Actions

Work Header

Return

Chapter Text

 

 

-Return-

 


___________________________________________________________________
~*Part One*~

 

It had been several long and silent weeks that Aragorn and Legolas had been wondering in the wilds, and they had traveled a fair distance in that time. Little had been said between the two exiles, there was not much to say. Each was lost in his own thoughts.

They had crossed the wastelands the day they had been banished from Mirkwood. Legolas had stayed awake that first night, silently keeping vigil over the fair woods that had been his home for millennia, committing the layout to memory, watching as the moonlight brushed the tree tops in its pale, shadowy covering. Aragorn had found him the next morning in the same place he had left the elf the night before. The dew had bejeweled the forest below them, painting it with the colors of the rising dawn. When the ranger had gently touched the elf, Legolas had started, not having noticed the man’s approach. Aragorn was sure he had seen tears in the elf’s eyes but when the prince looked back at him, he could not say if it hadn’t just been the morning light.

Together they left the realm of Mirkwood and made their way south, with the craggy, weatherworn face of the Misty Mountains looming cold and silent on their right. Traveling up into the foothills, they were now not far from the Dimrill Dale and the eastern side of the vast, dwarven realm of Moria and far away from both Mirkwood and Rivendell.

Aragorn wondered how his adopted father and brother’s were. He missed them and he longed to see them again. He was concerned about what they had been told and how they had reacted to it. Would his father reject him as Legolas’ had? What did they think of him now?

King Thranduil had told them both that he would send messengers to all the ends of the elven territories and inform them of the banishment of the ranger and Legolas. He wondered if that news had reached Elladan and Elrohir by now. He almost smiled as he thought of their first reactions. He could hear Elladan saying that he had known it would only be a matter of time. He half hoped they would seek him out. He couldn’t imagine being cut off from them forever and he still hadn’t accepted the reality of his situation.

Glancing over at Legolas, seated across the fire from him, he wondered how the elf was faring. The prince had barely spoken. He had simply followed the ranger away from his home and after that first morning, to Aragorn’s knowledge, he had never looked back. The man knew the elf’s heart must be breaking, if it felt anything like the crushing sadness that gripped his own, he wondered how an immortal being could even begin to live with such a sentence.

With a sigh, Aragorn opened his pack and grabbed a handful of nuts and berries. He ate the meager breakfast and offered his companion some. Legolas shifted his gaze to the man and simply shook his head. The gloom that clung to the elf like the mists, which were even now burning off in the morning light, bothered the human. He had never seen the prince like this and he didn’t know how to break through to him.

"You need to eat."

Legolas literally jumped at the sound of the ranger’s voice.

"I’m not hungry. Thank you." The elf turned back to watching the small glade they were encamped above.

Aragorn shrugged and pulled more of the mix he had collected from his pack. He followed the prince’s gaze and let his eyes rest on the peaceful meadow. His thoughts were wandering idly when he felt someone watching him.

Looking back across the fire he met Legolas’ grey blue eyes. Out of habit he raised a handful of nuts and berries towards the elf and cocked his head to the side in question. His companion gave a slight nod and he scooped up his pack and moved around the fire to sit next to the tall, quiet elf.

The ranger pushed the edges of the pack back revealing his cache of nuts and berries and set the food down between them with a smile.

He ate quietly; content to sit by the fire until the earth warmed to the rising sun. In moments he could feel the elf’s eyes watching him again.

"What?" he asked around a mouthful of berries.

The elf rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly.

After a few moments Legolas looked at him again appraising him out of the corner of his eyes, "We need to go hunting."

"All right!" Aragorn was more than ready to do something different for a change, anything to get his mind off of the predicament they were in.

"You need to eat." Legolas watched as the man’s demeanor changed.

"I am eating."

"You need meat." He gazed back out into the woods knowing the response his next statement would garner, "*You* are still growing."

"WHAT!?"

If his heart hadn’t been so heavy Legolas would have started laughing as the man choked on the bite of food he had taken.

"I can’t believe you said that!" Aragorn swallowed hard and caught his breath, glaring fiercely at the elven prince.

Legolas simply shrugged and looked back out at the woods.

"Well...well what about you?" Aragorn stammered throwing the words at his friend more harshly than he had intended. "Oh, I suppose a diet of nuts and berries is good for an elf?"

"Aragorn," Legolas turned towards his friend, "You need to eat."

"I am." He held up the food he had scavenged. "Aren’t you hungry?"

"I could eat."

"Really?" The Ranger sounded truly surprised. It had been the first time he been able to draw the elf out since they had left Mirkwood.

"Really." Legolas raised his eyebrow and stared hard at the man.

Aragorn snickered lightly realizing he had in fact asked the same question twice.

Something about the young man always brought out the humor and the fun in the elf and try as he might he couldn’t repress the smile that tugged at his lips as he watched the human smiling at him. Legolas gave the ranger a playful shove, tipping him off balance as he gracefully stood and unslung his bow.

"Come on human", the elf smiled down at the man, "let’s go find something to hunt."

With a huge grin, Aragorn gained his feet and followed the silent footed elf deeper into the wooded areas. It was good to see glimpses of the old Legolas back; he missed the cheerful elf. He had decided he would do whatever it took to raise the prince’s spirit.

As they walked stealthily through the forest Legolas began to quietly teach the ranger about the foliage and creatures that inhabited the area. There was much that the ranger still did not know.

He pointed out a dark leafy foliage, the plant resembled a fern curled in on itself, the boughs covered with fine soft hairy protrusions. Aragorn moved closer to the plant and reached out to touch it.

Legolas grabbed his wrist, pulling him back and whispered in his ear, "Its poisonous. The dwarves in Moria have been known to crush the leaves and dip their blades in its poison. They call it Kilwandea. It only grows here."

The elf froze as the sound of a twig breaking underfoot caught his hearing. Slowly he looked over his shoulder in the direction of the noise.

Soft snuffling sounds could be heard and the tentative crunch of footfalls gave way the presence of an intruder.

Aragorn turned quietly and followed Legolas as the elf crept back to the edge of the meadow they had just crossed. A small stream ran through its’ low point and it was there that they spotted the source of the sound; a large buck stood at the riverside. He tested the wind with his nose, smelling the air for hints of any other animals in the vicinity. Satisfied he was safe, the huge deer lowered his head and drank from the cool stream.

The ranger looked at Legolas and the elf simply nodded encouraging the human to make the kill.

Aragorn raised his bow, notched an arrow and let the projectile fly. The arrow went wide, missing the buck by a foot. The motion startled the deer and it leapt for the underbrush but not before Legolas had fired his own arrow. The shaft flew straight and true, piercing the animal between its ribs and rupturing its heart. It fell to the forest floor and did not rise.

Aragorn sighed in frustration at his near miss and glanced at Legolas.

The elf was frowning at him, "Who taught you to use a bow?"

"My brother, Elrohir." Aragorn had to think about it for a moment before he answered.

"Well that explains a lot." The prince muttered and shook his head in disgust, walking off towards the downed animal.

"What does that mean!"

"You shoot like a female."

"WHAT!" Aragorn turned towards his friend and yelled at the retreating elf.

Legolas stopped mid-step and looked back at the ranger, repeating himself, "I said you shoot like a female. Which is only to be expected, you learned from Rivendell elves and not Mirkwood elves."

Aragorn rolled his eyes, "Of all the arrogant, egotistical, bull head things I have ever heard come out of your mouth that has got to top them all off!"

"I did not mean to offend you. Everyone knows that my people…," Legolas stopped himself and shook his head remembering he had no people, "Everyone knows that the elves of Mirkwood are great hunters, renown for their bow skills. That was all I meant." He pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back and strung it, "Here watch." Notching the arrow and pulling the string back he explained, "Do it like this." The elf grew completely still for the fraction of a second, almost becoming a part of the inanimate objects that surrounded him as his entire concentration was consumed, focused on his target. His world narrowed as his vision sighted in, slowly his index finger released the bowstring and his arrow flew from the bow, deftly beheading a small pine that stood a hundred yards across the meadow. Smiling as though he had done the simplest thing in the world he turned to Strider and stepped back, "You try it."

Aragorn stepped up next to the elf. Reaching over his shoulder he grabbed an arrow shaft notch the projectile, sighted a tree and released the arrow; which flew wildly past the small pine and ricocheted off a nearby rock, shattering the tip.

"I told you, just like a Noldor elf!"

The ranger threw down his bow and lunged at the elf prince who was mercilessly laughing at the human.

Legolas took a step back thoroughly enjoying the challenge and raised his hands palm outward, "Stop!", he yelled at the advancing man. Pointing to the bow on the ground he spoke evenly and with authority that came from living a thousand years his companion’s senior, "Pick it up."

To his surprise Aragorn stopped his forward motion and obeyed the simple command.

"Now notch it."

The ranger pulled another arrow from his quiver and without a word notched the shaft.

"Draw it." Legolas’ voice had dropped slightly and he nodded at his friend. When Aragorn had complied he stopped the man again, "Now freeze!"

The ranger stood absolutely perfectly still watching the elf with a wide concentrating stare. The intensity of the man and the way he had perfectly, if not stiffly obeyed his every command caused the elf to start helplessly laughing again.

"Legolas!" Aragorn dropped the bow to his side and stared at the elf in complete frustration.

Trying to get himself under control, Legolas walked over and placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, barely controlling the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"I am truly sorry it was just so funny. Like teaching the young ones."

The glare on the ranger’s face did nothing to help the elf control his mirth and he broke out laughing again. Aragorn tried hard to affect an air of disgust and impatience but it had been a very long time since Legolas had laughed or smiled and his joy was contagious. The ranger rolled his eyes and started laughing. "So would you like to teach this young one to not shoot like a female or shall we just stand here all day!"

Legolas clapped the human on the back and straightened up, wiping his eyes on his tunic and breathing deeply in an attempt to get himself under control. When he could finally speak again he smiled at Aragorn and said, "Forgive me. Let us try again."

Aragorn shook his head unable to hide his own smile, "Thank you."

He reset his bow and stopped at the point Legolas had asked him to before.

"There." The elf moved behind the man and placed his hands on the ranger’s shoulder, "That is what is wrong." Gently but firmly he pulled Aragorn’s right shoulder back until his shoulders formed a straight line. The elf placed his hand between the man’s shoulderblades and pressed Aragorn’s right elbow down until his arm was straight, perpendicular to his body. Leaning forward, Legolas sighted along Aragorn’s arm. With his face so close to the Dùnadan’s he spoke softly, instructing the man to sight in on the pine across the way.

Aragorn cocked his head down slightly leaning into the bowstring. With his fingers the elf tipped the man’s head back up. Aragorn rolled his eyes and tried again, moving his entire body as though he and the bow were one, until the broad head of the arrow just covered the tip of the pine.

"Breathe in." Legolas whispered in his ear.

Aragorn breathed in deeply, the tip of the arrow readjusted, offset by the slight motion of his body.

"Breath out and do not move."

Again the human obeyed, releasing his breath until his lungs were empty. His body grew completely still and his hands stopped trembling. Legolas leaned forward once more sighting along the length of the arrow shaft. Seeing the tip of the arrow on the pine he gently readjusted Aragorn’s stance until the arrow head was just above the pine itself and whispered his command once more, "The path of an arrow arcs my friend always remember that. Now, release."

Aragorn’s index finger moved slightly and the arrow shot from the bow and struck its target true.

Aragorn turned in surprise.

"See, it is easy." Legolas smiled at him, his eyes twinkling with merriment.

The human didn’t respond right away looking from the elf to the tree, "Can I try it again?"

"Just like teaching the young ones." The elf sighed looking innocently at the man, before breaking into laughter. Aragorn shoved the elf away from him with his elbow, pushing his friend out of his reach.

"Yes!" Legolas finally answered him, "Let us try it again."

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART TWO*~

 

After they had harvested their catch and put the venison on to cook, Legolas worked with Aragorn for several more hours. The young ranger caught on to what the elf was trying to teach him remarkably fast.

Somehow during the course of the day the gloom of their banishment had at last begun to lift somewhat, lost like the morning fogs that were receding with the onset of summer and as evening beset them. Twilight found the friends enjoying a warm meal and companionship, spending the late night talking about everything and nothing at all. Aragorn had fallen easily asleep somewhere near midnight but Legolas had stayed awake, listening to the night sounds; sounds that were foreign to his ears.

Grabbing his bow and quiver, he stole to the far side of the wooded area they had camped in. The glen overlooked the Dimrill Dale and the eastern entrance to Mines of Moria. The elf watched in fascination at the scene unfolding before him.

Orcs and dwarves battled each other on the rocky entrance to the underground dwelling. This was exactly the scenario Legolas had witnessed months earlier when he had rescued Aragorn. It surprised him slightly to note that the battles continued. The orcs were better prepared this time and there appeared to be more of them.

The elf kept his silent vigil into the night until the sky just barely edged pink with the warning of morning. As was their want, the orcs noticed the approaching daylight first and began a slow retreat. They had done serious damage to the dwarves over the course of the night and had nearly gained the entrance to the stone hall.

The crack of twig behind him alerted the prince to Aragorn’s presence. The man crouched down beside the seated elf and overlooked the rocky platform.

"Been here long?" He cast a sideways glance at the elf.

Legolas didn’t meet the gaze but nodded out towards the plateau, "They are the same orcs I was tracking when I found you. Only I think they have merged with another clan and they are more numerous. They have dealt the dwarves a serious blow this night."

Aragorn turned towards his companion, "You have been here all night and watched them slaughter dwarves and have done nothing about it?"

Idly the elf met his glance, "They are dwarves." The statement was meant as an explanation but the meaning was lost on the human.

"Legolas, they are living beings." Aragorn was surprised that his friend could act this way.

"Dwarves do not accept help from elves." He looked incredulously at the man, "What did you want me to do? Go down there and get in the middle of that?" Legolas pointed at the steps of Moria where the battle was finally easing, gesturing at the chaos. "What good would it have done?"

The dwarves were tending to their wounded and dying companions and the last of the orcs were heading back to their own hiding place well out of the reaches of the encroaching light.

Aragorn rolled his eyes, "Dwarves, humans, spiders, orcs. You elves have a lot of dislikes you know that?"

Legolas chuckled beside him, "Human. I suppose you can tell me that men are the friends of all?" He jumped to his feet as the last of the orcs left the plateau heading west through the wooded lands. "There see? Come on!" The elf started to move off parallel to the creatures.

"Legolas, we should go help the dwarves." Aragorn watched as the smaller beings cared for one another in the midst of the battle carnage.

"Trust me." The elf was locked onto the last point the orcs could be seen, his keen eyes and ears tracking their loud retreat through the woods, "This is important." And with that cryptic answer he ran after the fleeing creatures.

It was all Aragorn could do to keep up as the prince trailed the orcs back to a large, sunken cave. The opening to the mouth of the pit lay at a forty-five degree angle to the ground, half obscured by the twisted and warped pines that grew around its outer edges. Legolas stopped near its perimeter as the sun broke over the mountains and spilled into the forest, lighting the well-trodden path they were on. He crouched in the trail and inspected the dirt, noting that the vegetation had moved far away from the run. Crushed plant life decorated the edges of the large path, proving that Legolas was correct; the orcs had just recently gained new members to this clan. He studied the footprints that had not been obliterated by those that had come after, noting the differences in the structure.

"It is as I feared." He glanced up Aragorn who was warily watching the forest around them. The sun was too high in the sky for any renegade orcs to be about but one could never be too sure. "Two clans have merged. The orcs are growing stronger."

The cry of a nearby wolf carried to them on the slight breeze and the elf was on his feet immediately, "Let us leave this place, it is an evil place and the wolves guard it for those foul beasts." He marked the entrance to their lair in his memory and led Aragorn back out on the granite plateau that butted up against Moria’s entrance.

As they approached the scattered remains of the battle, they were met by a company of dwarves.

"What business have you here on the doorstep of Moria?" a rotund dwarf asked them gruffly.

"We came to see if we could be of help." Aragorn called out in a friendly tone, stepping slightly in front of his companion.

"An elf and a human?!" a dwarf to their right laughed, "I think not. We can see to our own."

"I told you." Legolas leaned forward and whispered quietly in Aragorn’s ear. "Let us leave."

"Is the elf your pet?" Another dwarf taunted.

At the jest Legolas stiffened, his hand tightening on his bow. His gaze was fierce and hard as Aragorn glanced over his shoulder at the prince.

"I would watch my tongue Master Dwarf if I were you." Aragorn stepped forward and placed himself directly in front Legolas blocking the elf momentarily from the smaller being’s line of sight, "It is royalty you address whether or not you want to. Besides it looks to me like you are not fairing well. It could be that we might be helpful to each other if you laid your prejudices aside."

A red haired dwarf shoved his way through the small semi-circle that had gathered around the newcomers. He stepped right up in front of Aragorn and pressed his finger against the human’s chest.

"I remember you." His eyes were slitted and his words were low. "You’re the one who ruined my traps!"

"Rorin." Aragorn nodded slightly and brushed the dwarf’s hand away, "I am the one that saved you and your men from being Mirkwood’s latest casualty." He smiled wickedly down at the bearded face that glared at him.

The dwarf harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest, "Why be you here now?" Rorin glanced around the human, "I see you’re still keeping company with the likes of them. Come to share that tankard of mead with my men and I, have you? Maybe improve who the companions you keep?"

The dwarf laughed at his own joke, and his fellow warriors joined him.

Aragorn stepped back next to Legolas and the laughter immediately stopped. The elf wore a dark expression and graced the human with it as Aragorn turned and smiled up at him.

"Well I might take you up on the mead. But we thought you could use an extra hand with your wounded. We have medicines and you look a little light on the help." He gestured at the dwarves that still dotted the steppes below the plateau.

Rorin seemed to consider it.

The man looked again at the elf who glowered back at him and rolled his eyes.

After quick discussion amongst them, the dwarves assented and the elf and the human found themselves trailing the smaller beings slowly back towards the entrance of Moria, stopping near the small groups of dwarves and seeing to the wounded.

"Why do the orcs attack you?" Aragorn looked up from his kneeling position near a wounded dwarf. Legolas was very gently binding up the small being’s broken arm and the human was surprised at the tenderness the elf exhibited, knowing how much he hated being here.

"They want Moria!" Rorin replied as though the answer should be obvious.

"What for?" Aragorn pressed the dwarf, not understanding.

"Do tell. Its such a lovely hole in the ground, who would not want it?" Legolas murmured softly under his breath.

"Legolas!" Aragorn whispered fiercely at the elf who only smiled wickedly back at the human shrugging in feigned innocence.

If the dwarf heard he didn’t respond to the taunt but simply continued, "Why for the mithril of course."

"Please, Orcs care nothing for mithril." This time when Legolas spoke it was for the ears of all hearers. "It is the tunnels and the living quarters you have dug out of this hill they are interested in."

"Bah! They have their own caves to inhabit. They know these hills are full of treasure." Rorin smiled proudly as they stood and moved towards another grouping of wounded.

"I think not." The elf replied a little more harshly than he intended, "Orcs care very little for treasures or jewels." He lifted his eyes to take in the stone heights of the dwelling they were approaching, "But there are tales of evil that lives in these hills. It is the darkness and the deeps they desire."

The dwarves they were walking with stopped to look at the two unlikely companions in confusion. "We will drive them out. Moria will never be taken by orcs." A small fierce dwarf on Legolas’ right challenged.

"They will if you do not stop them."

"What do you think we have been doing every night?" Rorin glanced at the elf and frowned.

"Entertaining them only." He replied absently. Legolas had stopped on the threshold of Moria’s entrance. Turning he looked longing back out into the woods, considering his options. Aragorn stepped next to him and touched the prince on his shoulder.

"Legolas?"

With a sigh, the elf turned towards the man and Aragorn could see the deep hesitation inside of his friend, "Elves do not belong in caves, Strider." He quietly explained to the man.

Aragorn smiled slightly, "I seem to remember some one else telling me that before."

"You obviously didn’t listen to him then." The elf returned the smile. "I do not wish to enter Moria."

Aragorn’s demeanor turned serious and he walked with the elf back a few paces away from the stone doors. "If you are not certain about this, we will go."

Legolas eyed the human for a long moment, "You have an idea don’t you?"

When the man nodded slightly the elf smiled and looked away, shaking his head, "I knew it."

"Look, we haven’t been banished from being with the dwarves. Hunting is scarce this side of the Misty Mountains and we need some supplies. I do not wish to visit men right now as I am sure you don’t either and we cannot go to our own, so let’s trade."

"With what?" Legolas inquired skeptically.

"Information. We know where the orcs live now. Let us stay here one night, and lead them to their lair. It should be worth a meal and a warm welcome again later. You never know when we might need it." Aragorn raised an eyebrow in question, "You with me in this? Because if you aren’t we leave now."

"It would rid Mirkwood of this latest orc problem also." Legolas glanced back into Moria and the waiting dwarves. "I have been trying to do that for months now."

"So?" Aragorn cocked his head smiling.

Legolas pushed the human away from him playfully, "Very well let us go. And pray that all goes well or I will never let you live this down."

"Hey, you’ll get to see the fabled Mines of Moria!"

"Just what I always wanted to do." The sarcasm in the elf’s voice caused the human to laugh.

The dwarves seeing Aragorn’s laughter as a good sign, clapped the ranger on the back and escorted them both into the deep cavern of Moria.

"Have you ever seen anything like this!" Aragorn asked his companion, awed by the immensity of the carved out cavern as they passed beneath Moria’s entrance. The interior was suspended by columns that towered over their heads into the dimly lit ceiling of the room.

"No, nor do I have any desire to again." Legolas eyes were huge and it wasn’t from the awe of seeing the dwarve’s handiwork. He glanced about them nervously and his hand tightened on the grip of his bow.

Aragorn stepped closer to the elf, his proximity bringing the prince’s gaze back on the young ranger. "Stay with me Legolas. Think of it as a palace, just a whole lot different than your father’s. We’ll stick close to the entrance we don’t have to go in too deep. We can stay up here with the warring parties and help out."

The elf nodded slowly and Aragorn shifted nearer to his friend’ lending his support without making a scene.

Legolas did not like the underground city, but he could tolerate it at need. Aragorn had tried to liken this ancient realm of the Dwarrowdelf to his father’s halls, and in fact there was a certain similarity, although it was mostly lost upon the elf. Many of the Elvenking’s halls and chambers were in fact, underground, connected by bright, airy tunnels hewn from the stone that the palace rested upon, yet Legolas would have never called those pleasant places *caves* although many outsiders did.

They moved through the wounded Dwarves, helping here and there where they could. Aragorn fetched his pack and was able to provide such healing aides as he had and Legolas added his elven skill to the ranger’s knowledge.

Presently, an elderly looking dwarf who had an official bearing came up to them. His flowing white beard was tucked into his belt and a red hood was hanging down his back. He said nothing at first, but watched as Aragorn administered a healing salve to one dwarf’s nasty head-wound and Legolas helped him bind the wound up.

He had apparently already been apprised of the appearance of the two strangers by one of the other dwarves, because he showed no surprise, but bowed politely, in dwarvish fashion, once Aragorn and Legolas had risen from their work.

"Balin, son of Fundin, at your service," he introduced himself. Aragorn knew enough about dwarven customs to know that such a greeting required an introduction of like kind.

"Strider, Ranger of the North, at yours and your family’s," Aragorn returned the greeting correctly, but couldn’t help glancing sideways at Legolas. He had become quite comfortable with the alias that the elf had given him.

"Legolas, of..." the elf stopped abruptly and did not finish his sentence. "At your service," the prince finished somewhat hurriedly. This dwarf was being polite and he had intended to return in kind, but the elf had not counted on the stab of pain that passed through him as he realized that he had no place, no home, no heritage to claim.

Aragorn cast a quick, sympathetic glance at his friend, guessing what was going through the elf’s mind.

Balin appraised them curiously, eyeing Legolas with a measure of not-so-concealed distrust. Yet whatever his feelings they did not color his words when he spoke to them next. "It is rare that a human and an elf travel together thus, and even rarer that they should stop to aide my people. What brings you to the Dimrill Dale and the courts of Moria?"

That was far too long a tale to tell, even had the friends wanted to, so Aragorn opted for the shortest route out. "We are wanderers, we observed your battle. You looked like you could use some assistance. But tell me, it has been even a longer time since dwarves inhabited the halls of Moria, is it not? What brings you here now?" The ranger turned the question around on the dwarf and efficiently evaded answering any further questions about their past at this time.

"We have come to claim back what is ours," Balin said with a fierce glitter in his eye. "My people and I have come from the halls of the King Under the Mountain on this quest. Rorin and his clan have been living long in the Misty Mountains and they have joined us in this endeavor."

Legolas glanced curiously at the dwarf at the mention of the King Under the Mountain. That was the title given to Dain, the Dwarf-king who reigned over the halls of the Lonely Mountain, not far from Lake Town and his father’s Kingdom.

"Do you honestly think that so few of you can accomplish such an undertaking?" Legolas inquired.

Balin huffed out his chest. "With fewer than this I have seen more accomplished! Fourteen of us reclaimed the Lonely Mountain from that evil worm Smaug! No thanks to the Wood-elves I might add," he put in parenthetically. Legolas may not have stated his origin, but his manner of dress and the workings on his clothing gave him away. Especially since Balin had, in fact, seen Wood-elves before, although he had no particular reason to remember them very fondly.

"I’m sure that would be quite a tale to hear," Aragorn interjected quickly, wishing to head off trouble before it got started. "But right now I believe these wounded need our attention. Do you have more fresh water that I could use?"

The distraction worked and after all the dwarves had been cared for there ended up being only one fatality, proving that the little folk were as sturdy as their pride. A dwarf named Flòi had taken an arrow wound that killed him almost instantly. When everyone else was tended to, Balin, Rorin and the other dwarves buried their comrade under the green grass near Mirror mere.

"He fought bravely," Balin said solemly, but no other words were said over the grave because Dwarves did not often put their grief into words.

When the brief ceremony had ended the diminutive warriors headed back into the halls and set about celebrating their good fortune of being dwarves, telling long tales about the orcs they had slew or were want to.

Aragorn was pulled away from his friend by a swarm of dwarves as the small beings crushed merrily into the hall, pressing towards the fire pits and the barrels of mead that sat nearby. A cup of the brew was pressed into his hand and he was momentarily lost in the whirlpool of bodies around him as the dwarves gathered in close to fill their steins with the thick yellow liquid and obtain their portions of meat from the spits that were roasting over the open fires.

The human caught sight of the elf from across the hall and slowly made his way back to where the prince waited, leaning against an ornately carved wall. His face was tight and tense and for their part the dwarves had paid him no attention, the oversight bothered Aragorn immensely and as he made his way back to his friend he grabbed Rorin and pulled the small man with him.

"That elf is my friend." He pointed at Legolas, leaning down and talking loudly in the dwarf’s ear; the sound was almost deafening with all the warriors in the hall cheering and singing and making merry over their victory of last, what victory it was.

"Yes well, that’s your problem."

"And now it’s yours." Aragorn stopped up short and pulled the dwarf around in front of him out of Legolas’ line of view, "He has helped all day long with your wounded and he alone has information that can help your people. He knows where the orcs bed down during the daytime. So if you have any hope of ending these night time excursions of yours then I suggest you start paying him a little attention." The ranger tipped his hand and tapped his mead filled stein against the stout dwarf’s chest plate, "Do I make myself clear?"

"And you think he’d help us?" Rorin glared at the man.

"Try him." Aragorn glanced over his shoulder at the elf and smiled. Legolas simply locked eyes with the man. He was even now beginning to resent his decision to follow the ranger into the mine.

Rorin snapped his fingers and two of his companions turned their attention on him. He nodded in the direction of the elf prince and passed them his own stein. Wordlessly they conceded and approached the elf pressing the mead into his hands and herding the prince towards where Rorin and Aragorn had seated themselves around Balin’s table in the middle of the hall.

The elf for his part was not very willing to follow the smaller beings until he caught a glimpse of Aragorn. The human was laughing at the sight of the prince being prodded and pushed towards the circle of dwarves where he was just sitting down.

Stopping mid step the elf brushed the small hands away from him, handed back the mug of mead and glaring at the man he proceeded to walk unaided to the circle of merry dwarves and gracefully sat down next to Aragorn, resting his hands lightly on the wooden surface of the circular table.

"Will you not share in our celebrations Legolas?" Balin asked merrily from the other side of the table politely holding up a sterling stein and offering to the elf.

"Thank you my Lord but I am not thirsty at this time." He bowed his head slightly in deference to the elder dwarf. "It is good to simply share your company."

"Liar." Aragorn leaned close to the elf and whispered so only Legolas could hear him.

The elf smiled for the first time since entering the cavern and his response to the human caused the dwarves to cheer and toast him. The mead was beginning to take its effect as the barrels began to run dry.

Rorin leaned over and whispered into Balin’s ear. The master dwarf sat back and stared incredulously at the warrior seated next to him. Rorin only nodded his head confirming whatever information he had passed on.

Balin turned towards his guests and from the look on his face Aragorn knew that something had transpired. The dwarf’s demeanor was serious and set.

"Rorin says that you know the where the orcs hide during the day. Is this true elf?" The dwarf lord stared hard at Legolas who simply glanced at Aragorn.

The ranger held up his hand halting the prince from answering and directed the attention back to himself.

Balin narrowed his eyes as he focused on the ranger. "You mean to keep this news from us?"

"No Lord Balin not at all. I would propose something else though."

The rotund dwarf sat back in his chair appraising the young human. "So now we get to the matter of the issue. What is it you desire in exchange for this information?"

Legolas raised his eyebrow watching the man as Aragorn slipped into his natural element. A slight smile touched the prince’s lips as the human began to trade with the dwarf.

"The information was obtained at a high price. But your hospitality and a meal now again would be payment enough." His eyes did not waiver as he spoke and he held the attention of the dwarf lord.

Leaning forward Balin stared the ranger down. "That is all you require?"

"That and.."

Rorin cut the human off with his loud accusation, "Aha! I knew there was more."

"Quiet Rorin! I would hear his proposal, now let him speak." Balin roared at the dwarf.

With a nod Aragorn continued, "We will take you to orc’s lair and we will even help you bring down that hole in the ground they call a dwelling. We do this to aid your people and to protect the elves of Mirkwood. This same band of orcs has been tracked from the forests to here. When the orcs are gone the wastelands will be clear and safe. All we ask in return is that you leave the forests of Mirkwood alone. That your people no longer poach in the vicinity and give the elves the peace they desire."

Balin glared at Legolas. But the request had quite taken the elf by surprise also. He had not expected Aragorn to barter for the peace of his people and he stared in shock at the man. When the elf finally glanced back across the table he openly returned the dwarf’s dark gaze.

All those seated at the table had gone deathly quiet. For his part Aragorn had not broken eye contact with the dwarf lord hoping that he had not pushed his fledgling diplomatic skills past their point of expertise. He wanted the elves to be able to roam their woods free without the fear of falling victim to any more of the traps like the one that had wounded his friend not so long ago.

"And if I should refuse?" Balin questioned the young human, stalling on his answer.

Aragorn shrugged indifferently, "Then we will leave your fine company on the morrow. And perhaps by chance you will be fortunate enough to find the orc lair on your own. Someday."

Slowly Balin nodded his head as he thought through the request. He desperately wanted to end the nightly forays that the orcs pressed against them day in and day out. The battle was wearying his men and slowly decimating them, a fact he did not want to openly admit to. Reaching across the table he extended his hand towards the ranger.

Rorin’s mouth dropped open as the man took the open hand and shook it.

"Then we have a deal?"

Balin nodded silently again, still trying to think over his options; the hunting grounds in the woods were flourishing with game and he hated to give up the ability to enter into them and take what they needed even if it was ill looked up on.

"Yes, we have deal." The dwarf finally replied. "You will take us to the orc caves and help us seal them up and in return you shall have our hospitality and we will leave the elves to their woods."

Aragorn nodded and smiled turning a quick glance upon his companion who was still regarding him with slight surprise.

"But..but..you can't my lord!" Rorin stood to his feet in protest, his anger getting the best of him. His complaint echoed around the table.

Balin regarded the dwarf with a deep frown and replied, "I can and I have Rorin Coppercryer. Now sit you down and do not stir up the others again or I will have you working the deepest mithril vein we have open. Understand me do you?" He glared at the others as the dwarf obediently if not sullenly took his seat. "I grow weary of the orcs. I am tired of seeing my companions slain by them. If we can end this and it costs us a few venison then so be it."

The dwarf lord glanced at Legolas, "You have my word, elf, my people will bother your people no more."

"Thank you." Legolas nodded deferentially.

"Well then, off to sleep with you all!!" Balin rose to his feet shouting down the chaos of the hall, "Today before dusk we will go and see to an end of those orcs that harass us! Get rest men! Today marks our victory!"

Cheers and shouts shook the rock columns of the cavern as the dwarves jumped to their feet mugs in hand toasting their lord and the promised conquest. The large room emptied quickly for the amount of beings that it held.

As the last of the stragglers were helped off to bed to sleep off their drinks, Balin turned to Legolas and Aragorn. "I am afraid we are not equipped for guests as we rarely entertain any more. Would a place by the fire side be enough for you?"

Aragorn bowed slightly, "Yes that would do. We would rather sleep near the fire pits by the doors Lord Balin if it is alright with you."

The dwarf granted his permission eagerly and pallets were brought for the companions. Aragorn positioned them near a brightly burning fire pit a few hundred yards from the great stone doors that opened onto the steppes of Moria.

Legolas sat crosslegged on his mat eying the human with a half smile.

"Thank you for asking for a place by the door." He quietly thanked the ranger as the young man lay down on his bed and rolled over to face the elf.

"I know how you hate caves." Aragorn chuckled.

"Did you always have in mind to barter with the dwarves for the safety and peace of my..." Legolas caught himself mid sentence, "for the elves of Mirkwood?"

The ranger smiled at him sadly, "No. I had in mind to do it for *your* people." And with that explanation he turned over on his back and closed his eyes. "Go to sleep my friend. It’s going to be a long day." He murmured.

The elf shook his head watching as the man placed his forearm across his eyes to block out the late morning light. "Thank you Aragorn." He whispered but the ranger had already fallen asleep and was breathing deeply. Legolas leaned back against the wall and kept watch over his companion as he slept, his eyes straying out to the forest beyond as he wondered if anyone back in Mirkwood would ever know that the man they had deemed an outcast had just bartered for their peace.

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART THREE*~

 

 

The sun had barely ridden three quarters of the way through the sky when Legolas shook his friend awake.

"What? What is it?" Aragorn slowly woke as the hall filled with dwarves assembling to hunt down the orcs armed with double-headed axes and wicked looking serrated swords.

Legolas smiled down into the dark sliver streaked eyes, "Let’s go hunt some orc."

Aragorn chuckled as he came fully awake grabbing his sword and cloak and readily accepted the hand up as Legolas pulled him to his feet.

"What time is it?"

The elf stepped to the doorway of the cavern and gazed up into the waning light. "Later than I would care for. We should have started out nearly an hour ago."

Balin stepped up next to the elf prince and gazed up at him, "What say you elf? Ready to lead us out?"

Legolas glanced over the dwarf’s head and quirked his eyebrow at the human, garnering a brilliant smile as the man nodded his head in agreement. "Yes master elf lead us out." Aragorn quipped, motioning with his hand at the legion of dwarves waiting for word behind him, "Your army waits."

The prince rolled his eyes and addressed the dwarf King, "Lord Balin if you and your warriors would follow me I will take you to the orc’s lair."

Turning to the assembled dwarves Balin called them to attention, his deep voice echoing through the large cavern, "Today we stop the orcs!" He waited until the shouts had died down, "We will follow the elf, he knows where they bed down. Be on your guard men, I have no want to lose any more of you than I already have. We have mithril to return to and mine!"

The roar of a hundred axes handles slamming the cave floor in rhythmic unison deafened the human and he turned to Legolas with a smile motioning with his hands for the elf to start walking out of the hall.

Legolas turned and gracefully exited Moria to the cheers of the dwarves who raced after him. Aragorn easily leapt aside as the small beings flooded out the gateway onto the steppes following his companion. Casually the human brought up the rear, guiding any stray dwarves back onto the path that he and Legolas had taken previously as they had tracked the orcs back to their lair.

By the time the entourage had gained the small dark glade, the afternoon sun had slipped below the trees and evening was quickly approaching. Legolas led them silently up to the front of the cave, his senses alert and keen; he was slightly on edge, it was later than he wished to be here. The orcs would be preparing to leave the cavern soon, they would need to act quickly or lose the opportunity. The elf cautioned the warriors to silence as they entered the dark trampled glade.

Aragorn gained Legolas’ side and edged close to the elf. "It will be dusk soon. We have come late."

"I know." The elf shifted warily, glancing into the gloom of the cavern. He bent down near the dwarf lord and spoke quietly to him, "This is their lair. We need to bring the cave mouth down. Can your men do it?"

Balin eyed the opening. With years of skill, he gazed back into the wooded area that covered the sides of the downslopping tunnel before he answered, "Aye, we can. My warriors are experts and this will not be difficult."

"How long will it take you?" Aragorn edged in, glancing quickly back at the cavern himself. He had picked up on Legolas’ unease and an anxiety filled his own chest.

"Not long." The dwarf lord turned and motioned silently to half his contingent directing them to the top and sides of the cave. The rest of the dwarves fanned out around the perimeter some taking up guard while others began to mark trees near the lair, starting their companions on the work of bringing the giant foliage down.

Several dwarves had gained the top of the ugly access and using the pick sides of their broadheaded axes they began to loosen the rocky formation that structurally kept the cave open and intact, working deftly with the stone.

Aragorn was surprised at the stealth with which the small compact beings moved and carried out their tasks but with the soundings of the metal on stone and wood reverberating through the dale, there was no masking their presence now.

Legolas stood to the side of the darkened shaft listening intently for any sounds that might alert him to the approach of the orcs. Aragorn had climbed the rocky side of the tunnel and worked with the dwarves to loosen the structural integrity of the opening. He learned quickly as the warriors pointed out natural stress cracks in the granite that could be used to their advantage and the unbalanced weight from the stones that had naturally formed around the lip. Precise blows increased the stressed fractures and pressure placed on the unbalanced formations easily put the cave at risk of collapse. No matter how fortified the tunnel was inside it would not withstand the external damage the dwarves were wreaking.

Warriors to the sides of the maw were quickly cutting through the bases of the twisted pines that surrounded the orc’s lair. Aragorn took note that the wicked serrated swords the dwarves had brought along were being put to use to saw three quarters of the way through the large trees; it wouldn’t take much to topple the giant pines on either side of the cave crushing it beneath them.

Their work was almost finished and the light in the glade was nearly gone when the first of the orcs realized their plight and began a counterassault. The air in front of the cave was wrent with a volley of arrows as the beasts inside took the war home to the dwarves.

"Legolas!" Aragorn heard the sound and turned quickly toward his friend shouting at the elf as the arrows filled the air around the prince.

Several shafts cut close to Legolas, one just barely grazing the elf’s tunic as he ducked, crouching low to the ground. A dwarf to his right was not so lucky taking a direct hit, the small being crashed to the ground dead. Anger gripped Legolas and he unleashed his own answering volley, his deadly arrows finding their prey and bringing them down. But the press of orcs was too much.

Shouting up to his friend the elf called for help, "We must prevent them from gaining the mouth of the cave! Are you ready?"

Aragorn glanced worriedly at Balin, who shook his head curtly; they would need a few more minutes.

"We have not time to spare!" Legolas shouted as he jumped behind the trunk of a large tree narrowly avoiding a second rain of orc arrows.

"Ori! Rorin!" Balin braced himself against a secure spot and leaned down shouting at the dwarves, "Get the front of the cave sealed off, I don’t care how you do it!"

The two warriors glanced at each other for a moment until Rorin grabbed Ori calling out to the others who raced into the surrounding forest.

Legolas panicked. The glade was empty now except for himself, with no resistance the orcs would over take them in moments.

"BALIN!" He shouted up to the dwarf king.

"Give them a minute elf, they’ll be right back."

"A minute is all I may have." Legolas muttered darkly to himself as stepped away from the safety of the tree and began to rapidly fire back into the darkness of the orc cavern.

Just when he was beginning to think he had been abandoned to the orcs a line of dwarves appeared dragging the trunks of three huge trees they had felled and sheared from the forest. The tops of the pines were left in tact and they began to set the needles aflame. As the fire ripped through the branches igniting and popping fed by the wood and the sap, they rammed the tops of the trees into the mouth of the cave while Legolas covered their advance. The smoke from the fire grew thick in the glen and the attack by the orcs was cut off as the air became unbreathable.

"Quickly before they escape out the back. Tell me master dwarf that you are ready!" Legolas shouted up at the dwarves that were scampering down the rock face. He covered his mouth and nose with the sleeve of his tunic as he breathed the noxious fumes.

Balin was running in front of his men, shouting at them to get free of the cave. Aragorn appeared out of the smoke on Legolas’ left and grabbed the elf, pulling the prince with him.

"They are bringing the cave down now, we have to move!"

When the contingent had sufficiently cleared the area and gained the knoll of a nearby small hill Balin turned towards the orc lair and cupping his hands around his mouth he yelled back into the smoke filled valley, "NOW!"

For seconds there was no sound, no movement and everyone gathered around the dwarf king held their breath, waiting to see if their work had been for nothing.

"What are they doing?" Legolas whispered in Aragorn’s ear.

"Shhh..wait." The ranger held up his hand his eyes glued to the small vale.

Slowly the tree on the left of the lair began to bend downward, the creaking, tearing of its very fibers split the air as the tree to the right also tilted wildly angling down, its crown falling beneath the smoke. A roar of wood and stones reverberated through the forest, shaking the ground and a cloud of debris and smoke exploded upwards from the glen as the trees crashed down on the cave, hitting the rocks that had been structurally damaged and bringing the whole tunnel down itself as the initial collapse created a chain reaction. The orcs would use this entryway no more, the damage was irreparable.

A small team of dwarves ran towards them out of the smoke, their clothes and beards white from the dust of the shattered rocks, contrasted sharply with the smiles that decorated their round faces. A cheer rose from the warriors around them and Legolas turned towards Aragorn a smile on the elven face. "Mirkwood is safe now."

The ranger smiled back, "For a bit anyway. I am sure there is a backdoor to that thing."

"Perhaps but for now they are free from the orcs and the dwarves." He said the last softly, wisfully and only the ranger heard his words. When Balin approached them he swiftly guarded his features and turned to congratulate the small king.

Unbeknownst to the warriors two orcs were watching them from the cover of trees. They had been separated from the pack when they had left Moria that morning and had had to seek shelter elsewhere until night returned and they could safely rejoin their clan. They had watched silently as the cave was brought down by the dwarves.

"We should go help." One of the dark beasts said to the other.

But the orc questioned, simply shook his head no. His yellow eyes memorizing the faces of his enemy.

"Then we should go kill the dwarves and their friends."

Again the orc resisted. Two against one hundred was folly and even the dark anger in his heart was not enough to jeopardize their lives for the sake of their dead companions.

"Thlurglol, we cannot just stay here. We cannot get home now." The first orc whined at the other.

"We will take the back tunnel and join the others." Thlurglol answered quietly, turning yellow hatred filled eyes on the young orc beside him, before he turned and headed out.

"It will take all night to get there and even then we may not have enough time." The first warned again.

"Then we best leave now. Shut up or stay behind, I care not." Thlurglol watched as a human and an elf descended the small hill heading back to the Mines of Moria in the company of the diminutive warriors. The combination of beings was puzzling to the small dark mind. He would remember them. Oh yes, he would remember them all.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

The party in the halls of Moria that night was unparalleled by those in attendance. And everyone swore it was better than any they could ever remember under Moria’s halls. The dwarves celebrated their victory well through the night with Balin bringing up the best of the mead he had stored away and the finest fruits and meats that his storehouses held.

Legolas and Aragorn had simply watched the wild celebration for the most part, keeping to themselves as their hosts indulged in gluttony and self-congratulation. In all, only three dwarves had lost their lives in the skirmish and though their loss was terribly felt, the mood was nothing less that an abandonment to good cheer. Aragorn had decided that the only thing dwarves did better than mine mithril was to celebrate. Legolas laughed at his observations as they watched the revelry slowly begin to wind down and the celebrants began to break up finding their way back to their own places to rest for a while.

Balin found them as they headed for their pallets, ready for a few hours of sleep.

"Would you like to see a mithril vein up close? They just uncovered a nice one to the east I am informed." The dwarf lord offered magnanimously, his face rosey from the mead he had imbibed and his countenance light with mirth; it was an honor bestowed on few.

Aragorn turned back to the king and answered brightly, matching the dwarf’s smile, "Why yes, we would love to." To his surprise his voice was overridden by that of Legolas who spoke at exactly the same time.

"Thank you, but no we will pass."

The smile slipped from Balin’s face and he looked in confusion between the two friends.

Aragorn stared at Legolas, smiling and questioned the elf quietly through gritted teeth, "Legolas?"

The elf glowered at the human before turning to Balin and graciously accepting the king’s offer, "We would love to. Please lead the way."

When the ranger beside him choked back a laugh he glared once more at the man. Aragorn whispered under his breath, knowing full well the elf could hear him, "You are a horrible liar. I’ll have to show you how to do that better sometime."

Legolas stared at the ranger through narrowed eyes, sarcasm etched across his features, "Just what I always wanted to learn." It took all of the human’s control to not burst out laughing. In an attempt to still his compulsions he focused on the dwarf lord who had stepped away from them and commandeered the help of two miner dwarves.

"This is Rill and Rullyra." Balin introduced the miners, "They will lead you to the tunnel that the mithril runs through. I must see to a small matter regarding empty mead barrels and I will join you shortly." The dwarf king laughed good naturedly at his own joke as he shoved the two guides in front of him, "Go on now boys, give them a good tour."

Rill and Rullyra nodded and headed off to the far side of the hall talking all the way to the two friends about the great vein of mithril that had been uncovered just that morning while the warriors were out.

Legolas stepped around the ranger to follow their hosts, smacking the young human upside the head as he did so. He had no wish to go any farther into this dank hole than was absolutely necessary and now his friend had accepted a guided tour into the very bowels of Moria itself; exactly where he did not want to be.

Aragorn couldn’t stifle the laughter and ran to catch up with the elf when he recovered from the light blow. They followed the dwarves deep down into the depths of Moria toward the areas where the mines were located. They had passed up and turned onto so many branches and adjoining tunnels that Aragorn had easily lost his way a bit ago. He noticed that Legolas had become more edgy and jumpy the farther down they went.

"We are almost there!" Rill cast a look over his shoulder to the two friends.

"He has said that now seven times." Legolas muttered darkly. "If he says it once more I will put an arrow in him."

Trying to lighten his friends mood he teased the elf lightly, "Oh come on Legolas. How many of your people can ever say they saw the mithril veins? You’ll be the only one! Just think of it."

"My people brag about never seeing mithril veins human." Legolas ignored the man who paced alongside him, "Our dealings with mithril are as crafters, not delvers. In fact it is with great pride that they can say they have never seen the inside of any cave deeper than our own halls!"

"You have got to get out more." Aragorn dodged behind the elf as the prince turned on him. Legolas merely shook his head as the ranger jumped back from him. He had intended to retort to the barb but a strange sound cut him off, reverberating oddly through the tunnel. It sounded familiar in a way that Legolas could not quite pinpoint. When the memory slammed into his awareness it was too late.

A low rumble and a trembling of the earth beneath their feet was the only warning they had. It was not enough.

Suddenly the air was filled with dust and great chunks of the roof of the tunnel were falling around them as the walls buckled and compressed spasmodically inward as if clapped together by invisible hands.

Legolas, standing in the mouth of the shaft, jumped forward a pace; narrowly avoiding a boulder that would have crushed him. A second falling missile that the elf could not avoid struck his shoulder and drove him to one knee.

"Legolas!" Aragorn shouted in concern when he saw his friend fall. "Legolas!" but his voice was drown by the roar of the collapsing passageway.

Suddenly the ground beneath Aragorn’s feet dropped away sharply and he fell forward as if a carpet had been yanked out from under him. The drop was too abrupt for him to try to catch himself, and the young man found himself half tumbling, half-sliding down and backward.

Chaos reined supreme for the three breathless moments that it took the tunnel to completely come down on itself. Then there was a sudden, eerie silence, broken only by the soft sound of small rocks rolling and settling into their new positions.

Legolas choked on the thick dust that clogged the air, coughing as he tried to clear his lungs. His left shoulder was on fire and moving his arm was painful. He doubted anything was broken, but it certainly was not moving properly. Severely sprained at the very least he guessed.

Rising to his feet and hugging his injured arm to his chest with a small hiss of pain, the elf blinked against the dust and grit in the air, seeking some sign of his friend.

"Aragorn?" he called, turning slowly around and attempting to pierce the gloom with his keen eyesight. There was no answer. "Aragorn?" Legolas’ call picked up a tone of urgency.

As the dust finally began to settle, Legolas could see what had happened to the tunnel. Simply speaking, there was no tunnel anymore. Instead there was a twisted, mangled heap of splintered support beams, ruined masonry, jagged boulders and broken stone. Aragorn was nowhere to be seen.

Icy panic gripped the elf prince’s heart as he picked his way carefully across the boulder-strewn floor to where the collapsed tunnel had sealed itself off. Searching the mound quickly, Legolas tugged at the rocks with his good hand. The boulders shifted and settled, making whatever headway he could hope to have absolutely futile. There was no way of digging through this. The entire mouth of the tunnel had come down and was sitting under the weight of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of stone and earth that hung over the elf’s head.

Legolas repressed a shudder. And Aragorn wondered why he did not like caves? What was there to like about the feeling that you had a mountain sitting on your head, one that could obviously crush you at a moment’s notice? The prince had been caught in a cave-in before, very long ago, and had almost not survived the experience. And now Aragorn was lost somewhere in this ruin...

The two young dwarves who had been waiting for them in the larger chamber picked themselves quickly up off the ground, having been knocked off their feet by the shaking of the collapse.

Legolas turned to them quickly. "Go get help. Now!"

Rill and Rullyra obeyed immediately, running off towards the long stair at the far side of the room, their faces filled with grave concern.

Legolas fought back the rising fear that clutched his heart when he considered his friend’s fate. Placing his hand on the twisted, lifeless rocks that blocked his path he willed the young ranger to have somehow survived this experience.

"Aragorn!" he called desperately. "Strider, can you hear me?" His own voice echoed hollowly in the empty, cavernous hall behind him, but there was no response from beyond the rubble.

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART FOUR*~

~~~~~~~

"I too once passed through the Dimril Gate, but although I also came out again the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time." -- Aragorn, in the FOTR book.

~~~~~~~

 

Legolas sank forward against the rocks, letting his forehead fall forward to rest against their rough, cold surface. "Aragorn," he whispered quietly, pain, both physical and emotional, stealing his breath away from him.

Suddenly a faint sound made the elf’s head come up and he listened intently. There... there it was again, clearer this time! Hope filled him once more as he was able to distinguish the sound for what it was: a voice calling his own name. Aragorn!

Legolas called back, but without the benefit of elven hearing, Aragorn did not seem to be able to hear his friend as clearly as Legolas could now hear him.

Aragorn’s fall had ended in near pitch-darkness. His head throbbed and his ribs ached. He could see nothing, but could feel the rocks that blocked his way. With a sick feeling he remembered seeing Legolas fall and called his friend’s name repeatedly. He quickly found that trying to dig his way out was just as useless as Legolas’ attempts to dig his way in. There was no moving the mass of stone that had fallen between them.

When the ringing in his ears finally began to clear, he was able to hear his friend’s voice, faint and almost impossibly far away to his human hearing, but definitely there. Aragorn felt a dizzying wave of relief sweep through him upon finding that Legolas was in fact still alive and breathing.

"Aragorn, are you all right? Where are you?" Legolas’ voice filtered faintly through to him. The elf had to repeat the question several times before the ranger was actually able to make it out.

"I think so," Aragorn called back, knowing that Legolas could probably hear him a lot better than he could hear Legolas.

It was true, Legolas now had no trouble hearing Aragorn’s words and they seemed to him only slightly muffled, as if they were standing on opposite sides of a mere wall instead of opposite sides of five tons of stone.

"I’m alone in the dark," Aragorn shouted back, his voice laced with a certain amount of dry humor at his friend’s rather useless question. "I can’t see a thing and there’s about a million pounds of rock in front of me, other than that I have no..." he stopped abruptly. Inexplicably, Aragorn found that he was beginning to be able to see the stones under his hands, and it was not because his eyes were adjusting to the dark. "Wait, it’s not so dark now..."

Turning quickly, the young man saw torchlight approaching swiftly from up the passage behind him. For an instant it crossed his mind that this tunnel he found himself in now was not the same one he had been in earlier. The walls were rougher and clumsily hewn, not like the other dwarf-work they had seen here. A moment later those thoughts were banished from importance when the twisting torchlight rounded the corner and he was able to see from whence it originated.

The young ranger’s eyes widened slightly and a cold chill shot up his spine as more than two dozen orcs and goblins spilled around the corner. They pulled up short when they saw the human and the jumble of stone behind him.

"And I’m not alone. But I think I’m in trouble," the last part was spoken softer, but Legolas’ sharp ears still caught it and the elf stiffened, able to hear the tone of apprehensive fear in his friend’s voice.

Aragorn drew his sword quickly, clenching the hilt tightly in his hand. Trapped in this dead-end tunnel with scores of enemies blocking the only way out, the young man knew his chances were very slim, but he was prepared to take as many of them with him as he could.

With a cry, the orcs rushed him.

"Aragorn what’s happening? What’s wrong?" Legolas called, but his friend did not reply and the elf heard a more frightening sound answer his question instead. The horrible sound of orc voices, many of them, and then the metallic clang of weapon meeting weapon.

Helpless frustration swept through Legolas as he realized what was happening. It was impossibly infuriating to know that his friend was fighting for his life not more than fifty yards away and he was powerless to help.

Grim determination burned in Aragorn’s eyes as he turned, twisted, parried and spun to keep up with the wicked pace of the assault his attackers launched at him. He slew orc after orc, but more just kept coming, hedging him in, leaving him no room to maneuver. The acrid taste of fear bit at the back of his throat, although he tried to deny its presence.

Bringing his sword up he caught an orc on the long blade felling the ugly beast. His options were growing slim and in an attempt to maneuver better in the rapidly decreasing space he moved back towards the rockslide behind him. His fear escalated as he saw more orcs press into the tunnel.

The tales his brothers had told him surfaced in his mind. He remembered the unspeakable things they had recounted upon finding their mother trapped in an orc lair. Their warnings echoed freshly in his mind, ‘never be caught by the orcs, we may not be able to reach you in time’. Now he found himself trapped with no one able to reach him and his chances for survival were closing in on him like the hordes that pressed him back.

Unable to watch his footing, Aragorn stepped on a small bolder, catching the rock with the side of his boot causing him to lose his balance. A goblin rushed him and the ranger threw himself at the oncoming creature but the misstep was fatal and he twisted painfully as his ankle buckled underneath him. His enemy took advantage of the slip in his concentration and tackled the human. Aragorn fell under the attack of the goblin and was pinned in place by the beast’s weight. His enemies cheered and rushed him as another goblin joined the first and pulled the human to his feet.

The two goblins threw Aragorn roughly onto the ground on his face. Kicking the young man’s shoulder viciously, they flipped him onto his back. Several wargs had been brought in and one of them snapped at the prisoner with its long, wicked teeth, straining against the end of its’ chain. Aragorn couldn’t help flinching and trying to jerk further away from the beast. The orcs found this immensely amusing and held their captive still, pinning him down on his back and laughing.

"Stubborn little thing!" they jeered. "Make nice tender food for our pets, hmm?" The orc holding the warg’s leash let the beast surge forward. The warg pounced on Aragorn, its claws catching and tearing the young man’s tunic, its gleaming fangs and dripping mouth snapping and snarling only a few inches from his face.

Aragorn could not keep the terror out of his expression as he tried desperately to scoot further back, away from the wolf-like creature, but his captor’s did not allow him to do so. They laughed harshly at his fear, letting their hold slip a little on the creature’s restraint, giving the warg even closer access to their frightened prisoner.

Aragorn’s heart hammered in his chest as he pulled his head as far back as he was allowed, feeling the hot, rancid breath of the snarling creature on his chest brush against his face as the warg strained against its leash to get at him. For all Aragorn knew they truly intended to feed him to the wargs and that was not an end he would have chosen.

"He’s too scrawny to make a decent meal," the orc holding the warg’s collar jeered cruelly, finally pulling the beast back, away from their prisoner’s prostrate form. It wasn’t actually true, but the orcs did not intend to kill their captive just yet, they had merely been playing with him.

Dragging Aragorn to his knees, they held his arms at his sides. A vicious kick in the stomach doubled the young man over and his long, dark hair hung in strands about his face as he sought to regain his breath.

One of the larger orcs, named Velugulv, crouched in front of Aragorn, taking a chunk of the young human’s hair in his hand. Yanking the ranger’s head upright and tipping it to the side he cocked his own to match, leering evilly at the prisoner. The orc sniffed in almost animal fashion, as if he were smelling Aragorn to confirm what his eyes told him.

"Now the dwarves are sending humans to spy on us? And children at that?" the evil being grinned wickedly, poking at Aragorn’s youthful, soft-edged features that had not yet fully slimmed out or hardened into the face of an adult man.

Aragorn glared angrily at Velugulv, but said nothing. He guessed that at this point silence was probably the best policy.

"What are you doing down here little rat? Skulking about? Looking for our passages? Trying to thwart us?" the orc’s voice turned steely as he glanced at the blocked passageway, which he seemed to hold Aragorn responsible for.

"Wait, I recognize him..." one of the orcs shoved his way past the others, stooping down to get a good look at Aragorn’s face. Thlurglol’s eyes slitted in recognition, hissing as he pulled back in anger. "This one was with the elf! The ones I only just told you of! Who sealed Lûzbuk and the others in their cave and left them to rot! I saw it with my own eyes."

"Was he now?!" Velugulv scowled darkly, fixing Aragorn with a dangerous gaze. "I thought I smelled elf-stench about him!" It was ironic to hear these foul, reeking creatures talk about ill odors.

"Trying to do the same to us were you?" Velugulv demanded, twisting his hand painfully in Aragorn’s hair and giving the prisoner’s head a vicious shake. "Busy sealing up our tunnel-work too are you?!"

Aragorn winced and pulled his head back a little. He was beginning to understand what had happened, and what had caused the unfortunate cave-in. "It was not my doing, there was a cave-in. Your tunnel-work has made the passage above unstable and it came down." He kept his voice steady, but he could not keep his racing pulse from pounding in his ears. He doubted he would be believed anyway, and he was right.

"Liar!" the orc backhanded Aragorn sharply, cutting the ranger’s lip with the edge of his hard, spiked glove. "Well you’ll not succeed. We have been working on these tunnels for weeks now, a little obstruction like this will be soon be cleared again!"

"But if the dwarves know we are tunneling under them, then our element of surprise is already lost!" the orc who had spoken before snarled unhappily.

"Shut up Thlurglol!" Velugulv snapped at the other orc. "We’ll make a new plan. After all, we have one of them now; one who can tell us exactly where the dwarves have set up their pitiful stronghold. We’ll tunnel up from under them and have them all for supper yet!"

Aragorn really did not like the way this conversation was going, and when Velugulv’s eyes turned back to him he caught his breath at the malicious hatred he saw mirrored in their dark, sunken depths. "You’ll have no problems telling us where the dwarves have set-up their secret stronghold, now will you young one?" the orc ran his claw-like fingernails lightly down the young ranger’s cheek.

Aragorn’s mind whirled emptily and he felt a sick feeling like a cold, sinking stone in his stomach. He wouldn’t have told these wicked beings anything they wanted to know anyway, but in this case he honestly had no clue what they were talking about. If the dwarves had a secret stronghold here in Moria that they had fortified and would retreat to if pressed, he had no more notion than did his captors of where it could be found.

"I don’t know," he shook his head, already knowing they would not believe him anymore than they had before.

Velugulv grinned maliciously, dropping Aragorn’s head and rising from his crouch. "I hoped you’d say that. Come boys, the little rat won’t squeak, let’s loosen his tongue for him!"

Aragorn tried in vain to battle his rising terror as he was dragged roughly to his feet. The orcs held him firmly between them as they roughly tore his shirt off him, stripping the young ranger to the waist. Slamming him face-first against the damp, cold wall of the tunnel, they yanked his arms out to the side. Two of the orcs’ crude, makeshift tunnel supports stood almost exactly even with his wrists and they bound him securely to them, staking the young man against the wall and rendering him even more helpless than he already was.

Thlurglol thrust a cruel looking, multi-pronged whip in Aragorn’s face, fingering the knotted ends of the lash with a wicked grin. "This tickler’s got a pretty bite, how ‘bout we let it play on you for a while. Tends to make the stubborn ones *very* talkative."

"I told you I don’t know anything about any dwarf stronghold," Aragorn ground out between his teeth, his breathing coming quick and fast. "You may not believe me, but it’s the truth, I cannot tell you what I do not know!"

The orcs just laughed. "We’ll see about that! We’ll see what it takes to make little birdie sing!" In truth, they would have tortured their prisoner just for sport and spite even if they had wanted nothing out of him.

The stinging lash raked painfully across his bare shoulders and Aragorn drew his breath in sharply. Another stroke quickly followed the first and then another, and another.

Aragorn pressed his lips together hard, jerking slightly as the painful blows fell but refusing to make a sound.

~*~

On the opposite side of the wall, Legolas’ heart wrenched in fear for his friend when he heard the orcs begin their questioning. It was horrible, being able to hear them, to know what was happening and be so helpless to stop it.

The elf heard the brave timbre of Aragorn’s voice when he tried to make them see that he did not know what they wanted of him, but Legolas knew his friend was afraid, who wouldn’t be? The orcs had a nasty reputation concerning what they did to those unlucky enough to become their prisoners.

The prince heard the orc’s cruel threats and taunts, followed by the ugly sound of a whip hissing through the air and finding flesh. He had never felt more powerless in his entire life.

The last thing he wanted to do was to have to stand here and listen to this, but his options were sadly limited. The truly aggravating thing was that while Aragorn and the orcs were close enough for the elf to hear them, they could be miles and miles out of his reach. Moving this pile of stone could be impossible, and would take days even if it were. Days Aragorn did not have. The only hope Legolas had of getting to him at all would be to hope that when Rill and Rullyra got back with help, the dwarves would know of another way to reach the other side of the collapsed passage. He had to hope that there would be some way from there to reach his friend.

The hissing snap of the whip wrenched a muffled grunt of pain from Aragorn’s throat and Legolas clenched his teeth until his jaw hurt; raw, bubbling rage seething like a dragon in his chest.

Melkor take it all, where were those dwarves?! Legolas was not willing to leave unless he knew that there was some way he could get to his friend. If standing by and listening was all he could do, he would do it no matter how badly it hurt him inside.

~*~

Aragorn couldn’t help his gasps of pain presently. The orcs were cruel and thorough at their work and the pain that was exploding across his senses was quickly becoming too much for him to handle silently.

Pressing his forehead against the wall and screwing his eyes tightly shut he tried to hold the agony inside him, but it was too much and too searing for him to completely control. His lungs burned from holding his breath in an attempt to stave off the pain and his back was on fire from the abuse.

The young ranger felt a keen wave of burning shame sweep over him when the pain finally wrenched a choked cry from his lips. He wanted to be stronger than this, he did not want to give any quarter to his tormenters, but his body betrayed him and he could not help crying out in pain as they continued to whip him mercilessly.

The orcs laughed and jeered at him, delighted that they had finally broken through his stoic silence.

Aragorn refused to listen to their cruel taunts and evil jokes, he didn’t need their condemnation, he had plenty of his own for himself.

~*~

Legolas slammed the side of his good fist against the pitiless rocks that separated them, passionately hating his own helplessness.

Aragorn’s cries went straight through him, nearly driving the elf insane. If he could have torn through the earth that separated them, he would have, but there was nothing he could do. Nothing.

Tears of frustration and heartache glistened unshed in the elf’s eyes. He swore silently to himself that if he ever got his hands on the orcs who were doing this to his friend, they were going to pay a terrible price for their cruelty.

~*~

Aragorn’s chest was heaving with silent sobs he could not hold back when Thlurglol finally let the bloodstained lash fall still at his side. But the orcs were far from finished with their prisoner.

The young man leaned heavily against the wall for support and when Velugulv cut one of his wrists free he sagged slightly, until the orc roughly wrenched his arm around. Flipping Aragorn around so that he faced his tormenters, with his back to the wall, they roughly tied him again, cruelly pressing his bleeding back against the rough stones behind him and eliciting another moan of pain from their captive.

"The stronghold, where?!" Velugulv snapped harshly in the young ranger’s pale face.

Aragorn closed his eyes, his breathing ragged. "I don’t know." His voice was roughened with pain and hopelessness. They would never believe him. It probably wouldn’t matter even if they did. Yet he had to wonder how much more of this he could take.

"Not talking yet? Well we’ll change that." An iron fist slammed into his stomach, doubling him over against his bonds. His head was jerked back up again by the hair and Velugulv laid a curved, wicked-looking knife against the young man’s throat. The orc leered as he ran the tip of the weapon lightly down the side of Aragorn’s face, before letting it drop down to his chest. Pressing down suddenly so that the knife bit into the young man’s flesh he dragged the knife slowly from Aragorn’s shoulder to his collarbone, leaving a thin trail of blood across the young human’s damp, clammy skin. The foul creature grinned wickedly as his captive tensed and grit his teeth under the bite of the steel. "That’s all right, we have something special for you."

Velugulv rattled off a command in the black tongue that Aragorn did not understand, but by the gleeful reaction of the other orcs, he guessed it meant something bad.

A few moments later Thlurglol uncorked a small, black bottle and pressed it against Aragorn’s lips, fairly shoving the neck of the vial into his mouth. The small taste Aragorn got was stomach turning and he was certain that if they wanted him to take it, he did *not* want to. Turning his head away, he clenched his jaw shut, refusing to drink the evil potion.

Of course, the orcs did not take kindly to that at all. Thlurglol grabbed Aragorn’s head and held it still while Velugulv forced the bottle to his lips once more. Suddenly socking the young ranger in the midsection, he purposefully knocked the air out of the prisoner’s lungs. Reflexively, Aragorn gasped for breath, and when he opened his mouth, Velugluv tipped the bottle, forcing him to drink in order to breathe.

Aragorn coughed and choked helplessly on the hideously foul liquid and felt it burn all the way down into his stomach.

The orcs stepped back, waiting for the poison they had administered to take effect. It did a few moments later.

Sharp pain lanced through Aragorn, doubling him over from the intensity of it. The poison raced through his system, wreaking havoc on his already weakened body. He retched miserably, but his body refused to expel the nasty toxin.

His captors laughed evilly.

Aragorn’s head spun as every nerve in his body felt like it had been set on fire. He trembled softly, uncontrollably, extreme nausea washing over him again and again. The horrid concoction was not fatal and would not kill him, but at the moment Aragorn almost wished it would.

"The little rat doesn’t like our brew," Velugulv snarled with evil amusement. "Well we’ve got more where that came from! You want a second dose, or you want to tell us where your skulking dwarf friends are hiding themselves?"

Aragorn’s head lolled against the wall behind him, his breath coming quick and uneven between clenched teeth, but he did not attempt to answer. There was no point.

"All right then!" Velugulv and Thlurglol forced another dose into him and Aragorn quickly discovered that no matter how badly he thought he had hurt before, it was a hundred times worse now.

When the orcs started to beat him, the young human had no strength left to deny expression to his pain. His captors toyed with him, taking turns pummeling their prisoner and enjoying making him scream.

~*~

Legolas pressed his eyes tightly shut, sinking to his knees by the wall and resisting the urge to press his hands against his ears to block out the sound of his friend’s pain. Hot fury burned inside the elf, mingled with crushing pain and self-condemnation. It was true that there was nothing he could do, yet having to stand by helplessly like this made Legolas feel incredibly guilty.

He wished he could reach Aragorn. Wished he could give him strength if he could not give him aide. Darkness pressed down on him as he knelt there alone in the empty vastness that was Moria, with only the painful cries of his young friend to keep him company.

He had not felt so incredibly wretched or hopeless in a very long time and he was sure that Aragorn was feeling much worse. If he could not give him anything else, Legolas wished at least to try to give his friend hope. Give him the knowledge that he had not been forgotten.

Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm his own rapid heartbeat, Legolas began singing softly in the darkness, slowly letting his voice rise and hoping that it might somehow reach Aragorn through his pain with the only thing Legolas had to offer, however slim it may seem: hope.

"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,

silivren penna mìriel

o menel aglar elenath..."

~*~

Aragorn hung limply forward against the bonds that held him, his breathing ragged, his body shaking. He couldn’t ever remember being in this much pain in his entire life. It seemed as if that was all there was and all there would ever be and in this evil darkness any light and hope seemed impossibly far away. The dark drug they had given him sought to wind itself around his heart and poison him with despair, attempting to break his spirit.

Another fist slammed into his side. His vision hazed yellow. He wished he would pass out, but he did not.

Faint and far away, he suddenly thought he heard something... something beautiful that reminded him there was more to life than pain and darkness.

"Na-chaered palan-dìriel

o galadhremmin ennorath,"

The lovely, lilting elvish words carried faintly to his ears. It sounded like Legolas’ voice, but Aragorn didn’t know whether it was, or whether he was hallucinating or imagining them, but he didn’t care because the song penetrated the dark haze that had been growing about his mind and his heart, holding at bay the despair that wanted to break him.

"Fanuilos, le linnathon

nef aear, sì nef aearon!"

Aragorn knew the song, he had heard it many times in Elrond’s house and it took him back to the bright, happy times, sitting in the Hall of Fire and listening to the elves’ merry-making...

He drew in a sharp breath as cruel, punishing orc hands brought him back to the reality of the moment, but they could not chase away the small measure of inner strength that he had regained.

Velugulv halted for a moment, his eyes narrowing sharply as he too heard snatches of the muffled singing. Thlurglol and some of the other orcs clapped their hands over their ears, snarling in consternation as the fair tongue assaulted their senses.

"I don’t know what you’re doing, but stop it!" Velugulv snapped harshly at Aragorn, but the young man just grinned grimly through his pain. It was gratifying to see something irk his captors.

"Stubborn slug! We’ll fix you!" Velugulv lost his patience with Aragorn’s continued defiance of them and struck him roughly upside the head, slamming the young ranger’s skull back into the wall behind him and opening a nasty gash along his temple.

For a moment bright flashes crowded Aragorn’s vision and then the world went dark as merciful painlessness claimed him at last.

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART FIVE*~

 

Legolas had thought that nothing could be more disturbing than listening to his friend cry in pain, yet when the screams stopped suddenly, Legolas found that the silence was worse. What had the orcs done? Was Aragorn dead, or merely unconscious? The uncertainty was horrible.

He pressed himself against the rock wall and tried to hear any sound of the ranger, any hint that his friend was still alive. He could hear the orcs arguing with one another. They seemed to be debating what to do with Aragorn but he couldn’t make out if the human was alive.

Closing his eyes Legolas tried to pay better attention to the conversation on the opposite side of the rockslide but his concentration was broken as Rorin entered the collapsed tunnel followed hard by three younger dwarfs.

"What happened here?" The dwarf was incensed as he scrutinized the jumble of rocks that littered the floor blocking off the access. Cave-ins were nearly unheard of in Moria.

"The tunnel collapsed and Strider was trapped on the opposite side." Legolas pushed himself away from the pile of stone and debris. He grabbed the warrior and turned him back toward the way he had come, "We must find another way into that passageway and get him out now!"

Rorin brushed the elf’s hands from his tunic and peered around the prince as though sizing up the situation. The dwarves behind the warrior stepped forward and began talking quietly to each other.

Legolas’ panic was rising, they were out of time and he was out of patience. "Rorin!" The dwarves jumped and turned towards him, "Strider is trapped in there! With orcs!"

The older dwarf stepped towards the elf, his eyes darting around them unwilling to meet Legolas’ stare.

"There’s no way we’re getting through that mess. It could take days to find another way into that passage, what if he’s already dead?" Rorin pointed out. "Not everyone can be spared all at once, there’s defenses to think about, and we’ve just found the tail of a mithril vein in the lower hall... we have to protect that..." the dwarf was by no means intending to be callus to the situation. Rather, from his point of view, he was thinking logically.

Legolas did not appreciate his point of view.

Everyone present was surprised when the tall elf actually grabbed the dwarf by the front of his shirt with his good arm, slamming Rorin roughly back against the wall behind him. Dangerous fire glittered in Legolas’ eyes and his fair face was hard with the anguish of what he had just been forced to allow happen.

"Listen to me dwarf," he ground out between his teeth; his anger fueled by the pain of the horrible ghosts of Aragorn’s cries ringing in his ears. "You would not be free to have discovered *anything* down here if Strider and I had not helped you with the orcs! I am not going to leave him down there with those... those creatures for any longer than necessary! Now you *are* going to help me find a way to get down there, *right* now, or I swear by all the stars in the heavens and by Illuvitar himself, that I will have your head Rorin Coppercryer, and lead all the orcs ever spawned in through your front door!" Legolas was not exactly shouting, but his voice was incensed and deadly.

Legolas had already been cut off from his people and his father; from everything he had ever loved and ever belonged to. If he failed his friend now, if Aragorn died in this cursed hole at the hands of those foul creatures, then the elf had nothing worth living for left in his life.

Rorin scowled darkly at Legolas. He felt badly about Strider, and honestly did want to help get him back if that were possible, but being ordered around by an elf was another thing, and being threatened by this one made the dwarf’s stubborn pride rear up to match his anger.

"Get your hands off me or lose them elf!" Rorin spat angrily trying in vain to loosen Legolas’ iron grip on him. The other dwarves drew nearer, not sure what direction this confrontation was going to take.

Things could have gotten very ugly very quickly had not Balin entered the room at that moment. "Peace, all of you!" he said sharply, his aged face crinkling with displeasure. "Rill, Rullyra, Ori let it go. Master elf, please put him down, we’ll not accomplish anything this way. Rorin, one of these days someone is going to put an arrow in you for your thoughtless words and you had better not say I didn’t warn you," Balin addressed them all by turn.

Legolas dropped Rorin disdainfully and stepped back. Rorin rubbed his neck and divided his glare between the elf and Balin.

"Young Strider helped heal our wounded and fight our foes, that makes him one of us. Of *course* we are going to make all effort possible to get him back. Certainly, we have to think of our defense, but everyone who can be spared will. Ori, didn’t you say you had found a passage in the upper hall that seemed to lead off to the east? I suggest we start there."

The small group of dwarves ran through the passageways leading the elf back up the hall. They crossed the dinning area and headed for an adjoining tunnel that ran parallel with the one they had just exited.

When Balin gained the large cavernous room he began shouting orders to the dwarves that were resting in the immediate area calling the warriors to himself. Legolas did not wait to see the outcome but pelted down the stone hallway after the young dwarves that ran ahead of him leading the way.

A mere three hundred yards in, the elf skidded to a stop. Ori called out to the others when he noticed that Legolas was not following and they quickly ran back to where the elf stood. Balin and his men gained Legolas’ position at the same time. The dwarf lord started to question Legolas but the elf held up his hand and cautioned for silence.

Moving close to the rock wall the elf prince pressed himself up against it listening intently. He could hear the sounds of the orcs and their wargs on the opposite side, it seemed their argument about their prisoner had grown and they were now fighting over who could claim the human as his own. Relief and fury swept through the elf as he listened to their crude conversation; relief that Aragorn was still there somewhere and fury that they found the human no more than a possession to be toyed with until they grew bored with it.

He turned to Balin and tapped the wall gently with his finger indicating that there was another passage beyond the tunnel wall.

The frown on the dwarf lord’s face deepened and he motioned Ori forward. The young warrior hefted his axe and softly tapped the side of the passage. The hollow ringing of metal on stone resounded through the tunnel. Balin nodded and motioned the dwarf to the opposite side of the hallway. Ori tapped the opposite wall with his axe and was rewarded with a dull thunk, the sound of thick stone rang back at them.

Balin scowled at Legolas as the full realization sunk in. The orcs had in deed been tunneling underneath them and that unfortunate act had brought the tunnel down on the human. Looking up and down the passage at his men, Balin motioned them forward. Some of the warriors hefted wicked double sided picks; an axe head was joined to the opposite side of the digging tool, making the pick a fearsome weapon.

At his command the dwarves let out a horrible war cry and attacked the tunnel wall, bringing the rock between the two passages down and allowing free movement into the orc-hewn tunnel.

Legolas’ left arm was almost useless but his determination outweighed his inability to fight. Unable to use his bow, he pulled both of his elven knives from their sheaths on his back. Holding one in his left hand he readied himself, while balancing the other in his right hand. As soon as the wall was crumbling on his side he threw the blade into the dust cloud. An orc scream resounded and the elf leapt the pile of debris on the floor slashing his way into the enemy ranks on the opposite side. He crouched down and pulled his knife from the body of the orc he had felled and gripped it as tightly as he could with his left hand.

The crush of the enemy about him was more than he had expected and he spun quickly thrusting his blade into the press of orcs that surrounded him. His aim was true and his movements were fast and gracefully even in battle; the beasts near him dropped to the floor on top of each other as he felled them.

Legolas chanced a glance up the tunnel and caught sight of Ori. The small dwarf was battling a rather large orc and a goblin had sighted in on the preoccupied warrior. Legolas balanced himself and threw his knife straight at the goblin, cleaving through the creatures helmet and dropping the beast immediately. Ori killed the orc that stood in his way and turned wide eyes upon the elf silently mouthing a thank you.

Legolas only had time to nod before he was seized from behind. Without thinking he leaned hard forward, using his enemy’s momentum he threw his attacker off his back. But the blade of the orc’s sword caught the elf across the chest as the orc fell, opening a nasty gash through Legolas' tunic. The deep crimson stain ran from his sternum to the side of his ribs and the bite from the steel almost stole the elf’s breath. Stepping on the orcs throat he grabbed the creatures own twisted sword and buried it the beast's chest.

A sound to his left was all the warning he had; Legolas pulled the wicked blade from the orc's chest and thrust it behind him impaling an attacking goblin. He pushed the creature away from him leaving the unwieldy weapon buried in the goblin’s abdomen and spun towards the open end of the tunnel. The fighting was lessening but the break in the wave of orcs would only be momentary.

He sought out Balin and called to the dwarf lord, "Seal the tunnel behind us or there will only be more!"

Balin nodded and shouted at his men, pointing towards the passageway. In moments the dwarves had brought down the tunnel, pulling the crudely placed struts from the sides of the ill hewn walls. With the roar of twisting steel and falling rock the hall collapsed sealing the orcs from ever using this access again.

Silence hung thick in the air for a brief moment as the rocks settled onto one another.

Legolas stood in the swirling dust cloud, his chest heaving as he drew ragged breaths into his starved lungs. His hand unconsciously touched his burning ribs where the orc blade had grazed him. The cut was not deep but it felt like it was on fire and Legolas’ hand came away from his tunic bloody. He bit back the reaction to the wound and searched wildly around him.

Everywhere underfoot there lay orc and goblin bodies but he had seen nothing of the human. He picked his way carefully to the back of the orc tunnel where the cave-in had first occurred.

A few dwarves were slowly standing from the chaos of battle and torches were being handed into the partial tunnel so the survivors could better see.

Legolas' sharp eyes caught a glimpse of the young man in the dim lighting and his heart stopped for a brief second as the shadowy outline of the man could just barely be seen.

"Strider!" The elf stepped over the bodies of the fallen orcs and ran to the back of the dead end tunnel where the ranger was still tied between the crude struts, forgotten by his tormentors when the dwarves broke through the passageway.

The human was unconscious and slumped forward, his weight hanging from his wrists where they were bound by the rough orc ropes. His head hung forward and his face was obscured by the strands of hair that had fallen across his features concealing the wicked gash on his temple and the bruises forming on his cheeks. Legolas was almost afraid to touch the man, afraid they had been too late and that the human was already dead. He didn’t know how he would react if Aragorn had died. Very gently he slid his hands along the sides of the man’s face and slowly tipped the rangers head up. The elf could feel his friend’s pulse beating beneath his finger tips as he bent down and looked into the unconscious face. The rangers broken lip and the bruises on his face re-ignited the elf’s fury and as blood from the gash on Aragorn’s temple dripped onto his fingers he lost the last shreds of his calm demeanor.

Legolas shouted over his shoulder at the dwarves as he leaned into the man trying shift the human’s weight off of his wrists, "Come over here and help me now!" His voice betrayed his fears trembling slightly as he yelled at the small warriors. "Balin! Help me!" He pulled Aragorn forward letting the man’s head rest on his shoulder and lifted him slightly. The jarring motion lanced pain through the human and Aragorn awoke.

He was being held by someone, and the person was shouting orders. It sounded oddly like Legolas but that was impossible. Aragorn watched as though from a place far away as the Dwarf Lord rushed towards him followed by Rorin and a company of warriors.

"Legolas?" When Aragorn spoke the word was soft and choked. The poisons he had ingested were still wreaking havoc with his system and he felt as if he were going to throw up, though he knew it would be impossible.

"Strider!" relief washed through Legolas as he held the man against him, ignoring the pain shooting through his shoulder and trying to support the young man’s weight as the dwarves cut his bindings loose. The ranger fell forward unable to stop himself.

Slowly the elf lowered the man to the rocky floor, laying him on his side, careful of the wounds to his back, cradling Aragorn’s head in hands.

The ranger cried out as his body spasmed from the pain and he curled in on himself wrapping his arms protectively around his mid-section trying to stave off the sick feeling that swept through his awareness.

"Strider? What is it? What’s wrong?" Legolas leaned over the man trying to get him to relax, "You must tell me or I cant help you."

"You can’t help him."

Legolas turned towards Balin and stared at the dwarf. Rorin was handing the king a small black vial, his face was scrunched up from the reeking smell that wafted from the empty bottle.

"Defaifel." He passed the container to the elf who jerked away from the foul stench holding the vial at arms length.

"Is it poisonous?"

"Yes," Balin frowned as he watched the human writhe in pain, "and no."

"Speak plainly Master dwarf, my patience is thin."

Balin chose to ignore the elf; instead he pulled Rorin in close and whispered instructions to the dwarf. The small warrior nodded repeatedly at the requests and darted back through the tunnel out of sight.

Crouching down near Aragorn, Moria’s lord gently touched the human’s forehead, nodding in ascent of his own predictions. The human was loosing consciousness again and that was mercy in itself.

He turned his attention to Legolas and explained, "Defaifel is a lichen that grows in the lower caves near the water supply. It is an evil algae. When mixed with the water it becomes a poison to the system and causes intense pain and high fever. Left to itself it will kill its victim, and that only over a period of time. We have had whole clans poisoned in this fashion before we discovered its antidote." The small dwarf rocked back on his heals and motioned more of his warriors forward. "I thought we had cleared all of it from the area but perhaps the orcs found a supply of it near their dwellings and learned of its potency."

He stood to his feet as the warriors gained their position and surrounded the ranger. Legolas was easily brushed aside and the dwarf lord took hold of his arm and lead him out of the way as the small men lifted Aragorn between them and began to move out of the tunnel carrying him carefully to the higher passageways.

"And the antidote?" Legolas winced as his own wounds begged for attention. He ignored the signals his body was sending him and walked with the king toward the adjoining tunnel.

"The antidote is a mushroom of all things." The king laughed at the absurdity of it, "One fungus curing another! We find it out on the steppes and when dried and crushed it can be served as a tea that counteracts the moss. It has other healing properties too. We use it frequently. Remind me to send some with you when you should decide to take your leave of us."

They exited the orc tunnel and a team of dwarves swarmed into the area. The tunnel would be collapsed and sealed so further incursions would not be possible from this section of the mountain. Already measures were being taken to find any other orc tunnels that may run beneath or parallel to the dwarves own passages. Cave-ins were very rare and the dwarves went to great lengths to see that such things never happened. The events of the day were disturbing and could not be allowed to persist.

"Yes but Strider?" Legolas winced and stumbled. The dwarf lord reached out casually and grabbed the elf by his good arm steadying him as they walked.

"Rorin has gone to see that the tea is prepared. Your friend will recover just fine. Give him a day and he will be back to normal I guarantee it. He feels worse than he is at the moment. The lacerations to his back concern me more." Balin cast a secretive glance at the elf, "However it is you I am a little more worried about at the present."

Legolas stiffened slightly at the attention, "I am fine. I would see to Strider though."

The Dwarf king nodded, "When we reach the main hall we will find a place for you and the human to stay until you are well. You can see to him there. All of our medicines and comforts are at your disposal."

Legolas nodded in gratitude as they stepped into the main hall and was ushered into a corner of the massive living area, "Thank you my lord."

He found Aragorn lying on his stomach on a padded mat. The human was still unconscious and Ori was gently swathing his back in a healing salve as another Dwarf cleaned the blood from the young man's back and face. His wrists had been bound where the ropes had cut him. Legolas seated himself near Aragorn’s head and taking a clean strip of cloth he wound it around the man’s temple, binding up the wound.

The ranger pulled away from his hands slightly as awareness returned to him.

"Where?" the word was barely a whisper as Aragorn tried to come to grips with what had happened. He winced drawing in his breath as Ori completed his task, and carefully spread the ointment over the last of the cuts that marred his back.

Legolas touched the back of the ranger’s head and whispered softly to him in elvish, "Strider, you are safe now."

"What happened?" The human responded in the grey tongue, it was easier for him to concentrate on the elven words.

"We did not come in time. I am sorry." Legolas apologized softly, tearing his eyes guiltily away from his young friend’s injuries.

"Why, what happened?" Aragorn moved his arms beneath him and rolled slightly onto his side to look at the elf as he gained more strength.

"What happened?" The elf asked incredulously as he helped the ranger sit up, "You were taken by orcs and I could not reach you."

"Oh that." Aragorn looked around him at the hall full of dwarves, "No, was anyone else was hurt?"

"What you weren’t enough?" Legolas laughed lightly. The man doubled over and moaned as the poison reacted through him savagely. The elf turned serious and scooted closer to his friend, "No. No one else was hurt."

Aragorn frowned at him, "No one?" He touched the elf lightly on the gash that crossed his ribs, following the jagged stain from where it started near his chest. The light touch caused Legolas to flinch. "Not hurt, huh?"

Another lance of fiery poison shot through the man and he moaned softly. Legolas searched the immediate cavern looking for Rorin they needed that tea now.

"They are bringing the antidote for the poison you ingested." Legolas caught sight of the dwarf and stood stiffly to his feet, meeting the warrior on his way towards them.

"He must drink it all." Rorin passed the cup to the elf prince, "He will not want to but you must see that he does." When Legolas nodded in understanding the dwarf released his hold on the cup and watched as the elf made his way back to their corner in the great hall.

Aragorn had lain back down on the mat and was dozing lightly. At the touch from the prince he started and pushed himself back up into a sitting position. The salve on his back had cooled the pain and he was able to move more easily than he had when he had first awoken.

Legolas pressed the mug into his hands, "Drink this. It will counteract the poison."

The ranger pressed the cup back towards the elf, "No I don’t want anything in me right now."

Switching back to elvish Legolas became firm, "Aragorn, you must drink it all, it will stop the sickness in you."

When the human made no move to comply the elf moved forward and spoke in a low voice, "If you do not drink it by yourself I will force you to drink and that would make for quite an ugly scene would you not agree?" He smiled wickedly at the man.

"You wouldn’t."

"Care to find out?" Legolas offered him the cup of tea once more. Aragorn snatched the mug from the elf and frowned at him. The movement made him wince as he was reminded once more that his temple had been cut open by the orcs sharp glove. He touched the bandage wrapped around his head as though realizing for the first time it was there. Legolas leaned forward brushing the humans hand away and checking the cut.

"I thought you were dead." The elven words startled Aragorn who stopped drinking the tea, watching the elf.

Legolas glanced at him, "Drink it all." He switched from common back to elvish. "When you stopped screaming I thought..."

"I’m sorry. I tried not to scream at all. I knew you could hear it. I wanted to be braver." Aragorn looked down at his hand that now rested in his lap, he was beginning to feel rather sleepy.

The elf noted the change and hooking his fingers under the almost empty mug he nudged the human to finish the last bit of tea. Nodding, Aragorn drank it all in one last gulp, scrunching up his face at the nasty taste the liquid left in his mouth.

"I knew you would come in time." His eyes closed and he slowly fell forward as the antidote did its work and put him back to sleep.

"Elladan always said I was too eager and one day no one would be there to help me, but he forgot about you." The ranger murmured the words in elvish before he fell unconscious. Legolas lowered him back to the mat removing the now empty mug from his hand. He watched the sleeping man for a few minutes glad that they had made it in time and very aware that Elladan’s prediction had almost come true.

Relief had taken its toll and the adrenaline in the elf’s system was beginning to fade now that they were safe and things had finally quieted in the great hall. Legolas sat back wearily. Aragorn was mending now, but he felt terrible. Passing his hand over his face he settled back against the wall and tried to battle the odd dizziness that was fighting for control of him. His wound throbbed dully, although it was not very deep, nor dangerous in appearance. Adding to his pain was the burning ache in his shoulder that had only gotten worse instead of better. He could barely move the limb at all now and this concerned the elf greatly.

He hadn’t realized he had phased out slightly until he came back to reality to find Balin shaking his shoulder. The elf winced and pulled away.

"Legolas?" Balin’s face was concerned. "You do not look well. You have seen to Strider, but no one has seen to you."

"I will be all right," Legolas brushed his concern aside. His temples ached and the dwarf’s voice seemed unnaturally loud in his throbbing head. He just wanted them to go away and leave him alone. Although he usually slept with his eyes open, the elf was finding the dim light to be irritatingly bright, so he shut his eyes and hoped Balin would leave.

"You can’t move your left arm at all, can you?" Balin shook his head; not at all deterred by the elf’s put-off. He had seen the elf’s difficulty fighting earlier, and had to admit to being candidly impressed that Legolas had done so incredibly well against the orcs with only one truly functional arm when the other one was obviously causing him great pain. There may be more to the elf than he had given him credit for. At least the dwarf had to give him points for loyalty. The dedication he had shown to his injured friend was admirable.

"I just need to rest," Legolas opened one eye and then shut it again.

"You’ll need more than that," Balin poked Legolas’ injured shoulder none-too-gently with one short, stubby finger. The elf inhaled sharply and pulled back, leveling the smaller being with an irritated glare.

"Are you *attempting* to make my life miserable, or is it just a side benefit?" the elf said crossly. The ache in his body and pain in his shoulder was not doing anything to improve his mood.

Balin chuckled. "All I’m trying to do master elf, is possibly save your arm and fingers. Ten-to-one that shoulder is dislocated."

Legolas resisted the urge to moan softly. He had been afraid of that himself, but he didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to have to deal with that on top of everything else. First he had been too concerned with finding Aragorn, and now he felt so very bad that he despised the thought of having to put the shoulder back into place, which he knew would be very painful.

"You can be too proud to accept our help if you want and let it be, but it’s not going to go right by itself and you’ll be lucky if you don’t permanently damage your hand control if you let it go much longer," the dwarf pointed out bluntly. "Even an elf should know better." The last part was not stated with any venom and if he had been in a better disposition, Legolas might have taken it for the jest that it was.

Legolas spared Balin a baleful glare, but he knew the dwarf was right, and that was not something he liked admitting. And in truth, he did know better, he just was feeling so strangely...

With a sigh, the elf prince finally conceded the point to the dwarf. "All right then, do as you must."

Balin grinned wryly. "That’s what I love about your people, they’re *so* polite."

Legolas scowled darkly and the dwarf only laughed.

"Ori, Rorin, come over here," Balin called the other two dwarves over to assist him. "Our friend here needs a little help with his shoulder."

Rorin grinned a little too largely. "I’ll do the pulling!" he offered quickly.

Balin shot him an amused, but withering look. "*I’ll* do the pulling. We want him to have some arm left when we’re done! You and Ori hold him."

Legolas grimaced and wondered what exactly he had gotten himself into. He knew basically what they were going to have to do, and it wasn’t pleasant under any circumstances.

Ori offered him a swill of potent alcohol to dull the pain and relax his tense muscles to make the procedure easier, but the elf already felt ill and the thought of trying to drink anything that strong right now turned his stomach.

"Just get it over with," Legolas shook his head and the dwarves shrugged compliantly. No skin off their nose if the elf wanted to do it the hard way.

Ori and Rorin stood on either side of the sitting elf, bracing Legolas back against the wall with their hands against his chest and collarbones.

Balin took Legolas’ left forearm in his thick, stout hands and rotated the elf’s arm to the angle he wanted it.

Legolas winced at the movement. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, he told his body to be calm and let the injured joint move back into place. It was more difficult than it should have been.

"This is gonna hurt a mite," Balin said cheerfully.

Legolas rolled his eyes. "Just do it!" he said through his teeth.

Balin took him at his word and braced his foot against the elf’s left collarbone, yanking the arm sharply out and down before rotating it up and to the side. Used to working with stout dwarves of his own kind, he unintentionally used a lot more force than was necessary for an elven body.

Legolas’ injured muscles spasmed sharply at the over-vigorous action. Hot pain flashed through his senses and his shoulder screamed at the motion. He pressed his head back against the wall, unable to stifle the sharp moan of pain that escaped his lips. Rorin and Ori had to exert all their strength to hold the elf back against the wall as his body reflexively fought what it mistakenly perceived to be further injury.

The joint popped neatly back into place and Balin laid Legolas’ arm gently across his chest. The elf was very pale and his breath came quick and fast. Still, now that the worst of it was over, his shoulder did actually feel a bit better, and he felt the tingle of renewed blood-flow to his numb fingers, for which he was very glad. An archer could ill afford to lose the precise use of one of his hands.

Rorin and Ori released Legolas slowly and the elf resisted the urge to slump forward. He did not wish for the dwarves to see his weakness.

"You’re welcome," Balin said with a dry grin after a few moments of silence.

Legolas took a deep, shuddering breath and returned the ironic half-grin. "Thank you," he replied, equally dry, yet he really did mean it and Balin could see that.

The dwarf just shook his head with a chuckle and walked away. "Elves," he muttered to himself with amusement.

Legolas rolled his eyes. "Dwarves."

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART SIX*~

 

 

The drugs in his system had finally worn off and Aragorn slowly rolled onto his side as consciousness returned to him. He glanced around the large hall. It was quiet tonight, unlike the previous evenings; there were no orcs to battle and the dwarves had all retired to their rooms to rest, only a few warriors kept guard over the gates.

A fire crackled in the huge fire pit, dimly lighting the large hall. The ranger placed his hands beneath him and started to rise when he caught sight of Legolas and stopped, freezing in place. The elf was seated nearby leaning against the wall, his left arm clutched to his chest. But it was the fact that the elf’s eyes were closed that startled Aragorn. He had never seen an elf sleep with his eyes closed. In his experiences he only remembered seeing them with their eyes closed when they were...dead. He lunged to his feet, slipping on the mat beneath him, ignoring the pain in his back and the edges of the dull ache that remained in his stomach and threw himself next to the seated elf.

"Legolas!" The ranger gently shook the still elf, "Legolas!" His fear was rising.

The elf prince was caught off guard by the panic in the human's voice and started out of his rest, nearly jumping to his feet. His eyes were huge as he turned toward Aragorn and grabbed the man by his shoulders.

"What!? What is it!?"

Aragorn stared at the elf open mouthed, a look of pure shock on his face, "You’re alive."

Legolas looked around them in confusion and frowned back at the young man, "Yes I am." He answered slowly. "You thought else wise?"

"Your eyes were closed!" Aragorn still hadn’t released the elf. He allowed his head to fall forward for a second as the adrenaline in his system unwound from his heart.

The elf for his part was thoroughly confused and pushed the man back so he could look into the dark eyes, "What is wrong with you?"

"Don’t ever do that again!" Aragorn sat back and stared at his companion, brushing the stray locks out of his eyes as he glared daggers at the elf.

"Do what?" Legolas was at a loss trying to follow the humans thinking, "Are you all right? I thought we gave you the antidote, did it not work?" He reached forward to touch Aragorn’s forehead, checking for fever, only to have his hand brushed away.

Aragorn frowned at him, "I thought you were dead." He leaned back against the stone wall next to his friend and looked over at him.

"Why ever would you think that?" Legolas voice rose in disbelief.

The ranger rolled his eyes as though speaking to some one very slow and replied, "Because elves don’t sleep with their eyes closed." Shaking his head he looked back out across the cavern, "They only close their eyes when...when they are dead."

"Or resting," Legolas countered.

"They do not." Aragorn turned back toward his friend, resting his head against the rocks behind him.

"They have been known to."

"No they don’t."

"Aragorn! Do you always have to argue with me?" Legolas looked away from the human in frustration, "I think I would know better than you what an elf would or wouldn’t do, and I say they do."

When the ranger didn’t answer Legolas looked over at the human. The man’s eyes were mere slits and he regarded the elf cautiously, taking special note of the way his hand never left the right side of his body, protectively lying against his ribs. The edges of a bright stain on the green tunic could just be seen between his fingers. Self-consciously Legolas moved his hand to conceal the blood.

The feigned look of innocence he tried to affect was lost on the human as Aragorn moved into a kneeling position and scooted closer to the elf.

"You are wounded."

Legolas averted his gaze, "I only need rest."

"Don’t try that self sufficient I’m-an-elf-I’m-just-fine line with me." The ranger moved the prince’s hand from where it covered his side and drew in his breath as he inspected the cut. "This looks bad Legolas. Have you had someone see to it?"

When his question garnered no response he stopped his inspection and glanced up at the elf, who was not meeting the rangers questioning gaze.

"Legolas?" Aragorn’s voice held a warning tone. He was positive the prince had not allowed the dwarves to treat him. "Stubborn elf. Let me take a look at it." He murmured as he undid the buttons on Legolas tunic to get a better look at the gash.

The elf jumped at his friend’s gentle administrations, grabbing the ranger’s hands and quickly pushing them away, the look on his face a momentary combination of fear and distress.

Aragorn’s eyes widened and he sat back. Many times he had seen to his brothers wounds, cutting off a legging to get at an embedded arrow or removing a tunic to better tend a gashed wound. And many times they had found him and taken care of him in much the same way; it had never dawned on him that it was out of the ordinary. Which it wasn’t, but he had forgotten that Legolas was not his brother. He had meant no offense and was unsure how to proceed. Legolas for his part would not look the man in the eyes; his hand had protectively resought the wound and covered it once more.

"I only meant to help you." Aragorn spoke the words softly in elvish. "I did not think...I am sorry."

"No, it’s not you." Legolas did not look up, highly frustrated with himself. He would not have had that reaction to another elf trying to remove his tunic and he knew it. Aragorn was a good friend, right now in fact, he was his only friend... what did it matter that he was human? Why couldn’t his body let go of the old fears? The young Dùnadan had just wanted to help, he was nothing like the last men who had undressed him...

"Memories?" Aragorn realized he might have accidentally triggered a response that came from the elf’s past. He had to keep reminding himself that he was not an elf and Legolas was not a man.

"Yes." Legolas’ voice was a mere whisper and he faltered slightly. He hated coming across these long forgotten and deeply buried reactions. Yet it seemed that being with Aragorn was destined to forever keep bringing them up. It was all so ridiculously long ago, he couldn’t believe he still had any reactions at all to those long distant shadows of the past.

Aragorn dropped his gaze and nodded. "All right, I understand," He drew back near his friend as the elf slowly raised his eyes to meet the other’s, "But that tunic has to come off, I need to see to your wound. It’s not good and you are not well I can tell, or you would not be resting with your eyes closed." He smiled softly at the elf trying to lighten the seriousness that had settled about them, "Help me out here all right?"

Legolas nodded and undid the buttons on his tunic. He groaned slightly as he tried to remove the over shirt and Aragorn came to his aid. Moving slowly and carefully the human gently pulled the side of the tunic back and looked at the cut that ran the length of the elf’s ribs. He pressed his hand softly against the hot flesh feeling for broken bones. The touch caused the elf to moan and double over.

"All right, that’s it." Aragorn rocked back on feet and motioned towards the mat, "I need you to lie down and I need that shirt off of you."

When his friend started to protest the ranger glared at the elf. It was true, Legolas really wasn’t feeling that well. His head hurt and he was slightly dizzy and the elf really did just want to lie down for a bit. He nodded and let the man help him gingerly out of his tunic.

Although his dislocated shoulder had been seen to it was tender and did not move well when Aragorn removed his shirt and the elf bit his lip to keep from crying out even at the gentle movement. Aragorn saw the way his friend winced and moved even more carefully as he helped the elf lay down.

Moving Legolas’ arm out of the way he washed and cleaned the cut, keeping up a steady stream of small talk, using the grey tongue to busy the elf with something other than the work the human was doing on him.

The gash was jagged and the flesh around it was red and hot to the touch. Aragorn looked up from his ministrations and focused on the elf’s eyes. Legolas smiled softly and raised an eyebrow in question. Without answering Aragorn pressed his hand to the prince’s forehead. As he suspected the elf was running a fever.

"You were poisoned." He spoke quietly staring down into the silver-blue eyes. No infection could be working that fast, nor would it have caused such wide, glazed dilation of the elf’s pupils. There was no doubt that it had been a poisoned blade that wounded Legolas. Just how serious that poison would turn out to be he had no way of knowing yet. Sometimes one might just get very ill. Sometimes they died. Yet he held out hope that it was not the most deadly kind, since, after several hours, Legolas was in fact still alive.

The elf only nodded, he had already surmised as much about his injury.

Aragorn shook his head, "Why didn’t you let anyone help you?"

"Dwarves?" Legolas laughed at his own joke.

The ranger deflected the humor, "It’s not funny *elf*." But he smiled even as he spoke, turning to retrieve an ointment from his pack.

"I don’t know if this will help or not but it will take the sting out of the cut," the young ranger said.

"Good because it burns." Legolas draped his arm over his face covering his eyes to block out the light from the fire.

Aragorn bent down and stared at the elf, "Just don’t close your eyes." He teased, his smile widening.

"Get on with it human." Legolas swatted at the young ranger as the man ducked quickly out of the way.

"Tomorrow we’ll see if the dwarves have anything that will work better." He gently rubbed the ointment over the wound and covered the cut with a clean cloth. Carefully grabbing Legolas arm by the wrist he placed the elf’s hand over the bandage and stared down at his friend. "I think it will not be enough though." The ranger grabbed his coat and draped it over the prone elf tucking the edges in around him.

Legolas nodded and conceded what they both feared, "It was an orc blade Aragorn," he said softly. "If there was poison on it, it is poison from the depths of the Morgul world, there are few medicines that can heal such."

"Well perhaps the dwarves will know of something we do not." Aragorn looked out across the hall, hoping in his heart that he was telling the truth and knowing deep inside that he was wrong.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

King Thranduil gazed at the leaping flames in the fireplace with unseeing eyes. Much of his time was spent thus lately and his courtiers had begun to become worried about their liege. The Elvenking no longer took part in feasts or hunts, indeed, he barely left his chambers and seemed disinterested in affairs of state. Thranduil was pulling back from life and no matter what his friends and subjects tried, they could not bring him back.

Thranduil jerked when a hand was laid on his shoulder and he looked up quickly. Raniean knelt respectfully, then rose again. "You’re Majesty?" the younger elf could tell by the momentary look in the King’s eyes that for an instant, roused suddenly from his faraway thoughts, Thranduil had half-thought, half-wished that Raniean were someone else. It was not too hard to guess who.

"What is it Raniean?" Thranduil turned his gaze back to the fire. He looked so surprisingly old for an elf lately and his health had begun to take a turn for the ill.

"Your Majesty, there has been another incident of a hunting party being harassed by spiders," the elf warrior explained his visit. "None were harmed, but this is the third time it has happened in less than a week."

"If our warriors can’t defend themselves from a few spiders we have fallen low indeed," Thranduil said darkly, still not bothering to spare the younger elf a second glance.

"This has never happened before your Majesty," Raniean shook his head, reining in his frustration. "*Something* is going on. The spiders are becoming increasingly bold and I have seen wargs wandering the woods not five miles from here. Evil stirs my Lord, we must take measures against it."

"Do as you think is right," Thranduil waved him off wearily.

Raniean tried to remain diplomatic despite his own irritation with Thranduil’s unconcerned approach to the situation. "Sire, everyone has a different opinion of how to handle this and what it means. We have had no official word on the matter in over a week now. The people are fractionating my Lord and the resulting disunity is making the problem worse!"

"If they fraction they fraction and it is their own folly. I can do naught about it." No one had ever heard the king this despondent.

"The people need their King, Sire!" Raniean’s impatience got the better of him and he spoke more harshly than he intended. "They need leadership! Not a Ruler who hides in his chambers and nurses his private wounds."

Thranduil’s eyes flashed as he turned his gaze up towards the impetuous, younger elf. He would have spoken, but Raniean pressed on. "I know you miss Legolas, I miss him too. But do not sacrifice the kingdom for your grief."

"What know you of my grief?!" Thranduil rose out of his chair, glaring dangerously at the elf warrior before him.

Raniean knew that the words he spoke were dangerous, but he did not hold back his thoughts. "I know that it is destroying you and our land. The old laws are flawed, do not cling to that which will be our undoing. It is not too late, call him back your Majesty, lift the curse you have placed upon your son’s head. It is what your heart desires, is it not?"

"You know not of what you speak Raniean," Thranduil said sharply, his face flushed with anger. "I cannot undo what has been done."

"Cannot or will not your Majesty?" the younger elf asked bluntly, folding his arms. He walked a dangerous line, but it was a chance he was willing to take.

"Legolas forced this on me Raniean, it is not my choosing," the Elvenking said somewhat bitterly. "He knew what it meant and chose to betray me anyway."

"He did not betray you," Raniean defended his friend as he had been burning to defend him since the horrible sentence had been passed and Legolas was taken away without a chance for Raniean, Trelan or any of the Prince’s other friends to even say goodbye to him. "He defied a law that is old and out-of-date. Which would you fault him for more? For disregarding an antiquated law? Or for allowing a man who was later *proved* to be innocent be murdered in cold blood?"

Thranduil glared at Raniean darkly. "I know you were Legolas’ friend. For that reason alone, I will pardon your words to me now." The king spoke very slowly and clearly. "But understand this: my son is dead to me. His name is not to be spoken again in my hearing and you will watch your tongue." The king’s words broke off into a coughing fit and the elf leaned wearily against the back of the chair he had previously been seated in, seeming more drained and ill-looking than ever.

Raniean clenched his fists tightly at his sides. "Then let your stiff neck drive us all to ruin. I say to you, Legolas hurt your pride, not your heart." He had intentionally just defied his king’s orders, but he was angry enough that he did not care.

Surprisingly, the king did not flare at this, but looked wearily up at the younger elf, fixing him with a gaze of such crushing, immeasurable sadness that Raniean actually had to blink to keep his own emotions clear.

"That Raniean, is where you would be wrong," Thranduil said quietly.

Raniean was surprised to see the incredible pain that was reflected in the elder elf’s eyes. He realized with a start that King Thranduil’s heart truly was breaking over what had happened and with it it was taking his health and his energy.

"Forgive me my Lord," Raniean apologized softly, bowing his head. "I spoke out of turn."

Thranduil wavered slightly on his feet. "You may go," he dismissed the warrior.

"Yes, you’re Majesty. But... the spiders..." the original reason for Raniean’s visit was still un-addressed.

"Yes... yes, the spiders..." Thranduil passed his hand before his eyes as if trying to clear his head enough to think. The faintness that had been growing in him the past couple days took hold of the Elvenking and Thranduil was forced to sit abruptly back down in the chair to keep from falling.

"My Lord?" Raniean asked with concern, for the King’s face had become very pale.

"Leave me Raniean," Thranduil waved the other elf away, leaning his forehead upon his hand. "I do not feel well."

"I will summon a healer..."

"No," the King shook his head wearily, his voice drained. "They can do nothing for me. Just go, and leave me to my memories for they are all I seem to have lately."

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Aragorn and Legolas left the halls of Moria behind and stepped out into the bright sun. It seemed like forever since they had felt its warm rays brush them and Aragorn turned his face towards the orb set high in the sky, closing his eyes against its harsh light.

The young ranger breathed in deeply and smiled before turning his attention back to the small cache of supplies that the dwarves were carrying out with them.

"It seems that I am not the only one who was not made for caves." The elf whispered with a conspiratorial smile. He felt weak and ill, but was hiding it well. He nodded his thanks to Rorin as the dwarf handed him a soft bedroll tied with dwarvish rope, the strongest in Moria.

"More than you know my friend." Aragorn replied, his eyes tired and haunted by the recent past. His own injuries were far from fully healed and the horror of their memory was still a shadow on his spirit.

When they had sorted through the dwarves’ gifts and dried food and packed their treasures away Aragorn and Legolas bid the dwarves farewell and headed back out into the wooded lands that hedged the steppes of Moria’s eastern gate.

It had been decided that there was no help to be had inside the Mines of Moria for the kind of poison that was working on Legolas. Aragorn had gone back to the scene of the battle to test what was on the blades of the felled orcs so he knew what they were dealing with. Fortunately the dwarves had not yet disposed of the bodies. It was hard for the young ranger to go back into that place where he had suffered so much, but he had set his jaw and just done it. He did not like what he found when he tested the twisted weapon that had injured Legolas.

The poison was indeed of morgul origin, it was slow, but deadly. Untreated and uncountered, it would continue to slowly drain Legolas’ life away bit by bit until it killed him; a slow and horrible kind of way to die. But although Aragorn could recognize it for what it was, he had no notion of how to treat it, neither did the dwarves, and so the two friends had opted to leave the dwarves palace and seek help from an outside source. Just whom that source might be had never been discussed. The only persons capable of healing Legolas’ wound were Lord Thranduil and Lord Elrond, both of which were no longer options and the third, Gandalf, of whom no one knew his present whereabouts.

Aragorn knew the outlook was grim, but he wouldn’t stay and allow Legolas to die in the Mines. He had an idea forming in the back of his mind but he was loathe to discuss it with the elf for fear Legolas would reject it out right. He would know when the time was right and he would press his option then. After walking for over a day the time to present his thoughts grew dangerously nearer.

Legolas’ walked slowly behind Aragorn and as they traveled deeper into the woods he stumbled more frequently now.

After several hours the ranger stopped them and waited for the elf to catch up. Legolas stumbled on a tree root that had broken through the surface of the forest floor. He fell hard down onto one knee and did not rise, resting in that position while he caught his breath, hugging his bruised knee to his chest.

Aragorn ran back and knelt beside his friend, brushing away the dirt from his torn legging and gently inspecting his knee. Legolas winced at the smarting sting the human’s touch caused.

"And where do you suppose we go from here?" The elf tried to remove the attention from himself, glancing idly about them as Aragorn dipped a cloth into his water pouch and cleaned the cut the elf had just sustained.

The ranger looked up at his friend through worried eyes, noting the sweat beading on the prince’s fair face and his quick, shallow breathing.

He shook his head and muttered, "You need proper attention and I cannot give it to you here."

"We will be fine." Legolas smiled at him, "I merely need to rest."

"You need more than rest and you know it. Do not try to pass off your wound as something less than it is." He glared at the elf, "I told you what I found. We both know what it means."

Legolas did not reply but stared hard back at the human who was crouched next to him. He knew what the man was going to say and he dreaded it.

Getting up his courage Aragorn dropped his gaze while he gathered his thoughts. Turning his attention back to the grey eyes that watched him, he made his appeal, "We need to turn home."

"It is out of the question." The elf cut him off before he could complete his thought.

"Legolas, my father..."

"Aragorn we cannot go either to my home or to yours. Do you not remember? We do not *have* homes anymore. You know the edict my father passed against us." He angrily gestured about them. "Every elf in Middle Earth knows that helping us would bring the same fate we suffer down on their heads."

"Yes but if ..."

"No." Legolas stopped the ranger, trying to end the conversation.

Aragorn stood swiftly and turned his back on the elf, his anger just below the surface of his calm demeanor; he had reached the end of his patience and his fear had given way to frustration.

"Strider," Legolas softly called the young man’s name hoping to diffuse the tension, "Listen to me..."

"No." Aragorn whirled on the elf, cutting him off and holding up his hand to silence further argument, "You may be older and you may be wiser. But right now I will live to see the end of this week and you will not. Either you come with me to Rivendell or I will take you there by force."

A small smile graced the elf’s lips as he faced down the threat, "And how exactly do you think that you will force me?"

Aragorn looked around them as if trying to find the answer in the woods that surrounded him. He took a step nearer the elf and leaned down towards him, the ranger’s voice was low and serious, "I’ll use the warfare technique on you that Elladan taught me and I’ll drag you there if I have to."

"Not on me you won’t." Legolas arched his eyebrows and defiantly stood to his feet.

The ranger’s demeanor changed to desperation, "Then don’t make me. Please come with me. This is outside of my area of expertise. I can’t heal you."

"We cannot go and endanger Lord Elrond like that." Legolas spoke slowly as though talking to someone who was having difficulty understanding and shook his head sadly. "Don’t you realize the position you would be placing him in? Do you really want to force him to make that kind of choice?"

"Listen to me you Silvan elf," Aragorn spat the slur at his companion, asking nicely hadn’t worked and neither had threats, so it was time to follow through. "I don’t know about you, but I really don’t intend to live like this forever, if I can help it. I don’t believe there is no way for this sentence we’re under to ever be changed. There’s always a way somewhere! And if there is any chance that we can reverse that stupid law your father enacted then I will do everything I can to help you get home. But you cannot return if you are dead."

"It’s not a stupid law." The elf stated simply ignoring the rising anger in his friend, although he was beginning to believe otherwise.

"It is a stupid law."

"It is not Strider." His own frustration at the human was beginning to wear on him.

"It is and you know it or we wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation while you are dying. Stop arguing with me!" He stepped in close to the elf and was pleased to see that Legolas took a step back, "Now decide, follow me or so help me, prince or no, I will drag you there by your pointed ears if I have to."

The look on the man’s face and the threat of being dragged by his ears, a punishment he hadn’t heard threatened in millennia, caused the elf to burst out laughing. "Stubborn human, I will follow you." He finally assented. As he spoke he wavered on his feet and leaned against the tree next to him, trying to deal with the pain that swept through his body. He had been trying to deny it for a long time now, but it was having him slowly, eating away at his strength. The nausea he had first felt was coming back with a vengeance and the light-headedness he had been battling was swelling into almost full-fledged vertigo.

Aragorn saw the elf react to the poisons in his system and jumped to help steady him, "Only because you can hardly do anything else, here lean on me." Hooking his arm around Legolas’ waist he steered the prince towards a sheltered section of the forest where the trees created a natural barrier and the foliage was thick and concealing.

Here the ground was covered in pine needles only because the light could not penetrate the leafy canopy above them. It was the perfect spot to bed down for the night and start a fire. When he had gently lowered the elf to the forest floor Aragorn set about unrolling their mats and kindling a small fire to warm the area.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART SEVEN*~

 

 

You've had your taste of all that's sweet
Now it’s gone and what does it mean?
You’ve sought the truth, found a lie
You’ve given up, but that doesn’t make it right.

Want to go...
I know you want to leave.
Got to go...
Farther than you see.

If you just look, past your scars
You will see, it’s not that far
Don’t close your eyes, let hope inside
Begin to breath, start to fly...
Start to fly...

--By "Plus One"

_________________________________________________________

 

 

Legolas relaxed slowly next to the campfire that Aragorn had started. The ranger watched the wounded elf out of the corner of his eyes. His friend was moving more slowly and nothing the man had done had been effective in stopping the poison, Legolas was doing much worse than he was letting on.

 

Closing his eyes, the elf prince concentrated on breathing. It had become more difficult lately and he could feel the poison in his system like an icy fire slowly shutting down his body and taking over. He breathed in deeply holding the breath inside of him and willing the ache in his bones to cease.

When he opened his eyes Aragorn was watching him worriedly. The human had been a good friend. If given the chance to repeat everything over he would have done nothing differently. He smiled sadly at the man as his thoughts turned homeward. Pain spiked through his awareness and momentarily cut him off from reality. He turned inward and homeward, thinking of the Great Fair Woods, his father, his own room bathed in the starlight of Eärendil and as he focused on the things he loved the most, the things he would never see again in this life, the pain lost its battle for his thoughts.

Aragorn was beside him, talking softly to the elf when Legolas once again allowed reality to seep back into focus. His body still hurt but he was at peace with it now. He wasn’t sure if the poison had advanced too far or he had simply finally given up, but when he turned to speak to the human, Aragorn noticed the change and his heart dropped.

"Aragorn," Legolas smiled up at the worried human, "Perhaps it is better this way."

"What is this you speak of?" The ranger whispered, fearing the elf’s next words.

Legolas looked up into the sky watching as the stars twinkled into existence, when he spoke his voice was soft and sad.

"Do you know why the elves banish their people for judgment? For an elf there is nothing closer to death than to be exiled. To be cut off from the fair lands and her people. To never hear the songs they sing in the night, to never be able to walk the lands again. To be cut off is to be eternally dead."

Aragorn held his breath, watching the elf. He could tell that Legolas was seeing things that he could not, remembering places the human had never walked and now never would.

A faint smile touched Legolas lips as he continued, "I had so wanted to see the undying lands someday and to reunite with my mother. I miss her sometimes, you know?" He glanced at the ranger as though seeing him for the first time. "She was truly beautiful."

"You will. You’ll see them both I promise you that." Aragorn brushed the back of his hand along the elf’s face, sensing the unnatural heat of fever and wiping away the perspiration that beaded on the prince’s forehead.

Legolas smile grew large and he shook his head slowly, carefully, "Human, always so sure." He closed his eyes as a wave of pain broke over him.

Aragorn was at a loss. He knew the risk they would take, returning to Rivendell, but the poison in the elf was truly beyond his expertise to heal. If they did not venture into elven territory and find help, Legolas would surely die. And that would be one more thing on the human’s conscious that he could not live with.

Legolas was speaking again, his voice so soft Aragorn had to lean down to hear him, "It has been good."

"What?"

"Life."

"Legolas..." Aragorn tried to swallow around the lump that had formed in his throat.

"I have seen many things and met many people; you among them. We have aided dwarves, hunted orc, I have seen the fair forest in the early morning light like a jewel on the horizon. My life has been a good one." His voice barely audible now, "Thank you for your friendship heir of Isildur."

"Legolas?"

The elf relaxed and closed his eyes; his breathing slowed as he gave into the inevitable.

"No, I will not let you! Listen, listen to me," Aragorn was desperate now and afraid, and he had no alternatives, "We are one day from my father’s house. He can heal you. You’re going to make it Legolas!"

A small almost imperceptible laugh escaped Legolas’ lips, "Estel." He took a breath and opened his eyes, "Elrond named you well."

"I won’t let you die."

Ignoring his young friend, Legolas cast his eyes once more to the sky, "Eärendil is very beautiful tonight is it not?" Not hearing Aragorn’s protests, he passed out.

Aragorn jumped forward pressing his hands against the elf’s throat, feeling for a pulse. The beat was weak and erratic. He had no choice. If they killed him for entering elven land then so be it, he would accept his fate if it meant Legolas had a chance to live. He had nothing to lose now. The elf was in this position because of him in the first place; he would not see him die. Quickly he scuffed the fire out and collected only what was absolutely necessary. It would be a long hard day of travel but if they left right now they would make Rivendell by nightfall on the morrow.

Dropping to one knee next to the unconscious elf, he broke open a small vial of wicked smelling portents and passed it under the prince’s nose.

Legolas moved slightly, trying to escape the noxious fumes but Aragorn held him still, "That’s it, wake up. Come on Legolas!" The elf’s eyes snapped open and locked on to the man in confusion.

"Strider?"

"Yes, We are going home." He pulled the elf up into a standing position. He knew he was pushing the prince past what he could endure, but he had also heard tales that an elf could be pressed passed imaginable limits and he was willing to test them now.

When Legolas tried to protest, Aragorn shushed him, "Do not argue with me you stubborn hearted creature. We’re going home. And if they want to, they can kill me for it later. Now save your strength." He ducked under the elf’s arm and supported Legolas’ weight on his shoulder, wrapping his free arm around his friend’s waist he starting them into the darkened forest toward home. He knew these woods like the back of his hand and could easily travel them in the dark.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Aragorn shifted Legolas’ weight against him as he half carried half walked the almost unconscious elf towards the darkened palace of Rivendell. It had taken them all night to steal down into the deep gorge that the city had been built into. The starlight had been their only guide as the new moon had cast the valley into near darkness. The ranger was partly glad for the cover of darkness but his eyes, unable to compensate for the lack of light often missed the obstacles in their path, making the trip down the cliff face perilous. He was worn out himself but the ragged, shallow breathing of his friend spurred him on.

 

Stopping to catch his breath the ranger gently lowered Legolas to the cool stone path pulling them both off the immediate walkway in case there were traffic on the crude road even at this time of night.

 

"Hold on." He brushed the wayward strands of hair out of Legolas face, pressing his hand against the prince’s forehead. The elf was running a fever and his skin was clammy. Aragorn’s heart clenched inside of him, they didn’t have much time left. He hoped it wasn’t too late already.

 

Slipping his arms around Legolas waist, he pulled them both into a standing position, "We are almost there; almost home. Don’t give up on me now." He whispered the words of encouragement into the elf’s ear as Legolas allowed his head to fall against the man’s shoulder.

 

As they moved back onto the path, an arrow thunked into the tree next to Aragorn’s face. The man froze, his every sense alert and screaming at him. They had come too far to be discovered and sent away now. Legolas would never make it without Elrond’s help. Aragorn wasn’t even sure the elf would make it until morning and he panicked.

 

An arrow touched his ear from behind, sliding along the left side of his face; he felt the curve of a bow press against his back. The sharp edged triangle bit into his cheek leaving a thin red line as it tracked across his skin, cutting him slightly. Moving very slowly, he gently lowered Legolas back to the path and stood his hands spread out from his side so that the warrior could see he carried no weapon.

 

"Intruders are not welcome in the House of Rivendell." A soft, lethal voice spoke behind him. "What is your business traveling under the cover of night?"

 

A sob broke from the man’s lips as he recognized the voice and he stumbled as he turned towards the elf that had caught him unaware. "Oh for love of the Valar, Elladan, it is I, Aragorn!"

 

Elladan dropped his bow to his side; the fierce look on his face fading to one of surprise and joy. "Estel?" The arrow he had strung clattered to the rocky path as he crushed the man against him and held him tight.

 

A second arrow cut the night air brushing dangerously close to Elladan. The elf pushed the human to the forest floor and ducked, spinning on his heels to glare in the direction the arrow had come from.

 

"Elrohir!" The twin whispered harshly towards the thick wooded area that edged the path.

 

"Elladan?" A disembodied voice questioned.

 

"Yes! Stop it!" The elf growled under his breath.

 

"Who is with you?" the question came back.

 

"It’s Estel."

 

"Aragorn!" Elrohir burst from the foliage and brushed past his brother, pulling the human up in a warm embrace, "Fathers been looking all over for you!"

 

"Elrohir!" Elladan cuffed the twin upside the head, "Keep it down. You know Aragorn is not allowed to be here."

 

"Oh and you think that father is going to abide by that silly ancient ruling?" Elrohir glowered at his brother.

 

Elladan rolled his eyes and patiently explained, "Father will not, no. But there are others about who may!" He whispered fiercely. The elven brother looked behind him into the forest and called out to the small band of elves that they were patrolling this area of Rivendell with; three elves stepped on to the path and curiously watched the reunion.

 

"Oh Estel, you do not know how father has been worried about you. Elladan and I have searched for you everywhere. Where have you been?" Elrohir placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and drew close, talking softly and watching the human’s responses.

 

The ranger couldn’t help the tears that streamed down his face. He had missed his family so much and relief at seeing them alive again and having help so near for his friend overwhelmed him.

 

"Are you well?" Elladan stepped in front of his twin and grabbed the human by his shoulders, holding him at arms length and letting his eyes fall on the young man.

 

The ranger nodded, trying to control himself, when he spoke the words came out in a sob, "It is Legolas." He dropped next to his fallen friend and gently touched the elf. The prince was unconscious, his breathing was shallow and he didn’t respond when Aragorn called his name.

 

He looked back up to the small ring of elves that stood watching him. "You know we are not allowed to give them refuge." An elf to the right of Elrohir spoke. The twins glared at the warrior.

 

Elladan kneeled next to Aragorn and gently pressed his fingers against Legolas throat searching for a pulse. The beat was barely perceptible and erratic. His eyes snapped up to lock onto the rangers.

 

"What happened to him?"

 

"Morgul poisoning." Aragorn swallowed, trying to get his emotions under control. He was weary beyond anything he could remember, fear and joy at being home warred inside of him and the thought that his friend might not live beat at his heart with every breath the man took. "We were near Moria, helping the dwarves and he was cut down. The wound did not seem deep, but the poison was already in his system by the time we were able to get to safety and see to the wound." His eyes dropped to the prone elf, "I did all I could. I have traveled three days without stopping and he has steadily gotten worse. The dwarves had no horses, there was no one to help us."

 

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged worried looks as the other twin dropped next to his human brother. He laid his hand on the young man’s back in gentle support.

 

"Please," Aragorn grabbed Elladan’s sleeve, he didn’t care if he was begging, "Please get father, he will know what to do. He will help us. I know he will. Please, Elladan go get him."

 

The elf gently removed the human’s hand from his arm and stood addressing the three elves that had joined them on patrol. "You heard?" He asked them. When they nodded he continued, "You know the penalty for helping these two. If you do not wish to be involved leave now." The warriors glanced quickly among themselves silently agreeing to join the brothers, none of them left. Elladan nodded his unspoken thanks and continued, "Go quickly then. Wake Lord Elrond. Tell him what has transpired and tell him we are bringing Estel and Legolas. Do whatever he asks of you." He held the elves eyes for a fraction of second, knowing what he was asking of them, giving them one more chance to back out of helping his brother and the elven prince. When no one spoke he nodded curtly, "Go now!"

 

The warriors quickly disappeared into the night, swiftly heading towards the elven lords chambers.

 

"Come Estel." Elladan pulled the ranger to his feet and moved him out of the way; "We need to get Legolas in, and quickly, before anyone sees that you have returned."

 

Elladan and Elrohir easily lifted the elf prince between them and carried him towards Elrond’s rooms. Aragorn followed numbly in their wake hoping they would be in time.

 

Elrond stood inside the entranceway to his private apartments at Rivendell. He had dressed quickly, wrapping himself in a velvet burgundy robe that tied about the waist with a silver cord and waited anxiously for his sons to make it to his rooms. His hair was slightly tussled and his eyes were still sleep weary and edged in worry; his brow creased in a frown. He had had several of his warriors out searching for the ranger and the elf prince for months now. When word had reached him of their banishment the grief that touched his heart brought back memories that he never wanted to relive. The lives of humans were so short and the thought that he may never see his adopted son again tore at him deeply. He had vowed to himself that if he had a second chance he would let Aragorn know that he would gladly violate the mandate. He couldn’t live with himself if he abandoned the boy now.

 

The warriors that had woken him ran out of the doorway as the ranger and the elves came into view. They helped carry Legolas to a room that the elf lord had had them quickly prepare. They laid the wounded elf on the soft bed and waited, giving Aragorn and the elven king a moment of privacy.

 

Elrond allowed the elves to pass by him, his eyes worriedly glancing over the young prince as they brought him in. He could instantly see the severity of the situation, but it was his human son that caught his attention.

 

Aragorn was miserable. He was dirty, disheveled, and his boots scraped the ornamented rock steps as he approached his father. The tears he had shed earlier had left streaks on his dirty cheeks and his red-rimmed eyes were bright with the threat of more. Though at first sure his father would not deny him sanctuary, now faced by the elf lord himself, the ranger lost his resolve and the fear shown in his eyes. He wiped his face off on the sleeve of his worn overcoat and tried to get his breathing under control. At the top of the steps he simply stopped and stared at the man he had always known as his father. His breathing hitched as he bowed slightly and waited for the elder elf to speak. Elrond saw the way Aragorn trembled slightly and his heart broke at the sight of his adopted son.

 

Without a word Elrond gathered the young man in his arms. The human winced, tensing in pain as the elf wrapped his arms around the ranger’s back; hidden wounds that would need to be tended later. Elrond gently eased up the pressure on the young man’s back and Aragorn fell against him unable to control the tears that fell unbidden from his eyes.

 

"I’m sorry father. I had nowhere to turn. Legolas is dying and it’s my fault." He spoke through his sobs. Elrond let the boy cry, shaking his head. What kind of law, elven or not, separated families and kept them from the ones they needed the most? His anger flared momentarily. He knew Thranduil himself was even now dying of a broken heart. If the Elf Lord discovered the state of his son, Elrond feared it would be enough to send him to the Halls of Mandos - that day was not far off in the future as it was. Sometimes he truly believed the old laws had outlived their usefulness.

 

"Worry not my son. Things will work out just fine." He whispered the words in the man’s ear.

 

Aragorn pulled away shaking his head in denial, "No, they will banish you for helping us."

 

Elrond’s laughter was light and easy and there was no condescension in it, "Banish me? Not likely." He touched the human’s face with his hand staring into the tired, teary eyes and continued, "Though the ruling is an elvish one, I do not recognize it. You are aware Aragorn that I am only half elven." He smiled at the surprise on the young face, "I can not abide but such a law. Not when it means loosing Legolas and turning you away in your time of need. You are my son. And Legolas is prince, heir of Mirkwood and your friend. You are both welcome here. I will not turn you out or turn my back on you no matter who says that I must. As long as I draw breath you are mine and no man or elf will tell me that I cannot give you refuge."

 

He placed his arm around the young man’s shoulder and walked him into the house. "Rivendell is your home. We will see to it that Legolas lives; I will go care for him now. We will keep your presence here a secret for as long as is necessary, for your safety only. There are many things I need to discuss with the two of you but now I’m going to go take care of your friend first and you need rest."

 

"I’ll sleep when I know he is better." Aragorn’s weary voice was resolute.

 

"My son.."

 

"Father please, I need to know Legolas will be alright."

 

Elrond nodded knowingly, he had seen that stubbornness in the young man’s eyes before and simply led the human down a hallway and into a dimly lit room. Glow globes sat about the room, casting warm shadows around the spacious quarters. Aragorn stepped next to the bed and looked down at his friend, the elf was even more pale in the candle light, his skin held a translucent quality to it that frightened the ranger.

 

Elrond was speaking quietly to the twins and the two elves that had accompanied them. Nodding silently the warriors left the room, Elrohir and Elladan returned in moments with a large overstuffed chair. They set the piece of furniture into a corner and Aragorn was pressed down into it.

 

"Stay out of the way my son." Elrond cautioned the ranger, "Elladan and Elrohir will assist me, you are too weary to be useful. If you stay out of the way you may remain in the room with us."

 

Aragorn nodded and relaxed into the warmth and softness of the chair as Elrond gently began to unbutton the prince’s shirt, quietly instructing the twins in how best to assist him. As much as the young man wanted to stay awake, his sleep weary mind would not let him and within moments, knowing he was safe and Legolas in good hands, he was fast asleep.

 

Elrond glanced over at the still form and smiled. Following his fathers gaze, Elrohir took note of his human brother and quietly covered the man with a thick blanket.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Soft, warm light spilled into the room. He was warm and he was safe. Aragorn lay in the chair he had fallen asleep in last night, unable to fully wake up. He could hear the soft steps of someone in the room, the footfall lightly crushing the thick carpeting. Shifting slightly the ranger gave into his weariness and let his body relax back into the chair and blankets that were tucked about him. He sighed with the peace that flooded through him and had almost fallen back to sleep when a hand gently touched his forehead, brushing the long strands of his hair away from his face. A smile touched his lips as he vaguely recognized the gentle brush.

 

"You are awake." It was a statement not a question. The voice of the elf was soft and deep and Aragorn slowly opened his eyes to look up at his father standing over him. The elder elf smiled down at the human and removed his hand from the ranger’s forehead. He glanced back at the bed behind him where Legolas lay before returning his attention to Aragorn.

 

Memory slammed into Aragorn as his mind woke fully from its slumber and he lurched forward, throwing the blankets off of himself and stumbling for the bed.

 

"Legolas!"

 

Elrond caught the human’s arm and forcefully pressed him back down. "Slowly Estel. You are not well yourself." When the boy started to protest the elf continued, "Legolas will be fine. The poison has been neutralized, he is simply sleeping now."

 

Aragorn allowed himself to be pressed back into the chair as his father knelt beside him, explaining the elf prince’s condition. Elrond was right; the ranger wasn’t feeling so well. He swallowed hard against the dizziness that caught at the edges of his awareness and threatened to throw the room into a nice spin.

 

Elrond noted the change in the human and touched Aragorn’s arm, redirecting the man’s attention to himself. "You are dehydrated my son." He smiled kindly into the dark eyes, "How long have you gone without food and rest?"

 

"Three days." Aragorn’s eyes strayed back to Legolas asleep on the large bed. "It’s been three days. We traveled almost without stopping because Legolas was doing so badly. I was afraid he wouldn’t survive the trip here."

 

"He almost didn’t."

 

Aragorn stared hard into the elf’s eyes seeing all that his father was not saying. "Thank you."

 

Elrond smiled, "I would like to see them try to enforce that banishment rule here under my roof." He laughed softly, "I think Elladan and Elrohir would have taken you in even if I had expressly forbid it." He stood and reached his hand back down towards the man gently pulling the young ranger into a standing position, "They have been looking for you everywhere, for months now."

 

"Everywhere?" Aragorn’s tone was teasing.

 

Elrond turned back towards him and raised an eyebrow in question.

 

"We were in Moria."

 

The elf lord appraised the young man curiously, "That is a story I should very much like to hear." He placed his arm across the ranger’s shoulders and turned the human around, lightly touching the boy’s back. Aragorn suppressed a groan but couldn’t stop his body from tightening against the touch.

 

"But first I would see to your wounds," when the young man began to protest the elf lord simply raised his hand and continued, "and then you will eat and you will wash and *then* we will talk, if I can keep your brothers away from you for a bit."

 

Aragorn consented and slipped his shirt stiffly over his head allowing his father to see the still healing scars that striped his back. Elrond frowned as he gently ran his hand across the whip marks, touching the sensitive skin, looking for any signs of heat or infection. Aragorn winced and moved slightly, catching his breath as the elf noted a particularly nasty welt across his shoulder that was not healing properly.

 

"Sit." The elderly elf pressed the human back down into the chair and moved off to a small adjoining room. His voice came back to the ranger quiet and muffled, from where he searched through his medicines, "Tell me Estel, what cut you in this fashion?" He didn’t have to ask, the elf already knew. The fact that his adopted son had been treated in this manner bothered him greatly.

 

Aragorn slumped forward and rested his face in his hands, "Orcs father."

 

Elrond walked back into the room his gaze darkened, "What?"

 

The young man glanced up at the elf, he knew that his father had heard him the first time but he repeated himself, "Orcs. I was in a tunnel and there was a cave-in which just happened to be because there were orcs tunneling under us."

 

He watched as the elf appraised him, wishing that his father would speak. More than anything he hated the silence, "It wasn’t my fault we didn’t even know they were there."

 

Elrond looked wordlessly out the huge picture window behind the young man. How did one impress upon youth the impermanence of their lives, especially human ones? It was bad enough the boy had grown up among an immortal race thinking he was one of them, but to lose him to youthful folly or a careless moment...

 

Aragorn’s touch on his arm brought Elrond’s attention back to the human. "It was an accident."

 

The elf opened the small box of ointment he held in his hands, his gaze softening, and pushed the boy’s head forward and down so he could better reach the gash, "I know it was my son. One does not go looking for orcs just because they are bored." He smiled ruefully at his own joke.

 

Aragorn snickered at the jest. He drew in a sharp hiss of pain as his father lathered the ointment onto his wound, "What is that stuff?"

 

"It is good for you, that’s what it is. It will stop any poisons there may have been on the whip that did this."

 

"I should think if there had been poison on it father I would know by now." Aragorn responded lightly.

 

"Do not be so sure of yourself Estel. Some poisons are meant to not be found. All poisons do not work the same and this cut is not healing." Elrond shook his head when the young man winced again as he laid a clean bandage across the whip cut.

 

He crouched down in front of the human and stared up into the dark eyes, "Is there anything else I should know about or that you would care to tell me now or should I just wait until your brothers fill me in on all the details later?" He frowned at the quirky smile his youngest son gave him.

 

"There is nothing I care to tell you now, no." His feigned innocence did not fool the older elf and he pushed himself into a standing position with a sigh.

 

"Of course not." Shaking his head he handed Aragorn back his shirt and watched as the man gingerly slid back into the tunic and slowly buttoned it up.

 

"Aragorn you must learn to be more careful with yourself." He glanced sideways at the youth as he stepped toward the doorway, "Or at least learn to fight better so you don’t get hurt."

 

The ranger rolled his eyes, arguing was out of the question, "Yes father."

 

"I’ll want to see to that wound again before you go to bed tonight."

 

Aragorn nodded and followed Elrond through the door. The sounds of the twins echoed happily in the hallway as they walked towards the dining hall. Aragorn glanced over his shoulder quickly before they turned into the hall, catching sight of his friend. The elf looked much better in the morning light. He was glad they had reached his father in time. Yes, he would eat and he would wash and he would explain to his family everything that had transpired but when it was time to rest, he was returning to this room. He wanted to be near when Legolas awoke. Waking in an elven house was sure to startle the prince and the ranger did not want anyone attending his friend that might give the elf cause to fear.

 

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART EIGHT*~

 

 

 

Legolas woke slowly. Where ever he was it sure felt good to be here and that in itself was a foreign feeling. Opening his eyes he slowly allowed them to focus on his surroundings. Someone entered the room and he turned to see who it was it.

 

The sight of the elf that walked up to his bed actually caused the prince to flinch and move away from the hand that reached out to him. Fear at seeing one of his own was an odd feeling and his panic escalated slightly. He couldn’t remember where he was or how he had gotten here. His thoughts were fuzzy and he dimly remembered Aragorn telling him they were home -but he knew that could not be.

 

"Peace, Prince Legolas." The attendant spoke softly to him as he changed out the water pitcher that rested on a nightstand near the bed, "You are safe here."

 

Where was here? Legolas looked wildly around the room until his eyes lighted on the form of Aragorn curled up in an armchair in the corner of the quarters.

 

The sound of the elf speaking brought the ranger awake and he jumped to his feet clumsily as he saw his friend was conscious. Seeing Legolas’ confusion and fear he dismissed the attendant and sat easily on the edge of the bed, leaning over his friend and smiling.

 

"Where are we?" Legolas asked, confusion evident in his slightly bleary eyes.

 

"We are in my home now." Aragorn assured, pressing the back of his hand lightly against Legolas’ forehead, testing his friend’s temperature.

 

"Aragorn what have you done?" Legolas’ panic heightened, "Do you not know what you have brought down on your family? We cannot be here." The elf tried to sit up but Aragorn pressed him firmly back down.

 

The ranger started to respond when a deep voice in the doorway interrupted them both, "My son did what was best, and what was right." Elrond walked into the room and approached the bed.

 

"My lord." Legolas closed his eyes and nodded his head in respect.

 

"Prince Legolas, you are safe here in Rivendell." Elrond said quietly

 

"Know you not the edict my father has proclaimed on myself and on your son?" Legolas asked slowly, swallowing back the unbidden lump of pain that appeared in his throat.

 

Elrond smiled, stifling a laugh and carefully responded, "And remember you not that I am only half elven and therefore do not keep so strict an account of every elven ruling?" He continued to explain when he saw the surprise and confusion in the young prince’s eyes, "Your father is a good king, Legolas, and I do not support contradicting his rulings. However, if I were the one to turn away the joy of his heart and had allowed you to die do you not think that would in itself garner the king’s wrath more than if I disobeyed his edict?"

 

"I am sorry you have been put in this position my lord." Legolas apologized, letting himself sink back a little against the pillows. He was still feeling incredibly weak from his ordeal.

 

"Well I am not." The elder elf smiled at Aragorn. "I have had warriors out looking for you both over these past months." He stared seriously back down at the elf, "There is much you must know. Things are not well in your fair woods and it is high time Mirkwood’s prince returned to her."

 

"Please Lord Elrond, speak plainly for I would hear of word from my home even if it be ill tidings that you speak." Legolas eased himself upright with the help of Aragorn, his gaze never leaving that of the elven lord.

 

Elrond nodded but Aragorn interrupted, "Perhaps you should rest, we can talk about this later." He looked worriedly across to his father.

 

"No Aragorn. I would know now." His eyes were still locked onto Elrond’s.

 

"Very well then." Elrond pulled up a chair and seated himself in it before continuing. "About a week or so after you left Mirkwood, the Wood-elves began experiencing unusual difficulty and increased aggravation from the spiders that inhabit the woods. The fell beasts started harassing hunting parties and encroaching ever closer upon your people’s realm."

 

Legolas’ brows knit in confusion and surprise. "Attacking hunting parities? That is almost unheard of! The spiders are evil, but they have never made so bold as to go up against any great numbers of us at the same time..."

 

"Nevertheless, they have now," Elrond shook his head gravely. "For a while the problem was a nuisance only, but now it has become a very real threat. The spiders have massed and seem to be guided by a single purpose, which makes them dangerous. It is believed that it is because there is a leader, or matriarchal spider who is guiding the intentions of all the others, uniting them and making them a terrible force to reckon with. They have a secret hiding place somewhere that the elves have not been able to uncover. They have inflicted grave damage upon your people Legolas and ventured deep into the protected realm. There are even rumors that they have taken elves prisoner... and you know what they do with their prisoners Legolas." The elf lord’s face was grim.

 

Aragorn repressed a shudder. Remembering his own brief, nasty encounter with the loathsome creatures.

 

Legolas’ eyes were wide with shock and horror at the things that Elrond was telling him. "But-but this is impossible!" the elf prince sat up straight, ignoring the ache it ignited in his ribs. "How could they possibly venture so far into our realm and live? Our warriors would never suffer such an intrusion unchecked!"

 

"Your people were caught unaware and leaderless," Elrond said quietly. "They fractionated and fractured, became two, five, six, a dozen groups fighting individually, following their own different leaders and not pulling together as would have saved them. They need their Prince, Legolas."

 

Legolas looked stricken at the news, but dropped his eyes, staring down at his hands. "I can’t go back," he whispered brokenly. Then suddenly another thought crossed the prince’s mind, pushing all else from it as fear awakened inside him. "But... why leaderless? They have always listened to my father, why would they not do so now?"

 

Elrond’s eyes turned sad and he looked compassionately at the younger elf. That in itself was enough to make Legolas’ blood run cold.

 

"Please my Lord, tell me," Legolas begged breathlessly, leaning forward earnestly. "Has something happened to my father?"

 

Elrond sighed. "Thranduil is dying Legolas," he said quietly.

 

Legolas’ face went very pale. Aragorn put a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder as the elf sank numbly back against the headboard of the bed behind him.

 

"Why? How?" Legolas managed to force out between faltering lips. If he were hearing this from anyone else he would have demanded to know if they were sure of their information, but he knew that Lord Elrond would not lie to him. He respected the elder elf highly and there was a trust between them that went back to their first meeting many centuries ago when Legolas was quite young.

 

"Of a broken heart I fear," Elrond said gravely, wishing he could have spared the younger elf this pain, but knowing he could not. "He has retreated from the world and did not attempt to check the situation with the spiders when it was in its early stages. His grief has finally claimed his health and he is simply letting go of life. With him falters and dies much of the power that has safe-guarded and kept his kingdom orderly. The royal house have more power over those woods than they realize, now that both remaining members have forsaken it, the realm falls into shadow."

 

Legolas dropped his head into his hands, covering his face as he tried to process the incredibly guilt and sorrow exploding in his heart. "It’s my fault," he whispered hoarsely. "My father’s dying, my people are being decimated, and it’s my fault." He didn’t know how he could live with that. He couldn’t.

 

Aragorn squeezed Legolas’ shoulders tightly, but did not know what to say. He looked in anguish to Elrond for help.

 

"Nay," Elrond shook his head, tipping Legolas’ head up gently. "Take not blame that does not belong to you."

 

Legolas nodded slowly, pulling himself together. He was not entirely convinced that it wasn’t his fault, but wallowing in guilt was not going to help anything.

 

Elrond continued when he saw that Legolas was ready to hear more. "I offered to send such help to them as I could, but they would have none of it. I fear our relations have never been very clear with your people and they did not seem to want anyone to have a claim over them," he shook his head at their stubborn folly. "Besides, there was no general consensus. One group might agree, but another would not. There was no working with the situation."

 

Legolas understood, he knew just how difficult his people could be sometimes.

 

"Your friend Raniean was trying to unite them, but they would not all follow him. He is not their prince Legolas, you are. The last word we had from them was a week ago. The tidings were all ill. We have heard naught since," Elrond finished his grim tale at last.

 

Legolas’ eyes were full of pain, but determined. "I have to go back," he said, decidedly, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and pushing back the covers.

 

"Not so fast," Aragorn gently restrained his friend, pushing the elf back down to a seated position. "You nearly died last night! Take it easy."

 

"I cannot," Legolas shook his head, urgency flowing through him. "It may already be too late!"

 

"It is wise to have a plan before one acts," Elrond interjected sagely.

 

"But I do," Legolas said, a thoughtful look crossing his face. "You say the spiders have a secret lair that my people cannot find?" The prince glanced sideways at Aragorn. "Well I think I know where that is."

 

"Of course!" Aragorn suddenly understood what his friend was thinking. "In the ravine! Where we stumbled on that nest and you got bit, right before Raniean and Trelan found us!"

 

Legolas nodded. "If we strike them at their source, we have a chance to wipe them all out."

 

"If we used that little path down the north ridge we could come upon them unawares, just like we did last time, only this time *we* would know they were there," Aragorn added, already thinking ahead.

 

Suddenly Legolas stopped, realizing that without thinking about it they were both talking about ‘we’. Aragorn was safe here, with Elrond, who would obviously not reject him. Legolas could not ask him to go back into the danger that waited for them on all sides in Mirkwood.

 

"Aragorn," he said softly. "I do not ask you to go back with me. They are not your people, or your concern, and to go there means risking our own deaths for breaking the terms of our banishment. I would not willingly place you in that kind of danger."

 

Elrond quietly watched the scene unfolding between the two friends before him. He knew his adopted son’s answer even before Aragorn spoke. He could read it in the boy’s eyes.

 

"Too bad," Aragorn smiled lopsidedly at his friend. "Because you didn’t ask, I offered."

 

"Aragorn..." Legolas caught his friend’s eyes.

 

Elrond said nothing. Part of his heart wanted him to interject, to not let Aragorn place himself so readily in danger, but he knew that Estel was becoming a man and it was not his place to protect him all his life. Indeed, if he saw things aright, Aragorn had a hard life and many dangers ahead of him that he would have to walk alone. Besides, something told him this was right. The two of them were meant to go back to Mirkwood in her hour of need. Yet that did not entirely still the concern and worry in his father’s heart. Many things could be right and still end tragically. He knew that very well.

 

"No," Aragorn held his friend’s eyes as he shook his head. "Legolas, there’s no way I’m letting you go back there alone. We’re in this together."

 

Legolas smiled his gratitude and clasped his friend’s hand. "All right then, together."

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

The great, vast expanse of the forest spread out before them, looking strangely ominous and foreboding. Legolas had insisted on leaving as soon as he was able to stand without wavering and Elrond did not waste futile words trying to convince him to tarry longer, even though he usually would have recommended such.

 

------------

 

"Watch over him Estel," Elrond had quietly charged the young man as they prepared to set out. "He is not yet as healed as he thinks. Do not let him push himself too quickly."

 

Early dawn was just beginning to creep across the horizon as the two exiles readied to leave under cover of the weak morning light.

 

Aragorn nodded, shouldering his pack, but Elrond took hold of his arm gently, catching his eyes one last time. "Take care of yourself as well Estel." The elf lord’s eyes were intense. "You walk into danger greater than I think you imagine, and I would not lose you yet."

 

The young ranger nodded seriously, but then smiled, giving his adopted father a quick, parting hug. "Don’t worry father, we’ll be all right," he assured confidently.

 

Elrond smiled wistfully as he watched the two friends leave. He doubted Aragorn really realized what he was getting himself into.

 

"Are men always so sure of themselves?" Elrohir asked quietly from his father’s right as he watched Aragorn and Legolas depart.

 

"Perhaps," Elrond answered with a small smile. "Or perhaps it is merely Estel who is so eager to rush in where Valar fear to trod."

 

"We shouldn’t let them go alone," Elladan said, concern etched across his face. "Elrohir and I should go with them."

 

"No," Elrond sighed heavily. "Estel has his own road and his own destiny, we cannot shelter him forever. Those two were meant to do this together... but their future is shrouded in mist and to what end this will come I cannot see."

 

"It is to what end this will come that I fear," Elladan said softly.

 

------------

 

The trip across the Misty Mountains had been uneventful for the most part, and true to his word, and much to Legolas’ annoyance, Aragorn had watched over the prince like a hawk. At first it had been obvious that the elf was weaker than usual and their progress had been slowed a bit, but by the time the mountains were crossed and they were passing through the lands of the Beornings Legolas seemed to be fully up to par once more. His strength had returned and Aragorn began to relax a little and worry less about his friend’s well being.

 

And now they faced Mirkwood at last, stretching out before them as far as the eye could see both to the north and south. When they reached the first fringe of trees, Legolas paused a moment, gazing into the familiar woods he had thought he would never see again.

 

Aragorn said nothing, but stood quietly behind the elf, offering his silent support.

 

Legolas unslung his bow turned back to Aragorn. "Once we pass under these trees there is no turning back Estel." There was obviously no doubt in the prince’s mind as to his course of action, but he offered his friend one last chance to back out now.

 

Aragorn gripped the hilt of his sword in its scabbard. "Then what are we waiting for?"

 

Legolas smiled and turned back to the woods as the two friends delved into the shadows of the trees.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

It took them a bit more time traveling to reach the area where they had stumbled upon the spiders’ nest before and the trip was both dark and disturbing. Shadow was indeed taking over the wood and the presence of the elves was barely felt. Even Aragorn could feel the change, although he could not explain it. He had thought that the dark parts of Mirkwood couldn’t have gotten any more frightening, but he now found that he was wrong.

 

To Legolas the change was sharp and acridly clear, like a slap of cold water in the face. The trees moaned unhappily and it seemed that cobwebs and spider trails were everywhere. With the power of the Wood-elves receding and failing, there was nothing to halt the frank evil that wanted control of the forest.

 

Legolas clenched his bow tightly, his heart burning angrily at what he could see happening around them.

 

By the time they reached the deep ravine both of them were on edge and wary. Finding the same trail they had accidentally taken several months earlier the elf and the ranger picked their way cautiously down the narrow path, descending into the very heart of the spiders’ lair.

 

The atmosphere of the ravine had grown darker and more foreboding since their last visit here and the two friends moved silently through the choking, tangled brush.

 

When they heard voices ahead, Legolas motioned for Aragorn to halt and they both dropped down behind a fallen tree, scanning the area. Two large spiders were clinging to a tree branch a little ways off and a third was hanging down on its thread.

 

The voices they heard were shrill, and ugly sounding, and obviously did not belong to any elves. There seemed to be some kind of argument going on, and the two friends listened quietly.

 

"It’s not fair I tell you. Tairach keeps them all down there in her private underground burrow so she can have first pick." One voice whined angrily.

 

"If it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have gotten this far in the first place, quite complaining!" the second said with irritation.

 

It took Aragorn several moments to realize who was speaking and when he did it came as something of a shock. He glanced at Legolas and then back at the arguing spiders and inclined his head questioningly.

 

Legolas just put his finger to his lips, not really understanding his friend’s surprise. Of course, he knew that the spiders could speak, and were not the mindless creatures they looked, but it was news to Aragorn.

 

The young ranger began to get a better idea of just how all this was able to come to pass. The spiders were not like wargs, or other foul beasts that were evil, but ruled only by instinct and chance. No, they were more like orcs because they could think, reason and plan their loathsome deeds. And apparently the one they called Tairach, who was probably the same beast that Elrond had referred to as the mother-spider, was the mastermind of this invasion into elf territory and the claiming of the woods.

 

The spiders were still talking. "We haven’t had elf in this abundance in some time. They’ll be good when they’ve hung a bit."

 

Another laughed cruelly. "Yes, but I think my favorite part is the way they struggle when they start to wake up, until you put them out again. As if they’re pitiful attempts would do any good!"

 

The spiders cackled evilly.

 

That was about as much as Legolas cared to hear. Jumping to his feet he let three arrows fly in rapid succession and all three spiders fell dead before they knew what hit them. There was a scuttle of legs as other spiders, hidden in the trees further away saw what happened and raced off to sound the alarm.

 

Aragorn sprang up beside the prince and drew his sword. It was only a matter of time now until every spider in the place knew they were there, but this time, the two friends were prepared and this time, they had a plan.

 

Sure enough, a few moments later the first wave of spiders came rushing through the treetops towards them. If it were possible, it seemed that the spiders, emboldened by their recent successes, were even more aggressive than they had been the last time Aragorn and Legolas had encountered them, yet their boldness also made them more reckless.

 

The prince and the ranger felled creature after creature, slowly giving back towards the canyon wall, but intentionally drawing as much attention to themselves as possible. There were more spiders this time, than there had been last time and it took almost all of their combined skills to keep ahead of the angry black swarm.

 

When they reached the path leading out of the ravine, the two of them turned and ran, with nearly the entire contingent of spiders following them. The beasts pursued eagerly, thinking that their prey fled before them. They had no intentions of letting the two warriors go alive, after all, they had been to their secret nest, they knew their location.

 

Aragorn and Legolas raced up the path and into the woods as fast as they could, both of them shooting backward as they ran to pick off any spiders that were getting too close.

 

When the reached the ugly, gaping maw of the cave, by Shellons Fallow, they knew what they were going to do, what they had already set-up before going into the ravine. Still, Aragorn glanced worriedly at Legolas. This was the most dangerous part of their plan and he knew how Legolas felt about this cave... but it had been Legolas’ idea, so he had to trust that the elf was able to handle it.

 

Aragorn scrambled up into the rocks above the cave, hiding amid the crags.

 

Legolas paused in the mouth of the cave entrance, waiting for the spiders. It only took about half a minute for the spiders to gain their location and see the elf. Legolas had his bow drawn and dropped four or five of them before they reached him.

 

Aragorn tensed in his hiding place, wishing Legolas wouldn’t let them get quite so close. He didn’t like his friend using himself as bait, no matter how much they had planned ahead.

 

At the last possible moment, Legolas turned and retreated into the cave. The cavern was deep and he made for the back of it as swiftly as he could, shooting as he went.

 

The spiders followed him, thinking they had their prey trapped for certain now. Aragorn watched as the swarming black horde rushed heedlessly into the cavern and held his breath. The sheer number of the beasts was truly breathtaking.

 

Legolas retreated swiftly, but the spiders were too close for his bow to be much good now, so he abandoned it in favor of his knives. The creatures poured into the cave, on the floor, the walls, the ceiling... truly they were all around him now. Legolas repressed his slight wave of claustrophobia as he weaved his way through the towering stalagmites, slashing and hacking at the spiders as he did.

 

Once all the spiders were inside the cave, Aragorn scrambled forward until he was overlooking the mouth of the cavern. When they had examined this place and formed their plan, they found that the rocks up here were particularly unstable. Aragorn had remembered some of the things he had learned about stonework from Balin and Rorin during their time in Moria and together, Aragorn and Legolas had made sure that the whole area became a lot more unstable.

 

Now all Aragorn had to do was dislodge the beam they had put in place to keep the rockslide they had ready to start from happening before they wanted it, and, if all went as it should, they would effectively trap the spiders in the cave. If all went as it should. Of course there had been no way to test their plan and Aragorn only hoped that nothing would go wrong.

 

Just as Aragorn reached the beam supporting the rocks, he discovered that not *all* the spiders had gone into the cave. One sprang out at him from the rocks while another dropped down to land on his back. Aragorn threw the one off his shoulders, knowing how dangerous a spider bite would be at this point, and slashed at the one before him. Another sprang from the rocks, hissing and throwing webs.

 

Inside the cave, Legolas nearly had his back to the wall. He had an escape route planned, but could not use it until Aragorn started the rockslide. One of the spiders caught his hair, trying to get at his neck and Legolas only just ripped the beast free before it could treat him to another unpleasant bout of spider poison.

 

"Anytime now Aragorn," he muttered under his breath as he stabbed backward, skewering a spider without turning and hacking the legs off another. "Anytime now would be good..."

 

On the rocks above, Aragorn finally put an end to the last of his attackers and launched his weight against the beam, hoping the delay had not cost Legolas too dearly. It took three good shoves with all of Aragorn’s force and weight behind them to dislodge the support strut, but when it finally came loose the young ranger had to scramble to get out of the way of the powerful rock-slide he had set loose.

 

Legolas heard the rumble and felt the ground quiver beneath his feet as the first of the stones fell across the entry of the cave. He took a deep breath, trying not to remember any of his previous bad experiences with cave-ins.

 

The spiders halted and looked around, realizing something was wrong. In that moment of confusion, Legolas made his move. Breaking sideways he fought free of the spiders long enough to reach a small, hidden grotto that had a small shaft leading sharply up to the surface. It was the discovery of this unexpected passageway that had actually started this entire plan in the first place.

 

The rumble turned into a roar as the rockslide picked up speed and the cave went dark as the buried entrance blocked out the light. The spiders panicked and their shouts and curses added to the noise.

 

Legolas climbed swiftly through the narrow, slanting shaft, heading for the daylight above. Suddenly he was tugged sharply back, and felt something sticky and strong twining about his ankles. The spiders had found him and were trying to pull him back, or trap him where he was.

 

There was no room to maneuver in the tiny shaft, and the elf couldn’t even turn around to get at his attackers. Legolas kicked backward sharply, repeatedly, trying to shake them off. Claustrophobia and his own fear of being trapped in stone gripped at him, but he refused to let it own him. Scrabbling forward, he tried to pull free. And that’s when he heard the familiar sound of rending, groaning stone that has no longer wished to support its own weight.

 

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART NINE*~

 

 

 

 

Above, Aragorn felt the stones beneath him trembling, which he did not understand because the rockslide had already stopped, fully blocking the entrance just as they had planned. It took him about a half a minute to realize that perhaps they had done more than merely seal off the cave. Apparently they had made it unstable enough that that the whole thing was about to come down on itself.

 

"Legolas!" Aragorn shouted his friend’s name aloud in concern as he scrambled across the rumbling, shaking outcropping towards where the secret entrance they had found opened up to the outside world.

 

Legolas felt the earth trembling around him and tried to move faster, fighting with the spiders webbing that was trying to entangle his ankles and trap his legs. He couldn’t help remembering his past experiences with cave-ins now, in Moria, in Dorolyn... and Aragorn wondered why he hated caves!

 

"Legolas!" He heard Aragorn’s voice calling to him from up the tiny passage. The ranger’s head appeared as he looked in and saw Legolas.

 

Quickly, Aragorn hung down into the shaft, scrambling partway in, despite Legolas’ warnings to get out. Grabbing his friends hands, Aragorn pulled backward, helping the elf break free of the spiders’ webs and scrabble out of the hole just moments before it and everything else came down.

 

The two friends backed up a little distance, breathing hard.

 

"Well, *that* was unexpected," Aragorn said, leaning forward and resting his hands on his knees as he caught his breath.

 

"Just as well, I never liked that cave," Legolas remarked as he cleared the last of the spider web off his boots. He glanced sideways at Aragorn. The last time he had been pulled out of a collapsing cave like that it had been Elrond who saved him; it was somewhat ironic that something similar had happened again, this time with Aragorn by his side. "Why don’t you wait a little longer next time," he added with a dry grin. "You may be able to age me before my time yet."

 

"It wasn’t my fault," Aragorn protested, actually a little remorseful. "I was held up."

 

"I noticed," Legolas grinned to let him know that he was jesting only. "Well," he unslung his bow once more. "Our work is not yet done."

 

Aragorn nodded and they headed back into the ravine. There were more spiders yet down there, but it was down to more manageable levels and for the better part of a half hour they did battle with the remainder until most of the spiders were either dead or had retreated away and no longer pressed them.

 

Their battles had brought them deep into the ravine as the spiders retreated until they were in the very heart of the nest and close to where the mother spider herself lurked. They had yet to see hide or hair of her, and they knew their job here would not be done until that menace was taken care of once and for all.

 

They had separated slightly in their search for the hidden lair and Legolas turned when he heard Aragorn calling his name from nearby.

 

"Legolas, over here!" Aragorn called out. "I think I found it!"

 

The elf followed his friend’s voice until he stood beside Aragorn, regarding the dark, imposing mouth that yawned at them from the ground on their right.

 

The spiders they had heard arguing earlier had spoken of Tairach’s underground lair and the instant that Aragorn saw this place, he felt sure that they were getting close.

 

Legolas sighed inwardly. More caves. Why did it always have to be caves...?

 

There were still spiders scattered here and there in the trees, but after the decimation that had been wrought upon their numbers they hung back now, afraid to venture too close. As a warning, Aragorn and Legolas heaped a number of the dead spider carcasses and set them afire. The remaining spiders pulled back even farther.

 

Lighting two torches from the pyre they had created Legolas handed one to Aragorn and motioned to the dark gaping maw. Tairach’s nesting chamber was no more than a dank hole dug out of the earth itself. The sides of the cave were layered with spider webs. The silken threads that ran the length of the short passage were stiff and hard to the touch and they did not give when pressed. Their structure gave integrity to the walls and kept the burrow from collapsing in on itself. The small entry opened up into a large main chamber that adjoined Tairach’s personal nesting room.

 

There was a rank odor in the air, a musky moldy scent that marked the spiders. The younger arachnids lived in the surrounding forests choosing to make their homes and nests in the trees far above the ground or strung between the firs near the center of the southern forest. But this was Tairach’s home and she was the matriarchal spider. She had lived as long as Legolas could remember but never had she, nor her spawn, ever ventured as far into the northern woods or become as aggressive as they had since the elf prince had left Mirkwood’s borders and the king’s despondency had caused the protection of the realm to falter. The audacity of the creatures incensed the young lord and he determined to end the spider’s forays into the northern woods once and for all.

 

Elrond had made mention that some elves had even been taken by the spiders of late, and the argument they had heard earlier between the spiders seemed to concur with the notion. That in its self was unacceptable and Legolas hoped they would not be too late.

 

As they stole into the nesting chamber he was faced with the brutality of his answer.

 

"What are these?" Aragorn whispered to Legolas as he stepped into the main chamber of Tairach’s lair. He held up his torch before him illuminating dozens of white oblong shapes hung from the ceiling, attached to the top of the room by a single thick silken thread. As the ranger approached the one nearest him he could tell they were actually spider silk spun tightly around tall objects, but what they encased was a mystery to him.

 

He turned towards Legolas as he heard the elf gasp. The prince stood in the entrance to the spider’s burrow, his face a mask of horror. Slowly he met the ranger’s eyes and his voice was haunted when he spoke, "They are cocoons."

 

Leaning forward Aragorn touched the lacy white shape in front of him, pressing his palm against its outer casing. He could barely feel heat emanating from it. As the meaning sunk in, he stared wide-eyed at his friend, "They are alive."

 

"They are elves." Legolas thrust his torch into the wall near him; it stuck fast in the hard webbing that lined the room. Slipping his knife from its casing he gently ran the blade perpendicular to the heavy strands. They separated with a distinct popping sound.

 

Aragorn imitated the prince, carefully drawing his sword up the side of the cocoon he faced. As the webbing fell away he could barely make out the image of an elf inside the casing. Something was familiar about the long serene face and with a start he recognized the warrior trapped inside.

 

"Legolas it is Raniean!" He re-sheathed his sword and tore at the tendrils of spider weaving breaking them away from the elf’s face as Legolas ran to his side. Aragorn forced his way into the cocoon and gently wrapped his hands around Raniean’s neck, pressing his fingers against the warm flesh feeling for a pulse; he found it, slow and steady but definitely there.

 

"He lives!" Aragorn turned to the prince.

 

"Get him out! Now!" Legolas ripped at the sticky net that enfolded his friend and between the two of them they had freed the warrior in minutes. Aragorn helped the elf prince gently lay the unconscious warrior on the dirt floor.

 

"Will he be all right?"

 

"Yes." Legolas was quickly looking over the elf for any wounds or broken bones. A small bite mark on the warriors neck indicated the point where he had been injected with the spider’s poison. "Remember what Trelan told you, the poison does not kill only puts one into a deep sleep. He’ll wake soon." Legolas glanced around the room at the remaining cocoons, "Tairach is obviously not here. We have to free them all before she returns, quickly help me!"

 

They had freed nearly half the imprisoned elves before Tairach returned. Raniean’s whole troop of warriors had been overcome by the spiders; those that had been released were regaining consciousness and had begun to help the two friends free the others, when a soft sticky tapping sounded up the passageway. It was the sound of a many-legged creature walking towards them down the earthen hall.

 

Aragorn froze and looked towards Legolas. The elf crouched low in the dark room and quietly reached for his bow, unslinging it and notching an arrow against its string. The rest of the elves flattened themselves down close to the ground and watched the entry.

 

The quieting scratching sounds of the spider’s descent stopped. The silence was more intolerable than the sound of the insect’s approach and it took all of Aragorn’s nerve to wait patiently.

 

Slowly Tairach’s luminous eyes came into view. The bulk of her body was still hidden in the passageway. She was aware of the intruders in her chambers and she could see that the meals she had saved for later, no longer waited for her as she eyed the elves stirring quietly on the floor as they woke slowly from her poison. Her keen sense of smell caught the hints of a different scent. Not elf, not dwarf, nothing she had come into contact with before. In her tiny evil mind she associated the smell with the death of her children outside and with the violation of her private nesting. Rage built within her dark heart. Gathering her legs beneath her she sprung into the room.

 

Aragorn was caught by surprise as the large black projectile that was Tairach launched itself at him. He ducked at the last possible moment, barely hearing Legolas’ shouts of warning. On instinct he raised the sword in his hand and thrust it at the black creature. The blade bit into the soft under belly of the monstrous insect and she fell with a piercing shriek to the floor.

 

It was hard to see in the dim lighting that the two torches afforded but Legolas reacted to the dark shape releasing his arrows at the evil creature.

 

However Tairach hadn’t lived as long as she had without encountering elves before. Her reflexes though somewhat slowed by the blow Aragorn had dealt her, were still inhumanly quick and she skittered sideways narrowly avoiding the broadhead. A wicked hiss emanated from the arachnid as Legolas restrung his bow. Not waiting on the elf the spider scurried to the back of the room and entered the darkened antechamber.

 

Aragorn straightened slowly from where he was crouched down. Black thick ichor dripped from his sword and he grimaced as he cleaned the blade, wiping it off with a scrap of cloth he found on the floor.

 

Legolas was running towards the remaining cocoons. With Tairach in the lair they were out of time. He needed to get the elves on their feet and out of the nest quickly. He only hoped that her brood was still too frightened by their latest losses to come to her defense.

 

"Go!" Legolas turned and yelled at the ranger, "Find Tairach. Kill her. If we destroy this nest the fledglings will be scattered and easier to kill. We’ll free the last of the elves." Raniean and Trelan joined the prince shouting orders at their men as they worked hard to shake off the effects of the spider poison and help free their companions and began to herd the waking elves out of the nest to safety.

 

"Be careful!" Aragorn warned them and ran into the darkened cave that the spider had retreated to.

 

He looked wildly about him; he knew Tairach was hidden in this inner room somewhere and the ranger had the odd sensation that this was where she would put up a fight. He waved his torch slowly around the room peering into the oddly cut out corners, trying to see through the labyrinth of spider silk that covered ever inch of the cave. The room was pitch black and the dim firelight did not penetrate well as it refracted off of the silvery threads that hung about him.

 

The skitter of rocks behind him caused the ranger to jump and look back towards the entrance of the lair. His momentary inattention was all that Tairach needed. Silently she slid down a length of web, reaching down with one long multi-jointed leg she hooked her claw tipped foot around the human’s neck and jerked him off the floor.

 

The stranglehold caught Aragorn by surprise and he dropped the torch he held; it clattered to the earth floor and sputtered. He tried to pry Tairach’s foot from around his throat but the small barbs on the insect’s sticky footpad dug into his neck. The barbed tip pierced just below his collarbone as he kicked, struggling to free himself and he cried out at the inflicted pain.

 

"Legolas!" The ranger knew he was in trouble as a second appendage wrapped about his waist digging into his hip, "Legolas!" His words were choked off as Tairach pulled him closer to her, tightening the hold she had on her prey. As his breath was cut off Aragorn lost his grip on his sword and it fell to the floor with a clang, out of reach, as Tairach scuttled towards the ceiling of her lair dragging the human with her.

 

The elf prince heard Aragorn’s strangled cries from the inner room. He quickly lowered the last cocoon to the floor and handed his knife to Morifwen, who was just reviving and gaining his feet. Pressing the handle into the warrior’s hand, he motioned to the still trapped elf and instructed the dazed survivor, "Cut him free." He motioned to the remaining cocoon, "I’ll be right back."

 

Legolas ran into the darkened room, his bow in hand and strung, but there was no one to be seen. The cave was completely empty except for the torch that Aragorn had dropped. It lay in the middle of the lair still burning in the dark denseness of webbing that coated every wall of the hollowed out burrow. Picking up the torch the elf weaved the firebrand around the interior of the room. The soft light caught the blade of Aragorn’s sword imbedded in a thick web to Legolas’ right. Re-shouldering his bow the elf retrieved his friend’s weapon. There was no other entrance or exit from the room and he knew he had seen Aragorn enter. His panic heightened with every second.

 

A soft struggling echoed from above him and he heard the sounds of labored breathing. The elf thrust the torch over his head and peered into the vaulted space of the inside of Tairach’s burrow.

 

"Aragorn?"

 

"Help." The answer was choked and whispered. It was getting harder to breathe with Tairach’s leg wrapped around his throat and the ranger was starting to see yellow spots dance in front of his eyes. He could hear the distinct quiet sounds of her prehensile jaws clacking as she drew him closer to her mouth.

 

Legolas barely caught sight of Aragorn dangling from the spiders grasp feet above his head. With a lunge he threw the torch into the silky threads to the left of the spiders position. The webbing burst into flames, the fiery tendrils swiftly spreading from where the torch had stuck in the natural netting.

 

Tairach screamed and released her hold on Aragorn. The human fell to the cavern floor and lay motionless for several seconds as he gulped air into his oxygen starved lungs.

 

In moments the room was on fire. And sparks of fire rained down around the two companions as the spiders silk ignited, exploding with the heated touch and eating up the supply of oxygen in the earthen cave.

 

Legolas leaned down and drug Aragorn to his feet. "Now Strider! We must leave!" He shouted to the human over the roar of the flames.

 

Staggering to his feet, the ranger was forcefully pushed out of the nest by the elf as the intricate webbing overhead came crashing down on the very spot where they had stood.

 

The elves in the outer chamber that had been released were just gaining their feet, their senses returning to them slowly as Aragorn and Legolas were thrown from the inner room by the heat of the blast.

 

Aragorn curled into a ball when he hit the ground, covering his head with his hands as the flames blew out over their heads. The screams of fear from the retreating elves sounded in his ears and were echoed in the unearthly shriek of Tairach. The huge arachnid leapt into the doorway that separated the adjoining rooms. She reared up on her back legs her screams of rage spiking fear through the human. He rolled onto his back, trying to get away from the horrific creature as she advanced on him. He had no weapons to fight her off and was still attempting to force air back into his lungs.

 

Tairach screamed in rage, towering over the gasping, prostrate human who had once escaped her already.

 

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART TEN*~

 

 

 

Legolas had been thrown to the side of the cavern, away from his friend. He watched spellbound as the insect dropped into the main room and for a brief second was frozen in fear. Tairach was huge; he had never seen one of the evil creatures grow to her size before. She easily stood as tall as an elf when she raised herself up on all eight legs and her body was as thick as the trees that grew in the southern woods.

 

When she advanced on the human, Legolas sprang into action. He rolled up into a crouched position, unslung his bow and stringing two arrows simultaneously, he let the projectiles fly. The shafts flew true and struck the spider through her thorax as she raised herself up over the form of the cowering human.

 

Faster than the eye could follow, the elf re-notched his bow. The second volley pierced the spider’s small head and she toppled sideways, rolling over onto her back, her ugly black legs contracting slightly in the last throes of death.

 

Legolas ran forward and pulled Aragorn away from the hideous creature. The fire from the inner lair was spreading, creeping across the ceiling of the main chamber like a living being, consuming the silvery prison cell that had held so many of Legolas’ people trapped.

 

The elf ran his hand quickly over the human’s throat, feeling the tiny cuts for any barbs the spider might have left behind. The young rangers eyes were huge as he stared at the elf.

 

Legolas nodded in reassurance, "You’re all right."

 

Nodding numbly in reply Aragorn glanced back at the advancing fire. The elf prince shoved the human’s sword into his hand and grabbed the man by his coat dragging him towards the entrance to the burrow, "We have to get out of here, its all going to come down!" Aragorn ran with the elf for the front of the cave.

 

They gained the open ground as the passageway behind them collapsed, sending sparks of fire into the trees surrounding the destroyed nest. The webs of the spiders near the Tairach’s lair quickly caught fire and spread throughout the canopy filling the immediate area with soot and smoke.

 

Legolas choked on the thick air as they led the freed elves out of the dark woods. Aragorn caught glimpses of Tairach’s brood in the upper reaches of the trees but the spiders were heading farther south, away from the perceived threat of the elves and in hopes of finding a new nesting ground amidst the empty towers of Dol Guldur in the black lands where the elves never ventured.

 

Near the border of the northern woods Aragorn and Legolas quietly stole away, separating from the returning elves, and sought safety in the mountain hills on the perimeter of the forbidden elven territory. The refugees were so dazed and wearied that not even the elf warriors noticed the passing of the two friends. Once under the familiar woods they were able to find their own way home and staggered on without their rescuers.

 

From a short distance away, the two hooded and cloaked figures stood atop a thickly wooded hill and watched the returning elves slowly making their way back towards their homes. A number of them were wounded, although on the whole it was nothing worse than hefty doses of spider poison. They would survive, but they would not feel well for some time.

 

The palace itself had been turned into a temporary house of healing for the worst cases that had been accumulating during the long battle with the spiders and many of the wounded were being brought thither now. The great gates stood open to allow their passage and Legolas followed them with his keen eyes, a terrible longing pulling at his heart as he gazed upon his home. It was strange and painful to view it as an outsider, looking in. Even more painful was knowing that somewhere in there his father lay at death’s door, and yet if he ventured anywhere near the King, his own life was forfeit.

 

Aragorn clutched his sword lightly, but warily, at his side, glancing at his friend out of the corner of his eye and wondering how the prince must feel being at the same time so close and yet so far from his home. He tried to catch a glimpse of Legolas’ eyes, but the low hoods they had donned to conceal their identity hid all but his friend’s tense mouth and jaw line. Still, the ranger felt he could read some of the emotions Legolas must surely be feeling.

 

The young man remembered his own feelings and fears when they entered Rivendell, and he had even had the small comfort of feeling at least halfway sure that Elrond would not turn him away... Yet it was Legolas’ father that had pronounced this doom upon them and death awaited if they ventured nearer.

 

"Look," Legolas gestured quietly to the ranger at his side. "There are so many going in, they do not watch the gate very closely. There will be many in the halls as well... one more could pass unnoticed..."

 

Aragorn knew what Legolas was thinking. Indeed, he suspected that the elf had been considering it since they first returned to Mirkwood.

 

"Legolas," Aragorn said seriously, his eyes searching his friend’s. "You know they’ll kill you if you’re caught in there." His voice was quiet. He was not actually trying to dissuade the elf, but he felt compelled to point out the consequences.

 

Legolas nodded without hesitation, he was well aware of that. "I know. But it is a risk I will take. Aragorn..." he shook his head slowly, his eyes filled with sorrow and pain. "He is my father, and he is dying. I would speak to him again, at least one last time, even if my life is the price I pay. Would you do less if it was Elrond who was dying?"

 

Aragorn sheathed his sword resolutely. He knew he would have done the same thing in Legolas’ position. "All right then, let’s go."

 

"No, Strider," Legolas stopped his friend with a raised hand. "Not this time. This is something I must do alone."

 

"But you might need help," Aragorn protested. He did not want his friend to go in there by himself, knowing what he faced. "I’ve come with you thus far, I know the risks, I’ve already chosen them. I will stay by your side."

 

"Aragorn..." Legolas’ eyes were serious and firm. "You are a dear friend, dearer than a brother. But this is not your home. These are not your people, and it is not your father who is dying. There are some places where even you cannot follow me Strider. I must go alone."

 

"I’m not afraid to die Legolas," Aragorn said quietly, although he could already see in the elf’s clear, sad eyes that this was an argument he was not going to win.

 

"I know you’re not, my friend," Legolas squeezed Aragorn’s shoulder lightly. "But it is not yet your time. You have too much life in front of you to think about death young one." The elf grinned softly, because he knew that it always irked Aragorn when he called him that. Yet it was true.

 

Legolas turned and began to descend the slope and Aragorn had the horrible, sinking feeling that he was never going to see his friend again.

 

"Legolas!" his voice halted the elf and Legolas turned back for a moment.

 

"May your heart find peace," Aragorn bid the prince, wishing he could find the words he really wanted to say. He started to clasp his friend’s hand in parting, but then pulled the elf close instead. Legolas wrapped his arm around the young ranger’s shoulders, returning his farewell embrace.

 

"Namárië Aragorn, may the stars always shine on your path," Legolas whispered softly into his friend’s ear before they separated again. His hood had fallen back and they were able to meet eyes one more time. "And if I do not see you again under these heavens, know that I consider myself blessed to have counted you my friend."

 

"And I you," Aragorn returned gravely, realizing for the first time that Legolas was not really expecting to return from this foray, which was probably why he did not want his friend to go with him.

 

Legolas lightly flipped his hood back up, into place, and started down the hill again, leaving Aragorn standing alone on the slope. Aragorn watched the elf blend effortlessly in with the others in the distance. He followed his friend’s form until Legolas passed beneath the shadow of the great gates and was lost to his view.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Legolas slid silently through the familiar passages of his home. He had been right about the number of people in the halls and since he carried himself as one who was well aquatinted with the place, no one took any notice of him.

 

Still, the elf kept his hood up and his face down, because he knew that here of all places, the danger of being recognized was most high. Several winding hallways finally led him to the familiar door of his father’s chambers. Here, Legolas finally hesitated. How many times had he passed through these doors in his long lifetime? And yet now he stood outside them, afraid to enter, a fugitive in his own house.

 

A sharp pain wrapped itself around Legolas’ heart and squeezed tightly. He was not afraid to face the consequences of this visit... if he had to die, he could accept that. What he *was* afraid of was that he would go into his father and the older elf would reject him. That the King would keep his vow and even on the verge of death refuse to look upon the son that had defied him. That, Legolas did not think he could bear. Yet this was something he had to do, whatever the outcome.

 

Slowly, the elf prince pushed the door open and let himself silently into his father’s chambers. There was no one in the lush, beautiful anti-chamber where Thranduil entertained his guests, and where Legolas had spent so many restful evenings simply talking and laughing with the older elf about everything and nothing at all.

 

This place held too many memories for Legolas, and he padded quickly over the thick rugs without making a sound. Ahead on the left was the doorway to his father’s sleeping chamber and he could hear soft, muted voices from within. One of the voices approached the partially open bedroom door and Legolas quickly pressed himself back into the shadow of a draping curtain as the door was pushed open from inside.

 

Elrynd, one of Thranduil’s faithful servants who Legolas knew well, exited the room. The elf’s fair face was grim and sad and Legolas read there all the things about his father’s condition that he did not want to fully accept.

 

The young prince waited until Elrynd left on whatever errand he had been sent before making his way back towards the bedchamber. The door stood ajar and through the crack, Legolas could see that there was no one else present save the sad figure of his father on the bed. The Elvenking lay with his back to the door.

 

Silently admitting himself into the room, Legolas’ heart pounded loudly in his ears as he approached his father’s bed. He was perhaps more frightened of this meeting than he had ever been of anything else he had yet encountered in his life.

 

Thranduil lay motionless against the pillows and a deadly pallor like a frost lay upon him. His ageless features looked infinitely older and sorrow creased every line of his care-worn face. It broke Legolas’ heart to see his father in such a state.

 

"Elrynd?" Thranduil asked weakly when he sensed that someone had entered; his voice slurred slightly. There was nothing physically wrong with him, but his own feelings of despair had eaten away at him until he was very literally letting go of life all together, his body wasting away with his spirit.

 

Legolas froze, momentarily unable to speak.

 

Thranduil rolled over with an effort, his eyes lighting on the cloaked, hooded form of the stranger at his bedside. The king blinked hazily as he attempted to focus on the newcomer, his brows furrowing in confusion. "Elrynd?"

 

Legolas swallowed hard. "Nay, not Elrynd..." with a quick flick of his wrist, the elf prince let his hood fall back, "...Father."

 

 

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART ELEVEN*~

 

 

 

Thranduil’s glazed eyes widened with shock and surprise. "L-Legolas?" he breathed his son’s name unbelievingly. "My son... you shouldn’t be here my son..." the king whispered weakly, his face filled with unbearable pain.

 

Legolas dropped to his knees by the bed, forbidding his body to tremble. "Forgive me father, I had to come."

 

"Legolas..." Thranduil’s voice was frail and rasping, his eyes searching blearily for his son’s face.

 

"I know what it means father, I’m sorry," Legolas’ words tumbled swiftly out on top of one another. "But I-I had to see you again..." his voice choked slightly.

 

"Legolas," Thranduil cut him off, holding his arms out weakly.

 

Legolas had to choke back his emotions as he readily allowed himself to be folded into his father’s embrace. Clinging to the older elf tightly, Legolas buried his face against his father’s shoulder.

 

"My son... my son..." Thranduil murmured as he hugged Legolas close, cupping the back of the younger elf’s head in his hand and stroking his son’s hair as he did when Legolas was a child, many, many years ago. Silent tears ran down the king’s pale, wan face. "I have missed you Legolas. All has gone ill since you left, as if a curse has fallen over us... I have failed my people when they need me most."

 

Legolas closed his eyes tightly against his own overflowing emotions, but was only partially able to hold them in check. "I missed you too Father," his voice caught slightly as his shoulders shook despite his best efforts. "More than you can know. But the spiders are dealt with now, there is no more danger. You have failed no one father. You must get well now, you must."

 

Legolas heard the door open behind him. Elrynd had re-entered the room and Amil-Garil, captain of the king’s guard, was with him. They stopped when they saw the king and his son. Neither spoke. Neither dared.

 

Legolas tensed when he sensed the presences behind him, but did not move, lingering here in his father’s warm embrace for as long as he could. Savoring every last touch of his father’s love before having to face what he knew waited for him. When Thranduil told him to go with them, then he would leave and he would accept his fate without regret.

 

"What is it Elrynd?" Thranduil spoke with more authority and strength than he had in months. Legolas still had not turned around and his father had not released him. He tensed as the elf behind him spoke but his father’s hands on his back calmed him. It mattered not what happened now. He was not rejected in the one way that truly mattered. Whatever had to happen, his father loved him still.

 

"We found an intruder my lord." Elrynd spoke hesitantly.

 

Legolas closed his eyes and relaxed, awaiting the inevitable.

 

"He is my son." Thranduil did not move or release the young elf he held onto. "Leave us now."

 

"No, my lord that is not what I meant, the intruder, I..." the elf hesitated, unsure how to proceed as Legolas turned in his father’s arms to stare at Elrynd, "I was not speaking of your...your son lord Thranduil. I was speaking of this one."

 

The messenger stepped aside and the Captain of the guard motioned two warrior elves into the king’s room. They drug a small figure in with them and shoved the intruder forward. He tripped at the rough handling and fell to the floor, the hood of his cloak concealing his identity. The person was tightly bound and made no move to rise.

 

Legolas did not need to see the intruder’s face to know who he was. The dark strands of hair that brushed the thick carpet gave his friend away and he could tell by the man’s breathing that he had been roughed up before being brought into the king’s chambers.

 

"No." the elf prince barely whispered the word, stunned silent by this new turn. Now they would both pay with their lives.

 

Thranduil watched his son carefully as one of the warriors reached down and jerked the hood away from Aragorn’s face. The man was lying on his side, his eyes closed in pain as he breathed in slowly, forcing air back into lungs that weren’t quite working right yet, trying to get his diaphragm to remember how to work correctly after the vicious pounding he had just taken from the guards.

 

"Strider?"

 

At the sound of the prince’s voice the human moved his head slightly, looking in the direction of the elf. Legolas still knelt by his father’s bed. Thranduil had allowed the young elf to turn around but had not yet released him.

 

"I’m sorry." The young man whispered hoarsely, coughing as he finally caught his breath, "I got caught. I thought you might need help."

 

"You were not supposed to follow." Legolas leaned forward to help the man sit up but was stopped by one of the guards who blocked his path.

 

"Release him." The elf prince ordered out of habit.

 

"You carry no authority here outcast." The guard’s voice was hard and he would not look the elf in the eyes.

 

"Do not speak to him thus," Thranduil sat slowly up in bed, his eyes hard, his strength seeming to return before their very eyes, "He is my son." Looking to the human the king ordered his guards, "Leave us alone. Remove the human, I will deal with him later."

 

"No!" Legolas turned to implore his father, "No, father. Aragorn is the reason I am able to return to you at all."

 

The king held up his hand and the warriors stepped back, leaving the ranger lying on the carpet.

 

Legolas continued, "I suffered morgul poisoning, to the point of death. There was no one to help us. Aragorn saved me." He tried to cover up for Elrond’s part in his healing but the ranger softly spoke up.

 

"Elrond saved him. I only took your son home to my father." He met the king’s eyes and held them. Legolas sighed deeply and turned away from them both. He had not wanted to involve Elrond if he could help it, and he still was not convinced that his father would not take steps against the other Elven lord.

 

"Did he now?" Thranduil’s voice was hard as stared back at the ranger.

 

"Yes he did." Aragorn answered the question. When Thranduil did not back down the ranger simply shook his head and laid back down on the carpet, his body was still aching from the beating he had taken when the guards had caught him. Whatever his fate it was out of his hands.

 

"Do not hold it against him father."

 

Thranduil’s gaze softened and he smiled at the young elf, "How could I? I owe him a great debt of gratitude that I cannot repay."

 

"But you can," Legolas returned the smile as a thought struck him. "Aragorn is Elrond’s own. He has claimed him as his son. Give him back his life as Elrond gave me back mine."

 

"Legolas..."

 

"Father," The young elf did not give the king the chance but continued, "It was Aragorn who had found the spider’s lair. Together we were able to destroy the nests and drive those foul creatures from the woods. Every wounded elf beneath your chambers in this palace owes his life to Aragorn."

 

"And to you." Aragorn twisted in his bonds and nodded at Legolas, more than anything he wanted his friend reunited with his father. Carefully he raised himself up to his knees, bowing low in respect to the elderly elf. "Your son underestimates his part. Because of Legolas the wastelands are free of orcs, their danger has been driven back into the evil mountains from whence they came." He smiled at his friend, "It was his bravery that slew Tairach where she hung in her nest. His actions would have made you proud."

 

"His actions have made me proud young human."

 

Legolas turned to back to his father, holding his breath in hope and fear.

 

King Thranduil looked between the two friends, gazing at them long and hard. His heart most desperately wanted his son back, the human, he would have to keep his eye on him before he was comfortable with the ranger, but the fact that Elrond had taken him as a son was no light matter. He could not condemn the man to death and he had the very distinct suspicion that if he did Legolas would go with him down to the grave.

 

Shaking his head at the two youths, he addressed the warrior standing closest to the ranger, "Release him."

 

Aragorn flinched slightly as the elf whipped out a long knife and stepped forward. He cut the ropes that held the man bound, in one swift motion.

 

As the bonds fell away from his wrists the man sucked his breath in sharply, the rush of blood to his fingers causing him no small amount of pain. He carefully rubbed the red burn marks the ropes had made on the soft skin of his wrists as Legolas glared at the elf warrior.

 

"Leave us." The king ordered. "I will address the courts regarding the fate of my son and the human." As Elrynd bowed to take his leave the king spoke once more, "And see to it that proper quarters are prepared for the human. Re-open the prince’s rooms and see that they are well kept."

 

Legolas touched the king’s arm lightly with his fingers, "Father I would be more at ease if Aragorn were allowed to stay in my guest quarters tonight." His implored the elder elf.

 

"I see your point." Thranduil conceded and addressed his servant once more, "See to my sons wishes and prepare his guest quarters."

 

"As you wish my lords." Elrynd replied with a smile as he bowed to the two elves.

 

Aragorn still sat on the floor, watching the whole exchange, unsure if they had been released from their death sentence or just given a temporary reprieve.

 

"Father!" Legolas shouted the word with such joy that the human couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his lips as the young elf threw himself back into the arms of the king. "Thank you father."

 

"It is not finished yet my son." Thranduil held the young elf to him, feeling his strength return more every moment as he grabbed back onto life, to love, to hope... to his son. "We still must face the council."

 

"Surely our actions speak for our intentions, do they not?" Legolas was unsure what would happen next.

 

Thranduil looked over his son’s shoulder at the man seated on the floor of his room and raised his eyebrow, he almost smiled at the wide eyed expression on the human’s face, "Young human, you say Elrond has claimed you as his son?"

 

"Yes?"

 

Legolas released his father and seated himself on the king’s bed, holding one of the elderly elf’s hands in his own.

 

"If I sent for him tonight and told him you were here, would he come for you?" the King queried again.

 

"Yes my lord and my brothers would accompany him also, I am sure of it." Aragorn looked questioningly at Legolas. The elf shrugged his shoulders slightly, uncertain where his father was going with the line of questioning.

 

"And you claim that your father does not acknowledge my sentencing of the two of you."

 

"No, my lord, he does not." A spike of fear ran through the ranger as he answered, unwilling to put his adoptive father in jeopardy; he began to defend the elven lord.

 

Thranduil raised his hand and stopped the ranger. "A king’s verdict on any given subject is law and therefore cannot be violated or simply ignored." The color drained from Aragorn’s face as he heard the words but the king continued, "However if two rulers agree that the edict was perhaps ill conceived or has outlived its purpose it may be over-turned. It takes two however to do this." He stared hard at the boy in his room, "Will Elrond agree that perhaps this particular ruling in this particular case has outlived its purpose and needs be dropped?"

 

The rangers sigh of relief caused the king to laugh lightly. "I’ll take that as a yes." He turned towards the outer chambers and called for his servant.

 

When Elrynd opened the door and stepped in he was surprised to find the king standing near the fire, stoking the dying embers. Just how fast Thranduil was recovering was truly remarkable, almost unbelievable if Elrynd had not been witnessing it with his own eyes.

 

Legolas reached down to his friend and pulled Aragorn up into a warm embrace, checking the human out to make sure he was okay after the abuse he had taken when he had been caught. He was quietly chiding the man about being more careful and disappearing into his surroundings better. The whole scene shocked the servant who only moments ago was tending a dying king.

 

"My lord, you called me?" The servant asked.

 

"Yes Elrynd," The king approached the elf, "I need you to send an envoy to Rivendell tonight, to request that Lord Elrond attend a council that I will be convening in two days." The elf king glanced at his son and Aragorn, "That should give him enough time?"

 

"Yes my lord." Aragorn replied respectfully.

"Tell him it involves his son." Thranduil turned back to Elrynd continuing to instruct him.

He was interrupted as Aragorn spoke up, "Begging your pardon my lord, but please make sure to tell him, and especially his sons, that Aragorn is well and lives." He smiled a lopsided grin at the questioning glance from the king, "They can be overprotective." He explained with a shrug.

 

Thranduil nodded, "I understand completely. Make sure you tell Elrond that his son is well and tell the brothers not worry, it is a merely a formality. I am sure Lord Elrond will understand."

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Waking up had never felt quite so good in a very long time. Aragorn lay in his bed and let the soft sounds of morning sweep over him, he was in no hurray to get up and relaxed back against the soft mattress. A smile touched his lips as he remembered that this was the day his father and his brothers would be joining him at Lord Thranduil’s palace in Mirkwood. He had spent the last couple of days catching up on his rest as he and Legolas used the palace as a sanctuary. Few of the elves even knew they had returned and those that did, had been sworn to silence by the King himself.

 

Legolas pushed the door open that separated their adjoining rooms and looked around the darkened interior for his friend.

 

"Are you still in bed? Know you not what hour it is?" The elf walked to the large window that exited on to the balcony and threw the curtains back letting bright morning light spill into the guest quarters.

 

He turned and frowned back at the bedchamber. "Strider get up!"

 

"Feels too good to just lay here." The man grumbled, pulling the covers over his head.

 

"Your brothers were spotted on edge of the wood." Legolas smiled wickedly at the lump of covers that marked where Aragorn lay.

 

"What?" Aragorn moved and squinted at the elf, "Then get out of here and let me get up!"

 

Legolas laughed and walked back to the door, "Very well dress quickly, I’ll be waiting for you in the courtyard. Your family should be here any minute."

 

When the door had shut behind the elf, Aragorn jumped from his bed and quickly pulled on his leggings and tunic. He ran his hands through his hair and stuffed his feet into his boots, pelting down the stairs after his friend. Throwing the door open the human nearly ran Legolas over where the elf stood in the courtyard talking with Raniean as they awaited their guests.

 

The sounds of horses’ hooves could just be heard as they entered the cobbled stone entry of the courtyard. Aragorn’s excitement was contagious and Legolas found himself grinning as Elrond and his sons rode under the archway of the palace and dismounted near them. Raniean and his men took charge of the animals and led them away slowly, letting the horses walk off the long trip before they gave them food and water.

 

Aragorn found himself caught up between the twins who barely remembered their manners bowing slightly to the prince before they overwhelmed their brother. Their laughter rang off the stone walls of Thranduils’ palace and filled the courtyard. Elrond shook his head watching the three of them. If he hadn’t known how old the twins truly where he would have thought them to be no older than Aragorn. The young human brought out the youth in his sons and he smiled as he watched them.

 

Walking over to Legolas he bowed slightly and questioned the young man, "How do you feel young prince? I trust you are better than last we met?"

 

Legolas formally returned the bow smiling, "Yes thanks to your administrations my lord I am doing well."

 

Elrond turned to watch the brothers as they battered Aragorn with questions. Elladan stepped close to the human and cupped his hands under the man’s chin forcing Aragorn’s head back and inspected the almost healed wounds Tairach had dealt him, "What happened to you?"

 

"That looks nasty." Elrohir ran his fingers lightly around the man’s throat tracing the cuts the spiders claw had left.

 

Aragorn wrestled himself free of the two elves and brushed their hands aside. "I’m fine!" He glared at Elrond begging for help, but the elder elf only smiled back at the youth and raised his hands helplessly.

 

Elrohir sidled up to Aragorn and leaned down on the human’s shoulder glancing at him conspiratorially as a wicked smile spread across his face. He threw a quick look at his twin before confiding in the human, "When Thranduil’s men came and requested our presence, Elladan wasn’t there. So when he got back I told him that they had killed you."

 

The elf started laughing at his own joke.

 

Aragorn turned wide eyes on his brother, "Elrohir! You didn’t?"

 

Through his laughter the elf continued, "I did. Elladan didn’t take it very well but father ruined it and told him the truth."

 

Elladan glowered at his brother, "That was the cruelest thing you have ever done Elrohir."

 

"I was only getting you back for that time you said the white deer where running in the vale and then you left me there without a horse." Elrohir stepped away from Aragorn and challenged his brother.

 

Legolas laughed and joined the conversation, "The white deer run through your woods?"

 

Elrond left the young elves to their hunting tales as Thranduil’s attendant Elrynd, entered the courtyard. He bowed low to the Noldor elf, "My lord, King Thranduil has requested your company. Would you follow me?"

 

Elrond turned his gaze back to the companions watching as Elrohir held their attention expounding on one of the twins’ recent hunting forays.

 

"They are safe here my lord. Few know that they are in the castle and those that do have been sworn to secrecy." Elrynd offered mistaking the elf’s attention for worry.

 

Elrond nodded and motioned for the twins to follow him as he caught Elladan’s eye.

 

"We’d like to stay with Aragorn and Legolas." His son called back.

 

"As you wish." His eyes cautioned the younger elf and Elladan nodded back knowingly. They were with Silvan elves, in territory that had been declared off limits under penalty of death to their human brother. Until the entire proceedings were over he was not out of danger and Elrond wanted his sons to be wary. Noldor and Silvan elves were not always known to get along; the day’s events would prove very interesting. Turning back to Elrynd he gestured for the servant to lead the way.

 

Legolas stilled his laughter long enough to catch his breath. He touched Elladan’s shoulder lightly drawing the twins attention, "The assembly will begin soon. We need to prepare." He glanced at Aragorn and looked the human up and down, taking note of the dark rumpled clothing, "You aren’t wearing that are you?"

 

Elladan turned toward the human and appraised him, "No, he’s not." He answered for the man.

 

Aragorn looked from Legolas to his brother in surprise, "Yes I am! I am a ranger. This is how rangers dress."

 

"You at least need a shower." His eldest brother frowned at him.

 

"It’s all right Aragorn," Elrohir interrupted them, "I brought your formal wear." He smiled at the man noting the way the human had suddenly become highly self-conscious. Right now the last thing Aragorn needed was more stress, he had a feeling that the formalities of the assembly would be enough to put the young human on edge.

 

Aragorn nodded and smiled back, "Fine. Lets go then."

 

Legolas led the brothers back up to his quarters, "Come on, I need a change of clothing too. It will be very formal. I’ll tell you all about what to expect before we are summoned."

 

They mounted the stairs listening intently to the elf prince as he explained everything that would take place over the course of the day.

 

An hour later a knock on the prince’s door alert them that proceedings were beginning. Legolas was dressed in a forest green velvet leggings and tunic. The tunic had been embroidered with golden thread, weaving intricate patterns of leaves around the cuffs and near the buttons. Leather had been worked into the shirt forming a stiff collar that dropped in an elegant ‘v’ neck where it was fastened by a brooch in the shape of the royal insignia. The silver work was exquisite. Soft deerskin boots covered his feet and his elevn blades were hung in leather sheaths at his side. As he opened the doors and allowed the contingent of guards in he looked every bit the royal that he was. He looked the company of elves over quietly not quite sure who would have been sent to collect him and Aragorn. But as he opened the door and saw Raniean and Trelan and their company smiling back at him, he relaxed and stepped back so the elves could enter.

 

"My lord it is time." Raniean announced with a smile. It was good to have the prince back.

 

"Aragorn, we must be going!" Legolas called over his shoulder as he clasped the warriors forearm.

 

Behind him, the ranger stepped out of the adjoining room, trailing his brothers. Elladan and Elrohir though princely in stature had taken on the appearance of warriors instead. They had convinced Legolas to allow them to walk with the guards into the hearing, unwilling to let Aragorn go alone.

 

Raniean appraised the two Noldor elves not at all pleased with the turn of events. As the Dùnadan stepped from around the unknown warriors the Silvan elf stepped forward to greet the human and stopped in his tracks.

 

The man was dressed in dark trousers and a dark suede over tunic that swept down his back mid-calf. The shoulders and collar of the shirt were worked in gold and silver and the under shirt was a deep silk burgundy. Even Legolas stopped and eyed the man; he looked every bit a human prince at that moment.

 

The scrutiny was lost on the young ranger who was fiddling with the buttons on the leather tunic and pulling the tail of the shirt down as he adjusted to wearing the tighter fitting clothing. Elladan cleared his throat and Aragorn looked up for the first time. He glanced about him looking between his friends and his brothers unaware of the effect his bearing had.

 

"What?" He glared at Legolas, "I showered!"

 

Raniean broke out laughing and looked at Trelan, "Then it must be you I smell!"

 

The smaller elf rolled his eyes and approached Aragorn, "You look fine. How are you feeling?"

 

"How am I feeling? You’re the one the spider was saving for dinner!" He laughed as he turned the elf towards the twins who still stood to the back of the room.

 

"These are my brothers, Elladan and Elrohir." He motioned to the Noldor elves, who both bowed slightly to the company of warriors. The fact that the human had called the elves his brothers was not lost on the elven guards and when Aragorn turned back to continue his introductions Raniean was frowning at the human in confusion.

 

Aragorn simply proceeded with the introductions, "And these are my friends." He introduced each elf by name to the twins.

 

"Your brothers?" Trelan leaned close and whispered the question to the human.

 

Legolas grabbed the small elf and steered him out the door, "It’s a long story Trelan. Some other time. I think if we wait any longer they will send another contingent and I would rather walk among friends."

 

Aragorn stepped next to Legolas as they filed out of the princes quarters. Elladan and Elrohir immediately took up positions behind the two friends and Trelan fell in step next to the human as Raniean flanked the prince. The rest of the contingent followed a step behind closing the doors as they headed for the assembly hall.

 

Walking back into the large hall was more difficult than Aragorn had thought it would be. He remembered the last time he had walked these same steps and the nervousness began to eat at his stomach again. Sensing the mans unease Legolas glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes and smiled lightly. Elladan’s strong hand on his shoulder steadied him somewhat and in seconds they stood once again before Lord Thranduil’s throne surrounded by the elves of Mirkwood. Aragorn fought the desire to fidget with his clothing and instead clasped his hands together in front of him and waited.

___________________________________________________________________
~*PART TWELVE*~

 

 

The huge hall was hushed as Lord Thranduil entered followed by Lord Elrond. Thranduil seated himself and indicated a seat to his left for Elrond. The elf lord bowed his head slightly and took his seat.

 

King Thranduil turned his attention to the guards surrounding his son and Aragorn and instructed them, "Be seated."

 

Raniean stepped away from the prince’s side and bowed before speaking, "My lord if it pleases you my contingent and I would stand with the accused. We do not support this banishment and have evidence that it is ill advised. If it is so decided today that the ruling stands we would be counted as outcasts with these who stand before you now."

 

Elrond glanced casually at the King who surreptitiously returned the gaze before responding. He had had no doubts that something like this would take place and had forewarned Elrond. Returning his full attention to the small group of elves he steeled his gaze and continued, "Do you understand the gravity of the situation?"

 

Trelan stepped forward next to Raniean, "They saved us my lord. Surely that is something."

 

Elrond cast his eyes down but couldn’t help smiling as he glanced at Thranduil.

 

The king leaned on the arm of the throne and spoke quietly to Elrond, "Do you see what I have to deal with?"

 

"Well they are very loyal." He covered his expression with a serious glance, "Young elves are always impudent and sure of themselves. My own are enough for me I do not envy you your position at all."

 

Lord Thranduil chuckled and returned his attention to the warriors. "Your argument is duly noted. Stand with the accused then if you will."

 

The two warriors stepped back near Legolas and Aragorn and after a moment of silence the king once again spoke.

 

"The accused stand guilty of breaking their banishment. They have violated the law levied against them and entered elven territory." Thranduil stared hard at Legolas and Aragorn. "By doing so they bring down the sentence of death upon their own heads."

 

Slight murmurs from the crowd of elves whispered through the great hall. When it had quieted Thranduil continued.

 

"However as it has been brought to this assemblies attention these two have acted in a manner worthy of the houses they represent. The orcs that have encroached our forests and engaged the dwarves in battle have been destroyed by these two outcasts. And if it were not for their bravery alone, many are the immortals who would not sit nor stand beneath this hall today. Those freed from the lair of Tairach stand as silent witnesses."

 

One by one the elves that had been saved from the spider’s cocoons quietly stood to their feet. Aragorn glanced around the room surprised at the number of elves that stood behind them. In the heat of the battle it had been difficult to tell how many the spiders had taken.

 

"However when a ruling is passed down from a king it may not be violated for any reason no matter how noble the motives may be." He glanced at Lord Elrond, "The only way that those who stand accused before this court may live is if the original ruling is found to be ill conceived or has outlived its purpose it may be over turned. It takes two however to do this."

 

Thranduil turned to Elrond, "Lord Elrond of Rivendell you have heard of the banishment of these two. You have also seen witness to their testimony as given by others and have heard it explained to you in the privacy of my own chambers. On this basis alone do you feel that the verdict has outlived its usefulness?"

 

Elrond gazed out across the sea of elven faces his eyes lighting lastly on his adopted son, "On the basis of the witnesses and the testimonies given I do and on the honor of those who stand before this court I find that this law has out lived it usefulness. But I would further request that it be stricken from all elven courts and never be handed down again." He turned to Thranduil and continued, "This law has done great harm and there fore is not a just law. Do you not agree?"

 

Mirkwood’s Lord eyed the Noldor elf for a long quiet moment before slowly nodding. "I do and such it is henceforth stricken from all courts of law in the elven territories and may never be used again against another elf."

 

Elrond nodded once in consent and turned back towards the audience chamber.

 

"Write it up and seal it with my insignia." Lord Thranduil removed his signet ring from his finger and handed it to Elrynd who curtly bowed and turned to Elrond.

 

"And with mine." The elven lord stated slipping his own ring from his finger and handing it to the servant.

 

"See to it that the new edict is read in every territory." Lord Thranduil further instructed.

 

Legolas sighed in relief and glanced at Aragorn before his attention was refocused on his father.

 

"Legolas, Greenleaf." Thranduil addressed the young prince. The elf stood tall and looked his father in the eyes, "As the court has seen to lift your ban, come and take your seat as Prince of Mirkwood once more." The king motioned to the empty seat on his right.

 

Legolas stepped forward and kneeled before the king his right hand covering his heart in pledge. When he stood Thranduil, was smiling openly at his son. The young elf restrained himself from exhibiting his joy and walked calmly up the steps to take his seat next to his father.

 

The chamber of elves roared in approval and came to their feet in a swift motion. Only a few of those present did not stand or cheer and their actions were noted by all.

 

Thranduil quieted the elves once more and continued, "Now as to the matter of the human."

 

Elrond glanced at Thranduil raising his eyebrows at the slight. However the smile that the king barely hid was not lost on the elven lord and he relaxed.

 

Legolas couldn’t hide his own smile as Trelan and Raniean moved closer in towards the Dùnadan giving him their support with their presence.

 

"This one named Strider, is no ordinary man," the King spoke once more.

 

Elrohir leaned forward and whispered in Aragorn’s ear, "Strider?"

 

"It’s a long story." The man whispered back and returned his attention to the King who was still speaking.

 

"Because of his acts of bravery in freeing the elves and his disregard of his own life in saving the life of the prince he is now and will always be free to come and go under Mirkwood’s trees for as long as he and his descendants live. The banishment is repealed, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Heir of Isildur and one in the guardianship of Lord Elrond." Thranduil finished.

 

Trelan and Raniean both turned towards the human and asked incredulously, "Aragorn?"

 

The Dùnadan rolled his eyes and replied, "It’s a long story"

 

"Please come forward." Lord Thranduil motioned the man towards him as the king stepped down from his throne and approached the human. Elrond and Legolas stood from their seats in silent approval.

 

Elrynd met Thranduil, appearing from the wings of the hall and handed the king a swath of dark blue velvet. Carefully the elder elf unwrapped an elven sword and passed it to the young man. "Because I owe you a debt of gratitude I cannot repay in saving my son, consider this house as your own."

 

Aragorn took the sword on the upturned palms of his hands and kneeled before the elf lord. "Thank you my lord."

 

Thranduil touched his shoulder and motioned the man to stand. Addressing the crowd once more he dismissed them, "This assembly is at an end. You may leave. Tonight we will celebrate the prince’s return!"

 

The exit of the elves was quite different than the last time Aragorn had watched them leave. Their faces were joyful and bright and they congratulated the warriors that had stood with Aragorn and Legolas even including the twins in their cheer.

 

As the room cleared the two elf lords talked quietly among themselves and the younger elves had formed their own small knot where they were animatedly recounting the events of the afternoon.

 

Aragorn felt eyes on him and looked about the hall. Near the doorway Sarcayul stood with his small band of warriors. His eyes were dark and the anger and hatred in them barely concealed. Legolas followed Aragorn’s gaze and noted the band of elves. He stepped back near Raniean and touched the warrior. Instantly the small group of elves round the prince stilled and focused on Sarcayul’s clan.

 

With so much attention on him the elf dropped his gaze and glanced to his left. Morifwen sat by himself on the far side of the hall his eyes down.

 

"Mori!" Sarcayul called to warrior. Slowly the elf looked back at his friend and was motioned to join them. He had already made up his mind he would not be a part of Sarcayul’s contingent any longer. He had seen the grief and the pain the elf had enjoyed causing and he had had enough.

 

Morifwen shook his head and looked back to the front of the hall. With a snort of disgust Sarcayul led his group out of the assembly hall.

 

"That one will be trouble my lord." Raniean watched the elf leave.

 

Legolas started to answer but was interrupted as Aragorn slowly left his side walking warily over to where Morifwen still sat. He took a seat in front of the elf and leaned over the back of the wooden pew.

 

"You all right?"

 

Morifwen sat back, surprised to see the human so near him.

 

"You and Legolas saved me from the spiders although I deserved to be left by you." He glanced over his shoulder towards the place Sarcayul had been, "I can’t be a part of that anymore."

 

Aragorn extended his hand over the chair backing and reached out towards the elf, "No hard feelings then?"

 

Morifwen stared at him unable to speak. "You forget that I framed you and hunted you?"

 

"No." Aragorn answered him softly, "But I forgive it."

 

"Your brother is quite unusual," Raniean stepped near Elladan and spoke quietly to him.

 

"That he is." The twin answered watching with interest as the human made peace with the elf.

 

Aragorn pressed his open hand closer to Morifwen, "What do you say we start over again?"

 

Morifwen smiled at the man and nodded his head. Taking the proffered hand he answered the offered peace, "I would like that very much."

 

Raniean had watched whole thing spellbound. As Morifwen stood and walked back with Aragorn Trelan stepped up behind the elf warrior, "Maybe you should ask him to join our contingent. He could use some retraining."

 

The tall warrior looked down at the smaller elf, "I supposed you’d volunteer for that?" He asked as Trelan grinned wickedly at him.

 

"Please."

 

Nodding Raniean stepped out and stopped Morifwen, "I see you have been left behind by your companions." When the elf did not respond he continued, "You have a lot to learn about compassion and what it means to be an elf."

 

Morifwen nodded and dropped his eyes to the floor. It seemed the human could forgive easier than his own.

 

"Would you care to join my contingent?" When the warrior met his gaze, Raniean continued, "You’ll have to leave that bigotry behind though I won’t tolerate it."

 

Elrond approached the group of young elves as Morifwen readily accepted Raniean’s offer. "My sons its time to go." He interrupted the conversations and motioned to the door with his hand.

 

"I’d like to stay father. At least for a few days." Aragorn stepped around the warriors and approached Elrond.

 

The elder elf smiled and shook his head, "Not this time. I do believe our original agreement was a fortnight. I think that you have passed that deadline quite a few fortnights ago. We are leaving and you are coming with us." He smiled into the begging face of the human.

 

Legolas stepped next to the ranger and touched his shoulder, I have an idea Strider." His eyes were twinkling as he spoke and he purposefully avoided his fathers gaze, "How about I promise to come and visit you in a fortnight. And we can spend some time in Rivendell; see what sort of trouble we can stir up in your woods this time."

 

"Yes! I will look for you then!" Aragorn grasped the prince by his forearm and pulled his friend close.

 

Thranduil caught Elrond’s eyes, "Good luck to you." He commented dryly. His sarcasm elicited laughter from those standing nearby.

 

Elrond signed and nodded, "Yes thank you I believe I am going to need it with these two." He fondly draped his arm around Estel’s shoulder and escorted the boy out of hall, trailed by his sons.

 

Thranduil gazed at Legolas who smiled back at his father, "Well that was fun."

 

Raising an eyebrow in mock indignation the king turned and strode slowly out of the hall, his son at his side, "Yes well, let’s not do that again for a very long time."

 

"Is a fortnight long enough?"

 

"When I have crossed to the undying lands you may pull a stunt like that again but until then, no." Thranduil smiled at the young elf.

 

The prince’s laughter rang through the halls and resonated in the king’s heart. It was so good to have him home.

 

The End