He was alone now. His captors had left him, and with the closing of the cell door it seemed that the world had suddenly vanished. Sound was swallowed by darkness, and in this silent black void Legolas waited, straining his hearing to the utmost as the sweat started on his body and a soft warning knell of fear echoed within him. He was utterly alone, able to hear only the sound of his breath, and beyond it… beyond it there was nothing.
After he had lost his sight, information about his surroundings still came to his ears, and the elf had quickly come to understand just how important sound was to him as he had learned to navigate in his new world of darkness. Sound told him of all that surrounded him - and not merely of the happenings within that black world, but that the world existed at all. Even the supposedly quiet hours of night were not without sound. When he had slept outside, cradled in the great branches of the old oak, the time between sunset and sunrise was as full of sound as the day had been. The busy doings of nocturnal animals, the low murmur of running water in the river and the voice of the air as it shifted and moved in both gentle breezes and occasional wild blowing had told him all he needed to know of the world around him, and of his place within it. And when he had slept inside the cabin he had also gained knowledge through his ears that reassured him of the existence of the world – the patter of Tithlam's feet, the soft sounds of the fire burning in the hearth, the low steady breathing of Aragorn in sleep.
The darkness he could endure. He had endured it. For months now he had done so, but it had been a learned thing, come only after a protracted and difficult battle against the fear that stalked him in his newly darkened world. There had been many moments in the beginning when he had been certain he would not survive the surges of panic that the blindness had wrought. It had taken concentrated effort, and help from Aragorn, to control the horror when it came upon him, but finally it had begun to ease. He felt it less and less; the sudden overwhelming sensation that the world was gone, and the terror rushing in to snatch the breath from his lungs. These moments continued to come upon him at times, but gradually he had gained more confidence in his ability to take control of them.
But now, in this place of peril, the silence was as absolute as the darkness, and the elf felt a terrible heaviness press upon him. Deprived of any noise to tell him what lay around him, he could not orient himself. He needed sound desperately, and he grappled with panic as his mind filled with an eerie conviction that beyond him lay a vast and empty abyss into which he was about to fall, and in falling he would not land. Never again would he touch down onto solid ground, but would be enfolded in the dark emptiness and buried under its layers, lost forever in the silence.
His heart flared and began to hammer frantically against his ribs, fighting to break free of what caged it. The space around him seemed to draw in, shrinking around him as he struggled for breath. He lifted his head as much as he was able, sucking desperately at the air, terrified lest it be the next thing to disappear. This was a familiar fear, and one he had hoped he had mastered. But this moment was tenfold stronger, and it filled him with horror and despair. There was no sound to bring an answer to his questions, no reassuring voice and touch to calm him, nor would there be. Aragorn was gone. Torn violently away from all that was familiar, held in a place of danger from which he could not hope to escape, the elf knew that this time there was no one to whom he could turn for help as he struggled with his mounting terror.
Frantically kicking out with his legs, he shoved himself against the post, trying to put distance between his body and the endless emptiness and gain some air. Unthinkingly he slammed his bare heels against the stone floor. Sharp distress was his reward, but not his only one, and he jerked his head up, listening as a faint echo came back to him. Two more times he struck the flagstones, bearing the pain in his feet as he focused intently on the sounds that returned.
There were walls around him, solid and reassuring. Though they were meant to confine him, he felt an overwhelming sense of relief that they were there, for they told him of the contours of his surroundings. He turned his attention next to the pillar to which he was bound, clutching at it with his fingers and pushing his spine against it, welcoming the stability of the heavy structure. It would not shift. There would be no breaking free of it, but the solid reality of it comforted him.
Directing his attention to the sensations of his body as it interacted with his environment, he focused on these in order to bring his panicked thoughts back under his control. He shifted his legs, feeling a new rush of cold penetrate his leggings as he pressed them against a different part of the floor. He twisted his wrists inside their leather bindings, not so much with the intention of freeing himself as needing to concentrate on the creaking sound they produced as they rubbed against each other. These too echoed slightly off the cell walls and returned to his sensitive ears, but in a way that was different and much less painful than slamming his feet against the floor had been.
For some time he continued his efforts to produce noise, working thus to quell the imaginings of his mind. Slowly his frantic gasps became more controlled and the horrid feeling of being buried under a tremendous weight of darkness began to lift. There was a solid world around him; he knew this now, and at last he was able to sit quietly, rest his throbbing head against the pillar, and just breathe.
* * * * *
You look just like her.
The mocking voice charged him with horror. Who had Ramhar been speaking of? He might have meant anyone… a woman in the city, his wife… but Legolas knew, with a terrible conviction that could not be disregarded, that the man had been speaking of his mother, the elf-queen. Laughing and gay, wise and beautiful, she had been loved by all who had known her. The elf-queen, lying in the dirt with a sword through her breast, a wilted leaf clutched in her hand.
Legolas had overheard Aragorn and Ramhar exchange heated words about their respective blades. There had been a connection between the weapons, and Aragorn had noticed it. The ranger had tried to shield Legolas from this knowledge, but the elf was certain that the appearance of the two blades must have been similar, and he recalled that Ramhar had taunted him with his weapon, inquiring if he had ever seen such a sword before. Legolas was certain that he had.
But if the killer of his mother was Ramhar, what then was Legolas to make of the orcs that had been found slain, taken down by the elven warriors who had fought to protect her? How had a man from Dale come to be leagued with creatures of Mordor? And who was the old man who had met them on the trail with the wagon and had spoken with Ramhar after Legolas had been brought to this room?
The elf shook his head in frustration. Being forced to wait helplessly for whatever his captors had planned for him had made time slow to an intolerable crawl. He could not be sure how much of it had crept past, imprisoned as he was by both darkness and silence, but time was moving entirely too slowly. He wanted answers. It had been some hours at least since he had been left alone, though he knew it could not yet be night. Night was when his captors had indicated that their plans would be implemented. They would come for him during the dark hours, he expected, and not before. Perhaps then there might be a chance to talk to Ramhar and demand the truth, before they killed him.
Legolas pulled against his restraints with a groan. The hours of idleness and pain were wearing on him, his bruised back and shoulders pressed against the post, his body stiff and aching from all it had endured. The beat in his head flared and ebbed, flared and ebbed, writhing like tendrils of fire across his skull and down his neck. During the moments that the pain was not requiring all his concentration to withstand it, he had made efforts to free himself. It had been an impossible goal, particularly as anything beyond the smallest of movements was effectively halted by the strap securing his neck to the pillar, but his struggles had served to keep his mind occupied when it began to drift again toward fear. He had gone about testing his restraints systematically, not with the wild panicked thrashings of before, when the men had first taken him. The thorough, methodical investigation of the leather straps had helped him to focus outward rather than descend within himself again, where terror and grief continued to wait in the shadows of his mind.
Though he was exhausted, he had not slept. The close press of danger would not permit any lessening of vigilance. He remained awake, tensed and alert for anything that might indicate that a change in his situation was at hand. Thus when there came a quiet rattling from the direction of the door, his head came up instantly and his back straightened. His attention rushed to the sound, the first he had heard beyond those of his own making. It was so consoling to finally have proof of another person's existence in the dark silence that he nearly whimpered in gratitude, but he swallowed the compulsion instantly and clenched his fists, readying himself for whatever his captors had now come to do to him. He did not turn his head as the door creaked open, but when the newcomer stepped across the threshold the elf breathed a sigh of relief. It was neither Ramhar nor the old man who had entered. The steps were quieter than Ramhar's, and more hesitant. The door was closed again, but not so far as to engage the latch, and the steps drew near. Legolas expected this was a guard come to check on him, and he raised his chin slightly to let his captor know that he was awake and aware. He did not expect to be spoken to, but in another moment the man addressed him quietly.
"I have water. Are you thirsty?"
It was the voice of the young soldier – the one who had attempted to help him earlier. Legolas did not respond, though he did allow himself to relax back against the pillar, hopeful that there would be no abuse forthcoming. But he was keenly on his guard, unwilling to place trust in anyone who had been a part of his abduction and Aragorn's murder. He turned his face away, and heard the young man sigh.
"I cannot blame you for that," the soldier murmured. "You have been ill-used. I promise you the water is untainted. Please accept it. You must be thirsty."
Valar knew the young man spoke the truth. The dryness of his mouth had become a torment, and at the very mention of water the elf had felt his throat constrict with need. And he longed to have the gag removed, if only for a short time, to ease the cramping in his jaw. Now he heard the stopper being removed from the container, and he turned his head back again. He nodded.
The guard seemed to hesitate, his boots scraping against the flagstones but not drawing nearer. Then he cleared his throat and said, "If I remove the gag, you will not curse me? I do you a kindness. I do not wish to be harmed for it."
Legolas shook his head in irritation. What nonsense had these people been told? Did this man truly believe that he could cast enchantments with his voice? It was absurd.
"I cannot remove the blindfold. The other guard has gone for food, but he will return soon. You must permit me to replace the gag immediately. If he catches me helping you…"
Legolas nodded again, and the man moved forward and dropped to his knees beside him. Strong fingers fumbled with the knots behind the elf's head, and then the thick cloth loosened and was eased from between his teeth. Legolas sighed audibly and spent a moment working out the ache in his jaw, and then he felt a light touch as the guard pressed his hand under his chin to angle his head up. The flask was set against his lips. As the cool water began to flow the elf gulped hastily, the fluid threatening to spill over his face, for the man's hands were shaking. Legolas drank until the container was empty, and listened as the stopper was replaced.
"I am sorry – I must replace the gag now," the guard said, and the sodden fabric, already gone cold, was pressed against Legolas' mouth. The elf turned his head away quickly.
"He is not yet returning," Legolas stated in a voice strained and roughened by his trials. He scarcely managed to push the words beyond a whisper, but if one were to judge the volume of his voice by the reaction of his guard, one would have thought that he had shouted. With a startled oath the young man clapped a hand sharply across the elf's mouth and pressed hard.
"You promised me you would not speak!" he hissed.
Legolas wrenched his head free. "I promised I would not curse you," he stated angrily, taking care to keep his words low so they would not carry beyond the walls of his prison. "I do have a voice, and I will use it if you will permit me. But I will not put a spell on you, if that is what you fear. I possess no such ability."
The young man's whisper was rushed. "You cannot -?"
"Harm you with my voice? No. If I had such power I would have saved my friend from death last night, and I would not be here now." The elf broke off, his hoarse voice faltering. He swallowed painfully, and sighed. "Whoever has been telling you such things about elves is talking nonsense. And at the moment, my attempts to speak cause me far more pain than they do you."
"Did you say that the other guard is not yet coming back?"
Legolas indicated the door with a restricted jerk of his head. "Am I correct in assuming the portal is not quite closed? I do not hear his step. Check the corridor for yourself if you doubt me."
The guard made his way quickly to the door, and it creaked slightly as he pulled it back. Then he withdrew and returned to what he appeared to judge was a safe distance from the prisoner. "You will hear when he comes? And warn me?"
"Yes," the elf answered curtly. He said no more, but rested his aching head against the pillar and ran his tongue round his mouth, grateful for even this small opportunity to move a part of his body as he wished. Though he strongly desired to know what was happening around him, and what was going to happen to him, he ignored the young man. Legolas was under the strong impression that the fellow was regarding him expectantly, even eagerly. He shrugged his shoulders, grimacing as he tried to dispel the fierce agony that flared along the back of his head and traveled like lightning down his neck.
"I am sorry," the man said again, apparently having noted the elf's display of pain.
Legolas rounded on his captor in anger. "Why do you say that to me? Do you seek forgiveness for abducting me and murdering my friend?"
The young guard answered quickly, and with equal heat. "I had no part in that. I did not lay a hand on him."
"But you were present when he and I were attacked last night, yes?" the elf asked sharply. "You supported those who did kill him, and stood by while it was done. Do not seek to do kindnesses for me. They will not absolve you of what you did not do for him."
The man was silent for a moment, grinding his teeth together as if he chewed on the elf's words, and then he stepped closer and crouched beside his captive. "No, I suppose they will not. But we were acting on orders from our captain to apprehend those who had killed the old healer and taken his cabin, and once it was known that an elf dwelt there, spying on our city…"
"We did not kill the old man. Aragorn and I wintered peacefully in the cabin, which was empty when we found it, and in the spring we intended to go home."
"To report to your elven warriors about us."
"No. I am not a spy, but merely a traveler. I have harmed no one, but last night you murdered an innocent man," Legolas hissed. "I think you have killed men before, but fairly, in battle. They were not left to die in a burning house after having already been taken." As his grief swelled the elf turned his head away. "You seek forgiveness, but do not ask it of me. I cannot grant it." He realized his voice had begun to shake as he fought to hold back his sorrow. The words choked in his throat. "The man you killed last night was not meant for such an end. You do not realize what you have done," he whispered.
After a moment's silence the guard spoke hesitantly. "They told me elves cannot love, and that your people are demons in a form that is deliberately beautiful and entirely deceiving. But you wept when you were in the crate, and I knew that your tears were real. And now you weep again. I no longer believe that you have no feelings. You loved your friend, and you mourn his death."
"In matters of friendship and brotherhood, Elves are not so different from Men," Legolas murmured. "Yes, I loved him."
The young man's voice was filled with confusion. "This is not what I had expected. You are not what I expected. I had been told we moved against dangerous enemies who plotted the destruction of our city. But now -"
Legolas shook his head suddenly and the guard fell silent. Listening, the elf realized someone had just entered the corridor, and the footsteps were rapidly making their way along the long expanse toward his cell. He turned quickly to the young man. "The other one - he returns now."
The guard swore, and Legolas heard him snatch at something. The gag was shoved against his mouth. "Please, you must –"
The elf twisted away for a moment longer. "What is your name?"
"Do not believe everything you are told, Koryon," Legolas said. The guard pressed the cloth against his face insistently, and the elf nodded. "Thank you for the water," he whispered, and opened his mouth to receive the gag. The young man secured it firmly and then he moved behind Legolas and began tugging at his restraints. Legolas heard the footsteps in the corridor quicken to a run. Something was set down with a clatter, and a moment later the door slammed open and rebounded against the wall with a bang. The second guard rushed in.
"What are you about, boy?" a man's deep voice demanded. "The door was open. Lord Ramhar said we were not to enter here unless necessary."
The young guard had schooled himself, and he yanked against the strap encircling Legolas' neck, wringing a gasp of genuine pain from the elf. His voice had grown hard. "I heard him struggling. I wanted to be certain he was not breaking loose."
"For his sake, there had better not be any sign of that." The man strode behind Legolas and wrenched at the restraints, tightening what he could as the elf gritted his teeth. Then he moved around in front of the captive. Resting his hands on Legolas' shoulders, he pressed him against the pillar. He was a big man, possessed of great strength, and he shifted one arm to set it across the elf's neck. "There will be no messing about on my watch, elf. Remember that."
Legolas felt the painful constriction in his throat as the blood began surging in his temples. He tried to nod, wanting to convince the man that he would cooperate. Were he to throw his legs up, he expected that he could land a decent kick and knock the guard aside, but to do so would only anger him further and provoke him to do real harm. Legolas dared not defy his captors; he could neither fight nor protect himself. He remained still and obedient, but his body trembled in distress and rage as he struggled to draw breath.
"Come now, Maibon. Ease up," he heard Koryon demand. The young man's voice sounded oddly distant and tinny through the roaring in his ears. "Lord Ramhar will not be pleased if you strangle his elf. Let him go."
The man jerked his arm back with an oath and heaved himself to his feet. He kicked at Legolas as he turned away, the blow clouting the elf high up on the left thigh. "Come on, then. I brought bread and stew. And we've a couple of good mugs of ale to wash it down. Sounds good, eh?"
The young man followed. "It sounds excellent. You have the favour of the scullery maids, my friend, and I enjoy all the benefits as well."
"Not all the benefits, lad. Their finest favours are reserved for me alone," the older man responded gleefully, and both guards broke into laughter.
The door was slammed and bolted. They began their meal, murmuring together over the clicking of dice, and the elf bowed his head, finally permitting one small sound of misery to escape his throat once he was certain they would not hear it.
* * * * *
His body hurt. A terrible ache gripped every shaking muscle; his shoulders strained, his arms wrenched back too tightly. Ai, he hurt! Helplessly he tried to shift somehow, to tear his body free of his fetters and ease the awful burning. When his head drooped wearily, he could not draw air. When he raised it, fire split his temples and rushed down his neck. No escape.
Each minute became an eternity, settling layers of pain over him like a stifling blanket. Someone was groaning, panting hard. Quiet sounds of suffering, swallowed and lost in the darkness. He rolled his head against the wooden post, biting down on the cloth in agony. It tasted of blood.
The night hours came. He walked the edges of unconsciousness, where the footing was slippery. He tried not to go there, for he must be prepared for what was to come! But he could not fight it. His mind went where it would, rushing toward the shadows, and he was powerless to stop it. He stumbled on the treacherous slope and fell into nightmare.
Voices, muted at first, crept out of the darkness as if from a tomb. They spoke no words, but uttered cries of pain, gasps of effort and struggle. He rushed toward them into the black world. Already he knew that their fight had ended, and that they had been forced to their knees. Despair gripped him as he ran. He tried to call to them, to tell them that he was coming, but his voice was trapped within his mouth. Faster! he shouted to himself. Faster!
A woman cried out. The sword flashed up, blazing, the stones of blood shooting fire through his blind eyes. He saw it, the blade gleaming, poised to strike with no hand wielding it, and he lunged forward just as the downward stroke began. His hands closed over the hilt. He fought with all his strength to hold it back, but was tossed to the ground as if he were no more than a rag doll.
A scream, high and piercing, drove through him, rushing over his body in a torrent of pain. He clambered to his feet, clutching at the pain in his head, staring wildly around at the blackness. Where is she? Ai, what is happening?
He staggered forward. A man was groaning, still trying to struggle, but with the useless strained sounds of one who is pinned to the ground by too many hands. The sword leapt forth from the darkness once more, the brightness of it pulsing and flashing. With a muffled scream of desperation the elf caught at the weapon again, frantic to stop the second killing blow. The blade struck, dragging him with it. Aragorn's cry of agony split the air.
Blackness fell again, and over it settled a deathly silence. It was the silence of the dead, stark and without breath but for the low, triumphant laughter of a man. You look just like her. Legolas dropped to his knees in anguish.
The hands were on him now, yanking his head back, exposing his throat. He fought wildly, his eyes searching for the sword in the darkness, but saw nothing. Suddenly his voice was freed. "Where is the blade?" he shouted. "Show it to me!"
"Get that draught into him and silence him."
Something was shoved against his mouth. He wrenched his head aside. "You have destroyed the two I loved most. Do not keep it from me!" he screamed.
Bitter liquid was forced down his throat. Cloth was crammed into his mouth and held there. He raged, his fury hot against the straps that held him, but slowly his body weakened and his limbs lost their power. He slumped with a moan but remained upright, bound to the pillar. The gag was pulled away.
"Was there something you wanted to say to me, while we have a moment?"
Legolas slowly raised his head, finally understanding that this was no horrific illusion of his mind, but a living nightmare. He shuddered as the drug coursed with heat throughout his body. His lips and tongue had already begun to go numb. "You killed her," he whispered, sickened to his soul. "Four years I have sought you."
Ramhar laughed softly. "Is that so? It is a pity that after such a long effort you appear to have bungled it, my dear elf. Ah well, life is not always fair, is it? A hard lesson learned. And now it is time to go."
He was released from the post. Hands lifted him, and he was carried into darkness.
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