Priceless Treasure

Chapter 5

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Aragorn glanced back towards the woods once more. Night would soon be upon them and still Eldarion and Gimli had not returned. His movements slowed as his worry mounted. Surely they should have returned by now. He stilled his hands altogether, dropping his sword down lightly into his lap, the burnishing cloth all but forgotten.

"You think they should have returned by now?" Legolas’ quiet voice broke through his thoughts.

Jumping slightly and turning back towards the elf, Aragorn glanced behind his friend, noting the brightly burning fires that dotted the camp. He nodded slowly. "I do."

Legolas’ soft laughter caught his attention and he glared at the elf.

"You," the woodland prince answered the unspoken question. "You make me laugh. You are every bit like your father. I have seen that very scowl on his face when he worried over you."

"Legolas." The word came out as a growl but the man laughed. He looked once more to the wooded stream.

"That’s it, let's go see what keeps that dwarf from returning your son in a timely manner. Your worry is driving me to distraction." Legolas sheathed his own blades and started walking towards the edge of the woods.

"My lord?" Jonath’s voice cut through their escape and Aragorn flinched visibly before turning back towards camp. The former ranger wondered if he were ever going to get used to having people follow him around like this. He would have thought that he should have grown accustomed to it by now, but the truth was he had not.

"We are going to go see what has become of Gimli and my son. They have not yet returned from gathering wood along the stream's edge," the king explained quickly. In truth he welcomed his guard at this point, although he often found Jonath’s protectiveness suffocating. The sun had fled the sky and night had thrown her cloak upon the earth robing it in darkness.

Without a second thought, Jonath stood from the ring of men seated not far from their king. Grabbing a flaming branch from the fire in front of him, he passed it to another soldier. In moments he had mustered a small contingent armed with swords and torches that surrounded the king and the elf and fanned out on either side of the stream’s bed, walking down its length and looking for the two lost members of their party.

The further they got from camp the more serious they all became and the more their worry mounted. Gimli should have brought Eldarion back long ago. It was dark now, there was no justifiable reason for them to be out this late unless they were lost or... or worse.

Legolas saw him first. A small cry of dismay escaped his lips as he spied Gimli’s fallen form. He ran quickly, outdistancing his companions, his eyes easily adjusting to the darkness. He braced his hand on the beam that swung lightly over the dwarf’s fallen body. He had heard of traps like this but only when used on prey you wished to injure or kill. Dropping lightly down beside the dwarf he tried to rouse his friend. "Gimli? Gimli!"

"Jonath!" Aragorn called to his guard, "Over here quickly!" The soldiers on the far side of the river plowed through the water, lending their light to that of the ones who had gathered round the injured dwarf.

Dropping down next to Legolas, Aragorn grabbed the torch that was offered to him by the nearest soldier and swept its light across the small, prone body. Lightly touching the elf’s arm, the king stopped his friend from his frantic attempts to revive the dwarf.

"He lives." The elf whispered with a sigh of relief, cradling the dwarf’s head gently in his lap and smoothing the short being’s wiry hair away from his face.

"Legolas." Aragorn held the torch above Gimli’s broken leg, his boot toe still wedged at an odd angle beneath the rock that had tripped him up. "His leg is broken. Do not wake him; it would be best if we set it before he is conscious."

"Who would do this?" Legolas shook his head, anger welling inside him at the injuries his dwarven friend had taken.

Aragorn stood swiftly to his feet, frantically looking around them, "Where is Eldarion?" He scanned the edges of the forest trying to find tracks that led away from the stream but the soldiers that surrounded them had walked on top of the fresh prints adding their own to the jumbled mix of signals and obscuring Eldarion’s tracks.

Aragorn pushed the men away with swift hurried motions, brushing the light of his torch across the soft sand that formed the river’s edge. In the darkness it was difficult to see which tracks were new and if any were old or child-sized.

"I cannot find his tracks!" Aragorn turned swiftly to his captain. "Jonath, have the men fan out, he must be here somewhere."

With a quick nod the captain of the guard began sending his men into the surrounding forests to look for any signs. Swallowing his fears, Aragorn stepped back to Gimli’s side and crouched down opposite Legolas.

The elf’s eyes were wide and dark in the low light. Two soldiers had stayed with the king and his friends and lent the dim glow of their torches so they could see.

Gently Aragorn ran his fingers down Gimli’s leg below his knee, probing the break carefully and finding exactly where it was. After dislodging the rock that had trapped the dwarf, he unlaced the heavy leather boot, pulled it slowly off, and laid it aside. Indicating where he wanted Legolas’ hands near the dwarf’s knees, Aragorn took the thick short leg and gripped it tightly, glad that Gimli was still unconscious.

"On three." He watched Legolas closely as he counted down. At three, he pulled the dwarf’s leg down and to the right, feeling the edges of the bones work back into place. He grimaced as Gimli tightened involuntarily, the pain searing through and bringing him back to consciousness.

Legolas leaned down on the dwarf and kept him from shifting out of their grip and unintentionally re-injuring himself. "Easy Gimli, it is all right. It is Aragorn and I. Your leg is broken, be still."

The dwarf groaned and laid his head back against the elf’s shoulder with a sigh, trying to keep from moaning.

Aragorn motioned the soldier nearest them and sent him to find some small, sturdy branches to use as splints. He crept near the dwarf’s head and leaned over the bearded, wrinkled face. With a small smile he spoke softly gazing down into the dark eyes that watched him steadily, "Well, Master Dwarf, you’ll live."

The words had the desired effect and Aragorn laughed as Gimli chuckled ruefully. "Is that your expert opinion?" the dwarf queried.

Legolas easily bound the wood that the soldier returned with, binding it to the sides of the dwarf’s leg to keep it from moving. He knelt behind Gimli and smiled down into the rotund face. "No more walks in the evening alone for you," he taunted the smaller being.

"Hmm..." Gimli glared and him, "And I suppose you would have fared better than I?" He was still groggy and having a hard time remembering exactly why he was on the ground and ached so much.

"I would not have been nearly decapitated by a hunter’s trap."

Aragorn interrupted the conversation. Laying his hand gently over the dwarf’s heart, he asked the question that he had held back until now, "Gimli, where is Eldarion? He never returned to camp. There is no sign of him. What happened?"

Frowning deeply, Gimli searched his memory. It was hazy at best, everything fogged by the ache in his leg and his body. "We were walking..."

His voice trailed off as he thought through the evening’s events. Aragorn waited patiently, hurrying the dwarf would do neither of them any good, but his heart was anxious and he feared the words he would hear.

"...there was another. No..." Gimli scrunched up his face and glanced towards the forest, pointing at a spot high on a tree, "it was an arrow. Someone shot at us! From across the river." His memories tumbled back as quickly as his words spilled out. "They missed. But just as I turned a cloaked figure darted out from the trees on this side of the river and grabbed Eldarion. They covered his mouth so he couldn’t call for help and threatened to kill him if I pursued them. Then he laughed at me and the next thing I know something hit me from out of nowhere." He leaned up slightly looking at his injured leg and the rock just beyond his foot. "My boot was stuck by a rock and I couldn’t move in time." The shame accompanying his failure was written across the dwarf’s downcast eyes. Legolas gave his friend’s shoulder a little squeeze. No one faulted Gimli. None of them had expected this.

Aragorn was on his feet before Gimli finished describing their ordeal. Accompanied by a guard, they searched the trees closest to where the dwarf had been standing. As Gimli had said, Aragorn found the blackened shaft of a crossbow bolt buried in the trunk of a large tree. Placing his hand against the rough wood he pulled the arrow out. A sticky black substance oozed off the tip, stringing between the removed arrow and the tree.

The soldier who had accompanied the king reached out to touch the black gooey strand, his face scrunched up in disgust. Aragorn grabbed the man by the wrist and moved him slightly away, the fear inside him mounting by the seconds. He knew this substance, this poison. Its faint but distinctive odor was forever indelibly scarred into his memory. Even many years later his body had a distinct, fear reaction to the scent of the drug. His mind screamed at him to run, get away, but rational thought countered his panic. It couldn’t be. The one who used this was dead. He knew he was dead; Legolas saw him die.

Standing perfectly still, lost in fearful memories, he didn’t notice when Legolas walked quietly up behind him and gently laid his hand on the human’s shoulder.


Unable to respond, the man simply handed him the bolt and turned away staring up the darkened river.

Frowning slightly in confusion Legolas took the weapon and inspected the head, rolling the substance between his fingers and touching them lightly to his nose. With a jerk of his head the elf pulled away and knelt wiping his fingers off on the wet grass at the base of the trees. It couldn’t be. The smell triggered horrible memories. Only once before had the friends ever encountered the use of this particular drug.

"It can’t be him."

Aragorn turned towards the sound of his friend, his gaze haunted, his face ashen. "No one else save Mannyn and Dyryn possessed belithral. They were the only ones who knew what it was made of." He barely registered that Jonath had returned with the men; he knew that Eldarion would not be with them.

The sounds of running feet pounded up the stream bed behind them and the bobbing of an approaching torch could be seen in the dark.

"My lord!" The soldier’s voice cried out as he saw the others standing in a small group, "My lord, there was an intruder in camp!"

The guard reached their position and rested his hands on his knees breathlessly. Jonath had relieved the runner of his torch and touched the man’s back as he gathered his strength. "Syrvin, tell us plainly what happened."

With a nod of understanding the man took a deep breath and straightened up. "There was an intruder in camp. He fired a single arrow." The guard hesitantly met the eyes of his king. "There was a note impaled on it."

"What did it say?" Aragorn edged forward, "Did you bring it?"

"No my lord, but..." The man glanced worriedly between his captain and his king. "They said it was for the king and sent me straight away. That’s all I know."

Aragorn glanced over the heads of his men. Legolas stood from Gimli’s side. Having heard the entire conversation, he knew his friend well enough to know that the human would want to leave for the campsite now and he nodded in understanding as their eyes met. Quickly the elf dropped back next to the dwarf. "Jonath and his men will take you back to camp."

"What is happening?" Gimli demanded.

"I have not the time to tell you now, I must go with Aragorn." The elf’s eyes apologized wordlessly before he rose to his feet again.

Nodding curtly the dwarf allowed his friend to leave. The elf chased after the king who had already sped off towards their campsite, knowing that Legolas would easily catch up to him.

The elf knew what was in the king’s heart, the fear of what had been done to his friend by the drug that was on that arrow and the ones who used it. The way that Gimli had described Eldarion’s capture was eerily similar to what had happened to Aragorn on that snow-clad day so many years ago... and this mystery was no less perplexing than that had been.

Legolas could only hope that the results would not be as disastrous this time as he sped silently through the trees after his friend. The elf prince could still remember those frozen days on the mountain, hearing nothing but the lonely sound of the wind hour after hour as he strained desperately for any sound that might tell him that Aragorn was near, that he was even alive, that the elf was nearing his goal...

...80 years in the past...

Icy cold wind whipped around Legolas’ face, snatching his breath away and stinging his eyes as he knelt on the snow by the deep-cut tracks that he was following. By the time he had finally escaped the gorge the distance between he and the two he pursued had become discouragingly large. Yet the deep mountain snows held tracks well, and it had soon become apparent that Aragorn and his captor were going over the high pass. It was an area that Legolas was familiar with, and this helped him. Especially since frequent storms were constantly wiping out the tracks that he sought to follow and causing him no end of difficulty.

Right now the trail was clear and well defined, even though it was at least two or three days old and covered with several inches of new snowfall, but if the wind kept up like this and brought with it another storm as it was threatening to do, that would not be true for long.

The elf let his breath out slowly and chattered slightly as he drew it back in. That irritated him. He should not be cold. Cold was a foreign feeling to him and not one that an elf should have to be dealing with.

It was now almost two weeks since his unfortunate incident with the wolves, and the prince’s shoulder wound had finally closed, but the ache remained a constant presence. Just as Raniean had warned, the weather up here in the heights was unremittingly bitter, and although elves were not usually affected by the elements, the prince’s weakened state and the absolute sub-arctic severity of these climes was making even Legolas feel the bite of the winter chill.

Legolas couldn’t imagine how Aragorn was surviving up here, or his captor for that matter. That thought made the elf moved faster. He did not like the picture that the trail he was following painted. One man was obviously on a horse, and one man on foot, and it wasn’t too hard to guess who the one on foot was. At points it looked more like Aragorn had been dragged along the trail and through the sometimes waist-deep snow instead of walking at all.

Something stained the white snow, catching Legolas’ attention and the elf stooped to see what it was. A dark look adorned the prince’s countenance when he realized that it was blood. Aragorn’s blood. And it wasn’t just in this one place. The trail continued to be dotted with periodic bloodstains and scuffmarks of someone being dragged for quite a long while. Legolas felt his ire burning so hot that it ought to have melted the snow under him and he momentarily forgot he was cold at all.

Something out of place in the landscape ahead caught the elf’s keen eye and he hurried up the trail towards it. A large, dark shape was partially hidden under recent snowfall and for a few seconds Legolas' heart jumped up into his throat when he realized that that was hair curling limply out of the snow.

Upon reaching the spot, Legolas sighed and closed his eyes, relief washing over him. It was not a human body in the snow, but rather that of a horse. Undoubtedly the horse that he had been trailing to this point if he read the signs correctly. Apparently the poor beast had simply at last dropped dead from the utter cold.

Legolas touched the still body gently and whispered a few quiet words in elvish. It was just as he had feared. No horse would survive this entire journey. The horse’s owner should have known better. Perhaps he had and he simply hadn’t cared. That kind of attitude made Legolas fear for his friend’s safety, because if this man treated his horse with such little care... how would he treat his prisoner?

The elf’s attention was drawn back to the snow once more. He could see how the horse had fallen... and then... then there was some kind of scuffle. Legolas squinted hard at the snow, wishing he had the skill of the rangers to read the slightest smudge and know what it meant, but he did not. However, he guessed that Aragorn had probably tried to get free when the horse died and his captor was distracted... The elf pressed his lips into a tight line. It didn’t look as if he had succeeded.

The trail led off again ahead, and now it looked like two men walking... but one of them fell repeatedly.

The elf was about to move on again, when another dark object hidden in the white snow caught his attention. It was pressed into one of the scuffle marks and hidden in the drift, probably having been lost during the fight.

Pulling it out of the snow, Legolas found that it was small leather wallet. It was fairly new, but showed slight signs of wear. One side of the wallet had a small flourish engraved into the dark leather. Sliding his hand inside and pulling the contents out, Legolas raised his eyebrows in surprise. The wallet was full of money. The prince studied the small three-pronged swirl etched in the leather once more before tucking it into his own pocket. The design was unfamiliar and meant nothing to him. Obviously, however, this was not something that had been intended to be left behind. Swiftly picking up the retreating tracks, he followed the men deeper into the wooded hills. Now that both captor and prisoner were on foot he had a greater chance of catching up to them.

Roaming through this darkness, I'm alive but I'm alone
And part of me is fighting this,
But part of me is gone.

--Three Doors Down

Aragorn moaned softly, pulling away from Dyryn’s anger, but he couldn’t escape, even if his mind had been clear enough to do so.

Dyryn kicked the young man again and again, taking his anger and frustration out on his helpless prisoner, swearing angrily. "Have you got any idea how much money was in there?" he raged, giving the ranger another sharp kick in the ribs.

Aragorn gasped painfully and curled in on himself. He was so cold. So cold. The abuse hurt worse because every fiber in his being was tensed and frozen. Yet his icy body was covered in cold sweat, a result of the drugs in his system.

Over the weeks they had been together, Aragorn’s body had slowly built up a tolerance to the low-level doses of belithral that the bounty hunter was keeping him on. Dyryn’s answer to that had been to up the dosage. And up it again. And again... until Aragorn had nearly lethal amounts of the drug in his system now. If he had not been brought up slowly to this point, the large amounts of belithral that Dyryn regularly fed him would have killed him. As it was, it had plunged Aragorn into a nearly constant delirium until it was becoming impossible to tell dream from reality. He rarely slept anymore, unless he was unconscious, because his dreams had all become nightmares, ones that continued on when he awoke.

Dyryn was furious. He blamed Aragorn for the loss of his money. Dragging the young ranger partially up, out of the snow, Dyryn shook him, hard, swearing at him. "You have given me nothing but trouble!"

Aragorn wriggled weakly in his grasp, his glazed, widely dilated eyes flashing with un-subdued fire. "L-let me go..."

"Damn you! Any normal person should be too gone to even think by now. What does it take to break you?!" Yanking the ranger’s sleeve up Dyryn pulled out his knife.

Aragorn knew the only reason Dyryn did that was to give him more belithral. He had already had his daily dose this morning... any more would be a severe overdose. He struggled with the man, trying to pull his arm away, but his shaky attempts barely even registered to Dyryn who held him still and angrily administered the drug.

Aragorn moaned sharply as the toxin raced through his system. It no longer rendered him unconscious, even in large doses, because his body had adapted to accommodate its presence. The world whirled crazily in front of Aragorn’s eyes as reality faded away into a drugged haze of hallucinations and nightmares.

"No, no..." Aragorn trembled violently as Dyryn let him sink back into the snow, his breathing coming painfully fast and sharp as his heart sped up even faster. The frozen air made his lungs ache.

Strange images danced before his eyes, demented and twisted forms, more dark and terrible than the worst nightmare one could ever imagine. And then... then the real horror started.

"A-ada?" The image of Elrond wavered slightly, but it seemed absolute and real to Aragorn’s tormented mind. "Ada, help me..."

But the look in the illusion’s eyes was cold and hard.

"Father please..." Aragorn could not separate delusion from reality, as his deep childhood fears were resurrected from the darkness of his subconscious.

Dyryn glowered in irritation, still sizably upset with the young ranger. "Shut up!" he snapped, slapping Aragorn’s bruised face sharply.

Aragorn recoiled, laying still in the snow and staring up with frightened, hurting eyes, because in his mind, it was not Dyryn’s hand that had delivered the blow, but one far more dear to him and thusly far more painful.

A stunned tear rolled down the young man’s cheek, freezing before it got very far. Elrond had never struck him in anger in all his growing up years, never. "F-father?" The whisper was soft and broken.

But the phantom turned away from him. "You’re weak Estel." The voices in his delusion condemned him. "Weak and worthless! Reckless human child, can’t take care of yourself. Nothing but a burden. Weak, weak, weak..." The taunting condemnation of his own thoughts twisted through his nightmare, seeming to come instead from the spectral image of his elven father.

Aragorn’s heart twisted in anguish. "I’m sorry..." he whispered. "I’m sorry... no, please, don’t go, don’t leave me here alone!" he begged, but the image in his mind was not stirred.

The twisted phantom of the elven lord turned his back on the young man in the snow and vanished into the darkening night as the drugged hallucinations took another turn.

Desolate, and unaware that none of what he saw was genuine, Aragorn reeled from the perceived rejection. Again and again he called out for his elven father in desperate delirium as the nightmares washed over him in horrifying waves, crying out for him until the young ranger lost his voice and his pleas became a soft, anguished whisper, swept away on the wind.

But there was no answer, only the ever-increasing cold and the twisted phantasms of his own mind, leaving Aragorn alone and slowly freezing to death in the snow.