they had harvested their catch and put the venison on to cook, Legolas
worked with Aragorn for several more hours. The young ranger caught on
to what the elf was trying to teach him remarkably fast.
Somehow during the course of the day the gloom of their banishment had at last begun to lift somewhat, lost like the morning fogs that were receding with the onset of summer and as evening beset them. Twilight found the friends enjoying a warm meal and companionship, spending the late night talking about everything and nothing at all. Aragorn had fallen easily asleep somewhere near midnight but Legolas had stayed awake, listening to the night sounds; sounds that were foreign to his ears.
Grabbing his bow and quiver, he stole to the far side of the wooded area they had camped in. The glen overlooked the Dimrill Dale and the eastern entrance to the Mines of Moria. The elf watched in fascination at the scene unfolding before him.
Orcs and dwarves battled each other on the rocky entrance to the underground dwelling. This was exactly the scenario Legolas had witnessed months earlier when he had rescued Aragorn. It surprised him slightly to note that the battles continued. The orcs were better prepared this time and there appeared to be more of them.
The elf kept his silent vigil into the night until the sky just barely edged pink with the warning of morning. As was their wont, the orcs noticed the approaching daylight first and began a slow retreat. They had done serious damage to the dwarves over the course of the night and had nearly gained the entrance to the stone hall.
The crack of twig behind him alerted the prince to Aragorn’s presence. The man crouched down beside the seated elf and overlooked the rocky platform.
"Been here long?" He cast a sideways glance at the elf.
Legolas didn’t meet the gaze but nodded out towards the plateau, "They are the same orcs I was tracking when I found you. Only I think they have merged with another clan and they are more numerous. They have dealt the dwarves a serious blow this night."
Aragorn turned towards his companion, "You have been here all night and watched them slaughter dwarves and have done nothing about it?"
Idly the elf met his glance. "They are dwarves." The statement was meant as an explanation, but the meaning was lost on the human.
"Legolas, they are living beings." Aragorn was surprised that his friend could act this way.
"Dwarves do not accept help from elves." He looked incredulously at the man, "What did you want me to do? Go down there and get in the middle of that?" Legolas pointed at the steps of Moria where the battle was finally easing, gesturing at the chaos. "What good would it have done?"
The dwarves were tending to their wounded and dying companions and the last of the orcs were heading back to their own hiding place well out of the reach of the encroaching light.
Aragorn rolled his eyes, "Dwarves, humans, spiders, orcs. You elves have a lot of dislikes you know that?"
Legolas chuckled beside him. "Human, I suppose you can tell me that men are the friends of all?" He jumped to his feet as the last of the orcs left the plateau heading west through the wooded lands. "There, see? Come on!" The elf started to move off parallel to the creatures.
"Legolas, we should go help the dwarves." Aragorn watched as the smaller beings cared for one another in the midst of the battle carnage.
"Trust me." The elf was locked onto the last point the orcs could be seen, his keen eyes and ears tracking their loud retreat through the woods. "This is important." And with that cryptic answer he ran after the fleeing creatures.
It was all Aragorn could do to keep up as the prince trailed the orcs back to a large, sunken cave. The opening to the mouth of the pit lay at a forty-five degree angle to the ground, half obscured by the twisted and warped pines that grew around its outer edges. Legolas stopped near its perimeter as the sun broke over the mountains and spilled into the forest, lighting the well-trodden path they were on. He crouched in the trail and inspected the dirt, noting that the vegetation had moved far away from the run. Crushed plant life decorated the edges of the large path, proving that Legolas was correct; the orcs had just recently gained new members to this clan. He studied the footprints that had not been obliterated by those that had come after, noting the differences in the structure.
"It is as I feared." He glanced up Aragorn who was warily watching the forest around them. The sun was too high in the sky for any renegade orcs to be about, but one could never be too sure. "Two clans have merged. The orcs are growing stronger."
The cry of a nearby wolf carried to them on the slight breeze and the elf was on his feet immediately. "Let us leave this place, it is evil and the wolves guard it for those foul beasts." He marked the entrance to their lair in his memory and led Aragorn back out on the granite plateau that butted up against Moria’s entrance.
As they approached the scattered remains of the
battle, they were met by a company of dwarves.
"What business have you here on the doorstep of Moria?" a rotund dwarf asked them gruffly.
"We came to see if we could be of help," Aragorn called out in a friendly tone, stepping slightly in front of his companion.
"An elf and a human?!" a dwarf to their right laughed. "I think not. We can see to our own."
"I told you," Legolas leaned forward and whispered quietly in Aragorn’s ear. "Let us leave."
"Is the elf your pet?" Another dwarf taunted.
At the jest Legolas stiffened, his hand tightening on his bow. His gaze was fierce and hard as Aragorn glanced over his shoulder at the prince.
"I would watch my tongue, Master Dwarf, if I were you." Aragorn stepped forward and placed himself directly in front of Legolas, blocking the elf momentarily from the smaller being’s line of sight. "It is royalty you address whether or not you want to. Besides it looks to me like you are not fairing well. It could be that we might be helpful to each other if you laid your prejudices aside."
A red-haired dwarf shoved his way through the small semi-circle that had gathered around the newcomers. He stepped right up in front of Aragorn and pressed his finger against the human’s chest.
"I remember you." His eyes were slitted and his words were low. "You’re the one who ruined my traps!"
"Rorin." Aragorn nodded slightly and brushed the dwarf’s hand away. "I am the one that saved you and your men from being Mirkwood’s latest casualty." He smiled wickedly down at the bearded face that glared at him.
The dwarf harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Why be you here now?" Rorin glanced around the human. "I see you’re still keeping company with the likes of them. Come to share that tankard of mead with my men and I, have you? Maybe improve the companions you keep?"
The dwarf laughed at his own joke, and his fellow warriors joined him.
Aragorn stepped back next to Legolas and the laughter immediately stopped. The elf wore a dark expression and graced the human with it as Aragorn turned and smiled up at him.
"Well I might take you up on the mead. But we thought you could use an extra hand with your wounded. We have medicines and you look a little light on the help." He gestured at the dwarves that still dotted the steppes below the plateau.
Rorin seemed to consider it.
The man looked again at the elf who glowered back at him and rolled his eyes.
After quick discussion amongst them, the dwarves assented and the elf and the human found themselves trailing the smaller beings slowly back towards the entrance of Moria, stopping near the small groups of dwarves and seeing to the wounded.
"Why do the orcs attack you?" Aragorn looked up
his kneeling position near a wounded dwarf. Legolas was very gently
binding up the small being’s broken arm and the human was surprised at
the tenderness the elf exhibited, knowing how much he hated being here.
"They want Moria!" Rorin replied as though the answer should be obvious.
"What for?" Aragorn pressed the dwarf, not understanding.
"Do tell. Its such a lovely hole in the ground, who would not want it?" Legolas murmured softly under his breath.
"Legolas!" Aragorn whispered fiercely at the elf, who only smiled wickedly back at the human shrugging in feigned innocence.
If the dwarf heard he didn’t respond to the taunt but simply continued, "Why for the mithril of course."
"Please, Orcs care nothing for mithril." This time when Legolas spoke it was for the ears of all hearers. "It is the tunnels and the living quarters you have dug out of this hill they are interested in."
"Bah! They have their own caves to inhabit. They know these hills are full of treasure." Rorin smiled proudly as they stood and moved towards another grouping of wounded.
"I think not." The elf replied a little more harshly than he intended, "Orcs care very little for treasures or jewels." He lifted his eyes to take in the stone heights of the dwelling they were approaching, "But there are tales of evil that lives in these hills. It is the darkness and the deeps they desire."
The dwarves they were walking with stopped to look at the two unlikely companions in confusion. "We will drive them out. Moria will never be taken by orcs." A small fierce dwarf on Legolas’ right challenged.
"They will if you do not stop them."
"What do you think we have been doing every night?" Rorin glanced at the elf and frowned.
"Entertaining them only," he replied absently. Legolas had stopped on the threshold of Moria’s entrance. Turning, he looked longingly back out into the woods, considering his options. Aragorn stepped next to him and touched the prince on his shoulder.
With a sigh, the elf turned towards the man and Aragorn could see the deep hesitation inside of his friend. "Elves do not belong in caves, Strider." He quietly explained to the man.
Aragorn smiled slightly. "I seem to remember someone else telling me that before."
"You obviously didn’t listen to him then." The elf returned the smile. "I do not wish to enter Moria."
Aragorn’s demeanor turned serious and he walked with the elf back a few paces away from the stone doors. "If you are not certain about this, we will go."
Legolas eyed the human for a long moment, "You have an idea don’t you?"
When the man nodded slightly, the elf smiled and looked away, shaking his head, "I knew it."
"Look, we haven’t been banished from being with the dwarves. Hunting is scarce this side of the Misty Mountains and we need some supplies. I do not wish to visit men right now, as I am sure you don’t either, and we cannot go to our own, so let’s trade."
"With what?" Legolas inquired skeptically.
"Information. We know where the orcs live now. Let us stay here one night, and lead them to their lair. It should be worth a meal and a warm welcome again later. You never know when we might need it." Aragorn raised an eyebrow in question. "You with me in this? Because if you aren’t, we leave now."
"It would rid Mirkwood of this latest orc problem also." Legolas glanced back into Moria and the waiting dwarves. "I have been trying to do that for months now."
"So?" Aragorn cocked his head smiling.
Legolas pushed the human away from him playfully. "Very well, let us go. And pray that all goes well or I will never let you live this down."
"Hey, you’ll get to see the fabled Mines of Moria!"
"Just what I always wanted to do." The sarcasm in the elf’s voice caused the human to laugh.
The dwarves, seeing Aragorn’s laughter as a good sign, clapped the ranger on the back and escorted them both into the deep cavern of Moria.
"Have you ever seen anything like this!" Aragorn asked his companion, awed by the immensity of the carved out cavern as they passed beneath Moria’s entrance. The interior was suspended by columns that towered over their heads into the dimly lit ceiling of the room.
"No, nor do I have any desire to again." Legolas eyes were huge and it wasn’t from the awe of seeing the dwarve’s handiwork. He glanced about them nervously and his hand tightened on the grip of his bow.
Aragorn stepped closer to the elf, his proximity bringing the prince’s gaze back on the young ranger. "Stay with me, Legolas. Think of it as a palace, just a whole lot different than your father’s. We’ll stick close to the entrance, we don’t have to go in too deep. We can stay up here with the war parties and help out."
The elf nodded slowly and Aragorn shifted nearer to his friend, lending his support without making a scene.
Legolas did not like the underground city, but he could tolerate it at need. Aragorn had tried to liken this ancient realm of the Dwarrowdelf to his father’s halls, and in fact there was a certain similarity, although it was mostly lost upon the elf. Many of the Elvenking’s halls and chambers were in fact, underground, connected by bright, airy tunnels hewn from the stone that the palace rested upon, yet Legolas would have never called those pleasant places caves although many outsiders did.
They moved through the wounded Dwarves, helping here and there where they could. Aragorn fetched his pack and was able to provide such healing aids as he had, and Legolas added his elven skill to the ranger’s knowledge.
Presently, an elderly looking dwarf who had an official bearing came up to them. His flowing white beard was tucked into his belt and a red hood was hanging down his back. He said nothing at first, but watched as Aragorn administered a healing salve to one dwarf’s nasty head-wound and Legolas helped him bind the wound up.
He had apparently already been apprised of the appearance of the two strangers by one of the other dwarves, because he showed no surprise, but bowed politely, in dwarvish fashion, once Aragorn and Legolas had risen from their work.
"Balin, son of Fundin, at your service," he introduced himself. Aragorn knew enough about dwarven customs to know that such a greeting required an introduction of like kind.
"Strider, Ranger of the North, at yours and your family’s," Aragorn returned the greeting correctly, but couldn’t help glancing sideways at Legolas. He had become quite comfortable with the alias that the elf had given him.
"Legolas, of..." the elf stopped abruptly and did not finish his sentence. "At your service," the prince finished somewhat hurriedly. This dwarf was being polite and he had intended to return in kind, but the elf had not counted on the stab of pain that passed through him as he realized that he had no place, no home, no heritage to claim.
Aragorn cast a quick, sympathetic glance at his friend, guessing what was going through the elf’s mind.
Balin appraised them curiously, eyeing Legolas with a measure of not-so-concealed distrust. Yet whatever his feelings they did not color his words when he spoke to them next. "It is rare that a human and an elf travel together thus, and even rarer that they should stop to aid my people. What brings you to the Dimrill Dale and the courts of Moria?"
That was far too long a tale to tell, even had the friends wanted to, so Aragorn opted for the shortest route out. "We are wanderers, we observed your battle. You looked like you could use some assistance. But tell me, it has been even a longer time since dwarves inhabited the halls of Moria, has it not? What brings you here now?" The ranger turned the question around on the dwarf and efficiently evaded answering any further questions about their past at this time.
"We have come to claim back what is ours," Balin said with a fierce glitter in his eye. "My people and I have come from the halls of the King Under the Mountain on this quest. Rorin and his clan have been living long in the Misty Mountains and they have joined us in this endeavor."
Legolas glanced curiously at the dwarf at the mention of the King Under the Mountain. That was the title given to Dain, the Dwarf-king who reigned over the halls of the Lonely Mountain, not far from Lake Town and his father’s kingdom.
"Do you honestly think that so few of you can accomplish such an undertaking?" Legolas inquired.
Balin huffed out his chest. "With fewer than this I have seen more accomplished! Fourteen of us reclaimed the Lonely Mountain from that evil worm Smaug! No thanks to the Wood-elves I might add," he put in parenthetically. Legolas may not have stated his origin, but his manner of dress and the workings on his clothing gave him away. Especially since Balin had, in fact, seen Wood-elves before, although he had no particular reason to remember them very fondly.
"I’m sure that would be quite a tale to hear," Aragorn interjected quickly, wishing to head off trouble before it started. "But right now I believe these wounded need our attention. Do you have more fresh water that I could use?"
The distraction worked, and after all the dwarves had been cared for there ended up being only one fatality, proving that the little folk were as sturdy as their pride. A dwarf named Flòi had taken an arrow wound that killed him almost instantly. When everyone else was tended to, Balin, Rorin and the other dwarves buried their comrade under the green grass near Mirrormere.
"He fought bravely," Balin said solemly, but no other words were said over the grave because Dwarves did not often put their grief into words.
When the brief ceremony had ended, the diminutive warriors headed back into the halls and set about celebrating their good fortune of being dwarves, telling long tales about the orcs they had slain or wanted to.
Aragorn was pulled away from his friend by a swarm of dwarves as the small beings crushed merrily into the hall, pressing towards the fire pits and the barrels of mead that sat nearby. A cup of the brew was pressed into his hand and he was momentarily lost in the whirlpool of bodies around him as the dwarves gathered in close to fill their steins with the thick yellow liquid and obtain their portions of meat from the spits that were roasting over the open fires.
The human caught sight of the elf from across the hall and slowly made his way back to where the prince waited, leaning against an ornately carved wall. His face was tight and tense and for their part the dwarves had paid him no attention. The oversight bothered Aragorn immensely and, as he made his way back to his friend, he grabbed Rorin and pulled the small man with him.
"That elf is my friend." He pointed at Legolas, leaning down and talking loudly in the dwarf’s ear; the sound was almost deafening with all the warriors in the hall cheering and singing and making merry over their victory of last, what victory it was.
"Yes, well, that’s your problem."
"And now it’s yours." Aragorn stopped up short and pulled the dwarf around in front of him out of Legolas’ line of view. "He has helped all day long with your wounded and he alone has information that can help your people. He knows where the orcs bed down during the daytime. So if you have any hope of ending these night time excursions of yours then I suggest you start paying him a little attention." The ranger tipped his hand and tapped his mead-filled stein against the stout dwarf’s chest plate, "Do I make myself clear?"
"And you think he’d help us?" Rorin glared at the man.
"Try him." Aragorn glanced over his shoulder at the elf and smiled. Legolas simply locked eyes with the man. He was even now beginning to resent his decision to follow the ranger into the mine.
Rorin snapped his fingers and two of his companions turned their attention on him. He nodded in the direction of the elf prince and passed them his own stein. Wordlessly they conceded and approached the elf, pressing the mead into his hands and herding the prince towards where Rorin and Aragorn had seated themselves around Balin’s table in the middle of the hall.
The elf for his part was not very willing to follow the smaller beings until he caught a glimpse of Aragorn. The human was laughing at the sight of the prince being prodded and pushed towards the circle of dwarves where he was just sitting down.
Stopping mid-step the elf brushed the small hands away from him, handed back the mug of mead and glaring at the man he proceeded to walk unaided to the circle of merry dwarves and gracefully sat down next to Aragorn, resting his hands lightly on the wooden surface of the circular table.
"Will you not share in our celebrations, Legolas?" Balin asked merrily from the other side of the table, politely holding up a sterling stein and offering to the elf.
"Thank you, my Lord, but I am not thirsty at this time." He bowed his head slightly in deference to the elder dwarf. "It is good to simply share your company."
"Liar." Aragorn leaned close to the elf and whispered so only Legolas could hear him.
The elf smiled for the first time since entering the cavern and his response to the human caused the dwarves to cheer and toast him. The mead was beginning to take its effect as the barrels began to run dry.
Rorin leaned over and whispered into Balin’s ear. The master dwarf sat back and stared incredulously at the warrior seated next to him. Rorin only nodded his head, confirming whatever information he had passed on.
Balin turned towards his guests and from the look on his face Aragorn knew that something had transpired. The dwarf’s demeanor was serious and set.
"Rorin says that you know the where the orcs hide during the day. Is this true, elf?" The dwarf lord stared hard at Legolas, who simply glanced at Aragorn.
The ranger held up his hand, halting the prince from answering, and directed the attention back to himself.
Balin narrowed his eyes as he focused on the ranger. "You mean to keep this news from us?"
"No, Lord Balin, not at all. I would propose something else though."
The rotund dwarf sat back in his chair appraising the young human. "So now we get to the matter. What is it you desire in exchange for this information?"
Legolas raised his eyebrow watching the man as Aragorn slipped into his natural element. A slight smile touched the prince’s lips as the human began to trade with the dwarf.
"The information was obtained at a high price. But your hospitality and a meal now and again would be payment enough." His eyes did not waiver as he spoke and he held the attention of the dwarf lord.
Leaning forward Balin stared the ranger down. "That is all you require?"
Rorin cut the human off with his loud accusation, "Aha! I knew there was more."
"Quiet, Rorin! I would hear his proposal. Now let him speak." Balin roared at the dwarf.
With a nod Aragorn continued, "We will take you to the orc’s lair and we will even help you bring down that hole in the ground they call a dwelling. We do this to aid your people and to protect the elves of Mirkwood. This same band of orcs has been tracked from the forests to here. When the orcs are gone, the wastelands will be clear and safe. All we ask in return is that you leave the forests of Mirkwood alone. That your people no longer poach in the vicinity and give the elves the peace they desire."
Balin glared at Legolas. But the request had quite taken the elf by surprise also. He had not expected Aragorn to barter for the peace of his people and he stared in shock at the man. When the elf finally glanced back across the table, he openly returned the dwarf’s dark gaze.
All those seated at the table had gone deathly quiet. For his part Aragorn had not broken eye contact with the dwarf lord, hoping that he had not pushed his fledgling diplomatic skills past their point of expertise. He wanted the elves to be able to roam their woods free without the fear of falling victim to any more of the traps like the one that had wounded his friend not so long ago.
"And if I should refuse?" Balin questioned the young human, stalling on his answer.
Aragorn shrugged indifferently. "Then we will leave your fine company on the morrow. And perhaps by chance you will be fortunate enough to find the orc lair on your own. Someday."
Slowly Balin nodded his head as he thought through the request. He desperately wanted to end the nightly forays that the orcs pressed against them day in and day out. The battle was wearying his men and slowly decimating them, a fact he did not want to openly admit to. Reaching across the table he extended his hand towards the ranger.
Rorin’s mouth dropped open as the man took the open hand and shook it.
"Then we have a deal?"
Balin nodded silently again, still trying to think over his options; the hunting grounds in the woods were flourishing with game and he hated to give up the ability to enter into them and take what they needed even if it was ill looked up on.
"Yes, we have deal," the dwarf finally replied. "You will take us to the orc caves and help us seal them up, and in return you shall have our hospitality and we will leave the elves to their woods."
Aragorn nodded and smiled, turning a quick glance upon his companion who was still regarding him with slight surprise.
"But..but..you can't, my lord!" Rorin stood to his feet in protest, his anger getting the best of him. His complaint echoed around the table.
Balin regarded the dwarf with a deep frown and replied, "I can and I have, Rorin Coppercryer. Now sit you down and do not stir up the others again or I will have you working the deepest mithril vein we have open. Understand me do you?" He glared at the others as the dwarf obediently if sullenly took his seat. "I grow weary of the orcs. I am tired of seeing my companions slain by them. If we can end this and it costs us a few venison then so be it."
The dwarf lord glanced at Legolas, "You have my word, elf, my people will bother your people no more."
"Thank you." Legolas nodded deferentially.
"Well then, off to sleep with you all!!" Balin rose to his feet shouting down the chaos of the hall, "Today before dusk we will go and see to an end of those orcs that harass us! Get rest men! Today marks our victory!"
Cheers and shouts shook the rock columns of the cavern as the dwarves jumped to their feet, mugs in hand, toasting their lord and the promised conquest. The large room emptied quickly for the amount of beings that it held.
As the last of the stragglers were helped off to bed to sleep off their drinks, Balin turned to Legolas and Aragorn. "I am afraid we are not equipped for guests as we rarely entertain any more. Would a place by the fireside be enough for you?"
Aragorn bowed slightly. "Yes that would do. We would rather sleep near the fire pits by the doors, Lord Balin, if it is alright with you."
The dwarf granted his permission eagerly and pallets were brought for the companions. Aragorn positioned them near a brightly burning fire pit a few hundred yards from the great stone doors that opened onto the steps of Moria.
Legolas sat crosslegged on his mat eying the human with a half smile.
"Thank you for asking for a place by the door," he quietly thanked the ranger as the young man lay down on his bed and rolled over to face the elf.
"I know how you hate caves," Aragorn chuckled.
"Did you always have in mind to barter with the dwarves for the safety and peace of my..." Legolas caught himself mid-sentence, "for the elves of Mirkwood?"
The ranger smiled at him sadly. "No. I had in mind to do it for your people." And with that explanation he turned over on his back and closed his eyes. "Go to sleep, my friend. It’s going to be a long day." He murmured.
The elf shook his head, watching as the man placed his forearm across his eyes to block out the late morning light. "Thank you Aragorn," he whispered, but the ranger had already fallen asleep and was breathing deeply. Legolas leaned back against the wall and kept watch over his companion as he slept, his eyes straying out to the forest beyond as he wondered if anyone back in Mirkwood would ever know that the man they had deemed an outcast had just bartered for their peace.
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