Legolas walked out into the late
afternoon sunshine. The day was bright, even as it began to wane, but
his thoughts were troubled. He knew that Aragorn would be wondering
where he was. He was supposed to have met him almost an hour ago. Yet
his conversation with his father troubled him and now he was unsure how
He could not imagine simply abandoning Aragorn now, yet neither did he wish to go against his father... he wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
Angry voices in a glen off to his right caught the elf’s attention. When he drew closer, his heart stopped at what he found there.
Aragorn closed his eyes as he felt
Sarcayul’s blade bite into his throat. He knew there was no way out of
this now, he could not move had he wanted to. He found himself
wondering what death would feel like.
"Move that blade another inch and I’ll drop you where you stand, Sarcayul!" a familiar voice threatened suddenly and Aragorn’s eyes popped open.
Legolas stood about five yards away, his bow drawn. The arrow across its strings was aimed directly at the elf who was sitting on Aragorn’s chest.
"Stay out of this, Legolas!" Sarcayul turned his glare upon the prince. He eased up a little on the knife, but did not get off of Aragorn. "This does not concern you."
"I say it does," Legolas countered. "Let him go, now!" He drew the bowstring back slightly. "I’m not making idle threats, Sarcayul," he warned quietly.
The other elf scowled darkly as he rose to his feet, giving Aragorn a swift kick to the ribs as he did so.
Aragorn quickly scrambled to his feet, his hand going to his sore throat. Once the young man was safely at his side, Legolas lowered his bow and let the arrow slide out of its notch.
Sarcayul and his companions glared at the two friends, but none of them were stupid enough to raise a hand against Legolas. His father would have all their heads for that.
"You are out of line, Legolas!" Sarcayul said angrily. "You have no right to deny me my kill and you’ll pay for this! You can’t protect the human forever. I’m going to your father; we’ll see what he thinks about your interference! And once you are out of the way I will do what I should have done now," he threatened darkly, turning his simmering gaze upon Aragorn. "You’re a dead man, Strider, you just don’t know it yet. You can hide in the palace for only so long, but as soon as you set foot outside, you’re mine!"
Legolas’ lips pressed into a tight line of anger. "Do not think to tell me what is and isn’t my place on the grounds of my own home, Sarcayul! Now get out of here before I put an arrow in you for your folly!"
The other elves left with many a dark and hateful look over their shoulders.
Legolas slung his bow over his shoulder and turned to Aragorn. "I thought I told you to stay in the palace until I got back."
Aragorn guiltily rubbed his neck, which was stained with blood. "I didn’t realize that the palace grounds were not considered part of the palace, I’m sorry."
Legolas sighed and shook his head. "You could have been sorrier. This isn’t a game, Aragorn. These people are deadly and they mean business. They were not joking about lying in wait for you. We have to get you out of here now."
"Don’t argue with me, Aragorn," Legolas cut him off. "I’m not suggesting you run away, just that we find a better place to conduct our investigation from. As soon as Sarcayul and his cronies speak with my father I will no longer be able to help you if we remain here, and they will lay in wait for you just as they threatened, and there will be no escape." A shadow passed over Legolas’ face, but he dispelled it quickly. What was done was done. He could not change it. Nor would he if he had to do it over again. They had to take the moment and the situation they were handed and deal with it the best they could.
Aragorn nodded, seeing the sense of the suggestion. "Legolas..." he asked hesitantly. "Have I just gotten you in some kind of trouble?"
Legolas grinned wryly to hide the very real shadow of uncertainty and concern inside him. "My friend, you excel at that. But come, I would see those wounds tended quickly before we leave. No good getting out into the wild and having you die on me!" he laughed lightly, gesturing to the blood on Aragorn’s shoulder and throat.
Aragorn smiled and shook his head.
Thranduil’s eyes were dark and he
glared at Sarcayul and his companions as if he would like very much to
take his anger out on the message bearers in this instance. "You are
certain of what you speak?" he queried harshly. "This is a serious
thing you bring to me. I swear I shall have your tongue out if you have
lied to me!"
Sarcayul was not backed down by the threat. "We all saw it, we all swear to it. I wish I could tell you otherwise, my king."
"Hmph, I’ll bet you do," Thranduil said darkly. These tidings disturbed him greatly. Legolas had defied him and wantonly broken the law. His son had betrayed him in favor of a man of all things. The king’s look was grim and angry when he summoned his guards.
"Find Prince Legolas. Bring him to me at once. He may try to leave, so seal off the palace grounds. No one gets in or out until I say so, is that clear?" Thranduil ordered.
"Yes, Your Highness," the guards nodded and bowed. On their way out the door they exchanged curious, concerned glances. These were strange doings going on in Mirkwood this day.
Aragorn’s wounds had been tended
as quickly as possible and the two friends made their way towards the
great gate, being careful to avoid being seen.
Not careful enough, apparently.
"You two, halt!" a voice called from behind them. Legolas turned just long enough to see Amil-Garil, captain of the palace guard, calling out to them.
"Run!" the elf gave Aragorn a shove to get him started and together they took flight.
"Wait!" Amil-Garil called after them, obviously surprised by their course of action. "Your highness, Prince Legolas, wait!"
But they did not wait. Legolas knew what he had done, and how his father would take it. If he went back now, he did not know what would happen exactly, but one thing was sure, Aragorn would become trapped in the palace and to attempt leaving would be death for him. They had to leave now, or it would be too late. Later, when this whole mess was solved... then Legolas would have to face his father, but not yet.
They had the element of surprise because Amil-Garil had not expected the prince to flee from him and so the two friends managed to lose their pursuers. The gate was in sight now. It was closed, of course, but Legolas quickly put his hand up and commanded them to open. "Edro!"
Legolas tried again. Again, no response. Legolas pounded his fist against the inside of the sealed gate in frustration, realizing what must have happened. Never before had the magic gates to the palace been closed so that he could not open them. Only Thranduil had the power to do that.
"Is this a bad thing?" Aragorn looked around breathlessly, his chest heaving as he sought to regain his air from their flight.
"These gates are sealed by magic," Legolas said, giving one last, useless push against them. "Usually I can open them... but now they do not listen to me."
Aragorn nodded grimly, understanding. "So we’re trapped then. There is no other way out of the palace grounds."
Legolas considered this for a moment. "Maybe, maybe not..." his sharp elven ears picked up the sound of someone approaching and he quickly pulled Aragorn into the shadows with him. They had to get out of the palace and into the woods.
They pressed themselves back into the dense foliage to the side of the gate and Legolas could feel Aragorn’s quickened breath stir his hair as two guards approached and took up positions on either side of the gate.
There was no danger of anyone getting in the magic gates, so these guards were obviously there to prevent anyone from getting out.
Legolas closed his eyes for a moment, repressing the stab of pain that went through his heart. His father hadn’t wasted any time.
"Listen to me, Strider, there is another way that we may be able to use. Follow me," he breathed into his friend’s ear, before edging silently away.
Aragorn followed soundlessly. Legolas led him swiftly and silently through many twisting halls and tunnels that the elf prince knew by heart.
They had descended far underground by now and Aragorn wondered where they were going.
They were in fact on the level of the palace on which the dungeons and cellars were kept. They were hurrying down a torch-lit hall when footsteps coming fast from the corner behind them made their rapid pace turn into a quick, last-minute dash for the cover of a side passage.
Several porters and one of the jailers passed by. Aragorn felt sure they would hear the heavy pounding of his heart, but the elves passed by without pause.
Beside him, Aragorn heard Legolas let out his breath once the other elves had passed and suddenly paused to wonder what it must be like for the elf prince to have to sneak around like a criminal in his own home. A pang of guilt passed through the young ranger, but there was no time for it because Legolas was already moving again, beckoning him to follow.
At last they reached a long, steep stairway.
"Down here, quickly!" Legolas said urgently, leading Aragorn down the seemingly endless staircase. Upon reaching the bottom they found themselves in a large cellar packed with rows upon rows of barrels filled with everything imaginable from wine to apples.
Legolas leaned lightly against the wall for a moment, battling down the dull ache in his still-healing leg. Pushing off quickly, he made his way to where two large wooden trap doors interrupted the stone floor.
Aragorn’s brows knit as he noticed that the elf was walking with a very slight, but just noticeable limp.
"Legolas, are you all right?" Aragorn asked with concern. "Does your leg hurt you?"
The limp immediately disappeared. Legolas shrugged the question off.
"We do much trade with Esgaroth down on Long Lake," the elf explained briefly, gesturing to the barrels of goods around them. He pulled open the trapdoors and, to Aragorn’s surprise, revealed a rushing stream of dark water flowing beneath their feet.
Legolas smiled at Aragorn’s surprised look. "The Forest River flows beneath the castle on its way to join the River Running. Empty barrels are dropped down through these doors and the current carries them down to Lake Town."
Aragorn nodded slowly, understanding dawning upon his features. "Then the stream exits the palace. And so can we."
"Ah, you’re brighter than you look," Legolas teased and Aragorn rolled his eyes.
Legolas’ gaze turned a little more serious as he looked down at the dark water flowing only a few inches below the surface of the doors. Heavy rains upstream had swollen the river and it was much higher than usual. Normally, there was plenty of air between the water and the roof of the stone tunnels that channeled the river beneath the palace, but now... Legolas could not be sure they would have any opportunity to draw breath until they were safely out the other end of the underwater tunnel.
He did not tell Strider about his concerns yet, but pulled the heavy, creaking lever to open the portcullis, the steel underwater gate that prevented anyone from entering the tunnel from the outside.
The young prince returned to the edge of the trapdoor, winding his hair behind him into a quick loop to keep it out of his way as he looked down at the swollen river at their feet.
"You can swim?" he thought to ask, pausing to look up at his young human friend.
Aragorn nodded quickly. "Of course."
"Well, what about holding your breath? It may be a long trip to the other side," the elf cautioned. He had no desire to drown his friend by accident.
"I can make it," the ranger assured, but then paused. "Legolas, do you think this is a good idea?"
"Do you have any better ones?" Legolas shrugged. "The tunnel isn’t that long, we should be-"
"I don’t mean about the water..." Aragorn shook his head. "I mean... I don’t want to get you in any more trouble," he admitted with concern.
Legolas grinned wryly, pulling off his boots and tucking them under his belt. "Too late for that, isn’t it?"
Dropping lightly down into the water before anything more could be said, Legolas disappeared into the dark, swirling current and there was nothing for Aragorn to do but follow.
Aragorn took a deep breath and let himself down into the water. He was immediately caught up by the rushing current and swept away from the trapdoor, sucked down into the underwater tunnels that channeled the river out. The water was freezing cold and the weight of the current pressed against his chest, as if trying to squeeze the air out of his lungs. The young man bumped his head against the top of the tunnel and the shock of the impact caused him to let out some of his breath. It was a mistake.
He tried to swim, but the current made a controlled swim impossible and he found himself being jostled and thrown against the sides of the tunnel as the water pushed him through. There was no air in the channels, just as Legolas had feared, and a terrible claustrophobic feeling gripped at Aragorn’s heart, making his already aching lungs tighten from the added weight of fear.
Legolas quickly found that fighting the water did no good, so he accepted its power and let the current take him, trying to keep his heart from speeding up in fear and using more oxygen as the freezing water rushed him through the tiny, closed tunnels. The chilly water bit at the new flesh of his heeling leg, making the old injury throb painfully.
Aragorn’s lungs burned and a frightened panic gripped his heart despite his best efforts to remain calm. His air was gone and he was trapped under water and thousands of pounds of stone above that. There was no air left in his lungs and his body screamed at him as bright, artificial bursts of light exploded across his vision in the inky blackness.
Just when the young man thought he wasn’t going to make it, the bright light of sunshine touched his face and his head broke the surface. For a moment he saw the tree-laden riverbank on either side, with tree branches dipping down to touch the stream as if seeking an extra drink. Then his head went under again.
Remembering that he had to actually swim now, Aragorn clawed desperately at the water as he tried to figure out what way was up. His head broke the surface again and he tried to draw in a gasping breath of air, only to get a mouthful of water with it. The young ranger choked and floundered slightly, disorientated and dizzy.
Strong hands caught him before he could go under again as Legolas grabbed his friend’s sodden tunic and forced him above the water, helping him keep his head up as Aragorn choked on the water he had inhaled, coughing desperately as he tried to get air into his starved lungs.
Legolas’ leg burned mercilessly as he struggled to keep both himself and his friend on the surface. They had to get the riverbank now or he was going to be in trouble.
"I thought you said you could swim," the elf remarked as he attempted to guide them both towards the shoreline. His tone was the only thing about them that was dry.
Aragorn had recovered himself pretty quickly and was actually swimming on his own now. They pulled themselves up onto the bank and sighed in relief. Aragorn coughed a couple more times, then leaned up on his elbow, wiping his dark hair out of his eyes.
"Swim, yes, breathe water, no," the human retorted, once he had enough breath to do so. "I thought you said that those tunnels weren’t very long!"
Legolas shrugged, pulling his sodden boots back on and wincing at the aggravated ache in his right calf. Elf bodies healed quickly and his wound was already considerably mended, but what he had just put it through had not helped any.
Aragorn wiped the last of the stinging water out of his eyes and saw Legolas for the first time. The elf prince’s long hair was slicked back flat against his head, his clothing clung to him and water was dripping from his pointed ears. In spite of everything, the young ranger could not help laughing. The puzzled and slightly irritated look on Legolas’ face did not help and Aragorn chuckled helplessly, setting off another coughing fit.
"And what, pray tell, is so funny?" Legolas raised one dripping eyebrow questioningly.
That was almost too much. Aragorn curled over helplessly, holding his side and trying to stop, which of course only made him laugh harder.
"Y-you!" Aragorn managed to squeeze out around his mirth. Legolas always looked so graceful and collected, somehow seeing him like this was just too funny. "You look like-like a drowned rat!"
"Save us," Legolas muttered, rolling his eyes as he tucked one dripping strand of hair behind his ear. "I seriously begin to question your sanity sometimes, Strider."
The elf rose with exaggerated dignity. "Besides," he quipped, looking down at the dripping ranger who was still leaning on his elbow on the ground. Aragorn’s dark hair was plastered down across his face and his silly grin did very little for his waterlogged appearance. A smile quirked the elf’s graceful lips. "Look who’s talking."