Legolas was asleep. Lying on his back with Koryon's dagger in one hand and the other resting over the bandaged wound in his side, he breathed easily and slowly, his face turned toward the door. He lay bundled in Aragorn's cloak near the glowing brazier, which until recently had been intended as an instrument of torture. Now it provided much-needed warmth against the winter chill that seeped through the stones of the dark prison. Elves did not suffer greatly from the cold, but Legolas had been subjected to terrible experiences that had drained him of strength, and Aragorn knew that the added warmth would be of help in both healing and comforting his friend.
The elf had entered into sleep unwillingly, voicing concern about his and Aragorn's safety on this violent night. But Aragorn had, with all the authority of a master healer, convinced his friend that rest was necessary. The elf's exhaustion was evident; the strain of captivity and ill use had dragged him to the edge of endurance, and his horror at nearly killing Aragorn had not abated. Even were Legolas to sleep only an hour or two, it would do much to restore his strength and his state of mind, and they both knew that the elf would not enter sleep so deeply that his awareness of his surroundings would be severed. Should danger come upon them, Legolas would be awake and on his feet in an instant.
Earlier, Aragorn had explored the room and found an empty drinking cup. Taking great care and moving quickly, he had ventured outside and scooped snow into his cloak and carried it in. Placing some snow into the cup, he melted it over the brazier for Legolas to consume, and did so until the elf's desperate thirst was eased. He had then examined his friend's injuries, and was relieved to have found nothing of great significance. The numerous cuts and bruises were easily dismissed, and the knife wound was indeed healing well, just as Legolas had stated. It would continue to be painful for a few days yet, but as long as the elf did not exert himself, Aragorn expected it to mend. The injury had been cleaned and treated, the bandage expertly wrapped. Impressed, Aragorn had asked Legolas about the healer who had tended him, and had been intrigued to hear his friend tell of an old woman – Koryon's grandmother - who had been brought to the dungeon after he had collapsed. She was obviously no friend to Ramhar, and had spoken strongly against him. In addition to treating his injuries, she had given the elf a vial of medicine that had greatly eased the pain in his head and given him strength. His curiosity aroused, Aragorn asked Legolas if he still had it, but the elf replied that he had consumed the last of it shortly before the guards had removed him to the interrogation cell, and had in fact smashed the vial into the face of one of the men as they had begun to lay hands on him. The glass had shattered, and that particular guard had retreated from the fight with a cry of agony.
"I was rather pleased with myself," the elf commented with a weary smile as he carefully wrapped his battered torso in the ranger's cloak and stretched out beside the fire. "But they apparently did not share my happiness. The blows came swift and hard after that."
"I want you to sleep now, Legolas," Aragorn ordered.
"You will wake me should the slightest thing disturb you," the elf said. It was not a request.
"I give you my word. But you must sleep for a time. In fact, I command it."
Legolas laughed. "I dare not refuse! You should hear yourself. Your voice has a distinctly regal tone to it when you speak thus, filled with authority and confidence. What a king you will make when the time comes, Aragorn."
"Be quiet, Elf."
Aragorn watched over his friend for perhaps two hours. He kept his attention divided between Legolas and the corridor beyond the door, but both the sleeping elf and the prison halls remained quiet. Whatever was happening in the city remained a mystery, and one that the ranger was growing increasingly curious about. Taking care not to disturb Legolas, Aragorn at last rose to his feet and limped into the corridor.
A single torch burned on the wall, the others having been taken by the men Alun had released from the nearby cells. Aragorn lifted it carefully from its holder and carried it with him. All along the corridor, prison doors were flung wide. Debris littered the floor. Here and there a door remained closed and firmly locked however, where those truly guilty of crimes had been passed over by Alun. Behind one issued a loud snoring, from another, agitated pacing came to Aragorn's ears as he made his way along the passage.
He paused when he came to the cell that had held Legolas. Stepping into the shadowed room, he saw the shards of the broken bottle twinkling in the reflected light of the torch. A spray of blood decorated the floor. Aragorn picked up one of the shattered pieces of glass and brought it to his nose, trying to discern what medicines the old woman had used, but the acrid smell was unfamiliar to him.
At the top of the steps, he fitted the torch into a holder and gently pressed against the door to open it a fraction. Listening intently, Aragorn peered into the darkness, and then he slid outside and up the steps and pressed himself against the wall. From some distance off, he heard dim shouts. He stole ahead, keeping to the shadows, until he reached the corner of the Lord's house and could look upon the courtyard.
It was silent here. No torch or watch fire was lit against the black night. At a casual glance, the place appeared deserted. But round the perimeter of the courtyard, Aragorn could make out the still figures of men waiting in the darkness, armed and ready, facing outward as they stood guard over their slain lord's domain. The house itself was darkened. Aragorn thought it likely that people were hiding within - perhaps relatives of Lord Cadean, or those who ranked highly and had served on his council. And what of the boy? Could he be confined somewhere within the walls of his own home?
On the far side of the courtyard there was a sudden scuffling of feet. Two men bearing the limp body of a third between them rushed to a long white building on the far end of the courtyard, its door illuminated by just one small lantern. Shadows passed before lit windows that were covered from within. The injured man was carried inside, and the two who had brought him raced away into the darkness again. Aragorn nodded to himself as he watched the figures in the windows. This was where the wounded were being brought from the fighting.
He could gain no sense of how the battle for possession of the city was going. He dared not move from his place among the shadows, though he longed for a glimpse beyond the courtyard. He heard the noise of distant shouting, and a far-off red glow could be seen over the hedges that surrounded the Lord's house. In the city, at least one building burned. A shriek split the night, the cry of a man mortally wounded, or mortally afraid. Silently Aragorn withdrew and made his way back to Legolas.
It occurred to him as he limped down the prison corridor that the elf might have wakened and been alarmed by his absence, or worse, imagined him to be an attacker. Aragorn rubbed his still throbbing head and realized he had best let the elf know who approached. "I am coming back, Legolas," he called softly as he drew near the room. "I took a moment to step outside."
Legolas put his head around the door. "I knew it was you. Who else would come wobbling down the corridor, steady on the left leg and favoring the right?"
Aragorn laughed. "There are probably a hundred limping men in this city by now. I could have been anyone."
"I doubt any of them are wearing boots that do not match," the elf retorted. "And your breath does not come easily. But I knew it was you – you still walk more softly than other men, despite your injuries. What did you see outside?"
"Very little," Aragorn said as he went to the brazier to warm himself. "The courtyard is quiet, and beyond it, faint shouts. The fighting continues." He coughed, and reached for the hill-man's flask at his hip.
Legolas followed him, extending the cloak. "Take this. I have no more need of it at present."
"Are you certain?"
"Very," the elf said. "Sleeping helped. The cold bothers me less than it did."
Aragorn looked searchingly at his friend as he took the cloak. Legolas did appear to move with more ease, and the heavy shadows of exhaustion had faded, though a trace of it lingered yet in his eyes. "Sit with me, Legolas," Aragorn said. "We still have time. The pain in your head – how is it? I know you said the old woman's medicine helped you, but now it is gone."
Legolas nodded as he seated himself beside the ranger. His face was unreadable. "I feel well enough."
"Before you were given the drug, how was the pain? You told me you had collapsed."
A shadow passed over the elf's features. "It was bearable at first, but later it became more difficult to cope," he murmured. "Without the medicines you had been giving me, it worsened."
"Perhaps the old woman has more of the drug," Aragorn said. "I was able to see where they were taking the wounded – a building directly across the courtyard from the lord's house. I could slip in there and try to find it. I confess that I am reluctant to leave this city with nothing to aid you. The cottage and all that was in it was lost when it burned. I have no medicines. If you were to become ill in the wild, we would be in serious difficulty."
"Unpleasant as that sounds, I will take my chances in the wild. It would be preferable to another interrogation session conducted by my new friends," the elf said.
"It must have been dreadful."
"It would have been. They really had not started on me yet. The first part was merely threats and discomfort, and that was when you and Alun found me. I thank you for your timing, Aragorn. Ramhar would have come next, and though I feared what he would do, it was nothing compared to the terror I felt knowing that that after him the old man would have his turn. You know what he is."
"Yes. And I have seen for myself Sauron's banner flying on the walls of the city tonight."
Legolas' voice lowered. "He has the capacity for great evil. I can feel it in him when he draws near. But I now have learned something of why Ramhar is here, and what he and the old man have done."
As the elf told Aragorn what he had discovered, the ranger shook his head in bewilderment. "Certainly he is mistaken in blaming your father for the killing of his family, and his desire for revenge seems to have driven him to madness. He did not stop at murdering your mother the queen, but has pushed further in an attempt to bring war to Mirkwood, four years later? This cannot be the workings of one man's mind, however driven by rage he might be. The sorcerer must have a hand in it."
Legolas nodded. "He feeds Ramhar's delusions, I am certain of it."
"And created them in the first place. From what I have seen of Ramhar, I believe him very capable of leading an army of men. He is smart and educated. He would be cunning on the battlefield, and compelling in his speech. People would follow such a man. But for what purpose does Ramhar do this? If he has truly studied his intended target, he would know that his army would never be able to strike a real blow against Mirkwood. They cannot hope to succeed."
"But if our enemies in Dol Guldur are part of the plan, and wait until the elves are forced to turn their attention to the north, whence this army of men will come – "
Aragorn nodded, his eyes narrowing as he envisioned the scene. "Yes, that could be trouble – real trouble. If the purpose of the army is to simply divert Thranduil's attention away from Dol Guldur, it will have an opportunity to strike hard against your people. The old man is working to see it done, and Ramhar is his tool."
"His blind tool. Ramhar does not see that he is being used." The elf sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "I have long sought my mother's killer. Now that I have found him, I have more questions than I ever did before."
"I think the answers lie with the sorcerer, and not with Ramhar."
"I would welcome the chance to question them both."
"Their motivations will be base," Aragorn said. "They usually are. Greed, lust, promises of power. Sauron plays with such men as a child plays with the strings of a puppet. And before they realize what is happening, the strings become a snare. They are easily trapped."
"The sorcerer must be stopped, Aragorn. We cannot let him continue in his work."
"Yes," Aragorn murmured. "It is my oath to fight against Sauron and all who aid him, and so I must pursue this man as well. He will not live to concoct another plan if it is in my power to stop him."
The elf frowned suddenly and climbed to his feet. He gestured toward the corridor. "Someone comes," he whispered. "Two sets of steps," he added. Aragorn hastened to the door, dagger in hand, pulling the elf behind him. They pressed themselves into the shadows.
"I think one of them is Koryon," Legolas said after a moment.
"Up to good, or ill?" Aragorn muttered.
The elf raised his head and inhaled deeply. A smile lit his face. "I would say good. He brings food."
Aragorn, unwilling to entirely trust the young guard, stepped through the doorway and faced the men, his weapon at the ready. Koryon carried a wrapped package in one hand, a pair of boots in the other, and clothing was draped over one arm. At his side, a red-haired boy of about fourteen years carried a large bucket that bumped against his leg with each step, sloshing water over the rim. Koryon halted abruptly at the sight of Aragorn and the dagger. "I have food and garb for the elf," he said quietly. "And water, if he wishes to wash."
Aragorn beckoned. "Come."
Legolas received the offerings quietly, and he solemnly thanked his former captor. "Aragorn, are you hungry?" he asked as he turned toward the ranger.
"I am fine. The hill-men fed me well."
"And Ramhar fed me not at all," Legolas responded. He took possession of the pack and carried it to his spot beside the brazier. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he set upon the meat and bread with obvious desire. Koryon spoke to the boy carrying the water, who was staring at the elf with wide eyes.
"Set the bucket there, and the towel beside it. Now get you back to the courtyard. Keep a sharp eye on the road, and come back immediately if you see anything at all. Do not speak of the elf to anyone," he added. "Alun will skin you alive, and so will I."
The boy nodded and backed out of the room. Aragorn looked after him uneasily. "Can you trust him?"
"He is my brother," Koryon said with a smile. "He will be silent."
"What news of the battle?" Aragorn asked.
"It is fiercely fought in the lower sections of the city," Koryon said as he set the clothing on a chair. "I have seen some of it, but have mostly been carrying the wounded to the healers. Skirmishes here and there, no large numbers of men in any one place. Things are a bit confusing, it being dark out there and people rushing about between the houses. I cannot say how it will end. The healing rooms are packed – my grandmother and her assistants are hard pressed, and they treat both friend and foe, for that is my grandmother's way. I was going to stay and help her, but Alun got hold of me and told me to come back here to check on you and to bring some things for Prince Legolas' comfort first."
"How does Alun fare? Did he tell you anything?"
"He was uninjured, but in a rush to get back to it. He did say that the soldiers in the barracks remain there. They are imprisoned, or perhaps they have chosen not to stand against the rebels. He did say that you and Legolas should get out of the city soon – just in case it goes badly."
Legolas paused over his food. "I do not want to go too far. I wish to stay close enough to learn of the outcome, and to be of help later if possible."
"As do I," Aragorn agreed. He knew Legolas was concerned for the boy's safety, and Alun's. For good or ill, the ranger and the elf had become attached to the people here. It would be impossible to turn their backs on the city of Carbryddin and simply leave its folk to their fate. And there was more to hold them here, Aragorn knew, as he watched the elf check that the knife Koryon had given him was still within reach. The old man must be stopped, and his plans to aid Sauron ended permanently. Once the mayhem of the night had ended and the boy's safety secured, Aragorn would turn his attention to the sorcerer.
But what would this mean for Legolas? If Alun and his men were victorious, the elf would be able to stay in the city until Aragorn's return. If the battle went badly, there may not be a chance to deal with the old man at all. Aragorn would have to secure his friend's safety first and see to his health, and by then Malcovan might slip away entirely.
As if able to feel Aragorn's worried eyes upon him, Legolas raised his head. "One step at a time, Aragorn," he said quietly. The elf drained the container of drinking water Koryon had brought and then sought out the wash bucket. He plunged his arms in up to the shoulders and sighed happily.
"Still hot!" he exclaimed. "How did you manage this, Koryon?"
"My grandmother asked about you. She wants you looked after, and said the water could be spared from her healing rooms."
"I am grateful," Legolas said. "That lady is dear to my heart, though I met her only briefly." Taking a deep breath, he buried his head under the water and began scrubbing at his hair.
Aragorn had the towel waiting when the elf came up. "You must keep the bandage around that stab wound dry, Legolas. I must forbid a complete submersion."
"Must you? I thought to climb in," Legolas laughed. "I have never been so desperate to clean myself. But this will do – I feel much better."
Legolas dried himself and tied his hair back. The shirt and boots that Koryon had brought him fit well, and the hooded cloak was of good quality and warm. He slid the dagger into his belt. "What now?" he asked. "Where do we go?"
"I can lead you to the wall and help you get over it," Koryon said. You can hide yourselves in the woods and return later – if there is a later."
Aragorn nodded. "We will follow you."
The darkness had penetrated every corner of the courtyard when they emerged from the prison doorway. Legolas closed his eyes and threw his head back, inhaling deeply, then cocked his head and listened to the far away sounds of fighting. "Ah, so it continues," he whispered.
"Aye," Koryon said. "It is hard fought, but most of it is centered in middle of the city. It is quiet here, but for the wounded being brought up." He gestured. "Come. We will head toward the back of the courtyard."
Aragorn, who had been peering toward the healing house, raised a hand. "Wait!" he hissed. A slight figure, running hard, burst from the house and began racing across the courtyard toward them. "Koryon, is that your brother?"
Koryon stared. "Aye. Something's amiss!" He stepped forward and waved. "Ho, Korim! What's this about?"
Gasping, the boy grasped at his elder brother's arm and slumped against him. "They sent me to warn everyone! They dare not stay and fight any longer – many of Alun's men are fleeing!"
"Why?" Koryon cried. "What is happening?"
The boy's face was pale. "Monsters are come! I ran to warn Grandmama first. They say terrible creatures are attacking us! Alun's men are fleeing!"
"What monsters?" Aragorn demanded, turning the boy to face him.
Korim gulped and shook his head. "I – I do not know. I have not seen them, for they are said to still be crossing the fields. But they are dreadful to look upon, and none will fight now!"
Aragorn looked at Legolas, who had spun to face the open darkness, dagger in hand. "Yrch," Legolas hissed. "Aragorn, the old man has summoned his orcs!"First > Previous > Next