Shards of memory swept past, fleeting and maddeningly brief. He struggled vainly to grasp them, but they were always beyond his reach. There was something important… something that came to him in dreams that were filled with terror and dismay. He felt that he needed to recall it, and he cast about desperately, searching. Why? What?
His brow knotted with the effort, and agony was his reward. His head hurt. Always it hurt, and once again the pain forced him to abandon his attempts to understand. His fists clenched in frustration, anger rising in his chest as it swelled with his inhalation. He hated his infirmity. Never before had he been so weak, so helpless, and though he fought, the solid wall of fatigue could not be surmounted or broken. He was tethered by sickness and pain, his aching limbs lying heavy on the bed, his ability to think ensnared by clinging strands of darkness that surrounded him and pressed him into a sticky mire of confusion.
Breathing deeply again, he allowed his hands to open and lie relaxed by his sides. His strength, what little there had been, flickered away, expended completely during his brief flash of anger. In an effort to hold the pain back he thought on his recent perceptions. Hazy recollections came to him of the gentle, firm hands of a healer turning him on the bed and washing his body, and of a soft voice encouraging him to drink. The draught was sticky, heavy and sweet, leaving a taste in his mouth that he did not like. When he could rise again, his first course of action would be to clean his teeth. Yes…
That Aragorn was caring for him and keeping him drugged he understood, but he knew not what had happened. He knew only that something was terribly wrong, and that they were far from home. When his mind worked well enough to permit it, and when the sharp knife-thrusts in his head were dulled by the drug, he tried to take in his surroundings. He was in a bed, covered with good blankets woven close. The top one had a textured pattern worked into it, and he would use it to distract himself sometimes, his fingers tracing the bumps and ridges as he fought to hold back the pain.
There was a roof over his head, and he would rest, eyes closed, listening to the soft patter of raindrops as they fell above him. There also was birdsong, and breezes, usually soft, but once there had been a wild blowing as a storm swept through, and he thought he had heard a tree fall deep in the woods.
He would listen as Aragorn moved around, and this served as another way to occupy his attention. He feared opening his eyes, lest the pain in his head punish him for his boldness, and so he followed the ranger about with his ears and his nose, trying to guess his activities. It became something of a game for him, when he felt well enough, to monitor the ranger's day and keep track of his chores. Time to light the fire. Going out now to change the horse's bedding. Back again with more wood. He is hungry. His stomach is growling. Where is he now? Ah, smoking his pipe. I am glad he goes outside to do that…
And always, in his heart rather than in his ears, there was the low, sweet music of the earth and the stars as they sang to him, helping him to remember that he still had a place in the world.
Unable to decide which perception was his favorite he simply clung to them all, as he once had clung to his mother's hand, and each one helped to reassure him and ease his terror when the nightmares came, splitting his head open with frightening images only half-glimpsed and understood.
The discomfort increased now, and he tensed. He was waking again. Each time he did so, it was with the hope that he would be able to function and speak with his friend. But then the pain would roar through him and seize his breath, demanding all his attention as he struggled to control it. Ai, when will this end?
His arms moved slowly as if weighted with heavy links of chain, his fingers finding and pressing against his pounding temples. A rustling sound nearby came to him and he reached toward it with a gasp.
"I am here, Legolas."
He yearned to communicate, struggling to force words past his burning throat. He wanted to open his eyes, to smile at his friend and show his gratitude. Why can I not speak? What has happened to me? He groaned, trying to turn himself on the bed.
"Easy, Legolas. Do not fight. Can you drink this?"
He was half-raised, his head propped in the crook of Aragorn's arm. A cup was pressed against his lips, something warm and fragrant slipping down to calm his churning belly. Broth. It was good, and he drained it all. It was followed by tea, laced with honey to mask the bitter taste. Something for the fever, he supposed. Then the drug, and he sighed quietly as the familiar hot, drowsy waves rolled over his aching body, washing pain and worry from him and bearing it away. He tried again to speak, his lips moving as a soft sound escaped them.
The chair beside him creaked as the man shifted his weight and leaned closer. A hand rested on his brow. Aragorn spoke, his tone overflowing with relief. "It is good to hear your voice again, Legolas. And you are welcome, my dear friend."
The elf nodded slightly as awareness slid from him and he let the darkness claim him once more.
He lay quietly for a time, listening to the murmurs of the forest. Soft wind sighed through the pine boughs, the breeze playing lightly over his hair and his arms. Turning his face toward it, he tried to recall what it was like to be outside and active, free, unfettered and able to move as he wished. Lately, he gathered what was possible of that freedom by breathing and listening, drawing all he could of the busy outside world from what he assumed must be a window beside his bed.
Yet despite the joy these simple sounds brought, he felt weighed down by the realization that there was something odd about his perceptions. His mind was still shrouded in fog, and during the rare times he braved the constant pain in his head to open his eyes and try to see, it was always dark. The drug perhaps had altered his natural sleep, causing him to awaken only at night. But as he closed his eyes again, he realized the birds sang a song of greeting to the morning sun. Morning? Aragorn covers the windows, then. He knows the light will hurt my head.
Sighing, he turned away. Not yet, but soon, perhaps, he would be able to sit up, and then go outside to answer the songs. He stretched experimentally, moving his legs and arms carefully, wincing slightly but noticing that the once fierce spasms in his limbs had dulled to a low ache. He moved with more ease, and felt encouraged. "Soon," he murmured as a weak cough wracked his frame.
There was a sudden stirring nearby, the sound of a chair being drawn close, scraping over a hard floor. "Legolas?"
"Ara - ". His throat seared him and he grimaced as a fit of coughing seized his body. Arms wrapped around his shoulders and helped him rise slightly.
"No drug. No…"
"It is only water. I have been weaning you off the poppy."
The liquid, cool and wonderful, slid easily down his throat. "Where-?" he rasped.
"On fire with questions, eh? I expected you would be. But first tell me how you feel."
The elf exhaled sharply as Aragorn eased him back against the pillow, shifting his head slightly as the throbbing increased. "Torn asunder," he whispered. "What… what has happened to me?"
"Do you not remember? Our flight through the forest?"
Legolas shook his head, and immediately regretted doing so as pain stabbed through his temples. "Walking," he murmured, frowning as he strove to recall what he had assumed had been one of his nightmares. "We were walking, and we were afraid. You were helping me. And then I could walk no more."
"We were attacked by orcs, and you were hit by a poisoned dart."
"Poison?" The elf felt his heart quicken in fear. "My dreams have been troubled. I have been chasing orcs, I think. I… I do not remember. Why can I not remember?"
Legolas felt the bedcovers being drawn more snugly around him, and the reassuring weight of Aragorn's hand rested on his shoulder. "Do not ponder on it now. You nearly died, Legolas. Never have I seen anyone, man or elf, so horribly stricken."
"Where are we?"
"A cottage in the forest. I came upon it while searching for help. We have been here fourteen days."
The elf, surprised, forced his eyes open. "Fourteen days? I had no idea… I could not tell how long I lay sick. Who lives here?"
"I do not know. The place is abandoned."
"But they left the horse."
"How do you know about the horse?"
"You chat with her while you groom her, there, outside the window. I suppose it has been a lonely stretch of time for you, Aragorn."
"Now that I have my friend back, I expect my conversations will not be so one-sided. But this tires you, Legolas. Enough talk for now. I have other things I can use to ease your pain, now that the worst of it is over."
"I think you are tired as well. I hear it in your voice. Caring for me cannot have been easy. And I have not yet thanked you." Legolas smiled, trying to make out his friend's features in the darkness. "I have been aware of your constant presence and of the care you have taken with me. And now I have bothered you in the middle of the night. Forgive me."
He closed his eyes again as exhaustion beckoned him toward sleep. There was a pause, a long pause, and the elf sensed a strange tension coming from his friend. A surge of apprehension swept over him, and he turned his head with a frown. "Aragorn?"
"It is not night, Legolas." The ranger's voice was constricted, and the elf heard fear in the soft whisper. The hand resting on his shoulder tightened. "It is full morning."
"Morning? Oh, yes, I remember… the birds…" Legolas paused, thinking, and then raised his head suddenly as the full meaning of Aragorn's words struck him with the force of an arrow set loose in the night. He wrenched his eyes open again, ignoring the pain in his head, and narrowed them, seeking to tear an opening through the blackness and find his friend's face. His breath caught in his throat as a cold tendril of dread snaked up his spine. "Aragorn, do you tell me that it is light here?"
Aragorn did not answer, but the elf heard a strangled breath, a gasped prayer that slipped from the ranger's lips and fled past his ears. Understanding came then, and with it, terror. He pushed his friend back, fighting to sit up. His pulse raced, hammering in his skull. "All is black… I can see nothing! Aragorn!"
Somehow he found the floor, his bare feet slamming against it. Violently shoving the man away from him he tried to escape, but he collided with something hard, some piece of furniture, and he fell to his knees with a cry. Shaking with horror, he struggled to rise, but Aragorn was there, holding him down. His limbs went numb, his heart urgently striving to force through his body blood that had turned to ice. Nausea welled up and he dropped his head to the floor, gasping as the stifling cloak of darkness pressed in around him. The air around him grew thick, and he panicked.
"I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe! Let me go!"
Frantic, he pushed against his friend's confining arms, but the ranger would not release him. Dizziness engulfed him and he bent low, digging his nails into the floor as he felt himself being dragged into a whirlpool. A roaring sound filled his ears. He gulped for air, gagging as his senses reeled.
"No!" Throwing himself backward, he broke the man's grip and recoiled with wide eyes, but the dark followed him. His spine came up painfully against the edge of the bed and he scrambled up onto it, crashing back against the wall and finding the corner. The dark followed him still, and he lashed out at it with both fists, expecting to connect with something solid, and he cried out in horror when his hands met nothing and vanished into the blackness. Losing his balance he fell forward, but was up again in an instant and hitting out once more, fighting desperately to force back the endless void.
Attacking, retreating, evading… whatever his move, his foe remained unchanged, and he choked at the suffocating closeness of it. It was all around him, impenetrable, untouchable and unyielding. Skilled as he was in battle, this was an enemy he could not defeat, and as despair engulfed him he fell back against the wall, throwing his arms over his head in a final attempt to fend off the dark blanket as it settled over him.
Aragorn's arms held him again, and now the elf clung to them as he would a lifeline. The arms were real, solid, an anchor for him to grasp in that terrible sea of endless black, and he would not let go lest he become swept away and forever lost. "I feel sick…"
"You breathe too quickly," the ranger's voice whispered. "Try to slow it. Breathe with me."
He laid his head between his knees, and locking his attention on the rhythm of the man's breath, he followed it. He pressed his eyes closed. It was too horrible to keep them open and gaze, terror-stricken, into the fathomless depths that threatened to swallow him. His lids provided the only barrier he could erect against the gaping emptiness, and he set them firmly in place now, keeping them tightly clenched. He would not open them again.
He spoke, stumbling over the awful words, frightened to say them. "Aragorn, I… I cannot see."
"I know, my friend." The ranger murmured, his voice choking, and his arms enfolded the elf and held him. "I know."
Sealed they were, but the elf's lids could not stop the tears that leaked past them. After all that he had been through, after all that he had endured, recovery had finally seemed within his grasp. And now… now he wept, and wept long, overcome with fear and exhaustion.
"Legolas, listen to me," Aragorn's firm voice came to him through a thick wall of despair. "This is what we will do. I say this to you not only as your friend, but also as your healer. You must listen to me now."
The elf lowered himself to the bed, still clinging to his friend's arms. His numbed body, quivering with shock and fatigue, could support him no longer. The ranger's voice came as if from miles away, covered in layers of heavy fog, but he extended himself past his terror and tried to fix his attention on it.
"This is the first day since you were injured that we have been able to speak together. You have either been drugged into insensibility or in great pain. You nearly died, Legolas, and your body is still terribly affected. Your recovery is what we must concentrate on now. Perhaps your vision will return as you regain your health. It may be so. I pray that it is, but if it is not…" The ranger sighed. "We must see you strong again, then we will deal with what comes after."
"What do you propose?" the elf whispered.
"Let me bind your eyes. I can see that they hurt you. The person who lives in this place is a healer, and he kept papers. Out of respect, I have not looked over them, but I will do so now. Maybe there will be some information I can use. We will treat your eyes and keep them covered. I want you to concentrate on recovering your health first. Let us think only on that. You must begin to take food again, and rest in true elven sleep rather than drugged. Then we will see what comes to your eyes."
"I will do as you say," Legolas said quietly. He inhaled deeply, feeling calmer. A plan was something else he could hold onto, and just as his hands gripped Aragorn's arms, his mind quickly worked its way around this other anchor and clung just as fiercely.
Aragorn shifted, and the elf heard him sigh, releasing the air slowly. His voice came reluctantly. "Legolas, I fear to give you hope. You know that I cannot promise-"
"I know. But if this… blindness is permanent, I cannot face it yet. I am so tired, Aragorn. I still feel the coldness of death's shadow on me. I have no strength for this." He shuddered, reaching for the blankets and gripping them tightly. "Will you help me to sleep this one time? I do not want to be awake any longer."
"If that is your wish. It will put you in no danger. But when you wake again you must eat. Promise me."
"I will try."
As Aragorn moved away and began his work Legolas found himself alone for a few moments, and he teetered once more on the steep precipice of panic. He felt cut adrift, engulfed in terror, and he curled his fingers around the smooth wood of the bedstead, holding to it so tightly his hands ached. He pressed his forehead against his knuckles. The ranger went into the back room to fetch the supplies he needed, and the elf strained his hearing to remain connected to his friend. He fought against the urge to call out. Hold on. I am not alone. He will be back. Hold on…
He was losing the fight to master himself. His breath accelerated as a terrible emptiness spread before him. What does life hold for me now? How will I make my way in the world if… if I never see again?
"No. Please, no…" He pressed his face into the pillow, trying to stifle his weeping. Starting suddenly as something lighted beside him, he recoiled in fear as a warm softness brushed against his arms. A moment later a low sound began to vibrate in his ears. A cat?
Reaching tentatively, his fingers encountered a small body, and with a sob of gratitude he pulled the creature into his embrace, burying his face in its fur.
Galu le: thank you (blessings to you).