Beta: The very wonderful Anarithilien.
Thanks to all those who reviewed - your encouragment is very very appreciated.
And those who read on www. efiction. esteliel. de will recognise one extract in particular, but it just had to be done!!
Rhawion - killed in Phellanthir
Niphredil – Erestor's horse. Name roughly means Snowdrop.
Other notes – In speaking to Glorfindel, Erestor reverts to the old names for things, uses Quenya
The Cristhorn –where Glorfindel fought the Balrog
Glaurung- Dragon of the First Age
Curumo- Valinorean name for Curunir, Saruman.
* Some movie =verse from The Hobbit where Radagast brings a morgul blade from Dol Guldur to Gandalf.
Summary: Erestor and Glorfindel have found Legolas and Aragorn. Gimli and Amron have been sent to recover Rhawion's body.
Chapter 21: Parting of Ways
The plan for Erestor and Glorfindel to return to Phellanthir did not go down well with either Aragorn or Legolas of course. Annael and Saeldir were much too polite to protest but there were quizzical looks between them and raised eyebrows as they went about their business of clearing the camp, feeding the horses and tacking up.
'I am coming with you,' Legolas said immediately, half rising but he was still too weak from the poison and the anti-venom which had left him shaken and exhausted, and Erestor easily pressed him back down to his bed.
'Foolish child. You will be no help whatsoever like this,' he said and though the words were hard, Glorfindel saw that a smile touched Erestor's lips and his tone was kind. 'You must go back to Imladris and get well. Do you think this is your task? It is not.' He crouched beside Legolas then and pulled the Woodelf's resistant face towards him, looking into his eyes. 'You have another task I see. It will redeem you thoroughly, do not fear so.'
Erestor leaned forward and to Legolas' surprise but not horror by any means, Glorfindel noted disapprovingly, kissed him full on the lips. Not a quick peck either. Then Erestor pushed the hair back from Legolas' face and smiled. 'You are a sweet child. Just what they need.' He nodded to himself at something only he knew and Glorfindel wondered what in all of Arda it must have been like with Erestor adding to the heady mix of Feänorian brothers, cousins and mad hangers-on.
Glorfindel noticed too that Aragorn raised an eyebrow at Erestor's kiss and when the tall counselor rose to his feet and looked at Aragorn, the Man took a nervous step back 'No silly ideas from you either,' Erestor said, but he was much sterner with Aragorn. 'You are going back too. Annael and Saeldir will keep an eye on you. Elrond has need of you,' he said emphatically, and then added smoothly, 'And Arwen.'
'You cannot go on your own! Glorfindel...' Aragorn began to appeal but Glorfindel held up his hand and shook his head.
'No. I am in agreement with Erestor this time. You are needed at home. You have much to do and this is not your task either.' He wondered even if it were truly his task, or Erestor's but he could no more bear to leave one of his men to rot in Phellanthir, feä or not, than he could have run from the Balrog to save his own skin. He swung his pack over Asfaloth's withers, glad to have another friend and weapon should he need it. And he knew Erestor was subtle in ways that Glorfindel was not. He had cunning and secret craft.
They led Erestor's horse, the inaptly named Niphredil, and Asfaloth up the slope to the top of the ridge and there they mounted. Niphredil laid his ears back and snapped at Asfaloth, who swished his tail but otherwise ignored him. Glorfindel thought perhaps he ought to do the same with Erestor when he snapped and jibed.
Then they took their farewells and left the three Elves and Aragorn standing watching them, Legolas leaning on Aragorn for support and Annael and Saeldir, he was sure, trying to forget what they had heard from Erestor about the way they had found Aragorn atop the youngest son of Thranduil.
The ground was hard from the frost but the sun was out and the snow was melting. The old road that once lead to Ost-in-Edhil and Moria and Tharbad was nothing now but crumbling remains of the causeways with the paving broken up and scattered about. At times there was a wide track that ran alongside it worn by those merchants and traders still hardy enough to trade between the Northern regions and Rohan, Gondor and the East. They had to pick their way over the river at one point, for the bridge was broken and the ford deep and treacherous. But their sure-footed steeds were steady in the pulling current and they emerged sleek and wet, though also cold. Erestor urged Niphredil into a long gallop then to warm them all up.
But the air was cold and fresh, and Glorfindel's face tingled with it. By afternoon they had covered many leagues and now they were walking, to rest the horses, for even Niphredil had tired a little. Asfaloth stopped abruptly to rub his nose on his foreleg and Glorfindel sat easily, waiting for him to finish. They would make camp soon, somewhere near the river even though they were only one or two days maybe from Phellanthir. He watched the ridge above him, carefully scanning it for movement. Nothing. The thin line of trees, birch saplings, were bare of leaves and their silver bark gleamed. Here the snow was a thin layer, more frost than snow and it laced the boulders of the cold grey river. Above them, loomed the Misty Mountains.
Towards dusk they made camp and Glorfindel managed, after both he and Erestor had missed several times, to shoot a rabbit. He thought wryly that Legolas would have wasted fewer arrows and bagged more. Now he crouched by the stream while Asfaloth drank, he quickly, efficiently skinned the rabbit. Erestor scouted the area for Orcs, Wargs and Dwarves, as he said with a scary grin, and to be honest, both needed a moment away from the other. Erestor swore as if he delighted in finding the most blasphemous oaths he could think of and Glorfindel, always a soldier and no delicate flower himself, found himself wanting to cover his ears at times. Erestor even swore in the Black Speech.
Tutting to himself, Glorfindel washed the rabbit's blood from his hands, watching the blood slowly wash away in the cold melt-water, noticing the grey-blue pebbles and flat stones of the stream and thinking how Gimli would have lifted one from the water to consider, and comment on its size and type, carefully cataloguing its use and its source. He shook his hands and then wiped them on his cloak, thinking that he liked the Dwarf, unexpectedly. His generosity towards Legolas had surprised Glorfindel, who had fond memories of the Khazad from the old days. When they had pinned Legolas down and were forcing sere-vanda and Crystôl into him, it was Gimli who had stopped them, and it was Gimli who had soothed Legolas and asked him what he could do. Glorfindel was ashamed of himself now for having allowed that abuse, and he vowed to make it up to the Woodelf on his return.
He had been touched too, by Legolas' quiet admission of the previous night, that he had been unable to make the Merciful Cut for his comrade, that he had vowed to tell Glorfindel of his valiant friend...although Glorfindel could not now remember the boy's name. And I must, he told himself. I must make sure I remember them all.
The sky was still grey but the clouds were higher and snow seemed a long way from here. Above him the mountains loomed and he looked south as far as he could and could just see the peaks of far Caradhras and Celebdil. The sun shone on their snowy peaks so they seemed gilded.
It seemed a luxury to have this time, these precious moments of quiet when the whirlwind and storm were about to break upon them and he took the time to strip his tunic and shirt from his back, hanging them carefully on a low hanging branch. He waded into the water and dipped himself in briefly for it was cold even to Glorfindel. But he found himself thinking again of Legolas, dwelling upon the strange markings on his well muscled torso that was surprising on one so apparently light and lithe. I am getting giddy, he thought to himself in disgust, to be dwelling upon some young warrior from Mirkwood! But he knew that it was not Legolas that he saw in his mind's eye. No, not just some young warrior, he admitted finally to himself. Thranduil's son.
It was a long time since he had last thought of Thranduil...
He waded out of the river, letting the water stream from his body and with them, he let those thoughts wash away. Pointless. Wasted.
On the river bank opposite a young stag wandered, nosed about in the thin snow and then pawed it up for the grass beneath. Suddenly it was startled and leaped away. Glorfindel dropped to the ground, cursing under his breath for a moment's inattentiveness. But then an eagle cried far above and circled and he saw that the deer had been frightened by the bird.
Glorfindel settled the horses, ignoring Niphredil's flat-back ears and flattened nostrils, and dug a small fire pit, built a fire and began cooking the unfortunate rabbit. Glorfindel thought that the greater skill of Legolas' shooting would have yielded them more, and the greater skill of Amron's cooking would have made it tastier. But it was edible. He tasted it lightly and added a little salt from the pouch Erestor had left with him.
However by the time Erestor returned, the rabbit was overdone and Glorfindel had already eaten his share. He had stripped the meat from the bones and thrown the carcass far from the camp so the foxes could eat and they would not be disturbed in the night. But Ithil was high by the time he heard a cheery whistle and Erestor came striding towards him.
'Where have you been?' He winced at the irritation in his own voice. 'I was wondering if I would have to come and find you.'
Erestor gave him an enormously wide smile and plonked himself gracelessly down next to the fire. He reached out and pulled the shredded meat towards himself, tore off a hunk of bread and flipped open the wine flask in his saddlebag. He took a great long gulp before he finally lifted it and smacked his lips showily, shoved it towards Glorfindel and then devoured the meat hungrily. When he raised his face again to Glorfindel, there was grease around his mouth and wine stains on his lips.
'You are as bad as Legolas,' Glorfindel observed. 'He too has the manners of an Orc.'
Erestor smiled delightedly. 'Really? I am pleased to hear it. There are too many tales that Woodelves nibble delicately on nuts and fruit, don't eat meat and sip wine. I have never been able to reconcile that with what I know of Thranduil. And certainly not Oropher!'
Glorfindel waited patiently whilst Erestor ate his fill and carelessly tossed a thigh bone into the bushes behind the camp, followed with an apple and threw the core in the other direction. Eventually he leaned back on one elbow, and stretched out his long legs. Glorfindel quashed his irritation because he knew Erestor would enjoy that and instead said as mildly as he could, 'Well?' and then, because he knew Erestor would tease, he said, 'Where have you been and what have you been doing?' so he tied Erestor down to proper answers and not wordplay.
'I went to look at the Tower,' Erestor replied and Glorfindel swallowed a gasp; he was back, he was safe. He did not need to protest, it was too late anyway.
Erestor narrowed one eye and looked appraisingly at Glorfindel. 'You are very sanguine,' he observed. Then he said, 'It is yet many leagues and I merely saw it in the far distance but even then it reeks of Nazgûl. It may have even been a refuge for them, an easy place to ride out from in their hunt for the One. Darkness swathes it. I am sure Legolas is...well, maybe not completely right in that Rhawion's feä is trapped there...but it is an evil place.'
Glorfindel looked away. If Rhawion was trapped there, it was his fault; he had been so anxious and determined to get them all away as quickly as possible. He had given no thought to what Legolas had claimed, merely dismissed it as a delusion. He should have gone back...
'I hope you are not indulging in recrimination.' Erestor interrupted his thoughts and Glorfindel wondered how in the Heavens he had guessed. He glanced up with a wry smile.
'How did you know?'
'My dear Laurëfindë, how could you not? You are one of the most conscientious and honourable people I have ever known. Certainly the most honourable person in the…what are we now? The Third Age?' There was humour in his eyes as he added, 'You cannot of course equal Maedhros and Maglor whose integrity stands above anyone's. Ever,' he said with a trace of defiance that had never quite been quelled, 'But all those others, you easily outmatch.'
Glorfindel felt vaguely and bewilderingly flattered. He was never quite comfortable with the Feänorian references with which Erestor liked to smatter his conversations; it was as if he wanted to brandish his old loyalties in the faces of those whose kin they had slaughtered and betrayed, as if he never wanted to let anyone forget them. It left Glorfindel with the same old confused admiration and loathing for them that he had always had. But saying something would merely give Erestor something to spar with so he said nothing.
'I suggest we do not go into the Tower in the darkness,' Erestor continued unnecessarily for Glorfindel had no intention of doing that, pulling his blanket over his shoulder and settling down to rest. 'Will you take the first watch?'
'It seems I already am,' Glorfindel commented drily as Erestor grinned at him and wriggled until he was comfortable.
Briefly Glorfindel wondered what Erestor dreamed for he was asleep so quickly and he did not move all through Glorfindel's watch and had a pleased smile on his face throughout.
When it came to Erestor's watch, Glorfindel did not rest so well; his own thoughts drifted constantly to Gondolin, and took him on the secret paths to the Cristhorn**, where there awaited him Shadow and Flame...He slept fitfully and whenever he awoke he saw in the firelight, Erestor staring at a knife he held between his fingers, carefully as if its bite were to be feared.
At last he sat up, no longer trying to find a pleasant dream. He pushed his long hair out of his eyes and blinked. Erestor was sitting, leaning back against a tree, his amber eyes watched Glorfindel thoughtfully and the knife he held, Glorfindel realised, was unfamiliar. For some reason, Glorfindel shivered.
'I wondered what you dreamed,' Erestor said, slanting his eyes at Glorfindel. 'Was it the Valarauko*'
Only Erestor would dare intrude so, thought Glorfindel, but he nodded anyway. There was no point hiding anything.
'Does it plague you often?'
'No,' Glorfindel said shortly, hoping that would finish the conversation but he should have known better.
'I remember, at the Pass of Aglon,' Erestor said conversationally. 'Glaurung* roaring across the plains. It was enough to make me piss myself...in fact I even think I did. But there were Valarauki and Orcs and ... other things I cannot name even now.' Erestor yawned, as if such things were a common occurrence. 'Of course by that time I was well used to Orcs and Balrogs, but not the dragons. I never got used to the quiet before they struck.'
Glorfindel knew what he meant. There had been no warning in Gondolin. It had been such a still day, sun warm on the stone. Water splashing in the fountains. There were fountains in every square, on every corner in Gondolin. He stopped himself from remembering because Erestor was watching him sharply, and instead he casually threw more kindling onto the fire.
'I think that day on Aglon,'Erestor continued, watching the kindling catch and burn. 'I almost ran. Only Maedhros kept us onwards by his will alone. He was invincible that day, burning with such hate and fury they dared not meet him and we dared not leave him.' Erestor's lips curved in a smile and he looked down at the dagger he held lightly between his fingers. 'You know, I think he would have fought his way to Morgoth with his bare hands and alone. But I like to think that he had learned from Fingolfin's folly.'
'And Feänor's too,' Glorfindel bit back. He did not ask if Erestor had also pissed himself at Doriath, or Sirion for he caught a sly smile on Erestor's face and would be goaded no further. It seemed Erestor's undeclared ambition was to well and truly rile Glorfindel though Glorfindel would not give in. So he took a deep breath and forced himself to calm. 'The Past seems to have caught us both in its web,' he said instead, knowing his calm would irritate Erestor even more than Erestor irritated him. 'And it is intruding too much on the present,' he finished.
It seemed that Erestor realised he would get no more from Glorfindel for he was silent for a moment, turning the dagger this way and that, looking at it carefully but it did not catch the light. 'I too worry that Curumo* knows too much of our defence, our strength, he said thoughtfully. 'He knows Ash Nazg is in Imladris surely?'
Glorfindel frowned. 'He was in all our council.' He leaned slightly forwards to look at the knife; it was not the one Erestor usually carried, he mused. Suddenly he was very cold, all thoughts of Saruman forgotten. 'You have brought that with you?' he asked and could not keep the outrage from his voice.
Erestor looked up. He held the knife carefully between his fingers, but he did not twirl it between his fingers as he normally did. 'Elrond thought I should for some reason. Only now is it becoming clear,' he said thoughtfully.
Glorfindel snorted in disgust. 'You will forgive me if I do not believe you?' he said coldly. 'For I cannot imagine in any circumstance that you should carry a Morgul blade!'
Erestor smiled then, and for the first time ever in their long acquaintance, Glorfindel thought the tales could be true about Erestor. 'Which is it? That you do not believe Elrond told me to bring it or that it is becoming clear why I have brought it?' he asked and his thin lips curled upwards in a typical sardonic smile.
'Both,' Glorfindel said flatly. "It is not in the least beyond you, Erestor, to take it upon yourself to steal it, and it is not beyond your arrogance to believe that you can wield it.'
Anyone else would have protested but Erestor put his hand on his heart and bowed his head slightly. 'You flatter me,' was all he said.
'That is not even the one wielded by Angmar. Aragorn only brought the hilt,' he said even more angry now. 'Where is this one from?' He was outraged.
'Oh, I think this must be the one Radagast brought from Dol Guldûr.' Erestor was nonchalant but his eyes gleamed.* 'You remember when the White Council was finally persuaded to act? It was because they had proof. Finally.' Glorfindel remembered it well, for it was the day that Saruman had finally agreed to that the White Council had cause to fear the Necromancer.
'Elrond or someone must have dropped it,' Erestor said, firelight glinting in his eyes. 'And I did not want Curuno to have it.'
Riding in the other direction and towards Imladris, Aragorn and Legolas drew close to the Mountains along the Bruinen. The air was cold and fresh, and Aragorn found himself riding along the riverbank with more ease than he had been for days with Legolas clinging behind him this time though he complained no end that he felt like a swooning maid being forced to ride pillion. There was a spare horse too for they had brought enough horses for all but Gimli. But with both Saeldir, who had assumed command on Glorfindel's departure, and Annael insisting he would ride pillion behind Aragorn, or one of them if he preferred, Legolas gave up arguing and agreed to ride with Aragorn rather than one of the Elves.
Aragorn was strangely pleased, flattered, and it had been oddly easier riding with Legolas behind him. Legolas was improving all the time, Aragorn noted, and he did not languish against Aragorn as he had done before. Legolas hummed or sang quietly under his breath almost all the time, he noticed, and Roheryn did not stumble once. If he had been a fanciful man, he would have almost sworn the trees and plants brushed lightly against them as they passed. Certainly Legolas brushed his fingers against every leaf within reach but Aragorn found it more soothing than irritating. And he found himself happy and content for once being who he was. The quest did not daunt him, even Boromir's proud and haughty disparaging of Isildur's line.
Not that he could blame him, Aragorn thought generously as they plodded along. Isildur was so weak that only a moment in the company of the Ring had been enough to lead him into the blindest stupidity in history.
He rubbed his beard which itched a bit and then he shifted his sword at his belt. Saeldir was ahead of him and Annael behind. He did not know Saeldir well but had ridden once or twice with him when hunting with his brothers.
Their path had brought them close and within the shadows of the mountains.
Slowly he became aware that Legolas had stopped singing and he glanced round to see the Elf was looking up at a ridge above a scree slope on the mountain side on the other side of the river. Annael and Saeldir were also looking upwards.
'Keep going,' Saeldir said softly. 'There is something up there. Annael, can you see what it is?'
Annael was looking above, carefully scanning it while Saeldir kept his eyes ahead. Aragorn followed his gaze but saw nothing. The thin line of trees, birch saplings were bare of leaves and their silver bark gleamed. In the melting snow, patches of cold brown earth and the dull grass could be seen, and to their right was the cold grey river. But the Misty Mountains were a brooding if magnificent omnipresence and the heaviness of them weighed upon him.
'Legolas, can you see anything?' he asked quietly.
For a moment Legolas did not answer but then he said as quietly, 'We are being watched. But I know not what or by whom. I dare not look for long in case they realise they have been seen.'
Although they did not pass the pyre of Orcs, the smoke was still drifting far enough for it to tint the breeze with the smell of burnt flesh and singed hair. It made Aragorn faintly sick and he could not rid himself of the image of the blackened hair of an Orc catching fire, its head sifting as the mass of carcasses burned. 'Can you smell the pyre? It still smoulders and burns. Perhaps that has brought other things from the Mountains. Orcs and Goblins are not the only things to live up there.'
Saeldir turned slightly and glanced at Aragorn. 'Yes- the stink will bring other things from the Mountains. But Orcs may watch the road too. In the High Pass, they were gathering for something. There was an excitement within them that I have not seen before.' He paused to consider and then said, 'Perhaps once I have seen this.' He did not say when and Aragorn knew better than to ask.
He was aware of Legolas surreptitiously stringing his bow as they rode and he felt the moment the Elf brushed his fingertips over the fletchings to check the number.
'Should we take cover?' Aragorn asked over his shoulder.
'Not yet,' replied Legolas. 'Whatever it is, is merely watching.' Saeldir nodded agreement.
They rode on in silence and Saeldir gave a signal that they should break up a little and ride through the trees. Roheryn pulled away a little from the others and each horse wove between the trees on its own path. At last Aragorn too was aware, he felt something watching with hostile eyes. Suddenly there was a small clatter of stones high up on the mountains. Instantly Legolas leapt from Roheryn and was drawn and poised to shoot.
'Orc,' Saeldir said briefly.
Aragorn joined Legolas on the ground only a moment later. He could see Annael and Saeldir taking cover likewise between the trees and sending the horses off into safety.
'Too far away and I cannot see anything up there now,' murmured Legolas. He was very still and then a moment later there was another clatter of scattered rocks down a scree slope opposite. There was a sudden whoosh of air beside Aragorn and on the cliff face, something dark fell from a rock, thudded against the cliffs and tumbled far below. They did not see where it landed and there was nothing else.
After a moment, came a disbelieving voice. 'Was that your shot, Annael?' It was Saeldir.
'No. And I know it was not you! Must have been Legolas,' Annael replied just as surprised.
'Was that the only one? What was it?' Aragorn called softly.
'Yes. Only one. Probably an Orc or Goblin sentry to spy on the road,' Saeldir called back. After a moment of silent, tense waiting, he came towards them, shouldering his bow. He clasped Legolas' shoulder and grinned. 'That was a mighty shot my friend.'
'A lucky shot,' Annael came up beside them. 'But still a mighty shot!'
'Not luck but skill,' Aragorn said with admiration and a little pride in Legolas too if he were honest. 'I have seen him do such shots before.' Legolas was still looking up into the Mountains uneasily.
'Well if Aragorn says so, then I take it back!' Annael said cheerfully and he clapped Legolas on the shoulder. "We must organize an archery competition on our return,' he added, grinning at Saeldir.
'Indeed we must. Rhovanaegas has a reputation to defend.' Saeldir whistled for the horses and after a moment they came trotting back.
'Ah, he is home on leave as well. He would have come with us otherwise.'
'Then it is a good thing he did not,' Annael was rubbing his hands gleefully for it was well known that he and Rhovanaegas, Imladris' best archer were not good friends. "We can surprise him.'
Aragorn glanced wryly at the two who were already planning to wager, he was sure, upon Legolas. Having said that, he admitted, it was likely that if Amron got home first, he would have already thrown down a challenge to Rhovanaegas on Legolas' behalf.
'Come, we need to be on our way,' Saeldir suddenly realised he was in charge. He swung up into his saddle while Annael helped Legolas up behind Aragorn. 'You did that even whilst still injured!' he declared. 'What archers they must breed in Mirkwood!'
It said much to Aragorn that Legolas did not even bother to correct him but he leaned against Aragorn and did not speak.
'Have you overdone it my friend?' Aragorn whispered over his shoulder.
'I forgot my injury, 'Legolas said as quietly. 'It will do no damage but it hurts like Thorin Oakenshield has kicked me in the bollocks.'
Aragorn shook his head half amused and half shocked. 'Then you need to rest on your laurels and let others do the work,' he said quietly over his shoulder. He felt the Elf nod.
Legolas felt better than he had since the dreadful night in Phellanthir and riding behind Aragorn was strangely comforting, He did not know how the Man had come to heal him, not fully. He had been feverish and overwrought, he knew, and in his dreams the poison was a many-headed creature, like a hydra, one of the strange water-creatures that lived in the lake to the south of the East Byte. But this one had been huge, man-sized and its thick black arms had wrestled with him until he was almost at the point of defeat when Aragorn had appeared in his dream and brought with him a sword named Crystôl. He frowned, thinking that he had been sure the drug Aragorn had agreed for him to take was also called Crystôl. No matter, he decided. If his mind was playing tricks on him, or if it were simply translating the healing into a narrative he could understand, the result was the same. He let the worries float away as Thalos had taught him and felt a momentary pang of homesickness.
He wondered what they were all doing at home. Winter would be drawing in and he wanted to be home for Yule- he had been in the East Bite for the past five Yule festivals, and he needed to recover from this poison sufficiently to travel home. The High Pass might well be closed to him, he realised with a shock. How would he get home? It bothered him that he had not taken care to send messages back with the Dwarves who were bound to ask for leave to take the Forest Road. They could have taken messages, he realised and he knew that Gimli's father had already left Imladris and so he had missed his chance. At the time, though, he had thought to be traveling himself today at the latest. To his surprise he realised that he would have enjoyed travelling with Gimli but the Dwarf had already declared his intention was to accompany Frodo to Mordor, and Legolas had felt a mixture of admiration and regret at the news. And more selfishly, Legolas would be on his own. His heart sank at the thought of crossing the great mountains. And he did not know the way. Even if his horse was waiting for him near the High Pass instead of returning with Alagos and Galadhon, he would have to walk most of the way, he thought gloomily.
Gradually he felt himself slump and suddenly his arm hurt, his nerves felt sore and limbs ached. A band of tension wrapped itself around his forehead and he had a hideous reminder of the snaking black tendrils that had strangled him, wrapped around his neck, smothered his mouth. He suddenly gasped for breath.
'Are you all right, Legolas?' Aragorn turned his head towards him.
Legolas was brought back to himself at the sound of the Man's voice; he was here, behind Aragorn. He was safe.
'Yes,' he said breathlessly at first, and then his arm throbbed and ached. He could feel the cut in his skin and the edges of the wound burn. And then added, 'Everything hurts.'
After a while, Aragorn spoke again. 'Do you wish to stop?'
Legolas shook his head first and then realized the Man could not see him so he said, 'No,' in a dull voice. And then he asked, 'Are we nearly there yet?'
He felt rather than saw Aragorn smile. 'Not far...You sound like Pippin.'
Legolas did not know who Pippin was at first. 'Pippin is one of the Hobbits,' he realised.
'Yes. He is the youngest and perhaps the most...' Aragorn seemed to hesitate and then he said, 'perhaps the most friendly,' he finished. But it sounded a little lame to Legolas, as if that were not really what Aragorn meant.
'Why does that sound like Pippin?' he asked frowning and thinking that asking if they were there yet was not indicative of being friendly.
'He kept asking if we were there yet,' replied Aragorn. He did not look back but kept his eyes trained on the clear path now that ran alongside the riverbank. Well used and well kept.
'If you were where?' Legolas was even more baffled. He wondered if there was a different meaning of the word friendly for Thalos had often told him that in different parts of Middle Earth even where Sindarin was spoken, some words had different meanings and there were different dialects. He found the Imladrian Sindarin odd sometimes and the accent rather more clipped than the Wood's soft vowels and flattened consonants.
'That was surely because he did not know,' Legolas said, frowning. Perhaps the word also meant curious in Westron. That would make more sense. Pippin was the most curious of the Hobbits, which is why he kept asking if they were in Imladris yet.
'True,' said Aragorn. 'But he knew how many leagues we had yet to travel. It was really because he was bored, and impatient, and tired. And hungry of course. Hobbits are always hungry.' Aragorn had the sound of someone being patient now, thought Legolas. Perhaps in Imladris, the word for friendly also meant hungry as well as curious. Or perhaps the words had different meanings entirely and did not mean hungry or friendly or curious but some other word?
'So are all Hobbits very friendly?' he asked, thinking this would surely help him work out the two words,' Or are they very hungry?'
In front of him, Aragorn scratched his head and glanced back over his shoulder, looking as puzzled as Legolas felt. 'Both,' he said succinctly.
'Oh.' So the words must mean the same thing, thought Legolas triumphantly. He pushed away the little nagging doubt in his mind because he couldn't focus anymore and his head was beginning to pound. But it must have unlocked something for Aragorn too for he began to talk of Hobbits and it was easier to just be quiet and listen. He told Legolas about Samwise Gamgee and Merry, who was a Took. And Pippin was a Brandybuck. Legolas had no idea what this meant and did not have the energy to ask. Instead he resolved to ask the Hobbits themselves for he had to speak to Bilbo anyway to give his father's greeting, which Thranduil would expect at the least. He wondered if, out of his father's courtesy, he should offer to help Frodo but that seemed so arrogant he dismissed it out of hand.
'It seems the Hobbits have been very brave,' Legolas said, thinking of the abject terror he had felt on the Mountain when the Nazgûl had passed him by, and it wasn't even hunting him. 'To face the Nine, in the Wild and on your own...'
They rode on in silence for a moment until something struck Legolas. 'Will you go with Frodo? To Mordor?'
Aragorn was very quiet for a moment and then he simply said, 'Yes. That is my destiny.'
'Oh,' said Legolas again. He thought about it while they plodded along easily, Roheryn's great hoofs never faltered.
After a while he asked, 'Is it your destiny to go with…it, then. Because of Isildur?'
Aragorn shifted round so he could see him. 'No...It is what Elrond has asked of me to win Arwen's hand. I must reclaim my throne.'
'Oh,' said Legolas and this time he thought he understood. 'So you go south to reclaim your kingdom,' he said nodding wisely. 'But why did you have to wait until now?' he spoke as the thought occurred to him and he felt Aragorn shift impatiently.
'It wasn't the right time.'
'Ah,' said Legolas.
'I suppose I am not looking forward to it,' Aragorn said and Legolas understood that all too well. 'I was in Gondor a long time ago. I fought in her army and alongside Boromir's father who is Denethor and now the Steward of Gondor...' He paused and Legolas thought that perhaps that had been hard to do .
'What did he think of the Heir of Isildur fighting alongside him and the real heir to the throne?'
Aragorn was silent and Legolas guessed he had not actually told the Steward. Otherwise why was he not the King now? But he did not say this for he had become fond of the Man and thought him courageous. Besides, did he not owe his life to Aragorn?
'I suppose that would have been hard on him,' Legolas said kindly and when Aragorn shifted slightly and grunted, he added, 'I know that you would have shone. He could only feel wonder at you, and awe. Perhaps he knew anyway. And the time was not right...' He frowned. He was babbling again. It seemed that the closer he got to Imladris, the more of a fool he became and the further from it, the more himself he felt. I will keep quiet, he told himself. I will get this wound checked and then make my farewells and leave. The thought of crossing the Mountains on his own suddenly seemed less daunting than the Hall of Fire and the huge dining hall filled with strange folk. And Berensul.
Roheryn plodded along behind the two quick elven steeds but his stride was so long that he kept up fairly easily and anyway, he expected them to wait rather than he catch up and Aragorn seemed to be in no rush to get back either.
Legolas leaned slightly against Aragorn and listened to Roheryn's calm and steady Song; warmth and sunshine in sleepy meadows, flicking flies away with his long tail and letting his eyes half close dozing in the sun. Legolas smiled; he knew Aragorn needed the safe steady pace of Roheryn rather than the prancing dizziness of the two elven steeds. He let his cheek rest on the Man's shoulder for he felt sleepy too listening to the Song...He thought too that they were entering the Valley's environs and the air changed, it felt softer, warmer, safer. There were no Orcs, no Nazgûl. They were safe. One more march and they would be in Imladris.
It was an amicable little company, he decided. When they made camp, Annael was lively and animated, asking Legolas questions about Mirkwood, about the warriors, the training, who the greatest warrior in Mirkwood was and was suitably impressed when Legolas said my father. That prompted even more speculation and questions and Legolas was able to dispel a good number of myths about both 'Mirkwood' and its King.
Neither Saeldir nor Annael were the cooks that Amron was however and Legolas, never a fussy eater having dined in Galion's kitchen all his life, looked doubtfully at the plate of dried overcooked meat on his plate. Still, he was in good company and whilst he was still weak from the poison and the healing, his head was clearer. His senses were overly sharp still and he jumped at every sound in spite of his woodcraft.
When finally they lay down to sleep, Saeldir took first watch, Aragorn second and Annael third. Legolas was spared for he was still recovering and in his heart, he knew this was right. But he was still a little nervous about sleeping because he knew the dreams of Rhawion were vivid and strong and the Elf's voice called out to him. Erestor and Glorfindel are on their way, he told himself sternly, imagining Laersul's voice was telling him this. And he settled himself on the ground and finally slipped onto the dream paths and dreamed. It was not of Rhawion. No. Indeed he dreamt deeply, lustfully... of steel grey eyes fixed upon him with breath-taking desire, hot as iron from the forge, molten with lust and passion that melted him and he felt himself swell.
He awoke to find himself hard as a rock and desperately uncomfortable. He glanced over at Saeldir who slept nearby and Annael who was fast asleep. Aragorn stood watch. He would have to be very quiet.
His hand strayed to caress himself and he let his head fall back onto the roll of his clothes that served as a pillow...It was Elrohir he had been dreaming of, he realised with shock; Elrohir, furious and hot with anger. He remembered how the Peredhel had stood over him shouting obscenities and his fists clenched so hard that Legolas really thought he might draw a weapon, or punch him...But now there was distance between them, he thought Elrohir had been magnificent and how terrible an enemy he would be, but oh, how great an ally, a friend...how glorious a lover...
Then he shook his head at himself and grinned. What was he thinking? It was unlikely he would ever see Elrohir again...He stifled a moan and closed his eyes. His rod hurt it was so full. A drop leaked and slid down his hot skin and he had to touch himself, bit his lip.
'The poison has that effect too,' a dry voice spoke nearby and Legolas' eyes flew open and found the cool, amused Man watching.
Legolas screwed up his face in embarrassment and then opened one eye, cocked his gaze at Aragorn. 'I don't suppose you...'
'No! Whatever it is, the answer is definitely no.' The speed of Aragorn's reply was almost insulting, thought Legolas, not quite offended but certainly amused. He noticed that Aragorn turned away but he did not blush. He filed that away for later perusal because he was interested in the Man, liked him and still wanted to redeem himself in Aragorn's eyes for the loss of Gollum. Of course this would not help, he told himself, but he could hardly help it if the poison had this unexpected side effect. He wondered if it had ever been used as an aphrodisiac.
'I was going to ask if you would mind...'
'...if I went beyond the camp to relieve myself,' Legolas finished in spite if the interruption.
'Oh.' The relief on Aragorn's face was almost comical and Legolas glanced down at his own rigid cock that tented the thin blanket. 'I do not think you should go out there on your own.'
Legolas smiled mischievously and threw it back unashamed and unmistakably hard as iron. 'Are you coming with me then?'
Aragorn laughed easily then and stirred the fire so the embers sparked and glowed orange. 'No. Tempting as it is, I think not.' He smiled.
'I will be very quiet,' he said reassuringly and Aragorn turned back to look up at the sky, studiously avoiding watching Legolas where he went. Neither Saeldir nor Annael stirred.
Even from this short distance away, he heard the deep, slow breaths of the two Elves fast asleep and the steady breath of Aragorn, watchful and waiting. He found a secluded place near enough to the camp so he could hear and be heard if he cried for help, but far enough away that he could not been seen or easily heard himself. He stroked his hand once more over his cock and felt it bulge and strain.
He conjured up an image of Berensul but found that a sterile image now though the Elf had been skilled and inventive. Legolas had learned several things he had not known before...he sighed in frustration.
Glorfindel then... the image of Glorfindel still wet from the river, long hair dark gold, streaming down his strong, broad back, muscles flexing as he threw his shirt over the branches...oh Eru, Legolas gasped, imagining the Elf-lord turning to him and lifting his hand to Legolas' face...
But he could not go beyond that. It felt horribly voyeuristic and he could not bring himself to imagine touching, kissing Glorfindel. He was too much in awe, still. He sighed. Well, Elrond then...no. That was like imagining his father! Erestor though...Erestor was nothing like anyone he had ever met...predatory, unashamedly sexual. The kiss he had taken from Legolas had been firm, assertive. He touched his mouth and his lips tingled at the memory. Erestor would be powerful, passionate, dominant....Quickly he moved his hand and focused on the long black hair, broad swordsman's shoulders, hands that would grip and clench over his own biceps, grip him hard, lips that would press against his, forcing his mouth open, standing above him, cock hard and needy and demanding, grey eyes furious, passionate, lustful...
...but it was Elrohir he saw and he blinked, distracted and aroused. It was Elrohir he imagined leaning against him, pressing him into the ground, and pushing his tongue as deeply as he could, wanting to fill, to plunge into his mouth and Legolas saw himself willingly opening for him, sucking him in, tongue pushing back. Elrohir plunging downwards, raking into Legolas' body, wrestling him to the ground and stripping him bare. Legolas saw himself sprawled beneath Elrohir in disgraceful abandon, wantonly subdued and Elrohir himself plunging into him.
Legolas felt heat charging along his length and felt the charging, speeding, churning in his balls. Heat sped through him. Legolas threw his head back and his body convulsed, jerked and a soaring ecstasy took him, wiped everything from his mind. He jerked in rigid ecstasy, head thrown back and mouth open... a sudden rush of hot liquid spurted over his hand and he was rigid...His body shuddered in its final throws of orgasm and slowly, slowly, his fist unclenched. He breathed and let the images play a little in his mind and let each go, one by one, a little confused, puzzled that it was Elrohir who had caused such ecstasy and desire; an Elf who despised him and assaulted him. He had not felt any desire when Elrohir had ridden with them, not with Glorfindel there, blinding him to everything else....He bit his lip for a second and then carefully wiped his hand clean on the scrubby grass.
When he returned to camp, Aragorn nodded and smiled, but said nothing and Legolas quickly wrapped himself in his blanket.
He slept more soundly then and his dreams took him pattering lightly over the forest floor, softened by pine needles and then by the russet and gold leaves of the autumnal oak and beech. The sunlight glimmered through the trees, a green-gold light that bathed him in warmth and light. He felt like laughing, like climbing into the trees and running through the canopy. He followed the white deer in their leaping flight through the forest....
When he awoke, it was past sunrise and the camp was astir. Aragorn was nowhere in sight and he shoved his blanket away and struggled to sit up. He leaned back on one elbow and pushed back his hair. He felt better than he had yesterday and he thought it must be that they were within the bounds of Imladris perhaps and clearly some great magic protected the Valley. He thought of the great Song he had been caught up in, the swirling air and wind.
'Did you sleep well?' Saeldir asked and Legolas thought he detected something in his tone. He glanced up to see the Elf looking at him, scrutinizing him intently.
He felt heat washing up his neck and face. Had Saeldir seen him last night? In the Wood no one would think anything of it, but here in Imladris, where things were more buttoned down and hidden. Perhaps it was a taboo? Although Aragorn had not been shocked...He had heard Erestor too, telling Annael and Saeldir how they had found Aragorn lying above Legolas like they had been... He felt himself blush still further at the memory of Erestor's crude words. No wonder Saeldir looked at him oddly. Legolas pulled his shirt over his head and then dragged his boots towards him. Shoving one foot in one boot and then pulled on the other, he rose carefully to his feet for in spite of his feeling of wellness, his head was still muzzy and he felt weak.
'One more day's ride and we will be sleeping in our own bed,' Annael said cheerfully. He was light and easy company, more like Amron, whom Legolas missed he realised and hoped that Amron and Gimli were safe.
Annael dropped bread and hard cheese into his lap and then tossed an apple over to him as well. He caught it one handed and bit into it so the sweet juice dribbled down his chin and he laughed and wiped his chin with his hand. He saw Saeldir looking at him speculatively and was again, confused by the look, but thought no more of it and finishing the apple, tossed it far from the camp for the birds and insects to feed upon.
Then he rose and went down to the river to wash away the sleep and fuzziness. Aragorn was already there, watering the horses and Roheryn raised his dripping muzzle and gave a soft whicker of greeting.
But it was not only Legolas the horse greeted. Along the ridge and slowly coming towards them, were four or five horses. One of them carried two riders, one rider was short enough to be a child, and another horse seemed at first to be riderless until they drew close and Legolas saw that the last horse bore what appeared to be something laid over its back.
Amron and Gimli were bringing Rhawion's body home to Imladris.