Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 6: Abandoned

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Shadows are falling and I’m running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for awhile.

If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile.

When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for while...

-- Warren Zevon

Legolas tossed and turned in a troubled dream.  He dreamt that Aragorn knelt and kissed his brow before disappearing into the darkness.  The elf tried to call out, to stop his friend... but he could not.  The human was gone and a devastating wave of grief washed over the elf.

“Estel!” Legolas awoke at his own cry and found that he was staring up into the dawn-lit sky, warmed by the bright glow of the sun as it spread out across the landscape.

He blinked.  Aragorn should not have let him sleep this long.  Drat the human, he was going to make himself more ill!  Rolling on to his elbow, Legolas looked around for his friend, ready to chide him.

No one was there.

The fire had burned itself out long ago and the smoldering coals lay unattended in the stone ring.

Legolas sat up and scrambled quickly to his feet, letting the blanket fall away from him as his gaze darted across the small, deserted camp.  Even Aragorn’s pack was gone.  The ranger’s tracks led to the edge of the camp and then simply disappeared.

“Strider?  Strider!  Estel!!” the elf shouted in alarm, turning in circles as he scanned the area.  It did not feel as if the human had merely stepped away for a few moments and, if he had, he would not have taken all his gear with him.

Suddenly Legolas’ senses caught up with his body and he realized that he was clutching something in his left hand.  Opening his fingers almost fearfully, Legolas stared down in horror at the small, gold and silver star in his palm.

Aragorn’s brooch.  The one he always wore.  The one Elladan gave him to remind him that he would never be alone.

Legolas clenched the pin tightly in his fist, letting it dig into his injured palm.  He wanted to scream, to wail at the heavens as he realized what must have happened.

Aragorn had left him.

Legolas knew his friend had had the best of intentions, but the abandonment burned like a hot knife in his chest.  It burned like the deepest kind of betrayal of trust and it stole away his breath.

The ranger had left him, intending to go to Angmar and die there alone.  Aragorn would walk knowingly into the dark snare laid before him, and Legolas would never see him again.  After all they had been through, after Legolas had even been willing to share his very immortality, Aragorn had simply walked away and left him alone.  The ranger had abandoned him here without a word or a second glance.

Legolas’ throat was so tight he realized he was gagging.  He physically couldn’t breathe.  He knew Aragorn’s actions weren’t intended as betrayal but, Valar, that was exactly what it felt like.

His dream came back to him and the elf felt tears sting his eyes, sliding heedlessly down his cheeks.  He fell back to his knees in despair.

He never even got to say goodbye.  Aragorn was simply there one minute and gone the next, vanishing in the night as if their whole, wonderful friendship had been nothing but a fleeting dream flittering across the immortal prince’s life.  He had always feared their parting would be so one day, but he had never expected it to be this brutal or this abrupt.

Legolas could not accept this.  He could not let it end this way.  Rising to his feet, the elf used his stubborn determination to move up and to hide the crushing grief he felt.

Aragorn was not getting away with this.  The ranger might be content to accept that his time had come but Legolas was not, not without a fight.  If Aragorn walked into the Witch-king’s clutches alone, the elf knew he was never coming out again.  Together... maybe they had a chance.

Estel had always been the hopeful one, the one who never gave up, and Legolas had come to depend on that.  Now, however, it seemed that his friend was ready to bow to a fate he should not have to accept.  Legolas’ hands tightened on Aragorn’s broach.  Well then, he would just have to hold Estel’s hope alive inside of him, and trust that he could bring it back to the human before it was too late.

After quickly picking up the remainder of the camp, Legolas set out to follow his friend.  He could find no trace of the ranger’s trail, but he knew the direction he would have gone.

He would find him.  He had to.


Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

-- Warren Zevon
The sky was low and heavy with clouds.  From time to time the distant, muted sounds of far-off thunder shook the heavens.

Legolas glanced skyward gauging the weather.  The storm would in all likelihood pass, saving its heavy burden for the mountains higher up the valley.  It was well enough because a rainstorm here would only turn into sleet and snow, which would be an untimely impediment to his journey.

Redirecting his gaze, the elf searched the ground before him for any telltale signs that the ranger had passed this way.  It had been days that he had been traveling alone now, trying desperately to find Aragorn’s trail and rejoin the human.  He knew they were heading into the same direction, but the icy landscape was vast and cluttered.  There might be a hundred different ways to approach the dark mountain.  Two people had very little chance of finding one another out here, especially if one of them did not wish to be found.  The frustrated elf wasn’t even sure that he hadn’t passed right by the ranger.  He had no way of knowing if he was now ahead of him or not.

The twins always swore that Aragorn could hide himself when he wanted to, only to be found if he so desired.  They were right.

The ground gave up no hint of the ranger’s path, no sign that any human life had come this way before.  Legolas was growing more frustrated and angry by the minute.  Given his present state of mind, it might have been better for the poison to get the ranger before the elf caught up with him.  If he found the human he was going to make sure Aragorn never pulled such a stupid stunt again.

Legolas winced in silent desperation at his own slip.  “When, not if,” he reminded himself.  Anger was easier to focus on than heartbreak right now, but they were both there in equal measure.

The winds picked up slightly as he crested the bowl of the small valley in which he had been walking.  Up ahead, the call of a lone wolf drifted through air.  In moments the howl was joined by several growls.

Legolas stopped on the ridge and listened, trying to decipher what they were saying.  He was startled to realize that the wolves were moving away rapidly, heading east.  It could only mean one thing this far north: either they had found prey, or they were the prey.

With a burst of speed the elf raced toward the general area where the wolves had been.  He hoped it would shed some light on his friend’s whereabouts and yet feared what he might find.  If the poison had begun to affect Aragorn again as it had before, there was no telling in what shape the ranger would be.

As he ran, a dark shape blotted out the sky above him, passing over him and disappearing behind the tree line.  As Legolas ran, he glanced up to see what had caused the momentary eclipse.  The black form of a winged Nazgûl mount darted ahead of him, its shrill, piercing cry rending the air.  The sight of the evil beast set a dread in the elf’s heart for which Legolas was unprepared.

It had been years since he had laid eyes on the vile creatures the Úlairë used as their mounts.  He knew they were close to Angmar, but not this close.  Why was the beast here and what was it doing?

Legolas had little time to ponder those thoughts as he raced through the trees, following the morgul beast’s path.  It seemed to be en-route to the same vicinity he was and his fear escalated.

The dark shadow dropped through the trees with a shriek.  The keening cry was met with sounds of snarling barks and growls that the elf could just now identify.



It really had been a stupid idea.  After the third day of trudging alone through the wilds towards the distant peak of Angmar, Aragorn knew he had made a mistake.  There was no way he was going to make it to the mountains on his own.  He was moving too slow and failing too fast.  Yet, even now, he could not bring himself to turn back.  He probably could not have found Legolas again had he tried and, even if he did,  it would only mean Legolas’ end as well as his own.  Now, nearly a week of hard traveling after having parted from his friend, he was certain he had lost the elf far behind him.

Aragorn’s steps faltered.  The poison was wreaking havoc with his system and he was weary beyond belief.  Yet he dared not stop, not now.  He knew he was being hunted.  He had heard them.  They thought they were being quiet, but they weren’t.

A pack of wargs had picked up his trail a few minutes ago, routing the wolves that had been dogging his steps, trailing him since dawn.  They could sense that the human was in distress as easily as they could pick out the sickly member of a herd of sheep.  The ghostlike hunters had stayed to the safety of the trees, waiting for dark to take down the lone man.  Now their sleek shapes had been exchanged for the more powerful, hulking forms of the wargs that had chased them away.  It was not an improvement.  Aragorn would have taken wolves over wargs any day.

Aragorn pulled his sword from its scabbard and doggedly continued walking.  It wouldn’t matter soon.  The poison or the wargs would get to him.  A better end than at the hands of what lay waiting for him in Angmar, he supposed.  He hoped Legolas wouldn’t find him after the fact.  He didn’t want the elf to see.  Secretly he hoped Legolas would actually appear any minute now, but he knew he had covered his tracks too well.  In all likelihood the wood elf would pass by his final resting place and never know the man had perished.

“Serves you right,” Aragorn chided himself darkly.  He felt incredibly guilty over having left Legolas alone.  What if something had happened to the prince?  He had no way of knowing.  Legolas had been sleeping so soundly when Aragorn left; he hadn’t even realized he was alone.

With a weary sigh, Aragorn tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  His gaze darted into the forest that bracketed his right.  He could see the wargs pacing him, their eyes glowing oddly in the fading light.  It wouldn’t be long before they judged their time was right.  He needed to find safety, some place where he could construct a fire and keep the mountains at his back.  He needed to find it quickly.

A small, bowled-out meadow nestled back against the granite cliffs up ahead, beckoning him.  A long since abandoned fire ring sat partially overgrown near the far edge.  There was enough light to make it safely there and plenty of debris on the ground for a fire.  If he hurried he could make it.

Sheathing his sword, the ranger picked up his pace, keeping to the edge of the granite shelf.  The mountains rose straight out of the forest here at the base of the rocky incline.  Large pieces of shale and granite littered the area, tripping him up and impeding his progress.

The wargs paced the wounded man, content to let him wear himself out and make their jobs easier.  The less fight their prey could muster, the happier they were.  Low, throaty growls emanated from the woods, causing the ranger to glance in their direction.

Sweat beaded across Aragorn’s forehead and his breathing was ragged as he pushed himself faster and harder.  Just a few more steps and he would reach his goal.  He stumbled and fell into the shallow bowl, rolling down the grassy incline.

The sounds of his pursuers increased as the wargs rushed towards the downed man.  The moment they had been waiting for had arrived.

Knowing he was out of time, the ranger curled in on himself, covering his head with his hands as the dark bodies poured into the meadow.


The wraith’s mount wheeled high overhead, watching the human stumble along towards his master’s castle.  Its keen eyes had seen the wargs that rushed silently along the edges of the forest, following the ranger.

It hated people.  In fact it hated just about everything, except its bed in Angmar and the orcs that fed it.  It tolerated them, and its master of course, but the beast had no reason to be pleased with its life, no source of joy for its existence.  It lived with the twisted soul of a human corpse for its master.  Its sole purpose was to do the Nazgûl’s bidding.  As much as it desired to ignore the wraith, it could not.  It had been made for the Úlairë and the Úlairë was its own.

The Witch-king had sent his mount out to watch and protect the human and the elf as they made their way to his northern home.  He wanted no harm to befall them on their journey and had impressed that wish upon the morgul beast.

Now it seemed the human’s flailing attempts to reach the castle had attracted a pack of wargs.  When the large, wolf-like creatures swarmed towards the ranger, the mount was actually pleased.  It would finally get to take out its aggressions on something.

Folding its wings back, the fell beast arrowed towards the meadow, loosing a shrill, keening cry.  The shriek of the creature threw the wargs into a momentary panic.  It was enough time for the mount to drop down over the creatures and grasp one of the large males, hefting the warg high into the air and dropping it back into the forest.  Wheeling in a tight circle, the flying beast dove a second time.

Aragorn was on his feet and running for the more defensible area of the fire ring.  He threw his pack to the ground and pulled his sword.  Behind him, the rock walls rose high, protecting him on two sides.  The only way for the wargs to approach him was through a frontal assault and he would go down fighting.  Wiping the sweat from his eyes with the sleeve of his coat, he widened his stance and waited for the wargs to regroup.

He didn’t know where the wraith’s mount had come from, although he had a good idea that it was what had been following them all along.  At the moment he did not care.  Any help he could get was welcome and right now the morgul beast seemed to be on his side.

Though momentarily distracted, the wargs had not forgotten why they were there and quickly regrouped.  Fanning out around the edges of the meadow, they stalked back towards Aragorn’s position.

A smaller, younger warg to the ranger’s left feinted at the human, drawing the man’s attention and garnering a quick response from Aragorn.  Turning sharply, the ranger arched his sword, swinging it up into the cub and catching the wargling across the chin, drawing blood.

An adult from the right flank charged the distracted man, throwing him backwards with its bulk as it hit Aragorn broadside.  His reflexes were slowed, his reactions muddied by the poison flowing in his blood and he had no time to react.  Rolling with the blow, Aragorn sliced at the warg’s underbelly.  He cried out as the beast pinned his arm with its huge paw.  The sharp, curved talons cut through his coat and dug into his skin.

In a flash the warg was gone.  A windstorm swept around the prone man as the enraged, winged mount swooped into the meadow and pulled the warg off the human.  Its great wings back beat the air as it gained altitude, quickly kicking up dirt and debris and clearing the ring of predatory beasts back to the edges of the field.  Stupid little human.  It couldn’t even take care of itself.  The fell beast snapped the spine of the warg in its mouth viciously.


Legolas, tracking the footsteps of the ranger through the long grasses, had nearly reached the meadow.  Aragorn’s weaving trail was no longer masked and the elf could tell just how badly his friend was faring.  Keeping an eye on the skies overhead and focusing on the sounds of battle just beyond him, Legolas raced forward.  He heard Aragorn’s pained cry and reached for his bow and arrows, afraid of what he would see as he crested the knoll.

His fears were not unfounded.  He saw Aragorn fighting off a large warg that sprang at him from the left, leaping from the ring that was slowly tightening around the ranger.

With a shout Aragorn thrust his sword into the creature’s chest, ducking the massive head and turning away just in time to avoid the beast’s claws.  The rest of the pack had no intention of giving the human a break.  A large, matriarchal warg charged the man, taking advantage of his slow recovery from the last attack.

“Aragorn!” Legolas shouted a warning to the human as the dark creature charged him from the right.  The warg bowled the ranger over, pouncing on his chest and pinning him in place.  She howled in pain as one arrow struck her hindquarters and another one slammed into her shoulder.

Legolas raced down the shallow incline, firing arrows into the pack of wargs and scattering the large creatures.  The winged mount dove into the fray, picking up wargs and dropping back into the woods.  It caught sight of the elf and screamed in rage.

It remembered that being.  That was the one who had hurt it in its own home. It had harbored a special hatred for the elf ever since.

Legolas’ arrow targeted the warg’s skull, the tip of his arrow aiming for the base of the monster’s head as it turned back to the ranger.  Aragorn slashed at the warg’s paws.  He tried to wriggle out from under the creature’s weight but he was pinned down fast.

Breathing out slowly, the elf let the arrow fly.

The warg standing on the ranger stared into the human’s eyes.  For a fraction of a second, a low growl emanated from the slathering, open mouth before it fell dead.  It crashed down on top of Aragorn, crushing the air from his lungs.

With an ear-piercing scream the morgul creature dropped from the sky, descending on Legolas.  So intent was the elf on the battle in the grotto that he did not pay attention to the winged creature’s position.

The mount slammed into the elf, raking his talons across the prince’s shoulder as they hooked pincer-like into the fair being’s flesh.

Burning pain swallowed Legolas’ consciousness as he suddenly found the ground rushing up to meet him, having been viciously bowled over from behind.  Merciless talons like razor sharp daggers tore his shoulder as he felt his body being jerked to a stop before he could hit the ground.  The prince was lifted slightly, only to be shaken and thrown back to the earth as he was released.  The piercing cry of the morgul mount made his eardrums cringe as the elf painfully rolled onto his back.  Bringing up his knives, he tried to put some defense between himself and his assailant. 

His attacker was already far out of reach, however, and had no intention of pressing the elf right now.  The treacherous creature circled overhead, glaring down at Legolas with a certain amount of satisfaction as the elf’s red blood dripped from one of its hideous claws.

It wheeled on the tip of its wing, screaming at the fair being that lay on the ground.  It was incensed.  It had had to protect what it hated.  If it hadn’t been ordered by its master to let no harm befall these two on their journey, it would have enjoyed watching the wargs shred the elf to pieces.  He would have enjoyed helping.

Legolas rose unsteadily to his feet, keeping a weary eye on the sky.  He winced and held his bleeding shoulder, much to the mount’s satisfaction.  The elf saw the flash of an old scar on the beast’s wing as it circled upwards.

Small-brained though the morgul creature might be, it had not forgotten the member of the Eldar race who had injured it several years ago in its own home, where it should have been safe.  The bone still ached in the cold seasons and it was continually cold in Angmar.  The break had healed slowly and its master had not been patient.  The light from the elf hurt its eyes, despicable creature.  The fell beast lashed out at the remaining wargs, lighting down in their midst and scattering them with a sweep of its powerful tail.  If it couldn’t have the elf, it would take its anger out on something else.

Leaping skyward, the Nazgûl’s mount drove the wargs into the forest and disappeared behind the sky line, bellowing in frustration and rage.  It had wanted to kill the elf but had restrained itself.  The wargs would find no such mercy from the morgul creature.  Still, he had marked the elf even as the elf had marked him, and the archer would not forget the pain of that wound anytime soon.  That gave the creature a small amount of pleasure at least.

Legolas fingered his torn tunic gently.  The morgul beast’s talons had ripped deeply into his shoulder muscle and the cuts stung sharply.  The wound would need to be tended to, but not right now.  His attention was redirected as the warg that had fallen on Aragorn shifted slightly and the human groaned, struggling with the weight of the dead creature.

Stumbling forward, Legolas heaved the bulk of the carcass off the ranger and glared down at the man.


Aragorn grinned a sheepish greeting, but there was no answering spark in the elf’s steely gaze.

“Legolas, I...”  Aragorn started to speak but was silenced as the elf stalked away a few paces, silencing the man with a short sharp gesture.  Whatever the human had to say, the elf wasn’t ready to hear.

Pulling himself upright, the ranger wove unsteadily on his feet.  His head was pounding.  The warg had crushed the air out of him.  His chest ached with the act of breathing, and his heart ached at the anger and disapproval in his friend’s eyes.  Grimacing, Aragorn leaned over and steadied himself against the dead beast.

“Legolas...” the ranger tried to get his friend to turn around and look at him.

“Why?”  The emotion-charged word ripped from the prince when he did turn back towards the man.

Aragorn resisted the urge to step back under the force of the elf’s withering glare.  He leaned a little more heavily against the dead warg.

“What were you thinking?” Legolas demanded harshly.  “What were you trying to do?  Did you think I wouldn’t follow you?  That I would simply return home as if nothing had happened?  Maybe send word to your family, ‘oh, so sorry, Estel felt the need to go die in Angmar alone, so I let him?’  Is that what you wanted?  Is it?!  I thought we already discussed this!  I thought we were in agreement!  We promised to always stand by one another.  I trusted you!  I let you share my soul, Estel, and you left me!”  The elf was practically yelling.

“And this?”  He held up the brooch Aragorn had given to him.  “How did you think to keep the promise that this was given with?  Do you think I value my life over yours?”

Legolas was trying his hardest not let his emotions get the best of him, but it wasn’t working.  He had thought of all the things he wanted to say and would say when he had finally caught up with the ranger.  He had put it together very diplomatically and reasonably in his mind.   But after seeing Aragorn run down by the wargs and the fear of having lost him already, the elf’s weary heart could take no more.  It overloaded and Aragorn got the full brunt of the prince’s confused and roiling emotions.  Legolas’ words were edged with a fear-induced harshness, but he had barely finished the angry tirade before tears slipped from his eyes and slid down his face.

Taking a shuddering breath, Aragorn kept his eyes focused on the ground.  He was so glad to see his friend and at the same time so afraid of what would happen to him because of where they were headed.

“No,” he whispered, his voice low and soft.  “No, you do not think enough of your own life and that is why I left.”  Slowly Aragorn raised his gaze to meet that of the elf’s. The bright blue eyes facing him were filled with tears and accusations.  The ranger realized how much he had hurt his friend and it echoed achingly in his own heart.  He hadn’t wanted to cause this pain, but what was he supposed to do? “I have told you before, I am mortal.  I will die.  You don’t have to.  Not now, and not here in this wasteland at the mercies of an evil that I know you fear more than death itself,” Aragorn pressed on doggedly, trying to make his friend see his point of view. His decision to leave had not come as quickly or as suddenly as Legolas might think.  The ranger had been considering it ever since they had set out together.  Visions of Legolas’ cold, dead eyes in the forests near Rivendell when the Nazgûl had bent him to his will, and of the broken elf that had begged Aragorn to end his life in Mordor filled the ranger’s heart and mind with horror.  How could he take the elf back into that kind of darkness?  It had nearly destroyed him twice. “I cannot stand to see you destroyed by the Witch-king,” he continued softly. “The first time was hard enough.  You give so freely that I am frightened for you.  Do you not realize what he will do if he captures us both?  How he will use us against one another if he can?  How he will destroy one or both of us slowly if it gets him what he wants?  I cannot watch him do that to you.”  The anguish in Aragorn’s eyes was deep.

“And do you think that I am such a coward that I would turn my back on you and allow you to go through whatever lies ahead alone?  Did you learn nothing from the mistakes of your brothers?”  Legolas took a step forward, his brow furrowed in a deep frown. “Do you even remember what you told them in the mountains?  When they thought they were better off without us?  What will it reward you to go on your own?  What will you accomplish?  You walk into certain death.  But if there is help and you refuse it, where is the wisdom in that?  It is folly to me.  We cannot defeat this unless we are together.  Together you and I have a chance.  Alone you are dead.  Do you think I can watch that or allow that to happen to you anymore than you would to me?   Don’t turn me away, and don’t you dare try to tell me to leave, because I will no more listen to you than I would to Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen.”  There was no room for argument in the prince’s tone.

Silence fell in the small glen and Aragorn dropped his gaze once more.  His heart warred within him.  He desperately wanted his friend near.  With the elf around it was so much easier to endure the havoc that the poisons wreaked in his system.  Legolas gave him hope when his own began to fail.  Yet he could not watch the fair being destroyed.  They had been on the brink of that too many times before for him to endure it now.

“Estel, please.”  Legolas whispered, breaking through the human’s thoughts.  He knew Aragorn wanted to protect him, but what the human had to understand was that, to leave Aragorn now and let him face this fate alone, would destroy the elf as surely as any darkness.

Everything was so wrong.  Aragorn’s thinking was fuzzy and his resolution wavered.  The world blurred around him and the ranger found himself suddenly on his knees, breathing heavily.  He held his head gingerly in his hands until the throbbing abated, willing the world to stop spinning.

“Estel!”  Legolas cried out in alarm as he watched the human collapse.  He raced quickly to the ranger’s side.   Aragorn was holding his head and his breathing were labored as though he was in pain. Kneeling beside his friend, the elf gently brushed Aragorn’s hair back and pressed the palm of his hand against the man’s forehead.  The ranger was burning up and his cheeks were flushed. “Where is your pack?”  Legolas asked softly.

“What?”  The silver eyes that watched the elf were glazed with confusion.

“Your pack, where is it, Estel?”  The question was repeated patiently.

Glancing slowly about them, Aragorn winced and stopped moving.  “Over there.”  He pointed to a partly constructed fire ring.  The bag had been dropped on the far side.

It took Legolas a few moments to find what he was looking for and he found it a little odd that he recognized all the herbs he came across as he rummaged through the leather bag.  There was a time when he had found Aragorn’s pack to always be a confusing jumble of supplies he didn’t understand.  He supposed he must have been around Aragorn far too much and the human was rubbing off on him.  He had just found what he was looking for and had retrieved Aragorn’s water skin when a small commotion behind him drew the elf’s attention back to where he had left the ranger.

The wraith’s winged mount had returned.  Dropping down through the trees, the large, winged creature alighted a yard away from Aragorn.  It walked slowly, cautiously forward, sniffing the air and exclaiming small cries as it advanced on the human.

Thinking his friend was in danger, the elf leapt to his feet and drew his bow, notching an arrow against the taut string.  The mount’s attention snapped towards the elf and it hissed low and menacingly, raising up slightly and extending its wings.  The right wing bone carried a white scar where Legolas had severed it in Mordor. Legolas could see it clearly now.  The animal roared at the small being and dropped back down, using its winged claws like feet as it walked forward.

“Legolas, no.  I...” Aragorn scooted back a bit as the creature advanced.  “I think it’s just hungry.”  He finished his sentence as Legolas dropped his bow and ran forward, grabbing the ranger from behind and hauling him to his feet.  He pulled Aragorn back with him as the winged beast picked up the dead warg’s carcass in its mouth and vaulted skyward, disappearing back behind the line of trees.

Breathing a small sigh of relief, Aragorn relaxed in the elf’s grip.  The presence of his friend was like a breath of fresh wind and he inhaled deeply as Legolas gently eased him back down to the ground near the unfinished fire pit.  In moments the elf was pressing a mug full of cool water into the ranger’s hand.  The liquid was laced with a fever-reducing herb and the medicine went to work quickly, mercifully soothing the fiery ache that burned inside of him.

“You should be taking better care of yourself.”  Legolas chided softly.  “You have this for a reason, take it.”

“I was in a hurry.”  Aragorn laughed softly.

“I imagine you were.  To make sure I would not catch up.”  The hurt within the quiet words caused the human to glance up sharply.

“I never meant to hurt you, Legolas.  I saw what happened when you used the Togiuith, how much it took from you.  I didn’t want to be that kind of a burden.” Aragorn was sick at heart that this had come between them so badly.

It was Legolas’ turn to drop his gaze as he tried to hear the truth in Aragorn’s words.  He knew the ranger thought he had done the right thing for the right reasons, but the abandonment stung and his heart still ached from the fear of the perceived loss.  “Human, if you were a burden I would have left you in the depths of Moria with those orcs the first time we encountered them together.  Actually, no, I would have left you to Raniean and Trelan when they considered you nothing more than another brutish adan who might hurt me, a worse fate than being left with orcs, trust me.  Trelleps would have been the least of your worries.”  Legolas glanced at Aragorn out of the corner of his eyes.  He fought the smile that tugged at the corners of his lips.  He was trying to release his hurt feelings and let the situation go.  They were together, that was what mattered.  “You are the brother of my heart, gwador, you cannot leave me behind.”  Legolas entreated softly.

“I didn’t want to.  I was just afraid.”  Aragorn placed the mug on the ground and leaned forward, pulling the elf into a tight hug.  “I promise I won’t do it again.  I really do not think I can survive this on my own, if I survive it at all.”

“You will survive.  We will see to it.”  Legolas winced slightly as the ranger’s arms tightened around him, but the relief in his heart would not let him move from the embrace.

“I’m sorry, my friend.” Aragorn apologized softly.  “I really am.”

Legolas didn’t answer, there was no need.  Aragorn knew he was forgiven without words.  The elf simply nodded against his friend, holding the man gently.

“You have wounds that I would see to,” Legolas said softly after a moment.

The words garnered a warm chuckle as Aragorn pushed the elf playfully back.

“Oh I do?!”  The ranger crossed his arms and stared at the elf.  “And I suppose you would call those claw marks on your back simply scratches?”  The question was sarcastic and garnered the desired smile from his companion.

When the elf started to protest, the ranger checked him. “Ah! Think through that answer before you speak. I hold all the herbs, you know.”  He smiled wickedly at the prince.

With a laugh Legolas conceded.  “No, my friend, they are more than scratches I fear.  But I would have a look at yours first.  My heart needs to know that you are all right, Estel, and I will be a much better patient if I know your pain is at least somewhat dulled.”

A brilliant smile decorated the man’s face.  He felt better now that the tension between them seemed to be slowly easing away.

“As you wish,” he relented, shrugging out of his tunic and exposing the cuts on his upper arm and chest that the warg had dealt him.  In all truth they were surface scratches only, but as they had both so painfully learned, warg-inflicted injuries were not to be underestimated.

The wraith’s mount had dealt Legolas a more grievous blow, and it took Aragorn some time to clean and bandage the deep cuts.  Cruel talons had mercilessly slashed flesh and muscle, missing vital tendons only by inches.  As soon as Aragorn got the prince’s shirt off, he realized the injury was much worse than he had originally thought.  With anyone other than Legolas, Aragorn would have been surprised that they were still functioning around the pain.

Legolas merely sat on the stone on which Aragorn had directed him and gripped his knee tightly with his good hand, biting back the agony with well-trained stoicism.  His breath hissed between his teeth, but he gave no other sign of distress.

“You will be all right,” Aragorn diagnosed quietly out of habit.  “But you shouldn’t use your bow for a bit while this heals.”  A mortal with such wounds might expect to never use the arm again with any degree of accuracy and control, but Aragorn knew Legolas would eventually heal with no lasting damage.

Legolas gave a small snort.  “Well I’ll tell that to any enemies we encounter.”  His sarcasm was gentle, but Aragorn understood that the elf would not heed his advice.  In their current situation he could not really blame him.

By the time the ranger was through, Legolas was stiff and sore and his wearied heart felt exhausted from emotional stress and physical pain.  He graciously accepted Aragorn’s help getting back into his tunic and jerkin.

The two quickly finished setting up the fire pit and had a blaze merrily sparking in it in no time.  They shared the last of Aragorn’s dried venison and the small cache of berries the man picked from the woods they walked through.  The food might have been meager, but the companionship was pleasant.  Though neither of them admitted it openly, they both were comforted by the fact that they were headed out together again.  Slowly, the tension between them gave way to a kind of quiet relief.  They had known each other too long to remain awkward with one another indefinitely.  Reluctant to drop their guards immediately after the attack, they remained awake for a time and spoke of unimportant matters.  Aragorn pressed Legolas on an explanation for his previous statement about Raniean and Trelan’s intended torment, which became a source of great amusement.

Eventually, silence fell across the fire.  Aragorn threw another handful of kindling twigs into the bright flames and watched as the pitch sizzled and sparked.

“Tired?” Legolas’ soft question caused the man to glance up and raise one eyebrow.

It was a few moments before Aragorn answered. “Yes.”  He stretched and lay down on his side, his eyelids heavy.  The poisons were still wreaking havoc with his body, but his spirit felt lightened.  He shivered slightly as a chill ran up his spine.  It was difficult to tell how much of the cold ache was seeping up from the ground under him and how much came from the venom claiming him.  He smiled softly as Legolas stood and rounded the fire, removing his cloak and spreading it out on the ground.

“Use my cloak, Strider.  It’s warmer.”  The elf stepped over the ranger as Aragorn rolled onto the soft cloth and pulled the edges around him.  Legolas tossed the human’s blanket over the man’s shoulders and sat down next to him. 

With a sigh, the ranger closed his eyes. “I’m not going anywhere.” Aragorn mumbled softly, not moving from his place on Legolas’ cloak as he felt the elf gently reach out and touch his shoulder.  Thinking the ranger was sleeping, Legolas had simply wanted to assure himself that the human was still there with him.

The elf didn’t answer.

Slowly opening his eyes, the ranger glanced at the prince and repeated himself.  “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Blue eyes glanced down at the man, watching him carefully.

Worried, Aragorn tried to rise up on his elbows but was pressed firmly in place by the elf’s hand.  Wordlessly, Legolas lay down next to the human, facing the ranger.

“You promised to wake me too.  You frightened me, Estel.”  Legolas didn’t want to bring it up again, but the words came almost unbidden.  Shaken trust took a little time to rebuild.

“I know.”  Aragorn swallowed hard.  “I’m sorry, Legolas.  I truly am.  I never...”

The elf silenced the man.  They had been over this before.  Legolas was not angry at his friend anymore and he did not want him to apologize again.  He understood the ranger’s motives... he was just still getting over the fear and hurt of it all.  Slowly he opened his left hand, allowing the ranger to see what he held in his palm.  The small star brooch Aragorn had given him sparkled softly in the dim light of the fire.

Aragorn started and reached out tentatively with his left hand, covering the silver pin. 

Legolas’ fingers wrapped around his and crushed the ornate brooch between their palms. "Le ú-nach erui,” the prince whispered.  “You will never be alone.”

With a small nod Aragorn understood.   “Never again,” he echoed the soft whisper.  “Sleep, my friend.  We’ll be safe with that morgul beast watching our backs and I will be here when you wake.”

Legolas rubbed his injured shoulder and snorted at how ‘safe’ that was, but he knew Estel was right.  The creature was probably under orders to see that no life-threatening harm befell them before they reached their destination.  Finally calmed in his soul, the prince nodded wordlessly, his eyes glazing over slightly as he gave in to his own extreme exhaustion.  His grip on Aragorn’s hand lessened imperceptibly.  He had nearly lost his friend; a part of him was not ready to let go just yet and the ranger wouldn’t mind.

Moving ever so slightly, Aragorn pulled the blanket over so that it draped the elf’s sleeping body, sharing the warmth between them.

A gentle rustling, like leaves being shaken by the wind, filtered through the camp, hushing the normal sounds of the night.  Aragorn tensed, knowing fully well that it was their sentinel settling in for the evening.  He could not see the beast but was certain that it was close.  They were safe for the moment; they would be until they reached Angmar.  Settling back uneasily he stilled as Legolas shifted closer, rolling onto his back and pulling Aragorn with him until the ranger’s hand rested against Legolas’ chest.  A deep, soft sigh emanated from the sleeping elf and Aragorn resettled himself next to his friend.

Le ú-nach erui,” he repeated the promise quietly before allowing sleep to steal over his weariness.  His body hurt and ached and he felt terrible, but his heart was relieved.  Tonight, the elf prince needed to know he was not alone almost as much as the ranger did.