What Do Your Elf-Eyes See?
In which Legolas can see through the fourth wall. This worries him. Greatly. Mix of book-verse and movie-verse. Complete and utter crack.
Disclaimer: Although my surname is also Germanic, it is not Tolkien. Therefore, I do not own Middle-earth. I just play in its sandbox and hope the good Professor does not come back to haunt me.
Legolas is worried. Very worried.
The first few times he sees the ghostly double-images, he brushes it off as nothing more than a trick of the eyes.
After all, the first time it happens, he has just come from a long day of fighting spiders and breathing the polluted air of Mirkwood. Exhaustion is not conducive to clear thinking in the first place, and psychedelic miasmas and hallucinogenic spores would not be a surprise by now, considering how tainted Mirkwood has become. It's enough to make even the most even-tempered Elf suspicious and cranky.
To make matters better, his patrol discovers a baker's dozen of angry little Dwarves wandering in their woods.
Dwarves. The last thing he wants to deal with right now.
Nevertheless, his patrol swiftly takes them into custody. The combination of the toxic atmosphere of Mirkwood (courtesy of their unpleasant neighbor to the south, the Necromancer) and the surliness of their Dwarf captives combines to give Legolas a headache, and that must surely explain what follows.
After they toss their prisoners in the dungeons and he turns to follow Tauriel out, he catches a glimpse of a tall figure instead of an angry midget in one of the cells behind him. He blinks and looks again.
It must have only been the Dwarf's shadow. There he is as Legolas expected, short and hairy in his heavy dark clothes, glaring up at the Elf with all the incorrigibility of his kind. (Although he could not have understood the words, he must have definitely understood Legolas's insulting tone of voice.)
Legolas only raises one superior eyebrow and walks off. The brief glimpse of a tall Man with curly black hair, blank black eyes, and suspiciously sharp teeth is soon forgotten.
Not so easily forgotten are the other strange mental images the plague Legolas for the duration of the Dwarves' residence in the dungeons.
Every time he looks at his father, he sees strange pink glasses superimposed over Thranduil's face. Spotlights and flowers appear out of nowhere. He can hear the sighing of thousands of mortal girls rustle like a whisper of doom through the underground halls.
Legolas shakes his head to clear his mind. The inexplicable phenomenon fades away, but it will be back again, he knows. Its frequent recurrence is starting to disturb him.
He doesn't say a word about it to anyone else, though. If this is some lingering side-effect of exposure to the miasma infecting Mirkwood, he would rather not know what everyone else sees. Most of all, he does not want to explain what he is himself seeing. Or think about it at all, really.
Denial? What denial?
He's almost glad to follow Tauriel to Lake-town to get away from insanity haunting him.
Wiping the blood from his face, Legolas sets off in furious horseback pursuit of Bolg, leaving Lake-town behind him. The spawn of the Pale Orc is cunning, however, and eludes him on the shores of the Long Lake. The Elf is still considering which direction his enemy may have taken to escape when an ominous red glow blots out the stars on the horizon.
All too aware of Tauriel, who chose to remain behind in the now-burning town for the sake of those troublesome Dwarves, Legolas leads his exhausted mount back the way he came. The knowledge that he cannot make it back to Lake-town in time to be of any use is a heavy one, but he doesn't alter his course.
At this distance, Smaug is no bigger than an insect, swooping around the dying city like a moth circling the flames of a campfire. Even so, Legolas's elf-eyes can pick out some detail. When the dragon stalls in midair, the fire dying in his eyes and the roar choking in his throat, Legolas's breath catches.
With hideous silence, the dragon crashes down on the ruined town.
Torn with fear and worry, Legolas pays no attention to the giant blue scarf wrapped around the dragon's neck. There might have been a hat, as well, but he ignores it just the same.
After the drama of the Battle of Five Armies, but before he sets out to aid the Dunedain in their ceaseless vigilance over Arnor and the roads of the wild, Legolas is introduced to the leader of the Men from Lake-town. Bard – the Bowman, they're calling him, after his shot felled Smaug right over the ruins of the last settlement the dragon would ever devastate – is a reasonable enough mam. He keeps his word to return the Arkenstone to the now-kingless Dwarves and, even more impressively, maintain peace with both Mirkwood and Erebor. He speaks of rebuilding Dale, where his ancestors once dwelled, and Legolas makes a mental note to at least visit the area in a few decades. He doesn't doubt one bit that Bard will achieve that dream for his family and his people.
In the meanwhile, though, Thranduil has found in Bard a new drinking buddy. The snow falling on the slow clean-up of the battlefield behind him, Legolas walks past the royal tent as he gathers his things to depart. He pauses when he hears his name spoken, face automatically contorting with mortification. One too many glasses of wine, and his father inevitably starts telling embarrassing stories about his elfling days.
Where's Feren when you need him, Legolas grumbles to himself as he peeks in the tent, careful to keep out of his father's sight.
Thranduil is toying with an empty goblet, studying Bard with a detached interest. Elf-lords do not succumb to mere curiosity, after all. "Yes, that's it," he drawls. "Just like my son during his pirate phase."
Legolas blinks. What?
Deaf to everything the Elven-king says, Bard's holding his own one-sided commentary about his own children and how difficult it's been taking care of and feeding them as a widower. Crossing his arms and leaning forward over the light table, he says earnestly, "Pies."
Thranduil tilts his head ever so slightly, also blinking. "Pies?"
"Yeah. Pies." Bard nods. Momentarily, his teeth also seem extra pointy. "Not too difficult to make, and they always go over well with the little ones. Trust me on this one. You'd probably be good at making them."
Legolas doesn't linger to hear any more of Bard's father-to-father advice. Instead, he turns on his heel and walks away quickly, deciding that, as far as he's concerned, that conversation never happened. He's also going to ignore the reflection of himself he saw on his father's silver goblet – distorted by the surface's curvature, yes, but that doesn't explain why the image paired his features with dark hair and unfamiliar clothing.
Again, there might have been a nice hat, but he ignores it.
This is not real, none of it. This is not my reality.
During the decades between the Battle of the Five Armies and Elrond's summons to attend his council in Rivendell, Legolas enjoys a blessed interval free of the insane superimposed images and ghostly aliens walking among the inhabitants of Middle-earth. Those precious few decades are but a blink in the life of an elf, of course, but it is enough to give him hope that, with the Necromancer banished from the southern end of Mirkwood, he will not have cause to doubt his own sanity again.
Never has he been so wrong in all his life.
The hallucinations being anew with his summoning to Imladris to deliver a message from his father. He arrives in time to find that a council is being held and his presence is requested. Unsure of what is going on, he takes his seat and pays attention to the introduction of the other attendees to try and learn what the matter is. That's when it happens.
Lord Elrond appears to be wearing dark glasses, and luminous green squiggles swirl through the darkened air around him. Legolas blinks and the image disperses, but the unsettled feeling returns a hundredfold.
No sooner is Legolas introduced to Boromir of Gondor then thousands of copies of the man cluster the halls of Rivendell, all of them forming a circle with index and thumb and repeating thousands of variations on the same statement. Something about 'simply Mordor', as far as he can tell.
If it's the One Ring causing these illusions, Legolas will happily walk to Mordor with this newly-formed Fellowship to put an end to it.
Legolas had quite enough of Gollum when the corrupted Stoor spent his time in the dungeons of Mirkwood and, later, in the trees of Mirkwood. After all, he had been the one chosen to be the bearer of the bad news of Gollum's escape to the Council of Elrond.
He might be on better terms with his father now than he once was, but Thranduil's sense of humor is unchanged. And his errands never end well for Legolas.
So when he hears in the echoing darkness of Moria that familiar hiss of his breath and the faint padding of his feet and hands on the dusty stone, he could almost cry.
Why, oh Valar, why?
He knows Aragorn is no more thrilled than he to notice their skulking tag-along as they slowly wind their way through the passages of Moria. Mithrandir and Frodo seem aware of it, also, so he says nothing. All know that need to know.
However, after he relieves Frodo of the watch and sits motionless in the oppressive gloom, he cannot stifle a glare in the general direction of Gollum's breathing. He would have gladly loosed an arrow or two at him for the honor of Mirkwood, if not for Mithrandir's words to Thranduil, as he left the captive with them months back: "My heart tells me that he has yet some part to play, for good or ill, before the end."
It's always best to listen to Mithrandir, in the long run.
Scarcely have those thoughts flitted through the Elf's mind when he spies two pale points of light near the western archway of the subterranean hall. Eyes. Gollum.
The Elf does not move; he does not even let his hand ghost to the hilt of his knife. He merely watches, as intently as an Eagle of Manwë, as the wretched creature sits and debates with himself.
The world around Legolas grows hazy and fades to another setting, one of metal and wires and sharp lines made by no Dwarven, Elven, or Mannish hand. It is only for a moment, and soon the stone and forbidding emptiness of Moria reappear – when had the sight of Moria become a relief? – but it is enough to disturb Legolas's perfect Elvish equanimity once again.
For that moment, Gollum had not looked the least bit Hobbit-like. He had been a Man in tight, gray clothing, the strangest of freckles dotting his face, speaking in Gollum's raspy snarl into a set of metal wires placed like a helmet on his head.
Sweet Elbereth preserve me, I think I'm losing my mind.
As they sail down the Anduin in the white Elven-boats Lord Celeborn had thoughtfully provided for them, Legolas has half a mind to tell Gimli to put Galadriel's gift to him away safely before he drops the three golden hairs in the water.
He does not say a word, however. The uneasy truce between them that began when Mithrandir fell into the abyss and they entered Lothlorien has strengthened into something like friendship. Neither of them remotely want to discuss the how or why, but one of the last things Mithrandir had said to them, before they entered the long dark of Moria, had been: "I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both."
The least they can do is obey his last commands. Surprisingly, they have.
So when orcish arrows arc towards them out of the night as they drift too close to Sarn Gebir, Legolas and Gimli work together without protest to drive their boat back to the shore. As soon as all three of the gray elf-boats have reached cover, Gimli snatches up his axe, standing guard while Legolas draws his bow.
Heralded by orcish cries, a dark cloud, full of malice, swoops out of the sky. Begging the blessing of the Star-Kindler, Legolas looses his arrow.
With a hideous scream, the cloud-that-is-not-a-cloud falls from the sky, swerving into the darkness of the far shore. In the distance, the orcs raise an unholy clamor. Next to Legolas, Gimli offers his gruff congratulations on his good shot in the dark, and his sentiments are echoed by the other members of the Fellowship.
Legolas scarcely hears them. His gaze is fixed on a wooden boat of strange make, being paddled heedlessly down the Anduin by a rakish-looking man. The stranger occasionally consults an unusual black compass before adjusting his course. Legolas tells himself he has not before seen a similar hat or style of clothing in his hallucinations.
Is that… a dinghy?
Resting on the oars, the stranger allows his craft to drift past the Fellowship, unseen by the rest. Cocking his head to the orcish clamour, he nods companionably to Legolas.
"The orcs will always remember this as the day they almost caught the Fellowship," he reassures the Elf.
Legolas is not reassured.
Hearing the Horn of Gondor, Aragorn dashes off through the trees. He barely pauses to take down the Uruk-hai in his way, so intent is he on reaching Boromir in time. Behind him, Legolas and Gimli mop up the other uruks so none of them can come at Aragorn from behind.
One of these days, Legolas is going to have to speak to Aragorn about his habit of taking on far too many foes at once.
As a consequence, however, Legolas and Gimli arrive at the scene too late. Aragorn is bent over Boromir, receiving his last words and assuring him that he will not let the city of Men, the city of their people, fall into the hands of Sauron. Boromir smiles, a pale strange smile full of hope and relief that Legolas does not understand. Over his heart the fingers on his sword clench tighter on the hilt and freeze.
Sometimes Elven hearing is a curse. Legolas hears all too well Boromir's last rattling breath. He imagines he can almost also hear the departure of Boromir's fëa, flying beyond the bounds of Arda to a fate the Elves know not. The thought sends a chill down his spine.
As he bows his head to wish that their brave son of Gondor will find peace after death, the moment is utterly ruined by ghostly voices whispering:
"What did you expect? It's Sean Bean. Of course he died."
Although the Three Hunters – and Boromir, too, before his valiant death - slew many of the uruks, not even their prowess had saved the youngest members of the Fellowship from capture. After some debate, and consoled by the knowledge that Frodo has not set off for Mordor unaccompanied, they decide to double west in search of Merry and Pippin.
A long and tiring chase it is, across the fields of Rohan, unable to continue their pursuit by night and their hearts ever burned by the thought of what torments those young hobbits might be enduring.
One morning, as Legolas stops upon a promontory and gazes out across the intervening leagues, Aragorn calls to him, "Legolas, what do your elf-eyes see?"
And Legolas does not rightly know how to respond, for his vision is suddenly filled with a great green screen. Not a greenish haze, as of a mist or of some wraith's sorcery, but an enormous emerald expanse, opaque and of one relentless color. It is as if a curtain has descended from the sky, cutting off what should have been a landscape of grasslands, far-off forests, and even farther-off Misty Mountains.
Then Legolas blinks, and the trees are right there where they should be, no green screen in sight.
He's so confused, he accidentally says "northeast" instead of "northwest".
Gimli ribs him later for having inherited his father's sense of direction, but Legolas is in no mood to explain.
Seeking news of Merry and Pippin, the Three Hunters await the approach of the Riders of Rohan. When Aragorn hails the band of Riders, they soon find themselves surrounded by a thicket of spears. Unperturbed by this hostile greeting, Aragorn introduces them, while Gimli grows restless at Legolas's side.
As soon as the leader of the Riders grows wary at the mention of the Golden Wooden and questions them as "net-weavers and sorcerers", however, his image is superlaid by that of another – a harried, darker-haired man in a strange blue uniform, his expression that of utter exasperation.
"Damn it, Jim," he says, scowling, "I'm a doctor, not the Third Marshal of the Riddermark."
Growling in offense, Gimli brandishes his axe and accuses the Rider of little thought and foolish words. The apparition promptly vanishes without a trace. Legolas can only guess at what Aragorn and Gimli meanwhile saw and heard, but he is not one to stand idle when a friend is threatened. Quicker than sight, he has fitted an arrow to the string and selected his target.
He is pleased at the steadiness of his hands, despite the jarring mystery of his vision.
As the Three Hunters approach Edoras and the Golden Hall of Meduseld, Mithrandir accompanying them atop a magnificent lord of horses, Legolas heaves a silent sigh.
Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpses Aragorn atop his borrowed steed – except the horse has seemingly been splashed with whitewash in a bold pattern. Aragorn is covered with even more dust and grime than usual, and his weathered Ranger gear has been exchanged for unfamiliar cloth. A hat is perched on his head.
For several breaths, the image lingers. Unlike most of Legolas's visions, it does not unsettle him. Aragorn still seems much himself, if born to the saddle with the same easy grace shared by these Riders of Rohan. Finally, he glances up to the emblem of the white horse floating over the golden-thatched roofs and watchtowers, and the alien garb falls away. The horse's coat again becomes an unremarkable hue.
Aragorn pats his mount's withers, and they ride on.
At some point while counting uruk kills at the Hornburg, Legolas pieces together an impossible theory, one more ridiculous even than the fact that he keeps having these hallucinations – visions, ghosts, whatever they may be. This theory rests upon faces others can also behold, upon bodies and corpses that others have touched.
Quite simply, it is this: one of Thorin Oakenshield's band of intrepid Dwarves from decades ago must have been some sort of immortal shapeshifter.
How many times has Legolas spotted that visage now, no matter how cunningly disguised? That Dwarf – or Man, or being yet more terrible – initially appeared as a sticky-fingered son of Durin, complete with elaborate hair and beard.
However, it did not end there. Later, an orc wore his face. Legolas dismissed it as a coincidence.
Then he appeared as a Rider of Rohan, wearing the same scale mail and carrying a spear like every other Rider in the battle line. Scarcely an hour had passed in the battle before another orc with the same features popped up, unmistakable despite the disparities in scars, piercings, and ratty ears. Even an undead man had the temerity to appear before Legolas with the same nose.
A scan of his memory unhappily informed Legolas that he had noticed a serene blond Elf in Rivendell with an identical face.
Legolas looses another arrow, the ensuing shriek of pain ringing in his ears as he takes aim once more.
At least he has this friendly contest with Gimli to distract him.
Battle rages at Pelargir. In the harbor floats the might of Umbar: fifty great ships, smaller vessels clustering them, their sails a sea of clouds drifting across the thicket of masts and spars. Behind the Dunedain and what Men of Gondor they have gathered to their advance stride the Shadow Host, as silent as the grave but as swift as the wind. Frail shadows do they seem to Legolas, and yet the ranks of Men are struck with great fear. Some fly before the dead, some throw down their weapons and quail, and yet others turn at bay with bared teeth to fight to the last.
And the gulls…
A great flock of them wheels through the air, scattered by clash of steel and smoke of burning ships. A whir of countless wings buffets the air. Over the din and death, their wailing cries rise to the heavens, lonesome and beautiful.
Never in his life has Legolas heard such a sound. His fingers slacken on his bow, and heedless he stands still in the press of battle, gazing upwards and listening to their voices. As Galadriel foretold, at this moment the sea-longing falls upon him, sweet and perilous.
No rest will he find again in the tree-woven lands of Middle-earth.
He longs for something beyond the confines of this world.
Gimli shouts at him, and Legolas shakes his head and returns to the battle. He cannot shake the mood that shrouds him, however, not even as they capture the ships and set their course for Minas Tirith. Forty-and-two leagues of river against the stream lie before them, and doubt grows in their hearts that they shall come to Gondor's aid in time.
Standing at the ship's rail with Gimli, Legolas watches the seabirds. He cannot tear his eyes from them, mournful and haunting creatures that they air. Through the unnatural mirk flowing from Mordor, he spies a seabird larger than the rest – an albatross, a grizzled seaman identifies for him.
On a single ray of escaped sunlight it swoops down, circling the mast like a sign from Manwe.
"Courage, dear heart," it whispers, although Legolas alone hears its voice. It vanishes into the gloom with the remainder of its wailing heralds, sunlight drying up in its wake, but a weight has fallen from the son of Mirkwood's heart and does not return.
Legolas laughs and claps a hand on Gimli's shoulder. "Up with your beard, Durin's son!" he cries. "For thus is it spoken: Oft hope is born, when all is forlorn."
This vision, Legolas can forgive. And though Minas Tirith burns, it still stands when they arrive on the morrow.
With the destruction of the One Ring, the strange hallucinations slowly fade from Legolas's life. He cannot say he mourns this. However, the memories linger with him, and from time to time whispers still reach him from unseen people thronging about. They squeal, they plead, they sing. They spin wild tales, such as suggesting a Tenth Walker set out from Rivendell, and their words seem to wear thin the invisible veil between worlds that Legolas wildly, despairingly, wonders he has accidentally breached.
Somehow (privately, Legolas suspects Bilbo Baggins) some of these whispers end up in songs and retellings of the War of the Ring.
Gimli, naturally, finds this all great fun.
The discovery that Gimli has joined in on this quest to drive Legolas out of his mind with a disturbingly catchy rendition of Legolas's blurted comment on the eaves of Fangorn Forest only intensifies his desire to go over sea.
"Tell me, where is Gandalf? For I much desire to speak with him," is certainly a true sentiment. Legolas has questions for Mithrandir regarding the exact mechanics of how one might construct a ship and sail to the Undying Lands. Surely, surely the whispers will not haunt him there, not in the land blessed with the presence of the Valar.
Gimli, of course, will bring his little ditty with him, but it cannot be helped. The Dwarf has become a dear friend, and Legolas will not leave him behind.
It may be an infuriatingly long voyage, however, if he does not stop humming something about Isengard.
I would like to submit this as my theory for why Legolas is always pulling weird faces in the background. Also, I'm not sorry. Not sorry at all.
The (intended) references are as follows:
(1) Kili's actor playing a vampire in BBC Being Human
(2) Tumblr memes and general fangirling over Thranduil after AUJ came out
(3) Benedict Cumberbatch starring in BBC Sherlock
(4) Legolas's actor starring in Pirates of the Caribbean & (5) Bard's actor playing Dracula & (6) Thranduil's actor playing Ned the Piemaker in Pushing Daisies
(7) Elrond's actor playing Agent Smith in The Matrix & (8) One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor
(9) Andy Serkis motion-capturing for Gollum
(10) Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean
(11) Sean Bean being a walking spoiler
(12) CGI green screen, and a nod to the joking fandom interpretation that Legolas has no sense of direction
(13) Eomer's actor playing Bones in the Star Trek reboot series
(14) Aragorn's actor starring in Hidalgo
(15) Jed Brophy as Nori and also as an omnipresent extra in LOTR
(16) Aslan's scene partway through The Voyage of the Dawn-Treader (the book's version)
(17) They're Taking The Hobbits To Isengard