Legolas relieved Frodo of watch duty and was glad to: the hobbit looked both jumpy and exhausted. The elf’s gaze followed Frodo, who collapsed onto his bedroll, then he turned his eyes to the nothingness ahead of him.

Two days – more or less, he could not say – they had wandered in Moria in endless darkness and horrible stillness, and finding the converse of stillness even more horrible. The duration had made Legolas irritable; at least, he felt as though his mind was playing tricks. A presence of dread filled the dark but also one separate from it, one he felt familiar with. That was most uncomfortable.

But… Too much thought finds the guard dead. He swiftly scanned the shadows for movement, peering into each inky depths of the four archways that branched north, south, east, and west of the great hall where they had settled for the remaining night. He listened for any strange rustle or breath; none came except that of the slow breathing of his resting companions and the whistle of the cool draft from the east arch.

Legolas walked thoughtfully from his companions to a break in the cold currents and breathed in. That smell, that smell! It came so faintly, but he knew it once before. What was it? It had nagged him throughout that day’s march.

It could not be an orc; orc was a stench and presence apart from the order of things. This scent was more to the earth, even if in a waned, rotted way. Legolas felt as though he was not the only one watching in the dark.

In his stride he stiffened, waited, and nothing moved. Yet something lingers out there, and I shall find it, he thought. Let it believe I am off my guard; better to know what I face beforehand than after, when I am unsuspecting.

Against a wall he leaned and sunk his head, as though overcome with weariness. He listened. He listened with all his consciousness for the faintest whisper of life apart from the corner where his companions clustered.

Perhaps half of an hour passed before Legolas heard a shuffle, the slightest shifting of weight over loose stone. Legolas was pleased that he had not imagined this hidden being. Now he wanted to know whether it was dangerous or not. The hidden one, though, may have guessed his plan, for it made not another movement for long dragging minutes. It became a contest of patience.

A grunt! Legolas almost betrayed himself by letting his hand stray to his knife; however, it came not from the surrounding dark but one of the sleepers. Legolas waited a moment. Another sound followed – a hiss, not from air over rock but from breath between teeth. It was very soft, yet enough that Legolas’s memory stirred and many sorrows of the past year surfaced and centered upon one being.

“I know who you are,” he said, audible to none but himself and the creature.

After another hour, he returned to the sleepers and went to Aragorn, who was no longer asleep, Legolas knew.

“Gollum is here.”

Aragorn sat straight and sighed with weariness. He, no less than Legolas, had no pleasant memories of the creature. “I had suspected.”

“Should the others be told?”

“No; let them not worry. I doubt Gollum will try to do any harm, not while he has us to fear. Neither will he stir orcs if he wants the Burden kept safe.”

Aragorn took over the watch. Legolas lay down, not to sleep, but to watch as a wondrous grey of morning sunlight folded out from some distant window. His mind was active. He thought about the chance – could it even be called so? – that after Gollum had escaped his charge, that after he should have pursued the creature through the Wood, and that after having to take the unhappy tiding to Rivendell, here of all places he should find him. No, he would not even be in Moria if Gollum had not escaped.

Gollum was pitiable and loathsome; too loathsome for pity to undo caution. Legolas feared what the creature may do, for he knew what cunning and evil he was capable of.

You will do no harm, his eyes pierced the west arch. Not so long as I watch.

The End

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