Siege of Dread

Chapter 13: Picking up the Pieces

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Elladan and Elrohir stood shakily from the forest floor.  The explosive collapse of Daradwayn had crushed the tunnel they escaped from.  The Dwarven-made door sat at an odd angle in the mountainside, its edges exposed and cracked by the collapsed passageway.  The thick slab of stone was broken and dust sifted gently from the vertical crevice. 

The force of the cavern’s destruction had shaken the surrounding forests, throwing the three elves to the ground as the mountain shifted within itself and resettled once more.  Quiet sounds from the woods around them were just beginning to creep back into the still dawn of morning, but the forest carried a foreboding as though the very trees were holding their breath - waiting. 

The Noldor elves’ escape had been fairly simple: Thranduil’s diversion had bought them the time they needed and the badly divided orcs had not been able to capture the fleet-footed elves. 

Elladan shut the door on their pursuers with the command that he was far more familiar with than Legolas had been.  When the cavern began to tremble from its own weight the black-hearted creatures had given up their pursuit and headed for the front passage.  Their courage only withstood so much and their loyalty to the captain came second to saving their own hides. 

Elrohir tore his gaze from the broken mountainside and gently hooked his hands underneath his father’s arms, helping the older elf to his feet.  Elrond was bruised and dirty.  Blood caked his right temple and he wove unsteadily on his feet as Elrohir held him.  Raw, red welts encircled his wrists from where the orc rope had burned into his flesh and his tunic was ripped from the lashings that the orcs had given him.  He caught his breath and held it as pain from the recent cruelty of his captors flooded his body.  He tried to still the dizziness that swept over him but it was a useless battle.  He had not been this badly off in a long, long time. 

“El, help me,” Elrohir called to his twin as he slowly moved Elrond to a fallen log and lowered the elf lord down upon it, “He’s hurt badly.” 

“I will mend,” Elrond assured as he allowed himself to be eased into a sitting position.  Gently he touched Elrohir’s face. 

“The orcs said they killed you both,” he whispered softly, unable to hold the tears back. 

Elrohir pulled his father into his arms and held him tenderly, fearful of aggravating his injuries. “They lied to you, Ada,” the twin answered quietly. 

“They cannot kill Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen,” Elladan added softly, kissing the top of his father’s head. 

Elrond slowly shook his head. “Dehlfalhen and Glamferaen lie buried in Daradwayn.  All I see are my sons, Elladan and Elrohir, and I love them with all my heart.” 

The twins exchanged a knowing glance, smiling softly and feeling for the first time as if their past perhaps truly could finally be laid aside. 

“We need to move,” Elrond spoke quietly, glancing about them into the woods.  His body ached more than he would admit, but they were not safe.  They were barely outside Daradwayn and still in danger of being discovered.  They could not afford to be complacent while the threat of recapture lingered. 

It suddenly occurred to the elf lord that they had not all made it out of the tunnels.  The fact that he had not noticed sooner told him how badly he truly was doing.  “Where is Thranduil?  Was he not behind us?” 

“I did not see him.  He was not with us when I sealed the door; there were only orcs in the passageway,” Elladan admitted quietly. “He may have made it out the main entrance.”  The younger elf hoped so anyway.  He had not always had an altogether complimentary opinion of Legolas’ father, but the way Thranduil had stepped into the gap to assure their safety without any hesitation had made Elladan stop to think that maybe Thranduil was more than he seemed.  Perhaps Legolas was not an apple that had fallen that far from the tree after all. 

“We should go look for survivors.”  Elrohir was listening intently into the forest. “No one approaches and the sounds of the orcs are fading.  Estel and Legolas were with us; we were supposed to meet up after our escape.  Perhaps Thranduil is with them.” 

“I will go and find them. You stay here with father,” Elladan stated simply; his twin agreed with a small nod but the young elf was halted as Elrond stood stiffly to his feet. 

“We shall all go.” The older elf gingerly shook his head, forestalling the arguments. “If there are wounded they will require our combined skills.  Thranduil was injured, he needs attention and I am worried that Estel has not joined us.  The silence in the forests is a warning I think we should heed.” 

With great reluctance the twins agreed, if only because they could refuse their father nothing right now.  Elrohir supported Elrond, his arm wrapped about the older elf’s waist as Elladan led them back around the base of the mountain, towards where the mouth of Daradwayn used to be. 

The woods were still in this part of the forest and the sounds of the elves’ light footsteps could barely be heard as they moved under the darkened canopy.  The new light of day barely touched the forest floor here, which did not normally present a problem for the elves, but they were so shaken by the recent events and intent on listening to the woods about them that Elladan nearly stepped into one of the traps Estel had marked. 

The tiny grouping of oddly piled stones and leaves caught Elrond’s attention.  He was concentrating on where they were walking, trying not to stumble as he leaned on Elrohir when he recognized the warning marker he had taught the ranger to build when he was still a child.  They used it between them as a sign when Estel had begun learning tracking skills.  Elrond would mark out traps that had been set or places to avoid.  As he had grown, Estel had taken to using it to draw his father to his hiding place or indicate something of interest.  He smiled softly, slightly surprised to see that the human had kept their secret signal even after so many years. 

“Elladan stop!” Elrond’s soft sharp command froze the elf in place mid-step.  Slowly the eldest twin backed away and glanced behind him. 

“Ada, what is it?” Elrohir questioned as he intently searched the ground and the surrounding areas. “I see nothing amiss.” 

Stiffly Elrond moved away from Elrohir, speaking softly as he walked forward, “That is Estel’s marker.” He pushed the small grouping of sticks and leaves with the tip of his boot, shifting the intricate symbol slightly.  Upon closer inspection Elladan could see that what appeared to be nothing but leaves and ground debris had been laid out so that they formed the elvish symbol for danger. 

“There must be a trap on the other side of it,” Elrond continued as he stooped to retrieve a small stone. “Step back, Elladan.  I see nothing either, but he would not mark the ground if there were not something there.” 

With a flick of his wrist the elf lord tossed the rock just beyond Aragorn’s marker.  As the stone impacted the earth, the ground beneath it rippled moving away from the center of the stone like thick water before it sucked the rock under the false surface and returned to normal within seconds. 

“What is that?!!?” Elladan moved farther back near Elrohir. 

The deceptiveness of the trap shocked the elves.  Such a thing was unheard of on this side of the Misty Mountains. 

“I do not know. I have never seen such a thing, but it is evil to be sure. We must make certain that we come back when this is over and dig this pit out and fill it properly.  We cannot chance any living creature to fall into it.”  Elrond tugged on Elrohir’s sleeve as he led his sons away from the edge of the trap.  He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that they needed to move on and quickly. 

The meadow in front of Daradwayn was littered with the bodies of orcs and their mounts.  Rocks were strewn among the dead, some standing as grave markers over those not fast enough to move out of their path when they tumbled from the cliffs above.  The trio of elves stood silently in front of the mouth of the cave, amid the field of carnage. 

So many horrors, so many memories and now all of them were sealed forever, never to be repeated and the evil that had been could now begin to heal.  Even the forest here seemed lighter now that the cave had been collapsed. 

“It is good,” Elladan whispered.  So many years this place had haunted his nightmares.  The silence that followed his quiet assessment was broken as Elrond began searching among the dead, looking for signs of Legolas, Thranduil and his own son, Estel. 

Elrohir quickly followed suit, tearing his eyes from the mountainside.  It did his heart more good than the others to see his mother and father avenged the way they had been.  The rage in his heart was stilled and he no longer felt the hatred burn within him. That was a relief to him, for hate was an emotion that did not sit well with his tender heart and he slowly felt the feeling that he was being torn in two begin to fade away.  A peace fell over his soul as he lay the past behind him. 

It was beginning to appear that only orcs and wargs littered the woods here when Elladan nearly stumbled on a smaller body.  The ranger was rolled over on his stomach. Wrapped in his coat he almost appeared as nothing more than another dead orc. 

But orcs did not wear ranger cloaks. 

With a gasp Elladan called to his father and brother as he dropped quickly down next to the still body.  He was afraid to turn Estel over, afraid of what he might find.  His hands hovered just above Aragorn, barely touching him. 

“Does he live?” Elrond reached them first. “Elladan!?” 

His father’s voice shook the fear from the twin’s heart and Elladan gently turned their human brother over. 

Aragorn’s face was obscured by his hair that had matted in the dried blood caked to his face.  He moaned slightly as he was moved.  The motion woke him and the ranger shifted, trying to escape whomever it was that held him.  He couldn’t see well and remembering why he was so afraid at the moment was eluding him – everything was disorienting and his brain fed him a million pieces of jumbled information at once. 

Legolas falling. 

Thranduil... why was he here? 

Where was here? 

There was a cave... no... a cave-in. 

Voices spoke to him softly in elvish and hands gently worked at washing away the blood on his face.  With singularly piercing clarity, all his thoughts focused upon one image and he remembered seeing the mouth of Daradwayn collapsing in on itself, falling and blocking out the sight of Legolas and Thranduil. 

“Legolas!”  The ranger shot up into a sitting position, fighting off those who were trying to hold him down. 

Gentle hands slid alongside Aragorn’s face and a quiet voice repeated his name, calming his racing heart and steadying him. 

“Estel.  Estel look at me.”  Elrond knelt in front of the human, trying to get his son to focus.  “There, good.” The elf lord smiled softly as Aragorn’s eyes locked onto his own and the ranger’s breathing began to even out.  “You were knocked unconscious,” he explained quietly as Aragorn gripped his father’s arms tightly, his body still responding to all the adrenaline built up in it. 

“Where is Legolas?” the ranger questioned, his voice a mere whisper as he glanced beyond his father to the body-strewn meadow in front of Daradwayn.  Slowly he returned his gaze to the elf that knelt before him.  “I saw him when it collapsed.  He was here then.”  Aragorn’s breathing had calmed and he easily held the steady gaze of Elrond.  He was no longer leaning in his father’s embrace but had shifted himself so that he was sitting cross-legged on the ground. “Ada?” 

“Ada!” Aragorn’s numb brain finally registered that it was in fact his father, freed from the orc’s lair that knelt in front of him.  His heart sighed in relief as he pulled the older elf against him and held him for a few moments. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner; there were too many.” 

Elrond smiled softly, resting his head against the human’s.  His sons lived.  Convinced that the ranger was in no immediate danger and that his wounds were not life-threatening, Elrond slowly sat back on his heels and gave his son a bit of space.  “It’s all right, Estel.  After I awoke, Thranduil told me he had seen you in the cavern and it did my heart good to know you were alive.”  The elf lord sighed deeply as the anxiety of worrying about his sons slowly faded.  He gently touched the side of the man’s face.  Unfortunately not all his news was so good.  “But, Estel, we have searched the area and of Thranduil and Legolas, we have found no trace.” 

The news did not sit well with the ranger.  They would need to begin a larger search soon, but the pounding in his head was interfering with everything else.  With a groan Aragorn reached up to gently finger his right temple.  It was tender and already a small lump was forming where he had impacted against the tree.  His head ached and the vision in his right eye was a little blurry.  Gingerly he rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hands before his father stopped him. 

“You have a cut to your temple and have hit your head very hard; you are probably suffering from the impact.  Your vision will clear but I would suggest keeping your hands away from your eyes; they are filthy,” Elrond reprimanded with a soft laugh as he carefully inspected the cut on Aragorn’s head that Elladan had begun cleaning again.  Despite the fact that he was probably the most severely injured of the four of them, Elrond slid easily into caretaker mode and his sons, accustomed to him being in that role, did not notice. 

“Estel’s hands are always filthy,” Elrohir snickered softly. 

It surprised the ranger somewhat to realize that his brothers were with them and not out hunting down any surviving orcs.  Brushing the hair away from his face and gently moving Elladan’s hands away, Aragorn tipped his head back, glancing up to gaze into the smiling faces of his older brothers.  “Well at least someone made it out of that cursed place without a scratch,” he commented sarcastically as Elladan leaned over and helped pull Aragorn up into a standing position. 

“Not quite true,” Elrohir replied, showing the young human his left elbow.  His tunic was torn slightly across his upper arm and he pointed to a small, red scratch that jumped lightly across his elbow where the cloth hung in shreds.  “Got that when we hit the ground outside the back door.  So see I did get a scratch!  And Elladan tore his leggings too.” 

With a chuckle Aragorn clumsily pushed the elf away from him.  “Oh I’m so sorry,” he retorted sarcastically. 

His head was still swimming and he was finding it difficult to maintain his balance, but he was doing a good job of ignoring his body’s warnings.  There was an insistent worry nagging the back of his mind, begging him to start searching for Legolas.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that something had gone wrong and he needed to find his friend soon. 

Immediately, the ranger began scouting the ground around them for clues, signals, tracks, anything that would tell him what had happened.  He was taken off guard as strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him back to a fallen log, pressing him down upon it. 

“You may get up when Ada says so,” Elladan whispered in his left ear, patting him on the shoulder and holding him down in place when he tried to squirm away from his overprotective brother. 

“Ada,” Aragorn’s tone was imploring as Elrond stepped in front of him and gently began tending to the gash on his head, “I need to begin looking for Legolas and Thranduil.  If they are not here then I fear the worst.” He winced and sucked in his breath as the elder elf wound a torn strip of cloth around his head, winding it about itself to hold it in place.  “There is a dread in my heart that they might have been recaptured and then we have no time to lose...” 

The ranger’s voice trailed off as Elrond sighed quietly, catching his breath.  He closed his eyes as he dealt with a dizzying sweep of pain and gingerly sat down next to his human son.  He really was in no shape to be tending anyone, force of habit or no. 

The world seemed to spin around the elf lord and he closed his eyes against the visual input.  The rushing sound in his ears blotted out all his sons’ worried questions and he leaned forward resting his head in his hands.  Gently Elladan took hold of his father’s shoulders, his quiet questions unanswered as the older elf fought to keep conscious. 

Aragorn dropped to his knees in front of the elf lord and carefully pried his father’s fingers away from his face.  Dazed blue eyes glanced wearily at the young human but the words the man spoke made no sense.  Elrond shook his head gingerly, he didn’t understand. 

“Where is the pain?” Aragorn spoke again, his voice softer and commanding. “Tell me.”  The tone he had learned from his father long ago and the power behind the words that bid the elf respond was part of his surfacing heritage. 

The question pierced Elrond’s confusion and he locked his gaze on his youngest, unable to withstand the call behind the simple request. 

“I cannot focus,” Elrond whispered. “It seems as though the world spins around me even though I am sitting still.  I ache everywhere.  I probably have a concussion and moderate trauma-shock, plus m-mul-multiple lacerations and some broken bones.  My body should begin to compensate soon... stabilize the spinning.” He grit his teeth as he self-diagnosed.  “But I’m not.  This is not right, Estel.” 

“Keep talking to him, Estel,” Elladan’s worried voice momentarily broke Aragorn’s concentration. “He seems to be able to hear you.  Get him to tell you everything.” 

With a quick nod, Aragorn turned his attention back to the older elf. “It is normal.  You have been tortured and subjected to the attentions of orcs for the past three days.  You can’t expect to bounce back like nothing happened.  It is only Ilúvatar that has seen you through.  Tell me what they did, so I can help you.”  The ranger was gently holding the elf’s face in his hands, his gaze never wavering from the blue eyes that were locked onto him. 

Unable to fight the request, Elrond nodded once. 

“I was beaten, obviously.”  He whispered softly.  “Several times.  They brought me here, to the same place...” He stopped talking, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.  Tears spilled from the edges of his eyelids as his own recent ordeal blended with images from the past. 

“Don’t remember that far back,” Aragorn softly directed, smoothing the hair away from his father’s face and gently resting his forehead against the older elf’s.  He spoke clearly and quietly but the force of the words could not be denied.  “Remember yesterday, then the day before that.  They brought you here. Your arm is hurt.  You have a nasty gash on your temple.  Tell me how you got those.  Did they force you to drink their mead?” 

A small nod answered his fears and Aragorn felt his stomach tighten in fear.  He glanced up at Elrohir.  “Fetch some water quickly.  Find my pack and steep the herbs in the silver vial in the water. It will help.  It counteracts defaifel, which isn’t so very different from orc draughts.  Hurry.” 

Elrond was shaking his head now.  “I’m not thirsty.” He did not resist as Aragorn with Elladan’s help shifted him down onto the floor of the forest, resting his back against the fallen tree he had been seated on. 

“Now, do you really think I’m going to let you get away with that when you never let any of us do so?  Besides, you know what happens when Legolas tells me he won’t drink my tea.  'Don’t make me force you, I will make a scene. I have had years of practice.'”  Aragorn glanced up and accepted the worn pack he carried.  Elrohir had taken the vial as told and passed the rest of the contents off to the human. 

Elrond began to drift.  Closing his eyes, the world darkened and he no longer noticed the tilt and spin.  Everything that had happened the past few days had finally caught up with him and he no longer had the strength or desire to fight. 

“Ada,” the soft, but piercing request sliced through the hazy fog enveloping Elrond. “I need more information from you.”  The smooth, cold rim of a cup was pressed to his lips and Elrond drank deeply of the sweet, cold water that spilled into his mouth.  He barely registered the faint taste of a foreign herb lacing the drink.  Aragorn didn’t really need to know anything more than he had already seen, but he wanted to keep Elrond talking. 

“That’s it,”  Aragorn encouraged as he tipped his father’s head gently back.  “You do this so much better than Legolas.”  The hint of a smile touched the words. 

“What more?” Elrond whispered.  “I need to rest, Estel.  I do.” 

“He’s right,” the ranger concurred. “We need to get him somewhere safe.  Somewhere he can rest securely and stop fighting.  I also believe he has injuries that must be tended soon that we cannot see.”  Aragorn gently held the elf’s hands, wrapping his wrists in strips of soft cloth where the orcs rope had bitten deeply into the soft flesh. 

It surprised Elrond that he suddenly felt so bad; he found the sensation of being cared for reassuring.  It was strange to be on the other side of things, but at the moment also unexpectedly nice.  With a sigh, the elf lord let go of consciousness, knowing he was safe.  A small spike of pride in his human son pierced his heart and he smiled slightly. 

“Ada!” Elladan panicked as their father slumped forward against Aragorn. 

The ranger caught the older elf and shifted Elrond onto his shoulder.  “It is all right, Elladan.  It will be easier to move him this way.” Aragorn wrapped his arms around the elf lord’s waist and stood slowly to his feet, aided by the twins.  “Elrohir, find us a good, safe place to regroup.  Somewhere we can come back to after I find Legolas and Thranduil as well.  Father needs attention and it would be best if we left here soon.” 

The glade of dead orcs and wargs would not go untouched for long.  The scavengers and predators of the woods would soon smell their evening meal and come.  It would be best to leave them to their jobs and stay out of the way.  As if in response to Aragorn’s words, a lone wolf’s cry reverberated across the mountains, joined by another away to the north. 

Urgency lent speed to the escapees.  Elrohir darted through the woods ahead of his brothers.  Elladan walked in step with Aragorn, helping to carry their father between them.  Estel, fearing the older elf had internal injuries and worried about aggravating them had suggested they both carry Elrond to minimize any further damage. 

It seemed like hours that they fled through the forest.  Elrohir had chosen a path that led them in a northerly direction, trying to follow the surviving orcs’ trail.  Deviating from it finally, he led his family deeper into the woods, to a hidden pool that lay forgotten in a small, bowled-out meadow.  He and Elladan had found it years ago and used it as a base then.  The soft sounds of water trickling down an unseen cliff face alerted the three brothers that they were near their destination. 

In the shallow depression of the woods, the soft, mossy grasses had grown up the sides of the natural bowl and obscured any footprints from the boots that walked lightly through it.  Thick greenery coated the floor of the meadow as it sloped towards a deep, small pool that nestled against a granite cliff.  A small waterfall that emptied out from the rock face above filled the pond below.  The granite rocks had long ago been smoothed and worn by water erosion to form a low-level shelf along the back of the pool, sheltering the glade and its occupants.  The trees themselves had hidden the small meadow as if reserving it for the elves’ use alone.  As the four passed beneath the overhanging branches, the woods seemed to grow thicker and hide all trace of their passage from any passerbys. 

“Here, we will be safe here.”  Elrohir glanced at his twin.  He mirrored the smile on his brother’s face.  Elladan recognized this place immediately. 

“I had forgotten” he whispered softly as he led Estel closer to the deep pool.  “Over here, the rocks have been smoothed out to form a ledge.  Ada can rest here.”  Allowing Aragorn to hold Elrond against him, Elladan quickly removed his cloak and spread it on the natural shelf where he and Elrohir had spent many nights under the stars. 

With his brother’s help, Aragorn eased Elrond down onto his stomach.  He was surprised as Elrohir lit a tiny oil lamp that had been hidden back on a small, natural shelf above their heads. 

“Elladan and I spent many a night here when we were ridding this place of the orcs before.” Elrohir carefully positioned the small lamp so that the rock face behind it would reflect the most light.  “It is friendly to elves here and unfriendly to the servants of darkness.  No one else knows of it or its existence.  We will be safe here for as long as we need to be.” 

Aragorn glanced around them in the warm glow.  The trees had grown so tightly together here that it almost gave the impression of being walled in by the forest around them and he felt a deep sense of peace settle in his weary soul. 

Returning his attention to Elrond, Aragorn began to gently remove the elf lord’s torn tunics.  Elrohir’s soft cry of dismay as their father’s back was exposed cut the ranger’s heart.  Elrond’s back was marred by red stripes. Some of the fresher wounds overlaid older ones.  The orcs had been thorough in their punishment of the elf lord.  Guruth had given Elrond little time to recover and much to remember him for. 

Aragorn had nursed Legolas through injuries like these many times now and the wound to the older elf’s head worried him more than the stripes that marked him, although both burned his heart.  Scooting around his brothers, the ranger gingerly moved Elrond so that he could get a better look at the gash that drew a dark, bloody line from the elf lord’s right eye across his temple and back into his hairline. 

His fingers started to tremble as Aragorn realized how deep the cut was.  Glints of white bone could be seen beneath his fingertips as he cleaned the gash.  The broken skin near his father’s eye was jagged and the bone showed through the wound.  A simple bandage would not suffice to hold the injury together. 

“I cannot do this,” the ranger whispered hoarsely, his hands trembling.  He had seen many wounds and dressed much worse than this, but knowing it was his father, Lord Elrond, in his care, the human suddenly became incredibly doubtful of his healing abilities. 

Elladan squeezed out the bloody strip of cloth he held, dipping it into the cool water before laying it across his father’s shoulder.  Leaning over he gently grabbed Aragorn’s hands firmly in his own, demanding the ranger’s attention. 

“Yes, Estel, you can.” He squeezed the man’s hands, emphasizing his words.  “Father has always said that the hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  You can do this. It’s why he listened to your words when you spoke when he could not hear even us.  It is your heritage, it is in you.” 

Aragorn closed his eyes with a deep sigh, letting his head fall forward.  “I gave that up.” 

“You may have, but it doesn’t mean it has left you.” Elladan released Aragorn’s hands and placed the palm of his right hand against the man’s forehead pressing gently back and forcing the human to look up at him.  “Relax.  Listen to your heart and do what you know to do.”  The twin reached behind him and grabbed Aragorn’s pack, handing it off to the man.  “You can,” he reaffirmed one last time before returning his attention to cleaning their father’s back.  Elrohir was talking quietly to his twin in the grey tongue as they worked, his voice a soft murmur in the background as Aragorn refocused on the task before him. 

Taking a deep breath, the ranger glanced at the unconscious form of his father.  Blood seeped slowly from the wound he had just cleaned and before he realized what he was doing, Aragorn was once more dressing the jagged cut.  He reached into his pack and removed a bone needle and special threading the Gondorians used for sewing up wounds. In a few minutes he had neatly stitched the worst of the gash shut, drawing the flesh together over his father’s eyebrow and sealing it off.  Leaning in close, he bit the thread in half just above the knot he had tied off, careful not to pull the new stitches too tight.  After spitting out the end of the thread, he kissed his father’s temple, laying his hand gently on the back of the elf lord’s head.  “Îdh a na bell,” he whispered, his words half command, half blessing. “Rest and be well.”

By the time he had finished bandaging Elrond’s head, the sun was beginning to ride down the westerly sky and the nagging worry that Aragorn had pushed aside was back with a vengeance.  He was unpleasantly surprised at how fast time had slipped away from them.  It seemed only moments ago that it was morning. 

“I have waited too long,” the ranger commented as he stood and glanced towards the late afternoon sun.  “I need to track the remaining orcs; I truly begin to fear that they may have taken Legolas and Thranduil.  I do not believe they made it out of the glen on their own and if they were free they would have found us by now.  I left signs that Legolas would have known how to read.  You said you checked the rubble... there’s no chance we could have missed them?”  Aragorn knew he had not been entirely fully functioning earlier and it disturbed him that he had not checked the area for himself. 

Elrohir stood stiffly to his feet, wiping his hands off on his leggings as Elladan carefully rolled Elrond onto his back and began to spread ointment over the bruises that decorated his chest.  He was nearly sure that the elf lord had broken ribs from the looks of his injuries.  Their father was resting easily, the more serious of his wounds having been cleaned and tended.  Glancing in the direction he remembered seeing the orcs' tracks, he shook his head in answer to Estel’s question. 

“They were not there.  I searched every inch of that meadow.”  Elrohir pointed through the trees. “I followed their tracks part way here.  If you double back a bit and head in that direction, I believe you will catch up with them.  They were not hard to follow.”  He frowned as he spoke.  “It seemed that three groups left the glen, and at one point they all split off in different directions.  My guess is they are meeting up at one rendezvous through different routes.  The orc that leads them is a foul creature, but he is apparently very crafty from all his years lived upon this earth.  Do not trust him, Estel.  Keep away from him if at all possible.  My heart tells me he is fully evil.” 

A shudder gripped the ranger at his brother’s words.  He had thought as much when he and Legolas had watched unseen in the tunnel in Daradwayn.  If this creature truly had captured the prince and his father... Aragorn did not want to think of the consequences that might have for the two Mirkwood elves. 

“I will be careful.”  Aragorn shrugged into his coat and pack, “You two watch over Father. Ilúvatar willing, I will return to you with Legolas and Thranduil.”  He stepped past the twins, intending to head out of the hidden glade, but was stopped by Elladan. 

We are going to return with Legolas and his father.”  The eldest twin was shaking his head even as Aragorn formulated his protests.  Gently Elladan took Elrohir’s hands and placed them carefully on Elrond’s chest just above the broken rib he had discovered, letting his brother take over where he had started. 

“If you think I’m letting you go on your own into a warg den in a rescue attempt, perhaps it’s your head we should be binding and not Father’s.  I think you’re the one who said we need to work together.  If you argue with me, I’ll pour that tea down your throat and Elrohir and I will go while you and father sleep it off.”  He backed the human down with his threats.  A smile played at the elven twin’s lips, but the glare in his eyes was deadly serious; he had no intention of losing anyone else to his demon that haunted them from their past. Daradwayn could be allowed no more victims. 

Elladan arched an eyebrow when Aragorn was slow to respond. 

His oldest brother looked so very much like their father at that moment that the ranger couldn’t help the laughter that caught hold of him.  “Very well then,” he answered in mock seriousness, “but you had best keep up with me and I don’t expect to have to save you from the orcs or their wargs once we find them.  Understood?” 

Elven laughter echoed his words as Elladan shoved him towards the tree-made curtains that draped the meadow. “Elrohir, we will be back with Legolas and Thranduil and I will make sure that Estel does not fall prey to a hungry warg.”

“Come back quickly,” Elrohir called laughingly as he seated himself next to the resting elf lord, gently binding the older elf’s chest to help keep the bones in place.  His quiet voice caught his brothers just before they exited the glen, “And Elladan, come back safely, muindor-nín, my brother; do not make me go on without either of you.” 

“I promise El. We will return.  I won’t leave you.” He stared hard at his twin for several seconds, quietly letting the elf read his soul.  If Mandos himself called, Elladan would refuse him.  Their family needed to stay intact.  With that promise the elf and the ranger disappeared into the forest and Elrohir was left to care for their father. 


Elladan ran hard after the ranger as Aragorn backtracked their path to where Elrohir had diverted them from the orcs’ trail.  The twin was surprised as his brother dodged rocks and tree roots nearly as nimbly as any elf.  The light was fading fast now and adrenaline fed the ranger’s urgency.  The nagging worry that had stayed on the edges of his consciousness flooded his mind and consumed his heart.  Whatever had happened, they were out of time. 

The warg rider’s path was easy to follow at first until it divided with groups going in three different directions. 

Aragorn dropped to his knees at the point of divergence and fingered the tracks that the orcs and wargs had left behind.  His eyes darted ahead of his hands as he surveyed the ground; every bent blade of grass, every indentation in the muddy path left behind told a story and he assimilated the facts quicker than his mind could register. 

“They came this way...” The ranger pointed at the ground behind him, his fingers splayed as he ran them over the dirty print, “and then they split here.”  He spoke out loud, collecting his thoughts, keeping Elladan apprised of what he was finding. 

“But...” Aragorn shifted to his left, pointing in a northwesterly direction, “the wargs left through here, or the majority of them.  They were in hurry.” 

“How do you know that?” Elladan whispered softly.  He was thoroughly intrigued by his brother.  He had never seen the ranger at this kind of work before.  Oh, he had traveled with his brother before Aragorn had left to spend time among the human races, and they had had the opportunity to accompany him to the Barrow-downs, but never had he seen the man use his tracking skills as he was now.  Aragorn was seeing things he could not, finding traces of a story that Elladan could not even read. 

“They did not bury their fallen at Daradwayn.  I think they feared being caught out in the open.  They are regrouping,” Aragorn answered distractedly.  He moved forward on his hands and knees.  The light was getting dimmer and he gritted his teeth at the misfortune.  He needed to find something to tip the balance, some indication that he was on the right path. “If Elrohir was correct and they merely split up to meet at a rendezvous then we are fine, but if for any reason they did not all return to the same place, we need to know which group took Legolas and his father...” Aragorn’s voice faltered and he stopped talking. 

Fingering a broken reed near the edge of the trail, the ranger ran his fingers up the length of it, straightening out the stalk gently and rubbing a dark substance off its leaves.  The forest was shadowed in a semi-twilight and the loss of the sun cast everything in shades of grey.  Tentatively Aragorn touched his fingers to his nose, smelling the residue.  With heightened dread he tasted the liquid.  The saltiness of the elven blood sparked his fears once more and he swiveled towards his brother. 

Elladan had followed in his brother’s wake and was standing right behind the human.  He braced the ranger as Aragorn nearly lost his balance. 

Holding up his fingers for the elf to see was all it took for Elladan to understand.  His eyes, not nearly so blinded by the fading light, could tell that what stained his brother’s fingers was blood, red blood. 

“They have them, Elladan,” Aragorn whispered, not trusting his voice.  “This is the direction they went.” 

“Then that is the direction we will go as well.”  Elladan gently grabbed his brother’s hand and wiped it clean on his trousers before turning the ranger around and giving him a soft push down the sloping incline.  “We’ll find them and get them back, tonight.” 

Elladan led the way, his dim glow shedding light on their path and keeping them from losing track of the wargs’ trail. 

“You are very good at tracking, Estel,” the twin spoke up quietly as they ran up a small incline.  “You saw things I would have missed, things I didn’t even see.” 

A soft chuckle caused the elf to slow and glance at the human. “Well I’ve had years of working as tracker.  First in Rohan and then in Gondor.”  Aragorn shrugged as he paced his brother deeper into the woods.  “Besides, I had good teachers.”  A bright smile returned Elladan’s questioning glance. 

“We were never that good, Estel.  You have a gift for it.  Don’t pretend it’s anything less.  I know Father has spoken of it, but I’d never...” Elladan stopped speaking and edged off the trail, pulling Aragorn with him.  A quick motion for silence stopped the human from questioning him.  Sinking into the darkness of the woods, Elladan crouched down near the base of a large tree.  Aragorn followed his motions, his hand shifting automatically to the pommel of his sword. 

The woods fell silent around them and the stillness of the night deepened.  Something stirred to the east of them, stealthily approaching their position.  Try as he might, Aragorn could not hear anything that would give away who it was that stalked towards them but he felt it as surely as the elf beside him heard it. 

“There are many,” Elladan whispered, his voice barely audible, his lips just touching Estel’s left ear.   “They are approaching fast but cautiously.  They may know we are here.” 

Indistinct shapes moved across the trail from the brothers’ hiding place and Aragorn crouched lower behind the brush that concealed him. 

“Wait a minute,” the ranger spoke out loud, surprising even himself as he did so.  Faint traces of blue luminescence gave form to the shadows that chased through the trees and, before he had thought through what he was doing, Aragorn stood up and called out to them. 

Mas no le bair, mellyn?  Where are you from, friends?” 

At the sound of his voice every shadow stopped, frozen where they stood.  The shimmer of light he thought he had seen immediately died out to pitch-blackness and the woods fell into an unnatural silence.

“Estel!” Elladan whispered fiercely, tugging on his brother’s tunic.  He did not have a clear view of the forest from where he was hidden and tried to use his other senses to detect what was going on. 

Before the ranger could move out of harm's way, a strong hand gripped his throat and the edge of a sword brushed underneath Aragorn’s jaw, tipping his chin back. 

The assailant’s footsteps had been nearly undetectable.  Nearly... but not so for an elf.  Elladan stood from his hiding place in one fast, silent move, his bow at the ready.  The tip of his arrow brushed through the unseen attacker’s hair. 

“Let him go,” the elf growled. 

“Elladan?”  A distinctly familiar voice questioned. 

“Trelan?”  Aragorn echoed his assailant’s surprise. 

“Strider!”  The hand around the human’s throat immediately let go and the elf stepped back a pace, staring at the man through the darkness. 

“What are you doing here?” the ranger questioned as Elladan dropped his bow to his side and reseated the arrow in his quiver. 

Before he answered the ranger’s questions, Trelan turned to the woods behind him and called out to his unseen companions, “Raniean, stand down. It is Strider and Elladan.” 

“You’ve brought Raniean?” Aragorn stepped from his hiding place behind the tree and clasped the smaller elf’s shoulder.  “Thank Ilúvatar you are here.  Legolas and Thranduil have been taken by...” 

The man’s words were cut off as a large group of elves surrounded them.  Trelan turned back to the ranger, questioning him before he could continue, “Legolas?  He is not with you?  You’ve seen King Thranduil?! Where is he?  Did he make it to your house?”  The alarm in the other’s voice caused the ranger to grimace. 

“No, he never made it to Rivendell,” Aragorn whispered raggedly.  “Orcs captured him, I don’t know how.  Legolas and I tried to get him out.  I was knocked unconscious when we attacked the orcs' lair and they took him again.  Now I fear they have them both.”  The ache in the man’s heart echoed in his words.  Elladan’s hand on his shoulder steadied Aragorn as the elves around them murmured softly in sharp dismay. 

A taller elf pushed to the front of the group. “Trelan, did you say you’d run into Strider?” The voice was Raniean’s and Aragorn smiled as he squinted through the darkness. 

The Silvan elves had yet to return the glow that marked them to its normally soft brilliance and Aragorn was having a hard time following all that was going on around him in the darkened forest. 

“Yes, I’m here,” he called out.  He jumped slightly as Raniean gripped his arm tightly in greeting, almost pulling the human forward a little in his strong grip. 

“Strider!  I am very glad to see you.” Raniean knew that where Strider was, Legolas was bound to be close. 

The ranger stumbled slightly as Raniean released him and he laughed softly. “Hey, how about a little light here, please.  I can hardly make you out.”  The jest brought a round of laughter from the elves that had gathered round and in seconds the forest was dimly lit with a gentle blue glow. 

“Where’s Legolas?” Raniean questioned, glancing around them. 

The ranger dropped his gaze, the smile slipping from his face as the previous conversation was taken up again. 

Trelan answered for him; “Strider says the warg riders have him and the King.” 

“What?” Horrified shock registered across Raniean’s fair features. 

“I’m so sorry.” Aragorn glanced back up, locking his gaze on the tall elven warrior. “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.  We freed King Thranduil and my father from the orcs who had taken them prisoner.  But when we brought down their lair, the explosion was so great that I was knocked unconscious.  I don’t know why they took Legolas and Thranduil but left me,” the ranger explained quietly yet again.  His feelings of guilt rose as the murmurs around them from the Mirkwood warriors increased.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized again, closing his eyes. 

Trelan gently touched the bandage that encircled the ranger’s head, seeing for the first time the signs of battle that the human carried. 

“It’s all right, Strider.  With all of us here we can get both of them back,” the smaller elf comforted; he smiled softly when the human glanced up. 

“He’s right,” Raniean nodded, clasping the ranger on the shoulder once more before stepping around the human and leading Elladan off to the side of the group.  Lowering his voice for the Noldor elf only, he questioned him further,  “How many are left?” 

Elladan turned aside and walked with the Silvan elf away from the others as Trelan and Aragorn talked amongst the warriors who were anxious to hear about all that had happened in the last few days and how the orcs’ hiding place had been brought down.  The pieces of the puzzle were finally beginning to fall into place, but the cost seemed to be proving very high. 

“It was hard to tell.”  Elladan shook his head, trying to remember.  “If I am not mistaken, there were at least five hundred riders sheltered in Daradwayn and half that many more foot soldiers.  When the cave came down we were at the back of the mountain.  From the looks of things, they probably lost half their contingent if not more.” 

“That’s still far too many for my liking,” Raniean confided.  “What’s happened to stir them up?” 

Elladan sighed and thought through his answer carefully. “They attacked Rivendell, diverted our warriors and took out the rangers that were encamped in the mountains.  The one who leads them has a vendetta against our household and my father was the target.  He wanted to use him to get to Elrohir and I.”  He did not explain the entire situation to the other. “I am sorry you were forced to get involved.  I admit I do not really understand why they took King Thranduil captive in the first place, although Estel believes it is because they thought he was someone else.  How many warriors do you have with you?”  Elladan asked. 

Raniean shook his head and sighed deeply. “Not as many as I started out with.  We were prepared for trouble, but not this much.  We thought some marauding band of orcs was terrorizing the pass... but we did not expect a full-blown army.  The King wanted to visit Rivendell.  It is odd, lately he has missed Legolas more than usual.”  The elven warrior ran his hand back through his hair, smoothing out the braids that fell elegantly in a knot at the nape of his neck. 

“We set out for your valley two weeks ago with a full contingent.  Then a day or two ago as we neared the northern pass, we were beset by a horde of wargs and orcs.  The fighting was close and the beasts knew of secret passages in the canyon around us that they used to devastating effect.   A fourth of my contingent fell.  We were prepared, but not prepared enough.  I knew the warg riders were nearby, but their numbers had almost tripled since I had seen them previously.  I did not realize that such a force of them had gathered.” 

Elladan raised an eyebrow, questioning the warrior silently. 

Raniean’s face was lined with frustration and sorrow.  “This is the second time I have tried to reach Rivendell and lost companions to those fell beasts.”  He sighed deeply before continuing wearily. 

“When the orcs attacked us we were split up.  I lost sight of the king but knew he was with some of my best warriors.  Later, after the fighting was over, I found most of them.  Quite a few were dead.  Several of them were wounded and I sent them home with a small guard to ensure they would survive.  No one seemed to know what had happened to King Thranduil.  We were all supposed to rendezvous that night if we were separated... he did not come.  We waited for him a long time before I knew we could afford to linger no longer and must press forward in search.  I had hoped that he simply had made it through and had reached Rivendell safely.  Now I learn that the haven was overrun and he is captive to those foul beasts?”  Raniean shook his head, feeling the weight of their failure.  “That is ill news.  We tried to retrace the paths our attackers had taken as best we could, but it backtracked so many times I fear we’ve lost it.” 

“But we haven’t.” 

The soft voice caused Raniean to jump slightly and he turned to find Aragorn standing behind him.  The human had quietly left the group of elves behind and sought out his brother.  Elladan leaned around the Silvan elf and smiled at the ranger.  He was the only human the twin had ever seen who could so completely take another elf off guard. 

“You know where they are?” Raniean turned around to fully face the ranger. “Strider, please tell me.” 

The man smiled softly and laid his hand on the elf’s arm.  “I do know and I can lead you there.  I have been tracking them.  I have a fair idea of where they have headed.  There is a granite shelf that lies to the north not far from here.  It’s surrounded by woods and is the perfect place for an encampment, plus it used to be an orc haven before it was cleaned out.”  The ranger’s gaze sought out his brother’s.  “They sing about it in the tales.” 

Elladan’s face registered surprise as he recalled the exact place that Aragorn spoke of. “Its true!  That’s where he would have gone.  It's one of the places we chased them from back then.  They would not have forgotten it.  It’s bracketed by hillocks that stand clear of the forest.  It won’t be easy to attack them there.” 

“You did it once.”  Aragorn’s open gaze, full of trust and faith in his brother’s abilities, warmed the twin’s heart.  He let the statement hang in the air between them, knowing full well that the Mirkwood elves that had gathered near once more would not know of what the brothers were speaking about. 

“Then we will do it again.”  Elladan replied quietly. 

“But this time you will have help,” Aragorn whispered, grasping his brother’s forearm in a tight grip. 

“What are you talking about?” Trelan interrupted. 

Raniean cut him off from further inquiry as he stepped next to the smaller elf and turned him back towards the direction they had come from.  “I think this conversation is a private one, Trey.  But I get the feeling that those two know a bit more than we do.” 

Aragorn laughed at the assessment as Elladan pulled him forward into a quick, fierce hug.  “Together,” he whispered in agreement. 

When his brother released him, the ranger jogged up beside the two elves, Elladan following quickly in his wake. 

“We do,” the twin said confidently.  “Let’s go hunt some orc.”  He smiled wickedly at the Silvan warriors as he and Aragorn raced past them, the ranger easily picking up the orc trail by the light of Elladan’s glow.  The brothers led the Mirkwood elves back, heading them in the right direction and setting them on course for the orcs’ hideout. 


Trelan eased over the edge of the grassy hill he had just climbed, lying flat out on his stomach next to the ranger.  As the smallest elf among them, he had been chosen to accompany Aragorn to spy out the warg encampment.  Both he and the human were smaller than the average elf and were able to easily hide in the long grasses that covered the hillocks they scaled. 

The valley below butted up against a granite cliff just like Elladan had remembered.  The fires of the camp burned low and the huge vats of mead and stew that the orcs had gorged on hung askew over the dying embers.  Smoke from the campfires hung low in the valley like a morning mist, but the hulking forms of the sleeping wargs and orcs were clearly visible. 

Standing out in stark contrast to their captors, two lone, blond-haired elves rested against the rock face. 

With a small gasp Strider caught sight of the two elves.  Automatically he grasped Trelan’s arm tightly.  Forgetting for a moment that the elf next to him was not Legolas, he tapped the warrior’s arm in a fashion that would have alerted the prince to look in the direction he was looking. 

“What?” Trelan whispered softly, not understanding what Aragorn was trying to tell him. 

“Oh, sorry.” The ranger quickly pulled his hand away from the other, remembering that not every elf understood the unspoken language that he was so accustomed to using with his brothers and his friend. 

“They are there, see.”  Aragorn pointed past Trelan’s face to the far right of the camp, redirecting the elf’s gaze.  “They are not bound.  Legolas is not...” The ranger’s voice trailed off oddly and he lurched forward slightly, horror gripping him.  “Trelan, Legolas is dead.” 

The small elf next to him started and glanced down into the valley in alarm. 

True, it seemed at first that both elves had passed beyond their help.  Thranduil was slumped against the rock at his back, his head resting atop the prince’s, his arms wrapped around Legolas and from their vantage point it seemed his eyes were closed.  The elf that Thranduil held in his lap lay still and unmoving; his eyes were closed as well.  It was obvious from the stripes on his exposed chest that he had been badly treated.  From this distance the human couldn’t see that Legolas’ chest rose and fell with his shallow breathing.  All he could see was that there was something unnatural about his friend.  Something he couldn’t explain.  It spiked fear through his heart. 

“No, Strider, they live,” Trelan tried to calm the man.  He reached out and tentatively grabbed the ranger’s coat near his shoulder, holding tightly to the extra fabric bunched in his hand to keep the human from moving.  They couldn’t afford to give up the element of surprise just yet. 

The ranger was shaking his head, a frown creasing his brow.  He couldn’t see what the elf next to him could. 

“No,” ge whispered softly, his voice choked.  This was what he had feared.   The warning that was screaming at him to move faster had now become a repeated condemnation chastising him – he had come too late, wasted too much time. 

Sliding backwards, Trelan pulled the ranger with him.  Aragorn was unwilling to leave and tried to fight the elf off.  At the bottom of the hill, Trelan crouched in front of the angry human, pinning him in place against the grassy slope. 

“They are alive, Strider.” He pushed hard against the man’s shoulders with his hands, emphasizing his words.  “They are.  I can see what you can’t.  Legolas was breathing and so was Thranduil.  They are asleep.”  He stopped the ranger’s argument with a glare before softening his words, “Trust me.” It was almost a command, but the pleading in the blue eyes that were riveted on the ranger begged the human to believe him. 

With a small nod Aragorn relaxed, sighing deeply.  He ran his hands back through his hair as Trelan released him.  Resting his head against the slope behind him he gazed at the elf crouched in front of him.  The worried look on Trelan’s face caused him to smile slightly. 

“We haven’t much time.  The sun will be up in a few hours and from the looks of it they consumed all the mead and food they had with them.  We have the element of surprise on our side.  I say we attack them while they sleep,” Aragorn leaned forward and whispered quietly. 

The Silvan elf nodded in agreement.  “What do you suggest?” 

“The trees.”  Aragorn glanced up into the forests that bracketed the backside of the small ring of hills.  “Half the elves should use the trees for cover.  From there they can shower arrows down into the bowl of the valley.  They should be able to take out quite a few before we attack them.  The chaos will be at maximum, orcs have been known to turn on one another in confusion when awakened in the midst of an attack.”  Aragorn returned the smile that was slowly forming on Trelan’s face.  “At that point we can rush the valley.  We need to take the wargs out.  The orcs will be easier to kill without their mounts as back-up.  I’ll head straight for the King and Legolas if you and Elladan help me cut a path towards them.  We need to get to them as soon as possible before they can be used as leverage against us.  Elladan knows what their leader looks like; we need to stop him first if we can.” 

The plan made sense and right now the small Silvan elf was angry enough with the orcs below that he was willing to do whatever it took to free his friend and his liege.  He had not wanted to tell the ranger, but Legolas had not looked well at all and he feared for the prince. 

Swiftly the two spies headed back to the contingent of Silvan elves waiting for them in the woods. 

Raniean nodded in concurrence as Aragorn and Trelan apprised him of the plan.  “It is good,” he agreed.  “But we must be careful to station ourselves downwind of the camp as we move into position.  Wargs are very keen of scent and I have made the mistake of not taking that into account before.  Let us be careful of it this time.” 

Aragorn agreed, it was a wise thought. 

As soon as the plan of attack had been agreed upon, the warriors split into two groups.  Raniean had his best bowsmen in the trees surrounding the orcs’ hideout, waiting on his signal. 

The elves that had been chosen to remain on the ground fanned out, encircling the small hillocks.  Aragorn climbed up the hill nearest the far side of the encampment and closest to Thranduil and Legolas’ position.  Elladan lay next to him, staring down into the camp.  A few of the wargs were awake now, lounging together on the southern side of the valley.  The orcs still slumbered on unaware.  Aragorn’s heart ached as he watched his friend and a silent fire of rage began to quietly build. 

Glancing at Elladan, the ranger gave a short, quick nod.  It was time. 

Elladan pressed up on his elbows and pointed at Raniean who glanced silently into the trees behind him.  Raising his hand, the young captain garnered the attention of every hidden elf.  Spinning on his heels, Raniean brought his hand down with a short swift movement and a deadly volley of arrows followed the arc of his command down into the valley. 

Just as Aragorn had predicted, the camp below them erupted in chaos.  The orcs thought they were safe in the valley bowl, expecting their wargs to warn them if anyone approached.  They had not taken into consideration the fact that their attackers would be elves or that the winds would be against them. 

Shouts and screams erupted from the encampment.  The growls and barks of wargs were accompanied by the angry commands of their masters.  Orc turned on orc in the ensuing battle as a second volley of arrows followed the first. 

Nearly in the wake of the flying projectiles, and closer to the streaking arrows than was acceptable to Elladan, Aragorn jumped to his feet and raced down the side of the hillock, heading straight for Legolas.  He charged into the midst of the chaos, cutting down the surprised orcs in his path.  Elladan followed closely behind, cleaving through the dark tide that folded in around the ranger. 

Seconds later, the ridges of the hills were ringed with elves running down their slopes to join the battle.  The archers maintained their positions, picking off troublesome orcs and targeting the wargs as they tried to join their masters. 

Guruth rose slowly from his sleeping place and glanced about him at the bedlam.  He had not expected the Noldor elves to regroup so quickly; he thought they had decimated their warriors more than this.  The influx of elves confused him for a fraction of second until he realized that these were not companions of the healer, these were those wood elves again. He had believed his underling’s reports when they said that the Silvan warriors had withdrawn back towards their home, thinking they had no reason to meddle in the affairs of this realm.  Obviously, that had been a mistake.  He glanced darkly back towards his two captives, stalking over to their position. 

Both elves were awake and watching the rescue attempt.  Thranduil had not moved as Legolas was in no shape to be up and had not the strength to even attempt to escape.  The King would never leave Legolas behind.  The elf king held his son tightly to him and prayed his warriors would reach them in time.  Legolas’ eyes were riveted to the spot where he had last seen Aragorn.  The ranger had fallen beneath an adversary and in the tumult of the battle, the elf had not seen him rise yet.  It was maddening for him, he wanted to jump up and help his friend... but he did not have the strength.  His injuries had sapped him critically and a deep, bone-gnawing weariness had taken hold of his limbs. 

The vicious slap from the orc leader took Thranduil by surprise.  He had not seen the orc approach them and he fell back under the abuse. 

“You are not the Balrog Slayer are you?” Guruth leaned over the elf and pressed his blade against the king’s throat.  “Who are you?” 

Before Thranduil could answer, the orc standing over him was thrown off-balance.  One of the elven warriors in the trees around the camp had targeted the warg rider.  The arrow that pierced the evil creature's tough leather armor did not reach his skin, but the force of the projectile was enough to send Guruth staggering to the left. 

Legolas gathered his strength and kicked out at the orc, tripping him as he stumbled. 

“Father, go!  You must escape!”  Legolas tried to move away from Thranduil.  He desperately wanted his father to reach the safety of the elves that pressed towards them, even if he knew he could not. 

The prince, however, had not inherited his stubbornness from his mother, and Thranduil would be damned before he left his son’s side.  “No.” The elf king rose stiffly to his feet, pulling his son up with him. “We both go.” 

Legolas protested the movement.  Nausea spun through his head like waves and it was difficult for him to stand. 

Behind them, Guruth regained his footing, jerking the arrow from the leather buckler and tossing it aside.  He lunged for the elf king once more, grabbing Thranduil from behind and bringing his scimitar up underneath the elf’s chin. 

Slowly Thranduil released Legolas and allowed the younger elf to ease back into a sitting position.  He was not strong enough to fight and keep them both safe.  He was injured and still battling mild poisoning.  On top of that, he had been giving Legolas everything he had to offer. 

“Since you aren’t the Balrog Slayer, then there is no reason to keep you alive.” Guruth growled viciously. Thranduil felt the blade bite into his throat and closed his eyes. 


Aragorn heaved the dead orc off of him and started to pull his blade from the vile creature’s chest.  He ducked, leaping aside just as another rider bore down him, swiping at the place where he had been standing only moments before, trying to decapitate the ranger.  An arrow from Elladan’s bow tracked the warg and lodged in the creature’s hindquarters, sending the mount tumbling and spilling its rider. 

Everywhere the ranger looked, elves were engaged in battles with the remaining orcs and wargs.  Trelan raced past Aragorn, calling for the ranger’s help.  The human turned swiftly, following the smaller elf’s path.  It was then that he saw what had Trelan so upset.  Guruth was holding a blade to Thranduil’s throat with every intention of killing the king.  Forgetting his weapon, Aragorn raced after the elf. 

A bright red line traced the elven king’s neck where the knife rested against it.  Aragorn knew that Trelan would never reach them before Thranduil was dead.  Rushing forward, the ranger drew his hunting knife mid-stride.  He shouted at Trelan to drop. 

The Silvan elf fell to the floor of the valley as he heard the shouted warning just as Aragorn’s blade whistled through the air inches from where his head had been.  The knife pierced Guruth’s hand, causing the orc to drop the weapon he held on Thranduil.  With a howl of pain he shoved the elf away from him and fell into a crouch, his gaze seeking out the owner of the blade.  His dark stare fell on Aragorn and he pulled his lips back in a feral sneer.  It was the same ranger that he had specifically told his men to kill.  If the golden-haired elf wasn’t the Balrog Slayer he was no good to Guruth, but the younger elf was almost always with the ranger.  If he could no longer hurt the healer and his sons, then he would make the ranger pay for everything.  His vengeance needed an outlet and right now he didn’t care who his wrath fell on. 

With a low, guttural growl Guruth pulled Aragorn’s weapon out of his hand and scurried towards Legolas.  Kicking Thranduil away from the wounded elf, he pulled the prince up. 

Trelan reached the granite shelf seconds before Strider did.  He raced to his liege’s side and placed himself between the king and the warg rider, his sword held before him in a defensive position, his left hand gently touching his monarch, reassuring himself that his king lived.  A dark hail of orc arrows assailed their position and Trelan shoved the King down quickly, covering his liege protectively with his own body. 

“Trelan, don’t worry about me, go!  Don’t let him kill Legolas.”  Thranduil was beside himself with fear as he watched Guruth roughly pull the prince to his feet and drag him backwards, aided by the covering fire from some of his minions. 

Trelan was torn; he did not want to let anything happen to his friend, but his first responsibility was to Thranduil’s safety and he could not leave his King. 

“Ada!”  Legolas whispered.  His protests cut off as pain spiked through his awareness, momentarily shutting all else out. 

Strider leapt onto the low granite shelf between the Sinda elf and the orc, straightening slowly from his crouched position.

“Trelan, see to the king.  I’ll get Legolas back.”  Aragorn did not even spare a glance at the elf lord.  He was singularly focused on Legolas whom the orc was now using for a shield.  The elf king’s pleadings were lost as the world narrowed down to the prince and the vile creature that threatened his already weakened state.  There was no way he would allow his friend to be hurt any further if he had anything to say about it. 

Aragorn advanced on Guruth, his bow trained on the orc’s left eye.  The warg rider kept himself well hidden behind the younger elf as he backed away from the enraged ranger.  The blade he held at Legolas’ throat bit slightly deeper as he was forced to hold the elf up in front of him. 

It was hard for Legolas to stand and his back was on fire as he was held tightly against the orc behind him and dragged away.  Some of the deeper cuts he had sustained while the wargs played with him had broken open and were bleeding once more.  Consciousness flitted about him, rolling through him in waves and escaping when he tried to focus too hard. 

“You let him go now I or swear upon the Valar, I will kill you,” Aragorn cursed quietly as he slowly moved forward.  The bowstring was tight in his hand and the arrow that was strung was centered on Guruth’s good eye. 

A gurgled chuckle was the creature’s response, “And I suppose if I let him go you’ll spare my life.” The comment was sarcastic and meant to incite. 

“You’d be surprised,” Aragorn muttered.  He really didn’t know what he would do if Guruth gave up using Legolas as his shield; he hadn’t thought that far ahead.  Right now he probably would have abandoned the orc and let someone else hunt him down.  The shape that the elf was in set a fire in his heart that was consuming him.  It wouldn’t be long before it was too far spent and he carried through on his threat anyway. 

The warg rider was no fool and had been slowly working his way out of the midst of the fighting.  If he could get separated enough from the other elven warriors, he fully intended to kill the captive elf and his human friend.  He did not know the relationship the golden-haired elf held to the Noldor elves that he hated, but the human seemed to value this one’s life and Guruth was sure that the ranger was not just simply another human because of how often he had seen him go in and out of the healer’s house, often living there for long periods of time. If it hurt Elrond, Glamferaen and Dehlfalhen, then he would gladly slit both these beings' throats and he had no doubts that he could overpower them once they were away from immediate help.  His eyes sought out his warg companion and he silently called her to come with a small tip of his head. 

The slight motion was completely lost on the ranger, as Legolas tightened in Guruth’s grip, fighting back the pain that was slowly overwhelming him. It wouldn’t be long before he would simply pass out.  Aragorn saw his friend slipping away and had an idea, an off chance that might or might not work depending on how far gone Legolas was. 

Calling out to the elf in his native tongue, Aragorn gave the prince a quick warning, “Legolas, leitho a danno nan talaf!  Let go and drop to the ground!” 

The sound of Aragorn’s voice barely registered through the hazing buzz of darkness that dragged at the elf, drawing him down.  If Aragorn wanted him to give in to it he would; he was tired and the thought of being beyond all that was going on and just resting was too tempting to resist.  His father was safe and right now that was all that mattered; Aragorn would take care of the rest. 

Cerithon, mellon-nin,” Legolas whispered as he released his hold on consciousness. “I will, my friend.”

The elf went limp in the orc’s hands and slid towards the ground.  Guruth suddenly found himself dragged downward as he tried to hold the now unconscious elf up before him.  He was nearly far enough away from the others and he could see Mrdhdúk making her way towards him quickly through the battlefield.  His grin turned feral and he started to let the elf drop, his blade raking towards the prince’s jugular vein. 

Everything slowed and stilled.  Time stopped and the sounds of the battle behind him faded out as Aragorn realized what Guruth’s intentions were.  He was going to slit Legolas’ throat and make the ranger watch.  The elf’s chin caught on the point of the blade as he slipped from the orc’s hands and Guruth stumbled slightly as he pushed the prince forward, intending to impale him. 

Aragorn advanced, his eyes trained on the orc.  It seemed to him that he was barely moving so intent on his prey was he, when in fact the ranger’s perspective was simply skewed.  Guruth jerked back unintentionally, shoving the elf at the human that raced towards him.  The cry of rage that broke from the ranger’s throat matched any that the orc captain had heard in his lifetime and it chilled his blood. 

With deadly accuracy Aragorn let the arrow fly from his bow.  He was less than twenty yards away when he targeted the black-hearted creature and the shaft of the projectile buried itself fully into the orc’s head.  Guruth dropped to the ground and did not move, his body draped over that of the wounded elf he had threatened. 

“No!” Aragorn skidded to a stop by Legolas and fell down next to the still elf.  He pushed Guruth’s dead body away from the prince and quickly assessed the elf’s injuries.  Sitting down on the ground, the ranger gently turned Legolas over and pulled him into his lap. 

“Legolas.”  He touched the pale face and winced slightly as his fingers came away with the elf’s blood on them.  The cut to the prince’s chin flowed freely and dripped down his jaw line.  There was so much blood there that he couldn’t tell how bad the wound was and was almost afraid to check.  Legolas’ eyes were closed and Aragorn felt his heart clench inside of him.  Shakily, he reached out and placed his hand over the prince’s heart gingerly, feeling for the heartbeat that he prayed would be there. 

It was. 

With a sigh, Aragorn leaned over and rested his forehead wearily against Legolas’.  “Mellon nín, I need you to wake up.  It is over.  Come back, Legolas,” he quietly whispered to the elf he held. 

All else had faded from his world for a moment until he felt hot breath on the top of his head and the threatening growl of a warg near his left ear.  Slowly Aragorn sat back up, only to find himself staring straight into the snarling face of Guruth’s mount.  The warg’s ears were laid back against her massive head and she bared her teeth in a feral grimace.  Saliva dripped between her fangs and her breath stirred the ranger’s hair when she snorted.

The ranger froze, barely breathing.  He had dropped his bow and his sword had been lost in the fighting.  If the warg wanted to kill them, there was precious little stopping her.

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