Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 22: So Cold

by Cassia and Siobhan

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You're so cold, keep your hand in mine
Wise men wonder while starved men die

Show me how we end this all right,
Show me how defenseless you really are
Satisfy an empty inside
That's all right, let's give this another try.

You're so cold, but you feel alive,
Lay your hands on me one last time...

-- Breaking Benjamin

Two hours later, Aragorn’s hands were trembling so badly he could no longer hold the vials steady as he worked with them.  He nearly sloshed the precious liquid he was working with all over the table top, and would have, if a set of strong elven hands had not clamped over his own, holding them steady.

Gently, Legolas relieved Aragorn of the small glass cup in his hands.  “Let me do that, mellon-nín,” he offered quietly.  

Aragorn nodded, closing his eyes against the blurry nausea that consumed his being.  It was getting so dark that it was hard to see what he was doing.  When he opened his eyes again they might as well have remained shut.  He could see nothing.  A small thrill of weary panic shot through his being.  No!  Not now!

The ranger remained very still, afraid to move lest he knock something off the table that had taken him hours to create.  He wavered a little on his feet.

“Legolas,” he said quietly, but the tone in his voice caused his friend to look up in alarm.  “Please take my arm.”  The ranger’s request was calm, but somewhat plaintive.

Legolas hurriedly complied, setting the mixture they were working on aside on the table and taking his friend’s arm reassuringly in his own.  He recognized the staring, blank look on Aragorn’s face with a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“You can’t see again,” the elf said sadly.  It was not a question.

Aragorn inclined his head slightly; moving it too much felt like it would tip him off balance or make him throw up.  “Yes,” he conceded.  With Legolas as an anchor, he felt steady enough to reach out and find the edge of the table with his groping fingers.  Holding on to it tightly, he let go of the elf’s arm.

“Legolas, I will tell you what to do.  I just need you to be my eyes and my hands for me.  Can you do that mellon-nín?”  Heavy perspiration stood out upon the ranger’s brow and stained the cloth tied overt the lower part of his face.  He was not doing well.  The fumes and darkness of their surroundings was hastening his fall back into the clutches of the poison that was killing him.

“Of course, Estel.  But let us go topside first, for you must have some fresh air,” Legolas tried to convince his friend.

Yrin and Tinald were already taking a breather up in the fresh air, but Aragorn had refused to go and Legolas remained with him.  The elf squeezed Aragorn’s right hand.

“Let me share your trial with you, my friend, get you some of your strength back...”

The ranger shook his head with a sad smile.  “Legolas, even if I would allow you to do that again, we don’t have any Togiuith.”

Unfortunately, Legolas knew he was right, but he wasn’t ready to give up yet.  “Then at least get some fresh air, out of this foul reek.  Come, Estel, please...”

“Legolas!” Aragorn’s voice was strained and hinted with anguish.  “I don’t have time,” he whispered hoarsely.  “This has to be done before...” he stopped.  “This has to be done.  Please, just help me my friend.”

When Legolas looked into his friend’s sightless eyes, a flicker of panic leapt inside him like a tiny flame.  Aragorn had the look of a man who knew his moments were numbered, and was trying to make as much of them as he could.  The elf was glad his friend could not see the tears that sprang into his pale blue eyes.

“All right, Estel.  Just tell me what to do,” the prince said quietly.

Aragorn directed the elf slowly through the final stages required to purify the mixture he had created.  The human’s breathing was ragged now, his speech so slurred Legolas could barely understand him. 

“That’s... that’s the base,” Aragorn murmured.  “At least... Valar, I hope it is.  This will have to be heated and then...” A long silence followed as Legolas waited for his friend to continue.  Aragorn did not.

“And then, Estel?” Legolas prodded quietly.

Aragorn started slightly and blinked.  His mind was drifting in and out on him.  He was fading; he couldn’t be sure he was doing anything right anymore, and now his mind was getting so cloudy he couldn’t even find strength or reason enough to be alarmed.  “Then... finished and... add the other... other thing... like Yrin said.”

“Finished how Estel?  And what is the other mixture?  Is it the same as this?” Legolas pressed.  He was worried that he was losing Aragorn’s concentration.

Aragorn didn’t answer.


“I-I don’t know...” Aragorn shook his head helplessly.  “Legolas, I’m sorry... tell them... tell them I’m sorry...” he murmured, his voice a mere sorrowful rasp.

Legolas caught Aragorn as the human’s knees buckled.  Swinging the ranger quickly up into his arms, Legolas hurriedly carried him up through the shaft and out of the claustrophobic laboratory.  The sun was almost blindingly bright and the elf had to blink several times to adjust.  He drew in deep breaths of clean air as he ripped the mask off Aragorn’s face, tilting his friend’s head back so the ranger could breathe easier.

Yrinvan and Tinald rushed over, seeing the elf exit with the limp ranger in his arms.

Legolas laid Aragorn gently on the rocky ground, pulling his own mask down to hang around his neck as he gazed worriedly into the ranger’s damp, flushed face.

“Estel?  Speak to me!  Wake, Estel, please, I need you, mellon-nín!  I cannot do this alone, come back,” Legolas pleaded earnestly, massaging his friend’s swollen hands and arms, trying to ease the ranger back to consciousness.

Yrinvan and Tinald knelt beside them, but after a few minutes Yrin straightened up and laid his hand on Legolas’ arm, halting the elf who was still trying to wake his friend.

“Legolas,” the former slave said quietly.  “You cannot wake him now.  He... he’s too far gone.”

“No!” Legolas ripped his arm away from Yrin, refusing to believe the human’s words.  Maybe it was true for others, but they didn’t know Aragorn.  He was stronger - he was!

“Yrin’s right,” Tinald put in sadly.  “It’s already beyond miraculous that he’s made it this long.  We’ve seen it many, many times, Legolas.  Look at the way he’s sweating and shaking, even though unconscious.  It’s claiming him.  Only the antidote can save him now, if it’s not already too late.”  They weren’t trying to be cruel.  This kind of death was a reality they had all had to come to accept.

Legolas stumbled back a step, feeling a little dizzy and nauseous himself.  “But there isn’t an antidote yet.  Estel used up what was left in testing.  We have a base... but I don’t even know if that’s right or not.”

“Then we are all dead,” Tinald said quietly, with the finality of one who had half-expected such an outcome.


“No, no...” Legolas could only shake his head for a moment.  He could not accept this conclusion.  “Tinald, stay with Estel, please. Try to keep him comfortable.  Yrin, if I attempt to finish the antidote, will you help me?”

Yrinvan nodded without hesitation.  “Just lead the way.”

Legolas scrambled back down the hatchway into the lab.  Returning to the foul air after the fresh was like slamming into a brick wall and he gagged, quickly pulling his mask back on.  After he and Yrinvan had finally gotten their eyes to stop watering, Legolas stood for a few moments, looking at the table and the jumble of items strew across the top.  Valar, he had no clue what he was doing.

“All right, this is our base,” he gestured to the mixture Aragorn had created.  “We need to finish it, and create the second element that is added after heating.”

Yrin nodded slowly.  “Good.  You know how to do this?”

Legolas tried not to wince behind his mask.

“No,” he admitted.  “But maybe together we can figure it out.  Please, Yrin, tell me anything at all you can remember from when you assisted in making the antidote.  The smallest thing might help.”

“I told you almost all I know...” Yrinvan admitted.  “But I did come in once when the Wraith was still finishing the second element.  It was a very light red until he added a white powder, and then it turned dark.”

Legolas nodded slowly.  That actually did tell him something.  There were only certain plant families that could have created a red formula, and only one of them was present in this lab.  Legolas could not have told you why he knew this, but he did.

The prince had a limited knowledge of healing practices and applied every ounce of common sense he could muster to aid him.  Slowly, painstakingly, he experimented with some different compounds until the mixture was an appropriate shade.

“Hand me some of... that,” Legolas couldn’t remember the substance’s name and did not particularly care at the moment.  Yrin saw what he was waving at and brought it over.  Legolas measured some out into the bowl of his palm and added it to the light red-ocher potion he was working over.  Instantly, the liquid clouded to a dark brown.  “Like that?” the elf inquired of the human.

Yrinvan nodded, smiling for the first time.  “Yes, at least that is what it looked like to me.”

“Good,” Legolas was relieved.  Then he chewed his lip, his thoughts flying swiftly, automatically.  “But there’s nothing for it to react to in the base.  None of these elements react against one another.  We need to add some velendrum or hallyhem...”

Yrin raised his eyebrow as Legolas sought out the herbs he desired.  “And you said you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said with a small smile.

Legolas blinked several times.  He didn’t know what he was doing... did he?  A moment ago it had certainly felt like he did.  The answer had come to him automatically in his mind, as if it were knowledge he already possessed, but he was certain there was nothing in his experience that should have taught him these things.

It was a mystery the elf did not have time to entertain.  Too many lives hung in the balance for him to make a mistake now.  Hoping he did right, he added a few measures of hallyhem to the base mixture and put it in the cauldron along with several cups of water to dilute the concentrated mixture.

Yrin quickly went about his job of building and maintaining the fire. 

The moment of truth came quicker than Legolas felt ready for it and he dumped the second mixture into the pot.  Holding his breath, the elf tore a bit of clean cloth off one end of his mask and dipped it into the pale yellow liquid in the jar that Yrin had indicated earlier.  Dipping an edge of the cloth into the bubbling potion, the elf bit his lip, hoping...

The cloth flushed a deep purple-blue and Legolas swore, yanking it out of the pot in frustration.  It wasn’t even black, so something in the mixture was decidedly wrong.

Yrin let the fire die down to embers again since they did not need any extra heat or smoke in the room and rose to his feet.

Legolas dumped the ruined concoction and started all over again at the beginning, recreating the base from step one, as he had watched Estel do, and considering every measurement he added.

“What do you think went wrong?” Yrin asked quietly.

“It could have been anything,” Legolas admitted, his frustration riding just beneath the surface.  “The wrong ingredients, the wrong measurements... we must keep on trying.”

Try they did.  For three long hours Legolas and Yrin toiled over one mixture after another until both of them felt ready to gag from the strain of their surroundings or scream from frustration.

When one of the vials the elf was using cracked from being left too close to the fire and ruined another batch before they even got to test it, it was almost too much.  Legolas pounded his fists on the table and slammed his forehead down upon them.  He was failing them.  He was failing everyone, especially Aragorn who had placed far too much misguided trust in him.

“I can’t do this...” he choked out softly, not meaning to have spoken at all.

“You’re doing your best, Legolas,” Yrin tried to reassure him.  “We’re trying everything we can.”

“Well that’s not good enough!” Legolas straightened and whirled around angrily, flinging the cracked vial in his hands forcefully against the far wall where it shattered and exploded into a million pieces.  Yrin pulled back, but it was quickly evident that Legolas’ anger was not directed at the human.

Legolas buried his face in his hands.  “What am I missing?  I feel like its right there, right on the edge of my consciousness and I can’t find it!”

Yrin coughed into his hand, wheezing around the bad air.  “Come, let us go up and clear our heads.  We’ll come back down and try again.”

“No,” Legolas started to refuse, shaking his head.  “We have to...”

“Legolas.” Yrin’s gaze stopped the elf’s protest.  “Just for a few minutes.  I... I need the air, but I won’t go up if you don’t.  I think you need it too.”


Legolas noted the way Yrin’s eyes had swollen partially shut.  He heard the nasty cough the human had been developing for some time now.  Yrin did need to go up, and maybe he did too.  Perhaps it would help him think.

“All right,” the elf conceded.  “I want to check on Estel anyway.”

The outside air was a welcome relief and Yrin leaned heavily on a rock, his lungs heaving.  Tinald hurried quickly to his friend’s side, leaving Legolas to check on Aragorn.

The ranger’s condition was steadily declining.  His pulse was fading and his skin was growing dangerously cold, despite the pile of coverings Tinald had wrapped around him.

Legolas squeezed his unresponsive friend’s hand.  The sad truth was that if they did not find an antidote soon, Estel was not going to make it much longer.

After waiting a few more minutes for Yrinvan’s sake, determined steps took the elf back down into the dark, polluted chamber once more and Yrin followed stoically.

Legolas laid a gentle hand on the human’s shoulder before they re-entered the shaft.  “Yrin, you don’t have to come with me; I can make do on my own for a while.  I’ll call you when I’m ready for the fire.”

Yrin shook his head.  “I can help you.  I’m going back in,” he rasped with determination.  His eyes reminded Legolas that it was the life of his family and all of his friends on the line too.  The elf understood that and allowed Yrin to follow him back down into the pit.

Legolas coughed as they descended once more.  He was more resilient than Yrin, but the foul atmosphere and lingering oppressive evil was wearing him down as well.

The elf picked up the pestle he had been using and rested it on the edge of the mortar dish.  He had to try again, but what was he supposed to do?  What was he missing?  Why didn’t the formula work?  All the elements seemed right, but the test cloth was still turning a resolute purple.

What?  What was he doing wrong??

The prince ran through every action and reaction that occurred in the compound, sorting them in his tired mind.  There weren’t that many really.  It was trying to balance them.  That was the issue.  He felt he had achieved that balance, but something was still amiss...

“The hallyhem,” the thought darted through his mind.  “It’s reacting too violently to the charcoal.  A catalyst is needed.”

Legolas’ head jerked up.  It made perfect sense; they needed a catalyst to stabilize the highly volatile hallyhem.  Undoubtedly, this instability was what caused the undesired reaction in the compound.  An instant later Legolas knew there was no way he could have known that information.  It had not come from his mind, although it was clearly echoed in his thoughts.  And what was the catalyst?  He had felt like he had grasped the concept only a moment ago, but now his mind drew a disturbing blank.  

The prince gripped his head tightly.  This was a bad time to start going crazy.

The elf fought to hold onto the thought, to trace back the random flickers of knowledge that seemed just behind.  He had been feeling it for a while now; the odd touches of thoughts, knowledge or information that should not have been contained in his mind, and yet they came to him as his own.  He knew he should not have been able to come as far with this antidote as he had, but here he was.  And now he was positive that he could remember something about a catalyst for hallyhem, if only he tried hard enough.

“Legolas, are you all right?” Yrin asked quietly, and Legolas realized he had frozen, his hands on his temples, a look of intense concentration on his face.

“Shh...” the elf bid his companion distractedly.  He had to concentrate.  Like one trying to recall a barely remembered dream, Legolas sifted through his consciousness, attempting to pinpoint the memory he sought.  It came to him in bits and snatches at first, but slowly became clearer and clearer under his continued scrutiny.

Two identical little elflings with dark hair were staring up at him with questioning eyes.  In their hands they each held a small mortar dish with liquid inside.  One was bubbling - the other was not.

The child holding the still cup looked either peeved or disappointed.  “Ada, why does El’s work and mine doesn’t?”

“Because you forgot the wildeen, my son,” a patient, loving voice replied.  In Legolas’ head, it seemed the voice was his, yet in reality he knew that could not be true.

“Wildeen seems an insignificant little plant,” the voice that was not Legolas’ continued.  “Because it has no special properties of its own, but it is a catalyst that will keep the hallyhem from reacting too quickly and going flat.  Always remember to pay attention to even the seemingly unimportant things, Elrohir, for they will serve you well.  Come, I’ll help you make it again, all right?”

Legolas stood stock still for a few moments as the memory faded.  Memory?  How could this possibly be his memory?  He had just seen Elladan and Elrohir as very young children, long before he had come to know them, and he would not have been calling them his sons.  Obviously, inexplicably, it was Elrond’s memory that he was recalling, and not his own at all.

Other memories were now surfacing, recollections that felt as if they had been locked away in his mind, hidden until he turned his attention intently enough upon them to bring them forward into the light of day.  The momentary rush on his senses was almost staggering.

He was holding a baby in his arms, a little girl.  She was so perfect, so beautiful.  “Arwen,” he whispered.  “Her name is Arwen.  A Noble Lady...” he glanced up to catch the lovely, curling smile on his wife’s lips.  “Like her mother.”

“But she has her father’s features,” replied a beautiful elf woman that Legolas knew immediately was Lady Celebrían.

Celebrían reached out and ran her fingers through her husband’s dark hair.  “I hope she has your hair, like our sons.”

He leaned over, kissing her gently, cradling their daughter between them.  “Well I hope everything else about her is like you,” he whispered.

Legolas pulled back from the memory abruptly, feeling like an intruder in someone else’s life.  He flushed hotly.  It was impossible, but the memories really were there.  Dimly he recalled the only other time he had felt this way... that day on the mountain when he lay dying... nay, when he did die.  Elrond brought him back, pushing so much of himself into the wounded elf’s body that their minds had literally joined for a few heartbeats of time.  He remembered his initial confusion when he couldn’t remember who he was due to the warring sets of memories he contained.  Legolas had almost forgotten all about it.  He had told Estel the truth when he said what had happened on the mountain that day had been lost to him, but now he was beginning to remember.

With a jolt, Legolas realized he still had those memories, though he thought initially they had seemed to fade away almost immediately after that encounter.  Rather, he realized now, they had simply been buried, slowly leaching out in little ways such as his increased familiarity with medicines.

The elf pulled in a shuddering breath, only to gag on the thick air.  That quickly brought him back to present.  The wonder over what had happened was going to have to wait; he did not have time to deal with any of this confusing information now.  He did, however, see one immediate advantage.  If he had some of Elrond’s memories, then he also retained some of the elf lord’s knowledge.  He needed that knowledge now; needed it badly.

Yrin thought it was almost a different elf that came back to work with him.  Legolas had suddenly become more assured, calmer, and he simply... felt different.  He also suddenly seemed to know what he was doing.

It was difficult for Legolas at first to access the knowledge he needed, but slowly, he brought to light the memories and wisdom he sought, as if remembering things from a dream.  He tried very hard to keep any non-medicinal memories out of his mind and focus only on the essentials.  He already felt dangerously as if he were trespassing deeply into someone else’s privacy, but he had no choice.  He had to believe that Elrond would forgive him if it meant saving Estel’s life.

The wildeen was quickly measured out, along with a few other essential herbs and minerals that Legolas’ new knowledge now told him was vital.  After the hours of frustration and stabbing in the dark, it felt frighteningly easy.  Legolas was more than a little afraid of the results when he hesitantly dipped the test cloth once more.  His mask had become very short from having bits ripped off of it; dare he hope that this would be the last time?

Legolas resisted the urge to give an audible whoop when the cloth turned a very satisfactory shade of brown.  He carefully lifted the concoction off the fire and set it on the table.

Yrin stood to his feet, rubbing his aching back.  His huge grin was hidden under his mask, but it shone in his eyes.

“We did it, Legolas.”

The elf nodded as he carefully poured the liquid into a large flagon.  This potion was actually much stronger than the watered down version the Nazgûl had employed.  Only a little bit would be required for each person to completely counteract the poison. They may have enough right here to give everyone their first dose.  Still, it was not going to be a one-time cure.  The slaves’ dependency was deeply rooted but, with regular treatment, they could eventually neutralize all the poison in their bodies and finally become free.  Legolas or Yrin could easily make more for them now.  They wouldn’t even have to use this lab again, now that Legolas knew what temperature control was needed and how to achieve the correct balance of elements. 

“Yes, we did,” the elf sighed with relief.  He showed Yrinvan exactly how much to give each person as the servant was only used to dispensing the meager amounts the Wraith had allotted them.

“Yrin!  Legolas!” Tinald’s worried voice echoed down the shaft, bringing a chill of alarm back to the exhausted human and elf.  “Come quickly!  It’s Estel, he’s... please hurry!”