slowly next to the campfire that Aragorn had started. The ranger
watched the wounded elf out of the corner of his eyes. His friend was
moving more slowly and nothing the man had done had been effective in
stopping the poison. Legolas was doing much worse than he was letting
Closing his eyes, the elf prince concentrated on breathing. It had become more difficult lately and he could feel the poison in his system like an icy fire slowly shutting down his body and taking over. He breathed in deeply, holding the breath inside of him and willing the ache in his bones to cease.
When he opened his eyes, Aragorn was watching him worriedly. The human had been a good friend. If given the chance to repeat everything over he would have done nothing differently. He smiled sadly at the man as his thoughts turned homeward. Pain spiked through his awareness and momentarily cut him off from reality. He turned inward and homeward, thinking of the great fair woods, his father, his own room bathed in the starlight of Eärendil and, as he focused on the things he loved the most, the things he would never see again in this life, the pain lost its battle for his thoughts.
Aragorn was beside him, talking softly to the elf when Legolas once again allowed reality to seep back into focus. His body still hurt but he was at peace with it now. He wasn’t sure if the poison had advanced too far or he had simply finally given up, but when he turned to speak to the human, Aragorn noticed the change and his heart dropped.
"Aragorn," Legolas smiled up at the worried human, "Perhaps it is better this way."
"What is this you speak of?" The ranger whispered, fearing the elf’s next words.
Legolas looked up into the sky, watching as the stars twinkled into existence. When he spoke his voice was soft and sad.
"Do you know why the elves banish their people for judgment? For an elf, there is nothing closer to death than to be exiled. To be cut off from the fair lands and her people. To never hear the songs they sing in the night, to never be able to walk the lands again. To be cut off is to be eternally dead."
Aragorn held his breath, watching the elf. He could tell that Legolas was seeing things that he could not, remembering places the human had never walked and now never would.
A faint smile touched Legolas' lips as he continued, "I had so wanted to see the Undying Lands someday and to reunite with my mother. I miss her sometimes, you know?" He glanced at the ranger as though seeing him for the first time. "She was truly beautiful."
"You will. You’ll see them both, I promise you that." Aragorn brushed the back of his hand along the elf’s face, sensing the unnatural heat of fever and wiping away the perspiration that beaded on the prince’s forehead.
Legolas' smile grew large and he shook his head slowly, carefully. "Human, always so sure." He closed his eyes as a wave of pain broke over him.
Aragorn was at a loss. He knew the risk they would take, returning to Rivendell, but the poison in the elf was truly beyond his expertise to heal. If they did not venture into elven territory and find help, Legolas would surely die. And that would be one more thing on the human’s conscience that he could not live with.
Legolas was speaking again, his voice so soft Aragorn had to lean down to hear him, "It has been good."
"Legolas..." Aragorn tried to swallow around the lump that had formed in his throat.
"I have seen many things and met many people; you among them. We have aided dwarves, hunted orc, I have seen the fair forest in the early morning light like a jewel on the horizon. My life has been a good one." His voice barely audible now, "Thank you for your friendship, Heir of Isildur."
The elf relaxed and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed as he gave into the inevitable.
"No, I will not let you! Listen, listen to me," Aragorn was desperate now and afraid, and he had no alternatives. "We are one day from my father’s house. He can heal you. You’re going to make it, Legolas!"
A small, almost imperceptible laugh, escaped Legolas’ lips. "Estel." He took a breath and opened his eyes. "Elrond named you well."
"I won’t let you die."
Ignoring his young friend, Legolas cast his eyes once more to the sky. "Eärendil is very beautiful tonight, is it not?" Not hearing Aragorn’s protests, he passed out.
Aragorn jumped forward pressing
his hands against the elf’s throat, feeling for a pulse. The beat was
weak and erratic. He had no choice. If they killed him for entering
elven land then so be it. He would accept his fate if it meant Legolas
had a chance to live. He had nothing to lose now. The elf was in this
position because of him in the first place; he would not see him die.
Quickly he scuffed the fire out and collected only what was absolutely
necessary. It would be a long hard day of travel, but if they left
now they would make Rivendell by nightfall on the morrow.
Dropping to one knee next to the unconscious elf, he broke open a small vial of a wicked smelling potion and passed it under the prince’s nose.
Legolas moved slightly, trying to escape the noxious fumes, but Aragorn held him still. "That’s it, wake up. Come on, Legolas!" The elf’s eyes snapped open and locked on to the man in confusion.
"Yes, We are going home." He pulled the elf up into a standing position. He knew he was pushing the prince past what he could endure, but he had also heard tales that an elf could be pressed passed imaginable limits and he was willing to test them now.
When Legolas tried to protest, Aragorn shushed him, "Do not argue with me you stubborn-hearted creature. We’re going home. And if they want to, they can kill me for it later. Now save your strength." He ducked under the elf’s arm and supported Legolas’ weight on his shoulder. Wrapping his free arm around his friend’s waist, he started them into the darkened forest towards home. He knew these woods like the back of his hand and could easily travel them in the dark.
Legolas’ weight against him as he half-carried half-walked the almost
unconscious elf towards the darkened mansion of Rivendell. It had taken
them all night to steal down into the deep gorge that the city had been
built into. The starlight had been their only guide as the new moon had
cast the valley into near darkness. The ranger was partly glad for the
cover of darkness but his eyes, unable to compensate for the lack of
light, often missed the obstacles in their path, making the trip down
the cliff face perilous. He was worn out himself but the ragged,
shallow breathing of his friend spurred him on.
Stopping to catch his breath, the ranger gently lowered Legolas to the cool stone path, pulling them both off the immediate walkway in case there were traffic on the crude road even at this time of night.
"Hold on." He brushed the wayward strands of hair out of Legolas' face, pressing his hand against the prince’s forehead. The elf was running a fever and his skin was clammy. Aragorn’s heart clenched inside of him, they didn’t have much time left. He hoped it wasn’t too late already.
Slipping his arms around Legolas' waist, he pulled them both into a standing position, "We are almost there; almost home. Don’t give up on me now." He whispered the words of encouragement into the elf’s ear as Legolas allowed his head to fall against the man’s shoulder.
As they moved back onto the path, an arrow thunked into the tree next to Aragorn’s face. The man froze, his every sense alert and screaming at him. They had come too far to be discovered and sent away now. Legolas would never make it without Elrond’s help. Aragorn wasn’t even sure the elf would make it until morning and he panicked.
An arrow touched his ear from behind, sliding along the left side of his face; he felt the curve of a bow press against his back. The sharp edged triangle bit into his cheek leaving a thin red line as it tracked across his skin, cutting him slightly. Moving very slowly, he gently lowered Legolas back to the path and stood his hands spread out from his side so that the warrior could see he carried no weapon.
"Intruders are not welcome in the House of Rivendell." A soft, lethal voice spoke behind him. "What is your business traveling under the cover of night?"
A sob broke from the man’s lips as he recognized the voice and he stumbled as he turned towards the elf that had caught him unaware. "Oh for love of the Valar, Elladan, it is I, Aragorn!"
Elladan dropped his bow to his side; the fierce look on his face fading to one of surprise and joy. "Estel?" The arrow he had strung clattered to the rocky path as he crushed the man against him and held him tight.
A second arrow cut the night air, brushing dangerously close to Elladan. The elf pushed the human to the forest floor and ducked, spinning on his heels to glare in the direction the arrow had come from.
"Elrohir!" The twin whispered harshly towards the thick wooded area that edged the path.
"Elladan?" A disembodied voice questioned.
"Yes! Stop it!" The elf growled under his breath.
"Who is with you?" the question came back.
"Aragorn!" Elrohir burst from the foliage and brushed past his brother, pulling the human up in a warm embrace. "Father's been looking all over for you!"
"Elrohir!" Elladan cuffed the twin upside the head, "Keep it down. You know Aragorn is not allowed to be here."
"Oh and you think that father is going to abide by that silly ancient ruling?" Elrohir glowered at his brother.
Elladan rolled his eyes and patiently explained, "Father will not, no. But there are others about who may!" He whispered fiercely. The elven brother looked behind him into the forest and called out to the small band of elves that they were patrolling this area of Rivendell with; three elves stepped on to the path and curiously watched the reunion.
"Oh Estel, you do not know how father has been worried about you. Elladan and I have searched for you everywhere. Where have you been?" Elrohir placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and drew close, talking softly and watching the human’s responses.
The ranger couldn’t help the tears that streamed down his face. He had missed his family so much and relief at seeing them alive again and having help so near for his friend overwhelmed him.
"Are you well?" Elladan stepped in front of his twin and grabbed the human by his shoulders, holding him at arm's length and letting his eyes fall on the young man.
The ranger nodded, trying to control himself, but when he spoke the words came out in a sob, "It is Legolas." He dropped next to his fallen friend and gently touched the elf. The prince was unconscious, his breathing was shallow and he didn’t respond when Aragorn called his name.
He looked back up to the small ring of elves that stood watching him. "You know we are not allowed to give them refuge." An elf to the right of Elrohir spoke. The twins glared at the warrior.
Elladan kneeled next to Aragorn and gently pressed his fingers against Legolas' throat, searching for a pulse. The beat was barely perceptible and erratic. His eyes snapped up to lock onto the rangers.
"What happened to him?"
"Morgul poisoning." Aragorn swallowed, trying to get his emotions under control. He was weary beyond anything he could remember, fear and joy at being home warred inside of him and the thought that his friend might not live beat at his heart with every breath the man took. "We were near Moria, helping the dwarves and he was cut down. The wound did not seem deep, but the poison was already in his system by the time we were able to get to safety and see to the wound." His eyes dropped to the prone elf, "I did all I could. I have traveled three days without stopping and he has steadily gotten worse. The dwarves had no horses, there was no one to help us."
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged worried looks as the other twin dropped next to his human brother. He laid his hand on the young man’s back in gentle support.
"Please." Aragorn grabbed Elladan’s sleeve, he didn’t care if he was begging, "Please get Father, he will know what to do. He will help us. I know he will. Please, Elladan, go get him."
The elf gently removed the human’s hand from his arm and stood addressing the three elves that had joined them on patrol. "You heard?" He asked them. When they nodded he continued, "You know the penalty for helping these two. If you do not wish to be involved, leave now." The warriors glanced quickly among themselves, silently agreeing to join the brothers; none of them left. Elladan nodded his unspoken thanks and continued, "Go quickly then. Wake Lord Elrond. Tell him what has transpired and tell him we are bringing Estel and Legolas. Do whatever he asks of you." He held the elves' eyes for a fraction of second, knowing what he was asking of them, giving them one more chance to back out of helping his brother and the elven prince. When no one spoke, he nodded curtly, "Go now!"
The warriors quickly disappeared into the night, swiftly heading towards the elven lord's chambers.
"Come Estel." Elladan pulled the ranger to his feet and moved him out of the way; "We need to get Legolas in, and quickly, before anyone sees that you have returned."
Elladan and Elrohir easily lifted the elf prince between them and carried him towards Elrond’s rooms. Aragorn followed numbly in their wake hoping they would be in time.
Elrond stood inside the entranceway to his private apartments at Rivendell. He had dressed quickly, wrapping himself in a velvet burgundy robe that tied about the waist with a silver cord and waited anxiously for his sons to make it to his rooms. His hair was slightly tousled and his eyes were still sleep-weary and edged in worry; his brow creased in a frown. He had had several of his warriors out searching for the ranger and the elf prince for months now. When word had reached him of their banishment, the grief that touched his heart brought back memories that he never wanted to relive. The lives of humans were so short and the thought that he might never see his adopted son again tore at him deeply. He had vowed to himself that if he had a second chance, he would let Aragorn know that he would gladly violate the mandate. He couldn’t live with himself if he abandoned the boy now.
The warriors that had woken him ran out of the doorway as the ranger and the elves came into view. They helped carry Legolas to a room that the elf lord had had them quickly prepare. They laid the wounded elf on the soft bed and waited, giving Aragorn and the elven lord a moment of privacy.
Elrond allowed the elves to pass by him, his eyes worriedly glancing over the young prince as they brought him in. He could instantly see the severity of the situation, but it was his human son that caught his attention.
Aragorn was miserable. He was dirty, disheveled, and his boots scraped the ornamented rock steps as he approached his father. The tears he had shed earlier had left streaks on his dirty cheeks and his red-rimmed eyes were bright with the threat of more. Though at first sure his father would not deny him sanctuary, now faced by the elf lord himself, the ranger lost his resolve and the fear shown in his eyes. He wiped his face off on the sleeve of his worn overcoat and tried to get his breathing under control. At the top of the steps he simply stopped and stared at the man he had always known as his father. His breathing hitched as he bowed slightly and waited for the elder elf to speak. Elrond saw the way Aragorn trembled slightly and his heart broke at the sight of his adopted son.
Without a word Elrond gathered the young man in his arms. The human winced, tensing in pain as the elf wrapped his arms around the ranger’s back; hidden wounds that would need to be tended later. Elrond gently eased up the pressure on the young man’s back and Aragorn fell against him, unable to control the tears that fell unbidden from his eyes.
"I’m sorry father. I had nowhere to turn. Legolas is dying and it’s my fault." He spoke through his sobs. Elrond let the boy cry, shaking his head. What kind of law, elven or not, separated families and kept them from the ones they needed the most? His anger flared momentarily. He knew Thranduil himself was even now dying of a broken heart. If the Elfking discovered the state of his son, Elrond feared it would be enough to send him to the Halls of Mandos - that day was not far off in the future as it was. Sometimes he truly believed the old laws had outlived their usefulness.
"Worry not my son. Things will work out just fine." He whispered the words in the man’s ear.
Aragorn pulled away shaking his head in denial, "No, they will banish you for helping us."
Elrond’s laughter was light and easy and there was no condescension in it, "Banish me? Not likely." He touched the human’s face with his hand staring into the tired, teary eyes and continued, "Though the ruling is an elvish one, I do not recognize it. You are aware, Aragorn, that I am only half-elven." He smiled at the surprise on the young face, "I can not abide by such a law. Not when it means losing Legolas and turning you away in your time of need. You are my son. And Legolas is prince, heir of Mirkwood and your friend. You are both welcome here. I will not turn you out or turn my back on you no matter who says that I must. As long as I draw breath you are mine and no man or elf will tell me that I cannot give you refuge."
He placed his arm around the young man’s shoulder and walked him into the house. "Rivendell is your home. We will see to it that Legolas lives; I will go care for him now. We will keep your presence here a secret for as long as is necessary, for your safety only. There are many things I need to discuss with the two of you, but now I’m going to go take care of your friend first and you need rest."
"I’ll sleep when I know he is better," Aragorn’s weary voice was resolute.
"Father please, I need to know Legolas will be alright."
Elrond nodded knowingly. He had seen that stubbornness in the young man’s eyes before and simply led the human down a hallway and into a dimly lit room. Glow globes sat about the room, casting warm shadows around the spacious quarters. Aragorn stepped next to the bed and looked down at his friend. The elf was even more pale in the candle light. His skin held a translucent quality to it that frightened the ranger.
Elrond was speaking quietly to the twins and the two elves that had accompanied them. Nodding silently, the warriors left the room. Elrohir and Elladan returned in moments with a large overstuffed chair. They set the piece of furniture into a corner and Aragorn was pressed down into it.
"Stay out of the way, my son," Elrond cautioned the ranger. "Elladan and Elrohir will assist me, you are too weary to be useful. If you stay out of the way you may remain in the room with us."
Aragorn nodded and relaxed into the warmth and softness of the chair as Elrond gently began to unbutton the prince’s shirt, quietly instructing the twins in how best to assist him. As much as the young man wanted to stay awake, his sleep weary mind would not let him and within moments, knowing he was safe and Legolas in good hands, he was fast asleep.
Elrond glanced over at the still form and smiled. Following his father's gaze, Elrohir took note of his human brother and quietly covered the man with a thick blanket.
Soft, warm light
spilled into the room. He was warm and he was safe. Aragorn lay in the
chair he had fallen asleep in last night, unable to fully wake up. He
could hear the soft steps of someone in the room, the footfall lightly
crushing the thick carpeting. Shifting slightly the ranger gave in to
his weariness and let his body relax back into the chair and blankets
that were tucked about him. He sighed with the peace that flooded
through him and had almost fallen back to sleep when a hand gently
touched his forehead, brushing the long strands of his hair away from
his face. A smile touched his lips as he vaguely recognized the gentle
"You are awake." It was a statement, not a question. The voice of the elf was soft and deep and Aragorn slowly opened his eyes to look up at his father standing over him. The elder elf smiled down at the human and removed his hand from the ranger’s forehead. He glanced back at the bed behind him where Legolas lay before returning his attention to Aragorn.
Memory slammed into Aragorn as his mind woke fully from its slumber and he lurched forward, throwing the blankets off of himself and stumbling for the bed.
Elrond caught the human’s arm and forcefully pressed him back down. "Slowly, Estel. You are not well yourself." When the boy started to protest the elf continued, "Legolas will be fine. The poison has been neutralized, he is simply sleeping now."
Aragorn allowed himself to be pressed back into the chair as his father knelt beside him, explaining the elf prince’s condition. Elrond was right; the ranger wasn’t feeling so well. He swallowed hard against the dizziness that caught at the edges of his awareness and threatened to throw the room into a nice spin.
Elrond noted the change in the human and touched Aragorn’s arm, redirecting the man’s attention to himself. "You are dehydrated, my son." He smiled kindly into the dark eyes, "How long have you gone without food and rest?"
"Three days." Aragorn’s eyes strayed back to Legolas asleep on the large bed. "It’s been three days. We traveled almost without stopping because Legolas was doing so badly. I was afraid he wouldn’t survive the trip here."
"He almost didn’t."
Aragorn stared hard into the elf’s eyes, seeing all that his father was not saying. "Thank you."
Elrond smiled, "I would like to see them try to enforce that banishment rule here under my roof." He laughed softly. "I think Elladan and Elrohir would have taken you in even if I had expressly forbidden it." He stood and reached his hand back down towards the man, gently pulling the young ranger into a standing position. "They have been looking for you everywhere, for months now."
"Everywhere?" Aragorn’s tone was teasing.
Elrond turned back towards him and raised an eyebrow in question.
"We were in Moria."
The elf lord appraised the young man curiously. "That is a story I should very much like to hear." He placed his arm across the ranger’s shoulders and turned the human around, lightly touching the boy’s back. Aragorn suppressed a groan but couldn’t stop his body from tightening against the touch.
"But first I would see to your wounds." When the young man began to protest, the elf lord simply raised his hand and continued, "and then you will eat and you will wash and then we will talk, if I can keep your brothers away from you for a bit."
Aragorn consented and slipped his shirt stiffly over his head, allowing his father to see the still-healing scars that striped his back. Elrond frowned as he gently ran his hand across the whip marks, touching the sensitive skin, looking for any signs of heat or infection. Aragorn winced and moved slightly, catching his breath as the elf noted a particularly nasty welt across his shoulder that was not healing properly.
"Sit." The elderly elf pressed the human back down into the chair and moved off to a small adjoining room. His voice came back to the ranger quiet and muffled, from where he searched through his medicines. "Tell me Estel, what cut you in this fashion?" He didn’t have to ask, the elf already knew. The fact that his adopted son had been treated in this manner bothered him greatly.
Aragorn slumped forward and rested his face in his hands. "Orcs, Father."
Elrond walked back into the room, his gaze darkened. "What?"
The young man glanced up at the elf. He knew that his father had heard him the first time but he repeated himself. "Orcs. I was in a tunnel and there was a cave-in which just happened to be because there were orcs tunneling under us."
He watched as the elf appraised him, wishing that his father would speak. More than anything, he hated the silence. "It wasn’t my fault - we didn’t even know they were there."
Elrond looked wordlessly out the huge picture window behind the young man. How did one impress upon youth the impermanence of their lives, especially human ones? It was bad enough the boy had grown up among an immortal race thinking he was one of them, but to lose him to youthful folly or a careless moment...
Aragorn’s touch on his arm brought Elrond’s attention back to the human. "It was an accident."
The elf opened the small box of ointment he held in his hands, his gaze softening, and pushed the boy’s head forward and down so he could better reach the gash, "I know it was, my son. One does not go looking for orcs just because they are bored." He smiled ruefully at his own joke.
Aragorn snickered at the jest. He drew in a sharp hiss of pain as his father lathered the ointment onto his wound. "What is that stuff?"
"It is good for you, that’s what it is. It will stop any poisons there may have been on the whip that did this."
"I should think if there had been poison on it, father, I would know by now." Aragorn responded lightly.
"Do not be so sure of yourself, Estel. Some poisons are meant to not be found. All poisons do not work the same and this cut is not healing." Elrond shook his head when the young man winced again as he laid a clean bandage across the whip cut.
He crouched down in front of the human and stared up into the dark eyes, "Is there anything else I should know about or that you would care to tell me now or should I just wait until your brothers fill me in on all the details later?" He frowned at the quirky smile his youngest son gave him.
"There is nothing I care to tell you now, no." His feigned innocence did not fool the older elf and he pushed himself into a standing position with a sigh.
"Of course not." Shaking his head, he handed Aragorn back his shirt and watched as the man gingerly slid back into the tunic and slowly buttoned it up.
"Aragorn you must learn to be more careful with yourself." He glanced sideways at the youth as he stepped toward the doorway. "Or at least learn to fight better so you don’t get hurt."
The ranger rolled his eyes, as arguing was out of the question. "Yes father."
"I’ll want to see to that wound again before you go to bed tonight."
Aragorn nodded and followed Elrond through the door. The sounds of the twins echoed happily in the hallway as they walked towards the dining hall. Aragorn glanced over his shoulder quickly before they turned into the hall, catching sight of his friend. The elf looked much better in the morning light. He was glad they had reached his father in time. Yes, he would eat and he would wash and he would explain to his family everything that had transpired but, when it was time to rest, he was returning to this room. He wanted to be near when Legolas awoke. Waking in an elven house was sure to startle the prince and the ranger did not want anyone attending his friend that might give the elf cause to fear.
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