First Notes to Crusade: Prologue to prologue

Hi. I am writing a prologue to the prologue. The
reason I feel I have to do this is because the notes
of the story got invaded by the boys. They all wanted
their own say: Aragorn, a crown, Legolas, a tiara,
Gimli, laid, and they all fooled around.

I just want you to know that my story is a long and
serious thing, with lots of people all doing things.
I also am stepping up to assume responsibility for
any errors that are made, especially in unraveling
Elrond's family tree and the use of Silmarillion
characters and concepts for part of it..

Good God, man!

The man is related to EVERYONE.

This is a story about what would happen if Sauron got
the Ring and if you posed the pairings: A/F and Eo/L.
This story is very AU so a strict interpretation of
Tolkien's canon, ie, going and coming from Aman and
such, I have had to extrapolate. I don't know if you
can see Earendil as a person or if you can approach
the Valar directly. I do know that in moments like
this, your faith is a powerful comfort and what would
happen when that is tested? What would happen when you
require a sacrifice? The Valar, if I say so myself,
are a bitch to write about. I admire people who write
from the Silmarillion.

This is not beta'd. All the typos and other nits are
my own fault. SNIFFLE!

I hope you enjoy it. Tell me what you think, suggest,
critique and generally caper. I sure had fun with this
challenge.

Subject: Notes part two to Crusade: The Boyz speak.

=======================================================
Even though I had some help from the boys in putting
this note segment together, this story is a serious
angsty/hc/etc story. Truly. --HB
*******************************************************
Title:   Crusade: A Twenty-Four part story
Author:  Arctapus
Codes:   LOTR, A-F-L-E-others, R and up, AU, Many
pairings, Sil/LOTR
For AC and all who read my stuff. I take full
responsibility for all errors in the use of characters
from the Silmarillion, which I find as fascinating a
book as I do complex. Kudos for Sil writers. You are
amazing to me.
=======================================================

Me, Arctapus/HB: Below is the summary of the
challenge. I have been working on this one a long time
because it has so many fascinating possibilities. It
will include very tough stuff. (Well, for *me*
anyway.) The separate parts are flagged for what they
contain. I hope you read it all and have a rousing
tale. I found this one very tough to do, so broad and
epic did its scope become almost immediately.

"Mumble ... grumble ... whine ..."

HB:   "What, Boromir honey?"

Boromir: "If *I* was writing this story, it would be
all about big dicks and Aragorn getting it in the
butt. By *me*, the one who *really* should be king of
Gondor!" <Flips out rolodex and checks for unlisted
number for Barad-dur> "Hey! Sauron baby! I just wanted
some help ... It's your birthday? Happy ten trillion!
You don't look a day over six. Trillion, that is.
Hey! Have your people call my people and we'll do
cake!"

Aragorn: "You're projecting again, Boromir. *I* am the
king. You're just orc bait. Besides ... I'm going to
be giving it to your much younger and sexier brother
three times a day in this story. So there!" <slips a
fiver to HB>

Boromir: "Now *just a moment*!!!!!"

Faramir: "Don't worry, Boromir! I'll *still* put out
for you. I won't*let* you die of a dread genetic blood
disease if I don't put out for you!" <Breaks down into
sobbing, only to be comforted by Aragorn, the once and
maybe king. Horizontally, of course.>

Boromir: "Shh! *Faramir*! SH!" (Glances over shoulder
at frowning parental unit.)

Denethor: /... I *wonder* ... *my* brother told me
*he* had a rare blood disease *too* .../

ME, *AGAIN*!!!!!: This story, *AS I WAS SAYING*!, is
about the fall of the world to Sauron. It's about what
would become of the ones who couldn't go to Valinor.
And the ones who could? What would they do? Leave and
not look back or try even harder over there to make
things right.

<CUT TO THE MALL OF VALINOR AND A TREMENDOUSLY
DIGNIFIED ELF RINGING A BELL IN FRONT OF A RED BUCKET:

Elrond: "Hi. I'm the Peredhel. Yeah, that one. How
about a few bob to help the poor unfortunates back in
Middle-Earth. Yeah, that one."

Meanwhile, on a street corner nearby:

Glorfindel:  "How much we make so far?"

Erestor: <Sniffing like the prissy bitch he is> "About
eighty-thrillion quid."

Glorfindel: <grinning like a pimp, which he is> "I
*knew* those kids of Elrond would come in handy!"

Arwen: "How am I doing?"

Glorfindel and Erestor sigh together: "We've had to
make three refunds and take out a bond. We're being
sued for willful infliction of mental cruelty!
*AGAIN*!"

Me *AGAIN!*: The Fellowship happened the way it did
but without Boromir's death. He makes it to Gondor and
is involved in the city and all the aftermath. There
are other changes which will be evident and the story
encompasses both book and movie info and made up stuff
too. ;)

Boromir: "I thought I was *some* sexy bitch in the
movie. Even Lurtz thought so. *I* got more arrows
stuck in me than Aragorn. Three. *COUNT THEM*!
*THREE*! JUST CALL ME *PRICKLY*!"

Aragorn: "Like I so *care*!?" <sulks anyway>

Faramir: <tiny pout> /... how did Boromir know what my
pet name for Aragorn's dick was? .../

Denethor: <tiny pout, or maybe it's just his old,
wrinkled-ass face> /... how did Boromir know what my
pet name for Saruman, Gandalf, Theoden, Shadowfax,
Gorbag and the Toonerville Chamber of Commerce dicks
were? .../

Boromir:  <HUGE ANAL POUT!> /... I wish *someone*
would nickname *my* dick .../

Me, dickless:  <snicker>  I wanted to portray
exhaustion and depression and heroism, courage in the
face of futility and the changes it makes in people. I
wanted to see what you do when there is no future and
the present can be remade only with great sacrifice
and effort. I wanted to see if there could be hope
anyway, that even in the darkest moments you could
still believe.

"I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a
flo-oooowwwer grow...oh-oh-ooohssss!!"

"Run along, Gimli honey. Where was I? Oh yeah ..."

This story has many characters and I tried to keep
each in character, even if the pairing challenge
suggested certain relationships. Here is the official
story challenge:

Summary:  This story is from the F-Q Fest list of
challenges. What if Sauron did get the Ring back
during the Fellowship´s journey? Aragorn, Faramir,
Eomer and Legolas are hiding deep in the Misty
Mountains and try to survive while trying to come up
with a way to kill Sauron once and for all. Pairing:
Aragorn/Faramir, Legolas/Eomer.

Thank you, Maeglin Yedi, for the idea.

Gimli:  "Yes, thank you, Maeglin. Do I get laid?"

HB: "No. Go away."

G: "***SNIVEL***!!!"

HB: Feedback, comments, suggestions and criticism are
welcomed.

Gimli: "ALL RIGHT! SINCE YOU'RE ASKING! HOW COME I
*DON'T* GET LAID?"

Legolas: "Don't forget to tell the narrator that *I*
am the prettiest."

Aragorn: "Tell her that I *have* to be king."

Gimli: "Tell her I *have* to get laid. By the Elf.
*Any* Elf. Unless they're a girl. No girls allowed.
Union rules."

Arwen: "What about me!?"

Gimli: "No girls. *Especially you*."

Arwen: "Wanker."

Gimli: "Gorsh! Do you *think*?"

Arwen: "Not on your life, shorty."

Gimli:  "Grrrrr!"

Denethor: "Who do *I* get to blow?"

Boromir: "How about Glorfindel? That way he can be in
the movie. Where is he?"

Elrond: "I saw him in the broom closet."

Denethor: <Walks to closet and opens door, the sound
of fumbling and much "oh-oh-oh" and "uh-uh-uh"
flooding out> "Glorfindel? Honey?"

******SHHHHHHHRRRRRRIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKK!!!*****

Glorfindel, putting ear drums back into his head: "For
ILUVATAR'S SAKE, ERESTOR!!!!!!"

Denethor: "Oh, sorry, lady. I thought there were men
in here."

*******KICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!************

Denethor: <Closes door and limps back, holding his
balls> "Wasn't *that* fun!?!?!?!?!?"

Elrond:  "So ... now the important stuff. What about
me?"

Aragorn: "You're a minor major character, Lefty,
unless you want to be my second-story-fixer-upper."
Elrond:  "What the hell does *that* mean?"

Legolas: "You take over when I have the vapors."

Gimli: <sneering but totally interested leer> "Is that
elf for period?"

Legolas: "*SCREAM*! WHO *TOLD* HIM!?!?!?!?!"

Denethor: "No one has nicknamed *my* balls. What's
with *that*?"

<Silence, the sound of crickets chirping.>

Denethor: "OOOOOOoooOOOOOOHHHHHH!!!!!! I AM SO BURNED
UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

<I know, I know. I'll go stand in the corner now...>

Any typos, flights of fancy that resemble lead
balloons, triptyching through the tulips and straddle
splits are all mine. Well, perhaps not the straddle
splits. ;) Heh-heh-heh ...well, Legolas? Ready to get
laid?

Legolas: "Like *prithy*!"

Aragorn: "He *STILL* *isn't* on that 'prettiest'
delusion, is he?!"

Legolas: "Like you would be so *in the running*!"
Sniffles, poses and preens. Caper. Pose.
*PRANCE*! "Care to use my conditioner?"

Aragorn: <huge leer> "Sure. Beats using orc fat for
lube, ba-beee."

Legolas: "SQUEAL!" *******POUNCE*******

As the sun sets on Legolas, performing airs above the
ground for his *KING*!!!!!!, I bid you a fond farewell
and happy trails to all ...

Gimli: "UNTIL WE MEEEE-EEEEEET AGGGGGAAAAAAIIIINNNN!"

HB, yodeling with the dwarves <Now, on with the
show.>
 

Crusade
Author:  Arctapus
Codes:   LOTR, A-F-L-E-others, R and up, AU,

Disclaimer: Tolkien and others own them. I entertain
by their use and no copyright infringement need be
implied by their use. This story is part of the
Slashlords Fuh-Q-Fest Challenge fest.
"(http://www.geocities.com/slashlordsarchive"
Summary:  This story is from the F-Q Fest list of
challenges. What if Sauron did get the Ring back
during the Fellowship´s journey? Aragorn, Faramir,
Eomer and Legolas are hiding deep in the Misty
Mountains and try to survive while trying to come up
with a way to kill Sauron once and for all. Pairing:
Aragorn/Faramir, Legolas/Eomer. Thank you, Maeglin
Yedi, for the idea.
For AC and anyone who reads this.
Feedback, comments, suggestions and criticism are
welcomed.
*****************************************************
 

Part 1:
 

On the run ...

The sun went down, the world falling into darkness
once more as they rode west, hurrying through the
broken lands toward the sanctuary of the mountains.
Behind them, in endless shadow, the lands of their
forebears lay, overcome by the forces of evil. Gondor
had fallen and before that, Rohan. They had done much
damage themselves before fleeing, the Nazgul lay dead
and so did many thousands of the enemy but the one who
cannot be named had prevailed against them.

Frodo must have failed, he considered, fragments of
many fears cascading together in his mind. Aragorn
pushed the image from his thoughts, casting into some
corner of his mind still capable of rational thought
all his sorrows for the halflings. It had been a
desperate hope and one that had failed. Gandalf had
prayed that it would be different, that Frodo and Sam
would do what kings of men could not, but it was not
to be.

Gandalf.

He was missing, perhaps fallen in the tide of battle
on the Fields of Pelennor, that plain that stood
between his own crown and the death of them all. They
had stood side by side, the heirs of many lands, and
struck down thousands but many more came and in the
end, the remnants of the army had fled, leaving the
city to the enemy. It had been the hardest thing they
could have done, this haunting, terrible retreat.

It was dark when they reached the foothills, entering
the great forests as they began to appear on shadowed
hillsides, marching up the slopes of mountains that
had once seemed so safe and familiar. Things had
changed, familiar places becoming strange to his eyes
and as he rode, Aragorn considered what monsters might
be lurking in the darkness around them.

Legolas looked back, his heart numbed by the fall of
Gondor. Among the dead he had searched for Gimli,
finding him nowhere in the time they had to look.
Aragorn had grabbed his arm, dragging him from the
charnel fields and on horseback, with tears in their
eyes, they gathered their remaining forces and fled.
The city, flames rising in the sky, had emptied in the
battle, women and children fleeing in the confusion of
the fight. Men had died to make their escape plausible
and now they were scattered all about, living who knew
how, existing in the new world of terror and darkness
all alone

Gimli must be dead. This was clear in Legolas' mind
but he couldn't accept it and so he discounted the
thought, calmness suffusing him as he rearranged
reality to survive. He would show up some time,
walking in with his usual bluster and then things
would be easier to bear. Until then, he would continue
as best he could in the world where the One Ring was
in the hands of the Beast.

***************Rivendell ...

They fled in groups, hurrying away for the sanctuary
of the Havens and beyond, all of them filled with
anguish and futility. He was the last, Elrond, Master
of the great redoubt, along with his closest advisers
and his sons. Clad in armor, his sword at his side,
his bow and quiver on his back, he stood on the
terrace of his home one last time.

It was clear with the capture of the Ring by the Enemy
that the sanctuaries of the Elves would fall. He knew
the moment Morgoth clutched the Ring that the time of
peace and hopefulness was over. All of the Ring
Bearers, all of them, knew. All of them knew what was
coming. As he stood on his terrace, he worried for
Celeborn and Galadriel and Thranduil as well for they
were closer to the coming dread. They would have to
flee as best they could, making their stand with him
at the shores of the ocean as their people slipped
away by ship.

He sighed raggedly, turning and facing his family,
relief that Arwen was in the Grey Havens suffusing
him. The end of the world was at hand and he knew it,
feeling the doom before any other as it slipped its
dark fingers into the sensibilities of all. He nodded
and they stepped back, watching as he took the torch
from Glorfindel's hand, turning and touching a
tapestry with its bright flames.

Stepping back, watching as it ignited, they would
retreat through the house, setting flames as they went
and by the time they rode away to the west, the house
would be engulfed.

***************In the mountain passes ...

They hurried onward, fleeing with gathered humans, the
remnants of Rohan and the Dale. Haldir stood by his
horse, searching the trail behind them with his eyes
and the hills above them as elves and men filed past,
hurrying wearily westward to the shores of the sea. He
was in charge of their retreat, the Lady and Lord
mingled among the refugees, exhorting them to move and
keep moving, those that came by land. Many had made
for the sea, going by boat, and they would have their
trials, their ordeals and their nightmare moments as
well before they reached the haven of Cirdan.

They hadn't heard from the Woodland Realm, so quickly
did their defenses fall. The Ring had been taken and
the Three had failed. They had been cast off, lest
their bearers be overtaken by evil. Now all they could
do was flee and fight, making for the sea where ships
lay. They would be able to leave Middle-earth but the
others wouldn't. They were not allowed to come to the
shores of Valinor. They would have to be left
behind. As he stood in the rain, searching for the
Enemy, Haldir of Lorien tried not to think of what
would come when the Elves at last were gone.

***************In the mountains ...

They made their way, passing abandoned possessions of
people fleeing westward, scurrying toward the sea in a
mad, blind rush to whatever refuge might be found.
There were carvings here and there, the marks of Elves
leaving information behind and he read it eagerly,
hoping against hope for the sign he sought, the sign
of Gandalf or one of his kind. He didn't find it but
he found caves and into them they entered, throwing
themselves down in exhaustion.

Eomer searched the confines, helping the wounded and
the numbed, finding a rivulet of water that was fit
for drinking. Faramir and Legolas, moving on momentum,
pushed people in, dragging exhausted horses by their
bridles and reins. Aragorn was last to enter, sword in
hand and anguish in his heart as he faded back into
the shadows with his people.

The water trickled down the mountainside, dripping in
slow rivulets to the ground below. Middle-earth was in
agony, in the hands of the Beast. Her creatures great
and small, scurried from the darkness, making their
way into what shelter there was. It was a dark night
in the Misty Mountains, a dark night in the hearts of
those left behind all alone.

***************Later that night ...

Faramir sat on a rock, hunched in his cloak, his eyes
fixed on the middle distance. Around him, sitting and
lying with difficulty on the ground, men and women
huddled. Faramir sat numbed, a slight wound on his
hand the remnants of battle far away. He didn't see
anything around him, so battered and weary was he, but
images of other places came unbidden.

Boromir came to him, laughing and handsome,
invincible. He was the dearest friend he had ever had,
his brother. Boromir had become separated from him,
disappearing into the rabble of battle and so he was
unclear what had happened to him, his beloved older
brother.

His heart ached, fear filling him as he struggled to
assimilate their defeat. His father was missing, the
men of his household and his brother, Boromir. The Elf
lands had fallen, driven westward one by one and in
the desolation on Legolas' face, he could see his own
uncertainty reflected. Did his father make it out? Was
his family safe? What of their homes and fields, their
holy places and their refuges? What of their people,
women, children, the old? What of the world? What of
the future?

He hung his head, tears brimming in his eyes in this
low moment of his repute. Nearby, watching with dull
eyes, Eomer sat, a cup of something hot in his hands.
He watched Faramir, noting the slump of his shoulders
and felt his despair. His uncle, cousin, friends and
colleagues, his sister and the people of his kingdom
... they were missing. He felt despair clutch at his
throat and then he pushed it away, staring into the
flames and willing hatred to take his heart.

He ached for it, the flame of deep emotion as he sat
in the void of his misery. Numbness suffused him and
he felt nothing. Even the images in his mind of murder
and revenge could not rouse him from his stupor, so
deep did the shock of the past few days run. Tomorrow,
he considered. Tomorrow, he would rouse. Tomorrow, he
would take sword in hand and carve from the belly of
their dying world a stroke of revenge so sweet it
would live in the annals of the few who would remain,
giving them heart in the midst of the terror of their
slavery.

It was all they could do now, Eomer considered.
Glancing to his left, he saw Aragorn kneeling,
conversing in a low tone with the Elf, Legolas. His
eyes were bleak, the pale cast of his face reflected
in the weak light of the fire. Legolas was filled with
pain and suffering, his fear for his people, the loss
of his friend clear for all to see. Eomer looked away,
willing in the clutter of their surroundings, some
such privacy for the Elf. He was not given to
displays, this Eomer knew, and his openness, his
sorrow was painful to see.

Aragorn rose, moving toward him, nodding and squeezing
his shoulder as he passed. He had risen to his
heritage and they hailed him their leader by
acclamation as well as by simple alignment. He had
rallied them in the chaos, gathering Rangers, Rohirrim
and Gondorians together before making a break for the
mountains. They had followed him, riding with fury and
determination to the sanctuary of the great spine of
rock that divided the world. Over lands both known and
unknown, they had ridden with fury, helping their
wounded, their weak and their young. Reaching the
caverns, finding relief here, it was temporary, he
knew. But it was something. It was something.

Eomer sighed and looked at Faramir, noting in his
slumped form some kind of metaphor for the world.
They were down and perhaps out but they would not
go quietly into the night. As long as he had the
strength to wield a sword, Eomer of Rohan would
fight.

***************Grey Havens ...

Cirdan stood on the dock, watching as Elves crowded
onto boats. They were coming now in the thousands
and he was pressed to accommodate them.
Memories came to him, memories of terrible days long
past, when children without parents and parents
without children crowded his shores, seeking in the
Uttermost West the refuge they could not find here.

The sky overhead was cloudy, threatening rain and he
stared at it with worry even as the sea lapped at his
feet. There would be rough sailing ahead as the ships
began to leave, silently witnessed by the humans
lining the shore. They had fled too, arriving in the
Havens, some with Elvish companions but they could
not continue, unwelcome on the shores of Valinor
were they.

Instead, they stood silently, watching as the
Firstborn left, heading into peace and refuge far
away. As Cirdan watched them, tears came to his eyes,
tears of futility, sorrow and fear. They would be
left to face the Beast, left alone to endure the
darkness from which the world would never recover.

With a sigh, he turned and helped a child climb the
steps of the ship that was filling before him. Soon,
he would toss the rope from the dock, watching as it
slipped past him. Standing on its upper deck, awash
in an agony of tears, Arwen of Rivendell stood.
Cirdan watched her, the epitome of sorrow and felt
the world crash about his shoulders.

Rain began to fall, droplets in great numbers as the
sky wept with them, these fugitives of Earth.

***************In the far east of Middle-earth ...

Sam sat hunched over the tiniest fire he could manage.
Lying nearby, dazed with fatigue and injury, Frodo
Baggins struggled to live. Sam had pulled him from
the attack on the mountainside, Gollum fleeing with
the Ring into the smoke. He had bitten Frodo's finger
off, taking the Ring with it. Running down into the
darkness, he disappeared from sight. Sam, in a frenzy
of fear and rage, had pulled Frodo back from the
flames of the mountain, back from the suicidal charge
into death that he had made in the agony of pain that
had enveloped him.

They had staggered down, missing boulders and lava
flows, stumbling across the open ground until they
found a hollow in the rocks. He had dressed Frodo's
hand, laying him on his own cloak and had sat for a
day and a half, watching him and waiting to be caught
by the enemy.

They didn't come, the beasts of the night, and with
gathering hopefulness, Sam had begun to awaken from
the torpor of shock, fear and exhaustion that had
enveloped them both. He had made a meal with what he
had, nursing Frodo as best he could, even as he
watched for the fist of the Beast to find them.

Gollum was gone, the Ring with him. Even as Sam feared
that Sauron might find Gollum, he hoped he would. It
would serve him right, to face the Unnamed one alone,
Ring or no. But he hoped it wouldn't happen, so
devastated would the world become.

Sighing, Sam nursed the fire, while behind him Frodo
slept, the siren call of the Ring once more in his
head.

***************Far away ...

He fell through the night, a small spark of light in
the infernal darkness. The world was of no
consequence, so far from its suffering was he. Nothing
mattered but falling and letting go. He fell onward,
ever dropping away until all that he was faded from
knowing.

***************In a cave in the Misty Mountains, the
next day ...

"Here. Eat this."

Faramir looked up, meeting Aragorn's concerned eyes.
He shook his head but even as he did, he took the
plate, more than aware that strength was needed now.
He held it, the simple fare that was his lot to eat
and sat staring, not noticing Aragorn sitting down
beside him. They stared into the fire, shock and
exhaustion setting in as they sat in the midst of the
slowly subsiding chaos.

"You should eat," Aragorn prodded gently.

Faramir nodded, sighing softly. "I know." He glanced
at Aragorn, at the sad expression on his face. "It's
all over, isn't it. The end of the world has come and
it falls to us to face it alone."

Aragorn looked away, into the small curling flames and
sighed. "I cannot let it go."

"It has been ripped from us," Faramir sighed, shaking
his head sadly.

"Then we must rip it back."

They both glanced up, meeting the determined gaze of
Eomer. He knelt down, staring from one face to
another. "It falls to us, to the three of us, to lead
our people now. We have retreated and will regroup.
Tell me that I am not a fool to believe that we can
defend ourselves here."

"How can we defend ourselves when Morgoth has the
Ring. He *has* to have the Ring now." Faramir sighed,
the pounding in his head a visceral thing. "All that
we hold dear, family and hearth, its fallen. The Elf
lands have fallen. No where on the face of the Earth
is there safety."

"Perhaps," Eomer said, his voice steely with resolve.
"But we are here and we must do what we can, even if
it means that we fail. I will not be giving up nor
will I be giving in. If they mean to take me, I will
make it a good end, but end it shall be, standing in a
sea of dead orcs."

Aragorn smiled slightly, nodding his head. "Our forces
are small and ill armed. We do not know where our
kinsmen and brothers are. We would have to reorganize
to make a stand here. The Enemy might throw all that
he has against us, cleaning us out as a broom sweeps
away spiders nests."

"Then they come," Eomer said, looking from one face to
the other. "We are here, Gondor, Rohan and the Elf
lands. We must stand together now or we will die
without honor or hope."

It was silent a moment and then Faramir sighed deeply,
wincing as if in pain. He nodded, glancing at Aragorn.
"We have no hope but we can save a few of the
defenseless. The more Elves that make the Falas, that
many more shall be saved from murder. Our people here,
they have no real hope but we can give them a tale to
tell when the darkness falls."

Aragorn glanced at Legolas, who was listening to them
without comment. "I have no other plan," he said,
sighing sadly. "There is perhaps no other option,
short of divine intervention, and I doubt if the Valar
will come if we call. It falls to us now, the four of
us. We must rally our people and make as good an end
as we can. Perhaps in the doing, we can draw the pity
of Eru."

Legolas sat quietly, his heart aching with sorrow. His
family would be making their way toward the sea, he
hoped, heading for the Havens as the Darkness crept
westward. The journey might already have been made, he
hoped, as he tried not to think of the destruction of
his home. The men were gathered, talking together. The
big man, Eomer, he still had fight. He had rage and
fight, as the others did not but he was winning the
day with the strength of his resolve.

Legolas rose and walked to their group, kneeling
beside Aragorn as he listened to them converse. They
were going to gather men, archers and swordsmen, and
hold the passes so that people could flee. He would be
able to tell if his family and people made it, as they
would guard the narrow defiles in the craggy and stony
mountain tops of the world.

The night wore on, the four huddled together as
outside in the big world the fate of millions hung. In
the Havens, ships filled, leaving the shores of their
homeland forever. In the mountain passes, refugees
hurried as best they could. Elven armies led by mighty
lords took their people through hard lands, Lothlorien
burning behind them and Rivendell as well.

Celeborn rode at the end of his column, his wife and
the children ahead of him, as he guarded the van of
the bulk of his people. They had left nothing behind,
burning and destroying as they passed by, gathering to
their numbers the stranglers of Rohan. The rain fell
steadily as he sat upon his horse, his eyes fixed ever
eastward as he prayed to Elbereth.The day he had never
hoped to see was upon them, the sundering of good and
evil a real thing before his eyes.

He sat tall on his horse, a sword in hand, his kingly
raiment shimmering in the downpour. He sat tall and
proud, fearless and unflappable, giving by example
courage to his people.

Beyond the horizon, secure in his tower, Sauron
exulted in his newfound form once more.

Part 2:

In the wilderness ...

The sound beyond the river was deafening, as if a
beating of drums or spears on shields. Orcs were
there, massing along the river, their numbers
impressive in spite of their losses over the past
few weeks and the war previously. People had fled
for days, walking, running and riding what horses
they had on their way to the relative safety of the
western shore. The Anduin was the demarcation line
between the waning territory that was still free and
the lands held in thrall by the Enemy.

They stood in the tree line, hundreds of bowmen,
armed and waiting for a signal to fire. The Orcs were
coming, fording the river at its more shallow points.
They would be clambering up the riverbanks, vulnerable
to attack and when they did, arrows would fly.

These were the patrols that worked this area of the
river, making incursions into the still held land of
the west, probing for weaknesses even as they gathered
more strength.

Legolas watched from the edge of the tree line,
watching as they began to wade forward. Soon they
would be in the right position, the stragglers on the
far shore joining them in the water. As the first
bunch began to clamber up onto the banks again, he
could feel the tension in his archers, the mixed
bunch of Rangers, Rohirrim and Elves gathering up
their arrows.

They kept coming, all of the beastly clutches moving
forward until the final bunches were halfway across.
At that moment, Legolas stepped forward, moving into
view with arrow and bow in hand. He let it fly, the
next one firmly in place and by the time the first
hit its target, more arrows had landed.

They had no idea anyone was there, surprise being
complete and by the time they turned to run, it was
too late. They fell in droves, arrows finding their
marks and the remaining few that didn't die right
away were dispatched with sword and knife.

Legolas stood over an orc, bloody knife in hand.
Panting with effort, he stared at the river. There
were bodies floating away, dark forms drifting with
the current and soon they were gone, taking from view
by the water. He watched as his men gathered up their
arrows, taking what was useable and leaving the rest.

With a whistle to all, they melted back into the
trees, the area falling silent once more, nothing left
alive. It was a small blow to the invasion, a stopgap
action that would allow more people to escape to the
west.

Gathering together, they moved silently toward the
higher ground, heading back to the crossroads where
they would report their good hunting.

******************At a ford nearby ...

They stared across the open ground, watching the
activity of the tower. It had been vastly destructive,
the attack of the Ents, and Saruman hadn't been seen
since. There was rumor that he had been taken away,
either fleeing and or being dragged to Barad-dur.
Whatever his fate, Aragorn wasn't unhappy. The wizard
couldn't die enough deaths for the pain he had caused.

Sprawled beside him, watching with an intent gaze,
Faramir of Gondor reclined. They had come to the
fords, determined to assess the threat of the tower
and its gathering inhabitants. Orcs had been coming
there in steady streams but the course to the tower
was littered with pitfalls. Groups of archers harried
them as they came and many of them, too many, met
premature endings at the hands of skilled bowmen.

There were less than before, even as they knew Sauron
was breeding more, the footmen of his new tyranny.
They killed them without mercy, on the march and at
rest, cutting with each well-made shot, the odds into
their favor.

Faramir had been tireless, moving from his despair
into a manic availability, leading endless sorties
against the enemy. Living on little sleep, eating
whatever was handed to him, he had been ceaseless in
his vigilance and his willingness to fight. Aragorn
had drawn him to his side, fearing for his continuance
and so they peered over the ridge, watching the tower
below.

The Eye was embodied, no longer as keenly sighted as
before, relying more and more on minions and beasts on
foot. It was a small flaw, a small setback to a being
with omnipotent power but enough of a edge to allow
them to survive. He was throwing numbers at him,
hordes of evil but they managed to hold their own and
in some localities, push his forces back.

He crawled back, Faramir following and scurrying
forward, they mounted their horses. Several men were
with them, men of Gondor and Rohan, and together they
hurried away, making for a ravine nearby. They entered
it, brush being placed as they passed, blocking the
view from any passers-by.

Dismounting, they gathered together, huddling in a
circle as they whispered together. For a moment, they
conversed and then several of them left, riding
quickly away in the settling darkness of the coming
evening. Faramir and Aragorn were left, awaiting
confirmation of intelligence gathered earlier. Orcs
and Uruk Hai were moving to make a garrison,
reinforcing the tower for forward attacks.

Scouts were tracking them, Legolas was attacking them
and by the time the month was finished, they had hopes
to build a pale. Cross this line, you will die. That
is what they hoped, as ever more people moved west.
Some were beyond reach, already enslaved by the Beast.
Others were moving, living like animals on the run.
Beasts of the field and air, animals both wild and
domesticated wandered into still free lands of the
fading west. They were harnessed by desperate people,
many of them happily and ever toward the sea they
continued.

Aragorn stared at the sky, Faramir sitting beside
him quietly as he watched the moon rise in the sky.
The bright star of Earendil, sailing as ever across
the ocean of night beamed its silver light to him.
He considered his ancestor, moving across a changed
world, and he wondered if Earendil would know of their
fate. He hoped so but he doubted it, doubting because
he dared not hope. There was no way out of the
darkness now, this never-ending night that was
descending. What puzzled him the most was why it was
taking so long to lose.

"What do you suppose will happen?"

Aragorn glanced at Faramir, his face obscured by the
darkness. "In the end?"

Faramir nodded, though he could not be clearly seen.
"How long do you suppose we have before we die here in
this place, this ending of the world?"

Aragorn shrugged, staring at his boot. "I do not
know."

"Your family ... what happened to them?"

The anguish in Faramir's voice was unmistakable, a
sorrow that cut through the darkness and coiled around
Aragorn's heart. They were both exhausted, wearied and
worn. The burden had fallen to them and to the other
two, Eomer and Legolas, and they had little respite
from the endless toil.

"I have no family besides myself. Any other kin,
though they are very distant, have sailed for the
Undying Lands by now."

"It was said that you had a fair lady in Imladris, an
Elf maiden of great beauty."

"She's long gone, sailing with her remaining kin,"
Aragorn said. It was quiet a moment. "I am glad that
she did. I feared that she would not, but her father
and other relatives have prevailed.."

"They go there every day, leaving us behind. I do not
know what would be worse ... staying here to a fate
like our own or going away to safety, knowing what was
happening here."

Aragorn nodded, sighing. "Both are hell."

They sat together, silent and weary, and then Faramir
sighed, his voice soft with sorrow. "I miss my
brother," he whispered as tears stung his eyes. "I
lament for him every day."

"Boromir was a good man," Aragorn said, reaching out
and squeezing Faramir's hand. "I did not know him
well, but of what I did know I respected."

"He was my friend," Faramir sighed, shaking his head
sadly. "I don't know what has happened to all that I
loved, but I know they must have died, killed in the
fall of the city. I am alone in the world, this
collapsing small world and I feel as alone as ever I
have in my life."

Aragorn sat a moment and then moved closer, slipping
his arm around Faramir's shoulders. "We will make our
stand and what comes, will come. You are not alone,
Faramir."

Faramir sighed raggedly, rubbing his eyes with his
hands. "I am sorry," he said sadly, shaking his head.
"I do not want to burden you further."

"You haven't," Aragorn replied, smiling slightly. He
leaned his forehead against Faramir's cheek, the
warmth of the touch of another being incalculable.
"I do not mind."

Faramir closed his eyes, his pain lightening with the
touch of the king. He had given Aragorn that honor in
his mind, granting to the tall regal man that which he
had earned by his velour. It might never come to pass
now, the formalization of this title and position, but
Faramir gave it to him anyway.

It was quiet a moment and then Aragorn sighed, rubbing
his cheek against Faramir's. Faramir didn't move, he
didn't protest the affection, closing his own eyes as
he absorbed it. Aragorn was solid, real and warm. He
turned his face slightly, the other's breath soft
against his lips and then they touched, finding each
other in the darkness. He pressed against Aragorn,
forgetting for that moment all but the force against
him, the passionate kiss that devoured his will.

A firm hand pressed him down, as a strong body moved
to cover him, their kiss unbroken as they settled on
the hard ground. Faramir relaxed, allowing Aragorn's
touch as the older man sought his skin. A strong hand,
calloused and relentless, slipped past his jerkin,
caressing his chest. He moaned and sighed, the older
man pausing.

Aragorn stared down at Faramir, at half shuttered eyes
and flushed cheeks. He felt searing pain, the burden
of his responsibilities and the hopelessness of their
fight overwhelming him. Then he closed his eyes,
leaning down to the warmth that Faramir represented
and shut out the terrors of the world around them. He
moved against Faramir, sighing softly as he sought to
make the firmest contact that he could. He found it,
grinding against the slim lanky figure beneath him,
feeling warmth suffuse him at the sounds he made.

A deep guttural groan, a tensing of his body, the feel
of strong legs moving up to grip him ... these things
he got back as he thrust against Faramir, his mouth
relentless in pursuit of pleasure. He groaned himself,
his fire building as his orgasm grew in the middle of
his body. Then there was a sound near him and he
froze, the strong legs holding him falling away as the
body they belonged to tensed as if to fight. Faramir
rose slightly, pressing against Aragorn, their faces
nearly touching as they looked over his shoulder.

It was silent a moment and then the sound turned to
flapping as a night owl rose in the air and flew away.
Faramir let out his breath, turning his gaze to the
side, his cheek rasping across the stubble of
Aragorn's face. Their lips met, a desperate joining
and then they lay back and the dance continued. He
grunted his pleasure against the body beneath him and
when he felt the fire engulf him he groaned low and
long. Faramir twisted, arching in relief and the sound
of Aragorn's voice was a dull moan in his ear.

He sighed and felt limp, his arms and legs falling to
the damp earth as once more his senses kicked in.
Aragorn was still moving, then he was still and they
lay shattered like glass on the ground. Faramir
encircled Aragorn, his arms enclosing him as his
fingers threaded through the dark hair of his
partner's head. He gripped it tightly, a soft gasp
from Aragorn his only reaction and then he let go, his
arms falling away.

Aragorn raised up, staring down at his partner, at his
pale reddish lashes and his flushed fair skin. He was
breathing raggedy, his red lips parted and to Aragorn
at that moment, he was everything that mattered in the
world. There was no worries and cares, no
responsibility and no fear. There was just the
masculine body beneath him and the dark sky above. He
relaxed, the arms returning as strong hands idly ran
the length of his back. Up and down, pausing to touch
him, to explore and to know, the hands went on. He
closed his eyes, sprawled between Faramir's legs as
they lay together, unwilling to move.

But at last they did, both sitting up together, their
eyes cast aside until Aragorn paused. He reached out
and took Faramir's hand, holding it and squeezing it
as they sat together silently. Faramir glanced at him,
then he stared held by dark eyes and in them he saw
what he knew he reflected.

Gratitude, plain and simple. Gratitude for the moment,
for the chance to feel alive again before the world
slammed back in. He leaned forward and kissed Aragorn
on the lips, over and over and over again. Aragorn
closed his eyes, joining the tenderness as for the
moment together they held back the darkness.

Overhead, the stars continued, the bright one in
particular as down below on the land, night steadily
came. The shadow of the Beast, implacable and
draining, straining color from the living world, as
ever forward it crept. It was hedging closer every
day, taking life and delivering death and terror,
horror and sorrow, giving back nothing in its wake.

But in the shallow recess, lying spooned together,
Faramir of Gondor and Aragorn held each other. Faramir
rested his head on his arm, his hand entwined with
Aragorn, as the King lay behind him, close to his
warmth. Lying in the darkness, with no hope for a
future, Faramir resolved to serve where he could. He
would be the King's shadow, his guardian, his
companion and when he needed it most, he would be his
lover.

They might not last forever, or for a while, or even
days, but Faramir of Gondor resolved to last to the
bitter end.

He closed his eyes, falling into an exhausted sleep
but for the first time since the coming of the end he
didn't dream. He didn't see Boromir or his father or
his city. He didn't see the terror and the horror
around him. He saw younger days, when things were much
better and for a while Faramir rested, wrapped in
warmth.

***************On the shore of the Undying Lands ...

He stood and watched, a tall and kingly figure, ever
searching the ships as they came into the harbor.
Always they came, shocked and shattered, wandering
from the boats in a haze of tears. They carried very
little, sometimes only their children but they were
welcomed with care and gentleness and soft kindly
voices.

Thousands of them came and thousands more waited. He
had sent ships east, something he had never thought he
could make happen, so great were the objections from
those who shared power. It had overcome their
reservations, this disaster repeating, coming home at
last, this exile in reverse. They were hurt, many of
them and their tales were tragic, but he couldn't
commit more to the disaster, not yet. He was looking
for someone who could help them understand this and
find among the ashes some path for them to take.

He stood, the wind blowing against his face as he
searched another ship, with his eyes, the latest to
come from the lands of the east. He wasn't on board,
the one that he sought and so he sighed with
frustration as he turned to walk back up. They nodded
to him, many of those that helped, knowing full well
who the great man was and his commitment to the
exiles.

He was tall and black-headed, keened eyed and kingly,
as such was the lord that Gil-galad was. He came to
the docks when the ship would come in, searching for
the single Elf that he longed to see. He hadn't come
yet and the news wasn't promising but he had no sense
that Elrond's death had occurred.

The sea lapped against the shore, the gray sky
overhead threatening rain as he turned at the top of
the stairs to look out. His robe was thrown back, his
white tunic brilliant, a counterpoint to the drabness
of the world all around him.

Tomorrow, he considered, he would come to the docks
and he would search the ships for the one that he
sought. He would come every day, forever if need be,
until at long last Elrond Peredhel was home once more.

Part 3:

It was becoming lighter in the steel-gray sky as he
stood on the dock, Cirdan beside him, the two watching
the struggle as it surged ever toward them. The people
were fleeing without dignity, that having been
stripped from them on the trail and as he stood
watching the endless streaming of men, women and
children, he saw someone he hadn't dared hope to see.
Elrond nodded to Cirdan and hurried up the wharf,
pausing beside a stair way for people to pass. Then he
hurried up the steps, moving against the tide as he
made his way to Thranduil, standing alone at the top.

People let him pass, their shocked eyes shimmering
with their stories as he clambered past, reaching
Thranduil at last. The Elf was his usual stately self,
his arm bandaged from a wound and he nodded to Elrond,
moving to one side to talk.

"Thranduil, what news of your county?" Elrond asked,
even though he dreaded to know.

"We burned it, Elrond," he said, his voice tight with
emotion as he moved slightly to let people pass.

On the hillside above them, standing in silent
witness, row upon row of people watched. There were
thousands of humans living in desperation along the
sea shore from the Havens both north and southward but
only a few among them that begged to go. They all knew
better, that futility ever conscious in their minds as
they watched their woodland comrades fleeing their
doom. Elrond looked up, staring at them with dread,
more than aware that for them there was no hope.

"They stand there like crows, ready to pick a carcass
but its as if they have no idea that the body will be
theirs." Thranduil sighed and turned to the sea,
watching as his family boarded a ship. "My son is
missing, my son, Legolas. He was in Gondor when the
Beast overcame the world. I can only assume that he is
in the care of Mandos," he said, his voice tight with
rage and grief. "Anything less than that is
unbearable."

Elrond sighed, closing his eyes. He had put his sons
on a ship, much against their will. They had been part
of the retreat, keeping order and fighting the enemy
and now they were safely away from Middle-Earth. He
had been assured Arwen was gone but he couldn't go
without Celeborn and Galadriel and even then he was
unsure if he could go at all. The land of his fathers
and the land of his long years was now defenseless and
he felt desperate to do something.

He had ordered his sons forward, with a message in his
own hand, begging them to take it to the lords of
Valinor. They must come and help, they *must* he had
insisted and finally, in defeat, they had boarded and
left. The mists has swallowed them and his relief had
been enormous until he had turned and looked up at the
solemn gallery on the cliff sides.

"When are you leaving?" Thranduil asked, his haunted
eyes staring out to sea.

"I do not know," Elrond replied, shaking his head in
sadness. "I am not sure that I will leave. How can I
go with the world like this and no one to stop it."

"There *is* no stopping it, Elrond. We all lived on
borrowed time. The inevitable has arrived and we must
do what we can. One kindred will live and one will
not. Men will pay for the folly of our own kind."

"That is why I *cannot* leave," Elrond said, his voice
tight with conviction and then he turned and looked at
Thranduil as hope rose in his heart. "Go to Valinor.
Tell what is happening. Beg them to come and help
these people. We just cannot *go*, Thranduil, and
leave the world this way. All the years and all the
people, they don't deserve this fate."

Thranduil looked at him, weariness suffusing him but
he nodded anyway. "I was going to do that, Elrond, for
Legolas. My son is dead, at least, that is what I am
going to believe. It is too terrible a burden to think
anything else. I will go to Valinor and I will beg
them to do something but do not hold your breath,
Elrond of Imladris."

Elrond nodded and gripped Thranduil's arm, their eyes
holding in sorrow and suffering for a moment. Then
Thranduil nodded and stepped forward, limping to the
ship that held his family and Elrond's hopes.

The wind was brisk and it stung his face as he stood
watching. For a few moments he had hope and then he
turned, staring up the hill at the silent multitudes
watching, their eyes a condemnation of his people and
their hope.

***************In the mountains ...

They moved on, hitting and running, husbanding their
forces as they made the enemy pay. Dear was their
progress, bought by their own blood and the rebels
made them pay for the territory they gained. The river
was their pale, its western shores no man's land and
the enemy made their assaults with varying success.

Legolas and Eomer were partners in the fighting,
leading their bowmen along the length of their lines.
Eomer was less the archer than horseman nonpareil, but
he learned quickly and advanced his skills. At night
they would hide, watching through the trees to the
encampments nearby and when an orc would leave the
protection of the fire, they died. It was unsettling
to the enemy, their confidence shaken and so the
stalemate worked, holding them at bay.

It was dark when they found their positions, having
crept like cats in the woods to the edge of the
encampment of orcs that had come up during the day.
They had faded ahead of them, letting them inside the
forest and by the time they had settled, there were
bowmen on every side. Eomer watched, Legolas beside
him and with the shorthand born of experience, they
moved apart and away. Down the line, signaling to
their archers, the two captains crept as they sent
ahead the word.

Over in the center, around a huge fire they sat,
growling and arguing as they waited for the dawn. They
didn't know they were surrounded and they had no idea
they would die that night before the first arrow found
its target and the camp exploded into shouts.

Furious and hopeless, they called to the heavens,
crouching and standing and running they died. Those
that tried to make for the river were slain in the
darkness by sword and by bow. For twenty minutes it
was horrific and then it was silent as in the camp of
the Uruks, few remained alive.

Legolas moved forward, knife in hand. Around him
bowmen followed armed. He dispatched three as the
others were slain and then they dragged them into a
pile and set it ablaze. Eomer watched, a black bag in
his hand and turned to Legolas, holding it up.

"They had a pouch."

Legolas nodded. "We better get it to Aragorn as soon
as we can."

Turning and moving away, they walked into the
darkness, fading like shadows in the woods once more.

***************Barad-dur ...

He stood by the window, staring out at the darkness,
reveling in the sensation of having sensation once
more. He had been so long without form that he was
disoriented and clumsy. His wounds from the ages were
still with him and even though he had the Ring, he
wasn't in a hurry to act. He wanted to feel again, the
entire pleasure of being formed again and turning, he
walked to the mirror once more.

He stood before it, an aged and ancient being and
studied himself closely, his eyes critical of
everything. He was tall, much taller than any man
living, long-limbed and sinewy rather than muscular.
He had skin that was aged, thick and tanned like
leather and scars dotted his hide like tattoos. He was
shorn of hair, his pate gleaming in the candle light
and his eyes were like fire, smoldering with their
cruelty, endless and deep.

They didn't contain wisdom, but lust, hatred and
satisfaction. At long last he had won, taking the
world away from his enemies. Even Melkor hadn't done
that, succeeding in the end, he exulted in his
penultimate victory. Orcs came and went, bringing him
news and sustenance but he barely noticed, so focused
was he on himself. He looked at his hand with its
missing finger and thought about the tall man that had
taken it from him.

Isildur. Isildur's bane.

The Ring on his finger soothed him with its fiery
touch. He had hunted it for ages, through oceans of
time and he had found it, his heart line, on the hand
of a ghoul.

Gollum.

The beast, a little wasted creature, he had his
Precious and had tried to run away, seeking refuge
from his all-seeing eye. But he, himself, had been too
cunning, finding him through his minions and when he
had been brought to him here, Gollum had resisted.
Defying him even when the Ring was taken, Gollum made
his last stand and as Sauron watched him, he knew what
he would do. He would punish the little cur in the
most personal of ways, dispatching him to a death that
no one should face.

He ordered his men to take him to Shelob and there in
her lair, leave him behind to face her alone. Shelob
had been hurt, perhaps mortally or no and she would be
in no mind to distinguish between friend or enemy.
Gollum's fate would be in her hands, his life or death
hers to decide and he would have his Ring and his
other problems as well.

Gollum had been carried off, his screams balm to
Sauron's soul and so the Beast had turned and bent his
will to another. Scanning the world, seeking just the
right one, he summoned his wizard and sent forces to
bring him back. He could sense Saruman's frenzy, his
fear and his terror so he gave to Saruman his good
will and soothing sensations of friendship to lull his
frantic spirit.

Come to Barad-dur and share with me my victory, join
in the pleasures that are ours alone. He could feel
the dilemma in Saruman's mind but in the end he
capitulated as he always had before. Sauron studied
his face, with its pits and its scars, unavoidable
injuries over the eons of time. Perhaps he would do
something about that, making over his battered
remains, painting a new portrait of the lord of the
world.

Sauron stood and studied himself, fascinated by his
reflection after eons of disembodiment in the darkness
of his tower. Soon Saruman would be here, brought with
haste by his army and then he would pay in the most
extreme ways he could devise. He had dared to desire
*his* Ring and to make effort to get it and this he
couldn't allow to pass by unpunished.

Until the moment Saruman came, Sauron would wait and
feel the terror of the world as he gathered his
strength and his scattered forces together. The Ring
was content to be with him forever and it gave to him
what it could of his old power and strength. But
Sauron wasn't hasty, he wasn't in a hurry nor did he
care that not all of the world was under his strict
and merciless control.

Eventually it would be, the remaining free lands and
when it was over he would encamp in all the capitals
of the world. He would spread his domain and all that
he was, his tentacles of blasphemy overcoming the
good. In the end, it was inevitable, the darkening of
the light and he would sit unchallenged on the throne
of Middle-Earth. Until then, he could be forgiven for
taking time to acclimate to the sensations of touch,
hearing, smelling and taste. He would look at things
in detail, his person and his possessions and when the
time was right, he would ride forth in dread.

***************Outside the walls of Orthanc ...

He wore a beggar's clothing, carrying a walking stick
of wood. His powers were gone and he had no where to
go. The Havens wouldn't take him, this traitor to all
and so he had no choice but to hide in the mountains.
Beside him, limping, Grima Wormtongue hurried, willing
himself to keep up with the wizard.

They were in desperate circumstances with no place to
hide but his fear drove him on and so he followed his
master. Saruman didn't look from the left to the
right, but kept up a pace that belied his years. They
would hide in the mountains, in caves and other places
until he could find a way to ingratiate himself with
Sauron again. There had to be a way to redeem himself
with the demon, a way to ensure that he didn't spend
eternity in torment. He would find it somehow because
there was no way out, no turning back, no gamble left
to take.

There would be no way for him to return to Valinor, no
way for the Valar to forget or forgive. The world had
fallen and he had been on the winning side but in all
of the debacle, there could be no bigger loser. He had
hoped to rule the world, or at least some part of it
but it wasn't to be without a miracle in hand.

As he hurried along the road, the thin moon overhead,
Saruman of Isengard plotted and schemed.

***************On the shores of Valinor ...

They stepped from the ships, staggering up the docks,
moving like numbed cattle in the darkness of the
night. They came every day, more and more of them and
more of the ships had begun to go back. There had been
a huge disagreement but Gil-galad had prevailed,
pursuing rescue without relief as he watched for
Elrond.

It had been centuries, years uncounted, since he had
the pleasure of the Peredhel's company. They had been
comrades and then friends and inevitably lovers,
spending every minute of their time together until
Rivendell became necessary. A refuge and a forward
base, tied in with Lothlorien and the Woodland Realm
of Thranduil and Oropher, it had been his home away
from home in the ceaseless travel he had to make.

They had such an abiding connection that the first
real thought in his mind when he came back from his
sojourn with Mandos was Elrond. Gil-galad could feel
all the sorrows and the decisions, the pains and
payments of everything he ever did in his long, hard
life. The weight of the burdens and the trials of his
battles and the crushing and brutal ending of his own
long life. But like a cool breeze in his mind, like a
silver thread connecting all of it was the tender
regard and the wise dark eyes of the only person he
had ever loved.

He couldn't come back to his old life, when he came to
his senses and stepped into the sunlight of the living
world again. He wasn't allowed to go east, though he
considered it daily, his waking hours consumed with
finding Elrond once more.

Others had cautioned him, warning him of Elrond's
marriage as Galadriel and Celeborn's relatives eyed
him coolly. He didn't care then and he didn't care
now, so many days of his return taken up with pacing
the beaches, staring into the east and aching with
need.

He had lost his soul mate, his lover and his friend,
the only one who understood him and knew without
speaking what was needed and not. No one else in the
length of his great life had ever touched him so
deeply and no one else would, this he knew for
certain. He was given counsel by many. Take a wife, do
something noble, rule a desmense, work in crafts, lead
the people here and make a new life. But it wasn't
enough, or even a little because the biggest part of
his heart was still in the world  beyond the sea in
the shrouded mists of the east.

Elrond would come, this he knew. Gil-galad had watched
the children arrive, a tall beautiful girl and two
handsome grim boys. They were like him and not,
something of Celebrian in them and when they greeted
each other he felt pain in his heart. Turning away, he
searched other boats, scrutinizing each Elf as they
disembarked.

He hadn't come. Not on this day and the others but he
would come, Gil-galad thought, if he remained alive.
He pushed that thought away, not willing to be
frightened anymore than he was willing to live alone
forever.

If Elrond didn't come back, if he was lost in the fall
of the free lands, Gil-galad wondered if he would
survive his sorrow. As it was, if he came, it would be
difficult to say the least. The war, Celebrian and all
the rest was in chaos. So was his heart, he
considered, as he watched Thranduil walk toward him,
climbing the steps to where the King stood alone.

Thranduil paused, holding out his hand and Gil-galad
grasped it, gripping it hard. "I bring you greetings
from Elrond," he said, pausing as the emotion on
Gil-galad's face surged.

Gil-galad closed his eyes, clutching Thranduil's hand
and then he nodded, turning away. "The Peredhel
lives?"

"Yes, he does," Thranduil said, his voice tired and
sorrowed as he thought of his son, lost in the east.
"He wants me to beg you to come to our rescue, to save
the world from the Beast at Barad-dur."

Gil-galad turned, nodding curtly. "Then we better get
going," he said.

The two men turned and walked up the steps, where at
the top stood waiting, Oropher. Thranduil turned,
pausing in his tracks as the beloved figure of his
father came to view. Gil-galad squeezed his arm,
pressing him forward and Thranduil climbed up,
embracing Oropher tightly.

Gil-galad watched, sighing with sadness even as he
rejoiced at the small joy before him. He turned and
looked at the sea, willing the mists to part so that
he could see where his heart still lay. The breeze was
cool and he stood thinking, gathering his arguments as
he considered what to do. It didn't occur to him not
to try, even though he had not been successful in any
of his efforts on this topic so far.

It was enough that Elrond lived and that he sought his
help, for him to gird himself for battle once again.
With a sigh, he turned and began to climb again, to
gather his forces for the battle ahead.

Part 4:
 

In the forest of the Golden Wood ...

The towering city was ashes upon the ground, piles and
piles of them as the rain fell relentlessly. Rivulets
of moisture in the dark smelly mounds of soot and
blackened wood carved ruts that flowed into the
darkened foliage surrounding the trees where people
once lived. The sour-smelling dark pasty mess mixed
with the water and the sticky going was difficult,
slowing the new master as he surveyed his domain.
Lothlorien, the golden city of the Elves, it was his
now and he meant to stay a while.

Orcs scurried, many of them coming days ahead of him
and they had built a shelter for him to live in while
he considered what form his permanent local residence
would be. Sauron was on tour, going through his newly
won lands, languidly taking messages of resistance
from abroad with only marginal interest. No one could
withstand him for very long and he would be there soon
enough so he delegated those cares to another part of
his mind for settlement later.

Right now, there was the kingdom of Celeborn to
explore, the beautiful kingdom of the Lady of the
Wood. There was nothing much left to tell that anyone
had lived here, all the buildings were destroyed and
burned on the ground and from in the trees. Care had
been taken to spare the trees and plantings but the
effect was the same ... utter desolation.

He was mildly perturbed and so he relegated Celeborn
to a dark and terrible punishment, stored in his
memory for a later date. Galadriel would be his, to
kill or not, that is, if they didn't sail to the
Undying Lands. They probably would, fleeing his
magnificent and triumphant vengeance, but no matter
about that. He had all the world, and even as he
considered this, he didn't consider Valinor exempt, so
filled with confidence was he in the completeness of
his victory.

He entered the tent, sitting on an ornate chair,
pulling a boot from his foot and tossing it aside. He
felt the soft carpet beneath his toes and sighed with
the pleasure of touch once more. He didn't remove his
other boot, the one that cradled his wounded foot and
for a moment his hatred of Elves tormented him. Then
he pushed it away as servants brought him food and
drink, spoils of war in the empty forest sanctuary. It
was silent but for their own actions, for the forest
had been vacated, from Lothlorien to Mirkwood to
Rivendell and beyond. It was all his now and he
savored it deeply as he sat in his tent and listened
to the rain dripping off the canopy above him.

***************At a great house in Valinor ...

The fire was warm and he sat before it, others he
could count on arrayed around him. Glorfindel had
arrived, bringing Erestor and other lords of Imladris,
Lothlorien and the Woodland Realm. A knock on the door
signaled more visitors and Erestor rose, opening the
door.

In walked tall figures, one familiar and two not and
all rose to greet them. Thranduil and Oropher nodded
gravely, their mourning garments signaling the loss of
Thranduil's son. Behind them, staring at him with dark
and intense eyes, the sons of Elrond waited beside
their grandfather.

Celeborn stepped forward, bowing slightly and gripped
Gil-galad's hand tightly. "My Lord Gil-galad. It is
good to see you again at long last although the
circumstances of our meeting gives me great grief."

Gil-galad nodded, sighing deeply. "I am filled with
pleasure at your company again, Lord Celeborn.
Hopefully, we can do something about the latter."

He turned and gazed at the boys, grown men and strong
and they stepped forward, bowing slightly. "My lord,"
one of them said, looking at him
challengingly.

"You are? Forgive me. I have never been good with
twins," Gil-galad replied as memories of other times
and other eyes similar plagued him for a moment before
being ruthlessly repressed.

"I am Elladan," he replied. He turned and nodded to
his brother. "This is Elrohir. We are the sons of
Elrond of Imladris."

There was a formality to his tone that belied his
manners and Gil-galad wondered for a moment what they
might know of the past. "I am honored to meet the sons
of my good friend and comrade. I trust that your
mother is well and settled."

"She is with our grandmother, Galadriel of Lorien,"
the one called Elrohir replied coolly.

Gil-galad nodded, ignoring the coldness in the
youngster's voice. He gestured for them to sit and
they did, mostly, in clearly drawn lines, perching
near their grandfather on benches by the fire. He
watched them, noting their tension and quelled his own
ennui, forcing his mind back to the matter at hand. As
he sat, he searched them, looking for some sign of
their father and none could he find, but in the
dignity of their manner. They were Celebrian's sons
through and through, he considered.

Oropher watched them, sitting as he did beside his son
and he wondered again how much he had missed during
the years he was gone. It was silent a moment and then
Gil-galad leaned forward, resting his elbows on his
knees. He gathered his thoughts and then sat back, a
different expression on his face. Gone was the man,
the person who was like them and in its place was the
High King of the Noldor. They watched him, the
transformation fascinating and they all knew that the
time for personal grievances was over.

"The world is in agony and we are facing the greatest
moral crisis of our people since the creation of the
One Ring. We can all flee here and forget what is
happening or we can step forward and stand with those
who cannot against the coming of the night that will
last forever," he said in a soft voice. "Of course, we
do not have to. I am sure there will be many who will
say so but if we are to be considered a moral people
we have our obligations to others than just
ourselves."

It was silent a moment and then Gil-galad rose,
walking to the fireplace before turning around. "In
our moment of need, the Elendili came to help us and
we have to return the favor or how can we live here?
It would all be a lie." He turned and gazed at the
fire. "There are people dying and being harmed not far
from this shore. You know it and I do. What we have to
decide among ourselves is whether or not it is our
business. I would not be contented living here if we
decide we have no part. I would rather be there, sword
in hand, standing with the remnants of the people that
are left."

It was silent a moment and then Oropher cleared his
throat. "You would propose that we go to their aid,"
he said, watching the big man carefully.

"What other moral position is there? We *do* consider
ourselves moral beings, creatures with the ability to
distinguish right from wrong. For us to ignore the
suffering of others is to make a lie of what we hold
most sacred. I truly defy anyone to make an argument
that refutes in a meaningful way those sentiments."

"You will not get an argument from us," Thranduil
replied, shifting in his chair. "You are singing to
the choir, Ereinion," he said. "My own sentiments are
probably less exulted. I want revenge, pure and
simple, for the murder of my son."

Elladan watched them, remembering his father and then
he stood up and walked to the window nearby. Staring
out at the sea, he considered his words and turned to
them, a look of defiance on his face. "My father is
abroad, suffering who knows what. He burned the house
in the valley, setting it with his own hand rather
than letting Imladris fall to the Enemy. We left him
in the Havens, on the dock. We would go back and kill
all the orcs we can before they kill us in turn if we
were in charge of our own destiny. We would do that
for our mother's suffering and for the suffering of
all. It is only the command of our father that brings
us here."

"So it would appear that we are in agreement,"
Gil-galad said, nodding his head. "Now the hard part
begins, convincing others until we are formidable
enough to face the Beast."

"We cannot defeat him," Celeborn replied. "We cannot
defeat the power of the Ring and his own innate
ability. He's not of our kind," he said, shaking his
head, his anger surfacing as he thought of his beloved
Wood smoldering in the rain by his own command. "He is
of another kind, more powerful than us and he will
kill us all before we get very far. He did with the
Ring and it was only chance that Isildur cut it off
his hand. He has consolidated himself and only with
the assistance of the Valar can we hope to overcome
him without annihilating ourselves."

"We would need that kind of help and to get it we
would have to enlist allies from among those here
now," Gil-galad replied. "For some of us,
that would mean treading on friendships and kinships.
For others, that would mean going directly to the
source of our hopes."

"You would go to Manwe?" Elrohir asked, surprise in
his voice.

"I would go to Iluvatar if I could," Gil-galad said
with conviction. "But there is one who needs be here
to make connections in my stead. Elrond needs to come
and make our case."

It was silent a moment and the tension from the twins
was high. Elrohir rose and stood before them, staring
coldly at the High King. "Our father is a married man
now. He has a wife and obligations to his children."

Gil-galad stared back, his gaze unwavering. "Personal
matters have no place among us at this time."

"They do," Elrohir insisted. "This *matters*."

"Personal matters have no_ place_ now," Gil-galad
said, moving to stand before the youngster. "*You*
have no place in *any* discussion of your father's
personal affairs. It is *his* business and not your
own."

The room crackled with tension as Elladan moved to
stand behind his brother and then he put his hand on
Elrohir's shoulder, the youngster nearly flinching
from the contact. Then he turned and walked to where
his grandfather sat, standing behind him with his
brother at his side.

Gil-galad watched them a moment and then glanced down
at Celeborn, for once the big Elf's emotions hard to
read. He turned and walked to his chair, sitting
wearily. "There is no *time* for this now."

"I agree," Celeborn said at last, sitting up
straighter in his chair. "Later, in better times if
they come," he said for the benefit of his
grandchildren, before rising to pace back and forth
across the room. He was like a tiger, his anger barely
checked as he considered the destruction of the world
he had left behind. "This cannot go unchallenged. What
would stop him from turning his eyes to this realm and
besides, there is always the question of the One whom
I will not name."

"He would not be able to free him. He is in the Void."

"Can you guarantee that to me and to my family? Is it
no longer a part of the hope of the world for the
Valar to act in concert with us? What is the point of
this sanctuary if there is injustice and terror beyond
our shores? Are we not *all* children of Iluvatar?"

Cirdan shifted in his seat, Galdor of the Woodland
Realm also as the two men frowned at Celeborn's words.
Glancing at each other, Cirdan straightened, glancing
at Gil-galad as he spoke. "You sound as if you are
losing your faith, Celeborn. I would feel grief untold
if somehow this was your fate in these trying times.
We have faced many trials in our lives together. I do
not recall hearing you so devoid of hope."

"Perhaps I *am* losing my faith, brother. How can
there *be* hope now if there is no concerted effort by
*all* of us, the Valar included, to turn back the
night? My homeland, my *realm* ... I *burned* it with
my *own hands*. It lies in ashes and despair, no trace
of our lives beyond the mounds of our dead left behind
to tell the world that once in this space, in this
*spot*, there was grace and beauty and *life*."

Grief suffused his expression as he stood by the
window, pausing in his pacing as he thought of Caras
Galadhon. Elladan watched him, this powerful force of
nature and felt his despair. It appalled him in ways
he had never countenanced before. "Is it only my faith
I will lose, living here in this place, knowing that
over the seas people are living in wretchedness
because they cannot come here? What about *honor*?
What about obligation? If there is no hope, then there
cannot be faith."

"This is all the more reason that Elrond must come
here and appeal to the Valar to intercede," Gil-galad
replied.

Celeborn sighed, nodding his head. "I am not the
emissary to carry the message. Someone more gifted
that way should do it. Elrond is the choice I would
make myself."

"Then we must send a message for him to come to us,"
Gil-galad replied, rising and looking from one face to
the next. "You must send the message, Cirdan, on one
of your ships going to the Havens. It must go
immediately."

Cirdan looked at him and with a sigh, nodded, rising.
"I will tell him myself."

Gil-galad sighed, the first obstacle overcome and then
he considered the very hard one ahead. They would have
to appeal not only to the Valar for help, but also the
Elves that lived here and had never left, those that
had and returned and their offspring as well. The
trials ahead were enormous with no hint of success
guaranteed.

***************Elsewhere ...

The rain was falling in a steady drizzle, making
misery for those who had found their way this far.
They had been creeping westward, heading under cover
of darkness toward the relative sanctuary of the
mountains. The war in the east had been lost, the
great city of the Stewards falling to the Enemy and as
they moved westward, they did so with deep sorrow and
rage.

He led them, the big man who had gathered them
together and onward they went, slipping past the
enemy, hiding from his hordes and taking from the land
what they could to survive. Hiding in ravines during
the day, or what passed for it, they traveled by horse
and on foot, jogging along behind, during the long and
black evenings.

The Nazgul had been gone for some time, their night
flying no longer a worry. The miles of land that
melted away seemed endless but eventually they found
the mountains in sight. They also found small orc
patrols and those that couldn't be eluded were set
upon and eliminated. He had been a pillar to his group
and they had added more as they went, so by the time
they reached the foothills they were a tightly knit,
if rag-tag force.

Pausing on the lip of a hill, sword in hand, Boromir
of Gondor searched the land ahead. They would be
entering scrub trees and bushes, moving toward the
high up land and its thick covering of trees. Soon
they would be safer and then they would consider what
to do next. All they had to do was continue and
survive. Surely in the mountains there were others
like him.

He didn't think of the past, of his family and his
brother. It was a given that they were dead now and he
had to live. He had to lead the people. He had to be
the strong one and he had to exact revenge from the
murderers of his world. Swallowing hard, pushing his
hunger and fatigue back, he led his men down the small
hillside to the mountains beyond.

***************In the Emyn Muil ...

They stumbled along, meeting nearly no resistance as
they went back through the harsh land of the needle
rocks. They had stumbled through the swamp, god only
knowing how they made it, if not pure luck, then Sam's
indomitable will. Frodo was no help, hurt, exhausted
and numbed with pain and so it fell to him to take the
lead.

They were heading for the Shire, come hell or high
water and even though Sam knew they would never see it
they were determined to try. If they were going to die
here in the end of the world, it would be surrounded
by family and friends and their homelands of field,
orchard and stream.

It was very dark, even in the day when they continued
through the fissures, ever wending toward the
highlands that seemed so far away. They continued on,
not knowing that behind them a small figure and a
number of men from Gondor were following. Gimli, son
of Gloin, his arm bandaged from an orc arrow, grimly
climbed and marched with the bowmen of Osgiliath.

They were going to the west, to the mountains where
they might hide and rest and regroup with who knew who
else. There was no hope in the low lands of the east
and the south and so they pressed forward, climbing
slowly upward. The marshes had been avoided and they
had gone the long way, but they were closing the gap
between Frodo and Sam. In two days they would hear
Sam's voice coaxing Frodo and Gimli would run as fast
as he could to catch up to them.

He would stand and stare in amazement as Frodo lay on
the ground in pain, with Sam standing over him, Sting
in hand. The reunion would be brief, the pleasure and
joy momentary but the resolve of that moment would
carry them through. In a week, they would be in the
mountains, moving along trails only dwarves knew as
they hurried toward a secret place only Gimli could
find.

It would be three weeks before they would learn of
Aragorn and Legolas and when they did, the three would
set out once more.

***************In a cave, late one night ...

Faramir sat quietly, his back to the cave wall. They
had been out all day harrying the enemy. Now they were
going again, down to Isengard, expecting to find
anything possible there. Eomer and Legolas had
returned from their hunting and brought a black bag
captured in the fighting. Aragorn had studied it, the
dispatches and the letters and was stunned to learn
that Sauron was so confident. He was in no hurry to
consolidate his power, merely dispatching messages to
his field captains to regroup.

Orcs would have to be bred, Uruks made from the earth,
positions consolidated and inventoried and plans laid
in. For now, he would be 'on tour', taking in the
sights of his new holdings and then they would put
together the iron fist to end opposition. That final
push could wait, Aragorn read and as he did so, a bit
of his burden lifted.

He had talked to Faramir, Legolas and Eomer,
discussing what to do as they ate their simple dinner.
Then the two had left, leaving him alone with Faramir
in the simple curtained alcove that was his private
chambers.

"This could be a feint," Faramir said, studying his
lover for a moment.

"Maybe," Aragorn replied, glancing up to warm eyes. "I
think its likely true because who is left to be his
opposition? It could be that he's waiting to see if
the Valar do anything about this. It could be that
he's still overcome by the fact that he has a body and
he's gloating about the kingdoms that are his to
rule."

Faramir nodded, sighing sadly. "Gondor included."

Aragorn reached out and squeezed Faramir's hand.
"Temporary."

Faramir smiled in spite of himself and leaned toward
Aragorn, kissing him softly. A strong hand slid up his
neck, entwining through soft hair as Aragorn deepened
the kiss, savoring Faramir's lips. "Do not despair. I
need your courage."

Faramir nodded, kissing him softly. "I need your
love," he whispered for the first time and Aragorn
stared at him, his eyes dark with emotion.

"You have it, Faramir," he whispered softly, kissing
him again and again. "Do not doubt it."

"I won't," Faramir replied, squeezing Aragorn's wrist
as he sighed deeply. "No matter what happens, if I
should perish, I want you to know that I love you. You
are my brother, my king ... my lover ..." He paused
and swallowed. "You kept me going after Boromir ..."
He stopped and leaned against Aragorn's forehead,
sadness pulsing through him and then he sat up, taking
Aragorn's hand. He kissed it softly and smiled
slightly. "Not much courage, I'm afraid."

"More than enough," Aragorn replied, leaning over and
kissing Faramir softly. "There will be another day.
There has to be."

Faramir nodded, though he didn't feel it. "I will do
what you ask me, my lord," he whispered and watched as
Aragorn folded the papers and put them into the bag.

"I have to talk to someone about leaving for Isengard.
Wait here for me."

Faramir nodded and watched as Aragorn left, walking as
silently as a cat. They were inseparable now, working
side-by-side, Steward and King, friends and lovers.
Tomorrow, they would go to Isengard and see what was
happening in the tower of Saruman. Tonight, they would
lie together, holding each other and for a while the
cares and burdens of the world would be gone.

***************In the Havens ...

Cirdan stepped from the ship, the steady drizzle
falling in the mournful night adding insult upon
misery to the multitudes beyond. In a small shelter
on the shore, he could see a light burning and so he
walked toward it, entering and noting Elrond's
presence. The dark-haired Elf looked up, smiling
slightly, his weariness like a cloak that he wore on
his back.

"Welcome, my friend," he said, nodding.

Cirdan sat and nodded back. "Mae govannan, my friend,"
he replied, his voice equally tired. "I bring word
from Elfhome that your presence is urgently required."

"I cannot go-" Elrond began, halting as Cirdan's hand
went up.

"I bring you urgent word of your need to be there.
There is a desire to utilize your great facility with
words to persuade the Valar to intervene in this
atrocity. You are requested to come, to meet with the
others and to do the bidding of the king once more."

"King?" Elrond said, confused for a moment as he
considered that word.

Cirdan nodded, watching Elrond closely. "Gil-galad
needs you once more."

Elrond stared at Cirdan and nodded, rising numbly.
"When? Now?"

"I have come to get you."

"Then I must go," Elrond said, his heart pounding
wildly. Gathering his cloak, his mind in disarray,
Elrond of Imladris followed Cirdan out and in the
downpour and the darkness, boarded a white ship, bound
for Aman and his long-lost king.

Part 5:

The rain fell steadily, soaking him but he wouldn't go
under shelter. He stood at the bow, spray from the
waves beyond falling fresh against his face. He was
wet and cold but he didn't care, so desperate was he
for the miles to fall away. Cirdan was sailing the
vessel, peering into the darkness at the lone figure
ahead. All the others had jammed the hold, filling
every step and crevasse on board. Crew labored on
deck, the only others topside but Elrond and himself.

The night was deeply dark but he knew where to sail,
his ship slipping through the rough water on the way
to sanctuary in Valinor. But the safety there was
temporary for Elrond, for Cirdan knew he would not
stay and leave the world behind the way it was now. It
had cost him  enormously to leave Rivendell, to burn
it with his own hand rather than give it to Sauron.
Now he was coming home at last, to the homeland of his
people and to the king that he loved with all his
heart.

That Celebrian was also there along with his three
children was something he tried not to think about. He
wasn't looking forward to the moment when that synergy
would align in the same room as the King. He, himself
would be busier than before, sailing against the
wishes of some to Middle-earth. There were so many
waiting and his ships were ever busy taking people to
safety across the sea.

It was never intended that he be able to sail back,
the Valar decreeing that the trip be one way. But they
had not hindered him oddly enough, his ships coming
and going, making their mercy runs without any
trouble. He had wondered at that, why they hadn't
stepped in but he didn't question too long their
inattention to his work. Ulmo was his lord and he
could feel his presence even as he sailed his ships
across the stormy seas.

Perhaps they were being given a grace period, a
slacking of the rules. Perhaps they were and maybe
not. Celeborn might not think so, if he even gave it
thought anymore. The big lord's doubt haunted Cirdan.
He was losing his religion if you will, of that they
were all clear. Celeborn, a traditional and very tough
man was falling away somehow from their most deeply
held beliefs and customs. That was troubling in the
extreme for him. What would be the ultimate cost of
their retreat into safety? A loss of faith that peace
would not be able to restore?

The wind picked up and he bent to concentrate,
compensating for the headwinds that slowed their
progress. During the length of their rescue, the seas
had been high, almost as if in protest of their return
to Middle-earth. Concentrating on his task at hand, he
steered their ship forward, heading toward that
unknowable spot in the ocean that would be their
sanctuary from war.

***************Early morning ...

They had been traveling all night, avoiding trouble
and looking for signs of the enemy as they passed ever
closer into the lands of the Isen River. There was
surprisingly little sign, most of their reports of orc
and Uruk activity coming from the eastern side of the
mountains from deep patrols and fleeing refugees.
Jogging on foot, they hurried southward, moving toward
Isengard and the tower of the wizard. Legolas and
Eomer had gone east, searching the forests for
stragglers. Aragorn was going with Rangers and Faramir
to Orthanc to see what could be found there.

Not much activity was happening at the ford and who
was there, that had to be determined. They would be
searching throughout the tower, rumored to be empty,
looking for whatever they could, including the
whereabouts of Saruman. The sun was beginning to rise
and so they paused, looking into the distance at the
still smoldering remains of the fortress grounds.

The Ents had retreated, falling into the forests
nearby, leaving behind incredible destruction and
disarray. Saruman had been trapped in the fortress,
unable to defend it while the army of the huorns had
passed by, heading for Helms Deep and the violence
there. They had won the battle, erasing a huge
contingent of warriors from the Enemy's slate. It was
giving them time, the replenishment of these forces.
Even though the Battle of Pelennor Fields had been a
bloody one for Sauron, he had at last gotten the Ring.
He would need time to form a new army, that was in
their favor, but in the end without divine
intervention, they would all be lost.

Aragorn considered this, as he always considered it,
peering over the hill, Faramir ever at his side. They
glanced at each other and then rose as one, moving
with their people stealthily toward the road that
would take them to the gates of Saruman's home.

***************Far away ...

They reached the docks in the early morning, a weak
light breaking through the dark and cloudy sky. He
walked across the slippery decks, suffused with
fatigue and anticipation as his eyes scanned the cliff
side and the buildings above the harbor. It was hard
to tell what was land and what was constructed but
there was a lone figure standing at the top of the
staircase, silhouetted by lights from the buildings
behind him.

Elrond paused, his heart in his throat and then
continued forward, hurrying toward the steps. He
climbed them by twos and threes, reaching the top
landing before pausing to stare at the figure who was
waiting. He was big and broad shouldered, a dark cloak
covering his clothing and his hands were gripping the
railing next to him. He reached up and pulled back his
hood, revealing his face and his jet black hair.

Elrond felt emotions wash through him, emotions so
vast and complex that he stumbled, unaware that he was
even moving until big hands gripped his arms. They
stared at each other, two bound by love and honor and
then they embraced, holding each other tightly as the
rain fell softly.

Cirdan stood below, watching them as the ship unloaded
and felt years falling away at the touching sight. It
had been centuries upon end that they had been parted
but now they were together at the end of times. He
turned and looked at the people moving slowly off the
ship and he knew in a few days he would have to go
back. For now, they would talk, all the friends and
comrades together as they assembled their case for the
Valar to hear.

***************Isengard ...

They crouched in the bushes, staring at the tower, the
gleaming black symbol of their almost annihilation. No
one was around, at least there was no sign of activity
and so Aragorn rose and boldly walked forward, sword
in hand. They watched him, archers with arrows fixed,
Faramir's eyes never leaving Aragorn's back. Then he
paused, the big man staring up at the windows and
turning, signaled the others to come.

Faramir rose, bow in hand and joined Aragorn at the
steps of the tower.
"What does this mean? That the tower is abandoned?"

"Saruman is on the run," Aragorn replied. "He must be
afraid that the Beast will kill him for I am sure that
he would know Saruman tried to get the Ring."

"I hope he does," Faramir said bitterly. He looked at
the tower, his eyes traveling up its sleek sides,
finding nothing to indicate that it was still
occupied.

Pools of water stood around them, drowning the caverns
below and it was slowly receding as the fires were
quenched. The stench was strong, of rotting flesh and
drowned foundries, the haze of smoke, punctuated by
flumes of hot steam, hanging lazily over the grounds.

They climbed up warily, pausing at the door, listening
to the silence that was nearly physical. Aragorn
stepped forward and pushed on the door, half open as
it was and as it swung backward, he stepped inside,
looking around the great anteroom, ready to fight
should even the smallest thing move. There was no
sound and so they went in, posting a sentry by the
door. Walking to the middle of the great room, they
looked upward, toward the top of the tower hundreds of
feet above them.

Winding all around the inside of the tower, a
staircase ascended, showing rooms that hugged the
outer walls and landings. Moving swiftly, Aragorn
crossed the floor, entering Saruman's study sword in
hand. Behind him, silent as a cat, Faramir followed,
bow at the ready as he looked around. Aragorn walked
to the desk, rifling through books and papers and then
systematically checked the room, finding nothing of
import.

They exited and then began the long climb, heading
toward the top of the tower. As each room was passed,
they peered inside, looking for anything that might
help them in the long defeat ahead. Nothing seemed
promising until they reached a room high up, with a
balcony that opened onto the courtyard beyond. There
was a single plinth, a pedestal upon which an object
sat, covered in cloth.

Aragorn paused, hoping against hope that it was what
he wished it to be before he stepped forward. Faramir
caught his arm, stilling his progress, his eyes
anxiously flitting from his lover to the object.
Aragorn nodded reassuringly and moved forward,
removing the cover from a great glass-like ball. It
sat silently, yet there was great energy exuding from
it and Aragorn smiled for a moment. Then he covered it
again and picked it up, tucking it under his arm. They
continued on, finding more dispatch bags that were
unopened by Saruman. He had left before they were
delivered and Aragorn read them, coaxing letters for
Saruman to come to Sauron. They suggested a leisurely
consolidation of the world, a time of celebration
before the final blows would fall.

Aragorn considered them, the respite they might give
and the very real belief that their battles, all of
them, had made an impact on Sauron's ability to wage
war. He would have to regroup, grow an army and focus
his forces. In the meantime they would have just that
much more space in which to maneuver.

"Let's go," Aragorn whispered, Faramir nodding and by
the time they cleared the tower, the sun was straight
up. They melted into the bushes, heading for the
mountains, Aragorn's acquisition carefully tucked in a
pouch.

***************In a quiet room ...

He sat in his chair, wrapped in a silken robe, a cup
of hot tea in his hands. He was chilled, a lingering
affect of his human heritage and he was glad for the
respite before the heavy emotional sailing began.
Gil-galad sat next to him sharing the space, staring
at Elrond's profile, memorizing its lines as memories
surged. It had been so long, he had almost forgotten
what it was like to sit quietly side-by-side with the
most interesting and intriguing person he had ever
met.

"Are you warm?" he asked, falling into silence as dark
eyes filled with passion met his own.

Elrond nodded, not trusting his voice as he put the
cup down and sighed deeply. He swallowed hard,
gathering his thoughts and then looked at his lover
once more. "I have despaired of ever seeing you
again."

Gil-galad nodded, his expression filled with love. "I
never hoped we would be together," he said. "Things
have conspired, my brother. We are on the cusp of a
tragedy so vast that it beggars the mind to put words
to it."

Elrond nodded, sighing. "I know."

Gil-galad reached out, his hand cupping Elrond's cheek
and then he pulled his herald to him, all thought of
other things falling away. For centuries he had waited
for this moment and now it was here, all that he had
dreamed and hoped for. He kissed his lover with a
passion he had forgotten, pulling him to his feet and
holding him tightly.

Elrond capitulated, any reticence he even thought he
had melting under Gil-galad's raging need. Hands
fumbled and then slid past his dressing gown,
clutching his naked body and roaming at will. He stood
pinioned, unable to even articulate how much he had
dreamed of this moment when the lord of his life
claimed him once more. His arms circled his lover, his
mouth surrendering to the insistent lips of his king
as Gil-galad issued his possessive claims.

"I need you," Gil-galad whispered hoarsely. "Do not
deny me, Elrond."

"I can deny you nothing," Elrond whispered.

"Go to the bed and wait for me," he said, gripping the
sleeve of the wrap Elrond wore. "Do not cover yourself
from my eyes."

Elrond nodded and walked to the bed, his gown falling
away as he did. He pulled open the covers and climbed
in, lying on his back as he watched the King.
Gil-galad stood staring at him, his eyes raking
Elrond's body and for a moment a surge of pleasure
nearly overpowered him. He licked his lips, dropping
the gown in his hand and then tugged at the belt of
his tunic.

He pulled it free and tossed it on the floor, his eyes
never leaving Elrond for a moment. He pulled his own
tunic off, throwing it aside as he felt the heat of
Elrond's eyes on his body. He was muscular and taut,
his scars and tattoos visible and he knew that the
Peredhel was as needy as he. He sat on the chair,
pulling off boots and socks and then he stood, tugging
at the cords of his trousers.

He did so slowly, drawing out the moment before
pushing them down and freeing his body. He stepped out
of his clothes and stood before Elrond, the light of
the fire and candles shadowing the curves and muscles
of his big solid body. His black hair hung over his
shoulder and he moved it away from his face with the
flick of a hand. He stood, breathing heavily, his hand
stroking his cock and as he came toward the bed,
Elrond shifted with need.

"It has been so long, Peredhel," he whispered, his
eyes narrowing in his growing lust. "I love you,
Elrond," he said, moving forward. "Let me show you how
much."

Elrond sighed, nodding as the king moved to lie beside
him, his hand gripping Elrond's chin. "Show me," he
whispered, sighing with pleasure
as Gil-galad covered his mouth with his own.

It was a tidal wave of sensation, of pent-up emotion,
his need blazing through him as it came back in a
rush. Gil-galad moved on top of him, taking his time
and his pleasure while giving it back in equal
measure. His King was a dominating figure in all
aspects and Elrond was the canvas upon which he poured
out his private needs. There was nothing for him to do
but surrender to his lover, something he never could
do for anyone else.

Elrond moved onto his stomach, the familiar and deeply
longed for sensations at last commencing and when
Gil-galad pulled him to his knees, he was ready.
Invasion so sweet, pain ever so slight, he absorbed it
with relish as his king made his way. He gasped and
winced, so long had it been but by the time Gil-galad
stilled, Elrond was ready. He nodded, his head resting
on his arms and so it began.

He didn't make a sound, so intent was he in absorbing
all the sensations he could. Gil-galad took him,
forcefully and possessively and when he came, he cried
out, falling onto Elrond's back. They lay together,
connected and exhausted, some small part of their
emotional need paid for in full. Gil-galad covered his
lover, nuzzling his neck, his sense of anxiety
partially assuaged. He should have moved off but he
didn't, so warm and comforting was the contact and so
they lay together for a long while in silence.

At last, he moved, rolling off to one side, sighing as
he lay rubbing his chest with his hands. Elrond didn't
move, unwilling to end the relaxation that had
overtaken him. Gil-galad sighed and looked at Elrond,
memories of other evenings filling his mind. "You are
as beautiful as ever."

Elrond smiled, opening his eyes, moving slightly to
lay on his side. "You have not lost your touch."

Gil-galad chuckled, turning on his side to face his
partner, pulling him closer until their bodies
aligned. He draped a muscular leg over Elrond, holding
him in place as he leaned in and began to suckle on
the pale throat of his lover. Elrond sighed, closing
his eyes in pleasure.

"You called for me. How long have you been here?"

"Too long alone," Gil-galad replied, brushing Elrond's
dark hair out of the path of his lips. "For eons, I
think."

"Things have happened, they have changed," Elrond
began before a firm kiss cut off his remarks.

"I know about Celebrian," Gil-galad replied. "I met
her when she first came here. I visited her out of
respect for her family and found out about the two of
you."

Elrond looked at him, his eyes haunted as he searched
his lover's face for any sign of reproach.

"You married her and had children," Gil-galad replied,
kissing Elrond over and over again. "I have met your
sons. They hate me fiercely, something I expected from
the first."

"I-" Elrond began before he was cut off with a kiss.
Then a smile as warm as the sun formed on the lips of
his king.

"Do not even speak of it," Gil-galad replied. "I would
too, in their place. They are loyal to you and their
mother."

"But you are a part of who I am," Elrond protested. "I
loved you before Celebrian."

"You love her?" Gil-galad asked, the ghost of a smile
on his lips.

Elrond swallowed and sighed. "In my own way, over time
... after a fashion."  He shifted and pressed
Gil-galad to his back, covering him and settling his
own body over the king. He gazed down at the handsome
face of his lover, a face that had haunted his dreams
forever. "I love many things, Melme. I loved my home,
Middle-earth, books, beauty ... but they do not come
into the same realm of thinking as you."

"Celebrian was your wife. You had children ... you
were intimate. It was more, at the time I recall,
than I thought you capable of achieving. You were
most certainly *my* lover in all the ways *that*
encompassed."

Elrond smiled, shaking his head. "You always were for
exclusivity."

"Of course. You *are* property of the King. Or have
you forgotten that?" Gil-galad proffered, half
earnestly, half facetiously.

Elrond paused, his expression gentling. "I have
forgotten nothing about you, my lord. I have every
memory of every moment stored against the grief of
your loss."

Gil-galad reached up and gripped Elrond's neck,
pulling him in for a searing kiss. He moved and they
rolled over, Elrond pinned beneath his body as he
gripped Elrond's wrists in his powerful hands. "Do not
speak of things past, Melme, of moments we cannot
change. I have loved only you for the entirety of my
life. What comes next, we cannot determine but I will
put it aside until better days come. I only ask of you
one thing."

"Whatever you will, my lord," Elrond whispered,
sighing against the lips that were so close to his
own.

"Come to my bed," Gil-galad requested, kissing Elrond
softly. "Come to my bed, be with me when you can. That
is all that I ask for now."

Elrond sighed, his mind a whirl of emotions but he
nodded, swallowing hard. "I will."

Gil-galad smiled, his relief immense and then he gave
himself to his lover, his complete attention. The fire
crackled nearby, its weak light barely illuminating
the corners of the room. On the bed, consummating a
lifetime of friendship and shared experience, Elrond
and Gil-galad sealed their devotion.

***************In the mountains ...

They found the going swift, following trails only they
knew and by the time they made their first camp, they
were deeply in the woods. Small fires heated food and
then illuminated quiet conversation as they settled in
for the night. Faramir sat beside Aragorn, talking in
a low voice as his lover considered the prize they had
captured. It was in a bag next to their bedrolls,
waiting for scrutiny and Faramir could feel its
malevolence from where he sat.

"I am uneasy with that thing," Faramir said, nodding
to the bag.

Aragorn nodded as well. "It is mine," he said, leaning
against Faramir's shoulder. "It is mine by rights and
no one else may use it."

"A seeing stone, Aragorn," Faramir said, his voice
strained. "What if he can see you too?"

"That would assume he has a stone with him. I am
wagering that he will no longer be using his,
considering it of no real use now that the world has
fallen. I can assume from the arrogance of his letters
that his guard is down and he is unhurried. That means
that I can look and he will not know, since I wager
that his palantir is at Barad-dur."

Faramir sighed and nodded, gazing at Aragorn with
worried eyes. Aragorn smiled and leaned forward,
kissing his lover on the mouth. Faramir kissed him
back, the warmth soothing and watched as Aragorn rose
and walked to the bag. He picked it up and stepped
into the shadows, going to wrestle the demons of the
world beyond their camp.

Faramir bit his lip, shoving the shadows back and
concentrated on the flames of the small fire before
him. For three hours he would wait, his anxiety ever
rising before Aragorn would step back into the
clearing. He would put the bag down, moving to lay out
his blankets and patting the ground for Faramir, wait
until he lay down. Spooning behind him, his arms
wrapped around him, he would hold Faramir all night,
sleep a longed for wish that would not be fulfilled.

Part 6:
 

He stood in the library, dressed in borrowed clothing,
pacing back and forth nervously. Gil-galad had left
reluctantly, leaving with the promise of a shared meal
later in the day. He had gathered his wits and made
himself presentable, sending word to his family that
he was near. He bit his lip, pausing at the sound of a
soft knock on the door and turned, exhaling a deeply
held breath.

"Come in."

The door opened and a woman stepped in, his daughter,
Arwen. Smiling, with tears in her eyes, she ran to him
and flung herself into his arms. He held her, his
beloved daughter and watched as his sons joined him
and then, lastly, his wife. Celebrian stood half into
the room, her eyes watching him with deep emotion.

Elladan turned and held out his hand, taking his
mother's and tugged her gently into the room.
Celebrian entered, her face pale and a hopeful smile
on her lips. Arwen glanced from her mother, to her
father and back again, her eyes hopeful as well.
Celebrian hesitated, then walked to Elrond and into a
waiting embrace.

Elladan let out a deeply held breath, his brother's
hand squeezing his own. "Do you wish us to leave you
to talk?" he asked, glancing at Arwen and Elrohir.

"No," Elrond said, shaking his head. "You do not have
to, Elladan."

"We will, though," Arwen said, taking her brothers'
hands. She walked to the door and they departed
through it, closing it softly behind them. Elrond
watched them go, desperately thankful for their
presence here in safety and then he looked at
Celebrian, at her lovely face and tear-filled eyes.

"You look wonderful," he said, smiling slightly. "I
was worried that you would not be able to find peace."

"I am well, Elrond," she replied, smiling, turning and
walking to a chair nearby. She looked at him and he
joined her, sitting beside her, waiting as she
composed herself. "I never apologized to you."

"For what?" he asked, taken by surprise by her remark.
 

"For leaving you alone," she said, her gaze fixed on
the fireplace.

"You have nothing to apologize for. You were ill.
Nothing could be done about what had happened to you,
not by my hand and not in Rivendell," Elrond began
before she raised her hand, stilling him.

She looked at him, her eyes filled with sadness.
"Perhaps that is true but it does not excuse leaving
you and the children. My place was by your side and I
left you. I am sorry for that, Elrond."

Elrond sat back, his expression gentle. "I do not
begrudge you going, Celebrian. You were so hurt, I
could hardly bear your sorrow. I knew it was not a
decision you made lightly. We have gotten by."

"The world is at an end," she said, reaching for his
hand. She took it, touching the Ring that was still
on his finger. "You wear it yet?"

"I do here and only here," Elrond said, sighing sadly.
Her hand was small and pale, as soft as satin and he
squeezed it gently. "I do it for courage and the
memory of my obligation."

"To the people of the world ... you have never lacked
for courage," Celebrian posed. She watched his face,
knowing there were other loyalties, ones she had
encountered from the day of her return.

"For many reasons, Celebrian," Elrond finally replied
with a sigh. He looked at her. "You look as lovely as
ever I remember."

"You look tired, Elrond. Tired and strained. The
burden of your responsibilities plays on your face."
She reached out and touched him, her hand cool against
his skin. "You are a good and true soul. I love you
still."

He felt pangs of regret and compromise fall through
him as she leaned forward, pressing her lips against
his. He kissed her back, feeling little but confusion
as she moved closer, sliding her arms around his
waist.

"I have dreamed of this moment, when we could be
together again," she said softly, sliding her hand
into the folds of his tunic. "I know you will go as
soon as you can but for a moment, let it only be you
and me together."

A memory came to him, a tentative Celeborn, talking to
him the day they were wed. He had come to him, pausing
awkwardly, gathering his courage and then he broached
the subject that lay between them so clearly.

"I know that you loved another," he began, pausing as
an expression of pain passed over Elrond's face. "I
know this, Elrond, but I know what a good man you are.
My daughter is safe in your hands. This joining of our
houses, it seems cold and calculating but I believe
that you will love her given time."

Elrond stared at him, his face burning as they
broached painful and private subjects. "Your daughter
will be my wife and I, her husband. I will do all that
I can to make her happy."

Celeborn nodded, sighed deeply. "Yes, this I know. I
can think of no one else that I would give her to that
would make me feel the confidence I have. I also know
that your first and foremost love was the King and for
me to not tell you that would be to deny the truth. I
hope and pray that your life with Celebrian will bring
you happiness, children and hope. I hope and pray that
you will love her enough to put aside what cannot be
retrieved from the ashes."

Elrond nodded, his heart in despair and when he took
Celebrian to wife, it was with sorrow and pain. They
had gone to his chamber and he had claimed his
husband's rights, but the passion that his King could
get with a mere look would never be shared between
them.

He grew to love her as a friend and companion, as a
confidant and ally and the mother of his children. He
gave her such respect, affection and attention that it
became clear to him early on that she believed he
truly loved her. He did in some way, but not as a
husband should love a wife. He could not love her as a
woman should be loved, for some part of him could not
embrace her totally, not as a diligent lover should.
For reasons he would not articulate, her great beauty
was an abstraction to him in the way that art or a
book could be. He loved her for her goodness, her
kindness and her laughter, her beauty and her insight
but nothing more.

She sat next to him, her lips nuzzling his neck as she
sought from him that which he could only give in
measured helpings. He sighed and pulled her close,
stroking her hair as she whispered to him her need and
her loneliness.

"You have been gone so long," Elrond said, his voice
gentle. "I am overcome by your presence, Celebrian."

She sat up and smiled, tears in her eyes and nodded.
"As am I," she said. "Come to me tonight when all the
talk is over. I need you, husband. I *need* you."

He nodded and she kissed him, her fingers threading
through his thick black hair, pulling him into her
embrace. He kissed her tenderly, guilt suffusing him
and when she rose, she was smiling. He rose as well
and she took his hand, bringing it to her lips. "Come
to dine with me," she said.

He nodded and she took his arm, the two walking to the
door and out into the hallway where three others
stood. Arwen smiled, glancing at her brothers and
taking their arms, they walked to the stairs. They
would descend together, eating their meal as a family
and then Elrond would leave to meetings elsewhere.

Arwen watched him go, glancing at her mother.
Celebrian stared at him with a loving expression and
it warmed her heart to see her so happy. She felt
happiness even as she felt foreboding, for she had
seen the King that morning standing at the dock. He
went every day, watching the ships come and go, giving
his strength and dignity to every refugee who
disembarked. She knew her father had loved him in some
past age and she wondered as she watched him if they
still shared that passion.

She turned to her plate, smiling at her mother who was
engaged in jokes with her sons. She would talk to her
grandmother later, she thought, as she sat and enjoyed
her mother's happiness once more.

***************In a cavern in the Misty Mountains ...

He lay on the bunk, a blanket giving him warmth and
watched as water dripped off a colorful rock. Nearby,
fussing with a errant leather strap, Sam sat ever
watchful. He sighed and Sam's eyes came up, looking at
Frodo with his usual intensity. "Are you all right,
Mr. Frodo?"

"I'm ... I need to sit up," Frodo said, struggling to
rise.

Sam jumped up and helped him sit, sitting himself on
the bunk as well. "How do you feel? Are you hungry or
thirsty?"

"I'm ... I think I could use some water," Frodo said,
closing his eyes wearily, holding his bandaged hand
against his chest. "Where are we?" he asked, watching
as Sam went to a barrel and dipped a dipper into it.
He returned and Frodo drained the cup, sighing with
weariness as he did.

"We're in a cavern," Sam said. "Do you remember
anything?"

"No, not much. What has happened?" Frodo asked as in
his head a kaleidoscope of images lay scattered like
shattered glass.

"We came upon Gimli," Sam said. "He was in the Emyn
Muil and we came upon him. He was with others, men of
Gondor and Rohan, I think. They brought us here, to a
Dwarf sanctuary that only other Dwarves know about.
We're in the Misty Mountains."

"What about the Ring?" Frodo asked, fixing a sickly
gaze on Sam.

Sam's expression fell. "You don't remember, do you."

Frodo shook his head. "No. Tell me."

"That *Gollum*! He came up the mountainside with us
and when we got to the top, you couldn't throw it in.
He pounced on you and bit off your finger."

Frodo started and looked at his bandaged hand, tears
coming to his eyes. Sam took it gently and laid it in
Frodo's lap, Moving closer and pulling him down. Frodo
stretched out, his head in Sam's lap and he felt the
hot tears falling down his cheeks. Sam stroked Frodo's
hair, tears in his own eyes.

"Gollum took the Ring and we have been on the run ever
since, headin' back to the Shire by shank's mare. If I
ever get my hands on that little devil, I'll cut his
throat, I will."

***************Far away ...

He had been dumped in the tunnel of the lair of the
monster and he had groped along the wall, his
sightless eyes no help. He could smell her and sense
her, an unfathomable rage suffusing the shadows as he
stumbled along, seeking a way out.

When she came upon him, draggling along in her rage,
she didn't consider that he had been her acolyte. She
bit him and bound him, moving into the shadows with
him, fastening him to the ceiling of her larder along
with the others. Orcs and Uruks, themselves victims of
her wrath, watched as he struggled in his web of doom.
They were her meat, her dinner for the duration as she
nursed her terrible wounds against the day of her
vengeance.

It would come, she reasoned around the horror of her
wounds. If she survived, she would take out the one
who had harmed her. She had never been defeated and
she had never been afraid, this daughter of Ungoliant.
Even Melkor had feared her mother, the two falling
apart in the beginning of the world and she carried
her mother's contempt for everyone and everything.
Sauron didn't frighten her and neither did the Nazgul,
none of them matching her sheer malevolence and hate.

She sat in the gloom, her wounds tearing at her and
watched as her dinner shivered and squirmed. He wasn't
much to look at but he was better than nothing and she
resolved to eat Gollum last of all. Moving once more,
she grasped an orc, his cries of terror and rage
disappearing with her into the darkness.

***************In the woods above the Old Forest Road
...

They knelt together, their heads nearly touching as
they watched the enemy move stealthily along. They
were heading for the gap that led through the
mountains, pulling heavy carts toward Rivendell. They
were the advance team heading for Imladris to prepare
a shelter for Sauron when he deigned to go there.

"They are going to defile Lord Elrond's house,"
Legolas said, his voice filled with hatred.

"No they won't," Eomer said, squeezing Legolas'
shoulder. "Let them get into the mountains and then
we shall teach them the error of their ways."

Legolas nodded, glancing at Eomer, images of Rohan
filling his mind. They rose and melted back into the
trees, disappearing from even a happenchance discovery
by the enemy.

Wains were moving northward, heading for Mirkwood,
advance teams determined to prepare their lord's
accommodation. He was lounging in Lothlorien, taking
in the grandeur of his actions against the Elves and
the fall of their wood. They labored onward, heading
ever upward until they came to the narrowest defile
on the road. They were halfway through it before the
first arrow landed, piercing the throat of an orc
commander.

There were shouts and screams, bitter, terrible
moments of fighting and cursing but in the end it was
a forgone conclusion and Legolas stood among the dead,
his face filled with grim satisfaction. Eomer knelt
beside the commander, rifling his bag as around him
the rest were looting and burning. Things were
confiscated, others were heaped up and soon a blazing
fire signaled the traveler's doom.

"We better press on," Eomer said, watching as Legolas
stared at the fire. His face was cold, like carved ice
and Eomer felt concern as they stood
together. "Legolas."

Blue eyes turned, meeting his and for a moment they
were hate-filled and bitter. Then Legolas sighed,
nodding as he turned, looking down the trail to the
plains beyond. His father's house lay that way, hidden
in the forest, the home that had been his for the
length of his life. It was burned now, destroyed and
forsaken but for the Beast who would be there soon
enough.

He quashed his hatred and moved with Eomer, melting
into the forest on trails unmarked. Soon there would
only be ashes and bones, nothing but refuse. It suited
him fine as he marched along grimly, searching for
more orcs to kill. There could never be too many, he
considered. Behind him, his eyes filled with concern,
Eomer of Rohan followed in silence.

***************Later that night ...

They camped in the shelter of an overhang, their fires
unseen by anyone. Legolas stood on the edge of the
shelf that they camped upon, staring into the darkness
beyond them. Eomer sat by a small fire, listening to
quiet conversation as he stared at Legolas. The Elf
was becoming introverted and it worried him, so he
rose and walked over, stopping beside his silent
partner and sighed deeply, his own weariness suffusing
him.

"It is very dark tonight. Even the moon has forsaken
us."

Legolas nodded. "The gods have forsaken us."

"You can go," Eomer said, considering Legolas' anger.
"It only means taking a boat from these shores."

"I cannot do that," Legolas replied, glancing at Eomer
with dark intense eyes. "How could I leave?"

Eomer shrugged slightly. "There might be those who
wonder why you stay."

He shifted, staring directly at his partner. "You are
here for vengeance. This I can understand. Those of us
with responsibility for kingdoms and their people do
not drop that easily."

"No," Legolas agreed, sighing slightly. "How can we go
from here, this place that has been our home since the
Awakening?"

"Your kind have always been called home," Eomer
replied. "You have another home to which those such as
I are forbidden. It must give you comfort knowing that
this does not have to be your fate."

"It gives me nothing," Legolas said, moving to sit on
a fallen log. Eomer sat beside him, waiting patiently,
hoping the taciturn figure would talk and become less
burdened. Blue eyes looked at him as a handsome face
appraised him. "You have no hope, do you."

Eomer shook his head. "No, I do not. That burned with
Meduseld when the world fell."

"I have none either," Legolas replied, turning his
gaze upon the darkness once more. "I know my father's
kingdom lies in the grasp of the monster and all that
I love will be defiled. I pray to Elbereth that my
family got out and took our people with them but I am
not sure she hears me. I fear that my faith along with
my hope is a faded thing."

"I am sorry," Eomer replied, sighing deeply. "What is
there left after the death of hope?"

"Vengeance," Legolas said quietly. He looked at Eomer.
"Your uncle and your sister, your cousin and your
country ... you cannot have hope for them."

Eomer swallowed, looking away. "I try not to think on
it. That part is over. There is only what we have
now."

"And what is that?" Legolas asked, his eyes never
wavering.

Eomer met Legolas' gaze, all the misery of his life
welling up in his eyes. Rising, he gripped Legolas'
arm and moving swiftly, stepped into the shadows, the
Elf in tow.

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