Written for the A_L_E_C "Remembrance" challenge. For Azalais for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.
“Where are you going, you daft Elf?” demanded Gimli.
Legolas gave a quick glance over his shoulder at the Dwarf seated behind him on Arod’s back, but gave no more answer than an enigmatic shake of his head. Aragorn, who was checking the girth of Roheryn’s saddle, glanced over at his companions curiously, then nodded as if he appreciated the Elf’s purpose as Legolas turned his horse back toward the site of their recent victory. Gimli noted that Gandalf gave them no attention at all, his own concerns apparently focused on the still forms of Frodo and Sam on their litters.
Arod snorted a slight protest as the Elf guided him around the root of the mountains toward the battlefield. Still, the horse proved obedient in spite of its obvious disapproval of its rider’s goal. Carefully it picked its way amidst the rubble. A few hardy soldiers, cloths tied over their faces, worked amidst the remaining evidence of carnage, still separating bodies of those who’d fought among the forces of the Army of the West from those of its foes, gathering weapons and armor, piling the bodies of trolls and orcs here, laying those of Easterlings there, those of Southrons there, those of Men of other lands elsewhere, now and then finding one who yet lived and calling for a wagon to bear the wounded Man off of the field.
Legolas appeared to be ignoring them all. He rode on until they reached a point where he could look through the gap where the Black Gate had stood. In the distance they could see the smokes that marked the ruins of Mount Doom, and the nearer pile of rubble that was all that was left of the Black Tower of Barad-dûr. Here Arod finally halted. Gimli could tell that the horse was uncomfortable by the tension he felt in the muscles of Arod’s back, but at a soothing word and touch from Legolas the horse calmed, although its ears still swiveled as if listening for the approach of an enemy.
They sat so for some minutes, the Elf looking thoughtfully into the former land of Mordor. At last he sat straighter, and at a slight shift in his body coaxed Arod to turn slowly. Now he looked behind the site where the battle had raged, toward the distant shimmer of reflected light that indicated where the Dead Marshes lay. Absently he rubbed the horse’s neck as he considered the area. At last he spoke, his melodious voice soft. “That is where the bodies of the dead were buried before, when my father and grandfather fought here. Elves, Men, Orcs—I think perhaps even a few Dwarves fought at times here as well, mostly those who’d come as messengers from the upper vales of the Anduin who’d stayed to slake the thirst of their axes with the black blood of the Enemy’s forces, or who had nothing to which they might return. Ten years of frustration and loss, constant siege, separation from families and loved ones, repeated assaults by the Enemy’s orcs and allies. So many who marched forth from the Greenwood failed to return home again, and if any of my people ever see them again it will not be here, within Middle Earth.”
He went quiet once more, his eyes still fixed on the place where so many lay. Aragorn had spoken of his own sojourn there last evening when he’d come away from his labours amongst the wounded to take a brief rest, describing the appearance of ghostly bodies seeming to lie in the fetid pools. At last Legolas sighed. “It is over at last,” he murmured, “all the watch we have kept so long on the Black Land. Yea, it is over, and at least, this time, no Elves or Dwarves died here, within or in sight of Mordor. We may have died elsewhere in defense of our own lands, but we did not die here as happened before.”
Arod, sensing that they would be leaving this dread place soon, pranced impatiently as again his rider straightened. “Sleep well, Oropher, Ereinion Gil-galad, and so many, many others,” the Elf called out. “Your sacrifice was not in vain, you will find. And when the time is right, I look to behold you again within Aman, and to greet you with the word that your enemy is indeed cast down, and this time will not rise again.” He gave a surprisingly deep bow toward the marshes, and Arod, his head raised proudly, again began picking his way through the rubble toward the way south toward the camp, the muscles under Gimli rippling as the horse and its riders put the battlefield and the dead behind them.