Escape from Mordor

Chapter 7

by Cassia and Siobhan

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 If I could,

Then I would,
I’ll go wherever you will go.
Way up high, or down low
I’ll go wherever you will go. 

And maybe I’ll find out, a way to make it back someday...
Towards you, to guide you, through the darkest of your days. 

--The Calling

Seeing what had happened and how Aragorn had become entangled, Legolas rolled towards the ranger, keeping low, and broke the strand that had caught his friend, easily cutting through the cord.  Pulling the human back towards him, he scooted away from the spider’s web and into the dark tunnel behind her. 

Shelob couldn’t recall the last time she had had a catch this deep in the cave and excitement got the best of the evil beast.  Grabbing the orc nearest her, she bit the foul creature's head off, stopping his thrashing.  That one she would eat now, and save the others for later.  The rest of the trapped orcs panicked but their fear only tangled them further until they could not move.  Touching each future meal with her feet to ensure they were tightly held, the spider leapt off her silvery trap and ran down the tunnel after the rest of the retreating orcs. 

Having seen their companions so easily ensnared and their prey now beyond their reach, the remaining company of orcs turned in on itself and fled back to the crevice in the wall of the Ephel Dúath, hoping to see daylight before the great spider reached them. 

Shelob scurried after the fleeing creatures, catching one of the slower ones on their way out and dragging it back by its leg to her nest where she firmly sealed it in place, keeping it for later. 

Legolas watched as the ancient nightmare that had haunted his childhood dreams chased the orcs out of the tunnel.  She had been worth fearing.  Truly, that beast had to be even older, larger and more evil than Tairach had been.  He eased Aragorn gently up, wrapping his arms as best he could around the human and leading them away from the spider’s nest. 

“You could have warned me,” Aragorn whispered breathlessly, turning to glance over his shoulder.  Legolas walked slowly on his right, the elf’s arms supporting the man’s weight.  His position had forced the ranger to cross his left hand across his chest and he grasped Legolas’ arm tightly. 

With a small laugh Legolas redirected the ranger’s attention.  “I’m sorry, my friend, I had not the time to tell you.  I was not even sure that anything still lived near the web.  Until just now she was simply a story I had heard as a child round the fires late at night to frighten us into staying close to the camp.” 

“Although...” Legolas suddenly turned an intent glare on his friend, “I thought you promised no spiders this time.” 

Aragorn shook his head, amazed that the elf could even remember that exchange.  He chuckled weakly.  “Don’t blame this on me. You’re the one who dragged us in here and used us as live bait.” 

It was Legolas’ turn to chuckle.  “I suppose I did.” 

They passed through several caverns and junctions before Legolas stopped them.  His sense of direction had paid off as they entered a large cave.  The grotto held a fair sized subterranean pool that took up most of the room and a shaft of light split the darkness, falling down from some steep, open chimney high overhead. 

Allowing the ranger to sit on the floor beside the pool, the elf crouched near the edge and leaned over the lip of the small lake, his fingers gripping the cool stone edge.  He smelled the water, touching a few drops of it from his fingertips to his lips.  There was no stagnancy to it and it tasted sweet like the springs in the mountains near his home. It was a freshwater pool and he turned to the ranger to inform him, only to find the man smiling at him with a lopsided grin.  The ranger was breathing hard and his face was pale.  The smile he laid on the elf was weary and he rested heavily on his side.  His condition worried the prince, but the laughter in the tired eyes confused him. 

Sitting up and pushing away from the edge of the pond, Legolas smiled warily back at his friend, “What is so funny?” 

Aragorn glanced around them before answering, “You led me into a cave.” 

Legolas’ eyes narrowed and he glowered at his friend. “It is a tunnel,” he corrected. 

“Really?” Aragorn glanced to the far side of the cavern, “It looks an awful lot like a cave.” 

“You could at least have the decency to act sick when you are sick and not torment me until you are better.” Legolas glared playfully at the human.  “The water is fresh.  We have plenty to drink and I need to see to your injuries.”  He would not let the ranger protest as he simply talked over the top of him, “And if you have athelas I suggest you get it out...” 

Legolas stopped speaking, his smile widening as Aragorn questioned him, “Athelas?” 

“Yes.”  The elf couldn’t suppress the small laugh that escaped him.  Their narrow escape from death and the fact that he could smell the forests outside had brought a relief to his heart that he had not realized he had been waiting for, “We are in a cave,” he admitted playfully, “and you are ill.  The athelas is for us both, my friend.” 

Aragorn nodded slowly.  Now that they were free and the adrenaline from the chase was wearing off, the ranger was beginning to realize just how worn out and sick he was feeling.  Lying down on his side, he pushed his knapsack towards Legolas.  Dizziness had set in and it was becoming more and more difficult to keep his eyes open.  Giving up the fight, he rested his head in the crook of his arm. 

“Aragorn?”  Legolas scooted closer to the ranger and gently shook the man. 

“...need to rest...”  his companion murmured softly before he passed out. 


The quiet dripping of water woke the human and he breathed in deeply, slowly opening his eyes.  Memory was far from returning and he lay where he was.  Unmoving, he gazed around the cave that he found himself inside.  Late afternoon light fell through a shaft high in the ceiling off to his right.  To his left, a deep clear pool rippled softly as water ran into it from some hidden recess. 

Recollection leaked back into his awareness slowly and he found himself glancing around worriedly for his companion.  His slight movements elicited a soft sigh from behind him and the ranger stilled his reactions as Legolas shifted in his sleep, laying his cheek on the top of the human’s head. 

It suddenly occurred to Aragorn that the reason he wasn’t free to move was that he was lying in the elf’s arms and the chain that bound them together lay heavily across his chest.  The prince had moved them both to the far wall near the pool after the ranger had passed out.  He had cared for the man through the night, working to lower the human’s fever and cleaning the wounds he had not been able to earlier as they had had no water for the past few days.  A pot of athelas, now hours old, rested near Aragorn’s left side.  Even though the water had long ago cooled, the mixture still filled the cavern with the sweet, clear scent that was so healing. 

He dared not move for fear of waking the elf.  Of them both, Legolas needed the rest more than he.  He could feel the prince’s slow, steady breathing against his back and relaxed into the arms that held him tightly, his fingers gently gripping the hands that lay across his ribs.  They had both made it out alive; he couldn’t remember feeling more relieved at that fact.  True, they were technically still inside Mordor, but they were on their way and he could not help but hope that the worst was over. 

The ranger realized with a start that he didn’t feel too badly anymore.  The pain in his stomach was gone and the headache that had threatened to overwhelm him was merely a dull ache in the back of his mind.  He had been cleaned up and somehow while he shifted in and out consciousness last night, Legolas had seen to his thirst, for the deep longing had been slaked.  He vaguely remembered the events of the previous evening.  He felt better than he had in weeks and he wasn’t so sure that it didn’t have something to do with their proximity to the outer edges of Cirith Ungol and being nearer to the forests of Ithilien.  The Anduin ran not a mile away from the Ephel Dúath; he longed to see it once more.  It would be good to be free of this evil land; already its hold on their hearts was slipping. 

He thought back through their harrowing escape.  He had been totally unprepared for the sight of the large spider that had distracted their pursuers and made their escape possible.  The memories of Tairach had flooded his thoughts and made the nightmarish vision of Shelob even more horrific.  The state of his feverish mind had not helped any and he remembered struggling against Legolas as the elf drug him underneath the huge webbing.  Aragorn shuddered involuntarily as he recalled how frightened he had been when his foot had stuck fast in the sticky threads. 

“What?!” The elf behind him woke with a start, the tremors that raced through the human he held had alerted him, “What is it?” 

“Legolas, I’m sorry.” Aragorn whispered quietly not moving from the position where he lay. “Did I wake you?” 

“No...yes...”  Legolas’ arms tightened slightly around the human as he came more fully awake. “I mean... no.” 

He felt the soft laughter of the man against his chest and relented, gently lying his chin on the top of the ranger’s head. “Fine. Yes, you did wake me. Are you alright? You’re not cold, are you?” 

“No.” Aragorn frowned, gazing across the cavern as he considered the elf’s question. “Why?” 

“You were shaking.” 

“Oh that.”  Aragorn chuckled quietly. “I was remembering that nightmare of a spider you pulled me underneath. One would think a warning would have been given before you do something like that.  I thought my heart was going to stop beating when I saw that evil thing jump into the middle of her web.” 

Legolas tried to suppress his laughter, but Aragorn could feel the elf’s silent mirth.  

“It’s not funny.” The ranger dug his elbow into the prince’s ribs, eliciting a short gasp of surprise.  He continued talking as Legolas shifted behind him, extricating himself from their close quarters and moving around until he sat in front of the human. “I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or it was real.  Don’t ever do that again.”  He shoved the elf playfully. 

“Well I promise not to drag you under spider nests if you promise to never drink stagnant water again – ever.  You were very sick last night.” Legolas laid a hard stare on the man, “One really would think a ranger would know better...” he teased good-naturedly. 

Aragorn feigned shock and returned the even gaze. “I wasn’t in my right mind.” 

“Are you ever?”  Legolas tried to duck and move away from his friend, but the chain held them fast. 

Recovering from his fit of laughter Aragorn taunted, “I think the last time I was in my right mind was before I met you.”  He smiled as the elf shook his head, denying the age-old taunt. 

“Let us see if we can’t get these separated before you drive me mad.” Legolas held up the chain between them as he stood slowly to his feet. 

“I thought that had happened years ago. Isn’t that what you told Gandalf?” Aragorn squinted his eyes shut and glanced at the elf out of the corner of them, tipping his head slightly to the side, “How did you put it? ... ‘I am afraid it is too late already, the Dunédan has corrupted me’? Or something to that effect I believe?” 

He couldn’t help laughing as the elf’s mouth dropped open slightly.  The prince took hold of his hand and helped him slowly stand, shaking his head in disbelief. 

“How is it you always remember these inane things and bring them back up!?” Legolas gave a short tug on the chain as the ranger bent back down to retrieve his pack and the now refilled water flasks.  “I swear you have the memory of an oliphaunt!” 

Aragorn glanced back at the elf with a smile. “Oh you know we rangers and what they say about us?”  He poured the athelas out into a natural indentation in the rocky floor and shoved the wet pan into his pack. 

“Yes, I do.”  The elf raised an eyebrow and stepped back a pace as though wary of the human, much to the ranger’s amusement. 

Aragorn shook his head with a laugh.  “Not THOSE parts of what they say...  Never mind.” 

With a quick glance around the cave, Aragorn followed Legolas to the far passage. “I can smell the forests of Ithilien. We must be close to the outside.” 

“Let us hurry,” Legolas concurred, quietly eager to be free of their confines. 

“Missed the forests, have we?”  Aragorn smiled when the elf glanced back at the human, knowing the man was teasing him and trying to hide his own mirth.  “Well, you aren’t the only one,” the ranger continued quietly. 

In reality they were quite a bit farther away then they thought, for they had yet to traverse the many different sets of stairs that were set into the mountain before the path would take them down and out, but the journey, though long and somewhat tiring, was uneventful and with each step their hearts grew lighter for the knowledge that they were leaving Mordor slowly behind them. 

Finally, the stairs evened out and disappeared altogether.  Legolas rounded a bend in the cave, stepping into a gently sloping tunnel that led them out into the deep forests of Ithilien.  The woods were quiet in the pre-dusk.  The sun coated the tops of the trees in a flaming, bright light, making them appear as though their highest reaches were afire.  Pale evening light painted the floor of the forest in warm patterns as they moved beneath the trees. 

The elf stopped a few feet into the woods and closed his eyes. Lifting his face heavenward, he breathed in deeply, filling his lungs with the clean scents of the plant life around them.  He held his breath and listened.  Listened to the sounds of the earth, to the insects that had just begun their nightly chorus, to the birds that were returning to the trees to settle in for the night, to the very trees themselves as they sighed gently in the evening's winds, welcoming the elf into their midst.  He simply stood and listened to the earth as it breathed beneath his booted feet.  He had not been able to hear the song of the free earth in Mordor, for there the tortured land did nothing but moan and cry in his head.  The relief was great. 

It seemed to the ranger that the elf was changed even as he watched the prince.  The tension in the lithe body fled and the creases near the eyes that had furrowed the fair being’s brow smoothed.  Legolas released the breath he held with a sigh and smiled softly as his heart beat in rhythm with the woods about him, re-energized by the life that he could feel flowing all around him.  The gentle, blue glow that emanated from the prince was just beginning to show in the early dark of night and it brightened perceptibly. 

“Legolas?” Aragorn whispered his friend’s name. 

The elf started and turned towards the man, a smile spreading across his face.  The light shining behind his eyes was so happy it made Aragorn want to laugh for the joy of it all. 

“I never thought to hear it again,” the prince drank up the sweetness around him like a parched man guzzling water.  “It’s so beautiful!  Though a darkness lies on this land, still the woods are free.  Can you not hear it, Aragorn?”  He breathed in the cool, evening air again holding it deeply in his chest before releasing it.  “I am free,” Legolas sighed softly. 

“Yes, my friend, you are.”  It pleased the ranger’s heart to see the elf’s spirit returning so quickly; he couldn’t help returning the smile Legolas laid on him.  He could not hear what the elf heard, as he did not have the same connection with nature, but seeing what it did for Legolas was enough.  Simply being out of Mordor made his spirits lift. 

“Quickly, let us find shelter for the night, far from these mountains of shadow.  I do not wish to ever see its blackened fence again.”  Legolas leapt forward, running through the woods, his spirit free and light as he chased the fireflies that fled before them through the meadow they quickly crossed, daring the sun to set before they had found a sleeping place. 

With a laugh, Aragorn sprinted next to him, his heart as happy at finally being free as the elf’s.  Although it was more difficult for the ranger to keep up with the light-hearted prince, he would not hold Legolas back.  It had been too long that his friend’s heart had been weighed heavy by the evil that encompassed Mordor.  Still, the human’s body had not recovered as quickly as he wished and he tired easily, slowing the elf. 

Stopping their rush into the woods, Legolas slowed and turned to his friend, realizing that the human was having difficulty maintaining their pace.  Aragorn was smiling as he leaned over, resting his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. 

“Aragorn, I’m sorry, you should have stopped me.” Legolas gently touched his friend’s back with his free left hand, but his apology was stopped as the ranger waved him off. 

“It is well.  It felt good to run through the woods and to be as far from that forsaken land as possible.  Only I think it wise to find a place to rest for the night and soon.  We are still just outside Mordor, and Ithilien is not known for its safety, my friend.  Darkness draws against us quickly and who knows what stalks these woods besides our many-legged friend.”  He laughed lightly, having regained his breath, and they began to search for a place to rest until morning. 

“The trees then.”  Legolas glanced above them looking for limbs of adequate size. 

Agreeing with the elf, the ranger began scouring the underbrush for enough wood and fronds to create a flet.  It was a challenge finding what they were looking for, bound to one another as they were, and even more frustrating was climbing high enough into the tree carrying the supplies they needed.  It took many trips and a few falls before the flet was completed.  Legolas had tried to be patient with the ranger as they had climbed slowly up and down the length of the trunk.  Proceeding only as fast as the human was able, they had learned to move within each other’s rhythms, but it was still frustrating.  By the time they collapsed onto the carpet of needles and fern leaves they had spread across their high-perched bower, the moon was high in the sky overhead. 

Legolas lay on his back near the edge of the flet, staring through the leafy canopy at the stars above them.  He hadn’t seen the stars in months. The sight of the bright night lights twinkling overhead soothed his heart and he smiled up into the sky. 

“Stars, Aragorn.  We haven’t seen stars in... well I can’t remember how long,” he whispered quietly, not willing to disturb the sounds of night. 

Aragorn, however, did not respond and Legolas turned his head to gaze at the man. 

The ranger lay on his side facing the elf; his back braced against the solid trunk of the large tree, his left arm stretched out uncomfortably to accommodate Legolas who had subconsciously clasped his hands across his stomach out of habit.  The human was asleep, his head pillowed on a pile of fern fronds, worn out from the escape and the building of the flet.  He was over the illness from the poisoning, but he hadn’t regained his full strength yet. 

Legolas smiled softly and quietly moved his right arm to his side, giving the chain a bit of slack.  Shifting in his sleep, the ranger drew his arm closer to his body and curled in on himself, trying to keep warm.  Seeing the human’s discomfort, the elf carefully pulled several large fronds from underneath him and lay them over Aragorn for what little warmth they could trap beneath their leaves, smiling slightly when Estel scooted nearer the elf, warming himself with the other’s proximity. 

Legolas noticed for the first time the bruises on the human’s wrist where the manacle had been pulled tightly against the soft skin one time too many and he winced in sympathy, knowing how much that had to hurt, considering how his own did.  He would be glad when they could sever the metal links that held them chained together and see to the cuts and bruises.  Tomorrow perhaps they could find an outlying establishment where the links could be cut with few questions asked and little given in return. 

Tracing the ugly bruises gently with his gentle fingertips, Legolas realized that the ranger had never even complained; his first thought had always been for the elf’s comfort.  His friend had truly been his guiding light and saving grace through those long, dark days that stretched out as a black mar on his memory.  He would never have survived without him.  Strangely enough that debt, weighty as it was, felt comfortable, familiar... not so much a debt, as a pledge.  A pledge made between friends.  Between brothers.  The elf laced the ranger’s fingers with his own. 

Rolling onto his right side so that he faced Aragorn, Legolas drifted into a light, contented, real sleep for the first time in many moons.  Gently laying his hand on the ranger’s shoulder, he smiled as the man sighed slightly, his sleep drifting ever deeper, knowing they were finally safe. 


The two refugees stood just beneath the canopy of trees on the edge of a glade.  An old, dilapidated farmhouse still stood near the center of the meadow.  It was obvious from the broken down fencing and the nearly collapsed barn that at one time someone had indeed lived here, but now the house was a wreck, its windows darkened, and it carried the emptiness of a place that had been abandoned.  Nature had taken over and weeds poked up through the planks on the front deck.  Vines wrapped around the supporting posts and the boards creaked with the weight that the elf gently placed on them as he mounted the stairs first, trailing the ranger.

“Is anybody home?” Aragorn called out. 

Legolas looked over his shoulder at the ranger, raising one eyebrow as if questioning the man’s sanity. 

“What? It’s only polite.” The human turned an impish grin on the elf. 

“Aragorn, look about you.  Smell the place!” The elf’s nose wrinkled as he pushed the front door open and breathed in the air.  It was stale and musty in the house; the occupants had left long ago.  “I doubt we will find anything useful.” 

“In the house no, but lets go search the barn.”  Aragorn shrugged innocently as the elf turned to glare at him. “You never know, we might find something to get these off.”  He rattled the chain that bound them and held up his manacled wrist.  The wounds beneath it were bruised and encrusted with blood and he had no doubt the elf’s wrist fared little better. 

“You did see the barn when we walked past it didn’t you?”  Legolas followed the ranger out of the shanty and towards the leaning structure that used to be the barn. 

Aragorn rolled his eyes and ignored the elf, but Legolas continued, stopping them short of the crumpled entrance. “It looks ready to fall at any minute, Strider.” 

“Then we best be quick!” The ranger smiled over his shoulder and pulled the elf into the darkened interior, stepping carefully and lightly over the threshold while praying that Ilúvatar would hold the building up a few minutes longer for them. 

The interior was in no better shape than the structure was, but here it seemed that whoever had owned the house before had left their equipment behind.  Tools for shoeing horses and slaughtering animals hung suspended from the ceiling and the walls.  An anvil sat in the far corner next to the darkened hulk of a smelting furnace. 

“There.”  Aragorn walked hesitantly to the far side of the room.  The structure around them creaked and swayed unsteadily as they moved forward. 

Warily, Legolas eyed the loft and ceiling above them, the once-sharp farmer’s tools tinked loudly against one another.  “This is a bad idea,” the elf whispered softly. 

“It’ll only take a moment.”  Aragorn walked around the anvil, his hand on Legolas’ shoulder stopping the elf on the other side. 

Realizing the ranger was up to something, Legolas glanced quickly back at his companion.  The human had positioned them on either side of the black metal tool and was placing a large pin on the anvil next to the chain that draped across it.  Hefting an old wood handled hammer with his right hand, he motioned to the pin, locking eyes with the elf. 

“Oh no.”  Legolas backed up a step, glancing around them with wide eyes as the room creaked under the gentle winds that stirred the glen.  “You want to take these off here?” he asked incredulously. 

“Yes.”  Aragorn smiled, stifling a laugh and simply nodded his head. 

“And you expect me to hold that pin while you beat on it with the hammer?” The elf’s expression had not changed as he stared into the laughing silver eyes. 

“Legolas.”  Aragorn shifted the head of the hammer down onto the anvil. It impacted the metal block with a dull clank as he leaned closer to the elf.  “Do you want the chain and manacles off, or should we just continue on to Rivendell like this?” 

The prince sighed in resignation and dropped his gaze. 

“I am right-handed, as are you my friend.  And don’t give me that ambidextrous line, the ability to handle two weapons at the same time has nothing to do with fine control.  I’ve seen you write, I know which hand you favor,” the ranger quickly cut off any protest on that count.  “My right hand is free and...” 

“...and mine is chained to you!” Legolas finished the sentence for Aragorn, completing his argument as the ranger hefted the hammer again. 

“Exactly!” He smiled brilliantly at the elf.  “Now let’s break this chain and then free you first.” 

Reluctantly Legolas picked up the thick metal pin and placed it at an angle inside one of the iron links. 

It took several hits before the heavy chain began to bend.  The two companions stepped apart, stressing the weakened link as Aragorn brought the hammer down again for the last time.  Legolas stumbled backward as the chain broke apart, a smile brightening his face as he stood a good three feet away from the ranger for the first time in weeks. 

“It’s not that I don’t like you, mellon-nín,” Legolas commented as he stretched his arm, enjoying moving it around freely.  “But I think you’ll understand when I say it’s good to be a little further away from you for a change.” 

“I think the feeling is mutual.”  The ranger smiled.  “Now the manacle.”  

Aragorn indicated the anvil again and Legolas stepped forward, laying his wrist on the cool, metal block.  The ranger inspected the restraint carefully.  Just as he thought, the elf’s wrist was torn and lacerated; ugly black bruises decorated it where the prince had pulled against the bonds. 

Easing the pin into the middle of the two halves, near the locking mechanism, Aragorn swiftly and forcefully brought the hammer down, smashing into the metal cuff.  Legolas grimaced, stifling back a cry as the restraint bit into his already wounded wrist, causing Aragorn to flinch. 

“Only one more time and you will be free.”  The ranger waited until the elf nodded.  He hesitated, hating to hurt his friend further, but getting the manacles off was necessary.  Taking a deep breath, the ranger hefted the hammer and slammed it down, crushing the lock from the cuff and forcing it open. 

“Here, let me see it.” Aragorn held his hand out as Legolas grabbed his arm above his wrist, waiting for the sting from the aggravated wounds to subside.  The elf was resistant. 

“No, not in here.”  He stepped back a pace, his booted foot pressing through the rotting wood beneath them.  The slight displacement sent shivers up the old structure and they both stood perfectly still until the building settled once more. 

“Good point.” Aragorn handed the hammer and pin to Legolas and laid his left wrist on the anvil, turning his face away.  He had seen how it hurt the elf and knew that he would flinch if he saw the hit coming; his wrist already ached and he really didn’t want it to hurt anymore. 

The slight effort it took to hold still was not lost on the elf and he quickly set about his task, trying to ignore the stifled cries of his friend as he beat the lock open. 

Moving around the anvil, Legolas gently took hold of his friend’s shoulder and moved them towards the door.  He had no wish to remain in the building further and it was obvious that the structure would not tolerate their weight much longer.  Aragorn took the hammer from him and set it on the anvil before allowing himself to be led from the barn. 

The wooden planks beneath them creaked and shifted as they carefully headed for the door.  The shift of the beams caused the anvil to shake and the hammer slipped from its edge, crashing through the floorboards, seriously damaging a plank that held a supporting beam. 

With a groaning shudder the beam bent inward, snapping in half.  The newly freed friends bolted for the collapsing doorway as the structure came down around them, sending splinters and farming tools scattering in all directions.