33. Friends in Need
The sweet chill of night vanished swiftly when the sun cleared the horizon. The day was barely begun, but already temperatures began to climb sharply. The winds that had wandered the desert in the company of shadows died away, feebly stirring up a few pockets of dust ere vanishing completely. They would return in the evening to create twisting columns of flying sand, but until then, the sun and the heat held sway. None could contest their authority, and any that dared—men, beasts, and elements all—soon learned the folly of their actions.
Wiping away the growing sweat on his brow, Arhelm whispered quiet words to his straining mount, urging the gelding to even greater speeds as he and four other riders raced across the desert wasteland. None of them had yet said a word of dismay or concern, but spirits were dropping quickly. Even the horses could sense it, and the proud arch of their necks was disappearing as a sense of desperation began to creep over the group. They were too far from Haradhur to make for the city, and their only hope for survival this day lay in following the dim trail that had led them north and west during the night.
When Eomer had sent ten riders into the desert with Arhelm as their commander, he had not been overly explicit in his instructions. They were to head northeast and look for signs of the men who had taken Legolas and Gimli. Any possible leads were to be followed, if possible, a rescue was to be staged, and they were to return to Haradhur come dawn. These rather broad orders had gifted the riders with a certain amount of latitude in what actions they chose to take, and most Rohirrim had a knack for creative interpretation of vague directions. Arhelm was no exception.
Halfway through the search for Legolas, Gimli, and their captors, one of the riders had discovered a trail of hoof prints leading west. A quick debate had been held, for the point was raised that Lord Legolas and Lord Gimli might have been transferred to horseback so as to facilitate transportation, especially if the elf and dwarf were unconscious. But the Rohirrim could not be certain of their theory, for the faint imprints in the sand only gave numbers of horsemen, not types. This trail might have been made by traders who had nothing to do with Khurintu, Gondor, Rohan, or anyone else. But the possibility still existed, and such a possibility could not be ignored. After all, Eomer had ordered that all opportunities be explored.
In the end, Arhelm had divided the company evenly, taking four riders with him and following the new trail while the other five continued along the original path under Eos’s leadership. This decision would probably not meet with their liege’s approval, for the king had authorized a group of ten riders with the idea that ten could mount adequate defense in addition to possibly creating an opportunity for rescue. But Eomer had never directly forbade them to separate; therefore, it could be justified. If there was one area of creative interpretation in which the Rohirrim excelled, it was pushing the limits of their commands.
Unfortunately, it seemed that fate had turned against them this time. The gamble had not paid off, and now Arhelm was not entirely certain of their location. Even if they tried for Haradhur, they might veer too far to the east or the west and miss it completely. And their steady gallop had born them many miles along their current path. They were too far away for any to see them or for any to find them and come to their aid. If search parties were dispatched—a rather unlikely possibility—they would not stray more than a mile or so from the city during the day, particularly with temperatures so high already. No, their only chance at the moment was the dim hope that somewhere along this trail they would find water and shelter. If they didn’t…
Arhelm flicked a quick glance over his shoulder and evaluated the condition of his riders. They were tiring, as were their mounts, and the heat was sapping their remaining strength quickly. The horses were breathing much harder than they should have been, and sweat was beginning to trickle down their legs. And as for the men, two seemed dazed and were becoming pale while the other two looked as though every ounce of water in their beings was now devoted to perspiration. It was only a matter of time before someone hit the sand, and once they stopped, they would probably be unable to resume the journey.
Shouting meaningless words of encouragement, Arhelm gave his horse his head, hoping against hope that the gelding would find what they needed. His mount snorted and tossed his head, confused by this new tactic, but he seemed to realize what was happening and picked up his speed. The other horses followed, for they were well trained and did exactly as the lead animal did. Even though their riders were now faltering, they would not. It was their duty to bear their masters as far as they were able, and if they sacrificed their lives in the process, so be it.
Thus, they continued beneath the morning sun as the desert began to burn with heat. Reaching for his saddlebags, Arhelm found his water skin and brought it toward his lips. It was warm to the touch and very little water remained in it. The Rohirrim had traveled light in the hopes of quickly catching those who had taken Lord Gimli and Lord Legolas. Now it seemed that this gamble had been a poor one, and fate continued to frown upon them. With a sigh, Arhelm uncorked the skin and drank the last of his water. It was unpleasantly tepid and did almost nothing to quench his thirst, but at least it was something. He heard similar actions being taken behind him, and judging from the sounds made, he decided that all the riders had just exhausted or nearly exhausted their water resources for the night. It was now up to the horses.
Strangely enough, that thought gave Arhelm some comfort. In truth, his stocky gelding was the one creature in whom he felt he could place absolute trust. No matter how the forces of chance and misfortune had arrayed themselves against him, he and his mount were together. Together, they could overcome. And even should they die together, neither would have to be alone afterwards.
Arhelm blinked, wondering exactly how his thoughts had managed to stray from what was happening around him. Still, as he focused his mind once more, it was really little wonder that he had lost touch with himself. The world was beginning to turn into a white blaze that both intrigued and chilled Arhelm. He was no longer hot but clammy. He did not feel sweat trickling down his back. In a rather abstract sense, he realized he was probably only moments away from blacking out due to the heat, but he was powerless to do anything about it.
"Captain!" the same rider called, sending his horse abreast of Arhelm’s. "Captain, look ahead!"
It required a great effort of will for Arhelm to turn his eyes forward. The sheer monotony of the desert landscape had eliminated his desire to see more of the land that was about to witness his death. But somehow, marshalling the legendary pride and tenacity of the Rohirrim spirit, he managed the feat. The horizon was blurred and shapes seemed to be leaping about through the narrowing tunnel that was his vision, but despite this, far in the distance, he made out what appeared to be several small shapes on horseback riding away from them on the trail that they’d been following. It was such dramatic change from hours of nothing but endless wasteland that he nearly cried aloud in surprise. And beyond these tiny shapes, he could swear that he saw…
"Water," Arhelm murmured, the word barely escaping his parched lips.
"Sir, it could be an illusion," the rider warned.
"Illusion or not, we are spent," Arhelm answered. "There is no other hope for us. Onward!" he called, his raspy voice somehow carrying to his men. "Onward, for we are nigh unto relief!"
How they did it, Arhelm never knew. He lost all sensation of movement, and even the faltering strides of his horse went unnoticed. Later he would learn that his men felt likewise, some more and some less. None were in any condition to be riding, and were it not for the loyalty and wisdom of their horses, all would have been lost. But after a time, it seemed to Arhelm that they were gaining upon the travelers before them. And as they began to draw closer, he made out markings and colors upon their flying robes. Markings of the Khurintu tribe. It also occurred to him that the water he’d seen was not an illusion but rather a lake. A rather familiar lake…
"Nurnein!" one of his men hissed. "Captain, it is Lake Nurnein!"
Arhelm froze, and the gelding beneath him slowed his gallop to a canter in response. Nurnein? It seemed impossible. Nurnein was the last hidden lake on the north-south road before one reached Haradhur. Had they really come so far from the city? Granted that it was difficult to judge distances in this desert. Endless stretches of sand had a tendency to baffle the eye, and there was also the fact that those living here used time as a standard of measurement rather than the physical length between landmarks. Beyond that, their journey between Lake Nurnein and Haradhur had been interrupted by a sandstorm, which made the distance even more difficult to judge. But Nurnein…
Still, Arhelm could no longer deny the evidence before him. They were clearly approaching Lake Nurnein. But if this was indeed the case, then they were far too removed from Haradhur. It would be well into the middle of tomorrow’s night ere they could return and report to their king, and the command to report this night had been one of Eomer’s few specific orders. Their liege would not be pleased with them, and that was assuming they could even survive the day. No shelter awaited them at Nurnein, and even with the presence of water to soothe their parched throats, they would be without shade from the sun unless some of the Haradrim were willing to take them in. And considering the current attitude toward foreigners, that seemed an unlikely prospect at best.
"Captain, your orders?" one of the riders in back asked, his voice sounding weak and distant.
My orders, indeed… Arhelm closed his eyes and murmured a quiet curse. Because they could not return to Haradhur, the Rohirrim forces in the city would be diminished. Moreover, it might be assumed that Khurintu or another tribe had attacked and killed the missing riders, which would only make an already volatile situation worse. But at the moment, there was no help for any of that. Arhelm’s choices had been poor ones, but they could neither be corrected nor atoned for. Not yet. For the moment, he had to consider their own situation as well as the fact that they might not live to see nightfall.
"We ride for the lake," Arhelm said quietly. He had not the energy to make his voice any louder. "When we arrive, we drink our fill despite the traditions of the Haradrim, and we seek what shelter we may find. Should we live to see the close of the day, we will to return to Haradhur with greatest haste, leaving before the sun has set completely."
"The king will not be pleased, sir," one commented.
"Nay, he will not," Arhelm murmured. "Let us hope we might live to endure his wrath."
"Sir, what of those we are following? They bear the colors of Khurintu."
The captain fixed his eyes upon the distant riders and sighed. "It does not appear that they transport prisoners. We will continue to follow them, but that is all we can do, for none of us are in any condition to confront them. At the moment, our own safety is paramount." Arhelm shook his head wearily and then nudged his horse back into a gallop. "Ride! We have not much longer ere we can continue no more."
And so they rode, steadily gaining upon those they had been following but neither noticing nor caring. The heat and the sand had subdued them more thoroughly than any opposing army had ever managed to do. Not even the dark whispers and maneuverings of Saruman had so completely conquered the proud Rohirrim. Their only thoughts were of water, shade, and rest. Loyalty to the king and honor for the realm had disappeared as their minds deteriorated beneath the onslaught of the sun. In every sense of the word, they were defeated, and all that remained for them to do was to retreat and regroup as best they could.
Had they kept watch upon the Khurintu tribesmen before them, they might have taken comfort in the knowledge that their quarry was as weary as they. By now, the pursued could clearly see the pursuers, but like the Rohirrim, the riders of Khurintu were too exhausted to worry that they were being followed. Their only aim was also the lake, for the sand was becoming as hot as coals beneath their horses’ hooves and the animals were beginning to stumble with weariness and haste. Both groups had spent too much of the morning in the open desert.
Several minutes later, Arhelm’s gelding suddenly snorted and shifted to the side mid-gallop. Blearily, Arhelm summoned his exhausted mind back from the brink of unconsciousness. Looking around, he managed to clear his eyes long enough to discover that they were now less than a mile from the lake. Relief filled his mind at the thought of the water that waited, but relief did not last long when he turned his eyes to the Khurintu tribesmen. They had reached the lake, and some were filling water skins and quenching their thirst. But others, having already tasted the water’s sweetness, had turned to meet the coming Rohirrim, their hands near the sword hilts and their mounts dancing.
Arhelm heard the murmurs of his men as they also saw what was coming, but there was naught that could be done. They were outnumbered, and they were too weak to force their way through. To turn aside and seek another portion of the lake would be fruitless, as Khurintu was certain to follow. Having reached the water first, they were more than prepared to prevent the Rohirrim from gaining access, and the Rohirrim were in no condition to contest them.
Hope died in Arhelm’s heart, withering away as a drop of water caught in the unforgiving glare of the desert sun. But as hope died, resolution grew. The Khurintu tribesmen would be victorious, of that there was little doubt. But Arhelm intended to see that they sorely regretted the price they paid for victory. Drawing his own sword, he raised it defiantly and cried aloud in the tongue of Rohan. Behind him, his men did likewise, shouting challenges as their mounts picked up speed in a last, desperate charge. And at their cries, there was a sudden stir in the many tents that surrounded Lake Nurnein.
His face was grim, but inwardly, Arhelm smiled. Let the Haradrim come forth and see his final battle. He would show them the power of the Rohirrim, and perhaps he would raise doubts in their minds. Perhaps he would gain respect for his king. Perhaps in this small way, he might make amends for failing to return when he was ordered to do so. It would certainly not remedy all the problems that his disobedience would cause, but it would help. And at this point, that was all he could do for his king and his country. Now that there was no hope for survival, the desert held no power over him, and his desires for water and rest were eclipsed by the resurgence of his unswerving loyalty. With his dying breath, he would make these Haradrim pay!
So caught up was he in these thoughts that he almost missed what happened next.
The tribesmen that faced the Rohirrim suddenly turned, and cries of battle echoed behind them near the lake. A group of men had emerged from one of the tents and had commenced an attack on the Khurintu riders. Fresh from shade and water, the newcomers quickly overwhelmed the weary Haradrim. Rested horses, silver lances, and bright swords caught the light of the morning sun, and the group of Khurintu tribesmen scattered even as they were cut down. The confused Rohirrim arrived just in time to see the last of their would-be attackers flee toward a collection of tents further down the shore of the length. Dumbfounded, Arhelm could only watch in weary disbelief as a protective circle formed around the staggering Rohirrim, preventing any of the distrustful Haradrim from taking advantage of their bedraggled state.
"Well met, captain," a voice called out, and a tall rider broke from the encircling group. "Arhelm, is it not? Yours is a welcome face in this land. Mayhap you can explain some of the rumors that have reached us."
Arhelm blinked and stared, his sluggish mind attempting to comprehend all that had happened. Heat and thirst were once again manifesting themselves in his body, and he could no longer hold them off. "Prince Imrahil?" he whispered, feeling that disbelief could go no further.
The prince’s eyes narrowed and he moved as though to speak, but at that moment, Arhelm’s body gave out. He dimly felt himself toppling forward, and he heard voices rise in sudden alarm. A few embers of pride flared to life, informing Arhelm that Rohirrim warriors did not fall from their horses, but he decided that pride was simply not worth the effort. Too weary to respond to the voices that called him, Arhelm slipped into blissful darkness.
His last thought before succumbing to the oblivion of night was the hope that someone would take his horse to the water.
His hair drenched and his eyes filled with tears, Legolas slowly lifted his head from the cave’s pool and murmured his thanks to the Valar. Water ran down his neck and beneath the collar of his tunic in long rivulets, spreading its healing touch to his chest and back. It raced over his bare arms, soothing the burns caused by the harsh strokes of the sun, and worked its way down to his legs, ensuring that its cold touch caressed every part of his body. Yet even that did not seem to be enough after the heat he had endured, and he moved as though to throw himself completely into the pool’s embrace and sink beneath the surface.
But before he could do so, a quiet moan beside the elf drew him back.
"Gimli…" Legolas whispered, guilt rising swiftly as he realized that he had all but forgotten about the dwarf. Taking no more thought for himself, he hurriedly turned to his friend and laid one hand upon his brow while the other immediately felt for a pulse. As sick as Gimli was, the heat might have killed him, and this thought filled Legolas with such terror that his stomach turned within him, threatening to expel the water that had moments before provided him with such joy.
But beneath his shaking fingers, Legolas found the rhythm of Gimli’s racing heart. The pulse was erratic and weak, but it was there. However, the dwarf’s skin was uncomfortably hot to the touch. Burning, almost, and it was not from prolonged exposure to the sun. His fever had grown dangerously, and it alone might be enough to send the dwarf into a sleep from which he would never wake.
Panic seized the elf. If circumstances remained unchanged, Gimli would not last much longer. The dwarf needed proper food and rest. Food was out of the question at the moment, and lying upon a cold, rocky floor did not seem like rest to Legolas. Beyond that, he needed medical attention. Not just basic field medicine, but the care of a skilled healer, and for that, he needed Aragorn. Legolas knew the rudimentary procedures for broken limbs and shallow stab wounds. He knew how pull an arrow and set a dislocated shoulder. But he did not know the first thing about treating mortal ailments, and given the severity of Gimli’s illness as well as the conditions…
Whatever relief the elf had once felt upon finding the cave was now gone, and feelings of claustrophobia and creeping shadows began to take his heart. He glanced with longing toward the cave’s mouth where a small amount of light revealed the burning rocks beyond the safety of their shelter. Some of this light reflected off the black surfaces and managed to give Legolas a bit of light with which to see, but it was not nearly enough to thoroughly examine Gimli. But he could not take the dwarf toward the light, for the heat grew as one approached the entrance, and Legolas would rather keep Gimli as close to the water as possible. But here in the back of the cave, he might as well have been working blind, and this, coupled with his feelings of fear and ignorance, only served to make his growing panic worse.
Focus, he told himself firmly. Throughout the entire frantic escape, he had managed to keep his concentration, allowing for almost nothing in the way of distracting emotions. He could not afford to lose that edge now. For Gimli’s sake, if not his own, he had to remain completely and utterly calm. But it was so difficult with the return of hope. They had a chance at survival now, and this chance was destroying Legolas’s poise. Earlier, when it seemed that fate had appointed them to die in the desert, the elf had felt that there was nothing to lose in using extreme measures. But against all odds, they still lived, and there was a possibility that they could both continue to live. Yet that shall not be if I cannot control myself! Legolas scolded furiously.
Taking a deep breath, Ithilien’s lord stilled his thoughts and slowly exhaled. He felt the tension drain from him, and he collected himself within the center of his mind as he had been taught to do while training as a warrior. Fear and doubt still existed, but they could be ignored for the moment while he tended to other things. And having regained some of his focus, the elf turned back to Gimli.
The first thing to be done was to cool the dwarf’s temperature, for it was dangerously high. Legolas had never felt a fever so violent, though he hoped that this might be because he had so little experience with fevers in general. Still, he had seen enough to realize that Gimli’s greatest peril at the moment was his burning brow. Reaching down, Legolas seized the lower portion of his tunic below his belt and tore off a long strip. He dipped it into the pool and then placed it over the dwarf’s forehead. He then tore another strip of cloth from the base of his tunic and also submerged it in the cool water. Pulling it back out, he began to wash Gimli’s face and neck, working primarily from memory and touch as there was too little light for anything else. Loosening the dwarf’s shirt, he opened it and began to wash the chest before moving on to the arms. He did not know how much this helped, but he could think of nothing else that might aid his friend. He considered the idea of submerging Gimli in the water, but he discarded that thought when he remembered the infection in the dwarf’s leg. Should that contaminate the pool, they would lose their only source of drinking water.
Legolas ran his rag over Gimli’s upper body a second and a third time before he was satisfied that he had managed to lessen the fever slightly. The dwarf was now too wet to accurately measure his temperature, but his breathing was no longer quite so labored. The cloth on Gimli’s brow was beginning to warm, though, which meant that the fever still raged. After removing this cloth and soaking it in the pool once more, Legolas placed it back on the dwarf’s head before steeling himself for what he knew he had to do next.
The cause of the fever had to be treated. There was no way around it. Regardless of Legolas’s ignorance in the ways of healing, he had to care for Gimli’s leg or the fever would only grow worse and the infection would spread until it could not be cured. The thought of attempting to heal the dwarf frightened Legolas more than he cared to admit, for he knew well that his hapless bumbling might cause more harm than good. Beyond that, the lack of light in this cave meant that everything would have to be done by touch. Even Aragorn might flinch before such circumstances, and he had the training of Elrond to back him. Legolas had only his desperate desire to see that Gimli survived this experience, and he had very little hope that this desire would compensate for his lack of skills. But that could not be helped now. The dwarf was running out of time.
Moving his hands to Gimli’s swollen right thigh, he loosened the tunic sleeve that he’d tied around the leg just below where it joined with the hip. Then he placed his hands upon the bandage that covered the wound itself and carefully began to unwrap it. Leery of ripping away protective scabs or of further tearing the skin, Legolas forced himself to have patience and to move with painful slowness, but it was difficult thing. By the time he completely removed the bandage, he felt he would go mad. But he was compensated when he could detect no trickle of blood from the wound. Somehow, his desperate efforts in the desert had managed to staunch the bleeding. A spark of confidence crept into his mind, and feeling slightly better, he moved to the next task.
His confidence died with painful abruptness and when he put a hand on the dwarf’s uninjured leg so that he might compare the size of the two limbs. The right leg was now twice the size of the left, and the swelling felt as though it extended to the knee and the calf. Legolas could also feel heat emanating from the wound, and with a surge of fear, the elf realized that the leg should probably be lanced.
Lanced?! I am barely able to set a broken bone! How shall I go about lancing such a wound when I cannot even see the leg!? Legolas squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered. He had never seen it personally, but he had heard stories of infections that were not lanced and consequently spread until they corrupted the entire body. But he had also heard stories of infections that were lanced improperly and resulted in the patient’s death. What if the same happened here? What if Legolas could not control the bleeding? What if he cut too deeply? Or what if the infection did not drain? What if it had already spread too far and lancing would cause greater complications? What if there was nothing to do but wait because Gimli was already past—
The elf stopped himself before he could get much further with that thought. Redirecting himself onto things he could control, Legolas once again ran his hands over the wound and grimaced. He was not entirely certain of his judgement, but he felt that the odds were against Gimli’s survival if the wound was not lanced. It needed to be drained, and hopefully the infection would be drained with it. But he would not act when the dwarf lay unconscious. Without light, he had no reliable way of monitoring the effects his actions would have. He could listen to Gimli’s breathing and keep a close watch upon his pulse, but these indicators were already compromised by weakness. They were no longer reliable measures of the dwarf’s condition. If this was to work, Legolas would need Gimli conscious and coherent. He would have to lance the wound while the dwarf was awake.
Waves of guilt pulsed through the elf as he laid a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder and shook it gently. He had no right to ask this of his friend. Aragorn would be able to do this while Gimli slept, sparing him further pain. But Legolas was not as skilled, and because of his lack of training, Gimli would be forced to suffer needless torments. Yet the elf could not chance doing this any other way. It was simply too dangerous. He was already doing much of this based on guesswork and vague memories of having seen similar procedures. Though this would involve adding to Gimli’s agony, Legolas’s fear of making a deadly mistake would not allow him to do anything else.
"Gimli?" Legolas whispered gently. "Gimli, can you wake?"
There was no response.
Fear crept into his throat and formed a lump, making it difficult to swallow. Once again, his treacherous mind posed the question as to whether or not it was already too late. But Legolas shook these grim thoughts off and continued his efforts to rouse the dwarf. "Gimli, you must wake," he said. His voice was level, but he was unable to hide the note of desperation and urgency. "Gimli!" he tried again, shaking the dwarf’s shoulder a bit harder. "My friend, answer me!"
As before, the dwarf did not answer nor give any sign that he had heard. A greater fear began to take Legolas’s heart, and a strange heaviness weighed upon his chest. Unnatural darkness swam before his vision and his stomach began to churn, rejecting the water that had saved his life.
"Gimli!" he shouted, his cry echoing off the cave’s walls. "Gimli, if you can hear me, you must respond! In the name of Ilúvatar, answer!"
And quietly, scarce to be heard, Gimli moaned.
Legolas nearly sobbed in relief. The breath he did not know he’d been holding exploded from him in a choking gasp, and he clutched one of the dwarf’s hands tightly to his chest, bowing his head as his shoulder shook. "Thank you," he whispered. "That was a start, my friend. A good start. But now I need more. I know it is difficult, but you must wake."
Gimli moaned again and shifted, tensing slightly at the movement as though in pain. The dim light that filtered into the back of the cave caught fluttering eyelids, and after a moment, it reflected off of the eyes themselves. But there was something wrong. Legolas could not be certain—for it was quite dark—but Gimli’s eyes seemed to be drifting in and out of focus. It was almost as if…The head injury! Valar, I had nearly forgotten! And the fever shall only make it worse. Perhaps I—
The hesitant voice seemed to be torn from the parched lips, and it lacked the depth and power that normally characterized the dwarf. But Legolas did not notice this, so relieved was he that Gimli recognized him. Or rather, the dwarf recognized the elf’s voice, for it was unlikely that he could see much in this darkness. Even had it not been dark, his sight would have probably been blurred. The blow to his head only two nights previous would still be affecting him.
"I am here, my friend," Legolas assured the dwarf, taking Gimli’s hand in his own and squeezing it tightly. "Peace. I am here."
"I…I can not see you." The voice was weak, and if such a thing could be possible for one so brave, Legolas would have said that the dwarf was frightened. The very thought made him wince, and terror once again surged through his body. In the seven years he’d known the dwarf, he could count on one hand the moments in which Gimli had openly displayed fear.
"I am beside you, elvellon," Legolas assured him, fighting to control the worry in his voice. "It is dark here, and there is little light. Be at peace. You are not meant to see me now."
"Do you remember the rocks I mentioned earlier? The dark rocks to the south?" Legolas asked. "That is where we are. I found a cave." The elf picked up the rag he’d been using to wash the dwarf and dipped it in the pool. "I also found water."
"Yes, water," Legolas confirmed, running his damp cloth over the dwarf’s face. Gimli groaned at the action and relaxed beneath his friend’s touch, making no attempts to protest the attention. That by itself was enough to double Legolas’s concern.
"Thirsty," Gimli murmured, almost sending the elf into shock with this admission.
"A moment," Legolas answered weakly, attempting to keep a façade of calm and quiet while his mind staged a full-fledged panic attack. Somehow managing to maintain his focus, he tore yet another shred from the lower half of his tunic and dipped it in the water. Cupping a hand around it so as to hold in as much moisture as possible, he turned to Gimli and slid one arm beneath his back.
"Legolas?" Gimli questioned. "Legolas, what are you—"
"Hush," Legolas commanded gently, lifting the carefully dwarf as he did so. When Gimli’s lower back rose off the floor, Legolas stopped and brought the dripping cloth to the dwarf’s mouth. "Suck the water from this," he instructed. "I fear to move you more than necessary, and I have no other way to transport water."
The dwarf, though, seemed to have no qualms with this method of drinking for he instantly began draining water from the cloth, his body going limp as he did so. Legolas sat still until the dwarf finally released the tunic shred and shifted. "My thanks," Gimli murmured, his voice clearer now. "We…you said we are in a cave?"
"Yes, we are," Legolas said, lowering the dwarf back to the ground and placing a hand on his shoulder. "Would you like more water?"
"Perhaps in a moment," he muttered. He shifted beneath the elf’s hand, and Legolas could feel him tense. "How do we fare? I feel that something is amiss."
"You are correct," Legolas sighed. "Gimli, the infection in your leg has grown and is raising your fever dangerously. I believe the wound must be lanced, but…I am uncertain of how to go about this. Have you any experience in these matters?"
The dwarf was silent, and then Legolas felt him shake his head. "I know very little. I have seen it done before, but I have only done it once myself."
"Then you know more than I," Legolas confessed thickly.
"A fine pair we make," Gimli grumbled. "It cannot be delayed?"
"I fear it may already be too late."
"Then I suppose there is little to lose," Gimli said, his voice carrying a forced note of brevity.
"How did you intend to do this?"
Legolas swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to suppress his irritation that Gimli seemed to be handling the situation better than he was. "I am open to suggestions," he admitted quietly.
Stunned silent met this announcement, and then Gimli sighed. "Would that Aragorn were here," he muttered.
The elf dropped his head. "I apologize for my lack of skills, but there is naught that can be done about that now. I am sorry."
"Nay, you misunderstand," Gimli answered, and something in his voice caused the elf to look up and study as much of the dwarf’s face as he could see. "I wish for Aragorn so that I might have a witness to this. No one will ever believe me when I claim that you asked me for advice. And knowing your haughty elven pride, you will deny that it ever happened."
For a moment, Legolas could not react, so confused was he by this response. Then a flash of hot anger flared in his heart, and his hand upon the dwarf’s shoulder tensed. "I do not believe that this is the time for jests, Gimli."
"If not now, then when?"
"Perhaps in circumstances less dire," Legolas said sharply.
"Circumstances less dire have no need of jests," the dwarf returned. "The tension runs so cave in this room I could slice it with my axe. I do not want to have you lance my leg in your current condition as you are far too upset. Therefore, I sought to calm you with jests. If I cannot manage the feat, then you must do so yourself. Still your thoughts, Legolas. Release your frustration and guilt. They do not help you now, and they might harm me."
Had Legolas been in a more relaxed state of mind, the sheer irony of the situation might have reduced him to uncontrolled laughter. A badly injured dwarf was telling an elf to pause for a few moments and relax. The very idea was so ridiculous that it would have been dismissed outright by anyone who did not witness the scene for themselves. Unfortunately, Legolas was too caught up in fear and concern to see the humor in what was happening, and his anger at the dwarf only increased. "Gimli, we waste time. We need to—"
"You need to use those vaunted elven talents of concentration and cease trembling!" Gimli interrupted sternly. "Your hand shakes upon my shoulder. It is bad enough to give me doubts as to whether you could make your arrows hit the long side of the Rammas Echor."
With significant effort, Legolas closed his eyes and swallowed the angry retort that nearly escaped his lips. Gimli was right. He was far too tense to be of aid, and he needed to regain the focus he’d sought earlier. It was lost again, and until he found it, it was too dangerous to lance the leg. Withdrawing into himself, he centered his thoughts and then released a long breath of air before finally opening his eyes and looking toward the dwarf. "Why in Elbereth’s name would I be trying to hit the long side of the Rammas Echor?" he asked quietly.
"Better," the dwarf grunted, a slight moan entering his voice.
"It is nothing."
"It is not nothing! Gimli, what is wrong? Your voice is weaker."
"I…may have taxed my resources too greatly," the dwarf admitted reluctantly, his words somewhat faint.
"Nay!" Legolas cried. "Gimli, you must stay awake."
"Legolas, would you keep another awake if you were drawing an arrow from their side? No, you would not. You would let them drift into dreams before you did such a thing. Therefore, I suggest you let me sleep while you lance the leg."
"This is different," the elf whispered, cursing his ignorance over and over again. "I have some experience in drawing arrows, but not in lancing wounds. I cannot do this without your aid. I cannot let you sleep."
"What aid could I possibly give?"
"When I lance your leg, I need you to tell me exactly how you feel. And you must inform me of any changes. Any weakness or dizziness. In this light, I cannot see enough to distinguish between the drainage of sickness and the flow of blood. I fear to make a mistake."
"I am already dizzy, and I am already weak," Gimli grunted. "I doubt I shall notice any differences."
"Then for the ease of my mind, if nothing else," Legolas pleaded.
The dwarf sighed, and he could not quite hold back the tremor of pain that crept up his body. "For your sake," he agreed reluctantly, "though I think I would rather be unconscious."
"I dare not risk that," Legolas whispered, feeling the weight of guilt press hard upon his heart. "I am too unsure of myself."
"Were our positions reversed, I would probably ask that you do likewise," Gimli said quietly, absolving the elf of blame. "And now we return to a question that you have yet to answer. How did you intend to do this?"
"But I did answer that question. I asked for your suggestions."
"Ah, yes. And I wished for witnesses."
"You wished for Aragorn, who would not have woken you in the first place."
"But since Aragorn is not here, we shall do this as best we know how while ignoring thoughts that might distract us," Gimli said firmly. "And since neither you nor I know what we are doing, this should prove interesting."
"I believe the first order of business will be to find something sharp, preferably free of dirt and grim as well."
Legolas frowned but allowed the interruption to pass. "I still have the flint and steel that I took from you while on the horse," he said. "The steel has a sharp edge to it."
"Sharp for some purposes. Dull for this," Gimli muttered. "But I can think of nothing better. It will have to serve. How clean is it? Or did you make a point of dropping my tools in the sand when you engineered your haphazard escape?"
Had he not been injured, the elf might have throttled his friend. He was still quite uneasy with what he was about to do, and the fact that Gimli did not seem to be taking this seriously bothered him greatly. "You have already expressed your concerns about my uncertainty," Legolas said, his voice quiet and cool. "I have now calmed myself. There is no longer a need for your jests. Please desist."
"If I must stay conscious for your sake, then you must listen to jests for my sake," Gimli replied. "They are keeping my mind alert. And you have failed to answer my question about the steel."
Deciding that it would probably be best if he simply ignored the dwarf’s flippant attitude—or tried to ignore it, as the case might be—Legolas reached into his tunic and retrieved the steel from a hidden pocket on his left side. "The steel is as clean as can be expected. I shall wash it in the pool, but I fear it will not change its cleanliness much."
"It cannot be helped," Gimli sighed. He shifted beneath Legolas’s hand and groaned slightly. "Well, if we are to do this, let us begin. I know not how much longer I can stay awake."
"Then I shall be swift," Legolas promised, leaving Gimli’s side and moving toward the pool. He quickly submerged the steel and rubbed the sharp side that he intended to use, hoping he removed most of the dirt and grime that he could not see because of the dim light. Upon finishing his task, Legolas moved back and positioned himself next to Gimli’s leg. "I am ready, my friend, if you are."
"Legolas?" The dwarf sounded suddenly hesitant, and Legolas wondered if he was having second thoughts about this procedure. But it was necessary. His only chance for survival lay in draining the infection.
"I will be as gentle as I can, elvellon."
"I know that," Gimli said sharply, and there was a sting of indignation in his voice. Yet the hesitancy was still there, as though he wished to speak of something but could not find the words.
"Gimli?" the elf questioned.
"Legolas, you…you may have to restrain me for this. I do not know if…if I will be able to remain still."
Legolas froze, his breath catching in his throat. Closing his eyes, he swallowed and nodded slowly. "I understand. And I will try to make this swift."
"You promised me that already," the dwarf grunted. "Get on with it."
Bracing himself much as Gimli was doing, Legolas placed his right knee upon Gimli’s knee and his left hand upon the thigh just above the worst of the swelling. He ran his right hand lightly over the wound, pushing away the torn fabric of his pants so as to get better access. Taking one last deep breath to calm his mind, he placed the steel against the skin and murmured a quick prayer to any of the Valar that might be listening. "Forgive me, elvellon," he whispered, and with these words, he pressed down.
Gimli had been right in his thoughts that he might not be able to control himself. The dwarf jerked violently to the side, and though Legolas was in considerably better health than his friend, he was hard-pressed to keep Gimli still. Bearing down with his knee, he flung his upper body onto the dwarf’s hip while his right hand continued to drag the steel downward. A terrible cry the likes of which he had never heard from Gimli split the air, and Legolas longed to echo that scream with his own vocal expression of pain, but he could not lose his focus. With his heart tearing asunder, he completed the stroke and then flung the steel away as though it burned him.
"Forgive me," he whispered, catching Gimli’s clenched hands in his own and holding them tightly. "Forgive me for making you endure that."
The dwarf gave no response but went completely stiff as though trying to master his body’s reaction. His hands trembled and a long groan rumbled out of his throat, but the screams of pain were now gone, their echoes fading away into whispers.
"Gimli?" Legolas stared at the dwarf’s face, trying to make out details in the darkness. "Gimli, how do you fare? Was the cut too deep? Think you that you are losing too much blood?"
"Cannot tell," the dwarf hissed, his voice strained and his breath labored.
"Try," Legolas encouraged, hoping to distract his friend from what had just happened. "Try, or this shall have been vain."
There was silence for a moment, and then Gimli gave a sharp jerk of his head. "I believe you were successful," he whispered. "Aside from the pain, I feel no different."
"Thank the Valar," Legolas murmured. "How long shall we allow it to drain?"
A pause was his answer and then Gimli shifted slightly. "I do not know."
With the sinking feeling that perhaps they could have prepared a bit more for this, Legolas called to mind all the instances of lancing that he had ever witnessed. Unfortunately, he could not remember having ever stayed to watch the entire procedure. He never imagined that he might have to perform the act with no more help than what an equally ignorant friend could provide.
"Legolas, I think you may want to clean the wound as it drains," Gimli whispered, his hands clenching tighter beneath the elf’s hold.
"Is that wise?"
"I do not know," the dwarf admitted. "But I believe I have seen that done with other lanced wounds."
"I have no memories of such a thing, but you may be a better judge in this case than I," Legolas murmured, gently releasing the dwarf’s hands and backing away. "Yet first, I would see you drink a little."
"Nay, there is no need," Gimli murmured, and his voice seemed to become distant. "Go about cleaning the wound. I shall be fine."
"You are losing fluids!" Legolas said sharply. "And though this is what we desire, you must replace them."
"I will be—"
"You will not be fine!" Legolas snapped, moving toward the pool and wondering if all dwarves were such bad patients or if he was singularly unfortunate to have made friends with this one. "Now lie still for a moment and I shall bring you drink."
"Legolas!" Gimli moved as though to sit up but immediately cried out and fell back.
The elf was at his side instantly, one hand upon his shoulder and the other upon his brow. "Gimli? Foolish dwarf, what were you thinking?"
"I cannot take water now," Gimli muttered, his voice so soft that it was difficult to hear. "My stomach will not allow it."
Legolas blinked, not having anticipated this development. "What of the water you already drank?" he asked worriedly. "Shall that—"
"I can keep it down for now, but do not make me drink more."
"My apologies," Legolas whispered. "Rest quietly, then, and I shall see if I can clean the wound without causing you further pain. Tell me if you wish me to cease."
"I will be fine," the dwarf grumbled. "Go to work."
With a sigh, Legolas picked up the tunic sleeve that had been used to lessen the flow of blood to the leg. Dipping it in the water, he returned and seated himself beside Gimli’s leg, running his hand over it and grimacing at the feel of puss and fluid that now soaked the area.
"You will have to delve deeply," Gimli said. "I do not think that our captors cleaned the wound at all."
"Nor do I," Legolas agreed, trying to ignore the sudden queasiness that had crept into his gut. With a deep breath, he placed the cloth on the leg and pressed it into the wound, working it back and forth slowly and trying not to gag as he did so. His hand fit entirely within the wound, and the fluids released from the swelling soaked the rag he was using. He could feel Gimli’s muscles tensing around the injury, and he was forced to steady the leg when it began to shake. For several minutes, he mopped the wound free of gathering liquids and hoped he would be able to forget this horrid day in years to come. When he felt he’d done all he could, he withdrew and sat back, his eyes turning to his friend’s face.
"You are finished?" Gimli asked, and his voice had become faint and weak.
"Yes, I am," Legolas answered, putting the cloth aside and reaching for the dwarf’s brow. His temperature seemed to have dropped slightly, but it was a change so small that it might have been the work of false hopes. "How do you feel?"
A long pause preceded the answer. "Strange."
Legolas frowned. "Explain," he ordered, pushing back his fear.
"I…do not know, but I think you should bandage the wound again."
Fear exploded within the elf, and he hastened to do as Gimli had asked. "Was it too much? Are you losing blood now?"
"I cannot tell, but…I think I shall not be conscious much longer," the dwarf confessed, and this admittance only served to heighten Legolas’s panic. Once again, Gimli was not belittling his injuries but rather confirming that all was not well. His usual bravado was gone, and for this to happen…
"Perhaps this was a mistake," Legolas murmured, tying the tunic sleeves tightly around the injured thigh.
"Too soon to tell," Gimli whispered. "We’ll know by tonight. If I’m still alive, then—"
"Rest," Legolas commanded, not ready to listen to anything concerning the dwarf’s survival that began with if. "You have done more than enough."
The elf blinked and looked up, though he could not make out the dwarf’s expression in the darkness. "For forcing you to endure such torment?"
"For trying," Gimli sighed. "I do not know if I would have had the courage." And with these words, the dwarf faded from the world of the waking, his shallow breathing deepening slightly and the tension in his body fading.
Legolas was left alone in the darkness.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.