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marinus stiria  by bryn

Disclaimer:  This story is non-profit and written for purely entertainment purposes.  All recognized characters and places are property of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema.

 

A/N:  Some very basic Silmarillion knowledge is required here-- otherwise you may find yourself a bit confused. 

 Yes, I took a few liberties with Aragorn (Tolkien forgive me).  I know I’ve said this before, but don’t worry: I promise he will come around eventually.  In the mean time, even he must have his share of faults.

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~ Chapter 9:  Visions and Betrayal ~

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The night air pressed down onto Legolas like a wet cloak as he slipped silently through the halls of Minas Tirith.  The heavy atmosphere was almost maddening.  He could barely prevent himself from physically brushing away the invisible shadows that seemed to cling to his body like a shroud.  He desperately wanted to sing, or make some measure of noise if only to break the tomb-like silence of the suffocating corridors around him.  Yet he could not, for if anyone was to discover why he wandered about the halls at such a gods-forsaken hour...

Legolas froze, lithe frame taut as his own bowstring, as a flash of blue lightening bounced off the walls.  His skin tingled uncomfortably at the electrical charge dancing around him.  Shadows jumped unnervingly from every darkened crevice.  The Elf strained his senses to the utmost, feeling only the muted silence that seemed to have swallowed up existence itself.

He let out the breath of air he did not know he held and blinked his eyes several times to readjust them to the dark.  ‘Perhaps this is what it must be to live as a rabbit,’ he thought wryly.  ‘Jumping at the mere sight of one’s shadow and terrified of imaginary predators stalking about.’  Predators.  He made a face at the thought.  It was odd to view Men as predators and left him with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach.  Thranduil had once called them “parasites” in half-jest, claiming, “They descend upon an area and delve the land of her resources: felling trees, tainting the water, killing all game, and devouring nutrients from the soil.  When there is nothing left but a barren wasteland, they move on to another, and so the cycle continues.”  Mayhap they were both?  ‘Nay,’ Legolas decided sharply, ‘Aragorn is neither predator nor parasite, and he is of Men.’

He tensed again as thunder rolled gutturally in the distance.  ‘If Aragorn is neither predator nor parasite,’ he thought, ‘then why do you slip through the corridors as such?  You do so because you do not wish to be caught.  Caught—ensnared, captured... only prey is merited this right.’  He grimaced, feeling the true weight and severity of his situation. 

Another flash of lightening illuminated the stone corridor.  Its brilliance rendering him momentarily blind.  Outside, the trees stood tall and silent, for even the wind dared not brave the impending storm.  Legolas set his face into stony countenance, squared his shoulders, and moved forward.  Very rarely was he bothered by lack of an Elvish companion or two, for his journeys had taken him far and wide.   Yet now he discovered himself feeling strangely foreign and insecure.  It was a feeling he did not like.    

 

He continued his journey, traversing the corridors and stairwells with all Elven tact and stealth in the direction Arwen had instructed.  At length he came to the darkened doors of Aragorn’s study.  He mentally repeated her instructions:  “The doors shall most likely be locked.”  Ducking into the doorframe, he gave the knob an experimental turn, all the while on the alert for any approaching guards.  As Arwen had predicted, the doors held fast.  “There is a window at the far end of the hall.  It is heavy, but should open without much difficulty.”  He cautiously stuck his head out from underneath the stoop and spotted the window.  His longs legs reached it in a matter of seconds.

Again, Arwen’s words proved true: the window opened outward with a gentle push.  Legolas nimbly climbed onto the windowsill, watching the lightening as it whipped across the pitch-black sky and reflected eerily in the pond and fountains several stories below.  Thunder was soon to follow, cracking so loudly it caused the windowpanes to rattle.  Legolas gritted his teeth and sought out crevices to grasp, lest he fall and was dashed to pieces on the battlements.

 

Unfortunately, shutting the window from the outside was a much more difficult task.  Balancing precariously on footholds in the ancient tower wall, the Elf grasped the cumbersome window with both hands and strained to pull it shut.           

 

*            *            *

 

Captain Haier and his Second-in-Command, a grizzled man by the name of Urol, patrolled the palace corridors with the pace and ease of those who could walk their appointed paths even in sleep.  “‘Tis a strange and fell night,” commented Urol in a barely audible whisper.  “One that does not bode well.  I feel it in my bones.”  Like most veteran soldiers, Urol was a highly superstitious man.

“Nay,” responded Haier quietly, “It is the rain you feel in your bones.  Nothing more.”

Urol’s chuckle was almost lost amidst a booming peal of thunder.  “Come now, friend,” he said.  “Surely you cannot deny that something is amiss.”  He held his arm up to Haier’s face in the murky darkness.  “Look, the hair on my arms is standing on end and I am not even chilled!”

Haier shook his head.  “You know I take no stock in such fancies of the mind.  They do nothing but serve to distract one from his duty.”

Urol rubbed the pommel of his sword with his palm; an act, he believed, which ensured good luck and security.  “They say the dead roam these halls during nights as this.”

Haier’s snort was swallowed up by the muting darkness.  “Do not laugh,” Urol continued as they rounded the corner.  “‘Tis true.  Old Thaker used to see his brother Tellen.  Held full conversations with the fellow and—“

The two guards came to an abrupt halt.  “By the Valar,” breathed Urol, viciously rubbing his sword pommel. 

Haier scowled.  “It is just an open window, Urol.”  He strode towards it, cursing as he jumped when thunder clapped unexpectedly.  He reached the window, and leaning out over the ledge, yanked it shut.

 

*                *                  *

 

Legolas nearly cried out in shock and lost his footing when the guard suddenly appeared in the window.  He swiftly grasped the intricate stone carvings above and stood, body splayed and frozen, as Haier’s face came within inches of his shin. Had he not been wearing the dusky Lothlórien cloak, or had there been the slightest puff of wind, he would have surely been seen.  Thankfully, Fate was merciful, and Captain Haier caught but a glimpse of shimmering grey--which he attributed to the clouds and lightening, and promptly dismissed.

 

Bracing his back against the tower wall, Legolas willed his pounding heart to calm.  That had been close, a little too close for his liking.  He looked warily to the inky sky.  The lightening and thunder had compromised his sight and hearing capabilities.

 

A tiny ledge, no wider than the heel of his foot, jutted out and traveled around the tower wall.  Legolas began the painstaking task of inching his way towards the Study window.  The feat would have been impossible for any man to accomplish, and proved somewhat difficult for even an Elf.  The sudden flashes of lightening and accompanying blasts of thunder made matters worse.  Legolas closed his eyes and plastered himself against the wall as the ancient tower shook under the rolling thunder.  ‘I pray Gimli’s belief in stone holds true,’ he thought wanly.  ‘For at the moment I find little comfort in their quakes.’

 

It seemed an eternity passed before he reached the study window.  Swinging himself around to face it, his nimble fingers quickly sought out the tiny opening betwixt glass and frame.  Arwen had left a tiny object between the window and its frame, effectively propping it open.

  The scent of rain was beginning to taint the air, though the clouds stubbornly refused to release their burden as of yet.  Legolas felt as though he were trying to breathe through oil, and very nearly choked.  He muttered a quiet oath as his knuckles scraped the chalky tower wall.  He shook his stinging hand angrily, then returned to the task at hand with renewed fury.  ‘I have not come this far to turn back!’

Ignoring the uncomfortable pinch of the heavy glass pane, he worked his hand underneath it and began to pull outward.  At last his efforts were rewarded and the window slowly opened.  He jammed half of his body into the opening and pushed.  It gave way and he ducked into the study, crouching gracefully upon the windowsill.  Lightening reflected off the object Arwen had used to prop open the window.  Legolas almost smiled.  He tenderly picked up the leaf broach of Lórien, gift of Galadriel, and deposited it into his pocket.  Pausing to make sure the window had shut properly, he leapt down and landed silently upon the floor.

Despite the murky darkness and blinding flashes of lightening, his Elven sight proved useful.  He sought out Aragorn’s tattered upholstered chair and quickly found it.  “Under the chair, beneath the stone,” he muttered quietly, shaking his head.  Of all the possible hiding places in Minas Tirith, Aragorn had chosen a rock.  Legolas made a mental note to reprimand the man for this, when they were on speaking terms again.  That was, if they ever were on speaking terms again.  He dropped to all fours and began running his hand over the floor beneath the chair.  “Ah, and here we are!”

The ill-fitting stone came away with little effort, and Legolas suddenly found himself staring at the exquisite wooden box.  He wrapped his arms around his legs and rocked back on his heels, exhaling slowly.  ‘Courage, do not fail me now,’ he silently begged.  In one fluid motion, he grabbed the box and stood up.  All he must do now was flee.

 

And yet he could not.  His legs refused to move, rooted to the ground as though trees, and his heart had taken up the cry of “Traitor!”  He could not do such a thing to Aragorn.  His heart simply would not allow it.  He had followed Aragorn to the very pit of Evil itself, and would have gladly sacrificed his life for the man.  They had laughed together, cried together, and bled for one another.  Aragorn’s joys and tragedies were his, and his were Aragorn’s. 

Legolas gripped the box until he felt the wood begin to give way.  Perhaps Aragorn was right.  Perhaps the jewel could stay in Gondor for a while longer... ‘Stop,’ he ordered.  ‘Nay, there is no other way and well do you know this!  Well does Arwen know this; she has gone to great lengths to ensure success.'  He stared at the box.  The Silmaril no longer belonged to the races of Middle-earth, he had stated so himself. 

“It is but a stone,” he softly said aloud.  “A stone that has no owner, save the Light of Valinor.”  It was a jewel of legend, and belonged in the past.  Terrible, burning curiosity suddenly overcame the youngest son of Thranduil, a curiosity that had no business rearing its troublesome head.  Before he knew it, Legolas had opened the box and was staring in rapture at the star-like jewel nestled within the box’s soft lining.

 

Legolas’ breath caught in his throat as he held the smooth gemstone in his hand, its weight heavy and warm.  He closed his eyes as an involuntary shudder surged through his frame.  Images he had only heard of in song or story sprang to life before his very eyes:  there was Fëanor, great and formidable, holding the Silmarils up to the light as he examined his craft amid glowing embers and metals of the forge.  Fierce pride coursed through Legolas as though he had wrought them himself.  The vision rippled and blurred, and then he stood watching as a figure enshrouded in a blackened cloak of hatred and greed sprang from the shadows.  A dark-haired Elf lie still upon the floor; skin as white as marble and bathed in a pool of crimson blood...  Great ships manned by grim-faced lords, standing tall and imposing despite the pitch and roll of the decks beneath them...  An Elven maiden, more enchanting than twilight itself, danced among the trees.  Arwen?  Nay, it could only be Lúthien...  And finally, an Elf lord once tall and proud, now wretched and tainted, stumbling blindly over the land as he sobbed in agony.  The stone—ai! how it burned and scorched his hands!

A ragged sob escaped unknowingly from Legolas as he clutched the Silmaril.  Tears ran down the archer’s face as he watched the tormented lord draw nearer to the edge of a sharp cliff.  The Sea sang out seductively, her waves crashing against the rocks as she rolled her liquid hips, sending crystalline drops of spray playfully into the air.  And then, it was Legolas, not the Noldo lord, who stood over the precipice.  It was Legolas who looked down from the dizzying heights.  How brightly the sun shone upon the land!  He felt as though his heart would shatter to pieces; he loved life—wanted to live—so much so that it ached.  But the jewel burned so excruciatingly, and the call of the Sea was so soothing.  It pulled at him from every point, and he felt as though he had somehow become a part of the ocean tides and currents.  The Sea promised to embrace him, she promised to hold him and cradle him as the mother he barely remembered had done. 

Burning... his hands were burning as though he held raw flame within them.  The Silmaril flickered and shimmered, taunting him.  Legolas’s face contorted in despair as his body and soul screamed in agony.  He sucked in a final, ragged breath of salty air, knowing it would be his last.  His feet left the earth, the emerald greens and the deep browns, and then there was only the water beneath him: grey and flat and hard as steel.  The briny wind buffeted him momentarily, and then he plummeted downward.

 

“What are you doing?”

Legolas, his senses reeling, cried out in shock.  His eyes flew open and the vision before him was dashed--distorted as though someone had thrown a pitcher of water onto a canvas brushed with watercolor paints.  The Elf’s slender frame shook violently as he desperately sought to grasp hold of reality.  He was jarred back to the present when his knees met the cold stone of the floor with a painful crack.

 

Aragorn made no move to help the Elf to his feet.  The King of Gondor watched, too confused to act, as Legolas rested shuddering on all fours, hair quaking and jerking around his shoulders as he tried to slow his ragged breaths.  Aragorn’s Silmaril was clenched tightly within his hand. 

“Would you care to explain yourself, son of Thranduil?”  His quiet words amplified tenfold in the pressing silence.  Though not unkind, the slightest hint of suspicion bordered his query.  Aragorn had not only caught the Elf unawares, but vulnerable as well.  It was unlike Legolas to leave himself so exposed.  Aragorn was completely at a loss as to what he should think or how he should react.

Legolas took several deep breaths and sat upright, knees folded underneath him.  The serene gracefulness of his kind instinctually took over, a gift the Elf was immediately grateful for.  “Aragorn,” he murmured.  “You startled me.”  He was glad the man was at his back and could not see his face, which told far too much.

“So it would appear.”  Aragorn’s nagging suspicion grew, though he fervently prayed the Elf had a plausible explanation for the situation.  “You still have not answered my question.” 

 

Legolas remained silent, searching for the words which usually flowed so smoothly from his lips.  The proud Elf had never been one to lie, and knew Aragorn would not be fooled if he began to do so now.  His silence, floating heavily in the thick air, said what his mouth could not, his unspoken words too loud for Aragorn to ignore.

Aragorn felt as though he had been slapped.  “By the Valar, son of Thranduil!  Please tell me you have not taken to stealing as would a common thief!”  He suddenly wished Legolas would lie to him.  He didn’t care.  He was willing to believe whatever the Elf said, if only to avoid the pain of truth.  Legolas must have been curious and decided to see the jewel for himself.  Legolas would never attempt to steal his—Gondor’s—most valuable possession.

Aragorn inhaled sharply and watched as the Elf’s back and shoulders tightened slightly.  The movement itself was barely perceptible, but did not go unnoticed by the dark-haired king.  “Stand up and face me,” he ordered.  Anger began to mount and was quickly replacing his shock. 

Legolas rose to his feet and turned to face the man without protest.  His eyes were masked and unreadable, and he rested them unwavering upon Aragorn.  “Perhaps you will heed my words now, Elessar.” 

Aragorn’s jaw tightened at the Elf’s tone.  Legolas had not spoken to him as such since their first meeting countless years ago.  Under any other circumstance Aragorn would have laughed at the prince’s uncanny resemblance to his father.

“Heed your words?” cried Aragorn incredulously.  Legolas stiffened.  “You who would go foolishly capering off into the night with what is the greatest treasure of Middle-earth and the pride of Valinor?  You, who would steal this treasure, no less?”

“It must be returned to the Sea!”

“Heed MY words, you arrogant fool!” Aragorn roared, allowing the anger to take control.  Legolas, as he had been trained to do when threatened, unconsciously shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, ready to flee--or attack--if necessary.  “Think you I cannot see this for myself?  The coast is overrun with corsairs and reports from South Harad come as a flurry of dire warnings.  To journey to the sea is to ride straight into the cold hands of Death itself!”

“If the Silmaril is not removed from Gondor, Umbar will flock here as flies to a carcass.”

Aragorn threw up his hands.  “They do not know of the jewel!”

“You cannot be sure of this.”

Aragorn glowered while Legolas remained infuriatingly cool and collected.  “No,” spat the king.  “I cannot.  But of this I am certain—you, Legolas Greenleaf, of all souls, should not journey anywhere near the vicinity of the sea.  How would you return the Silmaril when you yourself can barely control the Sea’s power over you?”

“You know naught of what you speak!”  Legolas’ eyes flashed dangerously.  Aragorn met the cutting Elven gaze with one of his own.

“I do not?  No, of course I cannot experience it as you do.  But I see what it does to you; I have seen what it has done to others.  I know you suffer and that they suffered.  And therein lies my pain, for I can do nothing to ease it.  If you will not believe my words, ask Gimli.  He is pained as I am, perhaps even more so.”  Legolas’ glare wavered slightly and Aragorn almost thought he saw the Elf flinch.    

Legolas clenched the stone even tighter within his hand, feeling its polished edges embed into his palm.  “I brought it upon myself, Aragorn.  I knew of the Lady’s words, yet did not heed them.  Do not feel sorry for me.  I am not helpless and I do not ask for pity!”

“I do not seek to give you pity, Legolas.  And I do not think you weak.”  He held out his hand.  “But you would not be able to overcome the Sea’s calling.  We both know this.  Please, return the jewel to me.”  Aragorn could see the Elf’s eyes flickering as he warred within himself.  “Please.”  Thunder rumbled loudly in the distance.

Legolas closed his eyes and shook his head.  Thranduil’s words again echoed through his mind.  He opened his eyes; head cleared and resolve strengthened.  Aragorn still held out his hand.  Legolas stared at it, then looked down at his own hand, which was clutching the jewel as a drowning man clings to his capsized vessel. 

“No.”

Aragorn started.  “What?”

“No.”  Legolas drew his mouth into a thin line and his bright eyes grew sharp.  “If I return this stone to you, Aragorn, it will only remain here.  You cannot take it to the Sea—you are far too attached to it.  Do not deny it.”  Aragorn opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it and did not.  “Arwen cannot take it.  She is needed here.”  He made no mention of her involvement in the matter, sensing no good would come of it.  “We cannot ask any of the Elf lords to take it, for by the time they reached Gondor news of the jewel will have already spread across the land.  The corsairs, if they do not know of the Silmaril already, will certainly know by then.”  He sighed and spoke with a quiet, steely resolve.  “Therefore, the task falls unto me.”

 “I cannot let you.  I will not let you.”  Aragorn’s hand wrapped instinctively over the hilt of his sword. 

“You cannot protect me, Aragorn,” hissed Legolas, fire burning in his eyes.  “We have no other choice!”

 “I will not let you go foolishly to your death, Legolas.”  Aragorn shook his head and slowly unsheathed Andúril.  A sickening metallic shiver wavered in the night air, receding into the shadows.  “I will do all in my power to prevent you from leaving this room.”  The sword tip pointed unmoving at the Elf’s throat. 

Legolas stood tall and straight, though Aragorn sensed his body had tensed.  “Drop your sword, Elessar.”  His tone was soft and deadly.  Aragorn suppressed a shiver.  “I do not wish to hurt you.”

“You already have.” Lightening glinted white off the sword of Elendil.  Aragorn’s tone grew harsh.  “To be betrayed by one of those closest to you inflicts far greater damage than any blade could ever do, Legolas.” 

“So speaks the one who holds his sword against the throat of his companion.”

Two pairs of eyes, one cold and bright, one grey and determined, locked and held fast.  Outside, the clouds began to gather in the thick air and lightening raced across the sky in blue and white veins.  Thunder rumbled ominously, seeming to erupt from the very bowels of the earth.  The King of Gondor and Elven lord of Ithilien remained oblivious to all except each other. 

 

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