Siege of Dread

Chapter 9: A Hole in the Sky

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Guruth stared at the tokens for a moment, his jaw muscles working tensely.  “You idiots!  You weren’t supposed to kill anyone!  They were to be taken alive!” Guruth growled with murderous rage.  The wargs closest to the arguing orcs silently got up from the fire ring and moved away.  It was best to let their masters fight things out themselves.  “Who was responsible for this?” 

No one answered; not a creature in the room even met the angry gaze of the orc that questioned them. 


“It was unfortunate, my lord, an accident,” the scouting party’s leader finally replied.  His answer was rewarded by a backhanded slap from Guruth.  The force of the blow threw the other to the ground. 

“YOU SLOBBERING MAGGOT-BRAINS!  I ought to feed you all to the wargs!  I wanted them here, like him,” he jerked his head towards Thranduil.  “HERE!”  He pointed to the ground beneath his feet, “So they could suffer, so he could suffer!”  Guruth pointed a crooked, black finger at Elrond, his gaze hot enough to bore holes through his own troops. 

“But they was just elves and now they are dead ones,” another orc from the firepit on Guruth’s left whined quietly, “You’re always saying that’s what a good elf is: a dead one.” 

Lunging at the orc who had spoken, Guruth barely restrained himself from killing the warg rider.  Guruth’s warg, Mrdhdúk walked slowly up behind her master and butted her head into the small of the orc’s back, whining softly.  It was often left to her to calm the leader when fights broke out; rarely could anyone else reach through the orc’s rage. 

Turning quickly, Guruth struck out at the beast behind him.  Mrdhdúk ducked the blow and growled, baring her fangs.  She only barely tolerated his outbursts.  The creature was loyal, but it was ill-advised to push her.  Grabbing the large, furry head of his mount, Guruth stepped alongside her, petting the tiny, flat ears as he held her to him.  He addressed the orcs guarding Thranduil and Elrond, his voice low and menacing. 

“Cut that one down and get them out of my sight.  We’ll just let them think about their futures for a while.  See to it that no one touches them tonight.  That is, if they stay where they are put and do not try to escape; if they do, then you can kill them.”  He leveled a dangerous gaze on the elven lords, “Otherwise, whoever spoils them will make a nice breakfast for Mrdhdúk.  And some of you slugs go back for the bodies of the other two; if they’re dead I want to SEE it, understand?” he barked out the question. 

Murmured assents reached his ears and he stormed out of the main hall heading for his private chambers, his warg companion close on his heels. 

“We killed many elves, why’s he care so much about those brats?” an orc soldier wondered out loud after their leader had left the cavern, his single question breaking the silence.  “We’ve already got one playmate for his prize.  I thought he said he was after...” 

Tmarkz walked past the orc's position and clouted his fellow rider on the head, cutting him off.  “Are you as stupid as you look?  Think about it, fool.”  He continued on, retiring to his own corner of the room for the night.  His mount, however, did not heed his call.  The warg glanced back towards the passage leading to the pool room. 

Shelzahk hadn’t forgotten that there was something in the underground cistern that had bothered him and he was intent on finding out what it was before he bedded down.  A growled question elicited a shrug from his handler.  Tmarkz didn’t care what the beast did. 

The orcs on either side of Thranduil released the thick cords that held him just above the floor.  His hands were bound in front of him and he was dragged part way around the cavern to be thrown to the ground next to Elrond.  The gaping passageway leading to the pool room was fifty feet to their left, but it might have well as been fifty miles for all the orcs and wargs that lay between them and their closest means of escape, had they even known it was a means of escape. 

For a few moments Elrond simply continued to lie were he had been dropped.  His mind and his heart were reeling nearly as painfully as his body.  He was in a state of semi-shock both from the abuse and the horrible tidings that had caused Guruth to fly off the handle. 

When Thranduil was thrown down next to him, the Sinda winced visibly and rolled into a partial sitting position, leaning against a boulder.  He hugged one arm tightly to his chest, his face pale and his gaze somewhat glassy now that he was not faced with any orcs to defy. 

Elrond’s brows furrowed as he saw the Elvenking’s blood-soaked sleeve and the many raw gashes and lacerations under the torn clothing.  Apparently the orcs had had a difficult time taking him, and not been gentle with the captive after they had succeeded.  The Noldo had to wonder how on Arda Thranduil had gotten here.  He should have been in Mirkwood, many leagues distant.  His thoughts mirrored Thranduil’s earlier because the Sinda was literally the very last elf he would have expected to see right now.  His presence was both surprising and distressing. 

“What are you doing here?” the Lord of Imladris ventured quietly, trying to keep his worn voice low enough to not be noticed by their captors.  If thinking that Thranduil was Glorfindel kept the Elvenking alive for the present, then Elrond was not about to shatter that illusion. 

Thranduil grimaced, but kept his eyes shut for the moment.  “That is a very long story,” he murmured, but did not elaborate further.  Talking seemed to be an effort for him. “What about you?” 

Elrond sighed numbly.  “Another long story.  Rivendell was invaded.” 

Thranduil looked alarmed, and ill.  “I knew some evil was afoot, but I never dreamed...” He rubbed his forehead with his bound wrists.  Perspiration glistened dimly on the blond elf’s face and his breathing was rapid.  “Is Legolas...” 

Elrond could tell something was amiss.  His attention was drawn back to Thranduil’s injured, blood-stained arm.  “I do not know.  He and Estel were all right the last time I saw them.”  Elrond swallowed the hard thought that for that matter, the same was true of Elladan and Elrohir.  Elrond focused his attention back on Thranduil, trying to block the other crushing thoughts from his mind.  He could not deal with them.  “You feel ill?” 

Thranduil did not answer.  He did, but he would not admit to such. 

Instinctively, the healer reached out with bound hands, pushing the ripped garment back and looking the injury over carefully.  The cuts were deep and painful and Thranduil had no doubt already lost more than a safe amount of blood.  The worst news, however, was that they were poisoned.  Not the dark, deadly morgul poisoning that would kill swiftly; this was a lesser variety that might not prove fatal even without treatment, but it would surely sap the other elf’s strength and make him very ill. 

Elrond had nothing to work with and little enough left inside him to give, but that didn’t keep him from trying.  Placing his bound hands against the other elf lord’s injured arm he wrapped his long, bloodied fingers around Thranduil’s bicep and tried to offer what he could to fight the poison. 

Thranduil blinked, his pain-dulled eyes springing quickly back to life as he felt the tingling influx radiating from the healer’s touch.  Clarity returned as he sensed the grip of the poisons working on him loosen and ease.  Then he realized Elrond’s hands were trembling against his arm and his gaze snapped to the elf lord’s face.  Elrond’s bruised face was pale and his eyes were starting to glaze and roll backward. 

Daro!”  With a soft cry, Thranduil pulled his arm away and scrambled back a few feet, as much as his bound hands and injuries allowed.  “Stop!” 

Surprised at the sudden disconnect, Elrond tumbled forward a little before he caught his balance again.  The dark-haired Noldo blinked several times, clearing his head and his vision as he tried to discern the reason for Thranduil’s abrupt reaction.  “Are you all right?” 

“Am I all right?” Thranduil shook his head, his eyes dark with recriminating alarm.  He did not know Elrond well, but even so, he had never seen the other elven lord looking so drained and empty.  “I am not the one who looked ready to pass out a moment ago.  Do not do that again.  I... I appreciate what you were trying to do, but you are in no condition to be giving so much so freely.  Save your strength, you need it more than I.”  Thranduil tried to gentle his usually authoritative manner of speaking at the last.  

Elrond exhaled in weary disgust, falling back to let his head and shoulders rest against the stone wall once more.  “So much?  I can give almost nothing right now.” The elf was badly frustrated by his own incredibly limited abilities.  Not just because of his drained and weakened state, but because of the warrior’s role he had been forced to take.  Elves had the choice, to be healer or fighter, but they could not be as powerful in both at the same time.  Elrond’s foray into warrior mode had weakened his healing abilities a little and they would take a bit of time to return to full strength.  If he lived that long. 

It was for that reason that Elrond had long ago forsaken warfare in favor of strengthening his already above average healing skills.  His sons preferred to walk in both worlds, healers and warriors, but their own powers could never match his because of that choice.  Except perhaps Aragorn someday, since his heritage did not bid him choose between great strength in one realm or the other exclusively. 

Thranduil shook his head.  What he had felt was hardly ‘nothing’, although he knew he himself did not have a quarter of the healing power of the Noldo.  “Now you sound like my son,” he muttered quietly, but with the hint of a smile.  “Perhaps it is not only your human ward who has been a bad influence on him.” 

Elrond gave a single, half-amused chuckle.  “Oh, so Estel has been a bad influence on Legolas has he?  I rather thought it was the other way around.” 

Thranduil glowered at any suggested slight against his only child, but he knew Elrond was no more serious than he had been. 

“Do you... think they are all right?  Legolas and Estel I mean,” Thranduil asked quietly a moment later, his unease gnawing at him again as flickering traces of his nightmares replayed in his mind.  He instantly regretted the question; realizing too late the agony of loss that it would bring back once more to his companion. 

Elrond stared unseeing into the darkness, his thoughts flying back to the orcs’ terrible words not long ago.  His sons they said...  They would not have known about Estel, but Elladan... Elrohir... a small, stifled tremor shook his shoulders.  No, he couldn’t think about that.  He couldn’t imagine them gone.  In his current state, it would break him.  His head fell forward a little, loose brown hair spilling down around his face.  People looked to him, they always looked to him, even Thranduil was looking to him now for some kind of wisdom to get through this, some kind of hope... but Elrond didn’t know if he had any anymore.  Not for himself, and not for anyone else.  Foresight had failed him and he was sure of nothing at the moment.  He only knew what he wished in his heart. 

“I don’t know.  I honestly do not know,” he whispered quietly. 

Thranduil sat uncomfortably still for several moments, having no idea how to react to the dark, despairing waves of pain that were radiating off the other elf.  Then he hesitantly reached out and laid his hand on Elrond’s taut shoulder, despite the pain that caused his injured arm as it was obliged to move along with the other because of the bonds around his wrists. 

“I’m sorry about your sons,” he said at last.  It was a little awkward, as he was not normally given to highly emotional displays with people whom he was not closely acquainted, but he wanted to say something to try to help.  “You are very strong.  I-I think I should lose every last shred of reason in my body if Legolas...” his voice choked off.  He had thought he lost Legolas several times in the past, and once it had very nearly killed him. 

Elrond smiled faintly, acknowledging the other elf’s effort, but the pain did not leave his eyes.  “They didn’t say if Estel was with them,” he murmured.  “They wouldn’t have thought a human worth the mention, but I cannot imagine his allowing himself to be left behind...”  Elrond feared he had lost all three sons today.  His second fear, that Legolas would have been left behind no easier than Estel, remained unvoiced.  There was no need for Thranduil to share the weight of crushing uncertainty and anguish that was devouring him. 

“And if none of us return... what will that do to Arwen?” the elf lord’s voice was soft and almost toneless in the depth of his shock-numbed state.  He had lost his whole family, his parents, his twin, eventually his wife and now even his sons... he did not want Arwen to go through that pain as well, but it seemed inevitable at this point. 

Thranduil’s hand tightened on his shoulder.  He didn’t have any answers, knew of nothing that could make something like this any easier.  All he could offer was to be there and somehow hope that would help. 

Elrond closed his eyes and leaned back against the cool, rock wall behind him.  Everything hurt and he needed to rest.  They were given a reprieve for the night; he needed to make the best of it.  Part of him knew he had the very simple choice to not wake up tomorrow, or to keep fighting.  At the moment the former was a tempting option, but not one he was ready to take.  If there were a chance for survival he would remain in the world for Arwen and for Estel if he yet lived.  He just needed to rest so his mind would clear.  Darkness stole his last waking thoughts from him and he shifted slightly as he gave into sleep that was more unconsciousness than rest.  He was too tired to fight even that.

Thranduil watched the other elf with growing worry.  He knew from experience there was only so much a heart could handle and wondered if Elrond had met his limit.  Secretly, selfishly he hoped not. 

The faintest of whispers reached the elven lord’s ears and Thranduil turned his head slowly towards the darkened doorway several stone throws away from him. 

When the arguing had broken out, Aragorn had raced back to the front of the tunnel, peering out into the main chamber.  He wanted one last chance to free his father and Thranduil.  He wasn’t yet convinced that they were entirely hopelessly outnumbered. 

Legolas followed, intent upon keeping the human alive.  As much as he wanted his father free of the orcs, he understood that they needed help badly, or at least a decent plan. 

Pressing as close to the threshold of the opening as was possible, the two companions resumed their previous positions, with Aragorn on the left and Legolas in the shadows on the right.  The ranger’s dark clothing blended much better with the boulder’s coloration than the elf’s attire did. 

When news of the twins’ deaths had been reported it was nearly one blow too many for Aragorn.  The human flinched physically; he clenched his eyes shut tightly and staggered back a step.  In one fell swoop his family seemed to have been decimated and he had been unable to help, stuck in the bowels of the mountain trudging through Dwarven water tunnels.  It was too horrible for words.  Drawing in a ragged breath, he met Legolas’ eyes.  The elf’s hand on his elbow helped to steady him. 

“You do not know that they speak the truth,” Legolas barely whispered, his words precise since he knew that Aragorn read his lips.  The raw pain in his friend’s eyes created a hot lump in the elf’s throat. 

A slight nod was all the response the ranger gave.

As Guruth left the cavern, the two friends pressed back into the recesses, crouching low to avoid being seen by the wargs that were now returning to the room, having been stirred up by their handlers’ arguments. 

“We must go for help,” Legolas mouthed as he slid back to the opening and watched his father being removed from the manacles.  His heart clenched within and he burned with hatred as the foul creatures threw the elf lord down out of his line of vision.  The events of the past few hours swam dizzyingly through his head threatening to overwhelm his heart.  Pushing his emotions aside he focused on the room.  There were at least one hundred orcs and wargs between them and their fathers, not counting the hundreds upon hundreds beyond that.  They could not free the elf lords but, from what Guruth had said, Legolas guessed that for at least the next twelve hours their fathers would be safe. 

They had the element of surprise on their side, they only needed to find help, and fast.  “We cannot free them or survive an attack on them as we are.  They will not touch our fathers until their leader awakens.  We need help.” 

“They have father, my brothers are... could be... dead!  Who do you think will be left to come?” Aragorn’s voice was choked. 

Legolas shook his head when Aragorn resisted his logic.  “Listen to me!” The elf whispered fiercely, “All of Rivendell cannot have been wiped out.  Your household has survived; some of them had to have!  I cannot believe your brothers would have come alone, and even if so, someone had to have been with my father, he never travels alone.  We need to go for help. At the very worst we will fail to find anyone and can still come back alone and attack them as they sleep tonight!  We would stand a better chance in a few hours anyway.  I found a back door, we can leave and return and they will never know.  But we must hurry.”  His voice softened as the ranger turned a tear-stained gaze upon him.  “Estel...” 

“I know,” the man whispered raggedly as his breathing hitched.  “Let me look on him one last time before we leave so my heart may rest at ease and know that he is alive.”  The ranger’s eyes implored his friend, “Legolas, please...” 

With a nod the elf accompanied Aragorn back once more to the end of the tunnel. 

Shifting as far out into the room as he possibly could, hidden as he was by the boulder, Aragorn quietly watched his father where the elf lord sat slumped over against Thranduil.  Elrond’s eyes were closed and Aragorn’s heart beat wildly.  Softer than most beings could hear, the ranger called to the elven kings. 


There he had heard it again.  Thranduil slowly turned to gaze into the darkened recess.  His elven sight allowed him to barely make out the form of a man crouching near the boulder that partly blocked access to the tunnel. 


Thranduil glanced back at Elrond.  The elf lord had fallen asleep resting against him.  “Cuia, penneth.”  Thranduil whispered softly, his gaze returning to light on the human. “He lives, young one.”  The sight of Strider in the orc hall brought a blossom of hope to the king’s heart.  Where the human was, his son was bound to be as well.  If Aragorn were alive, then the chances were high that Legolas was also.

Hannon le,” Aragorn barely whispered. “Thank you.”

A slender, pale hand wrapped around the ranger’s mouth and drew him backwards causing the man to flinch slightly, surprised at the touch.

“Quiet.  The wargs will hear you.” Legolas’ breath stirred the hair near Aragorn’s ear as he pulled the human back against him, intending to drag him all the way out of the tunnel by force if necessary.  He was horrified when Aragorn had begun to speak.

Wrenching Legolas’ hand from his mouth, the ranger turned in the elf’s grip, his face nearly touching the prince’s as he whispered fiercely, “You can speak to your father. I was!” 

The desire to see his father safe overcame his hesitancy and Legolas inched past Aragorn, encouraged by the ranger who crept behind him. 

Thranduil, watching the opening as intently as he was, did not see the large dark shape that stalked silently towards the passage. 

Shelzahk, already intent on returning to the pool room, had heard something as well.  He knew his master had overlooked what his sharp ears were telling him.  There were intruders in the cavern.  Alerting the orcs would be unwise until he had made sure his assumptions were correct, however.  The smaller beasts had a nasty habit of taking out their aggressions on their mounts if they were awakened unnecessarily.  Stealthily the warg crept forward, his senses trained on the opening. 

Leaning into the room, Legolas’ eyes locked onto his father’s and a small smile lit his face, mirroring the bruised and bloodied one on his father’s.  “Ada,” he mouthed silently. 

Thranduil smiled in relief.  “Legolas,” he mouthed back. 

Faced with his father’s injured and bloody visage, Legolas felt his heart tear deeper.  For a few moments he understood Aragorn’s burning compulsion to rush in there and brave any odds rather than suffer their dear ones to be hurt even the slightest bit more. 

Despite his own misgivings a moment ago, Legolas was about to question the older elf further when Aragorn saw the warg who was stalking slowly towards their position. 

“Legolas, now!”  Aragorn grabbed the back of the elf’s tunic and raced back down the passageway.  The ranger’s clumsy tug on the prince’s clothing unbalanced the elf and he threw a look over his shoulder at his father once more before retreating hastily after the human.  He barely caught sight of Shelzahk as the beast’s bulk filled the tunnel opening behind them. 

“Where is it?!  Legolas, the back door, where?”  Aragorn grabbed the elf as Legolas stumbled into him.  “Tell me there is a back door,” he whispered fiercely. The ranger’s eyes grew huge as he saw the dark form barreling towards them up the passageway.  

“Yes, this way!” Legolas shifted around the human and raced for the veiled opening. 

Drawing his sword, Aragorn stood between the way out and the warg that had caught their scent. 

Shelzahk’s battle senses were on alert, his lust for blood was heightened and this cat and mouse game fascinated him.  There were intruders in his lair.  He moved forward slowly, his thick muscles tensing for the killing spring when he rounded the bend and found the human standing in his path.  Baring his teeth he loosed a deep, low growl and stalked forward. 

“Legolas?!” Aragorn called over his shoulder, his sword held before him as he backed up. 

“It is here!” Legolas’ muffled voice called back to him. “Hurry, before we are discovered!” 

“I think we’ve been discovered,” Aragorn muttered darkly under his breath as he continued backing towards the sound of the elf’s voice.  He glanced over his shoulder towards the elf who stood in front of the closed door.  “Open it, Legolas, quickly!”  They tried to keep their voices as low as possible so as not to alert anyone else. 

Darthag,” Legolas muttered distractedly.  “Patience.”  He hurriedly scanned the rows of runes before him; he had not been given the chance to decipher them earlier.  The added pressure now did not help his concentration. 

An sahtatalyë i lúce o naugrim ar eldar,” Legolas murmured aloud.  “To crack... to open the enchanted - enchanted dwarves and elves?  No, enchantment OF dwarves and elves,” Legolas stumbled quickly through the translation, wishing to goodness for the first time in his life that Quenya was one subject he had studied a little harder in his youth.  All the extra little words were confusing and different from the word-order oriented speech with which he was most familiar. 

“Legolas!”  Aragorn’s voice was alarmed as the warg backed him into the mist.

“I’m trying!  You get down here and read this; you probably know more Quenya than I do!” Legolas snapped in frustration. 

“Love to, I’m a little busy,” Aragorn murmured back as he feinted right, watching as the warg snapped its head that direction, following the move, and then following him back.  Growling low in its chest the beast pressed closer into the passage.  It knew it had its prey cornered and enjoyed the scent of their fear as he closed in for the kill.

Querelye anto rôm ar quenelye lambello i naugrim... Turn you... giver??  No, face, your face... east and speak in the tongue of the dwarves.” Legolas finished hastily.  He turned the proper direction, then stopped.  The subsequent inscription was Dwarvish, but he knew little or none of that language and could not even decipher the runes.

“Estel!  Can you read ancient Dwarvish?” the question was urgent.

Aragorn caught his foot on a snag in the floor and nearly stumbled.  The warg started forward.  “Speak, yes, read, no.  Legolas!  Now would be a good time to leave...”

Legolas gave the stone a sharp blow with his fist, urgency fueling his despair.  The only Dwarvish words he knew were curses, and right now he was frustrated enough that he muttered a few choice ones under his breath. 

The prince nearly jumped backward when the stone in front of him split silently open and swung outward.  “Well...” Legolas blinked.  Either any Dwarvish word would do, or the inventors of this particular gate had a crude sense of humor. 

“Aragorn, quickly!” he called to his friend as cool, fresh air flooded the passage. 

Sensing his prey was suddenly close to escaping, the warg pounced forward, his mouth snapping shut on air as Aragorn sidestepped and thrust his blade into the creature’s front leg, slicing through the muscle.  Shelzahk howled in pain and slammed his head hard to the left, crushing the human between the rock and his thick skull. 

The air was compressed from Aragorn’s lungs as the warg flung him against the tunnel wall, pressing him hard into the rocky surface.  With his free hand the ranger punched downward, striking the animal’s soft nose. 

The creature recoiled, slamming its head into the top of the passageway and lurching sideways.  Given the small reprieve, Aragorn stumbled into the mist-veiled tunnel.  He held his left arm tightly across his hurting chest, his sword gripped in his right hand as he made for Legolas’ position. 

The elf stood in the portal now, just outside the secret doorway he had opened.  The moonlight framed his hair an even softer shade of blond and it seemed that the elf’s natural glow had brightened considerably as he motioned for the ranger to hurry.  Seeing the shape his friend was in, Legolas rushed back into the tunnel and grabbed the ranger about his waist, allowing Aragorn to lean on him for support.  Together they scrambled back to the door and safety. 

Shelzahk had recovered from the stinging blow and rushed into the now opened corridor.  The hair on the back of the warg’s shoulders stood on end like a black, jagged razor as he tracked his prey into the tunnel.  Blood ran in rivulets down his leg from Aragorn’s attack and saliva dripped from his fangs and open mouth as he snarled at the fleeing elf and human. 

From deeper in the cavern, several other wargs howled in answer to his cry.  In moments their escape was not going to be much of a secret.

Gaining the threshold of the doorway, Legolas shoved Aragorn through the opening.  The ranger stumbled into the woods that braced the east side of the mountain, breathing heavily in the cool night air as he tried to catch his breath.

“Legolas!” his shouted warning was in vain as Shelzahk leapt for the entrance.

But the elf was no longer paying attention.  He had to get the gate closed!

Ar i andor quenelye lambello i eldar... he remembered the last line, even if he didn’t have time for a literal translation.  The doors opened by a Dwarvish word, but were meant to close for an elvish one.

“Solo!” Holding up one hand he called for the gates to close in his native tongue.  Nothing happened.  Quickly realizing his mistake he swiftly wracked his brain for the Quenya equivalent.  “Táce!” was all he could come up with, although he wasn’t sure that was entirely correct.  It must have been close enough because the Dwarven doors slammed shut without hesitation.

Unfortunately the doors weren’t fast enough. Shelzahk had nearly cleared the opening when the thick entry swung shut, trapping the warg half in and half out of the tunnel.  The beast’s claws dug into the dirt raking up the forest floor in an attempt to squeeze through, but the rock doorway held it fast.  Shaking his head in frustration and growling at the two creatures in front of him, Shelzahk tried vainly to free himself. 

There was no way they could leave the warg wedged in the opening as it was. The orcs were sure to find the back door and track the ranger and the elf from there.  As it was the orcs might be able to track the warg to the hidden passage, but if the door were sealed tightly they would never get it open.  Quickly grabbing his bow from its resting-place on his quiver, Legolas strung two arrows and targeted the animal’s skull.  In seconds the warg lay dead at his feet. 

“We have to get it out of there.” Aragorn leaned on Legolas’ shoulder for support as he stepped back near the foul beast.  With a slight nod the prince commanded the doors to open once more.  Shelzahk’s bulk fell into the doorway as the rock entry released it. 

They were running low on time.  It was a miracle none of the other wargs or orcs had come upon them yet as it was.  The ranger dropped to one knee and began digging through his pack.  Handing over a coil of elven crafted rope to the prince, he took one end and tied it off about the warg’s head and shoulders. 

“We have no time to waste; we need that door closed.”  He grabbed the end out of Legolas’ hand and stepped deeper into the woods.  Swiftly finding a young tree with a medium-sized girth he ran the rope around its base, using the sapling for leverage. 

The elf’s sharp ears heard footsteps in the passage beyond.  They had to hurry; the mist curtain would hide them momentarily from sight, but the wargs would smell them any moment. 

Catching onto his friend’s intentions, Legolas grabbed the rope and helped the ranger pull the dead carcass out of the doorway.  With both of them pulling it took only a few moments, though they felt like ages.  As soon as the warg was out, Legolas re-closed the doors with a quiet command.  The rock sealed itself perfectly, invisible to any and all who might pass that way.  And not a moment too soon.  Just as the doors were clicking shut they heard the voices of orcs in the passage. 

“Come on, get back you,” an orc voice snapped, presumably at a warg.  “I told you you was waking us all up for nothing, see?  What got them wargs all stirred up do you think?” 

“I’ll be a bloody pig before I know,” a second voice returned.  “Look for yourself. There ain’t nothing there...” 

Then the stone sealed completely and they could hear no more. 

Legolas breathed a sigh of relief. 

“We’ll never find it again,” Aragorn stated softly as he searched vainly for cracks or crevices in the rock that would identify it as the doorway through which they had just passed. 

Legolas leaned heavily on the warg, gazing at the mountain’s side.  His leg was throbbing, he had almost forgotten it was injured, but it was reminding him now.  Vocally.  Worse though, he couldn’t shake the worry that gnawed constantly at his heart – he had just sealed his father in an orc lair.  He only hoped that he was right and that they would have the time they needed.

“I will be able to find it.”  Picking up his bow the elf strung a single arrow and loosed the projectile.  The tip of the weapon struck into the dirt near the right side of the door, driving straight through the loose ground until it hit rock.  Only the fletching of the shaft protruded and those nearly blended with the vegetation that decorated the mountain. 

A few minutes more and the two friends had dragged the dead warg far enough into the woods to make a casual discovery of the animal’s death impossible.  Legolas walked stiffly back to the carcass and threw the pile of leaves and branches he had collected onto the beast’s back, helping to camouflage it in case anyone should stumble across it accidentally. 

The prince’s limp had gotten worse even though he tried to hide it and Aragorn noticed that the elf was wounded more than he was letting on.  The ranger quickly scoured the forest floor for a large enough branch to obscure their path with and walked back to where Legolas sat waiting for him. 

“Let us move away from this place and then I would see to your wounds.” Aragorn stared hard at his friend. 

“I am fine.”  Legolas stood easily to his feet.  If the ranger had not known him better he would have believed the elf. “I only needed to rest.” 

“Right.”  Aragorn led them deeper into the forest, away from the mountain in a westward arc around its base. “I’ve heard that before.”  The ranger found a small clearing and stopped on the edge of the meadow.  The night was still and cool about them.  The crickets chirped in the deeper shadows of the forests and the sounds of small animals could be heard as they scurried about their business.  They were alone and the woods were relaxed; it was a good place to stop. 

Indicating a large boulder, Aragorn pointed to it and told the elf to sit.  Legolas contemplated refusing but when he met the ranger’s gaze he realized he would be wise to give in; they weren’t moving on until he did so.  He was also very aware of the fact that he did not know where they were.  Their travels through the mountain in the dwarven aqueduct had disoriented him and the feeling unnerved the elf.  He could not remember the last time he had lost his way. 

“Aragorn, do you know where we are?” Legolas questioned softly.  He watched as the human cut the tear in his leggings open more, exposing the jagged wound to his left calf. 

The ranger gently probed the slash; the edges of the cut were inflamed and hot to the touch.  Whether that was from the aggravation of their long, wet trek, or because the arrow had been poisoned but the drug diluted and dulled by the hours they had spent slogging through the cold water beneath the mountain, it was impossible to tell.  Legolas should have said something to him about it earlier, but of course he hadn’t.  Aragorn knew Legolas never did.  The ranger was irritated with himself that he had almost completely forgotten his friend’s injury during the course of their underground journey.  He should have tried to see to it sooner, even if there was almost nothing he could have done for it while it was being constantly submerged. 

“I can find out.  Give me just a minute,” Aragorn responded absently as he smeared a thick lotion into the wound.  Most of his herbs were soaked and would be useless until they dried, but the vials he carried were still intact.  The substance stung and Legolas fought the urge to flinch. 

As if expecting the elf’s reaction, Aragorn’s hand firmly wrapped around the prince’s ankle and held him in place, "Give it a moment; the sting will fade.” He spoke softly as he worked. He had found through the years that it helped to keep the other person preoccupied and focused on something else other than themselves. 

Legolas stretched his leg out as the ranger finished tying off his calf with a piece of wet cloth.  The bandage was cold but it felt good against the heat from the cut. 

“You were saying you could find out where we are?”  Legolas took Aragorn’s hand and the man helped him stand to his feet, “How is that?  And do not think we are leaving until your wounds are dressed.  I cannot afford to have you sick.  I need you well for I have no clue where we are.” 

Aragorn laughed softly and allowed himself to be pressed down on the rock Legolas had just occupied.  He slipped out of his leather jacket and pulled his tunic off over his head before gazing into the sky.  “Yes, I can find out where we are. I just need to find them...” His voice trailed off as he searched the darkened canopy overhead. 

Brushing the ranger’s hair away from the wound, Legolas bandaged Aragorn’s left shoulder where the orc arrow had grazed his back and gently spread the stinging liniment across the scratches that decorated his shoulders and sides. 

Moving slightly to get a better look at the stars that were blocked by the trees overhead Aragorn answered Legolas’ unspoken question: “There! There they are. I know where we are now.” 

“Stop moving or I will make this hurt,” Legolas cautioned as he clamped his hand down on the man’s collarbone, holding him still as the elf finished applying the bandages.  “Now who or what are you talking about?” Legolas straightened and looked up into the sky, trying to follow Aragorn’s gaze. 

“The Twins,” the human said softly, a momentarily husky and distant tone in his voice. 

Legolas glanced quickly at the man next to him, not missing the tone or the words. 

“There, see them?  The twin stars?”  Aragorn carefully ignored his friend’s scrutiny, his voice attaining a certain level of normalcy once more.  He shrugged back into his tunic with a small groan; his muscles were beginning to stiffen up from the scratches and cuts he had accumulated.  “The two side by side, that are almost identical in size and color?” 

“Are they blue?” Legolas searched the starry heavens to see what his friend was seeing.  His gaze landed upon two brightly shimmering blue-white stars that hung beside one another just above the tree line on their left. 

“Yes, those are they.” A small smiled played across Aragorn’s lips.  After a moment he realized that Legolas was watching him questioningly.  It was obvious there was something more to what the ranger was thinking right now than just celestial navigation. 

Aragorn stared up at the twinkling lights as he explained, “When I was young I fell out of a tree and broke my arm.  The other children teased me and I ran away and got lost in the woods.  By the time father found me I had become ill from being out in the cold and the rain.  After I healed he took me back into the very woods where I became lost and showed me those two stars.” 

Legolas glanced at his friend out of the corner of his eyes.  The ranger was no longer seeing the sky as it was tonight; it was obvious that he was remembering a day long ago when times were safer and simpler and his father was hovering near.

Unaware of the scrutiny, Aragorn continued softly, his voice barely a whisper so as not to disturb the forest around them. “Those stars are called The Twins.  Elrond told me that they were Elladan and Elrohir, holding lamps to show me the way.  He said that if I were ever lost again, all I had to do was find them and they would lead me home.  They sit in the sky directly over Imladris, and he said that Ilúvatar must have bid them be placed there because He knew I would need them to guide me.  Ever since then, whenever I loose my bearings I just wait for The Twins to appear in the sky and I know where home is.”  The ranger’s voice trailed off, leaving an aching silence.  He had never imagined a life without his brothers to tease him and worry over him.  If what the orcs said were true... then a dark hole had been ripped in the starry sky of his heart and two of the bright guiding beacons he depended upon were gone.  That thought hurt so much more than he was willing to let himself dwell upon at the moment. 

With a quiet sigh Aragorn glanced back at Legolas, “Home is that way, my friend.” He pointed behind them to the west.  “And if there is any help to be had we must find it quickly; we only have until dawn.” 

“Perhaps help has found you.”  The sound of a soft, deep voice on their right startled them and Legolas quickly brought his bow up, training it on the darkness at the edges of the meadow.

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