This Present Darkness
Disclaimer: Middle-earth and its inhabitants are the creation of J.R.R. Tolkien and are claimed by many people, none of whom is me. No profit is made from their use here, and no disrespect is intended.
Warning: This is a story about power. It is a story of lust, and greed, and what happens when good intentions are turned to evil purpose. Bad things happen. Good people get hurt. And not all stories have a happy ending.
But it is also a story about friendship. It is about the power and strength of love in its purest form, free of selfish desire or personal gain. It is about the kind of love that I believe Tolkien envisioned at the heart of all his great friendships, the kind that enabled a Hobbit to save the world, and a Ranger to become King. For Aragorn and Legolas, that love is about to have its greatest test yet.
It is not my intention that this be a straightforward horror fic, or a slash fic. However, it is going to get intense. Very intense. I will post warnings at the beginning of chapters that include scenes of violence or sexual content. If those themes disturb you, please heed the warnings and do not read them.
Now . . . let's get deep.
"In that hour I looked on Aragorn and thought how great and terrible a Lord he might have become in the strength of his will . . ."
– Legolas, The Last Debate
It was snowing on the Pelennor fields. Thin flakes swirled from a slate-grey sky to lightly dust the barren earth, blurring the frozen ruts and divots of the plain. The sun was a faint smear low over the western hills. Watching from her chamber window, Arwen thought about spring in Imladris. At home, the seasons had behaved sensibly. Eichur had followed rhîw, and the advent of Gwaeron was heralded by the stirring of the earth, the awakening of the trees from their sleep and the birds building their nests. There had been rain and wind, certainly, but never snow.
Yet here already it was two weeks past the New Year, and still rhîw refused to yield her grip. Winter, Arwen corrected herself. Four years she had lived in Minas Tirith, and still it was hard to keep from slipping back into the old habits, customs that came to her as naturally as breathing. But if she was to rule the Men of Gondor, she ought at least to speak their language.
Well, whatever one called it, it was cold. Much too cold for March, and while at home they would have celebrated the New Year with dances and feasts on Rivendell's lawn, here the Men had drunk their King's health with hot mead, huddled around the fires of the great hall and alehouses in the city.
A gust of chill wind rattled the windowpanes and crept icy fingers through the cracks about the lintel. Arwen drew her quilted shawl more closely over her shoulders. Was this natural? She had spent most of her life in the sheltered realms of Imladris or Lothlórien, and now she wondered just how much of an effect the Elven Rings had had in regulating her home's environment. Perhaps she would ask Legolas what the weather was like in Eryn Galen. No one had talked about that aspect of it when they'd planned to destroy the One Ring. The fading of the Elves, yes, the dominion of Men, yes, even the encroachment of Orcs and spiders and creatures of Shadow, had their plans gone amiss. But not one person had mentioned the possibility of snow when it should be spring. They talked about everything else at the Council. Shouldn't they have at least brought that detail up for a vote?
She was avoiding thinking about the real issue, she knew. A luxury: to lose herself in idle musings about the weather and the Rings, to forget, if only for a moment. Still she could see through the milky haze of leaded glass and snow, and picked out the figure of a horse and riders coming through the muddy fields toward the city.
The door behind her opened. "His Majesty, King Elessar, my lady," her maidservant announced, and Arwen nodded without turning around. There was the scrape of hinges as the door opened wide, and then the click of his boot heels on the stone flags. Arwen tensed in anticipation, but Aragorn did not speak as he came to stand behind her. His hands came to rest on her shoulders, and she felt the brush of his thumbs at the back of her neck. She shuddered, but if he noticed he gave no sign.
For a time they stood together, watching as the sky darkened and shadows pressed against the glass. Finally Arwen spoke. "He is coming," she said in a low voice. "He will be here within the hour."
Aragorn's face was expressionless, broken and reflected in the distorted glass. "Good," he said.
Arwen hesitated. "The Dwarf is with him," she said.
A muscle tensed in the King's jaw, and his hands tightened on her shoulders. "Gimli? I did not order that."
Arwen avoided his eyes in the mirrored window. "Gimli always travels with him. You know that."
"He was summoned to come alone. He disobeyed me."
Her mouth was dry. "Not intentionally, my lord. I'm sure that he only thought –"
"What he thought does not matter. What he has done is dishonor the King of Gondor."
When Arwen did not answer his hands moved to her hair, an old habit. The brush of his fingers over her skin still had the power to send a thrill all through her, but now his hands tightened at her scalp, forcing her to meet his gaze in the window. "Do you not agree, my lady?"
"Of course, my lord," she gasped, trying to ignore the chill in his voice, the strength of his arms as he held her close. "But I am sure he does not do so deliberately. He is loyal to you."
"Is he?" Aragorn's hands loosened from her hair, dropping to her waist as his eyes grew distant. "We shall see. But . . . perhaps it is for the best." He paused for a long moment, and then his jaw tightened decisively. "Yes. It may be just as well." With that he released her, turning away. "I must summon the Council," he said. "Now that Legolas is here, we are ready to begin."
"They have had a long journey," Arwen said, too quickly. Her heart was pounding. "He will need rest, before the Council."
Aragorn paused at the doorway, and she chanced a look back at him over her shoulder. The line of his shoulders lifted beneath his red surcoat, and then relaxed. "Of course," he said, and turned to meet her gaze with a faint smile. The guttering candles cast the rugged planes of his face in shadow. "You didn't think I'd summon him to the Hall covered in mud, did you?"
Arwen did not answer. He held her eyes for a moment, and then shrugged and looked away. "Their usual rooms have been prepared. The Council will meet tomorrow."
His boots rapped sharply over the floor as he strode to the door. His voice drifted back from the antechamber, ordering meat and wine for the guests. There was a flurry of activity as servants ran to obey, and then the rooms grew still again.
Arwen bowed her head, pressing her forehead against the cold glass, and closed her eyes. She breathed deeply, and slowly the tension eased from her neck and shoulders. The life stirred within her again, and she wrapped her arms about her waist, hugging herself close. Time was growing short, and if this did not work… It will work. It has to. She opened her eyes again and stared unseeing at the night-shaded glass.
Hurry, Legolas, she thought. Please hurry.
 Eichur: Sindarin, early spring, lit. "stirring." Appendix D, The Calendars.
 rhîw: Sindarin, winter. ibid.
 Gwaeron: Sindarin, the month equivalent to March. ibid.
 Eryn Galen: Greenwood, Sindarin. The name given to Mirkwood before the coming of the Shadow.
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