A Friend in Need

Chapter 2

by Elwing-(V)

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Aragorn breathed a heavy sigh of relief as he left the meeting room. Though their troubles were far from over, many matters had been settled. Theoden and the leaders of the King’s militia at least felt a good chance now of a win in the coming battle, though all knew losses would still be high. For a few hours, though, war and its horrors would be forgotten, as much as possible, and Rohan would celebrate with feasting and merriment all the worthwhile things in life that they would be all too soon fighting to preserve.

Gandalf had elected to stay and chat with the Rohan King, so Aragorn went searching for his other two Fellowship companions. He found Gimli almost immediately, and was surprised not to see Legolas hovering nearby. “Where is our elf, Master Dwarf? Has he eluded you again?” The Ranger’s teasing had the desired effect.

“I am not the elf’s keeper and care not what he’s about! He is likely singing with the birds on the rooftops or some such nonsense. If you expect me to keep watch on the flighty thing, you’d best provide me with some type of harness to use on him, one with a very short lead.”

Aragorn snickered at that vision. “Come, let us search him out now, for I wish for some peaceable time spent with just my old friends before we rejoin the crowd for midday feast. We should mayhap see first if he hides in our room.”

“Nay, we may forgo that. I have already checked, and it is quite empty of elf.”

The dwarf’s tone made Aragorn think something was left unsaid, and the man suddenly felt a vague unease. “But you found something else?” he prodded.

“Ah, nothing really. Well, something, yes…probably nothing. I saw his entire arsenal still resting as placed this morn; I myself regained my axe as soon as allowed.” Gimli had been puzzled at his discovery, but not deemed it worth worry at the time; repeating aloud now his find, the dwarf felt some misgivings concerning it. I shall set myself to be or not be bothered about it by Aragorn’s reaction.

Knowing the dwarf’s volatile nature, Aragorn carefully crafted his reply to keep his own misgivings hidden. “Although we are among friends here, for Legolas to wander about with no weapon does seem…odd. Let us find him forthwith and demand an answer for his uncommon behavior.”

Gimli was thrilled, for once having the Ranger firmly on his side in a matter concerning the elf.
“You see, that harness I mentioned earlier would come in handy now. No matter; when we find that blasted creature, if he tries to run off again, I’ll sit on him while you interrogate him.”

Poor Legolas. Pitying his friend landing in the dwarf’s clutches, Aragorn meanwhile gazed around, deciding which direction to begin the search. He did not really expect the elf to be gamboling on the roof. I shall seek there as a last resort – high open places and I do not mix well. “Let us begin by asking some of the guards and servants if they have recently seen Legolas.” Our elf would stand out even among this multitude of fair-skinned, golden-haired people.

After receiving several negative answers to as many questions, the two searchers began to wonder if they should indeed trek upwards to seek their missing companion. Anticipating a long climb, Aragorn was rather relieved when delayed by Gimli’s poke for attention.

“Wait, Aragorn. There’s a fellow we should have a word with.” To the Ranger’s surprise, the dwarf indicated a young boy running about, also asking some question of various people. “I’ve seen him hither and thither all day, everywhere; mayhap he has seen our wayward elf.”

As if sensing his need, the boy turned in their direction and hurried over, a wide grin on his face. On reaching them, he made an awkward little bow, recognizing them as two more of the ‘very important persons’ visiting in the citadel. “I’m the Fetcher for the day. What can I get for you sirs?”

“You could fetch us an elf, my good lad.” Aragorn rolled his eyes at Gimli’s remark, but before the man could explain, the boy spoke up.

“Would if I could, sir, but I haven’t seen him since he spoke with me awhile ago.”

Both Ranger and dwarf were amazed at their good fortune. “Did he by chance say where he might be going next or did you mayhap see which direction he took?” Aragorn hoped he wouldn’t be told ‘rooftop’.

“Umm, not exactly.” The boy’s hesitation brought back Aragorn’s unease and the man pressed for more detail. “Well, he did ask about the way to the dungeon.” Seeing the startled looks at that information, the boy hastened to add, “I told him that place wasn’t a pleasant one to visit, even if able to go and come as you will.” The boy grew thoughtful, then continued, though more speaking to himself, “He must have heard about the ghost and wanted to see it for himself; I warrant Elves aren’t scared of such things.”

Aragorn and Gimli grew more perplexed by the minute. “Tell us of this ghost, for we have not yet heard the story.”

“I only just heard it today myself,” the boy admitted. “When I was searching for an item in a storeroom, two men came in and were speaking of it…” He faltered, but rushed on at Aragorn’s encouragement. “I was kind of hid behind some boxes when they came and started talking, so they didn’t see me, and they said they had to be sure the elf heard about ‘the lost soul in the dungeon’ they called it, and they were talking pretty quiet like it was supposed to be a secret and I was afraid to let them know I was there because they might think I was eavesdropping, and then they left and so did I and…” The boy took a huge gulp of air. “That’s all.” He anxiously waited to see what the man would say or do next.

“I think you may have been in the right place at the wrong time, or mayhap wrong place, right time. It happens – no fault involved.” Aragorn smiled reassuringly at the boy, squelching his own growing concern over Legolas. “I believe the men may have mentioned this ‘ghost’ in planning a prank; I think it would benefit many if you did not repeat the rumor nor how you heard of it.” The boy nodded instant agreement. “Good lad. What is your name, by the way?”  

“You are the first to ask - most just call me Mouse, sir.” At the raised eyebrows, the boy flushed lightly even as he grinned. “My Ma started it; she says I’m into everything but I’m also a survivor.”

“A wise and perceptive woman, your mother. I think I may honestly say we all have at some time been ‘into everything’.” The Ranger’s mind briefly conjured images of two particularly mischievous halflings. “Whether that is to brag of, I am unsure. As to being a survivor…I pray we may all continue so fortunate.” He gave introduction of himself and Gimli next, then thanked and dismissed the boy. With a typical child’s abundance of energy, Mouse sprinted off again to continue his days service.

Gimli was scrutinizing the Ranger. “So what is your opinion? Is this all some prank for the elf and we worry needlessly?”

Aragorn sighed deeply. He could no longer buffer the dark feelings that kept mounting as the search for Legolas had continued. I begin to fear something is dreadfully wrong; yet still I have only my feelings to go by. He chose his words to the dwarf cautiously. “I have no clear opinion at this point. I can appreciate the desire, even the need, of an oppressed people to engage in some foolishness to lighten their cares. What I cannot fathom is why any man, being unfamiliar with the Elven race, would choose an elf on which to play a prank; said man, unknowing what manner of humor, if any, an elf might possess, would thereby set himself up for possibly severe retaliation.”

Gimli was frowning, fingering his axe handle. “Sooo, you are saying we should keep looking for Legolas because he might have been put in a wee bit of trouble?” In the dwarf’s opinion, actions were better than words, and he was anxious to find his absent friend. And then we should beat some sense into him about not being such a nuisance. Gimli’s banter gave way to serious attention as the Ranger knelt to look the dwarf straight in the eyes.

“I sense it may be more than a wee bit, yet I wish not to compound what may only be an error of judgment on someone’s part. We will conduct our own private investigation of this ‘ghost’ situation; it is my consideration we shall find this particular spirit responds to a physical threat of sword or axe.”

“Or to that of arrow or knife…neither of which our friend carries.” Gimli was feeling more and more that he should have gone immediately to the Ranger after finding Legolas’ abandoned weapons. “Of course, the elf has some goodly measure of strength and skill all his own, and he is damnably quick,” the dwarf reluctantly admitted. “But the lad, Mouse, did mention a pair of men…two prepared against one unaware,” Gimli fretted.

“Soon it shall be three against two.” The dwarf’s eyes sparkled as he realized the Ranger’s meaning. Ready to charge into the dungeon, Gimli was held back by a further caution from his companion. “I must insist on your obedience to my instruction in this endeavor. I dare not to tarnish or ruin the fragile trust of these people and allies due to harm of their own, by what may be only misunderstandings caused by a grand practical joke. We must go silently until we have the truth of the matter; if we find Legolas in no danger of receiving more than a bruised ego, we shall leave him to it, and pretend afterward we knew naught of any of it.”

Gimli nodded solemnly. “You have my vow of attendance to your orders. We dwarves know well the value of stealth and silence; though I am not as light footed as an elf, I think you may hardly notice my presence once we begin our ghost hunt.”    

 “I appreciate your commitment and welcome your assistance, Master Dwarf.” Aragorn stood and stretched. “Come, let us practice that very stealth and silence by getting into the dungeon without attracting notice.” The two managed to do so in short order, for most occupants of the halls were still engrossed in diligent tasks that took all of each worker’s attentions.

Once inside, both man and dwarf felt the same shudder of apprehension as the elf had upon entering. Aragorn motioned Gimli to stay behind the man, so as not to disturb any clues that might lead to Legolas’ whereabouts. Going into full Ranger tracking mode, Aragorn hoped that this might all turn out as something they could laugh about later; yet in his heart he was already certain it could be no laughing matter.    

* * *

Legolas first became aware of his sorely throbbing head. He shifted ever so slightly but the pounding increased. Not good…hurts to stay still, worse to move…ow, hurts even to think. He tried to keep his mind blank as other sensations slowly came to him. The air felt cool and smelled musty. Behind closed eyelids, he could still ‘see’ that there was little light wherever he was. A cell…the dungeon. Memory crept into his head, trying not to rekindle the pain that had at last begun to abate.

What few sounds he could hear were muted and seemed far away, except for one that jolted his awareness. Someone breathing…a sick man, no, a guard…it was a trap! The full revelation of betrayal returned to Legolas, along with a surge of adrenalin that counteracted his headache enough to make it bearable. The elf’s eyes blinked open to the sight of Morfran coming towards him. Trying to move away, Legolas realized he’d been thoroughly trussed during his period of unconsciousness.

“Well, well, look who finally woke from his nap.” The man was amused by the elf’s struggles. I know my knotwork – he won’t be getting out of those without a knife. Even so, recalling his partner’s difficulty previously, Morfran had been extra diligent in binding his captive; legs roped above knees and around ankles, wrists caught behind the back, and upper arms cinched tightly to the sides. Legolas ceased his futile efforts, forcing himself to relax and wait for a more feasible chance to gain freedom. “That’s better. Wouldn’t want the Master’s gift all broken before he gets it,” Morfran taunted.

Galled at the guard’s smugness, Legolas cursed the man silently, prevented from doing so aloud by a thick gag. Gift? I think not! Who is this Master he serves? Ai, what have I gotten myself into? He tensed as the man kneeled beside him. They stared at each other, though the man could meet the elf’s eyes only a few seconds at a time.

Finally, the man spoke his thoughts. “Strange how like and yet different you are to us. You do bleed as red.” Morfran sneered as he glanced at the cut above Legolas’ brow. The sneer faded at closer inspection of the wound, which was already sealed in healing. If I’d gotten hit like that, I’d need stitches. Disgruntled, the man resumed harassing his victim. “Of course, that’s not so generally noticed. Not like those.” A hand reached towards an elegantly pointed ear.

Legolas jerked his head away, but the guard’s other hand caught under the elf’s jaw, the grip against the throat just short of choking. Legolas kept his rising indignation in check, remaining motionless as rough fingers stroked along the edge of the sensitive ear. I will give this son of a warg no extra satisfaction in his torment.

Not getting the expected reaction, Morfran removed his hand from the ear and pressed his palm heavily against the elf’s stomach. “Makes one wonder what else is…unnatural.” Legolas kept his anger focused inward, though he could not repress a slight increase in his breathing and heartbeat as the man’s hand moved downward on his body. Noting the response, the guard leered. “Don’t like that, huh? Too bad. Better get used to it.”

Coward! I would deem you never touch another so after I am able to lay my hands on you. Legolas resigned himself to the impending ‘examination’. See what you will, then. You shall have no better esteem of yourself afterward.

Morfran hesitated, his hand now over the elf’s abdomen. Why does he not struggle more? Does he not comprehend; did the blow to the head cause some serious damage after all? The man’s frustration built. Bah! Cursed creature, he deserves whatever he gets.

Faint voices were heard in the corridor. Instantly, Morfran grabbed and dragged his prisoner to a side wall so he would not be seen by a cursory glance into the cell. The guard then crept up to the door and peeked warily through its viewing grate. Recognizing the voices’ owners, he sighed in relief. At last, we can be done with this subterfuge and be gone from this hole.

Temporarily alone when Morfran went to greet the newcomers, Legolas strained at his bonds again, to no avail. Disheartened, he slumped against the wall, turning his attention to the happenings outside the cell. He soon heard one man leave. Shall I be graced by the presence of the two guards once more, or shall I now meet this Master I’m to be gifted to?

Morfran reentered the cell, a nervous grin on his face, his bulk keeping the other man behind him hidden from Legolas’ vision. “Here he is, as you ordered, largely unharmed. He gave some resistance, but we were able to handle him.” The guard moved aside, and the revealed sight of the mysterious Master sent a shiver of fearful surprise up the elf’s spine.

Grima Wormtongue! How is it the exile still resides here uncontested? We saw him escorted out of the citadel. Legolas reviewed the events in his memory, scrutinizing Morfran to confirm a growing suspicion. I should sooner have recognized this guard as the one supposedly seeing to the ex-counselor’s departure from Rohan. The elf began berating himself for all manner of personal shortcomings and faults, as he saw them. Why was I not more observant? An Elf is supposed to have better senses. See where my caution has taken me…I would promote myself erroneously as protector to the remaining Fellowship, for I cannot seem even to protect myself.

While Legolas was so absorbed, Grima scornfully lectured his servant. “As I ordered…humph, I expected you to learn a better discipline after the trouble I went to getting you appointed to the elite guard.” His displeasure was obvious as he continued, “You have selective memory, Morfran. I ‘ordered’ the Ranger, yet you have delivered me an elf.”

Aragorn was the intended prey? The elf’s attention refocused on the men. For what purpose? Had they planned to ransom, or even slay, Gondor’s King? Yet they name him ‘Ranger’ - are they unaware of his true identity? Mayhap they thought to force information of the Ringbearer from him. Whatever their original intent, they are confounded now. Legolas allowed himself a momentary satisfaction, albeit an ironic one. So I fulfill my vow of protection after all, though this ‘substitution’ be hardly the manner of it I would prefer.

“We expected this one to pass the story we invented along to the Ranger…healer…and the man would then come.” Morfran complained, giving a dirty look to the elf that had fouled their plans. “We did not think the elf himself would show up – the creature had not before appeared much concerned with Men or their troubles, staying to himself as if too good to mingle…” His tirade sputtered out as he noted his Master’s glare.

“And yet, you chose this ‘creature’ to spill your tale to, supposing he would be concerned enough to repeat it, and to one of the very Men you just said he does not care for.” Grima lamented his choice of helper who, while strong physically, was obviously weak in mental attributes.

The guard was nearly whining in frustration. “Most men, I meant. The elf seemed…cozy…with the Ranger, who has been unavailable since they arrived.” Morfran then met his gaze to Grima’s, a defiant note coming to his voice. “It’s not as if we had so much more time to wait for the man to make an appearance; you did say we were on a strict schedule.”

Grima begrudgingly agreed, though not aloud, to his servant’s statement. To the man, he replied instead, “We chance our luck and lives by staying in this place longer, else I would set the elf as bait and try again for our original objective.” He saw their captive tense at those words, but was unwilling even to allow time for further taunting. “While we dally here, Cadell readies our steeds and sets himself to guard the outside runway, so we may exit uncontested at least through the city wall. After that, we must ride hard.”

Morfran also watched Legolas, who had begun to fidget under the discomfort of both his bonds and the men’s unwanted attention. “So we have no more use for this one.” At last I can dispense with this creature and we can be on our way. The guard again wished his partner had not taken the fire poker that had been so serviceable before. I could just strangle the elf, or better yet, the Master carries a dagger… mayhap he will allow its use. Straightening to attention, the soldier proclaimed, “I will attend to the creature’s disposal, Master. You go ahead to the departure point and I will catch up shortly. Before you leave, however, I need to borrow your blade.”

Legolas froze. This is to be my end, then. The prospect saddened him, for though he was not afraid of death, neither was he eager to meet it. Not even the grace of passing in a well fought battle against foes slain – no proud death that bards might later sing of in gracious remembrance. His regrets were heavier concerning his friends. They all shall be greatly distressed at finding my body – if only I could spare them such sight. At least I know, as mortals, they are not prone to fade from grief. As for my people…my father… Legolas’ mind shied from that musing, too overpowering to dwell on if he wished to keep his emotions in check. The elf took a deep breath and closed his eyes, so that he might not be tempted to flinch when his death came striking.

“Leave off, fool!” Legolas’ eyes shot open at Grima’s angry reprimand. Morfran, overconfident in his assumptions, had triggered the rebuke by reaching for his Master’s dagger. “It is not necessary to always leave death and ruin in your wake, nor is it a rule that you must destroy that which is different just because the difference offends you.” As he spoke, the ex-counselor took his first close look at the captive elf. A strange expression traveled across the man’s face as he murmured, “Though I am at a loss to reason why one should be offended by such fairness. So fair…near in sameness to…”

“You will have us leave him as he is?” The guard interrupted, clenching his fists in agitation. I’d like to tear them both apart with my bare hands. Forcing himself calmer, he continued, “I suppose we shall have traveled far enough away by the time someone finds him; it won’t matter what he tells anyone then.” The man was not very pleased, as he considered the elf had caused far too much trouble to be getting off with such light punishment.

Legolas was blinking in surprise and confusion, first at Grima’s earlier brief inspection and his odd words, then at the concession of Morfran to allow the elf’s survival. The latter of the conversation held a spark of hope that he might get through this situation with only his pride to suffer overmuch; Legolas caught and held fervently to that spark, only to have it ripped away and extinguished by Grima’s next words.

“He will not be left behind. With the loss of Theoden, I need another offering to appease my Master. I would have preferred the Ranger, but this pretty one will suffice. As you said, he and the man are ‘cozy’ with each other; and besides all else, Saruman has of late shown a particular affinity for Elves.” The man took a last look around him. “I have had enough of this place. Our time to leave comes upon us. Bring him.” With a nod towards the prisoner, Grima left the cell.

They take me to Saruman! No, no, no, no…cannot…must…not… Legolas could hardly breathe in his panic. Elves knew the value of caution as well as any being, and were afflicted by very few actual fears; yet for this elf, the shadow-wizard was one of those rarities, and for reasons thus: First, Saruman currently was as the right hand to Sauron - the Evil One - against whom Light beings of Middle Earth had warred in Ages past and fought again now. Second, the shadow-wizard was exceptionally powerful in his own right. Not only had he long hidden his true nature against such adeptly insightful minds as Lord Elrond and Gandalf, but also, shortly before the Fellowship was formed, Saruman had been able to overcome and temporarily imprison Gandalf (though the new White wizard had then been in his lesser incarnation as the Gray). The last, farthest from the least reason, that sent absolute terror stabbing into Legolas’ very soul: Saruman was creating new Orcs. For an Elf, being delivered to such hellish torment gave the cruelest truth to the old adage ‘to suffer a fate far worse than death’.

Legolas struggled frantically and unsuccessfully to avoid Morfran’s reach, earning only a series of stinging slaps for his efforts. The uncooperative elf was quickly hoisted into the guard’s harshly tight grip to be carried away. NO. Ai, dear Valar help me. Please, someone, help!

Grima was alerted to his servant’s entry into the corridor by accompanying muffled sounds of distress. Whirling, he snarled, “Have I not made clear enough he is to be handled with a modicum of care? What are you doing to him now?”

“Nothing,” Morfran lied, marginally easing the bruising hold on his writhing burden. He waited in trepidation as his unbelieving Master approached to see for himself.

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