Barad-dur fell, and still he was dying. He was free, and yet trapped. He could appreciate the irony. An prisoner from Barad-dur is freed, and all he wants is to go home.
I was born in the year twenty-five hundred, shortly after Mordor's evil spread to the Misty Mountains. That placed my age as around five hundred and ten years, plus the years I was held captive. Five long centuries I lived, spent in the most beautiful of environments, surrounded by loved ones and glorious nature crashing on my doorstep. I have praised every aspect of my homeland, out of piety when I was there and out of desperate remembrance when I was torn away. The mountains, the trees, the waves, the play of sunlight on wave, I have them encased in my memory in mithril vaults.
In all my five hundred years, I have never been especially thankful for the wind. The life-giver, Manwe's realm, where the breeze can carry the scent of earth and salt combined in a tantalizing mixture that pulls the heartstrings, and I have never stood in awe for the majesty that is the air. Not that pathetic, dark air of my prison. I curse that, for it filled me when I did not wish to filled and stayed still and stagnant until it was the only thing forcing me to continue. I think I had forgotten that there was such a thing a clean, moving air that makes you celebrate life.
Not so now. Now I know.
The first thing I noticed was that there was a breeze. It was the first truly alive thing I had felt in far, far too long, and it was a burst of surreal sensation. Senses long thought dead were reborn and my mind opened to my surroundings without fear. I could taste the ocean on it. I knew, even if I did not know the origin or even the direction of this feathery caress, that it had passed over my homeland and pulled every particle of its essence to it so that it would meet me here and make me feel welcome.
It whispered to me like a lover long parted, light on my face, barely stirring my hair. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to float in eternity with that wind.
Then I remembered - with wind came sky. With sky came - was it possible? Would it still be there, after all our time apart? Did the sun burst in my absence, and I not notice? The idea of sunlight was a warm shiver over my body, so completely denied for so long that just the thought of it sent excitement flaring in my chest. I did not dare open my eyes for fear of being wrong, of being disappointed yet again.
Something moved near my feet. I felt the earth shift and hear footsteps over the slight ringing in my ears. There had been a loud noise before, a while before, and I had felt the world die and be born again. I know not what it was, just that the explosion had been a symphony of release and light, like the bubble of evil in my prison had been perforated and the good had come rushing in.
Soon after that, while I was still in shock from the sudden change of atmosphere, I had been moved to where I could feel the wind and hear footsteps.
They were not heavy and metallic like an Orcs. I knew Orc footsteps, and these were not them. They were firm and loud, but cautious, as if the walker was treading on sacred ground. There was a grating of mail on stone, and the being was kneeling beside me, probing with calloused but gentle fingers. It griped my wrist and, I assumed, felt the life in my veins. When it realized that I was not a corpse, however still I lay, it began to speak in a low, gruff voice.
I was over five hundred year old, and yet I never had more than a handful of chances to use the tongue of mortals. At that moment, I wished that I had bothered to talk with the men who visited the shores of my homeland. I could not grasp a single syllable, and it broke my heart that it was the first kind thing said to me in so long and I could not understand it.
He who was above me - for it was a he, the voice gave it away, if not the calloused fingers of a warrior - tugged at my clothing, still speaking. Orcs rarely used the tongues of men, or at least the ones that grew within Barad-dur did not. They preferred the Black Speech. If he - who was now investigating my torso - had started cursing in that vile language, I guess that I could have
understood every word.
I doubt, however, that he could have transferred the same amount of comfort he gave me if he spoke as an Orc. The language is not often used to reassure, I have found.
I decided that if I could not understand I could at least look. Besides, I wanted to know if Arda had changed much in my absence.
Below ground, incidents and hurts blend, but when I opened my eyes I instantly assumed I had been poisoned, or that the Orcs had strange powers I did not know of. Everything around me was a blur. There were shapes and light and dark, and I still could have counted the fingers on a hand held before me, but everything beyond my immediate surroundings -a small rock and the figure - was indistinguishable.
I blinked and focused right in front of me, trying to bring together every straying thought to evaluate the person leaning over me.
He was short, unnaturally short if he was an Elf. Was he an Elf? No, I dismissed that quickly. He had a rather long, bristly beard and wore full armor plates of a thickness no Elf could stand. He was a Dwarf.
He was a Dwarf - there was an odd feeling of hostility tied to the word, but I could not think of why. This Dwarf talked to me nicely, was tending to some hurt of mine and did not seem to care that I was an Elf. I released the vague feeling of discontent and decided that it must have been some opinion from before.
I ignored him for the moment. The sun was there somewhere and it called me. I could feel it, shining in the blue and beginning to warm my exposed flesh. I turned my face upwards, searching. There was a haze of blue and grey from the overhanging mountain chain blurring together, clouded like there was a thin veil of gauze over my eyes. Everything was oddly obscured.
I could not see the sun. She hid from me.
That would never do. The sun warmed me and the wind touched me, so Arda was not angry. The earth felt peaceful. There was no indication of why I could not see the sun, other than failing eyesight. The Orcs had done something, amidst their other terrible somethings, that had hurt my eyes. Expected, but unpleasant all the same.
I knew that if I discovered where the sun hung, I would be able to find it, or at least sense that glow and let memory fill in the view.
I, in a movement that felt like it passed through time instead of space, grabbed the wrist of my tender.
He fairly jumped out of his beetle-like armor. He turned to me with wide eyes and I knew he had thought me lost or asleep. He smiled at me, his hard features softening, and pointed at my midsection. He spoke.
"Where is the sun?" I cut him off. My voice was pale, those being the first real words I had said in Valar knew how long. He looked at me, brows furrowed, and I realized he did not understand what I said.
"Where is the sun?" I repeated slowly. He sat back on his heels and out of my clearest line of vision. He was a dark blur that held up a hand in a gesture that asked for a moment. He patted my shoulder and stood, towering over me.
He left. He walked away, leaving me alone with my eyes and my mind and the dark that the sun could not find. I wanted to stand and go after him, to tell him in no uncertain terms not to leave me with the shadow when the sun was so near I could taste it, but after a single shift of my body I knew I had betrayed myself. I could not move to the Dwarf and I could not move to the sun. They would have to come and find me.
I felt the shadows creep in. Whether the darkness was in my thoughts or my surroundings was a mystery. I could not fight it, and wished he would come back. Even if he could not speak properly and everything he said sounded like the babbling of a madman.
I wished I had learned Westron.
The footsteps sounded again to my right. The Dwarf kneeled and smiled, as if to say, "That was not so bad, now, was it?"
I smiled back, a small moment of pleasure while the darkness receded back into its caverns of misery and mistrust.
He leaned over, so his expression became instantly clearer. He looked indecisive and embarrassed and I had to know why. Had I done something? He licked his lips and took a resolute breath.
It was uncertain, mispronounced and so obviously foreign to the Dwarf's mouth that it was amusing to hear. It was the first Elvish, the beautiful, lilting language of my people, that I had heard in an eternity. I closed my eyes and let the word repeat itself in my head.
"Name?" This time he said it with the emphasize on another syllable. He was even more uncertain and my action must have unnerved him for he placed his fingers on my throat to feel the heat pulsing.
"Nenhim." I opened my eyes and smiled at him. I half raised a hand and pointed at my chest. "Name. Nenhim." I searched for a translation, something he could remember. It had been the first, and only, Mortal I had ever learned and it had to be buried somewhere in my mind. I could not have forgotten the meaning of my name. "Nenhim...Coolwater."
The last part was a sad attempt at Westron. It must have been as stumbling and confusing to the Dwarf as my Elvish was to him, but he was a sport and made no sign of it. "Nenhim?" He asked. I nodded once and slightly.
He pointed to his own chest. "Gimli. Name Gimli." He gave no helpful translation into Elvish. I think he did not know of one. I'd have to remember that name on my own.
He sat down in the dirt, his feet at my head and staring at me. He looked as though he was waiting for someone. He stretched his hands out behind him, preparing to lean back.
Just as he put weight on his hands, he jumped forward as if burned. He blustered like a badger who had lunged at a shadow. Then he looked down at his hand, the one closest to me. It was red.
Then something resembling confusion passed over his face. He looked at me. He looked at my legs. He looked into my eyes once for, this time his face the careful calm of a healer.
He - Gimli, the Dwarf had a name and it was Gimli - kneeled near my knees and prodded various places along my legs, gauging my face for a reaction. I just stared at him, wondering what in the world he was doing and how I could render my concerns about the hidden sun into something he would understand.
Gimli looked slightly desperate, and I was confused about that for we had just met. He did not have to care about anything concerning me, yet this Gimli moved down my legs and, I assumed, ran a finger over the balls of my bare feet. When I did not flinch, his face took on an expression so sad I could see it through the blur of my eyes.
I took pity on him.
"Orcs. Orcs." I made a snapping gesture with my fists and pointed at my torso, trying to indicate my back. "Orcs."
Now he looked angry.
Anger was bad.
I tried to move away but had to settle for shrinking slightly backwards. Gimli started muttering to himself, less bluster and more hate, and I did not want to be the center of focus if he chose to act out.
He might have noticed, for the flash of anger was replaced by a...less hateful expression, I assumed. He was still to far away to make anything out in great detail. My eyes were failing, my body was crumbling, and only my mind stayed whole.
"Please tell me, where has the sun gone? I cannot see her." I had to see her.
He came closer and put a hand across my forehead. I could have told him I was not babbling with fever, but the Dwarf did not
"Tell me. My eyes fail," I continued, even though it was useless. "Understand! Why has the sun hidden from me?"
Gimli shook his head.
Mandos take it. It was pointless to try and get anything across. I was ready to give up.
Then I saw him.
He must have come to talk with the Dwarf, for Gimli moved over to him when he approached. They acted like good companions, and I felt a stab of jealousy that quickly subsided. It did not matter that he had met others, bonded with others. He had come for me.
He was a blurred image of browns and greens. My elusive sun played on his hair, making it into a halo of gold framing indistinguishable features. He was tall, towering over Gimli, and he clasped a hand on the dwarf's shoulder and came to me.
His very presence sang of serenity, strength, an eternity of hope.
Aredil had not deigned to consort with Dwarves when I knew him, but things change over the years.
He knelt down beside me, and I could not see his face clear enough to make out features. My eyes were worsening, and soon I would be blind to everything. All I could see now was gold and an ethereal glow of comfort and perfection.
Aredil. My oldest, best, favourite, and most loyal friend. We were inseparable, before my confinement. I always held a private dream that when I was freed, he would be there waiting. Eventually the dream had faded to dust, but now it came true and was happy.
"Aredil, I thought you had forgotten me."
The Elf froze, seeming shocked by my words. He looked to where Gimli was standing and spoke in Westron. Aredil had been no more adept at Westron than I, but again, things could change. Perhaps he had traveled through many Mortal cities in search of me and had been forced to learn.
Why did I care? Aredil was there, beside me, and nothing else mattered.
He looked down over me. "I am not..." The Dwarf cut him off with a sound of protest.
Not what? Glad to have found me? Not able to convey in word what you feel? Not really here, and this is just another torture on top of many others?
Gimli and my elf were conferring softly but heatedly. With a sign, Aredil turned back to me. "Nenhim, never would I dare forget you."
I smiled, nay, beamed. I had wanted to hear those words - to know I was forgiven - for so long. "I believed you would be angry at me. For not coming to see you as I promised." Aredil had been there waiting, waiting, and I never came and never came. I should have set out with a large company for a guard, as my Lord had advised.
"No, I was never angry."
The relief made me feel faint. I closed my eyes and fluttered in a sea of giddiness. I felt him taking my shoulder, calling my name, and the Dwarf moving beside me to check my breathing.
I pulled myself together. Aredil, friend long lost, was here with me. I was wasting time. I opened my eyes to find myself in strong arms, leaning against a chest with blonde hair beside my face.
Aredil was looking at me, but I could see nothing but the glow of pale skin. "I am glad. I had hoped you were coming for me." I was growing harder and harder to speak, as if there was a weight pressing on my chest.
He shushed me. "I will take you home, NenhÃm. We will go home together and people will sing at your return." His voice wavered. Was that sorrow? I did not know. I did not know anything other than my love of this elf and our consuming
I felt strange, stranger than ever before, as if my body were a bed of feathers and my soul was slowly sinking down. I felt no hurt, no confusion. This was perfection, this slow and steady drifting. I could see nothing but the light holding me. I wondered where Gimli the Dwarf had gone, then realized that there were probably others like me who needed tending.
Or perhaps he was still there. I was looking down a long tube edged by that white light. "Would you sing for me, Aredil? Of
home?" My voice sounded hollow and tinny. Had I been feeling different, I would have self-conscious about making such a maudlin request. At the moment I did not care. I had spent too much time thinking of home, singing to myself in the darkness, to care if anyone would judge my question.
After a moment of silence, he began.
His voice was different than I remembered, slower and heavier. It was the beginning verses of a long, slow song with a haunting melody I adored. The notes rose and fell in waves of foam and fractured light. It was the tale of Earendil and Elwing's journey to Aman, meant for honouring a ship departing Arda for the silver shores of Valinor.
I was carried high as he sang, away from my numb body and back to my ship moored to the seaside. I stood at the dock, tasting the glorious spice of salt in the mist. I breathed deep, absorbing as much as possible. The waves crashed on the rocks, making spray mist over my parched skin. Bliss.
The sights around me turned to grey. My home faded, but the song continued. The voice was my world, the only life in the greyness. I closed my eyes and let the notes work their strange magic. Perhaps they would bear me back to the quay.
The song stopped, then times stopped, then it all stopped. I never found the sun.
Namo welcomed me with outstretched arms.
Legolas let the notes trail off. He looked at Gimli, numb and in control.
He shifted his charge and stood with the weight in his arms. He paused, staring at the pale face of the dark-haired elf with eyes like a storm cloud, eyes that were now blank and empty. "How old would you guess he was?"
Gimli was silent.
"He was a child."
Gimli looked at his friend, tall and bright in the sunlight, keen eyes turned to the body in his arms. "Who here was not?" The fallen Barad-dur had played host to hostages and the dead alike, and once the tower collapsed the dead quickly outnumbered the living trapped inside. Bodies retrieved from the wreckage were laid out in rows, ready to be buried in Ithilien. He turned away. "Come. Bear him away from this prison so that his soul may continue to your Halls of Waiting." He walked away, gravel
Legolas slowly followed, humming softly and watching at the faint breeze that disturbed the ash into small whirlwinds, which broke on the rubble like waves on cliffs.