The Cry of the Gull (Chapter 16) - The Dead Marshes
The Dead Marshes
They fairly flew over the Rohan plains on the backs of the swift horses. Aer soared above them, his keen eyes picked out any hazards below that he might lead them safely around. The ground began to grow soft and wet, for they were nearing the dead marshes. On the very edges of that horrid land Aer stopped, and dropped like a stone to the ground. The horses stopped obediently, and Legolas slid down off of Sleep to meet the giant bird.
"We must be careful, for dark and evil things live in that marsh. The ground is harder than in the older days, we may be able to pass safely across, as long as you children lead the horses and do not ride." Legolas nodded his understanding, and called to Rayn.
"Come, half-queen, we must lead the horses across the Dead Marshes," he said. Rayn and Balved dismounted Rest and quickly began to fashion a rope halter for both horses. Aer leaned in close and whispered to Legolas.
"See that neither of them follow the lights, for the Dead Marshes do not carry that evil name for no reason. Also, see that you do not follow the tongues of flame either, for if they ensnare you, all hope may be gone." He looked over to the other two Elves.
"Come, children," he called. "Choose your way carefully, do not fall into the water!" With that, the great Gull sparng into the air and regained his height above them.
They began to traverse the soft, muddy terrain. Legolas let the other Elves make their way to the front of him, and then continued behind. The horses, surprisingly, were more sure-footed than the Elves in the marsh. Legolas guessed that they had been to the marsh before they had come to the small village in Rohan, and therefore knew the ground better than they. Legolas soon saw what Aer had meant by "tongues of fire", for all around them were flames that licked the air, desireing to taste the flesh of Elf or Man. He also notice with interest that among these were scattered flames that burned with a blue light, a light that matched an unusually large one, a distance off, but still visible for the Elves. Rayn and Balved had guessed that they should not look at the lights, so Legolas had nothing to do but ponder this large flame whilst they walked. Never did he guess what it really was.
It was when they had passed this section of the marsh when Legolas realized that something was following them. He looked back and found that the marsh looked strangely empty of the blue flames, and that, though a faint wisp remained, the larger one was becoming fainter. He turned back to follow Aer, puzzling over this new strangeness, and after a few minutes looked behind him again. The large blue flame had disappeared completely.
"Aer!" he called. The Elves turned and Aer circled to land in front of Legolas.
"What do you see, Elf?" he asked.
"The blue lights, they are gone, why have they disappeared?" Legolas asked. Aer scanned the land behind them.
"I don't know. Unless..." he stopped mid-sentence. Legolas looked back at the land behind him. Ghostly white shapes began to form above the ground. Legolas realized with a start that they were heading for the group.
"Fly, we must fly," said Aer. "Run!" he called, letting out a sieries of cries in his own tongue. Legolas ran to catch up with Rayn and Balved, who had been a little way ahead of him.
"Come, you two ride Sleep, he is stronger," he called. "I will take the back of Rest." Rayn and Balved hurried to obey. When Legolas was mounted he turned once more to gaze at the host that had begun to follow them. The two Elves of Valinor swept past him, for the wisps of white had grown more solid. One of them looked with swirling, milky-white eyes that grasped at Legolas's mind and pulled him toward it. Wrenching away from the hold of the ghost, Legolas urged the fast horse on. Aer and the others were already far ahead of him. Looking back, he could see that where the larger flame had been there was standing a figure in black, surrounded by the horrible army. He pushed Rest faster, but he could not stay ahead of the army of ghosts.
They soon began to fly beside horse and Elf, but Legolas could not urge Rest to move any faster, foal of the Mearas or no. He glanced at one that whipped close to his face. It turned its blank eyeballs to him and clawed at his face, holding the eyes of the Prince with its own. Legolas cried out, for he was looking into the face of a dead Elf. Tearing his eyes away, he struggled to get free of wispy white fingers that reached for him, trying to drag him down from Rest's back. He could not stay on like this for long. He could hear Balved shout from in front of him, in mortal fear. Suddenly long, bony fingers grabbed his shoulders and tore him away from Rest. Soon the ghosts covered him, but his fight wasn't over yet. He took hold of the black figure, the one who had grabbed him and then shrunk to his size, and drew one of his knives. The dead Elves sprang back, for in an instant Legolas was filled with the blood-red fire of the stone. The fury of the power that coursed through his blood took him over, and with great force he drove the knife into the throat of the hooded, black figure. Red pupils rolled to look up at him beneath the black shadow that hid its face. Legolas droppped the knife, and it stuck in the mud, for there was naught where the figure's throat should have been. He reached out for the hood and threw it back off of the thing's head. Mandos grabbed his wrist with an iron grip possible for only a Vala. The eyeless sockets glared into Legolas's eyes. His cold breath slithered across Legolas's face as he spoke.
"You are now mine."
§ § §
Far to the North, Thranduil of Mirkwood stood in his palace, looking to the West. His heart was heavy, for his thoughts lingered on Elenathil, his wife that had disappeared to the farthest West at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, all those Ages ago. His son had followed her, to await the coming of the End of Days. Now he was the head of the last gathered kindred of Elves in Middle-earth, and he, too, longed for Valinor.
He sighed and sat down on his bed, a beautiful work of art, fit for the king of the Eryn Lasgalen Elves alone. He knew about the Teleri, the last of the Elves to reach Valinor, but he turned in this head for the millionth time what would happen if his people were the true last to come to the White Shore.
Evil was coming, he could feel it in his old Elven bones. And this was a greater evil than Sauron, for his senses, strengthened by years of use told him, whispered a name in his ear, a presence in his mind that only an Elf of the Elder Days could recognize.
"Morgoth..." it whispered. "Morgoth."
The name tormented his mind. The very thought of that Evil whose deeds had only been spoken of in whispers since he was cast off of Eä shredded his soul. One question burned in his mind.
His mind could concieve no answer; excepting one. If Eru had willed it, then it would be.
His mind began to wander, more questions began to form in his head.
"What if Legolas was more than what I was told, what if he's out there, or dead? Are there enough Elves left to fight this terrible Evil, without the help of the Valar? Can I lead my people into a battle which we would surely never make it out of alive?"
He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
"I cannot do this alone. I should never have let Legolas leave," he said to himself. He stood up suddenly and left his chamber. He walked down the massive stairway that led to the Great King's Hall and quickly skirted the deserted feasting place, already prepared for the evening meal. He silently made his way down a small passageway, it led him to a small room, hidden in the thick walls of the Great House. He pried at a stone, which came loose with a harsh, grating sound. It fell in front of him, and the King of Greenwood the Great sneaked unnoticed out of his own house through the small opening that the stone had made. He had done it a million times before, for the opening led to a private section of the river that no one could reach from either side, and no one could see into, and no one but the King, and his son, knew about. This was the place. The place most sacred to Thranduil, the place where he had met Ulmo for the first time.