The Quiet Sense
In a much darker Middle-earth than the one we know, Legolas is forced to take drastic measures in order to save Estel. Stretching from the destruction of Greenwood to the Council of Elrond, this sweeping AU examines what could have happened if the elves had made a terrible mistake.
Chapter Nineteen: The Quiet Sense
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.
- Lord Alfred Tennyson
A somber gloom had crept over the land with the setting of the sun. The last of the dull orange rays reflected off of cold rocks and turned the grass a sickly blacked. White blue sky extended behind Weathertop, the darkness of the hills standing out in stark contrast.
Estel was afraid. He rubbed his stomach and felt the cold knot of fear tighten as the darkness seeped over the land. Something was coming – something was... "Mithrandir," he said at last, sitting beside the old wizard. "There is a... foul breath on the air. My very blood seems to shiver at..."
"It is Saruman." A gray trail of smoke rose into the cool air, vanishing on a noiseless breeze. "He has been haunting our footsteps – I fear the Ringwraiths draw closer with the hour."
"The Ringwraiths." Estel dropped his eyes and remembered the snap of the bond – and reached out to feel Legolas's warmth. The miles between kept them from sharing words, but he could still sense the wellness of the elf. "Should we not be moving, then? If they haunt us..."
"Woods and then long plains stretch between here and Rivendell. We would never make it in time. And I do not want to be caught in the forest at the dead of night. No – it is best that we remain here." He waved his pipe, indicating the circle of fire stretching around Weathertop. "This is as safe as we will be."
Estel nodded; but his gut clenched and his eyes turned to the darkening hills. "They will come from the West," he murmured to himself. "They will come and there will be no warning."
Gandalf turned, eyes vaguely appraising. "What?"
The young man turned, his mouth drooping sadly as his gaze drifted passed the wizard to the unknown void. "We can do nothing to prevent it. Take your rest, Mithrandir. The night will be long." Estel moved away – his mind troubled and confused. He felt – doomed; like he had stepped onto a path that he could no longer stray from. His course had been set and the wheel was taken from his hands.
Halbarad nodded to him as Estel passed by one of the fires. His eyes were kind and welcoming as he gestured to a spot beside him – but Estel declined.
He found Bilbo sitting against the stone ledge, wooden pipe in one hand and an apple in the other. "Come to join the festivities?" the tiny hobbit crowed, lifting the pipe. "On a night like this in the Shire, we would be in the tavern – drinking the ale and singing the songs. Lusty old songs."
"Are you frightened?" Estel asked suddenly, sitting beside him and bowing his head. "The task is heavy."
A somber expression darkened the hobbit's eyes and the apple was set down. "I suppose – I feel the weight." And Estel noticed the tiny hand pressing against one pocket, the thumb moving in circles against the stiff material. "I would like to keep it, I think. But I know that I cannot. It is too strong – too strong for a little hobbit like me." He chuckled and seemed to yank his hand away from the pocket, slipping his hands beneath his thighs. "There is much to be afraid of – but my feet set me on this path and I will stick to it." He paused, curly head bobbing in thought.
"There is a tune," he started again as the fire crackled-hissed behind him. "The old folks hum it when they're walking down the meadow lanes of the Shire. They call it a walking song. Quite appropriate." He hummed a few lines, almost to himself, before gently sounding the words across his tongue. "Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread..." his voice trailed away before he continued in a conversational tone, "we'll wander back home and to bed."
Estel watched the sky and heard the words, feeling their meaning resound deep within his spirit – a deep bell ringing on a clear day. "The hobbits," he said at last, quietly, "are quite deep despite their jovial exterior."
"Layers," reported Bilbo cheerfully, "layers upon layers."
A shiver of static ran down Estel's back. He spun, looking over the darkening plains, just as the heavy sound of horses touched his ears. "Mithrandir?" he reached for Bilbo, tugging the hobbit closer to his side. Estel imagined he could smell death – the scent of the black riders.
The wizard had stood, holding his hand above his eyes. "They come," he murmured – his voice rough and pained – and his knuckles whitened around his staff. "Our time is no more – the Nazgúl are here."
Cold air hissed passed Estel's teeth and in three steps, he was beside Gandalf, looking over the plains. Knots tightened deep inside of him, the fear clawing up his throat. His arms wrapped his middle and he instinctively retreated towards the warmth of Legolas's bright presence.
The Nine were there – riding across the plains on huge horses. And behind them, creeping over the hills as black parasites, were the orcs. Gray metal flashed in their midst when starlight peeked through the clouds. There were too many – too many to fight – too many to retreat.
"We are going to die," he said, breathing the words and shivering just a little. "Mithrandir..."
The wizard did not answer and shifted his gaze past the young man's shoulder. Estel turned and saw Halbarad just behind him, mouth stiff and somber.
"Estel, take Bilbo and go." Halbarad gripped his shoulder, fairly pulling Estel along. "Go to the East, towards the Last Bridge and the Mitheithel River. The elves will meet you there and take you to safety. Speed is of the essence."
"I do not..." Estel looked to the rangers around him, pulling swords and bows, preparing to meet the enemies. I do not understand why I am the one to go. There are those younger than me...
Halbarad glanced over his shoulder, looking toward the plains. "I know you do not understand. But Bilbo – the Ring – you – must survive. Those here," he nodded to the darkly clad rangers and leaned closer, voice dropping to a whisper, "will gladly die to preserve the future of Middle-earth – to keep Bilbo and you from falling into the hands of the enemy. Mark my words, they will take you alive if you are caught and you will fall to a fate worse than death." He shoved Bilbo into him and gestured to the forests in the direction of Rivendell. "Go!"
Estel stepped backwards, instinctively grasping Bilbo's arm. Behind Halbarad, he could see the orange glow of the fires; and beyond that, dark figures and the film of death over a once peaceful landscape.
The older ranger softened for a moment. "Go to Legolas – may the Valar keep you safe." He turned and strode back to the ring of fire, his sword sliding against the sheath as he drew the weapon.
A rush of hot air streamed across Estel's face as more logs were thrown onto one of the fires, sparks flying in the dark air. The softness of his mouth turned hard and stiff and Estel seemed to come to a decision.
The young man swallowed and gripped Bilbo's shoulder. "You must stay quiet." He backpedaled into the clinging shadows. Each step he made tore something deep and vital inside of him – abandoning, he his comrades when the need was greatest seemed to go against all he had been taught. Finally, he garnered the determination to turn his back on the burning circle.
"We are alone," he whispered to Bilbo and himself. "Can you run?" he asked after a moment. "I do not put as much distance between the orcs as we can before sunrise. Perhaps they will pursue you..." He stopped and looked behind them once more. "We must hurry."
Bilbo nodded but did not say a word.
They ran. And when Bilbo's smaller legs finally failed him, Estel scooped him to his arms and carried him. The trees were sparse in the country side surrounding the Weather Hills and Estel found himself darting from rock to rock, glancing behind him at the dark shapes overrunning the fiery pinnacle of Weathertop.
They were still on the plains when Estel watched the sun rise, red and sickly. Their steps had slowed to a fast walk, Bilbo stumbling behind the faster strides of the young ranger. As the red light spilled across the yellow plains, Estel tucked them both into a niche of pale, sandy rock.
"We must rest," he said to Bilbo's huffing query. "Or we will collapse in the open. We should be safe for a few moments. Rest – I will keep watch." He passed one hand over the hobbit's face and watched as the soft features eased and drooped as sleep came quickly upon them. Then he put one hand on the hilt of his sword and settled back against the hard rock; and, despite his best intentions, he was asleep within moments.
He awoke when the sky was dark blue and the sun was shining brightly down on the rocks, heating their hiding place. He awoke abruptly – and he heard gruff voices speaking loudly to each other. Orcs. Why did they travel in daylight?
Estel sucked in a breath and tried to imagine the duress which would have caused these orcs to venture from their hidden, dark crags while the sun was so bright. No matter – they would be weaker, easier to kill.
Bilbo stirred, turning his face into Estel's chest.
His rough fingers carded through the soft curls as he pressed the hobbit's soft face against his chest. The orcs would smell them. He imagined their noses turned to the wind and their beady eyes finding their hiding place.
"Do not speak," he murmured. "Do not move." And as he moved his mouth, taut, dirty skin pulled uncomfortably.
"Orcs." Bilbo's mouth barely moved against the leather jerkin. His cotton shirt rubbed the ranger's damp skin as he shuddered. "They will find us."
Thick, cloistered breath filled Estel's mouth and burned across his throat. "They will not take the ring." Venom oozed in his eyes and Bilbo squirmed underneath the rough pressure of his fingers.
Rough steps drew near, pounding across dried grass and parched ground. Fifteen? Twenty? Maybe more. He would have to hold for the right moment. The hobbit smelled fresh and free. The boulders they hid in were tall, stretching above Estel's head. They continued along the base of the cliff for several yards in both directions.
"Journey towards the rising sun," he breathed to the hair. "Journey until you come to a river; walk upstream the river until you come to the bridge. The elves will see you and your burden safe." He pulled back, one arm dropping to rest against the cold hilt of his sword.
"You do not... you will not survive?"
"If I do not," the young man amended, pale lips tugging in a tremulous smile. "If I do not, wait until the orcs have passed you by and flee in the direction of the rising sun. And, tell the elf, Legolas, of my travails. He will protect you as I have."
Bilbo's white chin jittered as he nodded.
Gray eyes burned brightly as Estel reached inwards, towards the bond, towards Legolas. There was a gentle peace exuding and his breathing eased, blood slowing through tortured veins. "No matter what you should hear." He spoke to the sky as his fingers gripped his blade firmly – as the heavy steps echoed against his skull. "No matter what, Bilbo, remain silent."
Thump. Thump. The laughter and heavy breathing of orcs.
Estel patted the soft head and stood, fingers scrabbling against the rocks at his back. One deep breath and he jogged ten steps through the sandy boulders. Sweaty fingers slipped against the sandy rock and he cursed as the deep crags scraped uncomfortably against him. Sucking in a breath, he heaved himself to the top of the boulder and stretched out on his stomach.
Numb, aching fingers fumbled as he strung the bow, fitting the arrow against the string. He waited as the orcs approached – waited until the leader was just past him, heavy laughter hurting his ears – waited – and then drew the string back and released. He heard the hiss of the arrow sweeping passed his head.
Crimson spurted in an ugly fountain against the blue and gold landscape and the leader pitched forward with scarcely a sound.
The second in command balked and twisted, searching the bright rocks before barking out in the ugly, black tongue of Mordor. He moved briefly and then hacked gouts of blood as an arrow sliced through his vocal chords and airway. He expired with a grunt and a hiss as blood soaked into the yellow ground.
Shaken and wary, the remaining orcs clustered about each other, their own squat bows pointing up at the deadly weapons had come from. One black feathered arrow skimmed across the rock near the young man's head, falling with a tinny clatter to the ground below. He watched the arrow and spared only a moment to be glad that orcs generally had terrible aim. But, Estel knew, there was only a moment to be grateful for his life – then, once more, he had to act.
Estel rolled to the left, leaving his bow lying atop the rock. One hand gripped a lumpy outcropping, slowing his descent to the ground marginally. His knees bent deeply as he landed on the sandy ground. He intended to use the next step to spring forward, sword drawn. He intended to strike at the orcs before they could pinpoint where he was... but his plans were destroyed in and instant when his right foot slipped on a spot of dry, loose sand.
His arms flailed and the sky spun lazily as he fought to keep upright. When he was finally able to gain his balance, shaky and disturbed, the thumping of his heart almost drowned out his thoughts. He had a strange compulsion to kneel and perform obeisance to Ilúvatar for saving his life once more – but there was no time.
The orcs turned towards him, dark eyes widening, and Estel barely had a moment to notice that these creatures seemed bigger than the orcs he head previously fought. And they did not seem at all hampered by the sunlight.
He imagined the ground shook as they came at him and he only had time to raise his sword before they were on him. Somehow, he batted away the first stroke, driving the white of his blade deep into an exposed belly and jerking the newly crimson blade out. He spun and ducked, sword clashing against the shorter scimitars of the creatures.
They pressed against him, teeth bared and eyes teeming with beastly hunger, and he lashed out, leaving one orc headless and another with one arm. Blood spurted.
It was strange, he decided as his vision blurred with sweat and the warm heat of blood droplets trickled through the unshaven growth of beard on his cheeks. Strange the things one thinks about when in battle. Strange how an orc could crumple with innards hanging out right at his feet – and he only thought of the dampness of his feet inside his boots or the dryness of his own throat – the need to take a razor to his scratchy beard.
He planted his foot, contorting his body to dodge the swing of a blade, driving his sword at the thigh of another. But there were too many. He backpedaled, seeking more room to maneuver, his breath loud and raspy in his own ears.
An orc fell, clutching at an arm that was no longer there to hold.
Estel was about to charge forward again, hoping to take as many out as possible before an inevitable blade ended his life – hoping that enough would fall and allow Bilbo to make for Rivendell. He darted to the left and drew up short when a high-pitched cry of his name echoed in the bloody plains.
He spun wildly to the rock he had left Bilbo and saw the small hobbit's huge, terrified eyes as a blade of a tall orc was slowly driven into the trembling stomach. His denial of the sight was a mere croak in his dusty throat and he lunged, swiping his sword like a scythe, racing towards the hobbit.
The tall orc twisted in Estel's direction and a slow, yellow smile spread over the face. In a move almost too fast for the naked eye, it flipped the small hobbit against its massive chest and pulled the blade from his stomach, bringing it to rest brutally against the white throat. "One more step, man," it hissed, "and this halfling dies."
Estel skidded and came to a halt, sweat rolling down his face and chest heaving. He could not look away from the thick trails of crimson soaking down Bilbo's shirt and pants. A clamoring rose up within him and he dry swallowed. "Let him go," he breathed, lips barely moving. He could not think – thoughts scattered about like shards of crystal...
The yellowed teeth bared briefly in a strange parody of a grin that almost seemed it would shatter the darkly veined face into a million pieces. The orc growled softly through the sharp teeth. "Surrender, scum."
Estel hesitated and a line of red appeared on the small, soft neck, dribbling down to stain the white collar, and then further to mingle with the red blood streaming from the hobbit's stomach. He could hear Bilbo's frantic breathing – the tiny chest heaving up and down in the beginnings of a panic attack.
The weapon clattered to the ground and Estel held him self steady as the rough hands of orcs clutched at him from behind. "Let him go," he said again when he felt coarse rope press against his wrists. "Let him go."
When the orc just smiled again, something deep inside Estel pulled taut with a harsh yank that reverberated through his teeth and bones of his ears. He lashed backwards, driving one orc's crooked nose bones deep inside its brain. Reaching with both hands, he flicked his wrists, snapping the neck of another.
A huge body collided against his back and he tumbled forward. He hit the ground and found that the air had grown too thin to breathe. He gasped futilely to regain his wind as his hands were bound behind his back and a rope was knotted about his neck. "What do you," he managed painfully as he was dragged to his feet, the thick hemp of the rope digging into his throat. "What do you want with us?" He coughed.
Bilbo was dragged over, face white and blood gushing from the wound in his stomach. He was thrust in Estel's direction and the man managed to brace the small creature upright with his own body. Bilbo trembled briefly and then sagged to the ground, lying across Estel's feet as the sun dried the bloody ground.
The orc just behind him blew foul breath all over Estel's neck, jerking his arms as the young man fought to bend down to check on the quiet hobbit. "Our master, Saruman, has need of you."
Heavy grooves touched the skin around Legolas's mouth, shadows falling across his chin and dipping to his neck. He wanted to – wanted to not be here. An indiscernible tug was deep in his mind and he could not... One slim shoulder shrugged underneath his heavy, ceremonial robe. They had introduced him as the king of Greenwood and the men – the ambassadors from Gondor and Rohan had bowed.
It had been long, Legolas reflected almost sourly, since someone had shown him obeisance. Long had it been since he had worn the robes of ceremony and was called by his title. And Legolas wished it had been longer still.
Glorfindel sat by his side, noble and quiet. His wide face was shadowed by the sun and his thoughts. Now and then, he would bend his head, hair falling over his face and eyes peering at Legolas's paler, smaller face. "That is Denethor," he murmured once, gesturing to a dark haired youth with a small forehead, "son of Echtellion, the steward of Gondor. He is the same age as your Estel."
"The steward's son?" Legolas responded just as quiet, pale lips just moving. He stopped, staring. "Is he a good steward? I have not kept on the affairs of Gondor. I should have but time is always short when mortals live around you..."
"Echtellion is noble. Though I fear he does not look for the King as his father did. They grow weary and say the prophecies are myths – they say the King will never come." Glorfindel turned his keen eye to his friend.
"He will come," Legolas asserted softly. "He will come. Who is that beside him?" His dark eyes skimmed up and down the dark, rangy frame sitting next to the steward's son – the dark blonde hair pulled back from the sharp nose, hollowed cheekbones, and deep eyes. "He does not look to be the king of Rohan."
"Brome of Rohan, the chief counselor to Thengel, the king. He is said to have helped stave Saruman from conquering Rohan years ago." Glorfindel paused and Legolas could feel the weight of the Balrog Slayer's gaze on his face and shoulders. "You do not look well, Legolas. You are pale and trembling."
"Am I?" Legolas touched his face. "Oh. My wound, I suppose." But he felt no pain. Elrond had done his work well. "Something in my mind..." Legolas blinked slowly, the bronze colors of the pavilion tunneling before him. Mauve swished across and the tunnel caved in, leaving Legolas startled and breathing deeply.
"Men of the West, elves of Lothlorien, Greenwood, and Rivendell, dwarves of the Mountain – I bid you welcome. Long has it been when such a diverse council has gathered together. But strange times call for certain measures. Gondor and Rohan," he gestured to the men, "have come seeking our aid as Saruman gathers up arms against him. "I yield the floor to Denethor of Gondor."
The youth stood from his chair, long pale hands folded neatly before his stomach. Rohan and Gondor made a pact in the days of Grandfather to aid one another against the forces of evil in this land. We have fought as a united front for a score of years and we have triumphed together – until recently. Darkness stirs thickly on Gondor's northern borders. The land of Mordor is rising."
"This is no new information, Steward's son. Mordor has broiled with constant wickedness before your father was born. Why should now be exemplary?" Legolas kept his voice steady even as his vision began to tunnel once more, headache flashing across his forehead. Natural animosity raged within him but he did not allow himself to voice the bitterness. This, he told himself, was not the time or place.
Denethor's fingers tightened about each other. "Our spies have glimpsed massive armies forming behind the black gaze. The all-seeing eye has touched our land with death. Sauron is marshalling an army twice the size of the wizard's. If they attack together, we will be pressed on two fronts. We will not survive"
Lips clamped and teeth ground together, Legolas held himself back from declaring that his Estel would be the one to save Gondor. Gondor would not perish – not fall to Sauron – because Estel had not taken the throne yet. And Ilúvatar had promised Legolas that Estel would be everything he was prophesied to be. This imposter would not be the one to be a hero for Gondor. Estel would be – and the words became a circling mantra in Legolas's wearied mind as Denethor's voice rose and fell with his passion.
"In the days of the Last Alliance, men and elves and dwarves drove the tide of evil back. We must band together in that manner once more – or the day will come men will be wiped from the face of Middle-earth. And, if we are gone, what will the elves do?" Denethor's voice rose and thickened. "Will they flee over to the sea and leave the dwarves to perish alone in their mountain? Sauron will not stop until everything good and green on this earth is destroyed."
Legolas shifted, the mantra fading enough for him to speak. He vaguely wished his head would stop jostling about in his head. "You make a case, Steward's son, but the last war took many immortal lives and now we must fight again? If we are to help you, we must know that the war will destroy the evil once and for all."
"And what say have you?" The long black hair swished slightly as Denethor straightened his shoulders and stretched his neck out. "You are not Lord Elrond. I came to plead my case before him – not a common elf who had trouble holding his tongue."
"Peace, Denethor." Elrond held out a calming hand, laying it on the young man's shoulder. "This is Legolas, King of Greenwood. His word holds weight at this council – but he is not against you. His points are valid; before we act, the elves must be assured Sauron's power will be stripped completely."
Denethor nodded. "I understand." He turned briefly, and paced towards his chair. "I had a dream," he said at last, back still to the council. His voice was a breath, a tone wrought with a deadly virus, infecting Legolas's ears and filling his mind with thoughts of death. "A dream where I held a golden ring and the powers of darkness fell before the vast armies of men, elves, and dwarves. In the dream, Gondor prospered and became a great nation as I wore the ring on my finger."
Gorge rose up deep inside Legolas – dull, yellow light tinted his vision, words and sounds meshing together – thoughts coalescing into a muddled, dark collage. If Denethor claimed the Ring... the Ring... Saruman's desire and the bane of the race of man... Denethor would kill Aragorn to maintain his control of the throne if the ring fell into the hands of this Steward's son. That could not be allowed to happen. And Legolas barely noticed his mind's use of Estel's true name; he was just...
"I believe if we can find this ring, we will be victorious and the main root of evil will be dried and hung from out wall. I looked in the ancient texts of Gondor and found references to a great ring that was in the possession of Isuldir for a short time before he and the ring vanished from history. I believe this is the object that will help us..."
...falling... fading... drifting... shattering...
"Estel." The word rasped against Legolas's throat, brutally loud against his sensitive ears, as his mind exploded in a thousand shards of white heat. Bronze stones spun and glowed, growing strangely larger – as if Legolas was toppling toward them. But that could not be right – he was sitting in a chair, just sitting... then he could not see and there was only a moment to consider how strange that was.
"Legolas!" But, a moment later, Legolas could not hear Elrond either.