The ominous cloud drew closer to Middle-earth as the elves flew over grass and field. They ran for six days, the darkness drawing closer with every stride. Stopping only at night for food, they traveled on over grass and field, resting on the run. Aeraew flew behind them, his energy never dwindling, much to Balved’s surprise. He wondered about the unceasing ablity of the young gull to do anything a grown gull would do, but he never asked Legolas about it. Instead he simply followed, worrying little, and accepting most. But on the eve of the sixth day his curiosity got the best of him.
“Why doesn’t Aer tire?” he asked of Legolas, holding the little gull in his arms, trying unsuccessfully to stroke the bird’s head.
Legolas and Rayn looked at each other, wondering what they could say.
“He is a wonder, do you not remember?” Rayn said nonchalantly.
Balved was not convinced.
“You are hiding something,” he said. “What are you keeping from me, Highness?”
Rayn sighed and shook her head, signifying her end to the conversation.
“We have seen a greater power than the cloud, Balved,” Legolas said. “The gull is a messenger of Ulmo.”
“Ulmo?” Balved said. He paused, his mouth open with disbelief. “But…”
“He lies not, Balved, he rose up out of the ocean and spoke to us, he gave us a warning,” Rayn explained.
“A warning?” The young elf’s eyes widened with fear.
“He said that the evil is both behind and before us, we have found the evil behind,” Legolas said, gesturing at the cloud, “but the evil in front remains a mystery.”
“What will we do?” Balved asked.
“We must keep moving, we will go through Gondor and Rohan, then we will circle back to the Glittering Caves and finally to Mirkwood, my home.”
“And where are these places? We have never been here, Legolas, and your names leave a complete blank in my mind,” Rayn said. Balved nodded in agreement.
“Well,” Legolas said, picking up a stick and making marks in the ground with it. “This is Gondor, and we are heading to Minas Tirith, here.” He pointed to a rock in the earth. “Rohan is Northwest of here and Mirkwood is here,” he said, pointing to various places on his makeshift map. “The Caves are here, near Helm’s Deep, a fortress of old. A great battle was fought there…” He sat back, remembering. A memory of that night.
“It’s been knife-work up here…”
“Legolas?” Rayn said, startling him out of his stupor. “What is it?”
“Nothing, come, we must not linger here.” The elves stood to leave and Legolas scuffed the toe of his boot in his map. Giving another fearing look at the cloud, he quickly followed Rayn and Balved, who had already continued east.
§ § §
As they neared Minas Tirith, the elves passed through small towns, asleep and unheeding of the lithe shadows that flitted through their streets. Shadows of beings not seen for years in Gondor. But throughout these towns, all their inhabitants would wake to a new morn, for the Great Shadow flew behind those of the elves.
Dawn had begun to stretch it’s way across the eastern sky when Legolas stopped atop a hill. Rayn came up behind him, and as she looked out over the land her breath left her for an instant. Before her she made out a white city, seven tiered, it’s banners stretching up to the grey-lit sky. But something was terribly wrong.
“We must get there by morning,” Legolas said.
“Morning?” Balved asked suddenly, having come up silently behind the two elves. “If morning there be.” He pointed up. The Shadow, barely distinguishable in the dark of the wee hours, had overtaken them and was proceeding eastward at a rapid rate.
“Come, Balved, Rayn, we must hurry, where is Aer?”
As if he had heard his own name, Aeraew flew up and landed on Legolas’s head. Rayn giggled, and they started off on the last stretch of thier long journey. Thunder rumbled overhead. “Or maybe it isn’t thunder,” Balved thought.
Legolas ran with more haste than he ever had before. They reached the city as a thin line of red began to show between the growing shadow out of the West and the horizon. Legolas walked up to the Gate of Minas Tirith. He gasped as he saw that it was marred and nicked, its intricate carvings gashed through, bloodstained and ruined.
“What has happened?” he asked of himself. He knocked on the door.
“No! Leave me, you needn’t come in here to torture me, for life with these wounds is torture enough!” a harsh, agonized voice wailed from inside the city. Legolas felt a small twinge of familiarity come with the voice. He called to it.
“What is this? We are not here to hurt you, please, let us in!”
Sobs came from within the walls.
“Who are you?” the voice cried weakly.
“I am Legolas, son of King Thranduil, of Mirkwood,” Legolas said.
“Legolas…” the voice said softly. “The gate will give, come thee within these walls.”
Legolas pushed on the gate, and found that it gave. He walked in cautiously, Rayn and Balved followed closely, while Aer flew over the gate. Legolas was apalled at the carnage that appeared before his eyes. Rayn gasped behind him. Balved was silent. They stood there for a moment, mortified by the sight of dead bodies strewn about, of blood and ash collected in pools on the hard, trampled ground. Legolas’s eyes traveled across the terrible scene in horror.
“Awful, isn’t it?” the voice said. Legolas looked to his right. A human-like being covered in blood and dirt sat against the wall, his eyes closed.
“Don’t you recognize me, Legolas?” He asked. His eyes opened, glinting with a twinge of old mischief. Legolas saw that the creature was a hobbit, he started, for there before him was Peregrin, Thain of the Shire.
“Pippin?” he whispered. He shook his head. “Pippin died before I left.” Realization crept over his features and tears welled up in his eyes as he recognized the hobbit as Faramir, Peregrin’s son.
“Faramir,” Legolas said. The hobbit smiled a small smile.
“You left, why did you come back?”
“I came to gather an army, whoever I could find. The Valar have left Valinor, and at least one has come here. There is war coming. What of you?”
“It was a feast, we were here to celebrate the birthday of Boromir, Aragorn’s son. But we were disrupted. War has been and gone here. There was an awful battle, Legolas, of which I am the last one standing. There were dragons, dragons that appeared as though Glaurung had come back. Orcs, Fire-Demons, and Magic, Magic, Legolas! A horrible massacre, of which I am the last to die!” He covered his face and wept.
“Fire-Demons?” Legolas asked himself. “Balrogs,” his mind answered.
“The Great Evil has come, Legolas. It will all end this age, for we can no longer stand against this evil. War has come again to Middle-earth, which cannot protect itself any longer.” His voice was raspy and weak. “An evil more terrible than Sauron has come back.”
“Come back?” Rayn asked. “It was here before?”
“In all the old stories he was, they called him the Black Enemy.” He gasped for breath.
“Morgoth?” Rayn murmured. “how can that be? He was cast off the face of the earth, nevermore to be a terror to the Free Peoples of Eä.”
Faramir shrugged. The cloud rumbled, and it seemed to the elves that it laughed at them, mocking the helplesness that overcame the three at their discovery. Aer warbled threateningly. The cloud groaned louder in answer to the bird’s challenge.
“Legolas, you…you shine like the sun.” Legolas turned to Farmir. The hobbit stared with wondering eyes at the elves. The Prince knelt down next to the young Thain. Faramir gazed into his eyes.
“Find your army; save the Shire, Legolas,” he said. A shadow passed over his face. Legolas stroked the hobbit’s cheek, a mournful mask of grief covered his face. He closed Faramir’s eyes and stood.
“Come,” he said suddenly. He ran to the gate of the next tier, Rayn and Balved behind him. Aer flew above their heads. Legolas sprinted through the streets littered with bodies of elves, men, dwarves, and hobbits. Everywhere tabled were overturned, banners lay in strips, ground into the mud. He rounded a wall and stopped in front of a round gazebo. He stepped cautiously into the stone tomb. His eyes filled with tears when he saw that the rooms contents had not been passed over. The bodies of Aragorn, Arwen, Pippin and Merry bore dry wounds. Pippin’s eyes had been forced open, the hollow sockets glared at Legolas. Aragorn had been pinned to his stone bed with a sword. The hobbits had been pierced with many arrows. A vision visited Legolas’s mind, one of Boromir lying dead, pierced with many arrows. Arwen lay face down on the floor. Legolas walked slowly toward her, an expression of horror and hate spread across his features. He gently rolled the Queen over and sat her against the stone that her husband lay on.
“Who was she?” Rayn asked.
“She was my friend,” Legolas replied. “When my father traveled to Imladris I went with him so I could play with her. We climbed trees and swam in the rivers. I took her hunting, and together we envied her brothers, Elladen and Elrohir. They got to go on quests to slay orcs, for they were of age, and we were always left behind. Indeed I think our fathers wished for us to wed, but we did not see each other often enough. After one visit I was not able to return for a thousand years. We came of age apart from each other, and near the end of my absence Elrond had taken in a human child and was raising him. When I returned, Arwen did not care for me, she cared only for the young man of thirty that Aragorn had grown to be.” He gestured toward the body of the King. “I was grieved, for my purpose in coming to Imladris was to ask for her hand; I wanted only her happiness, so I left, knowing that even if she did marry her love would die, and she would go on living. My hope was that she would turn to me when he left the earth. I knew she was out of the line of Luthien; never did I expect she would forsake her immortality to follow Aragorn.” Legolas sighed.
“You loved her?” Rayn asked. He nodded. “I’m sorry.”
A change came over Legolas. He was no longer afraid of the impending war. He would fight to his final breath to overcome the evil that had mutilated the bodies of his friends. He would do it for Arwen.
“Why do you suppose they mauled the dead?” Balved asked. “What was the reason?”
“I know not,” Legolas said, lifting the fragile body in his arms and laying it back on its stone bed.
Aer sqwalked and cried from his perch on the stone rail of the gazebo. The elves looked up, and the gull hopped and danced, calling as he went.
“He’s gone mad!” Balved cried.
“Nay, let the bird alone,” Rayn said. “I feel a presence of a great power.” Aeraew continued to frenzy, and the dark became closer, pressing Legolas until he felt he could not breathe. He looked toward the opening that served as a door, and readied his hands to draw his knives. Aer had grown quiet. Suddenly Rayn gasped.
“This is no mere dark,” she whispered to her companions. “This is Unlight.”
The darkness pressed closer, Legolas noticed that the torches around the room were sputtering and flickering in their sconces. The darkness became even more heavy and the light, unable to penetrate the darkness, went out.
“Unlight?” Balved echoed. There question went unanswered as a shape, blacker than the black around them appeared at the door.
“Yea, behold thee the Unlight of Ungoliant!” The black shape hissed.
Her evil head was whitish, standing out in the Unlight about her. Her neck was long and black, making her head to appear as though it floated about on its own.
“Get thee gone, Spider!” Balved cried.
“Nay, I will suck thee dry, Elf! As dry as I sucked the Trees in the Beginning, and as dry as I will suck the Valar in the End!” She skittered forward, but Balved was quick. He dodged between her legs, narrowly escaping the spider’s fangs. Ungoliant screeched in wrath. She followed after Balved, relentlessly attacking him. Balved squirmed and writhed under her belly, striking at her soft underside with his sword. She seemed not to care. Her head came closer to Balved’s throat, her great jaws opened, revealing rows of fangs that scissored opened and closed, dripping venom. She gave a cry of triumph, beating off Legolas and Rayn with her back legs. But Balved had one more idea. He reached into his tunic and pulled out the pendant. He clenched it in his fist, and the gold raced up his arm. Ungoliant sprang back in fear, her Unlight penetrated by Balved’s gem. He shone on the ground. The young elf waited for a vision to appear, but none did. He stood and walked toward the spider, beating her off with the light that eminated from himself. Rayn drew her sword and hefted it deep into her palm, and her light, too, beat off the Unlight of Ungoliant. Legolas drew his knives, and his blood-red form advanced on the spider. Aer’s eyes glowed with a dull red shine in the light of his master. He seemed to smile, a quiet smile of hidden power that no one (save maybe Ungoliant) noticed. But it disappeared, and he raised his head high whilst his friends drove the Dark Power out of the resting place of the last of the Blood of Númenor. Legolas cried out in triumph. He slashed at the spider as she ran. With a harsh cry full of rage she whirled around and threw her weight on Legolas, unheeding of his light. She was smothering him, crushing him with her bulk. Legolas’s knives clattered to the stone floor and melted into the darkness he reached for one, but Ungoliant kicked it away. Rayn raced up behind her, sword raised. Ungoliant whipped her head around, catching Rayn in the middle and throwing her into Balved. Free for the moment she turned back to Legolas and buried her teeth into his shoulder near the neck, managing to avoid his armor, she ripped and tore at his flesh. She brought her face close to his, leering at him.
“Now I will suck you dry, Elf of the Nine!” she said. Blood ran from the corner of her mouth and down her chin. She plunged her face into the wound and pierced the muscle with her many fangs. A cry of pain escaped Legolas’s lips. Aer flew out of the tomb and soared high into the air. He probed the land with his far seeing eyes, penetrating even the dark of Ungoliant with them. He cried out with a harsh voice over the land. Suddenly amid the torrent of sound emitting from his deep throat came a cry of what seemed to be joy. Against the Unlight came a glimmer of true light. Ungoliant lifted her head and appeared, exposed in the luminosity that grew ever brighter in the close dark. The spider’s hideous form shivered and her legs covered her eyes. She screamed in pain and wrath. Out of the center of the light a shape grew, great and terrible.
“A, Elbereth, Gilthoniel!” Rayn cried, frozen in wonder.
“Ai! Yea! Elbereth!” Balved called in reply.
The shape grew and advanced on the spider. It became clear that the form was of a female elf, a powerful, queenly being. Legolas gazed at her through a haze of pain and defeat. His mind reeled.
“Galadriel?” he thought. The Light drove the spider away from the elves, engulfing the darkness within herself. It cried out to the black shape that ran as a mad Warg before it.
“You shall suck not the life from him, nor them, nor the Light from I, Elbereth, Gilthoniel, Varda. I set the Light in the Sun and the Moon. I will wipe out your Unlight in the End, and I will smite your ruin on Helcaraxë for your crimes. You will pay, Ungoliant. You will pay!” The Vala hurled Lightning at the back of the fleeing spider. The blackness of the spider dispersed, but the heavy shadow that hung in the sky remained.
Varda turned from her quarry and looked at Legolas.
“Come,” she said.
Even in his pain Legolas had to obey. He struggled to his feet; his arm hung limp at his side. He forced himself to take one step, then another, but it was to much. He collapsed on the ground. His head spun; he could barely think. He felt Rayn next to him, her hands on his face.
“He will be alright?” her voice sounded far off, as though he was hearing some echo. His shoulder throbbed and he could not move. He was trapped. Trapped in a great abyss, with no floor and no walls, only blackness that pressed around him like a humid night in which the stars were covered by cloud and there was no moon to speak of. The evil laugh of the spider resounded in his mind. Ungoliant was coming at him, her fangs dripped with his blood. He cried out in fear.
“Ulmo save me!”
Rayn jumped at the sound of his voice. Night was coming on. She reached for the rag that sat soaking in a basin of athelas steeped in warm water. She bathed the wound as Varda had shown her.
“I have driven Ungoliant off, for now,” she had said. “But she will be back, and she will have Legolas’s blood. You must protect him, Rayn, for the wound is deep.”
Legolas’s body shivered and twisted in pain. Worry covered Rayn’s face as she bathed the wound. Rain pattered on the roof of the tomb. They had taken it for shelter from the storm.
Thunder rolled above them. Balved kept watch a little away from the tomb, his short sword in his hand. Water ran in rivulets down his face. He cast the hood of his cloak over his head. Warily he looked about him. The rain came down steadily, falling on the trees and stone buildings. He paced up and down anxiously, worried that Ungoliant would return, or that his master would not make it. He fancied hearing a sound to his right. He crept toward it, sneaking behind boulders and tree trunks. Suddenly a shape, clad in a black robe and hood strode noiselessly up a flight of steps. Shadow hid its face. Two red spots glowed where its eyes should have been. Balved ducked behind a broken statue. The thing drew his sword without a sound as it walked. Fear filled the young elf. His nervousness grew as he saw a skeletal hand reach up to its hood. The being threw its hood back, allowing the rain to pour on its head.
Balved’s scream stuck in his throat. A broken and bloody skull sat on his shoulders; in some places flesh still clung to the bone. Across its mouth and the side of its head skin rotted, black and pale at the same time. In the black sockets red pupils rolled around, each independent from the other, red and glowing. The thing looked about it in suspicion, his pale, thin lips twisted into a sneer. Balved caught a glimpse of pointed teeth behind its lips. He crouched lower.
A blue form dropped out of the sky in front of the awful being. The black one growled at the new figure.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
“Manwë sent me, to stop you,” the blue being answered, laying a hand on the shoulder of the black shape. Balved was surprised to see that there was skin between the fingers of the clawed hand.
“Get your webbed hand off of me, fish. Why didn’t he send one of his eagles?”
“Because it is my own whom you want to take to your halls. Did He command it? Was it meant to be? You know the answers, Námo, Illuvatar spoke them to you, remember?”
“It is difficult to see,” Mandos hissed. “The End is near, and events surrounding It are not clear to me, not yet.”
“Then why are you here? Manwë did not command it, so it cannot be done. Leave, now, Mandos. Or I will send thy sister after you, to weep on the grave of Mine, and he will rise again, as powerful as you.”
Mandos growled. He put up his hood and turned away.
“The sooner you sheathe thy sword, Námo, the sooner I return to my ocean and trouble you no more,” Ulmo called warningly. Reluctantly the Death-Lord slipped his noched and rough-edged blade back into its sheath. Ulmo returned to his cloud.
§ § §
Balved sprinted back to the gazebo.
“Rayn, Rayn!” he called. He swung around to the door.
“You will never believe what I have seen,” he said. Rayn looked up from where she sat.
“Look, Balved,” she whispered. She looked down at Legolas.
“Yes?” Balved asked. Rayn put a finger to her lips.
“His pain is eased, Mandos’ Shadow played over his face for a while, chased by a glimmer of light, until only the Light itself remained. It was as though a higher power had wrenched him from death’s reach. I believe he will live!” Rayn said, tenderly stroking his delicate ear.
“I know, I saw Ulmo take his life back from Mandos,” Balved said. He told her about the coversation.
“What do you suppose he meant ‘his own’? That Legolas belongs to him?” Rayn asked, turning to Balved. The young Elf shrugged.
“We can only guess,” he replied.
“He saved Legolas’s life, we owe him a great debt.”
“Yea, one that we can never repay,” Balved said.
“You know so little, young one,” Ulmo said to himself from outside the tomb. “And you may yet repay us manifold.”
Questions of Fate
Legolas wandered through Elven dreams the whole night. His pain was eased, but his mind still rang with the disquieting sound of Ungoliant’s laugh. It was early morning when he opened his eyes to the dark world. He glanced down at his shoulder. Someone had removed his mail shirt and bound up the wound. Rayn and Balved were nowhere to be seen, but Aer was sitting next to him, cocking his head and listening intently to every sound outside. He sighed and sat up.
“Ah, I see Varda has come,” said a voice. Legolas looked up, startled. Ulmo stood in the doorway, gazing at the Elf. Aer squawked and flapped to his Master’s shoulder. Ulmo walked over to Legolas and sat down. The prince noticed how every step the Vala took seemed as though he were walking on knives.
“Confound dry land,” Ulmo mumbled to himself. Legolas understood then why he looked so.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“To advise you. You are in grave danger, Legolas. I have been sent by Manwë, to warn you again of the evil that I warned you of that day on the beach. All the evil in this world is bent on you, Legolas, they all want you, because if you succeed, they will fail.”
“Fail how?” Legolas asked, confused and alarmed.
“They cling to the hope that you will never return to Valinor,” he said. “if you don’t they will have already won.” He sighed a sad sigh. “Morgoth has returned.”
“I don’t understand,” Legolas said, shaking his head, disbelieving of what Ulmo had just told him. “How could he have returned form the Void? And how do you know this?”
“There is but one Will that only Mandos has a real connection with, the Will of Eru himself, and this is the only Will that might have sent Morgoth back to Eä. We do not know how he returned, only that he has.”
“But why would Illuvatar send him back?”
“Only Mandos would know, and it is…unclear to him.”
“You confuse me greatly. The Valar care nothing for the troubles of Middle-earth, why come to it’s rescue now? And what do I have to do with it?”
“I am not here to protect it, but we must do something, for the fate of Valinor is entwined with the fate of Middle-earth, as it is with you. I am here to see that you complete the task appointed to you. You must not fail, Legolas, ” the Vala placed his webbed hand on the prince’s shoulder. “or all will come to death and destruction. They must have reason to believe that you have some great power, or they would have sent a lesser being to attack you, and not Ungoliant, which I am surprised is still alive after all of these ages. As it is, she failed, and your next attacker will be even stronger than she. This is all the advice I can give you within my authority: Beware your life, and your path.”
“You must not go to Rohan,” Ulmo said. “Travel North, to your home. Meet your father there and wait for me. You must stay close to rivers and streams, walk in the rain and do not seek shelter from it. Not that anyone with sense would,” he finished to himself. He stood to go. “Where there is water there I am, you must not hide from me.” The Vala walked outside of the tomb. Legolas pondered Ulmo’s words for a moment before calling after him.
“What about Aer?” He called.
Ulmo smiled to himself and lifted the gull off of his shoulder. He leaned forward and spoke to it slowly and softly.
“With words of wisdom I grant you, speak. Guide them on the path that I have chosen, on the wing that represents both Manwë and I. Go now to your Elven master.” Aer took to his wing and glided softly to Legolas’s side. Aeraew called back to Ulmo, a hoarse, grating sound that resembled faintly the elvish farewell: “Namarie.”
Legolas stared fondly at the young bird, who, to his amazement, seemed not so young. The gull grew and changed before Legolas’s eyes, in stature and maturity. Soon Legolas beheld a gull as large as one of the great Eagles of Manwë, so large that Legolas could sit comfortably on his back and fly with him to far places. As if this were not enough, the great bird stared quietly at the Elf, and parted his beak slowly as quiet, troubled words escaped his throat.
“It has been many hundreds of years since I last spoke,” he said. “So long that I feared for a moment that I had forgotten how.” Legolas stared in absolute wonder at Aer, so changed and yet so much the same.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
“I am Aeraew, a Maia, the Ulaeraew of Ulmo. I am his messenger.”
“I, master of a Maia?” Legolas asked aloud.
“Aye, if Ulmo commands it. I am your guide and servant now, as you no doubt heard.”
Legolas nodded. He had learned to accept strange things in the many ages that he had seen. He looked around suddenly, puzzled by the absence of the other two Elves.
“They went to see what they could see. Balved saw Mandos with my master, they have gone to examine the spot. They were wise to leave me here with you,” said Aer, reading the curiosity in Legolas’s face. His voice grew smoother as he spoke. “Rest now, they will return soon.”
§ § §
Fear had spread itself across the Undying Lands. Everywhere Elves stood in silent terror of the darkness that coursed across the once brightly lit sky, twisting and writhing in strange changes of it’s dark belly. Yardan’s warriors had been summoned, but it is difficult for war to ensue when there is no visible enemy to fight. Elgil paced before his army, lost in the ever-present waiting for a sign that the strange war of Darkness had begun. Scouts had been sent out to find the Valar and to seek their help, but none had returned as of yet. Neither had the half-queen, and the people of Alqualondë waited, wrapped in their fear.
Yardan stayed in his palace, but his mind was always busy with his own fear and worry.
He spoke and ate little, and spent much of his time staring out to Sea. He thought of the Vala who had grudgingly brought the Teleri, his people to the shore of Valinor, and perhaps that the reason for this was in a higher hand than his. He did not see the strange webbed hand again, though he tried with every flash of lightning that passed over the Sea. Every new day he struggled to grasp what might explain all of the strange goings-on, but his mind could only return to one answer: Morgoth.
Tears welled up in his eyes and he sank into his throne. A breeze swept through the open room, cold and strange. The king buried his face in his hands, lost and hopeless. Thunder roared and he looked up. Through a haze of tears he looked out over the Sea, seeing nothing, he gritted his teeth and wept.
“Where are you, O Mighty Ones,” he said between sobs. “come quickly, for we have met the darkest hour of the Firstborn.”
Rest and Sleep
Rayn and Balved walked back toward the gazebo, each deep in their own thoughts. As they approached the door, Rayn waved Balved inside.
“I will keep watch, go and see how our friend fairs.” Balved nodded and sloshed through a puddle before the opening that served as a door into the tomb. He looked at Legolas. He was staring peacefully at Aer, who caused Balved to jump back in surprise.
“Ai!” he cried in shock. Legolas laughed. Rayn appeared in the doorway and she, too, cried out in surprise.
“My little Aer,” said Balved, kneeling before the great gull. He held out his hand and touched the tough beak of the bird. For a moment the young Elf sat there, stroking the graceful white feathers on the throat of the bird.
“Do not stop,” Aer mumbled. Balved fell back in amazement. Rayn looked in wonder at the bird.
“What is this?” she whispered. Legolas’s keen ears caught her question.
“He is Aeraew, a Maia, he is Ulmo’s messenger and he has the power of speech,” the prince explained.
“Yes,” said Aer. “Don’t be frightened of me; I am here as your protection, and your guide. Pack your things, young children, for we move tonight. I am told we must travel toward Lothlorien.”
“Yes, Aer,” whispered Balved, still amazed at the overpowering change that had come over Aer. “It does sound strange to the ears to say that, for who would ever respond in such a way to a gull?”
§ § §
As they packed Rayn hurriedly explained Balved’s encounter to Legolas.
“He tried to take you to him, Legolas. We must beware for they want your life,” she said.
“I know these things, Aeraew has told all. I will be careful.” He saw that her face was pale and fearful.
“What ails you?” he asked.
“I have never been in so much danger in all the long years of my life. It was safe in Valinor, and now it is safe nowhere,” she said softly. Legolas touched her shoulder comfortingly.
“We will be safe, Ulmo is on our side, remember?”
“Yes, but it matters little, since we do not know if Eru is or not,” said Rayn.
They ran far that night. Aeraew flew low above them, scouting the way ahead. The dark cloud covered both horizons, and there was no way to tell when dawn had arrived. When many hours had passed, Aeraew flew down in front of them and landed. Turning to Legolas he spoke.
“There is a small village up ahead, one of the fringes of Rohan, I am guessing. We might take shelter there for an hour or so. The wind blows hard to the East, it is hard to fly, it would seem that something does not want us to come to Lothlorien,” he paused, deep in thought. “Yes, I do believe we shall pause our journey there.” He flapped up into the air again and called to Legolas and the others to follow him.
They had not run far when over a hill Legolas could see a small village. The Elves ran toward it. As they drew near they could all sense fear in the air. They slowed their pace and finally stopped at the edge of the town. Aer soared to earth and joined the group. What their keen eyes could see betryed no signs of life in the dark world. Legolas strode to a door and knocked. No one answered. He pushed gently on the door and it gave. Inside the shadowed building his keen eyes could pick out the huddled shapes of men, women and children.
“Who are you?” a voice called out from a group of people huddled under a staircase.
“My name is Legolas, I am an Elf of Mirkwood and I am here to help you.”
“He’s a servant of the Wicked One,” a woman’s voice cried from the figures that shrank behind a door. “A servant of the One who came to us, and destroyed our land.”
Rayn stepped inside, her eyes burned like fire.
“Who is that?” the woman shrieked. Legolas glanced at Rayn, tall, beautiful, commanding in her gold mail.
“I am Rayn, a princess of the West. We are not here to hurt you. We are here to gather an army and fight this Wicked One. There is no reason to be afraid, we are three Elves and a Maia, and we are traveling towards Lothlorien, we came here for rest.”
“Rest?” a small voice began. An angry “sh!” was heard and then the sound of a scuffle.
“No, Mama, they aren’t bad, they need Rest.” A little girl ran to Legolas and tugged on his pant leg.
“I have Rest,” she said. Legolas kneeled down next to her. Her big brown eyes looked up at him in perfect friendship. He noticed she badly needed a bath.
“You do?” he asked.
“Yes, Rest and Sleep are for the Elves. Come, they want to see you.” She led them out of the building and toward another. The woman that they had heard began to cry.
“Do not be afraid, we will not harm her,” Rayn said. Balved and Aer walked over to the little girl, who looked at the great gull with large eyes.
“Would you like to ride on a bird?” Legolas asked her. She nodded absently. Legolas lifted her up and set her on the back of the huge gull, straddled as though she were riding a horse.
“Birdie doesn’t need Rest, he flies. No Sleep, neither. Giddy’ap, Birdie! That way!” She pointed toward a low building that sat stretched between two barn-like structures. The Elves followed, puzzled by the girl’s strange words.
The barn was not a great way off, and soon they reached a big door in the side of the low building. The girl dismounted and pointed to a latch just above her head.
“Help,” she said simply. Legolas lifted the crossbar and shoved it out of the way of the door. The little girl pushed on it and walked in. Legolas saw that it was indeed a barn. She grabbed his hand and led him further into the building, with Rayn and Balved following close behind. Lined along the walls were stalls of various sorts. On the doors were decorated plates carved with names. “Sugar,” “Scar,” “Rage”. The girl led them down the hall to a pair of twin stalls. Balved drew in his breath sharply, for therein stood two beautiful horses.
“See,” said the girl. “Rest and Sleep, I named them myself.” Legolas began to laugh. Rayn and Balved, too, smiled at the simple logic of the child. Indeed, on the doors of the twin stalls were plaques stating the names of “Rest” and “Sleep”.
“They’re yours. Mama says they were the King’s, before he died.”
“Éomer is dead?” Legolas asked. The girl nodded.
“His horses came here, to get away from the danger. My heart tells me they belong to you. Mama says to believe your heart, is that true?” She looked up expectantly at the Elves. Rayn bent down next to her.
“Of course it’s true, often those feelings come from the Great One, and we have to trust Him.”
Legolas looked over the horses. Both were brilliant white, Rest was smaller than Sleep, but more alert and aware of goings-on as he looked intently at the Elves, watching them with great dark eyes.
Sleep was heavier, bigger, more powerful and commanding than Rest. He, too, stared at these strange travelers with a quiet but intelligent stare. Legolas recognized them immediately to be of the Mearas, of the line of the mighty Shadowfax. He reached out his hand to Rest, who eyed him and snorted. Legolas mumbled soft words in the language of his people. Rest stood and allowed himself to be stroked.
“How long have they been here?” asked Legolas.
“For since the Mighty Ones came,” said the girl in a small voice. “No one can ride them.” Legolas nodded, and spoke again.
“Yes, they were four in number, I saw them walk down the road, when I wasn’t supposed to be looking out of the window. One was white, like he was made of clouds, then one walked behind him, she was very bright, like the Sun, but different. She was white, like the moon,” the girl said, stuggling to describe the second figure.
“But there were two more?” Balved cut in, remembering his encounter with Mandos.
“Yes, one was hooded and in black, behind that one walked another hooded one, she was in grey.” Balved went white at the mention of a figure in black.
“If you know she was hooded how could you tell it was a she?” Rayn asked.
“I didn’t finish,” she said firmly. “The grey one was sad. She looked at me and I could see her crying.”
Rayn gasped. The girl looked at her, puzzled.
“When was this?” Legolas asked.
“Thank you, you have been a great help,” Legolas said, taking the girl by the hand. “Come, the bird and I will take you back to your mother. What is your name?” he questioned curiously as they walked down the hall.
“My Mama calls me Mir, but she doesn’t know about the name the Elf gave me.” They stepped out into the darkness.
“What Elf?” Legolas asked, more curious about this girl than ever. He wondered how she could keep a secret from her mother and then spill it to strangers the way that she had.
“She called me princess, she said that she was a Queen. I saw her over there.” She pointed, and Legolas’s keen eyes could pick out a clump of trees to the East.
“She said she was on her way, and that my new name was Undomiel. She also said you’d come, and to tell you everything.”
“Arwen,” Legolas muttered.
“Yes, the Queen. You know her?” The girl asked as Legolas lifted her in his strong arms and put her on the back of Aeraew, who was listening intently to thier conversation.
“Yes, I do,” said Legolas softly. The girl nodded and said no more. They crossed the muddy street and the girl slid down off of the Gull.
“Goodbye,” she said and went into the wooden house.
“Namarie,” Legolas said under his breath. As she disappeared through the doorway he had a strange thought that this would be the last that he ever saw of that little girl. He turned and ran back to the stable. Rayn met him at the door.
“Nienna, she saw Nienna, Legolas. Do you know what that means?” Rayn was frantic. Balved walked out of the stable, leading the horses.
“I don’t,” he said. Aer spoke.
“It means that the hour is later than I reckoned. It means that Morgoth is no longer coming.” Balved looked at him quzzically.
“It means he is already here.”
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.
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?”