Alun found them at dawn. The sun had begun to rise, glowing dull and cheerless through the plumes of heavy smoke that drifted over the wreckage of the city, and already the ravens were circling. The courtyard was silent and still but for a few men, looking like ghosts in the gray light, moving amongthe bodies of the slain. These they carried quietly to rest in neat rows beside the infirmary, and the faces of the dead were covered with small square cloths of red bearing the likeness of the White Stag of Carbryddin. The dead orcs were dragged to the far end of the courtyard and thrown onto wagons.
Alun walked with a limp, his trousers over his left thigh torn and bloodied. His face etched with weariness, he crouched beside Aragorn and looked upon the body of the young man lying dead. Aragorn had closed Koryon's eyes and cleaned the blood that had spilled from his mouth; the boy's features were peaceful, with no sign of the pain he had endured at the moment of his death.
"How?" Alun asked.
"He was stabbed," Aragorn murmured. "By the sorcerer, Malcovan."
Alun gasped. "Malcovan?"
"Aye, he attacked us here. Koryon came to our aid."
Legolas, who had been kneeling at the boy's head since he had drawn his final breath, withdrew silently. Taking care to cover his features with his hood, he moved further down the wall and halted a few yards away. Alun's eyes followed him. "There is blood on his arm," he asked. "Is he badly hurt?"
"I think not badly," Aragorn said. "But he grieves sharply for Koryon. We would have been killed, if not for him. The old man cast a spell over us. Or perhaps it was just over me - I do not think Legolas was affected. Perhaps the magic cannot touch him, since he is elf-kind. I do not know how the sorcerer affected me," Aragorn continued with a bewildered shake of his head. "But his magic is powerful. His hands moved, and suddenly I could not. I was being drowned in his words, mired in terrifying visions."
Alun stared at him with wide eyes. "Aye. It is a fearsome spell."
"Legolas was fighting him as best he could - I could hear him shouting at the sorcerer in his own tongue, though I myself could not utter a sound. And then Koryon was there, between us and the old man's blade, and Malcovan stabbed him and fled."
"Barely on the threshold of manhood, and he proved himself the bravest of us all this night," Alun said. "I don't know that I would have had the courage to confront the sorcerer face to face." He pulled aside the cloak that covered the body and gazed at the terrible wound. With a sigh, Alun gently kissed Koryon's cold brow and turned his eyes toward the infirmary, and the bodies lying beside it.
"I will help you carry him there," Aragorn said, beginning to rise, but Alun gestured to him to remain where he was.
"No, I do not want his grandmother to come out and find him with the other bodies. He will stay here for now." Alun busied himself arranging the cloak around the dead man, quietly covering Koryon's face and tucking the ends in closely. He gazed a moment longer at the body, and then raised his head, anxiously scanning the courtyard. "Let Brina do her work. I cannot disturb her, and she would not appreciate my doing so, even for this. The infirmary is overflowing with injured men."
He settled himself on the frozen ground. "And I must speak with Miriel, my – Koryon's sister. She is helping with the wounded as well. Valar, how do I tell her of this?"
Aragorn could not answer. For a time he and Alun sat quietly, watching the sorting of the bodies continue. More men were coming through the gates of the courtyard now, carrying casualties from the lower reaches of the city. From his spot beside the wall Legolas was a silent shadow, but Aragorn knew he was listening to every sound around him.
"What news of the city, Alun?" Aragorn asked.
"It is over," Alun said, extracting his pipe from the depths of his cloak. "The soldiers in the barracks did not fight us. We control the city entrances and the main road. We're working now to ferret out the last of Ramhar's men."
"And Ramhar himself?"
"No sign of him. He's probably down a hole somewhere, like a snake." Alun looked at Aragorn, his features grim. "And no sign of the boy, Tarnan. We have searched the Lord's house twice over. We found a number of the council members, cowering behind locked doors, as useful as they ever were. But of Tarnan there is no sign. I fear they have taken him away. I cannot bear to think of that child in Malcovan's hands."
The elf stirred, turning his head at the soldier's words. His eyes were dark and dilated, his face ashen. Alun gestured toward him. "Legolas looks about done in. I can take him to the infirmary – Brina will not turn him away."
"Will he be safe?" Aragorn asked.
"We'll keep him covered until he is past the guards. Brina will find somewhere quiet for him to rest. He needs tending, that's sure enough," Alun muttered. "As do you – your hands have bled through the bandages. You both look terrible."
"You should see yourself," Aragorn said with a smile as he climbed to his feet. "You need to have that leg looked after. It must be cleaned and stitched by the looks of it. Do not tarry overlong, or it will fester."
Alun grimaced and looked longingly at his pipe. "It seems I must wait for you a bit longer," he said ruefully, and tucked it away once more.
The elf was clutching his wounded arm, and he did not move as Aragorn approached him. "They cannot find the boy?" he asked in a low voice.
"No," Aragorn told him. "The search continues."
"Where is the knife Koryon gave me? I threw it at the sorcerer. It should be here - somewhere." Legolas threw a bloodstained hand out, gesturing in a wide circle. "I assume I missed him," he added coldly.
Aragorn scanned the barren earth until his eyes found the weapon. "Aye, here it is."
He placed the dagger into Legolas' hands, and the elf, after examining it, thrust it into his belt. "I will not miss again," Legolas said. "When next I meet Malcovan–"
Aragorn gently laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, but the elf wrenched free of the ranger's grasp and turned on him, his dark eyes burning. "Do not seek to comfort me, Aragorn. Does my blindness make me such a liability, that I am suited only for resting in the infirmary? Am I so useless, that I cannot protect my friends when they are in danger?"
"Of course not, mellon-nin. You fought with great skill tonight."
"With a bow," Legolas snapped. "Hearing the enemy a safe distance ahead of me. But when the old man came to us and you fell, I was helpless. I could not make out what was happening! I could not stop him hurting you! And Koryon, taking the blow intended for me?" he added hoarsely, his voice shaking with fury and despair. "That boy's blood is on my hands, Aragorn."
"And on mine," the ranger said quietly. "Malcovan would have killed us both had Koryon not come to our aid."
"Then you understand me. For Koryon, and for the wrongs done to my family and homeland, I must-"
Aragorn curled a hand behind the elf's head and drew him forward. "Peace, Legolas. I understand you," he whispered. "You know that I am sworn to fight against all who serve the Dark Lord. Malcovan will not stay hidden long."
Legolas grasped him by the arm. "Do not leave me behind when you start after him, Aragorn. Swear it to me."
Aragorn hesitated, reluctant to agree to the elf's request. He did not want to point out the obvious to his friend – that blind, he could not possibly help Aragorn in an effort to pursue and defeat the sorcerer. Perhaps Legolas could be made to see reason once he had rested and had time to reflect and think rationally on what he was asking. But he was waiting for an answer now, his face clouded and his grip painful to Aragorn's arm. The ranger gritted his teeth, searching for words that might both appease the elf and turn him away from his plan - without sounding like a forbidding guardian.
Alun saved him. "You can count me in on the chase," the soldier called as he clambered to his feet. He fixed Aragorn with a glare. "You pursue him for your oath, but I do so for my city, and for Tarnan. That must come first."
Aragorn pulled free of Legolas and turned to the soldier, bowing to him. "Of course. The sorcerer is yours before he is mine. If you wish it, you command me in this."
Alun looked at him in some surprise for a long moment, and then his face broke into a tired smile. He shook his head. "I command no one, least of all you, Aragorn. Let us seek the sorcerer as equals, and with each other's council. But we must talk on the best way to go about the pursuit, and gather some facts before we start. At the moment, I do not even know where to begin looking for the scoundrel."
"We cannot leave without information," Legolas said. He turned to Aragorn and nodded quietly. "The infirmary is as good a place as any to wait for it, Aragorn."
Aragorn looked closely at the elf, seeing the darkness in his eyes that indicated that his head hurt him. In agreeing to go to the infirmary, Aragorn knew that Legolas was acknowledging that he needed help. He scrutinized his friend's arm. "Alun is not the only one who needs stitching, mellon-nin."
"Aye," Legolas nodded. "The cut is deep, but it can wait until your new wounds are treated."
Aragorn glanced at Legolas in confusion. "Of what wounds do you speak? I suffered no new injuries tonight, only an exacerbation of the old."
Legolas looked bewildered. "But you cried out and went down when the old man attacked us. I thought he had stabbed you. I heard the black language of Mordor," he added in a whisper. "Horrible as it is to both of us, the words alone should not have felled you. You sounded like you were choking… dying. What happened?"
"I do not know," Aragorn said. "He threw up his hands and began chanting. His hands – I cannot describe how, but the way that they moved somehow pulled me in. I collapsed. And then my mind was shattered by horrible visions. I could not breathe. I heard you calling me, but try as I might, I could not respond." Aragorn shuddered, suddenly cold at the memory. "Whatever the old man was doing, it would either have killed me or driven me to madness had it gone on much longer."
Legolas was frowning. "Yet I felt nothing," he murmured.
"Perhaps his magic cannot touch elves," Aragorn said. He guided Legolas forward. "Let us go. I want to take a proper look at your arm."
The cries and moans of the wounded greeted them as they approached the doorway to the infirmary. The guards ran their eyes over them, but upon recognizing Alun, they saluted and stepped aside. With a curt nod, Alun quickly ushered the cloaked elf past them and made his way through the mass of injured men and healers.
Aragorn followed, keeping his own hood pulled closely around his face. The room smelled foul, mingled with blood and sweat and sickness. Koryon's red-haired younger brother trotted past him, eyes wide, his arms filled with bandages. In a corner, working over an unconscious man, Aragorn glimpsed the two women who had aided them in the battle with the orcs. Alun locked gazes with them both as he passed, and they smiled briefly at the sight of him before returning their attention to their patient.
"Miriel and my sister are safe, at any rate," Alun murmured. "Thank the Valar for some blessings."
He came to the end of the room and pushed through a door into a smaller area. "This might be a good spot. Or not – Valar's breath!" he yelped, dodging as a large glass flask flew past his face. Legolas recoiled in alarm as it shattered on the wall behind him, and Aragorn hastened to steady him.
"Out! Out!" a woman's voice roared. "What do you think you're doing in here? I'm busy! Wait your turn!"
This room was also filled with injured men. The old woman Aragorn had briefly glimpsed earlier in the night was busily wrapping a white-faced young man's torso with deft hands. She stared at the three of them, furious, then her eyes settled on Alun and she broke into a smile. "Oh, it's you, Alun. Sorry about that. I've had no end of people wandering about where they ought not be. I'm glad to see you're in one piece. What do you need, dear?"
"We need bit of stitching, when you have the time, Brina. And a quiet place to rest," the soldier said, indicating Legolas with a discreet jerk of his head.
Brina turned her gaze onto the hooded figure of the elf, and her eyes brightened in recognition. "Ah, of course," she said briskly. "Yes, I have just the place. Here, you," she barked to an assistant. "Finish wrapping this fellow up, and find him a bed."
She plunged her hands into a basin filled with water, dried them, and beckoned to Alun. "Through here," she said, taking up a lamp and crossing to the back of the room. They followed her down a long passage and into a recessed chamber. It was small and unadorned but clean, with blankets folded neatly on a chair in the corner, and a fire had already been kindled in the brazier. Brina set the lamp upon a table.
"Now then, this room will do. Nicely out of the way. No one will find our renegade elf here," she said. "Some folk are still looking for him. I've had a few military types come poking about in my healing rooms, hoping to catch him hiding amongst my patients. I thought you were one of them. That's why I chucked that bottle at you."
Tucking a straggling lock of gray hair behind her ear, she put her hands on her hips and surveyed the trio standing before her. "Now then, let me have a quick look at you. Your leg indeed needs a bit of sewing up," she said to Alun. "And we'll take care of that cut on your brow. And I see you've gotten your arm sliced open, Prince Legolas," she remarked to the elf. "Whatever were you doing out there in the battle, staggering about sightless and half dead? As if Ramhar hadn't done enough to you. It appears that elves have no more sense than men. I'll want another look at that wound in your side, too. Pull your hood back, child. There's no one else here to see you. Ah, your eyes are black. I know that look. I'll fetch my medicines for the pain in your head, but I warn you, that will be the end of it.
"And who's this?" she demanded, turning her sharp gaze on Aragorn. Her eyebrows shot up. "Heavens, but you're a mess, young man. And just listen to that cough. If I didn’t know better, I'd say you were in a fire, not a fight. Your hair smells like smoke - ah! You cannot be the fellow Ramhar is said to have burnt up? The elf's friend?"
Aragorn nodded and bowed to her, smiling at the woman's brusque manner. He liked her immediately. "I am indeed. My name is Aragorn."
"Stop talking. You sound terrible. I'll fetch a throat remedy." Brina's bright eyes continued to rake over him. "I can't wait to see what's under those dreadful bandages on your hands, and there must be a good reason you're wearing that absurd hairy green boot. All right then, there's nothing here that can't wait. I've a great deal to do," she said. "Though I think the most badly hurt men have been brought in at this point. We'll be moving on to those less severely wounded in time. Prince Legolas, you and your battered friend stay put. You're not to go wandering about, though I daresay judging by the looks of you, you'll both be asleep five minutes after I walk out this door. Lock it after me, and I'll be back when I can. It'll be a few hours yet, so no reason not to get a good sleep out of the wait. I'll knock sharply five times. Come, Alun. I'll find some women to fix up that leg of yours. Miriel and Shelarien, no doubt. They have been most anxious about you."
Alun nodded to Aragorn. "I'll see you later. I'll meet with some of my men, see what I can find out – "
"You'll be getting that leg stitched, and staying off it," Brina barked, smacking Alun across the shoulders and shoving him toward the door. "And put that pipe away. You'll not be smoking that filthy thing around here. Have you seen that grandson of mine? He promised to help us with the wounded, and as usual, he's galloped off. I hear he was quite the hero out in the courtyard last night, dancing about in front of the orcs like a fool. He'll be regretting that little escapade, once I get hold of him – "
Brina's voice trailed away. Aragorn moved to lock to lock the door securely. He turned to Legolas and gazed silently at him.
"She will hate me," the elf murmured. "When she learns how Koryon died."
"It was not your fault, mellon-nin."
Alone now, safely tucked away in a room that was filled with warmth and the soft sounds of the fire, the weariness that Aragorn had struggled against throughout the night broke over him, and he found himself nearly reeling with exhaustion as he gathered the blankets and laid them out before the brazier. His hands pained him; the bandages were wet and stained from the fluid that continued to ooze from his damaged skin, and the burn over his left shoulder forced him to hold his arm close to his body.
He led the elf to the makeshift bed and encouraged him to sit. Legolas made no sound as Aragorn quietly examined the wound on his arm. The gash was deep and clearly painful, but it was clean. Aragorn could see nothing indicating the ominous spread of poison beneath the elf's skin, and Legolas reported no ill effects other than the discomfort one might expect from such a wound. It had bled freely, but already it was repairing itself. The bleeding had slowed to a thin rivulet that would soon stop entirely, and the ranger decided against trying to wrap Legolas' arm with his own clumsy hands, lest he cause more harm to them both.
With a sigh, he lowered himself to the floor and stretched out onto his back. How good it would feel to sleep. He closed his lids wearily, but a moment later he was startled to feel a hand investigating the strange boot he wore on his injured foot. He cracked an eye open. "Legolas?"
"It is hairy, as Brina said," the elf commented. "It smells of wolf. What sort of boot is this, Aragorn?"
"It is the worst-looking boot ever made. The hill men's idea of fashion, I fear. Be grateful that you cannot see it."
"Typical, that you would end up with it," Legolas said with a slight smile. Then he furrowed his brow, his eyes narrowed as if he fought to tear a hole in the darkness. "She also said it was green. I do not know what green is. I cannot bring colors to my mind any longer."
Aragorn regarded the elf with regret. "The night you showed me your box of leaves, you told me that your visual memories were fading. I am sorry, Legolas."
Legolas was holding his injured arm again. "Were you able to see if the sorcerer had that same sword? The orc sword, like the one you took? Like the one Ramhar has?"
Aragorn glanced sharply at Legolas. "And like the one that killed your mother?"
Aragorn squinted his gritty eyes painfully, thinking back on the attack, but only a confusing blur of odd images came to his mind. He shook his head. "I cannot recall. I saw little of what was real, I fear. I saw only what Malcovan cast before me with his spell."
"The old man would have the prototype. The original weapon is his, with the dying people etched onto the blade, and the black stones and blood red line on the pommel. I remember what that color looks like. I remember red. And I know black. Every waking and sleeping moment, I know black." Legolas nodded quietly. "I can see that sword, Aragorn."
"I can see the sword – the image of it remains the same in my mind. Everything else is fading, but it has never changed. It comes to me in dreams sometimes."
"But does it mean anything?" the ranger asked doubtfully.
"It means that I must go with you and Alun when you pursue the old man."
Aragorn sat up again. "Why?"
The elf's voice took on an urgent tone. "Aragorn, there is more. When I was speaking with Brina during my imprisonment, she told me of the old healer, Gildwas, who lived in the cottage. He and Malcovan had traveled together some sixty years ago, when they had been friends. They had traveled over the Grey Mountains, and though I do not know exactly where they had gone, I know they made it as far as the northern-most border of Mirkwood. Malcovan's behavior had become increasingly disturbing. He kept going off, and Gildwas was suspicious, and so he followed him one day, straight to a meeting with a servant of Mordor."
"Alun spoke to me of what happened to Gildwas. That Malcovan attacked him then, in a way very similar to the way he attacked me."
"Did you know that Gildwas was found by the elves afterward? In fact, I'm quite certain that he was found by me."
Legolas nodded. "I believe it to be so. I was on patrol, along the northern edge of the forest, and came upon a man lying half-dead. He had been dragged into a thicket and hidden there, but I had heard his faint moans. He surely would have died, as the spot is very remote. I was unable to rouse him to full awareness, though he looked at me. He seemed terrified, and struck out against me as I carried him to my horse.
"I took him to the nearest outpost," Legolas continued, "and we warmed him and treated his wounds. These were not numerous, however, and we were perplexed as to what had happened to him. He could not speak of his own volition, but cried out in his nightmares of terrible visions. His speech was not that of the men of Dale, and so we determined that he was from a far place. He screamed out about visions of death and pain to his loved ones, and of a black speech that hurt his ears to hear. And he spoke of hands – his friend's hands – dancing and weaving before his eyes and bringing madness upon him. He could not stop speaking of the dancing hands.
"After delivering him to the outpost, I returned to my duties and saw no more of him. Those who cared for him reported that he recovered in time, and returned to his home over the mountains. He had been grateful, and thanked my people many times for their kindness toward him. He told them that he was a healer, and if any elf in need ever landed on his doorstep in the future, he would repay the debt. And I think that he finally did repay it, Aragorn, though he never knew."
"Indeed he did," Aragorn said with an amazed shake of his head. "That he should be the very one whose medicines and home saved your life, after so many years had passed. Sometimes life's coincidences astound me, Legolas."
"They astound me as well," the elf responded as he lay beside Aragorn and pulled the blankets up. "And I think Gildwas is not done helping me yet."
Aragorn could not stifle a yawn as he spoke. "How is that?"
"Now I cannot stop thinking about Malcovan's dancing hands."
"What about them?"
Legolas raised his own hands before his sightless eyes and slowly waved them back and forth. "Gildwas found them mesmerizing. You found them mesmerizing. I think that I will not."First > Previous > Next