...80 years later...
"My father will not let you get away with this." Eldarion struggled
helplessly against his captors as they pulled his bound hands above his
head, throwing the rope over a root that protruded from the rock face
several feet above the young man’s head. The rope fell back down and
the prince was jerked harshly up, his feet barely touching the ground.
A small cry escaped his lips as the men around him roughly tied the
Dyryn had brought Eldarion to an open glade that butted up against a
rocky cliff. The trees formed a semicircle around the small indention
in the forest, where nothing but the valley grasses grew. The rocky
incline at the back of the shallow stretched a good fifty feet,
creating a natural barrier not only for the plant life that flourished
in the shadow of the mountain but for anyone who might try to use the
cover of the trees to reach the boy tied against the rock face.
Dyryn had found the hollowed out bowl and seen in it the perfect place
to set a trap, not more than a mile away from where the King and his
party had bedded down for the night. The bounty hunter had made sure
that it would be easy enough to track the young boy back to this very
spot. Now they worked quickly to ready the snare for the ones who would
Kolir smiled and slapped the young man across the face. "Don’t worry,
we’re counting on your father to come looking for you." He grabbed the
prince’s jaw and twisted the youth’s head to the side, where Dyryn was
mounting a crossbow on top of an old stump, just to the left of where
Eldarion was bound, hidden back in the trees. The old hunter strapped
the weapon down to the dead wood and locked the drawstring in place,
laying a bolt across the readied bow.
Kolir released the prince’s face and pulled his dagger from its sheath
on his belt, running the blade’s edge lightly down the side of the
boy’s face. He traced the curve of Eldarion’s neck, dragging the tip
down across the prince’s chest and deftly cutting the first button off
of his tunic. He pressed the tip of the knife against the soft skin
above Eldarion’s heart, causing the boy to cry out as he cut a small
‘x’ across the boy’s chest. Leaning in close and laying his face next
to the young man’s, he whispered, "And that’s where the other one is
going to hit," Kolir motioned across the small glen to where another
crossbow was being readied, pointing straight for Eldarion’s heart,
"but only after the first one kills your father."
"Kolir, shut your mouth and finish up there." Dyryn growled at his
accomplice. "Help Vec cover up those trip wires. Can't have that ranger
wise to us until it’s too late." The old bounty hunter finished setting
the second crossbow, bending down to make sure the bolt was lined up
with the boy’s heart. His features were hidden by the hooded cloak he
constantly wore, and Eldarion had yet to discover who he truly was.
There was no more time for questions as Kolir pressed a piece of
wadded-up cloth into the boy’s mouth and tied it off there with another
strip of fabric. He slammed the boy’s head forcefully back against the
rock behind him, causing stars to dance before the prince’s eyes. Tears
of helplessness and fear edged the rims of his wide blue eyes as Kolir
tightened the bonds at his ankles and coiled another length of rope
around the boy’s thighs, pinning him in place.
Eldarion pressed his eyes shut, unwilling to allow these men to see him
cry. He wanted nothing more than to be back with his father but,
what he did, he prayed his father would never find him, ever. His
breathing hitched slightly and Kolir smirked at him, ruffling the
youth’s hair as he walked away. "What? This will be fun," he taunted
Eldarion jerked away from the man, but the laughter of his captors bit
deeply into his heart. He watched in horror as the trap was set for his
father. Kolir and Vec finished disguising the trip wires that would
fire the crossbows and Eldarion doubted if even Legolas would be able
to tell that they were there. Dyryn camouflaged the crossbows, making
sure that the tree branches would not block or deflect the bolts. With
a satisfied smile he left the glade, completely ignoring the child on
the far side who leaned against his bonds in defeat. Tears slid down
his fair face now that he was alone and the gag made it hard to
breathe. Rain began to fall gently in the glen; the storm clouds
finally having enough of carrying their weighty load had decided to
stop and shed their burden. The grey skies reflected the dark thoughts
in the young man’s heart as he waited and hoped he would never be found.
Legolas walked soundlessly in front of Aragorn. The tell-tale signs of
the kidnapper’s flight were easily read in the crushed plant life and
the heavy prints in the soft ground made by their boots. They had made
no attempt to cover their escape and the smears of bright red on the
leaves of the lower-hanging trees created a mounting dread in the elf.
"They do not hide their passing." Legolas turned back towards the human
that trailed him. "I fear what we will find."
Aragorn’s silver eyes flashed darkly and he only nodded in reply.
It had started to rain moments ago, the droplets barely making it to
the forest floor. They had walked nearly a mile in the predawn gloom
and now the storm darkened their path again.
Legolas stopped, pressing his arm straight out from his side to stop
Aragorn. There were no sounds of life in this part of the woods and
unnatural unease crept over the friends. The elf crouched down in the
path where they stood, pulling Aragorn down beside him. He waited
quietly, listening, smelling their surroundings, waiting.
A soft whimper touched their ears, more a sob than a cry. But it was
enough to send Aragorn lurching forward. Legolas grabbed the human and
pulled him back, fighting the fierce desperation that tore at the man’s
Aragorn turned, pointing back in the direction he had been heading
while grasping the elf’s cloak desperately with his other hand. They
communicated without speech, a language developed over years of hunting
and wilderness survival together.
Legolas shook his head vigorously, pointing at his own eyes with his
fingertips. He indicated with a sharp downward motion that he wanted
Aragorn to remain while he went and took a look around. The king would
not agree, touching his ears and pointing back to where the sounds had
The elf forcefully jerked the human off his feet and firmly planted the
king behind him. Removing his elven dagger from his boot he held the
flat of it against the man’s neck, pressing his face close to his
friend's. It was a warning of the most severe kind. He did not want the
human to follow him. Dark, angry eyes held his and did not give in.
"Stay," Legolas barely whispered in elvish. When Aragorn did not
the elf stepped away and walked toward the hidden glade. He turned a
few paces out and pointed the dagger back at his friend for emphasis.
In resignation Aragorn stepped near the closest tree and crouched down
at the base of the pine. Legolas nodded and disappeared into the forest.
The elf stepped cautiously up to the perimeter of the small glen, his
heart catching in his throat when his eyes fixed on the young boy
across the way. The young prince’s head hung down in defeat and he
leaned against his bonds; rain dripped from his forlorn form and pooled
in the grass at his feet. The front of his wet tunic was stained red
with blood that the rain was washing down from the cut Kolir had given
him, making it impossible to tell from this angle exactly where, or how
badly the young prince had been hurt. The boy’s breathing hitched as he
tried to calm himself but to no avail. Legolas waited on the edge of
the meadow... waited and watched. He could see no snares or traps. It
seemed for all purposes that Eldarion had been strung up here and
simply left, but he knew it could not be so. He remembered Dyryn,
remembered the man’s brutality and cunning; his instincts told him
there was more to this than he could see.
The snap of a twig caused the elf to swivel, the blade in his hand
coming up automatically. He breathed a sigh of relief and frustration
as Aragorn crept up to his position.
The easily read tracks of Dyryn and his men led to this very point in
the forest and the human had followed them to his friend.
Legolas tried to press Aragorn back. He did not want the man rushing
into the glen just yet, but the elf knew that if he caught a glimpse of
Eldarion there would be no stopping him.
True enough, the king’s eyes lighted on his son across the way. The
utter sorrow and horror that touched them went straight through the
"Wait." Legolas touched Aragorn’s chest gently with his fingers. "It is
"Legolas!" The man whispered desperately at his friend. Eldarion choked
back a sob, the gag preventing him from swallowing properly. The soft
whimper was all it took to send the boy’s father past all reason and
into harm’s way. Not even the warning of his lifelong friend could
override the protective anger in his heart that drove him forward.
Eldarion looked up as the movement caught his attention. His eyes went
wide and he shook his head vehemently, desperately trying to speak
around the gag and warn his father, but it was no use.
Aragorn quickly crossed the threshold of the meadow, reaching for his
sword as he stepped onto the slick wet grass. His boots snared a thin
line hidden in the green blades. The tiny snick of the cut wires was
undetected by the human, whose eyes were locked on the horrified ones
of his son. The triggers of the snare, having been severed, snaked
wildly through the long grass, released from their tension, as were the
bowstrings on the weapons that they had been tied to.
"Aragorn!" Legolas saw and heard the danger the moment before it
happened. The two rigged crossbows fired at nearly the same time, but
Aragorn realized the peril a few moments too late to avoid it. Often
people say time seems to slow at an instant such as that, but it was
not so for Aragorn because everything seemed to him to happen much too
Before Aragorn even had a chance to finish registering the threat, the
king felt Legolas’ body slam into him, pushing him sideways, out of the
path of the deadly bolt.
Only his elven speed and reflexes got Legolas to his friend’s side
before the shot went through the human’s heart, but not even they could
get the elf out of the way in time as well.
The bolt meant for Aragorn struck Legolas in the back, near his left
shoulder blade, whirling the prince partway round and making him
stumble from the force of the heavy poundage-per-inch that the
The spin placed Legolas directly in the path of the second shot, meant
for Eldarion, from the other side of the glade. Closer at hand than the
first, this bolt had even more power behind it.
Falling to his knees from the force of Legolas’ shove, Aragorn saw what
unfolded in a split instant of sheer horror. Legolas turned and
stumbled under the impact of the shot meant for him and almost
immediately was caught by the second shot as well. The bolt intended
for Eldarion struck the elf prince directly in the chest.
Aragorn thought he must have screamed his friend’s name, but he could
not remember afterwards. What he did remember was the wide-eyed look on
the elf’s face and hearing Legolas’ cry of shock and pain as the prince
stumbled forward, clutching his chest numbly and not really seeming to
understand yet what had happened.
Legolas sank slowly to the muddy earth, a look of semi-shock frozen on
his fair features.
"Legolas!" Aragorn caught the elf prince before he hit the ground.
Bright red blood covered the king’s hands as he knelt, holding Legolas
gently in his arms. His shaking fingers caught on the ugly, dark shaft
of the crossbow bolt protruding from the back of the elf’s left
shoulder and he quickly shifted his hold so as not to aggravate the
wound. There was no sign of the bolt that had hit the prince in the
chest; the smooth shaft had gone straight through, leaving only the
swiftly growing crimson stain that was rapidly soaking the front of
Legolas’ pale, green-brown tunic.
The shoulder wound was bad, but Aragorn feared that the chest wound was
going to be deadly. It was far too near Legolas’ heart for comfort,
even though it had apparently missed hitting it directly. The elf
prince’s eyes were glazed and his body trembled as if he were cold.
"Legolas!" Aragorn whispered again in horrified alarm. The chill rain
pattered down on them, spreading the bloodstains larger and plastering
the prince’s golden hair against his pale face.
"A-Aragorn... are you... all right?" Legolas forced his eyes to focus
slowly on his friend. He choked slightly on the words. Cold, icy pain
was radiating from his wounds and his body responded sluggishly to his
commands. He was frightened, but not terrified. Death was a novel
concept to elves, although Legolas had certainly seen his share of it.
Confused thoughts jumbled through his mind and he wasn’t sure what to
make of them all. The pain faded in and out like the gusts of wind,
sometimes disappearing altogether... Aragorn’s arms tightened
desperately around the elf, bringing the prince back to the moment, and
the pain. He moaned softly.
Aragorn knew that they were not safe. Whatever trap they had stepped
into was surely closing fast if indeed it had not already snapped shut
around them, but Legolas could not be moved and he feared that if he so
much as released him for an instant, the light would leave the elf’s
eyes forever and an immortal spirit would disappear into a night it
should not have had to taste.
"I’m all right, Legolas," Aragorn choked on the lump in his throat.
you had better not dare try to tell me you are ‘just fine’ this
time..." He could not finish the old jest, his throat swelled shut and
his voice refused to work.
Legolas smiled faintly. "No... no. I think not this time..." he
The elf seemed to be having trouble breathing and shuddered softly in
Aragorn’s arms. "E-Eldarion?" he questioned somewhat apprehensively.
"He’s fine too," Aragorn assured gently. "Don’t worry about us,
Legolas..." He resisted the urge to say Legolas should not have done
what he did, the former ranger knew his old friend far too well for
that. Aragorn realized that he was also trembling as he held Legolas
close to him, pressing the corner of his damp cloak against the heavily
bleeding wound just to the right of the elf’s heart, trying desperately
to bring it under control. He saw the numb, dazed pain on Legolas’ face
and felt as if the arrow had gone through his own soul.
As it should have.
Every beat of his breaking heart told him that it should be him, not
Legolas. Those arrows were meant for he and Eldarion, not the elf...
But it was his friend who was dying.
Legolas’ breath caught as the pain made his chest muscles seize up
around his diaphragm. Remarkably, his lungs had not been punctured, but
his breathing was difficult all the same. Aragorn tried to ease him
into a better position, but Legolas cried out softly at being moved.
The pain was building again. His hands trembled as he wrapped his long,
bloodstained fingers in Aragorn’s cloak, holding onto his friend like
he was holding onto life itself. A chill that had nothing to do with
the icy rain was creeping over his body. "It’s getting c-cold..."
Legolas murmured, fighting hard against the pain that wanted to
The same fearful ice seemed to have entered into Aragorn’s veins as he
held his friend close. But there was little he could do to assuage the
frost creeping over Legolas. Tears stung the king’s eyes, hidden by the
rain. He did not want to have to helplessly watch Legolas die in his
arms as he had watched Boromir die, as he had watched Haldir die, as he
had seen too many both mortal and immortal perish during the long
course of his life.
"Dartho Legolas, Dartho mellon
nîn, ú-awartha i arad, an i tinnu, egor pada i guruthos
nîf-ned anannch lîn...," Aragorn pleaded quietly.
"Hold on Legolas, hold on my friend, do not forsake the day for the
twilight, nor tread the shadows before your time..." his throat
constricted again and he could not finish.
Legolas smiled weakly, remembering the last time those words had been
spoken. Remembering all that he and Aragorn had done together over the
course of their long friendship, both the brave and the foolish, the
serious and the joyful... "Edhored nin,
forgive me Estel," his voice wavered unsteadily, speaking was
difficult. "I-I don’t know if this creeping chill is one that can be
conquered, my friend. I fear it is too strong this time..."
"No," Aragorn whispered his denial. "You never gave up on me, ever. I
won’t let you go, not now, not like this!"
"Touching. So touching," A hard, sardonic voice startled them and made
the king look up.
Aragorn’s burning eyes fell upon the man standing before them and
blazed as if he would like to kill the fellow with the intensity of his
gaze. The man was tall and swarthy, a cocked cross-bow was in his
hands, leveled squarely with Aragorn’s chest. Three other men stood
behind him, similarly armed, although at least two of them had their
crossbows trained on Eldarion. The meaning was clear. If Aragorn tried
anything, his son died first.
"Friendship is such a sweet thing to see," the man who had spoken
before continued mockingly. A loosely wrapped headdress kept all save
his eyes hidden from sight, but Aragorn didn’t need to see his face. He
knew the voice well enough. The voice etched into the deepest lines of
his worst nightmares. The voice that taunted and laughed at him when he
was helpless and hallucinating, dying of cold in the frostbitten
"Dyryn," Aragorn said between his teeth. The anger in his chest was so
hot that it was a wonder it did not radiate outward and turn the rain
to steam as it touched him. Clutching Legolas to him tighter, he moved
slightly, putting himself between Eldarion and this ancient enemy from
the long distant past.
"You remember me, ranger. How nice. I suppose it would be bad taste to
leave someone for dead and then forget all about them," Dyryn sneered.
"Although I wager that’s exactly what you did, your Highness." The man’s ruthless gaze
shifted to Legolas. "It’s fitting that you should both be here. The two
who cost me so much." In truth, Dyryn’s plans had only involved Aragorn
and his son, but the elf had chosen to intrude and get in the way, just
as he had so many years ago, and so Dyryn was given a new opportunity
now. One that he rather relished the thought of.
"Speechless?" Dyryn grinned. "But then, why not? I suppose you never
expected to see me again, alive." With one swift move he unhooked the
veil that hid his face.
Next to him, Aragorn heard Eldarion give a small gasp around the gag on
Dyryn’s face was so hideously twisted that not even Aragorn recognized
him now. Wide, ugly scars crisscrossed it like vines crawling up the
side of a building and the skin pinched and puckered in a grotesque
"Well you may gasp, boy," Dyryn glared at Eldarion. "It’s not a pretty
sight, is it? Know then, that this is what your father did to me!" his
burning eyes turned back on Aragorn. "You abandoned me buried alive in
the middle of that storm! This, this!" he held up his left hand, it was
malformed, clenched in a perpetual fist. "This I lost to the frost and
the fall, and when I crawled out at last, frozen and broken I swore
that someday if I ever had the chance, you were going to know my pain,"
his voice was barely above a whisper now, and trembling with rage built
up over many long years. "You never were an easy man to find, and the
years fly away too quickly. For some time I thought you dead... and
then what do I see one day? But that the shivering
beggar has become a king! Of all the twists of fate that was the most
cruel, and from the moment I discovered this, your doom has been
sealed; you just didn’t know it. And now, at last, fate has put you and
your meddling friend back in my grasp."
"You tried to kill Legolas and I both," the deadly ire in Aragorn’s
voice matched that of their captor. "You dragged me through the snow
for weeks, so drugged and beaten I could barely stand up! Don’t you
dare speak to me about un-amended wrongs!"
"Every story has two sides," Dyryn glared. "And time brings all things,
including justice. Now it is time for you to pay, and you will pay, as
dearly as you can."
"You must know that our deaths will not go un-avenged," Aragorn said
coldly, without a trace of fear, still crouching directly in front of
his son and holding Legolas tightly.
Dyryn’s smile was thin and feral. "But you will not die, Your Highness.
You will live. You will live with all the pain and rage and loss that I
have had to live with. And you will have to live with the consequences
of your own choice. It is the job of a king, is it not, to decide who
lives and who dies?" Dyryn raised one eyebrow in cruel amusement. He
let the implications of his statement hang in the air for several
minutes, watching his prey; the sounds of the soft rain pattering into
tiny pools on the forest floor broke the stillness. He blinked the
raindrops out of his eyes, his smile broadening as dawning horror
spread across the king’s face.
Aragorn tensed. He did not like the way this seemed to be heading at
"Two people are going to walk out of this glade alive today, but one
will not. So choose now, oh high and mighty King Elessar, which will it
be? Who will you save? The life of your son? Or the life of your
friend? Because the other must die." Dyryn swiveled the point of his
crossbow between Legolas and Eldarion as he spoke, tapping the wood of
the thick bolt with his forefinger.
Aragorn’s grip on Legolas’ cloak tightened until his knuckles turned
white as the horror of what Dyryn wanted to force him to do washed over
him. "I choose myself," the king said without hesitation. "Kill me,
Dyryn, and let the others be. I’m the one you really hate."
Dyryn shook his head. "You weren’t listening. That is not an option.
Dying seems to me too easy for you now that I think it through. No. You
are going to live, and find out just how much more painful that can be.
So choose. Which one are you going to condemn to death and which one
will you save?"
"Aragorn..." Legolas whispered, wrapping his hand tighter in his
friend’s sleeve and pulling slightly to get his attention. "I may be
treading that path already. Take your son, take him back to Arwen,
leave while you can and don’t look back, my friend. Please."
Eldarion could not speak around the gag Kolir had shoved in his mouth
earlier, but he made muffled sounds of protest and shook his head
fiercely, trying to catch his father’s eye. He would not have his life
purchased with the life of another. He had far too much of his father
in him to tolerate such a thought and he would not see his father
forfeit the life of his best friend or anyone else on his account.
Aragorn felt as if he had been caught between a hammer and an anvil.
His heart was torn and he physically could not breathe. This was a
choice he could not make. How could he possibly choose between his dear
young son and the elf that had become as close as a brother to him? If
Dyryn had wanted to force upon Aragorn the cruelest thing he could
contrive, he had succeeded.
Grey rain slated down Aragorn’s face, making his dark tresses cling to
But he could not choose. How could anyone make the choice being set
before him? It was impossible. It would break a heart of stone, and
right now, Aragorn was very aware that his heart was made of anything
Legolas’ blood covered his hands and ran down to mingle with the mud by
his boots as he clung to the elf, willing the life to stay in his
friend’s body. He was the King of Gondor and Arnor, but he could not
command Legolas’ heart to keep beating, nor bind his spirit to this
world if it should choose to set flight. The elf moaned softly and
shuddered as the pain of his injuries grew.
"Stay with me, Legolas," he whispered softly in elvish. "Don’t leave me
like this, my friend."
Beside him, Aragorn’s young son, Eldarion, struggled against the bonds
that held him, the bonds that Aragorn was now helpless to remove. The
boy’s quick breathing around the gag in his mouth clouded on the chilly
air as Aragorn met his son’s eyes, wishing he had something to give the
young man besides the burning knowledge of how very much his father
"So which will it be?" the voice of the man who had orchestrated this
whole nightmare grated on Aragorn’s nerves, making him want more than
anything to spring up and choke the life out of his sneering
adversary... but any such move would forfeit all their lives.
"Your life is full of choices isn’t it? Your Highness," the title was a slur.
"So choose now or they both die."
The rain pelted as fast as Aragorn’s spinning thoughts. He couldn’t
choose. He couldn’t. Had anyone ever been forced to make a crueler
The memory came back to Aragorn in a rush, a day he had not thought of
in many, many years. Oh father, I
understand so much better now...
Their captor waved his bow impatiently. "Choose!"
Aragorn buried his face in the shoulder of Legolas’ cloak, letting his
head sink down, burdened by the heavy choice being pressed upon him. He
thought that his heart was physically going to break in two. He wished
had died a dozen times before coming to this place, this impossible
place with this choice he could not escape from.
"Aragorn..." Legolas’ voice was as firm and as fierce as he could make
it around his injuries. He gripped his friend’s shoulder with an
intensity that belied his weakness. "You know... what you chose.
Th-that night in the house. Remember what-what you told your father?
You were ready... and so am I. Do now what you know you have to and
d-do not blame yourself. Ever. Do you understand me, Estel? Do you?"
Aragorn barely shook his head, denying the memories. He squeezed his
eyes tighter shut, not willing to accept his friend’s words, no more
than Elrond had been willing to accept his on that long ago night of
which Legolas spoke...
In his mind’s eye he saw again the deep, heartbreaking horror etched
into the usually calm, kind face of his adopted father... perhaps the
only time Aragorn had ever seen the elf lord nearly lose control. And
now Aragorn felt that same dagger twisting in his own heart, ripping
him apart and leaving him bleeding and raw.
Now he knew. At last he finally understood how Elrond must have felt
all those many years ago. Understood it far too well, and, as usual,