From A Light in The East: Chapter Twenty-nine ~ Shadows In The Halls Of Memory.
~ Thranduil felt himself plunge to his knees as Legolas walked away into a blaze of light. He fell through the grass, the earth, the deep secret roots, the rocks, and into red pain...and darkness. A wolf was howling as it devoured his soul.
He woke rolling from his bed, his hair tangled about his wrists, his thighs, clinging to the perspiration the dream had painted on his naked flesh. His breathing came hard, his chest was constricted, his face wet. He traced a hand across it, half-expecting to see blood, but there was only the salt of tears.
The chamber closed back over silence. Thranduil sat back against the bed, pulled up his knees and rested his head against them.
When his body-servant knocked, much later, he found the king's chambers empty.
No-one knew the ways of the halls or the movements of its people better than the king. And no-one knew better how to leave unseen.
A Far, Fierce Sky ~ Chapter One.
~ A Web Of Stars ~
~ A massive darkness shouldered the firelight apart. The huge stallion snorted, ears flat against his skull.
“Legolas,” Vanimórë said, “Thou wilt ride Seran.”
Legolas stared at him, bewildered.
“No.” All that flashing, flaunting insouciance Legolas had come to find so familiar and reassuring blazed in a swift, brilliant smile.
My dear, Seran is the fastest horse we have. Please.
That last word crumbled Legolas objections, broke something inside him. Invisible fingers seemed to grip his throat, choking off speech.
No. He shook his head numbly. No.
Legolas. For Gîl, for the love I bear thee and him.
Legolas dashed a hand across his eyes, trying to focuss on the face above him, from which the smile had quite vanished. Vanimórë looked unbearably sad. It was too much. Even could he speak, there were no words adequate. A kiss dropped, light as a leaf, onto his hair, and long fingers brushed Gîl's curls. Securely strapped to his breast, the child nestled his small head close, utterly trusting. Legolas drew a breath and swung into Seran's saddle. Lainiell, riderless, hovered close as if worried for him.
“Maglor, Tanout,” Vanimórë rested a hand on Legolas' back. “Go with him. Follow the track. It soon slopes to the Rhûnan plains, an ocean of gold with the morning sun on them. Ride for them, and do not stop for anything.” He swung away. “Rear-guard, to me!”
“Sire,” responded Tanout smartly. There came the jingle of harness, and Maglor, already mounted, brought his horse alongside Legolas. Seran's neck snaked out in unmistakable warning.
“Stop that!” Maglor chided. The stallion snorted, rolled an eye at the Fëanorion's own mount warningly, but drew back.
“We cannot leave him.” Legolas found a small, breathless voice.
“I swore to protect thee and thy son. And he is right in this.” But Maglor's head turned to watch Vanimórë. His lips shaped a silent word, then his eyes swung back to Legolas, regarding him somberly. The prince stared back, mute. The fires had been doused, and the valley was slowly emerging from night. It looked bleak, littered with boulders, and the voice of the waters was a cold chuckle in the gloom.
It was a place where one could easily imagine death.
The sound of hooves gathered as they moved out, snapping back from the rocks. The track was narrow, and the riders rode two abreast. Legolas felt the impatience knotted into Seran's mighty muscles, for the stallion was not used to being enclosed by other horses, but he behaved well, and his pace was smooth as rolling cloud. Tanout lead, with Jobur behind him, Shemar clinging to his sturdy back, then came Legolas and Maglor.
There was no doubt the wolves were getting closer. The howls had ceased, but that was no comfort; wolves did not bay when hunting. Legolas smoothed his son's back as the horses quickened their pace, fear like a shard of ice in his stomach. The sling Vanimórë had given him in Szrel Kain hung at his side, a dagger at the other, but he felt vulnerable and defenseless even in the midst of these warriors.
The light grew, and the sky opened pale above them. Legolas glanced back, seeing a pour of shapes, black against the mountain-scree. The creatures were swift, almost as large as ponies, and every sense within him screamed hate and warning visceral as the running of his blood. Fell-wolves had been an enemy of the Elves from the oldest days. Legolas crouched lower over the stallion's neck as Seran's hooves spat and clashed through a rill of water, and then heard, horrifyingly close, a furious rising snarl, the jangling slam of a horse hitting the ground.
Go! Vanimórë's shout cracked across his mind like breaking thunder, and Seran surged under Legolas' thighs.
No! Vanimórë! He tried to command the stallion as he did Lainiell, with an effortless showing of his thoughts, equally as effortlessly understood. Seran chuffed a great breath, and seemed to slow for a moment, until Legolas' mind caught the edge of Vanimórë's second command that acted like a whip across the horse's rear. His hindquarters bunched, and his leap carried him almost into the horses ahead of him. Legolas heard the increasing thunder of hooves behind him, but knew that somewhere back there the wolves were attacking the rearguard. He turned his head, saw Maglor keeping pace, other warriors following. But not Vanimórë.
The track narrowed through two pillars of rock, a last buttress flung together from the mountains as if to bar their escape. A chill wind thrust at their backs as the horses sluiced through the gap. Beyond, the rising sun struck aslant the grasses of a seemingly endless plain, turning them the colour of mead. The mountains unclenched their fists, loosing a last tumble of detritus and lonely waters. A river jostled at their left flank, all frothing white laughter at its release, and the valley stretched, smiling, no longer a place of desolation. Mild green flanks ran up to gentler hills, cupping the sky like a bowl. It was two leagues to the plains, Legolas guessed, and his mind wrestled with Seran's again, for he could not run, leaving the other to face the wolves. But the stallion was like a Sicannite soldier: once given an order, he would not disobey.
Legolas! The warning shocked through his veins, and his head snapped up. He screamed instinctively: “Tanout!”
Wolves, lank, crow-black rose from their bellies. They would have looked like the valley's scattered boulders until they moved, and they were downwind, so no scent had alarmed the horses. Tanout's mount balked and reared, Jobur's wheeled, hind legs flashing back, before a wolf flung itself at the horse's throat. It went down, Jobur kicking free of the stirrups and falling clear, Shemar tumbling to the ground. Legolas felt the bunch of Seran's muscles, heard a the crack of an impacting hoof, then the stallion went up, forefeet lashing out in a red spray. Legolas locked one arm over Gîl and drew his dagger as claws swiped the leather of the saddle, narrowly missing his leg. Seran's head turned, knocking the attacking wolf aside, teeth snapping, then surged forward in a mighty leap, bearing Legolas past Tanout and the wolves onto open ground.
“No!” Legolas groaned, trying to turn the horse, who simply clamped down on the bit, intent on one purpose. The prince's own jaw clenched, wrestling Seran's obdurate will, and his own terror. He was racked between the desire to flee with his son, and the impossibility of deserting people he cared for. The clangour of battle behind him burned in his ears, trickled thence into his blood. But how could he run?
Oh, Gîl, Gîl. Perhaps we were not meant to live.
A sob tore from his throat.
The stallion resisted, snorting, and frantic, frustrated tears pricked Legolas' eyes. Then, reluctantly, Seran slackened his pace, wheeling in a wide arc. Legolas blinked, staring back in dread.
A battle was raging around the rock pillars. Horses, men and wolves lay motionless or twitching in dying spasms. Closer at hand, Tanout's mount was almost dancing in a frenzied attempt to keep the wolves at bay, while its rider's scimitar flashed. Maglor was on his feet, wielding both sword and knife in an effortless display that sang a silent song of wrath. Jobur was in a tangle with a snarling dark beast, Shemar pushing himself back as another stalked toward him, white fangs running crimson. The youth groped with one hand, closed his fingers around a stone and hurled it with a sob that Legolas could hear quite clearly through the mêlée. It struck the wolf's shoulder, and the creature yelped, shook its head as if at an irritation, pacing on.
Without knowing how it had come about, Legolas found himself out of the saddle. He was weeping. in some far place within, imagining the wolves converging upon him, what they would do to Gîl, whose little hands gripped his tunic. As if the images were a foe that attacked him, he screamed at them: What would I be if I left them to die? And then: Eru, protect my son!
Cradling Gîl's head with one hand, he began to whirl the sling. In the gardens of Szrel Kain, he had had time to think, to fear his own lack of proficiency. Here he had none. There was nothing but the rising whine of the sling, then the moment when the shot was released.
It struck the wolf in its right eye.
The second shot took it in the left.
Blinded, dying, the creature collapsed not an ell from the paralyzed Shemar. Legolas ran forward and took his hand. The youth clung, gasping, and rose. He looked over Legolas' shoulder, and his eyes went wide.
They were within a circle of the beasts, Tanout and Maglor neatly cut off from them, though the wolves had sacrificed themselves to accomplish the cordon, and more were turning to attack the warriors. There was only one escape route, south toward the plains. Seran stood there, forelegs planted into the earth, stalwart as a warhound, and loosed an almost human scream.
“Setá!” Shemar gulped in his own tongue. “Run!”
They were galloping, the sun rising and throwing their shadows far into the west. The air gleamed gold with summer, dew already fading, heat sighing out of the ground. Fear raged in Glorfindel like another rising sun, and his thoughts were dislocated. Rhovadhros' long legs drummed on the grass faster, faster, though only Oromë's Nahar could have taken him across the wide leagues of the Earth, and to his son, in peril.
Further west, Celeirdúr reined in, fear like a battle-trump in his soul. He was aware of Bainalph turning to stare at him, bringing his mare back on her haunches.
The world became caught in a pour of honey. Celeirdúr could see the shadow of Bainalph's long lashes as he blinked, the so-slow whip and fall of creamy hair. Time held – and then snapped like a bowstring. The horses leaped from their hocks into a dead gallop, and into a white-gold mist that seemed to rise straight out of the ground.
The sky flicked above, a lid of blue enamel over the world. Leaves lilted past him, green as drowned emeralds, weeping and whispering in his wake. The world was full of colour. He could even see the burning scarlet of his heart. His heart, buried in the moist earth that had long ago eaten Elvýr's bones, covered his wife's raw, despairing grave; the heart whose fire had gone out like a shuttered lantern. There was rulership, there was friendship, and the dead stood between in silence.
The dead, and the living.
This was not the action of a wise king. Thranduil smiled savagely. What place had sense in his life? a king crowned on a battlefield, siring cursed sons, one dead, one banished – and one who had turned his back. Had it been the Cúalphii alone who left the forest, Thranduil would still be facing an awkward political situation at the least, but it had passed far beyond politics now. From the moment in council when silence followed his declaration that Celeirdúr marry, the king had known that something, somewhere frayed and broke. When repudiation slammed steely shields over Celeirdúr's clear blue gaze, a balance had shifted, and the king had been in no state to redress it. His eldest son was not the same man whom had lead out that ill-advised and unsanctioned patrol to Imladris. Thranduil found himself thinking that he should have divined Celeirdúr's hidden intent, for he was close to his oldest living son – or so he had always believed. Through Elvýr's terrible dying and death, through the king's foundering marriage and curdling guilt, through the birth of a second cursed son and his wife's subsequent suicide, Celeirdúr had been there. He was empathic and intelligent, skilled in the arts of warfare; a son to be proud of. In fact he was Thranduil himself, before ever he had marched away to the red shadows of the Dagorlad and into Mordor, the Thranduil who had been capable of laughter, of passionate love – and of desires he did not want to admit to.
What did they do to him in Imladris? the king wondered, as he had since Celeirdúr's return. The letters his son penned would have been read by Elrond or one of his councilors; Thranduil would have done the same, and he had sought for any hint of ill-usage under the formal words. He had seen none, but Celeirdúr was proud, too proud to admit pain, and on seeing him at last, Thranduil searched his face, the tone of his soul's emanations. To his relief they looked, and, more importantly, felt undamaged. But something had altered deep within, enough so that he had publicly challenged his own father, and now defied him. It was Galuron who had proved the most loyal son, after all. But Thranduil would never trust Galuron's temper with the reins of the kingdom, and despite the haste of his departure, had issued an edict to that effect, which the lords who would rule the Greenwood in his absence would soon read. He would not be away long, and he knew exactly what he was going to do. If Celeirdúr retained any loyalty to his father, he would support him and keep silent. The Cúalphii would simply never return, and his fiefdom pass into other hands. No-one but Thranduil and Celeirdúr would know what had become of him.
The king made the first stage of his journey using the trees. Taking a horse from his stables would have been to announce his departure to the realm, and so must Celeirdúr have known. There was an outpost east of Brongalen's lands where the king's messengers could lodge and change horses. Not far away ran the bridge over Celduin, and this was undoubtedly the way both the Cúalphii and his son would have taken.
The lodge, set half a league beyond the last straggling trees, was a stone-and-timber building within a stockade. The gates were open, and the sun fell warm and placid. A gaggle of geese pecked for food under the wall, and four horses were grazing under a great oak. From within came the sound of a smithy, and two sentries stood motionless upon the wall.
Thranduil could not hope to pass unremarked; all his warriors knew him by sight, and so he opted for subterfuge. He possessed something that would ensure the warriors aid and, he hoped, seal their lips for a time: a letter from their king. He had bound his hair back, concealed it under a deeply cowled hood, and drawn a thin scarf about his lower face, his appearance bespeaking utmost secrecy. The soldier who came forward to greet him indeed looked surprised, but took the letter and cracked the seal.
In the name of the king, you will expedite this messenger's journey, giving him all aid. This is a political matter of the greatest delicacy, and no questions will be asked, nor will any-one offer the information that my servant has passed this way.
By my hand, on this, the fiftieth day of Laer,
As he expected, the written order did arouse curiosity, but the king was glad to see that his soldiers were well-trained enough to follow it unhesitatingly. Whether they would indeed keep his mysterious passing through a secret, he doubted, especially when questioned by his Lords, as they almost certainly would be. But for now it was enough, and he was sent swiftly on his way with a good riding horse, its saddlebags well-filled. He took the dusty track east toward Burh Stane.
He did not reach it.
The sense of peril ambushed him like an entity, borne on an unnatural, gleaming fog of pearl and gold driven by no wind of this world. It was on him before he could rein in or turn his mount, enveloped his soul with violent growls snagging in the throats of a Fell-wolves, the scent of blood and fear that was terribly, unquestionably personal.
And then, there was silence.
Sauron walled up his thoughts and swore direly. If he could have risked using even a scintilla of his power without alerting Vanimórë, he would have roasted the Fell-wolves organs within them. Controlling the pack so sedulously and cautiously summoned since Szrel Kain was a delicate business, and the difficulty served to remind him of his necessarily limited power. He had to wrestle for dominance in two-score minds; minds more intelligent than animals, but far less so than humans, so that force was inevitably more successful than reason. But he could not allow his son to sense any link between himself and the wolves.
When his horse was taken down under him, only the greatest restraint prevented him from channeling power into an awl of pain and driving the wolves back. In the crashing confusion, Vanimórë would not perhaps notice, but after, he would certainly remember anything untoward. It was how he had been trained, after all: to be alert to everything.
Sauron threw himself from the wounded horse, rolled and came to his feet, backing from the two beasts who went low and long, slinking toward him. He stared into a pair of red-black eyes, pressed through them into the dim awareness smothered by Ages. He knew what their ancestors had been, and some of that lost power, watered like cheap wine, still flowed in their blood.
So much easier to have intelligent servants, he thought, sending an arrow of fear into the wolf's mind. It was not enough; he had feared it would not be. The creature yowled and came on.
And Vanimórë had not trusted him with a weapon, the suspicious bastard. Two wolves. To the Hells with those odds. Even Finrod had only fought one, albeit a far greater one, a true werewolf – and he had died.
Sauron ran, a very real fear rising within him, for although nothing could destroy his soul forever, he had no desire to be torn apart by creatures who would have abased themselves before his power, were he able to reveal it. He could imagine hot, rank breath on the back of his neck, claws tearing through his flesh. At any moment he expected to go down under a pile of furred muscle. Rocks swooped upward before him, the track driving through them.
He jumped, impelled by fear, pulling himself up onto a narrow shelf, clashing jaws following him far too closely. Cursing the animal and all its predecessors, he lashed out with one boot, the side of his heel cracking into a skull. The wolf fell away, enraged and dazed. Bracing himself on his hands, Sauron kicked viciously out at the second – and teeth that could crush an auroch's bones closed about his ankle, slicing through the leather boot. Sauron's lips drew back in their own snarl of fury.
I will wear thee as a damned cloak! he vowed. The wolf bit harder, and pulled.
A shape rose behind it. There was a flurry of blue-black hair, a timeless moment of lethal grace as Vanimórë jumped, and brought down a dagger two-handed, plunging it between the creature's shoulders. Its mouth opened in a wail, releasing Sauron's ankle, and it fell like a stone.
Sauron looked down. His son looked up. Their eyes met, and Vanimórë lifted a hand red to the wrist. His father reached down and took it.
“My thanks,” he said, very dry, itching to slap the hard, beautiful face.
“Perhaps thou shouldst carry a weapon. Just for now.” Vanimórë wrenched the dagger from the dying wolf and tossed it into the air. Sauron caught the hilt, and was propelled ungently through the rock pillars.
In the wide valley beyond men and wolves fought as a ring of them closed about Legolas. Sauron had wanted to part Vanimórë and Legolas, but it would be an utter waste if the wood-Elf and his son were slaughtered without the proper rites.
“There are too many,” he said flatly and almost to himself, watching from behind the shield that was Osulf.
“Too bad,” Vanimórë said briefly, through his teeth. “One has to try. And one has to succeed.”
Behind Osulf's eyes, Sauron laughed exultantly. There would be other times on this journey, and the risk had been worth the reward: his son had seen him pursued by wolves, and had intervened. He, whom had seen Sauron with werewolves at his heels, tame as pets, would never imagine the truth of Osulf's identity.
If he only knew how dangerous he was, I might have a small problem, he mused, watching Vanimórë spin like a dancer into violent, deadly combat.
But there were too many wolves, at least too many for Vanimórë to kill quickly enough to save Legolas. They had come, compelled by Sauron, and recognized the sweet strangeness in the wood-Elf and his son. It drew them to him, and Sauron could not, he now knew, control them without unmasking himself. Vanimórë was too far from Legolas; Maglor and Tanout were closer, but outside the closing circle, harried and attacked. They were cutting their way ferociously closer to the wood-Elf, but they would not be in time. That big bastard of a stallion held the only clear way of escape for Legolas and his child.
Only Eru could have fully seen and understood what happened, Eru and Dana, who watched the unfolding Music with ageless eyes. Even to her, it was unexpected.
She saw the interconnected souls like stars, saw the links between them suddenly flash and meet, Glorfindel to Legolas and Gîlríon, Maglor to Legolas and Tindómion, Vanimórë to Maglor, Legolas and Glorfindel, Celeirdúr to Legolas and Thranduil, Thranduil to Celeirdúr, Legolas and Bainalph, and Bainalph to Thranduil and Legolas. The soul-stars formed points of a radiant web and blazed. Power sang through all creation, a power that was, at its simplest and deepest degree that of love, love broken and lost, love unadmitted, love desired and rejected, fierce and as flame, gentle as a spring dawn, love that withstood sorrow and pain unimaginable, that gave and forgave; love like a broken gemstone, waiting for time to be unmade, for the scattered pieces to come together again, and form the peerless whole.
Time was Rhovadhros' white legs flashing across the land, the roll of sun-bleached green beneath, flowing, slowing. Time was like the suspended curl of water before a wave breaks. Time was the held breath of a world. It was Tindómion racing beside him, one hand moving to his sword as Glorfindel reached for his own. It was a child's cry, a youth's stifled, internal terror, eyes shining violet. It was –
– an opalescent mist lasting an eyeblink and an age. The horses were within it and then striding beyond it, and the Earth was a painting on glass. Glorfindel knew that they were riding across Rhovannion. He could see it, beyond and through the glass where mountains hurled black teeth at the sky. The sun was higher than it should be.
Two suns. There were two suns in the sky.
There was no time to assimilate or question. Tindómion's horse breached the mist beside Glorfindel, and on his right, three other riders emerged, fair hair and pale to milky-white. For the briefest moment Glorfindel recognized Celeirdúr and Thranduil, and felt the blaze of disbelief in their minds, then his eyes snapped ahead.
Before him and a little above, a stallion black as Night's eye lashed out at a huge Fell-wolf while others fought armored Men. There seemed purpose in their attacks, not savagery alone. And then he saw whom it was they menaced, and his own purpose exploded like wildfire, burning a path before him.
He saw Legolas more clearly than any. One arm lay protectively over a child secured at his breast, a child with an aureole of rich gold curls, the other hand gripped that of a young Man. They began to run, and then Legolas saw him.
Their eyes met.
He was the same youth Glorfindel had taken in the Greenwood, but in that instant he noted the differences, subtle though they were. Legolas bore the look Glorfindel had often seen in fledgling warriors who had fought, been wounded, seen those they loved die, and carried the scars internally. The great blue eyes held suffering, and there was pain in the rich curves of the mouth that Glorfindel had plundered as eagerly as the slender body. He was so beautiful in his wounded fear that Glorfindel felt the impact in his groin.
Legolas blanched perfectly white, and Glorfindel struck the wolves like unleashed lightning.
Vanimórë's blades flashed out, each taking a wolf through the throat. He did not even break stride, and as another leaped for him he spun, pivoting on his feet. The beast fell, its head almost decapitated. Turning again, he saw...
...a white mist broiled up from the earth. It was shot with glints of light, and moved against the wind. Out of it surged five riders, and silence ran with them. They were at once solid and oddly indistinct, as if Vanimórë were seeing them elsewhere in the world. Power cracked like a storm front before them, and the trailing mist limned their beauty like gold-dust. Three of them he knew. And it was impossible.
Arda drew in a long, slow breath. Vanimórë watched the eternity between the horses legs striking the ground and lifting again, the liquid toss and flow of the riders' hair, the sun-struck eyes frozen to burning jewels. His own movements seemed arrested, as if his body were encased in resin. The Fell-wolves flinched flat, then turned, bolting headlong back toward the rock pillars, tumbling men in their single-minded flight, and Vanimórë knew they were not afraid of the rider's drawn weapons, but the force they emanated, lethal and terrible. His swords flicked out again, killing even as he ran.
Moving with beautiful, languorous fluidity, Glorfindel leaned in his saddle, molten hair aswirl, and reached down to Legolas. The prince's face was raised in mute shock, and he did not move as Glorfindel's hand passed through his body. His hair billowed as if whipped by wind, and he turned his head, staring, lips parting.
Vanimórë met Glorfindel's eyes for a moment, saw the helpless, baffled rage like an ice-storm in the wild blue, before the riders momentum took them all past him. There was a sensation as of heat passing over his flesh, burning in the roots of his hair.
And then the riders were gone.