** Denotes flashbacks (none in this chapter)
* Denotes unspoken thought
Remember: When Legolas is referred to as “Alagion,” it’s Aragorn’s POV. When Aragorn is referred to as “Strider,” it’s Legolas’s POV.
Crowded together behind piled sacks of grain in a tower store room, the spies of Lord Fompran planned their strike against the foreigners who were aiding the rebels. “How by any holy are we going to get that elf out of the castle?” demanded Essad. “This place is crawling with rebels!”
“Never without being seen, Essad, so get rid of that idea,” said Sulitron.
“Sounds like our best bet is to hit ‘em when they’re all together,” mused Nerum. “Take out the Rangers and grab the elf in the confusion, then get ourselves and him over the wall before the rabble realize what’s happening.”
Sulitron leaned against the cold stone wall, narrowing his eyes in the dim light of their lantern. “We won’t have much time before the whole rebel army converges on us.”
“Good point,” said another man, grimacing. “We’ll probably have to strike when all three are up on the wall. Kill the Rangers and then grab the elf and jump. Wall’s high, but not so bad. At most we’d break a few bones.”
“Speak for yourself, Telsun,” snorted Essad. “I’d prefer to keep my limbs intact.”
“Still, Telsun’s right; it’s our best chance of accomplishing our task AND getting out of there alive. I’ll take a broken leg over an arrow to the throat.” Sulitron looked briskly at his men. “Then we’re agreed. We’ll have to keep a constant watch; as soon as we see all three of them together on the wall, we strike. The less time they have to train those rebels, the better.”
“Right!” the men chorused enthusiastically. Sulitron nodded firmly and went to keep watch on the rebels. His men watched him go.
“Well,” said Essad cheerfully. “In the meantime, no reason why we can’t relax. See if there’s a few bottles of good stuff in that crate you’re leaning on, Telsun.”
The other spy looked doubtful, “We might have to move at any time.”
“Ahh, relax, you stiff log. Take a look out there; they’re all in the courtyard! What’s the harm in having a little nip while we wait?”
Telsun peaked out the window; sure enough, both Rangers and the elf were in the courtyard, trying to teach the rebels how to be soldiers. So, with a shrug and a sly grin, he turned and pried the lid off the nearest crate, pulling out a bottle.
In the center of the courtyard, Aragorn was desperately biting his lip, and thought he would die any minute from trying to hold back his laughter. Sarovin’s forehead was turning red with the effort of stifling his own mirth. The two Rangers had been teaching swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat to a group of rebels, but the instruction had come to a halt when Alagion’s group had become interesting.
As for Alagion, the elf appeared torn between howling with laughter and beating his head against the wall in frustration. “Loosen your fingers, Yalc,” he urged the lanky farmer currently trying to master the bow.
The aspiring archer did so--and the arrow promptly slipped from the bowstring. With an aggravated curse, Yalc tried again to notch the arrow--and this time succeeded in releasing it prematurely, forcing Aragorn to duck. The Ranger straightened, grimacing at the elf, and got a less than sincere glare in response. “If you consider my instruction lacking, Strider of the Dunedain, perhaps you should take over and I shall teach the sword.”
Aragorn laughed and waved the mocking proposal off. “Thank you for the offer, Master Elf, but I think swordsmanship is best taught by us.” None of the other men (not even Sarovin) saw any change in the elf’s expression, but to Aragorn’s trained eye, Alagion’s face revealed a definite ruffle at that remark. He hastily raised his hands and said mildly, “And your prowess with the bow is unequaled--you are better suited than I to teach it.”
But the young elf clearly had no intention of letting Aragorn’s assumption go unanswered. With his mouth quirking just slightly to the side, Alagion spoke in a near-drawl, “I think you will find that an elf is better suited to teach the use of ANY weapon!”
This time, not a man among them missed the inherent challenge. Aragorn folded his arms and grinned openly at the elf (while sizing him up.) *It’s no wonder you were in so much trouble when I found you, Elfling,* he thought with more amusement than censure. *Your greenness will get you killed.*
All the same, the Ranger was still young enough himself not to resist a challenge to a friendly bout--after all, it might prove instructive to the men! Aloud, he drawled in turn, “I hope you are able to support such words with action, Alagion of Mirkwood.”
With a distinctly mocking bow, Alagion replied, “I should be most honored, Strider of the Dunedain, to give both you AND the men of Haloel a demonstration of the elvish way with the sword.”
Aragorn responded with an even more extravagant bow, and the other men exchanged eager glances. Sarovin looked patiently amused as though watching a bragging contest between youngsters (which to him, it was.) As Alagion went for a sword, and Aragorn borrowed a shield, Sarovin murmured to his fellow Ranger, “You’re making a terrible mistake, my friend.”
“Whose side are you on?” Aragorn hissed laughingly.
“Yours, you young upstart, and that is why I would hate to see you flattened before this whole audience,” chuckled Sarovin.
“Elves prefer the bow to the sword, and Alagion is very young by their standards; I can take him!”
(Sigh) “You still have much to learn about elves, young one, and their way with all weapons. You’ll regret your overconfidence.”
Only one man other than Aragorn knew of his true lineage--Sarovin. The old Ranger also knew Aragorn had been raised by elves, so he was not likely to underestimate the younger man’s abilities, given his training by elves. That knowledge cautioned Aragorn, but he had no intention of backing away from Alagion’s challenge.
The men of Haloel backed up to the walls of the courtyard, murmuring eagerly amongst themselves. Aragorn heard some nearby whispering.
“A silver penny on the Ranger!”
“The elf will win!”
“You’re mad; he’s half Strider’s size! They’re archers, not swordsmen!”
“Shh, they’re starting!”
Shields in one hand, swords in the other, the two combatants faced each other in the center of the courtyard. At Sarovin’s signal, Aragorn lunged, landing a hard blow on Alagion’s shield. The elf pivoted at the last second, deflecting rather than absorbing the force. At once, he came back with a flurry of quick, sharp strikes that had Aragorn angling his shield every which way to catch them.
Finally managing to dodge a swing entirely, Aragorn came back with all his weight into a blow that knocked Alagion’s shield from his hand. The men shouted in excitement as Aragorn pressed his advantage. It was not as if years of training and sparring with his foster-brothers had not given Aragorn considerable experience with the agility of elves, and yet…Alagion was quite skillful even by Aragorn’s standards. No. More than skillful. Spectacular. And Elladan and Elrohir (not to mention Glorfindel and the other warriors in Imladris) were considered far above average in prowess at arms.
So it came as something of a shock to Aragorn when his young (by elven standards, anyway) opponent not only avoided Aragorn’s blows with sword and shield with little difficulty, but actually continued to press his counterattack. All at once, Alagion rolled neatly under Aragorn’s sword and delivered a precise fist to his arm, causing the Ranger to lose his own shield.
Aragorn scrambled away to regroup, abandoning the shield. To his amazement, the young elf facing him with level concentration seemed barely the worse, while Aragorn felt rattled and defensive. With hardly a pause, Alagion launched in again, and Aragorn found himself frantically parrying strokes that seemed to be coming from all directions--as though the elf had four arms and four swords. Sweat drenched his face and his sword arm rang with the blows.
In a frantic effort to phase the elf, Aragorn swung his fist in a wild punch, that was easily dodged, then a tightly-balled hand landed another direct hit on his sword-arm near the elbow--and the Ranger’s sword dropped neatly from his suddenly-numbed fingers. The elf suddenly materialized behind him, kicked him in the backs of the knees, and Aragorn rolled onto his back to find Alagion’s sword tip resting at his chin.
A great roar went up from the watching soldiers (including a roar of laughter from Sarovin) and Alagion removed his sword and stepped back, smiling faintly. Aragorn was thankful that his exertions had prevented his face from getting any redder. His dark gray eyes sparkling with inner laughter, Alagion gave the vanquished human a hand up. “I trust I have proven my case?”
“All too well,” chuckled Sarovin, joining them. “Enough now,” he said to the assembly in general, “we’re supposed to be fighting Fompran, not each other.”
There was a murmur of agreement, and immediately a press of men crowded around Alagion asking for instructions. The elf’s eyes, still bright with amusement, met Aragorn’s over their heads, and Aragorn grinned sheepishly. But inside, the questions had deepened. *The Eldar as a race have a legendary prowess with all weapons, but no ordinary elf--even from Mirkwood--has skills on the level of Elrohir or Glorfindel.*
Even as he took up a bow and began working with the archers (since the men were now utterly disinterested in learning the sword from him) Aragorn found himself glancing again and again at “Alagion.” And again and again, the question came to his mind.
*Who are you?*
Legolas had never imagined that any man would be able to stand against him in single combat (with any weapon) for as long as Strider had. *But then again, I realized at our first meeting that this Strider was no ordinary man.* Glancing at the Ranger (who was doing a surprisingly good job teaching the bowmen) he wondered as he had many times in the past days:
*Who are you?*
He turned his attention back to his students. “You must be quick,” he admonished Yalc and Kartzel as they practiced. “I have seen Lord Fompran’s soldiers; they rely on brute force. You must use speed to your advantage.”
“Aye, and we all saw the advantages,” inserted someone, and Legolas grinned amid the laughter that followed.
“Just so. Yalc, do not swing so wildly--a sword is not a club. Here,” Legolas steadied the farmer’s grip. “Control, gentlemen, always keep your weapon under control.” *Oh, curse the Valar, I sound like Langcyll!* “Move your feet, Yalc!”
A loudly-twanging bowstring and shouts of laughter warned Legolas just in time to dive to the ground to escape yet another stray arrow. Rising, he glared in mock-accusation at Strider and a very embarrassed-looking bowman-in-training. “Nice shot!”
“They seem to be improving!”
The next day…
Just after dawn, a messanger approached the castle bearing a flag of truce. “What could have induced Fompran to parley with us?” Legolas asked Sarovin as they stood on the wall.
“This is not a parley offer,” Sarovin replied. “Fompran delivers terms for surrender every morning. Still,” he smiled and gestured to Legolas, and to Strider in the courtyard below. “Perhaps your arrival has led him to rethink his position.”
The rider, who identified as Vrall, captain of Fompran’s guard, did have terms of surrender. Of sorts. “I am commanded by Lord Fompran, ruler of Haloel, to demand your immediate and unconditional surrender!”
“Let the bastard rant all he will!” shouted Dersten, and similar comments were made by the other rebels.
“You took an oath at manhood! All of you, swearing allegiance to Lord Fompran,” Vrall accused.
“I didn’t,” Sarovin called facetiously. The farmers tittered. “Did you, Strider?”
“Nay, I did not, so I can be accused of no breach of honor,” Strider said. He looked up at the wall, laughter in his eyes, and called, “Did you, Master Elf?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Legolas said blandly. The farmers laughed harder. “Even so, it is a moot point, for I reached manhood long before your Lord Fompran first drew breath.”
Vrall had to wait several seconds before replying, for the guffaws of the men drowned him out. Legolas saw Dersten and Yalc grinning at him, and did not bother suppressing his own smile. Then Vrall went on to the real purpose of his errand:
“Lord Fompran also wishes it to be known that the men here not of our country need not involve themselves in our internal dispute. If the three foreign warriors choose to depart from our borders now, my lord guarantees them safe passage.”
It did not even occur to Legolas to consider accepting the offer--in the extremely remote chance it was made in good faith. He sensed Sarovin looking at him, but kept his eyes on the deposed lord’s captain. But Strider looked up at him and--out of Vrall’s view--broke a small grin at the elf. The Rangers knew Legolas would not forsake these people now any more than they would.
Strider raised his eyebrows at them, and Legolas and Sarovin nodded to permit him to speak for them all. Turning to face Vrall, the human declared, “We three have chosen to take up arms on behalf of the men of Haloel. You may count us among their allies and defenders.”
“By the heavens, do you truly think to die in someone else’s war?” Vrall demanded. “Leave now while you still can, foreigners!”
Dersten stepped forward from where he had been standing, beside Strider. “You have our answer, traitor! Be gone from this place!”
Defeated, and well made fun of, Vrall departed. Legolas and Sarovin found themselves surrounded at once by gleeful rebels, clapping them on the backs and voicing their gratitude. Bashfully, the elf and elder Ranger tried to brush off the praises, seeing Strider fending off similar attentions in the courtyard.
“With such warriors as you guiding us, Fompran and his lackies shall be quaking in their chain mail!” said Kartzel.
“Aye, and they’ll not stand a chance,” said another, Tergian.
Firmly, Legolas brought the enthusiastic voices under control, “And knowing now that we are with you, they shall attack as hard and fast as they can.” That quieted the men, and he went on, “For that very reason, we cannot yield to either idleness or overconfidence. There is much yet to be done. Come, let us continue working with weapons.”
Sarovin had been watching with a thoughtful expression until then, but finally spoke up, “Master Alagion is right. The rest of you, be about your duties.”
Well-motivated by the dawn’s events, the rebels of Haloel went eagerly back to work. Legolas and several of the farmers joined Strider and another group shooting targets on the inner wall of the courtyard. “Raise your elbow, Yalc!” the Ranger was saying in exasperation as Yalc continued his attempts to actually launch an arrow--to no avail. One arrow finally did manage to fly…nearly taking out two guards atop the northwest tower.
“He did it!” someone shouted. “He missed the wall!”
Yalc threw up his hands. “This is hopeless; I shall never manage to bear weapons!”
“Have you tried the sword?” Sarovin asked helpfully.
“Aye, try the sword, Yalc!” yelled Kartzel. “It’s much simpler--the pointy end goes into the other man!”
Ignoring the hecklers, Yalc told Sarovin dismally, “I’m even worse at that!”
Stifling a laugh (for it was true) Legolas took Yalc’s bow and told the humans, “Continue practicing. I will be back in a moment.”
Legolas entered the main part of the castle where the women and children of the farmers were living. He found Dersten’s wife, Niradam, with several of the other women awkwardly trying to make chain mail, and borrowed some things from her. How strange that so few human women bore weapons! The prince’s elder siblings and friends spoke of times when legions of shield maidens fought beside men just as warrioress elves did with their war companies. But now that tradition seemed to be fading among men. Their loss, in Legolas’s opinion.
He returned to the makeshift shooting range and handed Yalc the newly-restrung bow. “Notch the arrow atop the bead on the string, and use it to balance the shaft,” he told the farmer. “There…now aim…good…shoot!”
It was not exactly a bull’s eye, but Yalc’s arrow did strike the target. Not the target he had been aiming for, but the triumphant cry from the soldiers in training heralded a vast improvement nonetheless. “A novice bead,” said Strider, shaking his head. “I should have thought of that.”
“It’s been so long since either of us needed one,” Legolas murmured in an aside to the younger Ranger.
“The most fundamental rule for a master to teach his craft,” Sarovin declared. “Go back to basics.”
*I am no master,” Legolas thought. *There is a difference between skill and mastery; skilled, I am. But mastery requires something more, something deeper, as Langcyll used to say. Something that recent events have proven I am lacking.*
The elven warrior turned his attention back to the men. Strider was returning from inside the castle now, with a handful of small beads, and several of the others rejoined him in restringing some of the bows. Within minutes, there was a noticeable improvement in everyone’s shooting.
“Once you have struck true a few times, do not look for the bead,” Legolas told them. “You know where to rest the shaft now, keep your eyes on the target. Much better, Yalc!”
“Aye, much better!” someone shouted from the wall. “Now all Alagion has to do is produce a novice sword and you’ll be a real soldier!”
Amid the laughter that followed, and Yalc’s embarrassed expression, Strider said sharply, “Pipe down up there! Look to your duties!”
“You are doing fine,” Legolas told Yalc as he demonstrated a better grip.
The young man smiled wryly, “No, they’re right. I’m no soldier. Never wanted to be one; I’m just a farmer.” With an ironic laugh, he added, “And at the moment, wondering what on Middle Earth I’ve got myself into.”
“Raise your elbow,” Legolas said automatically as he watched the farmer aim. Then he asked, “Did you not choose to resist your lord like the others?”
“Oh yes,” Yalc nodded hastily. “We all stayed home that last day. That’s where I was when Tergian came and told us Fompran had taken over the fields and wineries, and that all the laborers were going to occupy the castle. So I grabbed my wife and son and we all ran to the castle. There weren’t many guards there. Once we had the gate shut, it was ours.” He sighed, “We should have realized we were getting in over our heads, but what choice had we? We’re just farmers, however much that lot,” he indicated the wall guard with a grin, “think they’re more. We’re just willing to do whatever we must to protect our homes and our families.”
With that, the farmer let fly another arrow, and struck his target dead center. Grinning broadly as Yalc (along with the others) gaped in open amazement, Legolas clapped the man’s shoulder, and said, “I believe you.”
“I knew I had the right idea to send for you,” Sarovin told Aragorn as they watched the practice from atop the wall late that afternoon. “You’ve accomplished more with them in two days than I did nearly in nearly a month.”
“It took a month for either side to realize they’re at war,” Aragorn chuckled. “But we owe many thanks to our elvish friend as well. I would go as far as to credit Alagion with most of their progress at arms.”
Smiling slyly at his friend, Sarovin said, “You never did tell me how you two became traveling companions in the first place.”
The long pause told Sarovin that Aragorn was not entirely comfortable with the memory. But at last, the younger Ranger spoke, “I was heading south along the western edge of Mirkwood after getting your message. I was just inside the trees to escape a storm when I came across him, being attacked by spiders.”
“You saved his life?”
“Yes. If I had known what awaited us here, I would not have asked him to accompany me.”
Raising his eyebrows, Sarovin indicated the elf, now working with swordsmen in the courtyard. “His presence has certainly served the men of Haloel.”
“Yea, but it has not served him well. This is not his fight, Sarovin. These are not his people,” Aragorn was clearly troubled. “I would not want him to meet harm in their war.”
The elder Ranger put a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We both know elves can handle more danger than this. And there are worse reasons to join the forces of another race in war.”
Aragorn smiled without looking at Sarovin. “We both know that alone is not what worries me. If he were an ordinary elf, I would not be so concerned. But what he did this morning…” Sarovin chuckled and Aragorn grinned sheepishly, “You know as well as I that he is no ordinary elf. I suspect Alagion is not his true name.”
This made Sarovin laugh aloud, “And are you disconcerted by another hiding his identity--‘Strider?’”
Aragorn laughed as well, “True, I suppose I can hardly blame him for a deception I myself am guilty of. Yet…” he frowned then, “there are few elves in Middle Earth who can claim such secrets that merit the disguising of one’s name.” He turned to face Sarovin. “That is why I fear putting Alagion in danger. He is of Mirkwood, but also wears the garb of Lothlórien. His bearing of weapons, not to mention himself, practically shouts nobility. His alias only suggests it further.”
“Mm. An interesting character, to be sure. Then again, when are elves ever not interesting?” They both laughed.
“Strider! Sarovin!” Kartzel shouted from the tower.
The two Rangers looked up. *He called to Aragorn first,* Sarovin thought with more amusement than disgruntlement. “What is it?” he shouted.
“The siege camp!”
Sarovin and Aragorn looked out beyond the wall, and spotted a light winking on and off in the early evening dimness. “A signal to the castle,” murmured Aragorn.
“I did tell you I suspected there were spies among us, men still loyal to Fompran,” Sarovin told his friend grimly. “There’s no way to decipher the message; the code could be anything, and we’ve not the time.”
“Nay, our efforts would be better spent hunting them down,” Aragorn mused. Then he smiled in a sly manner that Sarovin knew meant trouble. “A good job for someone with the perceptions of an elf, don’t you think?”
Sarovin laughed. “So much for worrying his safety. Hunting spies is not exactly free of hazards.”
“As you say, elves can take care of themselves,” Aragorn said with mock-cheer. Going to the other side of the battlement, he shouted, “Alagion! A word?” With an answering wave, the elf left the rebels to their practice and darted into the stairwell.
“Oy! Essad! Wake up, men!”
“Huh?” “I’m trying to sleep!” “Shaddap!”
“Get UP, you lazy sluggards!” Sulitron dumped a bucket of water on his soldiers’ heads, forcibly rousing them from their wine-induced stupor.
“The Rangers are on the wall and they just called the elf! He’ll be up there with them in a couple of minutes! On your feet; we’ve got a mission to carry out!”
“RIGHT!!!” pumped up with wine and bravado, the spies sprang to their feet (several taking last-minute swigs from their skins and bottles.) “Time to kill us a couple of Rangers!”
“And catch us an elf!”
“Remember the plan, men! To your places!”
Legolas ran nimbly up the stairs and emerged midway up the tower to find Strider and Sarovin awaiting him on the battlements. “There is trouble?”
“Not yet,” Strider said. “The guards just saw a light signal being sent by the siege camp to the castle.”
Not terribly surprised, Legolas nodded. “It is as you suspected, Sarovin. Spies in our midst.”
Sarovin nodded in turn, “Do you think you could discover where they hide, Alagion?”
Gazing around the great edifice of the castle-fort, Legolas said slowly, “I could seek them, and if I actually drew near them, I would know. But we would need to restrict their movement, and that would take many guards. But assuming it worked, to search the entire castle--”
Zzzzziiiiippp--thunk! An arrow embedded itself in the wall inches from Strider’s head.
“--has just become superfluous,” the elf finished.
“EEEEEYYYAAAAHHH!!!” with an unearthly battle cry, a figure launched itself from the nearest tower window.
Legolas whirled at once, raising his hands to deflect the attacker and send him flying over the wall into the courtyard. The movement from above caught his eye. “Duck!” he shouted at the Rangers, who did so at once as more arrows were loosed.
The men of Haloel had frozen in surprise at the attack, but now they charged the as-yet-concealed assailments in the tower. Legolas drew his knives as more of Fompran’s agents came at him, bearing swords. Two were cut down by the rebels before they could reach him, but another three came armed with bows and began firing off arrows at the farmers and Rangers. Yet not at Legolas--but there was no time for the elf to puzzle over that.
“Alagion! Look out!” Strider shouted just as a beefy body slammed Legolas against the outer side of the battlement, coming dangerously close to knocking him clean off the wall.
With a grunt of surprise, Legolas tried to wrench away, but the man continued to push him, and he realized that was exactly what the spy wanted--to get him over the wall. Jerking one arm free, the elf delivered a swift blow to the spy’s stomach, doubling him over. Shoving himself from the man’s grip, Legolas lunged at another pair menacing Sarovin with swords.
“Get the elf! Kill the Rangers!”
Legolas and Strider both froze in surprise at the spies’ revealing shouts, and in that moment Strider left himself vulnerable to a sword-wielding attacker. The elf hurled one of his knives and embedded in in the attacker’s neck, dropping him where he was. Strider turned to make an expression of thanks to Legolas, and his gray eyes widened, “Beware!”
Legolas had been trying to get a clear throw at another spy, and in the chaos, hadn’t heard the three spies sneaking up on him from behind. A pair of arms wrapped around his neck, jerking his head back as someone landed on his back. Another pair of arms seized his left arm, another his right. The elf shouted in alarm and tried to buck them off, but their combined weight dragged him backwards.
“Alagion!” he heard a voice cry, and an arrow whistled past his face and struck one of the arms wrapped around his neck. The bowman--it was Dersten--rushed forward to try and help, with Yalc a step behind him. “Get off him!”
But the spy had not loosened his grip, and now his agonized jerks, along with the efforts of the other two, bore Legolas backwards until he felt his back slam into the far edge of the wall. Strider and Sarovin saw his danger and rushed to aid him but the spies harrying them broke off and rushed Legolas instead. Try as he might, the elf could not wrench himself free of so many attackes, and four more slammed into him. All at once, he felt his feet leave the ground. With a collective yell, the lord’s agents forced the struggling elf over the wall. The last thing Legolas saw of his comrades was the horrified faces of Yalc, Strider, and Sarovin, looking on helplessly as they reached the edge too late. Then Legolas was falling backward, surrounded by his attackers, until he landed on his back with a force that knocked the air from his lungs.
For a moment, he lay on the ground, gasping, hearing the groans of the men who had been injured by their leap. Then a battle cry from many more unfamiliar voices warned him that the entire siege camp was now alerted to his vulnerability. Desperately, he shoved off the body lying on top of him--it had another of Dersten’s arrows in its back. Legolas staggered to his feet, still dizzy and throbbing all over from the impact of his fall. He snatched up a sword from one of the fallen men, and turned to face the charging soldiers.
“Alagion! Hold on!” he heard Strider cry from above, and he saw a single rope drop down the wall--his one chance of escape.
There looked to be over a hundred soldiers of Lord Fompran’s guard racing to take him, and even a warrior as skilled as Legolas knew better than to try such odds. He seized the rope and began climbing swiftly up, pulling his feet out of reach just as the guards got to the wall. But now a hail of arrows struck the wall all around him, as Legolas cursed and tried to climb faster.
Above him, the bowmen frantically fired their own arrows into the mob of soldiers, trying to buy him time. *Good thing those guards are such poor shots!*
In a spiteful turn of fate, all at once, an arrow zipped along the top of his arm, not impaling it but scoring a painful groove in the flesh. With a gasp of surprised pain, Legolas found himself dangling by one hand, then another arrow landed solidly in the wall directly above his head--slicing right through the rope.
With a startled cry, Legolas fell again, and no sooner had he struck the ground than the guards were upon him. The prince found himself fending off blows from every direction. Seizing one of the men, he snatched a knife and dealt out a considerable number of slashes until the guards decided to take an alternate approach. Forcing his back to the castle wall, the soldiers flanked him with swords, and several of them surged forward bearing what looked like an unpitched tent.
When they attempted to fling it over him, Legolas leapt forward, successfully evading the makeshift net, but also giving the guards a chance to get behind him, surrounding the elf completely. This time their throw succeeded.
It was indeed a tent, made of stiff, thick, and incredibly heavy canvas that immediately bore Legolas to the ground under its weight. It was also lined with wet oilskin, too slippery for the elf to push it away. On top of that, the blows of club and fists were now landing on his body with renewed gusto as the soldiers sensed they had their quarry trapped. Hands pushed on the canvas, pinning his body to the ground, and one landed directly over his face, covering his nose and mouth with the slick, smothering material.
*I must breathe!* Legolas thrashed in a panicked search for air, but the hands still held him down, and his strength was swiftly ebbing. Stars appeared in his vision. A strange leadenness slowed his limbs. All recognition of where he was or what was happening faded as the need for air eclipsed all else. Legolas jerked his head in a frantic attempt to draw breath, to no avail. With a final desperate gasp, feeling and consciousness left him, and the trapped elf went limp in his captors’ hold.
Cursing helplessly, Aragorn ordered the rebels to cease fire as Fompran’s soldiers surrounded Alagion, aiming their swords and clubs in blows meant to bring the elf down. The Rangers knew they might be able to shoot some of the attackers, but there were too many for their arrows to make any difference, and in the press, there was the risk of hitting Alagion.
“There must be something we can do!” Yalc cried beside him as the soldiers threw a huge tarp over their friend and began striking the trapped elf mercilessly.
Gritting his teeth, Sarovin muttered, “They sought our deaths, but went to great trouble to take him alive. They’ll not kill him now.”
“Is that supposed to be reassuring?” Aragorn demanded, turning angrily to his friend.
Sarovin seized his arm, squeezing it hard. “Peace, Aragorn,” he said in a near-hiss, lest the others hear. “It may be exactly that they hope to drive us forth from the castle in a rushed and ill-planned attempt to retrieve Alagion! Or perhaps they merely desire him as a hostage, but either way, it is to their advantage to keep him alive. Time is on our side.”
“Ours, yes, but not his,” Aragorn snapped, bile rising in his throat. He watched, enraged at his own helplessness, as the guards beat the struggling form beneath the canvas and pinned him to the ground. He began cursing again as the thrashing motion slowly ceased.
“Get off, you fools! You’ll smother him!” he heard a soldier yell, and the rest quickly moved back. The figure beneath the tent remained still. A ranking guard--it was Vrall--threw the tent off. The soldiers leapt backward, apparently still intimidated by the sight of the elf, even unconscious. Vrall gaped. “The elf! We told you to capture the Rangers!”
“No, you didn’t!” protested one of the spies. “You said to kill the Rangers!”
“We said to kill the elf, you wine-addled moron!” In his outrage, Vrall evidently forgot that the rebels on the wall could hear him. Aragorn motioned the others silent, hoping Fompran’s men might inadvertently reveal more of their intentions. “It was the Rangers we wanted!”
Aragorn exchanged a quick glance with Sarovin. *So it was us they wanted. But why? And what will they do now with Alagion?*
Vrall seemed to be pondering that same question. “Well, I guess we’re stuck with the elf now. Nasemar, Modin, carry him to one of the tents and put him under guard. Bind him tight before he wakes!”
One of the appointed soldiers recoiled, “I’m not touching an elf!” The other man expressed a similar aversion--*Do they think elves are poisonous?* wondered Aragorn--but under threats from Vrall, they at last picked up each end of the tarp and used it to bear Alagion away.
Aragorn watched, his insides churning with anxiety and rage. He seriously doubted that Alagion would be treated with honor as Fompran’s prisoner. He recalled the elf’s knife, striking the spy who had aimed a sword for Aragorn’s throat. *Your debt to me is paid, Master Elf. I shall not abandon you to their mercies. We shall get you out of there.*
Turning to Yalc and Dersten, the Ranger announced, “Get the men back to their duties. Especially the weapons practice. We have work to do.”
Dersten went at once, but Yalc hesitated. “What about Alagion?”
In a hard voice, Aragorn said, “Be assured, my friend, he will not remain in Fompran’s hands long. We will get him back.”
Lord Fompran had flung three goblets of wine at Vrall when his captain came to report. “You imbecile! I ordered the elf dead and the Rangers taken; now you tell me that we have the elf prisoner and both the Rangers still ALIVE?!?!”
Wine dripping from his face, his body stained from his hair to his feet, Vrall stood stoically in the face of his lord’s rage. “It seems there was a problem with the message, my lord. The spies were under the impression it was the elf you wanted.”
“Bah!” Fompran wished he had another goblet to throw, but the servants had not returned yet from washing the other three. *Curse this siege, confining me to only three goblets at one time. I’m withering from this deprivation!*
He leaned back, his velvet lined chair groaning under his weight, and scowled at Vrall. “Well, he’s here it seems, now what do we do with him?”
Pausing in thought, Vrall said, “Nerum reports that the elf was helping train the rebels and fortify the castle. He’ll know what they’re plotting.”
Fompran blinked. “Sulitron was in charge of the spies; what happened to him?”
“The elf killed him. Or one of them did.”
“Hmm. Maybe my spies’ and your incompetence won’t be a total disaster after all. Come! Let’s pay our guest a visit!”
The elf was still unconscious when Fompran came into the guarded tent. His men were taking no chances, and had bound the immortal, hand and foot. Even trussed up so, something about this creature greatly intimidated the lord of Haloel. Fompran had never seen an elf before, but knew their reputation: beautiful and deadly. Judging by the number of Fompran’s men who had died at the elf’s hand, the latter part was no exaggeration. And despite the scrapes, bruises, and dirt marring his fair skin, the elf had an otherworldly beauty. Definitely a creature to be wary of. Folding his arms pompously, Fompran ordered, “Wake him up.”
Vrall briskly stepped forward and slapped the elf sharply across the face. Without a sound, the elf opened dark gray eyes that seemed to possess their own inner starlight.
Fompran jerked backward, speechless in fright. Those piercing black eyes never left his as the elf--despite his bonds, pulled himself gracefully into a sitting position. Fompran had always considered himself a noble and commanding lord of men, but this creature’s bearing was more regal than anyone he had ever beheld.
The elf did not speak. “I…you…” Fompran flustered, backing toward the tent’s opening, “Q-question him, Vrall! D-don’t be gentle!” Then he fled, calling loudly for wine.
Legolas silently let out the breath he’d been holding. The overpowering odor of wine had roused him even before the men entered the tent, but he had not moved in the hope of overhearing something. All he had gotten for his efforts was a slap--and near asphyxiation from the fumes.
As the grotesquely fat man waddled hurriedly from the tent, Vrall took his place standing before the elf prince with his chest thrust out pompously. *Does he actually think I will be cowed by such posturing?* Legolas thought incredulously.
“Who are you, elf?” growled the man in a distinctly unintimidating fashion.
Legolas toyed with what to say and saw two other guards peering through the door with undisguised awe. None of these men had ever seen an elf, that much was obvious, but their legends appeared to have exaggerated elvish abilities to ridiculous proportions. With that in mind, a rather absurd idea popped into Legolas’s head, and despite his predicament, he felt a prickle of amusement. A ridiculous notion, and yet…it just might work to his advantage. Deepening his voice, the youngest prince of Mirkwood answered, “I am Celeborn, Lord of Lothlórien.” With any luck, the legends of the elves of Lothlórien, and Celeborn, would have quite an effect on these ignorant humans.
It worked. Very well. Vrall literally flung himself backward a full five feet, nearly out of the tent’s entrance. Then he had to chase down the fleeing guards, his shouted curses forcing Legolas to bite his lip to hold back his laughter. But he also winced inwardly--in that tone, he had sounded just like King Thranduil. *Dear Father, not only do I owe a life debt to a mortal Ranger, but I’ve wound up helping a band of farmers rebel against their lord, and now I’ve gotten myself captured by a mob of drunken soldiers. Aren’t you proud of me?* The absurdity of the whole situation soon got the better of him, and he quietly began to laugh.
He hastily forced himself to stop as Vrall returned, looking petrified, but determined to overcome. The guard was also bearing a sword, and pointing it imperiously at Legolas, he said shakily, “Just…just…don’t make any sudden movements, Celeborn! We’ve heard of you, and your sorcerer’s ways!”
Attempting to look mysterious, Legolas said, “Do you think my thoughts shall be betrayed by movement?”
He heard one of the guards whisper, “Those Lórien elves can take over a man’s mind just by looking at him!” and again felt a desperate desire to snicker. But this façade could only be maintained if he kept a straight face.
“Why are you helping those rebels?” Vrall demanded, still waggling his sword at Legolas.
*Deep voice, sound powerful…do NOT laugh!* “Your lord has shown himself a tyrant and unfit. My skills and my powers…” Vrall flinched, “are for their aid.”
“What…what kind of powers?”
*Stare at him…look dangerous…* In his over dramatized voice, Legolas intoned, “I possess powers beyond your comprehension, mortal! You only live now because I choose to let you live. For the moment, I only offer the farmers guidance with weapons, but anger me further…” he paused threateningly, “and all the magic of the elves shall be raised against you!” *Should I laugh evilly? Nay, that sounds too contrived. I‘m supposed to be Celeborn, not Sauron…though I would wager this fool would not know the difference.*
Vrall was backing up rapidly. “I…I…shall report this to my lord!” Then he bolted.
Legolas jammed his teeth into his lip again, laughing silently, and shifted position. Then he nearly laughed aloud--those guards had done a most ineffective job binding his wrists. With a little wriggling and work, he could probably free his hands. Then the question arose--what to do once he did? *I’ve already got these men terrified of me. But if I race out of here as though fleeing them, their instincts will take over and they will simply shoot me. Nay, securing my release requires a little more finesse.*
The elf sat still and listened; the camp was abuzz with the rumors that a powerful elf sorcerer was aiding the rebels of Haloel. Already, the rumor had taken root, and was starting to grow leaves and branches of its own. “He could kill us all with a thought!” someone was saying to a group of guards off duty.
“Crikey! Why the devil are we still alive? What’s ‘e waiting for?”
“Watching us, I’ll reckon! Spying for the rebels!”
“Then why don’t they just kill ‘im?”
“Can’t kill a Lórien king, you dung-brained son of a goblin!”
“Aye, do you WANT a war with the elves?! Imagine him multiplied by ten thousand! Argh, give me a snort of that wine, Nasemar!”
*Are there ten thousand elves in Lórien?* Legolas wondered, grinning to himself.
“What’re they planning to do with him then? The longer we keep him prisoner, the more trouble we’re in. Pass me that skin!”
“Aye, when he’s done spying and wants out of here, he’ll kill as many of us as he has to to get out of here!”
“Oh, oliphaunt turds! If he’s the king, then that sorceress queen of theirs is his wife! What’s her name?” (Gulp!)
(Swig!) “Dunno, and I wouldn’t dare speak it aloud--she’d probably hear me!”
*Well, in that at least, you would probably be right,* thought Legolas. *There is very little occurring in Middle Earth that Galadriel is unaware of.*
On the other side of the Misty Mountains, Lord Celeborn was passing the garden where Lady Galadriel kept her mirror when he heard a sound that made him stop in surprise. Laughter. Startled, the Lord of Lothlórien waited at the top of the steps until Galadriel came up, a smile of amusement on her fair face. When she saw him, she blinked-- and then began laughing again. “What?” he asked in astonishment.
“Nothing, dearest, nothing,” covering her mouth with her hand, she passed by him and walked on, her shoulders still shaking with mirth.
Celeborn shook his head to himself. *I wonder if I shall ever understand her…*
Back in the Haloel siege camp, Legolas was shaking with silent laughter as he listened to the terrified soldiers’ conversations, “If half what they say about that elf witch is true, we definitely don’t need to be getting on her bad side!”
“By Sauron’s teeth! What if she comes after him! We’re done for! I need a drink!”
Legolas blinked and thought, *Does Sauron HAVE teeth?!*
“We should get the hell out of here while we still can! We can’t win this fight with that pointy-eared, posturing, pandering…” Legolas waited to see if the man would come up with another suitable adjective, “PERSON!”
“‘E’s not a person, ‘e’s an elf, you stupid troll-spawn!”
“Maybe…maybe we should let ‘im go. Maybe then ‘e wouldn’t kill us, or ‘e wouldn’t send his wife after us.”
*Now we’re getting somewhere!*
“Are you addled?! Fompran would have our ears!”
“Ruddy better than that elf having our arses! I’d rather get flogged by Vrall than have my guts sizzled by that creature! Modin’s right; we should let him go before it’s too late!”
“Aye, it ain’t worth it! We’re all lost anyway; the rebels still have those cursed Rangers in cahoots with ’em! Let’s give ’em back the elf and get our arses out of here! Only a fool doesn’t know when to give up, and we ain’t heroes!”
*That much is certain. Perhaps now is the time.* Legolas fought back another smile and began pulling at the rope binding his wrists. In a few moments, his hands were free. *This really is far too easy.* He untied his ankles, then rose and walked to the tent door, listening again.
“Well…well…Nasemar, you go and tell the elf that we’ll let him go if he promises not to hurt us!”
“ME?!?! Are you orc-bit?! You go, Modin!”
“I’m not the one to go; I don’t want that elf knowing my face! Tegas, you go!”
“Yes, you, Tegas, you’re the one who bungled up that message in the first place!”
“Well, one of us has to!”
*Now!* Schooling his features into a suitably menacing expression, Legolas stood as tall as he could and dramatically flung open the tent flap, loudly enough so the men heard it.
“Balls of a Balrog!” The entire group leapt to their feet in horror as Legolas stood there, glowering at each of them in turn--and knowing all the while that a single giggle would give the whole charade away. He walked forward slowly, advancing on the petrified soldiers like a harbinger of doom, praying he would not start laughing. One of the soldiers pointed a sword at him, his hands shaking so that the tip waggled hilariously. “Just…just…stay back, Elf-King!”
*I believe if I shouted and jumped at them they would all flee, squealing like frightened grouse!* Legolas took a deep breath and said in a deep voice (that sounded absurd to him,) “I know you do not wish to remain in this place, men of Haloel. You are wise, to know the consequences of trying to detain me here.”
“W-what do you want?” one of the men stammered.
Allowing a faint smile of benevolence that relieved some of his need to snicker, the young warrior intoned, “Release me, and ye shall not come to harm, provided you leave this place and cease troubling these people. Try to confine me, and ye shall face the awesome might of the elves of Lothlórien!”
He had not raised his hands, but the soldiers recoiled. The nearest, Nasemar, began nodding vigorously. “We’ll…we’ll let you go, Lord Elf! Just…don’t hurt us! We’ll make a distraction so you can get back to the castle!”
“You have chosen…wisely.”
Aragorn wanted to fling his sword at Sarovin in his frustration. “We cannot just leave him there! Elbereth only knows what they’re doing to him!”
“THINK, Aragorn!” Sarovin hissed, grabbing his shoulders. “If we launch an attack now, the men have their passions inflamed, but they won’t take proper care! Even if we do get Alagion back, we’ll have wasted men and arrows and time! They’ve taken him alive, and he’s still alive! Be patient!”
“I cannot simply stand by while they torment him, Sarovin! If necessary, I’ll go alone! But I forced him here under a life debt, and this was not a fight he should ever have joined. Now he has saved my life! For that and my folly, I owe him enough to go after him!”
In a tone of exaggerated patience that annoyed Aragorn greatly (for it reminded him of Elrond), Sarovin said, “Elves can survive and recover completely from far worse than anything those wine-sotted mercenaries can give. Alagion is more than strong enough to endure the few days it will take us to be far more prepared for battle than we are now.” He squeezed the younger Ranger’s shoulders again. “You must not act on impulse or passion, Aragorn, it will be the death of you! Your elf family and your encounter with Alagion this morning ought to have showed you that much!”
“Strider! Sarovin! Look!” shouted Tergian in excitement, pointing out to the camp.
The two Rangers ran to the other side of the wall and peered out. It took no great search to find what the crisis was: one of the tents was on fire at the far side of the camp. Soldiers were racing to put out the blaze, which was burning quite hot. The tent probably had some of their wine supply in it--which would explain the near-panic the soldiers were in. But something else bright in the camp, on the other side close to the castle, caught Aragorn’s eye. “There!”
A figure, far more graceful than the bumbling soldiers, burst from behind one of the tents and raced toward the castle. “It’s Alagion!” Yalc shouted exultantly from beside the Rangers. “Get a rope!”
Very few of the soldiers even saw the fleet figure running in the moonlight toward the castle. And to Aragorn’s astonishment, those who did notice him simply kept on raising a cry over the fire and distracting anyone from looking at the elf. Alagion gained the rope and climbed swiftly up. Not a single arrow was launched to stop him. By the time the triumphant roar from the men alerted the camp to their prisoner’s escape, the elf was safely over the wall, landing neatly on his feet in front of Aragorn and Sarovin.
For a moment, the two Rangers could only stare. He was scuffed and a little dirty, but otherwise none the worse for wear. At last, Sarovin spoke, “Well, Master Elf, how did you manage to contrive such a clean escape.”
The elf gazed from one man to the other, a rather peculiar expression on his face--and then began to laugh. Confused but relieved, Aragorn and Sarovin laughed also, until Aragorn managed to say, “Peace, I demand to know what happened down there!”
“You had better tell him, Alagion of Mirkwood. Strider here was about to blow the entire siege just to come after you!” Sarovin said dryly.
His eyes turning serious, Alagion said, “That would have been foolish. I was not treated badly, and even if I had been, an immediate rescue attempt would have been dangerous for everyone.”
“As I tried to tell him, Master Alagion, but our Strider is a man of strong emotions and too much honor. He seemed to believe himself in your debt.”
Aragorn shot Sarovin a warning glare, but said, “You did save my life at great risk to yourself on the wall.”
“As you saved mine when we first met,” Alagion said. For the first time, Aragorn detected genuine gratitude--and more, respect--from his mysterious companion. It was a pleasant feeling to hear it. “You are not in my debt, Strider, but if you would count our actions, then at most we are even. You owe me nothing.”
“In that case, I shall soon flay you alive if you do not tell me how you managed to get out of there!” Aragorn threatened.
Trying with limited success to contain his mirth, the elf replied, “You would not believe me.”
“Nay, I think I would; at least ten of them saw you running and not one so much as loosed an arrow! Come, Master Alagion, do not hold us in suspense! What did you do?” demanded Sarovin.
Looking almost embarrassed, the elf replied, “I told them I was Celeborn.”
Aragorn gaped. Sarovin blinked. Alagion grinned sheepishly. Then all three of them exploded again, Aragorn almost completely doubled over. The rebels exchanged rather tense glances, and Yalc said hesitantly, “Celeborn? The lord of Lothlórien? The really…powerful one?”
“Yes, that’s the one,” gasped Aragorn, wiping tears from his eyes.
“You’re…you’re not REALLY…him…are you?” Kartzel asked nervously.
Those questions and the tense way the men were looking at the elf set him and the Rangers off again, and it was several moments before they could speak. Shaking his head and trying to find speech, the elf at last managed to say, “Nay, my friends, be assured, I am not Lord Celeborn. I am far too young.”
“Never heard of a young elf,” someone muttered.
“We have to be born sometime,” Alagion replied dismissively. “But nay, I can tell you truthfully I am not Celeborn, nor am I even of Lórien.”
“He does speak the truth, friends,” Aragorn added. “I have seen Celeborn of Lórien.”
Sarovin was looking down into the siege camp, “We’d best be about our business, friends. Lord Fompran’s men have just realized their prisoner is gone.”
Laughing with the rest, Aragorn and “Alagion” headed into the tower stairs. As they walked down, the elf suddenly put a hand on Aragorn’s shoulder, making him pause. When the men turned and met his eyes, the elf said with a faint smile, “I am Legolas, son of Thranduil of Mirkwood.”
The Ranger smiled in turn; such lineage explained many things. Clasping the elf’s hand as though meeting him for the first time, he said, “I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn.”
“Well met, son of Arathorn.”
“Well met indeed.”
ORIGINAL CHARACTER GUIDE
Alagion: Legolas’s alias
Sarovin: Older Ranger, friend of Aragorn’s who’s helping the rebels
Yalc, Dersten, Kartzel, Tergian: assorted peasant farmers who are now rebels against the lord of Haloel
Niradam: Dersten’s wife
Fompran: now-deposed Lord of Haloel
Vrall: Fompran’s guard captain
Tegas: Fompran’s messenger
Sulitron, Essad, Nerum, Telsun: some (but not all) of Lord Fompran’s spies inside the castle
Modin, Nasemar: some of Fompran’s other soldiers
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.