Change of Heart, Change of Mind

Chapter 4

by Siobhan and Cassia

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    Perspiration beaded on Legolas’ brow and gathered on his upper lip. His head spun dizzily and his vision hazed. He was surprised by the sheer, throbbing power of the pain that made his leg feel as if it were being held in a slow fire. He drew in a deep breath and held it before letting it out through his teeth and sucking in another, trying to slow his pounding heart and calm his shaking body, but the pain seemed to just keep getting worse, as if it were spreading slowly up his leg and making more and more of his body burn. The elf’s heart was racing unnaturally fast, and that did nothing to help Legolas’ lightheadedness. Near hyperventilation made a ribbon of pain lance between his temples, his grip on his thigh tightening urgently as the agony shooting up his leg threatened to overwhelm his control.
    Aragorn observed Legolas’ symptoms with rising concern. He had seen something like this before, but not in a person. He was suddenly struck by the memory of finding an injured fawn caught in some hunter's snare in the woods near Rivendell when he was ten or eleven years old. Being a thoughtful and kindhearted boy, he had tried to help the little fawn, but it was dead before he could get it home. Elrond had examined the creature and gently explained to the boy that he had done nothing wrong; some snares were laced with a certain kind of poison that entered the bloodstream quickly, disabling normal clotting functions and speeding up the victim's heart rate until they died from either blood loss or coronary failure.
    Aragorn remembered the way the fawn's heart had hammered against his chest as he carried it and the glazed look in its eye... It was far too close to the look he saw on Legolas' face at this moment.
    Touching the arm of one of the elf warriors who were gathered with concern around their prince, Aragorn sought the elf's attention. "They have to slow his heart..." he started to say, but the elf, concerned about Legolas and not particularly fond of the brash young human, shrugged the ranger off and shushed him as if he were a child, which, in point of fact to the elven mind, he was.
    "They know what needs doing, young one," the elf brushed him off with mild annoyance.
    "You don't understand!" Aragorn tried again, but no one was listening to him. Highly frustrated, Aragorn turned and ran back to their camp, not far distant. Hastily dumping his pack on the ground, he sorted through the items with a fevered haste. Partly at his adopted father's insistence, the young ranger always carried a small supply of healing herbs and medicinal powders with him. Now he sorted through them quickly, pulling out several different items that he knew he would need and laying them aside.
    Uncorking a small vial with his teeth he poured it into a small wooden dish and added some of the other items he had laid aside. Mixing the herbs quickly, he avoided taking any deep breaths. Aragorn hesitated as he prepared to add the last ingredient. He hadn't had the call to do this very often and he found himself suddenly unsure of how much of which vial he was supposed to add now. The last thing he wanted to do was get this wrong and make the potion too strong. Finally, hoping he did right, he put in a few drops of the yellow liquid and re-corked the vials.
    Pulling a rag from his pack, Aragorn folded it into a hasty square and soaked it in the greenish-amber-colored mixture he had just prepared. If he had done his work right, the drug he had mixed should put Legolas into a deep sleep, which would slow his heart rate back to normal and remove the risk to the prince's life. If he had done it right. The young ranger desperately hoped that he had.
    Tucking the rag in his pocket and returning to the elves, Aragorn saw that Legolas was worse. The look on Sarcaulien and Raniean's faces was grave as they finally gave up trying to staunch the bleeding, and simply began wrapping the injured leg as tightly and securely as possible, hoping that that would help. Many elves were exceptionally skilled at healing, but these were warrior elves, not healers and, although they did their best for their prince, Aragorn feared it was not going to be enough.
    The young ranger tried to approach, only to be shouldered aside by the other concerned elves.
    Aragorn bit his lip. He was getting mighty tired of their cold-shoulder treatment, but now was not the time for it. If he was right about his suspicion, then his friend might be in real danger.
    "Let me through!" Aragorn pushed his way into the circle of elves around Legolas. The elf prince was curled tightly into himself, rocking slightly as he tried to deal with the pain.
    The ranger shoved a warrior out of his path, ignoring the glaring looks his actions generated, and knelt behind the wounded elf.
    "Legolas." He softly spoke the prince’s name but there was no response, "Legolas, it is I, Aragorn." Still no response. The elf seemed to have pulled up inside himself in an effort to deal with the pain of his wound and the dangerous reaction his body was having.
    The elf prince's face was pale and Aragorn could feel Legolas' pulse racing under his hand when he pressed his fingers against the side of his friend's neck.
    Quickly making up his mind, Aragorn pulled the square of herb-ladened fabric from his coat pocket and leaned forward. He wrapped his left arm around Legolas’ chest and pulled the elf back towards him. He could feel the prince tense under his touch and knew the reasoning behind the resistance but he didn’t let up, forcing the elf to uncurl. Legolas panicked at the restrictive touch as his mind, slowed by the pain, surfaced memories long forgotten. The ranger moved quickly and with his right hand, Aragorn gently placed the cloth over Legolas’ nose and mouth.
    Legolas reached up to stop the ranger, but Aragorn pulled the elf back until his head rested against the man’s chest. Within seconds the prince lay limply in the human’s lap, unconscious.
    "What do you think you're doing?" Sarcaulien snapped protectively, rising and moving towards Aragorn as if to pull him away from Legolas.
    "Trust me," the young human shook his head earnestly. "I just put him to sleep. I think there may have been poison on the trap, and his body needs to be relaxed or he could die."
    Aragorn pulled the drugged cloth away from his friend and brushed the elf’s hair back from the fair face to make sure the prince was completely out.
    The circle of elves, momentarily too shocked by Strider's abrupt actions to stir, erupted around him and Sarcaulien brusquely pushed the man out of the way as they hurried to tend to their now unconscious companion.
    "If there was poison," Sarcaulien muttered somewhat darkly, as he smoothed Legolas' rumpled tunic and helped a second elf replace the prince's boot and wrap the ties around his bandage to help keep pressure on the wound. However, he could not deny that it was better for Legolas to be unconscious rather than in all that pain.
    The human paced the exterior of the circle, to which he had once again been edged, trying to see how his friend was doing. "You still need to stop the bleeding." Aragorn interjected as he watched them working at binding the leg up. He pressed in next to Raniean who gently pushed him away.
    "They are doing their best, leave them to it."
    "But I can help." Aragorn shook his head. He couldn't believe they still didn't trust him.
    "Stay out of the way, Strider. They don’t need you right now." The elf warrior tried to set the man’s mind at ease.
    Frustration washed over the ranger and he ran back to the edge of their camp, gathering up his pack and the medicines he had dumped out of it earlier. He picked through the assortment of herbs and powders, and, grabbing a small pot, began to prepare a poultice, stirring the odd contents over the small campfire. If the elves wouldn’t listen to him then he would simply be prepared for later. He did not doubt their own healing skills, but he had had extensive training in the healing arts due in no small part to his adoptive father’s own knowledge in the profession.
    Legolas was carried back into the camp and the unconscious elf was made as comfortable as possible.
    When the confusion and bustle in the camp had died down and the elven warriors had settled around the fire and taken up their positions skirting the camp, Aragorn crept back over near Legolas. The elf prince still had not gained consciousness and that in itself worried the ranger. Had he made the potion too strong? Had he given Legolas too much? Usually he had Elrond, or one of his brothers to check his potions and poultices, but now he was on his own and he had better not have made an error or his friend would pay for it. His fingers slid down to check Legolas' pulse and he was gratified at least to feel that the elven prince's heartbeat had begun to return to normal. No one seemed to take notice of his ministrations, so he seated himself next to his friend and unlaced the elf’s soft leather boot once more, exposing the bandaged wound. The deep cuts had started to bleed again, if indeed they had ever stopped, and the dressing was already soaked.
    Sarcaulien moved from where he sat near the fire, but Raniean pressed him back down. "Let him be. Prince Legolas' heart did slow as he said it would, did it not? Just watch him and he can do no harm."
    Aragorn leaned over Legolas and brushed stray locks from the elf’s face, worriedly pressing the palm of his hand to the prince’s forehead. Legolas' skin was no longer clammy, but it was still a little pale, even for an elf. Gently he touched the other's eyelid and opened the eye wider to the dim firelight. The pupils of the blue-grey eyes were normal; there was no dilation. His worry dropped a notch and he returned his attention to Legolas’ leg. The gashes had cut deep into the soft tissue and muscle of the elf prince's calf; in places the steel trap had bitten through to the bone.
    Shaking his head in disgust, Aragorn set himself to the task of cleaning the wounds again. He discarded the bloodied bandages and pulled the poultice from the pocket of his overcoat. Carefully he spread the thick solution on the cuts and, ripping strips of cloth from his shirt, he rebound the elf’s leg. The poultice would help Legolas' body fight the anti-clotting agent in the poison and the elf's strong body would do the rest.
    Aragorn set the leather boot aside and removed his heavy overcoat, draping it over his friend’s still form and tucking the edges in around the prince to keep the cool air from slipping underneath its heavy warmth. When he had finished his tasks, he scooted up near Legolas’ head and laid his hand on the elf’s chest waiting for his friend to awaken. There was nothing more he or any of them could do until morning.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

    The horses made soft sounds in the night, tied just outside the circle of the camp. The fire had died down and the elves were stirring in the pre-dawn, preparing to break for the day’s ride back towards the heart of Mirkwood and home. Aragorn had not moved from where he sat, keeping vigil over the fallen elf.
    The warriors in the camp had contented themselves with letting the human care for their prince, since trying to deny him had already proved a futile gesture. They had watched the young ranger gently caring for the elf throughout the watches of the night. Raniean had not left the inner circle of the fire, still not quite at peace with a human in their midst, but that had changed sometime in the night as he had seen the care and efficiency that the ranger took as he watched over Legolas. The human had finally given in to sleep less than an hour ago. He sat in the same position he had all night, legs crossed, one hand on the elf's chest to feel for any irregularities in pulse or breathing. Slowly Aragorn’s head had nodded, eventually falling against his chest, as his eyes grew heavy.
    Raniean hated to wake him. He was spared the task by the stirring of Legolas. At the slight movement from the body beneath his hand, Aragorn came fully awake. He raised himself up on his knees and leaned over the elf, talking softly to him as he woke up. He spoke so quietly that not even the elves near the two friends could hear the words he uttered.
    "Legolas," Aragorn whispered his friend’s name. "Are you okay?"
    "Aragorn?" Confusion and pain drifted across the elf’s features as he attempted to blink the world into focus.
    "Shh. Yes, I’m here." Aragorn replied, gently squeezing the prince’s shoulder.

    "What happened?" Legolas questioned groggily.
    The ranger smiled a lopsided grin as his friend’s eyes locked onto him. "It was my turn to drug you." Aragorn was very glad to see that it appeared as if the danger was past and Legolas' body had dealt with and neutralized whatever poison had remained in his system. However, the elf was still weak from his wound, which was bad enough on its own terms.
    Legolas laughed slightly, the chuckle turning into a cough. "Where are we?"
    "We are still in camp."
    Sarcaulien kneeled next to the ranger and leaned over the elf prince, interrupting the conversation. "How do you feel, my lord? Can you travel? We are almost ready to leave."
    Aragorn slipped quietly to the back of the knot of elves that had gathered around Legolas, talking to him softly in their native tongue. He edged towards the horses and stood among them, helping get them ready to leave.
    The ranger looked back across the camp as Legolas was helped to his feet and two elves assisted the elf prince in making his way towards the horses. The elf smiled at his friend who walked a dappled grey steed to intercept them, holding the animal’s head until Legolas had been seated on it. Legolas winced as the perpendicular position caused more blood to flow into his injured extremity and adjusted his position until his throbbing leg was as comfortable as was reasonably possible.
    Aragorn was forgotten in the chaos of breaking the camp down and, as the first of the elves rode out, he remained behind to help clean up. When they were through it was impossible to tell that anyone had stayed there throughout the night.
    Legolas was among the first to leave. Turning carefully in his saddle so as not to disturb his hurting leg, he watched as Aragorn was ordered about and patiently complied. The ranger’s eyes caught his and the human smiled at the elf as the small entourage rounded a bend in the path.
    "Sarcaulien," Legolas addressed the elf nearest him. "Please go back and see to it that Strider gets a horse. I’d like him to ride with me. I’d rather he wasn’t walking with the warriors alone just yet."
    The elf nodded and reined his horse in, turning back towards the camp to retrieve the human. The other elves had finished and those on horseback were just mounting up when Sarcaulien stopped his horse inside the empty campground. He spoke quietly with the elf in charge of the camp and was immediately handed the reins of a dark brown stallion. Drawing even with the walking ranger, the warrior paced the human and blocked his path with the horses.
    Aragorn was so tired from staying up nearly the whole night that he almost ran into the side of the steed before he realized that Sarcaulien had been speaking to him.
    "I’m sorry. What did you say?" He squinted up through the sun at the seated elf.
    Sarcaulien shook his head and repeated himself. "My lord wishes you to ride up with him. Are you able?"
    "Of course," Aragorn replied in surprise and delight. The elf held the horse steady for him and passed the reins to the man when he had gained his seat. Without looking back, the elf warrior nudged his horse into a full trot and left the human in his wake. Aragorn kicked the underbelly of his steed and gained the elf in minutes. He cantered up next to Legolas and smiled at the elf prince. The two rode together talking quietly and laughing surrounded by the other elf warriors.
    After a while, the talking ceased and the rocking motion of riding the horse began to lull the man to sleep. It had been a long wearisome night for him. He had had neither water nor food as no one had thought to offer it to him and worry for his friend had consumed him, taking its toll. Slowly he fell forward in the saddle until he lay along the length of the powerful animal’s neck fast asleep.
    Sarcaulien noticed the ranger first and slowed his horse down, pacing the beast that the man rode and coming alongside him prepared to catch him should Aragorn slip. He called out softly to Legolas, "My lord, your friend has fallen asleep."
    Legolas circled his horse back and sidled up on Aragorn’s flank. "Did he not sleep last night?"
    "No lord, he did not. He took neither food nor water and he would not leave your side. I think he feared he had over-drugged you."
    Legolas leaned forward over the neck of his horse and snagged the reins of Aragorn’s steed, just barely caught in the man's limp fingers. Slowly he reined the animal in, bringing the horse to a full stop.
    The cessation of the rocking motion woke the man who sat up blearily and looked around him. His eyes lighted on Sarcaulien on his left and a frown creased his brow. "Why have we stopped - is Legolas alright?
    "I am fine, Strider," the elf prince spoke from his right causing him to swivel quickly in his saddle. "Come over here." The elf patted the back end of his own horse.
    "No, I’m fine." Aragorn swallowed and yawned, "really."
    "No. Do as I say." The elf stared into the sleep weary eyes. "Now Strider, you are holding us up," he chastised gently, with the hint of a smile pulling at his graceful lips.
    Slightly confused, the young man slid over onto Legolas’ horse and seated himself behind the elf, careful to keep his distance. He rested his hands lightly on his thighs and balanced himself behind the saddle.
    "Are you settled?" Legolas looked over his shoulder at the ranger as the man watched Sarcaulien walk the steed to the back of the small group and hand it off to an elf that was walking.
    "Excuse me?" He refocused on the elf prince.
    Legolas laughed lightly. "Hold on then. We are headed home."
    Aragorn nodded absently and leaned around to look at the elf’s leg. "How is your wound?"
    "It is good, thanks to you." Legolas glanced back at the ranger. "Raniean told me what you did."
    Aragorn didn’t answer; he just smiled and nodded. He was having a hard time fighting off the sleep that was stealing back over him, fogging up his mind. He tried to keep himself upright behind the prince and not touch the elf, but in the end he lost the battle and he slumped forward, his head coming to rest between Legolas’ shoulder blades.
    Legolas slowed his mount down to a calm gait as Raniean cantered up next to him, taking note of the situation. The elf warrior pressed the human forward, pushing the man’s full weight against Legolas as instructed by the prince. Reaching back behind him, Legolas grabbed the cuffs of the ranger’s overcoat, wrapping the man’s arms around his slender waist, holding them in place there with one hand.
    He thanked the warrior for his help and paced the other as they slowly walked through the forest.
    "Humans." Raniean looked at the man seated behind the prince, his dark hair spilling over his young features and partially hiding his eyes. "They need so much sleep."
    "Why didn’t anyone care for him last night, Ran?" Legolas eyed the elf.
    The tall warrior looked away uncomfortably before replying, "I think they were testing him."
    "And did he pass?" There was a hard edge to the question.
    "Yes, my lord. I don’t believe it will happen again. The warriors were very impressed with your young friend."
    "Even though he is human?"
    "Even though." Raniean smiled at the elf prince knowingly.
    Aragorn shifted slightly in his sleep; a small sigh escaped his lips as he turned his head and laid it back down against the elf’s soft leather tunic.
    Legolas glanced cautiously over his shoulder, trying to see if the man had awoken.
    "He still sleeps," Raniean answered the unspoken question as he monitored the man’s breathing. After a spell of silence he continued, "You pick your friends well. The human performed admirably. If it had not been for him, those dwarves would have left us in that net. And he was the one that stopped your leg from bleeding when we could not."
    "There is more to this one than meets the eye, Ran." Legolas smiled and nodded at his companion. "A lot more."
    "Yes, my lord. I am beginning to see that."
    "Make sure he is not forgotten again, Raniean."
    "I can assure you he won’t be, my lord." Raniean smiled back at the prince, knowing in his heart that somehow the human that had been brought into their midst would change many things in his world, including his own perceptions of men.

The End

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