Lessons of Life

A Friend in Need

Chapter 1

by Elwing-(V)
July 26, 2005

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All Edoras breathed easier with the sundering of Saruman’s influence over King Theoden, though an evil presence lingered subtly in shadows and dark corners, reluctant to retreat entirely. It had previously focused through the King’s personal advisor Grima Wormtongue, revealed by Gandalf’s magic as the sinister puppet he truly was. With Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, along with Theoden’s men as witnesses, the King’s now ex-advisor was given the choice of fighting beside his king against Saruman, or exile from Rohan. Not unexpectedly to any, the miserable man fled, cursing all as he went. A guard hastily followed, assuring, “I shall see that he is well away.” The others left the task to the fellow, supposing the departing former counselor to be of no further serious concern.

As the day progressed, Theoden renewed himself with his people and kingdom. It was a joyous occasion tempered with foreboding, for as those who had been earlier sent away by Grima’s influence now began to return, they brought with them tales of the measure of Saruman’s plans to conquer and destroy. Most worrisome were the rumors of a vast Orc army advancing on the Horselords’ domain.

Aragorn, along with Gandalf, were closeted with Theoden and his warrior leaders planning battle strategies. Gimli and Legolas, having given their advice and opinions, were for a time free to amuse themselves as they would. Although each of the two beings was only one of his kind among the great number of Men, the dwarf was generally feeling quite at home among the Rohan people, admiring the architecture of the buildings as he roamed, chatting and jesting with the various inhabitants as he met them. Gimli’s brusqueness was considered ‘earthy’ and the dwarf found most of his current companions appreciated and even shared his sense of humor.

On the other hand, the elf felt isolated, viewed in awe and as being unapproachable; it did not help that his first meeting with the Rohirrim had been of such testy nature, though he and the humans had since tolerated each other for at least being of a same resistance to the encroaching Darkness. Legolas wondered curiously at the uneasy regard growing between Men and Elves in this Age. Yet Estel and I have been best of friends nearly all his life and a goodly portion of mine. Human that he is, he is also as true ‘family’ as any blood kin to Elrond…as close as like to all Imladris, I may surely affirm. The elf’s lips twitched in a small grin at his next thoughts. Though Aragorn would not be ‘brother’ to Arwen, nor she ‘sister’ to him, if either has voice in that council.

His cheery countenance at that reflection brought even more than the usual amount of furtive glances; upon noticing, the elf sighed silently, his grin slipping away. He considered doing so himself to relax in the guest room he and his company had been given, yet worried it would only create rumors he was too ‘highborn’ to mingle with mere mortals. An earlier attempt to help in the stables had been rebuffed, for the nervous stablehands had feared Elven influence would ‘contaminate’ all their charges as Arod – into resisting Human riding trappings – so Legolas had retreated back into the stone confines of the Golden Hall. As the elf wandered, he hummed or sang softly, for music always lifted his spirit; yet even this effort of comfort was diminished, for often the singing attracted attentions in the form of unnerving stares or gossiping whispers.

Frustrated, he decided to settle in an small hide-away alcove where he could be out of mainstream activity yet available if anyone should actually want or need him. Legolas’ frustration increased upon nearing the alcove, for he realized it to be already occupied when his excellent hearing discerned two low-pitched male voices within. He leaned, arms crossed, against the wall by the alcove entry, intending to briefly listen only to ascertain whether the men seemed likely to stay awhile or leave soon.

“More men returning to duty now, and yet I get fewer breaks like this than before,” one man was complaining to the other.

“Strange times we’re having lately. Strange folks too! At least we won’t draw dungeon duty anymore; since the King’s return to health, the cells have been emptied of the poor wretches falsely imprisoned,” the second man replied.

Legolas was vaguely amused at Snarl and Growl, as he privately labeled the men. I and my friends must be the ‘strange folks’ spoken of; at least I am of a company this time instead of a singular strangeness. He decided to search for another place to rest himself when the men’s next subject of conversation caught his attention.

I heard there’s one old fellow still there…some wasted soul with no family, friends or otherwise any reason to be looked for; a ‘practice victim’ used by Grima for his spells and whatever else he used against the King and others.” The man’s voice was even lower than before, but Legolas’ acute hearing picked up every word clearly.

“Why would anyone stay down there if he didn’t have to?” Growl scoffed.

“Well, he’s sick. Gone mad, likely, he has…thinks everybody else is in league with the enemy, and out to get him. Been down there so long he actually feels safer below, I guess.”

“Surprised we haven’t been sent to drag him out then. Wonder why not?”

“Dolt!” Snarl sounded annoyed. “In case it escaped your notice, we’ve more drastic worries. Like I said, this person has no family; he’s no soldier, or healer, or anyone important; he just isn’t a priority. Since he survived this long, maybe he’ll last another week…or month…or longer. All I care about right now is my own survival.”

“I agree with you on that. I think it would be in our best interests, then, to get back to the troop soon and hear what news they have.”

Legolas moved from the alcove area in a near daze, aghast at what he had heard; he did not waste effort feeling guilty over eavesdropping. His whole concentration was on the unidentified person supposedly wandering the dungeon, locked in a double prison of an ill mind’s making.  

Unimportant? How can they speak so about one of their own kind? To leave anyone to such a fate, and especially a sick, elder human… Legolas was absolutely certain that, if such were possible, an elf fell ill (though Elves don’t get sick like Humans, we suffer similar symptoms and effects from spider and Orc poisons) or became weak with age (Elves age, of course, long beyond Men; we just don’t become feeble of it – I shall never understand why any race be designed with such burden), other healthy young elves would take good and proper care of the invalid.   

Legolas watched the two guards leave the alcove, presumably to return to their duty. The elf then glanced around at the general bustle of people intent in their various tasks. He realized all would likely know nothing of the dungeon dweller’s predicament. Truly, even if informed, who of them could spare time to attend an ‘unimportant’ man? Who among them does not think to have a hundred and more other things to do already?

A slight tingle ran through him, and he blinked. Fool of an elf! I have not a hundred things to do, nay, not even one at this time. Why cannot I attend to this matter? Yes, I will do this. Enthused with his plan, Legolas decided to make a brief stop at his room before facing the dungeon.

A double set of eyes watched the elf depart. The men from the alcove had not gone back to their troop; in fact, they had no troop to return to. Making sure none overheard them now, Growl whispered to the other, “How did you know he was there? I didn’t hear him approach.”

Snarl whispered back, “You never will, if he doesn’t want you to. I saw his ‘glow’ by the doorway.”

The other man mulled that over. Still unsatisfied, he questioned again, “How can you be sure he heard what we said? We were talking so low…”

His partner scowled. “Have you not noticed his ears? He heard us.” He took another look into the room they had vacated – there was no elf to be seen. “I don’t know how much time we have now; we should get down there and get ready.”

Growl nodded, yet persisted in his worries while they made their way as casually as possible towards the entry to the dungeon stairs. “What if he doesn’t repeat the story to the Ranger? What if he tells the wizard instead?”

Snarl paused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Well, that could be…bad. But we made our ‘old man’ just sick, not possessed. The Ranger is supposed to be some high-level healer, but he doesn’t use magic – the wizard won’t get himself involved, I’m sure.”

The man’s certainty convinced his colleague, and they took the first opportunity to pass unnoticed into the dungeon, to further prepare for their expected visitor.

In the privacy of his room, Legolas reconsidered his plan, though still determined to go through with it. He debated the merits of telling someone or leaving a note to explain his absence, and was disinclined to both actions. Aragorn and Gandalf are still in meetings, I will not interrupt them for this. Gimli is I know not where, and I should not waste more time hunting him down; he would only insist to come with me, and facing a noisome dwarf bearing a great axe would likely cause a frail, ailing human’s heart to fail. I wish to save the poor man to this life, not rush his passing into the next! Hopefully, I shall be able to find and collect him before I am missed.

That decision made, the elf was faced with another. Before first entering Meduseld, Legolas and his companions had been forced to give up their weapons; excepting Gandalf, who had cunningly managed to keep his staff in his clutches. When the evil presence infesting the keep was subsequently expelled by magic means, the elf felt no need to have bow or blade at constant hand. He had stashed those treasured objects, as well as the armor gifted from the newly-revived King, in the guest room, confident of the items’ safety there. Now he fingered one of the weapons, a long-knife, but after a moments hesitation, replaced it carefully back in the special compartment of his quiver. I will not take up arms against the one I seek, and so to carry one at all would be doubly risky; seeing it, he might fear harm despite any reassurance, or he might manage to steal it away…and cause himself some harsh injury trying to protect against me. That will never do!  

Having resolved that issue, Legolas left the room and returned to the place he had overheard the two soldiers talking. It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea how to get to the dungeon, and to outright ask where it was would seem no doubt peculiar. He recalled the earlier defense discussions describing a general layout of the Golden Hall and its surrounding courtyard, and knew at least which doors did not lead to where he wished to go. He proceeded to give studious observation to others as he came upon them, and eventually saw one that seemed a good possibility – it alone of all the doors seen so far had no elaborate carvings or markings.

His attempt at an unnoticed approach went awry as a young boy spied the elf and jogged up, having heard of the ‘special’ guests and eager to meet this exotic being. “Hello, m’lord. I’ve been appointed Head Fetcher today.” The boy sounded quite proud of the title. “Anything I can get for you, sir?”

Legolas grinned at the friendly child. “An answer to a question.” He knelt down to be at eye level with the puzzled lad. “I am still learning my way around. Where does that door lead?” He nodded to the shadowed object behind him.

The boy’s eyes widened. “Oh, you don’t want to go there! That’s where prisoners go. There’s not any now, but it’s not a nice place. You’d like it much better if you was to go…there,” he pointed in an opposite direction, “…or yonder.” The finger pointed in yet another direction as the boy seriously gave what he considered to be much better options.

Legolas was touched at the child’s concern and replied in a serious manner. “I appreciate your helpfulness. I will be certain to see both places you have recommended.” He rose and dismissed the pleased boy. “I do not wish to keep you further from your other errands. I am sure your services are much in demand by many.” The smile the boy flashed before scurrying off gave the elf a keen satisfaction. He held tightly to the warm feeling as he again prepared to enter what would surely be a woefully dreary environment.

A second attempt at sneaking through the door was successful. The soft click as it shut behind him seemed to propel the elf into another world. He could barely repress a shudder as he moved deeper into the dungeon, keeping careful account of his whereabouts to find the way back out once his mission was accomplished. The passageways were cool and musty; what few sounds could be occasionally heard – dripping moisture, skittering insects or rodents, faint whispers of tiny air currents – were muted and difficult to track. Though there were some torches left lit, their brightness was minimal – the flickering small flames gave false life to the shadows, insubstantial predators trying to swallow any prey that happened by.   

Legolas’ glow was a bit stronger than usual, thought it still did not dispel the surrounding gloom. He hummed or sang softly, partly to relieve his own uneasiness, and hopefully also to soothe the heart and mind of the human he sought. It would be well he become gently aware of me first, and mayhap the music will have him more curious than afraid when we meet face to face.

He progressed in this fashion for some distance, finding signs of recent traffic in the place, yet nothing to prove his quarry was currently at hand. Just as he was having serious doubts about the outcome of his venture, a new noise sounded around a nearby corner. The wheezing coughs made Legolas wince, the elf knowing from experiences with Aragorn just how miserable a sick Human could feel. He brightened his glow a bit more, and called out softly yet clearly. “I have come to help; you need fear no harm from me, or any other.”

The next bout of coughing was mingled with whimpered words, but even Legolas’ excellent hearing could not decipher what the ailing man said. The elf moved up to and around the corner, making an effort at being noisy so as not to shock the man by suddenly being close to him. The other, meanwhile, was making plenty of racket as he shuffled and lurched about, apparently unsure whether to come forward or flee.

As the two beings came in clear view of each other, Legolas stopped and silently waited, dimming his glow and holding his arms out, hands open to show he carried no weapon. The human neither approached nor retreated, only shuffling in place and muttering unintelligibly. Legolas noted how the hunched man shivered, yet even so did not appear particularly frail. If he were to stand straight, he would be of a height to my own, and he has mayhap a heavier weight; though that might appear so due to the bulk of garment he wears…tis hard to be sure. The elf berated himself for his brief suspicion as the man had another attack of harsh coughs. Grima would more likely have used one strong at the start so as to last through whatever experimentations were done. Just because the subject has not wasted to a wisp does not make him less deserving of aid.

“Come with me, please,” Legolas invited in his most soothing tone. “I can take you where there is warmth and light. I will guard you from any crush of people; only a few healers will I allow near till you are ready for other visitors.”

After a moment, the man nodded agreement. Legolas moved carefully toward him; almost immediately the man backed away and the elf froze, speaking reassurances. “I only wish to offer support should your step falter along the way. Will you bear my touch if I deem it needed?”

Again the man nodded, yet again backed away. Legolas puzzled over these reactions. Which of us is not understanding the other? Mayhap instead of smuggling this one upstairs, I should convince him to stay in this spot, and go commandeer a healer to return with me. Just then, the man turned and staggered down the corridor, leaning often against the wall but determined in his progress.

“Wait,” the elf called, keeping his voice clear of the exasperation he felt. “We should be taking the opposite direction.” The man lurched onward, giving a feeble ‘follow me’ gesture. Legolas reluctantly obeyed, keeping the same distance but ready to quickly close the gap if the man should actually start to collapse.

The next corridor held several cells, their emptiness dimly echoing the man’s coughs. Legolas heartily wished himself and the one he pursued out of the dismal place. Why does he retreat here? Could he seek some item he wishes not to leave behind…some trinket giving comfort during his suffering? As he considered, the elf fingered a leaf-shaped gemwood pin on his tunic; the contact immediately brought to mind the visage of Aragorn gifting the trinket to Legolas. The elf felt a new surge of compassion for the ailing man he followed. A few extra moments here shall make no discernible difference; I shall not begrudge him his solace of that which brings happy memory.

The man entered one of the cells; some moments passed with no sign of his intent to exit. Cautiously, Legolas approached and peered in the doorway. The darkness within was barely illuminated by a torch against the opposite corridor wall and his own glow, yet the elf’s eyes could easily discern the few details. The small room was surprisingly (to him) clean, and extremely frugal in furnishings – one small table with a stool in a corner, and a cot in the center of the room. The cot now contained the ailing human, curled up on his side with his back to the elf.

Poor sad soul. To think one would consider this a haven when a true one is so near at hand. Legolas moved close to the man, purposely making noise as he went. Is his lack of reaction because he is too sick to be aware now of me, or is he finally at ease with my presence? Seeing the man’s shivering intensify, a new worry attached to the elf’s many others. Legolas bent over, reaching his hand slowly across to the man’s head, kept hidden within his tattered cloak’s hood. “Have you a fever now?”  

“No, but I do have myself an elf.” As he spoke, the man rolled onto his back; his hand shot out,  grabbing Legolas’ wrist and yanking the elf off-balance against him to be pinned by the man’s other arm.

Legolas could only stare at his first good view of the grinning face, one the elf recognized along with the voice. Tis one of the guards I overheard telling the tale that brought me here!  His initial shock gave way to irritation and embarrassment, as several thoughts stampeded rapidly through his head. This is some grand jest, then? Naught but an elaborate prank on me…aye, and well played, I must admit. Within the depths of his ire was a tiny kernel of admiration for the execution of the scheme, one worthy of even supreme pranksters Elladan and Elrohir. The Twins are not here, though, so why was I chosen for this ‘honor’? Who else besides them would know my dislike for underground places and yet how to coax me here? Aahhh, who else indeed. If I discover a certain dwarf is the culprit, I shall hang him by his beard in the courtyard as target for my archery practice!

In the short time of his reflections, Legolas had made only a token effort at escape, but the man would not relinquish his hold. However, even an Elf’s patience runs out, and Legolas at that moment reached the end of his. He turned the full force of his glare on the human and was gratified to see the face below him pale and its grin falter. “Fine. Enough.” He snapped out the words. “You may truthfully brag to your cronies that you have managed to best an elf; now I tire of this game. I have other duties to attend to, as I am sure you must also. Release me.”

The grin returned, but there was no jest in the guard’s voice. “This is no game, elf, and you are going nowhere just yet.”

Irritation turned to alarm, and Legolas began fighting in earnest to get away. In the ensuing struggle, the elf, at a maneuvering disadvantage from his awkward position, still exhibited a strength of a match to the man’s.  

The guard was unpleasantly surprised, not expecting such resistance. Where does his strength come from? He is so light; and I find I have most wrongly thought him delicate. Barely managing to keep his grip on the thrashing elf, the man wondered desperately where his cohort was. He should be helping me! If the elf escapes…

Both combatants at the same time became aware, the guard by sight and the elf by sound, of a
third figure in the room. Before Legolas could turn to see if the newcomer was friend or foe, a hard blunt object struck the back of his head. Dazed by the pain, he fell limply forward, only to be shoved onto the stone floor, landing on his back. To his dismay, Legolas found his limbs would not obey his rather muddled mental commands. His blurry vision made out a form coming towards him, and he strained to move. Just able to raise up on his elbows, the elf heard a ‘swoosh’ and the object that had struck before now connected above his brow. Knocked back to the floor, his head unfortunately impacted on the same spot as the original blow. The twin explosions of pain sent Legolas into black oblivion.

The newcomer prepared to strike again, but the other man snatched the fire poker away. “What are you doing, Morfran? We were told not to cause more damage than necessary.”

“We were also told to capture the Ranger, yet we have the elf instead.” Morfran growled back. “Besides, looked to me like he was about to get the better of you. Anyway, what do we do now, Cadell?”

“Proceed as if we had caught the right one. One of us guards the prisoner, the other informs the Master of the situation,” Cadell replied blandly, though inwardly he did not relish bearing that message. The Master may see it simply as failure, and he does not accept that well. “Since I am the more diplomatic of us, I will go make explanations while you stay.” He turned to leave, still carrying the iron rod. “And I’ll take this to avoid any ‘accidents’ here while I’m gone.”

Morfran was unappreciative of his partner’s sarcasm and his own vulnerability. “I might need that! What if he wakes before I get him restrained?”

“He’s out cold, don’t worry about it…though…he did surprise me before…” The man debated giving back the poker, but decided the other was not to be trusted with it. Besides, I owe him for waiting until the last minute to help me out earlier. “I suggest you stop whining and get him tied up quickly.” Cadell then walked out on the blustering man. After another wary glare at the unconscious elf, Morfran hurried to retrieve the ropes stashed in a nearby cell.