Black Breath


by Cassia and Siobhan

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When the black breath blows
When death’s shadow grows
And all lights pass
Come athelas, come athelas
Life to the dying
In the king’s hand lying...

    Legolas’ body was so cold to the touch, it was frightening.  Were it not for the faint falling and rising of his chest ,Aragorn would have thought him already dead. 
    The Dùnadan had already cleansed the elf’s wound of whatever foul substances the Witch King had been giving him, but Legolas seemed to be falling deeper and deeper into the shadow. 
    Aragorn knew what the elf needed; he only hoped that he could do it.  Elrond had told him that he could, that he had the strength within him to drive back the shadow... but Aragorn was still afraid.  Afraid that he would fail when it was most important for him to not.
    With trembling fingers he poured some of the boiling water he had used to clean the prince’s wound into a small dish.  Holding the athelas leaves he had gathered in the palm of his hand, Aragorn breathed on the handful before crushing them and dropping them onto the water.  The clean, beautifully wholesome scent that reminded him of Rivendell and Elrond immediately filled the air.  The steam wafted around them and seemed to hang in the air, moistening every breath that they took with its healing fragrance.  He found himself relaxing as the herb cleansed the pall that surrounded them.
    After a few moments he was encouraged to see that a faint pink tint had returned to the elf’s dangerously grey skin.  Aragorn took hold of the prince’s hand.  Still cold, but not as cold.  Gently he rubbed Legolas' hand with his own, willing the heat of life to return.
    “Legolas,” he called quietly, with more authority than he knew he had.  “Legolas Greenleaf, come back.  Leave the shadow.  Return to the light.  Come back to me, to light, to life...” He spoke in elvish and his words lingered on the air.  “Legolas...” He closed his eyes and quieted his fears hoping that the athelas would work, unable to watch if he had failed.
    The prince stirred.  The slim hand that rested in Aragorn’s began to warm. The ranger reacted to the small change in the elf, leaning near, searching the prince’s face for signs of consciousness.  Legolas breathed in deeply and, very slowly, opened his eyes.  They were blurry and clouded with pain and confusion but, for the first time in days, Aragorn could see his friend in their silver-blue depths and he smiled in relief at the recognition in Legolas’ eyes.
    The elf blinked slowly.  “Wh-what happened?” he whispered faintly.  “I feel as if I have lived a nightmare somehow... yet I cannot remember...”
    “You have had a very bad dream my friend, but it’s over now.  It’s all over,” Aragorn soothed gently, lightly touching his friend’s tangled hair.  There would be plenty of time for Legolas to remember and deal with what had happened later. For now, he was just glad that the elf was recalled from the shadow.
    Legolas was not content with his answer, but felt too weak to protest. 
    “We will talk about it later,” Aragorn warded off any further questions.  “Rest now.  Rest.”  The sound of the grey tongue was so soothing to the elf. He couldn’t remember the last time he had heard it and he allowed the ranger’s words to comfort him.  There was a nagging unease in the back of his mind as though something had gone terribly wrong and he needed to be worried about it, but he couldn’t focus.
    Aragorn noted the tension in his friend and moved from his kneeling position, seating himself.  Gently he pulled Legolas into his lap and held the prince in his arms, cradling the elf’s head against his chest.  Fear from almost losing his friend caused his breathing to hitch in his throat.  “Relax, Legolas, you are safe now.”
    Legolas allowed himself to be held, letting go of the nagging fear that he couldn’t quite shake. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, although he didn’t know why he was apologizing.
    “No, no it’s all right. Don’t be.  Everything will be fine.”  The sweet clean scent of the athelas wound about the two of them, filling the small cave with a sense of peace and serenity as the rain gently continued to fall outside, its patter a calm resounding in the hollow.  Within moments the elf was sleeping soundly, his chest rising and falling normally and his open eyes staring vacantly, contented in rest.  Aragorn bent down and gently kissed the top of the elf’s fair head. It had been so close, too close.
    The ranger closed his eyes as the alternatives flashed through his mind.  A waft of athelas blew past him and he banished the dark thoughts from his consciousness. Whatever might have been, wasn’t.  Legolas stirred lightly in his sleep and Aragorn looked down at the elf and nodded. Yes, they would be all right. 


    The night was rent with a piercing cry and Aragorn jerked awake.  The cave was dark and the rain had finally stopped falling.  He heard the cry again and recognized it for what it was, elvish.
    “Legolas!” the ranger moved quickly to the dying fire and blew into the still warm embers, igniting the small flicker.  By the light of the fire he found the elf pressed up against the far wall, his eyes squeezed tightly closed and pain etched on every line of his face.
    “No. No more!  Stop please!” the elf was crying out, speaking rapidly in the grey tongue, caught in the midst of a nightmare.
    Aragorn scooted near the prince and gently gripped Legolas' shoulders, talking softly to the elf, trying to calm the terrors he was caught in.
    “Legolas, it is I, Estel.  Wake up. You are safe.”
    The elf shook his head, trying to pull away. “No, I killed him, he is dead.” The words came out in a sob.
    “Legolas, open your eyes, I live.” The human shook the elf with more force than he had meant to and the prince cried out, and gripped his wounded shoulder tightly, his eyes flying open to lock onto the silver ones staring at him.
    “I slit your throat,” Legolas’ voice trembled, not yet entirely free of the terror of the dream or conscious of the reality of his waking. 
    “No, you didn’t, you couldn’t.”  Aragorn gently eased Legolas’ hand away from his shoulder and checked the bandage to make sure he hadn’t accidentally reopened the wound. “You saved me.  You didn’t obey.  I am alive.”
    “I was going to kill you.   I betrayed you to Mordor and I...”
    “Stop!” Aragorn shushed the elf gently, touching the prince’s split lip with his fingers and silencing the self-condemning tirade.  “You were not acting as yourself, you were under the Nazgûl’s control. But he did not own you completely.”
    Legolas was staring at the ranger, listening, trying to make himself believe the words. “I remember everything, Estel.  I remember what he made me do. I remember holding the knife to your throat. I remember it all...”
    The utter look of sorrow on the elf’s face touched Aragorn’s heart and he pulled the prince into his arms and held him while he spoke softly, whispering in the elf’s ear, “I half hoped you wouldn’t remember anything, my friend.  I’m sorry.”
    Legolas pulled back and stared at the ranger, “Where is he?”
    Aragorn shook his head and looked back out into the forest, “Gone, I think. I am not sure he survived... although I fear he did.”
    “Survived what?”
    “I set his clothes on fire and he ran off into the woods.” The human shuddered at the memory of the wraith’s screams as they had echoed through the woods.
    Aragorn was jerked back to the present when Legolas lunged forward and grabbed his arm, demanding his attention.  “There was a woman and a child.  Did you find them, are they safe?”
    With a smile the man answered, “Maraen and Estelle?  Yes we found them.” He covered the elf’s shaking hands with his own. “They are safe and doing well, thanks to you and my father.  They are the reason I knew where to come looking for you.  Maraen didn’t remember anything when we found her, but her memory slowly returned and father was sure he would be able to heal her completely with the athelas. I didn’t wait to find out if it worked; I had to come looking for you.”
    Legolas relaxed slightly and looked to the floor of the cave, speaking softly, “They are the only reason I consented to staying with the Nazgûl.  He wanted to kill them and I traded my life for their own. Perhaps it was not the right choice...but I could think of no other.  I hoped they would make it to your home safely.”
    `“They did and they have you to thank for it.”
    “You don’t know what I did.” Legolas stared into the silver eyes, a haunted shadow darkening his own before he dropped his gaze. “I couldn’t stop myself from obeying him.”
    Aragorn reached out and placed his hand behind the elf’s head, pulling his friend closer, forcing the prince to focus on him. “I don’t need to.  I know who you are.  I know what lives inside you, and it is not darkness, it is light.  We have been here before, my friend.  You know that your heart is good.  Darkness can never truly own light.”
    Legolas nodded slightly in agreement and the ranger smiled back at him, changing the subject quickly, “Now come over here by the light and let me take a good look at that cut on your shoulder.  If you are feeling well enough, we’ll start back for home today.”
    The elf shifted nearer the fire, watching his friend closely. “Strider, tell me something.”
    Aragorn was preoccupied with Legolas’ wound.  “Sure, anything,” he muttered absently as he lathered the cut with crushed athelas leaves.
    “What happened at the falls?”
    The ranger stopped what he was doing and looked up at the elf in confusion. “What falls?”
    Legolas rolled his eyes and smiled lightly, “Did you hit your head on the way down?  Have you forgotten that you fell from the heights that day we went hunting?” It was, in fact, indelibly etched into the elf’s mind.
    “Oh!” Aragorn caught on to his friend's train of thought, “Yes, I guess I had forgotten, its been over a month now since I fell.” He rolled his shoulder testing it; it barely even ached now from the old wound.  He laughed at his forgetfulness. “I was so worried about you I forgot that you haven’t seen me since then.”  The ranger tied off the bandage and stopped talking as he noted the look of shock and pain on the elf’s face.
    “Legolas what is it?”  Aragorn leaned forward and touched the prince.
    The elf jumped slightly and stared at the ranger. “I’m sorry, did you say a month?”
    With a slight nod, Aragorn answered.  He watched his friend carefully, letting the silence grow between them before he spoke again.  “Did you not know how long you had been in the captivity of the Nazgûl?”
    “No.” Legolas whispered, looking away to the back of the cave to hide his horror.
    “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize...”
    “Everything was dark.  There was no day or night.  There was only pain and darkness.  I knew when I slept and when I woke, but I had no knowledge of time at all.  It was as though I was neither here nor absent from this life, but caught somewhere in between in shadow.”  He shuddered as the recollection caught him up once more.  “It seemed an eternity, but I had no idea it was so long.”
    Aragorn didn’t know how to respond.  He shifted closer and laid his arm across the elf’s shoulders.  “I’m sorry I didn’t come to find you sooner. I never imagined that you weren’t simply home with your father.  If I had known...”
    “My father!”  Legolas turned huge eyes on the ranger. “I never showed up!  He will know some ill has befallen me!”
    “Yes, he does.  He sent Raniean and Trelan to find out what had happened.”  Aragorn gazed into the fire, a small smile tugging at his lips. “I imagine they are pretty upset right about now.  I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night and left them behind.  No one will ever find us here, I made sure of it.  And if I know Elladan and Elrohir, they are probably out hunting us right now.”
    Legolas was not consoled by the humor, “It will tear at his heart.  I was not there for the last yèn.  He probably thinks that I disobeyed his request - again.”
    “Legolas, you didn’t.”  Aragorn focused his attention back on the elf. “You were going home. You even left without knowing if I were alive or not – which is how I would have had it.  When he hears what happened he will understand.”
    The elf looked at the ranger incredulously.  “Obviously you do not know my father very well.  He will be relieved that I did not disobey and then infuriated that I was taken captive, and by a Nazgûl no less!”
    Aragorn laughed, shaking his head. “I’m sorry.  It’s not funny.  I was just thinking that it’s a very good thing that your father never had any more sons and none the likes of me or my brothers. We would have brought his head down to the grave!”
    Legolas started laughing, pushing the human away from him. “I can't believe you said that!  But you are probably very correct.”
    “Don’t worry. I’ll go back with the three of you and we’ll explain it together.  It’ll work out just fine, you’ll see.”  He shook his head slowly, as he moved to the opposite side of the fire and began to collect their things, packing them into his sack as he spoke.  “And speaking of them, we best be heading back if you are able.  They were worried sick about you.  Sounds like the rain has stopped, so we should be able to travel with no problem.”
    “I am able to travel,” Legolas affirmed. “Let us go.”
    Aragorn turned and stared hard at the elf, “If you feel the least bit sick or need to rest, you had best tell me.  If you let that elven pride get in the way, I will never let you forget it.  Understood?  We can stay here a bit longer if you like.”
    The elf stared at the ranger with a look of disdain, “Are you quite through mothering me?”
    “Not until father says you are well, no!” The ranger set his pack down and leaned forward, returning the hard stare.
    They locked eyes for a few moments, neither backing down.  Aragorn had the patience to wear the elf down in this instance and Legolas dropped his gaze with a rueful smile, “You are more like your father than you realize.”
    “Thank you.” Aragorn smiled brilliantly at the elf, stepping lightly around the fire and seating himself back near his friend.  “Now are you ready?”
    “Under one condition.”  Legolas glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes.
    “All right.” Aragorn turned serious and stared openly back at the elf.  His intensity caused the prince to start laughing and Legolas pushed the ranger over with a gentle shove.
    “You must tell me what happened to you at the falls!”
    Aragorn broke out laughing as he forced his hands underneath him and moved to the entrance of the cave, “That, I can do!” 


    “So you are telling me that the whole time we were calling for you, you were behind the falls?” Legolas picked his way carefully around the roots of a large tree, his footing not as sure as he would have liked it to be as he trailed the ranger.
    “Yes.  You cannot believe how relieved I was to discover that I was in a cave just inside the falls.”  Aragorn slowed his pace and glanced behind him, discreetly watching the elf navigate the rough terrain.  “I have never been more afraid than when I realized I was trapped. What an awful feeling.”
    “Yes.” Legolas’ voice lowered as he thought. “I can understand.  I know exactly how you felt.”
    Aragorn turned and met the silver blue eyes of his friend, “You were conscious then, inside yourself the whole time?”
    “Yes.” The prince swallowed hard.  “I just could not keep myself from obeying. I had no control over my body.  It was like being locked inside a prison and I couldn’t get out.”
    “Well, then I guess we both probably have difficulties with tight spaces.”  Aragorn smiled a lopsided grin at the prince, intentionally trying to be light and draw his friend back out of the pain Legolas had begun retreating into again.  It worked, for the moment at least. 
    “Indeed we do,” the elf laughed, “At least you were able to...”
    His words were silenced as Aragorn held up his hand and stopped moving, kneeling quietly behind the cover of the brush that littered the forest floor.  Legolas crouched down next to him.
    “What is it?”
    “Someone approaches.” The ranger barely spoke, glancing slowly around the wooded area.  “Can you not hear them?”
    The elf nodded as the muted sounds of footsteps carried softly to him.  He laid his hand on the ranger’s back and when the man turned to look at him, the elf extended his hand palm up requesting a weapon, as his own had been taken from him by the wraith. 
    Aragorn slipped a knife from his boot and passed the dagger to the elf.
    The approaching foot falls had stopped and they both tensed in the unnatural silence.  Quiet, hushed conversation drifted to Legolas on the slight breeze and he touched his ear quickly before pointing in the direction that it came from. 
    The ranger nodded and motioned for the elf to stay while he moved around to scout out their new guests.  The elf pulled the ranger close and whispered softly in his ear, “I will go around the other side.”
    “No, you stay here,” Aragorn whispered back, his breath moving the blonde strands of hair. “You are not fully well yet.”
    “I am fine.” Legolas leaned back and stared hard into the dark silver eyes to emphasize his words.
    Aragorn grabbed him and pulled him back in close,.“You are not. Now do as I say.” Without waiting for the elf to respond, he twisted on his bootheels and crept off to the right to search out the unseen company. 

    Stealthily the ranger passed the small group up.  He could tell from the sounds that there was more than one person on the path.  Gaining a good position behind the company, he trailed them back towards Legolas.  As he closed the gap between himself and the persons in front of him, he recognized the small group and couldn’t help the smile that broke out on his face. 
    Quietly slinging his bow back over his shoulder he unsheathed his sword and stepped silently up behind the elf that brought up the last position, Trelan.  Moving quickly he grabbed the elf around the waist and jerked the fair being back against him, bringing his sword up under the small elf’s chin, tipping Trelan’s head back till it rested against Aragorn’s shoulder. 
    The company had ceased immediately, turning at the slight sounds of the scuffle.  Trelan was barely breathing as he opened his eyes and glanced out of the corner of them at Aragorn.
    The ranger was smiling with open delight at the fear on the elf’s face. “Missed you Trelan.  How have you been?” He whispered fiercely at the shaken warrior.
    “Oh for the love of the Valar, Strider!” The elf sagged back against the ranger with relief and annoyance. “Let me go!”
    “Did I scare you?”  The human asked, egged on by the deep laughter of Raniean. “I told you I’d pay you back for that Trellep joke you tried to play on me.”
    Trelan sighed in disgust and pushed his elbows against the human, forcing the man to release his hold and drop his weapon so as not to harm the elf. 
    “He got you good, Trelan.” Raniean laughed as the small warrior made his way back to his friend’s side, trying to regain his dignity. “You should have seen the look on your face.”
    The human smiled brilliantly at the two elves that accompanied the Silvan warriors.
    Elladan just shook his head. “That was very well done. I didn’t even hear you come up on us.”
    Elrohir looked about them into the woods. “Estel, did you find the prince?”
    “Yes, he did.”  A voice behind the company turned the attention away from the ranger as Legolas stepped onto the path.  He smiled at the small grouping as Trelan and Raniean walked quickly to his side, quietly asking him questions.
    He gently reassured his friends and joined the others.  There would be enough questions to be answered and he did not wish to relive the events of the recent past just yet.
    Elladan glanced between the prince and his human brother.  They were quite a dirty, bedraggled sight, but they both seemed to be in pretty good health.  “You are both walking under your own power and neither of you seems over-grievously injured.  How did you pull that off, Estel?”
    The human rolled his eyes and smirked back at his older brother. “As if that’s a first?”
    “It is,”the twin replied sarcastically.
    “No, Estel, it is,” Elrohir cut off the human’s argument, agreeing with his twin. “I think father will be very impressed.”
    “That remains to be seen.” Legolas replied seriously.
    Aragorn walked back to the prince and stared up into the blue eyes. “My father will be very impressed.”  He held the elf’s gaze for a long moment.
    The small company of warriors shared a questioning look. Obviously something occurred that could not be readily seen and, from what the elves knew, it couldn’t have been good.  But the fact still remained that the two friends were by all outward appearances safe and well and so the warriors surrounded them without further question and walked them back to the city built into the rift.  They would know the full story soon enough.