Escape from Mordor

Chapter 8

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous

A hundred days have made me older
since the last time that I saw your face
A thousand lies have made me colder
and I don’t think I can look at this the same
But all the miles that separate...
they disappeared now when I’m dreaming of your face

--Three Doors Down

Once free of the dying building, the ranger stopped on the edge of the glen, grabbing the elf and halting his forward motion.  They turned to gaze on the meadow as the barn listed to the right and slowly collapsed on itself, with the shrieking tear of breaking wood.  A dust cloud exploded out from it and hovered over the forest for moments before being swept away by the gentle south winds. 

Legolas glanced at the ranger out of the corner of his eyes, gauging the human’s response.

“That was fun,” Aragorn whispered softly as the sounds of the woods slowly crept back into the forest around them. 

“It was not.”  Legolas’ reaction caused the ranger to start laughing but his mirth was cut short as the elf took hold of his injured wrist, causing him to inhale with a sharp hiss.  The lacerations on the soft skin were aggravated and not healing properly. 

“Let us go back to the river we passed before finding this place and clean this up,” the elf said softly, gently probing the cuts for fractures that could be hidden.  His own newly freed wrist looked no better and Aragorn quickly pulled out one of the old shirts they had found in the cave back on the plains of Nurn, ripping it into lengths as they walked back the way they had come. 

“I thought that barn was going to come down on our heads,” Aragorn teased lightly as they knelt by the small stream.  He plunged his hand into the cool water and cringed as the icy liquid raced around the fever-hot cuts. 

Next to him Legolas was doing the same, carefully washing the dirt and grime of Mordor from the wounds.  “It very nearly did,” the elf finally replied.  He was surprised to find that Aragorn was no longer next to him and glanced over his shoulder to see the ranger stripping out of his coat and tunics.  Seating himself near the water's edge, the prince grinned playfully as he questioned the human, “What do you think you are doing?” 

“There is a pool just to our right that is deep enough, so I am washing this dirt and filth from me.  It is in my hair, in my...” the ranger wrestled a boot from his foot and tossed it over his back, “in my teeth, and between my toes.  I haven’t been clean in weeks.  I hate that feeling.”  Walking by the elf, Aragorn waded slowly out into the water, his splayed fingers causing ripples across the smooth surface as he played them over the water.  Reaching the deepest part of the river, he crouched down submerging himself in the icy flow and raking his fingers through his tousled dirty hair. 

When the ranger came up for air, he saw Legolas on the shore removing his own leather boots and smiled as the elf waded out towards him, carefully undoing what was left of the braids that kept the hair out of his eyes.  He shook the blonde tresses loose so they fell over his shoulders and down his back.  The elf’s chest and back were decorated with various bruises and whip marks and Aragorn’s smile changed to one of concern as his friend drew close.  It had been some time now, but Legolas still had not healed.  It was as if his body had been incapable of healing in Mordor and the wounds were all as fresh as if they had been given yesterday. 

The elf was smiling, however.  “Really?  And here I always thought you enjoyed being filthy.” 

The ranger didn’t respond to the joke and Legolas noted the way the human frowned as he drew near and stopped a few feet from the man. 

“I didn’t know.”  Aragorn stated simply.  “I’m so sorry.”  If those injuries told a tenth of what Legolas must have been feeling during their whole journey, then the elf must have been in excruciating pain most of the time.  He hoped he had not taken the usual elven healing abilities for granted and pushed his friend too hard.  

Legolas glanced down at his torso and examined the slowly healing marks and scars.  When he looked back up the smile he laid on the ranger surprised the man and the elf responded to the unasked question.  “Have you not looked at yourself?”  he chided quietly, “and I imagine that those bite marks from the wraith’s mount will need tending to as well.” 

Quickly glancing at himself Aragorn noted the bruises that colored his chest and ribs, the boot marks that still striped his arms in black and blue from the beating he had taken from the orcs.  It seemed that neither of them had really been able to heal.  The tightness in his upper shoulders from the black creature’s teeth diminished as the icy water cooled the inflamed flesh and he had almost managed to forget about it. 

“Turn around. Let me have a look,” the elf prompted easily. 

While the ranger did as he was told, Legolas eased himself into the pool, leaning back and submerging his head in the cool stream.  His hair caught in the current and the tangles were fingered out by the brook’s eddies.  Rising back up the elf pushed the long strands of hair out of his face, wringing the ends in his hands as he approached the ranger. 

Aragorn was watching him over his shoulder, smiling slightly as the elf touched his chin and redirected his gaze back forward.  Pushing the ranger’s wet locks of hair off of his neck and shoulders, he inspected the bite marks on the man’s back. 

The wound was for the most part clean, but one particular break in the skin was inflamed and hot to the touch.  The open cut was jagged and not healing well.  Cupping his hands, the elf washed the cut out repeatedly with the cool, clean water. 

Aragorn flinched slightly under the cold touch but held still. 

“It will heal,” Legolas spoke quietly, keeping the man’s attention occupied as he cleaned the grit and dust from the cuts.  “Besides, what a tale you will be able to tell your family.  I know of no one who has been bitten by a wraith mount and lived to tell it. You’ll be the first.” 

“Just what I always wanted,” Aragorn ground out as the elf finished cleaning the wounds. 

“Come on.”  Legolas waded back to the shore, ignoring the ranger’s sarcastic comment.  “Let us clean those strips of cloth in the stream and bind our wounds. I would like to continue homeward before we lose the light.” 

“Agreed.”  Aragorn waded past the elf, pushing his friend back as he headed for the shore. “Last one there cleans the cloths.” 

Not to be outdone, the prince grabbed the ranger’s ankle and twisted it out from underneath him causing the human to stumble into the knee-high water as the elf sprinted past. 

With a shake of his head, Aragorn stood from where he had fallen and stepped ashore, dropping lightly next to Legolas who couldn’t stop laughing.  The dark glare the ranger laid on him only caused the elf to laugh harder.  The fair being’s mirth was contagious and Aragorn jerked the strips of the old shirt from his friend’s hand, laughing as he cleaned them on the rocks submerged in the stream and drying on them on the stones that rested at the shores edge.  The two talked quietly in the small clearing as they wrapped one another’s injuries, and within the hour they were shrugging back into their clothing, the noonday sun having dried their skin and leggings sufficiently. 

Aragorn’s comb had somehow survived the whole ordeal wedged into a corner of his knapsack where Legolas found it after scrounging through the entire pack.  He had combed his hair out sufficiently and now braided the long tresses as they walked, his fingers deftly weaving the blonde locks into perfect braids that he fastened behind his head.  It felt good to have his hair up and back once more.  He hadn’t had the strength to do anything with it in Mordor. 

The ranger handed the elf his bow and Legolas slung it over his back where it tapped gently against his quiver.  It pleased him to be able to carry them both once more and his spirit brightened even further.  They were free and he was walking on Aragorn’s right, the position he usually took but had been unable to, restricted by the manacles as they had been.  Aragorn glanced at his friend out of the corner of his eyes, an impish smile on his face. Without prompting, the elf knew that look and took off running, the human racing next to him as they headed home, their laughter light on the afternoon air. 


No matter what time of year it was, there was always a breeze that found its way through Imladris and tonight was no different.  Legolas stepped out onto the ledge that overlooked Rivendell, joining Aragorn on the rocky edge.  The night was warm and the breeze that lifted up from the valley floor carried the coolness of the river that cut through the steep-sided rift. 

Fireflies gathered in the lower reaches, moving in dense knots through the trees or darting here and there in pairs and triplets.  The fires of Rivendell were burning low and only a few of the panoramic windows showed the soft light of evening glow lamps. 

Legolas turned at the sound of contentment that Aragorn breathed out in a soft sigh, smiling in the darkness of the early morning. 

“It’s good to be home, Legolas,” Aragorn whispered as though afraid to wake the sleeping inhabitants of the house below. 

With a small nod the elf glanced back down in the rift.  “What do you say we go home so I can get some sleep,” the prince commented dryly around a rare yawn. 

The journey back to Rivendell had been a long one.  The last three days of it they had pushed hard, knowing they were so close and not wanting to have to wait any longer.  Aragorn was unwilling to stop unless it was absolutely necessary.  He had been driven by the desire to reach his home and had hardly slept in his relentless push to reach the fair valley.  To him it had seemed an eternity since he had seen Rivendell. 

With a small laugh the ranger began to follow the nearly imperceptible, winding pathway that led down into the valley on the opposite side of the Last Homely House.  He found the hidden footbridge that few who traveled there knew of and within the hour the two friends were quietly walking up the large stone steps. 

They had met no one on their way and he was surprised that even Celboril was not awake at this time of the night.  Taking caution, the ranger looked in on the elf that served his father.  The elderly elf slept quietly in his tiny home that adjoined the larger house.  Satisfied that all was well, Aragorn eased the huge, wooden doors open. 

Warm light spilled out into the courtyard and Legolas nearly ran into the human as he paused in the doorway, breathing in the rich, sweet scents of his home.  The clean wisps of athelas floated to him accompanied by the smells of the remnants of dinner.  Old wood, ancient books and the smell of the rushing river below brushed past him through the open-aired house. 

Padding quietly into the foyer, Legolas touched his friend’s shoulder and pointed wordlessly to his room up the stairs.  The elf’s eyes were half-lidded and he moved slowly towards the staircase, hoping his friend would understand. 

With a small nod Aragorn quietly mouthed, “Go ahead, I’ll be right up.” He smiled to himself as the prince raised his hand in acknowledgement and stepped to the far right on the bottom stair, remembering how the wooden case would creak if one placed weight in the middle of it. 

Aragorn turned his attention to his father’s den as Legolas silently gained the top of the steps and soundlessly entered the room reserved him.  The lights were still burning in the study hall although they seemed to be dimmer than usual as if they were slowly burning out.  He wondered if Elrond was still up at this hour and so he tiptoed into the large living area. 

Stopping on the threshold, Aragorn stared at the far side of the room.  A large wooden desk took up nearly a third of the wall.  Behind it were shelves lined with books from the floor to the ceiling.  Aragorn had spent many an afternoon in this very room studying or simply reading his favorite stories.  It was a passion he had picked up from his father. 

But it was not the objects in the room that held the ranger’s attention, it was the elf that had fallen asleep at the desk, his head cradled on his crossed arms as he breathed deeply, unaware that anyone stood watching him. 

"Ada."  The years seemed to fall away as Aragorn watched his father sleeping.  How many times had he found the elder elf here in much the same way, collapsed across his latest treasure of a book, having fallen asleep while reading it late into the night? 

The cool evening breezes stirred the ornamental curtains that draped the large picture window and Elrond moved slightly at their touch.  Aragorn shrugged out of his worn leather coat and crept silently to his father's side, gently laying the long jacket over the elf’s shoulders.  He crouched down near the seated elf lord and gazed into the half-lidded eyes, dilated with deep sleep. 

Fifteen years was a long time for a human even though it seemed so much shorter for an immortal elf.  Elrond, however, was entirely unchanged.  He still looked just the same as he did the day they said goodbye in Rohan so many seasons past. 

Hesitantly, Estel reached out and brushed a stray lock of dark hair away from his father's face, a small smile touching his lips as he watched the elf sleep.  It was not often he had the opportunity to do so, as Elrond was very hard to catch unaware, but the elf lord had not been expecting his son home tonight, or in the near future at all for that matter.  There had been many a night the ranger doubted he would ever see his family again.  It seemed almost surreal that he was finally here now.

Aragorn glanced at the book that Elrond was sprawled across and was surprised to see a sheet of paper lying over the top of the open tome's page.  The beginning of a letter was barely visible underneath the elf's fingers and Estel noticed for the first time the ornate pen that rested beside the book, having fallen from its master’s hand.  The ranger craned his neck trying to see to whom his father had been writing.  As he read the partial letter tears formed in his eyes...

My Dearest Estel,
      Although it has only been a fortnight since I last wrote, it seems an eternity that I last saw you.  Elves are not supposed to mark the passage of time, but so far I have been unable to convince my heart of that.  It has been long since I last had word from you, and I am no longer sure that these messages are even reaching you my son, but all I can do is write and send them with a prayer. 

My hope is that you are well and the campaign goes forward in your favor.  Remember to check your heart in the midst of battle, it is easy to take privilege and abuse it.

Your brothers have kept me busy in your absence.  Only yesterday I

The rest was obscured by the elf lord’s hand. 

"Oh, Ada."  Aragorn stood to his feet and tenderly kissed his father on the head before quietly exiting the room.  He hesitated, his hand hovering over the elf lord's shoulder.  He wanted nothing more than to wake the elf and tell Elrond he was home, but he couldn’t bear to disturb his father’s sleep.  His own weariness betrayed him now that he had reached his destination and he was finally beginning to feel how truly tired he was.

Yawning quietly the ranger stretched stiffly and walked to the threshold of the room.  He stopped in the doorway and glanced back one last time, smiling at the familiar sight.  Deep inside he felt something in his heart give way and relax.  A small sigh escaped his lips as the reality weighed down on him that he was truly home.  Legolas found his joy in the woods, Aragorn found his joy right here. 

Climbing slowly up the stairs the ranger glanced in each of the darkened rooms of his brothers only to find them empty.  The twins were obviously out on some errand or hunting trip that required them to be away for several days as their rooms were kempt, but dusty.  He hoped they would return soon, for he longed to be near them once more. 

Removing a glow globe from the hallway wall sconce, Aragorn checked in on Legolas and found the elf sprawled across the bed.  He had collapsed on top of the sheets, not even bothering to remove his boots.  Aragorn laughed quietly as he shifted the sleeping elf more fully onto the large bed. 

"What are you doing?" Legolas’ sleep-groggy voice questioned. 

"Helping you be more comfortable.  Now be quiet or you will wake the house."  Aragorn began unlacing the prince’s boots. 

"Stop that.  Go to bed, Estel,"  Legolas whispered, waking more fully as the soft leathers were slipped from his feet. "Even my mother hasn’t taken my boots off in ages."  Legolas’ mother was of course long gone, but he was too sleepy to slice hairs right now. 

The soft sounds of laughter caused the elf prince to press himself up on his elbows. 

"Well your mother never lived with Celboril.  He hates it when we fall asleep with our boots on and I don’t rightly want to hear one of his lectures."  Aragorn's voice trailed off oddly and Legolas squinted in the low light, trying to perceive what was wrong. 

"Aragorn?  What is it?" 

The smile that played at the corners of the ranger’s lips eased the elf’s heart some.  "It’s just that...well, I haven’t gotten a good lecture from Celboril in years.  I actually don’t think I would mind one so much right now."  He smiled fully at Legolas as he moved to the overstuffed chair in the corner and removed the quilt that was draped over it.  Walking back to the side of the bed, he spread the comforter across his friend who had lain back against the soft bedding.  The sharp elven eyes were watching the ranger closely as he seated himself on the side of the bed. 

"Your heart is lighter, Aragorn.  It was time you came home." 

"I never realized how fully I missed them all until tonight," Aragorn whispered.  He rested his hand on the elf prince's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.  "Never realized how tired I am either." Standing slowly he glanced down at Legolas. "Sleep well, my friend." 

Legolas rolled over on his side, pulling the quilt around his shoulders, and burrowed into the warmth.  "Good night, Estel," he countered softly as Aragorn picked up the glow globe and stepped back into the hallway. 

The ranger’s room was closed and as he had suspected everything was there just as he had left it years ago.  He smiled as he fingered the carved wooden oliphaunt that sat on his nightstand next to his shell night-light, mementoes of a life full of hardship yes, but more importantly, full of love.  Carefully moving them over, Aragorn set the glow globe down on the small stand.  It was apparent that Celboril came in here frequently, for the place was dusted and tidy as though simply waiting for its owner to reoccupy it.  He noted with a smile that it was actually less dusty than his brothers’ rooms, since Celboril probably expected them to pick up for themselves. 

The glow globe behind him sputtered and died, throwing the room into darkness.  It had been so long since he had been in his own room that he was momentarily unfamiliar with the lay of the furniture.  Walking towards what he hoped was the mantle, where he knew the matches were kept, he stumbled over the trunk that sat at the foot of the bed.  Unbalanced by the unexpected obstacle he fell face forward onto his bed and slipped off the side before catching himself. 

It surprised him when a gentle glow slowly filled the room and he turned quickly, bracing himself against his mattresses, trying to maintain his balance. 

In the doorway stood a tall figure holding his re-lighted nightlight.  The small lamp glowed brightly once more, illuminating the face just beyond it. 

"Estel?" The deep, rich voice was unmistakable. 

Aragorn couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face as he gained his footing and approached the elf lord. 


"I thought I was simply dreaming when I heard your voice upstairs.  I had fallen asleep thinking of you.  You were in my study were you not?" He held out Estel's coat as he placed the shell light back on the nightstand. 

Aragorn took the jacket and tossed it on the bed next to him as he stepped into his father’s open arms. 

"I missed you so much," the ranger whispered as the elf crushed the human tightly against. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” 

"It is well. I am glad you did, for I wondered if you would return soon.  I had hoped you would."  Elrond's voice was soft as he held the younger man, "We received word not long ago that the Corsairs had been driven back, although I was uncertain about whether the campaign continued on afterward." 

Aragorn breathed in deeply, remembering the rich smells associated with his father, the athelas and herbs that clung to him even when he was not working with the medicines.  "It is over, they are safe.  I couldn’t stay any longer." 

There was more to that statement than the ranger had willingly divulged, but Elrond did not push the matter just yet as he gently pulled back from his child and looked him over. 

"You have grown into quite a man, Aragorn." 

"Please, call me Estel."  A small shadow passed over the ranger’s eyes and Elrond recognized it at once as the heaviness of a war-weary soul. 

Smiling softly Elrond repeated himself, "You have grown a lot, my Estel."  He pulled the chair around to the side of the bed as Aragorn seated himself on the tall mattresses and began to pull his boots off. 

"Legolas is here as well?"  It was a guess, but one he was fairly confident of.  After all, they had had word that Legolas had left to visit Aragorn quite a long time ago and as far as Elrond knew Thranduil had heard naught of his son since then, although considering how long Legolas had disappeared the last time he went off to hunt the human down, the elven-king was not overly concerned yet.  Besides, the door to the guest room that the elf prince always used when staying in Rivendell had been ajar when he passed it a few moments ago. 

"Yes." Aragorn met the piercing gaze of the elf lord. "He needs rest, Father.  He has been through a lot and his spirit is now just returning.  I fear, however, that his strength lags behind, although he will not tell me so himself." 

"What happened to the two of you this time?"  Elrond watched the young man, his heart at ease now that his son was home.  He had hoped for this so many nights.  From Aragorn’s words the elf lord gleaned the information that it had apparently not been an easy road home for the prince and his youngest son. 

"Legolas was taken by the Gondorians as a prisoner of war and in a raid on our camp I lost him to the Corsairs who sold him to Mordor as a slave."  The ranger undid the laces on his tunic and eased the shirt off his shoulders as he spilled the events of a year or more into one weary sentence. 

Elrond’s heart seized at the mention of his son in Mordor but when he saw the scars that decorated his son’s upper arms and torso, marks of war, he momentarily laid the fear aside.  The worry must have shown in his eyes for Aragorn reached out and touched the older elf gently. 

"Father, I am fine.  They are scars only." 

With a slight nod Elrond leaned forward.  "I know that, my son.  And they will heal with time."  He placed his palm against Aragorn's chest, near his heart. "It is the scars in here that worry me."  He smiled gently as the ranger's fingers wrapped around his.  "Tell me, Estel, it is important.  Does the Lord of Mordor know you were there?" 

Aragorn glanced down quickly. "Yes.  He might.  Although he would not know me by any name other than perhaps Strider.  The wraith that kidnapped Legolas years ago found us and I am sure we were recognized." The silver eyes looked back up once more, "But he does not know who I am.  Is that what you are asking?" 

A small sigh of relief escaped the elf lord and he nodded. "Yes.  I was not aware that you had gone so far south.  Discovery by the Dark Lord would have been dangerous indeed." 

Pulling the sheets back, Aragorn stretched out full on the bed, lying on his side, his eyes fixed on his father.  Sleep was wearing on his mind and he was finding it harder and harder to come up with the answers to the elf lord’s questions. 

Sensing that the human was not going to be able to remain awake and knowing he had more questions than Estel had answers for at the moment, Elrond stood and pulled the sheets back over his son’s shoulders. 

Aragorn turned so that he was staring full into the elf lord’s face.  He had longed for this for so many weeks now.  When they were in Mordor he despaired of ever making it back home.  But now...he smiled sleepily as Elrond leaned down and kissed his forehead. 

It mattered not how old the human was, he would always be Elrond's youngest son.  The elf lord touched the side of the ranger’s face, his fingers gently tracing over the man's brow, causing him to close his eyes. 

"Rest, Estel.  Just rest."  The elvish command pressed forcefully down on the human's consciousness.  It had been years since Elrond had used that trick on the human and it worked as well now as it did then, although it was hardly necessary.  "Tomorrow we will have plenty of time to speak.  Sleep now." 

"Ada...” The darkness of slumber pulled at the human though he resisted it temporarily. 

"Yes?"  Elrond stared down at the man who was barely awake. 

"I'm glad you're here," Aragorn murmured sleepily. 

"I'm glad you are here as well, Estel."  Elrond moved the small night light to the mantel and let it rest there, its gentle glow barely filling the room as it burned itself out slowly. 

In his heart Elrond could hardly wait until Aragorn woke and they had time to talk more.  He was sure there was much they needed to discuss... and he wanted to talk to Legolas as well.  Aragorn had not elucidated on his earlier comments much, but from their brief speech and the heart-weariness he could see in Estel, Elrond surmised that although the two had actually come home under their own power, they were still both of them nursing inner wounds that needed healing.  Elrond’s smile was soft.  He knew that here was perhaps the best place for them to do just that.  He also knew that the twins would be excited to see their brother.  They were expected home tomorrow morning and would be eager to spend time with him again. 

Elrond paused in the door way and glanced back at Estel one last time.  "Thank you," he whispered silently to Ilúvatar as he walked back to his own room.  Two of his children had returned and from the sounds of it they both would need some attention... oddly enough that familiar scenario was strangely nice and comfortable to walk back into.  He smiled as he passed by Legolas' door, pulling it closed a little further so the elf would not be disturbed tomorrow morning.  The young prince spent so much time under his roof that the elf lord very nearly considered him one of his own by now. 

As Elrond lay down in his own bed, it seemed the very house around him sighed contentedly.  All was as it should be in the fair halls of the last Homely House. 

The End

Stories > Series > Previous story: "Traitor" > "Escape from Mordor" >Next story in the Mellon Chronicles: "Curse of Angmar