Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 23: Unexpected Complications

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Legolas surfaced so quickly that Tinald had to jump back from the entrance to avoid colliding with him.

“He stopped breathing,” Tinald explained quietly as Legolas quickly dropped to his knees beside the ranger.  

Aragorn’s face was deathly pale and his skin was so cold it burned Legolas’ hands after having been so long in the hot laboratory.  Compressing Aragorn’s chest with swift, rapid moves, Legolas willed his friend’s heart to keep beating, his lungs to keep breathing.  

“Come on Estel, breathe!” Legolas commanded as he pumped the ranger’s chest as if he could force the man’s heart to keep beating and his lungs to keep working.  Tears welled in the corners of his eyes.  He couldn’t have succeeded only to have it come to late for Aragorn, it could not be!  

“Breathe!” the shout had almost become angry, but quavered just on the brink of anguish.  “I did not come this far to lose you now, human!  Now fight it!” 

Slowly, Aragorn’s body responded, a soft, stuttering breath inflating his lungs once more.  But it was feeble at best and it would not be long before resuscitation had ceased to be possible.  

“Yrin, please get me some of those white crystals from the lab,” Legolas requested as he gently scooped Aragorn’s shoulders into his arms and sat the human partway upright.  “I need him aware enough to take the antidote.”  

Aragorn had to be able to swallow; Legolas couldn’t risk accidentally choking him.  

Yrin hurried back with the crystals and Legolas crushed them in his palm, holding them under Aragorn’s nose.  

After a few moments the ranger stirred slightly.  He wasn’t lucid, but his body was aware enough that when Legolas tipped the flask with the antidote in it to his lips, Aragorn swallowed reflexively.  

Legolas gave the ranger more than his mind told him he needed just to be safe.  Then he closed the flask and passed it to Yrin.  He pulled Aragorn more firmly into his arms, letting the ranger’s back rest against his chest, the human’s head on his shoulder.  

“Yrin, Tinald, take the rest of the antidote to your people.  Make sure they know that, if you run out, we will make more.  Everyone will have all they need.  No one needs to perish from this abominable poison anymore.  I will stay here with Estel until the antidote takes effect,” Legolas said.  He had to believe it would work.  He could not entertain the nagging doubts that worried that the cure had been given too late, or that Legolas had still managed to make a mistake in its preparation.  

The two humans nodded.  “Are you sure you will be all right alone with him here?” Yrinvan asked as he piled the blankets over Aragorn.  The servant draped one around the elf’s shoulders as well, tucking in the edges. 

Legolas nodded.  “I will be fine, thank you.” 

Yrin and Tinald began making their way down the mountain and Legolas watched them go until they turned a corner and disappeared among the rocks.  

He had been concerned that they all might still be in danger from the mountain itself, but the earth beneath him was calming.  It seemed that the magma had simply flooded back to fill its normal channels, as it had always been before the Witch-king harnessed the mountain to his will.  Now that it had evened out, there was no imminent danger of an eruption.  The mountain was content to slumber once more and the song the earth sang was once again falling into balance.  

Legolas felt like he wanted to sing himself, but his throat was a little too raw after hours in the fumes under the mountain, so he contented himself to humming as he rocked his friend’s still body back and forth gently, waiting for Aragorn to begin taking a turn for the better.  The elf was struck by a gentle memory of holding Estel when he was a tiny child and the prince smiled, too weary at the moment to sort out that that was, of course, not his memory.  

Legolas was beyond exhaustion as the day’s events had drained him.  While he held his friend, his mind slowly began wandering and his head slipped down to rest against Aragorn’s back.


It was in this position, cocooned in Legolas’ arms that Aragorn awoke many hours later.  The sun had gone down and the stars twinkled high overhead, seeming nearer somehow from their mountainside vantage point.  

The ranger was incredibly weak, but he felt better than he had in months.  He turned his head to the side to see Legolas’ faintly glowing face resting on his shoulder.  The elf’s eyes were open, but he was obviously asleep.  Aragorn smiled.  He didn’t realize he had stirred, but he must have because a few moments later Legolas’ blank eyes focused and blinked.  

“You’re awake,” Aragorn said with a smile.  His voice was hoarse, but there was real color in his face again for the first time in ages.  

Legolas straightened up.  “That’s my line, and I wasn’t asleep.” 

Aragorn’s smile remained in place, perhaps widening ever so slightly.  “Of course not.  I’d say you were resting your eyes, except that you don’t need to rest your eyes...” 

Legolas shook his head with a disgusted sound.  “Remind me why I keep dragging you back from the brink of death when this is the kind of gratitude I receive?” 

“Because you’re a glutton for punishment?” Aragorn suggested.  He tried to laugh, but it caught and chocked in his throat so he had to stop.  “Do we have any water?” 

Legolas could have slapped himself for not thinking of that earlier, although he didn’t know where he would have gotten any from since all the water in the lab was used up making the antidote.  “No, I’m afraid not.  I have nothing here.  I didn’t want to move you until I knew you were better and I... I did fall asleep Estel, I’m sorry.  Come, mellon-nín, I will help you down the mountain.  I’m certain that Yrinvan and his people will have water for us.” 

Aragorn nodded; although he was unsure if he could stand right now, much less walk.  Legolas brushed the coverings off of them and helped him to his feet, but it became obvious the ranger could not stay upright.  He was still far too weak.  

Legolas picked the man up once more, settling him on his back.  He was worried.  Was this normal?  Aragorn usually came back to strength faster after having been given the antidote.  Was it just because he had been pushed almost to the brink of death before he received it this time, or had Legolas made an error in the potion?  Unfortunately his borrowed knowledge was no help to him in this case.  He didn’t really know everything Elrond knew; he was simply able to access pieces of it, sometimes in odd or disjointed ways.  This left him a little uneasy about his own accuracy.  Because at the moment, all his foggy ‘memory’ supplied him with was the understanding that a positive result on the color test could have been achieved, even if the mixture had not been done properly.  As long as the heat was right and the wildeen and hallyhem proportions had been correct, it should work.  That was not comforting knowledge right now.   

“Hey, put me down, I can walk,” Aragorn murmured in protest.  

Legolas smiled, relieved beyond words that even if Aragorn couldn’t walk, he was at least strong enough to argue about it once more.  

“Of course you can.  You’re just going to rest your legs, that’s all,” the prince turned the ranger’s own joke back on him, lightening the sting of the human’s helplessness.  

“Legolas...” Aragorn murmured as they started down the mountain.  “I would never have made it through this alone.  You were right.” 

“Aren’t I always?” the elf teased lightly.  

Aragorn rolled his eyes.  “I’m trying to say thank you, my dear conceited elf, so give me a chance.”  His voice mellowed back to seriousness once more.  “Truly, thank you for saving my sorry life again.  And for standing by me, for not letting me go through this by myself.” 

Legolas gave his friend a squeeze.  “Just returning the favor.”  

“No, I’m being serious, Legolas,” Aragorn’s voice rasped slightly against the elf’s ear in his effort to make his friend understand.  

Legolas did understand.  His voice gentled.  “I know.  So was I.” 

Several dots of light appeared on the path ahead and presently Yrin, Tinald, Ahnna and several of the other former slaves came into view.  They were carrying lanterns, supplies and a makeshift stretcher.  

“We were worried about you two,” Tinald explained as they helped ease Aragorn off of Legolas’ back and onto the stretcher.  “The mountain is still giving off heat, but the temperatures will begin to drop soon.  You should not be out alone.  Come, we have a camp set up in the meadow.  We’ve been able to salvage many supplies from parts of the castle that weren’t completely destroyed.  The eagles have gone, but said to tell you they will return soon as they wish to hear more of what has gone on here.  We have a comfortable place for you to sleep tonight.” 

“Thank you,” Aragorn whispered.  He was losing his voice.  

“Could I have some of that water, please?  Thank you,.”  Legolas asked for and received the waterskin that Ahnna was carrying.  He placed it gently against Aragorn’s parched lips.  “There you are, my friend, drink.” 

Aragorn did, and the cool water helped clear his head and soothe his sore voice and throat.  

Together the small party made its way down the mountain.  Legolas walked beside Aragorn’s stretcher, stealing frequent glances down at his friend.  The human had fallen asleep again, lulled by the rocking motion of the stretcher.  Starlight framed his weary and bedraggled, yet ultimately peaceful face.  

“Soon we will go home, Estel,” he promised.  “And I will have your father check you out to be sure you are really all right.  But for tonight my friend, just rest, and regain your strength.” 

“It’s a beautiful night, is it not?” Legolas heard Tinald ask quietly.  

“Every moment has become beautiful,” Yrin agreed with solemn joy.  

Legolas knew what he meant.  Yrin knew his people had hard times ahead.  They had never had to fend for themselves before, but they would learn.  They might have hardships, but they would face them together and conquer them.  They were free.  

Legolas smiled.   

Peace lay like a blanket over the darkened earth.  Legolas had chosen a spot far away from the former slaves’ summer dwellings and sat perched on the edge of a tall rock outcropping, overlooking a deep ravine that wound away into the distance like a black scar in the moonlight.  In the near distance, the elf could see the black mountain bathed in moonlight.  It might never be completely free of the evil that had once haunted it, but already the shadow it cast was far less imposing than it once had been.  

It had been a little over a fortnight now since the downfall of Angmar.  Everything was going well.  When put to a vote, the former slaves had decided to relocate to and build upon their summer houses here amid the valley gorges.  This was their home and with the threat of the Nazgul gone, they were loathe to leave.  The underground pool beneath the black mountain had been spared during the eruption and another way in had been discovered, granting the people access to fresh water in all seasons.  The creature in the lake never surfaced again and when they sent divers into the deep pool they found no trace of its presence.  No one knew how or where it had gone, but they did not choose to question their good fortune.  Of the cave trolls there was no sign.  Legolas supposed that they had left the mountain’s vicinity for somewhere safer and less populated.  In the span of a year he was sure the slaves would turn the small meadow into a thriving village for themselves.  It would be hard but they were used to hard labor and this would be different.  It would be theirs.

Aragorn continued to undergo regular treatments of the antidote, the same as the slaves.  He was recovering steadily, although he was still far weaker than Legolas would have liked.  

Yrin and Tinald had pulled the people together and the slaves were finding new purpose and new courage to face life together, as their own masters. 

The eagles had very solemnly listened to the tale that Aragorn and Legolas had to tell and then gone out as scouts to be sure the area was secure and that no retribution from Dol Guldur or anywhere else was imminent.  Gwaihir had promised that, when they were done, they would return and bear the two friends back to Rivendell.  It was a concession for the mighty eagle, who liked to point out that they were not beasts of burden, but Legolas had prevailed upon him most earnestly.  The elf greatly feared that Estel was not up to the trip and yet they had to get him home as soon as possible.  He desperately wanted Elrond to be able to check the work he had done on the ranger.  Since the two younger beings were friends of Gandalf and dear to Elrond, Gwaihir had semi-reluctantly consented to help them, with the understanding that this was not going to become a regular habit.  

Everything was well... so why then was Legolas troubled?  The archer twisted several long blades of dry grass in his lap.  Looking down into the ravine he fancied he could see a river down there, with a ship bobbing at anchor.  Yet he knew it wasn’t real, just like all the other disturbing specters his mind was conjuring up lately.

//”I hate to see you go brother, but you know I wish you well...”//

The words drifted across Legolas’ mind like a memory, and in his mind’s eye he was looking into eyes that were strange to him, and yet felt incredibly dear.  They reminded him of Aragorn, but it was not Aragorn.

//”I know, muindor-nín,” the other person replied.  He wasn’t an elf, was he?  No, he was human.

They embraced.  Legolas could feel the cloth of the other man’s tunic under his hands, could feel himself gripping tightly as if he never wanted to let go.//

Legolas took a deep breath and blinked his stinging eyes rapidly until the images faded and the illusionary specters were gone from his mind.  The ravine was dark and empty again and the night was still.  The lingering ache and love in his heart was staggering.  He felt like he had lost someone... or remembered losing someone.  Yet he knew he had never seen that person before in his life, had he?  He must have, for it was there, his mind told him he had... but he knew it was not so.  Legolas gripped his head tightly for a moment, stilling his confused, circular thoughts.  

The prince rubbed his aching chest as if he could physically make the feelings go away.  He knew it was just the phantoms.  They weren’t him and they weren’t real... but Valar, they were wreaking havoc on his mind and heart.  He didn’t know what was wrong with him these past few weeks, why his dreams had suddenly become so disturbed and reality had become so strangely twisted.  It was as if he was discovering some part of his past he had somehow forgotten, or revisiting a previous life he had lived.  Legolas knew the source of his trouble, but that was almost as disturbing as not knowing.  

“Hey, you all right?” Aragorn’s soft voice broke through Legolas’ troubled thoughts.  

Legolas started slightly and looked up.  Aragorn leaned over him, silhouetted against the starry sky.  Even in the starlight Legolas could see the deep, dark circles under the ranger’s eyes and the unnatural pallor of his friend’s skin.  The human had a blanket pulled tightly around his shoulders, over his clothes.  Spring was starting to visit the valley, but Aragorn was still almost always cold.  It seemed next to impossible for him to get fully warm.  He was healing, but very slowly.  

The elf prince quickly returned a weak smile.  “Yes, of course.  I’m not the one who has been knocking on death’s door for the past few weeks.  I thought you were sleeping.” The last statement sounded suspiciously like an accusation. 

Aragorn gave his friend a warning smile.  “You are changing the subject.  I’ll go to sleep when I’m ready to go to sleep.”  The ranger sat down beside his friend, dangling his legs over the edge of the rocky outcropping and shifting the blanket around him to cover his lap as well.  “Now, what’s wrong?  You’re troubled and I can tell.  Is it me?  The others...?” he swept one arm in the direction of the slumbering camp in the distance.  “I told you before not to worry so much.  If anyone was going to die from your antidote, they would have already...” The jest received only a token laugh and Aragorn’s eyes narrowed.  “All right, it’s not that then.  So?  What?” 

Legolas drew in a deep breath and pulled his knees up to his chest, gazing up at the stars.  “I miss my brother,” he said softly, glancing sideways to see what kind of reaction that admission would garner. 

Aragorn looked a bit perplexed.  “Legolas, I didn’t know you had a brother,” he said quietly, realizing he might be treading on painful ground.  After all, he hadn’t known Legolas had an uncle either.  

Legolas chuckled ruefully, a twinge of pain in his tone.  “I don’t, I never did.  But tonight I miss him all the same.  Strange, is it not?” He turned confused, open eyes upon his friend, willing the ranger to have some kind of miraculous understanding for him that would make this all go away.  

Aragorn didn’t.  The ranger looked almost as confused as the elf, but he laid a gentle hand on his friend’s shoulder all the same.  

“I think I’m going crazy,” the elf murmured softly in the darkness.  “Aragorn... Ever since the day the castle was destroyed... I fear I’m losing my mind,” he admitted quietly.  

Aragorn’s eyes flashed with alarm and concern, but he said nothing, letting Legolas continue in his own way. 

“My thoughts, feelings... they’re such a jumble.  I feel like I’m losing myself.  I ought to know, oughtn’t I?  I ought to know what’s me and what isn’t... why is it so hard?  Every time I go to sleep I am in a different world...” 

“Is that why you haven’t been sleeping?” Aragorn asked with a hint of a smile in his voice.  “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.” 

Legolas snorted softly.  “I have a nightly visitor, Aragorn.  If I sleep, she comes to me in my dreams and my pulse races and my heart screams for her...” 

Aragorn’s eyebrows shot up.  “She?  A girl, Legolas?  You never told me...” he tried to lighten the mood a little.  Legolas was really starting to worry him.  He didn’t understand a word the elf was saying.

Legolas buried his face in his hands in frustration.  “But she isn’t mine!” the elf’s tone was small and miserable.  “And I feel like a wretch for even feeling like I do about her and reacting that way, but I can’t help it!” 

Mellon-nín, you’re not making sense,” Aragorn pleaded to understand his friend’s distress around the confusing jumble of information he was receiving.  “Who are you talking about?  Why is it so wrong...?” 

“Because she’s your mother!” Legolas burst out with the startling proclamation that left Aragorn blinking in dumbfounded silence for several moments.  

WHAT?  His shocked face questioned as clear as words.  Maybe Legolas really was losing his mind.  

“Or... she would have been,” Legolas swallowed hard.  “She’s is your brothers’ mother, anyway.”  

“You mean Celebrían,” Aragorn struggled to grasp what his friend was talking about.  “But you never met her.”

“No,” Legolas shook his head miserably.  “I never did.  I never did... these aren’t my feelings, Estel!” The elf turned sad eyes upon his friend.  “They aren’t, but they are there nonetheless and I don’t know what to do with them.” 

Slowly, realization was dawning on Aragorn.  “Legolas, you told me it was my father’s knowledge, still retained in your mind, which allowed you to make the antidote.  Does it not make sense then that these other feelings and emotions you are experiencing are also from the exchange that occurred the day you almost died?” he asked softly.

Legolas nodded as if that didn’t help much.  “Of course it does. I know that is what it is.  But why now, when they have never haunted me before?” 

Aragorn had no real answer for him.  “I don’t know, Legolas.  Maybe, when you sought out the knowledge to make the antidote, you opened a floodgate of sorts, allowing things harbored in the back of your mind to come forward.” 

“Then how do I get it to close?” Legolas begged him for a solution.  “It’s so hard, Estel.  If I force every thought, every reaction through my conscious mind, I know what must be his and what is mine.  But if I don’t, if I relax for even a moment, if I’m not careful... Estel, I feel I’m losing myself.  Even now, my mind may be accepting things as facts that are not part of my reality and I don’t even know it!  I know, I know, that doesn’t make sense... but you can’t know what this is like unless it’s happening to you,” the elf sighed in defeat.  

“Do you think if you talked to Father about it...?” Aragorn started to suggest, but Legolas cut him off.  

“No!” Legolas shook his head vehemently.  “Do you think I could admit this to Lord Elrond?  Do you think I can look him in the face and tell him of these... these feelings I keep having for his WIFE?  If it plagues me so much having a life that is not my own in my head, what do you think it would mean to him to know that a complete stranger is walking around with his memories and emotions bottled up inside?” Legolas shook his head in horror.  

“Legolas, you’re hardly a complete stranger.  Ada was the one who chose what happened that day.  He chose to save your life at that cost.  He won’t fault you for things beyond your power to control.”  Aragorn tried to console, but it wasn’t easy for Legolas to accept.  

The wood-elf sighed.  “I love you, my friend, but you don’t understand.  You can’t.”

Aragorn wished there was something he could say.  There wasn’t, so instead he reached out and gave his friend a gentle hug.  “Legolas, you are right, I can’t understand what this must be like, but I am certain that it will pass.  Give it time, mellon-nín, give it time.  It will fade.”
“You think so?” Legolas whispered softly.
“Yes, I do.” Aragorn nodded.  “You are far too strong, Legolas Greenleaf, to lose yourself, this I know.  You are weary and under much stess right now, so it is harder for you to cope with these things.” Aragorn coughed slightly, shivering against the chill of the night air and his own over-sensitive susceptibility to the cold.  He smiled wryly.  “I know, I’m not doing so well either.  But in time, my friend, we will both mend.”

Legolas nodded slowly.  He would still have to deal with the troublesome phantom memories as they arose, but he had to hope and believe that Estel was right.  With time, it would get easier.  Having at least spoken his fears aloud made him feel a little calmer. “All right then, come.  Let us both go back and get what rest we can.  Gwaihir will return in only a few days and we must be ready to leave,” the elf suggested. 


Over the next few days, Aragorn teased Legolas almost unmercifully whenever the elf exhibited any kind of behavior that veered too close towards that of his foster father. 
Despite many glares and death-threats, Legolas actually appreciated what his friend was doing.  Aragorn was slowly desensitizing him to his own overactive paranoia that he was adopting too much of someone else’s personality.  Taking a lighter view of things seemed to help a bit and Legolas was relieved when, on their last night with the Angmar refugees, he was finally able to rest in peace without dreaming of Celebrían or anyone else from Elrond’s life.  

When Gwaihir and his companion, Minhalthain, finally returned to collect their passengers, Aragorn and Legolas were both ready to go home, and yet, a small part of them hated to leave.  

Goodbyes with Yrinvan, Tinald and Ahnna were brief and un-belabored, and yet surprisingly heartfelt.  Legolas promised Ahnna that, when he returned home, he would inquire in Laketown to find out if any of her kin yet lived there.  He would send word of what he discovered, as well as supplies to aid them along their way.  It would take time, but the former slaves were patient.  

Right before they left, Yrin shook both of their hands one last time.  “Legolas, Strider, we are a people who have come to see goodbyes as a way of life.  Thank you.  Thank you both for showing us how much can happen before that goodbye.  For giving us a taste of freedom.” 

Legolas smiled.  “Your freedom is your own doing, Yrin. No one handed it to you.  You took the chance; you, Tinald and all the others, you made it happen.  Let your people be a proud people again and remember that you are servants of no one.  Remember that, and tell it to your children, that they may know the gift you have given them.”  The elf smiled down at little Mahdi who was clinging shyly to her mother’s skirts.  The child was slowly returning to full health, as were the other sickly children.  

Tinald smiled.  “We will.  Your words are true, but you still have our thanks.  We might have sat in that mountain until we died, too afraid to act, had you two not come and given us hope.” 

“Then I say we are even,” Aragorn replied with a smile of his own.  “For Legolas and I would never have survived without you and Yrin.” 

“It is time to leave while the winds are good,” Minhalthain advised.

Aragorn and Legolas complied with the eagles’ wishes and made their way out onto the ridge where the great birds awaited them.  

“May the Valar bless you, your people, and your new start!” Aragorn called back to Yrin and Tinald.  

Their last view of the former slaves was of Yrin standing next to Tinald with his arm around Ahnna’s waist.  All three were waving.  All three were smiling. 

Spring was coming to the frozen wasteland and here and there crocuses and new greenery were beginning to appear.  The refugees of Angmar were reaching the new spring of their lives and it was already beginning to bud.  Silently, Legolas and Aragorn both wished them well as the Eagles carrying them caught a thermal clime and spiraled up into the air.  Flying away from Angmar, they winged their way south.