24. Neither Elf nor Prince
Fire. Heat. A blaze of anger, of sorrow, of the tightest violent rage. The bright sun overhead seemed dull and dim when compared to the hot menace swirling in Astaldogalds dark eyes.
The Elf princes face was taut with a fury that was ominous and vicious, his form livid with a cold strength. The ranger vaguely noticed blood staining the princes normally pristine clothing, and wondered sadly whose it might be. The sword tip at Aragorns throat neither wavered nor fell, and the ranger felt a chilly terror wash over him. His heart raced in anger and fear. Slowly he backed away, swallowing his panic and struggling to retain his composure. Astaldogald followed his movements, prodding him back with the glowing blade. Never did its edge leave his throat. Aragorn grit his teeth. The sword was of the finest Elvish smithing, and its wielder was a warrior of amazing skill. If the prince struck, he would be slain before he could even think of mounting a defense.
Where is Faramir? he wondered in frustrated irritation. Where is my guard?! They were atop the hill, waiting for the soldier to return with their guests. Would they notice the threat to his life below? Damn myself for wandering alone!
He backed slowly, keeping his steps light. His mind was racing, hindered by the heat and his raging emotions. He rarely saw any Elf act brashly under the influence of anger or sorrow. Astaldogald was frightfully calm and cold, his movements sleek and his eyes narrowed dangerously. The ranger doubted he could convince the Elf to spare him, but he realized with chagrin that that was his only option. He could not otherwise protect himself! "Still your rage," Aragorn said slowly, "and let us discuss this calmly!"
The cold visage cracked in ire. "Nay, Elessar, you have lost that right!"
They had reached the gentle hill, and the ground grew uneven under his feet. "Astaldogald, please. A dark force races towards Gondor. Sauron threatens with a second dark age as well speak! Would you see this world sundered for your vengeance?"
Astaldogald smoothly shook his head. "You took him from me," he hissed coldly. The Elf seemed to shake then, quivering in barely contained grief and wrath. "He was my brother by blood, but you took his heart! You, a man! And now I can never win him back "
Confusion and pain coiled in Aragorns stomach, and his knees abruptly felt weak and rubbery. For a moment the world spun around him, his limbs useless, his mind shattered and disjointed. He began to understand, and his anger soured. His voice simply would not come, the words lost in a breathless void of surprise and sadness. He shook his head numbly. Finally, after what seemed to be forever, he murmured, "I never meant-"
"Silence!" roared Astaldogald. The Elfs eyes flashed and he pressed the sword closer, forcing Aragorn to tilt up his head. "You do not know the extent of the damage done to my family! You do know not the pain you have caused my father and brothers! You do not know the depth of the despair you have wrought within me! You vile monster!"
The accusation stung, and Aragorn could not control his temper. "If you feel despair, it is of your own making! Your hate and jealousy drove him away! You cannot fault me for offering him love where you would not!"
Astaldogald sneered, "What do you know of love? What do you know of honor and duty? You were called by birth to rule this land of filthy mortals! Yet this you shirked, and as though envious of the Elves you lived among us, spreading your contemptuous virtue! You disgust me, son of Arathorn. You all disgust me!" Aragorn jerked under the barrage of harsh insults. "This war, this black, reeking shadow that spreads from Mordor is the burden of men! It was your kin that kept the One Ring, and the only moment in which it might be destroyed came and went. What horrors have endured for the sake of your greed! My people suffer as the black smoke of Dol Goldur chokes our home! The pain of seeing our great forests shrink gnaws at my fathers heart. And for what, I ask you!" The words came faster and faster, tinged by heat and accusation. "What have you sacrificed for the sake of Middle Earth? What has any of you? My brother gave all he had and was destroyed for it! And in the end, he still turned to a man for acceptance A man, and the very man who betrayed him!"
Aragorn did not understand, but he was not permitted to question. Astaldogald fumed, his glare smoldering and his tone seething. "You will not speak, Elessar! You will no absolve yourself!" Aragorn closed his eyes as the blade poked closer at his throat. There was nowhere that he might run. The realization brought a terrible dread to his straining heart. "You will pay for what you have done "
He held his breath and cried silently, expecting the cold edge to slit his throat.
It never came.
"Astaldogald! Stop this!"
Could it be? Aragorn could not breathe. He could not move or speak or even think. He was trapped in a void, where there was nothing but hope. His heart stood still. He thought he might not be able to turn, but that familiar voice echoing in his ears compelled him. And it was. It was!
"Legolas " he hoarsely whispered.
It was indeed Legolas, but his dear friend was changed beyond any reckoning. Aragorn could only stare at him as the lithe being approached as quickly as he could, the mixture of relief and horror the ranger experienced so strong that it nearly toppled him. What had been done to his dear friend? Legolas was gaunt and pale. His hair was pulled back in a tail, raggedly torn. His face was dark and covered in dirt and bruises. Blood covered him, whether his own or someone elses Aragorn could not tell.
He met Legolas eyes. The pain became excruciating. Those eyes that he had so often seen wink in laughter, deepen with seriousness, glow with all the beauty of life They were still and vacant. Dull. They showed a nightmare of agony and terror, of a shattered soul. The dark stain of something wicked and vile.
Behind Legolas came his other brother, the Elf prince pale and frightened. Faramir and the soldier ran down the hill, their eyes wide. The young lord shook his head, obviously furious with himself for his lapse in protection. The other stunned man pulled forward his horse. They stood, unsure of what to do or how to act to protect their king. The situation was tense and strange
Everything came so fast. The world spun and then crashed upon him. He stepped back, turning to run towards his friend, but tripped on a rut in the ground. He gasped and fell backward, landing most unceremoniously on his rear. The blazing ball of the sun was overhead, and he felt dizzy and lightheaded. He had forgotten in his shock Astaldogald and the sword. The sword!
There was a flash, and Aragorn cringed. A split second later a second wink of light followed, and metal screamed upon metal. A shower of sparks fell upon him. He chanced opening his eyes.
Two blades were locked above him in a contest of strengths. Aragorn skittered back, watching in disbelief, as Legolas shoved up on his sword. The weapons came apart with a shrill shriek, but Astaldogald did not lose his ground. Something new shone in his simmering gaze. In the silence that followed, Aragorn felt a new tension permeate the still air. This feud between brothers was deeper, beyond his grasp or understanding. The same violent, hurt glint came to Legolas eyes.
"You will not stop me, Greenleaf," Astaldogald hissed harshly. The sword whizzed up, held in an offensive and threatening stance. "Unless you wish me to end your pitiful existence as well. I would be much obliged to see the stain you have become wiped away!"
Legolas did not speak, his pale face livid and taut. Aragorn watched him with wide eyes as he stepped before him, standing protectively between his fuming brother and the ranger. Astaldogald smirked. He seemed a creature twisted and tortured. Aragorn vaguely wondered what had happened between these brothers to so destroy their bond. And what of Boromir? Yet these unanswered questions were soon forgotten in a wave of panic and concern. "Child, do not interfere!"
"You will not take another life," declared Legolas slowly and coldly. He lifted his own blade, tightening his grip upon the hilt. Aragorn watched the sun dance and glint on the blade, and recognized it immediately. The blade of Gondor. But if Legolas had Boromirs sword He gasped. Astaldogald had killed Boromir.
In his moment of daze, the fight began. He sprang to his fight as Astaldogald rounded on Legolas, slashing at him like lightning with his sword. Legolas countered, but Aragorn could see he was hobbled. He limped terribly and nearly dropped the sword from the force of the strike. The ranger drew a short breath. Legolas was a deadly warrior, but he was less able with a sword. He could never hope to fight his own brother when he was this weakened!
Yet Legolas growled and dug his feet into the ground, shoving Astaldogald back with a clank of his sword. Astaldogald returned with another slash that Legolas sidestepped. Aragorn stepped back as the two sparred, watching with awe at their speed and power. He had seen Elves battle one another before, but in those instances it was for show or often instruction. Never had he witnessed a fight so ferocious in its intensity. Something far beyond anything Aragorn could understand drove them. Elegant feints. Powerful thrusts and blocks. The sun burned and scorched all it touched, but Legolas and Astaldogald did not falter. They danced in their swordplay, danced to a song of whizzing blades and beating hearts. Danced to the hymn of life and death. And for what? What had happened to his dearest friend? Who had turned brother upon brother?
The guilt and terror drove him to helpless frustration. He looked to Aratadarion, who stood like a lost child, uncertain of the reality of what he was watching. "Do something," he demanded, his voice heated.
The meek Elf merely shook his head, unable to tear his eyes from his fighting siblings. "I cannot," he whimpered. It was obvious that this tore at him. "I swore to him I would not."
There came a cry, and Aragorn snapped his gaze forward. Astaldogald was wearing down Legolas. The Elf prince drove his singing sword to his brother, and Legolas pulled up his own blade in a late block, deflecting the deadly blow. The force knocked the younger brother back, sending him stumbling. Astaldogald wasted no time in attacking again, and he appeared to feel no remorse or restraint. Had he lost all sense of truth? Would he slay his own kin?
The Elf princes face was a picture of aggression. He charged Legolas, a blur of motion and metal, and Legolas buckled. His was obviously weak on his feet, and the strain of the fight would undoubtedly overwhelm him. Yet his remained standing, and with a cry, returned a strike. Astaldogald had obviously thought himself safe, and it was an arrogant and premature assumption, for he had no time to react. The tip of Legolas blade sliced Astaldogalds retreating face along his cheekbone, from his eye to his lip.
Silence. Then Legolas collapsed, gasping and shaking, to his knees. Astaldogald reeled back, his hand pressed to his face. Bright blood seeped through his fingers. Aragorn watched numbly, limp in shock and uncertainty. Then Astaldogald grunted hotly. He as well was quivering, but with a rage akin to lightning. He advanced again on his brother.
Legolas could not hope to fight like this. Aragorn would not stand idly by and allow his dearest friend to die!
Andúril came clean from its sheath with a metallic ring. With a hearty battle cry, Aragorn lunged forward, his weapon raised, and came to Legolas defense. He smacked his sword against the Elfs and threw his weight into the advance, pushing his opponent back and digging his feet into the dry ground for leverage. But Astaldogald had anticipated his attack and avoided the power of his attack by sidestepping with agility unmatched, the swords screeching as they rolled off one another. The Elf twirled faster than he could detect and slammed his foot into passing Aragorns back. Pain flowered through him, and he could not control his momentum. He could not stop. There was a blur of gray stone before him.
In that instance he cursed himself for
his stupidity. Then he crashed into the stone wall. The world shattered into a million
shards of the brightest light. The shards fell after, and he followed them into darkness.
Aratadarion felt himself jump as the king of men collided with the parapet with a harsh thud. His sword fell from limp fingers and he slumped down weakly. He was clearly unconscious, unable to defend himself, and Astaldogald stalked closer like a dark menace.
He felt lost and useless. Had he been mad when he had agreed to allow Legolas to face Astaldogald alone? Had his reason abandoned him? He had only wished to give the decimated Legolas some sense of strength, of confidence, of self-worth! He had seen the depression siphon the esteem and hope from his brothers eyes, seen the weight of his trauma press upon him. Letting Legolas deal with Astaldogald had served that purpose, and another, perhaps a bit selfish. He did not know if he had the strength to contend with his scorned twin.
Now they would all pay for his stupidity!
Yet he could do nothing as Astaldogald approached Aragorn, his sword poised to strike. He felt glued to the ground, leaden with uncertainty and terror, paralyzed with a fear he could not conquer. Time slowed and each step of his enraged twin seemed to last forever. This sick vengeance! Would its hungry appetite never be satiated? How much blood could be split in its name? He could only think, feeling utterly numb.
"No," Legolas gasped. Aratadarion shifted his gaze to his younger brother. Legolas jabbed his sword into the earth and pushed himself up with both hands braced upon the hilt. Aratadarion could see the sweat upon his reddened face. The grimace held tight and he shook with the effort.
Astaldogald stopped in his advance, turning to regard Legolas. His eyes were narrowed, venomous and ominous. Legolas was breathing heavily, strands of his hair coming lose to fall around his face. But he did not back down and raised his sword. "You must kill me to kill him," snarled Legolas, "for I will not break my vows easily!"
Aratadarion stiffened. He had wished vehemently that Legolas might simply remain down and let this end. But he knew his brothers. Both had strong hearts and pride enough to bolster them in whatever their goal. Neither would easily submit. This was far from over.
If Astaldogald felt anything but chilly fury, it did not reach his eyes. He seemed a monster, distant from him. Whatever precious bond they had before shared was completely broken, and Aratadarion watched powerlessly as his twin raised his sword once more against their brother.
In the tense moment, the young man behind him jogged around the furious Elves to the fallen king. Aratadarion vaguely recognized him, but could do nothing but envy him his ability to act. He cursed himself for his fear and weakness! He was not worthy of being his fatherson! None would stand and watch! None would let this happen! He tried to rationalize this pathetic inability to act. He had promised Legolas, and he could feel no connection to his twin as he once did. He loved both dearly, and could condemn or condone neither. That is no reason! You insipid creature!
The fight resumed, but Legolas was much weakened. The heat and his injuries had retarded him greatly, and he could barely keep up with Astaldogalds swift jabs and counters. He was obviously expending all his energy just to defend himself. Aratadarion felt tears well up inside him. Elbereth, stop them! Legolas yelped and stumbled, crashing to his knees. Astaldogald raised his shining blade and slammed it downward. His youngest brother barely had time to lift his own weapon and block the blow. Please, act where I cannot! Astaldogalds face was lax, expressionless, as he kicked Legolas wrist. The sword flew from his hands. In one swift movement, his twin raised his own and slammed it down.
But it was too late. Legolas screamed as the blade stabbed into his chest.
They were still then.
It was a peculiar thing to see, and Aratadarion did not believe it could have happened. A thousand things flashed through his stricken mind in that motionless instance. His twins laughter in their youth. His gentle teasing, his loving encouragement. Legolas bright blue eyes as they explored the beautiful forests of Greenwood left untouched by Saurons putrid hand. Astaldogald wrestling with Legolas. Singing. Their mothers calming words. Their fathers firm expectations. Vardaithils silent assurances. Debating. Cold, hurt glances. Harsh words that could never be retracted. Tears. Death. Fighting with loud shouts echoing through their fathers hall. The arguments had tore at him, beating upon his meek heart. Still, he had never been afraid. He had never thought it would come to this. One brother killing another!
"No, Astaldogald!" he exclaimed, stepping forward with his hands open. But he said no more. What could he, to explain that this horror had gone on too long, too far? What could he?
But he did not need to, for Astaldogald understood everything that had remained unvoiced in that moment. His twin stopped his descending blade that would deliver the final wound. For a moment more he remained stationary, his arms raised. He looked up, tears streaming down his face.
This too was not enough. And it was all in vain. Aratadarion blinked.
A splash of bright blood. Astaldogald opened his mouth in a soundless cry and stood still, the tip of a large sword extending from his chest. Aratadarion stared at this scene, not making sense of it, his jumbled mind lost. It seemed a queer thing, this sword running through his twin. He had but winked, a split-second of darkness, and there it was! How daft! How unexpected! Surely he was imagining it!
Astaldogald then jerked as the sword was ripped free. He collapsed forward to his knees, his face wound tight in a wince of pain and disbelief. His eyes sought Aratadarions, pleading, asking, apologizing. His blood stained weapon dropped from limp fingers. Then he fell, like a mighty warrior that has finally so unfortunately received the mortal wound in the thick of battle. Fell and lay limply beside his younger brothers motionless body.
What can follow such an occurrence? What can be said? What can be done? Who has the strength to overcome?
The sun rained down its fiery fury, and for the longest moment there was nothing. Nothing but shock. Rage. Sorrow. The fight had seemed to last forever. A few horrible moments, stretching to infinity. Where could there be an absolution?
Finally one moved. Aragorn released a slow, shaking breath, his lowered, murderous blade dripping Astaldogalds blood. This he returned to its scabbard and he stumbled to his knees. "Legolas!" he cried. The ranger quivered in helpless frustration as he touched Legolas pale neck. Blood pooled around him, spreading from his upper left chest. Aragorn spoke quickly, softly, his voice twisted by heavy emotion.
But Aratadarion did not hear. His feet carried him, but he did not feel himself walk. His knees touched the ground, but he did not know the hot dirt beneath them. His hands moved, and his heart did not beat and his lungs did not breathe. He gently rolled his prone twin to his back and pulled him into his embrace. He thought perhaps he would see Astaldogalds eyes glisten or hear his voice. But it was not so, for his twin was already dead.
Tears streamed down his cheeks. He hugged the Elfs form to him tightly, not wanting to let go, not wanting to believe. Their life together haunted him then, tantalizing him into denial. But it hurt too much to reject the truth.
The pain inside stabbed at his heart. A quiet where there were once the songs of his brothers. The one who knew him better than anyone. The one that brought life and love to everyone who knew him. The silence was deafening, and for a moment he thought he might go mad. He sadly wished he would because nothing disturbed him more than this awful calm overtaking him. Anger. His anger became a shield around his wrecked soul, a barrier against the pain and sorrow and despair. Could he use this? It was a foreign feeling but so very comforting. In this rancorous tranquility he did not have to feel. His hate made him stronger. Like Legolas, would he succumb to his anger? Like Astaldogald, would he give reign to his vengeance? He felt the weight of his own sword at his hip. He had never used it to kill. His blurry vision centered on Astaldogalds bloody blade. How easy it would be to take back what he had lost, to exact punishment for his twins murder! It seemed so satisfying idea that he thought he might.
He crushed the anger. It would not take him as it had so many others! It would not!
The fury would consume no more!
"This will end," he whispered. A solemn vow. "This will end because I will end it." Then he pressed his lips to his twins cold cheek and rested him upon the ground. Astaldogalds face had relaxed, as though he eternally slept in serenity. He whispered a soft, short Elvish blessing before rising. He felt numb in a way, and he was glad for it since there was yet much left in this battle. He would mourn later when the time allowed it. For now, breathing deeply and sobbing softly was all he could do.
A cool breeze unexpectedly swept across the plain, ruffling the grass. It was a gentle zephyr to ferry his brothers soul to the Halls of Mandos. He thought he should wish to accompany it, but he knew better. The way of things became as it had because of what Astaldogald did. His fate was his and his alone.
The shadow was gone, and Aratadarion was alone for the first time in his life.
I am strong because of you. I am strong!
And he was.
This was not happening. Aragorn pressed his hands over the rush of blood spilling from Legolas chest. His mind was racing, wrought with terror and panic and anger. He had just gotten Legolas back. Damn him if he lost his dear friend now!
"Stay still, Legolas," he demanded in a rushed whisper. Legolas only whimpered, his face scrunched in pain that must have been agonizing. His half-lidded eyes were a picture of sorrow and delirium, a haze of pain and despair. They glistened with tears.
Legolas hand came to grasp his own. "Aragorn " he whispered weakly. His lips moved but he could form no words.
Aragorn shook his head. "Do not speak, my friend. Save your strength," he admonished gently. Rasping breathing seemed unbearably loud, booming in Aragorns ears, and he struggled to concentrate. His head ached tremendously from his collision with the wall, his heart pounding behind his eyes. Sweat clung to him, and the heat caused the world to waver. He felt dizzy and weak. Cast it aside! You must save him!
He pulled his hands from the laceration. The sword had sliced clear through Legolas, and it was letting blood loose like a torrent. The hot red pulsed against his fingers. He could not see how severe the wound truly was because of the heavy bleeding. It was certainly serious, possibly fatal. Aragorn swallowed uncertainly. He could not heal such an injury here!
"Here, my Lord!" Faramir frantically declared, drawing his attention. The young man had cut with his dagger the sleeve of his surcoat and this he offered to Aragorn. The ranger took the cut with a grateful nod. Faramirs eyes narrowed in concern. "Are you well, sir?"
Aragorn nodded, swallowing his nausea. Grasping the cloth in his bloodied hands, he pressed it over Legolas wound. His friend gave a tortured groan through clenched teeth, his breathing a strained rasp. "Stop " he whispered in Elvish. "Please do not!"
"Hush, Legolas!" The sound of his once strong companions voice so weakened and terrified made Aragorn feel sick. This wound was too serious. They needed the skillful hands of a healer. Aragorn peered closer at the body before him. There was something more that was wrong, something terrible and dangerous. Those dull eyes and the heavy shroud of darkness that seemed to hang over Legolas plagued him. He had seen Elves wounded before, but never had they bore such an ill aura. It seemed as though the glow had been drained from his friend, leaving a dying husk of a creature. Numbly he shook his head in helpless denial. "What has Saruman done to you?" he asked.
"You must hurry, Aragorn," came Aratadarions voice from behind him. Aragorn turned in his crouch, one bloody hand pressed to Legolas highbrow, the other struggling to staunch the blood flow. The Elf prince looked shaken and particularly ashen, his face streaked with tears.
For a moment Aragorn expected an attack of some sort, whether physical or verbal. The truth of what he had done had not yet sunk its ruthless fangs into him. He had killed a person. No, he had murdered an Elf prince and a brother! In that moment he had seen Astaldogald raise his sword to strike the fallen Legolas, and he had acted to save his friends life. This seemed a weak rationale. Still, he could not help but voice it, seeking something from Aratadarion. Acceptance. Forgiveness. "I thought he would kill-"
"There is not time for it now," Aratadarion declared softly. The Elf prince closed his eyes against tears. "Take my brother, I beseech you. You can do more for him than I. But I must warn you that something far worse than this wound ails him, and that you must act quickly to save his life!"
Aragorn nodded numbly, not understanding but not finding it within himself to question. Something dreadful had obviously happened, horrible enough to bring Aratadarion this pain that he wore so plainly on his face. The meek Elf was wrought with the pain of losing his twin and the fear that another brother might yet die. Guilt that was ranker than the most fetid of waters bubbled in Aragorn, and he regretted the crime he had committed then if only for Aratadarions sake. He had meant to protect Legolas. He had not wanted to kill Astaldogald. What a wretched thing to witness! He realized the scar such a happening would leave upon Aratadarions gentle spirit. No matter the outcome, he would have suffered.
Aratadarion turned then. "I will take his body to my brother. I have obligations to my family that outweigh any truce I hold with you." He sighed and looked to the sky, as if battling tears. "I will return to your castle, though."
Faramir spoke quickly to the wide-eyed and thunderstruck soldier that had escorted the two Elves to Aragorns audience. What an audience it had been! "Lend the Elf your horse, corporal," the young man barked.
The soldiers reverie ended, and he gave a curt salute. Then he led his horse forward. The air was stiff and hot in the moments that followed. The man and the Elf struggled to lift Astaldogalds heavy body. As they faltered with the weight, Faramir stood of his own accord and jumped to Aratadarions side. "Mount, my Lord. We will pass him to you." The Elf seemed to doubt a moment, hesitant to leave his twins side even in death. Then he gave an exhausted, sorrowful nod. He climbed atop the saddle. With a grunt, the two men lifted Astaldogalds body to his twin brothers embrace. Aratadarion cradled him like a newborn a moment, his face tight in silent weeping, his eyes devastated. Tears and blood dripped to the ground.
Faramir offered the Elf Astaldogalds sword. Then Aratadarion turned his horse. "Where is my eldest brother?" he inquired softly.
The young lord of Gondor answered, "At the western border. Follow this wall and you will find him."
Aratadarion nodded. Aragorn suddenly could not bear to let the suffering Elf go. He could not bear to end this horrible event so coldly. The burden of his guilt weighed upon him. "I am so sorry," he called to the Elf.
The other did not respond immediately. The hot air hung between, stagnant with blood and death and tensions left unresolved. The intangible barrier between them felt impenetrable. This was a distance that might never be crossed, Aragorn feared. But then Aratadarion replied. He did not turn around. His words were so soft that at first the ranger doubted he spoke at all. "I believe you." Then he spurred his horse into a gallop.
But he could not watch Aratadarion leave. Legolas gasped, struggling for breath. His fist was twisted in Aragorns tunic tightly, but the ranger could feel his grip waning. They had little time! The archer would soon bleed to death!
"Help me, Faramir," gasped Aragorn as he crawled to Legolas head. He grasped his friends shoulders and lifted him. Faramir quickly scrambled to his feet and grabbed Legolas legs. Together they lifted the fallen form. To the idle trooper he ordered, his voice pinched in effort, "Take the fallen blade!" The man skittered to do as asked.
Up the hill some distance were the soldiers holding the reins to their mounts. The men had led the horses to a spot where the grasses were a bit greener to graze and at that distance had remained oblivious to the fight below. Seeing their lords approach in such a state spurred them into action, and they tugged the horses forward.
Aragorn stumbled. The dull agony in his head had suddenly become piercing, and the heated world spun and spun around him. He swallowed the bile in the back of his throat. In the harsh light and baking sun, this gentle incline seemed a massive slope and Legolas unwieldy heavy. Yet he forced his aching body onward, knowing too much depended on his stamina now. Faramir trudged behind him; he could hear the others rushed breathing. Legolas was silent.
Finally they reached the men. "Can you hold him?" Aragorn asked his friend. Faramir nodded and they rapidly yet tenderly adjusted the unconscious Legolas so that he rested in Faramirs arms. Aragorn hopped onto Hasufel and grabbed the outstretched reins. Then, with the help of the other men, they lifted Legolas to the great horse.
Aragorn held tight to Legolas, supporting the archers lolling head against his shoulder. The third soldier gave to Faramir Legolas fallen blade and the young man blindly took it, his squinted gaze never leaving Aragorn. "I shall follow you, Lord," said Faramir, his face, though tired and sweaty, resolute. With nothing more than a nod to Faramir, the ranger spurred Hasufel into a powerful gallop.
Then they were flying, thundering across the great plain. Minas Tirith rose in the distance and though the ride would not be long, it seemed an infinite distance to Aragorn. The massive beast below him sensed his panic and poured more speed into the run. The king kept his mind on the matter at hand, watching the vast grassland for danger to keep focused. He did not want to think of what had happened or what still might. His jumbled mind swam in liquid fire. The wind cooled him, but he thought he might burn alive.
Once he glanced down at Legolas. His dear friends face seemed so strange and different, so utterly without vigor, that he grew more concerned and had to divert his gaze. "Something far worse than this wound ails him." He closed his eyes. Let me not be too late, he pleaded. Was there a power to answer such a request? Was there use in hope or truth in fate? "Please," he whispered.
The wind did not answer.
Arwen paced her room. The heat had seeped into even in her room. No breeze ruffled the silk curtains adorning her windows no matter how often she glanced wistfully in their direction. She pressed her palms to her eyes, feeling disgusting and sweaty. The effects of heat were something to which she was still coming accustomed to in her new condition. Elvish equanimity in varying elements was something of which she had blindly taken advantage. The races resilience to exhaustion and hunger as well she missed. As much as she had sought to deny it, Aragorn was of course right. Her journey had worn her significantly. Though she had tried napping, she was never able to doze for more than a few minutes. She had been unable to eat, too rattled to settle her stomach. The reason made her even more frustrated.
The same frustrated sense of helplessness assailed her. Each time she settled into her bed, it clung to her mind like a foul odor. Each time she tried to eat from the plate of fruit and meat sent her by the cooks, she felt anxiety raise her gooseflesh, and the food remained untouched. It angered her that this feeling still tormented her even after traveling the great distance from Rivendell. It was as though her journey had been in vain, and the horrible thing she had come to prevent would occur anyway. Aragorns denial of her request to join him in his trip to the battlefield irritated her a bit, but she had understood it all the same. She was no soldier, and her reasons were more personal than practical. She wished to be near him now, after so long. She wished to see him hearty and hale, to have him assure her that all was well and would continue to be so. But he had left her to pace. Something was horribly wrong.
There came a great ruckus outside. She turned, her skirts swishing with the movement. A second later someone was rapping at her door. "Do come in!" she called.
A maid opened it and stepped inside. "My Lady," she said, somewhat winded. "You must come quickly. Your Lord sends for you and it concerns a most urgent matter!"
Arwens heart leapt into her throat. She felt her pulse rush as she quickly followed her maid out the room. Could her worst fears have come true? Her mind was too frightened to consider the answer.
The maid led her through the halls of Gondor then. There was a blur of motion around her, soldiers and lords stopping to stare, servants sheepishly avoiding their quick steps. The halls of Minas Tirith seemed a maze, and Arwen was too jumbled to follow their flight. It seemed a long time before they reach their destination, but only a few minutes had passed. There ahead down the hall was a series of rooms. Arwen smelled herbs and medicines, their sweet scent pungent on the hot air. The healers quarters.
Her heart bled. Please let Aragorn be well!
She was led to a large room. Within it was a large bed and a bath. The room smelled clean and fresh, and a few plants adorned the tables and shelves. Arwen caught her breath then, glancing around. "Stay here a moment, my Lady. They will need your help, I am told!" The maid then fluttered away, rushing to some other task.
Arwen hardly had a moment to understand what she had said before again the door burst open. Her face fractured in shock and fear. "Estel!"
The man that thundered through the door was indeed her lover, but he seemed so torn and frightened that Arwen hardly recognized him. His face was red and bloody, and he was gasping for breath. Red covered his gray tunic. He stood there momentarily, holding her gaze, his eyes filled with a storm of terror and grief and panic. He seemed so frazzled, so utterly helpless and lost, that Arwen grew more alarmed.
Aragorn staggered inside, and in his arms was a form wrapped in a gray, blood stained cloth. To the guard behind he bellowed, "Where is the healer?!"
"He comes, oh Lord, but the heat and the war preparations-"
Aragorn released a frustrated howl as he reached the bed. The body in his arms he set upon it. A flash of pale blonde hair. A strong jaw. She gasped. "Legolas?"
The limp body was undeniably her dear friend! She stumbled towards the bed, her quivering hand covering her mouth. Something inside her throbbed with a flurry of confused sensation. He was alive! Legolas was alive! But there was more. Ai, such a horror! Blood. She pulled away the cloak from his chest and saw the wound. It spilled his life in a hot fury.
She did not understand, but there was not the time to make sense of it. Somehow, some way, her dear friend, her brother had been returned to her, and she would not allow this gift to disappear!
Aragorn was already in motion, ripping open Legolas tunic. He was breathing heavily, pulling the cloth from the gushing hole. Bloody, shaking fingers fumbled with the clasp of the cloak about Legolas neck. "The sword went through him. He bleeds horridly and relentlessly."
Be calm. You must be calm to help him! Arwen took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly to compose herself. Then she shifted her attention to Legolas, brushing away her pain and fears. "We must act quickly," she announced quickly. She laid her hand upon his brow and cringed. The warning within her amplified, and she felt weak and sick suddenly. She recoiled her touch, uncertain and fearful. "What happened to him?" she asked breathlessly.
Aragorn shook his head helplessly, his guilt obvious on his tortured face. "His brother spoke a warning. ‘Something far worse ails him,he told me. Saruman held him captive for many days!" Arwen returned her gaze to her fallen friend. Legolas was horribly thin, and his chest was a mottled collection of aged wounds, bruises, and scars. Her heart wept then for the suffering of her dearest friend. What had the dark wizard done to him? "You see it as clear as I, my love," Aragorn breathed. The ranger gasped. "I cannot explain it, but there is a foul shroud of dark magic clinging to him "
Arwen did not have any answers to their questions either, but she knew well what he meant. A shadow darker than night emanated from Legolas. It had conquered his once gentle and pure spirit. She could not imagine the malevolent power required to do such a thing. She did not want to.
A voice called from behind them. "My Lord!" It was Faramir, son of Denethor. The young man appeared winded.
Aragorn stood then, and began to relay orders with unquestionable vehemence. "Go, Faramir, and rally the men to their posts. Send for Lord Vardaithil and have his troops coordinate with Brodderband." The young lord nodded and made for the door. "Seek out Gandalf the White! We have need of his aid here with Legolas!" Shouting echoed through the hall as Faramir rushed about what he had been told to do.
Arwen returned her attention to Legolas. "Fresh cloth," she said to one of the maids, "and water!" The woman nodded quickly and fled to the shelves to find what they needed. Then Arwen leaned close to Legolas face. Aragorn rose, turning to the shelves, seeking herbs that might reduce the bleeding and prevent infection. She heard bottles rattle and low swearing.
A moan. Whispered words in Elvish. Startled she peered close to Legolas face. His eyes fluttered weakly. She saw their nightmare, their pain. A tale of a curse of unspeakable torment. She had never before seen such a thing! Surely it was not possible! Her heart all but stopped as she began to understand. Something far worse Let this not be true!
Legolas grabbed her hand. A glint of lucidity flashed in his soulless blue eyes. His hold was powerful, his gaze disturbing. His lips moved faintly. She could barely hear the words. Aragorn stood over her then, leaning down over her shoulder. His face was a twisted expression of desolation. "What does he say?" he asked.
A cold terror washed over her when she understood what her wounded friend was saying. Denial hurt like a knife. "Nothing," she lied. She could not bear to think it! "He is delirious."
Legolas pleaded again, and she numbly shook her head. She would not commit such a horror! Apparently that was all the strength the archer had left in him, for he gasped and lapsed back into a deep sleep.
She closed her eyes as his crushing grip relinquished her hand. His words would not leave her, and if what she feared was indeed true, she could not help but see their merit. Do not think it! Do not! Help him!
Shouting. A soldier poked his head into the room. "The healer, my Lord!" he announced.
The woman returned with the cloth. Arwen set to pressing them over the bleeding injury, praying she might somehow stop the flow. She forced her training as a healer to bring her strength and guide her mind and hands. Her father had taught her much in the medicinal arts; she must have all her concentration to do what was required! Aragorn demanded that the man enter.
There was a flurry of rushed orders. They came from her lips. No one questioned, for she was an Elf; she was best suited to aid another Elf. Herbs were boiled, medicines concocted. Blood soaked clothes were traded for fresh ones, and the healer mere minutes later prepared to stitch the wound.
She tucked away her trepidation, her guilt, her terror. Though her concentration and will were strong, they could not completely blot out the wailing of her heart. She felt distant, lost, surrounded by the pain. Those three words Legolas had spoken over and over again raced inside her, stomping out all thoughts and sound, like a hideous chant. "Let me die. Let me die. Let me die."
I will not. She grabbed his limp hand and closed her eyes. I cannot!
In the next few hours, she worked hurriedly to save his life. Her mind was intent upon the task, but her heart Her heart was utterly torn.
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.