Cell Number Eight

Chapter 3: Killing You Might Take One More Night

by Cassia and Siobhan

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You lean on your pride,
The only friend that would never let you down.
You look at the signs,
Look at the way they stop and stare,
They’re watching you die...
And when you’re gone its like you weren’t even there.

’Cause you’re a famous monster.


Pain.  Intense pain.  Legolas thought it was going to choke him.  He couldn’t move, couldn’t think.  All he could do was hurt.

Unforgiving hands pulled at his arms, his hair, his chains, dragging him down the passage roughly.  His skin scraped and tore painfully across the rough stone floor, but his body was unresponsive and he could not protest or move to ease the situation.

The elf moaned softly as he was dropped to the hard floor, his head impacting with a painful jolt.  He was only barely aware when the guards heaved him in through the doorway of his cell.

His side was on fire.  The deep, gaping wound that sliced just below his ribs was bleeding freely and the elf had left an ominous, crimson trail down the passage through which he had been dragged.  It was not his only injury, but it was the worst, the one that part of Legolas’ foggy mind knew was going to kill him.

A hard boot kicked the elf in the ribs and Legolas cried out, unable to do otherwise as his injury was torn at afresh.  A harsh voice that Legolas knew was his owner was cursing at him.  Did the elf know how much money he had lost today?  He was supposed to lose!  Supposed to lose!  Why was he still alive?  How could he have survived that??  No one should have survived that!

Dimly, Legolas agreed as he felt lucidness beginning to return, as unwelcome as it was.  The way they had stacked the odds against him, no one should have been able to survive.

He remembered the smell of the arena and the roar of the crowd when they had dragged him to the pit.  It had been like every other time, until they stopped just short of going outside.  His owner stepped back, watching as one of the guards grabbed Legolas’ chains and slid around behind the elf, holding him from behind.  The other guard took Legolas’ right arm in his hands.  The elf had not suspected that his owner would let these men try to harm him; they wanted him to win, did they not?  But he knew the instant the human touched him that something was amiss; he could feel it coming from the other’s contact on his skin.  He started to struggle, but it was too late and he was held too well.  A sudden, painful jolt shot up his arm and the elf had to catch his breath as the guard roughly twisted and yanked his captive arm in a manner that showed he had far too much practice at what he was doing.  The elf’s elbow and wrist joints protested agonizingly as they received one more vicious twist before the arm was dropped back to his side.

Legolas hugged the injured arm to his chest tightly as soon as he was released.  He knew a move like that might have broken some men’s bones.  His were not broken and, thank heaven for small mercies, they were not too badly dislocated either.  However, some important soft tissue had apparently been torn; the elf could tell right away because he could not move the arm without great pain and his fingers were still tingling sharply.

He looked uncomprehendingly to those who had hurt him so, unable to understand why this had been done to him... and then he saw in their eyes that what Hetsupa had said was only too true.  He was meant to die today; they intended it, they were ensuring it... or so they thought.

They put him in the pit weaponless and injured against a heavily armed and armored foe.  It was a fixed match and that was painfully obvious.  His own owner had bet against him, figuring to make a killing since the betting was so overwhelmingly in the elf’s favor.

Yet somehow, Legolas had survived and his opponent had not.  The humans had made the fatal mistake of underestimating an elf.  Unfortunately, it seemed it was going to be fatal for Legolas because he had by no means escaped unscathed.

The boot kicked him again and Legolas moaned sharply, curling in on himself and trying to twist away.

“You are through!” his angry owner was still shouting at him, adding to the disconcerting buzzing in Legolas’ head.  One more painful, solid kick to his bleeding body and the man finally seemed done, stalking out of the cage in disgust.  The key was turned harshly in the lock.

“Let him rot!  See that no one touches him again unless it is to remove his filthy corpse!” Legolas heard his owner command in anger before his footsteps receded down the hall.  Then all was quiet and still.

Legolas wanted to pass out; he wanted to return to comfortable oblivion, even though he knew he might never wake from it again.  Willing or no, however, it would not come.  He lingered in a painful twilight between sleeping and waking, but could not seem to break free in either direction.  Slowly though, he knew the shadow must surely win as the air chilled around him, harkening the slow approach of night, the last night the elf knew he was likely to see in Middle-earth.  He hoped there would be stars tonight.  He wanted to see them one more time.

Legolas lay curled on his side on the cold stone floor, much as he had been left.  His breathing was ragged.  He could feel the icy tendrils of shadow reaching for him.  With proper care he might make it... but obviously his owners did not intend to afford him that.  He had failed them and for that he would pay with his life.  Left on his own, he did not have the strength to fight.  Truth to tell, he didn't want to fight.

His body was burning up around him and his throat was swelled shut with thirst.  He was dehydrating swiftly from blood loss.  The prince did not make the effort to ask for water.  He knew he would not be given any, even if anyone was around to hear, which was doubtful.  The last remnants of his pride would rather suffer in silence than let others gloat over his fall.

Against his tightly heaving chest, Dari’s star-stone was a small, comforting weight.  It was stained with his blood, but twinkled faintly, almost sadly, against the skin of the dying elf.  Legolas touched it lightly with stained fingers that had begun to tremble.  Oh Valar, Dari... he hated to leave the child this way.

Evening shadows lengthened.  Everything was very quiet outside the cell.  The huge festival surrounding the championship match must still be going on and even the guards seemed to be away.  Delirium sucked at the elf’s consciousness.  He tossed and rolled on a violent and roiling grey sea... but he wasn’t sailing this time, he was drowning.  The water closed over his head, but he stopped fighting it, stopped kicking back to the surface.  All roads would lead him home, over the sea or under it... it would end, he could rest, the pain would cease.

Stuck in his twilight state between this world and the next, Legolas was not aware that anyone else was near until a soft, gentle hand touched his face.  Cool water dabbed his hot, dry lips giving welcome moisture.  The elf’s body responded even before his mind could, cracking split lips to let the moisture in, accepting the dipper full of water that followed without question and gulping greedily to slake his burning thirst.  The water revived him a little and he felt the fog begin to clear from his mind somewhat.

“Leg'las?” a small voice said with concern.  “Leg'las?”

“Dari?” the elf's eyes fluttered open and he could see a blurry picture of the child's face a few inches from his own.  A deep, worried frown creased the cherubic countenance as Dari let the water dipper settle back into the bucket he had dragged into the cell.

“Dari... you shouldn't be here,” Legolas said softly, his voice unable to go above a whisper.  He knew his master intended for him to be left to die; he did not wish for Dari to get in trouble for disobeying his orders to stay away, nor did he want the young one to be there when he left this world behind.  Dari didn't need that kind of emotional scarring.

“You're hurt,” the little boy shook his head simply, mopping the elf's brow again with the wet cloth in his hand.  Dari had apparently gathered up his cleaning supplies himself, including the herbs that Legolas had taught him to carry around.  Hetsupa had told him not to go near the elf again but, as soon as the big man was gone, Dari had wasted no time in disobeying.

Lifting Legolas' hand from his side, Dari tried to see where the blood was coming from.  For one so painfully young, he had taken to his forced duties as cage brat incredibly well.

Legolas winced and caught the little one's probing hands, pulling them away from his wound.  He captured Dari's eyes with a gentle gaze.  “Not this time, Dari.  You need to leave, little one.”

Dari shook his head, tears spilling down his cheeks.  “Hets'pa... Hets'pa said you gonna die.”

Legolas closed his eyes tightly.  The child shouldn’t have had to hear it that way.

“Don’t go,” Dari shook his head, washing the cuts and bruises along the elf’s exposed arms.  “You promised.  Don’t go...” The first time his voice was demanding, the second time it was pleading.  “Please... stay with me...” Dari’s hands trembled before he finally gave up and just buried his small face against the elf’s shoulder.  “Don’t leave me too!” he sobbed into the elf’s torn and soiled tunic.

Pain, more sharp then that in his side, passed through the prince’s heart.  Struggling to sit up, Legolas pulled Dari close with one trembling hand.  He felt so weak and light-headed that it was almost impossible to stay upright, but somehow he managed.  Legolas didn’t know if he had the strength to hold on and, if by some miracle he did, he knew the arena master would only kill him in the morning so that they could have the cage space free for fresh blood.  But for Dari... for Dari he would hold on as long as he could, even if it meant continuing to endure this pain a little longer.  He would keep his promise to the last and not leave the boy until he truly no longer had a choice.

“I-I wish... Dari, I told you I couldn’t promise...” His breath caught as his injured ribs spasmed sharply and the elf doubled forward with a moan of pain.

Dari took Legolas’ face between his thin little hands, resting his forehead against the prince’s in a way that Dari remembered his father doing often when comforting him or his mother, what now seemed ages and ages ago.

“Try,” he entreated in a small voice.  “Try.  Look...” the young voice was choked as he pointed up at the tiny, barred window, turning the elf’s face in his small hands.  “Th’ stars are out, Leg’las.  You’re always happy when there’s stars.”

Legolas smiled faintly.  “So they are, little one.  All right, Dari, I’ll try,” he nodded, running his hand gently over the boy’s downy head.  “For you, my little star.  I’ll try.”

Dari looked pleased although still concerned and wiped his eyes, trying to stop snuffling.  “Look, I brought th’ leaves you told me ‘bout...” he showed Legolas his little cache proudly.  “They’ll help you feel better!”

Legolas was almost too weak to try to dress his own wounds, but Dari was a willing helper, doing everything the elf told him to do.  The herbs did help dull the elf’s pain a little and, once he was washed up a bit, Dari crawled into his lap and snuggled back against the elf’s chest, comforted by the heartbeat under his ear.  He was too young to know that the erratic pounding was too sluggish for the elf’s good, too young to understand that his friend was in serious trouble.

Legolas leaned heavily against the wall behind him, letting his hand rest on Dari’s back as the child lay with his chest against the elf’s stomach.  Night had fallen and darkness swathed the little room.  The stars twinkled on overhead and Legolas was glad they were there.  He wished they could comfort Dari as much as they did him.  He could not bring himself to imagine the point when the child would realize that the elf holding him had ceased to exist in the realm of the living.  Legolas did not have the strength to cry, but one tear slipped down his cheek.  Not for himself, but for Dari, for the future he could never help the child to have.

Everything was very quiet.  No noise drifted in through the window, not even the sounds of celebration.  “You should go, Dari, you’ll get in trouble...” he murmured faintly, but he had no real strength or desire to make the child leave.

“Hets'pa and the others all gone away...” Dari didn’t budge.  “They were scared.  Lotsa men were yelling ‘bout an army.  Khel-Khelekir or something... they kept sayin’ it and sayin’ it.  Like the other day, only longer this time and they didn’t stop.  They said must have been scouts the other day though they thought it was nothing.  Lotsa people running or going to fight.”  The child reported with anxiety, although he didn’t really even know what he was afraid of other than that everyone else had been.  Such things made little sense to him.  

Legolas stiffened in the dark.  That was it then.  That was why no one was about, not even celebrating.  They weren’t at the feasts as he had thought, but rather they were either running to defend the town, or just running.  All the things he had heard about the Khelekir ran wearily through his mind, but the elf felt no fear.  His hours were numbered as it was.  Whether the people of Rahzon won this fight or lost it... it mattered little to him.  Dari should leave... but where would the child go?  No one here cared about him, no one would look out for him. What hope did he have?

Legolas sighed and just held the little boy close, resting his chin on the top of Dari’s head, floating in and out of reality.  Dari had no one else.  He had nowhere to go.  Maybe it would be better for whatever end found them to find them together.  Legolas hoped that wasn’t a selfish thought.  He wanted Dari to live, but he did not know how to make it happen.  His own life was slowly slipping out of his grasp.

Away in the distance, sounds of battle began to reach their ears.  The ringing of metal on metal and the distant shouts of men filtered in through the window.  Dari tensed and huddled back tighter against Legolas.  He had heard those sounds before.  The last time he saw his parents.

// “Shh, quiet, little one, we’re going to play a game.  You’re going to hide here and not let anyone find you until I come back.  Just be brave Dari, be brave my little star.”  //

Dari liked that Legolas had unintentionally picked up his mother’s nickname for him, but remembering the last time he saw her brought nothing but loss, confusion and fear to his young heart.  Would Legolas disappear too?  Would he be left alone again among strangers like the last time?

Legolas felt the little boy trembling against him.  Gently rubbing soothing circles on the child’s back, the prince began to sing softly in elvish, blocking out the distant clamor with the sweet, albeit weak, sound of his voice.

Dari’s body relaxed and his tension seemed to ease as the beautiful, lilting words comforted him.

Minuial telitha
i elenath deliatha
vi guren
an-uir hebin
I tinu na le
i calad gerich
ir ardhon
os-mín galatha helch

Ú-daro laer
meleth ú-gwannatha
i elenath ú-thinnatha
ir vi hin-lín...”
// Morning comes
The stars will sleep
In my heart
I’ll always keep

The star that is you
The light you hold
Even as the world
Around us grows cold

Don’t stop the song
Love never dies
The stars will not fade
Not the ones in your eyes... //

Legolas sang for as long as he had breath, and when that failed him he continued rocking Dari softly, humming.

The sounds of battle were closer and louder now.  Obviously, things were not going well for Rahzon.  The stars outside the window were now obscured by the red glow of firelight and smoke carried on the chilly air.  The town was burning.

Dari looked up at Legolas, his eyes wide in the dim light.  “Ú-daro...” the child pleaded in whispered elvish.  “Don’t stop...”

Legolas started softly and gazed at the boy in surprise.  “Man pedo le?  What did you say?”

“I-I’m scared,” the little boy cried softly in the dark, reverting to the Common Tongue and Legolas wasn’t sure if the child had really understood what he said, or if the boy had merely picked up a word out of the song.

The prince had never spoken to the child in Elvish, assuming he wouldn’t understand, but hearing Legolas sing in that beautiful tongue had opened a floodgate of emotion in Dari’s small heart and made him incomparably homesick.  “Leg’las, I’m scared... I miss Nana and Ada!  Why did Nana never come back?  Why didn’t Ada find me?  I want to go home...”

Legolas held him close in the dark, trying to comfort the child and puzzle this riddle out.  Dari had never spoken of his parents before, starting to cry whenever they were brought up.  So Legolas had stopped asking.  But now that the child finally did speak of them, why did he use Elvish words?  How could a human child this young possibly know even a little of his tongue?  Perhaps Dari had been taken from Gondor or one if its provinces that still had a distinctly elvish influence, but it would still be rare indeed to Legolas’ knowledge that even in Gondor a human family would use the Elvish words for mother and father. 

Dari was crying hard now and Legolas didn’t have time or strength to try to figure this puzzle out.  “Hush... hush, little one...”

“I don’t wanna be here!” Dari sobbed.  The smell of smoke was getting thick as the fighting got closer.

Legolas stroked the boy’s hair.  “Then let’s be somewhere else, all right?” he whispered softly.  “Close your eyes.”

Dari complied, still snuffling sorrowfully in the dark.

“That’s right...,” Legolas soothed, pushing back the dizziness that was trying to take him.  His body hurt dreadfully but he ignored it.  “Do you know what I do when I’m afraid, Dari?  I remember my favorite places to be and then it’s like I’m there.  I’ll take you with me.”

“Where?” the child asked in a tremulous voice.  Outside the window a man screamed in either rage or pain.  Dari flinched and huddled closer.

The other slaves in the cages had begun to clamor and yell for release, as futile a request as they knew it was.  All of them remembered the stories they had heard of what the Khelekir did to the blood pit slaves.

“Well, there’s a hill near my home with a tall tree,” Legolas soothed gently, willing the child to listen to his voice and ignore everything else.  “Close your eyes and we’ll go there now.  See it, Dari?  When sunlight catches its leaves it turns them gold.  I like to climb up in the tree and watch the birds fly in and out of the branches, especially in the spring.  There is a family of squirrels that live in a big hollow in the trunk and sometimes if I have a treat for them they will come and sit in my hand...” The elf prince wove the enchanting tale quietly.  He had little breath left and even less strength, but thinking about happier times and the beauty that existed far beyond the walls of this dreadful little prison calmed his hurting body as well.

“Do their tails tickle?” the boy asked curiously, his hitched breathing slowing a little.

“Oh yes, they tickle a lot...” The elf’s gentle smile was obvious in his voice.  Legolas knew his time was drawing near, but he fought to stay with Dari as long as he could.  “Especially when they crawl up onto your shoulder and under your chin.” Legolas tickled Dari lightly under his chin in demonstration and the little boy giggled.

Above them, they could hear footsteps running here and there in the formerly quiet upper structure.

Dari flinched and whimpered as he was dragged from the peaceful place Legolas’ words created for him.

Legolas hugged the boy tightly.  The elf’s body was beginning to tremble.  “There’s another place that I go as well.  Come on, close your eyes, I’ll take you there.  Nestled in a beautiful valley, there is a house I call my second home.  It’s a wonderful place Dari, where a hurting heart can truly find rest and healing.  In that house there is a big room with a roaring fire that is kept always burning.  Outside through the windows the stars look in, making you feel peaceful.  There’s feasting, music, stories and song... but the best is simply being with the people you love.  The room may be full of many friends or hold only a few, but it always feels like home...” Legolas recounted the Hall of Fire in Rivendell with a faint smile.  So many happy memories of swapping stories around that fire, of the light and laughter and love... Legolas would miss that. 

“I like it...” Dari said softly, wistfully.  “Will you take me there someday?  For real I mean?”

Legolas closed his eyes.  He wanted to.  Wanted to with all his heart.  “Maybe someday, Dari,” he whispered around the choking lump in his throat.

Doors slammed in the upper rooms.  Dishes and cookware crashed and smashed in the kitchens where Dari usually spent his days working.  The end drew near for all of them now.

Legolas doubled forward slightly, pressing against Dari who was still sitting on his lap as a sharp stab of pain shot through him.  Sweat beaded on his pale brow and he grit his teeth to keep from moaning.  He felt so drained... so drained...

“Leg’las?  Leg’las!” Dari’s voice brought Legolas back.  The elf was spent; he couldn’t seem to find the strength to talk much more, so he squeezed the little boy’s shoulders.

“Your turn, Dari,” he whispered somewhat hoarsely.  “Where will we go now?  What’s your favorite place?”

Dari seemed thoughtful, then his face lit up.  “The tower!”  Settling back in Legolas’ arm he closed his eyes and imitated the way the elf had spoken to him.  “Close your eyes.” He glanced up to make sure that Legolas had.  “We’re on the very top of the White Tower... it’s nighttime.  Ada and Nana don’t know I’m not in bed, but the stars are so pretty I had to go see.  From the top of the tower you can see the whole city an’ watch the guards in the courtyard standing by the big tree.  It’s so funny that they guard a tree, even in the dark.  I thought it was ‘cause the tree might get lonely, but Ada says the tree is fine, the guards just like to watch it ‘cause it’s trad-tradsh... tradition.”

As the child spoke, a sudden chilling shiver ran up Legolas’ spine.  The White Tower... that was in Gondor... as was the only tree that Legolas had ever encountered that had its own guards.

“I can’t see over the wall ‘cause I’m too short, but Uncle Elr’hir found me and didn’t even scold me for being up!  He put me on his shoulders so we could see the whooooole city and watch the shooting stars... we even saw Nana and Ada smooching in the garden!” The child laughed at the memory.  “And Uncle Elr’hir and I both said ‘ewwww’, jus’ like that!”

Legolas felt cold and it had nothing to do with his injuries or the temperature as his arms tightened around the child on his lap.  “Elrohir?” he whispered in soft, ragged disbelief.  “Your uncle’s name is Elrohir?”

Dari nodded.  “Elr’hir and Elladan.  They’re funny!  They let me do things Ada doesn’t... well, ‘Ro does anyway.  Like wading in the stream where we found my star,” Dari patted the lightly twinkling stone against Legolas’ chest.  “Uncle Elr’hir said it was one of the stars we saw falling that night from the tower.  Ada put it on the cord for me after I showed him, so I had a necklace like the one Nana gave him that he wears.”  Thinking about his family obviously raised Dari’s spirits at the moment, since he was not recalling whatever tragedy had separated them.  The sudden wellspring of information was almost too much for Legolas to absorb.  Dear heaven, why had the child never said any of this before; how could he have missed who Dari really was?

Ai, Elbereth...” Legolas murmured, looking at the child in a new light.  It had only been two years or so since he had seen the little prince of Gondor, but two years brought a lot of change in this stage of life for a human.  The entire mystery suddenly came together before his eyes and Legolas was staggered by the shock of the revelation.  No wonder this boy had reminded him so much of Aragorn!  No wonder Dari knew Elvish like a second language.  No wonder his healing touch, young and inexperienced though it was, reminded him both of Aragorn and Elrond.  No wonder he knew parts of stories before Legolas related them... Why hadn’t he seen it before?  Yet it still did not make sense, what was the child doing here alone?  What...?

Footsteps echoed loudly down the stairs and the slaves whose cells were near the front started screaming loudly in terror.  There was a rattle of keys and a grinding of rusty iron.  The cage doors were being opened.  The masters would never have come back for the slaves.  The only explanation had to be that the masters were dead and the keys had been taken from them and now the Khelekir had come down here to do their bloody business with the slaves.

Legolas was not afraid for himself, but as Dari flinched at the sounds and buried his head against the elf’s chest the prince felt his panic rising for the little one’s sake.  Now that he knew who he was... he could not bear to think of the child meeting his end here.  It would kill Aragorn and Arwen to lose him... if indeed something tragic had not already befallen them for their son to be here in the first place.  That thought hurt more than Legolas’ pain-filled body could handle, so he tried to push it aside.  It seemed the whole world was ending tonight and nothing made sense.

“Dari, you have to go now.” Legolas eased the child off his lap and pushed him towards the bars of the cell.  The elf was too weak to move any more than that.  Dari refused, trying to cling to Legolas and curl back onto his lap, but the elf firmly pushed him back towards his only chance to live.  “Dari, please!” the prince begged.  “I need you to do this for me, all right?  You have to go, slide out the back staircase.”

Dari hesitated tearfully.  “I come back...?” There was a question in his words.

Legolas closed his eyes.  “No, child, you can’t come back.  You mustn’t.  Not ever, do you understand me, Dari?  You have to get home...” The hopelessness of such a small one trying to do that on his own stole Legolas’ words away.  “You have to try, all right?  Tell your father... tell your father I’m sorry.”  The elf held out small hope that the boy would ever reach his father and felt the sharp sting of being unable to protect Aragorn’s child burn into his fading consciousness.  “Please, Dari, go!  Go now!”

The clanging of cell doors was moving closer. Legolas knew they had only a little time before whoever was out there rounded the corner and Dari would have no escape.

Dari was crying and Legolas found that soft, salty tears were falling down his own cheeks as well.  He knew he was asking a lot of the child, but it was the boy’s only chance.  He would not see the son of his best friend and heir to the throne of Gondor perish here... he would not see the little boy he had come to love perish at all.

Dari slid out between the bars, but turned back, looking into the gloom of the cell one last time.

“Go, Dari!” Legolas pleaded again and to his relief the little boy turned and fled down the hall, away from the approaching footsteps.  “Run, tinu, little star...” the elf whispered as he slumped sideways against the wall, what little strength he had left slowly ebbing away.  “Take my love with you.”

Legolas’ heart froze when a few moments later he heard a small voice raised in an alarmed and angry wail.  “Pu’ me down!  Pu’ me down!” Dari was shouting at someone, his voice muffled as it came through several layers of stone walls.

The prince dropped his head into one trembling hand.  No... no... not Dari... no please... A rough sob shook his shoulders.  He had failed the one he wanted most to protect and in so doing he had failed not only Dari, but Aragorn, Arwen and all of Gondor..

A bunch of keys rattled outside the barred door of Legolas’ cell and the door scraped open.

Legolas was hidden in the dark shadows of the corner but he knew that that would not protect him.  If he had had the strength to fight he might have been able to take these people... but he had no such strength.  He didn’t even look up as footsteps rang across the stone, but remained sitting where he was, his head hanging down, his right temple pressed against the stone wall.  The glint of fire glow reflected off a drawn sword, already red with blood.  The elf breathed in deeply, stilling his racing heart.  He knew it was over.

He was going to die and he couldn’t even save Dari.  After everything he had been through, everything he had survived and accomplished in his life, it was a cruel knowledge to take to Mandos with him.