Leiwen's eyes glowed from the fair skin of her face. If he looked hard enough, he thought he could almost see waves of heat rising from the outside corners of her gaze, gold on the left, pale blue on the right.
This was different, wrong; whatever Fafnir had done had changed her, definitively. The question now was just how much was she changed? How far did this go? Was she even still the same person, was she still his friend? Then, as if she sensed the sudden tension that the sight of her had caused him, Leiwen lowered her eyes to the side to assuage him.
"We thought you would not make it back," came Aragorn's voice from just behind Sam. The Ranger, heedless of the obvious difference, strode confidently up to the Still-Cursed and wrapped her in an embrace of companionship. When he released her after a long moment, he took a good look at her, noting the subtle changes to her clothes, weapons, and armor. "It worked?"
Leiwen granted him one of her smiles and tilted her head in a nod, "Yes, the debt between Fafnir and I is settled." She extended a closed fist out to him, palm facing the sky, and uncurled her fingers revealing the treasure that he had given to Fafnir on her behalf. "You have my gratitude, Aragorn. I will not forget this."
Arwen's jewel lie undamaged in the Dragon's hand and as Aragorn reclaimed it he noticed that it shone just a little bit brighter than he remembered. He draped the chain around his neck and when the jewel met the skin of his chest beneath his tunic, an overwhelming calm washed over him. The Ranger's gaze snapped up at Leiwen and her eyes burned above that sad smile.
"My kin offer their protection for what you have given," she told him, not bothering to explain the meaning behind her words.
Aragorn smiled, though, and squeezed her shoulder in thanks before moving aside to allow Gimli and Boromir to welcome her back amongst them. Frodo watched carefully as the Dwarf and the Gondorian greeted her, Gimli with a gruff "Wondered when you'd make it back" and Boromir with a simple nod of respect. All of the Fellowship save for Legolas seemed glad to have her back, though there was no uncomfortable silence as he observed her from the pavilion. Leiwen, however, merely glanced at the elf before turning her attention back to Frodo.
After a long moment, she knelt before him, the glow of her eyes illuminating the air between them. "Am I so very different?" her head tilted in inquiry, a single braid falling to rest against her collar. "Do you no longer trust me?"
The Hobbit stood and approached the Dragon cautiously, taking stock of the subtle differences in her appearance just as Aragorn had. Her hair was the same dark brown, her skin the same pale cream, her armor darker and her swords lighter, longer, more wicked. Her flesh bore no scars or reminder of her ordeal, no tales would be told in her skin that two days before she had very nearly died. Though her eyes were different, the soul he saw behind them burned brighter, as though she had been remade with the magick of a star just as Jorum has told him.
So, Frodo reached out to her and took hold of that singular braid. He twined and twisted it around his fingers and when he was finally satisfied he met her gaze and smiled.
I would first and foremost like to thank everyone for staying with me and being patient as I tried to figure out how to write this chapter. I apologize for the unmentionable wait time between the last chapter and this one; I will endeavor to keep that from happening again. As always, thank you for reading!