Beta: My lovely Anarithilien, who gives her time so freely and generously.
Chapter 14 Poisoned
2nd November- 4th November.
Glorfindel had almost dragged Legolas after him as they fled the Arrow and headed up onto the slopes above the old ruined citadel, Gimli urging them on in case the fall of the tower caused the river to rise and flood. In the few hours after, Legolas felt sluggish and unbearably weary, and his arm was a little numb. He couldn't think why that would be; it did not hurt and he had taken no wound, he thought rubbing it. It felt more pins and needles than anything. Glorfindel too had questioned him as they ran and he had shaken his head, unable to speak, for the horror clung to him and he could only think of the clinging dark, the coiling hissing dark that wound about him, that engulfed him, that reached into his memories and ripped each one from him...
When they reached the high ground where Amron anxiously waited, Glorfindel made Legolas rest for a moment while Gimli fashioned a litter for Rhawion's body. Amron was stunned with misery at Rhawion's death and sat near him, holding the lifeless hand and stroking his hair back from his cold face while Glorfindel sat beside Legolas and questioned him over what had happened.
Legolas told what he could, but he could not stop his eyes from drifting over towards Rhawion and the memory of the fight was confused and distant; all he could remember now was the terrible engulfing dark and the moment he thought all would end. In that moment, all sound and light had ceased and there was only the Dark...Emptiness. A vast night that dropped endlessly into nothing. It had swallowed him and only Glorfindel had brought him out. Too terrified for him even think about it, he skirted Glorfindel's questions, was evasive. And it felt disloyal to remember that Rhawion had insisted they go into the tower in the first place.
'So the dagger was torn from the wall and stabbed Rhawion, but you were not hurt?' Glorfindel asked again, looking at him intently. Amron had joined them now and his face was devastated, but he placed his hand gently on Legolas' shoulder and patted him kindly.
That kindness almost undid him and he let out a gasp; Rhawion was dead. And Legolas wondered, dreaded, that perhaps the Nazgûl had taken Rhawion's soul as well as his life, that he was trapped in that endless Dark.
'Legolas,' Glorfindel leaned towards him more urgently. 'Were you hurt?'
Legolas breathed through his nose and tried to look away from Rhawion's empty body. 'No,' he said a little more loudly than he intended. 'It was the Nazgûl...it...' He found himself unable to explain, and could not find the words so he merely said, 'It came too close.' He looked away, not wanting Glorfindel to see the tremor in his face, in his hands, as he remembered the coiling dark, how it had swallowed him, and he had looked down into the chasm of emptiness.
'The Orcs?' prompted Glorfindel. 'There were only two Orcs, dead on the floor when I arrived.'
'Yes. Only two.' He shook himself; Laersul would have scolded him for this and with Woodelf practicality, he pushed away the darkness and focused on Glorfindel. 'I think they had escaped the rout earlier and fled this way. They were hiding in the ruins and the Nazgûl drew them out I think.' He passed his hand over his eyes. 'I should have realised...I should have sensed them...' He shook his head in disgust with himself. 'Had it not been for them, we would both have got out.'
Amron and Glorfindel exchanged a quick look. 'Are you sure you were not wounded?' Amron asked and his eyes were worried.
Legolas frowned. Their insistence was irritating and worried him equally. He had already told them he had not been injured. He would have known.
Glorfindel shifted and turned to look Legolas in the eye. 'I am going to insist, Legolas. We only have a little time and I know you say you were not injured, but I want to check. Take off your tunic and let me see for myself.' Glorfindel said and Legolas knew that tone. Sighing, he unbuckled his belt and reached up to the collar of his tunic and unbuttoned it. He shrugged out of his tunic and then pulled his shirt over his head.
Glorfindel's eyes widened almost imperceptibly at the swirls and coiling dragon, the yäré-carmé. The bruises from the fight at the Orc camp had faded but Glorfindel tutted over the newer purpling on his skin from the hard knocks received from the stones of the falling tower. It was hardly surprising, Legolas thought, Glorfindel would look much the same for he had been behind Legolas as they ran.
Glorfindel leaned over him to look closer and that brought the Elf lord close. Legolas felt Glorfindel's breath on his cheek, then neck, then chest. Long hair drifted over his skin and Glorfindel ran hard, skillful hands over his arms, his chest. Legolas' nipples pebbled under the stroking hands. To his horror, he felt himself stiffen.
Elbereth! Legolas leaned his head back against the tree trunk and half-closed his eyes. He could not trust himself to look at that golden head bent over him and tried hard to think of something else.
'I am going to press the skin now, Legolas.' Glorfindel glanced up and Legolas, with his head back and eyes lifted heaven-wards in an almost-swoon, did not see the faint exasperation on Glorfindel's face.
Glorfindel's hands were running over his chest, down his arms, pressing down on his skin and Legolas bit his lip in frustrated desire. He hoped Glorfindel would not insist on examining his whole body because he really did not think he could hide his shivering arousal. Think of something else, he told himself and tried to conjure up an image of his father...tried to convince himself it was Thranduil bending over him; he would be scolding him for going into the tower and not running away like all the creatures of the hells were after him.
When Glorfindel looked up and said, 'I cannot find anything on your upper body,' Legolas almost squeaked.
'It is too dark and frankly, you are filthy. I can find no cut or wound, and there is no blood, but your skin feels hot,' he said, frowning slightly. 'Do you feel any nausea or sickness?'
Legolas opened his eyes. 'I feel quite warm,' he confessed and knew he blushed.
Amron gave a snort. 'Let me see, my lord. I am sure if there is anything to find I will.'
Glorfindel looked irritated and embarrassed. Legolas thought he must be fed up with the number of young warriors who swooned if he so much as looked at them.
'I will want to check you properly in the morning when it is light,' Glorfindel said. 'I cannot see well here and you need to wash this Orc blood off you.' He prodded impatiently at smudges of black and rust-brown marks. Legolas frowned, uncomprehending at first until he realised that, in places, blood had soaked through his clothes. A dark stain had spread upon his tunic and soaked redly through his shirt. He frowned and looked at his chest. There were smudges of rust-brown; that was not Orc blood. It was not his either.
He looked down. Rhawion's. All this blood on his clothes, on his skin, was Rhawion's. There was so much. Of course, he thought numbly, it was where Rhawion had clung to him and beseeched him not to leave him alone in that place.
He felt the world tilt and spin, and then there was warmth and quiet murmured words of kindness. He felt Glorfindel hold him steady and he looked up into the blue eyes that were concerned and kind, and Legolas found himself wanting to weep.
'You did everything you could and more,' Glorfindel said quietly. Legolas bowed his head.
The dark was closing in, and he felt the brush of night on his face, on his lips and shivered. In the cold, he thought of the shadows pressing close, the hiss of the Nazgûl pressing against his skin. It had killed Rhawion. Was Rhawion lost in the empty dark?
He was aware that Glorfindel was still speaking but he felt distant and otherworldly. '...we will meet up with the rest of our party soon I hope, and I want Elladan to look at you,' Glorfindel was saying.
'Yes,' Legolas answered, hardly listening, and looked down at the ground again. A spider scuttled through the stiff blades of winter grass...Its thin legs clambered over the tiny stones and he watched as it stopped and waved its legs and then began to spin a gossamer thread that it wound about the grass. By morning, every blade of grass would have silver thread waving over it, he thought, and he wondered how it survived in the winter.
Glorfindel was looking away down into the valley of Phellanthir and his eyes were unfocused. Legolas hung his head; he had disappointed Glorfindel, he knew, and Rhawion was lost. His arm hurt and he supposed, now that he considered it, the Nazgûl had touched him there perhaps? A sliver of memory, a slicing cut...His fingers drifted over his arm but the memory floated off before he could quite grasp it.
At last Glorfindel spoke again. 'I would let you rest properly but I fear that the Orcs you killed in the Tower, and the camp we found earlier might be merely the harbingers of a greater army.' He sighed and pulled at his silver vambraces etched with bronze and copper. 'The destruction of the Tower will attract hordes from the Mountains.'
He rose to his feet and held out his hand to Legolas. That simple act of kindness, of acceptance was almost Legolas' undoing.
He walked behind Glorfindel, and Amron and Gimli took up their burden. Time indeed to go home, he thought. He missed his family, and wanted his father's comfort, Laersul's approval and Thalos' teasing laughter. It was not the first time he had been so close to death, but it was the first time he had ever been touched by the Nazgûl, and he felt corrupted by it, like a stench had crept into his lungs and suffused his blood and flesh. And Rhawion was dead. He could not stop thinking it and found his fingers plucking at the green suede of his tunic restlessly. We should have run, he thought, I should not have pinned Rhawion down. We could have fled, could have got out perhaps....
He did not know he let out a small cry of distress. A sharpness of pain lanced through his arm and into his chest and he stopped and shook his head as if he could rid himself of it.
He was barely aware at first of the hand upon his elbow, supporting him, moving him onwards, holding him when he almost stumbled. It was only when he did not crash to the ground that he realised and looked up at the beautiful concerned face of Glorfindel. He stumbled on, light-headed.
'I am sorry,' he kept saying and even Gimli shook his head and looked away. He saw Glorfindel tap his fingers impatiently and then push him gently on.
Glorfindel pushed them on, as far from the Arrow as they could get and as quickly. Inexorably clouds rolled across the sky and Legolas kept glancing up; he felt a strange fear and thought the Nazgûl must be close, slithering through the shadows, drawing evil to it, gathering storm clouds. He stumbled onwards, barely registering when Glorfindel held his elbow or supported him. He looked often at the still figure of Rhawion that Amron and Gimli carried between them. But whenever Legolas tried to take his turn carrying the litter, Amron gently but firmly pushed him away, or Gimli rumbled kindly that he was a Dwarf and much better at this kind of thing than a Woodelf. Legolas frowned. He remembered a Dwarvish roulette sawing its way through the throat of an Orc and was confused. When did that happen? And Glorfindel, seeing his confusion, kept him alongside and near. And truth be told, Legolas was glad for he felt strangely distanced and his heart pounded as they hurried away from the Arrow.
Amron finally persuaded Glorfindel to stop once more near a quiet bend in the river where there were shallows and pools. Glorfindel would not permit any to bathe, even Legolas, for there were not enough of them to watch but he told Legolas he would look at him more fully in the daylight and Legolas did not protest. Instead he sank gratefully to the ground, huddled in his cloak and rested his head on his knees.
In the darkness before dawn, they sat silently with no fire or light. Only a few words spoken to share the lembas, to pass around a flask of miruvor that Glorfindel insisted they all drink, and then the quiet rumbling of the Dwarf's snores as he napped, leaning against a tree trunk, arms crossed over his broad chest and legs stretched out before him.
Amron was on watch and stood quietly above them on a slight rise. Legolas could see his outline against the slowly lightening sky. His own head pounded and he wanted to sleep. His arm hurt and when he pressed it, the skin felt like fire. He rubbed it slowly, unable to recall when he had wrenched his muscles, for surely that is why his arm and now his shoulder hurt? It must have been when he pulled Rhawion away from the Nazgûl.
He glanced towards the litter and felt his chest squeeze when he saw how pale and still Rhawion was. He is dead, he reminded himself. I should not have stopped him from running....I should have stopped him going in there in the first place...
He heard Glorfindel shift next to him and the warmth of the warrior's body moved closer to him. 'It is the shock,' he said softly. 'You have faced the Nazgûl and we have all lost our friend. We could have lost you too but for your daring and courage, your coolness in the face of great danger and terror.'
Legolas wanted to shake his head and deny it but he did not have the energy. Instead he looked at the ground, at the tiny blades of grass, at the dull earth that was slowly drawing into itself to sleep, for winter. Cold seeped into his bones then, and he wondered what it would be like to be buried in the cold ground. And then he shook himself; Elves did not do that. Men did, and he was not a Man.
Legolas heard them first; three horses approaching from the North-West. They cantered, and galloped where they could down the grassy slopes, restless prancing hooves of two horses and the steady plodding of a third. It was Aragorn and the Sons of Elrond, Legolas thought, his heart sinking further. He thought how Aragorn had already accused him of failing in his trust, and Elrohir hated him for releasing the Orc to death. And now they had lost one of their own and Legolas had not done enough.
It was Amron though, who spotted them first at sunrise where they reined in their horses and paused high up on a ridge overlooking the valley of the Arrow. The breaking sunlight glinted richly on their silver stirrups and bits, and swirled in the mithril runes on their shields. A crimson glow touched the edge of one shield and the wind swept their long black hair back from their pale and lovely faces, pulled their cloaks back and swirled them. A moment's pause and the black horses shook their long manes and flicked their tails while their riders stared down at the small camp, and then they poured down the slope like a wave, their hair streaming out behind them, long streams of night silk. Legolas barely noticed Aragorn on the steady grey horse pounding heavily along behind them.
The Sons of Elrond drew their horses in a tight circle before the camp, and their black steeds tossed their heads and pawed the ground. One of the brothers slid down from his horse and greeted Glorfindel with a clasp. 'We have news,' he said, pulling off his black leather gloves. He glanced around unsmiling and then his gaze caught upon the litter and his face froze. 'I see you also have news, but more grave,' he said. 'How is it that Rhawion has come to be injured?'
His brother's horse stamped a hoof once and the wind lifted its rider's long black hair. 'He is not injured,' he said and his voice was grim and stern. 'He is dead.' He swung himself down from his horse and strode over to the litter and Amron moved aside. The Son of Elrond knelt and placed his hand over Rhawion's forehead and shook his head. 'This is sad news indeed. How did this happen?' He turned to look at Glorfindel.
'We found the last Nazgûl in the Tower. There were Orcs there too. Phellanthir is destroyed,' Glorfindel replied. He stroked the nose of the black horse and it huffed quietly at him.
Legolas looked away, glad that Glorfindel had not mentioned his part though he felt cowardly for it.
'Ah. We saw the lights in the sky yesterday. We came as fast as we could,' said the other twin. He came to stand beside his brother and looked down at Rhawion's pale face. He leaned down and stroked Rhawion's long hair back from his face and then reached to the brooch on his cloak and unpinned it. He pulled his sable cloak from his shoulders and cast it over Rhawion, pulled it gently over him and covered his face.
Legolas turned away. He did not see Elrohir, whose cloak it was, look at him and frown.
'We will remain here for another night. We should find a suitable place to camp,' Glorfindel said. If he was as weary as Legolas, it did not show in his voice; his face was still as strong and fearless as ever, and the light in his eyes was undimmed. He did not say they had a mortal with them, and he did not say that he wanted to assure himself that Legolas was really uninjured.
'There is a good place over there, just down the slopes to the East,' Aragorn said, dismounting and stroking his horse's neck. 'I have used it several times. There are trout in the river there.'
Gimli and Amron picked up their burden once again and followed Aragorn. Elrohir's face was stone when Legolas trudged wearily past him and stumbled, caught again by Glorfindel.
They made camp in a shallow dip sheltered by oak trees and near the riverbank. A shallow sandy beach was below them and they lay Rhawion's litter a little way away from the camp but within sight. Glorfindel unbuckled his great sword and rolled his shoulders, looking towards Legolas as he did.
'I will fetch kindling to make a fire,' Gimli volunteered and stood, stretching his arms.
'I will go with you. I need to make myself useful,' Legolas volunteered with unseemly haste, and although Amron gave him a look, no one said anything about him wishing to make himself scarce.
'And then you will go and bathe and check you have taken no wound,' Glorfindel said severely to Legolas. But he did not insist that Legolas go right then for the sons of Elrond were already leading their horses to the river.
'I do not need a guard,' Gimli said but it was not unkind. He looked at Legolas with his deep brown eyes and there was a glint in them, of fire and memory, and he murmured quietly, 'But you might. And I have no more roulettes to wager for I seem to have lost mine somewhere.'
'It is buried deep in the throat of an Orc,' replied Legolas and he felt the tension in his throat ease as the darkness ebbed. The Dwarf's strong presence reassured him strangely. 'And I was mightily grateful for it, friend.'
All the time they were collecting firewood, a feeling of nausea grew for Legolas and his head began to ache too, the way it did sometimes in the South when he had been too near Dol Guldûr for too long. Gimli glanced at him more than once and asked him what was wrong and he pushed away the nausea, the ache. But he could not ignore the prickling between his shoulder blades like he was being watched and he stopped often to turn around and listen. All he could hear was the murmur of the wind in the trees, and the low voices of their companions. He knew their Songs were twining about his but he blocked them off. He did not think he could bear to feel their sorrow.
He was determined to seek out Aragorn, preferring to approach the Man rather than the mighty Sons of Thunder as Glorfindel had suggested. He felt sure they would spurn him. He and Gimli dropped their firewood near the small fire that Amron was trying to coax to life. Amron had gathered twigs and dry wood for kindling and was holding a lighted bunch of sticks and twigs beneath a larger pile and cursing under his breath as it would not light.
Glorfindel was returning from the river and had clearly been bathing for the ashen streaks were gone from his hair and face and he wore a clean shirt and no tunic. Legolas felt a moment of disappointment that he had not been to bathe at the same time but he saw Amron grinning at him so he glared back. But it was half-hearted so he dropped the firewood as clumsily as he could and just out of Amron's reach.
'You should ask him if he'll wash your hair for you,' Amron murmured, smiling. He grunted as he reached for a piece of kindling and realised what Legolas had done, tutted irritably.
'I might just do that!' Legolas relented and pushed the firewood towards Amron with his foot. And then the wind fluttered the edges of the sable cloak that one of the brethren had cast over Rhawion and he felt a pang of sorrow.
When he turned back, he saw that Glorfindel's hair gleamed dark gold and lay down his back like a shining curtain. Glorfindel had obviously dressed in haste and was not quite dry because his shirt clung to him. His breeches were snug fitting and damp too...Legolas wished he felt more himself for he would have made a play right then for Glorfindel. He realised he was staring in a manner most unbecoming when he heard Amron snort.
'Legolas, go and get cleaned up,' Glorfindel said as if completely unaware, hanging his damp tunic out on a low hanging tree branch. He had turned his back to Legolas so he could ogle the tight breeches over Glorfindel's buttocks and watch how his shirt stretched over the broad shoulders. 'Make sure you look carefully and check for any small cuts we may have missed. Aragorn is already there. Get him to look you over.' Glorfindel shook out his cloak now and brushed it with his hand.
'Off you go, Legolas,' said Amron with a wide smile, throwing a sliver of soap at him. 'The views aren't as good in the river but it's a lovely morning. Don't be too long. I'd like to have a bath before night fall.'
Legolas bared his teeth in a threatening grin at Amron who laughed delightedly. Gimli dropped his firewood and carefully picked over the kindling he had brought. He selected one twig carefully and placed it on the camp fire that Amron was trying unsuccessfully to get going and said unhelpfully, 'That fire's not going. You need to pay attention, Amron, instead of teasing. He's no match for you right now anyway.'
Amron said something back but Legolas was not listening now, for Glorfindel had turned to look over his shoulder and frowned at Legolas, jerking his head to indicate that Legolas should indeed get a move on.
'Check for any small injuries or scratches that could be poisoned.'
Legolas nodded, even if he did not suspect an injury, he would be glad to wash the ashen paste that streaked his skin and he thought cold water might clear his head and relieve the nausea. But more, he wanted to scour the sensation of sticky blackness from his body, to wash away the lingering touch of cold horror from when the Nazgûl had engulfed him, and he had been swallowed by the empty Dark.
The river rushed over rocks and boulders, white rimmed and strong, but the bank dipped inwards at one point, forming shallows and pools and he squatted by the water's edge to wash his face. He still had the sensation of being watched; his nerves prickled and his heart pounded in his chest as he splashed clean, cold water over his face.
Aragorn was already there with his back to the riverbank, and therefore to Legolas. The Man had stripped to his shirt and breeches and stood thigh deep in the water. He looked over his shoulder at Legolas' arrival and nodded a greeting but he did not speak otherwise and turned his back to Legolas to continue his own ablutions.
Legolas unbuckled his belt and pulled his tunic over his head carefully for his shoulder pulled now and his arm suddenly throbbed. He used the opportunity to stare at the Man since he faced the other direction and seemed so absorbed. And he was curious.
Aragorn was tall and strong, Legolas could see, more so than other Men he had met, and there was a lightness and grace about him that was almost elvish. Legolas was pleased that he had worked out that as the Heir of Isildur, Aragorn must be descended from Elrond's brother, Elros and therefore had the blood of Thingol Greycloak in his veins. But that was as far as he could get; the subsequent line of Kings of Men had seemed dry and dull and he had always encouraged Galion to tell the tales of battles and of heroes instead. Galion's version of history did not always quite tally up with what his father made him read and he was trying to remember it as he pulled his tunic over his head and dropped it carelessly on the ground. He promised himself he would take the time to pull one of those biographies from the shelves of his father's study on his return, probably the one holding down the corner of the map of Eriador. Pulling the thin linen shirt over his head, he dropped that on top of his tunic.
Aragorn stood thigh deep in the water and sluiced water over his head and shoulders with cupped hands. He pushed his hair back from his face then and turned to look at Legolas. He stared for a moment like he had never seen a Woodelf before. Perhaps he had not, thought Legolas, half-naked and with the yäré-carmé swirling around his chest and broad, muscled shoulders.
'You are an accomplished archer,' Aragorn said a little awkwardly and Legolas looked at him. Of course he was. That's what he was, an archer. But he could see the Man was trying to be friendly and so he smiled back.
'And you are an accomplished swordsman,' he returned, hopping unsteadily on one leg to pull first one boot off and then the other. He dropped each of his boots on the hard earth so he stood only in his breeches. He paused, wondering if it would be easier to wash his breeches if he kept them on and saw that Aragorn had taken off his shirt and was rinsing it in the river, but kept his breeches on. So he waded too into the water and rubbed the sliver of soap between his hands and over his thighs. He thought Aragorn was staring and tried to ignore it. For a moment, the world seemed to tilt and the water looked dark and viscous.
He stood for a moment looking down at it and trying to think what this reminded him of. There was something he was supposed to do as well, but he could not remember that either. His nerves felt unsettled and he looked up at the sky for it seemed to him to grow darker. There was a strange smell in his nostrils and his blood felt warm, pounded in his veins. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he searched the shadows that crowded around the river even in the morning light. He felt a piercing gaze like a knife in his back.
'Do you hear something?' Aragorn waded towards him and looked out over river to the far shore. Legolas shook his head.
'I do not know. I feel we are being watched,' he replied and he suddenly felt drained and tired. He found himself rubbing his arm and it felt sore. He lifted his arm experimentally and found the skin pulled and blood pulsed.
'My brothers are on watch,' said Aragorn dismissively and Legolas grimaced. Of course. Elrohir's hatred of him would be tangible. That must be it. Although whether the power of the Peredhel was enough to make him physically sick was questionable.
'Let me look at you,' Aragorn said and he moved closer to Legolas. Legolas lifted his head to see that Aragorn was staring at him intently. Suddenly the Man was holding his arm. Legolas looked down at where his hand lay on his arm. 'You have blood on you,' Aragorn said, holding his arm and twisting it a little to look. 'Not Orcish blood either.'
Legolas looked down. Indeed there was a smear of red, even where he had washed it clean. 'I have been feeling strange,' he said. 'But I did not think I had been injured. I thought it was the Nazgûl affecting me still.'
Aragorn nodded. 'True but this is not the Black Breath. Let me see.'
Legolas was not fool enough to protest. Any warrior was a fool to ignore any wound, any scratch no matter how small and so he lifted his arm to look more closely at it. He rubbed water over the skin and the black smudges and rust-brown that was Rhawion's blood washed away to show a small nick, scabbed already. But the skin was puckered around the edges though there was a faint black tinge. He bent his head down to try to sniff it and there was the telltale smell of dankness and decay.
'Poison,' Aragorn said shortly and Legolas stared at it.
Fool, he scolded himself. It was not as if he had never been poisoned before and he should have known better. It was a very small wound though, he thought, and not much poison could have entered. He would probably shake it off quickly. He turned and waded back to the shore. Leaning down to scoop up his shirt, he suddenly felt dizzy and swayed. Already Aragorn was there and catching him, swiftly pulled a lace from his own shirt and tied it as a tourniquet around Legolas' arm. Legolas stared at him wide-eyed. Surely it could not be so serious? He recognised some of the symptoms of poisoning now, the dizziness and fluttery breath, the smell of the wound.
'Can you walk?' Aragorn asked and Legolas nodded, surprised. The Man scooped up his boots and tunic and thrust them at Legolas, and then grabbed his own clothes and followed Legolas back to the camp.
Their companions looked up as Aragorn hurried Legolas along. The Elf's breeches were soaked and he was barefoot, half-naked, and carrying his boots and his tunic in one hand and the wet bloody shirt in the other.
'Elladan! Quickly,' Aragorn shouted and Legolas, hearing the urgency in his voice, was alarmed. He had survived spider venom often enough in the woods and this was a tiny nick, not a great gash with the stinger left in. 'Sit quietly please, Legolas,' the Man instructed, 'and do not move. The tourniquet will stop it from spreading further. I do not know how far it has already spread.'
Legolas felt a strange disorientation, a distance like he was watching someone else. And then Glorfindel crouched beside him and Amron was looking up at him with anxiety. 'I have had a headache, some shortness of breath,' he told Aragorn and tried to stay calm. 'I thought it was the after-effect of the Nazgûl,' he said weakly.
Aragorn looked at him and nodded, but his grey eyes were worried and Legolas thought suddenly that this was no spider venom. Aragorn lifted his arm gently and turned it towards Glorfindel to see the small cut, and Legolas's alarm grew for it seemed that simply in the time they had returned from bathing, the wound was angry and puckered and his skin felt like it was on fire and painful to the touch. Legolas watched as Glorfindel peered at it and brought his face close to it, sniffed and made a face.
'Lhach-rhaw.' Glorfindel frowned and then Legolas was aware of a flask of some sort being held to his lips and obediently he tipped his head back and drank the thick liquid, expecting it to be some vile medicine. But it was miruvor, clear and refreshing and he immediately felt revived. His eyes cleared and he looked at Glorfindel; his lovely face was clear, smooth, flawless. His intense blue eyes that had seen so much regarded Legolas anxiously, and those full lips were lusciously close. Legolas swallowed, licked his own lips which felt dry and papery.
'Over here, Elladan!' Aragorn's voice sounded urgent and close. 'He has a cut on his arm. A blade must have gone through the tunic and just caught him.'
One of the sons of Elrond, Elladan he assumed, crouched before Legolas, placed a cool hand on his brow and tutted. 'Your arm is hot. You should have mentioned it.'
'I did not realise,' he heard himself answer but no one seemed to take any notice.
Elladan lifted Legolas' arm and stared at it for a moment, then he lay his hand over the wound and bowed his head. It was unlike anything Legolas had ever experienced. His arm already felt hot but where Elladan's hand touched him, it was cool and he felt a calm ease through his veins, his limbs. It seemed to him then that there was a veil of blue cast over him and it cooled him, settled peace and calm throughout his body.
'It happens, Elladan,' Aragorn was saying. 'Battle fever is in the blood and you do not feel a wound. It has happened to you more than once.' He squatted beside Legolas and peered into his eyes as he continued speaking to his brother. 'And you have felt the Nazgûl, the Black Breath. You have been in Mirkwood and been lost.'
Elladan ignored him. Instead he said curtly, 'Bring him closer to the fire.'
Legolas felt strangely dispassionate. They discussed him as if he was not there and thought it was time to assert himself. 'I am not cold.'
Elladan lifted an eyebrow and looked so like his father that Legolas almost laughed. He thought he might be a little hysterical.
'I will need fire,' Elladan told him seriously, and Legolas felt alarm creeping over him.
'Why is this suddenly so urgent?' he demanded. After all, he had got this tiny cut yesterday and run from Phellanthir with little or no effect. Surely it could not be worse than a spider bite? 'I have been poisoned before,' he said. 'I know what it does but this is a tiny scratch. It will make me sick, I know, but I will recover.'
'This is no spider-venom. This is lhach-rhaw,' Elladan replied as if that said everything and Legolas saw Amron turn away with his hand to his mouth so he thought that it must be bad. 'It lies dormant for a while, and then it kills very quickly, very suddenly. It is agonising. Usually Orcs use it in their initial attack and then withdraw. They wait for the poison to take effect and then launch a second attack.'
Legolas stared at him in horror. He had had this wound last night! And suddenly the Orc's satisfied face appeared before him, glancing down at a red smear on his sword; Legolas had thought it was Rhawion's blood, but it had been his own.
'Aragorn, are you ready?' Elladan called back over his shoulder and there was a muffled curse and grunt from Aragorn. 'Amron, pass me my pack.'
Legolas was aware of a purposeful quiet, an intense focus and that Glorfindel and Amron had withdrawn and let Elladan and Aragorn do their work. He wondered where Elrohir was and thought it was better he was not there for he would be willing Legolas to die, he was sure.
Elladan turned and rummaged in his pack and then without a word, grasped Legolas' arm again and peered at it.
'This will hurt,' he said, 'but we need to be quick. The lhach-rhaw creeps quietly through the blood stream and strikes suddenly, usually before there is time for an antidote.' He glanced up and met Legolas' wide stare. 'I am sorry,' he said sincerely and that more than anything alarmed Legolas.
Elladan rubbed some liquid over the skin first and that numbed it. Legolas was used to this, thought it was similar to the astringent, or tire, used in the Wood. Elladan tested the tourniquet that Aragorn had tied, loosened it, moved it a little higher up and retied it again. 'We cannot know how far any poison has travelled. If it has reached your heart there may be no saving you.' Elladan glanced up at that and met Legolas' wide green eyes. He seemed to linger for a moment and then dropped his eyes back to the wound.
Legolas looked past Elladan to see that Aragorn had a bundle of some sort of woolen material and a number of small glass cups laid out before him on a flat stone. Aragorn approached Elladan and then dropped into a crouch beside him. The Man looked at Legolas and smiled briefly. 'This is the best way we know for drawing poison. It has always worked.' He was reassuring, calm, and when he put his hand on Legolas' shoulder it did not burn or hurt. 'You may not have felt it strongly yet, and if we have caught it in time what will happen now as we draw it is you will feel its effects. But it will not grow stronger, just more intense. You will feel all the symptoms and then it will get better.'
'So I felt nothing and now, in purging me of the poison, you will make me feel worse,' Legolas said wryly.
Aragorn gave him a sudden smile. 'Yes. I fear that is exactly what will happen.' He turned his back to Legolas and busied himself with something. Legolas could not see what the Man was doing but he heard the clink of glass and thought of the small glass cups the Man had set out. There was the smell of burning wool and he wondered if the bundle of wool had been put into the fire for some reason.
Elladan had turned away again and was opening up a small roll of velvet. Within gleamed a number of tiny knives and small metal implements. Legolas frowned a little and looked away. In the Wood, warriors and healers simply sucked and spat the poison unless it was a risk to themselves to do this; then they laid on as many poultices as they could and dosed the injured with medicines and let you get on with it. Most Elves recovered, and those that didn't usually had other wounds as well.
Elladan held a small lancet over the fire and Legolas found himself watching with interest in spite of himself. 'Will you pierce the wound with this?' he asked.
Elladan nodded briefly. 'Yes. It will hurt. See how the flesh is puckered and blackened at the edges? And it radiates outwards, red. But first we do this.' He turned his head slightly towards Aragorn and held out his hand into which Aragorn placed one of the small glass cups. Inside the glass was a flame and he squinted at it, trying to see how that had been achieved but he could only see a small blue flame dancing inside the glass. Swiftly Elladan clamped the glass cup straight over the wound. Legolas squirmed for a moment for it burned and was like fire but he forced himself still.
'This will draw the poison,' Elladan said quietly and held the cup tightly against the cut until the flame gradually died. With his other hand he held the small knife over the fire so the blade became red with heat. 'That has taken out all the air from the glass,' he said to Legolas, and he nodded, without understanding why that would be important. 'It creates a vacuum and that will draw the blood.' He looked up at Legolas for a moment and then said, 'Are you ready? This will hurt and in drawing the poison, you will feel its effects quite suddenly. You may hallucinate and you will feel intense pain. It is...' He paused and then said, 'It is like a live thing. It fights the healing.'
Legolas nodded and then braced himself for the knife was red hot now and Elladan held it poised above the wound. Then suddenly and swiftly, he punctured a deep incision into the skin and with his forefinger and thumb pinched the cut open. Blood oozed from the cut, dark crimson, almost black and laced with a venomous yellow-green pus. Elladan had been right. It felt like fire and Legolas hissed slightly in pain and shifted. He closed his eyes and endured. He felt something circle the cut and opened his eyes looking down. Elladan had placed a second hot glass cup over the wound and again, inside the glass was some sort of wool which was burning. Incredibly it seemed to soak black from the wound.
'Another please, Aragorn.' Elladan was hunched over the wound now and held out his hand to Aragorn who, Legolas saw, was heating a third glass, holding it on a forked stick over the fire. Elladan suddenly whipped off the second glass and stuck the third over the wound and this time he held it for longer.
Aragorn took the used glass cups and with a stick he prised the wool from the cup and threw it into the fire. It sizzled and black smoke poured from the wool as it incinerated. Legolas felt everything tilt for a moment as the blackened woolen threads twisted and writhed like worms. Then he felt sick and retched, and felt someone lift his hair and a small bowl was put under his chin and a cool hand over his brow. Black liquid spewed from his belly and a taste of bile and sourness flooded his mouth. His stomach spasmed and he retched again. The glass was burning his skin and he squirmed, for the pain suddenly became unendurable.
He was aware of Elladan murmuring in a low voice, 'Elrohir, hold him still. The fifth cup now and it will draw the poison out.'
And then he felt a sudden heat scorch through him like flames. He gave a low cry and his blood surged. He fell back against a broad chest that steadied him, into arms that held him safe and still. He was on fire and retched again, feeling darkness boiling in his blood, pounding through his body, churned through his veins by his treacherous heart. And then he was surrounded by a crimson flame but this did not burn him. Instead he thought, in the venomous fever, that the crimson flame fought the poison.
His heart gave a great leap in his chest and his blood suddenly thrummed in a rhythm like battle drums. His skin tingled like lightning had passed over him and there was the scent of snow on the mountains. It seemed to Legolas that the stars were suddenly huge and bright and the river turned molten, like mercury in the strange light. Elrohir's eyes were mercury, liquid steel, like the river. And when Elrohir lay his hand upon the hot skin, Legolas thought he would faint. He let his head fall back in an ecstasy. He languished, let it pour over him and the heat between them ignited.
He thought he saw himself standing on a barren plain, ashen and with heaps of slag and stone. Grey lowering skies pressed down over him, and silence...He saw Elrohir stride swiftly up the slopes of ash and stone, pushing his way through faceless panicked soldiers, and Legolas lifted his head. His eyes widened, lips parted and before he could speak, Elrohir was before him, hand cupping the back of Legolas' head and brought him close. Elrohir stared for a moment into his eyes and pulled Legolas closer still, pressing his mouth against his, pushing between his lips as he gasped and filling his mouth with his own tongue. Wishing there was nothing between them. It was fierce, brief, passionate. He heard eagles soar above the snow...and Legolas heard his thoughts: This, this is what love is, he thought. Pure. The Song amplified.
'I will find you,' said Elrohir, pulling back and gazing into Legolas' eyes that were full of wonder. 'When this is done, I will find you.' He pushed a loose hair back from Legolas' face. He did not pause but turned and strode down the slope. Men parted for him and turned their faces towards him in admiration for he was fell and fair and had stood alone before the hordes of Mordor...
Legolas rubbed his face with his good, free hand, laughing. He was poisoned certainly, and hallucinating, for he could not, under any circumstances, not if they truly did stand before the Gates of Mordor with less than an acorn's chance on ice, ever imagine Elrohir Elrondion kissing him. He wondered how he knew it was Elrohir and dismissed the idea completely...but he did notice the tremble of Elrohir's hand as he laid it upon Legolas' arm. But that, he thought, must be because he wanted to kill him and had instead to help heal him. And it amused him, the irony, so he laughed again.
He awoke occasionally, shaking with fever and sweating. Dimly he thought he saw shadows of the poison and fever, two black horses throwing up their heads and tossing their long, black silk manes, and he thought the Sons of Thunder had been transformed into those black horses, their dark eyes turning on him and whickering softly to each other. But he knew that was just the fever. He watched them move about the camp, long black hair and steel-grey eyes like mercury, like starlight, like shot lightning... He shook his head. It was the fever, he thought dully. It had made him hysterical and full of imaginings. The firelight cast red and black shadows on the faces around him and he drew away from them in fear, for they were like demons of shadow and flame and he felt a terrible foreboding.
Gimli sat with him and wiped away the sweat from his face and gave him cool water. The steady song of the mountain soothed him. It was like the deep places of the earth, still and silent for ages and ages, disturbed only by a single drop of water. And he heard the steady beat of the heart of the Mountain, the liquid gold heart, and the steady bellows that was the Dwarf's breathing.
Long hair, like black silk, falling over a strong shoulder, hands more used to swords than caresses, entwined in his and a strong and noble face smiling at him, love-light in the grey eyes that were molten like mercury...
He knew he was delirious because it was Elrohir Elrondion he saw. It was like the vision earlier of them standing before the Gates of Mordor...and the poison was shivering through his flesh and melting his memories so he no longer knew what was real and what was a dream...
lhach-rhaw- flame in the body literally. A violent and vicious poison introduced into the bloodstream by a tiny incision can be enough to incapacitate an Elf.
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.