The great oaken doors, carved in intricate swirls of branching vines, between the great carved and inlaid pillars of the porch, boomed open as Legolas and his companions reached the top of the great stone steps, and with the cadence of creaking leather and clapping metal, Háma, the Doorward of Théoden, for so Gandalf said his name was, appeared with a cadré of armored soldiers at his back.
At his appearance, Gandalf smiled with recognition and greeting, but the man did not return the greeting in kind, though, Legolas seemed to sense, he was not a man used to being bidden to treat guests so abruptly.
“I cannot allow you before Théoden King so armed, Gandalf Greyhame.” He said briskly, and added, almost as an afterthought, “By order of-, Gríma Wormtongue.”
Gandalf let out a soft sigh of air and nodded understanding before he glanced at Aragorn, then Legolas, nodding that they relinquish their weapons to the soldiers who came forward to relieve them of their weapons.
As Aragorn obligingly stripped himself of his gear, handing each weapon to the soldier who stood before him, Legolas, showing less reluctance than he felt, also surrendered his bow placing it into the hands of the armored soldier who came forth to claim it. Then, snatching his knives from his quiver as well, he watched, with veiled satisfaction, the uncertainty slide across the young man’s gaze as he spun them in his hands then grasped them by the blades, holding the hafts outward for soldier to take. As he handed over Lalaith’s bow and the knives of the Hobbits, Gimli, beside him, with reluctance that showed clearly upon his plump, bearded face, surrendered his large double edged axe and, more slowly, his single bladed axe and his throwing hatchets. Finally, with the handing over of his arrow laden quiver, Legolas was, he realized, completely defenseless, aside from the strength of his own hands, as were Aragorn and Gimli.
Now, with their weapons in the hands of Háma’s men, Gandalf looked at him with an expectant smile.
“Your staff.” Háma said apologetically, nodding at the tall wizard’s staff in Gandalf’s hand.
“Oh,” Gandalf muttered, pleading. “You would not part an old man from his walking stick?”
With a purse of his mouth, Háma reluctantly conceded on this, nodded, and turned back toward the Hall. And as he went, Gandalf fell in behind him, taking Legolas’ arm as he did, as Aragorn and Gimli came behind them.
As the doors creaked open into the Hall, the smell of warm polished wood, and ancient stone washed into his face. As Háma bowed before the king, and gestured them inside, the uncertainty of the dark clad courtiers was a nearly palpable thing as they lingered like silent shadows beside the proud, bronze inlaid pillars that ran down the center of the Hall. They watched, almost like ghosts, as Legolas and his companions drew nearer toward the throne at the head of the room where the king sat, his throne backed by proud banners of crimson and azure, and green, embossed with images of horses, the symbol of Rohan, and a sign of the pride of its people that now was flagging.
The king sat bent and grey upon his throne like a withered tree, twisted and gnarled with age and disease, a shrunken, shriveled form of what he must have once been. A shadowed figure of a man sat beside him, surely this Gríma Wormtongue of whom Háma had spoken. He was clad in black furs, his own hair dark and stringy while his skin was a white, sickly looking color as his pale watery eyes stared out at them from within a sneering, distrustful face. Like a leech he seemed, capable of sucking all cheer and happiness from its victim.
As they drew further into the room, the man with a twisted smirk, leaned toward the bent form of the king and whispered with a low hiss, “My lord, Gandalf the Grey is coming.”
The bronze inlaid door behind them boomed shut with an echoing finality, and Legolas could not help but glance back as the guards barred the door shut with a loud metallic clamp.
Within the shadows beyond the line of silent, dark clad courtiers, walked a group of five men. Dark shadows hung over their eyes, and ill intent reeked from them as they stalked silently along like a pack of wargs shadowing their prey.
Legolas drew his arm away from Gandalf’s support, sensing he would need use of it soon, and the wizard let him go.
The pale man again leaned toward the king, and whispered, “He is a herald of woe.”
“The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Théoden King.” Gandalf called out as the four parted to stride around a shallow fire pit set within the center of the floor, and hung over with a black iron pot, cold and empty, like the lives of the people of Edoras from whom this Gríma had stolen life.
“He is not welcome.” Gríma hissed to the king who grumbled in a soft, inaudible voice, and bobbed his head wearily.
“Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow?” Théoden muttered at last, his voice cracking with weariness.
“A just question my liege.” Gríma simpered, before turning and rising, fixing his cold eyes upon Gandalf, and slinking, like a serpent upon legs, toward him. “Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear.”
Legolas glanced away from the cold watery eyes with disgust, and suddenly, he saw her. A woman stood watching him, half hidden in the shadowed corner, and the cold feeling stole over Legolas that she had been watching him since his entrance, overlooked, until now. She was clad in a gown that was almost black, though he could see that it was a deep green, like the ancient trees in the deeper, more sinister parts of Mirkwood where the spiders lurked. He hair was black and waist length, and her eyes were a bright, almost unnatural blue, like those of the aptly named Wormtongue, who stood before them. Though, Legolas noted, she was extraordinarily fair for a human woman. While her skin was pale, it was not a sickly grey, like Gríma’s, but rather a smooth, unblemished ivory. She glanced demurely downward with the shyness of an unsure maiden as his eyes found hers, before rising again to meet his gaze. Her soft lips brushed with a whisper of pink, turned upward in a timid, child-like smile.
“Láthspell I name him.” Gríma mocked, his pale lips curled in a sneer, drawing Legolas’ attention back to him. “Ill news is an ill guest.”
“Be silent.” Gandalf commanded him, undaunted. “Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm.”
He lifted his staff, its entwined head inches from Gríma’s suddenly startled face. In her shadowed corner, the woman visibly flinched as well.
“His staff.” Gríma hissed as he scrambled backward, his watery eyes filled with terror. “I told you to take the wizard’s staff!” He cried out. And as if on command, the brooding warg-pack of men came barreling at them from behind the pillars. Legolas jerked his eyes from the woman, turning his focus now upon them.
They were a filthy lot, these cruel faced Men, doubtless the minions of Gríma. And they were large, thick with bulky muscle, perhaps chosen by Gríma himself to do the dirty work he considered himself too good for. As they came scrambling toward Legolas and his companions, Gandalf ignored them altogether, and continued to advance on Théoden as if they were not there. Legolas however, could not ignore them as they rushed in. He lunged forward, blocking the nearest man from snatching hold of Gandalf, shoved him aside, and sent a fist flying into the ruffian’s face that found its mark on bony flesh with a satisfying thump. The man’s head snapped back and he crashed onto the floor, but he did not stay down, and there were more coming. And Gandalf still strode calmly along through their midst, drawing ever closer to Théoden.
“Théoden, son of Thengel!” Gandalf cried, seemingly oblivious to the flurry around him as Legolas knocked one of Gríma’s henchmen to the floor, only to find himself blocking the swinging fist of another. He snapped his fist upward into the ruffian’s jaw, sending him flailing away, falling back against a pillar, and then toppling heavily upon the stone.
Aragorn and Gimli were occupied with Gríma’s obstinate henchmen as well, Aragorn beating down those coming from their right as Gimli made quick work of one coming from behind, ramming his helmeted head into the man’s stomach, and knocking the air from his lungs. The man sprawled, writhing to the floor, gasping and groaning in breathless agony.
Gandalf stopped at last beneath the steps of the throne, his voice falling to a sympathetic, thoughtful tone as he said, “To long have you sat in the shadows.”
Behind him, Legolas heard the scuffle of boots upon stone, and the rushed exhale of angry breath as one of Gríma’s men lunged near. And without troubling to turn, he brought his arm up sharply, feeling the familiar crack of flesh against his knuckles, and then the man toppled to the ground with a groan of defeat, and lay still.
His eyes once again momentarily caught those of the dark haired woman, where she lingered, still within the shadows, whose eyes had remained fixed upon him. A cold light shone now in her eyes, as her breast rose and fell with unchecked emotion. With a slight shudder, Legolas tore his eyes away, focusing his gaze once again, upon the king.
Gríma, who had been cowering at the foot of a pillar from the beginning of the skirmish, was whining and squirming now beneath Gimli’s thick boot as the Dwarf threatened in a low, grumble, “I would stay still if I were you.”
“Hearken to me!” Gandalf ordered the king who had seemed to shrink impossibly smaller, his face turned from the wizard.
Reluctantly, the wizened face turned to meet Gandalf’s eyes and Théoden uttered a weak grumble of malcontent.
“I release you from the spell.” Gandalf murmured, stretching forth his hand, and closing his eyes as if to direct all his focus at the tortured king.
But the shriveled man simply uttered a weak laugh that grew in strength as he sat higher upon his throne. “You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey.” He hissed, his voice thick with scorn as he continued to laugh mockingly.
But the laughter gave way to a startled cry as Gandalf cast aside his grey cloak, and the Golden Hall flooded with the light his bright robes cast off.
“I will draw you Saruman, as poison is drawn from a wound.” Gandalf declared, advancing up the steps toward Théoden, and standing over him where he writhed within his throne.
Behind him, Legolas heard the soft clattering tread of running feet as a golden haired maiden clad in white, her fair countenance fraught with alarm, darted past him toward the king, but Aragorn stepped forward, snatched her gently by the arm, and softly commanding her, “Wait.”
“If I go, Théoden dies!” The king hissed in a fierce voice that sounded too much of Saruman’s tone to be otherwise.
In response, Gandalf shoved his staff toward the king, and as if by a physical force, he lurched backward.
“You did not kill me, you will not kill him.” Cried Gandalf.
The gnarled, whitened face grew even more twisted as Saruman, glaring out through Théoden’s eyes hissed, “Rohan is mine!”
“Be gone!” Gandalf commanded, the power of his staff once again shoving the tormented king back.
Seething with fury, Saruman, within Théoden, twisted about on his throne, before at last, he lunged forward with cry of fury only to be slammed back fiercely into the throne, where he sagged, as if suddenly lifeless, and for a long moment, did not move. Then, with a weary groan, arched forward, and would have tumbled to the floor, but for the maiden who pulled herself from Aragorn’s hold, and rushed forward, catching the king as he fell.
He knelt there, supported by the young woman, as his glazed eyes flashed about as if he had suddenly been woken from a long nightmare, and could not at first understand that he was no longer under the threatening shadow of his fearful dreams. And as he knelt, the sickly gray tone to his skin waned and faded, and the warm color of health returned to his face. The thin white hair of his beard and beneath his crown filled with color, becoming a golden brown. And as Legolas watched, hardly daring to believe, his eyes grew clear and at last focused on the maid, whose, face was filled with bright hope, and he smiled.
“I know your face.” He murmured, as if remembered the once forgotten smile of a well-loved friend. “Éowyn.” He whispered, and smiled as the young woman’s eyes brimmed now with happy tears. “Éowyn.” He repeated softly.
Turning now, he glanced beyond the maid’s shoulder, and his gaze alighted upon Gandalf.
“Gandalf!” He breathed, as if uncertain at whom he saw.
“Breath the free air again, my friend.” Gandalf gently instructed him. And at this, he slowly rose, assisted by the maiden Éowyn, to his feet, and he stood at last, slowly as if it had been long since he had last stood upright. Yet now he stood, unhindered by weakness or age, tall and proud of bearing.
Legolas heard a soft brush of movement behind him, and knew that those within the hall were reverently lowering themselves to their knees in veneration of their king.
“Dark have been my dreams of late.” Théoden murmured softly, glancing down at his hands, strong and straight now, though they had been withered and twisted before.
“Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword.” Gandalf murmured slowly. And as if at a silent command, Háma drew forward to the step beneath the king, and held out the king’s sheathed sword.
Slowly, his face etched with great wonder, Théoden grasped the hilt, and drew the blade forth, the scrape of the metal murmuring as it came. Lifting it up, he held it before his face as remembrance seemed to flood back into his eyes. But then he paused as if remembered something terrible, and his eyes shot away from his sword and across the room to where Gríma Wormtongue knelt, cowering beneath Gimli’s careful watch. And a sudden terrible rage filled Théoden’s now cleared eyes.
Legolas lowered his eyes and shook his head softly to himself as Háma, and another guard, bearing grim though satisfied expressions, flung Gríma from off the high stone porch, where he fell with a strangled cry of fear, and tumbled heavily down the long stone steps to land in a groaning, twisted heap at the bottom. So much for his hold over the king, and his privileged position, Legolas thought wryly as he and Gimli beside the lady, Éowyn, came again into the sunlight and the warm wind that whipped about them and smelled of earth and golden grass as they watched from the high ledge of the porch.
“I’ve only ever served you, my lord!” Gríma whined, crawling backward as Théoden advanced on him, his sword clenched hard in his fist.
“You leechcraft,” Théoden seethed, unmoved, “would have had me crawling on all fours like a beast!”
Send me not from your sight!” Gríma simpered, to which Théoden answered with an angry cry as he raised his sword to strike him down.
“No, my lord!” Aragorn cried, darting near from where he had stood beside Gandalf, and caught the king’s hands as the blade descended. “No, my lord.” He repeated, and added gently, “Let him go. Enough blood has been spilt on his account.”
Gríma frowned bitterly as he scrambled to his feet, stumbling backward, safely away from the king, his watery eyes growing wide as he slowly realized his released, then turned and staggered away.
“Get out of my way!” He screamed, as he rushed through the crowd that had gathered to witness the strange spectacle as Gríma had been so roughly ejected from the Golden Hall. With an angry growl, he roughly shoved through, flinging people aside as he drove through their midst, leaving stunned silence in his wake.
“Hail, Théoden King!” Aragorn cried, standing by Théoden, as the king gazed out of the assembly, and as in a mass, the crowd lowered slowly to their knees before him. At last even Aragorn bowed.
Behind him, and still within the shadows of the Hall, he heard a soft puff of air, as a grunt of disgust, and turned his head. The woman he had noticed earlier, lurked at the edge of the doorway. The displeasure that filled her pale blue eyes was clear enough as she glared down upon Théoden.
While even the doorguards had bowed their heads in obeisance, before the king, she had not so much as lowered her eyes.
She seemed to sense his eyes upon her, for her gaze moved slowly from Théoden to him, and as her eyes met his, a strange coldness seemed to grip him. She smiled then, a slender thread of a smile that may have been taken as a timid, maidenly smile, but was clearly not, for as Théoden’s voice below them softly asked, “Where is Théodred?”, her smile grew into a simpering sickly smirk, that in spite of the beauty of the face it was set within, reminded Legolas chillingly, of an orc’s cruel grin as she turned and flounced away, disappearing like a shadow back into the Hall.
“Where is my son?” Théoden asked again. He had turned about, and his eyes were searching about for a familiar face. A face, Legolas realized sadly, that Théoden would not see.