The Choice

By Aralinn

Fantasy / Romance

Chapter 25

The morning dawned much too quickly for Evelyn's taste. Today they would arrive at Isengard. Today she would face one of the few things she may fear more than men. Sauruman would surely want her, should he become privy to her powers, oh what he would be able to accomplish if he could control her, and she was sure such a wizard could find a way. Would he hurt her friends to get to her? She was not sure, but the thought troubled her greatly, she wished no harm to come to her companions. What would he do to her if he were able to get her? The words of her friends echoed through her mind, 'We will let no harm come to you.' But Prince Legolas had spoken different words had he not? She thought, if she did not doubt it so much, she could have sworn he specifically said, 'I will let no harm come to you.' However, such a personal endearment seemed much too far fetch to her mind.

"You are going to cause Hasufel to become anxious if you do not calm your mind."

Evelyn, caught off guard by the voice, jumped slightly as she turned to look at the elf. She narrowed her eyes, "And how exactly, would you like me to do that?"

He gave a small shrug in response, "Speak of other matters I suppose."

"To whom? Most are lost to their own thoughts as we travel nearer to Orthanc." She countered.

"I am speaking am I not?"

One of Evelyn's eyebrows rose, "Normally you are not one for much conversation, My Lord."

He gave her a strange stare, one that made it hard for her not to break eye contact. And once again, she found herself wanting to be able to know better what went through his complex mind.

"I am speaking now am I not? In addition, I believe we have moved passed such formalities as 'my lord'.

"Have we now?" she retorted somewhat icily. She realized of course, she could have said something much more appropriate and less bitter, but she was taken by surprise once again by the strange elf. Surely, he did not see them close enough to ignore such formalities; he did not act as such. Part of her believed he probably reveled in having her have to call him such. Could she have been wrong? She was not sure.

It was Legolas' turn to narrow his eye, and he watched with mild satisfaction when her gaze finally broke from his, her cheeks blushing.

"Very well then," Evelyn replied when she could no longer hold his silent stare, "Speak away."

"What would you like to speak of?" he asked, looking forward once more. She had not believed him serious when he asked her to call him by just his name. It was clear by her bitter tone and the emotions running through her eyes. He found it hard to be close to mortals; the knowledge that they would pass on and he would linger brought him great sorrow. With his growing friendship with Gimli, he knew he would have to face death more than once with a close friend, and he had faced that too much already in his long life.

Stealing a glance back at the woman, he watched an almost wicked smile flash across her face. He gave a small sigh; it would not be an easy conversation.

"I've told you about my home, tell me about yours." Evelyn missed the quick glances Gimli and Aragorn shot at their friend, both thinking the same thought, when had they had that conversation? Legolas ignored them both and surprised them both by giving into her request.

"My home was originally known as Greenwood the Great or Eryn Galen. Now it is known as Mirkwood."

"The forest of great fear." Evelyn interjected.

"Yes."

"How did it come to that name?"

"After my father King Thranduil took rule, our people's numbers had dwindled and Sauron, disguised as a necromancer built a fortress, Dol Guldur. Sauron brought much evil to our forest and a shadow. Children of Shelob the great spider, as well as orcs and bats took up residence around the fortress."

Evelyn could hear the bitter taste of hatred in his voice as he spoke of the evil creatures. "Tell me of how it used to be, before the darkness came. We have enough darkness around us." Legolas paused for a moment, surprised by her request. Closing his eyes, he pictured his home in his mind. Happy to feel the joy that the old memories awoke in him—it had been many years since the thought of how Mirkwood use to be in his youth.

"It is the largest forest in Middle Earth now; we have many tall and ancient trees of beeches and oak. The firs grow on the mountains. They form a canopy overhead— where the great emperor butterflies make their home— filtering the light that comes to the forest floor. The Forest River flows down from the Grey Mountains. We have an enchanted spring who finds her source from the valleys of the Mountains of Mirkwood, and the River Running through our eastern most edges. In her day, she was a remarkable sight.

Our fortress was inspired by the great ancient halls of Menegroth, though not nearly as mighty. With the help of the dwarves, we built into a great cave. The entrance is protected my magical stones doors that can be reached only by the bridge across the Forest River. The throne room is our largest and grandest room, it is almost as tall as the cavern itself, and all passageways eventually lead there. It is supported by large columns cut form he living stone of the cave itself."

Legolas continued to talk of his home, Evelyn listening intently, paying little heed to the goings on around her. His voice was soothing to her ears and mind. She could picture his homeland in her mind as if he were painting a picture in front of her eyes and then as quickly as it started it ended. Blinking out of her daze, she turned to look at Legolas, whose gaze was fixed fiercely ahead.

"We have come to the threshold of Isengard." His voice was cold and void of all the emotions it held before. It sent a chill down her spine. Her senses and body went into high alert, along with those around her that heard the elf's words. Hasufel responded as well from her change in body language. The stallion's ears perked forward, one always staying tuned to Evelyn awaiting the slightest clue. And though he kept his pace, he began prancing, causing a much bumpier ride than before.

Soon enough she could see a clearing ahead, glistening with what seemed to be water, and smoke rising from piles of debris. Then a clear and familiar voice rang through the silence, "Welcome! My Lords to Isengard!"

"Hmpf! A fine and merry chase you have led us on and here we find ye feasting and…and smoking!" Gimli admonished.

"We are sitting on a field of victory, enjoying some well-deserved comforts. The salted pork is particularly nice." Merry stated, smiling broadly.

"Salted pork?" Gimli questioned, earning a few good-natured chuckles from the others.

All of a sudden, the ground shook under their feet, startling everyone, except it seemed, Gandalf. Then, probably the largest and queerest being appeared in her vision. He seemed to be a walking tree if something of the sort were possible. He was as tall as the trees around them, with a face emerging from the bark that seemed to cover him like skin. Branches grew out of what she guessed had to be his head and arms. And she could not help herself from blurting out, "What is that?!"

"That is an Ent, a shepherd of the forest. A very ancient being."

"The books left that one out."

"There are few left now days who know of the Ents, let alone those who have seen them. There are very few of them left to us." Legolas replied, watching the Ent exchanged words with Gandalf.

"Evelyn!" Two voices yelled in unison, and she was forced to look away from the Ent as the two hobbits ran towards her. "We were worried about you!"

"Worried about me?" she scoffed; "It was I who was worried for you!" she could not help but smile at their enthusiasm. However, the exchange drew the attention of Treebeard to her.

"Bless my bark, hroom, you are an elemental. I never believed to see another in my time, burarum." His voice boomed, drawing all eyes to Evelyn, who stared silently ahead, mouth agape. "Best to keep her hidden, burarum. Wood and water, stock and stone I can master, but there's a wizard to manage here. Locked in his tower, hroom."

A sudden panic filled Evelyn then, worse than any she had felt before since that fateful night that forever altered her life. Her heart was thumping wildly in her chest as her breath started to become more erratic. If an Ent knew who she was and what she was, there was no telling who else did. The wizard may already be privy to her. And did he not say another? Where there more like her? No she admonished herself, the Valar had told her so. However, she did have a father. Had the Ent been referring to him?

Legolas, still beside her, felt the change in Evelyn. He could feel the shift in the atmosphere around them, could feel the wind starting to pick up around them as he watched her panic set in. So he did the only thing he could think to do to gain her attention before the others caught on, he snatched up her hand.

Instantly Evelyn's head whipped to Legolas, feeling his tight grip on her hand. It sent waves of warmth through her body, drowning out the cold panic. His eyes held one message, control it. She nodded in response and the moment was broken. Her hand was once again free, an empty feeling forming in the pit of her stomach that she pushed down. But the panic, at least, was abated for now. She would not lose it. The moment was brief, and went unnoticed by all except those who knew her well enough and the Ent whose bark covered eyebrows rose.

"Hroom, yes, best keep her hidden." He repeated and led them to Orthanc.

A cloak was place across her shoulders and the hood pulled over her head as she pulled her hair back in an attempt to disguise herself as much as possible.

They came now to the foot of Orthanc, whose black rock gleamed as if it were wet. Built during the second age by the Dúnedain, it was the impregnable fortress of Isengard. Standing at least five hundred feet tall, it was a marvelous sight, composed of four pillars, each of multifaceted stone. At the top four piers rose from the sharp rock pointing towards the heavens. Evelyn could not help but to be awed.

A voice boomed far above their heads, "You have fought many wars and slain many men, Théoden King, and made peace afterwards. Can we not take counsel together as we once did? Can we not have peace?" slowly an old man appeared, stopping to stand at the edge of the tower. This, Evelyn concluded must be the white wizard.

Théoden closed his eyes shortly, his face wrought with grief and despair. However, when he opened them, his face was set with pride and determination as he addressed the wizard, "We shall have peace. We shall have peace - when you answer for the burning of the Westfold, and the children that lie dead there! We shall have peace - when the lives of men whose bodies were hewn even as they lay dead against the gates of the Hornburg, are avenged! When you hang from a gibbet for the sport of your own crows - we shall have peace!"

Saruman, notably angered, glared down at the assembled group. "Gibbets and crows...! Dotard!" he turned then to Gandalf a false calm spreading across his face, "And what do you want, Gandalf Greyhame? Let me guess - the key of Orthanc, or perhaps the keys of Barad-dûr itself; along with the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards!"

"Your treachery has already cost many lives; thousands more are now at risk. But you could save them, Saruman. You are deep in the enemy's counsel."

Saruman's smile was cruel as he spoke, "So you have come here for information. I have some for you." From his robes, he pulled a large swirling black orb. Seeing it sent chills through Evelyn, whatever it was, it harbored evil. "Something festers in the heart of Middle-earth, something you have failed to see. But the Great Eye has seen it. Even now he presses his advantage. His attack will come soon. You're all going to die. But you know this, don't you, Gandalf? You cannot think that this Ranger will ever sit upon the throne of Gondor. This exile, crept from the shadows will never be crowned king. Gandalf does not hesitate to sacrifice those closest to him, those he professes to love. Tell me, what words of comfort did you give the Halfling, before you sent him to his doom? The path that you have set him on can only lead to death."

It felt like an arrow was shot through her heart at the mention of Frodo. After all they had been through and sacrificed, he could not possible die, not now, not when Middle Earth's fate rested in his hands. She prayed to the Valar for his safety, hoping they would answer her prayers; they had been silent to her for so long now.

She felt her eyes drawn back to the orb, and suddenly it changed, gone was the swirling shimmering black of it depths as a writhing great flaming eye replaced it. Instantly a searing pain went through her head causing her to gasp and clearly, she was not the only one affected, for many others cried out as well. It was as if her mind was a coded box and someone hacking mercilessly away to find all her secrets. She forced her mind closed, trying to force the intruder out, but not before she heard on word spoke in a voice more terrible and beautiful than she had ever heard, "You."

The spell was broken as quickly as it happened and she heard Gimli roar nearby, "I've heard enough! Shoot him! Stick an arrow in his gob!"

"No." Gandalf commanded, "Come down, Saruman, and your life will be spared."

"Save your pity and your mercy! I have no use for it!" Suddenly, flames burst forth from his staff and enveloped Gandalf in what was sure to be a fiery tomb. The horses all balked trying to flee to safety. Evelyn, jostled out of her shock by Hasufel's fear, though only to save Gandalf, she just needed to tap into her power, but would she be too late? No one would be able to survive the magical flames, but he was a wizard, surely that would change things. Luckily, though she was stopped for the flames were extinguished from the inside, and Gandalf sat on Shadowfax completely unscathed before them, her relief was immediate.

"Saruman, your staff is broken!" His voice bellowed and it was so, the white staff splintered into hundreds of pieces knocking the wizard to the cold stone. Gandalf gave the orders to the Ents that Sauruman was to be kept locked in his tower, as he gave them reign to guard over the broken wizard and Isengard.

Gandalf took up the black seeing stone that had fallen from the tower, wrapping it preciously to keep it safely hidden. Evelyn looked to Gandalf, whose face was solemn as he returned her gaze.

"What is that?" she asked, though she kept her eyes averted from the areas near where she knew the Istari held it.

"A palantir, my dear. It is one of the seeing stones of Númenor. Once they were used as a means of communication between the kings of Middle Earth, but they have fallen into the hands of the enemy. They are not safe to use anymore."

"It was Sauron I saw through it, wasn't it." She stated rather than asked, she already knew the truth and nodded when the wizard confirmed her fears. A shadow flickered across his face as he studied the woman and he wondered what it was she saw when Sauron spoke through the palantir, for her face was haunted.

As they made their way to leave, Evelyn kept close to her companions, but her mind was elsewhere. Repeatedly she kept hearing the terrifying voice speaking the same word again and again, "You." Sauron knew what she was, and he wanted her. She was not sure what would have been worse than Sauruman taking her, but she did now. Now she had much more to fear than ever before.

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