The Test of the Fellowship
Gimli gritted his teeth when the Uruk-Hai dragged Legolas in to Saruman's obsidian tower. He followed quickly, descending stairs that took them deep beneath Isengard. Looking about he saw Orcs, Uruk-Hai and more foul creatures forging swords from steel. Saruman had raised an army worthy of Sauron. The Dwarf shook his head in disapproval. Saruman the White was said to be ancient and wise. Why had the Wizard succumbed to Sauron's power?
He growled when the Uruk-Hai grabbed Legolas' hair to drag the Elf down the rest of the stairs. Gimli was tempted to interfere, but realized that he should save his strength for the right opportunity. Aragorn would shortly make his move and then he had to be ready, not beaten up and injured.
They threw Legolas into a dark cell and Gimli managed to slip inside as well. No one seemed to notice him, or they were simply ignoring him. One of the Uruk-Hai grabbed Legolas' wrists, removed the rope and chained the Elf's hands above his head to the wall. Laughing triumphantly, the Uruk-Hai left the cell, slamming the heavy steel door shut behind him.
Gimli immediately checked on Legolas. The Elf was mumbling feverishly, eyes fluttering and his body was covered in a cold sweat. "Dare I say it? Elf, you may be dying." It was the greatest injustice imaginable. Elves weren't supposed to die this young and certainly not in this way.
Gimli pushed back a few strands of flaxen hair and cupped the Elf's chin in the palm of his hand. Legolas was barely breathing and dread settled in the Dwarf's heart. "Elf, you can't die on me. Don't you dare die on me!"
Unfocused eyes blinked and Gimli felt relieved when he saw recognition in them. "Legolas."
"That's two..." said Legolas weakly. Gimli had called him by his name once more. The Dwarf was probably growing worried. Legolas didn't have the strength to keep his head raised. Hadn't it been for Gimli supporting his chin, his head would be bowed again. "You're right, my Dwarven friend... I'm dying." He could feel it in his bones. "It won't be long."
"No, I refuse to believe you. Fight, Elf!"
Legolas managed a weak smile. There was a way to heal him, to heal even his eyes, but he couldn't walk that road. That path was forbidden to him. "One cannot fight his destiny, Master Dwarf."
Gimli wanted to shake some sense in to the Elf, but didn't. Legolas was already in a bad way and he didn't want to add to the Elf's discomfort. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Water?" His throat burned with the sting of poison and he craved a mouthful of water.
Gimli looked about and found a water bottle in the corner of the cell. He gently released Legolas' chin and went to fetch the bottle. Opening the bottle, he expected a foul stench, but the water smelled rich and tempting. He returned to Legolas, lifted the Elf's chin once more and placed the bottle against chapped lips. "Small sips..."
Legolas obeyed, reminding himself to leave water for the Dwarf. "Thank you," he whispered after swallowing a few sips.
"What do you think will happen next?" Gimli drank some water and then put away the bottle. He sat down beside Legolas, offering the weakened Elf warmth and support. Legolas slumped against him and Gimli cursed the chains for keeping the Elf in an upright position.
The finality of those words baffled Gimli. "Do you really think Saruman plans to kill us?"
Legolas managed a dry laugh. "Not at once. He'll ask questions first."
"He'll make us suffer..." Gimli nodded grimly.
"Not you, my kind friend. You don't possess any information he wants." Legolas moistened his lips. "You'll join your ancestors shortly, my friend. I'll have to wait a little longer."
"Can't you tell me what he wants, Elf? Don't you trust me?" Gimli cocked his head and made eye contact with Legolas. "Haven't I proven my worth and loyalty yet?"
Legolas gathered his last strength. "Gimli, you're a good friend and I'm honored you care, but there are things that need to remain hidden. Trust me, knowing what Saruman wants won't make a difference."
Gimli glared at Legolas. "Why are you always this stubborn?"
Legolas chuckled softly, but then his strength seeped away from him. The cold, dark cell was the last place he wanted to be and reminded him of the solitude he had encountered deep within the Mines of Moria. Although he had witnessed the silent splendor of that place, it had also frightened him. It was bereaved of light and warmth. His connection with nature was fading now that the great and ancient trees in the once beautiful gardens were being destroyed by Saruman. "I'm tired," he mumbled feebly. He wanted to stay conscious for Gimli, but no longer possessed the necessary strength.
Gimli didn't speak, hoping the Elf found some comfort in his company and silent support.
Gandalf froze in his tracks. "They arrived at Isengard."
Alarmed, Aragorn turned to face the wizard. "How do you know?"
"Do not ask such questions for you will not like the answer." Gandalf stared at the sky. The rain and wind had stopped to beat down on them, but the road was muddy and slowing them down. "We'll arrive at Orthanc, the black obsidian Tower, tonight. We might still be in time. Everything depends on Legolas' cunning and endurance now."
"Why won't you tell me why Saruman's after Legolas?"
"The lesser you know the better," said Gandalf evasively. "Come, we cannot waste more time."
Frustrated, Aragorn followed.
Gimli heard the footfalls first and quickly pushed himself to his feet, forgetting that Legolas needed him for support. The Elf almost slumped to his right, but the chains kept him in place. Concerned, Gimli almost took his place at Legolas' side again, but the urge to protect his companion was stronger. Without fear, he stood in front of Legolas.
The heavy door opened and Gimli cringed, feeling the power flow from the being in front of him. Large white robes and staff gave away the Wizard and Gimli instinctively knew this was Saruman the White, the Wizard who had given the Uruk-Hai orders to capture them.
The expression in Saruman's eyes briefly stunned Gimli. Never before had he seen such lust for power. Greed shone clearly from the old eyes, corrupting everything they looked upon. Even Gimli felt tainted.
Saruman took another step in to the cell and forced Gimli to back off with a single glare. Embarrassed and ashamed, Gimli found himself backing up in a corner. He fought the Wizard's will, but found Saruman too strong. No longer able to move or speak, he could only watch.
Saruman planted his staff firmly on the ground and then ordered one Uruk-Hai to lift the Elf's head. His eyes tried to probe beneath the Elf's unfocused blue orbs, but found that Legolas barely registered his presence. "I can feel it... Your power."
Legolas didn't move, didn't blink. Saruman's presence was intimidating and he needed to keep his wits about him. This was by far the most dangerous enemy he had ever fought. Denying Saruman's statement was useless so he kept quiet instead.
"You're no ordinary Elf. I should have known Gandalf carefully chose the companions, but I didn't pay any attention to the Fellowship until it was almost too late." In spite of his age, he lowered himself on to his heels so he could study his prisoner. "I feel the fire in you, young one. You are not what you appear." A wicked grin passed over his face. "Give yourself freely to me and I might spare you life. You know what I want, what I crave."
"No..." Legolas' voice was weak. "You can't have it. It was entrusted to me and I will keep it safe."
"The arrogance of youth," scolded Saruman as he rose to his feet. "Do you really think you stand a chance against me? I'm more powerful than you can ever imagine. If necessary I will take what I want."
Legolas' eyes briefly rolled in their sockets. "I won't let you." Saruman couldn't simply take what he wanted. It had to be given freely and Legolas would never empower the evil Wizard.
"You're dying, Legolas," sneered Saruman. "It's within my power to keep you in a twilight state, neither alive nor dead. You'll become a wraith if you do not give me what I want."
Gimli, unable to speak, growled his outrage. Unfortunately he didn't realize that it would draw Saruman's attention to him until it was too late.
"Or I could hurt the Dwarf. It's beyond me how you, an Elf, managed to befriend a Dwarf, but he will serve me well." Saruman's grin grew more evil. "He'll suffer for every minute you refuse to answer my questions."
Gimli managed to shake his head, but the blind Elf couldn't see it. Don't give in, Elf, just don't.
"It's me you want. The Dwarf isn't part of this." Exhaustion made it hard for Legolas to think clearly. Had he ever faced such a terrible decision? He could keep his secret and Gimli would pay the price, or he could give Saruman what he wanted and spare Gimli the pain and humiliation, but what certainty did he have that the Wizard would keep his word not to torment the Dwarf? None. He couldn't make a deal with the Evil One to save Gimli. "You may torture the valiant Dwarf, you may torture me, but I'll never give in to you. I can't and won't. I'll gladly die if that means keeping it safe."
Saruman didn't curse, didn't show any emotion at all. The mask that slipped in to place looked awfully familiar to Gimli. He had seen Legolas wear it as well. What terrible secret was Legolas keeping from the Wizard? Was it worth their lives? He had to trust Legolas on this.
Saruman reached a decision. "I'll give you some time to think this over, Legolas. I'll return in one hour and either you'll give me what I want or I WILL take it."
Legolas pretended not to hear the Wizard and his head slumped forward when the Uruk-Hai released his chin. He closed his eyes, heard the door close and knew that he was running out of time. Maybe he had to trust in Gimli after all, but first he needed some rest, a moment to clear his mind.
"Elf?" Now that he was able to move again, Gimli quickly joined Legolas. He sat down and managed to make eye contact with the Elf. "Will you tell me now?"
Legolas wasn't sure yet. The secret was his burden to carry and shouldn't be Gimli's. "Maybe, Master Dwarf." He had to believe that Aragorn hadn't given up yet; that the Son of Gondor was searching for him. But what were the odds of Aragorn freeing him? No, he had to put his faith in the Dwarf. "I need a promise first..."
Gimli started to shake his head, but then saw the pleading in the Elf's misty eyes. "I promise."
Legolas sighed relieved. "You'll flee and leave me here."
Horrified Gimli realized that Legolas had tricked him. Legolas had tried to convince him once before and back then he had refused. "Elf..."
"You promised, Master Dwarf..." reminded Legolas Gimli. "Will you keep your promise?"
Gimli saw in Legolas' eyes how important this was to the Elf and realized he couldn't take it back. Now he had to remain faithful to his word. "I'll keep my promise."
Legolas tried to ignore the stinging pain in his body. His voice sounded raw when he spoke next. "When Saruman appears again he'll take me with him. They won't pay much attention to you at that point. Use that opportunity to flee and find Aragorn. Don't come after me, do you understand?"
Gimli nodded nervously. "Why is it so important that I escape?"
Legolas licked his chapped lips. "Because you'll be smuggling something outside, something Saruman wants..."
Gimli's eyes narrowed. "What is it?"
The conversation had drained the Elf and he needed a moment to rest. "I'll tell you... later..."
Gimli watched as the Elf slipped in to unconsciousness again. "What are you hiding? What burden have you been carrying?" Hopefully those questions would be answered the next time the Elf awoke.
Aragorn looked at the black, obsidian tower. Knowing that his friends were at Saruman's mercy made his heart heavy with worry. He especially worried about the blind Elf. Had the poison further affected Legolas or had the Elf's body found a way to deal with it?
"What do we do now, Gandalf?" If it were up to him he would storm in there in search of Legolas, but the Orcs and Uruk-Hai would probably kill him before he even came close to the Elf. They needed a cunning plan to rescue Legolas and Gimli.
"I'll provide a distraction," said Gandalf. "Saruman already knows I'm here; he senses my presence like I can sense his." Gandalf's fingers tightly clutched his staff. Saruman wouldn't take him by surprise again now that he knew the Master of the Tower wanted the one Ring for himself. "Legolas is beneath the Tower, in the dark cells. Being without sunlight has weakened him. Gimli is with him, biding his time. Free them and take them West. You'll find shelter on your way where you can nurse Legolas back to health. I'll join you shortly."
"Gandalf..." Aragorn met the Wizard's eyes.
"I know how much our Elven Prince means to you, Aragorn. It may be the reason why Elrond insisted Legolas took part in this quest. Elrond is wise, and sees within the hearts of Men."
"How did you know about my feelings for Legolas?" Aragorn frowned. Hadn't he hidden the attraction well?
"As I said, your destinies are intertwined." Gandalf chuckled softly. "We should get moving now. Time is running out on us."
Aragorn drew his sword and followed the Wizard as Gandalf walked toward the destroyed gardens.
"Gim...li?" Legolas barely managed to speak as his throat felt constricted. The poisoned tissue was swelling, slowly cutting off his air supply.
"I'm here, Elf!" Gimli acted at once and patted the Elf's face, hopefully helping Legolas gain full consciousness. "The hour has almost passed and Saruman will be back soon."
Legolas nodded. "I must tell you..."
"What?" Gimli held his breath. "What do you want me to smuggle outside?" Suddenly Legolas' head slumped forward and the Dwarf feared Legolas had lost consciousness again, but the Elf's voice reassured him.
"Look beneath my hair..."
Puzzled, Gimli gently pushed the long strands aside. He frowned as his fingertips encountered something hard. "What is it?"
"Take it. Keep it with you. Saruman can't have it." Legolas felt how gentle fingers undid the braids, hidden beneath the long hair.
Gimli's eyes widened when he finally looked upon the object that had been hidden in Legolas' hair. "It's a Ring." The Ring was made of silver, and one brilliant red stone, probably a ruby, shone temptingly at him. "What am I holding in my hands, Elf?"
"Narya, the Ring of Fire. It's one of the three Elven Rings. You saw the Ring of Water on Galadriel's finger... I'm the keeper of Narya, the Ring of Fire. Saruman can't have it and I'm too weak to withstand long. You must flee and smuggle it outside. Find Aragorn, tell him about the Ring and made sure it's safe. If Saruman gets his hands on the Ring he will corrupt it. The Ring is still pure... Don't let Saruman find it."
Gimli stared entranced at the treasure in his hand. "I never thought you were hiding something like this. I thought the three Elven Rings had long disappeared."
Legolas felt that Gimli deserved an answer but first he had to warn the Dwarf. "Put the Ring away. Don't slip it on to your finger..."
Gimli placed the Ring in a pocket and then looked at the exhausted Elf for further explanation.
"Gandalf first kept the Ring, but he gave it to me many centuries ago. He wanted the Ring to be hidden and too many beings had learned he possessed the Ring. I kept it for hundreds of years..." His sharp hearing picked up on approaching footfalls. "Saruman's close... Hide the Ring from him and flee. Don't ever look back and don't you dare come back for me. Stop Aragorn if that's his plan. The safety of the Ring comes first; take it far away from here!"
Suddenly a lot of Legolas' past behavior made sense to Gimli. "You must have led a lonely life..." It also explained the mask, designed to keep people at a distance. "I'll keep it safe," he promised, but he added another silent vow at the same time. I'll come back for you. I won't let you die in here... or let Saruman turn you in to a wraith.
Legolas, too exhausted to reply, remained quiet.
The door opened and Saruman entered once more. "Elf, what is your answer?" The Wizard's deep voice echoed in the dark cell.
"The answer is no..." Legolas knew he damned himself to torment at Saruman's hands, but that didn't matter as long as Gimli got a chance to escape.
Saruman's face contorted; evil desire shone from his greedy eyes and his fingers almost crushed his staff. "I will not accept that!" He signaled one of the Uruk-Hai to remove the chains. "Take him to the great hall." He quickly turned, climbed the stairs, not paying any attention to the captured Dwarf.
Gimli knew this was his only chance. If he made his move now, the Uruk-Hai wouldn't notice his disappearance. Suddenly Legolas looked up; his blind eyes once more pleading with him to run. Gimli couldn't deny his friend, knowing how much it meant to Legolas to know the Ring safe. I'll be back, he promised and then sneaked out of the cell.
He stole up the stairs, trying to remember what way they had come. He dodged the Orcs and Uruk-Hai which he encountered in the halls and made his way toward the exit. All the while his desire to stay at the Elf's side remained, but he successfully fought it. He had to take the Ring of Fire to safety and then he could come back for Legolas.
Legolas didn't fight when the Uruk-Hai draped him over his shoulder, carrying him out of the cell. His world spun and he felt dizzy and nauseous, but it no longer mattered. He had served his purpose; the Ring of Fire was safe. Saruman would surely question him, maybe even torture him to find out about the Ring, but he could stand the pain a little longer.
He closed his eyes, trying to fight the urge to hurl. A moment later, he was dumped on to the cold stone floor. His hands were bound again. Did they really think he still had the strength to escape? It caused a weak smile to appear on his face. He struggled to his feet, but when he finally succeeded Saruman pointed his staff at him and a terrible force swept him off his feet, threw him through the room and his back crashed hard against the wall. He slid down the wall in to a pathetic heap.
"I demand you give the Ring of Fire to me. It's been idle for too long. It needs a new master." Saruman rose to his feet, and approached his prisoner. His staff was still pointed at the helpless Elf.
"Ne...ver..." panted Legolas softly. His entire body hurt, burning with poison and Saruman throwing him through the room didn't help either. Defiantly he raised his blind eyes. "We both know that... I won't give you the Ring... and that you'll kill me..." He wanted to add more, but once more an invisible force flung him through the room. This time he landed hard on his shoulder and he heard bones breaking. His eyes flashed with pain.
Saruman now stood in front of him and the staff moved again. This time invisible hands pulled him up in the air, sliding him upward against the wall. Hanging suspended in the air he wondered about Saruman's next step.
"I won't kill you before I have the Ring. Where is it, Elf?" Saruman's rage came to a boiling point when Legolas shook his head. Angry at being denied, he moved his staff, dropping Legolas hard on to the floor. The startled scream that left the Elf's lips was like soothing balm to his black soul. "When I'm finished with you, you'll beg me to kill you."
Legolas barely registered the Wizard's words. A bone in his shoulder snapped, almost making him scream out with pain. He believed Saruman when the Wizard said he would make him suffer; he just hoped Saruman would kill him in the end and not turn him in to a wraith. The thought of being condemned to live like that chilled him to the bone.
Gimli turned around the corner and suddenly cold steel rested against his throat. His first instinct was to tackle his opponent, but looking up, his eyes widened. "Aragorn..."
Aragorn felt equally relieved. He had hoped to find Gimli and Legolas quickly and now it appeared he had run in to Gimli. "Where's Legolas?"
"Saruman took him." Gimli grinned broadly, as Aragorn handed him back his beloved axe. "We must free him."
"Is he still blind?" Aragorn tried to come up with a new plan.
"Aye, and he's weak as well. He's barely conscious and unable to walk unaided." Gimli balanced his treasured axe in his hand. "What are we waiting for?"
Gimli frowned. "The Wizard died in the Mines, Aragorn."
"No, he survived. He's going after Saruman to provide a distraction."
Gimli simply accepted the news of the Wizard's resurrection. "Legolas is with Saruman."
This time Aragorn frowned. "What does Saruman want from Legolas? Gandalf wouldn't tell me!"
Gimli reached into his pocket and uncovered the Ring. "Narya, the Ring of Fire. Legolas is his keeper and Saruman wants it."
Aragorn gasped. "That's why I saw the flame shine from the palm of his hand." He stared at the Ring. "Why is it with you if he's the keeper?"
"Saruman knows Legolas had it. The Elf wanted me to smuggle it outside and take it to you."
"We need to find Gandalf." When they found the Wizard, they would also find Legolas. "Put the Ring away again. It might draw the Orcs close..."
Gimli put the Ring back. "What's the plan?"
"We're going after Legolas. Do you know where they took him?"
"Aye, to the great hall."
"Then lead on, Master Dwarf. Battle awaits us."
Gimli grumbled deep within his throat, "You'd better still be alive, Elf."
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