Suddenly something whizzed by
Aragorn’s head and hit the tree next to him with a sticky splat. The
young ranger jumped back. He had just enough time to notice the thick,
rope-like strand that seemed to have suddenly become affixed to the
tree in front of him before another sticky rope shot through the air
"Spiders!" Legolas spat, whipping off several arrows faster than thought. Two big, black-bodied beasts fell to the ground not far away, their eight hideous legs still twitching, but there was no abatement in the hail of webs being thrown at the two friends.
Aragorn drew his sword quickly, and looked up. What he saw there froze the blood in his veins. The treetops above them, in front of them, behind them and on either side seemed to be alive with spiders. Huge black bodies swarmed over the branches like ants on an ant hill, their wicked, glowing eyes fixed on the two friends who had just become their prey. He couldn’t even begin to count their number, not that he felt particularly inclined to try.
Legolas continued to fire at point blank range into the mass of swarming insects as he and Aragorn retreated quickly back and sideways, looking for a chance to escape. Unfortunately, retreating didn’t do much good as the enemy had them completely surrounded.
One spider dropped down onto Aragorn’s back and the young ranger bent over sharply, flinging the arachnid off and dispatching it with a quick sword-thrust.
"I thought you told me these things only attacked stragglers!" Aragorn said breathlessly as he sliced through a web that wrapped around his leg and thrust upward into the belly of a spider that attempted to drop down onto their heads.
"And what do you think we are?" Legolas shot back distractedly, dropping spiders out of the treetops as quickly as he could; yet more just kept coming.
The sticky cords were flying around them like unraveled nets now and the air was thick with spider chatter. The two friends quickly realized that the spiders were busy at work in the trees around them, webbing them in. The ugly beasts had already spread their thick webs between the tree trunks on every side and were working quickly to turn the webbing into a prison in which to hold their prey captive until they brought them down.
"They’re hedging us in, we’ve got to get out of here!" Aragorn said with no small amount of alarm.
Legolas nodded quickly, his own breath beginning to come a little short. "I’ve never seen so many at one time!" he said, slightly wide-eyed as he fitted yet another arrow across his bowstrings. He was running dangerously low and his quiver was nearly empty. "We must have stumbled upon some sort of nest!"
"Pleasant thought," Aragorn mumbled, slashing sideways at a spider that swung down towards Legolas’ head. He had noticed something about their attackers and quickly leaned closer to his friend.
"Legolas, look, the spiders have gotten so intent on their wall-building that the path to the east has cleared a little," Aragorn whispered hurriedly, not wanting the spiders to hear them.
Legolas quickly understood his friend’s mind. "We make a break that way and try to get out of this ravine. On three."
"One..." Aragorn and Legolas stood back to back, fending off the massive onslaught of the spiders.
"Two..." The spiders seemed to sense something was up and pressed their attack closer, harder.
"Three!" The two friends broke left at the same time, bursting through the spiders’ unguarded east flank. The creatures had woven a sturdy wall, and it took two or three blows from Aragorn’s sword to cut the thick webbing while Legolas covered their retreat.
They stepped through the pathway they had made, but Aragorn’s sword was tangled in the sticky webbing he had just sliced and he had to yank it free. At that moment three of the spiders dropped down from the trees above. One landed on Aragorn’s back, trying to get at the human’s neck, and the other two hung from their threads, spinning around him and pinning his arms to his sides with their strong webs. The young ranger tried to break free and move his arms but he couldn’t, the spider silk had done its job in a most horribly effective manner.
Legolas unsheathed his knives, one in either hand, and skewered the spider on his friend’s back before it could sink its pincers into Aragorn’s unprotected neck. At the same moment a sweep with the knife in his other hand cut the web of one of the dangling spiders and the prince kicked the beast as it fell, sending it skittering away from them. Legolas cut Aragorn’s arms free as the third spider rounded on them again.
Because the spiders could move completely silently when they wanted to, they were able to keep the upper hand in the battle, not making themselves known until they wanted to. Distracted by the battle at hand, not even Legolas heard the spiders crawling up the tree behind him.
Without warning four more of the beasts dropped down silently from above. Two of them slammed into Legolas’ back, causing the archer to stumble forward. The others joined the one that was still alive, trying to wrap Aragorn up in their webs again.
Legolas had no time to fight, to react. As the spiders bore him to the ground he instantly felt the burning sting of the topmost spider’s bite sink into the side of his neck. The elf stumbled to his knees under the onslaught, feeling the spider’s venom course into his veins, making his vision blur and his head swim.
Reaching over his shoulder and grabbing the beast by the legs, Legolas yanked the spider off his back, throwing it to the ground and pinning it there with a quick blow from one of his knives. The other spider was trying to get its pincers into him too, and another dropped down from the trees, attempting to pin his arms and his legs in its web.
Aragorn dispatched the last of the beasts intent on binding him up and had a moment to turn towards his friend. The look on Legolas’ face frightened him. The elf was very pale and the prince’s usually quick movements were slowed.
Quickly diving into the fray, Aragorn skewered the spider on its thread and hacked the one on Legolas’ back in half. Grabbing the prince’s arm, he half helped, half dragged the elf to his feet. Legolas gripped Aragorn’s arm tightly for balance as they scrambled away from the spiders, being forced deeper and deeper into the ravine.
Aragorn didn’t have time to ask if his friend was all right because in a matter of moments both of them were running as fast as they could with the swarm of angry, seething, chattering spiders chasing after them. The beasts cut off any hope of making it back out the way they had come and the two friends were quickly being forced further into the spider’s territory.
Legolas fought the venom that was working on him and forced his body to move and respond to the situation at hand. It was a battle he knew he could not win for very long.
Suddenly the earth was slanting downward and they found themselves splashing into the edge of the stream. They paused for a moment, considering the broad body of water before them. Legolas leaned lightly against Aragorn’s shoulder, letting his hand rest on the young human’s back. He hated to show weakness, but at this point he could hardly help it.
Aragorn felt his friend’s rapid breathing against his neck and ear and knew that, for whatever reason, Legolas was in trouble. They couldn’t run anymore, there were spiders ahead of them as well as behind... Thinking quickly, Aragorn grabbed Legolas’ arm and waded out into the middle of the stream. The water was swift and the current pulled at them but, rather than attempting to cross, Aragorn turned with his back to the current and started traveling swiftly downstream with Legolas following.
The spiders swarmed the banks on either side, but the stream was wide enough that no trees directly overhung the middle of it and the spiders would not venture out into the rushing water.
The river rose up to the two friends’ waists, and the current became fierce, hurrying them along even faster than they were already going and trying to pull their feet out from under them. Suddenly the ground dropped out beneath them as the stream deepened and it pulled the two of them under. The rough current easily carried them along, and away from the spiders.
When they finally were far enough
downstream for it to be safe to exit the river again they did and
quickly made their way out of the treacherous ravine. Once again
dripping as they made their way through the trees, Aragorn wrung the
water from his shirt and shook his head.
"Why does it always have to be water?" he mumbled at having been soaked twice in as many days. The young ranger turned to say something to his friend, only to find that Legolas had stopped some distance behind him and was leaning against a tree, apparently trying to catch his breath. He quickly made his way back to his friend. "Legolas, what’s wrong?"
"Spider venom," Legolas said simply, pulling his shirt away from his neck enough for Aragorn to see the nasty red, swollen flesh where the spider had bitten him. Blood from where the spider’s fangs had been torn out when he yanked the beast free ran down the side of his neck.
Aragorn’s eyes grew very large as he gently touched the injury. His fingers came away red with the prince’s blood. Then, suddenly, as if things couldn’t get any worse, they both heard the sound of approaching riders. Away through the trees on their right, they glimpsed a party of elf warriors and Aragorn swore silently. This was just great. This was the last thing they needed right now. Aragorn quickly turned, his hand coming to rest against the tree next to them and unintentionally leaving Legolas’ blood behind on the smooth bark.
Legolas had seen the riders as well. Urgently tugging on Aragorn’s sleeve he pulled him back, behind some fallen logs where they would be less easily discovered. The riders passed by, but stopped not three-hundred yards away. The rustle of light footfalls told that they had dismounted.
Aragorn knew it would only be a matter of minutes until the elves picked up their trail. They had to move and move fast.
Edging quietly out of their hiding place, the two friends crept away silently, taking cover under the craggy face of a rock outcropping that rose up sharply on their left. Behind them they heard voices. Their trail had been picked up by the other elves! They may not be able to hear the elves’ quite approach, but Aragorn knew they must not be far behind them now.
Dimly, Legolas realized that he recognized the area they were in. But that did not help him much as the spider poison began to grab hold of him in earnest. He could hear the rustle of his people, growing steadily closer as they homed in on the two fugitives’ position. He tried to move faster, but his body betrayed him and his clumsy limbs refused to obey his urgency.
The elf prince stumbled as he followed Aragorn, the toxins in his system beginning to overwhelm him at last. He knew he would be fine if he could just get somewhere safe and relax. The spider’s venom was not poisonous in itself; it merely drugged the victim into a coma-like sleep, slowing down the autonomous systems while keeping the prey alive until the spider was ready to eat. In a few hours he would be okay except for the annoying side-effect of a horrible headache that the poison left as its marker.
However, Legolas knew they had to get to safety before the drug overtook him or they would both be caught.
"This way! Legolas quickly!" Aragorn caught at the elf’s tunic and drug the prince with him to the entrance of dark, foreboding cave he had spotted. Its opening looked like the maw of some creature half-buried in the dank woods. Water dripped from the rock protrusions near the entrance and echoes of cascading condensation could be heard deep within its dark depths.
Aragorn ran into the cavern, looking about wildly for a place to hide from the elves that chased them. The inside of the cave was spacious, its moist, gravelly floor dotted with odd rocky formations that grew from the ground, twisted and warped by years of wind and water. The stalagmites dripped with the fog that seemed to live in the dank cave, wrapping itself around the bases of the columns and shifting around his ankles as he walked deeper into the hollow.
It took a moment for the ranger to realize that Legolas was not following him. Had the poison taken effect and caused him to pass out? Frantically he raced back into the entryway to find the elf frozen in fear, staring blankly into the darkness.
"Legolas?" Aragorn approached the prince cautiously. "What’s wrong? We need to get out of view. They are coming, can’t you hear them?" When the elf didn’t respond he pressed him, "Are you all right?"
The elf could indeed hear their pursuers and the soft sounds of the approaching elves heightened his panic, but he was unable to move as memories long forgotten and repressed slammed into his awareness, cutting through the fog of the spider’s poison.
"We cannot go in there. He lives here." Legolas' words were a mere whisper and Aragorn looked about them searching for the source of his friend's distress.
"No one is here, Legolas."
"Yes they are. They live here." The elf’s eyes were wide as he searched the interior of the cavern with his gaze; he remembered just such a place. "You just do not realize that you are looking at them. They see you, though." He grabbed the human and tried to pull the man back with him.
Aragorn took the elf’s face in his hand and redirected Legolas’ horrified gaze until the prince was staring into the ranger’s eyes.
Legolas trembled slightly under Aragorn’s touch and he grabbed the man’s overcoat, trying to steady himself as the drug took hold of his autonomous system, his hands balled into fists gripping the worn leather.
"You don’t understand." He had to make his friend understand, he couldn’t go past those stalagmites. In his drugged state, with his senses heightened, he couldn’t overcome the fear of the memories embedded in his mind. "I have seen them, I know what they will do to you."
"There is no one here." Aragorn was desperate, he needed to get through to the elf and fast, he could hear their pursuers approaching. He realized the drug was wreaking havoc in the prince’s system but he had no choice but to press the elf farther into the cave despite his fears. "Legolas, look at me. Look at me!" He shook the prince gently to get his attention, "I will not let anyone hurt you. But we must go deeper into the cave. And we need to go now."
Legolas' eyes grew wider if that were possible, his pupils were huge in the darkness and Aragorn wondered if it was partly from the poison. "We have to go."
The prince started to resist and Aragorn leaned forward, resting his forehead against his friends, breathing in deep breaths to calm himself and clear his mind, his frustration threatening to overwhelm him, as he tried to understand the elf’s fears. The contact stilled the prince and he relaxed against the man.
"Trust me." He spoke the words in elvish. "Trust me, Legolas. I will not hurt you and neither will they. I will see to it." He stepped back and looked into the wide, terrified eyes.
The elf watched him, swallowing hard as he glanced behind the ranger into the depths of the cave. A shudder shook his whole frame as stared through the darkness, fears too deep to reason with fought for his loyalty. In the end his trust of the Dùnadan won out and with a slight nod he complied.
It was all Aragorn needed. He grabbed the elf and turned him towards the back of the cave, leading him deeper into the ominous hole. He felt Legolas’ light touch on his shoulder as they stepped past the first of the oddly shaped stone pillars, but he did not stop, allowing the elf the contact he needed as Aragorn led them away from the elves that were hunting them.
"Elves were not made for caves, human." The sound of the voice echoed oddly in the large cavern and Aragorn pressed himself against a rock formation, grabbing Legolas and pulling the elf in front of him, out of the line of sight.
The ranger heard the soft crunch of a footfall on the moist, sandy floor. The distant drip of unseen water and his own breathing were the only other sounds. Legolas leaned hard against him as the drugs overpowered him and he began to lose consciousness. Aragorn hoped that he was in no danger, he was not familiar with how the spider’s venom worked within an elf’s system, but this side effect was ill-timed.
Slowly and as quietly as possible, he eased Legolas down onto the ground. He was partly thankful the elf was unconscious; whatever had happened to him the last time he had been in a cave like this must have been horrific. The ranger knelt next to the elf prince and pressed his fingers against his neck, checking his pulse. It was definitely slowed but steady; he was relaxed, simply put to sleep by the toxins. With a quick nod to himself Aragorn moved away from their hiding place and circled the large cavern.
Three elves had entered; he counted five more outside. They were all tense, watching the forests around them as though expecting someone at any moment. Aragorn recognized Raniean and Trelan among those that had entered the cave. Raniean shifted quietly nearer to the Dùnadan’s hiding place. If they got too close to where he had left Legolas, Aragorn would need to be ready.
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