20. Promises to Keep
Author's note: Apologies for how long this has taken. Reviews do keep me writing though so thank you to DT for a late and encouraging review as well as Freddie, Pilvi(I never mind the repeated comments- and yeah, I know- merciless!) Guest- thank you as always, gginsc, iiionly, obidawn- thank you, kimberley kim, Rasinet- where IS Glorfindel when you need him - a little snippet in this chapter! Melusine and Meleth , lisse, Fadesintothewest,, curiouswombat, meleth (from Faerie), thelostplaceofatlantis, Alpha Ori, Spiced Wine, Naledi, bloodupontherose, Aiwendiel for all the nice comments and encouragement across the archives.
Special thanks go to Spiced Wine for her kind beta reading of this and valuable help, and to Chaotic binky/Glorfindel for medical advice and insight into what Elvish Science might be (more of that another time), to Melusine for reading it and making suggestions and of course as always, Anar for betaing this when she is so very very busy, and the plot bunnies.
Summary: Legolas has been poisoned. He is convinced that Rhawion's soul is trapped in Phellanthir. Elladan and Elrohir have left for Lothlorien. They have encountered and killed many Orcs already.
Yet more Orcs are coming through Eregion - (Legolas overheard the previous band they encountered on the way to Phellanthir, talking about gathering at The High Pass). Glorfindel has sent Aragorn ahead with Legolas on horseback and they intend to meet up at Luin-Aglar. However Legolas has refused to take any more sere-vanda*. Now that Legolas is no longer taking the healing sere-vanda, in his delusional state, he has attacked Aragorn and forced him to swear that he will help Legolas release Rhawion's soul.
*sere-vanda: A combination of chemicals and herbs with multiple healing properties. It can be a sedative. It also it used to regulate the heartbeat and temperature. It is also a conductor of sorts for more powerful drugs, such as the anti-venom, Crystôl.
Crystôl (means Dream-Cleaver) is a powerful anti-venom created by Elrond as a specific antidote to lhach-rhaw, which is the poison used on Legolas. It needs to be used in conjunction with sere-vanda, which regulates the heart at the same time as the Crystôl actually combats the venom.
Athelas: Tolkien is really vague about what it actually does but it certainly clears the mind and heals the spirit. It is particularly effective in the hands of Luthien's line (she uses it to heal Beren in the early Lay of Leithian) and the Kings of Gondor of course.
nb: A waterail is a British native bird, a wader in the reeds and marshes. It has a very strange and eerie cry.
Chapter 18: Promises to Keep.
Aragorn could not sleep. He had claimed that both he and Roheryn needed rest to buy some time before Legolas insisted they leave and embark upon a pointless journey, in Aragorn's opinion, back to Phellanthir, so that Legolas could see for himself that Rhawion's soul was not trapped by the Nazgûl in the Tower. Of course even getting there depended on their evading the Orcs that were already on their trail, thought Aragorn bitterly, the ones that Glorfindel had hoped he and Legolas would avoid by sending them on ahead.
Aragorn dared not voice any opposition now to Legolas' plan however; he thought the Mirkwood Elf would not hesitate to gut him like a fish if he thought Aragorn's support wavering. Aragorn sighed as he tried to get comfortable, now both of them had sworn oaths,; Legolas's oath to Rhawion that he would not leave him in the Tower and now the oath Legolas had wrung from Aragorn to help him.
Aragorn shoved at the rolled up blanket he was using as a pillow, trying to make it more comfortable. Usually he could sleep anywhere, anytime but this restlessness was telling.
Legolas stood at the mouth of the cave, looking out. From his uncomfortable bed, Aragorn watched the Elf for a moment, noticing the little twitches and ticks that gave away the effect of the poison. He had watched Legolas stumble earlier and every now and again Aragorn could see the Elf's hands tremble. Aragorn remembered a Ranger he had known once, who had recovered astonishingly from the lhach-rhaw but for all their efforts could not hold a sword for the nerves in his hands had been destroyed, and he was plagued by delusions for the rest of his brief life. And it was the violence and frequency of Legolas' delusions that alarmed Aragorn more and more. It showed that in fact he was losing the battle against the lhach-rhaw poison that flooded his veins and that the single dose of the powerful anti-venom, Crystôl, was not enough to win this battle on its own.
Aragorn twisted the ring on his finger anxiously and chewed his lower lip. All the teachings of Elrond had been to caution Aragorn against using anything but the smallest dose of Crystôl, but Elrohir had saved Men with seeming recklessness. But as Amron had said, Elrohir battled for their souls, and however skilled a healer Aragorn was, he was no Elrohir. And he did not dare risk Thranduil's youngest. Elladan too had cautioned him against it... and yet he had given the smooth flask to Aragorn.
He lay looking up at the roof of the cave. A droplet of water was slowly gathering, forming and hung precariously for a moment. Then it abruptly dropped and fell directly onto his nose. He jerked his head back and uttered a curse.
Legolas glanced back at Aragorn; his eyes were unusually bright and had a fevered elation. He gave Aragorn an amiable nod, unaware of his companion's anxious thoughts, and then turned back to watch.
The air was very cold and there was no moon that night, but the stars were hard and bright. It was unusually silent and that alone made Aragorn's hair prickle.
Aragorn shifted uncomfortably on his side and pulled his blanket over his shoulder. He had coaxed Legolas into drinking water, and Legolas had kept the flask of miruvor too that he sipped at without judgment, and now Aragorn worried that he would be half drunk and even more dangerous. He wondered how he could slip sere-vanda or athelas into the water. If he dared not risk a second dose of Crystôl, then he had to somehow get Legolas to take sere-vanda again to give the anti-venom at least a fighting chance.
But he dared not try, for even if right now Legolas knew that Aragorn was not the Spawn of Morgoth, in his present state he could switch at any moment and Aragorn could find himself at the wrong end of the long white knife once more.
He shifted again. There was a stone beneath his hip. The blanket had shucked up and his feet were cold so he kicked the blanket over his feet and sighed irritably. He was tired and needed to sleep himself and he hoped he would not awaken to find himself trussed up again and accused of being a servant of Sauron. He sighed grumpily and rubbed his wrist where thin leather reins had bound him earlier, though not tightly. He sighed. He would never get to sleep, and closed his eyes....
.... And opened them it seemed a moment later, though he knew by the light that hours had passed. Legolas was speaking in a low whisper, hand on Aragorn's shoulder. Urgent.
'Aragorn,' he whispered, his mouth close to Aragorn's ear. 'Awake. Orcs.'
Aragorn was instantly awake, throwing his hand out to drag his sword towards him. 'How near?' he whispered.
'Close.' Legolas had already crossed the floor to stand with Roheryn, who had turned towards the Elf, ears pricked and head up listening to Legolas' soft words. Legolas put his hand on the horse's neck and whispered quietly to him. Roheryn cast Legolas a sideways look and dipped his head towards the Elf for a moment, gave a deep sigh and turned back to the hay in the rack above him.
Aragorn struggled to his feet, throwing aside the blanket that seemed to have wrapped itself around his feet. He quickly threw earth over the ashes of the fire and straightened to see Legolas reach back to brush his fingers over the arrow fletchings, his crossed knives. Quickly, Aragorn buckled on his sword and checked his own knives as he followed Legolas. It bothered him a little that Roheryn seemed so unconcerned and was tugging hay from the rack as if nothing could possibly be wrong. The horse had never failed to sense Orcs and warn him before...
'Come. Follow me. They are close.' Legolas pushed aside the curtain of ivy, its dense leaves and vines that covered the cave mouth made it impossible to find unless one knew it was there.
Beyond, Aragorn could see the night sky filled with stars and the earth blanketed with snow. It was still a little early for snow, Aragorn thought and wondered if there was more to this sudden snow than simply nature. But outside the Valley, the Mountains were hard and Caradhras the Cruel had earned his name. Aragorn stood silently behind Legolas, both tense as the bow in the Elf's hands.
For a long while they stood, straining to hear the slightest sound but Aragorn could hear nothing. He raised himself onto his toes and peered over Legolas' shoulder, straining his ears. But all he heard was the short breaths of the Elf, oddly heavy and fearful.
It was silent. The sky was heavy and filled with the promise of yet more snow and there was that crisp, cold smell in the air. But the snow disguised the land, muffled it in a white blanket so there were humps and mounds and the leaves were limned in glittering frost. But still he could hear nothing and there were no marks or tracks in the snow.
He glanced over his shoulder towards Roheryn and saw that the horse was still standing resting one hoof again, unconcerned, his ears soft and relaxed. Puzzled, Aragorn turned back to Legolas who was balanced on the balls of his feet, leaning slightly forwards and strung out with tension, listening intently, peering into the dark.
Slowly, silently but for the quietest slide of steel, Aragorn drew his sword. He leaned forwards again slightly, peering over Legolas' shoulder and searching the shadows for any sign of Orcs.
Behind them, Roheryn steadily tugged hay from the rack and munched loudly.
There was no sound. Nothing. In the clear and utterly still night, any sound would carry despite the snow. And there was not a single track to break the pristine snow. Not even the scratch of birds' feet....
There were no Orcs, he realised. Roheryn would have picked them up, for in spite of his slowness and weight, Roheryn was a Ranger's horse and his smell and hearing were as acute as any Elf. And the horse was not in the least bothered.
It was clear to Aragorn now that the danger only existed in Legolas' poisoned mind. He considered for a moment and carefully he sheathed his sword. He clasped Legolas by the shoulder and leaned down, capturing Legolas' gaze, making sure Legolas fixed on his face rather than the dark beyond the cave.
'Can you see any tracks in the snow?' he asked gently.
Legolas stared at him, eyes wide and fearful. Blinking slowly, he frowned and peered outside. He took a step forwards, leaning out into the silence; snow blanketed all sound, starlight reflected upon it although there was no moon. Slowly Legolas stepped further out so he stood in the snow. He let his hand fall to his side, bow still strung.
Aragorn came to stand with him. 'Look, there is nothing out here.'
Legolas was still, he leaned slightly forwards as if poised to take flight but he swayed suddenly as if he had lost balance and Aragorn gently cupped the Elf's elbow to steady him. Legolas seemed completely unaware, and that too alarmed Aragorn.
'I think...we must be sure....' Legolas said quietly, hesitantly. He glanced at Aragorn as he spoke and Aragorn thought the pupils of his eyes seemed huge and for a moment he wondered if Mirkwood Elves could see so much better in the dark than anyone. He thought how very alien and strange was Legolas compared with the Elves whom he had known all his life.
'Let us just scout to the river...' Legolas said, but his voice held a tremble of doubt.
'Very well,' Aragorn agreed slowly, cautiously, for he wanted Legolas to trust him.
It was bitter cold outside the cave and really, he wanted to sleep. Instead he was off on a wild goose chase with a feverish Woodelf who was definitely more dangerous, he thought. Without waiting to give him more than a cursory glance, Legolas moved carefully from the shelter of the cave and Aragorn followed.
Snow lay over the whole world it seemed, and only the river cut a thin grey line, the only sound was the slow wash of water over cold grey stones. Thin trees poked through the snow and snow lay heavily on the branches, glittered in the weak starlight.
Near the river there were a few tracks made by some rabbits but apart from that, nothing.
Out in the bitter cold air, Legolas seemed clearer-headed and had regained his grace and balance. He wore no cloak. Every now and again, he would stop to stroke his hand over some ash sapling or thin birch trunk. His light-shod feet made little impression in the snow, even compared with other Elves, Aragorn noted wryly. Aragorn himself trod as lightly as he could but even he could not help but leave tracks. He was grateful that Legolas did not comment.
At last they stopped in the shelter of a brush of saplings that clung together on the riverbank, thin birches whose trunks were silver in the starlight and snow. Aragorn came to stand beside Legolas, who stood listening intently and perused the riverbank for a long while.
Somewhere amongst the reeds, a waterail screeched once, but there was no other sound beyond the water running over the cold stones. Nothing stirred, not even a light snowfall. Above them the jagged skyline of the Misty Mountains cut against a clear, cold sky crowded with stars, hard and bright. Aragorn's breath curled like smoke in the absolute stillness.
At last Legolas dropped his head a little and sighed. He stood for a moment, and then
held up his hand to stop Aragorn before he spoke. 'There are no Orcs. I see that. There are no signs and the trees have no trace of their passing, no slashing and burning, there is no smell of Orc...' he said and his shoulders slumped. 'I do not understand where they have gone.'
Aragorn shifted towards Legolas slightly. And then he said very gently, because it mattered to him that Legolas was so downcast, 'I did not see any Orcs, nor did I hear them...' He glanced at Legolas' still face and then continued even more gently, 'And Roheryn was quiet. He always knows when Orcs are near.'
Legolas turned away and looked down the cold, silent valley where nothing stirred. 'You think I imagined them.' It was a statement rather than a question.
Aragorn looked at the face of the Elf before him, and suddenly he thought it was really important to be very honest. He took a chance. 'Yes.' He watched Legolas intently, and when he saw the green eyes sharpen slightly, he quickly continued, 'I see the poison still in your veins. It is strong. It affects the mind in different ways and one of its most common symptoms is hallucination, delusion...imagined fears...'
Legolas turned his face away for a moment, looked across the starlit river to the high mountains. Aragorn breathed in and then said slowly, quietly, 'Such as an Orc band close by... or a friend trapped by Shadow....'
Legolas was very still but Aragorn saw that the Elf's hand trembled slightly on his bow. Aragorn looked away. They stood together, listening to the quiet sounds of the river for it was very still. In the snow everything was different. Quieter, sleepier. They could hear the hushed splash of the waterail wading slowly through the reeds a little way off. A fox pattered by on the other side of the river, nose to the ground, unaware of the silent watchers.
At last Legolas spoke. 'I mistook you for a servant of Sauron,' he said very quietly. Aragorn waited, almost holding his breath for he worried he may have said too much. 'Forgive me.' He turned to Aragorn then and said, 'I see that your intentions are good and that you seek to help me. You are right about the Orcs.' His gaze held Aragorn and as before, the Man felt the intensity of that gaze, like he was being dissolved, distilled so that only his essence remained and was judged. 'My fears...are too real. This fever,' he waved his hand as if he could dismiss it lightly, 'affects me.'
Aragorn waited, hoping Legolas would continue and admit too that his conviction that Rhawion was somehow trapped was also a delusion, but he did not.
'It is the poison that makes your fears seem real,' Aragorn said cautiously. 'It is deep in your blood...and it is reaching your brain now. Fever is the sign of the body fighting it off.' Aragorn turned to look at Legolas. 'I do not know why the fever seems to be slowing... I had hoped it was because you are recovering.'
'Too slowly.' Legolas frowned.
'Yes. Too slowly.'
A sudden blast of icy wind came down from the Mountains, and pulled at their hair. Aragorn shivered. 'Perhaps when we go back, you will let me look at the wound, see how it is healing?' he suggested, pulling his cloak about himself but Legolas seemed not to notice and remained gazing out across the river to the Mountains. 'It must be time to cleanse it and put a new dressing on,' Aragorn said. He cocked his head to look at the sleeve of Legolas' tunic, but the bandage had held and there were no spots of blood showing through. 'It must still be sore and the skin inflamed from the poison.'
Legolas blinked. Then he touched his own arm lightly. 'It hurts more where the glass cups burned,' he said wryly. 'I barely know where the wound is.'
'Let me look at it when we return,' Aragorn said again, more insistently. 'I am sure I can soothe the burns if you will let me.' This time Legolas nodded and they turned back to the cave.
A thin line of daylight was cracking open the sky above the Mountains and the light shifted subtly. As before, Legolas made barely an imprint upon the snow and Aragon followed his own deep tracks back to the cave. The delusions were clearly not ceasing, he thought glumly. If anything it seemed they were more intense and it would not be long before Legolas demanded Aragorn keep his promise and accompany Legolas back to Phellanthir. He saw how Legolas stumbled as he pushed aside the ivy curtain and disappeared into the cave.
Aragorn followed, unbuckling his sword and leant it against the wall of the cave. He rolled his shoulders and shook out his blanket. Then he crouched on the ground and swept up what he could of the athelas leaves that Legolas had knocked from his hand earlier that night in his delusion. There were a few whole leaves and he carefully brushed the dust and dirt away from them with his fingertips. He was aware of Legolas watching him but he simply busied himself about his tasks, gathering kindling and striking his flint. He held the small spark to the kindling and waited patiently for it to catch. Much in the way he was waiting for Legolas, he thought wryly.
He rose to his feet, hearing his knees creak as he did so and grimaced. There were a few utensils stacked in the cave, and he selected a small metal pot and went to the back of the cave where the spring bubbled. He filled it with water and crumbled one of the athelas leaves into the water. He felt the bristle of suspicion from Legolas and mentally braced himself.
'This is athelas,' he said soothingly. 'Kingsfoil. It will not make you sleep. Instead it will clear your mind and will help with your wound which needs to be cleaned or it will become septic.'
Although Legolas did not speak, Aragorn sensed his acquiescence in the relaxing of his stance, but he did not come to sit with Aragorn. The Man placed the metal pan over the fire and as the water warmed, the aromatic fragrance of athelas eased into the air. He fumbled in his satchel, and pulled out a roll of linen, and then a wad of wool to swab the wound. Then he sat back, looking up at Legolas and waited for the Elf to approach.
At first Legolas stood uncertainly at the edge of the fire's warmth. Slowly then, he edged towards the light and warmth and when Aragorn slowly smiled, Legolas neither flinched nor stepped away.
'You will have to take off that tunic,' Aragorn said. 'And your shirt. I cannot clean a wound through all that suede and linen.'
Legolas flicked a sharp green gaze down at the Man and then away. Slowly he began unbuckling his belt and rolled it up, put it carefully on the floor. He loosened the ties of his tunic and shrugged out of it. He stood in his thin linen shirt and Aragorn lifted the Elf's arm and pushed up the sleeve first; he could see the linen bandage was spotted with blood and faint yellowish trails.
'Keep your shirt on until the water is properly heated,' he said, wanting the athelas to not only help cleanse the wound but to clear Legolas' head as well. 'We may as well leave that bandage on until then, it is not leaking.'
Legolas nodded but he took a step back from Aragorn as if wary still.
'You could do with eating something while we wait,' Aragorn said, thinking it was like trying to coax a wild animal to come close. He pulled out a wafer of lembas from his satchel and said with weak humour, 'You will recall that this lembas is not made by Erestor's henchmen, but Ceredir, Elrond's chief cook.'
At the mention of the cook's name, something seemed to shift in Legolas for he looked down at Aragorn for a moment. His face was puzzled, and he frowned as if trying to remember something. Then quite suddenly, he sank to his knees beside Aragorn and took the proffered wafer though he stared at it suspiciously.
'You liked it before,' Aragorn said encouragingly as he would to a child.
At that, Legolas took a bite and then stared at it as he ate it. He took another bite, a bigger one and then another until he had devoured it as if he were starving. Aragorn laughed. 'You have only eaten one wafer of lembas for days I think. No wonder you are hungry!'
'I had forgotten,' Legolas said wonderingly. 'How can I have forgotten that the lembas of Imladris tastes so good?'
Suddenly everything seemed so normal that Aragorn felt a sense of dislocation. Wisps of steam crept over them and he was aware of the fragrance of athelas. It reminded him of long Summer evenings in Imladris when the roses bloomed and Arwen's long skirt brushed against the lavender as she passed. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the touch of her hand upon his, her eyes lifting to his as if she had been waiting for him all of her long life...
He smiled at the memory that drifted across his thought and eased his mind like the stroke of a cool hand on his cheek....
Until a voice broke quietly upon him. 'You dream of your Arwen.' It was Legolas.
Aragorn blinked and nodded. The pain in his heart was piercing and he could not meet Legolas' eyes. Then he felt the gentlest touch upon his cheek.
'Why do you weep if you have the love of your heart? She will take Luthien's path with gladness I think and all your children down the long line of ages will be blessed.'
Aragorn looked up. 'How can I ask this of her? How can I ask that she gives up...all her kin, her immortality?'
Legolas peered at him with his strange green eyes and slowly tilted his head to one side.'You have not asked it of her I think, but did you not say it is granted nonetheless?' He reached out and touched the Evenstar lightly at Aragorn's throat. 'I do not think I dreamed it,' he added, but uncertainly now.
'No. No, you did not. I told you she had given it to me,' Aragorn said quickly.
Legolas smiled then, opened his green eyes upon Aragorn and the Man was caught for a moment in that clear green gaze. For a moment he thought he walked beneath the beech trees unfurling their new leaves in the Spring, or beneath the great mallorns of Lothlorien where he had been happiest.
'We must be sure that you are returned to her safe and well then,' Legolas said vaguely and Aragorn wondered what he meant, but he had not time to ask for Legolas reached out for the cup then and dipped it into the pan and filled it with the water infused with athelas. 'You say I should drink this?' he asked. He sipped it cautiously and then closed his eyes, holding the cup close and breathing in. He held himself still for a long time and Aragorn saw with concern that a tear leaked from his closed eyes and slid down his cheek. Then the Elf blinked rapidly and cast his eyes down so Aragorn looked away and busied himself about some other task.
A moment later Legolas spoke quietly, 'You are indeed a healer. This has eased me as you said.' He drank the rest of the tin cup and held it out to Aragorn.
'Does this mean you no longer believe I am the Spawn of Morgoth?' Aragorn asked with a wry smile as he dipped the tin cup into the brew. 'I hope now that you trust me.'
To his chagrin, Legolas looked uncertain. His fingers went to the thin chain about his neck where hung a small mithril oak leaf. He clasped his hand around it for a moment as if in prayer. Then he said earnestly, 'I do trust you. If you tell me it will not make me sleep, I will believe you. You have sworn to help me reach Rhawion.'
'Of course,' Aragorn said and he blew on the scalding liquid, then sipped it lightly.
Aragorn swallowed. 'But remember you are having a lucid moment but may succumb again to delusion.'
Sharp eyes struck Aragorn with a sudden intensity that hit him like a blow. 'You think I imagine Rhawion's torment,' he said in a quietly threatening voice and the kindness he had shown Aragorn only a moment ago was gone. 'I know he is there still! Like I knew Naurion still lived and I will keep my promise. You swore an oath to help me,' he said aggressively. 'Perhaps you regret that?'
Aragorn frowned and wondered briefly who Naurion was. He did not remind Legolas that the oath had been wrung from him at knife point. Instead he bowed slightly. 'I have sworn to help you,' he agreed. 'And I will...' He considered carefully and then he said very deliberately, 'I would help you get well so you can be strong enough to face whatever danger besets us.'
Legolas looked at him with sudden elation. 'Yes. That is what I need. To be strong so I can fight the Nazgûl.'
Aragorn watched him closely. 'I have something that will help fight the poison for that is our enemy right now,' he said slowly, hesitantly. 'Athelas has many healing properties as I told you before. It will help to revive you in this instance and can help cleanse your blood very slowly. But sere-vanda will regulate your body...'
'I will not take anything that dulls my senses,' Legolas interrupted, his voice loud and his hands waved as if something unseen fluttered at his face. 'And when you had me drugged I could not escape my nightmares.' Legolas rubbed his hands over his face and frowned for a moment as if struggling to remember something. 'There was something else given me in that time...' He shook his head and twisted a loose thread on the cuff of his sleeve. 'Elrohir forced it upon me.'
'That was Crystôl.' Aragorn said uncomfortably, remembering the struggle, the violence with which Elrohir had seemed to force it upon Legolas, the Elf's tears as he sank into unconsciousness. 'It is a powerful anti-venom. It fights the poison.' He hesitated then and then looked up at Legolas. 'Elrond would give only a tiny amount in the first place and prohibits giving a second dose though. If he were here he would not even consider it. It can slow the heartbeat to dangerous levels.'
'It was no small amount that Elrohir forced upon me! What would he say?' Legolas demanded. He leaned forwards suddenly. Too close, thought Aragorn and fought the impulse to lean back. He knew though that Elrohir would not hesitate to use it a second time -but he could not do what Elrohir did!
'Does he not say that he can force a poison to turn on itself.' Legolas held his gaze with feverish intensity and Aragorn felt again the difference in Imladris and Mirkwood. More Dangerous, Less wise indeed!
'In the Wood the healers say this can be done. Tell me that is not what Elrohir would do!'
'I have never tried what Elrohir has done, I lack the skill,' Aragorn said, anxiety surged through him at the very thought. Elrond said that a second dose of Crystôl was fatal. But he had seen Elrohir give it and succeed. 'I have no way of knowing if you can take this!'
'Perhaps you do not dare? Perhaps you seek to trick me and you will not do this!' Legolas shifted slightly closer and his pupils were dilated and wide. Their knees touched now and everything Aragorn had ever heard of Thranduil's folk came back to him in that moment and he remembered how swiftly Legolas had overpowered him before. His fingers fell automatically to the hilt of his knife.
'You have some of this Crystôl here.' It was less a question than accusation as if Aragorn had been keeping it back, denying Legolas.
Aragorn paused. Then he said hesitantly, 'I do - but I told you, Elrohir gave you more than I would deem wise. You are already febrile and hyperventilating. Anything else might drive your body into an even more severe reaction.' He shook his head. 'What I am saying, Legolas, is that this may kill you if the poison does not. Your heart may stop.'
'That is a risk I am willing to take if it means I can release Rhawion.' Legolas was on his knees now and his eyes were wide and fixed on Aragorn.
'No. I cannot. To give it to you might mean your death.' Aragorn found himself scrambling backwards away from the Mirkwood Elf, pulling his satchel with him and away from Legolas.
Legolas went very still. His long green eyes were ice but Aragorn thought they could ignite too at any moment. 'That is mine to decide. Not yours. I will not be thwarted in this.' He rose smoothly to his feet and only now did Aragorn realise that he still wore a knife in his belt and Aragorn could not possibly defend himself.
'I cannot,' Aragorn spread his hands out appeasingly, hoping that Legolas would see the gesture as it was meant. 'Surely you know that as a healer I will not give you something that could kill you! I have sworn an oath!'
'You have indeed. And so have I. I have sworn to release Rhawion, and you have sworn to help me.' He reached over to Aragorn's pack and pulled it from him. The straps slid through Aragorn's nerveless fingers as if he had no will of his own. Legolas threw open the flap. 'Shall I find it for myself?'
Roheryn had swung his head round at their raised voices and now he gave a low whicker. Aragorn half closed his eyes. 'I beg you, Legolas. Wait a while and see. The poison may already be receding. If anything will help you, it will be sere-vanda...'
'No!' Legolas almost shouted. 'I have told you- it traps me in there and I can do nothing. I cannot move! I will have none of that. Crystôl is what will heal me!' Legolas' gesticulations were wild and uncontrolled and Aragorn had sudden visions of himself left tied up in the cave whilst Legolas went off to find Rhawion. 'How can I go to Phellanthir if I do not trust myself?' Legolas continued and his voice rose in distress. 'Now. Give me the drug.'
Aragorn swallowed nervously and shook his head. 'Do not do this, Legolas. You are not yourself.'
Legolas stepped closer and leaned in over Aragorn. Holding the Man's gaze, deliberately he reached down and took the satchel from Aragorn. 'No. Indeed I am not.' His voice was low and dangerous.
'Wait!' Aragorn snagged the satchel strap and held onto it. 'Wait, there are others drugs in there. I will find it.'
Legolas paused, his long green eyes sharp and hard, like ice. His mouth was thin, his face cold, like stone and Aragorn forced himself to still under the sharp gaze.
Slowly Aragorn reached into his satchel. 'No. I have sworn to help you,' he said. He shoved his hand into the satchel and rummaged around for the small flask of Crystôl. As he did so, his fingers brushed a larger, smooth flask and he hesitated for a moment. He weighed the smooth flask in his palm, knowing that amber liquid pooled at the bottom of the flask. Sere-vanda.
He glanced up and suddenly Legolas' green eyes flicked up and met his. 'Do not think to trick me.' The Mirkwood Elf was cold, ice. Like Thranduil.
At that moment, Aragorn knew he had no choice. He dropped the smooth flask and cupped the smaller one of Crystôl with trepidation. He did not think he could do what Elrohir did; had Amron not said as much to him as they left?
His fingers brushed Legolas' for a moment as he dropped the flask into the Elf's hand and he hesitated for a moment longer. 'Only three drops,' he said emphatically. 'Three. No more.' He thought that three drops alone might simply boost the drug already in Legolas' veins without further effect, and who knew? It might be enough.
He scooped the tin cup into the water infused with athelas. 'You must drink this as well. It will help fight any infection and clear your mind. I will need you to help me.' He paused and looked Legolas straight in the eyes. 'Drink it straight after,' he said. 'It will take away the taste. It is vile. Drink it quickly...I wish you would not do this.' He looked pleadingly at Legolas but met only a hard green stare that was relentless, uncompromising.
Legolas dropped his eyes to the small flask in the palm of his hand. He hesitated only a moment and then he flipped open the lid and sniffed it suspiciously. His eyes narrowed and flicked up to Aragorn's. He held the Man's gaze for a moment and then he quickly tipped it up over his mouth. Aragorn watched as one, two, three drops trickled onto his tongue. He lowered the flask, licked his lips carefully and made a face as he pushed the lid back down with his thumb.
Aragorn thrust the tin cup of athelas infusion towards him. 'Drink. It will help the Crystôl absorb into your bloodstream more quickly. And it will help to dissolve the poison in your veins.'
Legolas took the cup and raised it to his lips. His long green eyes held Aragorn's for a moment and as before, Aragorn felt a sudden dislocation, and thought of green leaves unfurling in the Spring, of clear, cold water running over grey slate and granite of a woodland stream... Slowly Legolas drained the cup. His eyes were cast down and his dark brows drawn together. Aragorn watched him swallow and close his eyes for a moment.
'I think I will keep this in case I feel I need more.' Legolas palmed the flask. 'At least you are free then from any guilt that might torment you, my friend.' He gave Aragorn a blinding smile and calmly pushed the flask into a pouch at his belt and patted it. 'Much better that I have the control of the means to my recovery, I think,' he said and his face looked cold, as smooth and expressionless as Aragorn had once thought him in Elrond's council when he had seemed so aloof and remote. Until he spoke of Gollum's rescue.
'Legolas,' Aragorn began, but the Elf gently laid a finger on the Man's lips.
'I trust you,' Legolas said and carefully knelt beside Aragorn again. 'But I will not put that choice before you again.' He smiled weakly and held one hand to his forehead, in the other he still held the tin cup, now empty. 'What happens now?'
'Time to clean that wound,' Aragorn said lightly and reached into his pouch for one of his last few athelas leaves and dropped it into the lightly steaming water. Soon the cave was filled with the fragrance of athelas, layering over the athelas already in the water. He breathed in deeply and rummaged through the stack of pans until he found a small pot which he filled with water. Then he pushed up Legolas' sleeve again and peered at the tiny cut that had caused this. He squeezed it slightly and watched yellow pus ooze from the scratch. It smelled foul and there were streaks of black in the yellow pus so he knew the poison was still strong. Dipping a wad of wool into the smaller pot of warm athelas, Aragorn wiped the wound until it was clean though the thin black threads of poison in the small capillaries showed clearly beneath his skin. Then he wound clean linen bandages around the wound, keeping a careful watch upon Legolas. He made his movements slow and steady. Then he sat back down beside Legolas who looked up at him, blinking sleepily.
The tin cup fell from Legolas' fingers and his hand fell heavily to his side. His head dropped on his chest and he tried to raise his head to look at Aragorn but it was simply too much effort.
'What have you done to me?' he murmured.
Aragorn stared in horror and grasped his shoulder, pulled him forwards against his chest. 'I am sorry,' he cried in anguish. 'I should not have let you have it!' He put his arm around Legolas' shoulders to stop him from falling.
'It is sere-vanda. You tricked me! ' said the Elf quietly as he slumped forwards over Aragorn's arm.
'No,' cried Aragorn. 'It is Crystôl.'
'I trusted you... and you have betrayed me....' Legolas slurred. 'Because of you, Rhawion will perish and his soul be eaten by the Dark. His eyes closed heavily and his head bowed. Aragorn caught him as he fell forwards. 'I have failed him as I failed Naurion!'
'Legolas!' he cried, but the Elf was slowly sinking into unconsciousness. 'Stay with me,' he pleaded. 'Do not sleep now. I need you to help. We must use your Song to heal yourself.'
'...cannot...stay...ah...Rhawion...you are here...' Legolas' voice grew weaker and weaker, distant, as if he were drifting, fading. Aragorn leaned close to his mouth to hear what he said. '...I am coming...hold....' His breathing grew deeper, heavy. Slow.
Aragorn knelt beside Legolas and lay him down onto the ground, watching his breathing and then he leaned forwards and pressed two fingers against the Elf's throat. The pulse throbbed once, twice, slowed and slowed and the Elf took a deep breath and then it fluttered and became very slow, shallow. Aragorn waited fearfully, waiting in case the pulse slowed even more. He found himself praying to the Valar that it had not been too much, that three tiny drops had not been enough to stop his heart entirely, that Legolas would survive this. He found himself bargaining with Namo for the Elf's life but he was too experienced a healer to do that for long and instead forced himself to watch for the tiny signs of life and death...Minutes slowed and time crawled and still the faint pulse was slow but did not stop. When Aragorn felt his own muscles cramp, he shifted and tried to stretch his legs out straight but he dared not lift his fingers from Legolas' throat.
At last the beats were regular, slow but regular and he forced himself to calm and looked at the other signs of life.
He soaked a few thin cloths in the cold spring that welled at the back of the cave and lay them over Legolas' forehead and wound them around the back of his neck for though Legolas was not overly feverish, he was still uncomfortably hot. He lifted the Elf's head and carefully spooned the athelas infusion into the Elf's mouth and held him while it trickled slowly down his throat. It was painstaking work but Aragorn knew this was the best chance he had. He gave him the contentious sere-vanda to help the Crystôl. Then he knelt back on his heels and paused.
Then he reached into Legolas' pouch and retrieved the small flask of Crystôl, and shoved it back into his satchel and shuffled back to kneel beside Legolas.
He rubbed his hands over his face in sudden panic, for though one danger was past, another yet remained; he simply did not believe he could do what was needed to help Legolas to heal. Elrohir and Elrond had always been with him before. In the hours ahead he would have to open himself up and attempt to channel energy and Power into the healing. Now that Legolas had taken a second dose of the anti-venom, he had little choice. But he needed to give the Crystôl time to flood Legolas' veins, and for the athelas and sere-vanda to settle him.
He began to catalogue what he needed; there were enough provisions for perhaps three or four days for he and Legolas but there was only enough fodder for Roheryn for two days. And Glorfindel would be worried if they did not arrive at Luin-Aglar within the next few days and might come looking for them. He needed to leave signs so that Glorfindel or Amron could find them. But he could do that tomorrow for it would take them another day at least to reach Luin-Aglar and find Aragorn had still not arrived.
He threw the blanket over Legolas and rolled up a cloak, tucked it under Legolas' head and settled down to watch. Since there was now no one to object, he drew his pipe from his satchel and a pouch of pipeweed, filled the bowl and having tamped it down, he struck a flame and settled back on one elbow. In a few hours he would attempt to open himself up to healing, and to plunge down into Legolas' fëa, to attempt what Elrond cautioned against. For the moment, he could only watch and gather his energy and strength.
The wind swept lightly across the snow, flurries scattered over the small tracks made by birds, ruffling the snow from the twigs and branches. It covered their tracks and, Glorfindel thought, it would cover Aragorn's tracks as well. He stopped for a moment and turned to see Gimli plodding in his wake for Amron was of silvan stock and made barely any marks at all. Gimli sank to the top of his ankles with every step but he seemed almost oblivious. Was it the weight of the chain mail or the Dwarf himself that made him sink so deeply, Glorfindel wondered.
He did not ask the Dwarf if he needed to rest. Gimli's gaze was fixed on the snow in front of him and his breathing was heavier than an Elf's, but Dwarves were Fire and Earth and a little snow was no hardship to a Dwarf. They had fought with Maedhros and Fingon at the Nirnaeth Arnodiad. Glorfindel remembered how the Dwarves had seemed to have come out of the stone itself, their deep voices, the glint of fire upon their axes...He remembered the Firebeards of Nogrod, their immense strength, their deep Song that echoed in the Mountains of Nargothrond and that gave depth to Finrod's delving into the rock and made it more glorious. A pang of yearning shot through him then, it was uncharacteristic for him but he found he dwelled often upon the past of late.
'Do you tire, Master Glorfindel?' Gimli's voice broke in on him and Glorfindel looked down at the Dwarf and smiled benignly.
'No. Indeed Master Gimli. And I see that you are not either.'
'Luin-Aglar is ahead,' called Amron, pointing to a bend in the river ahead.
Glorfindel smiled and nodded at Gimli, who flashed white teeth. They climbed quickly now for they hoped to see Aragorn's big, patient horse standing by the river with their two comrades. Glorfindel found himself anxious to see that Legolas was healing for he had become fond of the Woodelf, though he did not know Thranduil at all except by a rather fierce reputation. But given the sweetness of his son, he thought the rather fierce reputation undeserved.
It seemed Gimli felt the same for he said, 'I hope that Legolas is recovered for my boots have become quite grubby and he cleans them so well.'
Glorfindel threw back his head and laughed loudly at that.
But when they arrived at Luin-Aglar, there was no sign of Aragorn or Legolas. They made their camp quietly and anxiously. Glorfindel left Amron making the camp with Gimli and with a quiet word to them both, strode up the ridge to watch for their tardy companions.
Hours passed and night fell. Glorfindel waved away Amron's protest that he should take a watch and he did not reply to Gimli's muttered agreement. Instead he stood upon the ridge and gazed south, searching for a sign, a thin trail of smoke, the sound of a horse, the merry laugh of a Woodelf...and he found himself anxious and worried that perhaps Legolas had succumbed to the poison and found he could not bear to think of such a death for such a sweet soul.
At last he could stand it no longer. He shouldered his bow and strode down into the camp. Placing his hand on Amron's shoulder, he awoke him gently. 'If I have not returned by nightfall, take Gimli back to Imladris and get help,' he said softly. 'I am worried. Something tells me everything is not right.'
The snow was deeper upon Caradhras and the horses sank up to their hocks. The wind howled through the crags and blew bitterly in their faces as they trudged slowly upwards along the mountain paths. Sometimes Elrohir wondered if they would have done better to take the Gap of Rohan, but the knowledge of Saruman's treachery had gone deep and they dared not risk the Wizard knowing they passed that way. Barakhir suddenly stumbled and Elrohir patted his neck and spoke soothingly. Then he turned back and shouted through the wind to Elladan, 'Perhaps we should seek some shelter. It seems the Mountain will not suffer any to pass.'
Elladan's face was hidden beneath his hood but Elrohir could imagine his look of irritation. 'We have fared worse on Caradhras than this. I am surprised at your faint-heartedness!' Irritation was in the tone as well, Elrohir thought wincing.
'Very well. We continue,' he said and turned back into the sharp, cutting wind that tugged at their cloaks and threw flurries of snow in their faces.
They struggled on for hours, climbing steadily but ever more slowly as their road wound up into the hills, and the mountains towered up above them. What had once been a paved and well used road was in disrepair and there were places where the stones had fallen down the steep sides of the mountain, tearing more stones loose with their fall and these had piled up across the path and tumbled down the mountainside. Now the path was no more than the width of a horse and they now led the horses, and had to scramble precariously over the granite boulders and scree. Barakhir stumbled again and Elrohir's heart leaped and he hauled on the saddle, stirrup and rein to steady the horse. They stood for a moment, both shaking for fear of what might have been. Below them stones loosened by his stumble, bounced and rolled and skittered down the sheer drop and into the trees far below.
Neither brother questioned the wisdom of bringing horses however. Too often they had been an extra sentry, weapon, and friend on their long travels and they had made this journey many times.
Soon, they knew, the path would narrow suddenly and cut around the edges of the high grey crags and then zig-zag up and up the granite cliff face steadily. Elrohir glanced upwards and saw that heavy snow clouds loured above them upon the peaks and hid Caradhras from view. As soon as they were off the scree and feet touching bare rock once again, he brought Barakhir to a stop. Baraghur and Elladan almost bumped into them for both had their heads down and battled against the weather.
'Stop here and let the horses rest,' Elrohir told Elladan and he determined to take no refusal this time. But there was none from Elladan and instead his brother led Baraghur towards a craggy overhang that gave what could only loosely be described as shelter. They turned the horses away from the wind and loosened girths, unstrapped the saddlebags and took off the bridles. Elladan pulled out their Lorien cloaks from each saddle bag and spread one over Barakhir's glossy rump and then the other over his own Baraghur. Baraghur whickered softly and nosed Elladan as he fussed around Barakhir.
Elrohir had pulled out of his pack the thin cakes of lembas that were left and gave some to each of the horses for there was little enough for any of them to eat and lembas was made with grain and as sustaining for animal as it was for Elf.
They settled beneath the overhang and watched the snow fall and swirl. Elladan sat on the ground between the two horses and twirled his knife between his fingers. 'Is it worth lighting a fire?' he wondered and Elrohir turned his head to look down on him. Even without fire or sunlight, the runes poured over the blade, light seemed to pool in the tengwar script, lit up the M rune that Elladan hoped meant the knife had been made for Maedhros. For all Elrohir knew or cared, it might have been so. For Elrohir, there was more than enough grief in the present. When he did not reply, Elladan sighed and twirled the knife, watching the snow.
'Sleep brother, I will watch,' Elrohir said and Elladan shrugged, pulled his own sable cloak about himself and lay on the ground at the foot of the crags. Elrohir stood with his cloak pulled tight, standing invisible against the rocks with Aícanaro sleeping in its sheath.
He watched the swirling flakes and thought for a moment of Glorfindel and his small group, and his awareness flickered over the Mirkwood Elf but shied away quickly for there was an uncomfortable sensation gathering in his belly, searing through him to his loins and squeezing his balls.
Snow edged the trees and granite boulders in glittering white but all was silent and still as though the cold had frozen all but they. Here on Caradhras, the memories were sharp and brittle, his senses were strained to the limit. Every soft fall of snow, every rattle of small stones brought his head, listening intently. Sometimes he saw ghosts...Once he had seen a warrior, with a helm from long ago that clasped his face and sharpened his silver-grey eyes. In his hand he had carried a long sword that gleamed and when he drew close, Elrohir saw the gleam was red....Kinslayer. Dispossessed...And Elrohir had simply stood by and let him pass like mist...
He felt Aícanaro shift and its awareness awaken, hiss and uncoil but he let his hand drop to stroke the hilt and calm it. Sleep, he said. Sleep. Calm. There will be more blood.
Hope you all liked the extra bit of Glorfindel - especially for those who asked.
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.