The power of the voice -- a warm voice, full of laughter and the hint of far off lands -- made Estel forget Legolas's warning and trust this stranger.
"My birds brought me tidings of your plight," said the strange man, drawing his hand across the tip of a tall walking staff. A pale amber light sprang up, emanating from a roughly cut stone set into the tip of the wood. The face the light revealed seemed kindly as well, framed by a mass of curly dark hair shot through with grey. "What ails your companion?" the man asked, stooping to examine the prostrate elf.
Estel pulled his fascinated gaze away from the glowing gemstone. "An orc arrow grazed him. He said it was only a scratch, but now he's like this."
"With orc arrows, it is never so simple as just a scratch," said Radagast, examining the wound with skilled and gentle fingers. As he did so, the light of the staff fell on the elf's face. "This is King Thranduil's son! What madness took him so far south into orc country with a child in tow?"
"He did it to save me. This was all my fault," responded Estel. In spite of all his will, a tear escaped the corner of his eye and ran down his cheek.
Radagast grunted and returned his attention to the elf's arm. "It festers. That is easily remedied with an application of something more potent than Kingsfoil, but I feel no heat. Fever is not the enemy, lad. It is the body's way of fighting off the evil influences of a contaminated wound. His body has stopped fighting, although his spirit still strives."
"He was burning up earlier, then he became tired and fell into this sleep."
"Tell me again what he said."
"He said his fingers were turning numb and that there was something worse than orc . . . pee on the arrow."
Radagast felt for the pulse at Legolas's neck and laid an ear to his chest. He sniffed appraisingly at the wound and his brow furrowed. "The arrow was poisoned, and that poison is now at work within him. It is beyond the leechcraft of the wilderness. My home is not far. We have no time to lose."
Radagast scooped up Legolas and draped him face down over Gwaeren's back. Estel gaped. Legolas was taller and broader than the old man, yet Radagast handled him as if he were no heavier than a blade of grass.
Radagast saw the boy's look of amazement. "Your friend is of the Eldar, my boy. They are mighty warriors, but their strength is all in their spirit." He untied the horse's head and turned back. "And I . . . I am a wizard, and I am neither so old or decrepit as I may seem."
As Radagast had promised, his house was not far, just outside the western edge of the forest.
"Aren't you afraid of the orcs?" Estel asked, as the older man led the horse through a hedge of high grass.
Radagast shook his head. "Those of my kind have a few talents to deal with orcs. Within this hedge is a girdle of enchantment that evil may not pass. Even the elves do not see this place unless I will it."
They left the horse standing beside the door and the wizard carried Legolas inside and placed him on the bed, shooing aside something large and furry to make room. He lit a lantern, and in the rafters, several nests of birds raised their heads and cheeped softly before realizing that morning had not yet arrived. In one corner, a vixen lay nursing a litter of five kits. She regarded Estel with lambent golden eyes that held not a shred of fear.
"For the arm, I will require a packing of moldy bread," said Radagast, moving about the room and collecting supplies. "Strange that decay should fight decay, yet I have seen it to be true. But first we must deal with the arrow poison."
Along one entire wall ran shelves, which were filled with books and all manner of glass vials. "Put a pot of water on the fire, " Radagast directed, as he took out several of the containers of herbs and brought them to a wooden table which held tools and implements for grinding and mixing. "As decay fights decay, so is one poison sometimes an antidote against another poison. Throw more wood on the fire as well. We will need heat, as much as possible, to banish the chill of the rain."
Estel watched as Radagast worked. In the light of the hut, he could see that everything about this man was brown, from his homespun robes, to his curly, graying beard, to the hair on his head. The eyes, especially, were a warm brown flecked with gold, and to look into them was to know trust.
When the herbs were brewed and mixed together into a greenish potion, Radagast poured the liquid into a wooden goblet and carried it over to the bed. While Estel watched, the wizard opened the elf's mouth and poured the medicine in, careful to spill as little as possible. Legolas choked a little and let out a moan. "That is a good sign, at least he can still taste it, " Radagast said. As if to answer Estel's unspoken question, he added, "It tastes just as nasty as it looks."
Then he went to work on the arm, removing Legolas's jacket and shirt and washing the remaining fragments of the Athelas from the wound. He replaced it with a moistened rind of greenish bread and bound the shoulder tightly to hold it in place
Noticing Estel's expression, he said, "If you find that disturbing, be thankful I didn't have to use the maggots. Don't look at me that way. Any man who would become a warrior needs to become accustomed to such sights."
"How do you know I want to become a warrior?"
Radagast laughed. "I have never known a lad your age who did not dream of becoming a heroic fighter, whether they be Elfkind, Edain, Naugrim, or even those strange Shirefolk my brother Mithrandir is so fond of. Now, help me bring together such blankets and furs as we can find. He needs to sweat the poison out. He will try to throw the covers off, but we must prevent him from doing so. If he takes a chill now, he will die. He will also vomit," the wizard said, bringing a bucket over and placing it beside the bed. "When he does that, we must turn him so that he does not choke. And then we must wrap him again. Can you help me do this?"
"Good, because wizard though I am, I am not eager to have to inform Thranduil that I have killed his son in a failed attempt to heal him."
The long night seemed to stretch out forever. Just before dawn, Legolas gasped and struggled upright. His eyes came into focus, but he seemed to stare out at a place far behind the wizard and the boy. "Such a cold dark place I have been in," he said, "but now it is so beautiful. I see light through the trees, and I hear the cry of sea birds."
Without a word, Radagast drew back his hand and hit the elf hard across the mouth. "Turn away from it, Elda; it is not your time."
It seemed to Estel that the hut grew dark, and that he was suddenly in the presence of some strange being who grew in size to fill it. The veil fell away from the face and body of the kindly brown man, revealing someone at once young and vital, and yet vastly ancient. Legolas shut his eyes and fell back on the bed.
Estel looked anxiously at the wizard. "He's so still, and his eyes are closed . . ."
"It is over," Radagast said wearily. "That is true sleep. He's going to be all right." He smiled reassuringly, and to the boy's relief, the familiar brown wizard had returned. "And you too, young one," he said. He waved a hand and Estel fell into dreams.
When next he opened his eyes, it was past midday. He found himself draped over the foot of the bed, where he had fallen forward in sleep. Radagast sat in a chair, beside the bed, his head tipped forward onto his chest, but with the brown eyes open. He awoke with a snort when he noticed Estel staring at him.
"Are you sure he's all right?" Estel, asked, concerned at the stillness of the elf.
"Quite sure, " Radagast replied. "He's exhausted, and last night I gave him a dose of herbs that would have killed a Mortal on the spot. He will sleep for a while longer."
"I was afraid he would die," Estel said shakily, "so very afraid."
"You are no less relieved than I," Radagast said. "Thranduil waited long to be blessed with a child, and his birth came at a great price. As wise and kind as the Elvenking of Mirkwood is, I would no longer have found a welcome within his lands if I had lost this one."
"Are all Elven fathers so fierce about their children?" Estel asked solemnly. He wondered if Elrond would be so wrathful at a threat to the life of Elladan or Elrohir. It seemed to him to be a strange thing.
"I do believe they are, lad. The Elves prize their young ones even above their own wealth. Never come between an adar and his child, even if that child is full grown, unless you wish to make an enemy," Radagast said. " But, here I am, a silly old man, going on about things you cannot understand, while you, lad, have wounds of your own that need tending as well."
Radagast took Estel's chafed wrists in his large, gentle hands. "The herbs were good, but I think I can give you better ease." He fetched a pot of unguent, which he spread on the raw flesh. Immediately, the burning stopped. "And this nose . . .?"
"One of the orcs hit me," Estel volunteered.
"The bone is in place," Radagast said. "I will put a plaster on it for a few days to keep it so, but there is little else I can do. The women will find it interesting when you grow to manhood." Radagast winked.
"And now, you might want to tell me what brings an elf and a man child out alone to such a place at such a time?"
Estel looked into the brown eyes of the wizard and the dam burst. As he told the story of how he had followed Legolas from Rivendell, the wizard's eyes became wider and wider.
"Er, and how did you come to be living at Rivendell, again?"
"I am fostered there."
"And your mother's name is?"
"Gilraen. I think her father's name was Dírhael, or something like it. My father's name, I know not."
Radagast shook his head and let out a soft whistle. "Oh, brother Olorin, what are you up to?" he whispered to himself. "And I deem you do not tell Curumo. In fact, I know you do not. Well, Radagast the Simple, Aiwendil the Afterthought, will keep your secret for you."
Estel didn't know what the wizard was talking about. He had begun to wonder if perhaps he had leaves in his hair or food in his teeth, or perhaps a big smudge of dirt on his forehead that only others could see. People treated him strangely and spoke of things that were beyond his understanding, and he did not like the feeling at all.
Later that afternoon, Estel sat dozing on a rough log bench beside the door to Radagast's hut. He had given Gwaeron a bucket of water he had drawn from Radagast's well, and he had drunk it all. Now, the horse dozed too, standing close beside the bench with his eyes half-lidded. His breath and soft muzzle hairs tickled Estel's cheek.
In his drowsy half sleep, Estel thought he heard voices from inside, one deep and one light and silvery, in earnest conversation. He heard the names of Elrond and Mithrandir mentioned, along with Thranduil and others with which he was totally unfamiliar: Arathorn, Aragorn, and Isildur. Had he been more alert, he might have noted that neither voice sounded very happy, but as it was, he paid them less heed than the buzzing of the bees in the brown hay hedge that surrounded Radagast's yard and house.
The voices ceased, and he felt a presence and a weight join him on the bench.
"Thank you for tending to my horse. Radagast has enough on his hands at the moment."
Estel snapped awake to find Legolas sitting beside him, looking much the worse for wear. His shirt hung off one shoulder, and the other was bandaged. His skin looked even paler than usual.
"Radagast also tells me that while I was being sick last night, you held back my hair. I can only imagine what else you saw and heard. That was very brave of you."
"No it wasn't," Estel said, looking away quickly. "I was scared to death. If you had died, it would have been my fault. You were hurt and you were sick unto dying and you didn't tell me. Why, Legolas?"
"It is not our way to show pain or weakness. I also hoped to spare you the worry. I was afraid myself, you see."
"Afraid? You, Legolas?"
"Yes. I will tell you a secret, Estel. Show me the man or elf who is never afraid, and I will show you a great fool who does not stay alive very long. There is no shame in it. I was afraid those orcs would kill you, or worse, and it would have been I who had allowed it to happen. I was afraid my strength would not hold long enough for me to get you to a safe place. And as you can see, it did not. Had it not been for the fortuitous arrival of Radagast, Legolas, Greenleaf, would be remembered as the incompetent son of Thranduil of Mirkwood. A late-born scion of a diminished house. I would be remembered as the elf who lost you."
"Why am I so special?" Estel asked quietly.
The remaining color drained from the elf's face. "I do not know what was in that potion that Radagast gave me, but it has loosened my tongue overmuch. I am not myself. In fact . . ." he swallowed hard, "if you will excuse me . . ." He stood up and moved gracefully, yet with increasing swiftness into the nearest clump of trees and out of sight.
He returned on unsteady feet some minutes later and sat down beside Estel again.
"Are you all right, Legolas?" Estel asked carefully.
"No," he replied miserably. "I feel like beaten troll droppings. My head aches, my arm throbs, and I am certain I will not be able to keep food down for days. My only note of joy is that I remain alive to feel anything at all. I feel utterly wretched, and not to belabor a point, Estel, but this is what happens when any person, high or low, does things that are rash and foolish, no matter how well intended."
"I begin to understand why you do not wish to be a king," Estel said.
"Do you, now?" said Legolas. "Well listen to this, and mark it well, because I doubt I will ever be in a mood to speak of it again, and none of the elves at Rivendell will tell you either, it being a sore subject to those of my blood if mentioned in our hearing.
"At the end of the Second Age, there was a mighty battle in which my grandsire, Oropher, took part, leading the armies of the Greenwood. He was brave, my grandsire, no doubt of it, but wisdom and judgment were not with him that day. He was too proud to put himself or his army under the authority of the High Elven King, Gil-Galad, and instead he led the first charge against the Black Gates of Mordor."
Legolas sighed. "In the end, Sauron was defeated. But Oropher did not live to see the victory. Thranduil, my father, led the remnant of the Silvan warriors home to the Wood and became king there. But two out of three of those warriors stayed behind to light corpse candles in the Dead Marshes, and my grandsire is among them.
"I was not yet born when my father returned to the Greenwood and our folk began to be pushed ever northward by lack of people and strength, but there are those still among us who were alive back then."
"The warriors who fought?" Estel asked.
"They are among us as well. I speak of the families of those who did not come home. I see their faces, Estel. They are scarred with the sorrow of the loss of husbands, fathers and sweethearts who will never return until the breaking of the world. So, from the time I was very young, I promised myself that if ever I were called upon to be king I would do it well, and not visit such misery on those under my protection. At least not without dire necessity."
"I'm glad I'm just an orphan boy," Estel said. "I would never want to be a king and to have the lives of so many people in my hands."
"You never know where fate will lead you," Legolas replied. "Sometimes we are called to great things whether we will it or not. We can only prepare ourselves to rise to it, understanding that it is not all bright banners flowing and tales of chivalry as the Elven bards sing."
"I don't want it. I hated the very presence of the orcs once I came among them and I never want to see another. I almost got you killed, and I hated that too. I am sorry, Legolas, so very sorry," Estel said, bursting into tears and burying his face in his friend's chest.
Legolas drew him in, stroking Estel's dark curls with his good arm. "Hush, child. Hush. All will be well. Give me some days to regain my strength, and I will take you home."
"Yes, to Rivendell."
"Good, because . . . I want . . . my mother," Estel sobbed.
Legolas merely held him closer and sighed deeply.
* * * * * * *
Author's Note On Language: You may note that Radagast uses the Quenya terms 'Eldar' and "Elda' to refer to Legolas. Technically, Eldar, People of the Stars, was the term given to all Elves by the Vala Oromë. Later, it came to be applied only to those Elves who had gone on the Great Journey, and their descendants. Although a Mornedhel, Dark Elf, Legolas is descended from the Sindarin folk of Thingol and can be counted among the Eldar. Radagast is from Valinor and may be forgiven his lapse into Quenya.
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.