Part 6

by Cassia and Siobhan

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    "We know you are in here." Trelan called out, scanning the immediate area, trying to find any clue as to the whereabouts of the fugitives.
    "We mean to help you, Strider!" Raniean stepped back next to the rock column that Aragorn had concealed himself behind. "We have provisions. We know the prince is wounded, we saw his blood on the tree, we have medicines, we want to help you!"
    The ranger pressed back against the stalagmite, weighing the new information and wondering if they were telling him the truth. Raniean had never treated him like the other elves, even when the warrior had been unsure about Legolas bringing the wounded ranger home when they first met.
    Moving more stealthily than a human should know how, he rounded the rocky formation and stepped up behind the elf. He kicked the warrior’s feet out from underneath him and pinned the tall elf to the floor of the cave by kneeling on his chest, his knee just pressing into the elf’s sternum.
    When the others saw Raniean felled they ran to his aid, but Strider pulled his sword and held it flat against the elf's neck. "Tell them to go back. I just want to talk to you."
    Raniean didn’t answer. He was angry, angry with himself for being bested by a human and angry with the ranger for knowing his weaknesses and using them against him. The man was more resourceful than he had given him credit for.
    Aragorn leaned down slightly, pressing his knee harder under the elf’s rib cage. Raniean grunted with the pressure and motioned with his hand for the other warriors to back off.
    When they had moved far enough away, the man leapt off the elf and helped him rise to his feet. Raniean accepted the help easily as he rose gracefully, trying to regain his breath and his dignity.
    "You of all the elves have never lied to me. If you have started now I’ll kill you." Aragorn threatened the tall warrior standing in front of him. He continued when the elf did not speak, "Legolas has been bitten by a spider and he is hallucinating. I have hidden him in the cave. Did you really come to help us?"
    "You should not have brought him in here." Raniean looked around the spacious interior, the floor littered with rocky formations, "Legolas has had encounters with the Gondrauko. They resemble the stalagmites that grow naturally in here."
    "The Gondrauko?" Aragorn repeated the foreign word.
    "Great, hideous creatures of the ancient world. They were imprisoned by the prince’s ancestors, and with the help of the ruler of Dorolyn they sought his blood to free them from their bondage. They have been destroyed many centuries now, but their memory is dark, for they were wholly evil."
    "Doroyln." Strider spoke the one word as the curse it was.
    "Yes but do not speak of it again. What I have told you, I have told you in confidence to prove to you that you can trust me." Raniean looked around them and motioned his men back. "We truly have come with supplies and with aid. We believe you to be innocent and the prince is in danger. We do not agree with the king’s edict to not give you aid or assistance."
    "That must put you in bad favor with him?" Aragorn began walking back to where Legolas lay, leading the warriors farther into the cave, "How do you propose to keep it from him, what you are doing?"
    Raniean smiled, "We are on a hunting trip. We will be gone for several days and needed many supplies." The elf followed the Dùnadan to the back side of a large formation and watched as the man dropped next to the unconscious prince.
    "Will he be all right?" Aragorn looked back up worriedly at the elves ringing him, "Will he live?"
    Trelan smiled and the gesture was actually warm and friendly. Lightly the smaller elf dropped next to the ranger and reached out towards Legolas, checking the elf’s pulse. "Spider bites in themselves are not deadly, Strider."
    He turned his attention to Raniean and the warrior that accompanied him, nodding to them both and raising to his feet as they lifted the unconscious prince between them. Trelan helped the human stand and pushed him gently out of the way as the elves maneuvered carefully back out of the cave.
    "The deadly part is the spider! The toxins work in your system to slow everything down until the victim is in a coma-like state. That way you are kept alive until the spider wants to eat you." He laughed at the way Aragorn’s eyes widened at his explanation. "The problem is," Trelan continued as he led the ranger out of the cave after the other, "that as your system is being depressed, your senses are heightened so you feel everything that is happening to you. And that is probably why the prince’s memories were so vivid and clear."
    "He was very upset." Aragorn watched as the elves gently laid Legolas down outside.
    "I can imagine he was." Trelan moved off to help the others. "The fact that he let you take him this deeply into the cave says something of his trust of you, Strider." The elf smiled and hailed the warriors who were quietly talking about their next move.
    Raniean split from group and approached the ranger. "We will take you back to our camp. We can hide you easily there."
    "No one will be suspicious?"
    "We are too far south to be followed at this point and no one will suspect that we have come to aid you." The elf looked at the ground for a moment, guilt overwhelming him at his next words. "We made sure that no one would doubt our hatred of you or your kind before we left."
    Aragorn stared at the warrior. He knew the necessity of covering the hunting party’s intentions but the slander still ached and his face burned from the shame of it.
    "It is not how we feel but we had to make sure we wouldn’t be followed or under suspicion." Raniean held his hands out imploring the human to understand.
    Aragorn lifted his gaze from the forest floor and looked up into the tall elf’s eyes. Everything the warrior had said was true and he could sense it as he stared at the elf. The ranger nodded his head in understanding, "It’s all right. I understand. It’s better for you and us."
    "When this is over and you are publicly cleared, our true feelings will be made known."
    A half smile touched Aragorn’s lips, but he truly wondered at the elf’s words. By the time they were cleared no elf in Mirkwood would truly be the man’s friend, even if they honestly believed him not guilty. He wondered how long it would be before they really trusted him. "Thank you for coming for us. I am glad for the help with Legolas. The spider bite really had me worried." He passed off the elf’s admission and easily changed the subject as they headed back to camp.


    When Legolas awoke, it was to a terrific headache and blurred vision. He could tell it was night and he was near a fire. That in itself was odd... the only time a fire was wise as far south as they were was when there was a group of elves present.
    The sounds of conversation and laughing startled him. Listening closer he found he recognized several of the elven voices conversing with Aragorn. Looking about him, he tried to focus; noting that they seemed to be in a makeshift camp for the night, but how they had gotten here was beyond his recall. His memory was vague, he could only remember following Aragorn as they ran through the forest trying to evade capture.
    A shout of laughter rocked the camp and the elf’s attention was redirected to the present. Confusion overtook him and he wondered at this turn of events. Had he and Aragorn been caught and taken captive, the thought ran fleetingly through his mind, and yet he was not bound?
    Rolling over carefully, he stared across the fire at the ranger. Aragorn was laughing so hard there were tears streaming down his face. He was trying to get himself under control but every time he had just about achieved normal breathing the snicker of an elf would send him off again. The human’s mirth amused the elves and they egged him on mercilessly.
    "You shouldn’t have told him that there is no such thing as Trellep hunting, Raniean," Trelan laughed glaring at the warrior, "I almost had him there."
    "I couldn’t let you take him out there and tie him up," Raniean glanced around into the darkness feigning fear. "We are in the southern forest, you nift! The spiders would have gotten him!"
    "That is not funny!" Aragorn’s eyes widened, much to the amusement of his companions.
    "Ah," Trelan waved the danger off, "I wouldn’t have left him out there that long."
    Aragorn gaped at the elf, finally having caught his breath, "Oh thank you so much. Your thoughtfulness is overwhelming."
    This only sent the elves into another fit of laughter.
    Legolas was hopelessly confused. They were in the presence of his elven brothers and yet they were free and Aragorn was enjoying himself.
    Carefully the prince pushed himself up on one elbow to get a better look. The movement caught the human’s attention and he was on his feet in moments, skirting the elves seated next to the fire. As he passed Trelan, he smacked the elf lightly upside his head.
    "Don’t you know it’s not nice to tease the human?" He smiled wickedly at the helplessly laughing elf, "I’ll get you for that, you know."
    Raniean’s booming laughter answered the threat and he pointed at the small elf, "You had better watch it. A human is going to get you."
    Aragorn smiled and stifled his laughter as the elves began taunting one another.
    He knelt down next to Legolas and smiled into the bleary, confused eyes.
    "How do you feel?" His voice was soft and low but he knew the elf prince could hear him.
    "What is going on, Strider?" Legolas glanced behind the human as Raniean rose from his seated position and moved to join the ranger. "Are we safe?" He reached out and steadied himself with one hand resting lightly on the ranger’s shoulder.
    "Yes, my lord," it was Raniean who answered him, "You are safe."
    "I don’t understand."
    Another burst of laughter erupted behind them and the warrior glanced back curiously, a grin spreading across his face.
    Aragorn seated himself next to Legolas and helped the prince into a sitting position, placing a steaming cup of mead in his hands. "Raniean and his men have been hunting us."
    Legolas shot the warrior an intense look but the elf quickly put him at ease, "To help you, my lord. We don’t believe the Dùnadan killed Sar and we want to help you prove it."
    Turning to the man, Legolas eyed him carefully, "Are you all right? I heard them speak of tying you up outside the camp. What is happening?" He trusted Raniean but he wanted to make sure the others had been treating him well.
    Aragorn ducked his head hiding a smile, "Well they wanted to take me out hunting."
    "No, my lord, we did not." Raniean glanced at the ring of elves that had suddenly taken an acute interest in their conversation. "It was Trelan."
    The guilty elf’s eyes grew huge and he sputtered as the warriors around him teased him. Legolas had not found the humor in the situation and his headache was irritating him. He frowned at the elf warrior next to him, but Aragorn came to his defense.
    He touched the elf lightly, redirecting the prince's attention, "No it’s all right, Legolas. Trelan offered to take me Trellep hunting." Snickers from the elves behind him caused his cheeks to redden even though he smiled in spite of himself. "And of course I was more than eager to go with him." He rolled his eyes at his own naivety. "Raniean here saved me."
    At the admission the camp erupted in laughter. With the tension lightened and his friend obviously well taken care of, the elf prince smiled and shook his head, "Strider!" He smiled at the young man, wrapping his hand around the back of the human’s head as he pulled him forward staring seriously into the dark eyes. "You do know there is no such thing as a Trellep?"
    Aragorn dropped his gaze, trying not to laugh while he nodded in answer. "Raniean explained it to me."
    "And," Trelan butted in, "Raniean also told him about the time he took you Trellep hunting!"
    "Trelan!" Raniean whirled around, his eyes wide.
    Aragorn looked up at Legolas and said quietly, "He said you shot your father?"
    Legolas grimaced, closing his eyes at the rehashed story. "In the foot! Raniean had left me out there for five hours when my father heard and came to find me. I thought he was a Trellep and shot him, but it was in the foot." When the human started laughing uncontrollably, the elf prince shoved the man back and glared at the others trying to affect an air of seriousness. "You need to find new stories to tell!"
    As Aragorn regained his balance he saw that Legolas had started laughing too. The light-heartedness in the elves was contagious. When Legolas stood and bowed they cheered him and raised their mugs in toast. The prince tipped his to his lips, but Raniean snatched it away from him and replaced it with a mug of tea.
    Legolas swiveled and stared at him. "No mead for you, my prince. A nice cup of fallon tea for you after that bout with spider toxin. You know better."
    Aragorn frowned at Raniean, "What? Why? I gave him the mead."
    "Mead will not help the headache the toxins leave behind. Fallon tea will help and it will help you relax." He turned back to Legolas. "You need to rest."
    He steered the prince to the side of the fire and drew back a curtain made of the very foliage itself. "We made a lean-to for the both of you." Aragorn bent down and looked into the hidden tent. The area inside was spacious and he walked to the back of the hollowed out space. The ground was covered with soft fronds and pines and two blankets were laid out on it. Legolas stepped in after him and quickly sat down; he was feeling badly and the fallon tea was beginning to take effect.
    "There is another hunting team to the west and it would not do good to have them scouting us out and find the two of you here. Trelan is going to go in the early morning and see who comprises it and if they hunt you." He nodded seriously to the two refugees. "You’ll be safe here tonight."
    Legolas nodded, "Thank you, Raniean."
    The warrior smiled, "Thank you. I don’t think we have had so much fun at a campfire as we did tonight with Strider. Sleep well." With that he stepped away from the lean-to and dropped the side of the shelter back down.

    Pinpricks of light from the fire danced between the leafy boughs that had been woven together. Legolas lay down with a sigh, throwing his arm over his face to block out even the slight light.
    "Is it bad?"
    He rolled over to look at the human, sitting cross-legged near the far side of the tent.
    "Your headache," Aragorn explained, "Is it bad?"
    "Yes. Tomorrow it will be gone, though." He smiled lightly. "Thank you for saving me today."
    "I am sorry about the cave." The ranger looked down at his hands as he nervously twisted a pine needle between his fingers.
    "The cave?"
    The sounds of the camp were dying down as the elves settled down for the night. Only the crackling of the fire could be heard on the still night air.
    "You don’t remember?"
    "What cave?" Legolas swallowed hard, afraid of his friend's answer. "No, I don’t remember anything after following you through the forest from the spider’s lair. What cave?" He repeated the question.
    "The cave near Shellen’s Fallow."
    Legolas turned away from the man as he sifted through the information he had received. He knew the cave, he hated it. It reminded him too much of...
    "I’m sorry. I didn’t know."
    "What did I say?"
    "You just didn’t want to follow me in. You said he lived there." Aragorn watched him curiously. When the prince did not respond, he continued, "Raniean explained it to me, though not everything. He just explained what the formations in the cave resembled."
    Legolas nodded silently as his thoughts turned dark in remembrance.
    "I don’t need to know. I just wanted to apologize for pushing you so hard." Aragorn leaned forward and touched the elf lightly bringing him back to the present. "Are you all right?"
    His friend met his eyes; the lights reflecting in their depths from the dying fire.
    "Yes, I am all right. And you have nothing to be sorry for." He smiled in reassurance and lay back down on the pine bed. "Now go to sleep, Strider, you have had a busy day."
    He heard the man chuckle as he lay down wrapping himself in the large blanket. "I did and I ache from it. Even my face hurts from laughing so much."
    Legolas smiled as he settled into sleep, safe in the knowledge that there were friends beneath Mirkwood’s canopy. They might have a chance of proving the Dùnadan innocent after all.


    It was early in the predawn when Trelan awoke and headed west to scout out the hunting party they had caught sight of yesterday. Raniean thought it wise to find out their intent and what their prey really was.
    He attained the edges of the camp before the sun had crested the far mountains and crept quietly forward. Here the elves were already awake and the camp in the process of being broken down. He could hear the sounds of a heated conversation taking place and made his way around the outskirts to get a better vantage-point.
    "I still think we will be found out! Why couldn’t the arrow have just struck the Dùnadan instead of Sar?"
    "The Dùnadan was standing next to you, that’s why Morifwen!"
    "And that is why it was so easy to frame him." A third elven voice could be heard. "That and the fact that no elf under these trees has any love for the human."
    "It was an accident Mori." Sarcayul spoke up, "I don’t fault you for it. We all know you and Sar were friends since the beginning. His death is a great loss. But this works out best to get rid of that ranger. My brother would be glad that his death served some purpose."
    Trelan edged closer, silently closing the distance between himself and the speakers; he wanted a look at their faces.
    The camp in the process of being broken down for the day was bustling with activity; elves were saddling horses and readying their weapons as a small knot of warriors spoke openly near the fire pit. Trelan recognized a few of them, including Sarcayul and Morifwen, the elf who was speaking.
    "You have nothing to worry about." Sarcayul assured Morifwen grimly. "We will kill the Dùnadan and the inquisition will end. No one will ever bring it up again and the people will be satisfied that justice has been served."
    "You do still have the arrow, don’t you?" another warrior questioned.
    Morifwen unslung his quiver and pulled the still bloodied arrow that had killed Sarcaulien, from a latched compartment on the side of the leather pack, holding it out in proof.
    "This is it." Reaching back in he pulled out another nearly identical arrow and held it up next to the first, "And this one belonged to that Dùnadan."
    "Its too bad the prince brought him here."
    "Well we won't have to worry about that for long. Good thing you taught that human how to fletch arrows, Mori. These are almost identical." The elf warrior twirled the projectiles in his fingertips and laughed, "He learned very well. Only another warrior could tell the difference." The elf ran a fingertip over the tiny markings on the band near the fletching of the arrow that had felled their fellow elf.
    "Yes." Morifwen snatched the weapons back and stashed the arrows inside his quiver. He dropped the satchel to the ground next to his supplies for the day and walked off with the others as they went to saddle their horses, his tone suggested that he was not taking this as lightly as some of his companions. "But now the prince is aiding him."
    "You worry too much, Mori." A tall warrior clapped him on the back. "When we reach the Enchanted River you will be able to throw those arrows in the river and no one will ever be able to prove the truth."
    The elves laughed and joked as they walked away. Trelan heard the last snatches of coarse talking as they moved beyond his earshot, "And by this evening the Dùnadan will be a problem no more either."
    Trelan’s heart froze and for a moment he could only remain hidden, thinking through what he had heard. So Morifwen had accidentally shot Sarcaulien and he and his hunting party had seen the opportunity to frame Aragorn. He needed proof though; his word would be no good against their combined opinions.
    Stealthily he crept out and located Morifwen’s quiver. Quickly locating the hidden compartment, he relieved it of the arrows and turned back on his path. He needed to get back to camp and quickly; Raniean and the prince must know. They had little time before Morifwen’s camp broke down and the warriors started to hunt the human. It wouldn’t take much to track him to the cavern and from there.
    Trelan didn’t wait to think through the outcome. When he had cleared the camp enough to not be heard, he ran through the forests towards his friends. 


    "You swear by these things that you heard, Trelan?" Raniean questioned the elf hard, holding the two arrows on the palm of his hand.
    Trelan simply nodded; he was winded from the run and his knowledge made him skitterish. The camp was awake by the time he had returned and they had quickly gathered around him to hear what he had discovered.
    "Retrieve your quiver, Strider, if you would please," Legolas turned and addressed the human. Aragorn started and looked at him. The proof that he had not killed Sarcaulien changed everything. Once Morifwen and his hunting company realized the arrows were missing, they would be twice as dangerous as they were now.
    Aragorn ran back to his things and retrieved his quiver. Raniean snatched the leather pouch from him and dumped the arrows on the ground. Crouching down over the weapons, he picked them up indiscriminately, carefully going over their lengths and comparing them with the two Trelan had returned.
    "They are identical, Trelan." He frowned up at the young elf.
    "No, they are not." The warrior squatted down next to him and took the blood-stained one from his hand. "See this." He ran his fingers over three tiny bands of elvish writing near the fletching. "They say, Morifwen, third hunter, son of Loriflen," he interpreted the etchings.
    Legolas reached down and snatched the arrow from him, eyeing it carefully. Aragorn leaned in next to him to try to see what they were looking at.
    "It is as he says," Legolas agreed. Turning to Aragorn, he asked gently, "Strider, who taught you how to fletch your arrows?"
    "Morifwen." The ranger replied sadly.
    Raniean nodded and stood, followed by Trelan. He looked solemnly around the group of elves. "He forgot about the identifying inscriptions. Prepare the horses. We ride for Lord Thranduil’s palace now."
    Trelan touched the tall warrior's arm, garnering his attention and spoke softly, "It is worse."
    Raniean turned back on the elf and Legolas stopped to hear, snagging Aragorn’s coat sleeve and pulling the human back close to them.
    "They intend to kill Strider to cover up their fault and end the investigation." Trelan’s eyes locked onto the prince’s. "I’m sorry."
    "I would like to see them try," Legolas said darkly.

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