drugs in his system had finally worn off and Aragorn slowly rolled onto
his side as consciousness returned to him. He glanced around the large
hall. It was quiet tonight, unlike the previous evenings; there were no
orcs to battle and the dwarves had all retired to their rooms to rest,
only a few warriors kept guard over the gates.
A fire crackled in the huge fire pit, dimly lighting the large hall. The ranger placed his hands beneath him and started to rise when he caught sight of Legolas and stopped, freezing in place. The elf was seated nearby leaning against the wall, his left arm clutched to his chest. But it was the fact that the elf’s eyes were closed that startled Aragorn. He had never seen an elf sleep with his eyes closed. In his experiences he only remembered seeing them with their eyes closed when they were...dead. He lunged to his feet, slipping on the mat beneath him, ignoring the pain in his back and the edges of the dull ache that remained in his stomach and threw himself next to the seated elf.
"Legolas!" The ranger gently shook the still elf. "Legolas!" His fear was rising.
The elf prince was caught off guard by the panic in the human's voice and started out of his rest, nearly jumping to his feet. His eyes were huge as he turned toward Aragorn and grabbed the man by his shoulders.
"What!? What is it!?"
Aragorn stared at the elf open-mouthed, a look of pure shock on his face, "You’re alive."
Legolas looked around them in confusion and frowned back at the young man. "Yes, I am." He answered slowly. "You thought else-wise?"
"Your eyes were closed!" Aragorn still hadn’t released the elf. He allowed his head to fall forward for a second as the adrenaline in his system unwound from his heart.
The elf for his part was thoroughly confused and pushed the man back so he could look into the dark eyes. "What is wrong with you?"
"Don’t ever do that again!" Aragorn sat back and stared at his companion, brushing the stray locks out of his eyes as he glared daggers at the elf.
"Do what?" Legolas was at a loss trying to follow the human's thinking, "Are you all right? I thought we gave you the antidote, did it not work?" He reached forward to touch Aragorn’s forehead, checking for fever, only to have his hand brushed away.
Aragorn frowned at him. "I thought you were dead." He leaned back against the stone wall next to his friend and looked over at him.
"Why ever would you think that?" Legolas voice rose in disbelief.
The ranger rolled his eyes as though speaking to some one very slow and replied, "Because elves don’t sleep with their eyes closed." Shaking his head he looked back out across the cavern. "They only close their eyes when...when they are dead."
"Or resting," Legolas countered.
"They do not." Aragorn turned back toward his friend, resting his head against the rocks behind him.
"They have been known to."
"No they don’t."
"Aragorn! Do you always have to argue with me?" Legolas looked away from the human in frustration, "I think I would know better than you what an elf would or wouldn’t do, and I say they do."
When the ranger didn’t answer Legolas looked over at the human. The man’s eyes were mere slits and he regarded the elf cautiously, taking special note of the way his hand never left the right side of his body, protectively lying against his ribs. The edges of a bright stain on the green tunic could just be seen between his fingers. Self-consciously, Legolas moved his hand to conceal the blood.
The feigned look of innocence he tried to affect was lost on the human as Aragorn moved into a kneeling position and scooted closer to the elf.
"You are wounded."
Legolas averted his gaze. "I only need rest."
"Don’t try that self-sufficient I’m-an-elf-I’m-just-fine line with me." The ranger moved the prince’s hand from where it covered his side and drew in his breath as he inspected the cut. "This looks bad, Legolas. Have you had someone see to it?"
When his question garnered no response, he stopped his inspection and glanced up at the elf, who was not meeting the ranger's questioning gaze.
"Legolas?" Aragorn’s voice held a warning tone. He was positive the prince had not allowed the dwarves to treat him. "Stubborn elf. Let me take a look at it." He murmured, as he undid the buttons on Legolas' tunic to get a better look at the gash.
The elf jumped at his friend’s gentle ministrations, grabbing the ranger’s hands and quickly pushing them away, the look on his face a momentary combination of fear and distress.
Aragorn’s eyes widened and he sat back. Many times he had seen to his brothers' wounds, cutting off a legging to get at an embedded arrow or removing a tunic to better tend a gashed wound. And many times they had found him and taken care of him in much the same way; it had never dawned on him that it was out of the ordinary. Which it wasn’t, but he had forgotten that Legolas was not his brother. He had meant no offense and was unsure how to proceed. Legolas for his part would not look the man in the eyes; his hand had protectively resought the wound and covered it once more.
"I only meant to help you." Aragorn spoke the words softly in elvish. "I did not think...I am sorry."
"No, it’s not you." Legolas did not look up, highly frustrated with himself. He would not have had that reaction to another elf trying to remove his tunic and he knew it. Aragorn was a good friend, right now in fact, he was his only friend... what did it matter that he was human? Why couldn’t his body let go of the old fears? The young Dùnadan had just wanted to help, he was nothing like the last men who had undressed him...
"Memories?" Aragorn realized he might have accidentally triggered a response that came from the elf’s past. He had to keep reminding himself that he was not an elf and Legolas was not a man.
"Yes." Legolas’ voice was a mere whisper and he faltered slightly. He hated coming across these long-forgotten and deeply buried reactions. Yet it seemed that being with Aragorn was destined to forever keep bringing them up. It was all so ridiculously long ago, he couldn’t believe he still had any reactions at all to those long distant shadows of the past.
Aragorn dropped his gaze and nodded. "All right, I understand," He drew back near his friend as the elf slowly raised his eyes to meet the other’s, "But that tunic has to come off, I need to see to your wound. It’s not good and you are not well, I can tell, or you would not be resting with your eyes closed." He smiled softly at the elf, trying to lighten the seriousness that had settled about them. "Help me out here, all right?"
Legolas nodded and undid the buttons on his tunic. He groaned slightly as he tried to remove the over shirt and Aragorn came to his aid. Moving slowly and carefully, the human gently pulled the side of the tunic back and looked at the cut that ran the length of the elf’s ribs. He pressed his hand softly against the hot flesh feeling for broken bones. The touch caused the elf to moan and double over.
"All right, that’s it." Aragorn rocked back on feet and motioned towards the mat. "I need you to lie down and I need that shirt off of you."
When his friend started to protest, the ranger glared at the elf. It was true, Legolas really wasn’t feeling that well. His head hurt and he was slightly dizzy and the elf really did just want to lie down for a bit. He nodded and let the man help him gingerly out of his tunic.
Although his dislocated shoulder had been seen to, it was tender and did not move well when Aragorn removed his shirt and the elf bit his lip to keep from crying out even at the gentle movement. Aragorn saw the way his friend winced and moved even more carefully as he helped the elf lie down.
Moving Legolas’ arm out of the way, he washed and cleaned the cut, keeping up a steady stream of small talk, using the grey tongue to busy the elf with something other than the work the human was doing on him.
The gash was jagged and the flesh around it was red and hot to the touch. Aragorn looked up from his ministrations and focused on the elf’s eyes. Legolas smiled softly and raised an eyebrow in question. Without answering Aragorn pressed his hand to the prince’s forehead. As he suspected the elf was running a fever.
"You were poisoned." He spoke quietly, staring down into the silver-blue eyes. No infection could be working that fast, nor would it have caused such wide, glazed dilation of the elf’s pupils. There was no doubt that it had been a poisoned blade that wounded Legolas. Just how serious that poison would turn out to be he had no way of knowing yet. Sometimes one might just get very ill. Sometimes they died. Yet he held out hope that it was not the most deadly kind, since, after several hours, Legolas was in fact still alive.
The elf only nodded. He had already surmised as much about his injury.
Aragorn shook his head, "Why didn’t you let anyone help you?"
"Dwarves?" Legolas laughed at his own joke.
The ranger deflected the humor, "It’s not funny elf." But he smiled even as he spoke, turning to retrieve an ointment from his pack.
"I don’t know if this will help or not but it will take the sting out of the cut," the young ranger said.
"Good, because it burns." Legolas draped his arm over his face covering his eyes to block out the light from the fire.
Aragorn bent down and stared at the elf, "Just don’t close your eyes." He teased, his smile widening.
"Get on with it, human." Legolas swatted at the young ranger as the man ducked quickly out of the way.
"Tomorrow we’ll see if the dwarves have anything that will work better." He gently rubbed the ointment over the wound and covered the cut with a clean cloth. Carefully grabbing Legolas' arm by the wrist, he placed the elf’s hand over the bandage and stared down at his friend. "I think it will not be enough though." The ranger grabbed his coat and draped it over the prone elf, tucking the edges in around him.
Legolas nodded and conceded what they both feared. "It was an orc blade, Aragorn," he said softly. "If there was poison on it, it is poison from the depths of the Morgul world; there are few medicines that can heal such."
"Well perhaps the dwarves will know of something we do not." Aragorn looked out across the hall, hoping in his heart that he was telling the truth and knowing deep inside that he was wrong.
Thranduil gazed at the leaping flames in the fireplace with unseeing
eyes. Much of his time was spent thus lately and his courtiers had
become worried about their liege. The Elvenking no longer took
part in feasts or hunts, indeed, he barely left his chambers and seemed
disinterested in affairs of state. Thranduil was pulling back from life
and, no matter what his friends and subjects tried, they could not
Thranduil jerked when a hand was laid on his shoulder and he looked up quickly. Raniean knelt respectfully, then rose again. "Your Majesty?" the younger elf could tell by the momentary look in the King’s eyes that for an instant, roused suddenly from his faraway thoughts, Thranduil had half-thought, half-wished that Raniean were someone else. It was not too hard to guess who.
"What is itm Raniean?" Thranduil turned his gaze back to the fire. He looked so surprisingly old for an elf lately and his health had begun to take a turn for the ill.
"Your Majesty, there has been another incident of a hunting party being harassed by spiders," the elf warrior explained his visit. "None were harmed, but this is the third time it has happened in less than a week."
"If our warriors can’t defend themselves from a few spiders, we have fallen low indeed," Thranduil said darkly, still not bothering to spare the younger elf a second glance.
"This has never happened before, Your Majesty." Raniean shook his head, reining in his frustration. "Something is going on. The spiders are becoming increasingly bold and I have seen wargs wandering the woods not five miles from here. Evil stirs, my lord. We must take measures against it."
"Do as you think is right," Thranduil waved him off wearily.
Raniean tried to remain diplomatic despite his own irritation with Thranduil’s unconcerned approach to the situation. "Sire, everyone has a different opinion of how to handle this and what it means. We have had no official word on the matter in over a week now. The people are factionating, my lord, and the resulting disunity is making the problem worse!"
"If they faction they fraction and it is their own folly. I can do naught about it." No one had ever heard the king this despondent.
"The people need their king, Sire!" Raniean’s impatience got the better of him and he spoke more harshly than he intended. "They need leadership! Not a ruler who hides in his chambers and nurses his private wounds."
Thranduil’s eyes flashed as he turned his gaze up towards the impetuous, younger elf. He would have spoken, but Raniean pressed on. "I know you miss Legolas, I miss him too. But do not sacrifice the kingdom for your grief."
"What know you of my grief?!" Thranduil rose out of his chair, glaring dangerously at the elf warrior before him.
Raniean knew that the words he spoke were dangerous, but he did not hold back his thoughts. "I know that it is destroying you and our land. The old laws are flawed, do not cling to that which will be our undoing. It is not too late, call him back, Your Majesty, lift the curse you have placed upon your son’s head. It is what your heart desires, is it not?"
"You know not of what you speak, Raniean," Thranduil said sharply, his face flushed with anger. "I cannot undo what has been done."
"Cannot or will not, Your Majesty?" the younger elf asked bluntly, folding his arms. He walked a dangerous line, but it was a chance he was willing to take.
"Legolas forced this on me, Raniean, it is not my choosing," the Elvenking said somewhat bitterly. "He knew what it meant and chose to betray me anyway."
"He did not betray you," Raniean defended his friend as he had been burning to defend him since the horrible sentence had been passed and Legolas was taken away without a chance for Raniean, Trelan or any of the prince’s other friends to even say goodbye to him. "He defied a law that is old and out-of-date. Which would you fault him for more? For disregarding an antiquated law? Or for allowing a man who was later proved to be innocent be murdered in cold blood?"
Thranduil glared at Raniean darkly. "I know you were Legolas’ friend. For that reason alone, I will pardon your words to me now." The king spoke very slowly and clearly. "But understand this: my son is dead to me. His name is not to be spoken again in my hearing and you will watch your tongue." The king’s words broke off into a coughing fit and the elf leaned wearily against the back of the chair he had previously been seated in, seeming more drained and ill-looking than ever.
Raniean clenched his fists tightly at his sides. "Then let your stiff neck drive us all to ruin. I say to you, Legolas hurt your pride, not your heart." He had intentionally just defied his king’s orders, but he was angry enough that he did not care.
Surprisingly, the king did not flare at this, but looked wearily up at the younger elf, fixing him with a gaze of such crushing, immeasurable sadness that Raniean actually had to blink to keep his own emotions clear.
"That, Raniean, is where you would be wrong," Thranduil said quietly.
Raniean was surprised to see the incredible pain that was reflected in the elder elf’s eyes. He realized with a start that King Thranduil’s heart truly was breaking over what had happened and with it it was taking his health and his energy.
"Forgive me, my lord," Raniean apologized softly, bowing his head. "I spoke out of turn."
Thranduil wavered slightly on his feet. "You may go," he dismissed the warrior.
"Yes, Your Majesty. But... the spiders..." the original reason for Raniean’s visit was still un-addressed.
"Yes... yes, the spiders..." Thranduil passed his hand before his eyes as if trying to clear his head enough to think. The faintness that had been growing in him the past couple days took hold of the Elvenking and Thranduil was forced to sit abruptly back down in the chair to keep from falling.
"My lord?" Raniean asked with concern, for the king’s face had become very pale.
"Leave me, Raniean," Thranduil waved the other elf away, leaning his forehead upon his hand. "I do not feel well."
"I will summon a healer..."
"No," the King shook his head wearily, his voice drained. "They can do nothing for me. Just go, and leave me to my memories, for they are all I seem to have lately."
and Legolas left the halls of Moria behind and stepped out into the
bright sun. It seemed like forever since they had felt its warm rays
brush them and Aragorn turned his face towards the orb set high in the
sky, closing his eyes against its harsh light.
The young ranger breathed in deeply and smiled before turning his attention back to the small cache of supplies that the dwarves were carrying out with them.
"It seems that I am not the only one who was not made for caves." The elf whispered with a conspiratorial smile. He felt weak and ill, but was hiding it well. He nodded his thanks to Rorin as the dwarf handed him a soft bedroll tied with dwarvish rope, the strongest in Moria.
"More than you know, my friend," Aragorn replied, his eyes tired and haunted by the recent past. His own injuries were far from fully healed and the horror of their memory was still a shadow on his spirit.
After they had sorted through the dwarves’ gifts and dried food and packed their treasures away, Aragorn and Legolas bid the dwarves farewell and headed back out into the wooded lands that hedged the steppes of Moria’s eastern gate.
It had been decided that there was no help to be had inside the Mines of Moria for the kind of poison that was working on Legolas. Aragorn had gone back to the scene of the battle to test what was on the blades of the felled orcs so he knew what they were dealing with. Fortunately the dwarves had not yet disposed of the bodies. It was hard for the young ranger to go back into that place where he had suffered so much, but he had set his jaw and just done it. He did not like what he found when he tested the twisted weapon that had injured Legolas.
The poison was indeed of morgul origin. It was slow, but deadly. Untreated and uncountered, it would continue to slowly drain Legolas’ life away bit by bit until it killed him; a slow and horrible kind of way to die. But although Aragorn could recognize it for what it was, he had no notion of how to treat it, neither did the dwarves, and so the two friends had opted to leave the dwarves' palace and seek help from an outside source. Just whom that source might be had never been discussed. The only persons capable of healing Legolas’ wound were Lord Thranduil and Lord Elrond, both of which were no longer options and the third, Gandalf, of whom no one knew his present whereabouts.
Aragorn knew the outlook was grim, but he wouldn’t stay and allow Legolas to die in the Mines. He had an idea forming in the back of his mind, but he was loathe to discuss it with the elf for fear Legolas would reject it out right. He would know when the time was right that he would press his option then. After walking for over a day, the time to present his thoughts grew dangerously nearer.
Legolas walked slowly behind Aragorn and, as they traveled deeper into the woods, he stumbled more frequently.
After several hours the ranger stopped them and waited for the elf to catch up. Legolas stumbled on a tree root that had broken through the surface of the forest floor. He fell hard down onto one knee and did not rise, resting in that position while he caught his breath, hugging his bruised knee to his chest.
Aragorn ran back and knelt beside his friend, brushing away the dirt from his torn legging and gently inspecting his knee. Legolas winced at the smarting sting the human’s touch caused.
"And where do you suppose we go from here?" The elf tried to remove the attention from himself, glancing idly about them as Aragorn dipped a cloth into his water pouch and cleaned the cut the elf had just sustained.
The ranger looked up at his friend through worried eyes, noting the sweat beading on the prince’s fair face and his quick, shallow breathing.
He shook his head and muttered, "You need proper attention and I cannot give it to you here."
"We will be fine." Legolas smiled at him, "I merely need to rest."
"You need more than rest and you know it. Do not try to pass off your wound as something less than it is." He glared at the elf. "I told you what I found. We both know what it means."
Legolas did not reply but stared hard back at the human who was crouched next to him. He knew what the man was going to say and he dreaded it.
Getting up his courage Aragorn dropped his gaze while he gathered his thoughts. Turning his attention back to the grey eyes that watched him, he made his appeal, "We need to turn home."
"It is out of the question." The elf cut him off before he could complete his thought.
"Legolas, my father..."
"Aragorn, we cannot go either to my home or to yours. Do you not remember? We do not have homes anymore. You know the edict my father passed against us." He angrily gestured about them. "Every elf in Middle-earth knows that helping us would bring the same fate we suffer down on their heads."
"Yes but if ..."
"No." Legolas stopped the ranger, trying to end the conversation.
Aragorn stood swiftly and turned his back on the elf, his anger just below the surface of his calm demeanor; he had reached the end of his patience and his fear had given way to frustration.
"Strider," Legolas softly called the young man’s name, hoping to diffuse the tension, "Listen to me..."
"No." Aragorn whirled on the elf, cutting him off and holding up his hand to silence further argument, "You may be older and you may be wiser. But right now I will live to see the end of this week and you will not. Either you come with me to Rivendell or I will take you there by force."
A small smile graced the elf’s lips as he faced down the threat. "And how exactly do you think that you will force me?"
Aragorn looked around them as if trying to find the answer in the woods that surrounded him. He took a step nearer the elf and leaned down towards him, the ranger’s voice was low and serious, "I’ll use the warfare technique on you that Elladan taught me and I’ll drag you there if I have to."
"Not on me you won’t." Legolas arched his eyebrows and defiantly stood to his feet.
The ranger’s demeanor changed to desperation, "Then don’t make me. Please come with me. This is outside of my area of expertise. I can’t heal you."
"We cannot go and endanger Lord Elrond like that." Legolas spoke slowly as though talking to someone who was having difficulty understanding and shook his head sadly. "Don’t you realize the position you would be placing him in? Do you really want to force him to make that kind of choice?"
"Listen to me, you Silvan elf," Aragorn spat the slur at his companion, asking nicely hadn’t worked and neither had threats, so it was time to follow through. "I don’t know about you, but I really don’t intend to live like this forever, if I can help it. I don’t believe there is no way for this sentence we’re under to ever be changed. There’s always a way somewhere! And if there is any chance that we can reverse that stupid law your father enacted, then I will do everything I can to help you get home. But you cannot return if you are dead."
"It’s not a stupid law." The elf stated simply ignoring the rising anger in his friend, although he was beginning to believe otherwise.
"It is a stupid law."
"It is not, Strider." His own frustration at the human was beginning to wear on him.
"It is and you know it or we wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation while you are dying. Stop arguing with me!" He stepped in close to the elf and was pleased to see that Legolas took a step back. "Now decide, follow me or so help me, prince or no, I will drag you there by your pointed ears if I have to."
The look on the man’s face and the threat of being dragged by his ears, a punishment he hadn’t heard threatened in millennia, caused the elf to burst out laughing. "Stubborn human, I will follow you," he finally assented. As he spoke he wavered on his feet and leaned against the tree next to him, trying to deal with the pain that swept through his body. He had been trying to deny it for a long time now, but it was having him slowly, eating away at his strength. The nausea he had first felt was coming back with a vengeance and the light-headedness he had been battling was swelling into almost full-fledged vertigo.
Aragorn saw the elf react to the poisons in his system and jumped to help steady him. "Only because you can hardly do anything else. Here, lean on me." Hooking his arm around Legolas’ waist, he steered the prince towards a sheltered section of the forest where the trees created a natural barrier and the foliage was thick and concealing.
Here the ground was covered in pine needles only, because the light could not penetrate the leafy canopy above them. It was the perfect spot to bed down for the night and start a fire. When he had gently lowered the elf to the forest floor, Aragorn set about unrolling their mats and kindling a small fire to warm the area.
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