Escape from Mordor

Chapter 5

by Cassia and Siobhan

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I will not pretend to feel the pain you’re going through,
I know I cannot comprehend the hurt you’ve known...
And I used to think it mattered if I understood
Now I just don’t know. 

But if you need to cry go on and I,
I will cry along with you. 

--Steven Curtis Chapman

Grabbing the elf by the shoulders Aragorn bodily forced the prince into the mouth of the cave.  Legolas gasped in pain at the rough handling and struggled for the briefest of moments, making Aragorn’s hammering heart clench tightly in anguish.  They were out of time and had no choice; he was simply going to hope his friend could forgive him for this later - if they lived to see later.

Once over the threshold, Legolas did not resist him.  The internal battle he faced silenced as a state of shock, a combination of his injuries and the ever-present evil, shut down his defense, turning him inward.  He stumbled after the human that led him, following Aragorn down through a dizzying maze of tunnels and caverns. 

After they crossed through the first offshoot in the underground system, Aragorn awkwardly stuffed his hand into the knapsack slung over his arm. Pulling out a small handful of athelas, he spilled the dried leaves and flowers out sparingly at every turn they made.  He had no intention of dying in this forsaken place and doubted very highly that if they were followed any orc would ever notice the sparsely dropped trail and, even if they did, the wholesome scent of the plant would repulse them enough to leave it alone.  He hated to waste his small store of herbs, but it was the best thing he could think of at the moment. 

When they could no longer even hear the echo of the orcs’ voices or footsteps anywhere in the massive underground stillness, Aragorn allowed their frantic pace to slow.  Stumbling to a stop in the large cavern they found themselves entering, the ranger walked slowly to the far wall and leaned against it, bracing himself with his hands, trying to still his ragged breathing.  Legolas stood numbly beside him and waited. 

When Aragorn finally glanced around them, he noted that the cavern they stood in had been occupied before, long ago apparently.  The skeletons of two humans sat against the wall opposite them, barely visible in the faint light that Legolas cast.  A small cache of clothing and torches lay piled near the two corpses. 

Slowly Aragorn turned around, causing Legolas to have to turn with him as well. 

“That will be us,” the elf whispered quietly. 

The ranger walked towards the skeletons, dragging his friend unwillingly with him.  Crouching down near the abandoned supplies, he rummaged through them, grabbing a few pieces of cloth that weren’t too soiled and collecting what kindling and small pieces of wood were left, stuffing them into his sack. 

Picking up a few of the discarded torches he tucked them under his right arm.  Now, this close to the skeletons, Aragorn could see the large metal rings that sat about their necks, resting on their breastbones – they had been slaves.  In all probability they had escaped to this very cavern and then later died here trying to find their way out again.  

“Let's go.”  Aragorn stood to his feet and led Legolas back the way they had come, resisting a shiver.  “There was a good-sized cavern a few turns back. We’ll be safe there.  I can’t hear the orcs anymore, so I think they’ve given up.” 

Legolas was staring at the dead slaves as the ranger walked them back out of the cave, his thoughts as dark as the tunnels about them.  The glow from the elf faded slightly and Aragorn stumbled, turning back to his friend in worry. 

“Legolas, what is it?”  He had noticed the unusual dimness of the elf’s natural light ever since he had found him.  It had brightened a little when they escaped, but now it was fading once more. 

The prince shook his head mutely.  Everything had been too much for him lately and this, this being drug into the bowels of a cave in Mordor had been the final straw. 

“All right.  It’s all right.”  Aragorn noted the lost look the elf laid on him and the ragged, shallow breathing of his friend.  They needed to get somewhere safe quickly and rest for a bit.  Removing a piece of flint from his knapsack he forcefully struck it against the edge of his sword, moving carefully to keep from jerking Legolas around while he lit one of the torches they had located. 

It was hard to console his friend with his left hand chained to Legolas’ as it was, so he very gently took the elf’s hand in his own and slowly led them back to the large, secluded cavern.  As much as he didn’t care for the thought of keeping company with a pair of skeletons, it was the best place to make a temporary camp.  

“Come on, Legolas, we’ll be fine. We just need to rest.” Aragorn moved to the back of the cave, placing them at the farthest point from the two tunnels that led away to whatever unknown darkness lay beyond.

“I do not need to rest.”  Legolas was glancing around them warily, considering his options.  If he were not bound to the human as he was, the ranger would have had a very hard time getting the stubborn elf to remain here like this.  The elf couldn’t imagine staying in the cave, not here, not like this, not when even above ground he felt the suffocating presence of evil everywhere.  It was like being smothered.

“Yes you do.”  Aragorn crossed his legs and sat down on the rocky ground, pulling the elf down with him. “And so do I.” 

Legolas glared hard at the ranger, but the anger wasn’t directed at the human. It was frustration over the situation.  

Aragorn smiled softly at the elf.

Legolas watched as the human set aside their weapons and allowed the ranger to take his quiver from him, gently pulling it over the elf’s head, careful of his bruised shoulders and laying it beside the elven bow. 

“I’m going to make a fire, so bear with me.  I’ll need to move around you a bit.”  The human stared into the large, blue eyes that watched him carefully as he moved into a crouched position and twisted on his boot heels until he faced Legolas.

He was very grateful that the length of chain that connected them was at least a foot in length, as it allowed him room to maneuver while Legolas rested.  Aragorn smiled slightly to himself as he piled the sticks and kindling he had collected and once more removed his flint, striking it and setting the tinder on fire.  His companion was doing anything but resting.  The elf was tense as a bowstring and hadn’t spoken since Aragorn told him to rest.  The ranger was going to need to do something if he expected either one of them to get any sleep that night.

With the tiny fire sparking merrily, bathing the cavern in a warm, golden glow, Aragorn sat down cross-legged, still facing his friend, and emptied the contents of his knapsack.  The small metal pot he carried with him fell out, ringing loudly in the cramped confines.  Legolas jumped, refocusing his attention on what the ranger was doing. 

Aragorn pulled out the small sack of athelas he had brought with him from Gondor and set it aside before unstopping the flask of water that they carried and pouring a small amount of it in the pot. 

“We cannot waste the water. It is all we have.”  Legolas' voice was a mere whisper. 

“I am not wasting it,” Aragorn replied softly, preoccupied with what he was doing. 

The region of Mordor lay in a valley about fifty feet below sea level and so the water in the pot boiled a lot faster and a lot hotter than it normally would have.  Aragorn, aware of this, carefully watched the water level as it quickly warmed.  Legolas was right about one thing: this was their only flask of water and they would need every drop of it if they could not find more. 

When the water had reached its boiling point, Aragorn removed it from the fire.  Wrapping one of the old shirts he had taken from the previous cavern around his hand to keep from burning himself, he set the pot down next to him and sprinkled a large handful of athelas into the water. 

Legolas glanced slowly up to meet his gaze when the ranger turned back to the elf. 

“We need to stay here tonight and perhaps tomorrow night as well.  Until the orcs have moved well on.  This will help make the air a bit more breathable.” 

The elf did not respond and Aragorn’s heart went out to his friend.  The bruises on the prince’s cheeks were turning a deep purple and blood had caked in the corner of his mouth where his lip had split.  Dirty, blonde hair spilled over the elf’s shoulders and fell in tangles about his face.  The slump of the proud shoulders belied more than Legolas was willing to say. 

“You need to rest,” Aragorn said softly.  His statement provoked no response.  With a sigh the ranger glanced to the rocky floor; he ached more than he was willing to admit himself.  The beating they had taken had left him more wrung out than he had realized and his body was beginning to stiffen up painfully.   He pushed the thoughts brusquely aside; it was Legolas’ loss of spirit that frightened him. 

“Here.”  He spoke the word gently as he moved behind Legolas, causing the elf to have to cross his right arm across his chest to accommodate the ranger as Aragorn seated himself behind the prince. 

Knowing his words weren’t reaching the elf any longer, Aragorn gently took hold of Legolas’ shoulders and drew the prince back, carefully forcing him to lie against the ranger’s chest. 

Legolas shook his head a little but did not resist. 

“Yes, my friend.  Relax.”  Aragorn whispered into the elf’s ear as he stirred the athelas with his free right hand, releasing more of the sweet scent into the air.  He threw another stick on the fire before turning his attention to Legolas once more.  He knew the prince had wounds that needed tending, but it was too difficult right now, chained as he was, and his own body was begging for rest.  It was hard to move with their wrists manacled together, so he simply let his left hand rest on the elf’s left shoulder, gently moving his fingers in soothing patterns. 

Legolas’ right hand caught Aragorn’s fingers, stilling the ranger’s movements as he tightened his hold on the human with the feel of someone who was looking for a lifeline to keep from floundering. 

“I’m right here.  We are safe.  They’ll never find us down here,” Aragorn assured softly.  

“We’ll never find our way out,” Legolas' voice was a mere whisper. 

“Yes we will; I made sure of it.”  Aragorn gently placed his right hand over Legolas’ forehead, his fingers brushing the elf’s face and causing the prince to close his eyes as he slowly drew Legolas’ head back to rest in the hollow of his shoulder.  “Now just close your eyes and relax.” 

The elf was too tense under his touch, so the ranger continued to speak quietly, slipping without thought into elvish.  “Keep your eyes closed, you can't see the cave ceiling then,” he explained himself. “Now breathe in deeply.” 

Doing as he was told, Legolas’ overwrought senses were assaulted by the sweet clean smell of athelas and he relaxed unconsciously, shakily releasing his breath before taking another deep draught of the clean air into his lungs. 

Aragorn smiled softly as he felt the tension slowly leave his friend.  “Imagine we are in that meadow, the one just to the north of Rivendell.” 

“The one we had to spend the night in because you wouldn’t pay attention to me?”  Legolas questioned. His silent laughter could be felt against Aragorn’s chest. 

The ranger rolled his eyes as he tossed another small twig on the fire. “Yes, that one.  You will never let me live that down, will you?”  He didn’t mind the teasing barb; he was simply glad the elf was speaking and beginning to calm down. 

Legolas, his eyes still closed, smiled slightly as he shook his head, “No.” 

“Well it wasn’t my fault there was a hole there.  You could not see it from the trail,” Aragorn tried to defend himself. They had been over this before. 

“I saw it and I warned you.” Legolas’ smile widened. “You were being arrogant and you thought you were the better tracker.” 

“I am the better tracker.” 

“You weren’t then.” 

Aragorn gave the elf a small shove, eliciting a quiet laugh from the fair being. “Well you could have gotten me out instead of laughing at me and then I wouldn’t have been in quite such bad shape.  That was how I twisted my ankle!” 

“Oh no.  You didn’t fall in a hole.  There was no hole there, remember?  You’re the better tracker and you insisted there was no hole.”  Legolas snickered at their gentle teasing. 

“You go ahead and laugh, but the look on your face when Elladan blew your cover and told us that they had found you stuck in that same hole earlier that week was priceless.” 

“I couldn’t believe he told.”  Legolas opened his eyes and tried to glance over his shoulder.  He tensed slightly when the walls of the cavern crushed back down on him.  Instantly Aragorn’s hand was covering his face once more. 

“Close your eyes,” he whispered in the elf’s ear, moving his face around the tangled blonde hair and laying his head against Legolas’. “Just remember the meadow.” 

After a few moments of silence he spoke again. “Can you see it?” 

“Yes.”  Legolas relaxed again, although his grip on the ranger’s hand had not lessened. 

“Do you remember how the stars looked?  It was close to mid-summer and they were bright and huge and the night was lit by their presence.”  He stirred the athelas again, pushing the small pot back near the fire to keep it warm and throwing more of the dried weed into the water. 

“Yes. I remember Eärendil being especially bright that evening.”  Legolas pressed against the ranger and stiffly stretched out on the rocky floor, his mind far away and his thoughts freed from the confines of their rocky prison as he crossed his ankles and relaxed. 

“I remember the bugs.”  Aragorn spoke quietly, causing Legolas to laugh again. 

“You would remember something like that.” 

“Well I thought there were only bugs that big in Mirkwood!”  Aragorn could feel the elf slowly giving into his body’s desire for sleep. 

Taking a deep breath, Legolas sighed and began to softly hum a tune Aragorn hadn’t heard in years: it was the slave’s lullaby that Cabed’s family had sung themselves to sleep with. 

Memory surfaced and the ranger spoke quietly.  “I saw Kidrin in Gondor, below Lithiant.  He was with the slaves we freed there.  He says the Simbani are well and they send their greetings.” 

Legolas stopped humming and listened to the sound of the ranger’s voice as it thrummed against his back.  

“I meant to ask you how it went for the Gondorian army after I was taken, but it slipped my mind,” the elf quietly answered. 

With a small snort of amusement Aragorn nodded. “Wonder why.”  When the prince laughed lightly he continued.  “It went well.  We found the traitor.” 

Legolas grew very still and quiet as he thought back on the past half a year he had been away from home. 

“It wasn’t you who killed those two young soldiers, Legolas.  Denethor, Castamir and all the others know it now.  It may not be much of a comfort, but at least they know the truth.  They know that you were set up.  You have been cleared of all the charges the Gondorian army levied against you.”  Aragorn tried to see the elf’s face but was unable to; the silence that stretched between them was difficult to wait out. 

“They should have not have died as they did.”  Legolas’ voice was very quiet when he spoke.  “Alcarin was kind to me.  His betrayal was painful.  I still don’t understand it.” 

“He used you to throw suspicion off of himself. I’m sorry my friend.  You met them on the road to visit me at just the wrong time and he used it to his advantage.  Stealing those weapons and killing those boys had always been part of his plan.  His father was Corsair, his mother Gondorian, but she died when he was young and the bigotry between the two races killed whatever conscience he had when his father died fighting for Gondor and yet was branded a traitor by the very people he died defending.” 

Legolas nodded slightly but did not reply so Aragorn continued speaking, “When I could not find you, I feared the worst but hoped you had merely escaped.  I left Tarcil to hunt for any traces of you while I convinced Lord Ecthelion to let me take a contingent down against the Corsairs.  I am so sorry I could not come sooner.  Ecthelion conceded, sending me back with more than enough troops and we destroyed their shipyard and all their soldiers and took their supplies.  I found the second slaver’s vessel among the warships and we freed the slaves.  It was there that I met up with Kidrin; the slavers had taken him a few weeks earlier.  He was the one that told me he had seen the slavers take you aboard the first ship and pointed me in the right direction.  I never would have known if it weren’t for him.”  Aragorn tightened his hold on the elf in his arms.  “I was just glad to see him and hear of you.” 

“It is good that it went well for Gondor.”  Legolas sighed deeply letting the past and its pain slip from his thoughts.  He hadn’t realized that he had nearly been lost for good and quickly changed the subject.  “I am glad you found Kidrin. How is he?” 

Aragorn smiled to himself. “Tall! You would not believe how he has grown.” 

“Humans do that.” 

“Do what?” the human questioned softly. 

“Grow up.”  Legolas smiled sadly, an expression his friend could not see.  As Aragorn thought on what he had said, the elf began to quietly hum once more, the familiar soothing song filling the cavern. 

The ranger smiled softly, feeling his own aching body begging for rest.  

Yes, humans do grow up, he thought, thinking back on the life he had lived with men for the past fifteen years and all he had learned.  He was simply content that he was now in the company of an elf once more, even if their circumstances were not what he would have wished. 

Shifting slowly, Aragorn repositioned himself behind the prince and rested back against the rocky wall behind him.  Throwing a few more scraps of wood on the fire and mounting the small flames higher, he relaxed, content it would last for a few hours of sleep. 

Gently brushing Legolas’ hair out of his face, Aragorn rested his head back against the elf’s.  He could still feel the prince humming softly, but the tune was becoming more faint as Legolas fell asleep.  “It will work out all right, Legolas.  You’ll see, we really will see those stars again.  I promise you.” 

The soft humming ceased as the human and the elf fell asleep, exhausted from the abuse and the stress of the previous day.  Next to them, the athelas boiled merrily away, filling the cavern with the sweet smell of a land far away to the north that haunted their dreams.


Aragorn watched the orc patrol march out of sight from his hiding place behind the large boulder he and Legolas were crouching next to.  He slid as far around the rock as he could, his back pressed against the warm black chunk of stone. 

They had passed into the barren lands of Gorgoroth a few days ago, nearing the northwestern edge of Mordor.  The black walls of the Ephel Dùath, the mountain-fence that surrounded the dark lands, rose steadily into the sooty sky on their left. The landscape was dreary and desolate and places to hide from the increasing numbers of orc parties that moved through dry hills and shale valleys were becoming scarce.  Stretching his neck, the ranger peered in the direction of the sound of the fading orcs' voices, content they had not been spotted.  The ranger’s arm was jerked slightly as Legolas flopped back against the rock with a sigh. 

“What’s wrong?” Aragorn immediately redirected his attention.  Legolas’ flagging spirit still bothered the human. 

“What’s wrong?!” the elf repeated what the man had said while holding up the chain that linked them together.  “This is what’s wrong and...and this!” Legolas swept his free hand about them.  “Hiding behind rocks in Mordor from orc patrols.  If I had free use of my hands I would have slain them all.  I am tired of this hiding and sneaking about, tired of Mordor and tired of being your shadow.” He gave the chain a good yank, his frustration getting the best of him.  He wasn’t mad at the human, he was mad at their circumstances, but his friend was getting the brunt of it. 

Aragorn shifted, crossing his legs under him and seating himself so he faced the elf, his left hand rested lightly on his knee near the prince’s thigh.  Legolas wouldn’t even meet his gaze. 

“I’m sorry...” the elf muttered after a few moments but was silenced as his right hand was gently covered by the ranger’s. 

“Don’t be.”  Aragorn glanced around them. “You’re right.  This is wrong and we are going to get out of here, soon.” 

“You have been saying that for a week or more.  Your definition of ‘soon’ is questionable, Aragorn, unless you have started keeping elf-time.”  Some of the real irritation had bled out of the elf’s voice, leaving only the dry humor behind. 

When the elf rolled his eyes and glanced at the man out of the corner of them the ranger couldn’t help laughing before quickly continuing, “Look we can't be far from the gates...” 

“And you expect to walk right through them.  Or better yet ask nicely to be let out?” 

“You’re annoying when you’re sarcastic, has anyone ever told you that?” Aragorn couldn’t stifle the smile that threatened to spread across his face as his friend lay a dark, mirthless gaze on the human.  Holding up his right hand in a gesture of peace he continued, “No I do not suggest we ask to be let out, but they must open those gates eventually.  Dagorlad lies just beyond them, the orcs never pass through there I have been told.  We can easily lose them in the wastelands. It's nearly all swamp now anyway and the woods are not far beyond that.  They will not follow us.” 

Legolas nodded in agreement.  He was not sure he was up to the challenge, but neither did he want to die in the evil land they were crossing.  His eyes drifted to the smoky canopy that sealed them in the rocky valley.  He realized Aragorn was still talking and glanced back at the ranger who was now holding the elf’s bow in his hands. 

“So?  Do you want to me show you?” Aragorn smiled impishly. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear what you said.”  Legolas frowned slightly, asking the man to repeat himself, which Aragorn did with easy patience, his eagerness shining through the silver eyes that watched the prince closely. 

“I know how you can shoot your bow even though we are chained together, I’ve been thinking about it.  Do you want me to show you?” Aragorn was watching his friend carefully.  He passed the elven weapon off to Legolas and raised his eyebrow in question; he really hoped this worked.  He had tried everything he could to raise the elf’s spirits; this was his last idea, but it was also his best.  He held his breath hoping the prince wouldn’t say no. 

With a small nod the elf slowly began to mirror the smile the human favored him with.  He pushed the sweaty, blonde locks that fell into his eyes away from his face.  Normally unaware of the temperatures around him, the elf was more susceptible to the heat here in Mordor because of the evil that clung to him like the sulfur clouds that hugged the edges of the valley cliffs. 

The promise of being able to use his weapons once more had brought back a spark to his eyes and it pleased Aragorn’s heart, but the elf’s susceptibility to their surroundings was not lost on the ranger and he tugged the prince back into a seated position, passing the flask of water to the fair being. 

Legolas was confused and shook his head. “I am not thirsty.” 

“Your body is.”  Aragorn pushed the gourd towards the elf again, overriding his companion’s denials.  “Yes, Legolas, you need to drink.  You have barely eaten or taken any sustenance. I know you think you can push yourself as you have many times in past but, trust me on this, your body cannot handle it now.  Drink or we’ll not move an inch from this place.” 

The elf glared at the human, finally accepting the flask and muttering to himself, “That’s probably how those two slaves in the cave died. One of them was a stubborn ranger.” 

“Yes, well the other would have been a bullheaded elf then.” Aragorn returned the glare the blue eyes held as Legolas tipped the flask to his lips, inadvertently causing the ranger to have to move closer to him as he drank deeply. 

The tepid water seemed cool to Legolas’ parched throat and he felt the liquid all the way down to his stomach, sighing slightly as the coolness refreshed him. 

“Told you,” Aragorn leaned nearer and whispered playfully. 

Responding with lightning speed to the gibe, the elf pushed the ranger back, forgetting momentarily that they were attached by the chain. 

Aragorn rocked backwards, pulling Legolas into himself and bursting out laughing.  “You forgot!” he taunted, holding up the links. 

“I did no such thing.” Legolas tried to stifle his own smile and stand awkwardly to his feet, attempting to maintain his dignity while pulling the laughing ranger up with him. “Quiet your voice or the orcs will hear you!” he cautioned, dramatically glancing off to their right where the patrol had passed. 

His warning only caused the ranger to laugh harder as he was halfway pulled to his feet by the elf.  “If that were the case, they would have heard you whining about Mordor long before they ever heard me.  Admit it; you forgot we are chained together.” 

“I will not.”  Legolas bent down to retrieve his bow.  Straightening up, he couldn’t help smiling at the ranger who was watching him. “Are you going to show me your brilliant idea about how to fire this thing while hampered by you or not?” 

Trying to unsuccessfully catch his breath and stop laughing, Aragorn glanced around them before pointing to a small, dead scrub brush that was growing from a crack in a large boulder about a hundred yards to their left. “There. That’s a good place.”  He led them towards the makeshift practice range. 

As Aragorn stepped past him, Legolas shoved his bow between the man’s feet, tangling them up and tripping him hard.  Aragorn gasped in surprise but did not hit the ground as strong hands gripped his elbow and quickly righted him, holding him in place until he got his feet underneath him. 

He turned a surprised glance at Legolas who was trying hard to conceal a smile. “Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to trip you,” the elf lied. 

Giving his friend a playful shove the human laughed, simply glad that the elf’s spirits were rising.  “I’ll get you for that,” he threatened as they stopped fifty yards from the intended target. 

Suddenly turning serious, Legolas handed his bow to Aragorn. “How do you suggest that I shoot with my hand tied so to yours?  You have seen me shoot, Estel. I can't defend us restrained like this.”  He rattled the offensive chain, earnestly holding his friend’s gaze. 

“That’s what I’ve been thinking about.”  Aragorn handed the bow back to the elf, pressing the smooth wood into the prince’s left hand.  “Shoot the bow; take the far left branch off that dead bush, the one that sticks out at an odd angle.”  When the elf continued to look at him questioningly, he continued, “Pretend I’m not here. Do everything like you normally would.”  He nodded in encouragement when Legolas raised the weapon and concentrated on the small, stunted tree. 

Blocking out all else, the elf narrowed his vision, breathing in rhythm to his heartbeat.  Reaching swiftly over his shoulder, the clinking of chain startled him and he flinched slightly before grabbing an arrow from his quiver and stringing it on the bow.  The notch fit smoothly against the string and in moments he let the projectile fly, momentarily forgetting he was impaired by his human companion when the arrow nicked the branch, clipping it from the dry scrub brush. 

Legolas turned towards the ranger in surprise as Aragorn let out a quiet sound of victory. 

“I knew it would work.”  He smiled into the fair being’s face as the elf wordlessly asked for an explanation. 

“Do it again in slow motion and I’ll show what I did.” Aragorn stepped slightly back behind the elf standing just adjacent to the elf’s right shoulder. 

As Legolas reached back to the quiver Aragorn’s hand brushed the fletchings before the elf’s and quickly slipped one of the tips higher, making the wood shaft easy for the prince to grasp.  As Legolas gripped the arrow and slipped it onto the string, the ranger moved forward with the elf’s motions, keeping the tension on the chain at a minimum.  He had seen the prince in action so many times that the elf’s movements were like dance steps to him and the ranger marked them out in his mind.  He watched Legolas intently once the arrow had been strung and noticed the way the elf’s right eye squeezed slightly shut just before he loosed the projectile.  True to form the elf concentrated, narrowed his right eye and released the arrow.  It was an almost imperceptible, nearly unconscious reaction that Aragorn was sure Legolas didn’t even realize he was doing. But it was enough to tip off the ranger on when to move and how as the elf fired the longbow. 

“How did you know?” Legolas turned incredulously towards the ranger. “How did you know when I’d release the arrow?  When to move?” 

Aragorn pointed at the prince’s right eye. “You narrow your right eye just before you fire.”  He smiled softly. “I’ve been going over the way you shoot in my mind and I thought I remembered that.” 

Nodding slowly Legolas smiled. “It worked.” 

“I know.” 

“Let's try it again,” the elf asked excitedly.  It felt so good to go through the familiar motions again, like reclaiming a part of himself from the shadows.  He was not helpless.

Affecting an air of indifference and mocked agedness the ranger glanced at the prince. “Just like teaching the young ones.”  He spoke patiently, raising his eyebrows in a condescending manner. 

Legolas stared at the human for a few seconds, knowing it was a joke but not quite remembering why.  Then his memories swung suddenly back to a time far in the past when he had said those exact words to a much younger ranger than the one that now stood next to him.  Bursting out laughing, the elf clapped Aragorn on the back. 

“Yes! Just like teaching the young ones.”  He smiled into the bright, silver eyes that echoed his laughter. “So can we try it again?” 

With a light laugh the ranger stepped behind the elf. “By all means, let’s try again.”  He moved in rhythm with the elf, shifting faster and faster as Legolas slowly gained his speed and confidence.  

I may never know what it is about you and your bow, my friend, but it worked then and it works now and seeing you smile again is all that matters to me,  Aragorn thought with a small smile. 

The elf’s hand reached back to grasp another arrow, only to be caught by the ranger’s fingers.  Legolas turned slightly, startled by the contact, having forgotten for a few moments that the ranger stood so closely to him. 

“You’ve run out of arrows, my friend.” Aragorn smiled softly and started walking towards the scrub brush the elf had been practicing on.  The dead bush had been reduced to merely a twig as the two collected the spent arrows. 

Legolas accepted the last of the retrieved weapons, staring wordlessly at his friend.  The ranger couldn’t quite read the elf’s expression and he was caught off guard by the openness of the gaze. 

“What is it?”  Aragorn tipped his head slightly, trying to gauge the prince’s mood. 

“I was wrong.” 

Raising his eyebrows in question, Aragorn shook his head slightly, confused by the elf’s admission. 

“Not only was I wrong, I acted like a prig.  I am sorry I complained about being chained to you.”  Legolas smiled slightly and looked to the walls of Mordor that were even closer than they had been days before.  “You are not hampering me and I am not unhappy to shadow or be shadowed by you, human.” 

Aragorn laughed softly at the friendly taunt.  “Legolas, I never took what you said to heart.  It is this land.” He motioned around them. “It is foul and it covers the heart with heaviness.”  The ranger’s smile turned impish and he moved back a pace before continuing, “Besides, once we get back to the forests I am sure that that prissy haughtiness will return to you.”  He ducked the smack the elf aimed at him but couldn’t escape the playful hit. 

Wrapping his fist in the chain that held them together, he pulled the elf towards him, snatching the arrows from Legolas’ hand and stuffing them into his quiver.  “Now what say you we head northwest and find a way out of this accursed place?”