A Friend in Need

Chapter 3

by Elwing-(V)

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Aragorn and Gimli were making good progress in their tracking. The Ranger’s skills were exemplary; he had an uncanny knack for not only finding barely visible clues, but also of envisioning the past events that had created those clues.

He says he has a small percent of Elf blood in his line…I would say he has a drop of wizard blood as well. Gimli was highly impressed of the man, even as his worries for the elf increased due to the unfolding events Aragorn was finding evidence of. Neither dwarf nor man harbored sincere belief that it was only a game or joke Legolas was embroiled in, yet they could not judge why anyone in Rohan should deliberately wish the elf harm. Gimli stopped abruptly as the Ranger stiffened. Voices. Now mayhap the mystery will be solved.

Giving a last cautioning gesture for the dwarf to stay silent behind him, Aragorn eased along the wall to peer around the corner. His blood boiled at the sight that met his eyes – just outside a cell stood a large, heavy man holding another being in his arms, the one held instantly recognized by his golden hair and soft glow. That Legolas did not wish to be in the man’s clutches was obvious by the way the elf squirmed and protested. Final evidence of the situation being deadly serious was given as Aragorn noted the gag and bindings; he winced at spying pink tinges on the strands of rope surrounding the elf’s wrists.

Another voice caught the Ranger’s attention. It cannot be. A moment later Grima came into view, and Aragorn felt a chill shiver over him. He was to retreat to Saruman, yet has somehow tarried hidden here; does he now intend to flee with Legolas as hostage? I will never allow it!  He fought the urge to leap forward and slice both the traitorous advisor and his servant into pieces. They would see me coming too soon and threaten further harm to Legolas. I must bide until they turn away from me; hopefully fortune shall grant an extra boon and Wormtongue shall also move a pace from the other. Steeling himself to wait, watch and listen, Aragorn’s only indication of mounting fury was his white-knuckled grip on the pommel of his sword.

Morfran, concerned over his Master’s temper, made an attempt at humor, “It seems our ‘guest’ is no longer enamored of our hospitality.” He indicated Legolas, who had stilled and was warily watching Grima approach.

Seeing no prominent injury, the ex-counselor was satisfied with the elf’s condition. Using a tone of sympathy as false as his smile, Grima indirectly addressed his prisoner, “I can hardly blame him for that. I am afraid my own Master may not be inclined to have sufficient appreciation of  the full range of services one of his kind and quality is able to provide.” The strange expression seen earlier on Grima’s face came again, but dropped away even swifter than before and the man’s full attention focused on the fuming elf.

Grima’s hand rose; pallid fingers stroked greedily across Legolas’ forehead, then down the side of the elf’s face to rest possessively against his cheek. “Mayhap Saruman will be too busy on our arrival to give you his proper attentions, and after we win the imminent great battle, mayhap he will continue to have other things to occupy his varied interests. Mayhap he even may then be persuaded to release you…to me.” At the last words, Grima leaned close, his breath hot on the elf’s sensitive ear. Legolas twisted his head aside in disgust, and would have spat at the man if he could have. Chuckling mirthlessly, Grima backed away. “We waste no more time here. Come.” Confident of his servant’s obedience, he started off to where the horses were readied.    

Giving his own leer to the despairing captive, Morfran once more tightened his grip before following his Master. The guard took scarcely two steps before halting and calling out.

Grima, several paces ahead, turned and hissed, “What is it…now?” His anger transformed to shock as he watched the guard sink to his knees. Morfran’s arms lowered, almost gently releasing Legolas to the ground; the man continued to keel over, his body pinning the elf in place. With dead weight, it became apparent, as from that perspective both Grima and Legolas could plainly see the hilt of the dagger embedded in the guards’ back, and presumably his heart.

Some distance down the corridor behind the fallen guard, a glint caught Grima’s eye. He felt paralyzed as from the shadows strode the very man originally intended for capture. The Ranger’s face was cold and set as stone while his eyes blazed like fire; his voice was sharp as the glistening edge of the drawn sword he raised. “You are next.”

Grima goggled, numb with disbelief that things could go so wrong against him. He let loose the breath he had not realized he’d been holding, and was suddenly infused with an surge of uncharacteristically bold, and most likely suicidal, defiance. He cast his gaze back to the servant and prisoner now lost to him. Nay, not both. I am still the nearer to the elf. I shall accomplish my revenge…if I cannot claim the fair one, neither shall he belong to any other.

Brandishing his dagger, Grima snarled and dashed towards the trapped elf. Aragorn hastened his own motion to counteract his foe’s dastardly intent. The Ranger briefly bared clenched teeth, a scathing curse escaping through them. As the last word was uttered, Aragorn found himself abruptly swept aside as a bellowing whirlwind comprised of russet hair and leather along with silver steel thundered past.

Gimli, staying behind the man per Aragorn’s command, had been unable to see what the Ranger had seen around the corner, but the dwarf’s hearing had not been hindered. When Aragorn made his move and spoke out, Gimli took that as the signal of release from his own vow of stillness and silence. At the developments following the guard’s demise, Gimli decided to take matters in his own hands. Legolas is my friend, too; and while Aragorn is a better than adequate fighter, I will not depend solely on the man to accomplish our elf’s rescue. There was also the dwarf’s desire to literally cut Grima down to size for the obnoxious man’s insults to the elf. I know exactly which part shall be hewn off first; after that, I may let Legolas choose.

The charging apparition of a furious, axe-brandishing dwarf caused Grima to falter in his momentum. In a split second, the dwarf was closer to the man than the man to the elf. The ex-counselor felt his bravado falter also before fleeing altogether, pulling the man swiftly with it, an enraged Gimli hot on his heels.

Aragorn, having regained his balance and breath, resheathed his sword and hurried to his prone friend. The Ranger shoved the guard’s body aside, retrieving the dagger and wiping it clean on the dead man’s tunic. He gave the elf a quick perusal with a healer’s eye; relieved to see no obvious wounds other than a sizable bump above the elf’s brow, he yet hesitated to move Legolas before ascertaining any internal injury. “Is there damage?” At a negative shake of the elf’s head, Aragorn knelt and helped his friend sit, then removed the offensive gag before going to work on the ropes.

Legolas leaned against the Ranger, basking in the comfort of his dearest friend. Once freed, the elf assured that he only looked the worse for wear. “I have some soreness of arms and legs from the restricting ropes; my wrists, though raw, are already starting to heal and are nearly more itchy than painful; the two head bumps will probably be quite tender for another day or so. All considered, I am just fine.” Telling Aragorn was not sufficient – the man had to gently poke and prod to his own satisfaction until certain that Legolas really was ‘fine’.

Aragorn came finally to inspect the lump on the back of the elf’s head. Affirming Legolas’ health on the mend due to aid of natural Elven healing ability, the Ranger felt the need for a bit of levity. Keeping a straight face, he intoned, “We should be duly thankful you are gifted with such a thick skull, my hard-headed friend.”

The elf retaliated in usual fine form, instantly giving Aragorn’s own head a sound swat. “You should mind your words, friend, as it takes one of a same kind to know such a thing.”

Aragorn was heartened at the quick recovery, yet sensed Legolas suffered pain of some still hidden wound. Not a physical one; Elves are prone more to languish from hurt of the heart or spirit. Having heard and seen as I have here, I must know if worse befell ere we came upon him. The man tipped the elf’s face to look directly at him and impress the true gravity of his question. “You suffered no other damage of any kind?”

“Only to my pride….though I fear I could not say the same had you not made such timely arrival.” Legolas’ gaze held deep gratitude for the answer to his earlier silent plea.

The words triggered in Aragorn’s mind grotesque images of possible fates that might have awaited the elf. He embraced Legolas and breathed in deeply the vibrant ‘green’ scent of the wood-elf Prince, enabling the man to shut out the horrid scenes. Calmed again, he queried his friend, “How came you to such predicament?”

“Twas by my own folly.” The elf’s face lightly flushed in embarrassment. “I had thought to do a good deed, saving what I was led to believe was an ailing human forsaken here in his misery.” His soft voice grew hard in self condemnation. “Alas, I cannot lay full blame on any other; my intentions were also self serving. I had hoped this endeavor would result in my being less an object of curiosity to the Rohan people.” Catching the Ranger’s concerned frown, Legolas hastily clarified, “I’ve not been mistreated…well, prior to this incident. A few have shown wariness of me, and my ‘ways’ – I do not begrudge them so, as they were no worse to me than I have been to others in my past. If there is any true fault of the majority, tis that they are over solicitous.” The elf gave a dramatic sigh to enhance his next statement. “I tire of only ever looking down upon them from the high pedestal they insist to place me on.”

Aragorn’s frown lifted, but his heart still was troubled. “You should have told me of this sooner, for your concerns are mine as well. Nay, I know your arguments and none hold sway. I was busy, but was not nor ever shall be so busy that you may not interrupt for any matter you consider important. As for faults, I place yours as being too good-hearted for your own welfare.” He gazed fondly at his pouting friend. “Though I would take no wealth of coin, or gem, or any other bribe to cause you to change.”

The Ranger’s words had an unexpected effect, as Legolas’ breath hitched and a tremor rippled through his body. Change…I very nearly came to, and not a bit for the better… The elf tried to explain to his increasingly worried friend. “You speak of my…changing. I had so feared…I would be…but not of my will, or liking.” The horror was still too fresh; though he tried to hold it back, it burst forth like flood water through a broken dam. “And worse even than…the abomination they would make of me…was that thus I would be returned to face…to battle loved ones…loved no more, and… and…” The stricken elf could not bear to continue.

Perceiving where his friend’s dark thoughts led, Aragorn merely tightened his embrace, rubbing soothing circles against the trembling elf’s tense back. Suddenly overwhelmed at how near he’d come to losing his heart-brother, the Ranger was grateful to be already on his knees, for his legs would not have supported him standing. After a few moments, both beings were able to regain a semblance of calm.

Aragorn pulled back, steel gray eyes meeting sky blue ones. “You will not dwell on such thoughts, for that evil did not befall you, nor shall it ever while I have breath to draw.”

Legolas eyes widened at the Ranger’s vehemence. “Have you the gift of foresight now, or mayhap you took an extra peek in the Lady’s Mirror whilst we sojourned in Lorien?” He forced a light tone to his words, but the man would have none of jesting now.

“I have not, and I did not. You have only my vow, by Elbereth if need be, that such an evil fate never take you while I live. In return, I need only your vow to believe me and not allow imaginings from this trauma to bring you fading grief. Promise me, stubborn elf.”

I believe in you, Estel. “The evil that touched me shall fade, not I. You have my promise on that; are you satisfied now, nagging human?” A hint of a smile curved the lips on both faces.

Both sets of ears picked up the stomping and grumbling sounds of a returning dwarf. As Gimli rounded the corner, Aragorn stood and welcomed him back. “You appear unbloodied. Even at the pace you set, did the miscreant yet outdistance you and escape?”

Gimli was relieved of a portion of his bleakness, seeing the Ranger not ministering to Legolas, and the elf himself up kneeling with all apparently intact. “Aarrh. I might have had him, except at the tunnel end was waiting a steed the traitor mounted and was away on. Even an excellent sprinter as myself, having only two legs, cannot match a horse in running. Of course, I could have thrown my axe at the animal’s legs and brought them both down…” Seeing Legolas wince, he quickly added, “But I had no real animosity for the beast; no doubt if it were capable of genuine awareness, it would have thrown its rider and stomped him flat.”

Legolas sorrowed for the poor creature. “Though Grima’s steed be not of good Rohirrim stock, still it does not deserve the reception it shall receive at its destination.” Orcs and goblins are cruel to all things, even so amongst themselves.

Daft elf…he frets too much for others and not enough for himself. “Better for such as a horse rather than an Elf to become Orc fodder.” He immediately regretted his words as he noted the elf pale and the Ranger frown. “Aule’s Hammer strike me! Will I never learn to think upon my words before opening this cavern of a mouth and spilling them forth? He had recently been made aware of the circumstances of Orc origins, terrible even without all the minute details.

Before the dwarf could venture a suitable apology, a commanding voice rang out. “Gimli, come here.” Feeling too guilty to chastise the elf for displaying a ‘Royal attitude’, Gimli shuffled forward, head down, axe slowly lowering to almost drag the ground. Upon reaching arms' length of Legolas, the dwarf laid his weapon to the floor, then stood waiting for what he deemed proper punishment. The corner of an eye saw a slim arm snake out, and Gimli resisted flinching from the expected swat. Instead, the arm continued around to the back of his neck; the dwarf suddenly found a strong chest against his own, soft hair brushing his wiry beard, and a warm voice whispering in his ear. “Thank you, Gimli.”

Awkwardly patting the elf’s back, Gimli blinked to clear his eyes of their sudden mistiness. Seconds later, the dwarf grasped Legolas’ shoulders and gently pushed the elf back for better viewing. Such a marvel to have such a companion – like a magnificent gem come to life. How any dare try to flaw such a miracle is beyond how I may ever understand.

Calloused fingers traced along a smooth forehead, settling in place some few stray strands of golden hair, then stroking down the fair face. Unwittingly, Gimli’s hand followed the exact path as another had earlier; yet from this touch Legolas did not recoil, for a gesture of pure and honest affection was always appreciated.

Aragorn watched, immensely pleased at the growing friendship between the two unlikely candidates for such. The man had become good friends himself with the dwarf during the time of the Fellowship, and had been as a brother to the elf since memory served him. Legolas and I are as close together as the Twins with each other. A few moments more were spent quietly observing, then, “Ahem.” Gathering Legolas’ and Gimli’s attention, the Ranger instructed, “We should return topside ere search parties are sent needlessly for us.” Nodding at the unlamented guard’s body, he continued, “We will have someone sent back to clean that up, and meanwhile inform King Theoden and also Gandalf of the treachery that occurred. I feel confident that the last of the foulness has indeed fled this place, but they will want to be certain.”

Assisting Legolas to stand, Aragorn kept a firm grip on the elf’s arm as he led his group out of the dungeon. “At the upcoming feast, I will take care to see you properly introduced to several Men who should not too badly shake your Elven sensibilities whilst indoctrinating you into Rohan customs and cliques.” Ignoring Legolas’ indignant glare, the Ranger smiled at a sudden idea. “But before the feast, there is another I would have you meet…a most unique and special Mouse.”

“A what?” As Legolas puzzled over how or why the Ranger would take acquaintance with a particular rodent, Gimli moved up to take the elf’s other arm firmly in hand.

The dwarf also wore a smile, though his was largely hidden within the beard. “Aye, I know the one. However, I shall have to beg your leave in attendance to that matter, for when we get out of here, I need to pay a visit to the stables.”

Legolas nearly tripped over himself. “The stables? You?” The dwarf’s aversion to the four-legged inhabitants was well known. I must be suffering some delayed trauma from my ordeal; surely my ears did not hear correctly.

“I need to see a man there about the crafting of a particular type of harness.” Behind the elf’s back, Gimli and Aragorn exchanged winks but no further information as they continued herding their confused and curious friend back to the upper levels.

At last the door that would take them to awaiting comrades came into view and the three beings, still arm in arm, breathed a collective sigh of relief. Man, elf and dwarf passed through with a new spring in their stride at leaving, at least for a time, the Darkness well behind them.

The End

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