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"Thank you, Legolas." Aragorn still felt shaken by Boromir's sudden death. He had never thought it possible to befriend Boromir but in the end they had become companions who respected each other.
"It's the least I can do," assured Legolas.
Aragorn and Legolas lifted Boromir's dead body and placed it in the small boat. Aragorn pressed Boromir's hand close to his chest; even in death Boromir clung to his sword. "He was a good man, and a great warrior." For some reason he felt the need to speak these last words aloud. "This will be his last journey..."
Legolas took a few steps back, giving Aragorn some privacy. His heart mourned Boromir's passing as well. As an immortal it was hard to understand death, but he had witnessed the passing of his mortal friends for several hundred years. He knew their sorrow, their regrets, the guilt they sometimes carried and wished he could soften the pain. His eyes found Gimli's. The Dwarf moved impatiently, ready to chase after the Uruk-Hai. He understood the Dwarf's need to see the Hobbits free, but he also understood Aragorn's need to say goodbye to Boromir.
He didn't know if Aragorn approved, but he began to sing one of the Elves oldest laments. The pure sound of his voice drifted through the air, silenced the birds and he briefly lost himself in the sad melody.
From the mouths of the Sea the South Wind flies, from the sandhills and the stones;
Aragorn, surprised at first, appreciated Legolas' gift. It was rare that Elves mourned the passing of a Man. His eyes filled with tears, but he quickly wiped them away and pushed the boat in to the water.
Gimli listened enthralled. He had heard the Elves sing when Gandalf died, but Legolas' voice was like crystal, cutting through the air and filling Middle Earth with its magical sound. He had never before heard something like it and a single tear appeared in his left eye. It was truly beautiful and it felt like all life in the forest around them had come to a halt, listening to the haunting melody. He found that he was holding his breath listening to it. His eyes found Aragorn's and he was surprised to see them full of tears.
Finally the song ended and Legolas hesitantly made eye contact with Aragorn, hoping the song met with the Man's approval. Maybe he should have asked first.
"That was beautiful," whispered Aragorn, deeply touched. "Thank you. I know it's rare for Elves to mourn the death of a Man..." Legolas' eyes held an expression Aragorn couldn't label. Dismissing it for the moment, his eyes followed the small vessel. It dove over the edge and became part of the waterfall. Boromir had had a hero's funeral. Now it was time to go Orc hunting.
Aragorn hated admitting it, but he needed a rest. Gimli, Legolas and he hadn't rested since the Uruk-Hai had taken Merry and Pippin and the pace was wearing them down. The only one who seemed fairly rested was Legolas; the Elf didn't tire that easily and briefly Aragorn envied the Elven Prince.
The Elves... His thoughts drifted back to Arwen, the lovely Elven Maiden who had offered him her immortality. He closed his eyes, recapturing that moment before they had left Rivendell. Arwen had never looked more lovely, her eyes had spoken of her love for him, her hands had touched his, offering him her pendant.
It's not right. She's an immortal Elf. Giving up her immortality to be with me is too great a sacrifice. It took him a long time, but in the end he convinced her not to bind herself to him just yet. Reluctantly she agreed to wait after the quest was completed, when he once more returned to her.
Aragorn shook his head. It was folly of Arwen to give away her immortality. With the passing of time she would come to eventually hate him for it. Their love was pure now, maybe even too pure. Her love sometimes frightened him. He was a warrior, he lived and breathed death, knew life's perils. He feared that Arwen, once mortal, would regret her decision and blame him for it. No, he couldn't let her do this.
Arwen... He sighed and smiled as her beautiful face appeared in his mind's eye. She was too beautiful, too good, too lovely. At times like these, he wished she had fallen in love with an Elf and not with him.
"Aragorn?" Gimli frowned, finding their leader lost in thought. "Our bellies are empty; we need food."
Aragorn looked the dwarf in the eyes. "Master Dwarf, then find us something eatable."
Gimli nodded pleased. "A fine roast would do." He swung his axe over his shoulder and marched toward the trees. They camped at this clearing for the night and he hoped that the Uruk-Hai were forced to rest as well otherwise they would gain too much distance on the fellowship.
Aragorn watched the Dwarf until Gimli vanished from view and then turned his attention to Legolas who was building a nice, warm fire. The nights were growing increasingly cold and they needed the fire's warmth.
Aragorn nodded encouragingly when Legolas' eyes met him. "I'm sure Gimli will bring back some game to fill our bellies with." Unexpectedly his stomach growled, reminding him that he needed to eat as well. He pushed himself constantly, sometimes even forgetting the needs of his body.
Legolas answered with a nod of his own and then turned his attention to tending the fire.
Aragorn sat down, rested his back against rock and continued to watch the Elf. Legolas was, like most Elves, a male who guarded his privacy very keenly. It was one reason why Elves were considered a mystery by all other races. They rarely showed strong emotions and always seemed in control of the situation, but Aragorn knew better. Often it was merely a front to keep the curious ones at a distance.
The fact that Gimli tolerated Legolas was a good sign. Dwarves and Elves hardly ever got along, but he hoped that these two were the exception. They needed to work closely together if they wanted to survive this quest and free the two Hobbits.
The silence began to weigh heavily on him and he tried to think of something to say. "You have done well on this quest, Legolas. I'm thankful that you decided to join us. Your bow has taken down many foes." He monitored Legolas' reaction closely and thought he saw a ghost of a smile on the Elf's face.
"Thank you, Aragorn. I'm honored to be part of the fellowship."
The silence returned, irritating Aragorn. They worked well together in battle, but unease crept up on him during moments of peace. He silently admired the cat like grace Legolas displayed when sitting down and leaning back his head.
During all the years that he had lived with Elves, he had learned to see beneath the beauty that blinded most. Yes, the Elves were beautiful, but they also carried a great burden. Most races envied them and with that envy came fear and hate. It set the Elves apart, isolated them, and even here and now Legolas seemed isolated and alone. The fact that Legolas felt comfortable enough to relax spoke of the trust between them.
Suddenly Legolas' eyes widened, and his hands reached for his bow. Aragorn heard the noise as well. "It's Gimli, returning from the hunt."
A moment later the Dwarf appeared, dragging his prey behind him. "Sparkle that fire, Elf. Our bellies will be full tonight." He sighed, regretting they didn't have any malt beer to go with the meat. He dropped the rabbits in front of Legolas, who ever so slightly raised an eyebrow. "I caught them, you prepare them!" Gimli laughed, enjoying harassing the Elf a little.
Aragorn stepped in before Legolas and Gimli got in to a verbal fight. "You're a good cook, Legolas and we're hungry..."
Legolas eventually nodded his head and reached for the rabbits. Aragorn gave Gimli a look full of warning. He hoped the Dwarf would stop pushing Legolas.
Seeing Legolas give in amused Gimli to no end. Haughty creatures they are, the Elves. Think they are better than the rest of us. Never trust an Elf...
When Legolas had joined Frodo and Aragorn, offering them his bow, Gimli had reacted quickly, offering his axe as well. No Elf could keep the Hobbit safe! A Dwarf was a force to reckon with, but an Elf?
He studied Legolas closely. He had to admit that the Elf wasn't that bad... for an Elf that was. They were haughty and arrogant creatures, looking down on the Dwarves because they lived in great cities beneath the earth. Legolas was the first Elf he encountered that tried to fit in. The Elf carried out orders, helped and even seemed compassionate, but then again, one never knew with Elves. For the first time in his long life Gimli considered giving an Elf the benefit of the doubt. He couldn't deny that Legolas had saved his life in battle many times. When the Cave Troll came after him Legolas had distracted it with his arrows.
Gimli smiled pleased, smelling the roast over the fire. Normally Aragorn wouldn't allow the fire, but it was cold and they needed the meat to stay in a good shape. The Uruk-Hai wouldn't come after them now that they had the Halflings. Come to think of it, the Uruk-Hai hadn't been particularly interested in anyone, except for the Hobbits.
He cursed Saruman for creating the monsters. If he ever got his hands on the wizard Saruman would pay for unleashing this plague on Middle Earth! Shuddering, he hoped that Merry and Pippin would survive. Tracking them down was already taking too long!
Legolas removed the meat from the fire and handed pieces to Aragorn. Gimli moved at once, obtaining his share of the meal. His hand briefly touched Legolas' when the Elf handed him his food and the skin's softness annoyed Gimli. These Elves were way too perfect!
He settled back, rested his back against the trunk of an old tree and started eating. Legolas was merely staring at the meat, not eating and it made Gimli frown. Elves preferred fruits and vegetables, but even Legolas needed something substantial filling his stomach. "You'd better eat, Elf. Who knows when we get to eat again!"
The look Legolas gave him seemed vaguely unfocused and Gimli wondered if Aragorn had caught it as well. Something seemed off, but why was he only noticing now? He exchanged a glance with Aragorn, finding the Man frowning as well. Yes, Aragorn had noticed as well.
Legolas sighed and gave in without speaking a single word. Appeased Gimli nodded his head, but he was still keeping an eye on the Elf...
I must be more careful. The Dwarf is no fool. I can't risk him getting suspicious so I must eat and eat well.. Legolas forced himself to swallow another piece of meat. Although the rabbit tasted good, he wasn't hungry and the meat made his stomach contract in dismay; it didn't want the food.
He quickly glanced at Gimli. The Dwarf was still watching him and to his surprise, so was Aragorn. Both men were studying him closely, making him nervous. He had done an excellent job at hiding his injury thus far, why were they growing suspicious now?
It had happened when the Uruk-Hai had taken Merry and Pippin. Everyone had been so focused on Boromir dying and the two missing Hobbits that no one had noticed the arrow tip in his shoulder. He had removed the largest part of the arrow, but the tip was still buried in his left shoulder and the infection was getting worse.
When he had first examined the injury he had smelled the poison on its tip. Although Elves were fast healers, the poison proved too much and it was spreading through his upper body. Tiny blue lines showed its progress and he wasn't sure how much longer he could keep up with Aragorn's grueling pace.
Pressured by the looks aimed at him he took another bite and swallowed it. Although it showed weakness he averted his eyes and focused on the fire. He couldn't tell them that the Uruk- Hai's arrow was slowly poisoning him. The quest came first, personal well being second. If he told them they might insist he stayed behind or take him to a healer. That would cost them precious time, which they didn't have.
Once they were asleep he would seek out the healing herbs that would slow down the poison, hopefully long enough for them to free the two Hobbits. Once more their stares were directed at him, making him more than just a little uncomfortable. He had to convince them that everything was fine.
He waited until they had finished eating. "Why don't you sleep? I can stand guard."
Aragorn actually raised an eyebrow. Legolas forced himself to rise and meet the man's stare. "You need the sleep. We have a long road ahead of us."
"Wake me in five hours," ordered Aragorn. "Even an Elf needs to rest now and then."
Legolas nodded. He hoped he found the healing herbs quickly; he needed to gather as many as possible. As long as he could slow down the poison he could aid Aragorn and Gimli in their quest.
It took Legolas an hour to find the plant he was looking for. He crunched the leaves between his fingers, slipped down shirt and tunic and pressed the crushed leaves in to the wound. Pain stabbed his shoulder and he hissed. Hopefully the pain was a sign that the plant was fighting the poison. Munching on more crushed leaves, the healing potion of the plant moved through his body.
Legolas gathered more of the plant and put it in a pouch attached to his belt. Feeling better, his eyes scanned his surroundings. Aided by his sharp hearing he quickly made sure that they were alone. The Uruk-Hai were too far away to hear or see, but his Elven senses warned him that they were still relatively close.
He sat down on a rock overseeing the clearing and smiled. Aragorn and Gimli were sound asleep, trusting him to keep them safe.
Gimli, the Dwarf irritated him most of the time, but he had to admit that Gimli was an excellent warrior. The Dwarf's axe had saved his life a few times and he felt indebted. He did his best to befriend the Dwarf, but overcoming Gimli's distrust was difficult. The Dwarf had voiced his opinions clearly that day at the council. Never trust an Elf.
And then there was Aragorn; the Man was a mystery to him. Aragorn was Isildur's heir, heir to the thrown of Gondor and yet the Man refused to take his rightful place. It was something he couldn't understand. He was a Prince himself, but his father had chosen another as his successor, so he had been sent to Rivendell as the King's messenger. Although he would have been honored to rule his people, he also enjoyed his current way of live. He was free to go where he pleased, free to fight Sauron. He wasn't sure he would do well, locked up in a castle as his people's ruler. He had made his peace with his destiny a long time ago, but then he had met Aragorn.
Aragorn possessed a physical strength and an amount of willpower that automatically made him a leader and it was only logical that Aragorn assumed command of this quest. He learned to trust Aragorn's judgment and tried to only offer his advice when needed, helping Aragorn make his decisions.
But there was something else about Aragorn that pulled him close to the Man. He had first noticed the attraction when Aragorn had leapt in to his arms when the bridge of Khazad-Dum had collapsed. He had caught Aragorn, making sure he didn't fall. He had felt it then, the attraction. Was it mutual? He didn't think so. Aragorn's heart belonged to the fair Arwen.
Legolas stared at the stars, realizing he was setting himself up for a lot of heartache. He should stop this infatuation now before he truly and deeply fell in love with Aragorn. Aragorn loved Arwen, and would never return his feelings. His mother's advice sounded in his ears, remembering her wisdom. "Remember, my son. Elves can die of a broken heart. Never fall in love when you know it is unrequited."
His mother's advice had seemed so simple and wise back then, but he had been a child and he still had to encounter passion. He had loved before, had loved and lost and it made him weary to love again. But love came without warning and his heart always beat madly when Aragorn was close. It was most distracting in the heat of battle when he was focused on keeping Aragorn safe.
The throbbing in his shoulder cut his musings short. Flashes of pain shot through his shoulder and he wondered if it was a good sign or not. He briefly considered going to Aragorn and ask the Man's help. Aragorn knew about the healing potions of herbs and maybe he knew of another plant to aid his recovery, but he quickly dismissed it. He couldn't tell Aragorn; it would slow them down. He had to deal with this alone.
Aragorn woke hours later. Looking at the stars, he realized that it was time for his watch. Why hadn't Legolas awoken him? Frowning, he checked on Gimli. The Dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and went back to sleep after identifying Aragorn.
He pushed back the blanket and got to his feet. His eyes quickly found the lonely figure of Legolas. The Elf's shape was clearly visible as the moonlight illuminated the night sky. "What do you think you're doing? You're making yourself an easy target!" The Elf should know better than to present himself to their enemies like that!
Irritated, Aragorn headed for Legolas, intend on lecturing the Elf, but when he stood in front of Legolas, he found that the Elf's eyes had an unfocused look. He's asleep on his feet! Aragorn felt worried. It was unheard of that an Elf fell asleep while on watch! Maybe he's more tired than he wants us to know. The urge to lecture Legolas vanished. Instead, he raised a hand and rested it on the Elf's shoulder.
Legolas' flinch took him by surprise. Elves didn't like to be touched, but he had hoped that Legolas would accept his touch. Quickly he withdrew his hand. "It's my turn now. Go and rest, Legolas."
"I'm fine. I don't need to rest."
Aragorn noticed the fine pearls of sweat on the Elf's brow. Something was wrong. "I will make it in to an order if I have to..." He would see to it that Legolas rested. "We don't know what lies ahead of us. We should be prepared... and rested." He clearly heard Legolas' sigh. The Elf was acting most peculiar and that worried him. "Is something wrong, my friend?" At least, he hoped that Legolas considered him a friend. "You can always confide in me. I won't betray your trust."
Legolas' mouth opened to speak, but then the Elf shook his head. "It's nothing. Do not trouble yourself. I will do as you say and rest."
Aragorn's worry increased when Legolas turned around and left without another word. He watched the Elf make his way back to their camp and frowned; something about the way in which Legolas was moving was wrong. At dinner he had seen Gimli's expression; the Dwarf had also realized that something was amiss with the Elf. "We'll talk about this in the morning, Legolas. You won't keep secrets from me. We need to trust each other in order to survive."
Gimli opened one eye when Legolas lay down, rolling himself into his blanket. He couldn't put his finger on it, but a foul stench emanated from the Elf; a smell that shouldn't be there. He popped himself up on one elbow and observed Legolas, who had fallen asleep the moment his head had touched the ground. The Elf was sound asleep with his eyes wide open. It set off his alarms.
Giving in to his curiosity, he got up and walked over to the Elf. He sat on his heels, inhaling the smell and trying to label it. His concern over the Elf puzzled him, but he proceeded nonetheless. He let his hand hover above Legolas' face, feeling the heat the Elf's skin radiated. The Elf was obviously feverish; the question was, why didn't want Legolas them to know?
Elves didn't get ill, didn't get diseases, so what was ailing Legolas? Soft murmurs suddenly left the Elf's lips. He tried to make them out, but Legolas' voice was too soft.
Gimli looked up at the rock where Aragorn stood watch. He wanted to confer with the Man about Legolas' condition, but couldn't leave the Elf right now. "I'm losing my mind in old age, worrying about an Elf!"
Suddenly a warning sounded through the dark night and Gimli immediately recognized Aragorn's voice.
Gimli acted at once and tried to wake Legolas. "Elf, wake up!" To his horror, Elven eyes had turned unfocused and misty. "Elf, what's wrong with you?" Gimli didn't wait for an answer and grabbed his axe instead. Looking up at his enemy he found that Aragorn had made a mistake in judgment. "Saruman's creations!" This weren't Orcs, but Uruk-Hai! "Elf, we need your bow!"
He charged, trying to buy Legolas some time. He aimed his axe at their chests, taking them down one by one, but there were too many Uruk-Hai and he was alone. A glance over his shoulder told him that Legolas had staggered to his feet and was now aiming his arrows at the attacking pack, but he swallowed hard, seeing how unsteady Legolas' hands were. This wasn't good at all!
Hearing a battle cry, he realized that Aragorn had arrived. Black blood dropped from the Man's sword. "Aragorn, we need to get the Elf into safety. Look at his hands!"
Aragorn's eyes sought out Legolas and his heart missed a beat. The Elf was swaying on his feet and sweat covered his brow. His hands were shaky, but his arrows still met their target, but for how much longer? His instincts had been right, something was wrong with Legolas and he had let the Elf go! Calmly he searched his surroundings. "Quickly, take him into that cave. The entrance can be defended by one man!"
Gimli nodded and hurried toward Legolas. "Let us go, Elf, you can't stay out here in the open."
"I'm fine... I can fight..."
Legolas' voice sounded weak and trembled with chills. Gimli shook his head disapprovingly. "We don't have time for this, Elf!" Resolutely he beheaded one Uruk-Hai who tried to attack Legolas from behind. Once he had dealt with the abomination he grabbed the Elf's right hand and pulled him along. Legolas released a strangled moan and tried to free his hand. Gimli didn't have time to wonder about Legolas' failed action and dragged him into the cave. "Stay behind me, Elf."
Legolas collapsed against the wall, leaning against it for support. He raised his bow, aimed his arrow and managed to hit one Uruk-Hai in the chest. The creature went down but another one appeared.
"Aragorn!" Gimli needed help!
Aragorn realized his friends' predicament and unleashed a roar. He attacked the Uruk-Hai, fighting himself a way over to the cave. He could still see Legolas' form in the dark cave and the Elf was slowly dropping to his feet. Only a few more seconds and he would reach them, join Gimli in his fight, but then the earth shook beneath him.
Gimli immediately realized the danger they were in. The walls of the cave shook and sent stones falling down, which were starting to block the entrance. If they wanted to get out, they had to move! "Elf, now!" Not getting a response he turned around to tell Legolas to hurry, but the words got stuck in his throat, seeing Legolas on the ground. The Elf was breathing heavily and blood showed on his tunic. When had Legolas been injured?
His instincts took over and he flung himself at the Elf. He was too small to protect Legolas with his body, but he could protect the Elf's head. Cradling Legolas' head against his chest, he held onto the Elf, hoping the earth would stop shaking. Only moments later the rocks already blocked the entrance, cloaking the cave in complete darkness.
The Uruk-Hai stopped fighting, staring at each other in wonder. Aragorn used the momentum to his advantage and attacked. A roar sounded from deep within the earth and the Uruk-Hai listened as if receiving an order. Unexpectedly they retreated from the cave.
Aragorn stared at their backs in disbelief. Why were they retreating now? Does it matter? chided his conscience. You should be thinking of Legolas buried in that cave... And Gimli, added Aragorn belated. Legolas... They had to be alive.
He put his sword into his scabbard and started to claw at the stones like a mad man. "Legolas! Legolas, Gimli, can you hear me? Answer me!" First he had lost Boromir and now he faced losing his other companions. No, refused to lose them! "Talk to me!"
Nothing. No voice sounded from inside the cave. Using his bare hands he began to roll away the rocks. "Legolas, don't give up. I beg of you." Until this moment he hadn't fully realized just how important the Elf was to him. Now that he faced losing Legolas, he also had to face his growing feelings for the Elf. "Legolas, please... Gimli!"
Gimli coughed to rid himself of the dust that had settled between his teeth. The rumbling deep inside Middle Earth had stopped and he judged it safe to move. Opening his eyes he noticed that several sun beams made it through the blocked entrance; it was enough light to see clearly in the half dark.
Several large rocks had come crushing down and as he tried to move his right leg a sharp pain washed through him. Cursing loudly he managed to look over his shoulder. A rock had fallen on top of his knee; he probably hadn't felt it before due to his armor. His next concern was Legolas. The Elf was still beside him, head locked safely against his chest. "Elf, can you hear me?" He needed Legolas' help in getting the rock off of him. Only then could he help his companion. "Elf!"
Legolas stirred and Gimli sighed relieved. For one brief moment he had feared the Elf had died. "Elf, get to your feet and help me. We need to free my leg."
Legolas had a hard time sorting out his thoughts. They were spinning, running in circles; the fever must have gotten worse. He opened his eyes and immediately realized that something was wrong; complete darkness surrounded him. His nose twitched, recognizing Gimli's scent. What was the Dwarf doing this close to him? "Gimli?"
Gimli smiled. "Good thing Elves are tough. Listen Elf, the cave collapsed and buried my leg under a rock. Can you get it off me?"
"Why is it this dark?" Legolas strained to see. Even in the dark his Elven sight should guide him, but all he saw was the pitch black of the dark earth.
Gimli frowned. "Yes, it's dark, but the sun has found a way inside." Feeling Legolas move, he released the Elf. He got a good look at Legolas' face and was shocked to find it deathly pale. He could smell the blood on Legolas' tunic and the sharp scent of herbs. That was what he had been smelling earlier! "The rock, Elf, lift the rock!"
"You must tell me where... I can't see... It's too dark..." Legolas pushed himself up to his hands and knees and tried to compensate with his hearing now that the darkness had taken away his sight.
"Use your hands, Elf..." A dreadful apprehension swept through Gimli. Elves were well known for their sharp sight and there was enough sun light for Legolas to see. What had taken away the Elf's eyesight?
Legolas followed Gimli's suggestion and ran his hands over the Dwarf's body until he encountered the rock. "It's big... and heavy." He wasn't sure he could lift it in his weakened state. Suddenly his heart contracted. Was the poison rendering his eyes useless? Had it taken away his sight? What was next? Don't think about it. Concentrate on freeing Gimli!
Gimli held his breath when the Elf tried to lift the rock. He felt it move and he tried to pull away from it... unsuccessfully. "Again!"
Legolas set aside the pain that coursed through his abused body and used his last strength to roll the rock off of Gimli's leg. Exhausted, he tried to compose himself. There was no need for Gimli to find out about the poison now.
Suddenly Aragorn's voice carried into the blocked cave and Gimli was the first to react. "We're alive, Aragorn, we're alive. We'll dig ourselves a way out."
"I'll help!" Aragorn continued to move the rocks, hoping to reach his friends shortly.
Inside the cave Gimli stretched, rose to his feet and tested his limbs. "Nothing's broken. Dwarven bones are strong like steel!" The grin froze on his face, seeing Legolas sway on his knees. "Now, Elf, stop hiding the truth and tell me what happened!" Acting instinctively he forced Legolas to lie down. The fact that the Elf didn't protest worried him the most.
Legolas managed a weak smile. "Don't trouble yourself, Master Dwarf. Find a way out and help Aragorn free the Hobbits."
Gimli growled softly. "Abandon a friend I will not!"
"A friend?" Disbelief sounded in Legolas' voice. If only he could see the Dwarf's eyes. He felt helpless and vulnerable, cut off from his eyesight. However, the fact that Gimli was looking after him seemed to prove the Dwarf's words. "A friend? I thought Elves couldn't be trusted..." Talking exhausted him. His entire body throbbed with pain and he knew the blue lines had spread from his shoulder to the rest of his body. The herbs were too weak to stop the poison.
"Fool, tell me what happened or must I make you?" Gimli's fingers were surprisingly gentle when they unbuttoned the Elf's shirt and tunic. He shook his head, seeing the blue lines marring Legolas' smooth skin. Pushing down the shirt farther, he found the wound. "When were you hit, Elf?"
"When we lost Boromir..." Legolas knew it was useless to deny. "The tip was poisoned. I tried to stop the poison from spreading, but..." His body was slowly giving in to the poison, luring in him a false sleep, the sleep of death. It was so easy to close his eyes and give in.
"Don't you dare die on me, Elf!" Gimli hated the fact that Legolas had hid this from him, why hadn't he looked closer? "Why hide it? Answer me, Elf."
Legolas struggled back to the surface of his mind. "Didn't want... to slow us down... Merry and Pippin."
"You're important too, Elf." Gimli barely managed to hold back more curses, instead he used his powerful voice to reach Aragorn. "Aragorn, can you hear me?"
"Yes!" Aragorn doubled his efforts to free the entrance.
"We need to hurry. The Elf is wounded."
The words cut through Aragorn's heart. "Damn it..." He wouldn't lose Legolas like he had lost Boromir, but removing the rocks took time, time which Legolas probably didn't have.
It took Gimli some effort, but he managed to slip out of his coat. He draped the heavy, leather coat over Legolas' body, hoping it would warm the Elf who felt icy cold to the touch. "Come on, Elf. Talk to me. I forbid you to die!" He hoped it would provoke a response... and it did.
"Dwarfs are so stubborn..." Legolas felt the coat on top of his body. "Thank you..."
"Don't you dare drift off again, talk to me, Elf."
"What do you want to know?" The fever was making it hard for him to sort out his thoughts. Aragorn's face hovered in front of him and he felt delighted to be able to see again. "Aragorn... I knew you wouldn't desert me."
"What was that?" Gimli frowned. "Yes, Aragorn will dig us out. Have faith, Elf." Chills tormented Legolas' body and Gimli wished he could build a fire to keep them warm, but he didn't even have a blanket. He took hold of the Elf's hands and rubbed them, hoping to get them warm. "Don't die on me, Elf."
In his feverish mind Gimli's voice became Aragorn's. "I won't... I'll live for you."
Gimli's frown deepened.
"I know I can't have you, my love. Your heart belongs to Arwen... and mine belongs to you... An Elf can die of a broken heart, did you know that? I saw it happen once... He simply died... His love didn't want him..." Legolas released a long, shuddering breath. "Maybe it's better this way."
Suddenly Legolas' words made sense to the Dwarf. "You're in love with Aragorn?" He laughed amused. An immortal Elf had fallen for a mortal Man? Only trouble could come of it, but he liked trouble. It provided him with action.
Alarmed, he registered that Legolas was no longer reacting to his teasing. "Oh no, you don't. Elf, talk to me!" He shook Legolas by his shoulders and the Elf's eyes opened. Panic and pain shone from them. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "But I can't let you die. Aragorn would kill me." The name seemed to soothe Legolas.
"Ara... gorn?" His world consisted of darkness and pain and he had no way of telling if Aragorn was close.
"He'll be here shortly. Hold on, Elf, hold on." Gimli strengthened his hold on Legolas. "I want you to listen, Elf, as I tell you of the great Dwarven cities beneath Middle Earth..." He hoped that his voice would provide Legolas with a beacon. "Listen, Elf, listen."
Aragorn shredded his coat and wrapped the fabric around his hands. They were starting to bleed after hours of digging and the pain distracted him from his task. It had turned dark without him noticing it and the full moon shone brightly tonight. Listening closely he every so often heard Gimli's voice, talking about the great Dwarven cities. Had the Uruk-Hai chosen this moment to attack, they would have found Aragorn defenseless, solely focused on rescuing his friends.
Finally one heavy rock gave away and Aragorn quickly jumped out of its way as it caused the wall of rock to collapse. Aragorn released a triumphant roar. Not losing any time, he climbed over the remaining rocks and forced himself a way in to the cave. If he could get in, Gimli and Legolas could easily get out.
"Gimli!" He felt relieved, seeing the Dwarf hold on to Legolas. The Elf stared unseeing at the ceiling. "How badly wounded is he?" Gimli's grin took him aback. What was the Dwarf grinning about?
"Ah, Aragorn, there you are. Our Elven friend knew you'd come for him."
Aragorn dismissed Gimli's remark, focusing on Legolas instead. "We need to get him out." The Elf needed fresh air, sunlight caressing his body and damp grass beneath him, for it would aid his recovery.
"Be careful," admonished Gimli Aragorn. "The tip of an arrow is buried in his shoulder."
Aragorn swallowed hard. "Poisoned?"
"I fear so."
Together they carried a nearly unconscious Legolas out of the cave. They placed the Elf on the grass and Aragorn realized the need for a shelter, which Gimli promptly offered to build.
Aragorn sat on the damp earth, pulled Legolas' head in to his lap and examined the injured shoulder. He effortlessly identified the herb Legolas had used to fight the poison and he grew hopeful again. He knew a much more potent one! The blue lines had spread over Legolas' back and chest, and they were climbing up his throat and face. He had to act now if he wanted to save Legolas. "Don't worry, I won't let you die." He had to think clearly if he wanted to save this beautiful creature. An Elf wasn't supposed to die at all.
"I built a shelter... I can smell rain and thunder in the air. We'd better move him now."
Aragorn nodded quickly and slipped his hands beneath Legolas' knees and back, gently lifting him. He noticed the amused glance Gimli gave him, but he chose to ignore it, concentrating on his charge instead.
Gimli had done a good job. Large leaves made up the roof of the shelter and the strong poles would withstand rain and storm. Tenderly Aragorn lowered Legolas on to the grass. He removed the heavy coat and handed it to Gimli. "Thank you..." He unrolled his blanket and placed it on top of the shivering Elf. "Thankfully there's a full moon tonight. Gimli, I need to gather some herbs. Stay close to him and make sure he stays warm."
"My axe will keep him safe," promised Gimli passionately. "He won't die as long as I'm here."
"Thank you, Master Dwarf." Gimli's vow deeply touched him. "Keep him safe for me. We won't lose another companion tonight." He watched as Gimli sat down next to Legolas, and assured that the Elf was well protected he went deeper in to the woods.
The moonlight helped him find his way. His fingers greedily harvested the herbs and slipped them in to his pocket. Not enough, it still wasn't enough. He needed more if he wanted to save Legolas' life and finding the herbs was taking too much time. Again he repeated his promise; no one would die tonight and certainly not Legolas.
Gimli held tight onto Legolas' hand. The Elf was mumbling in his fever, but the name of Aragorn was no longer on Legolas' lips. Gimli wondered what to do with his newly acquired knowledge. So the fair Elf was in love with Aragorn, who had given his heart to Arwen, Elrond's daughter.
Lost in his musings, he pushed a lock of fair hair behind Legolas' ear. "We can worry about that later... First you need to survive, Elf..." He smiled kindly. "I don't have any sons or daughters. Battle was my constant companion. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm honored to be your companion. Your character treats are the ones I would have wished for my son, if I'd had one." Guilt began to eat away at him. "I shouldn't have said that; never trust an Elf. I know better now."
Sounds coming from the bushes told him that Aragorn had returned. "Did you find the herbs?"
"Yes." Aragorn knelt beside Legolas and checked on the injury. "I need water."
"I'll get it." Gimli picked up his flask and hurried to get the water. It was only a short walk, but it still gave him time to ponder everything that had happened. Somehow, his view of the Elves had drastically changed since meeting Legolas.
Aragorn started to chew the herbs, making them release their healing potion. Then he pried open Legolas lips and let the juices drip into the Elf's mouth. "Fight! You can't give up like that. We need you!" He watched as Legolas' body twitched and the Elf finally swallowed. "Yes, you can fight this."
"Your water." Gimli handed Aragorn the flask.
"Help me get the shirt and tunic off of him. I need to wash out the wound." Aragorn worked quickly while Gimli supported Legolas as the Elf sat upright. "It's worse than I thought. When did he get injured? Why didn't he tell us?"
"He didn't want to slow us down."
Aragorn shook his head. "If he had told me earlier he wouldn't have gotten this bad."
Gimli started to feel uncomfortable seeing the Elf like this. "I will take first watch." He marched away, hoping Aragorn possessed enough knowledge of herb lore to pull Legolas through.
During the night the wind grew even colder. The full moon hid behind large, dark clouds. Aragorn did his best to keep the fire going, but small droplets of beginning rain were doing their best to put it out. Somewhere out there was Gimli standing guard, making sure they were safe. That thought soothed him.
Looking at his Elven traveling companion, he checked on the blue lines once more. He wasn't completely sure, but it seemed that they were fading. The blue lines had retreated from Legolas' throat and face and were now solely centered on the Elf's chest. Legolas shivered violently, his wide eyes staring unseeing at the dark heavens.
Aragorn rested a hand on Legolas' brow, trying to determine if the fever was retreating as well. He hissed when Legolas' skin felt like ice. Quickly his hands sneaked beneath the blanket, finding more cold skin. The Elf was freezing and the blanket did little to keep him warm. Aragorn could only come up with one way to keep Legolas warm all night long.
Determined, he removed his shirt. Gooseflesh appeared on his skin when it came in to contact with the cold air. He refused to think about how they would look to Gimli when the Dwarf returned; what mattered was that Legolas was cold and needed to get warm.
Legolas muttered softly as the blanket was removed, but a sigh escaped his lips as Aragorn lay down behind him. Aragorn pulled Legolas close, spooning behind the Elf. He wrapped his arms around Legolas and tucked the Elf's head beneath his chin. Then he covered them with the blanket again.
Lying this close Aragorn couldn't resist the urge to finger a lock of the Elf's silken hair. The smooth skin felt uncanny cold beneath his touch and it yet was the softest skin he had ever felt. Holding Legolas in his arms felt right, felt like he was finally fulfilling his destiny. Holding Arwen had never felt like this. His groin stirred and Aragorn pushed back his feelings of desire. He sighed relieved when the stirrings of arousal lessened.
He buried his face in the long locks, loving the way they seemed to caress his face. A bitter laugh left his lips. Although he wasn't bound to Arwen, he couldn't follow his heart either. Something told him that Legolas wasn't the kind of man who settled for a mortal lover; the Elf was like a loner, much like him. Pursuing the Elf was useless. He simply had to accept that a sudden passion had overwhelmed him and that the object of that passion was out of his reach.
Falling for a man surprised Aragorn. In the past he had only fallen for women, one of them to be exact; Arwen. His life as a Ranger had kept him busy and he had always felt like coming home when Arwen had wrapped her arms around him. Now that had changed. Now holding Legolas made him feel whole and complete.
"You won't die, my fair Elf. You'll heal and I'll keep a close eye on you, making sure you don't get injured again. You should have come to me. I could have helped you fight the poison. There's no need for you to go through this on your own." Although he was sure that the Elf would recover he feared complications. Gimli had mentioned that Legolas was blind, that the Elf had been unable to see inside the cave. Would the herbs take away the poison that had slipped into those magical eyes? Could Legolas' vision be restored? He couldn't bear the thought of this beautiful creature going through life blind.
Legolas stirred as if reassured by Aragorn's promise. "I'll watch over you as you used to watch over us. I'll be your eyes..." Although he couldn't see the Elf's eyes, he knew they were staring in to the darkness of the night.
When Gimli returned to their camp hours later he found Aragorn curled around Legolas. The Elf was trashing in Aragorn's arms and Gimli saw concern in the Man's eyes. "I had hoped he'd be better."
"Not yet," said Aragorn. "The poison is at war with the herbs I gave him. Master Dwarf, would you make some tea? I put the healing herbs next to the fire." It was a miracle that the fire was still going strong.
"It needs more wood," observed Gimli. "I'll gather some after I brew that tea." He grabbed his flask, poured water in to a mug and placed it in the fire. He would have preferred using a kettle, but they were traveling light. "Do I crush the leaves?" Bruising them would help release their healing potion.
Aragorn nodded. "Yes, then put them in the mug and wait for a few minutes. Legolas needs to empty that mug. He needs those fluids."
"Elf grew cold, did he?" Gimli grinned, seeing Aragorn's darkened eyes. It definitely seemed that Aragorn enjoyed holding Legolas in his arms. Maybe Legolas' feelings were mutual? Gimli hoped so. The two men fit well together, completed each other.
"He's still running a fever, but at the same time he's freezing. His body is fighting the Uruk-Hai's poison." Aragorn waited several minutes and then judged the tea ready. "Help me. Legolas needs to sit up or I fear he won't keep the tea down."
Gimli knelt behind Legolas and together they managed to pull the Elf in a sitting position. The Dwarf pulled the blanket up to Legolas' shoulders, making sure the Elf remained warm. Then he wrapped his strong arms around Legolas to offer all necessary support.
"Please, Legolas, you need to drink this." Aragorn placed the mug cautiously at Legolas' lips. "Small sips. You need the fluids."
Gimli felt Legolas' body tense up when the warm liquid traveled down the Elf's throat. He barely resisted the urge to whisper some soothing words. When had Legolas found a way into his heart? When had he developed fatherly feelings for the Elf? Was it because Legolas looked so deceivingly young? He reckoned the Elf was several hundred years old, but he looked like a twenty year old to the old Dwarf. Legolas was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but not under these circumstances, not when the Uruk-Hai's poison was slowly killing him.
Aragorn studied the Elf's eyes, hoping to find some form of recognition in them. Legolas' head lolled to its right, resting against his shoulder and Aragorn choked down a sigh. An Elf never showed his vulnerability willingly. "Just a few more sips, Legolas. The tea will help you heal." Finally he caught a flash in the Elf's eyes; a flash of recognition.
"Ara...gorn?" His throat felt dry and talking pained Legolas. He blinked several times, hoping sight would return to him, but all he saw was darkness. It was the voice and the smell that made him recognize Aragorn's presence. So the Man had managed to dig them out.
"Gimli?" Legolas recalled that the Dwarf's leg had been buried beneath a rock. Had he managed to lift it or not? His memory was oddly fuzzy.
"I'm fine, Elf." A lump formed in Gimli's throat. It meant a lot to him that Legolas worried about him. "Now drink that tea."
Aragorn smiled when Legolas managed to swallow more tea. "The fever has a tight grip on you. I'll wake you regularly so you can drink more tea. If everything goes well you should start to feel better when the morning comes again." He also noticed the tension in Legolas' body. "Is something wrong?"
"I still can't see," admitted Legolas, trying to act calm and in control. "Will the blindness go away as well?"
Aragorn wished he had better news for his friend. "I'm not sure."
Legolas managed a weak nod. "Then I'll have to accept that." Living without his Elven sight seemed like a nightmare to him, but maybe his other senses would grow stronger and compensate his loss of sight. The tea unfolded its effect and Legolas grew sleepy again; it was his body's way of letting him know it needed more time to recuperate. He gave in, resting against Aragorn's chest. He shivered, feeling cold to the bone.
Aragorn placed the now empty mug on the ground and watched Legolas closely, recognizing the blank stare in the Elf's eyes. "He needs to rest."
Gimli couldn't help making a teasing remark; the tension was getting to him. "Then keep him warm!"
Aragorn looked up while lowering Legolas back on to his bedroll and met Gimli's amused eyes. "Master Dwarf?"
Gimli laughed softly. "I'll be walking the grounds." He chuckled softly and walked away from the fire.
Aragorn wondered about the Dwarf's sense of humor or had Gimli noticed something? No, that couldn't be. He masked his feelings perfectly. With a deep sigh he slipped back in to his original position behind Legolas. This time the Elf moved closer, pressing back for more bodily contact. Aragorn sighed deeply, enfolded the Elf in his arms and held Legolas tight until it was time for the next round of tea.
His thoughts didn't make any sense. In his feverish dreams Aragorn was holding him close, skin against skin, the Man's face buried in his long hair. What a sweet dream it was. A dream he didn't want to end, but end it did. Plunged back in to darkness, Aragorn's face faded.
"Legolas? 'Tis morn. You need to drink this tea one last time."
Aragorn no longer sounded that worried, that must mean that the worst was behind him. Slowly he tried to stretch his body, expecting pain and stiffness, but his body hummed with life again. The only thing that hadn't changed was the darkness that surrounded him. No matter how hard he tried, his eyes remained useless.
Suddenly a mug was placed against his lips and he drank instinctively. Gentle hands held back his long hair, almost caressing the strands. "Aragorn?"
"Yes, Legolas, it is I. You're healing. The poison almost left your body... I'm afraid to ask but I have to... Has your eyesight returned yet?"
Legolas fought back the tears that were building in his useless eyes. He wouldn't cry openly, maybe later when he was alone. "No." Aragorn's hand rested against the small of his back and it made him realize that he wasn't wearing his shirt or tunic. Was that the reason why he felt so cold? Aragorn's caress created a new sort of heat inside him and he wished he had the strength to put some distance between them, but he still felt weak. Why was Aragorn touching him in this way?
He concentrated on drinking the tea, trying to ignore the soothing caresses Aragorn bestowed on his back. The strokes felt nice and comforting, but he reminded himself not to read anything into the touch. Aragorn's heart belonged to Arwen.
"We can't stay here much longer. The Uruk-Hai are gaining too much on us. Can you walk?"
Legolas managed to maintain his calm. "You should leave me here. I'm no longer of any use to the Fellowship. I'm already slowing you down. You must rescue Pippin and Merry. I can take care of myself." Saying the words hurt. He wanted to stay with Aragorn and Gimli, help them free the Hobbits, but he had to do the right thing. "It will take my other senses time to adapt to this new situation." In time hearing and touch would guide him, but not yet.
"I'm not leaving you here!"
To Legolas' surprise Aragorn sounded indignant. "It's the best thing to do, Aragorn. My presence would slow you down. Without me, Gimli and you can move more easily and faster."
Legolas recognized that tone. Aragorn wasn't giving in. "I followed you since we left Rivendell, but I can't follow you any longer. You're making a mistake."
"Leaving you here would be a mistake."
Legolas gave up. He knew when he was beaten.
Gimli had heard their argument and anger rose deep from within his belly. "Elf, you can't expect us to leave you here!"
Legolas reacted at once, cocking his head and trying to pinpoint the direction Gimli was coming from. Aragorn's hand was still at the small of his back, drawing soothing circles and he wondered absentmindedly why the Man didn't stop the caress now that Gimli had arrived. Had the fever affected more than just his eyes? His brain perhaps? "It's the wise thing to do and you know it, Master Dwarf."
Gimli shook his head and came to a halt in front of the Elf. "Here are your clothes, get dressed, Elf." He wasn't giving into Legolas' blind stare. "You're part of the Fellowship and you're staying with us."
A long sigh escaped Legolas. "That's settled then. I'll work hard on adjusting my senses." He refused to be a burden to his companions.
Aragorn took hold of the shirt and tunic and noticed that most of the blood had been washed out. He smiled at Gimli in silent gratitude.
The Dwarf nodded, tapping his foot impatiently. He leaned on his mighty axe and was ready to watch Legolas for the next hours. "Aragorn, take the lead. I'll keep my eye on the Elf."
Suddenly Aragorn's body heat was gone, leaving him cold and shivering again. Then the Man's hands returned, helping him in to his shirt and tunic. "I can do this alone."
"Let me help," pleaded Aragorn. He knew how hard it was on the Elf to accept help, but Legolas had better get used to it. In time, his senses would adjust, compensate for the loss of his sight, but that process took time. "Stay close to Gimli at all times," he instructed.
Legolas nodded obediently. When he tried to get to his feet, he swayed, feeling light headed and nauseous. Suddenly an arm was curled around his waist... Aragorn. "You should move on without me."
"No." Aragorn exchanged a knowing glance with Gimli. They would make sure Legolas was safe until they encountered a healer who could restore the Elf's sight.
Legolas shuddered; he doubted he would ever get used to living in utter darkness.
Aragorn worried about Legolas. The Elf had finally fallen into step beside Gimli who was unusually alert. The Dwarf had a peculiar expression in his eyes and Aragorn knew that Gimli would go to great lengths to keep Legolas safe.
The warm sunlight was fading and the heavens darkened. It was time to make camp again and rest. But first he wanted to check on Legolas. He had adjusted the pace so the Elf could keep up with them, and they had made less progress than he had hoped, but leaving Legolas simply wasn't an option.
"We'll spend the night here." Aragorn pointed at the small cave. "Gimli, take Legolas inside. I'll make sure no one followed us and then join you."
Gimli nodded. "It's time to rest, Elf." Legolas' hand, tight curled inside his, twitched. The Elf was tired, but refused to show it. Gimli squeezed Legolas' hand reassuringly and led the Elf inside. He didn't like spending the night in a cave after the last one had collapsed, but it did provide good shelter from the wind. Legolas would be warm in here.
Legolas stood waiting, uncertain what to do. He raised his arms, felt along the rocks and realized they were back inside a cave. "Are we spending the night here?"
"Aye." Gimli unrolled his bedroll, more concerned for Legolas' well being than his own. "Lie down and rest." He used his hold on Legolas' hand to make him sit and then lie down.
"No, I can stand guard, Gimli. My hearing is still intact and..." Oh, but he couldn't deny how comfortable he felt lying down. His tired muscles relaxed and he released a shuddering sigh. Suddenly Gimli pressed something into his hands and Legolas frowned. "What...?"
"I gathered berries during our march," explained Gimli. "Eat." There wouldn't be much else for dinner tonight.
"What about you and Aragorn?"
"We can go without food for a day, you, however, cannot. You're still recovering from that poison." Gimli finally released Legolas' hand now that the Elf was safe stretched out on the ground. "I'll try to build a fire, but the wood is damp."
Legolas hesitated to eat the berries. "We can share." He didn't like the idea of his companions going to sleep with an empty belly.
"Eat, and rest then." v Gimli's soft tone suddenly registered with Legolas. The Dwarf was still worried about him. "Thank you, Master Dwarf," he said, finally accepting the gift. He slipped a berry in to his mouth and then quickly ate the rest. Until now he hadn't realized just how hungry he was.
"We're safe here for the night." Aragorn entered the cave and nodded approvingly, seeing Legolas covered by a warm blanket. He was tempted to inquire about the Elf's health, but Legolas' expression told him that the Elf was uncomfortable being the center of attention. "We can get some rest tonight."
Gimli grumbled approvingly and made himself comfortable leaning against the wall. "Damn wood is too damp to build a fire. My old bones could have used one." But his eyes spoke different words; a warm fire would have aided the Elf's recovery.
Legolas, staring into a black void, pretended not to hear. He needed some privacy, but Gimli and Aragorn never left him alone. He worried about his future. How could he call himself a warrior when he could no longer aim his arrows? It was best he returned to Mirkwood and forgot about the Fellowship.
Aragorn couldn't sleep, unlike Gimli who had quickly dozed off and was now snoring happily. His gaze had rested on Legolas' face for some time now and he caught the shivers rocking the Elf's exhausted body. Soft Elven whispers echoed through the cave, calling him closer; Legolas was dreaming of home, of Mirkwood.
Suddenly the Elf curled up in a fetal position as the chills got worse. At night and with Legolas asleep, the last remnants of poison were tormenting his body with cold. Aragorn knew what he had to do and rose to his feet. He walked over to Legolas, pushed the blanket aside and settled down behind the Elf, folding his arms around the shivering body and pulling him close.
Legolas' sleep grew calm again, the shivers grew less and a soft sigh floated from the Elf's lips.
Aragorn, content now that Legolas was content, followed the Elf into sleep.
Still half asleep, Legolas marveled about the warmth that cocooned him. Two strong arms were wrapped around him and a warm body was spooned behind him. Hadn't this happened before? Hadn't he awoken like this from his nightmarish dreams last night? Aragorn had been holding him, warming him, but why would the Man be holding him now? He was no longer in any danger. His body had dealt with the poison.
Concentrating on his hearing, he listened to the steady breathing behind him. His nostrils twitched, telling him Aragorn had pulled him close once again. He briefly considered pulling free, but he was unwilling to disturb Aragorn's sleep. What does this mean? Why is he holding me again? Why does being this close to him feel so good? It shouldn't feel this good. Aragorn was merely keeping him warm; the Man had probably seen him shiver and as a fellow warrior Aragorn was now offering him his body heat. It didn't mean Aragorn had developed feelings for him like he hoped the Son of Gondor would.
In the end he decided to remain motionless and let Aragorn sleep. He accepted the Man's gift of warmth and cherished it.
When Aragorn woke the next morning, he looked straight into Gimli's laughing eyes. The Dwarf was definitely amused, grinning and chuckling. He considered questioning the Dwarf, but Legolas' deep and regular breathing told him that the Elf was still asleep so he let Gimli leave without asking why the Dwarf was smirking.
Holding Legolas he noticed that several things were different from the last time when he had warmed the feverish Elf. The smell of herbs no longer dominated Legolas' scent. He deeply inhaled the Elf's scent and ran his fingers lightly through the flaxen hair. Legolas was a mystery to him. The Elven Prince was a respected warrior, but something elusive clung to the Elf, which added to the mystery. Why did he feel that Legolas was hiding things from him, was keeping secrets?
But wasn't he keeping secrets as well? Up on that mountain, before the cave collapsed, he had said that there couldn't be any secrets between them and now he was keeping them himself. Once the right opportunity came along he would tell Legolas about his growing affection for the Elf. He didn't know how the other man would react, but that was a risk he had to take.
Legolas' breathing changed, became faster and Aragorn realized the Elf was waking up. He decided against retreat; let Legolas know that he enjoyed holding the Elf in his sleep.
Legolas sounded strangely shy and confused to Aragorn, which alarmed him. "Yes?"
"I thought it was a dream."
"What? Being blind?" Oh, just speaking the words hurt! If only he could heal the Elf's eyes!
"No, you holding me."
"You were cold. I saw you shivering." Aragorn's eyes caressed the golden hair, wishing he could once more run his fingers through the strands, but he couldn't, not yet. First they had to talk and this wasn't the right time for it.
"This feels different somehow." Legolas frowned. Should he voice his thoughts or keep quiet? "Why are you holding me? Just because I was cold? You could have given me your blanket instead."
Aragorn wasn't sure how to react. "I wanted to be sure that you were warm and comfortable. I never realized I could lose you. Elves live for thousands of years and I never thought Death could snatch you away like that."
Legolas wasn't ready to pressure Aragorn on his motives and decided to let the matter rest. "We should rise. We have a long way ahead of us."
"Legolas, I..." Aragorn wanted to explain, but the words wouldn't come to him. "I promise we'll talk."
"After we freed the Hobbits." Legolas felt strangely disappointed when Aragorn released him, but reminded himself that their quest was more important than his personal problems. He accepted Aragorn's hand when the Man pulled him to his feet. "I can keep up with you and Gimli. Set a firm pace. The Hobbits are already too long at the mercy of those monsters."
"Tell me when you need to rest, Legolas." Aragorn raised a hand to cup Legolas' chin in his palm, but stopped himself just in time. Such a caress would show his feelings for the Elf and none of them were ready to face the attraction. They were struggling with their own thoughts and emotions. They needed time.
Gimli watched as Aragorn led Legolas from the cave. The Elf's hand rested on Aragorn's shoulder and something about the Man's posture told him that his services weren't needed today. It was obvious that Aragorn wanted to guide Legolas himself. Gimli grinned, but made sure Aragorn didn't catch his smirk. My friend Elf, your heart's desire might come true after all. The possessiveness Aragorn displayed this morning told the old Dwarf all he needed to know.
Swinging his axe over his shoulder, he marched behind them, vowing that nothing would happen to his blind companion.
"We're gaining on them," said Aragorn after interpreting the footprints the Uruk-Hai had left behind. "I can also see Merry and Pippin's footmarks. They are walking on their own, so they shouldn't be in any immediate danger. Saruman probably ordered the Uruk-Hai to deliver the Hobbits at Isengard alive." He heard Gimli's relieved sigh and smiled for a change. "We'll get to them in time."
Aragorn looked at his traveling companions. He had been pushing them ruthlessly, trying to decrease the distance between them and the Uruk-Hai, and although Legolas managed to keep up with them, he couldn't help but worry about the Elf. At first Legolas' hand had rested on his shoulder, accepting guidance, but later Legolas had removed it, trying to find his way on his own. Every time Legolas tripped, struggled with branches or bumped into trees, Aragorn was there to help the Elf back on track, but Legolas now refused any help with a polite nod of his head, insisting he could manage.
Gimli exchanged glances with him and Aragorn read the concern in them. It seemed so unfair that the Woodland Elf was blind. Maybe a healer could help. He had to remain hopeful.
Now that night had fallen Aragorn decided it was finally time to rest. Hopefully they would catch up with the Uruk-Hai tomorrow. "We camp here."
Gimli stared at the Elf, realizing they needed water and food. He took it upon himself to provide them. "Aragorn, I'll hunt the grounds. We need food."
"I can help," offered Legolas. His right hand rested against the trunk of a tree and his head was cocked. He was hoping his hearing would guide him on the hunt.
"No," said Gimli firmly. "I will hunt alone tonight." He refused to expose Legolas to unnecessary risks. "I've been hunting for centuries, Elf. I can manage."
Legolas felt disappointed. He understood that they worried about him, but he could pull his own weight if only they let him! "I can be your ears!"
This time Aragorn answered, eager to end this argument and see to it that Legolas rest. "You can help me start a fire, Legolas."
The Elf knew when he had lost a fight and remained quiet. He wouldn't be able to change their minds. "I will gather wood."
Aragorn wanted to stop Legolas, but realized he had to treat Legolas respectfully. Stopping Legolas now would tell the Elf he was no longer of any use to the Fellowship. "We'll gather it together."
Gimli disappeared into the forest, and Aragorn fell into step beside Legolas, clearing their path when branches nearly hit Legolas. He felt like he needed to comfort the Elf. "I'm sure the Elven healers can restore your vision once we return to Rivendell. Maybe we'll encounter one before we reach Mount Doom."
Legolas remained quiet. Aragorn's words were spoken in kindness, but didn't lessen his emotional pain. From a young age on he had learned to hide his feelings behind a mask and he had learned his lesson well. That he had almost lost control over his emotions earlier was a shock to him. It showed how deeply losing his vision affected him. But the mask wouldn't slip. Come what may, he would face it alone.
"Here, you can carry the wood." Aragorn correctly identified the swimming expression in the Elf's eyes and opted for distraction. He didn't want Legolas bending down and then bumping his head.
Legolas accepted his new task with a stoic expression on his face. Only a few days ago he had been an important part of this Fellowship, now he was a burden.
"You cook well," complimented Legolas Gimli. He was trying to act politely, but privately he was crying. Not even the task of preparing the rabbits Gimli had caught had been his. The Dwarf had roasted them himself. They deemed him completely useless now. Why then did they still keep him around? He was confident he could find the way home to Mirkwood. Once he was gone they wouldn't have to worry about his safety. Maybe he should take matters in to his own hands and leave during the night?
He leaned against a tree, and for the first time in his long life he regretted not having a blanket. Since the poison had invaded his body he felt cold. For once the tunic did little to keep him warm. Would he always feel like this? Would he find an Elven healer who could take away these effects the poison had left behind? Why was he tormenting himself like this? He didn't have the power to change a thing!
Suddenly something was draped across his body. His hands quickly identified Aragorn's cloak. "This isn't necessary."
"Keep it." Aragorn swallowed past the lump in his throat. Getting used to Legolas being blind would take a lot of time and why was Legolas shivering? The cold shouldn't affect the Elf like that. It had to be the poison. "Try to rest." Later, once Legolas was asleep, he would search for the healing herbs that had fought the poison in the Elf's body. Maybe they would help fight these lingering after effects as well. "I'll take first watch." Legolas wanted to speak, and Aragorn felt relieved when Gimli beat the Elf to it.
"And I'll take second." Gimli grinned. Tonight they would keep their Elf safe.
Legolas waited until Gimli was asleep. The Dwarf's breathing told him when Gimli's dreams took over. Doubtlessly the Dwarf's dreams were filled with meat, malt beer, and visions of the great Dwarven cities.
Once he was sure that Gimli wouldn't notice him leaving the camp side, he removed Aragorn's cloak and soundlessly rose to his feet. He inhaled deeply, trying to draw energy from the air, trees and animals around him. Extending his arms, he felt for trees or other obstacles he might encounter. His sense of smell guided him, telling him a lake was near. He yearned to make contact with the clear liquid, to reconnect with nature, a connection he had lost when his eyesight had been taken away from him.
It took him several minutes to find his way to the lake. Branches, bushes and rocks blocked his path, but he continued with iron determination. His intuition told him there was no moon tonight, but he felt the power of the stars on his skin.
Now that he had reached the lake, he knelt, extended his arms and let his fingertips touch the water, caressing the cool liquid. The water felt pleasant and almost seemed to return the caress. Slowly, he dipped his hands in to the water, relishing the power the lake possessed. Man, Dwarf or Hobbit, none of them shared this connection with nature. Being a Woodland Elf, the connection was even stronger.
He cupped water in his hands, pulled them back and bowed his head, trying to listen to his heart. It was trying to get in to tune with the forces around him. The water dripped slowly from his fingers and before it could escape he used it to rinse his eyes. It was a only a symbolic cleansing. He could not get rid of the Uruk-Hai's poison that nestled inside his blood.
Now that he was alone, he indulged himself and let the tears flow which he had been holding back all day long. Tears and water mixed, creating a moist mask that covered his face. His fingers clawed the earth, digging deep. He closed his eyes, relishing the earth between his fingertips. It was soft and soothing. He rubbed the earth between his fingertips, reestablishing contact with Middle Earth.
His head bowed, the wind suddenly played with his long hair, letting it dance on his back. The wind seemed to release a soft sigh as it cradled the Elf's form. The wind enfolded him, surrounded him, offered him shelter. He had never felt the elements this clearly and it urged him to free his hands from the earth. Opening his eyes, he felt disappointed when the darkness remained.
The hair at the back of his neck stood rigid as a rush of wind moved over the land. Aragorn frowned and he put the healing herbs in to a pocket. He would brew the tea later and make Legolas drink it. The Elf would listen, aware of his knowledge of herb lore.
The wind seemed to whisper and the rustling of the leaves almost sounded like a voice. Alarmed, Aragorn checked his surroundings. His eyes made out a form in the distance, but he couldn't identify the figure. Curious, he sneaked closer, making sure he didn't draw any attention to him.
His breath caught, finally realizing it was Legolas. The Elf was kneeling near the water and the wind played with his hair. Dirt clung to his hands and Legolas' face was wet with -- with what? Water or tears? Briefly he felt like an intruder and he almost started his way back to the camp, when he froze in his tracks.
He had never seen such beauty shine from Legolas' face. The Elf seemed to glow in the dark, covered by radiant starlight. The sight was almost magical. Although he had spent his whole life around Elves they still mystified him. Legolas had never seemed more desirable, more beautiful and his heart filled with love for the Elf. He swore that no matter what happened he would always protect the Elf.
Entranced, he watched as Legolas raised a fist. The fingers slowly uncurled until the palm was revealed. Aragorn's eyes narrowed seeing some sort of light in the Elf's palm. He sneaked a little closer, making sure he didn't make any noise. His eyes hadn't deceived him; a small flame burned in Legolas' palm. The Elf should be in pain, but instead there was a hypnotic stare in Legolas' eyes.
This was impossible! Not even an Elf could create fire out of nothing. But did he know that for sure? He had heard about Elves gifted with special abilities. Gandalf had mentioned these ancient Elves which never revealed themselves to Man.
No, his eyes must be deluding him! But as he continued to watch, the flame only shone brighter from the Elf's palm. Puzzled and worried, Aragorn couldn't stop watching. Suddenly a strong wind rushed toward Legolas. The water stirred restlessly and the wind carried earth and dirt with it, that whirled around the Elf's form.
Legolas was a Woodland Elf. Maybe he had a special connection with nature and this was his way of showing it? Somehow that explanation didn't reassure him. His instincts told him there was more to it. They also told him not to reveal himself to Legolas at this point. He watched Legolas, using the trees for cover.
The wind suddenly calmed. The surface of the lake no longer showed any ripples and the flame in Legolas' hand flickered once, then faded slowly until it disappeared completely. Dark clouds shoved in front of the stars, taking away their silver light and the glow that Legolas radiated vanished. The Elf rose to his feet, bowed his head in silent gratitude and disappeared between the trees as he headed back to their camp.
Aragorn was jolted into motion when Legolas' form vanished from view. Cautiously, he headed back as well, planning to arrive there before Legolas. His plan was to wake Gimli so the Dwarf could walk the grounds and maybe he could find a way to make Legolas open up to him.
When Legolas returned he hoped that no one had noticed his absence. He had no way of knowing if Gimli had already taken the second watch, or if Aragorn was still walking the grounds. Was Gimli awake? Asleep? Or was Aragorn watching him? He simply didn't know. The uncertainty only added to his nervousness. Where had he put Aragorn's cloak? Or had the Man retrieved it during his absence?
Being faced with reality after his magical experience at the lake caused him to inwardly cry out. Back at the lake, life and nature had been at ease, had strengthened him, but the confidence he had gained was fading quickly now that he was faced with his helplessness. He had gone asleep close to the fire, but it had died and couldn't guide him.
"Legolas? Come here and lie down."
Aragorn's voice startled him, but the mask stayed in place, never showing his surprise. "I'm most grateful for your offer, but don't trouble yourself. I'll learn to deal with the cold."
Aragorn sighed. "Legolas, why are you always this stubborn? I only mean well."
A ghost of a smile flashed across Legolas' features. His father always called him stubborn as well. Even Gandalf had. "I don't want to be a burden to you."
"You could never be a burden," said Aragorn firmly.
Footfalls sounded to his right and suddenly surprisingly gentle fingers curled around his. He allowed Aragorn to pull him to his bedroll, and he wondered why he was this willing to sleep in the Man's arms. He should put distance between them instead. What about Arwen? He couldn't be part of this and he halted in his tracks. "I cannot do this."
Aragorn stared questioningly at Legolas. "You cannot do what?"
I cannot give in to this temptation. Arwen awaits you at Rivendell. Legolas regretted taking a step back, but he couldn't let Aragorn do this. Sleeping in Aragorn's arms was something he craved after having experienced the Man's closeness, but this had to stop. What if Aragorn realized this meant so much more to him?
"Legolas?" The Elf's silence worried Aragorn. In the end he rested a hand on Legolas' shoulder, hoping to get through to the absentminded Elf. "What is it you cannot do? I'm merely asking you to rest and offering you a warm place to sleep. There's no shame in accepting comfort."
Legolas suddenly felt shy. He had drawn the wrong conclusions. Aragorn was merely trying to comfort a companion. Why was he reading more into it? "In that case I accept." What other option did he have? He had the feeling that Aragorn wouldn't give in until they slept side by side.
Relieved, Aragorn took Legolas' hand in his. The dirt that still clung to it reminded him of what he had witnessed at the lake. Trying to act casually his fingers searched the Elf's palm for burns, but the skin was smooth and warm. He had really seen that flame so why wasn't there a burn?
He forced himself to stop thinking about it. "Here, lie down." He helped Legolas lie down and then joined the Elf, facing him. "Are you still cold? And tell me the truth. I can tell when you're lying."
"Sometimes," admitted Legolas who wasn't in the mood for an argument. "This poison baffles me. It still affects me."
"I made more tea. Hopefully the herbs will aid your recovery." Aragorn carefully retrieved the warm tea and pressed the mug in to Legolas' hand. "Sip slowly."
"Thank you, Aragorn." Legolas sipped, and then handed the empty mug back to Aragorn.
Aragorn felt nervous when he folded an arm around Legolas' waist, pulling the Elf closer. His heart missed a beat when Legolas allowed it. "How does it feel? Being blind?" Maybe Legolas wanted to talk about it and he should give the Elf a chance to confide in him.
"I do not wish to talk about it." It was too personal, something he couldn't share. Aragorn's closeness also distracted him from his temporary problems and he found himself eager to rest in the Man's embrace. Should he return the embrace? What did Aragorn expect from him?
Aragorn's heart thundered in his chest with bliss when Legolas hesitantly answered the embrace, folding an arm around him as well. He smiled brightly, hoping Legolas would warm up to the idea of being more than companions, more than just friends. "We'll find a way to counter the effects of the poison."
Legolas nodded against Aragorn's shoulder. Resting like this was comforting, soothing, and he wished Aragorn hadn't given his heart to Arwen. He would never take Aragorn away from her and he vowed to keep his love a secret for the rest of his life.
Deep beneath Isengard the Uruk-Hai were born, trained and sent out on missions. Saruman the White controlled them, creating an army worthy of Sauron. The Eye of Sauron never rested, always watching Middle Earth.
Saruman sat on his chair, staff in hand, white hair flowing down his back. His stony face betrayed no emotion, but inwardly the wizard was restless and upset. Although the Fellowship had lost Gandalf in the mines of Moria he felt a very upsetting sensation. A force of magic had appeared, baffling him. At first he had thought it to be Gandalf, who had found his way out of the Mines of Moria, but although this magic felt familiar it wasn't Gandalf's.
It felt ancient and sacred and it worried him greatly. Now that Sauron was gathering his strength a surprise like this one was most unwelcome and had to be dealt with. A pack of Uruk-Hai was on their way back, taking two Hobbits with them, but now he was considering contacting the Uruk-Hai and giving them new instructions.
His secret spies had told him of an Elf, beautiful and graceful, with long flaxen hair and incredible skills at archery. They even whispered a name into his ear; Legolas Greenleaf of Mirkwood. He had never heard that name before, but if what his spies told was true, the Elf could work magic.
When Elrond had invited representatives of all races, Saruman had watched, had witnessed their initial fight and he had been most displeased when a Fellowship had formed. He hadn't paid the Elf any attention. He had solely focused on Gandalf and the Heir of Isildur. He had thought them to be the most dangerous. Maybe he had been wrong.
He rose from his chair and descended the stairs. His mind was made up. He would sent a messenger to the Uruk-Hai and instruct them to capture the Elf as well. Once he had the Ring and the Elf he could report to Sauron that Middle Earth was his.
The only thing that could still go wrong was that Gandalf resurfaced. He knew Gandalf the Grey well enough to realize that the Wizard was probably hiding and biding his time.
He instructed the messenger and watched him leave. The Uruk-Hai was fast and didn't need rest. He would reach the pack shortly and after they captured the Elf he could investigate the mystery himself. The Elf was his!
Gimli chuckled most of the day, watching Aragorn trying very hard not to fuss over the Elf. It was a most peculiar sight and he wondered if Legolas had the faintest idea that Aragorn was watching his every move. Although they managed to set a firm pace, Aragorn always stopped to make sure the Elf didn't stumble.
When he had returned from his watch last night he had found them curled up tightly next to the fire and this time Legolas' arm had been slung Aragorn's waist. The embrace had been mutual.
He thought back to the Elf's confession a few days ago. Legolas was obviously in love with Aragorn, but not acting on it because he respected Arwen and didn't want to compete with her. But Gimli wondered if Arwen was the love in Aragorn's life after all. The looks Aragorn gave Legolas spoke of more than just friendship.
When I get the chance I'll talk some sense into the Man. I bet my axe that Aragorn is attracted to the Elf, but he's too blind to see that it's mutual. Gimli exchanged a knowing glance with Aragorn. "I'll scout ahead." They had made visual contact with the Uruk-Hai this morning and Aragorn was eager to catch up to them so they could finally free Merry and Pippin. But Gimli worried about the upcoming battle. What would Legolas' role be? He hoped Aragorn planned to talk to the Elf about that.
Aragorn's thoughts circled around the upcoming battle and he needed to voice his fears. "I want you to stay behind me when we attack the Uruk-Hai. Now that your sight is gone your arrows won't meet their target any longer. You can only use your hunting knives and the fighting will be fierce. Stay close to me at all times."
A frown of indignation appeared on Legolas' brow. "And what if I don't agree to your terms?"
"Then you won't fight today." Aragorn regretted being this harsh, but he couldn't bear the thought of losing the Elf in battle. Legolas meant too much to him. "You must understand. I don't want to lose another member of this Fellowship. We already lost Gandalf and Boromir and we face losing the Hobbits if we can't free them. I don't want to lose you as well. Your safety is important to me. Elrond would never forgive me if you died."
Legolas bowed his head. He had hoped Aragorn's reasons to see him safe were of a more personal manner. But Aragorn, the leader of the Fellowship, was simply doing his job, making sure an injured member wasn't exposed to any unnecessary risks. He doubted very much that Elrond would be mad with Aragorn if he died. Elrond was Aragorn's foster father and loved Aragorn like his own flesh and blood. "I agree to your terms," said Legolas with a sigh. He had to accept that he was no longer a warrior; he had become a burden.
"Aragorn! The Uruk-Hai are heading in our direction." Gimli, swinging his axe, quickly joined the two men. "They're coming back. Why?"
Aragorn frowned. "I don't like this. You have a valid point, Master Dwarf. Why aren't they heading to Isengard?"
"Does it matter?" Legolas uncovered his hunting knives. "We don't have much time. I can sense them closing in on us."
Aragorn reacted immediately. If Legolas said he could sense them move in, he believed the Elf. "Remember our agreement, Legolas. Don't stray too far and stay behind me."
Legolas didn't bother to reply. "They're here." His body was tense with the excitement that always preceded a fight. He cocked his head, trying to get his enemy's bearing, but the Uruk-Hai suddenly appeared from everywhere, attacking them viciously.
Aragorn realized their predicament. The Uruk-Hai ran at them, yelling and swinging their weapons. He uncovered his sword, roared a battle cry and attacked the Uruk-Hai, hoping Legolas would heed his warning and stay close.
Legolas felt momentarily paralyzed. The Uruk-Hai's roar deafened him, taking away the one sense he could still rely on. He tried to defend himself, but sharp nails buried themselves in his leg, pulling him to the ground. A crushing weight settled on him, knocking his hunting knives from his hands. He struggled, trying to fight off the Uruk-Hai, but his blows only hit air. Finally he understood why Aragorn had urged him to stay close.
"Aragorn!" Gimli tried to draw Aragorn's attention, but the Man had gone berserk and was taking out one enemy after another. Turning around to check on the Elf, he found that three Uruk-Hai were carrying off Legolas. The Elf was still trying to free himself, but his struggle was useless. The Uruk-Hai had a strong hold on his companion.
Realizing that Aragorn wasn't reacting to his cry for help, Gimli decided to take matters into his own hands. Charging, he released a growling battle cry. He could take on three Uruk-Hai! He had to! Legolas' life was at stake!
A group of four Uruk-Hai appeared in front of him and Gimli used his axe to cut open one's chest.
But then the leader of the Uruk-Hai took charge. He took aim and let the arrow flow free.
Gimli's eyes widened as the arrow impacted in his shoulder and he had never felt more thankful for wearing armor. Determinedly he pulled the arrow from his armor and threw it on the ground with a look of loathing on his face. But removing the arrow had distracted him from watching his enemies and the Uruk-Hai took advantage of his carelessness. They moved in, and one of them managed to land a blow to Gimli's brow. Blood dripped from his brow, blinding him. Several more blows were needed to take him out, but in the end he dropped to the ground, losing consciousness.
The leader of the Uruk-Hai motioned one of his men to pick up the Dwarf who could come in handy. Now that he had achieved his goal he called off the attack.
Legolas hoped Aragorn had managed to escape. He had no way of knowing if Gimli and Aragorn were still alive. A knife, placed against his throat, ensured his cooperation. He tried to act calm and controlled, but when the Uruk-Hai bound his hands, he almost panicked. He was dealing with a foe he couldn't see, couldn't fight, but he refused to give up. As long as there was a chance that Aragorn was alive, he had to fight.
"Legolas! Gimli! Legolas, answer me!" Aragorn stared at the fallen Uruk-Hai at his feet. He had managed to take down quite a few, but in his rage he had lost track of his friends. He pushed back his hair as the wind blew strands in to his eyes. "Legolas! Legolas! Gimli!"
Wide-eyed he made his way over the battle field, searching for clues to what had happened to his friends. "No." Gimli's axe was buried inside an Uruk-Hai's chest and still there was no sight of the Dwarf. "He'd never leave his axe behind." Aragorn had to admit the horrible truth; Gimli had been taken prisoner, but what about Legolas? Had the Uruk-Hai killed him or taken him prisoner as well?
He continued to search the battle field and his eyes filled with tears seeing the two beautifully adorned hunting knives on the ground. He dropped to his knees and gathered them respectfully. The Uruk-Hai had taken two more of his friends prisoner and now it was up to him to free them all.
"I won't fail you, Legolas. I will find you and free you." Not wasting any more time, he rose to his feet and took up pursuit, taking Legolas' hunting knives and Gimli's axe with him.
Gimli gained consciousness when an Uruk-Hai harshly dropped him on to the cold earth. The Dwarf's eyes flashed open and he immediately searched for the Elf. Legolas was only a few feet away from him, but the Elf's hands and feet were bound tightly. But Gimli was still free and able to walk. He just hoped that splitting headache would disappear.
The Elf's eyes were open, but Gimli knew it didn't mean a thing. Legolas could be either awake, asleep or unconscious. He noticed the fierce trembling that moved through the Elf's body and he privately cursed the Uruk-Hai for abducting them.
The Uruk-Hai didn't pay him any attention; apparently they didn't think him dangerous. He vowed to prove them wrong. Keeping a close eye on the monsters, who were setting out guards for the night, he moved toward the Elf. The Uruk-Hai didn't stop him and he grew bolder, bending down to tap Legolas' shoulder. "Can you hear me, Elf?"
Legolas blinked once, sighed and nodded. "Gimli?"
"Aye, it's I." In spite of their situation Gimli smiled. "They carried us off. I do believe Aragorn is still alive." Legolas' expression was hard to read, but Gimli hoped knowing Aragorn was alive would make a difference to the Elf. "They made camp for the night. We should stay alert and escape when possible."
Legolas nodded without much enthusiasm. He didn't feel comfortable among the Uruk-Hai. The stench of blood clung to them and the appealing smell was getting to him, but there was something else as well, something way worse. For some elusive reason the Uruk-Hai felt familiar. When the Uruk-Hai spoke among themselves he detected traces of the old Elven language. A shudder passed through his body. Was it possible that these abominations were somehow related to the Elves? It was unthinkable, but he couldn't rule it out. He didn't know how Saruman had created the Uruk-Hai.
"Elf, they're watching you closely." Gimli noticed the angry, yet curious looks the Uruk-Hai were giving Legolas. He didn't like this at all. Blind, Legolas was an easy prey and he wasn't sure he could protect the Elf.
"I can feel their eyes on me." Legolas shivered and wished he wasn't tied down. Now that he was lying on the damp earth the cold was seeping in to his bones.
Gimli bared his teeth when the leader of the Uruk-Hai approached. It was hard to tell what the Uruk-Hai was thinking; the expression in the dark eyes was unreadable. The hair at the back of his neck grew rigid, warning him that something was wrong. Protectively he went to stand in front of the Elf, trying to hide Legolas from the Uruk-Hai's view. The Uruk-Hai's eyes flashed menacingly and a powerful fist knocked Gimli on to the ground. A kick to his back made him roll even farther away from Legolas. Gimli tried to get back to his feet, but another Uruk-Hai restrained him, grabbing his wrists and pulling them behind his back.
The leader of the Uruk-Hai went down on his heels to study his prisoner. He cocked his head, growled and raised a hand, which he rested on Legolas' face.
Legolas tried hard to remain calm, but he flinched at the Uruk-Hai's touch. It was vile and tainting. He held perfectly still, uncertain of the other man's intention.
"You're an Elf," growled the Uruk-Hai. He continued to study Legolas as if trying to read the Elf's thoughts.
Shivers ran down Legolas' spine as the Uruk-Hai's breath hit his face. The foul smell almost made him nauseous. "Yes, I am." He forced himself to answer; he couldn't show any weakness now. The fact that he was bound and lying on the ground was humiliation enough.
The Uruk-Hai growled deep in his throat. "I have orders to take you to Saruman... Alive. Try to escape and you'll suffer the consequences."
Legolas was surprised that the Uruk-Hai was capable of speech, let alone rational thought. Maybe he had underestimated them. "Where are the Hobbits?"
The Uruk-Hai growled once more. "Out of your reach, Elf."
The last word dripped with hate and loathing, and Legolas tried hard not to react to the fierce emotion. He missed his eyesight; he had never realized how much he deepened on it. He decided against questioning the Uruk-Hai and preferred being silent.
"I hate you, Elf."
Legolas forced himself to remain calm when the Uruk-Hai's sharp fingernails scratched his throat. The long nails left a bloody trail from his chin to his collar bone. Blood flowed from the wound and a stinging sensation coursed through his throat. The sensation felt awfully familiar. The infection the arrow head had caused had felt like this. With the poison still nestled in his body this would only worsen his condition. He didn't worry about a possible scar, knowing the skin would heal. He worried about the side effects of the poison. Without the healing tea made from the plants Aragorn usually gathered, his condition would further deteriorate.
Suddenly the Uruk-Hai rose to his feet and marched away. The other Uruk-Hai released Gimli and the Dwarf immediately headed for the Elf. His face briefly contorted, seeing blood flow from the wound. He ripped a piece of fabric from his shirt, hidden beneath his armor, and approached Legolas. The Elf raised his head as if trying to determine who was close to him. "Let me tend to that injury." Gimli hoped his voice would reassure the blind Elf; he was starting to see beneath the mask Legolas usually wore. It was only cracking because the Elf was blind and injured and even now Legolas was trying to hide his unease.
"No need to take care of me, Master Dwarf. I am capable of doing that myself." But he had forgotten that his hands were bound. He was reminded of that fact when he tried to touch his throat.
Gimli shook his head disapprovingly. "Stubborn Elf. Why can't you accept help when you need it?" What was it in Legolas' past that made the Elf unwilling to trust others? He pulled Legolas in an upright position while keeping an eye on the Uruk-Hai who never moved far away from them. They were clearly being guarded and closely watched. But the Uruk-Hai didn't stop him when he pushed the piece of fabric against the wound, trying to stop the bleeding.
"Can you see the Hobbits?" Legolas needed a distraction. He had to stop thinking about his own problems and focus on someone else's.
Once more Gimli shook his head. "They are nowhere in sight. I reckon they split up before coming back for us. The Hobbits are with the second group."
"How many Uruk-Hai are there? Do you still have your axe?" He had already noticed that his bow and hunting knives were gone. He had to come up with an escape plan; the Uruk-Hai planned to take them to Isengard and they had to get away before Saruman could get his hands on them.
Gimli sighed deeply. "Elf, listen to me. You're bound hands and feet and we don't have any weapons. My head is killing me and there are about fifteen of the monsters watching us. We need to bide our time." He would have preferred to break free right now, but common sense won from his impulsive urges. Furthermore, the shivering Elf worried him. A feverish gleam shone from the blue eyes and a delicate film of sweat settled on Legolas' brow. Maybe poison had clung to the Uruk-Hai's fingernails and the substance was now making his way through the Elf's body once more. His primary concern was to keep Legolas warm and safe.
Gimli ignored the looks the Uruk-Hai were giving him and sat down on the damp earth, pulled Legolas against him and wrapped his arms around the bound Elf, offering Legolas his body warmth. "I wish I could do more, but I lack Aragorn's knowledge of the healing herbs. Maybe you can describe the plant to me and I can look for it?"
"They won't let you search for it," said Legolas with certainty. "Do not trouble yourself. I won't die from the poison, it merely weakens me." He wasn't sure he would be of any help when an opportunity to escape arose. Maybe Gimli had to break free alone. He would only slow the Dwarf down.
"What are you thinking, Elf?" The expression in those feverish eyes greatly worried Gimli. Legolas felt hot to the touch; the poison was moving much quicker than he had expected.
"You should escape on your own. I will only slow you down. Find Aragorn and then locate the Hobbits." Legolas nodded firmly.
Gimli smiled saddened. "And what about you?"
"I can take care of myself. Saruman wants me alive; the Uruk-Hai won't kill me. I'm safe."
Gimli growled softly. Legolas' apparent calm was getting on his nerves. "No."
"No, what?" Legolas frowned. Shivers ran down his spine and his body began to tremble once more. "The poison is too strong and I won't be of any use to you. You have to do this on your own. Don't waste any more time."
"I won't leave you." Gimli was determined not to give in to the Elf's demands. "I reckon Aragorn is already on our trail; he'll find us shortly. You have to hold on a little longer."
"Not even Aragorn can take on fifteen of these monsters. It won't even get to a fight. They have us for hostages." Legolas briefly closed his eyes. "Listen, Master Dwarf, you have to leave me and find Aragorn!"
"Stop it. I won't listen to this nonsense. I'm staying. You'll get worse and someone will need to tend to you. I can't see the Uruk-Hai do that and their leader is watching closely, trying to listen in on our conversation. I won't leave you alone with him."
A sad smile appeared on Legolas' face. "You honor me with your loyalty, but you're making the wrong decision." His throat ached, his mouth felt dry and his eyes were beginning to sting. His body shook with chills and even Gimli's body heat no longer made a difference. He was freezing again as the poison invaded his blood and bones.
Aragorn gritted his teeth and accepted the challenge the fierce wind presented. He pushed himself relentlessly, only pausing once in a while to kneel and study the tracks in the muddy earth. It had started to rain a few hours ago and the Uruk-Hai had set a firm pace, almost doubling the distance between them. Aragorn couldn't pause now; every minute was precious.
He pulled his cloak around his body and continued to walk with grim determination. Gimli's axe was in his hands, his own sword in its scabbard and Legolas' hunting knives dangled from his belt. He was already looking forward to cutting down the monsters who had dared to abduct his friends. Friends... He still hoped that Legolas and he would be lovers one day. Maybe it would be wise to tell the Elf that Arwen and he weren't bound to each other, that he was free to chose a mate.
He vowed to talk to Legolas after freeing the Elf. When Legolas had returned that embrace hope had blossomed inside his heart, knowing the Elf accepted him close. Now he had to take the next step.
Lost in thoughts, he almost took the wrong direction and had to backtrack, locate their tracks again. Studying them, his worry increased. Up until now he had been able to identify Legolas' weak footmarks in the mud, but they were gone now. Looking closer, he realized that one of the Uruk-Hai's footmarks were deeper now. The Uruk-Hai had to be carrying the Elf, but why? Was it the poison? Damn it, he had been certain that he had subdued the poison. Or was Legolas wounded and unable to walk on his own?
His fingertips touched the mud. These were Gimli's footmarks, but still there was no sign of the Hobbits and he suspected that the Uruk-Hai had long split up in to two groups. Although a small voice in his head told him he ought to go after the Hobbits, his heart forced him to follow Legolas. He couldn't bear the thought of the Elf being their prisoner. Thankfully Gimli was with Legolas, hopefully keeping an eye on the stubborn Elf.
A gust of wind almost swept him of his feet and rain suddenly crashed down on him. He was tempted to find a shelter for the upcoming night, but he had to press on. He couldn't allow the Uruk-Hai to gain an even greater head start!
Wet hair, dripping with raindrops clung to his face. His clothes grew heavy with rain, but still he refused to give into the elements.
An hour later, when the dark clouds obscured even the starlight that had guided his path, Aragorn had to admit defeat. In the darkness he couldn't read the tracks and he was cold and wet. A weak light unexpectedly appeared to his right and he succumbed to temptation and fled toward in to the cave. He felt curious, wondering about the origin of the light.
He stopped abruptly in his tracks, his breathing seized for a moment and his eyes almost bulged from their sockets. "What trick is this?"
Gandalf smiled warmly. "You must be cold, Aragorn. Share my fire with me and dry your clothes."
Aragorn cocked his head. "You're dead. You died at the Mines of Moira. I saw you fall." It was impossible. Gandalf couldn't be sitting in front of him, nursing a fire and leaning on his staff. "This is Sauron's work."
"You offend me," whispered Gandalf. "It takes more than one Balrog to end my life." He understood Aragorn's disbelief, even distrust, but hoped to convince the Man that he wasn't an illusion. "Come sit with me and we'll talk."
Aragorn cautiously approached. One hand rested on Legolas' hunting knife, the other clutched Gimli's axe tightly.
Gandalf waited for Aragorn to lean against the wall, realizing the Man wasn't sitting down yet. " I tried to catch up with you, but I got distracted. Now tell me why you're alone. Where are the others?"
Aragorn felt conflicted. Gandalf appeared to be real, but he couldn't completely discard a sense of distrust. He slid down on to the ground and extended his hands, trying to warm them by the fire. "Frodo and Sam are on their way to Mount Doom. The Uruk-Hai captured Merry and Pippin and we decided to follow them. Then they also captured Legolas and Gimli. I hoped to catch up with the Uruk-Hai today, but the weather stopped me." He decided against telling Gandalf about Legolas' blindness just yet. Right now, they only needed to exchange the most important information. "I have no idea where the Uruk-Hai are taking Merry and Pippin. Maybe Isengard, maybe Mount Doom."
Gandalf had grown quiet, staring in to the fire. "They captured Legolas? That's most unfortunate. It complicates matters greatly. Maybe it wasn't a wise thing to do, to let him tag along, but I couldn't stop him. His presence was required."
Aragorn frowned, hearing Gandalf rant absentmindedly. "I'll find and free them," he vowed passionately. Gandalf didn't seem worried about the Hobbits at all, mumbling about Legolas once more. "Gandalf?"
The Wizard forced himself to pay attention to Aragorn. "Maybe I'll explain later. We'll wait until the storm has cleared and then we'll take up pursuit. It's important that we free Legolas. We can't allow Saruman to question him. The risks are too great."
Now that they were stuck in the cave anyway, Aragorn decided to ask Gandalf something that greatly troubled him. "Gandalf, I watched Legolas when he thought he was alone. A flame appeared in the palm of his hand. Is this related to him being a Wood Elf?"
Gandalf's eyes narrowed and a shadow flashed across his features. "How could he have been so careless?"
"Gandalf?" Aragorn's worry increased. Gandalf acted like he wasn't supposed to have ever seen that flame!
"You'd better forget you ever spied on our Elven Prince," said Gandalf in a warning tone. His brow was deeply furrowed, worrying about Legolas as well.
Aragorn wasn't sure he could. It was too damn obvious that Gandalf was keeping things from him and he didn't like it. He was the leader of the Fellowship. How could he lead when secrets were kept from him? "You'll accompany me then?"
"Oh yes, I'll come with you. The two of us stand a better chance against the Uruk-Hai." Gandalf's eyes searched Aragorn's face. "Listen to me, Legolas must be freed, and he must stay alive."
Aragorn had the feeling that Gandalf wanted to add more, but the Wizard sat back, pulled his cloak close to his body and stared in to the fire. The conversation had clearly come to an end, but still Aragorn was left with many unanswered questions.
Gimli bared his teeth, trying to scare off the Uruk-Hai who was approaching them. He had lost all track of time during their endless march through wind and rain. One of the Uruk-Hai had carried Legolas most of the time. Fever tormented the Elf's body and he was growing dehydrated now that the Uruk-Hai no longer stopped to pause to let him drink. Finally, after what had seemed an eternity, the leader had signaled them to stop and Legolas had been dropped in to the mud unceremoniously. The shivering was much worse now and Gimli cursed the Uruk-Hai loudly.
Gimli managed to drag the barely conscious Elf beneath a tree, that offered them some shelter from the biting wind. "Leave him alone," he warned the advancing Uruk-Hai. "You're killing him. He needs water, warmth and rest!"
The leader of the Uruk-Hai overheard the Dwarf and suddenly headed in their direction. Gimli expected trouble and wished he had his axe handy. "Keep your distance!"
The leader of the Uruk-Hai growled deep in his throat. "Dwarf..." His voice dripped with contempt. One blow to Gimli's temple knocked the Dwarf off his feet and the Uruk-Hai closed in on the Elf.
Legolas was only vaguely aware of what was happening around him. The one thing that suddenly hit him was the Uruk-Hai's close proximity; he was too close, but Legolas, still bound, was unable to move away. He raised his head, desperately trying to locate the predator so he wouldn't be taken by surprise.
"It's a pity that Saruman wants you alive. Your very presence disgusts me..."
Again sharp fingernails accompanied the Uruk-Hai's words and Legolas barely kept himself from flinching. If those nails dipped beneath his skin the poison would once more invade his blood and in spite of what he had told Gimli earlier, he wasn't sure he would survive after all. He remained quiet, not wanting to anger the Uruk-Hai any further. Why did the other hate him this much?
"My master told me how I was created," continued the Uruk-Hai with loathing in his tone. "We were like you once... Weak. He made us strong."
Legolas couldn't help it, but he gasped in surprise. Was the fever clouding his mind? What had the Uruk-Hai said? That they had been Elves? That Saruman had changed them? Blind and feverish, he was unable to make any sense of what he had heard.
"Maybe Saruman has use for you, maybe he wants information. I hope he'll make you suffer before ending your wretched life." The Uruk-Hai spit into Legolas' face and then marched off.
Gimli, who had recovered from the unexpected blow, quickly moved to Legolas' side. He used his sleeve to wipe away the spit and then checked on the Elf's injury. Legolas' throat showed signs of severe infection. Blue lines had reappeared, making their way down Legolas' chest. What was taking Aragorn so long? The Man should have caught up with them by now! Legolas needed the healing herbs!
Gimli looked about, realized that the Uruk-Hai were setting up camp and pulled the Elf close once more. "Talk to me, Elf." Legolas, who never spoke much, now worried him when growing silent. "Can you still hear me?" He feared losing Legolas to the dark dreams that haunted the Elf when he rested.
"I hear you..." Legolas had lost all sensation in his hands and feet. His body felt numb and icy cold. Gimli had told him that he was burning with fever, but only cold registered in his mind. "Do you know where we are?"
"Too close to Isengard." Gimli wondered what Saruman the White wanted from the Wood Elf. "Why does he want you?" To his surprise, Legolas' mask slipped into place again. He hadn't seen it for days. "Elf?"
"I don't know."
It was a lie and they both knew it. Gimli felt strangely hurt that the Elf was lying to him. "You can trust me, Legolas." He spoke the Elf's name for the first time aloud, hoping to convince him he was sincere.
Legolas was surprised to hear his name flow from the Dwarf's lips. "Gimli, I can't tell you because I don't know. I never met Saruman; I'm surprised that he knows of my existence."
"But do you know what he wants from you?" Gimli continued to pressure the Elf, offering him body heat at the same time. Legolas' head rested against his chest and his powerful arms were folded around the Elf's waist.
"Maybe... Please don't ask again." Legolas wasn't sure he could continue to shut Gimli out. His life had always been a lonely one, and he craved friendship and companionship, but this burden was his alone to carry.
"I will not." Gimli shook his head, disappointed that the Elf didn't trust him. "Rest now. Maybe I can pursue them to give you some water later."
"Why are you still here, Gimli?" Legolas smiled into the Dwarf's long beard. He felt like teasing the gentle Dwarf, but lacked the energy to do so.
"Because Aragorn isn't." Gimli heard Legolas' soft chuckle and the sound warmed his heart. "You know he'll come for you, don't you?"
"I fear so," sighed Legolas.
"You fear?" Gimli frowned, confused. "Why fear?"
"He should be going after the Hobbits, not us." Exhaustion was growing stronger and Legolas' will to stay conscious was crumbling. It wouldn't be long before his body demanded he rest. "There are too many Uruk-Hai and he is only one Man alone."
"I doubt the odds will stop him," chuckled Gimli. "Now rest."
Legolas nodded against Gimli's chest. "I feel honored that you worry for me, but you must promise me to flee before we reach Isengard."
Gimli started to shake his head while his fingers stroked long and muddy blond hair. "I will not."
"You must. Saruman has no need for you. You'll die at his hands."
Legolas suddenly relaxed in his arms and Gimli realized that the Elf had lost consciousness. "But he has use for you? Is that what you're saying? Nay, friend Elf, I won't let you enter Isengard alone."
Aragorn struggled against the wind. They had spent the night in the cave and had left when the first ray of sun appeared in the sky. Thankfully the rain had stopped, but the mud made it almost impossible to read the Uruk-Hai's tracks. Aragorn went down on one knee and studied the footmarks. Next he found the remnants of a fire and an improvised shelter. "They stopped during the night as well. The marks are still fresh."
"How much longer till we catch up with them?" Gandalf was growing restless.
"A few more hours, provided the weather doesn't get worse." Aragorn rose and set a grueling pace. "Why won't you tell me why you're worried about Legolas? I worry about him as well."
Gandalf allowed for a grin to break through. "Oh yes, I know you worry about him."
Aragorn looked up sharply. "Why did you say that?"
"I know your destiny, and I know Legolas' as well. Your destinies are intertwined." Gandalf refused to add more, ignoring the angry glare in Aragorn's eyes. "I promise you will see him again."
"How can you make such a promise?" Aragorn was losing his patience. "An Uruk-Hai's arrow injured Legolas, poisoning him and now he's blind! He was recovering due to a healing tea which I brew, but I have no way of knowing how he's doing now and neither have you!"
Gandalf was briefly taken aback. "He's blind?"
"Aye, but I still hope an Elven healer can restore his eyesight." Aragorn suddenly started walking again, leaving Gandalf standing.
"Legolas' safety is very important to me," Gandalf said in the end. "And the fact that they are heading for Isengard worries me even more. I suspect Saruman's scheming behind this."
"But why does Saruman want Legolas?" Aragorn, frustrated when he once more received no answer, stared at the gloomy sky. They had to get to Legolas in time!
Gimli gritted his teeth when the Uruk-Hai dragged Legolas into Saruman's obsidian tower. He followed quickly, descending stairs that took them deep beneath Isengard. Looking about he saw Orcs, Uruk-Hai and other foul creatures forging swords from steel. Saruman had raised an army worthy of Sauron. The Dwarf shook his head in disapproval. Saruman the White was said to be ancient and wise. Why had the Wizard succumbed to Sauron's power?
He growled when the Uruk-Hai grabbed Legolas' hair to drag the Elf down the rest of the stairs. Gimli was tempted to interfere, but realized that he should save his strength for the right opportunity. Aragorn would shortly make his move and then he had to be ready, not beaten up and injured.
They threw Legolas into a dark cell and Gimli managed to slip inside as well. No one seemed to notice him, or they were simply ignoring him. One of the Uruk-Hai grabbed Legolas' wrists, removed the rope and chained the Elf's hands above his head to the wall. Laughing triumphantly, the Uruk-Hai left the cell, slamming the heavy steel door shut behind him.
Gimli immediately checked on Legolas. The Elf was mumbling feverishly, eyes fluttering and his body was covered in a cold sweat. "Dare I say it? Friend, you may be dying." It was the greatest injustice imaginable. Elves weren't supposed to die and certainly not in this way.
Gimli pushed back a few strands of flaxen hair and cupped the Elf's chin in the palm of his hand. Legolas was barely breathing and dread settled in the Dwarf's heart. "You can't die on me. Don't you dare die on me!"
Unfocused eyes blinked and Gimli felt relieved when he saw recognition in them. "Legolas."
"That's two..." said Legolas weakly. Gimli had called him by his name once more. The Dwarf was probably growing worried. Legolas didn't have the strength to keep his head raised. Hadn't it been for Gimli supporting his chin, his head would be bowed again. "You're right, my friend. I'm dying." He could feel it in his bones. "It won't be long."
"No, I refuse to believe you. Fight!"
Legolas managed a weak smile. There was a way to heal him, to heal even his eyes, but he couldn't walk that road. That path was forbidden to him. "One cannot fight destiny, Master Dwarf."
Gimli wanted to shake some sense into the Elf, but didn't. Legolas was already in a bad way and he didn't want to add to his companion's discomfort. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Water?" His throat burned with the sting of poison and he craved a mouthful of water.
Gimli looked about and found a water bottle in the corner of the cell. He gently released Legolas' chin and went to fetch the bottle. Opening the bottle, he expected a foul stench, but the water smelled rich and tempting. He returned to Legolas, lifted the Elf's chin once more and placed the bottle against chapped lips. "Small sips."
Legolas obeyed, reminding himself to leave water for the Dwarf. "Thank you," he whispered after swallowing a few sips.
"What do you think will happen next?" Gimli drank some water and then put away the bottle. He sat down beside Legolas, offering the weakened Elf warmth and support. Legolas slumped against him and Gimli cursed the chains for keeping the Elf in an upright position.
The finality of those words baffled Gimli. "Do you really think Saruman plans to kill us?"
Legolas managed a dry laugh. "Not at once. He'll ask questions first."
"He'll make us suffer." Gimli nodded grimly.
"Not you, my friend. You don't possess any information he wants." Legolas moistened his lips. "You'll join your ancestors shortly, my friend. I'll have to wait a little longer."
"Can't you tell me what he wants? Don't you trust me?" Gimli cocked his head and made eye contact with Legolas. "Haven't I proven my worth and loyalty yet?"
Legolas gathered his last strength. "Gimli, you're a good friend and I'm honored you care, but there are things that need to remain hidden. Trust me, knowing what Saruman wants won't make a difference."
Gimli glared at Legolas. "Why are you always this stubborn?"
Legolas chuckled softly, but then his strength seeped away from him. The cold, dark cell was the last place he wanted to be and reminded him of the solitude he had encountered deep within the Mines of Moria. Although he had witnessed the silent splendor of that place, it had also frightened him. It was bereaved of light and warmth. His connection with nature was fading now that the great and ancient trees in the once beautiful gardens were being destroyed by Saruman. "I'm tired," he mumbled feebly. He wanted to stay conscious for Gimli, but no longer possessed the necessary strength.
Gimli didn't speak, hoping the Elf found some comfort in his company and silent support.
Gandalf froze in his tracks. "They have arrived in Isengard."
Alarmed, Aragorn turned to face the wizard. "How do you know?"
"Do not ask such questions for you will not like the answer." Gandalf stared at the sky. The rain and wind had stopped to beat down on them, but the road was muddy and slowing them down. "We'll arrive at Orthanc, the black obsidian Tower, tonight. We might still be in time. Everything depends on Legolas' cunning and endurance now."
"Why won't you tell me why Saruman's after Legolas?"
"The lesser you know the better," said Gandalf evasively. "Come, we cannot waste more time."
Frustrated, Aragorn followed.
Gimli heard the footfalls first and quickly pushed himself to his feet, forgetting that Legolas needed him for support. The Elf almost slumped to his right, but the chains kept him in place. Concerned, Gimli almost took his place at Legolas' side again, but the urge to protect his companion was stronger. Without fear, he stood in front of Legolas.
The heavy door opened and Gimli cringed, feeling the power flow from the being in front of him. Large white robes and staff gave away the Wizard and Gimli instinctively knew this was Saruman the White, the Wizard who had given the Uruk-Hai orders to capture them.
The expression in Saruman's eyes briefly stunned Gimli. Never before had he seen such lust for power. Greed shone clearly from the old eyes, corrupting everything they looked upon. Even Gimli felt tainted.
Saruman took another step into the cell and forced Gimli to back off with a single glare. Embarrassed and ashamed, Gimli found himself backing up in a corner. He fought the Wizard's will, but found Saruman too strong. No longer able to move or speak, he could only watch.
Saruman planted his staff firmly on the ground and then ordered one Uruk-Hai to lift the Elf's head. His eyes tried to probe beneath the Elf's unfocused blue orbs, but found that Legolas barely registered his presence. "I can feel it... Your power."
Legolas didn't move, didn't blink. Saruman's presence was intimidating and he needed to keep his wits about him. This was by far the most dangerous enemy he had ever fought. Denying Saruman's statement was useless so he kept quiet instead.
"You're no ordinary Elf. I should have known Gandalf carefully chose the companions, but I didn't pay any attention to the Fellowship until it was almost too late." In spite of his age, he lowered himself on to his heels so he could study his prisoner. "I feel the fire in you, young one. You are not what you appear." A wicked grin passed over his face. "Give yourself freely to me and I might spare your life. You know what I want, what I crave."
"No..." Legolas' voice was weak. "You can't have it. It was entrusted to me and I will keep it safe."
"The arrogance of youth," scolded Saruman as he rose to his feet. "Do you really think you stand a chance against me? I'm more powerful than you can ever imagine. If necessary I will take what I want."
Legolas' eyes briefly rolled in their sockets. "I won't let you." Saruman couldn't simply take what he wanted. It had to be given freely and Legolas would never empower the evil Wizard.
"You're dying, Legolas," sneered Saruman. "It's within my power to keep you in a twilight state, neither alive nor dead. You'll become a wraith if you do not give me what I want."
Gimli, unable to speak, growled his outrage. Unfortunately he didn't realize that it would draw Saruman's attention to him until it was too late.
"Or I could hurt the Dwarf. It's beyond me how you, an Elf, managed to befriend a Dwarf, but he will serve me well." Saruman's grin grew more evil. "He'll suffer for every minute you refuse to answer my questions."
Gimli managed to shake his head, but the blind Elf couldn't see it. Don't give in, Elf, just don't.
"It's me you want. The Dwarf isn't part of this." Exhaustion made it hard for Legolas to think clearly. Had he ever faced such a terrible decision? He could keep his secret and Gimli would pay the price, or he could give Saruman what he wanted and spare Gimli the pain and humiliation, but what certainty did he have that the Wizard would keep his word not to torment the Dwarf? None. He couldn't make a deal with the Evil One to save Gimli. "You may torture the valiant Dwarf, you may torture me, but I'll never give into you. I can't and won't. I'll gladly die if that means keeping it safe."
Saruman didn't curse, didn't show any emotion at all. The mask that slipped into place looked awfully familiar to Gimli. He had seen Legolas wear it as well. What terrible secret was Legolas keeping from the Wizard? Was it worth their lives? He had to trust Legolas on this.
Saruman reached a decision. "I'll give you some time to think this over, Legolas. I'll return in one hour and either you'll give me what I want or I WILL take it."
Legolas pretended not to hear the Wizard and his head slumped forward when the Uruk-Hai released his chin. He closed his eyes, heard the door close and knew that he was running out of time. Maybe he had to trust in Gimli after all, but first he needed some rest, a moment to clear his mind.
"Legolas?" Now that he was able to move again, Gimli quickly joined Legolas. He sat down and managed to make eye contact with the Elf. "Will you tell me now?"
Legolas wasn't sure yet. The secret was his burden to carry and shouldn't be Gimli's. "Maybe, Master Dwarf." He had to believe that Aragorn hadn't given up yet; that he was searching for him. But what were the odds of Aragorn freeing him? No, he had to put his faith in the Dwarf. "I need a promise first."
Gimli started to shake his head, but then saw the pleading in the Elf's misty eyes. "I promise."
Legolas sighed relieved. "You'll flee and leave me here."
Horrified Gimli realized that Legolas had tricked him. Legolas had tried to convince him once before and back then he had refused. "Elf..."
"You promised, Master Dwarf. Will you keep your promise?"
Gimli saw in Legolas' eyes how important this was to the Elf and realized he couldn't take it back. Now he had to remain faithful to his word. "I'll keep my promise."
Legolas tried to ignore the stinging pain in his body. His voice sounded raw when he spoke next. "When Saruman appears again he'll take me with him. They won't pay much attention to you at that point. Use that opportunity to flee and find Aragorn. Don't come after me. Do you understand?"
Gimli nodded nervously. "Why is it so important that I escape?"
Legolas licked his chapped lips. "Because you'll be smuggling something outside, something Saruman wants."
Gimli's eyes narrowed. "What is it?"
The conversation had drained Legolas and he needed a moment to rest. "I'll tell you... later."
Gimli watched as the Elf slipped in to unconsciousness again. "What are you hiding? What burden have you been carrying?" Hopefully those questions would be answered the next time Legolas awoke.
Aragorn looked at the black, obsidian tower. Knowing that his friends were at Saruman's mercy made his heart heavy with worry. He especially worried about the blind Elf. Had the poison further affected Legolas or had the Elf's body found a way to deal with it?
"What do we do now, Gandalf?" If it were up to him he would storm in there in search of Legolas, but the Orcs and Uruk-Hai would probably kill him before he even came close to the Elf. They needed a cunning plan to rescue Legolas and Gimli.
"I'll provide a distraction," said Gandalf. "Saruman already knows I'm here; he senses my presence like I can sense his." Gandalf's fingers tightly clutched his staff. Saruman wouldn't take him by surprise again now that he knew the Master of the Tower wanted the one Ring for himself. "Legolas is beneath the Tower, in the dark cells. Being without sunlight has weakened him. Gimli is with him, biding his time. Free them and take them West. You'll find shelter on your way where you can nurse Legolas back to health. I'll join you shortly."
"Gandalf..." Aragorn met the Wizard's eyes.
"I know how much he means to you, Aragorn. It may be the one reason why Elrond insisted Legolas took part in this quest. Elrond is wise, and sees within the hearts of men."
"How did you know about my feelings for Legolas?" Aragorn frowned. Hadn't he hidden the attraction well?
"As I said, your destinies are intertwined." Gandalf chuckled softly. "We should get moving now. Time is running out on us."
Aragorn drew his sword and followed the Wizard, as Gandalf walked toward the destroyed gardens.
"Gim...li?" Legolas barely managed to speak as his throat felt constricted. The poisoned tissue was swelling, slowly cutting off his air supply.
"I'm here, Elf!" Gimli acted at once and patted the Elf's face, hopefully helping Legolas gain full consciousness. "The hour has almost passed and Saruman will be back soon."
Legolas nodded. "I must tell you."
"What?" Gimli held his breath. "What do you want me to smuggle outside?" Suddenly Legolas' head slumped forward and the Dwarf feared Legolas had lost consciousness again, but the Elf's voice reassured him.
"Look beneath my hair."
Puzzled, Gimli gently pushed the long strands aside. He frowned as his fingertips encountered something hard. "What is it?"
"Take it. Keep it with you. Saruman can't have it." Legolas felt how gentle fingers undid the braids, hidden beneath the long hair.
Gimli's eyes widened when he finally looked upon the object that had been hidden in Legolas' hair. "It's a ring." The ring was made of silver, and one brilliant red stone, probably a ruby, shone temptingly at him. "What am I holding in my hands?"
"Narya, the Ring of Fire. It's one of the three Elven Rings. You saw the Ring of Water on Galadriel's finger... I'm the keeper of Narya, the Ring of Fire. Saruman can't have it and I'm too weak to withstand long. You must flee and smuggle it outside. Find Aragorn, tell him about the Ring and made sure it's safe. If Saruman gets his hands on the Ring he will corrupt it. The Ring is still pure... Don't let Saruman find it."
Gimli stared entranced at the treasure in his hand. "I never thought you were hiding something like this. I thought the three Elven Rings had long disappeared."
Legolas felt that Gimli deserved an answer but first he had to warn the Dwarf. "Put the Ring away. Don't slip it onto your finger."
Gimli placed the Ring in a pocket and then looked at the exhausted Elf for further explanation.
"Gandalf first kept the Ring, but he gave it to me many centuries ago. He wanted the Ring to be hidden and too many beings had learned he possessed it. I kept it safe for hundreds of years." His sharp hearing picked up on approaching footfalls. "Saruman's close. Hide the Ring from him and flee. Don't ever look back and don't you dare come back for me. Stop Aragorn if that's his plan. The safety of the Ring comes first; take it far away from here!"
Suddenly a lot of Legolas' past behavior made sense to Gimli. "You must have led a lonely life." It also explained the mask, designed to keep people at a distance. "I'll keep it safe," he promised, but he added another silent vow at the same time. I'll come back for you. I won't let you die in here... or let Saruman turn you in to a wraith.
Legolas, too exhausted to reply, remained quiet.
The door opened and Saruman entered once more. "Elf, what is your answer?" The Wizard's deep voice echoed in the dark cell.
"The answer is no." Legolas knew he damned himself to torment at Saruman's hands, but that didn't matter as long as Gimli got a chance to escape.
Saruman's face contorted; evil desire shone from his greedy eyes and his fingers almost crushed his staff. "I will not accept that!" He signaled one of the Uruk-Hai to remove the chains. "Take him to the great hall." He quickly turned, climbed the stairs, not paying any attention to the captured Dwarf.
Gimli knew this was his only chance. If he made his move now, the Uruk-Hai wouldn't notice his disappearance. Suddenly Legolas looked up; his blind eyes once more pleading with him to run. Gimli couldn't deny his friend, knowing how much it meant to Legolas to know the Ring safe. I'll be back, he promised and then sneaked out of the cell.
He stole up the stairs, trying to remember what way they had come. He dodged the Orcs and Uruk-Hai which he encountered in the halls and made his way toward the exit. All the while his desire to stay at the Elf's side remained, but he successfully fought it. He had to take the Ring of Fire to safety and then he could come back for Legolas.
Legolas didn't fight when the Uruk-Hai draped him over his shoulder, carrying him out of the cell. His world spun and he felt dizzy and nauseous, but it no longer mattered. He had attained his goal; the Ring of Fire was safe. Saruman would surely question him, maybe even torture him to find out about the Ring, but he could stand the pain a little longer.
He closed his eyes, trying to fight the urge to hurl. A moment later, he was dumped onto the cold stone floor. His hands were bound again. Did they really think he still had the strength to escape? It caused a weak smile to appear on his face. He struggled to his feet, but when he finally succeeded Saruman pointed his staff at him and a terrible force swept him off his feet, threw him through the room and his back crashed hard against the wall. He slid down the wall into a pathetic heap.
"I demand you give me the Ring of Fire. It's been idle for too long. It needs a new master." Saruman rose to his feet, and approached his prisoner. His staff was still pointed at the helpless Elf.
"Ne...ver..." panted Legolas softly. His entire body hurt, burning with poison and Saruman throwing him through the room didn't help either. Defiantly he raised his blind eyes. "We both know that... I won't give you the Ring... and that you'll kill me..." He wanted to add more, but once more an invisible force flung him through the room. This time he landed hard on his shoulder and he heard bones breaking. His eyes flashed with pain.
Saruman now stood in front of him and the staff moved again. This time invisible hands pulled him up in the air, sliding him upward against the wall. Hanging suspended in the air he wondered about Saruman's next step.
"I won't kill you before I have the Ring. Where is it, Elf?" Saruman's rage came to a boiling point when Legolas shook his head. Angry at being denied, he moved his staff, dropping Legolas hard onto the floor. The startled scream that left the Elf's lips was like soothing balm to his black soul. "When I'm finished with you, you'll beg me to kill you."
Legolas barely registered the Wizard's words. A bone in his shoulder had snapped, almost making him scream out with pain. He believed Saruman when the Wizard said he would make him suffer; he just hoped Saruman would kill him in the end and not turn him into a wraith. The thought of being condemned to live like that chilled him to the bone.
Gimli turned around the corner and suddenly cold steel rested against his throat. His first instinct was to tackle his opponent, but looking up, his eyes widened. "Aragorn."
Aragorn felt equally relieved. He had hoped to find Gimli and Legolas quickly and now it appeared he had run in to Gimli. "Where's Legolas?"
"Saruman took him." Gimli grinned broadly, as Aragorn handed him back his beloved axe. "We must free him."
"Is he still blind?" Aragorn tried to come up with a new plan.
"Aye, and he's weak as well. He's barely conscious and unable to walk unaided." Gimli balanced his treasured axe in his hand. "What are we waiting for?"
Gimli frowned. "The Wizard died in the Mines, Aragorn."
"No, he survived. He's going after Saruman to provide a distraction."
Gimli simply accepted the news of the Wizard's resurrection. "Legolas is with Saruman."
This time Aragorn frowned. "What does Saruman want from Legolas? Gandalf wouldn't tell me!"
Gimli reached into his pocket and uncovered the Ring. "Narya, the Ring of Fire. Legolas is its keeper and Saruman wants it."
Aragorn gasped. "That's why I saw the flame shine from the palm of his hand." He stared at the Ring. "Why is it with you if Legolas is its keeper?"
"Saruman knows Legolas had it. The Elf wanted me to smuggle it outside and take it to you."
"We need to find Gandalf." When they found the Wizard, they would also find Legolas. "Put the Ring away again. It might draw the Orcs close."
Gimli put the Ring back. "What's the plan?"
"We're going after Legolas. Do you know where they took him?"
"Aye, to the great hall."
"Then lead on, Master Dwarf. Battle awaits us."
Gimli grumbled deep within his throat, "You'd better still be alive, Elf."
Legolas knew only pain. His entire body ached and judging by the pain in his right shoulder the joint had popped out of its socket. How much longer would Saruman enjoy tormenting him? When it would end? Would the Wizard turn him in to a wraith or simply end his life?
"The Ring, Elf." Saruman was losing his patience. "If you don't tell me where you hid it, you'll spend the rest of your immortal life as my servant."
Shivers crawled down Legolas' spine. He tried to move, but his body refused to comply. He was lying at Saruman's feet; his mouth was bloody, the piece of fabric that Gimli had used to bandage his throat had slipped and the cut had started to bleed again. Physically he was exhausted and it took his last strength to answer Saruman. "Ne...ver."
Enraged, Saruman raised his staff. He was ready to plant it in Legolas' chest when a scream alerted him that an intruder had arrived.
"Stop!" Gandalf stared at Legolas in shock. He had known that Saruman no longer abided by the rules, but the fact that the other Wizard was inflicting pain on purpose still shocked him. "Let him go, Saruman." He had fought Saruman once before and he had lost the fight, but this time he was alert, ready to strike hard.
Aragorn tried to use the shadows to his advantage, sneaking toward Legolas. It worried him that the Elf had closed his eyes and the motionlessness of the gracious body told him that Legolas was hurt worse than the Elf would ever admit. "Gimli, guard the doorway. I'm going to get Legolas."
Gandalf provided the distraction Aragorn needed by challenging Saruman and he quickly slipped past Saruman the White. He knelt at Legolas' side and turned the Elf onto his back. The broken eyes that stared back at him made his heart miss a beat. Was he too late? He quickly checked Legolas' pulse, found it weak, but present. He looked up at Gandalf and Gimli and nodded once. Legolas was still alive!
Gandalf threw his hat onto the floor, raised his staff and aimed it at Saruman. "This time you won't defeat me that easily." His eyes briefly locked with Aragorn's, telling the warrior to get Legolas out of here. He would keep Saruman busy! Saruman made the first move, trying to fling him through the room, but he blocked that attack with his staff.
Aragorn lifted Legolas in his arms, heard the strangled moan and regretted adding to the Elf's discomfort, but he didn't have the time to be gentle. He draped Legolas over his shoulder, held on tight and began running, signaling Gimli to follow him and watch his back.
Gimli growled pleased now that they were finally taking action. He tried not to stare at the blood clinging to the back of Legolas' head, staining the fair hair, and focused on possible attackers instead. An Orc left its hiding place and attacked. Using his mighty axe he cleaved the Orc's head and grumbled satisfactory. Other Orcs who opposed them would meet with the same fate!
Aragorn, sword in hand, scanned the corridors. So far the few Orcs they had encountered had been easily dealt with by Gimli. What worried him most was Legolas' shallow breathing and the blood that continued to drip from the Elf's throat. Suddenly a roar erupted to his right and his eyes narrowed, seeing a group of six Orcs rush toward them. He couldn't allow them to detain him; he needed to get Legolas into safety and he couldn't waste his time fighting Orcs!
"I can take them, Aragorn!" Gimli, baring his teeth, raised his axe in welcome. These foul creatures were his.
Aragorn nodded thankfully and ran down the corridor, eager to take Legolas into safety. Behind him, Gimli released a battle cry as the Dwarf threw himself at the Orcs. Aragorn wanted to join in the fight, but his precious charge urged him into the open. He didn't stop, not even when Saruman's enraged scream echoed through Middle Earth. He ran, tightly holding his charge in place and finally reached the safety of the forest.
He put some more distance between them and the Tower, and once he judged it safe, he gently lowered the Elf on to the grass. His hands checked Legolas' injuries quickly, encountering a dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs and blue lines covering most of the Elf's body. He ripped off a piece of fabric from his cloak and pressed it against Legolas' throat, trying to stop the bleeding. Except for the poison he didn't expect much complications and he immediately started to look about for the healing herbs he had used earlier. Disappointed, he noticed that they weren't in sight. He would have to look for them later.
First he needed to build some sort of shelter. Looking over his shoulder at the black tower he felt that they were still too close and he decided to put more distance between them and Saruman. How was Gandalf handling things? Was Saruman winning or had Gandalf decided to retreat? Hopefully he would find out shortly.
Lifting Legolas in his arms, he cradled the Elf against his chest and started deeper in to the forest. Gandalf had told him to head west, insisting he would find shelter there and he hoped the Wizard was right. Legolas needed a warm and dry place to recover.
His eyes suddenly made out a small, wooden cabin to his far right. It was partly hidden by trees and bushes, and he had almost missed it. Maybe Gandalf had referred to this cabin? Aragorn decided to check on the cabin and headed toward it. Legolas moaned softly, his body shook violently and then he grew calm again. It urged Aragorn to move faster.
He kicked open the door and scanned the interior. The cabin was clean, sparsely furnished, but there was a bed and several chairs. Aragorn headed for the bed, managed to push back the covers and then lowered Legolas on to the bed. Looking out of the small window, he saw a spring outside and he immediately fetched some water.
First, he checked on Legolas' throat and hissed, realizing the cut was deep. Using part of the sheet he cleaned and then bandaged the wound again.
Now that he had taken care of the most dangerous injury he pulled up a chair and started to remove the blood from the Elf's face. He was ashamed to admit that he almost lost himself in the act of tending to his injured companion. The long, flaxen hair was a mess and he combed the long strands with his fingers, getting rid of dried blood clots. The shoulder was next and he prayed that Legolas would remain unconscious a little longer. With practiced ease, he popped the dislocated shoulder back in, but Legolas' eyes suddenly opened and stared at him with a blank expression. Aragorn cursed privately. The Elf was still blind and had no idea who was with him.
"It's I, Aragorn. We fled Saruman's tower. You're safe, my friend." Aragorn's fingers tenderly pushed back a stray lock behind pointed ears. "You're bleeding, your shoulder is dislocated and I suspect you have some broken ribs. Please lay still and let me tend to your injuries."
Legolas' eyes softened. "Aragorn?" He couldn't believe the Man had come for him. "Gimli?" Was the Dwarf safe as well?
"Orcs attacked and he covered our retreat. I'm certain he'll join us shortly. What caused that cut on your throat? It's bleeding and badly infected."
"Fingernails... There was more poison beneath the nails." Legolas finally allowed himself to relax. "You shouldn't have come for me." Only then he fully realized that Gimli was still at the tower, fighting Orcs. "You must go back! Gimli, Gimli has the..." He forced himself to swallow the last word. He couldn't tell Aragorn about the Ring!
"The Ring of Fire. Why the secrecy?" He unbuttoned the Elf's tunic and his fingertips gently probed Legolas' ribs. Now that the fabric was gone he realized he had been right earlier. "You suffered two broken ribs."
"I'll heal." Legolas hated slowing the Fellowship down. If it hadn't been for him, Gimli and Aragorn would have freed Pippin and Merry by now!
"We need the healing herbs to counteract the poison." He gently pulled Legolas in a sitting position, removed the tunic and bandaged the cracked ribs. "You'll stay here, Legolas, while I search for the herbs." After covering the shivering body with a blanket, he uncovered the Elf's hunting knives and placed them next to the bed. "I couldn't find your quiver or bow. But I managed to secure your hunting knives."
Legolas nodded thankfully. Shivers tormented his body and his throat ached for water.
Aragorn gently stroked the Elf's brow. "I'll be back with the healing herbs shortly and I'll make you some tea. Try to rest in the meantime."
"I'll try." He lacked the strength to do anything else than rest. Aragorn's touch suddenly registered and he wondered about the gentleness in that touch. "I'm glad you found me."
"So am I." Aragorn bowed down and pressed a chaste kiss on the Elf's brow. "I must take better care of you."
Had the fever now finally gotten a tight hold of him? Legolas swore he had just felt Aragorn's lips against his brow, but that must have been a hallucination. Why would Aragorn kiss him? But it was a sweet illusion and one which he wanted to hold onto.
Aragorn rose from his chair and stepped outside. He would have preferred to stay with Legolas and watch the Elf, but he needed herbs to fight the poison. A great variety of plants grew near the cabin and Aragorn set out to find the ones he needed.
"Aragorn! Where's the stubborn Elf?" Gimli walked up to the cabin with a blood covered axe. "I got to do some Orc hunting after all, but now I need to know he is safe."
Aragorn smiled warmly. "He's resting. I took him inside and now I'm searching for the herbs which I need to fight the poison."
"Tell me what the plant looks like and I'll help," vowed Gimli.
Aragorn shook his head. "I'd rather see you went inside and sat with Legolas. I fear the fever might turn his dreams in to nightmares. Legolas will be relieved when he sees you. He feared for your safety... and for the Ring."
"I have it in my pocket. Aye, I'll sit with him and guard his dreams." Gimli went inside, placed his beloved axe near the doorway and walked over to the bed. He sat down, ran a hand through the silky hair and smiled pleased. The Elf's eyes opened partially and Gimli's smile broadened. "Your Ring is safe, Legolas."
A smile appeared on Legolas' bruised face. "Then keep it, Master Dwarf, for I'm unable to guard it in my current state."
Gimli shook his head. "You're its keeper."
"Look at me," whispered Legolas. "I'm no match for an Orc, let alone the Uruk-Hai or Saruman himself."
The blanket slipped, revealed several bandages. Gimli pulled the blanket back into place and gently rubbed the Elf's knuckles. "Why don't we let Gandalf decide?"
Legolas frowned. "Gandalf's dead." Was the fever affecting his hearing?
"No, he made it out of the Mines of Moria alive. He distracted Saruman so Aragorn could get you out." Gimli noticed the relief that shone from Legolas' face. "What?"
"Then I will return the Ring to Gandalf." He no longer felt capable of keeping the Ring safe.
"I do not think so." Gandalf appeared in the doorway, staff in hand and smiling.
Legolas recognized the Wizard's voice and tried to rise from the bed. Gimli placed his hands on the Elf's chest and made sure Legolas stayed down. "You're staying in bed."
"But..." Legolas tried once more to sit upright, but now a second pair of hands gently pushed him down.
"Rest, Legolas. You did well. You didn't give in to Saruman and you managed to keep the Ring safe," said Gandalf. "Now it is time to rest and heal."
Legolas, feeling frustrated, obeyed.
Gandalf looked at Gimli and extended his hand. "The Ring?"
Gimli uncovered the Ring of Fire and placed it in the palm of Gandalf's hand reverently. "It almost cost him his life." He partly blamed Gandalf for putting this burden on Legolas.
Gandalf heard the concerned tone and felt pleased, realizing the Dwarf and Elf had become close friends. He sat down on the side of the bed, uncovered Legolas' hand from beneath the blanket and placed Narya on the Elf's ring finger.
Legolas' face contorted in horror. "No!" During all the centuries in which he had guarded the Ring he had never put it on!
"It will aid your recovery," said Gandalf in a kind voice. "There's nothing to fear except fear itself."
Legolas was tempted to remove the Ring again, but was unwilling to go against Gandalf's wishes. He expected to feel different, but he still felt the same.
"And now you will rest," said Gandalf, trying to sound menacingly. "Aragorn will be displeased finding you awake and brooding."
There it was again... Aragorn... First the Man had caressed him, kissed him and now Gandalf mentioned Aragorn's concern for him. "I'll heal fast," he repeated. "I won't slow down the Fellowship for long. Merry and Pippin."
Gandalf and Gimli exchanged a glance. "Do not worry about the Hobbits," said Gandalf. "Gimli and I will go after the Halflings. Aragorn and you will stay here and only follow us after you recovered."
Legolas shook his head. "Aye, leave me here, but allow Aragorn to accompany you. He's the leader of the Fellowship and shouldn't be nursing me back to health."
Both Gimli and Gandalf grinned. "Take your axe, Gimli, the road awaits." Gandalf rose to his feet and watched Legolas' unease with amusement. "And Legolas, don't remove the Ring until you are fully recovered." Legolas wanted to speak, but Gandalf beat him to it. "And don't argue with me."
"I'll obey," sighed Legolas.
"Aragorn will shortly return with the healing herbs." Gandalf knew that the plants Aragorn needed grew close to the cabin. "Take the time to recover, Legolas."
Legolas knew objecting was futile. "As you wish, Gandalf." Aragorn wouldn't like this, wouldn't like being left behind to tend to him. The Man was a warrior, and should be on the Uruk-Hai's trail!
Gandalf stepped outside, but Gimli needed to say goodbye to Legolas first. "Stop being stubborn, and enjoy the rest." Wickedly he added, "And maybe you'll find that Aragorn doesn't mind taking care of you. Speak with him for I'm certain his feelings run deeper than mere friendship."
"It's not fair to offer me hope," whispered Legolas. The Dwarf's large hand settled on his brow and the callous fingers patted his skin. "Thank you for you concern, friend Dwarf."
Gimli nodded. "The best way to repay me is to make a full recovery, Legolas."
Legolas swallowed hard, as his name flowed from the Dwarf's lips once more. "I'll recover."
Gimli smiled, caressed a strand of long blond hair and then left to join Gandalf who was talking to Aragorn.
"Leave the Ring at his finger until he recovered," said Gandalf to Aragorn. One look told him that Aragorn had located the herbs which he needed to brew Legolas' tea. "The poison is very potent and Legolas will need to rest for several days. We'll go after Merry and Pippin."
Aragorn nodded in understanding, and wished he could accompany them on the hunt. But Legolas now needed him most and his place was at the Elf's side. It was also an unique chance to find out if Legolas felt the same way about him. He felt grateful that Gandalf gave him this chance.
Gimli, ready to leave, studied Aragorn and when Gandalf walked away from the house, he quickly said, "Don't let Legolas get away. He is stubborn. Make sure he knows you love him."
Aragorn, stunned, wanted to reply, but Gimli moved faster, going after Gandalf and not giving him a chance to speak. In the end, Aragorn merely shook his head. Gandalf had known about his feelings for Legolas and now it seemed that Gimli thought the attraction was mutual. Taking more spring water with him he stepped back in to the cabin, got a fire started and brew the healing tea.
Every so often his eyes traveled to Legolas who seemed sound asleep, but one could never tell, because Elves slept with their eyes open. Studying Legolas' breathing he felt more certain of his first observation; the Elf was asleep. That meant waking Legolas so he could drink the tea. He carried the mug over to the bed, sat down and placed the mug on the floor.
"Legolas? I regret having to wake you, but we need to fight the poison." Aragorn watched the Elf closely and when Legolas turned toward him, he smiled, wishing Legolas could see his face. "I made tea."
Legolas nodded absentmindedly. "I had forgotten."
"What?" Aragorn helped Legolas to sit upright, steadied him by wrapping one arm around his waist and then placed the mug at the Elf's lips. "You need to drink this several times a day. Once an hour should be sufficient. How's the shoulder? And the ribs?"
"Healing already." whispered Legolas between sips. He leaned heavily against Aragorn, cherishing the other man's presence. "Gandalf shouldn't have made you stay. I know you want to go after Merry and Pippin."
Aragorn's mouth suddenly felt dry. "I'd rather nurse you back to health." Legolas' stunned expression made him grow hopeful. "You're important to me."
Legolas' blind eyes widened. "Aragorn?" Gimli had insisted Aragorn was interested in him, but he still had trouble believing it. What about Arwen?
Aragorn disposed of the now empty mug and helped Legolas to lie down again. "I promised you we would talk, that there won't be any secrets between us and we *will* talk once the fever has disappeared." Aragorn wanted to kiss Legolas, but had to wait until the Elf had recovered. "Do you wish to go back to sleep now?" If Legolas did go back to sleep he had to wake him in one hour for more tea.
"I'm not sure I can sleep," whispered Legolas tiredly. "I assume you're displeased with me?"
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "And why is that?"
"Because I didn't mention the Ring to you." He still wondered why Gandalf insisted he wore the Ring. Yes, it would help him heal, but the Ring wasn't his to wear; it belonged to Gandalf.
"Why didn't you tell me? Don't you trust me?" Aragorn leaned in a little closer, trying to read the expression in Legolas' eyes. "I vowed to protect Frodo and to keep him safe on this quest, I would have protected you as well." And for more reasons than just dedicating his life to the quest. Even more so because he had fallen in love with the noble Elf.
Legolas managed a smile. "Gimli asked me the same question. It has nothing to do with trust. I trust you, Aragorn... The burden is mine to carry."
"Well, I know about the Ring now," remarked Aragorn smugly. "I extent my protection to you, my friend."
Legolas' smile brightened. He started to feel shy and vulnerable, and needed to change their topic. "Do you have more tea?"
Aragorn returned to the fire place, brew more tea and returned with a full mug. "Can you sit up?"
Legolas tried, but failed. "Not yet, maybe tomorrow."
Once more Aragorn helped him sip the tea. "You should sleep now... Sleep will aid your recovery." Surprised, Aragorn found that Legolas' icy cold hand now rested on his, keeping him in place. "Yes?" Legolas looked confused and Aragorn wished he knew what the Elf was thinking. They needed to talk so badly, but only once Legolas was free of fever.
"Why didn't you go after Merry and Pippin instead?" Legolas cocked his head, trying to let his instincts guide him now that he couldn't see Aragorn's face. "Gimli and I are warriors, we know what dangers we face. The Hobbits don't. Why free us instead?"
Aragorn moistened his lips. "As I said earlier, you're important to me." Legolas lips were close and the Elf looked at him pleadingly. Temptation grew stronger and he leaned in to kiss Legolas.
Legolas never expected the kiss. Yes, he had hoped for it, but not expected it. A soft moan escaped from deep within his throat as he parted his teeth to answer the kiss in a way that should tell Aragorn how he felt about this. He craved Aragorn, but... He pulled back, cringed from pain that shoot through his chest, but he managed to hide it. "What about Arwen?"
Now Aragorn understood. Legolas knew about his connection with Arwen and hadn't acted on his desire because of the fair Elven Maiden. "I asked her not to bind herself to me. We set each other free."
"And Elrond knows?" Legolas' eyes widened in disbelief.
"No, I don't think so. I didn't have the time to tell him, but maybe Arwen has told him by now." Aragorn gently fingered a lock of fair hair. "Legolas, you need rest. We can discuss this later. You feel too hot, though you're shivering with cold."
"Will you keep me warm tonight?" Legolas raised a hand, managed to locate Aragorn's face and rested his palm against the Man's cheek.
Aragorn smiled pleased. Now that Legolas' hand rested against his face, he knew the Elf would feel his smile with his fingertips. "Later... I need to gather more herbs and to walk the grounds just once to make sure no Orcs followed us here."
Reluctantly, Legolas laid down again. "I shouldn't say this, not now, but..."
Legolas' face was an open book to Aragorn. Love and desire showed in the Elf's gentle expression and the blue eyes were swimming with emotion. "You shouldn't say what?"
"I love you." Legolas curled up beneath the blanket, trying to get warm by folding his arms around his waist.
Aragorn released a tormented moan. "I feel the same way about you. If only I had known earlier I would have stopped the Uruk-Hai from abducting you. You suffered needlessly at their hands." His fingertips hovered above the bruises that tainted the Elf's face.
"Such is the nature of war." Knowing Aragorn would keep him safe, Legolas stopped fighting his exhaustion. "Don't blame yourself."
Legolas drifted off into a deep healing sleep and Aragorn placed one more kiss on the Elf's brow. Rising to his feet, he looked at the sleeping Elf. Legolas had surprised him by pushing the matter, but now he was glad Legolas had done just that. I love you, Legolas. And in time I will prove my love to you.
For the next twenty-four hours Aragorn stayed at Legolas' side. Although the Elf's sleep was a healing one, he still woke Legolas each hour to drink the herbal tea. Once every two hours, he would push down the blanket and check for the blue lines, which were fading slowly. Aided by the Ring of Fire, Legolas was recovering and Aragorn expected the Elf to be up and about in no more than two days.
During the entire time Legolas mumbled softly. The words didn't make sense and were inspired by a high fever, not by any desire to talk. The only thing Aragorn could make out was the Elf speaking his name. It seemed that even in a feverish sleep Legolas remembered him and wanted him close.
"Rest now, my beloved. In a few days you'll have recovered and we can follow Gimli and Gandalf on their quest." Tenderly he stroked the blond strands of hair and he couldn't resist loosening the braids. He let the soft hair glide through his fingers. All this time, Legolas, lost in sleep, clutched his hand, squeezing it when a spasm of feverish pain coursed through his recovering body.
Handicapped, because he only had one hand to check with, Aragorn probed Legolas' shoulder and ribs. They were healing nicely and wouldn't bother the Elf once he got back on his feet.
When night fell, Aragorn had to free his hand so he could rekindle the fire and make more tea. When he returned to the bed he found that Legolas was staring at him. It wasn't the dead expression he had grown used to. "Legolas?"
"I can see you," whispered the Elf in a surprised tone. "You're a big black blur, but I can see the fire behind you. I'm no longer completely blind. That must be the Ring's doing."
"Your eyesight is returning? That's certainly good news." He rested one hand on the Elf's brow and found that the fever was retreating at last. "We're winning the battle."
Legolas smiled at Aragorn's touch. "Was it just a dream?"
"What was?" Aragorn's heart leapt in joy, hearing that Legolas' vision was returning. Seeing the Elf blind had caused his heart to ache in sympathy.
"That we proclaimed our love for each other." Legolas grew quiet, trying to sort out the different lights and shadows that made up his vision. Aragorn was close, the Man's fingertips rested on his forehead, but he still couldn't make out Aragorn's expression.
"It was no dream..." Aragorn hesitated one moment, and then added, "My beloved, I should have told you that Arwen and I had set each other free."
"But you didn't know I had feelings for you." Legolas didn't blame Aragorn at all. Carefully he shifted on to his right side, facing Aragorn. "And I knew I couldn't compete with Arwen. She was even willing to give up her immortality for you."
"That was a sacrifice I never wanted," stated Aragorn. Absentmindedly his fingers tangled in the golden hair. "When I fell in love with Arwen, I fell in love with an Elf maiden. She was beyond my reach, but she accepted me. Then she wanted to become mortal." Aragorn hesitated again. "Legolas, we live a dangerous life. Death lurks around the corner as we just found out. I don't want to waste the little time we have with arguments. I don't want to talk about Arwen, I want to talk about you, -- us."
"What do you want?" Legolas preferred being direct. "How much do you desire me?"
Aragorn considered his answer carefully. His fingers got lost in the sea of flaxen hair and he smiled, knowing darn well why Elves grew their hair long like this. The lure was impossible to resist. "I desire you with all my heart. When the Uruk-Hai took you I died a thousand deaths. When Gandalf returned I grew hopeful again and when I found you at Saruman's feet dread filled my heart, but now that you're safe and recovering I feel at peace."
Legolas took a moment to ponder everything Aragorn had said. "Do you want me?"
Aragorn nodded once. "Aye, I do, but I still don't know how much you desire me."
Legolas moistened his chapped lips. "My heart always loved you from a distance, believing you were bound to Arwen. I desire you as much the sky craves the sun."
"Elves mate for life," said Aragorn thoughtfully. "You do realize I will grow old and grey while you will remain young and beautiful?"
"My heart will know your valor and wisdom, and remember your beauty when you are old." Legolas' heart already ached with the prospect of losing Aragorn to old age. He never feared losing Aragorn in battle; the Man was too great a warrior.
"And when I'm old and grey my eyes will feast upon your eternal beauty." Aragorn leaned in closer, staring deeply into the Elf's eyes. "My love for you goes deep, deeper than I thought possible. We're alike, you and I. We're warriors, bound by honor."
Legolas nodded his head once. "You speak true words, my beloved."
Aragorn's heart sung with joy, hearing Legolas address him in that way. "I will be yours until the day I die."
"And I will be yours." Legolas smiled, and then felt embarrassed with a yawn crept up on him.
"You're still tired. Go back to rest." Aragorn pulled the blanket back into place.
"I will rest far more comfortable if you keep me company," Legolas hinted with a pleading tone in his voice.
Aragorn knew when he was beaten; Legolas already winded him around his little finger effortlessly. "I will join you then, but let me remove my sword and cloak first." Aragorn quickly did away with the two items and climbed into bed behind Legolas. He sighed blissfully when Legolas pushed back, relaxing in his arms. The Elf's smooth skin sent quavers of excitement through his body and when he grew aroused, he felt the need to apologize.
But Legolas, sensing Aragorn's confusion, spoke first. "It's been too long since I rested in my lover's embrace. Let us not talk tonight but rest and enjoy each other's closeness."
Aragorn gracefully accepted Legolas' offer. He rested his head against Legolas' shoulder and deeply inhaled the other man's scent. Thoughts of losing Legolas to Saruman or the poison were gone now and for the first time since the quest had started, he slept peacefully.
Legolas woke first. Sunlight flowed in to the small cabin and its golden fingers finally reached his skin, warming him. The sun felt like a soothing balm and he cherished its touch. He longed to go outside, feel the wind blow through his hair, touch the earth and rest his back against the trunk of an ancient tree. For it was his nature as an Elf to be one with the elements.
Aragorn's breathing told him that the Man was still asleep. It was probably the first time that Aragorn got the chance to rest. He smiled, suddenly realizing that his vision was almost back to normal. There was still some blurriness, but he managed to make out the interior of the cabin.
Aragorn's arms were wrapped tightly around him, pulling him close to the Man's chest and it reminded him of waking up like this thousands of years ago. When he was seventy he had chosen a lover. They had been married, as was custom, and they had spent many centuries being in love and happy. But then his lover had been killed in battle and he had chosen not to take another mate, unable to bear the thought of losing a loved one again. That had changed when Aragorn had appeared and now he couldn't imagine living without the courageous Man.
It still baffled him that the attraction was mutual. He had been firmly convinced that Aragorn only loved Arwen. Not wanting to disturb the Man's sleep he was content to look out of the window, and to listen to the birds' song.
When Aragorn's breathing quickened at last, he knew that the other man was waking up. Slowly, he turned around in the embrace until he lay facing Aragorn. The Man's eyes opened and filled with joy. He lifted his right hand and touched Aragorn's lips. "I desire you." As an Elf he enjoyed making love, but at the same time he realized that by doing so he would bind himself to Aragorn for the rest of his life.
"And I desire you." Aragorn wondered if he was still dreaming, finding this willing and beautiful Elf in his arms. "But you do realize what the consequences are when we make love?" His fingers gently traveled up Legolas' spine, drawing tiny circles on the Elf's back. He was hard, had been aroused for most of the night and now he ached for his lover's touch.
Legolas only knew too well. "We would be considered married, Aragorn."
"And you desire that? Being bound to me until I die?"
"I desire being bound to you and you will be bound to me in turn." Legolas smiled and a wicked expression stole in to his eyes. Now that the decision had been made his heart felt incredibly light. "I want to consummate our marriage, my beloved."
Aragorn cleared his throat, suddenly feeling caught. He hadn't thought Legolas would call his bluff this quickly. "There is something you need to know."
Legolas waited patiently, feeling Aragorn tense up against him.
"I was to be bound to Arwen and I never looked at another woman... or man."
Legolas arched an eyebrow, for once clearly showing his surprise. "You never made love before?"
Aragorn nodded. "That's what I am trying to tell you. I fear I might disappoint you."
Legolas' smile turned gentle and clearly showed his love. "Will you trust yourself to me then?"
Aragorn swallowed nervously. "I will always trust you."
Legolas leaned in closer and pressed a kiss on to Aragorn's lips. "Then let me guide you. There is no need to be nervous or to fear you might disappoint me. I greatly desire you and it's obvious that you desire me as well." Legolas felt his lover's arousal against his hip and hoped he had recovered enough from the fever to make love without growing weak again. There was only one way to find out.
Aragorn stared in disbelief when Legolas draped the blanket onto the floor. Cat-like, the Elf raised himself on all fours and grinned wickedly at him. Speechless, he accepted the kiss, and parted his lips and teeth, as Legolas' tongue found a way inside his mouth. He brought up his arms behind the Elf's back and pulled him close. Legolas covered him with his body, making him ache for their union.
Legolas raised himself, breaking the kiss and stared at his lover. "I want you inside me. Is that your desire as well?"
Aragorn's eyes widened. "Aye," he moaned. "It's my greatest desire indeed." Agile Elven fingers found a way beneath his tunic and quickly undid the buttons. Before he realized what was happening, Legolas had done away with the garment and the Elf's fingers now gently caressed his bare chest. He cupped the back of Legolas' neck in his hand and brought him in for another kiss. Legolas yielded willingly, deepening the kiss once more. Another strangled moan fled his lips when his lover rolled a hardened nipple between his fingertips. "Oh, Legolas..."
Legolas smiled, seeing Aragorn's unfocused expression. "Do not speak, my beloved. Let me take your breath away." He straddled Aragorn's hips, bowed down and let his tongue travel down the Man's throat. He licked, teased, nipped and finally encountered a hard nub of flesh. He suckled hard, while his fingers already unbuttoned Aragorn's trousers. He looked up at his lover, and reveled in the Man's surrender and beauty. Aragorn had thrown back his head and mumbled incoherently.
The feelings raging through his body were enough to drive Aragorn mad. Legolas' touch was a mixture of gentleness and controlled force. He raised his hips involuntarily when Legolas' fingers curled around his erection. Suddenly realizing what was happening, he managed to push himself in an upright position and he grabbed his lover's wrists.
Legolas, amused, let him. "Do you have second thoughts, my beloved?"
"No, but... I wish to pleasure you as well."
Legolas' expression softened. "There will be many times when you can return the pleasure. Now I want to show you how much I desire you. Will you let me?"
Unable to resist, Aragorn nodded. Only now he realized that Legolas must have had lovers in his long life and should be the person to teach him. "Show me, then."
Pleased, Legolas continued his explorations. "Lift your hips." Aragorn obeyed and Legolas quickly disposed of the last garment that hid the Man's body from him. "You're truly pleasing to the eye," he whispered appreciatively. He bowed down again and used his tongue to circle the leaking erection. "An you're well endowed as well."
Aragorn blushed. "You're the first..." Unable to finish his sentence, he bucked hard when a warm mouth closed around him. His eyes widened and he stared at his lover in disbelief. He knew Elves enjoyed sex, but he had never thought they enjoyed it this much!
Legolas gently lapped at the weeping erection, suckling teasingly and tasting Aragorn for the first time. He managed to look up, and the dazed expression in Aragorn's eyes made him even harder. His own arousal begged for attention, but first he wanted Aragorn to come. The Man was nervous, too excited and wouldn't last long in this state and he wanted their union to last!
"Legolas..." Aragorn swallowed hard, bucked again and nearly lost his mind when Legolas started to stroke him hard. A soft yelp left his lips, as he came in a rush of light and pleasure.
Legolas pulled back and watched the white cream shoot from his lover's shaft in fascination. He was tempted to clean his lover up, but the cream would serve as lubrication later. He sat upright, still straddling his lover's legs and swayed slowly, softly chanting an Elven melody.
Aragorn stared at the vision above him. Legolas' hair danced on his shoulders, cradled his face and the bruised lips whispered words that were unfamiliar to him. "Legolas?" He forgot to breathe momentarily when his lover's eyes changed to the darkest blue he had ever seen. "I want to see you naked." Legolas was still wearing his trousers and boots!
Legolas smiled gracefully, leapt to his feet, deserting his lover, and removed the offending items in mere seconds.
Aragorn licked his lips, seeing the smooth and agile body in front of him. "Come here." He raised a hand, which Legolas accepted and the Elf knelt between his legs. Aragorn lazily stroked back a few strands of blond hair. Legolas leaned in closer to kiss him, and Aragorn rested his back against the wall, pulling his lover close to him.
When Aragorn grew hard again Legolas judged the time ready to take the next step. His hand stole down, finding Aragorn slick and hard. "Will you let me ride you?"
Aragorn studied his lover for a short time and then nodded. "If that is what you desire." His heart thundered madly at the thought of being inside Legolas. "But you'll have to guide me."
Legolas smiled knowingly. "Do not trouble yourself." He cradled Aragorn's face in his hands, showered his lover's face with kisses and then raised himself until Aragorn's erection was positioned against his entrance. Aragorn tensed and Legolas took away his lover's nervousness by kissing him deeply and passionately. "I bind myself to you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn."
Slowly, he impaled himself on his lover's hard flesh and he held Aragorn tightly as the Man's eyes widened in bliss. When his buttocks touched Aragorn's lap, he shifted, trying to make himself more comfortable. It had been a while since he had made love to another man, but his body still remembered the invasion and adapted quickly.
Aragorn realized just in time that he was supposed to return the vow. "I bind myself to you, Legolas, son of Thranduil." He folded his arms around Legolas, offering his lover some support. Legolas now sat in his lap, moving seductively, luring soft moans of delight from his lips.
Legolas placed his hands on Aragorn's shoulders and leaned in closer to instigate another passionate kiss. At the same time he raised his body to impale himself again and he set a rhythm that made their bodies hum with lust and passion.
Aragorn kept Legolas' stare prisoner while they made love. He bestowed gentle kisses on Legolas' face and suckled the skin near the Elf's collarbone. Acting on instinct, his hands slipped lower, cupped Legolas' buttocks and assisted his lover in setting a faster rhythm. Entranced, he stared into his lover's eyes, wondering how such a wondrous creature could want him.
Legolas lost himself as Aragorn began to thrust of his own accord. His lover drove deeper into him, and he rode Aragorn hard, trying to hold back his own orgasm until Aragorn was ready to come a second time.
Aragorn first kissed, and then licked the tip of Legolas' ear when the tension in his groin became unbearable. Driving himself hard into Legolas' willing body, he neared orgasm.
Legolas let go as well when Aragorn reached his climax and buried his face against his lover's shoulder, resting and panting softly.
Aragorn's eyes betrayed his surprise, feeling Legolas' contract around him and he threw back his head in wonder, breaking eye contact with his lover.
Legolas, spent and exhausted, leaned against Aragorn and managed to slow down his ragged breathing. "We're bound to each other now."
The soft words pulled Aragorn from his ecstasy. He cupped Legolas' chin in his hand and raised his lover's head to make eye contact once more. "And I'll desire you for the rest of my mortal life," he vowed passionately.
Legolas smiled tiredly. He had obviously overestimated his strength and was now paying for using up his energy. "I need your help."
Aragorn understood. "Let me." His strong arms enfolded Legolas and slowly lifted him so his sated sex could slip from the Elf's body. They both moaned when they were separated again. "I never want to be without you again. I need you like the air I breathe. Don't ever leave me, my love."
Legolas --tired -- nodded his head. "You have me."
"And I'll never let go." Aragorn pulled Legolas close, covered them with the blanket and held his love close. "Never."
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