Legolas had followed this pack of
orcs since they
had left the edges of Mirkwood. That they had ventured there at all was
of great concern to the elven prince. His father was Thranduil, king of
Mirkwood, and rumors of orcs venturing into the woods had drawn his
concern. The Elvenking had sent several of his warriors to investigate
the situation and his own son, Legolas, had volunteered to go. If orcs
had dared to enter their realm even to escape the dwarves that hunted
them, then drastic measures were needed. Northern Mirkwood was still a
safe place and Thranduil would not see it desecrated by the evil that
was overtaking the land.
Legolas, himself, had no care for either orc or dwarf. If they chose to annihilate each other and themselves that was well with him, but Mirkwood must be made off-limits to their encroaching and so he had readily volunteered to find out what was happening in the wastelands. It had been some time since he had last ventured out past his father's realm; it would be good for him to go on this short foray.
The elf prince had reached the base of the rocky plateau where the battle had reached a fevered pitch. True, they had chosen a site well away from Mirkwood, but her borders were still too close in the elf’s estimation. Quietly and cat-like he leapt into the branches of the pine tree above him. He wanted a better look at what was going on between the two warring parties. It would be advantageous if he could identify which clan of dwarves it was that had decided to take on the orcs during their nightly runs. He had started to climb higher when a shout drew his attention directly overhead. Someone had slipped from the rock and was hurtling towards him, crashing through the branches of the tree above him on its fall from the heights.
Nimbly, the elf jumped from his vantage-point and quickly moved into the foliage at the base of the large tree. Drawing his bow, he crouched in his concealed position as the body fell to the forest floor with a heavy thud.
Aragorn twisted in mid-air. He
needed to stop his
descent. He had been thrown too far from the rock face to grab any of
the roots or outcroppings that might have stopped him. A dark, conical
shape formed in sight below him: a pine tree. He had indeed gained the
edges of the forest.
He curled in on himself as he hit the upper branches of the tree, trying to protect his face and chest from the pine needles and wood that caught at him, tearing at his clothes and leaving cuts on any exposed skin they came in contact with. The branches slowed him some but, as he fell closer to the ground, they grew thicker and did not bend under his weight. A large branch caught his head and split his temple. Brilliant pinpricks of starlight shot through his sight and everything spun out of control. His body went limp as he began to lose consciousness, but it was not soon enough. The shaft of the arrow embedded in his thigh snagged on a branch and was torn from his leg. It opened a nasty gash as it was jerked from his body, but the head of the arrow broke off near the bone and remained embedded. He cried out, but was silenced immediately as his body folded over a limb as thick as a man was wide and the air was again crushed from his lungs. Silently he slipped from where he had landed and dropped to the forest floor unconscious.
The elf crept out from his hiding
place. His bow was
strung and he advanced warily on the creature that had fallen from the
tree. Cautiously he walked around the dark, still form. It didn’t smell
like an orc and it was too large for a dwarf.
Legolas returned his arrow to his quiver and slung his bow over his shoulder. He knelt beside the fallen ranger and gently turned the man over onto his back. The sounds of the battle above receded as the dwarves chased the orcs back to their hiding places. He regretted losing their trail, but he had enough information to verify the reports and let his father know what was happening on their western border.
The man on the ground moaned softly and Legolas returned his attention to him. He looked like a Ranger. But all the Rangers the elf knew would never be caught in the wastelands at night. Not with the orcs and dwarves at war with one another. He was tempted to leave the man where he lay; his arrogance had gotten him into this mess. He deserved to be left on his own.
Legolas shook his head in disgust. He had learned enough of men to know that he wanted no more dealings with them, but his heart wouldn’t let him abandon the ranger in the state he was in. Gently he brushed long locks of hair away from the man’s face. His hand came away sticky and wet with blood from a wound that ran in a jagged line down the ranger's temple. It was hard to see the damage the man had sustained in the limited starlight. Carefully he ran his hands over the ranger’s extremities, checking for broken bones or open wounds. His fingers found the nasty gash that the arrow shaft had made when it was torn from Aragorn’s thigh and he assumed there were more bruises and contusions that he could not see. The man shifted in pain under the light touch and dark eyes opened to fasten on Legolas. The elf was surprised at how young the ranger actually was; he couldn’t have been more than twenty by the standards of men. He couldn’t remember the last time he had encountered a ranger of that age.
Aragorn was not fully conscious and the world refused to come into focus. He saw some shape or form over him, but he knew not what manner of thing or being it was. With almost impossible effort, his hand drifted to his throbbing temple, and then out towards the unknown shape above him, even as he felt consciousness beginning to slide from his grasp once more.
Legolas was bent close, examining the fallen ranger. Aragorn stirred groggily and the young man’s hand accidentally brushed the side of the elf prince’s face as it fell limply back to Aragorn’s side.
Legolas jerked back as if he’d been slapped, his lips forming into a tight line. He was both surprised and displeased at his own reaction. The contact was nothing that should have bothered him. True, he had not suffered himself to be touched by a mortal in a long, long time, but he had thought that all such feelings were far behind him now.
The sounds of fighting, though receding, still reverberated above their heads on the plateau and the need for urgency swept through the elf prince. Now was not the time nor place for memories of any kind, especially ones the elf had thought long dead.
Legolas crouched back down next to the wounded ranger and noted that the human had passed out again. Quickly taking advantage of his charge’s unconscious state, he grabbed the man’s arm and lifted the young ranger onto his shoulders. Picking his way carefully through the darkened forest, Legolas moved deeper into the wooded area looking for a sheltered place to stay for the night.
The fire sparked brightly into
the dark night and
the warm glow lit the small area that Legolas had chosen to shelter in
until the sun rose.
He set the wounded man down near the edge of the fire and tended to their small camp before seeing to the other’s needs. Warily the elf watched the unconscious man. He had no love for men, that had been beaten out of him long ago, but he also realized that this one had never done anything to warrant the elf's simply letting him die.
With a sigh, he rose from his place near the fire and knelt next to the young ranger. With great care he removed the man’s leather outer coat and more thoroughly inspected his wounds. As he had suspected, the ranger’s left temple had been split and a deep gash in his right thigh was staining the man’s breeches a darker brown than they already were. The cut was odd. It was clean and deep where it had penetrated the upper thigh and then jagged and superficial as though something had been ripped out of him by brute force. Legolas probed the cut for debris and found splinters of an arrow shaft embedded in the wound and the surrounding skin. He must have taken an arrow and his fall had torn it out. The elf prince winced at the thought. Bruising had already begun to show on the face of the young ranger and further examination revealed more bruises about his rib cage, although the elf could detect no broken bones. He was amazed the human had survived the fall at all.
Ripping strips of cloth from his own bedding, Legolas bound the man’s wounds as best he could and cleaned the ranger up. He packed the cut on his leg with healing herbs and then draped the leather overcoat over the still form.
It had been a long day and Legolas could feel sleep stealing up on him. He had traveled far and had had to deal with too many emotions that he had thought buried for centuries. He didn’t know why the memories were coming back to him now, after so long, but perhaps it had something to do with the season and the stars... they were aligned again as they had not been in generations, bringing back to his mind the last time he saw them like that, winking down at him as his only rays of hope through an ugly, barred window...
Legolas quickly shook the thoughts away. They had no power, no meaning anymore... or at least, they shouldn’t have. After a cursory check of the perimeter and finding no one near, he stoked the fire one last time and lay down, curling in on himself, an elven blade in one hand and his bow in the other. He hoped the ranger would be awake in the morning, for they would need to move out at first light. He wanted to be relieved of his charge as soon as possible.
slowly. Aragorn almost wished
it hadn’t returned at all as he carefully opened his eyes and looked
around. A fire crackled nearby, warming the area where he lay and
causing him to shield his eyes from the minimal light it gave. A dark
form on the opposite side of the fire rose and approached him. He tried
not to flinch as the shape drew closer. His eyes weren’t focusing well
and fear gripped his heart at the unknown prospect of who was here with
His companion must have seen the wariness in his face, for a quiet voice spoke as the form of a man knelt beside his head. Aragorn couldn’t get his eyes to focus and he instinctually raised his arm to protect himself as the other reached towards him. A strong hand fastened on his forearm and gently pushed him back down.
"You are safe for now." He heard the words but it took him a few minutes to understand what had been said. "Although I am surprised. What were you thinking?"
Aragorn closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cool earth. He was too tired to fight and he hurt too much to answer.
Thinking he had fallen asleep, the elf continued to see to the young man’s wounds, carefully checking the bandages on his head and leg. He continued speaking to himself now, assuming his charge had fallen unconscious yet again. "Of course you weren’t thinking, you are a man; act now, think later. That is why you got into this mess."
"That’s not fair."
The elf jumped slightly and sat back watching as the man stirred and opened his eyes. Legolas waited silently.
Aragorn turned slowly and tried to fix dilated, pain-filled eyes on the elf. Legolas simply shook his head and leaned forward. He covered the man’s face with his hand causing the ranger to close his eyes.
"Just stay where you are. You will not be able to see much tonight. That wound to your head is bad. I have done all I can. Tomorrow I will see what else I can do and I will take you to my father’s house. They will be able to heal you there. Now trouble yourself no more. Just lie there and rest."
Aragorn lay quietly for some time, thinking over what his companion had said. He tried to see if he could place the sound of the accent. "Who are you?", he finally asked in frustration.
"It really does not matter. Go to sleep." The soft voice was close by and Aragorn was tempted to try to get a glimpse of the other. He thought better of it as he shifted slightly moving his wounded leg and eliciting an unwanted moan. He hadn’t meant to do that, he didn’t want to show any weakness. The thought of the irony of not showing weakness and yet having to be saved brought a lopsided smile to his face in spite of a split lip and he laughed slightly.
"You think this is funny?"
"No. I was thinking how sorry I must look and how very much I hate being in this position."
"Oh and what position is that? Indebted to an elf?" The scorn in the other's voice brought Aragorn up short. That wasn’t what he had meant at all. The realization hit him seconds later that his companion was, in fact, an elf. Obviously not one from his father’s realm. He switched his speech to elvish and started to apologize but was instantly cut off as the Elf rose, speaking with disdain.
"Do not continue. Spare me the small talk. I have learned enough of men and their ways to know how they are. I do not require your platitudes, nor your company. I will be near and I will keep watch over you tonight. If you need anything, you have only to ask. I will hear you."
Aragorn heard the light steps of the elf as he passed into the surrounding forest. He tracked the other with his hearing, noting that the elf had moved just outside their camp area and was indeed standing nearby. He had wanted to speak again and try to explain himself but thought better of it. Perhaps this elf was of the ones that his father had warned him about.
For a brief moment he honestly wished he were home in his own bed and that in the morning he would wake and be able to speak to Elrond over their breakfast. He loved talking with the elder. There was so much that he did not yet know and the elf lord was full of stories and wisdom from the millennia he had already lived. Thoughts of home flitted through his mind and in moments he had fallen back asleep once more.
The fire crackled and sputtered.
Legolas looked back
at the camp and the sleeping man. He couldn’t believe he had rescued
the human. Feelings of guilt edged his thoughts as he remembered
wanting to leave the young man and let him suffer the consequences of
his foolishness. How they lived as long as they did he would never
understand. He closed his eyes tightly against the images that flooded
his memories – the harsh abuse and the cruelty he had suffered at the
hands of Melèch and his men. All men couldn’t possibly be like
of Dorolyn, he knew that. And this one was wounded, he reminded
so he would be no threat. Still, the feelings of distrust and disdain
would not easily be chased away. He had just turned his eyes back out
into the quiet, dark night when a sound touched his ears.
Quickly and quietly he crept back into the camp, rounding the fire. He knelt down next to the young man. The ranger’s eyes were moving underneath his eyelids and his breathing was irregular and fast. Sweat beaded his forehead and, as Legolas reached out to touch him, he moved violently in his sleep, jerking back and reaching towards his empty scabbard. His eyes flew open, unseeing, caught in his dreams and in his native language he cried out for help, speaking quickly in elvish, begging his tormentors to leave him alone.
The abrupt response startled Legolas and he lost his balance, catching himself with one hand as he realized that this man was speaking in the Grey Tongue. And there was something about the young man’s eyes that Legolas hadn’t noticed before, something familiar. When he cried out again for help in elvish, Legolas regained his balance and reached out towards him. He gently took the ranger's shoulders in his hands and spoke softly to him, trying to press him back down and calm him. He had switched from speaking Common and was speaking to the boy in the Grey Tongue.
It had a calming effect on Aragorn and he stopped fighting. In his fever-induced nightmare he heard the words his own father had spoken many times to him.
"It is all right. You are safe. Calm down now. It is okay. I am here."
"Elrond..." Aragorn whispered the name as he released his grip on Legolas’ arms and let the elf press him gently back down.
Legolas held the man for a few seconds more as his own shock wore off. His mind spun crazily as he tried to make sense of what had just happened. The ranger spoke elvish, that in itself was not uncommon among rangers, but this one spoke it as though he were born to it. And when Legolas had spoken to him, the words had calmed him immediately and he had called for Elrond. Had he thought that Legolas was Elrond? And why would a man speak the lord of Rivendell’s name as this one had?
Legolas reached out a slender hand and brushed the ranger’s hair away from his face. He placed his palm on the man’s forehead, easily feeling the unnatural heat there. His wounds were infected; he was feverish. It was going to be a long night and, if this one was going to make it, Legolas needed to work fast. Deep in his heart he feared losing the young man, a feeling that he found quite foreign. He laid aside his fears and thoughts for the moment and, removing a small bag of herbs from his pack, he concentrated on the infection spreading through Aragorn’s body; he needed to stop the fever, and soon.