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A/N: I don't own The Lord of the Rings.
After the climb down the embankment, Legolas was desperate to heave air into his lungs, but instead he forced his body to submit to him. He needed to appear strong, despite the waves of agony threatening his efforts at remaining conscious. The others had already begun to flee, but still Estel lingered. The guilt in Aragorn's eyes when he at last came to his senses and relented told Legolas the man's mind was decades in the past.
"Now at this last, we must take a hard road," he whispered, echoing Lord Elrond's words to their Company. He had always known that at some point they would have to choose the good of many over their friendship—probably should have years ago, but then Aragorn be alive and being forced to leave him now. He forced himself to hold the man's gaze, and at last Estel's shoulders dropped and his stature seemed to shrink. The man looked away, shoving his pouch into Gimli's hands. And then he was gone, disappearing into the dark mists after the others. There had been no goodbye, for that would have been too painful. Too final. That he would return for them did not have to be voiced.
"Don't do anything I would do," he whispered to himself darkly in farewell. How coldly he had pushed Estel away. He stood frozen, his weakening knees threatening to send him to the ground.
"There's a vein of rock to the northeast that looks promising, mayhap we can find a shelter there."
Legolas blinked. He had forgotten about the dwarf. They needed to hide, and quickly, but his body felt heavy and disobedient. His eyes went to the trees around them, but the wound at his side already pained him viciously, and the fir trees had no low hanging bows. Finding shelter there was as likely as finding shelter in a hole in the ground.
The approach of the orcs was louder now. "Aye," Legolas acknowledged at last, his words thick in his mouth, "but we haven't the time to scout it out." His pride would not yet allow him to admit aloud that it was because he could no longer move swiftly enough. He wasn't certain he could move at all. Now that he'd convinced Aragorn to leave, the show was over and his strength was sapped.
Gimli gave him an appraising look, and Legolas found to his chagrin that the dwarf hadn't been the least bit fooled by his show of strength. He sighed, he supposed the dwarf deserved an honest appraisal of their chances. Gimli would likely stay in the open with him if he made no attempt at concealment, and the sounds of the orcs had begun to drown out the merry rushing of the stream.
The dwarf seemed to read his thoughts. "We have to get out of the open. Can you make it to the falls? Perhaps if they don't see us, they'll not look for us. I'd bet my second axe there's a divot behind the falls, and it's not far."
"Only your second axe?" His own voice sounded strange to his ears—raspy and halting. Legolas wasn't sure that gave him much confidence, but he hadn't the energy to truly provoke the dwarf. The fall in question was only a few paces away, yet it felt too far. They'd have to cross the stream and climb up a bit to access it, and he was so very tired. Instead, he replied, "Aye, I'll make it." But he couldn't seem to will himself to move.
"Come on, laddie." The dwarf's gentle voice finally cut through the fog. He'd stepped closer, a note of hurry in his speech, "You can't just stand here and let a dwarf take credit for dragging you to safety."
Legolas sighed, but didn't bother to retort that Gimli was too short to drag him anywhere. Any moment, the orcs would round the bend of the road. Just a little longer and he could rest. His legs trembled as he followed Gimli across the cold stream. The icy water swirled just above his ankles, but was nearly mid-calf on the dwarf. The rocks on the bottom were smooth and slippery from mountain flow. He knew the dwarf had slowed for his sake, yet it felt impossible to keep up. With a dwarf. His father would not be amused. His foot slipped suddenly, and agony lanced through him, the icy water soaking his leggings as his knees crashed down into the stream, his arm thrown out to catch himself.
With whom did he jest? His father would be in anguish if he saw him like this. He tried and failed to stand. Then the dwarf was there, hauling him upright. He was saying something, but what it was, he hadn't the energy to make out. Gimli looked frightened, and kept glancing toward the road. He realized dimly that it was him that the dwarf was frightened for, or maybe that his weakness was going to get the both of them killed. Wearily, he steadied himself against Gimli until he got his legs underneath him, ashamed to let more than one gasp of pain escape his lips. It was so different than with Aragorn. The man was his brother, and they'd seen each others' weaknesses many times. With the dwarf, he was a prince. A few more steps and they were across. The ledge leading to the falls was mercifully low hanging.
Gimli climbed up to take a look, and then returned to help steady him, worry on his face warring with triumph over being correct. He tried to lock the pain of the climb away, reminding himself he could rest in just a few more steps. He turned suddenly at a movement on his left and saw the first company of orcs appearing on the road. He quickly hastened behind the fall, Gimli close behind him. He could see very little behind the falls at first, but two steps more and he found just enough room for himself to fit. Had the situation not been so dire, he would have laughed that the dwarf was standing under the full soaking power of the small fall, but as it was he shivered from the cold spray, his wet leggings and right sleeve cold against his skin. The floor called to him, and he sank down gratefully, crossing his legs to keep them away from the water. He just needed to rest, just for a little while. He listened carefully, but even his ears could hear nothing over the low running and splattering of the water, nor the roaring in his ears. Had they been seen? He cringed. Perhaps he should have made sure of that before he so foolishly gave into weakness. He leaned his head back against the rock in self-reproach.
The dwarf waited impatiently for several minutes until he finally stepped out, then swiftly back in again. "They're still passing on the road." With the difference in height, Legolas could barely hear him, but the dwarf's ax was already out of his belt at the ready. Legolas put a hand to his knife, but doubted he'd even make it to his feet without Gimli's help. The part of the fall in front of him was smooth and almost translucent; through it, Legolas realized he could just make out the last of the shadowy forms marching away from them on the road. At last he allowed himself to relax, but then he saw them, crawling down the embankment. He motioned to Gimli to stay under the falls. And they waited.
They descended one after another, a small rear guard, searching for any trace of them, so low to the ground it almost seemed they crawled. Legolas' breath hitched as two of them came very close to the falls. If they looked carefully, he and Gimli would be seen, and that would be the end of it. His hand tightened on the damp hilt of his knife, prepared to take at least one of them with him. Slowly the orcs moved away, sniffing and kicking at the dirt, as they began tracking footprints round and around the place where their fire had been buried. They could easily find the dwarf's boot prints, and Legolas' gait had not taken care. Alarm was the only thing keeping Legolas from succumbing to the darkness threatening to overtake his vision.
The orcs tracked the footsteps out several paces in the direction the Company had gone, before returning again to where the fire had been buried. For whatever reason, for now they had dismissed the tracks that led to the stream. An orc horn cut through the still night, and then there was silence. Gimli's arm jostled him and he sucked in a gasp at the pain it caused. The dwarf's eyes were apologetic, but he motioned beyond them with his head. His very expression said, "Well? What's happening?!" Good. At least the dwarf was smarter than to attempt speaking. Legolas shook his head and put a shaky finger to his lips. Gimli would have to trust him, and the wait would be a long time for a dwarf to trust an elf.
Though he hadn't been certain he would remain conscious long enough to see what happened, about fifteen minutes later a large party of orcs came back down the road and began pouring over the embankment. The descent went on and on, their black shapes circling around the leader who stood watching by the stream. They were conferring together, and they were so close now. Those standing at the rear were just a few paces from the falls. Legolas tensed. Worry, at least dulled the pain, making him forget he was in no fit condition to fight.
At last he watched with both relief and dismay as the whole host followed the path taken by the rest of the Fellowship. It was perhaps fortunate that he was unable to rise, since it kept him from any actions Aragorn would categorize as stupid—like trying to buy him, Boromir, and the hobbits time to get away. Besides, any delay they caused wouldn't be enough. The main group would continue on when they saw only two remained, and he would have spent Gimli's life on nothing. Instead, he allowed his eyes to flutter closed as he tried to distract himself from the throbbing pain by focusing on his jerkin and the soaked tunic sticking to his skin beneath it.
Gimli, sensing the danger had passed, stepped out from under the falls and looked around. Then he removed his helm and shook the water from his hair.
"They have gone. Come on, laddie, let's go while we can and see if we can find a suitable place to wait for the others to come back. The water is squishing all the way to my boots."
Legolas nodded wearily, but made no move to follow.
"Up you get." The dwarf carefully reached under his left shoulder and tugged. It wasn't much leverage, but Legolas obeyed, a bit surprised at the dwarf's strength. Painstakingly, he got to his feet. Gimli remained beside him in silence as he rode out the waves of pain caused by standing. Legolas clenched his mouth firmly shut and clung to the shreds of his dignity. He was determined that whatever remained in his stomach would not reappear at the dwarf's feet.
Gimli seemed energized by the long wait under the falls, but Legolas felt like they had leeched the last of his strength. Each movement was stiff and required so much thought, and the cold spray and dunking from his fall in the stream had made his body even more numb and sluggish. His very bones ached, yet he knew they could risk no fire tonight. Orcs were notorious about doubling back, and they were not out of danger. And besides, the blow to his pride would be great. An elf should have no need of the warmth of a fire. He paid no attention to their direction beyond his own footsteps. He couldn't let himself think of where the orcs might be going, only of one step, and then another, of the feeling of his muscles as his weight transferred from foot to foot, and of the agony building again now that immediate danger was passed.
His lungs were beginning to burn from exertion when Gimli stopped suddenly.
"Perhaps I should scout ahead." There was something in his voice—not malice. False cheer, perhaps. Legolas was too weary to decide. He shook his head a few times—a futile attempt at stopping the ringing in his ears.
"Rest here, and I'll return shortly." Before Legolas' sluggish mind could come up with a retort, the dwarf was gone. He could hear the sound of Gimli's wet boots fading away from him. He continued on unsteadily to a young birch tree, his ears roaring now and a dark curtain threatening his sight. His knees threatened to buckle, but he feared if he let them there would be no getting up again. Too young to be truly awake, the tree did not speak, but its melody soothed his spirit and bolstered his strength.
Ai Elbereth this was a rotten affair. His body had well and truly betrayed him and where he might have found optimism, he could only feel a calm resignation. For the first time since the arrow had pierced him, he was no longer certain of the outcome. He didn't fear death, but if death was to be the outcome, he'd rather not die a slow useless death in the wilderness. Better than in Moria, though, his mind supplied morbidly. He was so lost somewhere between thoughts and dreams that he didn't hear Gimli's return.
He started a bit to find the dwarf peering down at him with concern. When had he sat down? Or closed his eyes? "Just needed to rest…for a moment," he finally supplied in defense.
Gimli gave him that look again and then a canteen appeared in front of his face. "Drink."
"…found a shelter…just a bit further." Legolas blinked slowly. Why was it so difficult to focus? He shook himself. He could do this. It was as if he mind was slogging through the mud. How long had Gimli been gone?
"Come on elf. Get on your feet or I shall tell every soul from Gondor to Erebor how Gimli the Brave had to carry the Son of Thranduil, Prince of Mirkwood to safety." That snapped him to attention, though he hadn't the energy for indignation, nor for laughter. Nor to point out that the dwarf had left out half of Arda. He found he cared very little about the threat, and for the first time, perhaps, since they set out, he trusted the dwarf completely—with his health and with his pride. Circumstances were beyond pride now, anyway.
The short rest, he was pleased to find, had done him good, and with a few tugs from Gimli and the aid of the tree, he was at last able to get back on his feet. Getting to the aforementioned sheltered, however, was still no easy feat. Gimli hovered at his right, never straying too far ahead or behind, always there when he stumbled over the uneven terrain. His wound burned a fiery trail outward to his ribs and down into his left hip, stabbing in time with his racing heart. He felt cold. So very cold. He couldn't recall a time he'd ever been so effected. His whole body trembled, and he ground his teeth together to keep them from chattering.
He, of all the fellowship, would be the most qualified for a woodland battle, yet instead of helping them he was miles away, being helped to shelter, his teeth chattering from a little wet. He kept losing track of time and would become aware of Gimli bearing most of his weight while his legs moved mechanically. He would remember himself, and then his mind would grow dim again.
At last they made it. The shelter felt too much like a trap for Legolas' liking. Too exposed, and yet too enclosed, yawning dark and deep between two great rocks that grew straight from the hillside. Loss of the freedom of the trees made him anxious. Not another cave. He couldn't go in one again. Not now. He must have said so aloud, for Gimli hastened to assure him it was merely a cleft in the mountain and not a true cave.
"I'll bet you can still see the stars!"
The floor was uneven, and in the darkness, Legolas almost tripped over Gimli's pack. His wound flared viciously as he regained his balance. When had the dwarf put it there, and how had he not noticed that he hadn't been carrying it?
"Best let me look at you."
He made no protest as the dwarf helped ease him down to the cool dirt. Gimli was fumbling with Aragorn's pouch, but at last he sighed and cast it away. "It is useless in this dark. My eyes might be keen at night, but without moonlight at least, I can't see a thing."
Legolas closed his eyes. He knew very well what Aragorn kept in his pouch. The man was a creature of habit, and those habits were elvish in nature. Medicines. Sachets of herbs for pastes. Needle and thread. Scant bandages. Spirits. Doing his best to hold in a moan, he stretched until his fingers closed over the strap and pulled the pouch close.
"I'll change the bandages, at least." He opened the flap and rummaged around, sniffing herbs. He could almost hear Gimli shrug.
"I expect you know more about it than I do, anyway."
Peeling off his jerkin and the wet shirt beneath proved more exhausting than he had anticipated. Legolas was fond of this jerkin. His mother had designed it and though it had been a frequent casualty of his many skirmishes, he'd had it remade countless times over the long years. As he tried to catch his breath after the pain and exertion of even those small movements, he could hear Gimli spreading them out to dry and taking off his own soaked gear. He wondered distantly if the dwarf was a cold as he was. His fingers fumbling numbly at the soaked bandages. At this point he wasn't sure how much was from the water and how much was blood, though from his wooziness he suspected it was mostly the latter.
He felt restless underneath the stone, so soon after Moria. The stones in Hollin had disturbed him greatly, but the stones of Moria and the doom they spoke of had stayed with him. That there had been a Balrog of Morgoth, of all creatures, to confront them. He shuddered, and this time not from the chill. Its touch had been evil, and truly terrifying in a way that an orc was not. Worse, even, than the evil that seemed to emanate from Dol Guldur. It had cut him to his very soul, almost a wound itself. Each time he surrendered to rest, the flames would again appear, and the creature would emerge to haunt him. These stones, at least, were blessedly silent.
"How's the bleeding?"
Whether he had dozed or stared into space, he wasn't sure, but the question caught him off guard and for a moment he forgot to answer.
"Oh." He felt absently at the sticky wetness at his left side. He'd forgotten he was supposed to be tending to it. "Better than it could be, I suppose." He kept his voice light, but suspected Gimli was not so easily fooled.
The silence was heavy between them as Legolas dwelt on the wound. Perhaps if he hadn't been so distracted by the Balrog—and by Mithrandir's fall—he could have prevented all of this misfortune. He couldn't help but feel that, if not for him, they would all be safely ensconced in a galadhrim talan.
"What's it like," Gimli asked rather abruptly, and Legolas remembered again that he had been working at replacing his bandages.
"What's what like?" He rummaged in the pouch until his hand closed around the roll of fresh linen.
"The Golden Wood."
Legolas saw the distraction for what it was, but cast himself in memory, his breath coming more easily now that he was reclined and still. If he could just focus.
"That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land."
The dwarf snorted a bit. "Trees. Of course it's about the trees, but I suppose you think we dwarves bewildering for our love of mountain rock."
"Aye." A wave of weariness washed over him again and he fought to stay awake. His fingers resumed their absent probing as if he had never stopped, though his mind was a bit lost in tales his own mother had told to him. Perhaps he would see her again soon. "In the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring comes and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey. My heart would be glad if I were beneath the eaves of the wood, and it were springtime!"
He could hear Gimli's frown. Perhaps his tone had been a bit too wistful. "I'd be glad to be there at all, if I were you."
He'd almost managed to unpeel the last of the drenched bandages when he paused, his heart pounding suddenly in alarm—not at something he had found, but at what he had not found. The black shaft was gone. It must have separated from the arrowhead. He leaned his head against the rock behind him in defeat, barely hearing Gimli's next words.
He knew a fever was building, there could be no other explanation for the violence of his chills, and the loss of the shaft had likely determined his fate. Estel was talented, but he'd seen very few survive when an arrowhead could not be found. And their deaths had not been something he'd wish on an enemy. He'd recognized the correct herbs in the pouch. Ones that would ease his passing, but he felt a responsibility to the dwarf. Gimli would go out alone and fight any orcs that crossed their path. He would lay down his life defending both an elf and his honor, when, as far as Legolas was concerned, his life was forfeit anyway—better to spend it in Gimli's defense this night than to die slowly over the next few days. The orcs would come before morning, he was certain of it.
He remembered again that he was supposed to be speaking of Lothlórien, but Gimli seemed not to have minded the long pause. "They will cross the Nimrodel and into that realm. I would sing you a song of the maiden Nimrodel, who bore the same name as the stream, but I fear it is beyond my skill this moment." He felt a bit bewildered to be admitting this to a dwarf, but supposed his lengthy pauses had already made it obvious.
"I hope I will be able to see it," came the charitable reply. "Do elves still dwell in this Golden Wood?"
Legolas felt it best left unsaid that if he didn't live to vouch for him, Gimli would never set eyes on that realm. "Its people are called the Galadhrim, the Tree-people. Deep in their forest the trees are very great, but it is long since any of my own folk journeyed there,' said Legolas, "but we hear that Lórien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power there that holds evil from the land. Its folk are seldom seen, and maybe they dwell deep in the woods and far from the northern border."
"It's not so far from Southern Mirkwood. In all your long years you've never traveled there?"
"Eryn Galen." The correction slipped off his tongue before he could stop it, and bitterness crept into his voice. "The reason you call it Mirkwood is the very reason I've not journeyed to Lothlórien."
"But you visited Rivendell?" Gimli seemed perplexed.
"Aye, but even Erebor is closer than Lórien—and a Necromancer's lair does not separate Eryn Galen from those places as it separates our Southern forest from the Golden Wood. Lothlórien is a haven, but the way from my home to there is perilous. Aragorn has traveled there, though, many years ago…"
Please consider leaving a review! I'd love to hear from each one of my readers and to know your thoughts! Are you on the edge of your seat? Are you bored? Do you want me to kill off Legolas? (I kid….maybe.) I rewrote this chapter four times and I'm still not sure I got it quite how I wanted. Shoot me a message if you know of any beta readers you'd recommend!
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