19. Alone in the Wild
Especially for Anarithilien because she was missing Aragorn and wanted some Aragorn/ Legolas bonding.
Special thanks to Spiced Wine for proof reading for me and for Silmarillion advice!
Thank you as always to those who comment and review- it is so encouraging and I am an unapologeticically needy writer.
Chapter 18: Alone in the Wilds
At first it was easy, thought Aragorn, riding with Legolas held against him. Legolas was drugged asleep, his head lolled heavily against Aragorn's chest and his eyes stayed closed. He cried out a little now and again as they jogged over rougher paths or Roheryn stumbled slightly. But Aragorn knew he could never fall from Roheryn's broad, safe back, even when he urged Roheryn into an easy canter, knowing they had to make haste, had to have travelled enough distance before night fall.
The gorge into which the Bruinen flowed was ahead of them and Aragorn thought Luin Aglar close enough that they would reach it within two days. For now all they had to do was make sure they were far enough away from the Orc band to be safe. But Roheryn had done this and more on many occasions, and Aragorn urged him onwards, clasping Legolas before him. They clattered over stones and rocks, and dust flew from their hoofs. They splashed over the river and galloped up the bank along the shoreline, leaving a clear trail, heavy hoof prints in the mud, and then up into the foothills of the mountains where it was rock, and their trail ended. Carefully, slowly, Aragorn steered the horse back down a narrow and steeply descending track to the river and they began to pick their way between the tall trees and willows along the shore. When they reached a little known ford, they crossed and found a narrow deer path where their own trail would quickly be lost amongst the smaller hoofs of the deer.
He listened carefully to Legolas' slight gasping exhalation as they cantered and eased back into a walk when he thought the gasps became too distinct. He had one arm around Legolas' lean waist to keep him from falling and thought the Elf would protest that too, but now and again he felt Legolas' fingers creep up to his arm and hold on so he knew it was needed. Once he felt the Elf slipping sideways and the steady Roheryn immediately adjusted his gait to allow Aragorn to pull Legolas back upright. His long, pale hair lifted on the wind and his body was overly warm against Aragorn's. It was long since Aragorn had held anyone like this and he found himself thinking often of Arwen, and talking to Roheryn, as he always did, but to Legolas too, telling him things he would not say had he thought Legolas awake.
He stopped to let Roheryn rest and because Legolas had cried out more frequently in the last hour than before and Aragorn felt he should give him some more sere-vanda and perhaps miruvor if he awoke.
He drew Roheryn to a halt beside a boulder that he thought he could easily step onto and hold Legolas at the same time, and at first, this seemed to work. However as he slid off the horse and balanced on the boulder to ease Legolas down, his foot slipped and he lost hold of Legolas, and could only reach out uselessly as the Elf fell to the ground with a hard thump. With a cry, Aragorn threw out his hands to try and stop Legolas' fall but he was too slow and the Elf gave a sharp gasp of pain and his green eyes flew open. He spoke rapidly in his own Silvan dialect first and it was a moment before Aragorn could understand. He leaped off the boulder and crouched beside Legolas, who closed his eyes again and moved his head weakly.
'Legolas, I am sorry. I let you slip from my grasp. I am sorry, are you hurt?' Aragorn slowly eased his hands along Legolas' arms feeling for any swelling or fractures though he did not think it hard enough a fall for that. Roheryn snuffed at his hair in concern and then dropped his head to tear up the thin grass. The horse lifted its head to watch Aragorn, munching the grass and then tearing up more.
Aragorn half- lifted Legolas and propped him against the boulder, pulling his cloak about him for the air was cold and crackled with the promise of frost at least. He fumbled in his saddlebag and his cold fingers found the flask of sere-vanda. He pulled the stopper out and lifted it gently to Legolas' lips. At first he resisted but Aragorn rested the Elf's head against his shoulder so he could not easily pull away; it was a measure of how weak he was that it was easy to tip a few swallows of the amber cordial into his mouth. Quickly, Aragorn coaxed him to drink a little miruvor afterward. Green eyes fluttered open and he focused on Aragorn for a moment.
'How do you feel?' Aragorn asked anxiously.
Legolas tried to lift his hand to his eyes but it was too much of an effort and he let his hand drop back down to his side. 'Not good,' he murmured. Then he opened his eyes and seemed to notice his surroundings. 'Where is Glorfindel?'
'We have come on ahead,' Aragorn reminded him. The Elf's eyes fluttered open and he half turned to listen. For a moment he seemed to consider but then his head dropped onto his chest and he gave a low groan.
'Do you remember that you are riding with me and the others will follow?' Aragorn did not mention his brothers. He let his own senses reach out, felt the heat of the body leaning against him, the heaviness of his head as it rested on his shoulder.
'We will stop for a while. Let Roheryn rest,' Aragorn said carefully.
Legolas did not speak but sat hunched over and head bowed miserably. Aragorn looked down at the Elf's smooth head, his hair fell forward and covered his face but it was clear he was in great pain and barely conscious.
'Perhaps we should stop for a few hours,' he said, but Legolas did not raise his head or speak. Aragorn sighed and looked about. They had stopped near the river shore and scrubby trees and bushes hid them from view and he could hear the river nearby. Roheryn grazed peaceably. The horse raised his head and regarded Aragorn thoughtfully. 'We can stay here for a few hours,' he repeated hesitantly. 'Roheryn could do with a rest.'
He gently steadied Legolas so he was sitting upright at least on his own and rose to his feet. He slackened Roheryn's girth and slid the saddle from his back and took off his bridle so at least the horse could graze in comfort.
Legolas wobbled a little and then carefully lowered himself to the cold ground and laid his head on his arms. Aragorn threw the Elf's cloak over him and huddled in his own for it was cold, the sky was grey above him.
Aragorn turned away, wondering if Mirkwood Elves were very different from those of Imladris with whom he had grown up for the most part. It seemed so, for when he glanced back. Legolas had raised his head and was staring at him with those strange, disconcerting green eyes that felt like they were slowly unravelling him, who he was, what he thought, what he felt. And then suddenly Legolas' gaze darted away, quick as a lizard. He looked upwards and squinted against the sky, then down into the grass for a long while. Eventually, he lay his head back on his arms and his eyes slid into reverie.
Aragorn decided he could not fathom this strange Elf in green and brown who hailed from, Mirkwood, who had brought the news of Gollum's escape.
Aragorn was a little ashamed now of his first reaction to the news, but it had been a long, unpleasant search for Gollum and he could not help the bitterness of his escape. It seemed to him that Gollum had been too easily released to clamber amongst the trees and it was no wonder he had escaped. Worse, at the council, Aragorn thought Legolas barely touched by the importance of the news, his fair face inscrutable and masked, his stance tall and graceful, at ease amongst the great and the Wise. He had been aloof, completely silent for the whole council apart from his one message and, having given his news, he simply melted away into the gardens before Aragorn even had time to question him.
He glanced across to where Legolas seemed to sleep at least, though he twitched now and again and his hands seemed to flutter as if he were firing those lethal arrows at some unseen enemy. It had been a surprise to more than just Aragorn that the Mirkwood Elf had stayed long enough to join the search for any remaining Nazgûl. But Legolas had proved himself on this journey, and Aragorn had felt a growing admiration for his prowess and a surprising respect for the way he had befriended Gimli, for whom Aragorn felt a genuine liking and warmth. He shook his head to himself, admitting that Erestor was right about Mirkwood; there was certainly more to them than met the eye, certainly more to them than their dubious reputation.
It was late afternoon before he stirred Legolas. Legolas' skin was even paler and though sweat glowed on his forehead, he was cold.
'There is sere-vanda,' Aragorn suggested looking anxiously into Legolas' eyes.
Legolas shook his head but he was frowning, eyes narrowed with pain.
'Are you sure? It will help...'
'No.' Legolas' voice was quiet, yet harsh. He licked his dry lips and managed to croak out: 'Glorfindel said Orcs.' He closed his eyes and leaned forwards, face creased in pain.
'Yes. But we have left them far behind,' Aragorn said reassuringly.
Legolas shook his head weakly and tried to reach out to Aragorn. 'You need me....' he murmured. 'Stay alert.'
Aragorn raised his head and looked about, wondering how far away the Orcs were. He could not see or hear anything, but he was no fool. Legolas would be far more likely to sense Orcs than he, even sick as he was.
'Are you able to stand?' Aragorn asked him, looking down at Legolas. 'We have to get up on Roheryn. I think it might be best if I get you up first and then I will mount behind you. Can you manage to stand?'
'I will try.'
Aragorn slid one arm beneath Legolas' broad shoulders, feeling the hard muscles and lean chest. Legolas draped his own good arm over Aragorn's shoulder and Aragorn hauled him to his feet but Aragorn heard him hiss with pain and his teeth were clenched. He swayed against Aragorn, and then leaned wearily against Roheryn.
'Just...let me...' Legolas paused, seemed to gather himself, one arm across the horse's withers, the other dropped loosely at his side. His head was bowed. He tried to lift his hand to his head, but even such a simple action seemed a great struggle for him. 'I need a moment. I am sorry.'
'Let me give you a leg up,' Aragorn said feeling a rush of sympathy. So Legolas leaned against the sturdy, patient horse, and Aragorn boosted him upwards so he landed heavily, swayed in the saddle, clutching at Roheryn's mane until Aragorn mounted and steadied him.
Aragorn paused for a moment to let the Elf adjust but his head was still bowed, the breeze lifting his long hair gently as if peeking beneath in concern. Aragorn frowned slightly. He was pushing Legolas he knew, and they had no conversation once they resumed their journey onwards.
They made their way following the course of the river, close enough to drink if need be but did not walk on the soft, muddy banks, and slowly the flat grasslands gave way to scrubby trees and bushes, and the flat terrain rolled slowly into the foothills of the Mountains. They rode carefully, and Aragorn kept all his senses alert for signs of other travellers, and Orcs. Once he saw the thin spire of campfire far off but it was no Orc fire, and too far away to be a threat. He considered briefly whether to make his way towards it, in case it was Rangers, but he dared not risk leaving his route to Luin Aglar where they were to meet Glorfindel.
Roheryn picked his way carefully through the woods, and the land sank into a valley whose sides were steep and rocky, with thin trees covering the cold earth. Aragorn knew this land well and made his way towards a cave where he had made camp many times before. Rangers used it occasionally and he knew there would be provisions for their own were meagre now that he could not hunt or forage.
At last it became so dark that he thought they must have passed the cave, but suddenly Roheryn veered off to the left. The horse had found it if Aragorn had not. There were no tracks to show there was even a shelter here, and the cliff was swathed in curtains of ivy and shrubs.
He let Legolas slide to the ground first, but he heard the whuff of pain as the Elf landed heavily and slumped against the horse for a moment. His hair was streaked with sweat. Aragorn looked down in concern and watched as Legolas sank rather gracelessly to the grass.
As was his custom, Roheryn snuffled in Legolas' hair as if ascertaining the Elf's condition, then the horse sighed heavily and nosed about in the thin, poor grass. Aragorn unbuckled the girth and slid the saddle from Roheryn's wide back, pulling off the bridle, and Roheryn shook his head. Aragorn carefully pushed aside the curtain of ivy that screened the cave from sight and entered. For a moment he felt plunged into darkness, but slowly his eyes adjusted as he looked around. It was as he had last left it, dry and sheltered from wind and sight.
He dropped the saddle and bags onto the floor, checking for signs of disturbance. Three small twigs were laid carefully over a flat stone almost by accident one might think, but it told him that Halbarad had been there recently, and he smiled and went back out of the cave.
Legolas had not moved when he returned, and did not look much better than he had before. His face was drawn and pinched, his eyes mere seams of green.
'Legolas?' Aragorn reached down and touched his hot forehead. Legolas winced and bit his lip. 'Sip some water first and then we will move.' Aragorn pulled the stopper from his water skin, held it to Legolas' lips and tipped it up.
Legolas raised a trembling hand and held the water skin steady, sipped a little, then pulled away. He nodded that he had had enough, lifted his eyes to Aragorn. His pupils were dilated, his skin very flushed. Thin red veins showed beneath his skin and Aragorn winced; clearly the poison had not been purged. It had spread. He thought there was a slight mottling of the Elf's face, a yellowish tinge to his skin.
Alarmed, Aragorn dropped to his knees beside Legolas. 'You need to rest,' he said, furious with himself that he had not realised the heat he felt from the Elf's body pressed against him as they rode was from the fever. Legolas fastened his gaze upon Aragorn, shook his head slightly and frowned. His long hand came up to his forehead and pressed it, then quickly dropped.
'Can you walk?' He slid his arm beneath Legolas' shoulder and helped him struggle to his feet.
Legolas stifled a cry, and Aragorn saw how he bit his lip to keep from further crying out. His fingers dug into Aragorn's arm and he swayed unsteadily. Walking was hard for the Elf, each step he took seemed endless and slow, and he winced every time he put on foot down on the cold ground. Roheryn swung his head round and watched them with patient brown eyes, then he plodded towards them and pushed his large, warm body next to Legolas, who stopped and smiled tightly. He slung one arm over the horse's broad back and the other over Aragorn's shoulder. Together, they slowly made their way into the cave.
Legolas said very quietly, 'How far have we to go? If I can rest a few hours I can go on we need to, if it means we get there tonight...'
Aragorn did not reply at first and was puzzled, for they were at least another full day away from Luin Aglar. 'We are more likely to run into a scouting or hunting party. We may even cross paths with Dunédain.'
'I had not realised they came so far south,' Legolas murmured. Aragorn frowned but said nothing for he thought Legolas merely confused and lowered him to the cave floor. He pulled a blanket over Legolas' shoulders for he was shaking even though his skin felt hot and burning to his touch. 'Why will you not have something that will ease the pain?' he asked, leaning down to look into Legolas' eyes.
Legolas swayed slightly where he sat and Aragorn caught his shoulder suddenly to steady him. Legolas' eyes snapped open and Aragorn dropped his arm immediately - the flash of intense danger in the strange green eyes that were suddenly alien and fey. But he blinked and instantly, the danger passed and he breathed.
'Forgive me,' Legolas said but his voice was slightly slurred and the strange, softer accent was more exaggerated, the vowels more elongated and the consonants softened more than usual as if he struggled to remember how to speak. 'It hurts a little.'
Aragorn smiled wryly.
'A lot then.' Legolas gave a tight smile back.
Aragorn paused and watched him for a moment. He made tiny movements, adjusting his position as if he could not get comfortable, and his mouth was thin and Aragorn realised it was normally wide and generous.
'I have some miruvor,' Aragorn remembered with relief, and rummaged in his saddlebags for the small flask. As he did so, his fingers brushed against the carefully packed flask of Crystôl that Elladan had pressed into his hand as he left. He paused, feeling the glass smooth against his fingertips.
He pushed it away, pulled out the flask of miruvor instead. 'Here' He opened the stopper and passed it to Legolas, who stared at it at first, then reached out, but his hands trembled so violently that Aragorn gently closed his fingers around Legolas' and guided the bottle to his lips. At first Legolas cut him a wary glance with his sharp green eyes, but he did not fight Aragorn and let him help. Foolishly Aragorn felt he had won something then, like winning the trust of a wild animal and he smiled slightly as Legolas tipped his head back a little and let Aragorn hold the flask as he took three sips and then pushed Aragorn's hand away gently.
Legolas blinked up at Aragorn and his eyes were clear and the pupils although still dilated, seemed less starkly so. 'The sort of medicine I like,' Legolas said with a smile that was more genuine than any he had given so far.
'Glorfindel will only take that kind of medicine,' he smiled at his weak jest and Legolas smiled back.
'I am not as cold as I was,' he said and looked cautiously around the cave with a little more interest than he had shown before. 'What is this place?'
'It is a cave used by the Dunédain. I have used it many times and my cousin, Halbarad has been here recently. He left signs.'
Legolas nodded. 'I saw. We have our signs too in the Woods.' He shivered and let his gaze drop to the cave's dry earth floor. 'I must sleep if I can,' he said honestly but his eyes searched Aragorn's face. 'Will you manage to stay awake or do you wish for me to take the first watch?'
Aragorn almost laughed at the idea of Legolas taking any watch. He was not in the least convinced that Legolas would not plunge back into wild hallucinations and Aragorn himself awaken to a knife at his throat and accusations of being Sauron himself. 'No. You sleep. I will watch.'
'Can you bear to eat anything?' he asked next, and reached for the carefully packed lembas, feeling the waxed paper smooth against his fingertips. 'It may help and will make you stronger,' he added, unfolding the packet and spreading it open.
'I cannot,' Legolas said and his mouth was turned down in dislike. 'My mouth is dry and the idea of food makes my stomach churn.'
'Very well, there is water and I can find some berries or some roots,' he offered, knowing he sounded over-eager and childlike but it was always his way. He wanted to help, to make things better; it was the healer in him. 'I have to go and cover our tracks first. Will you be all right for a moment?' he looked at Legolas.
Legolas smiled. 'I know nothing of this poison, but it seems to be leaving me now. I feel stronger and I can hear more than the thundering of my own blood.' He smiled and Aragorn nodded, though he thought that if anything Legolas seemed worse.
It was dusk outside and he did not take long to find long branches with leaves still on them that he brushed lightly over the earth to hide their tracks. He checked too for signs that marked their passage, and made sure there were only clean breaks that did not show white wood or bent or broken twigs or leaves. When he was satisfied, he returned carefully to the cave. Roheryn was resting his back hoof, and swung his head to look when Aragorn entered. Legolas was asleep. A wisp of pale hair showed above the grey blanket. There was new hay in the corner, and Aragorn silently thanked Halbarad for stocking the cave well. There were blankets too, folded neatly on one side, and bedrolls. Dry kindling had been stacked too, but Aragorn dared not light a fire tonight. Orcs were stupid but they had a keen sense of smell. But the cave's real treasure was a small spring at the back. Roheryn had already drunk, and Aragorn leaned over to fill his and Legolas' water skins.
He returned, banging the stopper back in his for it lacked the elegant design of Legolas' where the stopper slid smoothly in and out and never seemed to leak. It was light and felt smaller too but took longer to fill, Aragorn noted, so it must hold more water. He looked at it curiously, then heard a slight noise and turned to see Legolas had sat up but was doubled over and his face hidden by his long hair.
'Legolas?' he dropped to his knees beside the Elf. 'I wish you would have some sere-vanda. It will ease the pain and help you sleep through the rest of the fever.' He pushed his hair back over his shoulder, and leaned down to look into the Elf's face. It was flushed, overlaid by a sheen of sweat. He trembled, and Aragorn thought he was even deeper in a fever than he had been. 'We are safe here,' he said reassuringly. 'You can rest.'
Anxiously he bit his lip as he looked at Legolas' closed eyes, damp, fevered skin. He glanced over his shoulder, seeking a more comfortable place for the Elf, then patted Legolas on the shoulder and rose, reaching for the bedrolls and shaking them out. They were made of sturdy canvas, filled with straw but smelled a little musty. He did not think Legolas would much care.
'Come Legolas, lie here. At least you can rest.'
'No....I... I cannot rest.' Legolas' teeth chattered and his whole body seemed suddenly to convulse. 'We m..must go on.'
Aragorn rubbed his hands over his face. Surely Legolas was not serious? It must be the fever, he thought. He twisted the ring of Barahir upon his finger. 'We cannot go on now, Legolas.' Roheryn gave a deep sigh and Aragorn, struck by sudden inspiration, said, 'It is dark and I dare not risk Roheryn. He may stumble and fall or go lame. Can we wait the night out here? I am tired as well.' As he said it, he realised that was true and Legolas looked up, his eyes suddenly very bright in the dark.
'Forgive me, Aragorn.' He bowed his head and Aragorn felt suddenly guilty and humble at the same time. 'I...have been...selfish.' Legolas wrapped his arms about his knees and laid his head on them. His eyes closed.
'Not selfish,' the Man said guiltily, not wishing to add to the Elf's burden. 'I am just not an Elf, I am afraid.'
There was a light snort of laughter. Aragorn stared. A smile flitted over Legolas mouth, and Aragorn felt a moment of ease.
'Do you think you can bear to eat a little lembas?' He remembered then he had promised to get something else and rose to leave but a hand, hot with fever, reached out and caught him.
'Please...stay. You do not need to go out again....If it makes you happy, I will eat the damned lembas.' Green eyes, fever-bright, flicked up to him and Aragorn gave a short laugh.
'It is not damned. In fact it is rather good.'
Legolas grimaced, and his mouth twisted in sudden pain. For a moment he stilled himself, eyes focused inwards and his whole body tensed. There was a shudder that seemed to tremble through his whole body, then pass.
'I have eaten lembas all of my life,' Legolas said and Aragorn looked up in surprise for the convulsion seemed to have passed as quickly as it struck. ' Good is not a word I would ever use to describe it.'
Aragorn laughed then in astonishment. 'I have never met an Elf who did not like lembas.'
'Perhaps you have never met an Elf from Mirkwood.' The smile was quick and blinding and Aragorn felt his jaw drop for a moment. 'We have heard that in Lothlorien, it is made by the lady Galadriel and her maidens. Perhaps it the Lady Undomiel and her maidens in Imladris.'
Aragorn felt his stomach and heart churn at the sound of her name on another's lips and smiled involuntarily. 'Who makes it in Mirkwood?' he asked to cover up the heat on his own face, and realised that he never heard of any lady's name in connection with Thranduil, yet here was his son.
Was there a hint of mischief gleaming in the Elf's eyes, Aragorn wondered.
'And her maidens?' he asked, thinking it a strange name for a queen.
'Henchmen,' Legolas said helpfully and Aragorn shot him a puzzled look; there was definitely a delighted gleam in his green eyes.
Aragorn kept his own face impassive and played along. He glanced up with all the innocence he could muster and said, 'A strange way to describe a lady's handmaidens,' he joined in. 'Are they as light an their feet as the Lady Arwen?'
'Heavy on their feet and heavy in their hand,' Legolas grinned weakly and immediately winced slightly.
Aragorn grinned back and unwrapped the lembas that Glorfindel had given him. A light fragrance of fresh baked bread teased him, scented with something else, lemon and parley perhaps. He felt refreshed just from the smell and broke a wafer, handing one half to Legolas.
Legolas looked at it suspiciously, then reached for it. His fingers missed and he blinked, shook his head, then squeezed his eyes closed, let his hand fall away.
'Here,' Aragorn moved closer to him and took his hand, folded his fingers over the wafer and guiding it to his mouth.
'I am worse than useless,' Legolas mumbled but he took a small, tentative bite from the wafer and swallowed without chewing or tasting it. For a moment he held himself as if expecting something nasty, then lifted his head and looked at Aragorn in surprise.
'It tastes like...like...' He brought his hand to his mouth and took another bite, a bigger one and chewed carefully. 'It reminds me of... summer evenings. No, like harvest...'
Aragorn smiled and carefully ate his half. Arwen had made this, he told himself; she had sieved the flour and kneaded the dough, shaped it into long loaves, stroked it with milk for a glaze.... he tried not to think of her hands on the long white loaf, running her hands along it...
'So... the lady Galion...' he said to distract himself from the uncomfortable and growing bulge in his breeches. Legolas laughed slightly and winced.
'Galion is my father's...um...housekeeper I suppose. His cook, accountant, nursemaid and tutor to his children...' He smiled.
'Not like Erestor then, 'Aragorn said, brushing the crumbs of lembas from his beard, his cloak.
'Erestor? Eru, no!' Legolas looked appalled. Aragorn smiled to himself and stole a look at the Elf, whose teeth were no longer chattering. He seemed a little refreshed by the water and lembas and Aragorn wondered if he could tempt him into taking a little sere-vanda, but decided that since Legolas seemed so recovered, he might leave it. It was true he would hear any approaching enemy better than Aragorn.
It was bitterly cold that night, even in the cave. It was November, Aragorn reminded himself, and any warmth that lingered in Imladris had long left the Wild.
He had persuaded Legolas to lie down on the bedroll, but his teeth had started chattering again and his skin felt cold and clammy. Aragorn had cast the blankets over him, but as soon as he lay down himself, he too felt cold. There seemed to be no alternative but to lie close to each other and benefit at from each other's heat. Legolas had not batted an eyelid at Aragorn's tentative suggestion and if anything, seemed surprised that the Man had considered it even worth mentioning.
Aragorn lay close but not touching, familiar with enough different customs to neither ask nor presume. He thought of the last time he had lain close to an unfamiliar body, in Umbar. His companion had no idea how near his proximity to the Heir of Isildur, and would have turned him over to the Corsairs without a second thought. Aragorn wondered idly what paths Uglor now travelled, if he had taken to the Black Ships as he had boasted. It had been worth putting up with his arrogance and assumptions Aragorn mused, to pick up valuable information that had helped Mithrandir guess the movements of the pirates...He let his thoughts wander down such paths and memories until they took him where he was happiest: treading the paths of Lothlorien to where a maiden wound white flowers between her fingers and sang idly...
...He dreamed of her body, pressed close against him, warm and smelling of summer, and meadow grass, somehow sweet. Aragorn felt a comforting warmth, liquid pooling at the bottom of his belly...her long, black hair, like a cloud of silk, her soft warmth that he wanted to bury himself in....
Long hair sifted over his shoulder, and he lifted his hand tentatively to stroke it, wanting to feel that softness. He felt himself burgeon with need for Arwen.
'There's something sticking into my back,' a weak voice snapped him out of his reverie like a slap. He looked at his hand where it was threaded with pale blond strands and pulled it away, hotly and cringingly aware of the hard, hot flesh that pressed against Legolas' body.
He chewed his lip and moved. 'Sorry. It's my knee.' He shifted so it could have been possible and ignored the muffled snort. 'Are you feeling better?' he asked as much to distract Legolas as himself.
'I am not as dizzy and confused as I was, I think. It is better without the sere-vanda. It confuses me.' A pause. 'Have you moved your sword so it is more comfortable?' he asked. Aragorn could hear the amusement in his voice, and felt a flush of embarrassment scald down his back, over his neck and cheeks.
'I was thinking of Arwen,' he admitted because not to was worse.
There was a silence. Legolas half-turned so he now lay on his back. Aragorn saw his beautiful face, straight nose, high cheekbones, full-sculpted lips, and the delicate point of his ears. His strange green eyes looked sideways at Aragorn.
'She is very beautiful.'
'She is.' The relief and pain of speaking about her.
'They say she is Luthien's likeness.'
Aragorn felt the stirring of the usual complex emotions: jealousy and possessiveness, mixed with an intense unworthiness. He stared up at the hard rock of the cave roof. He could hear the river beyond, sweeping its clear way through the night under the stars. But his thoughts dwelt upon the last time he had spoken of his love for the daughter of his foster father, the sister of his brothers. But he had never thought of her as a sister, the beloved Evenstar of her people....
'She has your heart?'
The Elf spoke gently. There was compassion in his voice, so strangely accented with its elongated vowels and softened consonants. Aragorn blinked.
'Ah.' He saw Legolas blink slowly and then he let his eyes close. 'No wonder. She must have broken many hearts.'
Something in his voice, the kindness, made Aragorn's heart squeeze, and he found himself wanting to confide everything in this strange Elf from Mirkwood.
'She has given me her heart too,' he found himself saying, and Legolas only blinked slowly, once.
'Then you must treasure it, for does she not have the Gift of Elros?'
'I would that she did not take this path.'
'But she does so for you.'
'Yes. But I wish she did not.'
'It is her Choice. And she has told you that she would rather love once and truly than love lightly and often?'
'Then you are beyond blessed. How many of her kin have died and found none. It seems she is also blessed.'
Aragorn lay staring up the roof and wondered. He thought of Elladan who had never found love, and Elrohir who could not love. And Elrond whose heart was broken. Beyond him was Eärendil who sailed the skies it was said, forever sundered from his love and kin, and Luthien and Beren lay somewhere beneath the waves…
It seemed that Elros was the only one who had been happiest, and Aragorn felt peace creep into his heart. He thought there was a whispering song that must have been the spring at the back of the cave, or perhaps a breeze threading its way through the trees outside. He swore there was a green-gold light wavering in the dim cave and thought perhaps the sun had risen early, was shining through the new beech leaves...but it is November he thought sleepily, and night...His breathing deepened, and he drifted through beech trees along a meandering, burbling stream where cold clear water gurgled over granite and slate between the ferns...
Morning crept upon Aragorn, whom would not have woken but for Roheryn snuffling at him. He threw his arm out and with the other, rubbed his beard. There was a strange noise near his ear... a strange light clacking, and his tunic felt damp. He had slept more peacefully than he had for years, but the sound drew him to full alertness. It was Legolas. His teeth were chattering again, his skin was cold and clammy, and the sweat from the Elf was the cause of damp on Aragorn's own skin. It seemed the reprieve was simply the fever gathering itself again for a greater onslaught. Aragorn rolled out of the blanket, knelt above Legolas, pressing his hand against his throat. The Elf's pulse slammed against Aragorn's finger, a racing, pounding thump, and he saw in the dim cave light that the red veins stood out more starkly, like threads. He could not see if the skin was mottled, but he thought it was likely given the pulse.
Aragorn watched Legolas for a while, carefully noting the small signs of distress: his eyelids flickered and his breath came in short, soft gasps. Aragorn catalogued in his head each symptom, each possible reason and cure...but he had only a choice between sitting it out, dosing the Elf with more sere-vanda, or giving him a further dose of Crystôl. He did not want to do any of them. He knelt back on his heels, thought that Elrohir would simply plunge his thoughts, his Power into the Elf's feä, fight the fire of poison with his own fire, wrestle for the Elf's life, vanquish the poison's violent spread with his own violent anger and passion...but Aragorn did not have that Power. He pulled his saddlebags towards him and rummaged inside for a moment. His fingers touched a small packet of folded waxed paper. Inside, he knew, were the small dried leaves of athelas.
He pulled out the folded packet and looked at it. He supposed he had nothing to lose. Athelas was not renowned for healing a fever, but at least it might bring some comfort, and relief from the hallucinations. He had nothing to heat water for he had not dared light a fire, so he simply opened the packet, slid the leaf between his palms and held them. He let his head bow and imagined how warm his hands were, that they were growing even warmer, as Elrohir had shown him. He let the heat pass from his hands into the Athelas, felt the dry, papery leaf fill and plump. The fragrance of Summer stole from between his hands. He leaned forwards and cupped his hands around Legolas' nose and mouth, waiting for him to breathe in the fragrance. He felt the hot breath on his own skin and the cool as the Elf exhaled and inhaled.
And Legolas' eyes snapped open. Utterly alien in that moment. Aragorn barely blinked before his hand was seized in a grip of steel. Next he knew he was thrown hard and landed face down on the cave floor. He grunted as the air was pushed out of his lungs by the unnervingly heavy body of the wood-Elf landing atop him, pinning him down. Small pebbles and grit tore at Aragorn's cheek, and he felt the tendons of his arm wrenched in screaming pain as Legolas twisted his arm behind his back, leaning over him so Aragorn felt his hot, feverish breath on his own ear, his cheek.
'Spawn of Morgoth!' the Elf hissed and Aragorn felt his tendons stretch, the bones almost dislocating.
'Legolas!' he managed to gasp, and he wriggled a little to shift the weight on his back. It was difficult to breathe. 'You know me. It is Aragorn.' He cried out then because Legolas wrenched his arm further up his back. He felt a soft crunch, and knew the next move would truly dislocate his shoulder. He froze.
'Where are they?'
Aragorn barely dared to breathe. He blinked, saw that the precious athelas was scattered nearby, lost in the dust and gravel. 'Who?' he gasped. He knew better than to struggle and lay as still as he could.
'Do not play me for a fool!' Legolas hissed again, and he leaned hard over Aragorn so his face was close. Aragorn could see the fine pores of his skin, the long lashes and bruises around his eyes from the poison. 'Where are your masters?'
Aragorn bit his lip for the pain was excruciating. He opened his mouth, tried to speak but the only sound that came was a slight cry of pain. Legolas reduced the pressure by a fraction, enough for him to whisper: 'I have no master. What do you speak of?'
With a cry of anger mixed with his own pain, Legolas bore down on him again. A drop of sweat slid down his face and onto Aragorn's own cheek. 'If you speak only lies I will not let you speak. I will not waste my time on you, slave!' There was a slide of steel whispering from a sheath, and Legolas' white knife lay against Aragorn's throat. He felt a thin line of blood trickle down his neck. Aragorn was suddenly very afraid.
'Legolas,' he managed to squeeze out. 'I am Aragorn. We rode out from Imladris with Glorfindel, with Gimli and Amron.'
'And then you left. You betrayed us. You left so you could warn the enemy.' Legolas pressed the flat of his knife against the nerves in Aragorn's neck. He felt his arm twitch involuntarily.
'No! We rode to the Angle, to meet with my own folk, the Dunédain, to ask for news of the Nazgûl.' Aragorn gasped. His heart thumped in his chest; he felt the sinews of his arm crack and strain.
'To meet with your own folk, and the Nazgûl is what you mean!'
'No. No. Legolas...Remember! You were injured in Phellanthir. You were poisoned. It was my brothers who healed you.' Aragorn squeezed his eyes shut against the pain in his arm and shoulder. Small stars of light exploded before his eyes; the nerves popping. Soon his shoulder would dislocate. Part of his brain wondered if Legolas would stop then, seeing that he was useless. But the knife pressed against his throat again, and he felt his artery pulse against the blade.
'Your brothers inflicted terror upon me,' Legolas spat accusingly. 'They disabled me with their medicines and potions! They tied me down so I could not escape.' There was no question that there was murder in Legolas' voice. Aragorn felt the Elf press down harder, his hot body strangely heavy, so strong. 'You helped them.'
Aragorn remembered how he had held Legolas down, how Elrohir had shoved his hand over the Elf's mouth, forced the Crystôl into him, how they had tied his hands with leather reins, how he had fought and fought, and wept...He had wept, thought Aragorn guiltily, because he thought they were abandoning Rhawion. Suddenly he saw himself as Legolas must; a Man of dubious descent who had brought Gollum to the Wood. That one action had led to slaughter among the wood-Elves. Aragorn had reprimanded Legolas for his folk failing in their trust, and when Legolas had been poisoned and in agony, he had helped his brothers to throw him to the ground, tied him tightly, forcing him to leave Rhawion locked forever in the dark...And Legolas had wept...
Aragorn closed his eyes. He could understand Legolas' mistrust, for he mistrusted and doubted himself.
He wanted to say: I am sorry but there was a sob above him — from Legolas, he realised. The Elf's hand was on his throat, thumb pressing onto his windpipe. It was hard to breathe. His pulse throbbed once beneath the strong fingers, stars exploded before him again, and he felt pressure on the nerves in his neck. He felt his eyelids flutter. The last thought he had was that he was sorry that Arwen would never know how he died....
When he opened his eyes, Aragorn realised he was not dead but was uncomfortably trussed like a turkey. He lay on his side with his hands tied behind his back, knees bent and his ankles tied on a short leash to his hands. It made his back arch and strained his spine horribly. There was a sharp pain around his throat where Legolas must have pinched his carotid artery, and caused his blood pressure to drop. That is why I passed out, he realised. So he does not intend to kill me, he thought then and was ashamed of the relief he felt.
He blinked, saw that Legolas was sitting a little distance away from him, his knees drawn up to his chin. A wickedly sharp knife gleamed in his left hand, which he flipped between his fingers. His green eyes gleamed like the blade when he saw that Aragorn had awoken. He looked at the knife thoughtfully, head tilted so his long hair slid over one shoulder. His hands did not tremble now. The gaze he fixed upon Aragorn was intense, focused.
'Now we talk properly,' he said.
Aragorn could not help but lick his lips nervously. He thought that until now he had never really appreciated the adage about the wood-Elves: More dangerous, less wise.
He tried to shift, twisting his hands but found he could not move. A sharp stone dug into his hip but he could not move from it, must simply endure.
'Now. You were telling me how you rode off to meet with your folk, and the Nazgûl. You can either tell me where your masters are or I can leave you here for them to find you.' Legolas ran his finger along the straight edge of his white knife. 'Of course I cannot imagine they will be best pleased at your failure.' He lifted his strange green eyes to Aragorn, gave a thin smile that was utterly terrifying. Aragorn had been brought up amongst the wise and deep Elves of Imladris, not the wild folk of Mirkwood. 'I have seen what they do to those who displease them.'
Aragorn closed his eyes, shook his head for a moment. He had no idea what to do. In all his long life, and the many situations he had found himself, he could not think of a single one that had been quite so dismal.
'I cannot tell you where my master is, for I have none.' He hoped he sounded sincere but thought the rasp in his voice made him sound more like an Orc than a Man. 'My allegiance though, is with Imladris and Glorfindel is my captain.' He hoped the mention of Glorfindel's name might trigger something in Legolas' mind, and for a moment there was indeed a minute hesitation. 'He has been my friend and mentor for all my life,' he continued in a low voice, the way he would approach a nervous horse. He glanced towards Roheryn hopefully, wondering if the horse might be of some help, but it seemed the gelding had transferred his loyalty entirely to Legolas; all he did was swing his head round as was his habit, and peer at Aragorn questioningly, then turn back to pull at hay, munching noisily.
'You have fooled my lord Glorfindel then,' Legolas said, but he blinked slowly as if trying to remember something.
'I do not believe anyone has ever fooled Glorfindel,' Aragorn responded, and Legolas snorted.
'Is he not from Gondolin? Did it fall on its own?'
Aragorn raised an eyebrow in surprise. Legolas sniffed. 'You think us unlettered, untutored and unwise. But we are not complete fools...' He paused then and let his gaze slip as if he thought on his words and was puzzled. 'My father...' He blinked and shook his head a little.
'Your father trusted me.' Aragorn said. 'He let me into his stronghold and took the creature Gollum from me at Gandalf's behest.'
'And it betrayed us!' Suddenly Legolas leapt forwards and crashed to his knees beside Aragorn. 'You brought Gollum to us! You must be deeper in their plots than I even realised!' His eyes flashed and his teeth were bared, not in rage but terrible pain. Aragorn recognized his own guilt and loss in another's eyes. Suddenly he understood the obsession with returning for Rhawion.
At that moment, the Evenstar slipped out of his shirt and glinted. Legolas stopped, stared at it.
'What is that?' He let his long fingers drift over it, then cradled it gently in his hand for a moment, staring as if entranced. 'This is Elvish, ancient, filled with power...'
'It is a token from Arwen. She whom I love. Who loves me.' Aragorn felt his voice crack and it was not from the bruising of his windpipe. 'I told you…'
'Undomiel. Elrond's daughter.' Legolas gave him a shrewd look. 'You have bewitched her too.'
'No...I love her…'
There was a long pause. Aragorn felt himself heat under Legolas' piercing gaze that raked him, his face, pinned him. He who had endured Elrond's disapproval countless times, Glorfindel's patient scrutiny, suddenly felt as his bones had dissolved, his soul left exposed...He realised then how very protected he was from the otherness that was the Elves.
Legolas leaned forward, stared into Aragorn's eyes and he thought he heard the whisper of grass, an elusive scent of summer. And then something in him shifted...he heard the sound of rain on the earth, the snap of a banner in the wind, a trumpet's clarion call that stirred his blood and made him proud. An unutterable lightness that danced through his whole being, made him want to laugh but instead there were tears streaming down his cheeks. He did not know why, but he had never felt so completely known...
When he opened his eyes, he found himself fixed in Legolas' own gaze, saw deep green, flecked with gold like new leaves in a beech wood, or the still deep pools beneath the mosses and ferns of the forest. There was the distant sigh of the Sea....
And then it was gone. Aragorn felt bereft. He would have reached out to hold on longer if he could, but Legolas drew back, sat on his heels, and Aragorn could breathe.
They stared at each other for a moment, then Legolas raised himself to his feet smoothly, with such grace that Aragorn wondered if he was poisoned at all, but suddenly Legolas wobbled, put his hand out to catch himself, balanced against the wall. He looked down, closed his eyes for a moment, then took a breath and immediately winced.
'How long does this poison remain in one's veins?' he asked not looking at Aragorn. 'I thought it had gone, and suddenly it assails me once again.' The Elf's eyes were bright with fever, and his long hair stuck against his brow. His cheeks were flushed and his lips parted in short, quick breaths. Aragorn gulped air into his lungs, hoping beyond all hope that Legolas had recovered himself, and knew Aragorn again.
'It is fighting you,' he said as gently as he possibly could, keeping his voice low and hoping Legolas would not hear it tremble. 'An hour ago, it eased.' He was unsure if it were an hour or a day now, for he had no idea how long he had been unconscious. 'And now it is gathering itself...It is the poison that makes you think real what is not.' Aragorn shuffled himself uncomfortably so that he could keep Legolas in his sights as the Elf moved slowly towards Roheryn. The horse whickered softly, and watched Legolas' approach with interest. Legolas placed his hand upon the strong neck, and his head bowed. He swayed slightly on his feet.
'Does she love you?' Legolas asked again, looking down at the ground.
'She says she does.'
'If I killed you now I would spare my lord Elrond much heartache.'
Aragorn swallowed. 'You would.'
'But it would kill Arwen Undomiel by the look of it.'
'Then swear an oath to me and I will let you go.' Legolas sank down on his knees beside Aragorn and stared at him earnestly.
'What is the oath?'
'I will not tell you until you have sworn to keep it.' He sat back on his heels, hands spread out on his thighs and regarded Aragorn with a mixture of anxiety and hope. It was strange, thought Aragorn, how very young and vulnerable he looked at that moment. But Legolas still clasped the thin white knife loosely in his hands.
'Then I cannot swear it.'
'You would lose your life because you do not trust me?' Legolas mouth twisted in inexplicable pain and disappointment. 'I do not ask you to endanger your life or anyone's but mine.'
Aragorn hesitated. He wanted to help, it was his nature. But he did not know Legolas, not really. And Legolas was asking him to help put Legolas himself in danger… but then it looked like Legolas was going to do that anyway and if Aragorn did not agree, he would be left here with no chance of helping Legolas avoid danger and no chance of saving his own life either. He sighed. 'Do you promise?'
'Yes. Now swear.'
Aragorn took a breath. 'I swear to help you.'
The thin leather reins that bound Aragorn as Legolas had been bound himself seemed to sip away. Aragorn moved his arms slowly, feeling the blood stab back into his veins. He winced and scowled, rubbed his arms and moved his legs gingerly. Slowly he pushed himself up so he sat opposite Legolas. Legolas sat as he had when Aragorn awoke, knees drawn up, long flaxen hair pulled over one shoulder. HIs face was drawn, his eyes narrowed, not with anger but with pain.
'Legolas, listen to me. You need to rest and to eat. I will prepare some athelas. It will help to soothe you.' He looked about for the torn leaves.
'You will help me,' Legolas said, ignoring him entirely, 'to find Rhawion and release his soul from the Nazgûl's grasp.'
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.