had thought that nothing could be more disturbing than listening to his
friend cry in pain yet, when the screams stopped suddenly, Legolas
found that the silence was worse. What had the orcs done? Was Aragorn
dead, or merely unconscious? The uncertainty was horrible.
He pressed himself against the rock wall and tried to hear any sound of the ranger, any hint that his friend was still alive. He could hear the orcs arguing with one another. They seemed to be debating what to do with Aragorn but he couldn’t make out if the human was alive.
Closing his eyes Legolas tried to pay better attention to the conversation on the opposite side of the rockslide, but his concentration was broken as Rorin entered the collapsed tunnel followed hard by three younger dwarfs.
"What happened here?" The dwarf was incensed as he scrutinized the jumble of rocks that littered the floor, blocking off the access. Cave-ins were nearly unheard of in Moria.
"The tunnel collapsed and Strider was trapped on the opposite side." Legolas pushed himself away from the pile of stone and debris. He grabbed the warrior and turned him back toward the way he had come. "We must find another way into that passageway and get him out now!"
Rorin brushed the elf’s hands from his tunic and peered around the prince as though sizing up the situation. The dwarves behind the warrior stepped forward and began talking quietly to each other.
Legolas’ panic was rising, they were out of time and he was out of patience. "Rorin!" The dwarves jumped and turned towards him, "Strider is trapped in there! With orcs!"
The older dwarf stepped towards the elf, his eyes darting around, unwilling to meet Legolas’ stare.
"There’s no way we’re getting through that mess. It could take days to find another way into that passage, what if he’s already dead?" Rorin pointed out. "Not everyone can be spared all at once, there’s defenses to think about, and we’ve just found the tail of a mithril vein in the lower hall... we have to protect that..." the dwarf was by no means intending to be callous to the situation. Rather, from his point of view, he was thinking logically.
Legolas did not appreciate his point of view.
Everyone present was surprised when the tall elf actually grabbed the dwarf by the front of his shirt with his good arm, slamming Rorin roughly back against the wall behind him. Dangerous fire glittered in Legolas’ eyes and his fair face was hard with the anguish of what he had just been forced to allow happen.
"Listen to me, dwarf," he ground out between his teeth, his anger fueled by the pain of the horrible ghosts of Aragorn’s cries ringing in his ears. "You would not be free to have discovered anything down here if Strider and I had not helped you with the orcs! I am not going to leave him down there with those... those creatures for any longer than necessary! Now you are going to help me find a way to get down there, right now, or I swear by all the stars in the heavens and by Iluvatar himself, that I will have your head, Rorin Coppercryer, and lead all the orcs ever spawned in through your front door!" Legolas was not exactly shouting, but his voice was incensed and deadly.
Legolas had already been cut off from his people and his father, from everything he had ever loved and ever belonged to. If he failed his friend now, if Aragorn died in this cursed hole at the hands of those foul creatures, then the elf had nothing worth living for left in his life.
Rorin scowled darkly at Legolas. He felt badly about Strider, and honestly did want to help get him back if that were possible, but being ordered around by an elf was another thing, and being threatened by this one made the dwarf’s stubborn pride rear up to match his anger.
"Get your hands off me or lose them, elf!" Rorin spat angrily, trying in vain to loosen Legolas’ iron grip on him. The other dwarves drew nearer, not sure what direction this confrontation was going to take.
Things could have gotten very ugly very quickly had not Balin entered the room at that moment. "Peace, all of you!" he said sharply, his aged face crinkling with displeasure. "Rill, Rullyra, Ori let it go. Master Elf, please put him down, we’ll not accomplish anything this way. Rorin, one of these days someone is going to put an arrow in you for your thoughtless words and you had better not say I didn’t warn you," Balin addressed them all by turn.
Legolas dropped Rorin disdainfully and stepped back. Rorin rubbed his neck and divided his glare between the elf and Balin.
"Young Strider helped heal our wounded and fight our foes, that makes him one of us. Of course we are going to make all effort possible to get him back. Certainly, we have to think of our defense, but everyone who can be spared will. Ori, didn’t you say you had found a passage in the upper hall that seemed to lead off to the east? I suggest we start there."
The small group of dwarves ran through the passageways leading the elf back up the hall. They crossed the dining area and headed for an adjoining tunnel that ran parallel with the one they had just exited.
When Balin gained the large cavernous room he began shouting orders to the dwarves that were resting in the immediate area, calling the warriors to himself. Legolas did not wait to see the outcome but pelted down the stone hallway after the young dwarves that ran ahead of him leading the way.
A mere three-hundred yards in, the elf skidded to a stop. Ori called out to the others when he noticed that Legolas was not following and they quickly ran back to where the elf stood. Balin and his men gained Legolas’ position at the same time. The dwarf lord started to question Legolas but the elf held up his hand and cautioned for silence.
Moving close to the rock wall, the elf prince pressed himself up against it listening intently. He could hear the sounds of the orcs and their wargs on the opposite side, it seemed their argument about their prisoner had grown and they were now fighting over who could claim the human as his own. Relief and fury swept through the elf as he listened to their crude conversation, relief that Aragorn was still there somewhere and fury that they found the human no more than a possession to be toyed with until they grew bored with it.
He turned to Balin and tapped the wall gently with his finger indicating that there was another passage beyond the tunnel wall.
The frown on the dwarf lord’s face deepened and he motioned Ori forward. The young warrior hefted his axe and softly tapped the side of the passage. The hollow ringing of metal on stone resounded through the tunnel. Balin nodded and motioned the dwarf to the opposite side of the hallway. Ori tapped the opposite wall with his axe and was rewarded with a dull thunk, the sound of thick stone rang back at them.
scowled at Legolas as the full realization sunk in. The orcs had indeed
been tunneling underneath them and that unfortunate act had
brought the tunnel down on the human. Looking up and down the passage
at his men, Balin motioned them forward. Some of the warriors hefted
wicked double-sided picks; an axe head was joined to the opposite side
of the digging tool, making the pick a fearsome weapon.
At his command the dwarves let out a horrible war cry and attacked the tunnel wall, bringing the rock between the two passages down and allowing free movement into the orc-hewn tunnel.
Legolas’ left arm was almost useless but his determination outweighed his inability to fight. Unable to use his bow, he pulled both of his elven knives from their sheaths on his back. Holding one in his left hand he readied himself, while balancing the other in his right hand. As soon as the wall was crumbling on his side he threw the blade into the dust cloud. An orc scream resounded and the elf leapt the pile of debris on the floor slashing his way into the enemy ranks on the opposite side. He crouched down and pulled his knife from the body of the orc he had felled and gripped it as tightly as he could with his left hand.
The crush of the enemy about him was more than he had expected and he spun quickly thrusting his blade into the press of orcs that surrounded him. His aim was true and his movements were fast and graceful even in battle; the beasts near him dropped to the floor on top of each other as he felled them.
Legolas chanced a glance up the tunnel and caught sight of Ori. The small dwarf was battling a rather large orc and a goblin had sighted in on the preoccupied warrior. Legolas balanced himself and threw his knife straight at the goblin, cleaving through the creature's helmet and dropping the beast immediately. Ori killed the orc that stood in his way and turned wide eyes upon the elf, silently mouthing a thank you.
Legolas only had time to nod before he was seized from behind. Without thinking he leaned hard forward, using his enemy’s momentum he threw his attacker off his back. But the blade of the orc’s sword caught the elf across the chest as the orc fell, opening a nasty gash through Legolas' tunic. The deep crimson stain ran from his sternum to the side of his ribs and the bite from the steel almost stole the elf’s breath. Stepping on the orc's throat he grabbed the creature's own twisted sword and buried it in the beast's chest.
A sound to his left was all the warning he had; Legolas pulled the wicked blade from the orc's chest and thrust it behind him impaling an attacking goblin. He pushed the creature away from him, leaving the unwieldy weapon buried in the goblin’s abdomen and spun towards the open end of the tunnel. The fighting was lessening, but the break in the wave of orcs would only be momentary.
He sought out Balin and called to the dwarf lord, "Seal the tunnel behind us or there will only be more!"
Balin nodded and shouted at his men, pointing towards the passageway. In moments the dwarves had brought down the tunnel, pulling the crudely placed struts from the sides of the ill hewn walls. With the roar of twisting steel and falling rock the hall collapsed, sealing the orcs from ever using this access again.
Silence hung thick in the air for a brief moment as the rocks settled onto one another.
Legolas stood in the swirling dust cloud, his chest heaving as he drew ragged breaths into his starved lungs. His hand unconsciously touched his burning ribs where the orc blade had grazed him. The cut was not deep but it felt like it was on fire and Legolas’ hand came away from his tunic bloody. He bit back the reaction to the wound and searched wildly around him.
Everywhere underfoot there lay orc and goblin bodies but he had seen nothing of the human. He picked his way carefully to the back of the orc tunnel where the cave-in had first occurred.
A few dwarves were slowly standing from the chaos of battle and torches were being handed into the partial tunnel so the survivors could better see.
Legolas' sharp eyes caught a glimpse of the young man in the dim lighting and his heart stopped for a brief second as the shadowy outline of the man could just barely be seen.
"Strider!" The elf stepped over the bodies of the fallen orcs and ran to the back of the dead-end tunnel where the ranger was still tied between the crude struts, forgotten by his tormentors when the dwarves broke through the passageway.
The human was unconscious and slumped forward, his weight hanging from his wrists where they were bound by the rough orc ropes. His head hung forward and his face was obscured by the strands of hair that had fallen across his features, concealing the wicked gash on his temple and the bruises forming on his cheeks. Legolas was almost afraid to touch the man, afraid they had been too late and that the human was already dead. He didn’t know how he would react if Aragorn had died. Very gently he slid his hands along the sides of the man’s face and slowly tipped the ranger's head up. The elf could feel his friend’s pulse beating beneath his fingertips as he bent down and looked into the unconscious face. The ranger's broken lip and the bruises on his face re-ignited the elf’s fury and, as blood from the gash on Aragorn’s temple dripped onto his fingers, he lost the last shreds of his calm demeanor.
Legolas shouted over his shoulder at the dwarves as he leaned into the man, trying to shift the human’s weight off of his wrists, "Come over here and help me, now!" His voice betrayed his fears, trembling slightly as he yelled at the small warriors. "Balin! Help me!" He pulled Aragorn forward, letting the man’s head rest on his shoulder, and lifted him slightly. The jarring motion lanced pain through the human and Aragorn awoke.
He was being held by someone, and the person was shouting orders. It sounded oddly like Legolas but that was impossible. Aragorn watched as though from a place far away as the dwarf lord rushed towards him, followed by Rorin and a company of warriors.
"Legolas?" When Aragorn spoke, the word was soft and choked. The poisons he had ingested were still wreaking havoc with his system and he felt as if he were going to throw up, though he knew it would be impossible.
"Strider!" Relief washed through Legolas as he
held the man against him, ignoring
the pain shooting through his shoulder and trying to support the young
man’s weight as the dwarves cut his bindings loose. The ranger fell
forward, unable to stop himself.
Slowly the elf lowered the man to the rocky floor, laying him on his side, careful of the wounds to his back, cradling Aragorn’s head in hands.
The ranger cried out as his body spasmed from the pain and he curled in on himself wrapping his arms protectively around his mid-section, trying to stave off the sick feeling that swept through his awareness.
"Strider? What is it? What’s wrong?" Legolas leaned over the man, trying to get him to relax. "You must tell me or I can't help you."
"You can’t help him."
Legolas turned towards Balin and stared at the dwarf. Rorin was handing the king a small black vial, his face scrunched up from the reeking smell that wafted from the empty bottle.
"Defaifel." He passed the container to the elf who jerked away from the foul stench holding the vial at arms length.
"Is it poisonous?"
"Yes," Balin frowned as he watched the human writhe in pain, "and no."
"Speak plainly, Master Dwarf, my patience is thin."
Balin chose to ignore the elf. Instead he pulled Rorin in close and whispered instructions to the dwarf. The small warrior nodded repeatedly at the requests and darted back through the tunnel out of sight.
Crouching down near Aragorn, Moria’s lord gently touched the human’s forehead, nodding in assent of his own predictions. The human was losing consciousness again and that was mercy in itself.
He turned his attention to Legolas and explained, "Defaifel is a lichen that grows in the lower caves near the water supply. It is an evil algae. When mixed with the water it becomes a poison to the system and causes intense pain and high fever. Left to itself it will kill its victim, and that only over a period of time. We have had whole clans poisoned in this fashion before we discovered its antidote." The small dwarf rocked back on his heals and motioned more of his warriors forward. "I thought we had cleared all of it from the area, but perhaps the orcs found a supply of it near their dwellings and learned of its potency."
He stood to his feet as the warriors gained their position and surrounded the ranger. Legolas was easily brushed aside and the dwarf lord took hold of his arm and lead him out of the way as the small men lifted Aragorn between them and began to move out of the tunnel, carrying him carefully to the higher passageways.
"And the antidote?" Legolas winced as his own wounds begged for attention. He ignored the signals his body was sending him and walked with the king toward the adjoining tunnel.
"The antidote is a mushroom of all things." The king laughed at the absurdity of it, "One fungus curing another! We find it out on the plains and, when dried and crushed, it can be served as a tea that counteracts the moss. It has other healing properties too. We use it frequently. Remind me to send some with you when you should decide to take your leave of us."
They exited the orc tunnel and a team of dwarves swarmed into the area. The tunnel would be collapsed and sealed so further incursions would not be possible from this section of the mountain. Already measures were being taken to find any other orc tunnels that might run beneath or parallel to the dwarves' own passages. Cave-ins were very rare and the dwarves went to great lengths to see that such things never happened. The events of the day were disturbing and could not be allowed to persist.
"Yes, but Strider?" Legolas winced and stumbled. The dwarf lord reached out casually and grabbed the elf by his good arm, steadying him as they walked.
"Rorin has gone to see that the tea is prepared. Your friend will recover just fine. Give him a day and he will be back to normal, I guarantee it. He feels worse than he is at the moment. The lacerations to his back concern me more." Balin cast a secretive glance at the elf. "However it is you I am a little more worried about at the present."
Legolas stiffened slightly at the attention, "I am fine. I would see to Strider though."
The dwarf king nodded, "When we reach the main hall we will find a place for you and the human to stay until you are well. You can see to him there. All of our medicines and comforts are at your disposal."
Legolas nodded in gratitude as they stepped into the main hall and he was ushered into a corner of the massive living area, "Thank you my lord."
He found Aragorn lying on his stomach on a padded mat. The human was still unconscious and Ori was gently smearing his back with a healing salve as another dwarf cleaned the blood from the young man's back and face. His wrists had been bound where the ropes had cut him. Legolas seated himself near Aragorn’s head and, taking a clean strip of cloth, he wound it around the man’s temple, binding up the wound.
The ranger pulled away from his hands slightly as awareness returned to him.
"Where?" The word was barely a whisper as Aragorn tried to come to grips with what had happened. He winced, drawing in his breath as Ori completed his task, and carefully spread the ointment over the last of the cuts that marred his back.
Legolas touched the back of the ranger’s head and whispered softly to him in elvish, "Strider, you are safe now."
"What happened?" The human responded in the grey tongue, it was easier for him to concentrate on the elven words.
"We did not come in time. I am sorry," Legolas apologized softly, tearing his eyes guiltily away from his young friend’s injuries.
"Why, what happened?" Aragorn moved his arms beneath him and rolled slightly onto his side to look at the elf as he gained more strength.
"What happened?" The elf asked incredulously as he helped the ranger sit up. "You were taken by orcs and I could not reach you."
"Oh that." Aragorn looked around him at the hall full of dwarves, "Was anyone else hurt?"
"What, you weren’t enough?" Legolas laughed lightly. The man doubled over and moaned as the poison reacted through him savagely. The elf turned serious and scooted closer to his friend, "No. No one else was hurt."
Aragorn frowned at him, "No one?" He touched the elf lightly on the gash that crossed his ribs, following the jagged stain from where it started near his chest. The light touch caused Legolas to flinch. "Not hurt, huh?"
Another lance of fiery poison shot through the man and he moaned softly. Legolas searched the immediate cavern looking for Rorin. They needed that tea now!
"They are bringing the antidote for the poison you ingested." Legolas caught sight of the dwarf and stood stiffly to his feet, meeting the warrior on his way towards them.
"He must drink it all." Rorin passed the cup to the elf prince. "He will not want to, but you must see that he does." When Legolas nodded in understanding, the dwarf released his hold on the cup and watched as the elf made his way back to their corner in the great hall.
Aragorn had lain back down on the mat and was dozing lightly. At the touch from the prince he started and pushed himself back up into a sitting position. The salve on his back had cooled the pain and he was able to move more easily than he had when he had first awoken.
Legolas pressed the mug into his hands, "Drink this. It will counteract the poison."
The ranger pressed the cup back towards the elf. "No. I don’t want anything in me right now."
Switching back to elvish, Legolas became firm. "Aragorn, you must drink it all. It will stop the sickness in you."
When the human made no move to comply, the elf moved forward and spoke in a low voice, "If you do not drink it by yourself, I will force you to drink and that would make for quite an ugly scene, would you not agree?" He smiled wickedly at the man.
"Care to find out?" Legolas offered him the cup of tea once more. Aragorn snatched the mug from the elf and frowned at him. The movement made him wince as he was reminded once more that his temple had been cut open by the orc's sharp glove. He touched the bandage wrapped around his head as though realizing for the first time it was there. Legolas leaned forward, brushing the human's hand away and checking the cut.
"I thought you were dead." The elven words startled Aragorn who stopped drinking the tea, watching the elf.
Legolas glanced at him. "Drink it all." He switched from common back to elvish. "When you stopped screaming, I thought..."
"I’m sorry. I tried not to scream at all. I knew you could hear it. I wanted to be braver." Aragorn looked down at his hand that now rested in his lap, he was beginning to feel rather sleepy.
The elf noted the change and, hooking his fingers under the almost empty mug, he nudged the human to finish the last bit of tea. Nodding, Aragorn drank it all in one last gulp, scrunching up his face at the nasty taste the liquid left in his mouth.
"I knew you would come in time." His eyes closed and he slowly fell forward as the antidote did its work and put him back to sleep.
"Elladan always said I was too eager and one day no one would be there to help me, but he forgot about you." The ranger murmured the words in elvish before he fell unconscious. Legolas lowered him back to the mat, removing the now empty mug from his hand. He watched the sleeping man for a few minutes, glad that they had made it in time and very aware that Elladan’s prediction had almost come true.
Relief had taken its toll and the adrenaline in the elf’s system was beginning to fade now that they were safe and things had finally quieted in the great hall. Legolas sat back wearily. Aragorn was mending now, but he felt terrible. Passing his hand over his face he settled back against the wall and tried to battle the odd dizziness that was fighting for control of him. His wound throbbed dully, although it was not very deep, nor dangerous in appearance. Adding to his pain was the burning ache in his shoulder that had only gotten worse instead of better. He could barely move the limb at all now and this concerned the elf greatly.
He hadn’t realized he had phased out slightly until he came back to reality to find Balin shaking his shoulder. The elf winced and pulled away.
"Legolas?" Balin’s face was concerned. "You do not look well. You have seen to Strider, but no one has seen to you."
"I will be all right," Legolas brushed his concern aside. His temples ached and the dwarf’s voice seemed unnaturally loud in his throbbing head. He just wanted them to go away and leave him alone. Although he usually slept with his eyes open, the elf was finding the dim light to be irritatingly bright, so he shut his eyes and hoped Balin would leave.
"You can’t move your left arm at all, can you?" Balin shook his head, not at all deterred by the elf’s put-off. He had seen the elf’s difficulty fighting earlier, and had to admit to being candidly impressed that Legolas had done so incredibly well against the orcs with only one truly functional arm when the other one was obviously causing him great pain. There may be more to the elf than he had given him credit for. At least the dwarf had to give him points for loyalty. The dedication he had shown to his injured friend was admirable.
"I just need to rest," Legolas opened one eye and then shut it again.
"You’ll need more than that." Balin poked Legolas’ injured shoulder none-too-gently with one short, stubby finger. The elf inhaled sharply and pulled back, leveling the smaller being with an irritated glare.
"Are you attempting to make my life miserable, or is it just a side benefit?" the elf said crossly. The ache in his body and pain in his shoulder was not doing anything to improve his mood.
Balin chuckled. "All I’m trying to do, Master Elf, is possibly save your arm and fingers. Ten-to-one that shoulder is dislocated."
Legolas resisted the urge to moan softly. He had been afraid of that himself, but he didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to have to deal with that on top of everything else. First he had been too concerned with finding Aragorn, and now he felt so very bad that he despised the thought of having to put the shoulder back into place, which he knew would be very painful.
"You can be too proud to accept our help if you want and let it be, but it’s not going to go right by itself and you’ll be lucky if you don’t permanently damage your hand control if you let it go much longer," the dwarf pointed out bluntly. "Even an elf should know better." The last part was not stated with any venom and, if he had been in a better disposition, Legolas might have taken it for the jest that it was.
Legolas spared Balin a baleful glare, but he knew the dwarf was right, and that was not something he liked admitting. And in truth, he did know better, he just was feeling so strangely...
With a sigh, the elf prince finally conceded the point to the dwarf. "All right then, do as you must."
Balin grinned wryly. "That’s what I love about your people, they’re so polite."
Legolas scowled darkly and the dwarf only laughed.
"Ori, Rorin, come over here," Balin called the other two dwarves over to assist him. "Our friend here needs a little help with his shoulder."
Rorin grinned a little too largely. "I’ll do the pulling!" he offered quickly.
Balin shot him an amused, but withering look. "I’ll do the pulling. We want him to have some arm left when we’re done! You and Ori hold him."
Legolas grimaced and wondered what exactly he had gotten himself into. He knew basically what they were going to have to do, and it wasn’t pleasant under any circumstances.
Ori offered him a swig of potent alcohol to dull the pain and relax his tense muscles to make the procedure easier, but the elf already felt ill and the thought of trying to drink anything that strong right now turned his stomach.
"Just get it over with," Legolas shook his head and the dwarves shrugged compliantly. No skin off their nose if the elf wanted to do it the hard way.
Ori and Rorin stood on either side of the sitting elf, bracing Legolas back against the wall with their hands against his chest and collarbones.
Balin took Legolas’ left forearm in his thick, stout hands and rotated the elf’s arm to the angle he wanted it.
Legolas winced at the movement. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, he told his body to be calm and let the injured joint move back into place. It was more difficult than it should have been.
"This is gonna hurt a mite," Balin said cheerfully.
Legolas rolled his eyes. "Just do it!" he said through his teeth.
Balin took him at his word and braced his foot against the elf’s left collarbone, yanking the arm sharply out and down before rotating it up and to the side. Used to working with stout dwarves of his own kind, he unintentionally used a lot more force than was necessary for an elven body.
Legolas’ injured muscles spasmed sharply at the over-vigorous action. Hot pain flashed through his senses and his shoulder screamed at the motion. He pressed his head back against the wall, unable to stifle the sharp moan of pain that escaped his lips. Rorin and Ori had to exert all their strength to hold the elf back against the wall as his body reflexively fought what it mistakenly perceived to be further injury.
The joint popped neatly back into place and Balin laid Legolas’ arm gently across his chest. The elf was very pale and his breath came quick and fast. Still, now that the worst of it was over, his shoulder did actually feel a bit better, and he felt the tingle of renewed blood-flow to his numb fingers, for which he was very glad. An archer could ill afford to lose the precise use of one of his hands.
Rorin and Ori released Legolas slowly and the elf resisted the urge to slump forward. He did not wish for the dwarves to see his weakness.
"You’re welcome," Balin said with a dry grin after a few moments of silence.
Legolas took a deep, shuddering breath and returned the ironic half-grin. "Thank you," he replied, equally dry, yet he really did mean it and Balin could see that.
The dwarf just shook his head with a chuckle and walked away. "Elves," he muttered to himself with amusement.
Legolas rolled his eyes. "Dwarves."
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