5. Hope against Hope
After a day-long march, the Forest of Fangorn remained to their right as they traveled southwest to Isengard and looked more mysterious and worthy of Celeborn's cautions in the deep dark of night. The dim light from distant fires was enough for Legolas to furtively watch their guards, but the brutes had not chosen to take any of them for sport tonight. Legolas sensed a growing anxiousness among them. They tired of the march, of the limited food and rest, and of guard duty. With their dwindling patience, there was constant arguing over everything from food rations to task assignments. Many tried to trade away their minding duties and with it the boredom of being tied to one place. The guard who had brought them water earlier that day had quit at once, as if unwilling to risk being seen with them any longer, and he had not returned to the post. Legolas recognized the current sentry and knew his patience always wore out quickly. As the goblin paced back and forth erratically, Legolas sensed it would not be long. He turned to Aragorn and Gimli, who were studiously ignoring him as they watched the other side of camp. They needed the right arrangement of many Orcs in one place and few in another.
"More Orcs are leaving now," Aragorn said quietly. "They prepare to move again." He turned to Legolas, looking down at his manacles. "If only we might find a way to remove those."
"I should have been able to, and I regret that I could not," Gimli said. "I am forced to say something of orcish make befuddled me in the making of it! I hope they will not hinder you overmuch."
"As do I. We shall learn, either way. The guard will ask for a change presently. I believe it is time." Legolas turned back to the guard who paced faster and faster.
With that prediction, the Orc threw up his hands. "I can't stay here like this. Someone else needs to do this!" Legolas turned to Aragorn and Gimli as the Orc stormed off. They quickly nodded their encouragement.
The immediate area was free of Orcs. Just beyond were a few knots of soldiers that would provide cover, presuming they didn't suddenly become observant. Legolas took a few steps in a crouch and stilled himself among tall blades of grass the Orcs had not managed to crush. When none took notice, he broke into a run, still in a crouch, heading for the trees of Fangorn Forest with all the speed he could muster.
Not until he had nearly reached the limbs of the forest did he hear a shout, followed by many more as they realized a prisoner was loose. It was still some moments before he heard any give chase, by which time he was among the trees, struggling to climb with his bound hands.
Once above, travel became considerably easier as he leapt from branch to branch with skill honed over centuries. After spanning several trees, he paused to check on his pursuers. They were in the woods, but had not yet thought to look up.
He turned, leaping to a nearby limb of the next tree, stretching his arms out before him for balance. With his restrained hands, he could not move with his usual speed. But he hoped still to move faster than the Orcs below. Grasping the trunk for a moment, he was struck by how many days had passed since he had been among trees, and at once felt the great age of these trees he had so longed to meet. He caressed the bark in greeting and quickly moved on.
But he did not move as swiftly as he had hoped, and the Orcs gained on him. Their pursuit grew louder and when he glanced behind, they were close indeed. If he were recaptured - he turned and forced himself to move faster.
Soon, to his dismay, he saw that a few had nearly reached the trees in which he ran and had finally thought to look up. Legolas glanced about as they began to climb the surrounding trees. Those on the ground waved swords at him, and all yelled various threats and epithets. He needed to move more quickly. Even with hands bound, he was a wood-elf - he could move faster through the trees than any Orc.
A hot searing pain ignited his thigh and knocked him off balance. He cursed his fettered hands as he swung them in an attempt to balance himself. He flung his arms over a branch but could not grasp the tree. That he slipped shocked him as much as the black arrow he found sticking out of his leg. He scrambled for a foothold but his right leg buckled with the pressure. And then he felt air all about him. Only when he crashed into branches did he realize he was falling. The leaves ripped at him, the branches knocking his flight about so that he bounced from one branch to another.
Though the ground was covered in moss, he landed hard, bruised and bloody. Looking up as he caught his breath, he was met by dozens of pairs of black eyes filled with glee. He was surrounded. Fear shot cold through him. He could not be recaptured. This was his only chance. Their only chance. He pushed his body off the ground suddenly, determined to continue his flight. The Orcs descended on him, beating him back to the ground. He persisted until a well-placed punch to his wounded leg forced him to cry out in pain. Falling to the ground once more, they continued their beating until he faded into blackness.
Treebeard watched with resignation as the Orcs beat the other creature. His hatred of Orcs could grow no greater. They were becoming frequent visitors to the forest, and always did they bring destruction.
As they dragged away the one who looked a bit different from the other Orcs, Treebeard pondered what had awoken him. A sensation he had nearly forgotten had broken his slumber. It felt like a caress. None had come through these woods with tenderness towards the Forest in countless seasons. Even more curious, he thought he had heard a greeting from the creature. The only beings wise enough to communicate with the Ents were Elves. Could the creature have been an elf? Why, many seasons had passed since he had seen or shared thoughts with an elf. He had opened his eyes only to hear the creature sprinting through the canopy. Then the Orcs had come and he had lost his interest. Orcs.
Treebeard sighed, though to an outsider it would have appeared a tree creaked in its own breeze. He would have liked to speak to an elf again. Had he seen an elf? He had been unsure, but with the arrival of the Orcs, his curiosity had quickly waned. He wondered suddenly - had he been hasty?
Treebeard slowly stretched his limbs. It would feel good to walk for a while. He turned himself west and began his way to Welling Hall. Perhaps he would ask Quickbeam what he thought about the greeting Treebeard had felt and about being hasty.
Gimli gave up his attempt at feigning ignorance and turned fully to the woods, watching nervously, but with little to see in the darkness, he judged Legolas's progress by sound alone. Despite his apparent nonchalance, Gimli knew Aragorn listened acutely to the proceedings as well and that he shared Gimli's concern over how many Orcs had followed Legolas into the woods. They had hoped for no more than a dozen, but instead, scores had lifted war cries in pursuit of the elf. Gimli's stomach had tightened when the shrieks had increased moments before. If they recaptured Legolas, retribution would be harsh at best. There would be no second chances.
He glanced at Aragorn. The man had been sitting with his back to the forest, shoulders tense and his wounded leg outstretched before him, but now he, too, gave up his pretense. Worry lined his face as he gazed with wide eyes into the forest, seemingly shocked at the notion that Legolas might not succeed. Gimli's hope diminished further as Aragorn's faded.
"They'll catch him, you watch. You thought to follow him didn't ya? Don't get any ideas. Uglúk'll make sure you all learn a lesson, you watch..."
Gimli ignored the guard's berating that had gone on since the others had run after Legolas, and eyed the darkness where he heard crashing through the woods. The Orcs returned. Did they return in defeat or victory? Were their cries for the quarry that had escaped or for a prisoner regained?
As they broke through the eaves of Fangorn, Gimli's stomach flipped, and for once he was grateful for its emptiness or he might have lost its contents. The lead Orc held an apparently unconscious Legolas over his shoulders like captured prey, and the beast grinned like a victorious hunter. As the Orc dumped the bloody body of Legolas on the ground before Uglúk, Gimli's hope dissipated into dust. The coming days would be dark indeed.
Aragorn's face froze into stone as the Orcs dumped Legolas on the ground in a nearby clearing. He attempted to feel pride; clearly Legolas had fought viciously for his freedom. But they now had as much likelihood of escaping as they did of retrieving the waxing moon sinking behind the western mountains. They were surely headed for Isengard.
Aragorn tried not to wince as an Orc kicked Legolas, but he quickly became alarmed when the elf did not stir. After several more sharp kicks, he began to wake, but Aragorn's relief was short-lived.
"Get up, you lazy elf! We didn't hit you that hard!" The Orc grabbed Legolas and hauled him up to face a scowling Uglúk. By the light of a torch held by another Orc, Aragorn watched as Legolas's eyes opened slowly then widened in what looked to be fear before he hardened his face. Aragorn dreaded what would come next.
Uglúk slowly stepped toward Legolas with narrowed eyes. He chuckled slowly. "So, you thought you'd make a run for it. Had no problem leaving your friends behind, didn't ya? Not so stupid as I thought. But stupid enough to need a lesson!" The uruk playfully slapped the beast beside him, chuckling gleefully.
Aragorn prayed that the Valar would give Legolas strength now, but he had no misconceptions of his own strength. He closed his eyes to the scene, resting his head on his knees.
Suddenly, strong hands dragged him to his feet, as another Orc did the same to Gimli. They brought the two to Uglúk, where Legolas kneeled limply at his side, a stub of a black arrow still imbedded in his bloody thigh. Two more torches had been brought to the area, shedding enough light that Aragorn could clearly see the vacant expression on Legolas's face. He worried that perhaps the elf was going into shock from blood loss.
"Oh, I do love teaching lessons!" Then his tone suddenly turned hostile, and he glared at Aragorn and Gimli. "Especially to bloody mortals we must keep alive!" He looked back at Legolas. "And now for your first lesson! Do your work, Machlhug!"
A hand struck Aragorn across the face, the sting vying with Aragorn's shock. Then there was a punch to his side. He glanced at Gimli when he heard a grunt, and he realized how clever the Orcs were. He had expected them to force Gimli and him to watch Legolas beaten in punishment. Somehow, they had discerned that Legolas would suffer more to watch Aragorn and Gimli beaten.
Aragorn worried briefly over the intelligence the uruks displayed. But a kick to the head, followed by a strike to his injured leg cleared those thoughts from his mind. He stole a glance at Legolas to see him struggling to keep his stony expression.
Once the Orcs tired of the lesson, Aragorn sat still, waiting for the world about him to stop spinning and the white lights before his eyes to fade. Soon he made out Gimli's figure not far from him, catching his breath as he lay on the ground. And further on was Legolas, still held in place by the Orc, his eyes squeezed shut. Now the Orcs that had abused them turned to Legolas.
Uglúk smiled then. "Maybe you've learned your lesson, huh?" He grabbed Legolas by the hair and forced the elf to stand and face him. "Have ya? You think you've learned your lesson about escaping?" Legolas returned only a stony stare, and Uglúk let out a bark of laughter. "Perhaps you haven't. I think you need more teaching!" Aragorn's stomach turned, not knowing what would now come. His head still swam, and he was uncertain how much more he could endure before unconsciousness overtook him. But then Aragorn sensed he was not the one in danger.
Uglúk threw the elf to the ground, his shackles clinking. The uruk took a deep breath through his nostrils. "Do you smell that boys? Huh? That's the sweet smell of fear! You couldn't get that with all your knives and whips, but mess with his fellows and there it be. Ah!" He took another deep breath. "Almost makes all the work worthwhile! But in the end, it's still work!" His smile upturned suddenly into a frown. "I don't look for extra work! So it seems like we got to teach you a lesson well and good." He paused long enough for a chill to run down Aragorn's back. "Maybe this'll teach you not to run!" And Uglúk slammed his booted foot down on Legolas's ankle, the bones crushing loudly.
As Legolas cried out in shock and pain, Aragorn's stomach turned again. He tried to close his eyes, but could not take them off Legolas, who dug his hands into the ground in an attempt to ride out the agony of the breaking bones. "Try running now!" Uglúk laughed boisterously with his comrades and they stomped away, Uglúk shouting out commands for added guards and for preparations to move on.
It took greater effort than Aragorn expected to drag himself over to Legolas. His own body ached terribly, but he thrust aside his pains to focus on what he must do. He would try to mend Legolas's leg somewhat before they were forced to move again.
He heard Gimli beside him and was relieved the dwarf was able to move on his own. "Gimli, you must help me," Aragorn muttered, disappointed in the panting he could not suppress. "We have little time." He reached out to Legolas, turning him gently on his back.
"Aragorn, what - how could they-" Gimli stopped. While the dwarf took control of his grief and steadied himself, Aragorn occupied himself with reviewing Legolas's wounds in what light the moon offered, as the uruks had taken the torches with them. In a much firmer voice, Gimli continued, "What can I do to help? What can you do to help?"
"I hope to bind his ankle." Aragorn grabbed his already shredded tunic and began tearing it further. "There is an arrow wound here as well." Legolas hissed as Aragorn felt the wound. "The arrowhead is still within the leg. I can-"
"Just pull it out!"
Aragorn only hesitated a moment. "Are you sure?"
"Stop wasting time and do it!"
Aragorn ignored the sharpness in Legolas's answer and made swift work of drawing out the arrowhead, while Gimli shredded a ragged end of his own tunic. After wrapping that wound, Aragorn turned to the ankle, already purple and swollen. "I need more cloth to make a binding." After tearing some of his clothing for Gimli to prepare, he took Legolas's pale face in his hands. He was frowning in pain and a gleam of sweat covered his brow. Blood, dirt, and bruises covered the rest of his face and neck. "Legolas." He waited until the elf opened his eyes to look up at him. "This is your choice only. I want to bind your ankle. But if I set the bone first, it will heal faster and cleaner. But only you know if you can bear such pain as that will bring."
Legolas looked at him for a moment. Closing his eyes, he said quietly, "Set it."
Immediately, Aragorn turned to Gimli. "I will need you to lean on him. You must try to keep him as still as possible. Use all your weight, for pain makes one strong." Gimli simply nodded and moved his body over Legolas's, ready to put his weight against the elf's strength.
Aragorn turned as he heard a cackling behind him. It was Machlhug, the one who had beaten him. Aragorn stilled himself, watching for his next move, but the Orc said nothing, merely paced about them as one of the added guards. Determined to ignore him, Aragorn turned from him and moved to Legolas's feet, straddling the injured leg. As carefully as possible, he removed his shoe. Then he arranged the cloth he would use to bind the ankle. "Be ready, Gimli."
"I am ready."
Aragorn closed his eyes, dreading the sounds of grinding bone. First, he would have to find the point of the break. He hoped there were not too many. If the bones were crushed completely, he knew not what he would do.
Feeling carefully around the puffy ankle, he quickly found the worst point. He could hear Legolas panting. If the elf would allow himself such a kindness, he would lose consciousness after Aragorn set the ankle.
Taking a deep breath and positioning his hands, he swiftly pushed the bones together as they should be. Holding the ankle stiffly, to keep it still against Legolas's jerk as the pain went through him, as well as to keep the bones from shifting, he wrapped the leg in the cloth. Legolas's muffled cry rang in his ears, but he heard nothing now but Gimli's murmurs. Finished, he rolled off his leg. "Legolas?"
"Give him a moment," Gimli said gruffly. Aragorn watched as Legolas lay panting in the grass, one arm flung over his face and realized he was shaking himself. The din behind them had grown louder as the Orcs prepared to continue the march.
"Time runs short," Aragorn said quietly. "They will likely draft someone to carry him. I cannot imagine they would expect him to march." He wondered to himself if Uglúk had purposely broken the right foot. Compounded with the arrow wound in the right thigh, he indeed could not run.
Aragorn heard a rasp he did not understand at first to be Legolas speaking. Legolas turned his head slowly and repeated himself. "Forgive me," he said quietly. I-" He paused, then turned from Aragorn and did not continue.
Aragorn sighed. He heard the shame, anger, and despair in Legolas's voice. "There is no need, Legolas. There was but a small chance. If you could not succeed, neither of us could have."
"I should have!" he said from beneath his arm. "What wood-elf cannot outrun Orcs in the trees?" he said in a whisper Aragorn barely heard. "But for these cuffs, I might have. And you and Gimli paid for my failure..." He seemed ready to continue but spoke no more.
"Then I must beg your forgiveness. For I should have discerned a way to unlock the chains. But the beating we received was not wholly unexpected. Gimli and I knew that if you did escape, they may have turned to us for retribution. Therefore, in success or failure, we were ready to pay the price. What I did not expect was the brutality they visited upon you, which will only make it more difficult for them to bring us all to their Master. Perhaps I should not underestimate the cruelty of these creatures."
Legolas did not answer. Even in the moonlight, Aragorn could see his pallor. His days would now be far worse than they already had been.
Aragorn heard a call go out, and Orcs surrounded them, preparing to guard them on the march. "Up, maggots! Time to move!"
Another chuckled. "I suppose this one might have a bit of trouble marching. Well, there's nothing for it." Without another word, he grabbed Legolas and hoisted his arms over his head, turned, and headed out on the march.
Another Orc tied the usual rope between Aragorn and Gimli's bindings, then tied it around his own waist. There was no escape when trussed up like this, when the beasts would know their every move. "UP, I said! Move, you two!" Aragorn roused himself from watching Legolas fade away and dragged himself to his feet. Trying to ignore the screams of every ache in his body and the swimming of his head, he turned his body to Isengard.
Gimli ripped his wandering thoughts from their stray path and brought his attention back to his task. There was but one task for him: moving. His legs had gone numb long ago; only the rhythm of the army kept him going now. He could not let his mind stray far or he would lose that rhythm and stumble.
He allowed his mind to wander only as far as his companions around him. Checking the tension in the rope that attached him to Aragorn used less effort than turning to see that his friend was not flagging too terribly. He was unsure how Aragorn kept pace - his injured leg was surely festering now - but Gimli was thankful nevertheless. The Orcs, for their part, had sharp eyes on them, and more eyes, to guard against future escape attempts. Gimli sighed at the thought. There would be no future escape attempts.
He looked up at Legolas, hanging limply from the large Orc in front of their train. It appeared the elf slept or had found escape through unconsciousness, and Gimli was glad for it. He had suffered enough at the hands of the Orcs only to then suffer under Aragorn's healing hands in the moments before the march began again. Gimli wished once again that he knew more of Elves, for he did not know how long Legolas's leg needed to heal. Dwarven bones took time to mend, even when properly set and cared for; he would not have wielded an axe on a patrol for some weeks after such an injury. Gimli was sure it took longer for Men, but for Elves he knew only of their oft-noted speed in healing. This elf best heal quickly, for the Orcs would surely show him no mercy.
He thought once more of the hobbits. He had caught glimpses of them from time to time, as the Orcs had brought their prisoners closer together to better guard them. The hobbits appeared well enough, to Gimli's great relief. They did not appear injured, nor to suffer greatly in hunger or thirst. Somehow, they must have convinced their captors to feed them.
Gimli sighed, as he was reminded of what was one of their greatest concerns. They had gone four days without food, and for the two days prior to that they had sustained themselves solely on lembas. For the entire six days, they had only drunk what water they had taken on the run before their capture and the bit their guard had fetched for them the previous morning. They would need more water today, but he doubted now that they would be given any. How long men, elves, or hobbits could go without water he did not know, but he was sure even an elf needed water to live.
Their worries might be over soon enough. There were no new plans to free themselves. They were too closely watched. And they were all, Legolas especially, in no condition to make a bid for freedom. The Tower of Orthanc loomed closer with each step. Once there, they would learn their fate.
Meanwhile, the creatures argued and complained beyond the usual, it seemed to Gimli, and this new restlessness was more disturbing. Whether it came from the disruption of the escape attempt or from other matters, he did not care for it. He could only hope that their next halt for camp was long in coming. As weary as he was of the march, it was their safest time. Once stopped, the beasts might decide to turn to their prisoners to vent their displeasure. Gimli did not know how much torture, hunger, and despair he and his companions could tolerate. And their arrival at Isengard promised no relief.
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.