Part 8

by Cassia and Siobhan

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    Legolas woke slowly. Wherever he was it sure felt good to be here and that in itself was a foreign feeling. Opening his eyes he slowly allowed them to focus on his surroundings. Someone entered the room and he turned to see who it was it.
    The sight of the elf that walked up to his bed actually caused the prince to flinch and move away from the hand that reached out to him. Fear at seeing one of his own was an odd feeling and his panic escalated slightly. He couldn’t remember where he was or how he had gotten here. His thoughts were fuzzy and he dimly remembered Aragorn telling him they were home - but he knew that could not be.
    "Peace, Prince Legolas." The attendant spoke softly to him as he changed out the water pitcher that rested on a nightstand near the bed. "You are safe here."
    Where was here? Legolas looked wildly around the room until his eyes lighted on the form of Aragorn curled up in an armchair in the corner of the quarters.
    The sound of the elf speaking brought the ranger awake and he jumped to his feet clumsily as he saw his friend was conscious. Seeing Legolas’ confusion and fear, he dismissed the attendant and sat easily on the edge of the bed, leaning over his friend and smiling.
    "Where are we?" Legolas asked, confusion evident in his slightly bleary eyes.
    "We are in my home now," Aragorn assured, pressing the back of his hand lightly against Legolas’ forehead, testing his friend’s temperature.
    "Aragorn, what have you done?" Legolas’ panic heightened. "Do you not know what you have brought down on your family? We cannot be here." The elf tried to sit up but Aragorn pressed him firmly back down.
    The ranger started to respond when a deep voice in the doorway interrupted them both. "My son did what was best, and what was right." Elrond walked into the room and approached the bed.
    "My lord." Legolas closed his eyes and nodded his head in respect.
    "Prince Legolas, you are safe here in Rivendell," Elrond said quietly.
    "Know you not the edict my father has proclaimed on myself and on your son?" Legolas asked slowly, swallowing back the unbidden lump of pain that appeared in his throat.
    Elrond smiled, stifling a laugh and carefully responded, "And remember you not that I am only half-elven and therefore do not keep so strict an account of every elven ruling?" He continued to explain when he saw the surprise and confusion in the young prince’s eyes. "Your father is a good king, Legolas, and I do not support contradicting his rulings. However, if I were the one to turn away the joy of his heart and had allowed you to die, do you not think that would in itself garner the king’s wrath more than if I disobeyed his edict?"
    "I am sorry you have been put in this position, my lord," Legolas apologized, letting himself sink back a little against the pillows. He was still feeling incredibly weak from his ordeal.
    "Well I am not." The elder elf smiled at Aragorn. "I have had warriors out looking for you both over these past months." He stared seriously back down at the elf. "There is much you must know. Things are not well in your fair woods and it is high time Mirkwood’s prince returned to her."
    "Please, Lord Elrond, speak plainly for I would hear of word from my home even if it be ill tidings that you speak." Legolas eased himself upright with the help of Aragorn, his gaze never leaving that of the elven lord.
    Elrond nodded but Aragorn interrupted, "Perhaps you should rest, we can talk about this later." He looked worriedly across to his father.
    "No, Aragorn. I would know now." His eyes were still locked onto Elrond’s.
    "Very well then." Elrond pulled up a chair and seated himself in it before continuing. "About a week or so after you left Mirkwood, the Wood-elves began experiencing unusual difficulty and increased aggravation from the spiders that inhabit the woods. The fell beasts started harassing hunting parties and encroaching ever closer upon your people’s realm."
    Legolas’ brows knit in confusion and surprise. "Attacking hunting parities? That is almost unheard of! The spiders are evil, but they have never made so bold as to go up against any great numbers of us at the same time..."
    "Nevertheless, they have now." Elrond shook his head gravely. "For a while the problem was a nuisance only, but now it has become a very real threat. The spiders have massed and seem to be guided by a single purpose, which makes them dangerous. It is believed that it is because there is a leader, or matriarchal spider who is guiding the intentions of all the others, uniting them and making them a terrible force to reckon with. They have a secret hiding place somewhere that the elves have not been able to uncover. They have inflicted grave damage upon your people, Legolas, and ventured deep into the protected realm. There are even rumors that they have taken elves prisoner... and you know what they do with their prisoners, Legolas." The elf lord’s face was grim.
    Aragorn repressed a shudder, remembering his own brief, nasty encounter with the loathsome creatures.
    Legolas’ eyes were wide with shock and horror at the things that Elrond was telling him. "But-but this is impossible!" The elf prince sat up straight, ignoring the ache it ignited in his ribs. "How could they possibly venture so far into our realm and live? Our warriors would never suffer such an intrusion unchecked!"
    "Your people were caught unaware and leaderless," Elrond said quietly. "They fractionated and fractured, became two, five, six, a dozen groups fighting individually, following their own different leaders and not pulling together as would have saved them. They need their prince, Legolas."
    Legolas looked stricken at the news, but dropped his eyes, staring down at his hands. "I can’t go back," he whispered brokenly. Then suddenly another thought crossed the prince’s mind, pushing all else from it as fear awakened inside him. "But... why leaderless? They have always listened to my father. Why would they not do so now?"
    Elrond’s eyes turned sad and he looked compassionately at the younger elf. That in itself was enough to make Legolas’ blood run cold.
    "Please, my lord, tell me," Legolas begged breathlessly, leaning forward earnestly. "Has something happened to my father?"
    Elrond sighed. "Thranduil is dying Legolas," he said quietly.
    Legolas’ face went very pale. Aragorn put a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder as the elf sank numbly back against the headboard of the bed behind him.
    "Why? How?" Legolas managed to force out between faltering lips. If he were hearing this from anyone else he would have demanded to know if they were sure of their information, but he knew that Lord Elrond would not lie to him. He respected the elder elf highly and there was a trust between them that went back to their first meeting many centuries ago when Legolas was quite young.
    "Of a broken heart I fear," Elrond said gravely, wishing he could have spared the younger elf this pain, but knowing he could not. "He has retreated from the world and did not attempt to check the situation with the spiders when it was in its early stages. His grief has finally claimed his health and he is simply letting go of life. With him falters and dies much of the power that has safe-guarded and kept his kingdom orderly. The royal house has more power over those woods than they realize. Now that both remaining members have forsaken it, the realm falls into shadow."
    Legolas dropped his head into his hands, covering his face as he tried to process the incredible guilt and sorrow exploding in his heart. "It’s my fault," he whispered hoarsely. "My father’s dying, my people are being decimated, and it’s my fault." He didn’t know how he could live with that. He couldn’t.
    Aragorn squeezed Legolas’ shoulders tightly, but did not know what to say. He looked in anguish to Elrond for help.
    "Nay," Elrond shook his head, tipping Legolas’ head up gently. "Take not blame that does not belong to you."
    Legolas nodded slowly, pulling himself together. He was not entirely convinced that it wasn’t his fault, but wallowing in guilt was not going to help anything.
    Elrond continued when he saw that Legolas was ready to hear more. "I offered to send such help to them as I could, but they would have none of it. I fear our relations have never been very clear with your people and they did not seem to want anyone to have a claim over them." He shook his head at their stubborn folly. "Besides, there was no general consensus. One group might agree, but another would not. There was no working with the situation."
    Legolas understood. He knew just how difficult his people could be sometimes.
    "Your friend, Raniean, was trying to unite them, but they would not all follow him. He is not their prince, Legolas, you are. The last word we had from them was a week ago. The tidings were all ill. We have heard naught since." Elrond finished his grim tale at last.
    Legolas’ eyes were full of pain, but determined. "I have to go back," he said decidedly, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and pushing back the covers.
    "Not so fast," Aragorn gently restrained his friend, pushing the elf back down to a seated position. "You nearly died last night! Take it easy."
    "I cannot." Legolas shook his head, urgency flowing through him. "It may already be too late!"
    "It is wise to have a plan before one acts," Elrond interjected sagely.
    "But I do," Legolas said, a thoughtful look crossing his face. "You say the spiders have a secret lair that my people cannot find?" The prince glanced sideways at Aragorn. "Well I think I know where that is."
    "Of course!" Aragorn suddenly understood what his friend was thinking. "In the ravine! Where we stumbled on that nest and you got bit, right before Raniean and Trelan found us!"
    Legolas nodded. "If we strike them at their source, we have a chance to wipe them all out."
    "If we used that little path down the north ridge we could come upon them unawares, just like we did last time, only this time we would know they were there," Aragorn added, already thinking ahead.
    Suddenly Legolas stopped, realizing that without thinking about it they were both talking about ‘we’. Aragorn was safe here, with Elrond, who would obviously not reject him. Legolas could not ask him to go back into the danger that waited for them on all sides in Mirkwood.
    "Aragorn," he said softly. "I do not ask you to go back with me. They are not your people, or your concern, and to go there means risking our own deaths for breaking the terms of our banishment. I would not willingly place you in that kind of danger."
    Elrond quietly watched the scene unfolding between the two friends before him. He knew his adopted son’s answer even before Aragorn spoke. He could read it in the boy’s eyes.
    "Too bad," Aragorn smiled lopsidedly at his friend. "Because you didn’t ask, I offered."
    "Aragorn..." Legolas caught his friend’s eyes.
    Elrond said nothing. Part of his heart wanted him to interject, to not let Aragorn place himself so readily in danger, but he knew that Estel was becoming a man and it was not his place to protect him all his life. Indeed, if he saw things aright, Aragorn had a hard life and many dangers ahead of him that he would have to walk alone. Besides, something told him this was right. The two of them were meant to go back to Mirkwood in her hour of need. Yet that did not entirely still the concern and worry in his father’s heart. Many things could be right and still end tragically. He knew that very well.
    "No," Aragorn held his friend’s eyes as he shook his head. "Legolas, there’s no way I’m letting you go back there alone. We’re in this together."
    Legolas smiled his gratitude and clasped his friend’s hand. "All right then, together."


    The great, vast expanse of the forest spread out before them, looking strangely ominous and forebidding. Legolas had insisted on leaving as soon as he was able to stand without wavering and Elrond did not waste futile words trying to convince him to tarry longer, even though he usually would have recommended such.
    "Watch over him, Estel," Elrond quietly charged the young man as they prepared to set out. "He is not yet as healed as he thinks. Do not let him push himself too quickly."
    Early dawn was just beginning to creep across the horizon as the two exiles readied to leave under cover of the weak morning light.
    Aragorn nodded, shouldering his pack, but Elrond took hold of his arm gently, catching his eyes one last time. "Take care of yourself as well, Estel." The elf lord’s eyes were intense. "You walk into danger greater than I think you imagine, and I would not lose you yet."
    The young ranger nodded seriously, but then smiled, giving his adopted father a quick, parting hug. "Don’t worry father, we’ll be all right," he assured confidently.
    Elrond smiled wistfully as he watched the two friends leave. He doubted Aragorn really realized what he was getting himself into.
    "Are men always so sure of themselves?" Elrohir asked quietly from his father’s right as he watched Aragorn and Legolas depart.
    "Perhaps," Elrond answered with a small smile. "Or perhaps it is merely Estel who is so eager to rush in where Valar fear to trod."
    "We shouldn’t let them go alone," Elladan said, concern etched across his face. "Elrohir and I should go with them."
    "No," Elrond sighed heavily. "Estel has his own road and his own destiny, we cannot shelter him forever. Those two were meant to do this together... but their future is shrouded in mist and to what end this will come I cannot see."
    "It is to what end this will come that I fear," Elladan said softly.


    The trip across the Misty Mountains had been uneventful for the most part, and true to his word, and much to Legolas’ annoyance, Aragorn had watched over the prince like a hawk. At first it had been obvious that the elf was weaker than usual and their progress had been slowed a bit but, by the time the mountains were crossed and they were passing through the lands of the Beornings, Legolas seemed to be fully up to par once more. His strength had returned and Aragorn began to relax a little and worry less about his friend’s well being.
    And now they faced Mirkwood at last, stretching out before them as far as the eye could see both to the north and south. When they reached the first fringe of trees, Legolas paused a moment, gazing into the familiar woods he had thought he would never see again.
    Aragorn said nothing, but stood quietly behind the elf, offering his silent support.
    Legolas unslung his bow and turned back to Aragorn. "Once we pass under these trees there is no turning back, Estel." There was obviously no doubt in the prince’s mind as to his course of action, but he offered his friend one last chance to back out now.
    Aragorn gripped the hilt of his sword in its scabbard. "Then what are we waiting for?"
    Legolas smiled and turned back to the woods as the two friends delved into the shadows of the trees. 


    It took them a bit more time traveling to reach the area where they had stumbled upon the spiders’ nest before and the trip was both dark and disturbing. Shadow was indeed taking over the wood and the presence of the elves was barely felt. Even Aragorn could feel the change, although he could not explain it. He had thought that the dark parts of Mirkwood couldn’t have gotten any more frightening, but he now found that he was wrong.
    To Legolas the change was sharp and acridly clear, like a slap of cold water in the face. The trees moaned unhappily and it seemed that cobwebs and spider trails were everywhere. With the power of the Wood-elves receding and failing, there was nothing to halt the frank evil that wanted control of the forest.
    Legolas clenched his bow tightly, his heart burning angrily at what he could see happening around them.
    By the time they reached the deep ravine both of them were on edge and wary. Finding the same trail they had accidentally taken several months earlier the elf and the ranger picked their way cautiously down the narrow path, descending into the very heart of the spiders’ lair.
    The atmosphere of the ravine had grown darker and more foreboding since their last visit here and the two friends moved silently through the choking, tangled brush.
    When they heard voices ahead, Legolas motioned for Aragorn to halt and they both dropped down behind a fallen tree, scanning the area. Two large spiders were clinging to a tree branch a little ways off and a third was hanging down on its thread.
    The voices they heard were shrill, and ugly-sounding, and obviously did not belong to any elves. There seemed to be some kind of argument going on, and the two friends listened quietly.
    "It’s not fair I tell you. Tairach keeps them all down there in her private underground burrow so she can have first pick," one voice whined angrily.
    "If it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have gotten this far in the first place. Quit complaining!" the second said with irritation.
    It took Aragorn several moments to realize who was speaking and when he did it came as something of a shock. He glanced at Legolas and then back at the arguing spiders and inclined his head questioningly.
    Legolas just put his finger to his lips, not really understanding his friend’s surprise. Of course, he knew that the spiders could speak, and were not the mindless creatures they looked, but it was news to Aragorn.
    The young ranger began to get a better idea of just how all this was able to come to pass. The spiders were not like wargs, or other foul beasts that were evil, ruled only by instinct and chance. No, they were more like orcs because they could think, reason and plan their loathsome deeds. And apparently the one they called Tairach, who was probably the same beast that Elrond had referred to as the mother-spider, was the mastermind of this invasion into elf territory and the claiming of the woods.
    The spiders were still talking. "We haven’t had elf in this abundance in some time. They’ll be good when they’ve hung a bit."
    Another laughed cruelly. "Yes, but I think my favorite part is the way they struggle when they start to wake up, until you put them out again. As if their pitiful attempts would do any good!"
    The spiders cackled evilly.
    That was about as much as Legolas cared to hear. Jumping to his feet he let three arrows fly in rapid succession and all three spiders fell dead before they knew what hit them. There was a scuttle of legs as other spiders, hidden in the trees further away saw what happened and raced off to sound the alarm.
    Aragorn sprang up beside the prince and drew his sword. It was only a matter of time now until every spider in the place knew they were there, but this time, the two friends were prepared and this time, they had a plan.
    Sure enough, a few moments later the first wave of spiders came rushing through the treetops towards them. If it were possible, it seemed that the spiders, emboldened by their recent successes, were even more aggressive than they had been the last time Aragorn and Legolas had encountered them, yet their boldness also made them more reckless.
    The prince and the ranger felled creature after creature, slowly giving back towards the canyon wall, but intentionally drawing as much attention to themselves as possible. There were more spiders this time than there had been last time and it took almost all of their combined skills to keep ahead of the angry black swarm.
    When they reached the path leading out of the ravine, the two of them turned and ran, with nearly the entire contingent of spiders following them. The beasts pursued eagerly, thinking that their prey fled before them. They had no intention of letting the two warriors go alive. After all, they had been to their secret nest, they knew their location.
    Aragorn and Legolas raced up the path and into the woods as fast as they could, both of them shooting backwards as they ran to pick off any spiders that were getting too close.
    When the reached the ugly, gaping maw of the cave, by Shellon's Fallow, they knew what they were going to do, what they had already set up before going into the ravine. Still, Aragorn glanced worriedly at Legolas. This was the most dangerous part of their plan and he knew how Legolas felt about this cave... but it had been Legolas’ idea, so he had to trust that the elf was able to handle it.
    Aragorn scrambled up into the rocks above the cave, hiding amid the crags.
    Legolas paused in the mouth of the cave entrance, waiting for the spiders. It only took about half a minute for the spiders to gain their location and see the elf. Legolas had his bow drawn and dropped four or five of them before they reached him.
    Aragorn tensed in his hiding place, wishing Legolas wouldn’t let them get quite so close. He didn’t like his friend using himself as bait, no matter how much they had planned ahead.
    At the last possible moment, Legolas turned and retreated into the cave. The cavern was deep and he made for the back of it as swiftly as he could, shooting as he went.
    The spiders followed him, thinking they had their prey trapped for certain now. Aragorn watched as the swarming black horde rushed heedlessly into the cavern and held his breath. The sheer number of the beasts was truly breathtaking.
    Legolas retreated swiftly, but the spiders were too close for his bow to be much good now, so he abandoned it in favor of his knives. The creatures poured into the cave, on the floor, the walls, the ceiling... truly they were all around him now. Legolas repressed his slight wave of claustrophobia as he weaved his way through the towering stalagmites, slashing and hacking at the spiders as he did.
    Once all the spiders were inside the cave, Aragorn scrambled forward until he was overlooking the mouth of the cavern. When they had examined this place and formed their plan, they found that the rocks up here were particularly unstable. Aragorn had remembered some of the things he had learned about stonework from Balin and Rorin during their time in Moria and together; Aragorn and Legolas had made sure that the whole area became a lot more unstable.
    Now all Aragorn had to do was dislodge the beam they had put in place to keep the rockslide they had ready to start from happening before they wanted it, and, if all went as it should, they would effectively trap the spiders in the cave. If all went as it should. Of course there had been no way to test their plan and Aragorn only hoped that nothing would go wrong.
    Just as Aragorn reached the beam supporting the rocks, he discovered that not all the spiders had gone into the cave. One sprang out at him from the rocks while another dropped down to land on his back. Aragorn threw the one off his shoulders, knowing how dangerous a spider bite would be at this point, and slashed at the one before him. Another sprang from the rocks, hissing and throwing webs.
    Inside the cave, Legolas nearly had his back to the wall. He had an escape route planned, but could not use it until Aragorn started the rockslide. One of the spiders caught his hair, trying to get at his neck and Legolas only just ripped the beast free before it could treat him to another unpleasant bout of spider poison.
    "Anytime now, Aragorn," he muttered under his breath as he stabbed backward, skewering a spider without turning and hacking the legs off another. "Anytime now would be good..."
    On the rocks above, Aragorn finally put an end to the last of his attackers and launched his weight against the beam, hoping the delay had not cost Legolas too dearly. It took three good shoves with all of Aragorn’s force and weight behind them to dislodge the support strut but, when it finally came loose, the young ranger had to scramble to get out of the way of the powerful rockslide he had set loose.
    Legolas heard the rumble and felt the ground quiver beneath his feet as the first of the stones fell across the entry of the cave. He took a deep breath, trying not to remember any of his previous bad experiences with cave-ins.
    The spiders halted and looked around, realizing something was wrong. In that moment of confusion, Legolas made his move. Breaking sideways, he fought free of the spiders long enough to reach a small, hidden grotto that had a small shaft leading sharply up to the surface. It was the discovery of this unexpected passageway that had actually started this entire plan in the first place.
    The rumble turned into a roar as the rockslide picked up speed and the cave went dark as the buried entrance blocked out the light. The spiders panicked and their shouts and curses added to the noise.
    Legolas climbed swiftly through the narrow, slanting shaft, heading for the daylight above. Suddenly he was tugged sharply back, and felt something sticky and strong twining about his ankles. The spiders had found him and were trying to pull him back, or trap him where he was.
    There was no room to maneuver in the tiny shaft, and the elf couldn’t even turn around to get at his attackers. Legolas kicked backward sharply, repeatedly, trying to shake them off. Claustrophobia and his own fear of being trapped in stone gripped at him, but he refused to let it own him. Scrabbling forward, he tried to pull free. And that’s when he heard the familiar sound of rending, groaning stone that has no longer wished to support its own weight.

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