"We know you are in here." Trelan
called out, scanning the immediate area, trying to find any clue as to
the whereabouts of the fugitives.
"We mean to help you, Strider!"
Raniean stepped back next to the rock column that Aragorn had concealed
himself behind. "We have provisions. We know the prince is wounded, we
saw his blood on the tree, we have medicines, we want to help you!"
The ranger pressed
back against the stalagmite, weighing the new information and wondering
if they were telling him the truth. Raniean had never treated him like
the other elves, even when the warrior had been unsure about Legolas
bringing the wounded ranger home when they first met.
stealthily than a human should know how, he rounded the rocky formation
and stepped up behind the elf. He kicked the warrior’s feet out from
underneath him and pinned the tall elf to the floor of the cave by
kneeling on his chest, his knee just pressing into the elf’s sternum.
When the others
saw Raniean felled they ran to his aid, but Strider pulled his sword
and held it flat against the elf's neck. "Tell them to go back. I just
want to talk to you."
answer. He was angry, angry with himself for being bested by a human
and angry with the ranger for knowing his weaknesses and using them
against him. The man was more resourceful than he had given him credit
down slightly, pressing his knee harder under the elf’s rib cage.
Raniean grunted with the pressure and motioned with his hand for the
other warriors to back off.
When they had
moved far enough away, the man leapt off the elf and
helped him rise to his feet. Raniean accepted the help easily as he
rose gracefully, trying to regain his breath and his dignity.
"You of all the
elves have never lied to me. If you have started now I’ll kill you."
Aragorn threatened the tall warrior standing in front of him. He
continued when the elf did not speak, "Legolas has been bitten by a
spider and he is hallucinating. I have hidden him in the cave. Did you
really come to help us?"
"You should not
have brought him in here." Raniean looked around the spacious interior,
the floor littered with rocky formations, "Legolas has had
encounters with the Gondrauko. They resemble the stalagmites that grow
naturally in here."
Aragorn repeated the foreign word.
creatures of the ancient world. They were imprisoned by the prince’s
ancestors, and with the help of the ruler of Dorolyn they sought his
blood to free them from their bondage. They have been destroyed many
centuries now, but their memory is dark, for they were wholly evil."
spoke the one word as the curse it was.
"Yes but do not
speak of it again. What I have told you, I have told you in confidence
to prove to you that you can trust me." Raniean looked around them and
motioned his men back. "We truly have come with supplies and with aid.
We believe you to be innocent and the prince is in danger. We do not
agree with the king’s edict to not give you aid or assistance."
"That must put you
in bad favor with him?" Aragorn began walking back to where Legolas
lay, leading the warriors farther into the cave, "How do you propose to
keep it from him, what you are doing?"
"We are on a hunting trip. We will be gone for several days and needed
many supplies." The elf followed the Dùnadan to the back side of
large formation and watched as the man dropped next to the unconscious
"Will he be all
right?" Aragorn looked back up worriedly at the elves ringing him,
"Will he live?"
Trelan smiled and
the gesture was actually warm and friendly. Lightly the smaller elf
dropped next to the ranger and reached out towards Legolas, checking
the elf’s pulse. "Spider bites in themselves are not deadly, Strider."
He turned his
attention to Raniean and the warrior that accompanied him, nodding to
them both and raising to his feet as they lifted the unconscious prince
between them. Trelan helped the human stand and pushed him gently out
of the way as the elves maneuvered carefully back out of the cave.
"The deadly part
is the spider! The toxins work in your system to slow everything down
until the victim is in a coma-like state. That way you are kept alive
until the spider wants to eat you." He laughed at the way Aragorn’s
eyes widened at his explanation. "The problem is," Trelan continued as
led the ranger out of the cave after the other, "that as your system is
being depressed, your senses are heightened so you feel everything that
is happening to you. And that is probably why the prince’s memories
were so vivid and clear."
"He was very
upset." Aragorn watched as the elves gently laid Legolas down outside.
"I can imagine he
was." Trelan moved off to help the others. "The fact that he let you
take him this deeply into the cave says something of his trust of you,
Strider." The elf smiled and hailed the warriors who were quietly
talking about their next move.
Raniean split from
group and approached the ranger. "We will take you back to our camp. We
can hide you easily there."
"No one will be
"We are too far
south to be followed at this point and no one will suspect that we have
come to aid you." The elf looked at the ground for a moment, guilt
overwhelming him at his next words. "We made sure that no one would
doubt our hatred of you or your kind before we left."
Aragorn stared at
the warrior. He knew the necessity of covering the hunting party’s
intentions but the slander still ached and his face burned from the
shame of it.
"It is not how we
feel but we had to make sure we wouldn’t be followed or under
suspicion." Raniean held his hands out imploring the human to
Aragorn lifted his
gaze from the forest floor and looked up into the tall elf’s eyes.
Everything the warrior had said was true and he could sense it as he
stared at the elf. The ranger nodded his head in understanding, "It’s
right. I understand. It’s better for you and us."
"When this is over
and you are publicly cleared, our true feelings will be made known."
A half smile
touched Aragorn’s lips, but he truly wondered at the elf’s words. By
the time they were cleared no elf in Mirkwood would truly be the man’s
friend, even if they honestly believed him not guilty. He wondered how
long it would be before they really trusted him. "Thank you for coming
for us. I am glad for the help with Legolas. The spider bite really had
me worried." He passed off the elf’s admission and easily changed the
subject as they headed back to camp.
When Legolas awoke,
it was to a terrific headache and blurred vision. He could tell it was
night and he was near a fire. That in itself was odd... the only time a
fire was wise as far south as they were was when there was a group of
The sounds of
conversation and laughing startled him. Listening closer he found he
recognized several of the elven voices conversing with Aragorn. Looking
about him, he tried to focus; noting that they seemed to be in a
makeshift camp for the night, but how they had gotten here was beyond
his recall. His memory was vague, he could only remember following
Aragorn as they ran through the forest trying to evade capture.
A shout of
laughter rocked the camp and the elf’s attention was redirected to the
present. Confusion overtook him and he wondered at this turn of events.
Had he and Aragorn been caught and taken captive, the thought ran
fleetingly through his mind, and yet he was not bound?
carefully, he stared across the fire at the ranger. Aragorn was
so hard there were tears streaming down his face. He was trying to get
himself under control but every time he had just about achieved normal
breathing the snicker of an elf would send him off again. The human’s
mirth amused the elves and they egged him on mercilessly.
have told him that there is no such thing as Trellep hunting, Raniean,"
Trelan laughed glaring at the warrior, "I almost had him there."
"I couldn’t let
you take him out there and tie him up," Raniean glanced around into the
darkness feigning fear. "We are in the southern forest, you nift! The
spiders would have gotten him!"
"That is not
funny!" Aragorn’s eyes widened, much to the amusement of his companions.
"Ah," Trelan waved
the danger off, "I wouldn’t have left him out there that long."
Aragorn gaped at
the elf, finally having caught his breath, "Oh thank you so much. Your
thoughtfulness is overwhelming."
This only sent the
elves into another fit of laughter.
Legolas was hopelessly confused.
They were in the presence of his elven brothers and yet they were free
and Aragorn was enjoying himself.
prince pushed himself up on one elbow to get a better look. The
movement caught the human’s attention and he was on his feet in
moments, skirting the elves seated next to the fire. As he passed
Trelan, he smacked the elf lightly upside his head.
"Don’t you know
it’s not nice to tease the human?" He smiled wickedly at the helplessly
laughing elf, "I’ll get you for that, you know."
laughter answered the threat and he pointed at the small elf, "You had
better watch it. A human is going to get you."
Aragorn smiled and
stifled his laughter as the elves began taunting one another.
He knelt down next
to Legolas and smiled into the bleary, confused eyes.
"How do you feel?"
His voice was soft and low but he knew the elf prince could hear him.
"What is going on,
Strider?" Legolas glanced behind the human as Raniean rose from his
seated position and moved to join the ranger. "Are we safe?" He reached
out and steadied himself with one hand resting lightly on the ranger’s
"Yes, my lord," it
was Raniean who answered him, "You are safe."
Another burst of
laughter erupted behind them and the warrior glanced back curiously, a
grin spreading across his face.
himself next to Legolas and helped the prince into a sitting position,
placing a steaming cup of mead in his hands. "Raniean and his men have
been hunting us."
Legolas shot the
warrior an intense look but the elf quickly put him at ease, "To help
you, my lord. We don’t believe the Dùnadan killed Sar and we
help you prove it."
Turning to the man,
Legolas eyed him carefully, "Are you all right? I heard them speak of
tying you up outside the camp. What is happening?" He trusted Raniean
but he wanted to make sure the others had been treating him well.
Aragorn ducked his
head hiding a smile, "Well they wanted to take me out hunting."
"No, my lord, we
did not." Raniean glanced at the ring of elves that had suddenly taken
an acute interest in their conversation. "It was Trelan."
The guilty elf’s
eyes grew huge and he sputtered as the warriors around him teased him.
Legolas had not found the humor in the situation and his headache was
irritating him. He frowned at the elf warrior next to him, but Aragorn
came to his defense.
He touched the elf
lightly, redirecting the prince's attention, "No it’s all right,
Trelan offered to take me Trellep hunting." Snickers from the elves
behind him caused his cheeks to redden even though he smiled in spite
of himself. "And of course I was more than eager to go with him." He
rolled his eyes at his own naivety. "Raniean here saved me."
At the admission
the camp erupted in laughter. With the tension lightened and his friend
obviously well taken care of, the elf prince smiled and shook his head,
"Strider!" He smiled at the young man, wrapping his hand around the
back of the human’s head as he pulled him forward staring seriously
the dark eyes. "You do know there is no such thing as a Trellep?"
his gaze, trying not to laugh while he nodded in answer. "Raniean
explained it to me."
butted in, "Raniean also told him about the time he took you Trellep
whirled around, his eyes wide.
Aragorn looked up
at Legolas and said quietly, "He said you shot your father?"
closing his eyes at the rehashed story. "In the foot! Raniean had left
me out there for five hours when my father heard and came to find me. I
thought he was a Trellep and shot him, but it was in the foot." When
the human started laughing uncontrollably, the elf prince shoved the
back and glared at the others trying to affect an air of seriousness.
"You need to find new stories to tell!"
regained his balance he saw that Legolas had started laughing too. The
light-heartedness in the elves was contagious. When Legolas stood and
bowed they cheered him and raised their mugs in toast. The prince
tipped his to his lips, but Raniean snatched it away from him and
replaced it with a mug of tea.
and stared at him. "No mead for you, my prince. A nice cup of fallon
for you after that bout with spider toxin. You know better."
Aragorn frowned at
Raniean, "What? Why? I gave him the mead."
"Mead will not
help the headache the toxins leave behind. Fallon tea will help and it
will help you relax." He turned back to Legolas. "You need to rest."
He steered the
prince to the side of the fire and drew back a curtain made of the very
foliage itself. "We made a lean-to for the both of you." Aragorn bent
down and looked into the hidden tent. The area inside was spacious and
he walked to the back of the hollowed out space. The ground was covered
with soft fronds and pines and two blankets were laid out on it.
Legolas stepped in after him and quickly sat down; he was feeling badly
and the fallon tea was beginning to take effect.
"There is another
hunting team to the west and it would not do good to have them scouting
us out and find the two of you here. Trelan is going to go in the early
morning and see who comprises it and if they hunt you." He nodded
seriously to the two refugees. "You’ll be safe here tonight."
"Thank you, Raniean."
smiled, "Thank you. I don’t think we have had so much fun at a campfire
as we did tonight with Strider. Sleep well." With that he stepped away
from the lean-to and dropped the side of the shelter back down.
Pinpricks of light
from the fire danced between the leafy boughs that had been woven
together. Legolas lay down with a sigh, throwing his arm over his face
to block out even the slight light.
"Is it bad?"
He rolled over to
look at the human, sitting cross-legged near the far side of the tent.
Aragorn explained, "Is it bad?"
"Yes. Tomorrow it
will be gone, though." He smiled lightly. "Thank you for saving me
"I am sorry about
the cave." The ranger looked down at his hands as he nervously twisted
a pine needle between his fingers.
The sounds of the
camp were dying down as the elves settled down for the night. Only the
crackling of the fire could be heard on the still night air.
Legolas swallowed hard, afraid of his friend's answer. "No, I don’t
remember anything after following you through the forest from the
spider’s lair. What cave?" He repeated the question.
"The cave near
away from the man as he sifted through the information he had received.
He knew the cave, he hated it. It reminded him too much of...
"I’m sorry. I
"What did I say?"
"You just didn’t
want to follow me in. You said he
lived there." Aragorn watched him
curiously. When the prince did not respond, he continued, "Raniean
explained it to me, though not everything. He just explained what the
formations in the cave resembled."
silently as his thoughts turned dark in remembrance.
"I don’t need to
know. I just wanted to apologize for pushing you so hard." Aragorn
leaned forward and touched the elf lightly bringing him back to the
present. "Are you all right?"
His friend met his
eyes; the lights reflecting in their depths from the dying fire.
"Yes, I am all
right. And you have nothing to be sorry for." He smiled in reassurance
and lay back down on the pine bed. "Now go to sleep, Strider, you have
had a busy day."
He heard the man
chuckle as he lay down wrapping himself in the large blanket. "I did
and I ache from it. Even my face hurts from laughing so much."
Legolas smiled as
he settled into sleep, safe in the knowledge that there were friends
beneath Mirkwood’s canopy. They might have a chance of proving the
Dùnadan innocent after all.
It was early in
the predawn when Trelan awoke and headed west to scout out the hunting
party they had caught sight of yesterday. Raniean thought it wise to
find out their intent and what their prey really was.
He attained the
edges of the camp before the sun had crested the far mountains and
crept quietly forward. Here the elves were already awake and the camp
in the process of being broken down. He could hear the sounds of a
heated conversation taking place and made his way around the outskirts
to get a better vantage-point.
"I still think we
will be found out! Why couldn’t the arrow have just struck the
Dùnadan instead of Sar?"
Dùnadan was standing next to you, that’s why Morifwen!"
"And that is why
it was so easy to frame him." A third elven voice could be heard. "That
and the fact that no elf under these trees has any love for the human."
"It was an
accident Mori." Sarcayul spoke up, "I don’t fault you for it. We all
know you and Sar were friends since the beginning. His death is a great
loss. But this works out best to get rid of that ranger. My brother
would be glad that his death served some purpose."
closer, silently closing the distance between himself and the speakers;
he wanted a look at their faces.
The camp in the
process of being broken down for the day was bustling with activity;
elves were saddling horses and readying their weapons as a small knot
of warriors spoke openly near the fire pit. Trelan recognized a few of
them, including Sarcayul and Morifwen, the elf who was speaking.
"You have nothing
to worry about." Sarcayul assured Morifwen grimly. "We will kill the
Dùnadan and the inquisition will end. No one will ever bring it
again and the people will be satisfied that justice has been served."
"You do still have
the arrow, don’t you?" another warrior questioned.
his quiver and pulled the still bloodied arrow that had killed
Sarcaulien, from a latched compartment on the side of the leather pack,
holding it out in proof.
"This is it."
Reaching back in he pulled out another nearly identical arrow and held
it up next to the first, "And this one belonged to that
"Its too bad the
prince brought him here."
"Well we won't have
to worry about that for long. Good thing you taught that human how to
fletch arrows, Mori. These are almost identical." The elf warrior
twirled the projectiles in his fingertips and laughed, "He learned very
well. Only another warrior could tell the difference." The elf ran a
fingertip over the tiny markings on the band near the fletching of the
arrow that had felled their fellow elf.
snatched the weapons back and stashed the arrows inside his quiver. He
dropped the satchel to the ground next to his supplies for the day and
walked off with the others as they went to saddle their horses, his
tone suggested that he was not taking this as lightly as some of his
companions. "But now the prince is aiding him."
"You worry too
much, Mori." A tall warrior clapped him on the back. "When we reach the
Enchanted River you will be able to throw those arrows in the river and
no one will ever be able to prove the truth."
The elves laughed
and joked as they walked away. Trelan heard the last snatches of coarse
talking as they moved beyond his earshot, "And by this evening the
Dùnadan will be a problem no more either."
froze and for a moment he could only remain hidden, thinking through
what he had heard. So Morifwen had accidentally shot Sarcaulien and he
and his hunting party had seen the opportunity to frame Aragorn. He
needed proof though; his word would be no good against their combined
crept out and located Morifwen’s quiver. Quickly locating the hidden
compartment, he relieved it of the arrows and turned back on his path.
He needed to get back to camp and quickly; Raniean and the prince must
know. They had little time before Morifwen’s camp broke down and the
warriors started to hunt the human. It wouldn’t take much to track him
to the cavern and from there.
Trelan didn’t wait
to think through the outcome. When he had cleared the camp enough to
not be heard, he ran through the forests towards his friends.
"You swear by
these things that you heard, Trelan?" Raniean questioned the elf hard,
holding the two arrows on the palm of his hand.
nodded; he was winded from the run and his knowledge made him
skitterish. The camp was awake by the time he had returned and they had
quickly gathered around him to hear what he had discovered.
quiver, Strider, if you would please," Legolas turned and addressed the
human. Aragorn started and looked at him. The proof that he had not
killed Sarcaulien changed everything. Once Morifwen and his hunting
company realized the arrows were missing, they would be twice as
dangerous as they were now.
Aragorn ran back
to his things and retrieved his quiver. Raniean snatched the leather
pouch from him and dumped the arrows on the ground. Crouching down over
the weapons, he picked them up indiscriminately, carefully going over
their lengths and comparing them with the two Trelan had returned.
identical, Trelan." He frowned up at the young elf.
"No, they are
not." The warrior squatted down next to him and took the blood-stained
one from his hand. "See this." He ran his fingers over three tiny bands
of elvish writing near the fletching. "They say, Morifwen, third
hunter, son of Loriflen," he interpreted the etchings.
down and snatched the arrow from him, eyeing it carefully. Aragorn
leaned in next to him to try to see what they were looking at.
"It is as he
says," Legolas agreed. Turning to Aragorn, he asked gently, "Strider,
who taught you how to fletch your arrows?"
ranger replied sadly.
Raniean nodded and
stood, followed by Trelan. He looked solemnly around the group of
"He forgot about the identifying inscriptions. Prepare the horses. We
ride for Lord Thranduil’s palace now."
Trelan touched the
tall warrior's arm, garnering his attention and spoke softly, "It is
back on the elf and Legolas stopped to hear, snagging Aragorn’s coat
sleeve and pulling the human back close to them.
"They intend to
kill Strider to cover up their fault and end the investigation."
Trelan’s eyes locked onto the prince’s. "I’m sorry."
"I would like to
see them try," Legolas said darkly.