DISCLAIMER: I do not propose to own any of J. R. R. Tolkien’s characters, nor any places or names that before appeared in his books. Other characters and places, however, are mine, and are copyright © of Me-Elf.
Mandos let Legolas drop to the ground. The Elf snatched up his knife and brandished it. Mandos’ cold, hard stare bored into his eyes.
“Or you will be,” he whispered. “For now,” he gestured toward the Dead, who had gathered a little way to the west in a hoard of transparent white. “You have an army, my friend.”
In wonder Legolas stood and gazed at the mob.
“An army,” he said, amazed. “So there will be a battle, then?”
“I can say no more. Again, Manwë, nay, Eru himself bids you, go to Eryn Lasgalen. Meet your father there. You must make haste, or when you come to that fair wood, King Thranduil will have departed and made for Valinor himself. You are running out of time.”
Legolas stood, trembling at the words of Nàmo. Mandos’ harsh voice whispered close to his ear.
“The Cry is not so strong that you would go back to Valinor before we are through here. You were prophecied, Legolas. You are Ulmo’s but keep in your heart the love that you have for Yavanna. A small piece of that love might take you far. Indeed, you heard the Cry of the gull too soon, and now we are paying for it. I have forseen, you will no longer rest in the forest, but you may weep in the tree by the shore. Make haste, little child, for your father has news for you.”
With this, the Vala vanished into the ground, leaving Legolas struck dumb by his words. The ominous danger that Middle-earth, nay, the entire world was in had finally cut to his heart. The fear and pain was like a dagger, and he stared in terror at his army. The figures in front of him swirled and twisted, eagerly awaiting an order. His order.
“Tolo,” he said, and began to walk in the direction of the other Elves and the Maia. He did not have to look back to know that the horrid host was following him. Of a sudden he felt strong, in power, no longer could he feel the horrid fear of what he might be marching toward. But one thing puzzled him.
“You are Ulmo’s.”
What did that mean? He didn’t think on it long, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. His heart joyed at the thought. He would triumph, or he would fail. There was no in between. And he did not care which would come, for he would find rest at the end, either way. The army of the Dead formed ranks behind him, marching, cold and dangerous. And from a little way off, Rayn could see the one colored figure marching in front of them, a King of many, of all one day. She stood straighter, and she realized that no matter where he went, she would follow. Her spirit soared in hope for their world. She glanced at Aer, who stood quietly, smiling as only a bird can. She looked back out over the army, and quietly told Balved to ready the horses. She, too, was ready to face Morgoth.
When he was but a hundred feet from the two Elves, Legolas signalled for the hideous army to stop.
“What are they?” asked Rayn.
“They are the Dead, and they are also our army,” said Legolas, walking up to her. Balved was already seated astride Rest, Legolas noted his choice of steed.
“Why don’t you ride Sleep? He can hold two better than Rest.”
“Because the leader of an army must take the more handsome steed,” said Balved. Nodding, Legolas swung up onto the back of Sleep.
“But,” he said before Rayn could climb up behind Balved. “The beautiful maiden must ride behind the Leader.”
Rayn blushed, open-mouthed. She looked up at Legolas, and even in the darkness her countenance was fair to his eyes. He took her hand in his and helped her up behind him. Red-faced, Balved looked away. Rayn clasped her hands around Legolas’s middle, and, at a sign from Legolas, the Elves, the Maia, and the army of the Dead were on their way to Greenwood the Great.
§ § §
Thranduil strode over to a stone and sat upon it. He gazed into the river that swept past, swift and clear. He let his mind flow with it, to that day long ago, when Ulmo had appeared to him the first day. That day was long ages ago, and now Legolas was grown and dwelling in the House of Elves. He wondered why he stayed Eryn Lasgalen. He was fairly sure it wasn’t the trees, for he deeply longed for the Sea and the Cry of the gull. It wasn’t his people, for at his call they would leave in joy, and that call they eagerly awaited. He sighed and put his face in his hands.
“Think, Thranduil,” said a familiar voice from the river. “Deep inside you know what keeps you.”
“You have told me much, but the one thing that I cannot think of myself you will not tell me?” Thranduil said.
“Think, Great One, you know. Tell me what your heart is saying to you,” Ulmo urged.
“I do not hear, I see. I see my son, he is a great warrior, and a King afar off. But if he has left, how can he keep me here?”
“Go on,” said Ulmo.
“Because I am…afraid? Afraid that if I follow him I may not find him with his mother?”
“No, you know she is not his mother. Think on your past, Thranduil, what is the other option?”
Thranduil thought for awhile. He looked at Ulmo, or through him, not an Elf could tell his thoughts.
“You have brought him back?” Thranduil said finally.
“Good child,” said Ulmo, his hard mouth twisting into something of a smile. “He journeys this way as we speak. When you have your opportunity, you must tell him the truth. If you don’t his chance of failing is that much more. War is coming yet again, King of Greenwood. And your son is more heavily involved, for he will be the one to ride at the head of a great army. Your tormented mind speaks well, for it is indeed Morgoth that we fight against.”
Thranduil nodded at the words of the Vala.
“You are wise to linger here. Stay, he will join you within the next fortnight, and if he does not, you must ride to meet him yourself. Follow my instruction and beware, for the hour is later than is known.”
“Are we in any danger?” he asked.
“Nay, but when and if I return to you, you will be. Watch, Thranduil, for the last hour is nearly here.”
§ § §
Swift across the marsh the army of the Dead flew. Above the Elves Aer soared, below him the horses matched his speed, never tiring. And behind them the vast and terrible host of the Dead. The two days that they spent on the run muddled themselves in Legolas’s mind, until one moment was the same blurr as the next. Once or twice the thought crossed Legolas’s mind that he was leaving Gimli behind him, back in Rohan. He decided that he would go to his great house when they returned to the boats that they had left so far behind in Dol Amroth. He wondered what was going on there, but decided also that it was best not to think about it.
Her hands clasped about the Prince’s waist, doing nothing, Rayn had little to think about but how her father fared, home in Yardan. She also looked and dwelt upon the barren and brown land. How dead it seemed. No birds flew, nay, none even sang beneath the covering of darkness. She wondered how any Elf might survive long in a place like this. She shut her eyes and clung tighter to Legolas.
Balved rode hard, always striving to stay ahead of the ghostly figures that hovered above the ground behind him. Always following, always boring holes into his back with their eyes. He had been horrified by Mandos’ appearance once before, and Mandos’ own would not catch him, not now. He knew that they were safe, somewhere deep inside his troubled mind, but his heart beat fast at the very thought, and it would not slow for simply his mind.
No one saw the awful host as they swept their way across the Dead Marshes, which for a time did not appear so dead in the presence of Legolas’s army. They were silent and grim, eager to avenge their deaths. At the end of those two days, the army had grown so huge that the last of them could not be seen by a man on a hill, even were he to try.
From far away Mandos looked out over his army, his hood shadowing his face. He turned to Manwë and spoke.
“So the Elf has an army, Lord of Clouds,” he said. Manwë turned his tired face to look at the Lord of the Dead.
“Ah, but our supplying an army may not save our world. You know better than any of us the will of Eru, what does he say to you?” said Manwë
“He will not say what will come to pass. Indeed even I am blind in this time, Manwë. I do not know what shall come to pass,” said Mandos, shaking his head.
“You speak dire words, for if Námo does not know what shall come, except that it concerns Morgoth, who shall discover it before death comes?”